Wide Awake Bear & Chat with Author: Pat Zietlow Miller

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

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

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

3 Questions about Wide-Awake Bear

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

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

What does your workspace look like?

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

What was your process for writing Wide-Awake Bear?

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

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

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

3 Questions about You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Sophie’s Squash

The Quickest Kid In Clarksville

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

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

Kid Review: Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race

Hannah, our guest blogger,  brings us today’s #middlegrademonday recommendation. Below is her review of Chris Grabenstein‘s Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race:

The book Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race by Chris Grabenstein is the 3rd book in the Mr. Lemoncello series. It was a good book, but some parts of it might be hard to understand if you haven’t read the other 2 books. I was able to make many predictions that were close to accurate, but there was a big twist in the end. When I met the author, I realized that he was a lot like his character, Mr. Lemoncello.

If you like puzzles, games, and reading, this is a book you should read.

 

Hannah is currently a 5th grader, but was in my class as a third grader. When she was in my class she loved getting my recommendations of books to read. She only read one book at a time and put others on her “shelfie” (phrase we call our mental shelf of books we want to read).  Hannah loved our #bookmadness16 tournament, reading all the nominated books (caught in the act on the tweet below). She often used our class twitter account to report out the winners of each round or to tweet to the nominated authors! 

 

   

I am so happy Hannah and I still keep in touch and talk about books. And I appreciate her taking the time to give us a kid review of a book (series) we have enjoyed!

 

Hannah is a 5th grade student who loves to read, dance, ski, and hike. She is a great big sister and loves sleep away camp.

 

 

Spotlight On: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

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

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

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

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

3 questions about the book

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

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

What does your workplace look like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 questions about you

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Debbie for chatting with us!

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

Kim Bogren Owen – Book Reviews

Orchids

What immediately struck us about Orchids is the beautiful, clear, crisp picture on the cover. We love how the entire book is dedicated to this one gorgeous flower. We see this book being a great resource for us as an introduction to the beautiful flower or if one of our kids wants to learn more in-depth information about orchids. The book is filled with wonderful facts about orchids, which are accompanied by bright photographs that support the text. What we appreciated about the book is that it can be read and enjoyed by the smallest reader who wants to learn about shapes, colors and sizes. Kim does an amazing job of making connections for the reader from text to self and to the world. From the very first page she describes how orchids come in all shapes and sizes, just like people, and goes on to make a connection to orchids being symmetrical, just like our faces! She weaves interesting facts into the connections that children make to things they eat too. For example, how the vanilla orchid is pollinated by people and used in some of the most delicious foods we eat (oatmeal, cookies and ice cream). It is also wonderful for an older reader, possibly a budding botanist, with text that is also more complex and shows different ways an orchid affects our lives. At the end of the book, Kim gives suggestions to extend learning, the ideas are geared more toward younger readers, involving different multi-sensory activities, but can be adapted for all ages. Orchids can be a wonderful book to start a conversation about flowers, nature, pollination, vocabulary, and the life cycle, or it can be a great reference to use to explore more about these flowers which make so many people happy! We only hope she has more of these beautiful nonfiction books in the works; we think this would make a wonderful series!

 

Art Part – A Child’s Introduction to Elements of Art

Kim mixes art concepts and vocabulary with work of art by children. Art Part – A Child’s Introduction to Elements of Art is a useful guide for a young artist to learn that creating art can take on many shapes and forms. We like the wide range of art concept words ranging from concrete ideas to more abstract. After each page she provides a blank page for the reader to practice these concepts. We know sometimes it is hard to write in a book (even if it’s allowed), so when purchasing the book Kim allows you access to practice pages so you don’t have to write in the book or if you are working with more than one reader, you have multiple pages so there is no arguing (we love how she thought of that). We can see this book helping parents show their kids more ways to create art, but we also see it being useful in an art classroom. At the end of the book Kim writes ten ideas to further explore art and all the concepts learned in the book; a helpful guide for artists. As teachers and parents we would love to add an idea. The page where Kim discusses texture we would ask our children to go on a texture scavenger hunt and find the types of textures she describes: prickly, smooth, hard and soft and then glue in the artifacts they found so there is a tactile element to the texture page, similar to the touch-and-feel board books our babies love.

Kim also runs wordsreflected.com  a blog that gives parents and educators ideas on how to promote language and literacy with young children.  You can connect with Kim on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Also, if you’d like to purchase either of these books. Please click this link. 

 

Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge – The Story of A Girl You’d Want to Know

Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge by: Kristin L. Gray

I met Vilonia on a beautiful summer morning before my kids were awake. Drinking coffee I began the book. I learned quickly that like myself, Vilonia was a leftie, which had her playing first base in baseball and she was now going to try out pitching. Even though I’m an adult, making connections with characters draws you into a story, and from page two I was hoping my boys wouldn’t wake up for awhile so I could learn more about her.

