How We Got to Now Blog Tour

Thank you to Penguin Publishing for providing us with a copy of the book to review.  All opinions are our own.

There are six innovations in our modern society that were not invented overnight, but rather took many years and many minds to create.  How We Got to Now takes a look at those six areas:  glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light.  In a non-fiction book perfect for middle to upper grade readers, author Steven Johnson captures the reader’s attention through engaging narrative text and authentic photographs.

Each chapter is a walk through history, with snippets of time periods and inventions that led to the world we live in today.  From physician John Snow’s discoveries about the spread of cholera, to Clarence Birdseye developing flash freezing for food. 

I loved how the book was divided into not only the chapters explaining the six innovations, but within each chapter were sections about the different time periods and inventions.  The photographs and captions throughout the book helped breakup the text-rich pages and provide amazing visuals to further comprehension .

We recommend this book for 5th grade and up!

Author Bio:  Steven Johnson is the popular, bestselling author of Wonderland and How We Got to Now, among other adult books. He was the host and co-creator of the PBS series How We Got to Now and has written for many blogs and publications, including TIMEWiredThe New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

Garbage Island Interview & Giveaway!

Thank you Boyds Mills Press and Fred Koehler for making us a stop on the Garbage Island Blog Tour! Be sure to check out all the other posts! Fred stole our hearts with his lovely illustrations to One Day, The End in collaboration with Rebecca Kai Dotlich.  Garbage Island is Fred’s debut middle grade novel!

Garbage Island is a story about hope, friendship, taking chances, making sacrifices and getting yourself into danger along the way! This story follows our creative, selfish, and helpful shrew named Archibald and the Mayor of Garbage Island, Mr. Popli. Both have Garbage Island’s best interest at heart, but with their own definition they seem to get into some pretty crazy encounters and adventures. When their home splits apart, the two of them desperately try to make their way back to the home they built. They come upon many dangerous predators and some not so favorable weather. Will they each survive long enough to find their way home?

This story was jammed packed with so much action. Fred has written in a way that when I got to the cliff-hanger, last lines, of each chapter, I kept saying to myself “ok I’ll read one more chapter”.  Fred has also put in his artistic touch, sprinkling through black and white sketches of the story. I think that this book will resonate with students who enjoy reading books about animals, adventure, environment or a it’s also great for a reader who just wants to read something that’s a lot of fun!

Here’s some of the inside scoop about the book, thanks to Fred for answering 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about himself!

3 Questions about Garbage Island

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

Do they all have to be adjectives? ‘Cause if not, I’d go with “Deadly, Wisecrack, and Recycle.” (And if they do have to be adjectives, I’d have to change it to “deadly, wisecrack-y, and recycle-ish.)

Deadly – On just about every page, one of our intrepid heroes is nearly eaten, exploded, dismembered, drowned, or worse.

Snarky – The characters take it all in stride, often mocking their adversaries and the accompanying impending doom.

Recycle-y – (Which isn’t really a word but I’m hoping you’ll give me a pass since the other two ended in ‘y.’) One of the main themes of the book is how the characters use the floating trash around them to build useful things that help them survive.

What was your inspiration for writing Garbage Island?

As an idea generator, I love to the play the ‘What If’ game. Anytime I see something unusual or out of place, I’ll ask myself ‘what if’ questions and see if it leads to a story idea. When I first learned of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch several years ago, one of my questions was the following: What if there were animals marooned on some of that floating garbage? That question led to more questions. What would they eat and drink? Where would they sleep? How would they get along? When my brain started coming up with satisfying answers for these questions, I knew I had a world that would make for a great story.

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

“Mr. Popli looked out from his only porthole into the world, scrunched his whiskers, and gasped.” These were the first words that popped into my head when I sat down to write Garbage Island. I can’t tell you where they came from, only that they never once changed, not through all the rounds of edits. I knew Mr. Popli was a courageous and confident mouse, the kind of mouse who could lead an island of castaway creatures.

