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.

One Smart Cookie…

Smart Cookie by one of our favorite middle grade authors, Elly Swartz, is yet another fantastic story of emotion, love, friendship and family. We don’t know how Elly does it but once again, just like in her book Finding Perfect, she made us fall in love. We fell in love with the story, the characters, her words, just everything. Elly has this amazing way of making sure that as the reader you experience and step into the lives of her characters. You get so engrossed and involved in their lives you feel you know them personally and become invested in their successes, hardships and their stories. Smart Cookie is all about Frankie finding her perfect family. Since her moms passing it’s just been her dad, her gram and her living at a B & B. She misses her mom tremendously and she wants to feel like a family again but doesn’t think that’s possible without finding a new mom. Throughout the story she realizes what a family really means.

We had another opportunity to interview Elly Swartz about Smart Cookie, as well as ask her some questions about herself.

3 ?s about Smart Cookie

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Family. Heart. Spunk. (And, if I can sneak in a fourth, Secrets.)

We love that you have multiple stories weaved together with multiple layers to the main character. Where did you come up with your ideas for Smart Cookie?  

Frankie’s story is all about family. For me, family is at the heart of everything I do and everything I am. I grew up with a very close family. But when I was thirty, my mom died. She was 55. Her loss opened a great big hole in my heart. And after 22 years, I’ve realized some holes aren’t meant to be filled. Not in the same way. And that is ultimately what Frankie learns. Family isn’t about having all the same pieces in place, it’s about having people in your life who love you unconditionally. And that circle is so much bigger than those with whom you shared a bedroom, a childhood, a name.

Frankie’s friend Elliot’s ghost hunting was sparked by my youngest son and one of his childhood friends. When they were eleven (now 22), they went ghost hunting, and, as the story goes, they found a ghost!

Frankie’s snow globe collection was inspired by my oldest son. He collected snow globes when he was little. When I was writing this story, I found the box marked ‘snow globes’ and shared them with Frankie. She loved them!

And Frankie’s pets, Lucy and Winston, came to the page right from my home. Lucy, my beagle, is all spunk and love. Just like Frankie. And, Winston, was inspired by my youngest son’s African Pygmy Hedgehog named Hippie.

So while it wasn’t the plan going in, seems there’s a lot of my life tucked into these pages.

Do you have any “Frankies” in your life?  Is she based off of anyone you know?

Frankie is a blend of many people in my life. I think she’s equal parts spunk and heart. I love her courage, wit, strength, and strong sense of caring for those she loves the most. Gratefully, there are many strong girls and women in my life who share these qualities.

3 ?s about You

What is your “go-to” kidlit book to give as a gift and why?

I have a few. I love Happy Dreamer by Peter Reynolds, I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. And, I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt and Cyd Moore. New to this list are Love by Matt de la Pena and Loren Long and Be Kind Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill (out 2/6). All of these books are filled with heart. Not sure there could be a better gift to give.

If you could have a dinner party with three people (dead or alive), who would you invite and why?

My three guests would be my mom, Judy Blume, and Michelle Obama. Three incredible, strong women.

My mom has been gone for twenty-two years. There is not a day that passes that I don’t wish to have one moment with her. To tell her I love her. To say thank you. To listen.  

Judy Blume, well, she’s one of my writer heroes. I want to know how it felt when Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? came out. What she’s reading. The advice she’d give. And, what she learned along the way.

Michelle Obama, she truly embraces the strength and intelligence, kindness and empathy, and sense of family that I so admire. I’d love to hear what’s important to her now, what matters most, and what is in her TBR pile. Then we could go to the gym together and work-out.

Honestly, three amazing women who I would love to learn from and be inspired by over a glass of wine and dinner. 

What has been your most memorable “author” moment since Finding Perfect has been released?

There have been many wonderful author moments, but the one that resonates most, was a letter from a student who I’d connected with. This letter began, “I just wanted you to know that you changed my life.” Honestly, that moment melted my heart and has stayed with me. To know the words I wrote, the story I told, made a difference is truly everything.  

And a few extras…

Smart Cookie Activity and Curriculum Guide

http://ellyswartz.com/smart-cookie-book

Links to order Smart Cookie:

http://amzn.to/2v0pWU9

http://bit.ly/2uRCWL1

http://bit.ly/2vT5YXJ

Once again, thank you so much Elly for answering our questions and sharing such powerful stories with the world! To learn more about Elly, check out her website or follow her Instagram and  twitter.

