Thank you to Penguin for providing a copy to review. All opinions are our own.
Happy book birthday to The Panda Problem by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Hannah Marks! We loved reading this book and laughed out loud throughout. The narrator is convinced that every story has to have a problem, but Panda thinks otherwise because he doesn’t have a problem. As the narrator and Panda go back and forth in hilarious banter, Panda realizes that he might be the problem.
As I read this aloud to a giggling group of third graders yesterday, I thought about how I could further use this book in the classroom. The first two ideas that came to mind were to introduce the components of good story telling, and to introduce dialog.
In my experience, a lot of my students love to write stories, thinking that the length in pages equates to the quality of the book, or that simply telling all about a character rivals a best seller. When I teach my students about the parts of a story, I always emphasize that the character(s) need to have a problem that they eventually solve. This book would be a great intro text for teaching this skill.
I also thought this book would be great for teaching students about dialogue. The narrator and panda talk with each other throughout the entire book in a fun, entertaining way. This played a large role in making the book what it is, which is an important lesson for students to learn for their own writing.
Whether using this book in the classroom, or simply reading aloud for fun, we highly recommend having a copy of The Panda Problem in your library!
About the Author…Deborah Underwood has worked as a street musician and at an accounting firm but for years has been a full-time writer who occasionally plays the ukulele. She is the author of several picture books, including New York Times bestsellers The Quiet Book and Here Comes the Easter Cat, as well as Monster & Mouse Go Camping, Interstellar Cinderella, and Bad Bye Good Bye.
About the Illustrator… Hannah Marks is a self-taught illustrator and designer, who often gets her best ideas after eating cake. She lives in England with her husband, three children, a bonkers cat, two gerbils, and a teeny-tiny Roborovski hamster. The Panda Problem is her U.S. picture book debut. Find her on Twitter @Hannah_Marks, on Instagram at hannahmarks_, and on Pinterest at hannahemarks.
Thank you to author Lindsay Leslie for sending us this hilarious book. All opinions are our own.
We can’t get enough of This Book is Spineless by Lindsay Leslie illustrated by Alice Brereton. It’s hilarious and so entertaining! We love how the book is personified as a scaredy cat and doesn’t want you as the reader to turn the page because you may just stumble upon a very frightening experience! YIKES! But we can’t stop turning the pages! The gorgeous colors of the illustrations make you want to jump in the book and help it move past the anxiety it’s feeling. They are the perfect match to the words! This book for sure will get any child (and adult) giggling and feeling a little bit comforted by the fact that others share anxious feelings towards things! We can’t wait for her next book, Nova the Star Eater, coming out May 2019. Lindsay was kind enough to give us the inside scoop on how she came up with the idea for the book and answer a few fun questions for us!
Can you give us an inside scoop that we wouldn’t learn from reading your book?
Ooooo, the scoop! The biggest scoop is my inspiration for THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, which has two parts. I came up with the title of the book when I walked into my youngest son’s messy room and stepped on one of his picture books. I don’t remember exactly what happened in my brain, but I can imagine it was thinking something like, “I stepped on a book. I hurt the book. I broke its spine.” Then I shouted out, “This book is spineless!” My second inspiration wasn’t quite so in-the-moment. I have always dealt with anxiety — from a young child to even now. This title gave me the perfect vehicle for a story that could show an anxious moment to a child in a palatable, silly, even endearing way, and how even a scaredy-pants, fraidy-cat book could face its biggest fear. The last bit of scoop is I wanted to make sure the book wasn’t completely resolved of all its anxiety, as that is not reality for those of us who live with more than our fair-share of anxiety and not the reality I wanted to convey.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?
This is difficult to answer, because writing has been a part of every career I’ve ever had. Maybe a therapist? I do like to help people work through their issues. It also helps me to reflect on what I could be working on, as well. Maybe a clown? I do like to goof around and make people laugh. Maybe a clown therapist? Zoiks. But I could not imagine a life where I don’t write as part of what I do day to day.
What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?
