Kid Review: Lou Lou & Pea and The Bicentennial Bonanza

Thank you Jill Diamond for sending Marley, our kid reviewer,  the free Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of your latest friendship adventure- Lou Lou & Pea and the Bicentennial Bonanza.

Marley is a voracious 5th grade reader and couldn’t wait to get her hands on this book! Here is her summary and review!

Lulu and Pea is a story about two friends who have different hobbies but cherish their friendship. In the story, Lulu and Pea’s neighborhood is hosting the party for the town’s 200th birthday and everyone is preparing. Then the mayor leaves the town and the party is in the hands of the vice mayor. Soon, the town’s preparation and excitement goes down the drain when the party is moved to another neighborhood and, coincidently enough, it is the vice mayor’s neighborhood. Can Lulu and Pea save their town’s preparations and party, or will their bonanza turn into a disappointment?

 I would recommend this book for young readers who want a challenge and older readers who just want a great story. I rate this book with 5 stars because of the way it draws you in and you don’t want to stop reading.

All in all, this was a wonderful book and I give a big thanks to Storymamas for letting me review it.

This book was released a few weeks ago, so feel free to run to a bookstore and buy a copy today!

Marley is finishing up the school year and will soon be off to middle school in the fall. She loves reading, and spends hours before bed getting lost in books! She enjoys soccer, theater, being with friends, is a wonderful niece to Storymama Kim, and loves to read to her cousins any chance she gets! 

 

To learn more about Jill Diamond checkout her website or follow her on twitter.

The Way to Bea

When you open a book and then find yourself ignoring the world, and before you know it you have finished the book, you know you’ve experienced something special. That’s how it was from the moment we met Bea and we thank Little Brown School & Library for sending us an advance copy of the book.

In the The Way To Bea by Kat Yeh, the main character, Bea is a girl in middle school, navigating everything that is hard about life..family, friends, school, and trying to figure out who she really is. Bea has a hard time adjusting to middle school, as she’s had a falling out with her best friend over the summer. When starting school she becomes quiet and reserved as she adjusts to the changes that come with middle school, as well as the big changes that are happening at home. Bea finds comfort in writing notes and poems with invisible ink, and hides them in what she thinks is a secret spot in the woods. Her secret pen-pal, combined with new friends Bea has made, help her truly understand herself and what it means to be true friends.

Kat paints a wonderful picture and shows readers how our talents and creativity can be outlets when dealing with life’s troubles. For example, Bea is a talented poet and Bea’s mom is also a well respected artist. Kat’s characters are memorable, her story is engaging and we hope you will take the time to read, meet and fall in love with Bea!

Kat was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book & 3 questions about herself!

3 ?s about The Way To Bea

What are three words you use to describe your book?

Poetic

Adventurous

Hopeful

Tell us more about the inspiration for the characters. Were they based on anyone from your own life?

The Way to Bea is about Beatrix Lee, a twelve year old girl who loses her friend group at the start of 7th grade. Something similar happened to me in 9th grade. My best friends and I began to grow apart. We started hanging out with different crowds and just didn’t have the same kind of time together that we’d always had before.

When I started writing this book, I thought a lot about how different that experience would have been if i had been 12 and in 7th grade (like Bea) instead of 14 and in 9th grade. And what if…instead of a gradual growing apart, there had been a dramatic incident that forced the breaking up of the friendship. What would that have been like? While Bea’s story isn’t quite mine, she is very much like me. Thinking about poems, drawing and scribbling and making up stories and day-dreaming all the time.

When my daughter read the book, she thought that Bea’s parents were very much like me and my real life husband, Peter — she laughed and thought it was hilarious how lovey-dovey they were. So I guess that’s a good thing 🙂 Though when I was writing, I pictured Bea’s father as a combination of my brother in law, who is a very fun and goofy guy and Gene Yuen Lang, who is a wonderful author and graphic novelist (just like Bea’s dad!). I did add some physical elements to some characters based on friends. But mostly, the other characters came out of my imagination with just little hints of people I know.

What was the the original pitch that led to this book? How did it evolve over the drafts?