Keep an eye out for her third book, Give and Take in 2019!

Elly Swartz loves writing for kids, Twizzlers, and anything with her family. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG 2016) is about twelve-year-old Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. In her second book, SMART COOKIE (Scholastic, 2018), you meet the spunky and big-hearted Frankie. Frankie’s all about family with a dash of mischief and mystery! And then in 2019, say hello to Maggie in GIVE AND TAKE (FSG). Elly lives in Massachusetts with her family and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly, you can find her at ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz or on Instagram @ellyswartzbooks.

Meet Pig and Chick: An Early Reader Chapter Book

Thank you P. Marin for sending us Pig and Chick: The Birthday Wish That Got Away to review and for answering our questions. All opinions are our own.

Pig and Chick: The Wish That Got Away written by P. Marin is an adorable story of friendship, kindness and generosity. It’s Pig’s birthday but he doesn’t really understand what birthday wishes are all about because all he’s ever wanted is a friendship with Chick and he already has that. So being the kind and generous Pig that he is, he decides to give his birthday wish to Chick. Have you ever had a birthday wish that got away? Well that’s how Chick feels when the candle melts into one big pile of wax and she isn’t able to wish for a donkey so they could play pin the tail on the donkey. But then Chick sees a donkey and gets excited that maybe her wish will come true. However, things go awry and once the wish is fulfilled she realizes that she already has everything she wants in her friendship with Pig.

Wonderful for ages four to eight this early reader chapter book will spark discussion about friendship and kindness. Don’t miss the other books in the series Pig and Chick: Stuck and Pig and Chick: Pigcasso.

3 ?s about Pig and Chick

What are three words you use to describe your book?

charming, funny, endearing

How did you decide to have Pig be the kind and patient character?

I first met Pig and Chick when I was doodling.  They showed up in my sketchbook.  They were sitting at a rundown bus stop.  I had no idea who they were or where they were headed; all I knew is I wanted to buy a ticket and get on that same bus.  So I tucked that sketch into a drawer and went about my daily business.  Sometimes as I washed dishes or went for a walk, a thought would cross my mind and I’d say to myself, “Oh, that’s something Pig would say.” Or “That’s something Chick would do.”  When that happened, I’d jot down notes on scraps of paper.  It was in that process of jotting down random thoughts that I discovered who they were.  Pig, the patient, more thoughtful one – the one I aspire to be like – and Chick, the impatient, child-like one who I already am.  

How did you come up with the story idea?

In Pigcasso, Pig is determined to be the next artist extraordinaire.  When I was growing up I loved to write and draw.  In fact, every week in fifth grade, my teacher wheeled in a television set. He’d turn it on and there would appear local artist Bruce McIntyre. Alongside Mr. McIntyre, we’d draw.

For me, it was the highlight of elementary school.  Toward the end of fifth grade, my teacher announced that Mr. McIntyre would be visiting our classroom – in person – and if we brought five dollars that day, we could buy a copy of his book. I began saving immediately. On the big day I arrived to school early with sharp pencils and no money. I was devastated. At the end of the presentation, Mr. McIntyre walked up to me. He handed me a copy of his book and said, “Your teacher thinks you’re going to need this.” Turns out I did.  But it took me nearly three decades, and a bunch of jobs that made it hard to get out of bed, before inspiration struck and I realized how important our dreams are.  Luckily, unlike Pig, I didn’t have to get run over by a donkey to create my first work of art.

3 ?s about You

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

There is this quote by Poet Galway Kinnell.  It says, “Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.”  It’s a terrible thing to forget how wonderful you are.  So if I weren’t a writer, I’d be a teacher.  The kind that shows people their loveliness.

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

Adult book:  Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Children’s book:  Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad

To me, they say the same thing.  Keep life slow and simple and don’t forget to appreciate the things that matter most.

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

Worms.  What they say about me is this:  I love our son, who is affectionately known as the Domestic Zookeeper, very much.  Because there are a lot of compelling reasons not to keep worms in your refrigerator.  But there is also one compelling reason why I do.  Love.  Love for our son and love for a boy’s dream.  I hope it’s that kind of love you’ll find in my books.  

