Monday, November 4, 2013

ReaderKidZ Interview with Author Melissa Stewart

Melissa Stewart drops by ReaderKidZ to talk about her latest book No Monkeys, No Chocolate, co-authored with Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong (Charlesbridge, 2013). Click HERE to read Part I of our interview.

Having written over 150 books for young people, Melissa knows a thing or two about writing nonfiction! And she shares research tips for young readers, too. Perfect timing as 4th and 5th graders will be starting their science projects next month in central Texas. I also adore her advice on organizing writing ideas. 

Be sure and check back for Part II of our interview which will air later in the week on ReaderKidZ but I'll post the link here, too.

Click HERE for Part II of the interview with Melissa. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

ReaderKidZ Review - Ode to Halloween

It's hard to believe fall is knocking on our door again and Halloween is around the corner. Trick or Treat!

We're shopping for pumpkins. Are you?

Kids carving pumpkins in 2012

Brainstorming costume ideas. What will we be this year?

2011's costumes with the family

Baking pumpkin chocolate cupcakes, thanks for inspiring us author Cory Putman Oakes (get recipe HERE)!

And naturally, reading scary and sweet books! Today, I highlight two new books to hit library and bookstore shelves and I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!  Just hop on over to ReaderKidZ and read my review "Ode to Halloween!".

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Friday, October 11, 2013

ReaderKidZ Review - Prisoner 88

Over at ReaderKidZ it's Historical Fiction month, and I couldn't be happier than to review Leah Pileggi's debut novel Prisoner 88 (Charlesbridge, 2013) for their many readers! To read the review click HERE.

Prisoner 88 is one of those novels that will get under your skin. You'll feel for Jake and his predicament. The ten-year-old is in jail for killing a man. For killing a man who was trying to harm his father. It's a great example of cause and effect. How life can turn on a dime. How one decision can change your life. One minute your life is flowing in one direction, and in another it's overflowing its banks and taking you into uncharted territory. Pileggi peers deep inside her protagonist and peels back the layers for us. Jake's courage, hope, and unfailing resolve to see the good in people, to make the most of his situation, and to carve a new path for his future are nothing short of inspirational. Prisoner 88 is unputdownable and unforgettable.

Make sure you check out Odette's Secrets by Maryann Macdonald (Bloomsbury, 2013) too. It's about a young Jewish girl surviving World War II in France. Click HERE to read an interview with the author.

Check in at ReaderKidZ throughout the month of October for many more great books, resources, reviews, interviews, and activities surrounding the theme of Historical Fiction!

Monday, September 23, 2013

ReaderKidZ Review - The Cart That Carried Martin

Today, I'm really excited because the interview with my buddy Don Tate is live at ReaderKidZ, and he's shared his views and emotions with young readers about illustrating his latest book The Cart That Carried Martin written by Eve Bunting (Charlesbridge, 2013). Click HERE to read the interview.

I'm also participating in Nonfiction Monday. Check out Sally's Bookshelf to read reviews on the latest nonfiction books by kidlit bloggers. Sally is reviewing Best Foot Forward by Ingo Arndt (Holiday House, 2013) and she'll host rounding up many more titles worth checking out before this Monday is through.

The Cart That Carried Martin written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Don Tate (Charlesbridge, 2013). For ages 6-9.

Jacket Flap:

"The cart was old. Nobody wanted it.

There was a faded wooden cart outside Cook's Antiques and Stuff. The store was closed, so two men borrowed it and painted it green. They hitched it to Belle and Ada, the mules chosen to pull it through the streets of Atlanta from the Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College.

It seemed like an ordinary car pulled by ordinary mules. But it wasn't. The cart carried greatness. It carried the body of Martin Luther King Jr. on the day of his funeral."