I was nervous when I pitched this book. I had loved writing my first novel, The Truth About Twinkie Pie. The story and the characters came so naturally to me. And i just didn’t know how to begin this next book. So, I started with the idea that If I had an emotional connection to the story, I would fall back into that wonderful place where the words just flowed. I thought back to my 9th grade year and the changing of friend groups. But I knew I needed something more. Here is the pitch that I sent my editor.

“For 13 year old Dandy, the start of her freshman year in high school feels like she’s on a ride she has no control over. Everything around her is changing and shifting faster than she can handle: her best friends start hanging with a different crowd and she just can’t figure out who she is and how she fits in anywhere — for now, all she wants is to just blend in and disappear. But nothing about Dandy blends into a crowd. She’s different. From being a year younger than everyone in her grade — to the way she looks — to her famous and infamous family — to her talent in the arts which she considers squashing to prevent drawing even more attention to herself. And if that wasn’t enough, in her confusing search for a place to fit in, she finds the person she is spending the most time with is new student David – a boy with Asperger’s who is obsessed with drawing mazes. When Dandy starts leaving torn pieces of paper with her feelings written on them tucked into secret places around campus, she is surprised when she starts receiving responses. LITTLE GIRL IN THE MIDDLE is a story about navigating the painful twists and turns of changing friendships, figuring out how to accept the things that make you You, and then finding the bravery to let the world see.”

As you can see, the initial pitch a little different from the final book. I actually knew nothing of the plot when I wrote this. I liked the idea of hiding pieces of paper with messages on them and receiving answers, but I didn’t know who was sending the messages to her yet. And I remember that I just kinda threw in that David was “obsessed with drawing mazes.” I always liked mazes and thought that would be an interesting thing to write about. Plus I just felt like I needed more detail in this proposal. I wanted to sound like i knew what I was talking about! I had no idea that mazes and labyrinths would become a central theme to the book.

As I worked with my editor, we decided to make Dandy younger and I set her at 12 and in 7th grade. I also changed her name several times! She was Dandy for a long time. Then Tomie. I played with a few other names and then realized that she was definitely a Bea. A Bea trying to figure out how to Be. And that led me to realizing that David was actually Will. Someone who was making small changes – and determined to be a better friend. I liked the future promise of the word Will (I will, you will, he will) and it just had to be his name. After their friendship started shaping for me, I knew that this story would be about life as a maze. And being brave enough to work your way through.

3 ?s about You

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

I’d love to be an artist. I haven’t had a lot of time to paint and draw since I’ve started writing novels and picture books and I really miss that part of my life. I have a beautiful studio that I’ve never set up because we moved into this house just as I started writing my first novel. My easel and flat files and all my art supplies are all just lying there, waiting for me to have time again.

When I think about art and the creation of art, I feel the same way I do when I think about writing. It’s all about finding deep truths, expressing them, and (hopefully) connecting. Both writing and art are such very personal things. I hope to always create in a very honest way because I truly believe this is how you find your people. And how they find you.

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

There are so many books that could fit into this answer. I think I’ll say WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams. I read it in 6th grade and it was my first really BIG novel. I remember thinking about how fat the paperback was and how tiny the type was. It looked like a grown-up book with a serious cover. But the second I started reading, I was transported.

WATERSHIP DOWN is the story of rabbits in search of a new home when their warren is destroyed by humans. I still love and reread this book often. The rabbits have their own language and history. They have legends and stories. They love and take care of each other and argue and fight. And through their story and adventure, they show us that strength is not just about size. That bravery shows up in the smallest of us. And that you can be little and different and strange and still be someone who can make a true difference for the ones you care about. Oh, I love this book. And now I want to go and read it again.

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

Right now, it’s a fruit drawer overflowing with Ruby Red Grapefruit – though, that will be changing soon. Which tells you that I become obsessed — completely and utterly obsessed—with whatever is seasonal and delicious. And then I eat and eat and eat it until the next seasonal thing pops up. I can’t wait for Spring veggies. Baby artichokes and spring peas and asparagus.. The funny thing is that 99% of the time, it’s fruit and veggies that I become excited about EXCEPT for one thing that comes into season late Fall. Mallomars. This always cracks me up. Mallomars are seasonal, because their delicate chocolate coating would melt in the summer 🙂 so it’s always exciting when the first boxes show up in the Fall.