To learn even more about P. Marin, please visit her website or follow her on Instagram

The Unintentional Adventures are Anything but Bland!

 

Image Copyright Jen Hill

Calling all quirky book lovers!  The witty writing style of Kara LeReau will have you entertained from start to finish.  The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters is a series based on Jaundice and Kale Bland, two sisters who would rather be darning their neighbors’ socks and eating cheese sandwiches, but instead find themselves on face-paced, dangerous adventures.  When their parents left on an errand years ago, the sisters never expected to find out that they were galavanting around the world on high-stakes missions, nor do they have any plans to join them.  But life doesn’t always go as planned, and Jaundice and Kale find themselves in the midst of the action.  Join them on their adventures in The Jolly Regina and The Uncanny Express.

We had the chance to talk with Kara LaReau about The Unintentional Adventures, as well as ask her some questions about herself.

3 ?s about The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Uncanny Express

 

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

Magic, mystery, marshmallow.

What can fans of The Jolly Regina expect from this new Bland Sisters unintentional adventure?

Similar to The Jolly Regina, you’ll find a lot of humor and subversions of adventure tropes (this time, it’s Agatha Christie mysteries, particularly Murder on the Orient Express) and traditional gender roles. Also, there’s a bit of a twist at the end, so hang on, folks!

Were there any other character names in the running before you settled on Jaundice and Kale?

Never. That was a case of exactly the right names coming to me at exactly the right time!

3 ?s about Kara LaReau

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

Probably something to do with cooking and baking, my other passions. When I’m feeling really insecure about my writing, I fantasize about quitting and opening a B&B.

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

Lately it’s The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Van Glaser, which continues to warm my heart, even in this snowpocalyptic winter.

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

A bottle of Champagne — bubbly and fun at parties.

Giveaway!

There are several ways to enter the giveaway! The winner will receive both books signed by Kara and an awesome bland swag pack!

Here are the different ways to enter:

-Comment below

Or

-On Instagram -tag a friend or repost our post about these books

Or

-On twitter -follow us, like and retweet our tweet about this blog!

Each will earn one entry! Good Luck!

Thank You, Kara, for allowing us on the Uncanny Express Blog Tour!

Kara LeReau

Kara LaReau was born and raised in Connecticut. She received her Masters
in Fine Arts in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College
in Boston, Massachusetts and later worked as an editor at Candlewick
Press and at Scholastic Press. She is the author of picture books such
as UGLY FISH, illustrated by Scott Magoon, and NO SLURPING, NO
BURPING! A Tale of Table Manners, illustrated by Lorelay Bové; an
award-winning chapter book series called The Infamous Ratsos, illustrated
by Matt Myers; and a middle-grade trilogy called The Unintentional
Adventures of the Bland Sisters, illustrated by Jen Hill.  Kara lives in
Providence, Rhode Island with her husband and son and their cat.

To learn even more about Kara, please visit her website. Or follow her on Instragram and Twitter. 

Voices From The Underground Railroad


Happy Book Birthday to Voices From The Underground Railroad from Kay Winters and illustrator, Larry Day.  I met Larry last year, along with his writer wife, Miriam Busch, at a book signing at Second Star To The Right Bookstore.  We chatted about their work and how I was involved in a kidlit enthusiast group called Storymamas. They both were kind enough to follow us on social media. Larry began tagging Storymamas while in the process of drawing this book. We loved every sketch, draft and drawing he showed. We knew that as the publishing date got closer, we wanted to help spread the word about this wonderful book. The final copy of the book is magnificent. The colors, details, and facial expressions Larry has created is spectacular.  Kay writes this book using several points of view. The two main voices are, Jeb and Mattie, who are escaping slavery to seek freedom through the underground railroad. Kay’s text is so powerful and the pictures Larry has drawn make you feel all the emotions these characters are going through. It is a fabulous book to teach readers about the historical events during this time. We hope you will add it to your home, school, or classroom libraries.

Here is the book trailer! Check it out!

Larry was also kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about himself.

3 ?s  about Voices From the Underground Railroad

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

Escape. Running. Freedom.

The colors, the facial expressions, and details on the page are truly spectacular. What was the process for getting each page the way you wanted it?