Bunting and Tate's collaboration bring us the story about the “humble cart that, not so long ago, carried greatness.” It is a poignant tale that pays tribute to the late reverend and how the American people honored Dr. King. Bunting's words are poetically chosen and rich with emotion and Tate's illustrations create light on a very dark day. Young readers will discover the depth of how Martin Luther King Jr. touched the souls of thousands as they turn the pages in The Cart That Carried Martin and the story behind the borrowed cart.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Texas Book Festival 2013 Children's and Young Adult Lineup Revealed

Today is more than just a hump day. Today, the Texas Book Festival revealed their children's and young adult author and illustrator lineup for the two day event on October 26 & 27, 2013. I've got goose bumps trailing up and down my arm as many local Austin SCBWI and Texas authors and illustrators are confirmed.
The full author list, including all genres, can be found by clicking HERE.

Congrats to some of my friends who are featured this year!

Illustrator Don Tate featuring picture book Hope's Gift written by Kelly Starling Lyons (Putnam Juvenille, 2012).

Author Liz Scanlon featuring picture book Happy Birthday, Bunny! illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (Beach Lane Books, 2013)

New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith featuring her latest YA novel Feral Nights (Candelwick, 2013).

P.J. Hoover featuring her debut YA novel Solstice (Tor Teen, 2013).

Brian Yansky featuring his latest YA novel Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments (Candelwick, 2013)

Amy Rose Capetta and her debut YA novel Entangled (Hougton Miflin, 2013).

As of press time, here is the list of children's and young adult authors and illustrators provided by the 2013 Texas Book Festival. 

Children’s – Young Adult
Jon Agee, Little Santa
Katherine Applegate, The One and Only Ivan
Mac Barnett and Jon Scieszka, Battle Bunny
John Bemelmans Marciano, Madeline and the Old House in Paris
Sophie Blackall, Ivy & Bean
Monica Brown, Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash
Clark Burbidge, The Prodigals: Giants in the Land
Amy Rose Capetta, Entangled
Alexandra Coutts, Tumble & Fall
Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin, Click, Clack, Boo!: A Tricky Treat
Caprice Crane, Confessions of a Hater
Matt de la Pena, The Living
Tracy Deebs, Doomed
Kristina Ellis, Confessions of a Scholarship Winner: The Secrets That Helped Me Win $500,000 in Free Money for College-How You Can Too!
Brian Floca, Locomotive
Gayle Forman, Just One Year
Kami Garcia, Unbreakable
Xavier Garza, Maximillian and the Bingo Rematch
Adam Gidwitz, The Grimm Conclusion
Marcia Goldman, Lola Goes to Work: A Nine-to-Five Therapy Dog
Karen Harrington, Sure Signs of Crazy
Edward Hemingway, Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship  
P.J. Hoover, Solstice
Kate Hosford, Infinity and Me
Gordon Korman, The Hypnotist: Book 1
Jessica Khoury, Origin
Claire Legrand, The Year of Shadows
Cynthia Leitich Smith, Feral Nights
Diana Lopez, Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel
Bennett Madison, September Girls
Yuyi Morales, Niño Wrestles the World
Herman Parish, Amelia Bedelia Chapter Book #1: Amelia Bedelia Means Business
Joanna Philbin, Rules of Summer
Aprilynne Pike, Earthbound
James Preller, Scary Tales: Good Night Zombie
Chris Raschka, Daisy Gets Lost
Adam Rex, Moonday
Adam Rubin, Secret Pizza Party
Sergio Ruzzier, Bear and Bee
Leila Sales, This Song Will Save Your Life
Liz Scanlon, Happy Birthday, Bunny!
Bob Shea, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great
Steve Sheinkin, The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery
Neal Shusterman, UnSouled
Lemony Snicket, “When Did You See her Last?” (All the Wrong Questions)
Bob Staake, Bluebird
R.L. Stine, A Midsummer Night’s Scream
Elizabeth Suneby, Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education
James Swanson, The President Has Been Shot: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy
Don Tate (illustrator), Hope’s Gift
Heather Terrell, Relic: The Books of Eva
Duncan Tonatiuh, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale
Jude Watson, The 39 Clues: Unstoppable: Nowhere to Run
Brian Yansky, Homicidal Aliens & Other Disappointments
Gabrielle Zevin, Birthright: In the Age of Love and Chocolate

What a lineup for Texas families to enjoy with their children. Way to go, 2013 Texas Book Festival!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

ReaderKidZ Review - Books to Celebrate Back-to-School

It's Thursday and we're almost knocking on the door of Labor Day weekend! As promised, I've reviewed several books to celebrate back-to-school over at ReaderKidZ today and I hope you'll stop by and check them out. Click HERE.