Thanks for chatting with Storymamas! We loved you answers! 

To learn more about Kat and her work. Please visit Kat’s website, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Take a trip to the Amazon Rainforest: Let’s Celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Bom Dia! Good Day! We want to join in celebrating multicultural day by sharing a wonderful travel series!

Thank you to Janelle, a Medallion Level Sponsor for sending us the book, Mystery of the Troubled Toucan by Lisa Travis, illustrated by Adam Turner to review and enjoy. Thank you also to Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom for raising awareness for multicultural books and for celebrating diversity! All opinions are our own.

The book Mystery of the Troubled Toucan is an adventure travel series for ages 6-9 called A Pack-n-Go Girls Adventure, this book takes place in Brazil and is the first in the series. It is about two girls, Sofia and Júlia, who develop a friendship when Sofia comes from Florida with her dad to visit the Amazon Rainforest. Along with the new experiences the rainforest brings she meets a new friend, Júlia.

It’s a mystery that involves a danger signaling toucan, pink dolphins, poachers and two girls who want to save the animals of the rainforest. Not only is it a story about the beautiful country of Brazil but Lisa does a wonderful job of embedding a tricky family situation for Sofia. Her parents are going through a divorce and she is constantly worried throughout the story about what her family will look like when she returns home. Meanwhile Júlia doesn’t seem to worry about too much and often says, “nao se preocupe”, don’t worry when Sofia starts to get upset or worried about something. The friendship the girls build throughout the story is heartwarming. We especially enjoyed the ending of the book when Sofia is on her way home and sees from the airplane the area where two bodies of water meet and she realizes that this is just like her family will be, “separate but not together”.

Lisa writes with such imagery you feel you’re in the rainforest as the girls experience various animals, plants, food and even the Portuguese language. Reading the story made us want to read more about Brazil and get on an airplane to experience it all ourselves! As a bonus feature at the end of the book there is a place with various lists of interesting facts about Brazil like: the history, government, a map, food, weather, Portuguese/English word translations and a travel journal for those that end up going to the country.

Check out the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website for more information about the wonderful event and their mission to spread the diverse book love!

 

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.

World Kindness- #middleschoolpicturebook

Last year I wrote a post about how I use Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco in my classroom for a special Thanksgiving activity. Please take the time to read that post here. 

Today is also World Kindness Day and although I am currently staying home with my two boys for the year and don’t have a class to do this activity with, I decided to become my own student and show kindness to an old teacher. Last night I reread the book and then wrote a thank you letter to an old teacher in my life. I picked a woman who was my cooperating teacher for my student teaching in 2001! I have been in contact with her off and on through the years and decided I wanted her to be the recipient of a letter from me. I hope I hear back from her. Please keep your fingers crossed with me.

Another reason I want bring this book up is because I want to reiterate how important picture books can be for all ages. Right now there is a movement called #classroombookaday, which has many elementary, middle and even high school classes taking the time each day to read a picture book. I feel this book is the perfect #picturebooksformiddleschool! Published in 2012, it is a heart warming story about a bright girl, who has difficulty reading, finds comfort in drawing, and in 5th grade finally meets a teacher who helps her become a reader. Every time I read it I get tears in my eyes when she reencounters her teacher at the end. This is a great time to read it aloud in your classroom and have the students give thanks to the many teachers who have helped shaped who they are.

Please leave a comment on how you’ve used this book or any other “giving thanks” favorites!

 

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

Melanie Crowder talks Three Pennies & More…

I met Melanie at an event a few months ago at Second Star to The Right Books in Denver, Colorado. Melanie sat in a room with me and we book talked many Middle Grade book titles to other educators. She of course gave her own book talk about her book, Three Pennies. Although it was on my TBR pile, I hadn’t yet read it. But man, after her talk about how important this book was to her and the passion in her voice, I knew it had to be moved up. After the talks, Melanie turned and gave a copy to us. I went home and promptly started it….


