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.

My Colorful Chameleon – An Interview with Leonie Roberts

We were each generously given copies of My Colorful Chameleon by Leonie Roberts to review and enjoy with our children.  And I have to say, the books are definitely being enjoyed!  There are so many elements of the book that are appealing to younger children, especially the rhyming that is found throughout.  In addition, on almost every page, the young girl’s chameleon is hiding, which adds to the mother’s frustration, but makes for a fun search at each turn.  Throughout the book, there are also opportunities for conversations about more rich vocabulary words.  In the story, the girl and her mother take the chameleon to the veterinarian, and the doctor discusses why her pet changes colors, which is a great jumping off point to talk about the word camouflage.  But be careful, this book just might have your children asking for a pet chameleon!

We had the opportunity to interview Leonie Roberts to learn more about her and My Colorful Chameleon.       

Three Questions About My Colorful Chameleon

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

Cute, funny and colorful!

Did you initially set out to create a book that rhymes?  Or did you initially draft it differently?

I didn’t deliberately set out to write this in rhyme but the story seemed to lend itself to rhyme and so even the early drafts were rhyming. Since then I have been writing both in rhyme and prose.

We love how well the illustrations match your words.  Did you have a lot of say in the illustrations?  What was your collaboration like with Mike Byrne?

The illustrations were completely down to Mike. He had free rein on how to interpret the text and I was delighted with the results.

Three Questions About Leonie Roberts

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

I am actually still a primary school teacher and I love working with young children because they never fail to brighten up my day. Children are so clever and funny and there aren’t many more rewarding jobs out there.

If I wasn’t a writer and I could be anything I would probably be a singer. I’ve always loved singing even before I dreamt of becoming a writer.

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

As a child the book that stuck with me was, “Pongwiffy” by Kate Umansky. I can’t remember what happened in it I can just recall how much I enjoyed it.

As an adult, “The Hunger Games” trilogy stuck with me, so much so that it is the only trilogy I have read twice.

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

A creme caramel because I love my sweet treats.

 

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.

Just Try It Wyatt – Author Interview & Review


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

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

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

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

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

3 ?s about Just Try It Wyatt

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

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

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

3 ?s about You

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

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

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

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

Be Kind – A Must Read For All & Illustrator Interview

We don’t even know what to say except Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and Illustrated by Jen Hill should live in every classroom, every home, and every library! What a special book Pat & Jen have created. In a time where there is so much going on, reminding us that “being kind can be easy” but it also says it can be hard and sometimes scary. This book is a great reminder of how we can begin and continue to spread kindness from all different places.

When Tanisha gets grape juice spilled on her, all the kids laugh, except one, our main character. She is a wonderful person who shows empathy toward Tanisha and tries to cheer her up. When her attempt fails, she thinks of what it really means to be kind. Is it the little things, the big things, will small acts of kindness add up to something great? This book tackles these complex questions and helps us see that kindness can be both big and small. 

Pat and Jen have created something beautiful together, as the words and pictures work in perfect harmony. The character who has gotten the spill on her, is covered in purple. The hues of purple woven into the story tell even more of the mood and layers the characters are feeling. And something that struck me is the plain purple endpapers. It made me stop and think and gather my thoughts. Lots of books these days have designs or even the story on the endpapers, this is just purple, and the color helped me stop and reflect before and after the book.

Thank you for creating this book, we look forward to sharing it with our kids and students.

Jen Hill was kind enough to answer 3 questions about her art and three questions about herself.

3?s about your art

What is your go to medium for creating illustrations and why?

I use combinations of Gouache, Photoshop, pencil + paper, and recently have begun experimenting with Adobe Sketch on my iPad. Painting in gouache will always be my favorite, but I use it less and less as digital rendering allows for easier revisions. The medium I choose for the final art depends on the piece. For middle-grade I work in a black and white pen-and-ink style. For picture books I’ll use gouache or photoshop or a combination of both.

Because you illustrate for a variety of authors with varying stories, how do you create art to look different while still adding your signature look?

Color and application of medium is probably the best answer here. Every story has a distinct voice, and I choose my approach accordingly. A “loud” story will have heavier pictures; for a “quiet” story I’ll use a softer touch and more muted palette. For a wry story I’ll give the characters a bit of an edge. I always begin the same way: I print the manuscript so I can doodle along the margins as I read. After a few readings I’ll have a proper feel for the tone and mood. From here it’s matter of instinct. Imagery typically pops into my mind and I attempt to create what I see using the medium which best fits the picture in my head. The end result may resemble what was in my imagination., but sometimes it differs wildly. That’s okay, because I trust the process.

In your email you described this as  “perhaps the most meaningful collaboration I’ve been a part of.” Can you tell us more about that.

When I read the manuscript for BE KIND I was moved by the message of thoughtfulness and empathy. I admire Pat’s skill in creating a deeply felt experience with minimal words. There is no moralizing in this book; the reader is instead invited to ponder a variety of scenarios relating to kindness and compassion. It’s a direct appeal to one’s best self, powerful in its subtlety. The opportunity to make art is even more of a privilege when the message promotes kindness and celebrates humanity.

3?s about you

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

Oh, so many things. I always knew I would be an illustrator and never considered a different career, but I have had a few side gigs along the way. I’m an armchair psychologist, a hairdresser, and a secret singer-songwriter.  If I had the means I’d be a career college student. There’s so much to learn. History is full of fascinating stories.  

What is one artist that you would outfit your home with if you had all the money in the world?

Saul Steinberg or Georges Braque.

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

Seltzer. I am an addict.

To learn more about Jen Hill, please visit her website or follow her on twitter and Instagram.

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.