I also knew Mr. Popli needed a foil, a character who would make sure his plans never went quite as expected. (Otherwise, what fun would it be?) Along came Archibald Shrew, whose ravenous appetite and twitchy behavior would be perfectly irksome to the polished and proper mouse.

Then of course Edward the Dung (beetle) was too funny a name for him to have any other personality than that of a party pooper. Merri, the blackpoll warbler, is the smallest bird to have a transcontinental migration. She would have to fierce and relentless. And Culebra, the banded sea krait, was one of a very few species of sea serpent that lay eggs–an important fact for the story.

3 Questions about You

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

I would choose to be a billionaire, because billionaires travel the world in expensive yachts sipping umbrella drinks from coconut halves… Just kidding.

I wonder if I wouldn’t be some sort of underwater treasure hunter. I’ve always had a love of adventuring, and a knack for finding things. I pick up shiny objects all the time–sometimes they’re gum wrappers but sometimes they’re silver dollars! I love free diving in the ocean and in the the Florida springs. I’ve collected prehistoric shark teeth, ice age tortoise shells, manatee bones, and all sorts of other cool and interesting artifacts. If I had the time and equipment, I’d definitely go looking for sunken pirate gold!

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

Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet tells the story of a young man who survives a plane crash and has to make it on his own in the Canadian wilderness. That book awoke something inside of me–a call to nature and adventure. But then I grew up, and I forgot about that call for the longest time. I got a job, wore a tie to work, and watched TV on the weekends. But the call would not give up, and it returned with an opportunity to join the Peace Corps, spending two years in a village in West Africa working with indigenous populations. The spirit of adventure inspired me to backpack through a desert in Mali, learn to dive 70 feet underwater on a single breath in the Gulf of Mexico, and do many other fun and ridiculous things that now show up in my own books. I can only hope to pass that spirit on to others.

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

“Dad, there is literally nothing in the fridge.” One of my kids told me that yesterday. While we do in fact grocery shop, I always seem to put it off as long as possible. Why? Because every shopping trip is two hours I can’t spend writing, illustrating, spending time with my family, or going off on a solo adventure. Besides, there’s always takeout. 😉

***GIVEAWAY INFO****

Boyds Miller is offering one lucky reader a chance to win a copy of this book! To enter please subscribe to our blog. If you already subscribe, please comment on this blog post! Good luck!

Author Bio: Fred Koehler won a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award for his illustrations for One Day, The End. He is the author-illustrator of How To Cheer Up Dad, which received three starred reviews, and he is the illustrator of This Book Is Not About Dragons and Puppy, Puppy, Puppy and Flashlight Night.  He lives with his children in Lakeland, Florida.

NERD ALERT! (Author Interview)

Enginerds is a hilarious story of a battle between boys and robots and it will make you laugh to the nerd degree! A group of boys who call themselves the EngiNerds, who are mostly friends, are all incredibly smart and most definitely nerdy, find themselves fighting bots who shoot food combustibles out of their butts (what’s not to love)! Ken, the main character, encounters a robot named Greeg in a box full of parts. He begins to put him together but doesn’t have time to finish and the next thing he knows, there is a walking, talking, 90 mph fart-blasting robot walking around his house! He has no idea where Greeg came from and after the initial excitement over finding his very own robot, he realizes he needs to figure out what to do with him and where he came from. Once he realizes a fellow EngiNerd has designed, built and delivered robots around town he’s faced with a new challenge: to save the world from their destruction! We can’t wait for the next book, Revenge of the EngiNerds coming February 2019! Thank you to author, Jarrett Lerner, for making us laugh and for taking the time to answer some questions about your book and yourself!

3 Questions about Enginerds

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

Friends. Food. Farts.

What literary character would Ken and Greeeg be friends with and why?

I like to think that Ken could be friends and have fun with just about anyone, but I REALLY like to think about what might happen if my characters somehow got mixed up with the kids (and adults, and clown-snakes, and lobster-monkeys) in Rob Vlock’s SVEN CARTER series.

