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Picture Book Review – The Cot in the Living Room

 

THE COT IN THE LIVING ROOM

Written by Hilda Eunice Burgos

Illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro 

(Kokila; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

The Cot in the Living Room cover

 

A Junior Library Guild Selection 
Starred Review – BookPage 

What’s it like to walk in someone else’s shoes? Author Hilda Eunice Burgos and illustrator Gaby D’Alessandro show us how in The Cot in the Living Room

A young girl longs to spend the night on the cot in her living room. “Mami says it’s for guests” only, but to the girl the cot symbolizes freedom and possibilities: having the whole living room to herself, enjoying the lights from the George Washington bridge coming in through the big window, watching television, and even sneaking in a midnight snack.

 

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Interior spread from The Cot in the Living Room written by Hilda Eunice Burgos and illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro, Kokila ©2021.

 

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When throughout the week neighborhood children take turns spending the night on the cot, the young girl feels it’s absolutely “not fair” that she doesn’t get to enjoy this privilege. But what she doesn’t realize is the fear and discomfort each guest struggles through as they are separated from their parents who are working the night shift. 

I love the way the illustrations highlight the girl’s jealousy by magnifying the supposed delight each guest will have spending the night on the cot. An endless supply of candy-colored food, fun, and games in exaggerated sizes emphasize the disconnect between the young girl’s idealization of the cot and the reality of her guests’ feelings about it. For them, the cot is a poor substitute for home. 

 

 

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Interior spread from The Cot in the Living Room written by Hilda Eunice Burgos and illustrated by Gaby D’Alessandro, Kokila ©2021.

 

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When the young girl finally does get the opportunity to spend the night on the cot, strange and scary noises give her insight into their loneliness. Modeling her parents’ kindness and caregiving, the girl finds a creative way to make her guests feel like a part of the family.

Parents and educators searching for themes of compassion, empathy, and sacrifice will find them in this touching picture book.

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
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Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel – Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House Series

DINOSAURS BEFORE DARK GRAPHIC NOVEL

Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series

Written by Jenny Laird

Illustrated by Kelly and Nichole Matthews

(Random House BYR; $16.99, Ages 6-9)

 

DinosaursBeforeDark MTH graphicnovel cover

 

 

“I wish I could go there…”

 

Any reader of Osborne’s beloved Magic Treehouse chapter book series knows that uttering those magical words while holding a book in the Magic Tree House will instantly transport the child back into the time and place of the book and an action-packed adventure.

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Interior art from Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel, Mary Pope Osborne’s The Magic Tree House series illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews and adapted by Jenny Laird, Random House BYR ©2021.

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This first title in the graphic novel adaptations of the chapter book series, Dinosaurs Before Dark, introduces eight-and-a-half-year-old Jack and his younger sister, Annie, residents of Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. While playing in the wooded area near their home, they discover a tree house filled with books. As they excitedly explore the books, Jack finds a book about dinosaurs. Gazing at one of the illustrations, he wishes he could go there. Suddenly, a giant wind begins to spin the tree house and whoosh! It whisks them away to the Cretaceous Period.

While exploring this new environment, they encounter a few of the period’s dinosaurs without incident until a very large and frightening Tyrannosaurus Rex comes roaring and stomping their way. After some hair-raising attempts to dodge it, they make it back to the tree house. Now they just need to figure out how they can get home in one piece … and in time for dinner!

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Interior art from Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel, Mary Pope Osborne’s The Magic Tree House series illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews and adapted by Jenny Laird, Random House BYR ©2021.

 

Laird remains true to the original story and her dialogue, along with the Kellys’ illustrations, propel the storyline. Like the chapter book, the graphic novel is neatly organized into short chapters, each ending on a cliffhanger.

Illustrators Kelly and Nichole Matthews have modeled Jack and Annie after the Sal Murdocca illustrations for the chapter book. The Matthews, who are twin sisters, creatively combine detail, color, and a more complex layout to help interpret the chapter book’s narrative. The panels sequencing the tremendous wind that spins the house back into history include a vivid two-page spread (pp 26-27) that conveys the force of the wind. Another full page is used to dramatize the height of the tree house as Jack and Annie descend from it to a world no humans have ever seen (p. 62).

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Interior art from Dinosaurs Before Dark Graphic Novel, Mary Pope Osborne’s The Magic Tree House series illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews and adapted by Jenny Laird, Random House BYR ©2021.

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This graphic novel adaptation is a great introduction to the chapter book series for younger and emerging readers and could actually replace it in popularity since the format is much more vibrant and engaging than the original chapter book series. So while it’s recommended for ages 6-9, I think children as young as five years old would find it an entertaining read.

Check out this YouTube video to hear how Jenny Laird adapted Osborne’s novel. And for more about the Matthews sisters, visit their website. Fans can also check out the Magic Tree House website here.

  •  Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Kids Picture Book – Bella’s Recipe for Success

 

BELLA’S RECIPE FOR SUCCESS

Written by Ana Siqueira

Illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez

(Beaming Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

 

Bella's Recipe for Success cover

 

 

It only takes a quick glance at the title to know that we’re in for a treat! In Bella’s Recipe for Success, the debut picture book by Ana Siqueira, we can assume that Bella, the Latina main character, will be engaging in disastrous recipes, resulting in a delicious and successful outcome.

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Interior art from Bella’s Recipe for Success written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez, Beaming Books ©2021.

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The story begins with Bella and her Abuela in the kitchen. As her siblings brag about piano playing and cartwheeling, Bella wonders about herself. She attempts to discover her own talents but loses hope and resigns herself to not being good at anything. Taking comfort with her Abuela, she asks to make polvorones con dulce de leche. To Bella’s surprise, her brother and sister make mistakes too. So she persists. Sometimes the dough is hard as a rock. Other times it crumbles apart. But Bella keeps trying. She beats, blends, stirs, and bakes her way to success! In the end, she realizes that she is good at more than baking polvorones!

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Interior spread from Bella’s Recipe for Success written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez, Beaming Books ©2021.

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Ana Siqueira does a great job writing language that reads quickly and light in the spirit of cheering Bella up. She creates delightful similes comparing her somersaults to jirafas rolling downhill and dulce de leche to cocodrilo skin. Spanish words are easily understood through context and round out the setting in the Latinx, intergenerational home. Playful images by illustrator Geraldine Rodriguez also capture Bella’s emotional journey making this an engaging book for young readers.

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Interior spread from Bella’s Recipe for Success written by Ana Siqueira and illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez, Beaming Books ©2021.

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This book reinforces that everyone makes mistakes and that they are okay and even necessary to achieve success. It is el perfecto libro for kids who might need a little boost in confidence.

A sweet bonus: The polvorones con dulce de leche cookie recipe at the end of the story. Are you ready to put your baking talents to the test?