Rufus Goes to School by Kim Griswell, illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev
(Charlesbridge, 2013)

And don't stop there! ReaderKidZ is geared to fostering a love of reading in the ages K-5 so don't be shy, go ahead and explore the website. You're sure to find new favorites and timeless classics. Haven't you already fallen in love with the pig above and his curlicue tail!

If you're not too busy, drop me a line at ReaderKidZ or comment on my blog and let me know what you think of the recommendations.

Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Picture Book Review: The Cat with Seven Names

It's August. The end of summer is on its way but you wouldn't know it from the radiating heat here in Texas. Still it's time to get ready for back-to-school. New shoes. New supplies. New books to uncover.

I'm kicking off the last lazy days of summer with The Cat with Seven Names by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Charlesbridge, Aug 2013). It's just the kind of book you want to curl up and read when the clouds roll in and cover the plains. I love the watercolor illustrations splashed across the pages in sunburst yellows, sky-blues, and autumn reds and the mellow hues of springtime sprinkled in. Turns out illustrator Davenier lives in my favorite city Paris, France and close to where my agent Erzsi Deak resides, too.

Johnston introduces us to a stray cat who romps through an urban neighborhood making new friends. Every neighbor has a name for the rogue tomcat and almost everyone feeds the full figured male except the homeless man who can't feed himself. Tacos, tuna fish, Big Mac's. Oh, my! Of course, like every good picture book, Johnston saves the best for last when she brings the community together to save the cat and back into the hands of his rightful owner. It's a good thing our hero had nine lives and even better that's he's introduced the neighborhood to new friends. It turns out the homeless man and the old man have a war in common and the senor, mom, daughter, and librarian love books. Who doesn't, right?

The Cat with Seven Names is perfect for all you readers who adore furry friends and those who just want to be entertained with an endearing tail. I mean, tale. For ages 5+.

Also you might want to check out my upcoming post at ReaderKidZ on August, 29th, 2013 for some new back-to-school book reviews. There's going to be something there for everyone!

Happy reading!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Book Review - Poison by Bridget Zinn

I don't normally blog about young adult literature on my blog NOT because I don't love reading it but because I write for  younger readers who read picture books, chapter books, early readers and middle grade novels. But every once in awhile a book comes along that I feel is a cross-over to those upper elementary readers and a book that is done so well that it just has to be mentioned and that book happens to be debut author Bridget Zinn's Poison (Hyperion, 2013).

Bridget was a librarian, author, and lover of good books and she died far too early at the age of 33 from colon cancer and never got to see youth enjoying her book. But her family, friends, publisher and agent have worked hard to make sure that her dream of being an author and sharing stories didn't die too and released Poison this past spring. To learn more about Bridget and how you can spread the word about her debut YA novel visit her website here:

I must confess I'm not a huge lover of fantasy but I LOVE a good story filled with mischief, mayhem, romance, good vs. evil, and mystery and Poison delivered all of that and then some. So go ahead and read the jacket flap below and meet me on the other side of these paragraphs.

Jacket flap:

“Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly skilled potions master, is the only one who knows that her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she is the only one who can save it. With no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom’s future ruler, who also happens to be her best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart…misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the King’s Army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she’s not alone. She’s armed with her vital potions, a too-cute piglet, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can’t stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Don't you want to run out to your nearest library or book store and grab a copy? I recently had an author friend nominate this book for me for the William C. Morris debut YA award because I feel it's classic, timeless, storytelling at its best!