What a good question!

Normally, I draw expressions without thinking. Detail comes naturally. Expressions come from a respectful appreciation of the subject.

What was the collaboration like with Kay? Did she see your drawings through the draft phase? Did she send you information on what she envisioned?

I always share with authors. There are times when an author’s information is crucial to the visual story.  One never knows.

3 ?s about You

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you want to be and why?

Another great question!

Sometimes. I think about losing the capability to draw.

If that happened, I would write.

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

How about four, instead:

Milo’s Hat Trick, Jon Agee.

Alfie, by Thyra Heder

Bone Dog, by Eric Rohmann

Lion, Lion, by Miriam Busch

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

Blueberries!

Thank you Larry for chatting with Storymamas. We are excited about all your upcoming projects, including a collaboration with Jerry Spinelli, publishing by Holiday House in 2019!

To learn more about Larry feel free to visit his website or follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

All Three Stooges -Erica Perl’s Newest Book & Interview

Erica Perl’s newest book All Three Stooges enters the world tomorrow.  I had the pleasure of having the ARC and reading it a few weeks ago. For the past several years, I think that middle grade/young adult authors have done such a wonderful job dealing with difficult issues so many kids are exposed to in their daily lives, ones that occur personally or that they might see on the news or social media. This book is no exception. All Three Stooges is told from the perspective of a boy named Noah. Noah loves hanging out with his best friend, Dash and Dash’s father. While hanging out together the three of them would perform and watch comedy bits together.  Unfortunately, Dash’s dad dies suddenly and Noah has a difficult time dealing with his death. Throughout the book Noah is not only mourning the loss of Dash’s dad, but Dash has shut Noah out of his life.  For Noah, someone who loves comedy and entertaining others with his jokes, he finds it difficult to navigate his life without his best friend. In an honest way, Noah desperately wants his best friend back, and it leads to many poor decisions and having to really think about what is important in his life.  With such a heavy theme, Erica has done a good job of weaving humor and pop culture references, which adds a good sense of lightness to the book.  Also, within the book, Erica, educates the reader about the Three Stooges and other famous comedians. Within the first page it asks you to google the Three Stooges scene “seltzer fight three little pigskins.” (You should, it is pretty funny). After I finished the book I wrote Erica and told her I felt the book was heavy, emotional, funny, and made me think. There are probably so many students who loose a loved one in middle school and don’t know how to navigate their feelings. I know this book will touch the lives of many who read it.

Thank you Erica for writing a book that deals with such a touchy topic in an enjoyable and heartfelt way. Erica was also kind enough to answer three questions about the book and three questions about her.

3 ?s  about All Three Stooges

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

Three words? That’s hard for someone as word-y as me, but I’ll try. First is loss, both because Dash loses his dad and Noah loses his best friend. The second word is longing, because Noah spend a lot of time wishing things could go back to the way they were (when Dash’s dad was alive and Dash was still speaking to him), and this motivates him to make some pretty bad choices. The third word is laughter. This is because it what cemented the friendship of Noah and Dash in the first place (their love of comedy), and because it is what keeps us going even in the toughest of times.

What is one skit/sketch mentioned in the book that you would tell readers to google immediately and watch?

I love Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song, which is in the book and is the basis for the title of the book. There are several versions out there, I should note, so here’s the one I’d suggest: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX5Z-HpHH9g (“All Three Stooges” is mentioned at 2:41)

In your author’s notes, you mentioned you wanted to tell this story from Noah’s perspective, had you ever drafted or considered from another point of view?

Noah’s voice was the one that was in my head, and it helped me really focus on the ripple effect of a tragedy. I think this perspective also felt the closest to my own, since I have lost a friend to suicide and I am close to several people who have lost immediate family members to suicide.

3 ?s about You

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

There are a lot of other things I like to do – dance, run, play with my kids and my dogs, bake pies, sing, and ski – but so far I’m not aware of any opportunities to become a singing, skiing, pie-baker. For this reason, I’m planning to stick with writing books!

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

One of my favorite books is Roald Dahl’s DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD. I didn’t consciously connect that book with ALL THREE STOOGES while I was writing it, but I think the way in which Danny worships his dad (but doesn’t know his secrets) is not unlike how Noah views Dash’s father, Gil.

