Meet Yasmin…and Author Interview

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

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

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

3 Questions about Meet Yasmin

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

Relevant. Fun. Timely.

What literary character would Yasmin be friends with and why?

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

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

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

3 Questions about You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Credit given to: Rudine Sims Bishop for the term

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.

Just Try It Wyatt – Author Interview & Review


One of my favorite parts of Storymamas is interviewing authors and illustrators. It is always fascinating to hear the evolution of the book and the inspirations for creating the characters or story. I also love to hear more about their lives. Since we are three people, it is often hard to meet in person due to being in various locations, so many interviews have taken place using video technology or email exchanges. When a local author in my hometown outside of Detroit reached out to me and wanted to meet me and talk about her book, I jumped at the chance. Kelsey and I met at a coffee shop and talked all about literacy and our passions for what we do. Kelsey Fox is the author of the book Just Try It Wyatt.

Just Try It Wyatt is a book about a fox named Wyatt who is stubborn and doesn’t want to try anything new. When all the things he knows and likes aren’t available, Wyatt becomes annoyed and sad. Will his frustrated lead him to try something out of his comfort zone? And if he does, will he like it?
What is great about the story is it is relatable to everyone who reads it- kids, parents, teachers; we’ve all either been Wyatt or known someone like Wyatt. Kelsey has done a wonderful job of creating an engaging story around this difficult concept. I think the way Wyatt acts and feels throughout the book will help strike conversation around this idea of not being afraid to try something new. Preschool and primary classroom teachers can benefit from using this book as a resource in their classroom. Parents of young children can also get a lot out of it with their kids. I’ve started to refer to Wyatt when I’m encouraging my 3 year old son to try new foods.

Another great addition to the book is the true facts about the red fox in the back of the book. Many times I’ve had kids ask questions about animals in books and I have not known what to tell them at that moment, and we’ve had to find another resource to figure it out. Kelsey was thoughtful and has added information to the back of her book.

Something else that is so special about the book is Kelsey. I know I can’t meet ever author out there (although we would love to), but hearing her talk about how this book is a labor of love for her, the countless hours she’s put into writing, rewriting, editing, and finding how to publish, is inspiring. I loved listening and learning about how much she has learned in the business and how much she still wants to find out. She shared with me that she needed to redo most of the book, illustrations, books size, paper weight, just so that stores would even consider putting it on their shelves. It was wonderful to meet her and hear her talk about her book. And so I hope you will take a chance with a book you might not have heard of before and Just Try It!

Kelsey was kind enough to answer our Storymamas questions. Three questions about the book and three about the her.

3 ?s about Just Try It Wyatt

What three words would you use to describe your book?
Educate. Entertain. Inform.

What was your inspiration for creating the book?
As a teacher, I understand that we want stories to correlate with a greater lesson we’re trying to teach our students. I sometimes found it hard to find the perfect book to teach to, so I wrote my own. My plan is to create an entire series that teachers can use the first few weeks of school about good character and being a part of a classroom family!

Can you tell our readers about your choice to self publish and what are some of your big take-aways after going through the process?
Deciding to self-publish was such a hard choice to make. There are pros and cons for both self and traditional publishing paths. Self-publishing allowed me to have more control and creativity throughout the whole writing process. I also am able to have my book out to the public practically years before if I would have went to a large publishing house. My biggest take away is that self-publishing is very hard work! You’re your own editor, formatter, publicist marketing manager and everything in between! You need to be a go-getter and dedicated. Even after meeting with two publishers, I choose to self-publish and have been 100% happy with my choice!

3 ?s about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?
If I was not a writer, I would like to be a farmer. I like animals and gardening. I have a small urban farm now where I grow all my family’s vegetables in the summer, can them in the fall and raise chickens year long. It would be great to live in the country and have lots of land.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?
When I was growing up I love the Little House on the Prairie books! My mom introduced me to them and I was hooked! Reading about someone who went through so much, but lived to tell the tale amazed me. I think that may be why I enjoy memoirs so much today.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?
I always have coffee in my fridge! It’s a staple in my diet. As a mom, teacher, wife, and writer, I am always on the go and need that pick me up to help me with my busy lifestyle. I would like to think that means I am a go-getter and am up for any challenge!

To learn more about Kelsey, please follow Wyatt on Facebook and Twitter!

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.