Bridget Zinn has created a host of diverse and eclectic characters and a world of mystery, romance and intrigue in the Kingdom of Mohr. With page-turning suspense, readers are caught up with Kyra’s struggle to do what’s right and wrestling with the moral dilemma of taking a life to save the lives of many. To make matters worse, the person she must murder is near and dear to her heart, a confident and friend. The only real friend she’s ever known.  Her inner conflict is fraught with additional complexities when she learns a truth about herself that thrusts her into a world of evil and consorting with criminal masterminds. Will this secret destroy her or will it make her stronger? She must learn to trust her instincts and believe in herself and at the same time, open her heart and trust the one man she can never have. Or can she? 

Strong themes of loyalty, friendship, good vs evil, trust and believing in yourself are well-developed and the main character’s growth over the course of the novel is satisfying and authentic. Zinn’s debut is fantastical with rich characters and a fast-moving plot.  Antagonists are well-defined and Zinn carries us to the end of the novel by trying to figure out who is really behind the sinister plot to destroy the kingdom of Mohr.  Language and description paint exquisite scenes and this YA is also appropriate for upper elementary ages who are eager to read beyond their reading level.  Zinn shows readers you don’t need sex and racy language to tell a great YA story. 

Here's a wonderful article written by Alexis Burgling in Publishers's Weekly Promoting a Late Author's Debut Novel: "Poison" by Bridget Zinn and New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith has a guest post by Bridget's friend and critique partner E. M. Kokie, click here to read it.

Happy summer reading friends!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Author Interview: Leslie Helakoski

I'm thrilled to invite my friend author/illustrator Leslie Helakoski back to my blog. Not only is Leslie an award-winning author/illustrator but she is also the Co-Regional Advisor of the SCBWI Michigan chapter and she's part of the team that has orchestrated the Mid Wild, Wild West 2013 SCBWI Multi-State Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana from May 3 - 5, 2013.

Today, we're here to celebrate her latest picture book Doggone Feet! (Boyds Mills Press, Mar 1, 2013) which is SO doggone cute! Congratulations, Leslie!

What was the inspiration behind this story? And the path to publication?

A couple of years ago, I saw a tapestry hanging in a shop with two dogs sitting under a table. I went back to my room and started writing about the dog’s point of view. I grew up with dogs around the table, so I was familiar with their behavior. But raising my own family with a dog under the table at mealtime gave me a new perspective. We always laughed at how the dog knew where to position herself for the most tidbits. Even though I thought this was a brilliant relatable idea, it was a tricky sell. I didn’t think I wanted to illustrate with all the perspective involved in portraying life under the table. So it was initially sent out with only the text. Several publishers passed it by thinking it was limited visually because of the setting being under a table throughout. But I could imagine it being done—I could see it in my head. Finally, I decided to illustrate a scene or two myself to show how it could be done. A couple of artist friends convinced me that the perspective could be distorted and that what I was doing was working. As soon as my agent sent it out with art it was picked up.

Doggone Feet! is told from the dog’s perspective in rhyme and the language is toe-tapping, read-a-loud fun! I’ve heard it’s very difficult to write in rhyme especially when it comes to revision. Do you approach the revision process differently when you’re revising in rhyme as opposed to prose?

The revision process is not really different for me though it does take even longer than usual. I revise the story content over and over. Then I revise the rhyme over and over. But I love the revision process. I like when I have the security of a strong story idea and I just have to play with the words until I get it smoothed out.

As your picture book career continues to build, is it easier or harder to sell a book? Does being more established help or hinder?

I think it’s still difficult to get a book idea past a marketing team these days as they are not always willing to take risks on a book that might be a bit different. But I feel lucky that I do have books out that have sold well because it does make it easier to get an editor’s attention.

How do you find a balance between the promotional/marketing/business side of being an author/illustrator and the creative/inventive/artistic side of your job?