I learned from reading the book that Vilonia is a true friend. She is loyal to everything she meets.  I say everything, because you need to read it to hear what happened with the goldfish 🙂 She is committed to her family, although her mom is having a tough time since her mother passed away and Vilonia is trying desperately to keep the family together. Her dedication and kind heart shine through in the whole story and you only wish Vilonia would be your friend, too!

Kristin’s story has many fun moments where you want to be in on the action, while other parts speak to you about how hard it is to loose people you love.

Kristin was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book and three questions about herself! Enjoy and don’t forget to get your copy of Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge today!

Three Questions about Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge

Tell us more about how you came up with the unique name of Vilonia Beebe.

Great question! Vilonia and Beebe are two towns in Central Arkansas, near the city of Little Rock (where I grew up).

Were there parts that are based on real life events? (Without giving us any spoilers).

Yes! I’m a preemie, like Vilonia! So the first page is my birth story. I weighed two pounds at birth. Also, my dad, like Vilonia’s, is a fisherman. (I do wish I had Leon and Vilonia’s treehouse, though.)

In the acknowledgments you said – to Jesse who told me to “write this book already”.  How long was the journey to writing Vilonia’s story?

Vilonia’s story took me a whole year to write. Then, I spent another year in revision with my agent and editor. Then many months of waiting before she actually appeared in stores and libraries as a real book.

Three Questions about you

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

Possibly an artist or illustrator. As a kid, I was always drawing. I’d give anything to be able to sketch or paint whatever I wished. Hmm. I also like cupcakes a lot. So being a baker would be fun. But I wouldn’t want the pressure of baking a wedding cake! Oh! I know. Maybe a scientist or archivist? I love research and random facts.

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

I just finished Claire Legrand’s SOME KIND OF HAPPINESS (2016). It is a wondrous, magical tale of family, secrets, adventure, and bravely speaking truth.

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

So, let’s keep this between us, but I hide mini dark chocolate peanut butter cups in my refrigerator so my family won’t eat them all. Ha!

Thank you for having me. I love the Storymamas!

To learn more about Kristin visit her website or you can also find her on Instagram or Twitter.

Melanie Crowder talks Three Pennies & More…

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


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

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

3 Questions about Three Pennies

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

I wasn’t—at all!

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

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

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

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

Me: The what?

Her: The I Ching. Duh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Questions about You

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Melanie for talking with storymamas!

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

 

Open If You Dare-Interview with Dana Middleton

If you’ve been following our blog for awhile, you’ve read about Dana Middleton’s first book, The Infinity Year of Avalon James (and if not take a look at the link). Even though Open If You Dare takes on a whole different genre it was just as good and couldn’t keep us from turning the pages. Dana graciously agreed to another interview with us and once again after the interview we decided that yes, in fact, we want to be friends with Dana and the characters she writes. Open If You Dare comes out tomorrow so pre-order today so you can read this awesome mystery, the perfect fall book!

3 ?s about Open If You Dare

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Mysterious, suspenseful, nostalgic. Not that nostalgia even exists for my target readers, but it was nostalgic for me.

Which character do you relate most to Birdie, Ally or Rose and why?

I relate most to Birdie, some to Ally, and not at all to Rose! Birdie is most like me. We like mysteries, we’re weirdly brave sometimes, and also sometimes selfish. And we’re very loyal friends. I played fast pitch softball so I was a little bit of a jock like Ally but definitely not as tough. Rose is an alien life-form to me. I have no idea where she came from and I think I’d be a little scared of her if we met in person!

This book is a mystery, was your writing process different than when you wrote The Infinity Year of Avalon James?

Yes! Because it was a mystery how it was going to happen! And I mean that on many levels. First, I wrote The Infinity Year of Avalon James without the pressure of a publisher waiting for it. Open If You Dare was different because I’d never written on a deadline before. I figured out quite quickly that I had to show up to the page almost every day or I might fail completely and never do it. Also, I’d never written a mystery before (and it turned into quite a strange mystery) so I hope readers will go down that path with me. Afterwards, I swore I’d never try a mystery again but lately, I’ve begun to think it might be fun to attempt another one. Funny how time lets us see things differently!

3 ?s about You

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

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. I love time travel. I love mystery. I love strong girl characters. This book is challenging to the reader and it’s real in a way that makes you want to read it again and again.

Now that you’ve written a mystery and realistic fiction/fantasy (depending on the reader) books, is there another book genre you’d like to explore and possibly write next?

I’m working on that other book now. It’s steeped heavily in the realistic fantasy camp. And I’ve got a science fiction story up my sleeve that might come after that.

What does your workspace look like? 

My work space is everywhere. I share an office with my husband but I rarely write there. I’m often at our dining room table or at a local coffee shop tapping away among other writers. That’s one thing I love about writing. I can do it anywhere!