BUY THE BOOK

Order signed copies of BELLA’S SECRET FOR SUCCESS here.

or from the publisher here: Bella’s Recipe for Success | Beaming Books

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Find more about Ana and her books at: https://anafiction.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SraSiqueira1307

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/asiqueira1307/?hl=en

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20267025.Ana_Siqueira

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/asiqueira1307/_saved/

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR

Twitter:  @GeryRdz
Instagram: @geryrdzart
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Kids Picture Book – Walking for Water

WALKING FOR WATER:
How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality

Written by Susan Hughes

Illustrated by Nicole Miles

(Kids Can Press; $17.99, Ages 6-8)

 

walking for water book cover

 

 

There are over a dozen terrific books in the Citizen Kid series and the latest, Walking for Water by award-winning author Susan Hughes, is no exception. This story, inspired by “the recent experience of a thoughtful and fair-minded 13-year-old Malawian boy” takes readers to the landlocked country in southeastern Africa to meet eight-year-old twins Victor and his sister, Linesi.

Readers know right from the start that the pair are close. On this day, however, the two who usually do so many things together, including attending school, will now be apart. In Victor and Linesi’s community when girls turn eight they are expected to leave school and help with chores. That includes fetching water five times a day, water used for “drinking, cooking and washing.” Victor enjoys school so he feels bad that his sister has to miss out on the learning just because she’s a girl.

 

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Interior spread from Walking for Water written by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Nicole Miles, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

When a new teacher asks the students to think about gender equality in their own lives, Victor doesn’t have to look far to find an example. And when he tries to share what he learned in school with his sister, Victor sees she is too exhausted from her day’s work to concentrate on math. This realization prompts Victor to propose a plan to his mama and sister, one that involves taking turns doing the chores enabling Linesi to alternate days at school with him. Yes!! I cheered when I discovered the selfless gesture of Victor.

 

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Interior spread from Walking for Water written by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Nicole Miles, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

This caring approach to gender equality is not only welcomed by Victor’s teacher but it’s emulated by Victor’s best friend, Chikondi who takes over for his sister, Enifa, on alternate days. The friends can now share what they learn with their sisters who are less tired and in turn, the sisters can do the same.

Illustrator Nicole Miles brings warmth, heart, and simplicity to her illustrations. The book, described by the publisher as a graphic novel/picture book hybrid format, allows Miles to not only have fun with her art but to add more activity to the spreads. A particular favorite, with its rich earthy tones, is of Victor joining the girls and women on their way to collect water.

 

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Interior spread from Walking for Water written by Susan Hughes and illustrated by Nicole Miles, Kids Can Press ©2021.

 

This hopeful, engaging, and educational story will be an eye-opener for children on many levels. It not only demonstrates the power of one innovative individual to effect change, in this case for gender equality, but it also presents traditions and lifestyles different from ours. Additionally, it shows how important the need still is for access to clean water in the 21st century. Hughes’s Author’s Note and resources as well as a glossary of Chichewa words in the back matter (which are peppered throughout the story) provide additional avenues to further explore topics raised in Walking for Water. I’m glad that Hughes chose to use the twins as her focus for this story because of the sharp contrasts between the siblings that readers will understand immediately. Hughes mentions in the back matter that change is coming to Malawi and hopefully more opportunities for girls to pursue their aspirations will follow.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Kids Picture Book Biography – The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine

 

 

 

THE POLIO PIONEER:
DR. JONAS SALK AND THE POLIO VACCINE

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Illustrated by Lisa Anchin

(Knopf BYR; $17.99; AGES 4-8)

 

 

The Polio Pioneer book cover art of Jonas Salk

 

A topic on everyone’s tongues these days is vaccinations. When she wrote this book, Linda E Marshall likely had no idea how relevant her book would be today and how once again, an innovative vaccine is saving lives around the world. 

 

The book opens with four-year-old Jonas Salk sitting on top of his father’s shoulders during the victory parade celebrating the end of World War I. But Jonas doesn’t understand the cheering when all he sees are injured soldiers. Jonas, readers learn, sees things differently. Find out about the man and the story behind the life-changing vaccine he developed in THE POLIO PIONEER: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall with illustrations by Lisa Anchin.

 

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Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

Anchin’s art brings a warmth to the subject of science painting in soft colors of oranges and blues as the reader walks through the life of the main character Jonas. Whether that’s refereeing his friends’ games when not reading because he knows the rules or helping his Yiddish-speaking mother learn English after his Jewish family migrates to New York City. The kindness and love of the Salk family are depicted with each page turn as the family celebrates Shabbat with freshly baked Challah and Jonas’ inner thoughts are shown “when Jonas prayed that he might someday, help make the world a better place.”

 

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Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

 

Marshall writes about the financial difficulties the Salk family faced, but Jonas kept moving forward “attending the City College of New York where tuition was free and where, unlike at many other colleges and universities, Jews were welcome.” With a grin on his face and apron tied around his neck, Jonas discovers chemistry while mixing liquids amongst classmates in the college lab. Salk is determined to gain a better understanding of science so that he can make medicines to help people and decides to become a doctor. Illustrated wearing glasses and a white lab coat, Jonas enters medical school where he befriends his teacher Dr. Thomas Francis and the pair team up with an idea as the flu is killing millions. “What if … a person was given some flu virus that was killed by chemicals so it could not cause disease?” Dr. Salk and Dr. Francis thought this could be a way of fighting the flu. And they were right.

 

 

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Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

 

  With men, women and children lined up on the streets, dressed in their Sunday bests, a nurse in white stands next to one of Anchin’s realistic illustrations with a chalk-written sign reading FLU VACCINE CLINIC. “Since then, flu shots have saved thousands of lives each year.”

“But another disease was raging … Polio”. Readers see Franklin Delano Roosevelt sitting in a wheelchair in the oval office, as others are lined up in beds, victims of this new disease. People are shown hiding in their homes, just as we all have done these past fifteen months from COVID, and the similarities are not unnoticed. Today’s scientists learned a lot from Dr. Salk. “He and his team of scientists labored day and night, night and day.”

 

 

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Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

 

“On April 12, 1955, Dr. Francis joins the team and announced to the world: “The vaccine WORKS!” POLIO could be CONQUERED!” Dr. Salk continued his studies by establishing the Salk Institute for Biological Studies where they have worked on cures for cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and many other problems.

Marshall writes in a way that makes a tough topic easy to follow with her understandable language and flowing sentences, while Anchin’s drawings transport the reader to 1918 and beyond. The timing of the release of this book last year during the pandemic could not have been more prescient and still resonates today with over 49% of the population vaccinated for Covid-19. As for polio, America has been free of the disease since 1979 due to the amount of participation. Maybe a picture book about our current pandemic will be next to teach future kids about what we have been experiencing. Marshall’s book is fabulous for elementary-age children and higher. In the Author’s Note, Marshall heartwarmingly explains the backstory behind her reasons for writing the book and how Dr. Salk is her hero. She thanks the Salk family for sharing family stories and photos, including writings from Michael Salk, grandson to Jonas. Dr. Salk, as Marshall tells, was a Mensch, the perfect Yiddish word to describe a man whose good work, kindness, and dedication helped make the world a better place. And he did. 