Balance? I’m tipping over on one leg most of the time. This year I’ve decided to devote more time to marketing than I have in the past. Making myself take time to market and promote is hard for me because it’s not really where I want to spend my time. It’s hard to ignore the fact that social media makes a difference, so I have taken two months to set up signings, blog posts and to create a library story kit that will be available on my website preceding the launch of this book. I’ve also created a book trailer. Some of the marketing and planning is fun but I can’t wait to get back to actually writing.

 What do you think makes a successful picture book? 

It’s such a mystery sometimes what the public latches on to. Sometimes, I don’t get it at all. But when I do ‘get’ it, it’s usually a book with humor on a universal theme, wording that surprises me, and art I find fun and well-designed.

Where do you see yourself in ten years from now? What are you currently working on? What can readers look forward to next?

I’d like to be saying something profound and very funny about creating children’s books.It will probably take me ten years to think of something.

Right now I’m working on sketches and layouts for Big Pigs, which will be released in the spring of 2014. I just got back a 7 page editorial letter on rough sketches, so I have a lot to do. I like this part so I don’t want to have to squeeze it in.

I have a couple of other ideas percolating for picture books. I may even venture into self-publishing an idea that my editor says marketing will not get behind. Authors have other options these days, which is both scary and exciting!

To see all of Leslie's books visit her website and make sure you check back after her March 1st launch to download the story kit that accompanies Doggone Feet!  To read another interview with Leslie, including the release of Fair Cow, click HERE.

Thanks, Leslie!! I foresee another doggone award-winner with this book!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Author Interview: Liz Garton Scanlon

It’s not every day I welcome a bestselling author and poet to my blog so I’m beyond thrilled that Liz Garton Scanlon has stopped by to discuss her latest picture book Happy Birthday, Bunny! with us.  She’s a prolific picture book author and some of her highly acclaimed books include All the World, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes and Think Big. When she’s not writing or teaching or visiting schools, she’s busy with her girls making art, sharing quiet time with her loving hubby or finding a home for an abandoned animal. Thanks for making time in your busy schedule to chat with us!  

Happy Birthday, Bunny! Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (Beach Lane Books, Jan 2013) invites readers into an adorable family of rabbits as they celebrate Bunny’s birthday. Birthdays are such a special part of a child’s life, a day they look forward to and treasure all year. What were birthdays like for you as a child? Did you tap into your childhood as you created the story? And how do the Scanlons celebrate birthdays today? Any traditions carried forward from your childhood?

I remember my birthdays being happy when I was little – my mom was very good at making special events extra special. This was back in the day when cakes were homemade, and mine were always beautiful. My birthday is in the spring so one year I even had a bunny cake – maybe that’s where I first felt the tickles of this book!

I’ve always tried to make my daughters’ birthdays special, too. For a number of years, we made piñatas in the weeks leading up to the big day. Often, our papier mache was so strong that not even a dad with a bat could break it open!

But even best-laid birthday plans can go awry. I grew up in the mountains and my “spring” birthday was often interrupted by a late season blizzard. My oldest daughter’s September birthday often sees record-breaking heat. And my youngest daughter was so sick on her 2nd birthday that we practically had to skip the whole thing. Plus, birthday parties sometimes require patience, etiquette and sharing skills well beyond what the birthday boy or girl is truly up to. I think it’s those things that really inspired this book for me. Birthdays are full of expectation – sometimes so much so that they’re a little overwhelming for the guest of honor.

You skillfully unveil the inquisitive nature of a child in choosing a question and answer structure for this book, did the story start out this way or did it evolve over many drafts? 

Even my very first draft was in question/answer format (though LOTS of the specific questions and answers later changed). I’ve never written a piece using this structure before, but it worked because of that sense of birthday overwhelm I was just talking about. We bring so much energy to birthdays, but little ones – turning 1 or 2 or 4  or 5 – must be SO confused. They don’t know the traditions, the rituals, the rules. What would happen, I wondered, if one of them just asked? And we answered?

Liz and I in 2008 at the Hill Country  Book Festival

At what stage did you see Stephanie Graegin’s art for the book and were there any surprises?