Take a trip to the Amazon Rainforest: Let’s Celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Bom Dia! Good Day! We want to join in celebrating multicultural day by sharing a wonderful travel series!

Thank you to Janelle, a Medallion Level Sponsor for sending us the book, Mystery of the Troubled Toucan by Lisa Travis, illustrated by Adam Turner to review and enjoy. Thank you also to Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom for raising awareness for multicultural books and for celebrating diversity! All opinions are our own.

The book Mystery of the Troubled Toucan is an adventure travel series for ages 6-9 called A Pack-n-Go Girls Adventure, this book takes place in Brazil and is the first in the series. It is about two girls, Sofia and Júlia, who develop a friendship when Sofia comes from Florida with her dad to visit the Amazon Rainforest. Along with the new experiences the rainforest brings she meets a new friend, Júlia.

It’s a mystery that involves a danger signaling toucan, pink dolphins, poachers and two girls who want to save the animals of the rainforest. Not only is it a story about the beautiful country of Brazil but Lisa does a wonderful job of embedding a tricky family situation for Sofia. Her parents are going through a divorce and she is constantly worried throughout the story about what her family will look like when she returns home. Meanwhile Júlia doesn’t seem to worry about too much and often says, “nao se preocupe”, don’t worry when Sofia starts to get upset or worried about something. The friendship the girls build throughout the story is heartwarming. We especially enjoyed the ending of the book when Sofia is on her way home and sees from the airplane the area where two bodies of water meet and she realizes that this is just like her family will be, “separate but not together”.

Lisa writes with such imagery you feel you’re in the rainforest as the girls experience various animals, plants, food and even the Portuguese language. Reading the story made us want to read more about Brazil and get on an airplane to experience it all ourselves! As a bonus feature at the end of the book there is a place with various lists of interesting facts about Brazil like: the history, government, a map, food, weather, Portuguese/English word translations and a travel journal for those that end up going to the country.

Check out the Multicultural Children’s Book Day website for more information about the wonderful event and their mission to spread the diverse book love!

 

Meet Pig and Chick: An Early Reader Chapter Book

Thank you P. Marin for sending us Pig and Chick: The Birthday Wish That Got Away to review and for answering our questions. All opinions are our own.

Pig and Chick: The Wish That Got Away written by P. Marin is an adorable story of friendship, kindness and generosity. It’s Pig’s birthday but he doesn’t really understand what birthday wishes are all about because all he’s ever wanted is a friendship with Chick and he already has that. So being the kind and generous Pig that he is, he decides to give his birthday wish to Chick. Have you ever had a birthday wish that got away? Well that’s how Chick feels when the candle melts into one big pile of wax and she isn’t able to wish for a donkey so they could play pin the tail on the donkey. But then Chick sees a donkey and gets excited that maybe her wish will come true. However, things go awry and once the wish is fulfilled she realizes that she already has everything she wants in her friendship with Pig.

Wonderful for ages four to eight this early reader chapter book will spark discussion about friendship and kindness. Don’t miss the other books in the series Pig and Chick: Stuck and Pig and Chick: Pigcasso.

3 ?s about Pig and Chick

What are three words you use to describe your book?

charming, funny, endearing

How did you decide to have Pig be the kind and patient character?

I first met Pig and Chick when I was doodling.  They showed up in my sketchbook.  They were sitting at a rundown bus stop.  I had no idea who they were or where they were headed; all I knew is I wanted to buy a ticket and get on that same bus.  So I tucked that sketch into a drawer and went about my daily business.  Sometimes as I washed dishes or went for a walk, a thought would cross my mind and I’d say to myself, “Oh, that’s something Pig would say.” Or “That’s something Chick would do.”  When that happened, I’d jot down notes on scraps of paper.  It was in that process of jotting down random thoughts that I discovered who they were.  Pig, the patient, more thoughtful one – the one I aspire to be like – and Chick, the impatient, child-like one who I already am.  

How did you come up with the story idea?

In Pigcasso, Pig is determined to be the next artist extraordinaire.  When I was growing up I loved to write and draw.  In fact, every week in fifth grade, my teacher wheeled in a television set. He’d turn it on and there would appear local artist Bruce McIntyre. Alongside Mr. McIntyre, we’d draw.

For me, it was the highlight of elementary school.  Toward the end of fifth grade, my teacher announced that Mr. McIntyre would be visiting our classroom – in person – and if we brought five dollars that day, we could buy a copy of his book. I began saving immediately. On the big day I arrived to school early with sharp pencils and no money. I was devastated. At the end of the presentation, Mr. McIntyre walked up to me. He handed me a copy of his book and said, “Your teacher thinks you’re going to need this.” Turns out I did.  But it took me nearly three decades, and a bunch of jobs that made it hard to get out of bed, before inspiration struck and I realized how important our dreams are.  Luckily, unlike Pig, I didn’t have to get run over by a donkey to create my first work of art.

3 ?s about You

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

There is this quote by Poet Galway Kinnell.  It says, “Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.”  It’s a terrible thing to forget how wonderful you are.  So if I weren’t a writer, I’d be a teacher.  The kind that shows people their loveliness.

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

Adult book:  Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Children’s book:  Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad

To me, they say the same thing.  Keep life slow and simple and don’t forget to appreciate the things that matter most.

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

Worms.  What they say about me is this:  I love our son, who is affectionately known as the Domestic Zookeeper, very much.  Because there are a lot of compelling reasons not to keep worms in your refrigerator.  But there is also one compelling reason why I do.  Love.  Love for our son and love for a boy’s dream.  I hope it’s that kind of love you’ll find in my books.  

To learn even more about P. Marin, please visit her website or follow her on Instagram