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Picture Book Review – Gwendolyn’s Pet Garden

GWENDOLYN’S PET GARDEN

Written by Anne Renaud

Illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh

(Nancy Paulsen Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

In the picture book, Gwendolyn’s Pet Garden by Anne Renaud, we know the problem from the opening line: “Gwendolyn Newberry-Fretz wanted a pet.” A very relatable problem indeed. Yet, Gwendolyn’s parents are not on board with the pet idea and, instead, get her some dirt which “smells of possibilities” to them. Gwendolyn thinks it smells like a swamp! Yet, once the garden gets underway, she reconsiders how she feels about this compromise.

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Interior spread from Gwendolyn’s Pet Garden written by Anne Renaud and illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh, Penguin BYR ©2021.

 

Rashin Kheiriyeh’s illustrations peppered with bright accents pull you into Gwendolyn’s world, whether she’s suggesting various pets or plotting her planter. I feel the joys of gardening including the excitement of watching plants grow from seed.

 

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Interior art from Gwendolyn’s Pet Garden written by Anne Renaud and illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh, Penguin BYR ©2021.

 

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I like how the back matter ties it all together, explaining what’s needed for kids to start their own gardens. Seed-lending libraries are explained and encouraged—a concept I hope catches on as well as the book-lending libraries we have in many neighborhoods. The idea of repurposing no-longer-needed library card catalog cabinets to house seeds brilliant!

 

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Children’s Early Graphic Novel – Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell

 

SCAREDY SQUIRREL IN A NUTSHELL
(Book #1 in Scaredy’s Nutty Adventures)

By Melanie Watt

(Penguin Random BYR; $12.99, Ages 6-9)

 

 

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WARNING! This book is absolutely … NUTS!

Award-winning author and illustrator Melanie Watt, well known for her Scaredy Squirrel picture book series, has created her first graphic novel, Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell, featuring a squirrel beset by many (and often improbable) fears about life outside his beloved nut tree. To his credit, Scaredy Squirrel confronts each challenge with an elaborate and hilarious action plan that’s often doomed to failure. From the potential alien landing to deadly dust bunnies, Scaredy Squirrel not only has a plan but a backup as well (play dead). 

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Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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Since childhood, Scaredy Squirrel has kept himself and his nut tree safe from dreaded “trespassers” who could damage his tree. Who knows when a mammoth may want to uproot it? Or a cat might scratch it. So Scaredy Squirrel has developed a strategy to protect the tree. He places objects around his tree to distract the trespassers, such as a fake tree for the mammoth to uproot or a scratching post for the cat.

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Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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However, there’s a downside to this ambitious plan: these objects get dusty and from the dust springs notorious dust bunnies! So this quick-thinking squirrel comes up with a detailed plan to prevent dust bunnies … vacuum all the decoy objects! All well and good until the vacuum gets clogged and now Scaredy Squirrel must develop a plan to unclog the vacuum cleaner. As you can imagine, more problems emerge which entail more plans and greater chaos. Inevitably (despite playing dead) he finds himself face to face with a real bunny who would like to be his friend. Which of course necessitates a new plan …

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Interior art from Scaredy Squirrel in a Nutshell written and illustrated by Melanie Watt, Penguin Books for Young Readers ©2021.

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Watt’s familiar cartoon-like illustrations go nicely with the graphic novel format. Simple geometric shapes are used to create the characters and setting. Faces are wonderfully expressive. Panels are well organized on the pages with a clean and uncluttered look, making this book perfect for newly independent readers. Witty word plays and expressions such as “going out on a limb” and “dust bunnies,” keep the narrative lively and make this a good read-aloud as well. Delightfully quirky features include a “Nutty (Table of) Contents,” and some silly and interactive features to be taken before it is “safe” to begin the story. 

Parents, caregivers, and teachers are sure to appreciate that, despite the zany humor of the book, Scaredy Squirrel manages to demonstrate, in a light-hearted way, how children can face their fears and develop problem-solving skills such as writing down action plans, to face real-life challenges. While the age is listed as 6-9, younger children would certainly enjoy having the story read to them.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Click here and here to read more squirrel stories.

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An Interview with Jamie Michalak Author of Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMIE MICHALAK 

AUTHOR OF

DAKOTA CRUMB: TINY TREASURE HUNTER

∼ BLOG TOUR ∼

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

DakotaCrumb Tiny Treasure Hunter cover

 

 

PICTURE BOOK SUMMARY:

Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter by Jamie Michalak with art by Kelly Murphy is both a rollicking story with a dash of danger and, in its final eye-popping spreads, a seek-and-find challenge. As the clock in the great museum tick-tocks past midnight, a little mouse with a sack and a treasure map scurries past the guards. Plucky Dakota Crumb scours the museum for artifacts, including the rare purple jewel of Cairo (a gumdrop stashed in an exhibit). By day, the little mouse shares her carefully curated finds with fellow tiny creatures that flock to Miss Crumb’s tiny Mousehole Museum. A feast for sharp-eyed readers—who’ll delight in circling back after the story to pore over the illustrations in search of treasure—this gently suspenseful tale, splashed with soft, dusky hues, evokes a world of wonders after dark.

 

INTERVIEW:

GOODREADSWITHRONNA:  Welcome, Jamie! I’m so happy to be on this blog tour and have you as a guest today!

JAMIE MICHALAK: Thank you for having me on your blog, Ronna! 🙂 I love your questions.

 

GRWR: I love the idea of a treasure-hunting mouse. And in a museum, to boot, where visitors young and old leave lots of things behind! Did you always know you wanted to write Dakota’s story this way or did it evolve as you imagined what things a daring mouse could get up to?

JM: This story absolutely evolved, and I wrote many, MANY iterations of it. I originally imagined an artsy concept book full of tiny objects. Then I built a story around them starring an acorn, who gave readers a tour of his tiny collections and shared stories about his adventures finding them. Finally, I realized it would be more fun to take readers on those adventures. But it wasn’t until I was in line at the Met museum and imagined a mousehole museum underneath it that the story finally clicked into place.

 

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DAKOTA CRUMB: TINY TREASURE HUNTER. Text copyright © 2021 by Jamie Michalak. Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Kelly Murphy. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

 

GRWR: Okay, so I’m scared of mice but yet it’s such fun reading about their antics. Are you a fan of mice stories and if so, which ones in particular?

JM: Yeah, I don’t want to run into a real one. Eep! But there’s something about a miniature world that sparks my imagination. I want to visit a mouse house. One with furniture, of course.