OK, I’m going to break the rules. I’m going to give you two books. One adult, one children’s. I’m going to have to say Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood because of its structure and approach to storytelling. It was a liberating and inspiring read for me and made my mind explode with possibilities. It was the book that convinced me creative writing was an option and I should explore it.
The second is The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak. I love the rule-breaking, envelope-pushing spirit of this book. It creates the best engagement between the reader and audience. No one gets away from that book without a big laugh and a shared experience.
What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?
Thank you again to Lindsay Leslie for sending us the book for review and for the interview. If you’d like to learn more about her check out her website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Pancakes to Parathas – Breakfast Around the World takes readers on a trip around the world learning all about typical breakfast faire found in different countries. Each page is filled with an introduction to the popular breakfast food, bright and detailed illustrations by Tomoko Suzuki and a closer look at the country’s traditional dish.
This book taught me so much about foods I need to try! Many of foods Alice includes I have not gotten a chance to eat and I’m excited to have learned about them. Some I hadn’t even heard of, while others I knew the name, but didn’t know a lot about the ingredients or history. I love how each page also gives you the proper pronunciation of each word. It also provides a map at the end to show us where each country is locate on the map.
This book can add so much to any library collection. While reading it with young kids it helps them have a deeper understanding and appreciation for other cultures. In a classroom I see this as a great resource for studying countries, cultures or traditions. Wherever you choose to share this book, you are sure to come away hungry! (See link below for an awesome Israeli Salad recipe).
Alice was kind enough to stop by our blog and tell us the inside scoop of the book, information you wouldn’t know from reading the book. Here’s what she had to say:
The idea for this book began I saw a photographic article from the New Yorker showing pictures of children from around the world eating breakfast. “Could this be a picture book?” I wondered.
I decided after some thought that it could make a great picture book. But breakfast is complicated. Foods in one country can be very unfamiliar to people from other countries. As I looked at the photos and read the descriptions of the foods, I wondered how I could make breakfasts around the world accessible and understandable to young readers.
After a few weeks, I had an idea. I decided to focus on the things that we had in common. I chose one familiar element from each of the breakfasts, such as “breakfast in Australia is salty” and “breakfast in Israel is a homegrown feast” and I worked the text around that. That’s how the book began!
Although I’d visited several of the countries in the book (I had a great time chasing down cornmeal porridge in Jamaica and can give you a recipe if you like!), I wanted to find people who were actually from each country, in order to get the breakfast time details needed to make the book truly authentic. I loved the process of finding and communicating with people from each place, and asking them about their memories of breakfasts as a child. This involved reaching out to friends who grew up in, or still lived in, each country. It also gave me the chance to meet new friends. I had a lovely time at an Indian restaurant in my hometown, talking with the owner about his memories of breakfasts in India. Then, as an extra special surprise, he brought me back to the kitchen and had the chef give a demonstration of how to make parathas – with delicious samples to taste.
I think everyone enjoyed sharing their experiences, and the unique details they gave me helped each country in the book come to life!
If you’d like to try and make your own Israeli salad, click on the link below for a yummy recipe from Miri Leshem-Pelly.
Thank you Lerner Publishing for sending us a copy for review; all opinions are our own. We love this book! The rhyming and catchy text take you on a making journey. The reader is challenged to be a maker from creating a tower to a rhythm to making a difference. The question at the end brings it altogether, “are you proud of what you made?” The illustrations are beautiful in color, detail and diversity. A wonderful read for classroom bookaday or really anywhere/anytime. After reading you will be inspired to make something! We were lucky enough to get the inside scoop from author, Katey.
Can you give us an inside scoop that we wouldn’t learn from reading your book?
I’d love to! BE A MAKER actually started as a list of ways we use the word “make” in English. I was comparing it to other languages, thinking about how broad a meaning that one word carries, and how confusing that could be to non-native speakers. You could make a sandwich, and you could make a face, and the actions involved are so very different. Why would we use the same word?! When I switched from thinking about the verb “to make” and instead considered the noun “maker” – it all seemed so much more intuitive. A maker has the power to add something to the world that wasn’t there before, to change something that isn’t working, to affect others’ lives. I asked my kids and scout troop what the word “maker” meant to them – and so many of them immediately thought about robots and computers and engineering. “Maker” and “Makerspace” had such strong tech vibes in their experience that they didn’t really think beyond that. I wanted to find a way to broaden that image in their minds to include all sorts of creative endeavors – and BE A MAKER began to take shape.