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

I wish I could say “seltzer!” because it plays an important role in this book, but the truth is: I’m trying to stop drinking carbonated beverages. I used to drink it every day but now I only have seltzer every once in a while, so it is not in my fridge. One of my favorite things, though, that IS in my fridge is a jar of capers. Tiny, pickled, salty little capers – yum! What do they tell you about me? That I love things that seem cute but pack a big punch. Like capers and hedgehogs (note: I don’t eat hedgehogs, or keep them in my fridge).

Thank you Erica ! To learn more about Erica and all her other wonderful books, check out her website or follow her Instagram and  twitter. 

 

Get Your Mitt Ready & Maple Syrup Out- Just Like Jackie – Review & Author Interview


There is a common phrase that many of us teach our children “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, but when it comes to books, it’s a different ball game. Book lovers, you know what I mean! How often do we pick up a novel based on the cover? This is exactly how we got introduced to Lindsey’s book Just Like Jackie. We saw the cover reveal on twitter and our jaws dropped. The illustration of a young girl and man in the cold snowy trees with just enough light poking through, we knew we had to read it! We were lucky enough to receive an ARC from a friend and we tapped right into it!

Lindsey has created this wonderful main character, Robinson. When we first meet her she is beating up a boy in school who called her a name. Robinson has a hard exterior, but as we get to know her we learn that she is dealing with so much inside and like many kids, is trying to do her best to survive each day. As we read the book our heart ached for Robinson, who lives with her grandfather, and begins to notice that he is often forgetting things and having a hard time finishing sentences. She tries so hard to keep it a secret because he is all the family she has. As we read it we were thinking how this book would really connect with many students, who outside of the school walls have so much going on in their home lives. It once again reminded us, as educators, that students have so many stories, many of which are never shared in classroom, but can effect their presence at school.  The book tackles themes of friendship, bullying, illness, loss of parent and more, the plot moved along well and we felt we got to grow with the characters. We hope you have a chance to read and get to know Robinson too. 

Lindsey was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book and three questions about her.

3 ?s  about Just Like Jackie

What three words you would use to describe Just Like Jackie?

Honest

Inclusive

Intimate

What was the process for creating this book with so many important themes?

Whenever I write for kids I think back to my own middle grade years and try to focus in and really remember the things that made me feel something intensely. JUST LIKE JACKIE was born of the moments I recall sitting with my grandpa, when he would forget the ends of his sentences and I wouldn’t know for how long I should wait to see if he remembered, or if I should finish his sentence for him, or just nod and pat his hand as if to tell him that everything was going to be OK. I felt uncomfortable and sad and I wished I could do something to help his memory get better. This experience and these emotions helped me develop Robbie’s tender side, her relationship with her own grandpa.

JUST LIKE JACKIE was also born from a feeling of rage when a neighborhood boy smashed a robins’ nest out of my backyard tree with his wiffle ball bat. I had been watching and waiting for those eggs to hatch into little birdies and when the blue shells splattered across my lawn my ten-year-old hands clenched and my fist connected with his face. This feeling helped me develop Robbie’s fiesty side, her anger with bully Alex Carter.

From these two seed emotions, I was able to build the rest of Robbie’s story.

Tell us about your experience with fixing cars and making maple syrup.

When I was growing up, my dad worked for Toyota and my favorite part about visiting the dealership was the service shop out back. I was always amazed by the mechanics who knew how to assess a problem, hoist a car up on lifts, and fix it. I liked their dirty hands and oil-smeared uniforms. Unlike Robbie, I have never actually fixed anything on car in my life, but have always been in awe of people who have that technical know-how.

Maple syrup is a different story. I definitely got my hands sticky with sap every sugaring season growing up in Vermont. My grandpa had a maple farm out in the woods with a thousand taps and holding tanks with old engines that would push the sap into the sugarhouse where we’d boil it down to our Stoddard family maple syrup. Like Robbie’s grandpa, mine also had Alzheimer’s, but out at his sugarhouse, flushing lines and chopping wood and boiling sap, he never missed a beat.  