My favorite mouse books are Mouse Soup and Mouse Tales by Arnold Lobel, Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells, Lily’s Plastic Purple Purse by Kevin Henkes, and so many more.

 

GRWR: The pairing of prose and art in your book works seamlessly. One of my favorite scenes is the guest book one since you had me wondering how little Dakota would make off with a museum masterpiece. What did you think when you first saw Kelly Murphy’s evocative illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread?

JM: Oh, thank you! Kelly’s art is incredible. She’s captured all of the excitement of a night-in-the-museum heist. I also loved that she worked in some nods to Indiana Jones, since there’s a little of Indiana in Dakota. But if I had to choose one spread it would be the one of the Mousehole Museum with all of its exhibits, small animal visitors, and even a cafe of tiny treats! It took my breath away the first time I saw it. It’s the page kids love to linger on and pick out their favorite tiny treasures.

 

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DAKOTA CRUMB: TINY TREASURE HUNTER. Text copyright © 2021 by Jamie Michalak. Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Kelly Murphy. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

 

GRWR: The harmless museum heist is just part of the story’s intrigue. Readers have more fun in store! In the last few pages, they find out about the miniature museum run by Dakota Crumb underneath the larger one and are then invited on a seek-and-find mission of their own. I couldn’t resist tracking down the items shown at the end and am sure children will feel the same. Was this cool combination story your intention all along?

JM: I layered on the interactive seek-and-find details after I’d written the heist story. Because Dakota finds only a handful of treasures in the story, I needed to do something with all of the many other teeny objects from my original exhaustive list of them. So I created a treasure hunt list for the reader, and Kelly hid the tiny objects in the art for kids to find.

 

GRWR: What do you hope children will take away from this reading adventure?

JM: Well, I always hope that they’ll have fun. But I also hope that the familiarity of Dakota’s coveted finds will inspire kids to see that tiny treasures are around us all the time. We just need to slow down and pay attention to them.

 

GRWR: Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Jamie! I hope you’ll come back again to share more insights about your books.

Dakota Crumb Author Jamie MichalakBIO:

Jamie Michalak is the author of many children’s books, including Dakota Crumb: Tiny Treasure Hunter, illustrated by Kelly Murphy; Frank and Bean, illustrated by Bob Kolar; the highly praised Joe and Sparky early readers series, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz; as well as the forthcoming picture book Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites, co-written with Debbi Michiko Florence and illustrated by Yuko Jones, and many more.

            When not writing, she can often be found singing off-key, drinking too much coffee, or hanging out with her two sons. Jamie lives with her family in Barrington, Rhode Island. For more info, visit her at www.jamiemichalak.com

 

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Website: JamieMichalak.com

Instagram: @jamiemichalakbooks

Twitter: @jamie_michalak

 

BLOG TOUR DATES AND HOSTS:

6/18 – Watch. Connect. Read (link)

7/6 – Imagination Soup (link)

7/7 – Storymamas

7/8 – Good Reads with Ronna

7/9 – Nerdy Book Blog

7/14 – Randomly Reading

8/3 – Celebrate Picture Books

 

Like mice? Read a review of another mouse book here.

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Picture Book Review – Rectangle Time

RECTANGLE TIME

Written by Pamela Paul

Illustrated by Becky Cameron

(Philomel Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Rectangle Time cover

 

 

Tell me there’s a story about cats and books and I’m in! New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul’s picture book, Rectangle Time, unfolds from the family’s calico cat’s perspective. Through humor and heartwarming moments, the cat and boy grow from lap reading to independent reading—the calico certainly has its opinions about which type it prefers. “Watch carefully: See how the man and the boy hold the rectangle together? That means they each have one hand free for me.”

 

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Interior spread from Rectangle Time written by Pamela Paul and illustrated by Becky Cameron, Philomel Books ©2021.

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As a parent, I appreciate the well-depicted bittersweet moments of a child’s independence as well as the clever commentary from the cat. “Look at the poor little guy. He’s just . . . staring at the rectangle,” the cat thinks when the boy picks up a book on his own. As any cat owner knows, it’s all about the cat; this comes through strongly in the calico’s continued need to be the center of attention.

 

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Interior spread from Rectangle Time written by Pamela Paul and illustrated by Becky Cameron, Philomel Books ©2021.

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Becky Cameron’s art will make you laugh as she captures feline moods from furry contentment to perplexed then miffed. The secret second cover (look under the book jacket) echoes the satisfying ending.

 

 

Click here to read a review of another cat picture book.

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Picture Book Review – Isobel Adds It Up

 

ISOBEL ADDS IT UP

Written by Kristy Everington

Illustrated by AG Ford

(Random House Studio; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

Isobel Adds It Up Cover

 

REVIEW:

As a former teacher, I was immediately intrigued by the cover of Isobel Adds It Up written by Kristy Everington with illustrations by AG Ford. A girl with a pencil in her hand, and an elephant with a pencil in its trunk solve math problems with smiles on their faces!

Isobel, a math-loving girl, can’t concentrate with noisy neighbors!

Disrupted by loud bangs and shaking walls, she imagines acrobats, marching bands, a basketball team, and definitely big feet! Solving math problems is nearly impossible. Isobel tries battling music with music. That only incited more noise—and dancing! Isobel is at her wit’s end when she can’t make sense of her numbers. So she comes up with a plan to meet the culprits. Was she right about the neighbors having big feet? Yes! But her plan brings a solution much bigger and better than she expected. You might say that the neighbor was a very BIG number-lover too!

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Interior spread from Isobel Adds It Up by Kristy Everington with illustrations by AG Ford, Random House Studio ©2021.

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Underneath the rumbling ruckus and soaked subtractions, a budding friendship multiplies into a measured success! Each illustration brings flow and movement, with Isobel’s imaginings represented in monochromatic images and lively numbers. Kristy Everington and AG Ford make numbers and math look and sound fun!

 

isobel interior spread 2
Interior spread from Isobel Adds It Up by Kristy Everington with illustrations by AG Ford, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

What I love most about this story is the message that we can ask for what we want in a kind and respectful way. We might be surprised by the kindness we receive back and discover something new about the people that live around us. Kids, teachers, parents, and neighbors everywhere will love this book!

