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.

Maggie & Abby’s Neverending Pillow Fort

 

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

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

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

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Ooo! Okay: Tangled. Awesome. Friendships.

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

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

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

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

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

3 ?s about You

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for chatting with Storymamas! We loved you answers! 

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

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.

The Science of Breakable Things – An Author Interview with Tae Keller

After discovering The Science of Breakable Things on the Electric Eighteens website, I couldn’t wait to read it.  I love books that have a story; one about life, or family, or hope, or friendship.  Or in this case, all of the above.

Written as a science lab notebook, with different sections following the different parts of a scientific method, The Science of Breakable Things tells the story of Natalie, a young girl whose mother is suffering from depression.  She’s convinced that she can bring her mother back from the dark depths of her bedroom to the mother that she knows and loves, and also misses.  When her science teacher introduces her to the idea of an egg drop competition, Natalie enters with a team of her best friend and an unlikely partner.  Her plan is to use the prize money to get her hands on a rare flower that has special meaning to her and her mother, and thus showing her mother that her life is worth living.

Tae Keller has an amazing way with words and Natalie’s story is filled with emotion, sadness, and triumph.  Tae was kind enough to send us an ARC, and answer some questions about The Science of Breakable Things and herself below.

 Three Questions About The Science of Breakable Things

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

Hopeful, honest, and…egg-cellent (…sorry, I can’t resist a bad pun).

You’re characters were so complex and well-developed.  Which did you have the idea for first? The characters and their personalities, or the plot of the story?  

Thank you! I knew I wanted to format the book as a middle school lab notebook, so I knew the story would revolve around science in some way, but besides that, the characters came first. I always prefer to start with characters because their motivations, fears, and desires determine the plot.

What was the inspiration for your story?  Was Natalie’s story based off of your own experiences in life?  

When I started writing the story, I had just found out that someone very close to me was suffering from depression. It was such a scary time; I didn’t know how to help or what to do and I wrote the story as a way to process my own fear. Natalie’s situation with her mom was different enough from my own that I could still keep some distance, but close enough that I could work through what I was feeling at the time. I actually wrote more about that process here.

Three Questions About Tae Keller

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

Even if I weren’t a writer I’d do something with books. I love them and I can’t escape them. I’d like to work in publishing again, or be an English teacher, or a bookseller. A life full of stories is a happy life.

What is one book that you have read that has stuck with you?

HOLES by Louis Sachar! It’s one of my favorite books ever, and it’s brilliantly crafted. I loved it as a child reader, and I love it even more as an adult writer. I still reread it, and every time I do I learn something new about writing.

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

Not so much in my refrigerator as on it, but I love my word magnets. I was in a creative rut a few months ago, feeling completely uninspired, and on a whim, I pulled the magnets off my refrigerator and made a poem out of them. It was such a jolt to my creative system, and it was pure fun. I do this often now and post the little poems on Instagram when I need a break from writing books.

 

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.

The 11:11 Wish…An Interview With Kim Tomsic

We’ve all had those moments, when we’ve made a whimsical wish knowing that it won’t come true, but are secretly hope that it does anyway.  But what if on one of those days, the wish…does come true?  Kim Tomsic was kind enough to send us an advanced copy of The 11:11 Wish, and answer questions in our interview below.

In the book,Megan is having trouble fitting in as a new student in middle school from day one after she is “zapped” by a classmate as she arrives in the office.  A new student hazing of sorts, Megan needs to plan something exciting by the end of the day.  Feeling lost, the memory of a rhyme her grandmother once recited while wishing on a cat clock comes back to her as she notices the same type of clock in her classroom.  One wish leads to another and before she knows it, Megan is in way over her head!

The 11:11 Wish tells the timeless struggles of going through middle school, while taking on a modern, fanciful feel.  Middle grade readers will definitely be able to relate to the characters and picture themselves in the novel.  Read below to hear from Kim Tomsic.

3 Questions about The 11:11 Wish

Is Megan’s character based at all off of your middle school experience?  My father was in the military, so I spent much of my life as the new girl, which felt fine when I was younger, but not so fine when I moved from Texas to a new school in Arizona. Somewhat like Megan’s experience of moving two weeks after the start of her seventh-grade school year, my move happened three weeks after my freshman year of high school. Yep, school had already begun which made for one tough experience! Everyone already had their friend groups, and I spent my time worrying that I’d be sitting alone at lunch. I’m not sure why that felt like it would be the worst thing in the world, but the thought of everyone seeing me sit by myself felt humiliating. The funny thing is, now I can’t remember who I ate with during those first few months or why the idea of people seeing me eat alone mattered. I have no problem sitting by myself now, but that experience serves me today as a reminder to reach out to someone in case they feel awkward or alone.