I saw some of Stephanie’s sketches relatively early on and I adored them. But, I was surprised, once the final art came along, how much MORE I loved it with color. Her palette is so rich and creamy, and every inch of the book is awash in color – from the endpapers on. I feel very lucky to have been paired with her and her beautiful work.

Here’s one other fun thing to share about Stephanie’s art. Her animals were so endearing – so perfect – that we changed the title for them! The book was originally called HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BABY! but once those animals came to life, our editor suggested changing it to HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BUNNY! and I’m so glad we did.

You’ve just returned from a fabulous vacation with your family, will this latest adventure spawn any future stories? Can you share a favorite memory from your trip?

We just spent a month traveling around Asia – specifically China, Laos and Thailand. I hope a story might emerge from the experiences we had, but there are no guarantees. I work with a very independent muse J.
There is a really interesting tradition of haggling for goods in developing countries – my kids find it fascinating and a little off-putting. The key is to be gracious but straight-up. The artisans are quite good at balancing those, and with a little practice you can mirror them. I’ll bet there’s a story in there somewhere, don’t you think?

As for a favorite memory, wow. That’s like asking if I have a favorite book. We loved every place we went, everything we did, and nearly all the food we tried!  I think the best part of the whole thing was just being together as a family. Our girls are getting older and are off living their own lives more and more, so to have so many uninterrupted days together (and nights, crammed into little guesthouse dorms!), that’s something I’ll treasure forever.

The book officially released on January 15th, and a release party is planned, please share all the juicy details for readers.

I’ll be at BookPeople in Austin,Texas, this Saturday, January 26, at 2:00 p.m. Think “birthday party meets storytime”: bunnies, balloons, cake! Come one and all…

Thanks, Liz

Thank you, Carmen, for having me. It’s been a treat!

To read more advice from Liz, click HERE to read highlights from her panel at the 17th Texas Book Festival on the Hen & Ink Literary Studio blog.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monet Paints A Day & Nonfiction Monday

I'm participating in Nonfiction Monday with the breathtaking Monet Paints A Day by Julie Danneburg, illustrated by Caitlin Heimerl (Charlesbridge, 2012). This week's Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Travis Jonker at 100 ScopeNotes.

I was first introduced to Julie Danneburg's work with the book First Day Jitters, illustrated by Judith Dufour Love, the perfect companion for anyone starting school or the first day at a new school! It's delightfully funny and engaging with the ideal surprise ending. If you missed reading it, visit your library for a copy or pick up the book from your favorite indie bookstore. It's worth finding!

So I'm not the least bit surprised to be entertained and carried away in Danneburg's rendition of a day in the life of Claude Monet while he was vacationing in Étretat, France in 1885 with Monet Paints A Day. It's by far one of my favorite nonfiction books of 2012, and I'm happy to see it honored by the 2013 Zolotow Award committee as Highly Commended.

To quote Danneburg from the book, "Like a string of ducklings," we follow Claude Monet and a "gaggle of children" with canvases, paint box and palette as he leaves his hotel ready to paint the day. Danneburg takes us on a journey zigzagging along cliff paths and trudging across a rocky beach to reach the strip of sand where Monet paints The Manneport along with many more scenes. Like the illustrations, her prose is art and the author's note and instructions on painting techniques at the back of the book are rich with educational details, an additional gift for the reader to delve deeper. Sprinkled throughout the book are Monet's letters and words to his fiancee, Alice Hoschedé in which he wrote about his painting progress and his frustrations at capturing the scene before the light changed.

The rumbling waves explode a warning at my feet, but I can't stop painting. Not now. "Faster, faster, only a few more minutes to catch this light," I mutter to myself.

It's storytelling at its finest as Danneburg places us on that beach with brush in hand, waves lapping at our feet and a broken canvas in the end. The entire book is an album of art, the illustrations masterful, emotional and personal using an extraordinary palette of colors similar to Monet's own brushstrokes. I highly recommend this book for your library, classroom or studio.