Thank you Katey for giving us the inside scoop! To learn even more about Katey, please visit her website. Or follow her on Instragram and Twitter.
Thank you so much to Boyds Mills Press for sending us What If…Then We to review and to Rebecca Kai Dotlich for giving us the inside scoop! All opinions are our own.
We fell in love with dynamic author/illustrator team, Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Fred Koehler awhile ago when we first got our hands on One Day, The End. Check out our interview with Rebecca about the book here and our interview with Fred about his debut chapter book, Garbage Island here.
We are so excited to share with you Rebecca and Fred’s latest, What If…Then We.
The book takes you on an imaginary ride with polar bear friends thinking up “what if” scenarios. What if… all the crayons in the world melted, we couldn’t find our way home, something really big and scary happens. Following the same format as its’ companion book One Day, The End with minimal words telling the story but so much meaning and creativity you can read this one over again and again and still feel like you’ve read it for the first time! The illustrations are beautiful and add so much depth to the words. It was hard to pick a favorite illustration but my five year old and I loved the detail on this one because we noticed the reflection of one polar bear in the water and the other polar bear painting the same picture.
We asked Rebecca Kai Dotlich for the Inside Scoop as she wrote this beautiful book…
When I began to brainstorm the “possibilities” and “what ifs …” in a tiny blue notebook, I was loosely envisioning a parent/child relationship — but as soon as I told that to Fred Koehler, my fabulous and creative illustrator, he said “I see them as friends.” And I thought for a moment and said “cool.” And that’s how it became about friendship, woven with the idea of imagination and possibilities. (Also, Fred had the sketches of his little polar bears on his phone and shared them with me over hot chocolate and we both felt immediately that the words of the story and the polar bears were a match.)
What can you imagine?
We were imagining the endless possibilities and teachable moments that could happen while reading. I read it with my five year old and I kept asking him to answer the what if questions. He loved sharing with me where his imagination was taking him. As we turned from page to page he started thinking about what we could create together to go beyond the book: use paper to make origami animals, birds, boats and waves; build a spaceship with cardboard boxes and use crayons to draw all the buttons and finally write our own version of what if…then we. We can also see using this in a classroom to inspire children to imagine various scenarios, to show that sometimes we don’t need lots of words to make a story interesting and captivating and to have discussions around friendship. What possibilities can you imagine, discuss, create and build while reading?
What if the book never ended…then we would be so happy and do a book dance! But for now let’s do a GIVEAWAY!
***GIVEAWAY INFORMATION**** Thank you Boyds Mills Press for sharing the book with us! They were kind enough to donate a copy to one lucky reader! Here are three ways to enter, (US only: Giveaway closes on Wednesday, 2/13 @ midnight ET).
This wonderful new book about making the most out of your birthday will be released next Tuesday, February 12th. Penguin books was gracious enough to send us the F and G to read and share.
This book is is adorable! It takes you through the 10 rules the authors have picked to help any reader have a successful birthday. With humor spread through the text and pictures, this will surely have readers of all ages laughing and hoping their birthday isn’t too far away to celebrate.
“Rule #5- There must be signing. Traditionally the “Happy Birthday” song. Sung happily and loudly and definitely off-key. ”
I am so excited to use this as my new go-to birthday book present! Also, it can be used in the classroom to talk with your kids and students about birthday traditions.
“Rule #9- You must blow out the candles in one single breath. Unless you are a camel…..” (Page turn…)
I also envision this as a great book for reading and writing in the elementary classroom. Using the part mentioned above, I can see how it helps kids with predictions, inference, or even for writing. Kids can practice personification, but still using real facts.
Today, January 31st we celebrate National Inspire Your Heart with Art Day. Penguin Publishing has kindly given us a copy of My Heart to use to inspire our young children to celebrate how special our hearts can be. If you haven’t read this gorgeous and heartfelt book you need to immediately read it! Corina Luyken has a true talent for creating the reader with an experience as you move through the pages of her book.