Thank you Dana for taking the time to answer our questions! To learn more about Dana Middleton visit her website.  Or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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

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

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

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

3 Questions about Jasmine Toguchi

What three words would you use to describe Jasmine?

Spunky, confident, courageous

How did the character of Jasmine evolve?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*BONUS Questions:

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

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

Do you have say in the illustrations?

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

What is your favorite kind of mochi?

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

3 Questions about You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sparkle Boy Shines Bright

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

3 Questions about Sparkle Boy

What was your inspiration for writing Sparkle Boy?

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

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

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

What was your process for writing Sparkle Boy?

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

3 Questions about You

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BONUS Question

What does your workspace look like? 

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

The wall of awards and her first painting!

 

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

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street – Your Next Read!

 

As soon as October 1st hits, it’s time to break out the Halloween decorations!  Nothing says fall like pumpkins, skeletons, and anything spooky.  It’s also the best time of year to get my students hooked on one of my favorite types of books…scary stories!  I’m excited to share Lindsay Currie’s debut novel, The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, with my students and fellow #mglit loving friends.

After seeing the cover and reading the teaser, I couldn’t wait to read this book.  It didn’t disappoint!  Tessa, and the rest of the characters, were well developed and believable, and the plot was engaging from the start.  Lindsay Currie’s talented writing balanced an engaging story line, with eerie, scary elements. And as a former resident of Chicago, it was fun to read about all of the history-rich places around the north side of the city.

I read this book on my iPad, and would often read while feeding my baby in the middle of the night.  There were some nights that I couldn’t put it down…and the next thing I knew, it was an hour later!  The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street is the perfect combination of all things middle grade, and with the added elements of the supernatural, it should be your next read!  We won’t judge if you decide to leave your light on…

Three Questions about The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street

We loved that you picked landmarks around Chicago as the setting in your story.  Was there any significance to the location of Tessa’s house?

Ahhh, yes. First of all, I’ve been a resident of Chicago for almost 20 years. I adore the Windy City – especially my neighborhood! In terms of Tessa’s house, although it’s on the fictional “Shady” street, the home itself is very much modeled after my own home and street! The descriptors of Tessa’s new graystone fairly accurately describe the exterior of my own building which was built in the late 19th century, and the street details are definitely based on my quiet, little tree-lined street in East Lakeview. Although I don’t find my home to be spooky like Tessa Woodward does, I am fascinated by the history of it and often find myself wondering about the families who lived in it before me.

Is any of the information about Graceland factual?  Are there any mysterious happenings?  A glass box?

YES! There are many ghost legends buried in Graceland cemetery, and some of the mysterious happenings in PECULIAR INCIDENT are based on real events that have been reported over the years. While I can’t go into detail on specifics without giving away the identity of the ghost, I can say that I wouldn’t want to wander Graceland in the dark for sure. There’s been reports of vanishing statues, eerie wailing, and mysterious cold wind for decades! In fact, the cemetery reports to having lost many folks from their grounds crew because they quit after deciding that cemetery is indeed . . . you guessed it . . . HAUNTED.

We know you love all things scary, but we feel like it would be a hard genre in which to write original ideas.  Where did you get your ideas for the book?  

It can be challenging, but I’m fortunate to live in an area where the history is so rich (and spooky) that I feel like I have a ton to work with. PECULIAR INCIDENT stemmed from one particular ghost legend that has always fascinated me. After doing some research and visiting the grave in-person (it’s only 10 minutes from my house), I was so spooked by the concept that I knew there was a book to be written on it! Fast forward through many trips to the Chicago HIstory Museum, many late nights up researching and writing, and VOILA! PECULIAR INCIDENT was born!


Three Questions About Lindsay Currie

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

Oh wow. This is a hard one. Many years ago I was actually in flight school learning to fly planes so I could interview with the FBI for a Special Agent position. That would have been cool and all, but my life would have been so different! I’ll admit that asking my family to possibly move all around the country was never appealing. Plus, I never would have followed my dreams and attempted to write a book! Though doing the whole Jack Bauer thing still strikes a special chord in my heart, I’m incredibly grateful for the change in my career path years ago. I have always loved books and writing and having the opportunity to do what I love for a living is the best. Gift. Ever.

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

Oh my goodness, there are so many. I’d have to say that the book that most influenced me was Where the Red Fern Grows. I read it in fourth grade and it impacted me so strongly that i remember thinking (for the very first time) that i might like to try writing when I grew up. Although the author, Wilson Rawls, has passed on, I hope he knew what an incredible gift his book was to those of us who read and loved it!

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

Probably olives. I LOVE olives. Garlic stuffed, spicy, greek . . . you name it and I probably have it in my fridge! And since I can’t have something salty without something sweet, there’s generally a frozen Hershey’s bar in my freezer, too. Sounds healthy, huh? 🙂

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street comes out October 10th!  Visit Lindsay Currie’s website to learn more about her and preorder your copy.