The problems that Megan faced have been problems kids have faced in middle school for years and years.  What research did you need to do to make her experience authentic and realistic in current times?

My research came from having a front row seat to the inside skinny with my kids—I was a good listener when I carpooled my children and their friends to school, to soccer, to dance, to the mall, to lunch, to anywhere! Furthermore, I was an active volunteer at their school. My main character Megan has a “wenis” incident in the story; well, a “wenis” is something my son came home from school laughing about. He thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. Megan’s worry that she might be dressed like a forest ranger—I swear I heard those very words from my daughter’s own lips.  Many of the funny moments in the story contain a kernel of real life.   

What was the inspiration for your book?  Do you personally own a cat clock?

When I grew up, my family had cats but never a cat clock. Oh, how I loved those clocks, especially the ticking-tocking eyes and moving tail, so fun and whimsical! The notion of saving my money and purchasing a cat clock didn’t even occur to me, because it felt untouchable, like an item too magical to own.

As an adult, my niece and my daughter loved to announce that it was time to wish whenever the clock (any clock) ticked to 11:11. That’s when the idea struck me—I needed to write a book about wishing at 11:11, and naturally the magic had to be leveled by the magical cat clock of my memories.

You’ll be happy to know that after I turned in my final edits for The 11:11 Wish, I made a special celebration purchase: One authentic black and white Kitty-Cat Clock!

3 Questions about You

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

I love this question and the possibilities that spring to mind. I think my answer changes every week. This week’s answer:  if I weren’t a writer, I’d study to become an illustrator!  I love to sketch and draw, and though I only have minimal skills, it’s satisfying to take out my colored pencils and watch a shape take life. I find it fascinating when I go to a conference and listen to an illustrator give a presentation about the artistic choices he or she made to produce magic in their art. Professional illustrators are true wizards and I’m awed by their craft.

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

I recently read an advance copy of a book releasing in June, 2018 called The Boy, The Boat, and the Beast by Samantha M. Clark. I found the book similar to Hatchet meets The Wizard of Oz. I can’t stop thinking about how it all comes together in the end.

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

Hmmmm, probably my tangerine LaCroix—I don’t mind being bubbly!

 

Kim’s upcoming events…

THE 11:11 WISH Book Launch BOULDER!
 DATE:

Thursday, 22 February 2018

 TIME:

6:30 pm

 VENUE:

Boulder Bookstore, Pearl Street, Boulder, CO

Book Launch party! Please join me!
1107 Pearl Street, Boulder CO
The 11:11 Wish book launch party DENVER!
 DATE:

Saturday, 3 March 2018

 TIME:

1:30 pm

 VENUE:

BookBar Denver, 4280 Tennyson Street, Denver, CO

Please join me at BookBar for my Denver launch party of The 11:11 Wish!

When: March 3, 2018

Time: 1:30pm

Where: BookBar Denver, 4280 Tennyson Street, Denver CO

Tattered Cover Writing Workshop for Kids, So You Want to be a Writer! 11 Magical Tips to Make Your Writing Come Alive!
 DATE:

Saturday, 24 March 2018

 TIME:

1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

 VENUE:

Tattered Cover Bookstore, 2526 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80206

Writing workshop for kids, ages 8-18 years old: So You Want to be a Writer! 11 Magical Tips to Make Your Writing Come Alive
nErDcampKS
 DATE:

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

 VENUE:

nErDcampKS

nErDcampKS 2018 Hesston, Kansas

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

The Unintentional Adventures are Anything but Bland!

 

Image Copyright Jen Hill

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

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

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

 

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

Magic, mystery, marshmallow.

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

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

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

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

3 ?s about Kara LaReau

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

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

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

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

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

A bottle of Champagne — bubbly and fun at parties.

Giveaway!

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

Here are the different ways to enter:

-Comment below

Or

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

Or

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

Each will earn one entry! Good Luck!

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

Kara LeReau

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

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

Voices From The Underground Railroad


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

Here is the book trailer! Check it out!

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

3 ?s  about Voices From the Underground Railroad

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

Escape. Running. Freedom.

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

What a good question!

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

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

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

3 ?s about You

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

Another great question!

Sometimes. I think about losing the capability to draw.

If that happened, I would write.

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

How about four, instead:

Milo’s Hat Trick, Jon Agee.

Alfie, by Thyra Heder

Bone Dog, by Eric Rohmann

Lion, Lion, by Miriam Busch

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

Blueberries!

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

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