My Heart tells readers that it is ok to feel different things, to be closed to ideas and people and open your heart when you are able and ready.
After reading and discussing the book with 5th graders I had them each help decorate our clear “open” heart. Each student came up with whatever was in their hearts at that moment and decorated a small square that would be placed on our group heart.
Students were so excited to show off how they represented what was in their hearts. Some very literal “I have lemon squares on my mind” to a student drawing an abstract design and described it as a beautiful ocean scene.
Once we finished our squares we put them on the heart and taped the heart to the window. The students felt proud to see their work displayed, and how it came out so well together. We all left with our hearts full.
A friend of mine got together with his brothers and created this special picture book called Chasing The Sun. Mike, who is the Masserman brother I know, has always been a great storyteller and one who loves to travel. This book is a product of many of his adventures and takes its readers on an adventure too!
Tiki The Turtle who lives on an island his whole life, begins to wonder where the sun is going each day. He spends the next day chasing the sun. He encounters many of his friends and asks for their help and wisdom for finding it, but in the end, after visiting many spots on the island and talking to many animals, the sun has come back. Will he ever find out where it went? Or be satisfied with seeing it each day before it disappears?!
Told in rhyme and with vibrant, bold color illustrations, this book will keep the interest of all readers. Reading with my son, we discussed how Tiki never gave up on trying to find the sun, at one point he gets tired and we think might stop, but he comes upon a snail who thinks can help. It was great to talk about not stopping when things get hard or you aren’t finding a solution right away. We also loved pointing out all the different animals Tiki chats with during his journey. The Masserman brothers put a fun facts page in the back so we were able to talk more about each animal mentioned.
Personally knowing one of the authors and hearing a lot about the other brothers, I know the book’s message is one they all believe in: taking it all in and appreciating what you have and searching for what might still be out there!
We asked the Masserman brothers to give us the INSIDE SCOOP…
Hailing from Irvine, California, these Wolverines (they all went to Michigan – Go Blue) grew up surfing, hiking, playing music, laying in hammocks, and exploring the world. They’ve surfed in Mexico, trekked in Alaska, backpacked through Southeast Asia, and are only just getting started!
This book has been a passion project ever since Mike spent his junior year in college abroad watching sunsets in Jerusalem, and scribbled a few notes in his journal about a kid chasing the sun. Many years later, Oren visited Mike in Sydney, picked up that old journal, and this brand new adventure had suddenly begun.
By then, Oren had moved to Maui and started writing ukulele music, where he had kids dancing on boats to his tunes. Tal was finishing up Dental School at the time, and with his unique take on what kids like (island adventure books), this brothers publishing trio was formed.
They hope to spread the aloha spirit with this book, and inspire people to appreciate the journey, dream out loud, and keep chasing it all.
Thank you to the Masserman brothers for joining Storymamas on their blog. To purchase the book, please feel free to click on the title of the book below. (It will take you to amazon, but it is not an affiliated link).
Have you gotten a chance to check out Q & Ray? It is a wonderful beginning reader, graphic novel series written and illustrated by husband and wife team, Stephen and Trisha Shaskan. So far there are three Q and Ray series. Q and Ray Case #1 The Missing Mola Lisa, Case #2 Metorite or Meteor-Wrong? and Case #3 Foul Play At Elm Tree Park. They are written in graphic novel style in which friends Q and Ray end up using their observational skills to solve a mystery. These are great books for students who enjoy reading mysteries and can be used by teachers to help teach the mystery elements. Using a creative spin, Trisha has based the storylines off of real facts from art, science and history. This latest book, gives facts at the end about The All American Girls Professional Baseball League, while the other books talk about art, the Mona Lisa and meteors. They are filled with knowledge, humor, fun expressions (Leaping Limburger), friendship and mystery! Be sure to check them out!
Trisha and Stephen stopped by the blog to answer 3 questions about the series and three questions about them!
Three Questions about Q & Ray series
We love how curious and willing to learn Q and Ray are, where did the inspiration come from for creating these 2 characters?