They say books should be mirrors and windows for readers. This book was a window for me into the difficulties of being a child in the foster care system. In the author’s notes Melanie mentions that she advanced time lines for the sake of the story and is fully aware things take much longer than portrayed in the book. The short chapters, told from different perspectives made such a heavy book seem light and easy to read. I felt that the book read almost as if I was watching it as a movie. The raw emotions from the characters help you step into their shoes. You felt for Marin when she explains why she wants to be invisible in her foster care home. And the desperation when she wants to find her mother. Melanie has created a wonderful book that many would see as a mirror, and I hope that one day those children will find a loving home.  

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

3 Questions about Three Pennies

Were you familiar with the I Ching prior to writing this story?

I wasn’t—at all!

Here’s the story. The last time I visited Montana for my niece’s birthday, my sister had this amazing idea to do a scavenger hunt on bikes for the kids that would lead them ultimately to this sweet little ice cream shop. Perfect. The kind of party a kid would remember forever, right?

Well, the kids were five, so some were ready for the BMX course, but others were still rocking the strider bike. It was a little bit of a logistical challenge, to say the least…

At some point, when faced with too many decisions piling on top of each other, my sister said:

Enough! Let’s ask the I Ching what we should do.

Me: The what?

Her: The I Ching. Duh.

Okay, so I needed an education. My sister explained that the I Ching is an ancient Chinese divination text, credited to Confucius, that has been used for centuries by people to guide them through life. She explained that you could ask questions about everyday kinds of things, or you can ask the BIG questions of life.

So my sister is telling me all about how the I Ching works and I have an honest-to-goodness physical reaction. Something between goosebumps and that feeling you get in the middle of a thunderstorm when there’s a little too much electricity in the air.

I just knew in that moment that someday I was going to write a book about a girl who used the I Ching to figure out her life’s problems.

How did the idea of the different perspectives come to you?

You know, it was that way from the very beginning. That’s just how the story came to me.

This is such an important topic, what was the journey to getting it published?

I am very fortunate—I have an excellent relationship with my middle grade editor. Three Pennies was our third book together. So when I got the idea, I polished up a few sample pages and sent them her way. I loved the story. She loved the story. The publisher loved the story. And that was that!

3 Questions about You

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

When I was a middle grade reader, I was positive I’d be a marine biologist. These days, though, something to do with digging in the dirt sounds pretty great.

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

I read The Blue Sword once a year, usually when the weather turns colder. It’s a little like comfort food by this point!

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

My family has lived in Oregon for generations, and some of the best memories from my childhood are from running around my great uncle’s filbert orchard on the McKenzie River. To this day, I keep a bag of filberts in my fridge for snacking and for when I’m missing home.

Thank you Melanie for talking with storymamas!

To learn more about Melanie and her other books visit her website or you can find her on Instagram or Twitter.

 

All things Jasmine, Mochi, Flamingos..Interview with Debbi Mochiko

The storymamas had a wonderful time interviewing author Debbi Florence Mochiko, creator of the Jasmine Toguchi chapter book series. The Storymamas were eager to meet Debbi and learn more about the books, her process, and what’s next for this talented writer.  The Jasmine Toguchi series includes two books released so far. (More on what’s coming later in the interview).  The main character, Jasmine is fun, feisty, adventurous, and loves flamingos!  Jasmine is a character relatable to all kids. She loves spending time with her best friend, Linnie, gets annoyed by her big sister, doesn’t like to clean and has a favorite thinking spot in a peach tree.

We think her books are a great addition to any home, classroom or library.  Debbi weaves in common threads among the books, and you feel like you really know the characters as you continue to read the stories. Jasmine comes from a Japanese-American family, and Debbi incorporates some Japanese traditions in the books to teach the reader about the culture. Who knew what an involved process it was to make mochi and that there are specific jobs for each gender?! Debbi has also shared with us that there are two more Jasmine books in the works, Drummer Girl (release date 4/3/18) and Flamingo Keeper (release date 7/3/18). We can’t wait to read these to learn more about Jasmine’s adventures and the trouble she might find.

During our conversation we asked Debbi to answer three questions about the books and three questions about her (with some bonus questions too).  Here is what she had to say:

3 Questions about Jasmine Toguchi

What three words would you use to describe Jasmine?