And as for Greeeg — I like to imagine him meeting WALL-E, and hopefully learning a thing or two from the little guy!

Besides peanut butter on popcorn, were there any other bizarre (but yummy) food references that didn’t make the final draft?

No. But I’ve got a friend who often eats pickles with his ice cream. I’m sure I’ll work that into a book sooner or later!

3 Questions about You

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

A donut-taster. I don’t think that’s really a job, but since we’re in the world of hypotheticals, I’m making it one. And WHY would I want to be a donut-taster? Because I’d get to taste donuts all day!

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

Come on, Storymamas — you should know that, when asked a question like this, a passionate reader can never just name ONE book. How about I limit myself to three? Here I go: Ann Braden’s THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS, Kelly Yang’s FRONT DESK, Yuyi Morales’s DREAMERS, and Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James’s CROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT. Okay, fine — that was four! We better hurry up and move on to the last question before I name a fifth (which would probably be Thyra Heder’s ALFIE or Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s I’M SAD or maybe Christina Uss’s THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE.)

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

A large jar of yeast.

 

If you’d like to learn more about Jarrett Lerner and his nerdiness visit his website or you can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Cover Reveal *Just Like Rube Goldberg*


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

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

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

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

My original writing goals were strictly YA.

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

I gave myself a challenge.

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

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

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

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

And then, like magic, there was Rube.

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

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

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

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

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

So I did it!

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

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

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

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

Here’s my favorite Rube Goldberg quote.


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

And without further ado…………..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Questions about The Dollar Kids

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

Thought-provoking, entertaining, uplifting

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

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

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

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

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

3 Questions about You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join The Unicorn Rescue Society!

We were lucky enough to be chosen to join The Unicorn Rescue Society-The Basque Dragon blog tour!  Thank you Penguin Publishing for sending us a free ARC.  We have enjoyed this series and know it will be loved by all readers.

If you haven’t read the first book, you should start there…you’re in for a real treat!  In the first book, The Creature of the Pines, you meet the entertaining and adventurous characters.  And of course, learn about The Unicorn Rescue Society.

After you read this series, we’re pretty sure you will be wanting to join The Rescue Society yourself!  Afraid to go at it alone?  We’re here to help!  We’ve written a letter for you to give to a friend that might need a little convincing.  After all, secret societies are more fun with a pal!  Check it out below:

If our letter doesn’t help you convince your friend, here’s what Penguin has to say about The Unicorn Rescue Society. 

A fully illustrated, globe-trotting new middle grade fantasy-adventure series about mythical creatures and their cultures of origin, from the Newbery Honor-winning author of The Inquisitor’s Tale.

Elliot and Uchenna have barely recovered from their first adventure with the Unicorn Rescue Society when the mysterious Professor Fauna approaches them with an all-new quest. And this time, they’re going to have to cross the Atlantic Ocean to the Basque Country. Elliot and Uchenna, with Jersey in tow, soon wonder whether their newest, fire-breathing rescue might be more than they can handle. And why do the evil-doing Schmoke Brothers seem to be involved yet again?

This is the second book in Unicorn Rescue Society, an exciting and hilarious new series about friendship, adventure, and mythical creatures from around the world by Newbery Honor-winning author Adam Gidwitz teamed up with Mixtape Club founders Jesse Casey and Chris Smith, and Hatem Aly, illustrator of The Inquisitor’s Tale.”

The Unicorn Rescue Society: The Basque Dragon is out July 10th!  And be sure to check out www.unicornrescuesociety.com to learn more about the characters, the books, and the authors & illustrators.

Calling All Grumpy Readers…

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

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

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

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

Three Questions About Grump

What are three words you would use to describe Grump?

Unexpected, Humorous, Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Questions About Liesl Shurtliff

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

Secondhand Heroes

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

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

Three Questions About the Secondhand Heroes Series

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

Adventure, Fun, Heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Questions About Justin LaRocca Hansen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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