3 ?s about You

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

I was a middle school English teacher in Washington Heights, NYC for ten years and LOVED it. It was very hard to leave the classroom, but at the time of this two-book deal with HarperCollins, I also had my first child and returning to the classroom seemed like it would be too much. It felt like a good time to focus on my writing career in a way that I hadn’t been able to in the past because teachers work full FULL time. My husband and I are expecting a second child in February and I’ve just finished a second book, and my brain is churning on a third, but I hope to return to education, in some way, in the near future.

Another dream of mine has always been to open an independent bookstore. I know it’s a lot of work and I’d have a lot to learn but I am SO HAPPY in bookstores.

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

On the adult side, SING, UNBURIED, SING by Jesmyn Ward. This book gutted me. I had to put it down several times just to breathe.

On the children’s side, BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson. The story of her family is itself an incredible journey through American history, and her poetry both sings and pierces on every page. It’s unforgettable.

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

Can I cheat and say my freezer? Because I’m never without at least one pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, New York Super Fudge Chunk, Half Baked– I like the flavors with chunks, left on the counter until it’s just the right consistency, and eaten out of my Housing Works Bookstore mug. THAT, and a book, is my picture of comfort.  

Thank you Lindsey! To learn more about Lindsey, check out her website or follow her on twitter. 

Wide Awake Bear & Chat with Author: Pat Zietlow Miller

If you’ve ever had the child who just can’t fall asleep, Pat Zietlow Miller’s newest picture book is just what you need. It is a sweet story about a bear who just can’t fall asleep during winter. He has many thoughts of spring and it makes it even harder to fall back to sleep. This story is a great read for the younger kids in your life. The pictures are warm and gentle and match the rhythm of Pat’s text.

Pat was gracious enough to gift Storymamas with the F & G of the book and we can’t wait for it to be welcomed into the world so we can buy a copy for our own kids! The book will be released on January 2nd!

Along with our advanced copy, Pat was willing to answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about her.

3 Questions about Wide-Awake Bear

The dedication to your mother-in-law is so sweet, can you tell us more about why you chose her?

My mother-in-law, Lynn Miller, lives in Door County, Wisconsin, an area full of charming, small towns with a resort feel. She has taken my books and walked into every little library up there and basically insisted that the unsuspecting librarians purchase my books. She’s also convinced bookstores to carry them and came very close to getting a local bakery to make themed-cookies that coordinate with my books. She’s a force of nature. All that effort and support are worth a dedication at the very least.

What does your workspace look like?

I always wish I could say that I write in a funky coffee shop in Manhattan or in a cottage on a  sweeping, sheep-filled moor in Scotland. But, no. I write at my kitchen table in Madison, Wisconsin surrounded by mail, newspapers, snack wrappers, cats that want to sit on my computer keyboard  and the occasional dirty sock. Why is there a dirty sock on my kitchen table? Who knows? I’ve stopped asking. We will be moving later this fall, and my goal is to have my own reading/writing room that is a debris-free zone. We’ll see if that happens.

What was your process for writing Wide-Awake Bear?

The story is based on an absolutely epic meltdown of a tantrum my youngest daughter had several years ago when I woke her up from a nap to go to volleyball practice. Later, when I asked her why she’d gotten so upset, she uttered this memorable line: “I was a hibernating bear. You woke me up, and I went into a bear frenzy.”

That comment inspired the book. I tell the whole story in this blog post.

This is the same daughter who inspired my first picture book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH. I may need to start giving her co-author credit.

3 Questions about You

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

This is probably cheating, but I’d want to be an editor. I love making copy as good as it can be. And I’m an AP Style geek. I love knowing that sauce-covered, grilled meat is “barbecue” not “barbeque” or “BBQ” or any other variant.

And, I’ve always thought being the person who names nail polish colors would be an awesome job. Maybe I could do nail polish colors to coordinate with children’s books, like:

  •    Blueberries for Sal.
  •    The Man with the Yellow Nails. (Who needs a hat?)
  •    Pinkalicious.
  •    My Many-Colored Toes

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

STARS, a picture book written by Mary Lyn Ray and illustrated by Marla Frazee. It’s picture book perfection, and the simplicity of the language is something I constantly aspire to. And it has memorable lines for adults and kids. Read it. Buy it. Share it. Love it.

But I have a whole shelf of much-loved books that I keep for inspiration. And I have a list of practically perfect picture books on my blog. Check it out.