Spunky, confident, courageous

How did the character of Jasmine evolve?

Before she responded she prefaced the answer with “I’m going to sound like a crazy person but” then she began to explain that the character of Jasmine just popped in her head and started talking to her.

She also told us that she read a newspaper article about a multi-generational Japanese-American family making mochi the traditional way and after reading, she thought to herself, “What would happen if a little girl wanted to do the boy job?”  She told us that growing up in the Japanese American culture there are a lot of rules, traditions and traditional roles, and again the story idea popped in her head and she thought about how cool it would be to have a girl try and convince the family to do the boy’s role. But she pushed that idea aside for a bit….

As Debbi continued to explain, that like we see in the books, Jasmine is pushy, confident and courageous and she kept talking to Debbi and she knew she just had to tell her story.  

We love how you weave in elements of Japanese culture into the books, was this in the original pitch idea for the books? Did it start out as a series?

Debbi explained that it has been quite a journey before she started writing. We learned that she also has written several YA (young adult) novels that haven’t “seen the light of day.”

She start writing about 15 or 16 years ago from a Japanese-American point of view, which isn’t something you saw a lot of back then. She tells us when you saw Asian characters in books, it was usually historical fiction or an immigrant struggle. She didn’t have many models of contemporary Asian American characters until Milicient Min by Lisa Yee  or Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park  came out. These books motivated her to write stories like that.

When she wrote the Jasmine story, she knew it wasn’t a YA story, she knew it wasn’t going to be a 17 year old girl pounding mochi, but also knew she didn’t want to do a picture book, so she figured chapter books, which would be the type of storytelling she was use to doing.

She began to study chapter books. Jasmine started out as a stand-alone book. Debbi tells us that she accumulated many rejections before getting an offer.  When her editor asked if she could do it as a series, she said sure. Three more books? Sure!  But she really didn’t have any other ideas. But once she began to think about it more as a series, she wanted it to be universal: friendship story, family story, but also wanted it to have Japanese culture woven into it. And strived to find that right balance. We think she has done a great job!

*BONUS Questions:

Jasmine loves flamingos, is that because it is your favorite animal?

After writing the Mochi Queen book, her editor had her go back and add layers that could carry through the series. She asked about Jasmine’s favorite things, could she have a favorite animal? Debbi wanted to create a favorite animal that was unique and couldn’t be a pet, and she also tells us that her editor is from Miami, hence a flamingo was a perfect fit.

Do you have say in the illustrations?

Debbi explained she’s been very lucky to have seen the sketches and is able to give input. She thinks it has to do with the authenticity of integrating Japanese traditions in the correct way. In an early draft of her book the picture that accompanied a scene where they were rolling out mochi, had them using a rolling pin. Although it wasn’t explained in the text, the picture needed to be changed to the correct process, which is to pull mochi balls and roll them in your hands.

What is your favorite kind of mochi?

Debbi’s eyes lit up and our mouths started to water as she explained about her favorite type of mochi, Azuki. It is a red bean, that’s sweet and looks like chocolate. She told us that if you bite into it thinking it’s chocolate people usually don’t like it. But she enjoys it and wishes she can get it around her.

3 Questions about You

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

Debbi originally started off with a degree in zoology and wanted to be a zoo educator.  She had her dream job for about five years, a curator of education at the Detroit Zoo.  Underneath, she says, she’s always wanted to be a writer.  But if she could start all over and not be a writer, she would love to be an editor.

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

She reads about 100 books per year. And it’s getting harder to keep so many books in her head. So she offered us a favorite from her childhood, Charlotte’s Web. (Which is also Jasmine’s favorite book).

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

Laughing before answering…She said that she isn’t the cook in the family, her husband is. So she doesn’t even know what is in it right now. But then told us all about, Umeboshi, a Japanese pickled plum, which is actually a type of apricot. She explains that it is very, very sour,  It’s her favorite kind of treat, a comfort food she explains, she also says it’s an acquired taste since it’s very sour. But she says her fridge will always have it.

