A GUEST POST
BORN TO RUN AUTHOR ANN HUNTER
Today Good Reads With Ronna features a guest post by the North Oak series author, Ann Hunter, because the first eBook in her series, Born to Run, is available this week on BookBub for 99 cents! Get hooked on the first book then enjoy six more books in the series.
GUEST POST BY ANN HUNTER:
Alexandra Anderson, heroine of the contemporary YA North Oak series (recommended for ages 12 and up*), is an orphan who has endured trauma in the foster care system. She’s running from a dark past.
As a teacher, I regard the interception of children at a young age to be pivotal in their approach to and success in the world. When a child knows they’re loved and is given boundaries, they can then grow and flourish.
This young runaway doesn’t believe she’ll be worthy of love when the people at North Oak—good, honest people who have taken her in—find out what she’s done. She suspects she’s better off being alone forever.
It’s important that children have a strong support system around them. There’s no better example than family.
Family isn’t always who you expect them to be. One hopes their parents will love them, but sometimes things happen. Family can extend to those who support you no matter what. They might be colorful, and crazy, and eccentric, but they put their trust in your greatness. They support you in your desire to do good in the world.
They help you find your true self. Alex discovers this through the people at North Oak, and horse racing. Her first real friend is a horse. He becomes a brother to her. She senses his spirit and desire to be great. Meanwhile, Alex’s new guardian isn’t so sure about the situation they’ve been thrown into, but she gradually falls in love with Alex as a mother should. However, she discovers her boss is keeping a secret that will change Alex’s life forever.
What kind of support system do you surround yourself with? Do they lift you up? Do they empower you and recognize your greatness?
Everyone deserves a family. Every child deserves to be loved.
That is North Oak’s goal (as a book series). Kids today need a support system. They are going through things we never really dealt to such a great extent in our own childhood days; scary topics such as bullying, suicide, and sexuality. We can’t raise them exactly the same way our parents raised us. That world doesn‘t exist anymore. We have to prepare them for a new one.
Love these children with all your fierceness. They need the sword and shield we can provide them with by enabling their confidence and giving them safe places to land.
* The series starts out middle grade, but ages up to YA with the reader as the main character ages. We follow Alex from the age of thirteen into her twenties.
ABOUT NORTH OAK:
North Oak champions tough issues kids and teens are facing today, such as bullying, suicide, and sexuality, all set against the exciting fast-paced world of horse racing.
He lost a sister. She lost a child. Alex lost everything.
When the thirteen-year-old orphan can run no further, she collapses at the gates of the prestigious racing and breeding farm, North Oak. Horse racing strikes a deep chord in her. She hears a higher calling in the jingle jangle of bit and stirrup and in the thunder of hooves on the turn for home. It tells her she has a place in the world. But when the racing headlines find her on the front of every sports page, she realizes North Oak is no longer a safe haven.
Money can’t buy love, but it just might secure Alex’s future. Will everyone at North Oak still want to offer her a home when they learn of her unspeakable crime?On the heels of Joanna Campbell’s beloved Thoroughbred Series, and Walter Farley’s Black Stallion, comes a brand new young adult horse racing series that will sweep you away like a runaway Thoroughbred.
FIND THE BOOKS HERE:
Click “View Price” for access to all the websites where the books are sold.
The first 3 books are free via Kindle Unlimited:
Ann Hunter is awesome and hilarious. She loves mentoring other writers and has a soft spot for kids and teens. She is often told it must be a blast living in her brain. She argues that the voices in her head never shut up. The only way to get relief is to let them out on to the page.
Written and illustrated by Corinna Luyken
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Author-illustrator Corinna Luyken’s rhyming picture book, My Heart, about perseverance through difficult emotional times, will resonate with readers. The spare lyrical text explains what can happen to a heart: “some days it is cloudy and heavy with rain” or “it’s a whisper that can barely be heard.”