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

Every day, I take a Fage raspberry yogurt to work with me. (I have a non-kidlit-related job.)  So the fridge always has a week’s supply. And you might find a Dove dark-chocolate candy bar cooling in there too. That candy is better cold.

Please also check out some of her other picture books we’ve enjoyed:

 Sophie’s Squash

The Quickest Kid In Clarksville

  Be Kind – Released February 6th (and we can’t wait)

For more information on Pat Zietlow Miller, check out her website or follow her on Instagram & Twitter.

Spotlight On: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

If you’ve never heard of or interacted with Debbie Ridpath Ohi, you need to immediately! We met her a few years back at Nerdcamp Michigan, when she had just come out with her debut picture book, Where Are My Books?   

During our chat we asked her if she’d Skype with our students in the coming year and she was thrilled to do so. Boy, are we glad we asked her. Our students had the best time “meeting” her. She had boundless energy and was also able to do a demonstration of how she created her found object art. During the Skype she turned a crumbled up piece of paper into a beautiful ballerina wearing a tutu.  One of the questions I asked her toward the end of our session was “what advice would you give to these students?” Her answer was incredible and the message she spoke about is still mentioned to this day, over two years later! She told my kids she had wished she knew earlier, that you don’t always need to be perfect the first time! Here’s a tweet a student sent her following the Skype session:

Besides being a wonderful person, I want to talk about her illustrations. We were so excited to read her new solo book Sam and Eva that came out a few weeks ago. The illustrations tell a lot of the story, but the book itself has many important themes. If you have not read this book, it’s a great one to add to #classroombookaday to discuss friendship, flexible thinking, or how art can tell many stories!

We are so happy she continues to come out with new books so often. Whether she is doing both writing and drawing or just illustrating, you will love her work! Debbie was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about her. Enjoy!

3 questions about the book

What can fans of your work expect from Sam and Eva?

A fun creative clash between two young artists, inspired by cartoon wars that a friend and I had back in our university days. Sam is drawing when Eva arrives, wanting to collaborate. The creative clash that ensues when their drawings start to come to life is fun and chaotic…but then both children realize things are getting out of hand and decide to work together. Sam & Eva is about art, creative collaboration and friendship.

What does your workplace look like?

As you can tell, I do not have one of those spacious, sunlit artist studios that overlooks a verdant meadow blooming with wildflowers. My office is in the basement, and I have covered up the windows with colourful scarves because (1) I never look out the windows anyway when I’m working, and (2) one window “looks out” under our deck and the other is blocked by bushes.

My husband Jeff and I call my office my “cave.” And I do so love my Office Cave.

What was your process for writing and illustrating Sam and Eva?  Was it the same as when you created Where Are My Books?

For Sam and Eva, I came up with a picture book dummy (a rough mock-up of the picture book) ahead of time and sent that to my editor, Justin Chanda at Simon & Schuster Children’s. He accepted it the next morning! I had to put off working on Sam & Eva for a while since I was working on other book projects first, so I had to reread it several times when it WAS time to work on the book to remind myself of the story.

Then I worked on the text with Justin, improving the story flow, page turns and language. Although I started working on character sketches earlier, I didn’t start working on the layout sketches for the interior spreads until the text was finalized. During the art phase, I worked mainly with my art director at Simon & Schuster, Laurent Linn. Laurent helped me figure out how to improve the visual aspect. I’ve worked with Justin and Laurent on my other picture books with S&S, and I learn so much from them with each project!

In contrast, Where Are My Books? took a lot longer to finalize the story and art. The main reason? It was my first solo picture book! I felt like such a newbie and had so many questions. Hm…in many ways, I still feel like a newbie and do keep asking a lot of questions! I figure that’s a good thing, however — it means that I’m still learning.

3 questions about you

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

A songwriter/musician. I’ve always loved making music with other people, and have written and co-written songs for my music group as a fun hobby, plus have done a few session musician gigs. A couple of the songs I wrote made it to national radio! In a parallel universe, I think I’d try to make a living writing music and playing music. It’s a whole other type of creative collaboration.

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

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. It’s the first book that made me aware of how voice can enhance my reading experience.