 

GIVEAWAY:

Head to Twitter for a signed book giveaway of Isobel Adds It Up beginning today (just retweet our tweets and tag a friend to enter). Find Kristy there @kmeverington.
Find GoodReadsWithRonna on Twitter: @goodreadsronna. This giveaway ends on 7/13 and a winner will be announced on 7/14.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

Author Links:
Instagram: @kristyeverington

Illustrator links:

AG Ford’s website: http://www.agfordillustration.com/ 

Twitter: @AGFordArt

Instagram: @agfordart

WHERE TO BUY ISOBEL ADDS IT UP: 

Support indie bookstores and order your copy here at BooksInc.
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Middle Grade Non-fiction – A Curious Kid’s Guide to the Awesome 50 States

A CURIOUS KID’S GUIDE TO THE AWESOME 50 STATES

by Dinah Williams

(Shelter Harbor Press; $19.99. Ages 8 and up)

 

 

Awesome50states cover

 

 

We are all overdue to pile into the car and get out of the house, and what better book to pack in your suitcase than editor and children’s book author Dinah Williams’ book A Curious Kids Guide to the Awesome 50 States? This cool compendium for kids with curious minds provides more than 1,200 quirky, fun facts about all our states for this summer’s cross-country trips or armchair traveling.

Williams’ colorful, hard-cover book, filled with photos of unique foods, natural wonders, and awesome animals, opens to the map of America’s 50 states and closes with facts about Washington D.C., America Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico. Remembering the days of assisting my kids in memorizing the capitals of each state, I was drawn to the layout of the map with stars indicating the name of the capitals. Looking up Georgia, kids find the abbreviation (GA)—a good thing to learn—numbered points of interest, a banner stating The Peach State, and a star next to Atlanta. The Weirdest Roadside Attraction? The world’s largest peanut in Ashburn. And the spookiest spot in the state? Savannah’s Colonial Park Cemetary for those of you looking for a good haunt!

 

TheAwesome50States intspread Indiana
Interior spread from A Curious Kid’s Guide to The Awesome 50 States written by Dinah Williams, Shelter Harbor Press ©2021.

 

The intro lists the states alphabetically to help readers randomly search for a state they may be most interested to learn more about or a state they plan to visit. It’s also a fabulous tool for learning about the state you reside in. With that in mind, I started with California since that is the state I call home. It features a drawing of a brown bear and the Golden Gate Bridge, along with the names of the cities throughout the state, and main highways.

When randomly turning to states I have visited, and states I wish to one day see, I liked how Williams explains, for example, that the Natural Wonder of Kentucky is Mammoth Cave National Park, “site of the world’s longest cave, with 400 miles explored to date.” I then turned to Louisiana, eager to find about the Bayou state and under the Awesome Animal section for that state I read, “Louisiana has the most wild alligators in the country, about two million, with the highest population in coastal marshes.”

 

TheAwesome50States intspread_Texas
Interior spread from A Curious Kid’s Guide to The Awesome 50 States written by Dinah Williams, Shelter Harbor Press ©2021.

 

Each state features a Unique State Food, Spookiest Spot, Horrifying History Site, Thrilling Rides, Funniest Town name, and Weirdest Roadside Attraction. I also liked that a bottom strip includes “Other Stuff to Know” giving extra tidbits, such as in Missouri at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, visitors got their first taste of cotton candy, known as “fairy floss.”

In the “Where in the US?” section, a yellow box in the right-hand corner shows a map where I learned that at 570,641 square miles of land, Alaska is the biggest state in America, bigger than the combined area of the 22 smallest states. And when turning to Hawaii, we are told that this state can fit into Alaska 89 times, and Iowa can fit into Alaska 10 times.

 

TheAwesome50States intspread Maine
Interior spread from A Curious Kid’s Guide to The Awesome 50 States written by Dinah Williams, Shelter Harbor Press ©2021.

 

I enjoyed learning what foods I should order the next time I am in Maine, which will be the Delicious Dessert Whoopie Pie, and it brought back memories of eating the Unique State Food of Lobster Roll. The blueberry muffins were amazing too!

And I have to mention the Bad Joke of every state which really made me giggle. Here goes: Which State Has The Most Pirates? ArrrrrrKansas.  Oh and one other: Why are New Hampshire stonemasons so sad? Their work is taken for granite. LOL!

This book got me excited to return to travel, and I know kids and parents will enjoy the fun facts as well as ideas for the best thrilling ride to lose your breath over. That would be the Soaring Eagle Zipline in South Dakota. Teachers will also enjoy turning this book into a fun game of Did you know? Okay, one last joke: How do you measure a Texas rattlesnake? In inches, because they don’t have any feet. Wishing you happy, humor-filled travels!

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Click here to see more of what’s on offer from Shelter Harbor Press.

 

 

 

 

 

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Middle Grade Book Review – Journey Beyond the Burrow

IT’S A TWO-WEEK COUNTDOWN

UNTIL THE PUBLICATION OF …

JOURNEY BEYOND THE BURROW

Written by Rina Heisel

(Harper/Harper Collins Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

Journey Beyond the Burrow cover

 

 

A JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD GOLD STANDARD SELECTION!

 

What an action-packed journey! In Rina Heisel’s riveting debut middle-grade novel, Journey Beyond the Burrow, you’ll find yourself entering a world way down low, perhaps a place you don’t often look. After being so caught up in the forest floor escapades while reading, I found myself wanting to tread carefully when putting down the book and stepping onto my bedroom rug.

Readers are quickly introduced to the main character, a resourceful weather scout mouse named Tobin. Everyone in his burrow has a role to play and Tobin takes his responsibilities quite seriously. In fact, he often quotes from the Rules of Rodentia and is a stickler about following them. Not so for his best bud Wiley. He couldn’t be more opposite of Tobin, taking risks and thriving from them. Talia, Tobin’s younger sister, just wants to be accepted by her older brother and his pal. Her fearlessness and smarts make it hard to turn her down on their eventual mission.

When a storm and downed tree threatens the burrow and allows menacing spiders called Arakni to cross a creek into their territory, life suddenly changes for this “little band of misfits.” Spotting a web sack on the back of one escaping Arakni in which Tobin and Talia’s newborn baby brother has been wrapped, the trio embark on a dangerous journey to rescue the “pinkling.” Encounters with hawks, chipmunks, catfish, snakes, foxes, falcons, possums, woodchucks, owls, snapper turtles, and beavers will get your pulse racing since every new woodland creature is a potential predator.

Following the foul scent of the Arakni that stole their baby brother, Tobin and Talia along with Wiley are determined to find the Arakni lair and rescue the pinkling. Things get even more interesting when the mice team up with an unexpected and unlikely ally named Hess. Weaving animal facts with fascinating storytelling, Heisel takes readers across creeks, past orange toadstools, through tunnels, across gorges and hilltops to challenge the Arakni, a formidable enemy every reader will want vanquished.

One close page-turning call follows another and mimics what life must be like for animals in the wild. Each time the team of determined characters seem to be goners, the Rules of Rodentia are put to the test. I wondered at what point Tobin would abandon his rule-following resolve and wing it. When he finally realizes that making up their own rules as they go might be the only option for this risky rescue mission, Tobin, with the help of the others, becomes destined for success. It’s clear how much this journey helped Tobin grow within himself and as a son, a friend, and older brother. This brave weather scout might have to add some new rules to the list after this harrowing but also exciting experience.