Details make this book special. On the cover, a golden heart-shaped flower glows hopefully as a girl tends it. The story’s carefully chosen evocative words and yellow-accented black-and-white images set the differing moods. Kids of varying ages and backgrounds depict our universal feelings.
If you look closely, each page has hidden heart-shaped images. From a playground slide and a puddle, to constellations and leaves. Love Luyken’s stunning artwork? Check under the cover for a bonus illustration.
This book can cheer someone up or just let them know you love them. A heart can experience myriad things, and “a heart that is closed can still open again.”
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal
SAVING EMMA THE PIG
(The Biggest Little Farm)
Written by John Chester
Illustrated by Jennifer L. Meyer
(Feiwel & Friends; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
Last month I had the good fortune to see the delightful documentary, “The Biggest Little Farm” and I’m not kidding when I say my husband thought I’d immediately head home to don overalls and work boots after the film had ended. Yes, I was that enthused but I’d also like to add that you don’t have to have seen the film to appreciate this farm story or the real life characters in Saving Emma the Pig reviewed here today.
Saving Emma the Pig, an utterly adorable 40-page nonfiction picture book just recently released, is going to win fans and perhaps even inspire future farmers and vets once in the hands of young readers. “Based on the award-winning film” by documentary filmmaker John Chester about bringing Apricot Lane Farms to life in Moorpark, California, Saving Emma the Pig is the first in a new series of children’s books. Each book, narrated by Chester, will capture a unique and engaging tale of an Apricot Lane Farms animal and “the special people who care for them.”
Chester’s debut story recounts the true events about a particularly personable and apple-loving pig named Emma. Not just a new arrival at the farm, Emma also happens to be pregnant, and ill. Chester is determined to get her well again so she can properly care for her piglets. The premise here is quite simple yet also powerful, selflessly give love and devotion and it’ll come back to you tenfold. And that’s exactly what Chester, his wife Molly and his team set out to do.
Everyone expects Emma will have a fairly normal sized litter but when she goes into labor, the piglets keep coming. It doesn’t even stop at a dozen. Nope, seventeen piglets are born, close to a record number and quite a feat for a sickly swine. But the poor hog isn’t producing milk so the newborns move into Chester’s “teeny-tiny” farmhouse where they can be looked after while hopefully Emma recovers. There’s just one problem and it’s rather a big one. Emma has no appetite and in order to get better she must eat.
Perhaps offering Emma apples is the way to get her back onto her feet. When this solution doesn’t work and Chester is at his wit’s end, there’s just one last thing to do to save Emma, bring back the piglets. Clearly they were missing their mama and she was missing them because, once reunited, Emma’s health and spirit improve. Together again, Emma and her piglets thrive with the piglets eventually growing up and moving into their own pasture.
It’s here both in art and text that Chester introduces another farm animal, Greasy the rooster, who bonds with Emma. This unlikely and funny friendship is setting the stage for what is sure to be the next book in the series. Meanwhile, John and Molly figure if Emma can handle seventeen little ones, surely they can “raise one of our own,” and an addition to the Chester family is also depicted.
Artist Jennifer L. Meyer’s illustrations are so good that I cannot picture anyone else’s working as well. There’s a warmth that emanates from every page and brings Chester’s charming narrative to life. In the second spread we even spot Greasy taking up much of the left hand page as he watches Emma from a distance following her arrival. I also like that she’s added bees in her artwork. Another spread, with the piglets splashing, burping and slurping in the Chester home, shows Molly and John just outside a window wondering how they will cope with the litter and worrying if Emma will recover. An author’s note on the last two pages details the origin of Apricot Lane Farms, tells a bit more on Emma who now weighs in at seven hundred pounds and includes acknowledgments as well.
Bring the Chester family and the animals of Apricot Lane Farms into your life today. Share the Biggest Little Farm stories with your family to enter the wonderful world of bio dynamic farming where humans and nature are interconnected, helping us to learn about more about ourselves and the world around us.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Read more at the links below:
52 SMALL CHANGES FOR THE FAMILY
by Brett Blumenthal and Danielle Shea Tan
(Chronicle Books; $18.95, Adult Nonfiction)
Internationally best-selling author Brett Blumenthal’s newest book, 52 Small Changes for the Family is the third in her series that helps you make a small change each week. This time she teams up with Danielle Shea Tan, a functional nutritionist, certified holistic health coach, and corporate wellness consultant focused on family health.