After we both graduated college, Stephen and I met while working at an elementary school. For the first time, I was an educational assistant in a second-grade classroom, but also taught storytelling and creative writing after school for kindergarten through fifth-grade students. I found creative ways to engage students through stories, songs, humor, and imagination. Like our characters Q and Ray, the students were curious, eager, and able to learn. I have kept that teaching experience in my heart and I channel it, often subconsciously, while writing books. I am also a very curious person. Each of the Q & Ray graphic novels has a theme I wanted to learn about and one I know kids might be curious about—for example magic, Leonardo da Vinci, how meteors become meteorites, or the AAGPBL (All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.) The characters names Q & Ray are a riff on Q & A, questions and answers, which is at the heart of a mystery. As far as mysteries go, I was heavily influenced by Sherlock Holmes while writing this series. I am a huge fan. As my sister Nicole Speed says, Holmes’ mysteries are “a brain massage.”
It is not uncommon for writers and illustrators to never meet, as a husband and wife team, how does the process for creating this book work?
All the books that we work on together are ideas that we have worked on together from the start.
Both of us read each other’s work and critique all of it—and help each other. For example, you’ll find phrases I contributed in Stephen’s picture books and the phrases Stephen contributed in my picture books. But the big difference in our books that we’ve created together is that we’re both involved in the whole process from the beginning brainstorm, to outlining the plot, to critiquing. But when it’s time to write, I go off on my own. And when it’s time to illustrate, Stephen works individually as well. We don’t interfere with each other during that part, which is fun because we usually surprise each other.
Which Q and Ray have been your favorite to work on and why? (We know it’s like picking a favorite kid 🙂 )
The first Q & RAY was so great to work on because it was my first time ever creating a fully colored finished 48 page graphic novel. I grew up reading comics and dabbled in creating them in my late twenties. When I was finished with the first book it felt like a huge accomplishment. As the series progressed, I continued to learn about creating graphic novels and really trying to push the form more.
For me, Q & RAY #3: Foul Play at Elm Tree Park was my favorite to write because I had learned enough about the graphic novel format to utilize it more fully. Plus: Doris Sams and the AAPGBL (All-American Pro Girls Baseball League) make appearances, which is so important to me. When I was a young athlete, I was often the only girl or one of a few girls surrounded by boys on the field, rink, or court. I didn’t know women once had a pro baseball league. I would’ve loved to have known that. Now I get to share that information with young people everywhere who also often don’t know about it.
Three Questions about You…
If you weren’t writing books for children, what would you be and why?
For twelve years, I was a preschool teacher. If I wasn’t creating books, I would probably be involved in early childhood education in some way as well as creating art. I’m always creating art. Even when I’m working on children’s books, I make time to do different art projects on the side: I’ve done political posters, made magic wands, installed a submarine room in our basement, and always have some little thing I’d like to try or something I find in an old sketch book that sparks some creativity.
I have worked in education and the roles I loved doing most would lead me to being a reading specialist, media specialist, or teaching ELL (English Language Learners).
What is one book you’ve read that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?
There are so many, this is a difficult question for an author/illustrator. Our bookshelves are lined with books that have stuck with me. I think Harold and the Purple Crayon is a great example of a book that has stuck with me. It’s so well crafted, simple, and elegant. It’s a book that works as a reader and as a read aloud.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame captures the heart of my childhood: friendship and the river. I grew up in a Mississippi River valley town, Winona, MN, like Ratty who lives on The River that grips “things with a gurgle.” The River flows through the story and connects Mole and Ratty as does nature and its cycles. Grahame’s springtime has “birds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting—everything happy, and progressive, and occupied.” Grahame’s lyrical language sings on every page. But the heart of this story is the friendship of the shy Mole and good-natured Ratty, the impetuous Mr. Toad, and worldly Badger who doesn’t like society. Despite their differences and shortcomings, the characters are wonderful friends to each other. No matter what happens in the Wild Wood or world beyond they help each other get out of trials and tribulations. In friendship, there is hope and refuge like the sparkle of sunlight reflected on the ripple of a wave.