It was so great spending time with Tobin, Talia, Wiley, and Hess that when I reached the end I wasn’t ready to leave them. Heisel has introduced a group of well-defined characters to care about and root for. And as Talia says to Hess, “I don’t want to say goodbye, either.” Here’s to reunions!

 

Publication Date: July 13, 2021, but Journey Beyond the Burrow is available for preorder now.

Preorder from Red Balloon for signing copy, bookmark, & sticker: https://bit.ly/JBTB-RB
Twitter: @rinaheisel
Instagram: Rina.Heisel
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Cover Reveal for Picture Book Violet and the Crumbs: A Gluten-Free Adventure

IT’S A BIRD

      IT’S A PLANE,

             NO, IT’S

                     VIOLET AND THE CRUMBS

                                  SOARING INTO STORES NEXT SPRING ’22!

crumb1 from VioletandtheCrumbs

crumb3 from VioletandtheCrumbscrumb2 from VioletandtheCrumbsVIOLET AND THE CRUMBS:

A Gluten-Free Adventure

Written by Abigail Rayner

Illustrated by Molly Ruttan

(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8) 

 

VioletandtheCrumbs Cover-Reveal interview cover
Book cover for VIOLET AND THE CRUMBS written by Abigail Rayner and illustrated by Molly Ruttan. © Molly Ruttan, 2021  NorthSouth Books

 

In Stores on April 19, 2022

ISBN 9780735844858
Available now for preorder

Please support your favorite local independent bookshop!

 

 

MY REACTION:

It’s a cover reveal for the picture book Violet and The Crumbs and I’m so chuffed to be sharing it with you today. 

I immediately loved the clever diagonal placement of Violet and her umbrella. My eyes easily followed the upward motion that expresses action and adventure. Violet’s smile radiates success and enjoyment, something readers will experience reading the book.

Molly’s signature charcoal linework and blends, along with her combination of muted and bright colors is something I’d recognize anywhere. And the texture in the art, along with the texture in the title font, enhances the visceral and overall presence of CRUMBS! And oh those crumbs! They really drive the point home.

crumb2 from VioletandtheCrumbs

INTERVIEW:

GoodReadsWithRonna: Hi Molly, what an honor to have you back here on the blog with your third book cover reveal and your second artistic pairing with author Abigail Rayner. She tackles some important topics in her stories, the first book being about stealing and this one about Celiac Disease. Can you recall how you felt when you were asked to work on this project?

Molly Ruttan: Thank you so much, Ronna! The honor is all mine. It is such a pleasure to be back with you on your wonderful blog. I so appreciate your time and support!

I was so excited when NorthSouth Books contacted me to work with Abigail Rayner again; I love the topics Abigail writes about. This book, about a girl (Violet) who has been newly diagnosed with celiac disease is especially meaningful for me, because I have a gluten intolerance myself, along with one of my kids. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw the manuscript. I wish so much that this book had been around when my daughter was little; I didn’t know a thing about celiac disease or gluten intolerance at the time– it would have saved us years of stomach aches.

 

GRWR: Regarding celiac disease, how much work did you have to do to make sure all the information depicted through your illustrations was accurate?

NorthSouth worked with the Celiac Disease Foundation and checked in with them many times along the way. In addition, Abigail Rayner (the author, whose daughter has celiac disease) is an expert on the subject!  She had suggestions for some of the illustrations from her own experience; It was a wonderful collaboration! We also included charts on the end pages showing grains and foods that contained gluten, and commonly used grains, flours, and roots that were gluten-free. Illustrating these pages took a bit of visual research, as I had to be accurate with the drawings. It was fun, and I learned a lot!

 

crumb1 from VioletandtheCrumbsGRWR: What are some significant elements you’d like to point out about the cover art? What impression did you aim to convey to potential readers?

MR: When I started sketches for the book, I thought a lot about how to visually indicate if food had gluten in it, since you really can’t be sure just from looking at it. I came up with the visual of swirly clouds with crumbs walking and flying around, and this motif is featured on the cover. In the story, Violet creates a costume to help protect herself from the crumbs from other children’s food at school—her own PPE, as it were! Since I had been drawing crumb “clouds”, I made her costume based on rain gear, including an umbrella. But I also included a cape, to show the heroic aspect of her journey and her Superhero attitude! The cover shows Violet in her gear, zooming up and bursting through the cloud of crumbs — she is smiling and clearly had her mind set on setting a victorious path. Since adhering to a gluten-free diet can be very difficult, especially for kids, I wanted the cover to be positive and optimistic.

 

GRWR: At the start of the interview I told you what I liked. Now please tell us what’s your favorite part about this cover?

MR: Well, of course I love Violet, she was wonderful to get to know as she came to life in my sketches and made her way through the book. But I also love how the stenciling of the crumb swirls came out, on the cover especially. Plus the crumbs are such odd and troublesome little critters, it was a delight bringing them to life, on the cover and throughout the book!

 

VioletandtheCrumbs int1
Interior art from VIOLET AND THE CRUMBS written by Abigail Rayner and illustrated by Molly Ruttan. © Molly Ruttan, 2021  NorthSouth Books

 

GRWR: How did you achieve the texture in the illustration?

MR: I work with charcoal and pastel on textured watercolor paper. I use a charcoal pencil for the drawings, pastels for the color, and a technique involving the creation of charcoal stencils for the backgrounds, gradation, shading and effects. I scan all of this into PhotoShop. The result is layer upon layer of textured color pastel and charcoal, with some digital texture thrown in here & there. The final art is digital, but there is a lot of traditional media spreading itself all over every surface of my studio along the way! I love working in both traditional and digital media.

 

ABOUT THE STORY:

Violet used to love parties, but now that she has been diagnosed with celiac disease she’s not allowed to eat pizza, cake, or anything that contains even the tiniest trace of gluten. Violet feels alone until she discovers that some animals have dietary restrictions as well. While standing up for them, she wonders: what can she do to stand up for herself?

Abigail Rayner and Molly Ruttan (creators of I AM A THIEF!) bring pluck and humor to this informative story, sure to spark conversation about this increasingly commonly-diagnosed condition. 

Cover reveal interview Molly Ruttan Headshotcrumb3 from VioletandtheCrumbsABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR:

Molly Ruttan grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. She holds a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from the Cooper Union School of Art, New York. She currently lives, works and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles.

Her titles include her author/illustrator debut, The Stray, from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, and I Am A Thief! along with Violet and the Crumbs by Abigail Rayner for NorthSouth Books. Molly has two additional titles forthcoming with Nancy Paulsen Books. She is represented by Rachel Orr at Prospect Agency. 

http://www.prospectagency.com/  

FIND MOLLY RUTTAN ONLINE:

Website: www.mollyruttan.com

Facebook: Molly Ruttan

Instagram: mollyillo

Twitter: @molly_ruttan

 

 

Click here to read an interview with Molly about her previous book with Abigail Rayner, I Am a Thief.