Since it takes an average of sixty-six days to learn a new habit, no wonder breaking out of ruts can be challenging. Making small changes over the course of a year is a simpler and more realistic way to improve our family’s health and happiness. Four categories—sharp mind, healthy spirit, resilient body, and deep connections—are interspersed to keep things interesting. Increased thoughtfulness in any of these areas is sure to have positive benefits.
I like that each week’s chapter opens with a quote and that a diverse range of topics are covered. Ones which resonate with me include “Toss Plastics” (such an important issue), “Enjoy Healthy Fats” (algae oil, who knew??), and “Have Real Conversations” (a reminder to talk daily with every member of your family about topics that matter).
The book’s weekly program can be adapted to whatever best fits your lifestyle. It all comes down to the relationships we maintain with ourselves and our world. The quote in the “Be a Good Friend” chapter sums it up: “I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why” (John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men).
Why wait until the new year? Start June with 52 Small Changes for the Family. It’s a book you’ll keep on hand with pages flagged and lines highlighted. It also makes a wonderful gift.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com
TREES: A ROOTED HISTORY
by Piotr Socha + Wojciech Grajkowski
Translated from Polish by Anna Burges
(Abrams BYR; $24.99, Ages 8-12)
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
Large-format middle-grade nonfiction book, Trees: A Rooted History, will engage readers with stunning full-page illustrations and fascinating information. Trees are the largest living things on Earth showcasing nature’s incredible power. They can be seen as sacred but also have practical purposes such as being used for wood or to make paper.
Leaves, roots, seasons, seeds—this we know. But what about tree eaters, tree dwellers, and the animals using trees for camouflage? We learn that the largest-diameter tree is a Montezuma cypress in Santa Maria del Tule, Mexico—so wide that not even twenty adults could link hands around its trunk. And that a quaking aspen in Utah, estimated to be at least 80,000 years old, is both a tree and an entire forest because it originated from a single seed and its root system has formed a 106-acre colony of trees.
There is much to consider in this book. For example, a tree can withstand the rise and fall of several civilizations, or may grow alongside as works of art are created or important inventions are made. It’s fascinating that a 400,000-year-old wooden tool (the sharpened end of a wooden spear) was found in the British town of Clacton-on-Sea and that countless legends and fairy tales are set in forests.
This beautiful book of discovery invites you to flip through its pages, stopping wherever your eye leads you.
NOAH BUILDS AN ARK
Written by Kate Banks
Illustrated by John Rocco
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
★Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews
A slight tension fills the air as dark clouds approach Noah’s house. In the backyard, restless salamanders slither “to and fro” and beetles and mice try to take shelter. Getting his tools from the yard, Noah’s father makes a thought-provoking comment: “It’s going to be a beauty.” What is? The preparation, the storm, the aftermath?
Just as Noah’s parents work hard to prepare for the storm, Noah, similarly, takes thorough care of his garden friends’ needs. For shelter, he builds an ark out of his wagon and fills the space with all the comforts of home: food, furniture, water, and light from a flashlight. Whatever his parents provide for him and his sister, Noah, in turn, provides for his critters.
Rocco’s detailed pencil and watercolor illustrations emphasize this give and take motion. On the left side of the page, we readers see the actions his parents take and on the right we see Noah mimicking that action. When the storm arrives, the illustrations once again draw similarities between the two. Both groups huddle, share food, and pass the time with calming activities. One double-page spread is particularly poignant as it draws our attention to the slats of wood—wood that boards Noah’s window and wood that houses in his garden friends. It’s a powerful image of protection and community despite the raging rain “splash[ing] down like silver swords thrown from heaven.” Banks’ imagery captures, too, the beauty and danger of their situation.