Thank you Debbi for taking the time to chat with the Storymamas! To learn more about Debbi Mochiko visit her website.  Or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Sparkle Boy Shines Bright

Author Lesléa Newman contacted Storymamas about her newest book, Sparkle Boy. We were so excited to get this one in the mail and share it with our own kiddos as well as the students we teach. A little boy, Casey, loves all the sparkly things his sister is wearing: her skirt, her bracelet, her nail polish and he wants to wear sparkly things too. But her sister doesn’t agree and claims that boys can’t wear sparkly things. We love the adults in the book who fully support Casey’s interests. Eventually once Casey’s sister hears other kids making fun of him she sticks up for him and believes he can be whoever he wants to be and wear whatever he feels comfortable wearing. It’s a story of acceptance, kindness, sibling love and the freedom to be who you want to be! We love the beautiful, textured illustrations and know that this book will be one that makes children believe they can also be themselves and free to break the gender stereotypes. Lesléa was so kind to answer some questions for us about her book, read on to hear about her writing process and a little bit about her as a person!

3 Questions about Sparkle Boy

What was your inspiration for writing Sparkle Boy?

All the “sparkle boys” in my life, young and old! I have a good friend who loves to dress up in silky nightgowns and matching peignoirs. He only feels safe to do so in the privacy of his home. I have thought a lot about that. Then one year, I attended family week in Provincetown and met many little boys who love to wear tutus. One boy’s father said, “I wish he could dress like this all year instead of just for one week.” I thought a lot about that, too. I wrote SPARKLE BOY in hopes of expanding these “safety zones.” The entire world should be a safe place for any one of us to dress as we please without fear of ridicule or harm.

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

I hope children will take away the idea that we all deserve to be who we are, and that skirts, nail polish, and glittery jewelry have no gender. They are for everyone who wants to wear them. I hope the book relays the message that everyone deserves acceptance and respect, and that diversity enriches our world.

What was your process for writing Sparkle Boy?

I wrote SPARKLE BOY the way I write all my books: by longhand in a spiral notebook. I wrote the first draft quickly, without looking back. Then I read it over and revised it. Then I read the new second draft and revised it. After I did this about twenty times (really!) I showed it to my spouse, who is an excellent reader, to my writer’s group which is made up of extremely smart women, and my wonderful agent. After I got their feedback, I revised and revised and revised. Then when the book was ready, my agent sent it out and I was lucky enough to have it accepted by Lee & Low, which is a fabulous children’s book press whose mission is to fill the world with diverse children’s books. Then my editor gave me notes and I revised once more. And then the text of the book was done and ready to be illustrated by the fantastically talented Maria Mola.

3 Questions about You

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

Ooh, this is a hard question. I would want to work with animals because I am such an animal lover. But I can’t stand the sight of blood (I pass our easily!) so I could never be a veterinarian. I would love to be an animal therapist and bring dogs and cats to nursing homes and hospitals. When my dad was recently in the hospital, he was visited by a collie named Alfie and it cheered him up so much. But I think I will stick to being a writer (and continue to write books about animals, such as Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed and The Best Cat in The World).

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

Oh, there are just so many, it’s hard to pick just one. But if I had to, it would be Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl which taught me more about human nature than any other book I have ever read.

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

There is always some form of dark chocolate in my refrigerator. My beloved grandmother, who lived to be 99 years old always ate a tiny bit of chocolate every night so “life shouldn’t be bitter.” I am proud to carry on this tradition!

 

BONUS Question

What does your workspace look like? 

I actually have two work spaces, one at home, and one away from home. At home, I have a big room with a couch and a desk and chair and lots of bookshelves. My desk faces a wall and on the wall, among my awards is the only painting I have ever done: a portrait of my dog, Angus who came to live with my family when I was 12. Outside of my home, I work at a writer’s collective called The Writers Mill where I share a room with 3 other women. Our motto is “Industry Loves Company.” I have also been known to write in coffee shops and hotel rooms, and on planes, trains, and buses. That’s the beauty of writing: all you need is a pen and notebook and an open heart and mind and you can do it anywhere.

The wall of awards and her first painting!

 

Thank you Lesléa for writing such an important book and making it entertaining, adorable and one that all kids can connect to in some way.

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.