 

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Pride Month Book Review – No Way, They Were Gay?

NO WAY, THEY WERE GAY?:

Hidden Lives and Secret Loves

by Lee Wind

(Zest Books; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

No Way They Were Gay book cover

 

I knew I was going to love No Way, They Were Gay? when I first got the inside scoop about it during author Lee Wind’s book launch earlier this year. But I’d like to add that while I’m sharing my review during Pride Month, it should not by any means be read just in June.

Wind’s excellent young adult nonfiction book is clearly a labor of love and a book that will launch myriad meaningful conversations as it has done in my home. Top on the discussion list is how the history we learn is created by those in power. Wind reminds us that, as educated and questioning readers, we have to always carefully consider any historical information presented, its sources, along with motivations and biases. Were certain details related to certain historical figures’ gender identity, romantic and/or love interests withheld from public accounts to protect a person’s image or reputation such as that of English poet and playwright William Shakespeare, President Abraham Lincoln, India’s independence proponent, Mahatma Gandhi, or First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt? Were there other reasons influencing the decision to downplay, edit, or hide these and others’ true stories? This book delves deep and wide into the “why” and makes us rethink our knowledge of the people Wind has selected.

 

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Interior design and image from No Way, They Were Gay? by Lee Wind, Zest Books ©2021.

 

The exhaustive research collected and carefully conveyed in this book speaks volumes to Wind’s commitment to speaking truth to power while reaffirming respect for and the importance of the individuals included. Would Shakespeare’s sonnets be any less powerful and passionate if they were dedicated to a man? No. Does Gandhi’s relationship with another man mean he was any less of a leader? No. Does Roosevelt’s enduring relationship with Lorena Hickock detract from her contributions to society during an especially trying period in our history? No? So why then do the facts about who these people loved remain disputed or concealed? Wind presents his take with compelling proof and winning arguments, and then asks teens what they think.

 

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Interior design and photograph from No Way, They Were Gay? by Lee Wind, Zest Books ©2021.

 

 

No Way, They Were Gay? is divided up into three parts: “Men Who Loved Men,” “Women Who Loved Women,” and “People Who Lived Outside Gender Boundaries.” There’s an excellent and comprehensive Introduction, a Conclusion as well as an Author’s Note, Source Notes, Recommended Resources, and an Index. What I appreciated the most about the intro was that Wind included explanations about gender identity, the acronym LGBTQ and LGBTQIA2+, and labeling in a way that makes them easily understood. The book’s design, featuring fact bubbles, news clippings, images, photographs, and letters, adds to the ease of reading. Throughout the book, primary sources are presented in bold, another great idea. Additionally, there’s a suggestion at the end to read the book chronologically for those who prefer this approach. (See page 251)

Wind’s book is a great jumping-off point for further reading (which he provides) because after finishing each part readers may find themselves asking more questions. In fact, I love that Wind encourages them to. Speaking of further exploration, do not miss a visit to his website which is another helpful resource for tweens and teens. Though the suggested age range by the publisher is ages 12 and up, many 10- and 11-year-olds will welcome the information. I came away from my read of No Way, They Were Gay? both grateful that a thoughtful light has been shed on the lives of so many notable people in the LGBTQIA2+ community throughout history, and happy that Wind has written an indispensable book on queer history that will be embraced for years to come.

 

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An Interview with Vicky Fang about Layla and The Bots and Friendbots

 

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH VICKY FANG

AUTHOR OF 

LAYLA AND THE BOTS: CUPCAKE FIX

AND AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR OF

FRIENDBOTS

 

 

SHORT SUMMARIES:

Layla and the Bots Cupcake Fix cvrCUPCAKE FIX 

Blossom Valley is opening a new community center! But they need to generate buzz for the grand opening. Layla and the Bots know how to help: they will build a cupcake machine for the party! But will their invention be a piece of cake… or a recipe for disaster? With full-color artwork on every page, speech bubbles throughout, and a fun DIY activity that readers can try at home, this early chapter book series brings kid-friendly STEAM topics to young readers!

 

 

 

 

Friendbots Blink and Block book1 cover

FRIENDBOTS

Meet the robots Blink and Block in this STEM-inspired, Level Two I Can Read Comic by debut author-illustrator Vicky Fang.

Blink is scanning the playground for treasure, but Block is pretty sure there’s no gold to be found. When Blink finds a penny and decides to make a wish, will these two new pals find treasure after all—or maybe something even better?
Blink and Block Make a Wish is a Level Two I Can Read Comic, geared for kids who are comfortable with comics, can read on their own, but still need a little help.

 

 

 

INTERVIEW:

Colleen Paeff: Hi Vicky! It looks like I caught you right in the middle of two book launches. Layla and the Bots: Cupcake Fix came out on June 1 and Friendbots hits bookstores on June 22. Congratulations! How exciting to have two books coming out in one month! How does it feel?

Vicky Fang: It’s so much fun but also quite exhausting! Social media is such a strange place and two book launches means I’m on it more than I’d like to be. But I had the amazing opportunity to do an in-person launch party for Layla and the Bots: Cupcake Fix with Linden Tree Books and it was amazing! Even though it’s my sixth book (gasp!), it was my first launch party! I had so much fun celebrating the book with friends, new readers, and even some Layla and the Bots fans I met for the first time.

 

CP: Oh, my gosh. That sounds amazing! It must have been so nice to see your fans live and in-person. Friendbots is your debut as an author/illustrator. How was the experience of creating that book different from your previous experiences writing the text alone? Were you surprised by any particular aspect of the author/illustrator process?

VF: Illustrating a book is so much work! I mean, writing a book is too, but there’s definitely a different kind of pressure to illustrate a whole book within a few months, including revisions and cover illustrations, etc. I do think that between Book 1 and Book 2 I got much better at designing panels that would be fun to draw. I also had a much better sense of how long the drawings would take. Creatively, I’m more comfortable incorporating wordless panels as the author-illustrator. Somehow, it feels less like I’m just leaving a hole there, because I know I’m the one who’s going to have to fill it!

 

CP: One thing I love about your Layla and the Bots books is that I can never anticipate what’s going to go wrong (and something always does!). When you set out to write those books do you start with the problem, the solution, or something else entirely?  

VF: Ah, that’s a great question! I usually start with the solution, in some rough form, just in the sense that I think about something that would be fun to design! So an amusement park for dogs (Happy Paws), a suped-up go-kart (Built for Speed), or a cupcake machine (Cupcake Fix). From there, I think about the problem they might try to solve and that leads to the specifics of the solution they come up with. It does feel a bit like a fun puzzle trying to plot those books!