When the clouds suddenly retreat and the “sun turn[s] its light back on,” Noah is treated to a wide and stunning rainbow. A sign of the covenant between God and the earth in the original story, the rainbow here represents a symbol of peace and restoration. Two by two the creatures leave the ark and resume their roles in Noah’s garden.
So what was “going to be a beauty” after all? Dedication in caring for one another, the sense of community during troubled times, and the healing qualities of the natural world are all beautiful themes in this story. For animal and nature lovers, for those familiar and new to Noah’s Ark, for those needing a quiet bedtime story and a suspenseful adventure, Noah Builds an Ark is for any child who enjoys a timeless tale.
- Reviewed by Armineh Manookian
GOOD READS WITH RONNA
GETS A 10 YEAR ANNIVERSARY MAKEOVER!
MEET AUTHOR + ILLUSTRATOR BETH SPIEGEL
WHO DESIGNED OUR NEW HEADER
I had the pleasure and good fortune to meet Beth Spiegel in 2018 at a children’s picture book study group. She told me she was participating in an upcoming artists’ open house close to where I lived. Curious about what she had produced over the years and keen on supporting a local woman artist, I stopped by to see her work. I was instantly struck by an illustration of a woman seated at a table in a bird’s nest hat. It could have been me if she’d had curly hair! Right there and then I told Beth that I had been eager for an illustrator to redesign the Good Reads With Ronna header for its 10 year anniversary and wondered if she’d be interested in creating something with a similar aesthetic.
I asked Beth if she could personalize the header with things I love including books, cats, travel and tea so they’d feature prominently in the new artwork. She agreed so we met and discussed the particulars of the image and the final version of Beth’s beautiful watercolor now graces the website, much to my delight. I’m thrilled to share the following interview highlighting Beth’s artistic journey and I want to give a great big shout out of thanks for her spot on interpretation of a kidlit book reviewer on the job.
AN INTERVIEW WITH BETH SPIEGEL:
GOOD READS WITH RONNA: Did you always plan to be an illustrator?
BETH SPIEGEL: Funny you should ask because I still have a book I made as an art project in the second grade and in the “back matter” I wrote …
“When I grow up, I want to have lots of pets and make lots of books.”
GRWR: What artists have influenced you or had an impact on your approach to illustrating?
BETH: There are so many. Looking at my bookshelf I see books illustrated by William Steig, Virginia Lee Burton, Roger Duvoisin, Mary Blair and Hillary Knight alongside the contemporary illustrators, Matthew Cordell, Melissa Sweet, Sydney Smith, Erin Stead, Benji Davis, and Hadley Hooper. There’s great illustration happening now. It’s inspiring but also intimidating.
GRWR: Please tell us about the books you’ve illustrated.
BETH: My first book was Rosa’s Room written by Barbara Bottner and published by Peachtree Publishing Company. The opportunity came about because Bottner saw an exhibition of my watercolors of abandoned buildings at the Pasadena Museum of History. She says they inspired her to write a story.
“Bottner offers a heartwarming story of a young girl moving to a new house and a too-empty room … Spiegel’s softly colored watercolors are the perfect complement to the text, showing the transformation of both Rosa and her room … A welcome addition sure to calm the worries of youngsters facing a similar situation.” – Kirkus Reviews
Next was First Grade Stinks! written by Mary Ann Rodman, and also published by Peachtree. The story of a frustrated first grader pulled me in because I sympathized with the main character Haley from the start.
The third book I illustrated was written by Eve Bunting Will It Be a Baby Brother?, published by Boyds Mill Press. This came about because the art director saw my work on the “Picture Book Artists” website.
I got to meet author Eve Bunting a year after the book launched. I was a host illustrator for the Mazza Museum’s Studio Tour. Each year they travel to a different state and visit picture book illustrators that live there. I’ll never forget watching their giant tour bus pulling up in front of my studio house on my tiny street. Then 40 picture book enthusiasts getting off and amongst them was a special guest … Eve Bunting. I felt honored to be part of the Mazza tour and very happy to spend time with Eve. She’s very charming.