What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?
Two bottles of cat medicine for our 19-year-old cat Eartha, who is my studio buddy and always so helpful.
A bottle of kombucha, which is for a house guest. I love welcoming friends and family into our home, so I always have something special in the fridge for an upcoming visitor.
Thank you so much Stephen and Trisha for stopping by our blog. We loved meeting both of you this past summer at NerdCamp and look forward to seeing you again in July!
Here are links to their websites if you’d like to learn more about them and their work:
The storymamas are huge fans of Tim Miller’s talents and our kids can’t get enough of his Moo Moo books! You could imagine our eagerness to read Horse Meets Dog, the new book he illustrated by author Elliot Kalan, and we appreciate the f&g copy sent to us by Harper Collins.
When Horse meets Dog, he thinks that he is a tiny horse, and similarly when Dog meets Horse, he thinks he is just a big horse. The whole book is the two of them going back and forth in comedic fashion, trying to show each other that they are correct. You’ll love the funny banter between the two animals and the wonderful illustrations!
Three Questions About Your Work…
The illustrations in Horse Meets Dog really make the story! What was the collaboration like between you and author Elliott Kalan?
Hello Storymamas! Thank you so much for your interest in the book and for having me as a guest! (You’re welcome…and thank you for stopping by!)
The collaboration between Elliott and me making HORSE MEETS DOG was pretty straight forward. Elliott wrote it before I ever laid eyes on it, and then I got to do whatever I wanted; my favorite kind of collaboration! Although I toiled over the illustrations more than anything else I’ve done so far, the visuals themselves came easy to me because Elliott’s writing is so funny it draws itself. In that sense the collaboration was a breeze and a lot of fun!
What is your process for creating illustrations?
My process is basically this: 1) Read manuscript and let whatever visuals come to mind rise to the surface intuitively.
2) Take note of those impressions by scribbling tiny thumbnails in margins of manuscript.
3) Go at character sketches in a same way, drawing the first thing that comes to mind and then refine until you’re satisfied.
4) Storyboard thumbnail first impressions to see how everything looks together.
5) Next, see how you can smoosh everything into constraints of pagination limit. Nix what isn’t necessary and give prime real estate to the most important moments. At the same time, think about overall balance of book as a whole. How can you give it rythem throughout and differentiate things so that the reader can experience the unfolding of story in the most impactful way.
6) Be open to feedback from Editor and Art Director! Nothing is better than the opportunity to hear their input to broaden your thinking and shed light on things you may not have seen (Dana Fritts and Donna Bray were wonderful to collaborate with, and we had a lot of fun untangling some riddles in the pagination together early on).
7) Make rough sketches for finishes from thumbnails. Basically roughing out the ideas on a larger scale.
8) Then I make finished drawings with ink and brush on a lightbox working from roughs. I rarely draw each composition whole, but do it in fragments. For example, I’ll do a piece of Dog’s ear, then the snout, then the body and so forth. I do this because I’m rarely satisfied with each drawing as a total because I make a lot of mistakes. So, to cope with my sins I build a collection of fragments for each composition and then stitch everything together like a collage in the computer.
9) Finally, I add the color digitally!
We are huge fans of your work! What can we expect from you next?
Thank you so much! I feel incredibly lucky to be making books, and it means the world to me that you don’t hate them!
What’s next? Well, I can’t tell you because it’s still top-secret, but I can at least share that it’s partly inspired a former student of mine who wore cat ears to class every day.
Three Questions about Tim Miller…
If you weren’t an illustrator/author, what would you be and why?
I would draw and paint things that I like to look at because that is the one thing that makes me feel most connected to everything.
What is one book you’ve read that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?
Most recently it’s Jon Agee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book. I’m in awe of it, and can’t stop thinking about how brilliant he is at realizing the potential of the art form.
What is one item in your refrigerator that tells us about you?
Eggs. Other than that the fridge is currently empty.
Many thanks to Tim Miller for the interview! We had a chance to meet him this summer at Nerd Camp and appreciate the support he’s given us. You can get your own copy of Horse Meets Dog today, and can learn more about him on his website.