 

Laylaandthe Bots in volleyball
Interior illustration from Layla and The Bots: Cupcake Fix Credit: Scholastic Inc., Vicky Fang, Christine Nishiyama (2021)

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CP: Coding plays a big part in your books–even the board books. What would you recommend to parents who are intimidated at the thought of coding, but who want to foster a love (or at least a level of comfort) with coding in their children? 

VF: A lot of people ask me this question! First off, I incorporate coding into the books because I think computational thinking is so important for all kids, whether or not they want to code or become software engineers. It’s really about being able to break down a problem logically and think through the solution in small, logical pieces. I’m just hoping kids start to think in these logical blocks: if/then, and/or, etc. And they do already naturally! It’s just about seeing those logical blocks and realizing that those blocks are how you give instructions to a computer. Besides books, there are also great tools and toys out there. Scratch/Scratch Jr., Code-a-pillar, and Sphero are just a few that parents might look into!

 

CP: Awesome. Thank you! You’ve written (and sold!) a picture book, chapter books, board books, and an early graphic novel series. What do you like about writing in so many different formats and do you have a favorite?

VF: As a former product designer, I get inspiration from the strengths and restrictions of the different formats! The format is part of the ideation process for me. I don’t have a favorite. I love the conceptual and tactile nature of board books, the poetic precision of picture books, the fun of chapter books, and the theatre-like quality of graphic novels!

 

LaylaandtheBots int Sweettooth
Interior illustration from Layla and The Bots: Cupcake Fix Credit: Scholastic Inc., Vicky Fang, Christine Nishiyama (2021)

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CP: How do you know which format is right for which story idea?

VF: I usually have an idea floating around in my head and it will click with a format, based on some of the qualities I described above. I have an ongoing list of ideas that I keep, usually of vague picture book ideas. But then separately, I’ll decide I want to try a particular format and read a lot of books and realize, oh, this is perfect for that idea about X! And then I start writing it. It becomes a bit of, what format has the right shape to fit the story I need to tell? Which will give me enough room for the characters and the plot? Which will support the visual needs? Which will fit the age group the best?

 

CP: I understand you worked as a technology product designer for Google and Intel. What exactly is a technology product designer and what are some of the coolest projects you worked on during that time?

VF: Yes! I designed the user experience for products, which means I designed how things should work. By the end of my time at Google, I was a design lead, which meant I oversaw the creative team, which included interaction designers, visual designers, writers, and even voice/audio designers. I loved working on projects that used technology to create surprising and delightful experiences! I designed DIY cardboard robots that you could build and code yourself, interactive voice games for kids, and a building that lit up and played music when you held hands in the space. Those are just a few of the projects that I loved!

 

CP: That sounds amazing! Tell me something I might not know about working for Google!

VF: Ah, what wouldn’t you know? Hmm … I think you hear all about the amazing perks and the amazing people. So what wouldn’t you know? One time, we took dozens of our cardboard robots and set up a giant robot dance party in the hallways in the middle of the night and videotaped it. We had a lot of fun—but we did a lot of work too!

 

CP: Hahaha! I love that!! I read that you were a theater major in college (me, too!) and an actress on Charmed and other TV shows. How did you get from theater to tech? 

VF: Oh, cool, I didn’t know that! I moved to LA to act but was working at some startups to pay the bills. One startup actually had very little work to do, so I spent my days teaching myself Photoshop and making little Quicktime animations in the most inefficient way possible. From that, I got jobs making Flash animations, which lead to coding Flash websites, and I eventually ended up going to grad school at Parsons School of Design to get an MFA in Design and Technology!

 

FriendbotsBook1pp4-5
Interior illustration from Friendbots written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, HarperCollins BYR ©2021.

 

CP: What skills from your previous professions have been most useful to you as a children’s book author?

VF: One of the things I love is that I feel like writing pulls from ALL of my experiences! Acting I think is an obvious one, in terms of story and character, and emotion. It also helped with understanding the agent landscape! But I also feel like all of the design work helps me craft stories, and understand how to respond to critique feedback, and be creative on demand, etc. Both acting and design have helped me as an illustrator, in thinking about color and layout, and visual focus. In some ways, I think of myself as somebody who just loves creating in different mediums—whether that be technology or pictures or words!

 

CP: What is your favorite thing about writing for children?

VF: I love that I feel like I can make a positive impact on even just one kid with a book. It never feels like a wasted effort. I love seeing kids embrace the books and become inspired to make fan art or invent something or write a story.

 

CP: What are the three most important tools in your “Writer’s Toolbox?”

VF: First off, my critique partners. I met Christine Evans and Faith Kazmi in 2017 and I wouldn’t still be here if not for their moral and creative support. Secondly, my agent. Elizabeth Bennett is an amazing partner who gives me the most insightful and inspiring directional guidance. The third, I would say, is creative brain space. I find that I have to give myself space to create and forgive myself when I’m not able to (which inevitably happens with life, more than I’d like!).

FriendbotsBook1pp6-7
Interior illustration from Friendbots written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, HarperCollins BYR ©2021.

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CP: What’s next for you?

VF: I’m finishing up Friendbots Book 2, which launches this fall. And I’m excited for Layla and the Bots Book 4, Making Waves, which launches in January 2022. I have an unannounced project coming in 2023, and I’m always working on new ideas!

 

CP: Great! I look forward to reading them all. Thanks, Vicky! 

VF: Thank you, Colleen! It’s been a pleasure chatting books with you!

 

Author Photo Vicky Fang
Vicky Fang Photo ©Lindsay Wiser

BRIEF BIO:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent five years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author of nine new and upcoming STEAM books for kids, including Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code, Layla and the Bots, and her author-illustrator debut, Friendbots. Find Vicky on Twitter at @fangmous or on her website at www.vickyfang.com.
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WHERE TO BUY VICKY’S BOOKS:

https://vickyfang.com/books/layla/#cupcake-fix

https://vickyfang.com/books/friendbots/

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: @fangmous

IG: @fangmousbooks

FB: @fangmousbooks

Website: www.vickyfang.com

 

FOR MORE ON VICKY FANG:

KidLit411 Author Spotlight

Get to Know Vicky Fang

12 x 12 Featured Author (On writing for different formats)

Storyteller Academy: Student Success Story

Google Product Designer Creates New Graphic Novel Series (BleedingCool.com)

Launch Countdown: Reflections and Results

CritterLit Interview

Cynsations: Journey to Publication

Awesome Activities from Vicky Fang

Code a Musical Instrument: An Introductory Scratch Activity

Build a Balloon Powered Speedboat

 

ABOUT INTERVIEWER COLLEEN PAEFF:

Colleen Paeff is the author of The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (available August 31, 2021, from Margaret K. McElderry Books) and Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi and illustrated by Saffa Khan (available in the spring of 2023 from Chronicle Books). Click here for more info.

 

Check out https://www.soaring20spb.com/to read about more debut authors, illustrators, and author/illustrators.

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