GRWR: What is in the pipeline?
BETH: To be honest I don’t know. Since the last book I illustrated, I’ve also started writing. In fact, I snuck a few of my titles into the painting I did for your banner. Look for Almost Flying, Excuse Me Mr. B., as well as The Yellow Umbrella, all of which I am writing and illustrating. It feels good to be doing both and am excited to start submitting them to agents and editors.
GRWR: What do you do when you’re not working on children’s books?
BETH: I take long walks. I recently moved near downtown L.A. so there’s new territory to explore. I love to get out to sketch and people watch. Travel is a passion.
GRWR: You’ve also worked on films over the years. How has that informed your children’s book art and writing?
BETH: I’ve been lucky to have received offers to edit documentaries for film and television. The majority were about subjects I care about … animals, artists and the environment. The most recent was “Pandas 3D” for Imax.
I liked editing films for Imax. The audience is young and one is challenged to find a way to express complicated ideas in a clear way fun way. While editing I also learned about pacing, and how to recognize those “story telling” moments. I think about all this when I work on illustrations.
Fortunately I’ve never stopped working on picture books. I joined a talented writing group a few years ago, that’s helping me develop my story ideas. I’ve also been working in my studio further developing/finding my “voice” as an illustrator.
Editing has been a great experience but now I’m excited to focus solely on making books. I love the picture book format. At best they are both simple and profound. To get that right, even a little, is a dream for me.
GRWR: What medium/s do you create with and does your process involve many steps and and any digital work?
BETH: I like to work in many mediums. Often I use pen and ink with watercolor, but recently started to paint digitally, which I like more than I thought I would. The important thing is that the medium suits the story.
I start every day journaling using pen and ink. Sometimes I write, sometimes I draw. Those messy marks help me start an illustration or a story and often get me going when I’m stuck. The painting of the lady reading, you liked for your banner, started as a morning doodle. As you see the bird’s nest was originally two mice nibbling some decorative fruit. Not sure why I changed it.
Here is what it looked like:
GRWR: What are some of your all-time favorite children’s books?
BETH: Oh there are so many, but a few are: Amos and Boris, Olivia Saves the Circus, Iridescence of Birds, Lost and Found, Little Gorilla and Hello Lighthouse.
My heartfelt thanks again to Beth for sharing her candid and interesting replies today. I’m looking forward to seeing what new books she will be writing and illustrating so watch this space!
- Interview by Ronna Mandel
WHEN SUE FOUND SUE:
SUE HENDRICKSON DISCOVERS HER T. REX
Written by Toni Buzzeo
Illustrated by Diana Sudyka
(Abrams BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Booklist
We may not be able to find which date is the real National Dinosaur Day (dates online vary), but what we have found is a really great new picture book reviewed today by Christine Van Zandt!
Toni Buzzeo’s nonfiction picture book, When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex, centers around how childhood curiosity can launch a life of discovery. As a girl, Hendrickson was good at finding things; in 1990, searching for dinosaur fossils in South Dakota, she unearthed the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, distinguished for being exceptionally well-preserved and more than 90 percent complete. Aspiring paleontologists will appreciate the facts of the dig—both the excitement and the toiling excavation itself.
Diana Sudyka’s colorfully engaging water-colored art offers a glimpse of Hendrickson’s life, often with a pet at her side (a detail sure to appeal to kids). Peek under the cover for a bonus illustration.
In the back matter, we learn about the dispute over ownership of these magnificent bones—a fight between several parties but not involving Hendrickson herself. Hendrickson’s amazing life included working as a professional diver, specialist in paleontology fieldwork, specialist in fossil inclusions in amber, and long-standing member of the Franck Goddio marine archaeology team.