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

Ha! Fun question. Hm, let me think. Ok, how about this: some radish tops, leaves attached. Most people discard this part of the radish but I like saving them for potential found object art. Also: some shrivelled up basil leaves – I had been planning to use them for found object art but, um….forgot!

Thank you Debbie for chatting with us!

To learn more about Debbie please visit her website. Or follow her on Instragram and Twitter.

Keith Haring – The Boy Who Kept Drawing

 

I grew up just outside New York City, starting when I was young, my family went into Manhattan quite a bit for dinner, theater, etc. Each time we drove down the FDR (a highway on the East side) we would pass this giant orange wall with fun people drawn on it and above the people I was always able to read the words, “Crack is Wack”.  Little did I know what crack was at that age or that it was the work of artist Keith Haring. But the image made a lasting impression on me and my family. I learned that Keith was the artist of that wall many years later when my sister bought a print of his and had it hung on her bedroom wall. Then as I got older I enjoyed seeing his work pop up in different places.

I was so excited when I heard there was a picture book written about him. The same day I discovered it on one of Donalyn Miller’s Books for a Better World slides,  I ran to get myself a copy. To my surprise the book was written by Kay A. Haring, Keith’s sister. The book explores his journey as an artist and how he felt that anybody should be able to enjoy his art. I loved learning that his exhibitions always brought a diverse group of people, ranging from celebrities, collectors, and families.  I think his passion for art and sharing it with the world will really resonate with kids. 

Kay was kind enough to provide us with more pictures of her and Keith as well as answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about her.

Kay and Keith

The Haring Family


3 Questions about Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing

What was your process for writing Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing?

I always wanted to tell my brother’s story emphasizing his generous nature and over the last decade had drafted at least three different storylines. About five years ago I joined a writer’s group and needed something to present, so I resurrected those drafts and combined them into one.  I knew then that I had to pursue this project, so I started to explore the process to publish, and joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I found an agent the first time I made queries and within three months we met with four publishers and had two offers. After accepting an offer, it took three years to bring to print. Much of this time was spent on carefully selecting and integrating Keith’s artwork with Robert Neubecker’s illustrations.

The actual content of the story was easy to write. I wanted children to experience Keith’s generosity and his easy going, fun-loving personality. While there were dozens of scenarios I could choose from, there were a few situations that stood out as hallmarks of Keith’s dedication and commitment to community.  The difficult part of a story like this is to edit it down to a reasonable length. Many scenes had to be cut or combined in order to shape the final message.

Because this book is so personal, were you able to pick the illustrator?

No. That’s not the way it works when you use one of the big publishers. I was fortunate, however, that the editor believed it best that we collaborate and it turned out the illustrator lives in our vacation town, so we were able to meet in person a number of times. Plus, he lived and worked in NYC in the 80’s. Robert Neubecker’s understanding of and contributions from the art/street scene was invaluable.  

What do you think Keith would say if he read this book?

Do I really look like that? (He always had a sense of humor!)

 

3 Questions about You

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

A Park Ranger in the National Park system. I love nature and science, because they hold inevitable truths and incredible beauty.  How awesome would it be to walk beneath the trees everyday and expand the minds of children (and adults) by exposing them to new elements in nature?  One of my favorite volunteer jobs was to introduce people to sea urchins and hermit crabs at the Waikiki Aquarium.  I learned invaluable lessons about people and how they interact with their environment and hopefully encouraged a few kids to pursue biology and conservation.

 

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

While living in Hawai’i, I read the novel “Moloka’i” by Alan Brennert, and was fortunate to visit Kalaupapa and walk the trail leading down – and back out – of the former leprosy community.  The novel portrays a personal glimpse into the life of someone exiled because of a disease and how the human spirit triumphs no matter the circumstance.

In the children’s picture book genre, an unforgettable one is “You Made Me a Mother” by Laurenne Sala, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser.  Not since I read “Love You Forever” to my kids, thirty years ago, has a story made me tear up, every time.  And now that I know more about the serendipity that is involved in combining words with illustrations, I recognize this as a true masterpiece.

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

Half & half – for my morning coffee. 🙂

Kay talking about Keith and the book with kids

Thank you so much for allowing us to interview you! To learn more about Kay visit her website.  Also, proceeds from the book go to Berks County Community Foundation, an organization in her family hometown that benefits the youth. To find out more visit them at bccf.org