Self-educated and adventurous, Hendrickson shows where life will lead if you’re open to following your interests. The story reinforces that our innate talents and fascinations stay with us and can develop into rewarding lives. Hendrickson’s T. rex fossil resides in The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, a place where she spent much time as a child.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com) @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com
CLICK HERE FOR A REVIEW OF ANOTHER BOOK BY TONI BUZZEO.
Written by Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
(Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 8-12)
• A New York Public Library Best Book of the Year — top ten selection
I enjoy stories without obvious plots and Inkling is just that. Typical middle-grade characters are rendered with fresh perspectives. Ethan struggles to complete the illustrations for his group’s class project, but, unfortunately, he can’t draw; no one knows this, though the class bully Vika Worthington suspects. She’s the best artist in their grade and the daughter of Ethan’s dad’s boss. Throughout, Ethan relives the day Vika tornado-kicked him into a garbage can.
Sydney Smith’s illustrations intersperse the text, adding depth and delight. Vika’s furrowed brow is perfectly sinister. Graphic-novel images complement the story line.
Inkling resonates with the underlying grief Ethan’s family is trying to process; unspoken words cloud their days. Adults can appreciate the pressure of raising kids alone, having a special-needs child, or watching their creativity come to a grinding halt. Oppel’s clever plot will make you fall for Inkling and keep you hooked until the end.
If you liked The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole (written and illustrated by Michelle Cuevas, Dial/Penguin, 2017), Inkling hits some similar notes, check it out.
BEST NEW CHILDREN’S BOOKS
FOR MOTHER’S DAY
– A ROUNDUP –
My Two Moms and Me, a sleek new 22-page board book, looks like it’s as much for the adults reading it as it is for the little ones listening and that makes turning every page a treat. It’s nice to find a board book depicting same-sex families for the littlest family members, their friends and relatives. Whether children have one mom, two moms or even no moms involved in parenting, it’s important they can see themselves and the life they live reflected on the pages of all kinds of books. Joosten, who has also written My Two Dads and Me, describes all the daily activities any family would do from the perspective of the child. The humorous tone of the language adds to the book’s appeal: “At breakfast, we each have a glass of juice. They both like orange, but I’m more of an apple person, myself.” I love that! The families change on every page which works well so readers meet many different kinds of families, some with one child, some with two, some with boys, girls or both, some biracial, some with babies and some with toddlers. Coupled with the cool, contemporary clothing illustrations by fashion illustrator Zenou, My Two Moms and Me is a worthy choice this Mother’s Day.
If you’re looking for a charming picture book with simple and slightly retro-looking pen and ink style illustrations in shades of coral and black, pick up a copy of Mom and Me, Me and Mom. Similar to My Two Moms and Me above in that a child narrates the story in an almost tongue-in-cheek style, this book captures a mother-daughter relationship and emphasizes its uniqueness. What’s also adorable is that the child conveys what she contributes to the dynamic whether that be helping her mom’s mood or keeping her secrets safe. My two favorite spreads are: in a museum where the mom is studying a modern art paining while the little girl is staring at the water cooler: “I show you how to see things differently.” And then outdoors: “I follow your lead,” which depicts both mom and daughter reading. This one particularly resonated with me having raised avid readers. I have a feeling there’s a quality or activity that Tanco’s chosen to highlight that will also resonate with most mothers.
Superhero Mom, an enjoyable follow up to last year’s Superhero Dad, introduces readers to a little girl who reveres her mom and it’s easy to see why. “She does so many things at once. She zooms from here to there—mending … mixing … making … taming tangles in my hair.” We all know someone like that, a mom with energy enough for two. There are lots of super powers on display, all shared in well-metered rhyme, demonstrating why Mom qualifies as a superhero. They’re totally relatable, too. She carries so much stuff ✓, she appears out of nowhere to kiss away tears ✓, she finds missing toys and, last, but not least, “Every mom’s a SUPERHERO and so is every GIRL!” The art is bold and bright and full of superhero-type energy so I recommend this as an ideal read aloud for any story time since moms are superheroes all year round!
CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO LAST YEAR’S MOTHER’S DAY ROUNDUP
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel