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Butterflies in Room 6 by Caroline Arnold – A Review and Interview

BUTTERFLIES IN ROOM 6: SEE HOW THEY GROW
Written and photographed by Caroline Arnold
(Charlesbridge; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

cover photo by Caroline Arnold from Butteries in Room 6

 

REVIEW:

Caroline Arnold’s new nonfiction picture book, Butterflies in Room 6, is both an educational and enjoyable read. Its release last week could not have been more timely, especially for those of us living in SoCal who have been privy to a rare treat of nature.

“Those black-and-orange insects that seem to be everywhere you look in Southern California aren’t monarchs and they aren’t moths. They are called painted ladies, and these butterflies are migrating by the millions across the state,” says Deborah Netburn in a March 12 Los Angeles Times article.

If Butterflies in Room 6 doesn’t make you want to head back to Kindergarten, I don’t know what will. Arnold takes us into Mrs. Best’s classroom to witness first hand the amazing life cycle of a painted lady butterfly. Colorful and crisp photographs fill the the book and are most impressive when they accompany all four stages of this butterfly’s brief but beautiful life. The first stage is an egg. The second stage is a larva also know as a caterpillar. Following this is the pupa and third stage when the metamorphosis occurs that transforms the pupa into a butterfly. The forth or last stage is when the butterfly emerges as an adult and the cycle will begin again.

 

int photo pg 15 by Caroline Arnold from Butterflies in Room 6

“Inside the chrysalis the pupa is transforming into a butterfly.” Interior photo from Butterflies in Room 6 written and photographed by Caroline Arnold, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2019.

 

A host of illuminating facts are shared in easy-to-understand language complemented by Arnold’s fab photos. Helpful notations on each picture explains the process depicted. Seeing the faces of the delighted children engaged in Mrs. Best’s butterfly project is certain to excite young readers who may also be planning to participate in this “common springtime curriculum activity.” If there is no project on the horizon, this book (coupled with a video recommended in the back matter) is definitely the next best thing.

 

interior photo pg 22 by Caroline Arnold from Butterflies in Room 6

“One by one the butterflies come out of their chrysalises.” Interior photo from Butterflies in Room 6 written and photographed by Caroline Arnold, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2019.

 

Obviously a lot goes into raising butterflies and Arnold provides step by step details so anyone thinking about this will know exactly what’s involved. Pictures illustrate the process from preparing the eggs sent via mail, to leaving food for the soon-to-be caterpillars and then shifting their environment to one that is ready for the pupa stage before moving the chrysalis (thin shell) covered pupa into a special “flight cage” that resembles a clear pop-up laundry basket. Ultimately butterflies emerge. This particular part of Butterflies in Room 6 will thrill every reader who has vicariously followed along with the class’s journey. When Mrs. Best allows each child to hold a butterfly before they fly away, whether to a nearby flower or to find a mate, the reader will feel a sense of joy at having been privy to this unique experience. I know I was!

 

interior photo pg 28 by Caroline Arnold from Butterflies in Room 6

“It is time to let them go.” Interior photo from Butterflies in Room 6 written and photographed by Caroline Arnold, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2019.

 

The book contains enlightening back matter including “Butterfly Questions,” “Butterfly Vocabulary,” “Butterflies Online,” “Further Reading” and “Acknowledgements.” Arnold must have read my mind when she answered my question about the red stains on the side of the flight cage. Turns out they are due to the red liquid called meconium, “left over from metamorphosis.”

 

Interior photo pg 31 by Caroline Arnold from Butterflies in Room 6

“Each child gets a turn to hold a butterfly.” Interior photo from Butterflies in Room 6 written and photographed by Caroline Arnold, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2019.

 

While the book should certainly find a welcome place on the shelves of schools and libraries, I also hope it will find its way into homes across the country so families can share in the wonder and delight of butterflies that Arnold’s words and photos perfectly convey.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

INTERVIEW WITH CAROLINE ARNOLD

GoodReadsWithRonna: First there was Hatching Chicks in Room 6 and now there’s Butterflies in Room 6. What was the history of how this second book came to be?

Caroline Arnold: Several years ago, when I was doing an author visit at Haynes school in Los Angeles, I met Jennifer Best, a kindergarten teacher. Each spring, her students learn about life cycles. Two years ago I spent time in her classroom while they were hatching chicken eggs in an incubator. That resulted in my book Hatching Chicks in Room 6. At the same time, the class was also raising Painted Lady butterflies from caterpillars–watching the caterpillars grow in a jar, turn into chrysalises, and, after a week or so, emerge as beautiful butterflies. It seemed like the perfect sequel to Hatching Chicks in Room 6.

GRWR: Your photos are wonderful. How difficult is it photographing elementary school children whose awe at the butterfly project you capture so well? And the subject themselves – the images of the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis are an eye-opener! How hard was this?

CA: As with the book about chicks, I realized that the best way to tell this story was with photographs. I embedded myself in Jennifer Best’s classroom, which enabled me to follow the process along with the children and get the photos I needed. A challenge was that neither the children nor butterflies stayed still for long! My secret was to take LOTS of pictures. The story takes place in real time, so I had to get the photos I needed as they happened. There was no going backwards. For the close-up photos I raised butterflies at home. Even so, catching a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis isn’t easy. The whole process only lasts about a minute, so I had to watch constantly to catch it in time. And no matter how many times I watched a butterfly come out, it was always miraculous.

GRWR: Where do you go to enjoy nature in L.A.?

CA: I am a bird watcher and like to go for walks on the beach and watch sandpipers and other shorebirds skitter at the edge of the waves or pelicans flying in formation. I also enjoy walks on the path along Ballona Lagoon in the Marina, another great place for birdwatching. But, one of the best places to enjoy nature is my own backyard and my neighborhood near Rancho Park. Ever since writing Butterflies in Room 6 I have been much more aware of the variety of butterflies that one can see in Los Angeles—monarchs, swallowtails, painted ladies, white and yellow sulphurs, and many more. Last year I bought a milkweed plant for my garden and was delighted to discover several weeks later monarch caterpillars happily eating the leaves. A surprising amount of nature is around us all the time—we just have to look!

 

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An Interview With MG & YA Author Deborah Lytton

THE FANTASTIC LIBRARY RESCUE
AND OTHER MAJOR PLOT TWISTS
Written by Deborah Lytton
Illustrated by Jeanine Murch
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $7.99, Ages 8 and up)

Cover art of Ruby Starr from The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists


Read Our Q & A With Author Deborah Lytton

On today’s post I’m excited to share a recent interview I had with author, Deborah Lytton, about book #2 in the Ruby Starr series, The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists, which came out earlier this month. Having thoroughly enjoyed this chapter book for middle grade readers* that includes illustrations of Ruby’s active imagination at work, I can see how much tweens and bibliophiles will gravitate to the series, and this new book in particular, especially since it tackles two important issues: libraries losing funding and friendship predicaments. I especially like that Ruby’s friend Will P is also in a bookclub, something I don’t usually see depicted in stories. Here’s how Sourcebooks Jabberwocky describes Lytton’s latest:

The second book in this fun series that’s perfect for younger fans of the Dork Diaries and Story Thieves series. Ruby Starr is an older Junie B. Jones with a big imagination and a love of reading.

Ruby Starr’s life is totally back on track. Her lunchtime book club, the Unicorns, is better than ever. And she and Charlotte, her once arch enemy, are now good friends. The only thing that’s really causing any drama is her upcoming poetry assignment. She’s a reader, not a poet!

But disaster strikes when Ruby learns that her most favorite place in the world, the school library, is in trouble. Ruby knows she and the Unicorns have to do something to help. But when Ruby’s plans end up hurting a friend, she’s not sure her story will have a happy ending after all.

 

Q & A:

GOOD READS WITH RONNA: Ruby is a charming, book-loving outgoing yet introspective fifth grader. And while she is not perfect she certainly is someone any parent would be proud of. Do you happen to know any Rubys? And if not, how did you wind up with her as a main character for your series?

DEBORAH LYTTON: I do know a Ruby. My inspiration for this series came from my younger daughter who was in fifth grade when I began writing the first book. My YA SILENCE had just been released, and my older daughter was reading it. My younger daughter wanted me to write something for her to read. She asked for a story that would make her laugh. I based the character of Ruby on her initially, but then as I began to write, the character took on her own qualities. My favorite part of writing is when the characters begin to shape themselves. That definitely happened with Ruby Starr.

GRWR: What do you love most about her? 

DL: I love that Ruby makes a lot of mistakes, but always tries to fix them. My favorite thing about Ruby is her kindness. She thinks about other people and their feelings and tries to help them when she can. This is a quality I truly admire. I also enjoy writing Ruby because she is so imaginative.

GRWR: I realize this is book #2 in the series but yet I felt fully up-to-speed. Can you please tell readers briefly what happens in book #1? 

DL: I am so happy to hear that you felt up-to-speed! It was really important to me to write a second book that would let readers jump right in. Book #1 establishes Ruby’s character and her love for reading. The story centers on friendship troubles. When a new girl joins Ruby’s fifth grade class, she begins pulling Ruby’s friends away from her. Then she threatens to destroy Ruby’s book club. Ruby has a difficult time, and then she learns something about the new girl that changes everything. Ultimately, books bring the friends together.

GRWR: Is there a book #3 on the horizon? 

DL: Yes, I am really excited about Ruby’s third adventure. I have just finished the manuscript and I can tell you that Ruby and her friends get into a little bit of a mix-up and that it all begins with a very special book.

int art from The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists

Interior illustration from The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists by Deborah Lytton with art by Jeanine Murch, Sourcebook Jabberwocky ©2018.

GRWR: As a kidlit reviewer I love that Ruby is in a book club (The Unicorns), and as a writer I love Ruby’s vivid imagination. Did your own childhood inform these traits or did you feel she’d need these qualities to be a role model for tweens or someone many young readers could relate to?

DL: Growing up, my sister and I were like Ruby. We loved reading. Both of us cherish books and have saved many of our favorites from when we were young readers. My own daughters also love to read. In spending time helping out in their school classrooms and libraries, I have seen how many students enjoy books. I loved the idea that a fifth grade student would be independent enough to start her own book club at school to celebrate reading. Then I thought it would be fun to see where her imagination would take her, especially since she would be inspired by all the books she had read and loved. I hope young readers who have stayed up late just to read the next chapter of a book will connect with a character who is like them.

GRWR: The hero’s journey that Ruby embarks on is to save the school library where the hours have been reduced and new book purchases have been shelved due to funding cutbacks. Was this plot line inspired by stories you’ve seen in the news or even closer to home here in L.A.? 

DL: I have volunteered in the libraries at my daughters’ schools so I have seen first-hand the way that budget cuts have impacted the libraries. I have also helped students search for the perfect book to read and then watched their faces light up when they discover something really special. Libraries are so valuable to our youth. I wanted to highlight that message in this story.

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Zinnia and the Bees, An Interview with Debut Author Danielle Davis

MEET DANIELLE DAVIS,
AUTHOR OF
ZINNIA AND THE BEES
Written by Danielle Davis
Illustrated by Laura K. Horton
(Capstone Young Readers; $14.95, Ages 9-12)

 

Cover image from Zinnia and the Bees written by Danielle Davis

 

Yesterday, August 1st, was the debut of local L.A. author Danielle Davis’s new middle grade novel, Zinnia and the Bees. Today I’m totally tickled (but not stung mind you!) to share my recent interview with Davis as she weighs in on the who, what, when, where and why of her delightful magical realism story. But first I’d like to share some of my own thoughts. If you’re eager to get to the Q&A with Danielle, please feel free to scroll down. Below that you’ll also find a trailer for the novel. 

REVIEW

Zinnia, the main character in Danielle Davis’s Zinnia and the Bees, struggles with several relationships throughout this introspective, humorous, and totally absorbing book. It’s filled with many of those confusing, sometimes immobilizing emotions that I recall experiencing in middle school (which was called junior high back then). Added to that are accounts of several uncomfortable situations Zinnia finds herself immersed in which will surely resonate with today’s tweens. And though she may seem to avoid friendships, she ultimately realizes that those connections are what she really needs. Her mom, a widow, dentist and community activist, always seems otherwise occupied. She practically lives at her practice, leaves impersonal post-it notes and is more into her rescue dog than her daughter. Then there’s Zinnia’s brother Adam. The book opens with a wacky and wonderful yarn bomb episode that pulls readers into the story and demonstrates the siblings’ close relationship, despite the six years age gap.

Zinnia and the Bees book with wool and some beesOn that very same day, Adam skips out on Zinnia and her mom, no warning, no note, nothing to let her know where he’s gone. That, after all they’ve shared, hurts more than also losing her group of friends NML, Nikki, Margot and Lupita. When they were pals they were NMLZ, but now Z was on her own. That is until a clever and curious neighbor’s nephew comes to town for summer. Far from perfect, yet not easy to push away, Birch demonstrates to Zinnia the magic of nature and the transformative quality of a good friend. His timing couldn’t have been better because after a visit to the local ice cream parlor, where some ice cream got in her hair, Zinnia has attracted a colony of crazed and kooky honeybees who find what they hope will be temporary accommodations in her long curly hair.

As Zinnia tries to make sense of her brother-less world, she’s also trying to figure out a way to get the bees off her head. We get vivid glimpses of a close relationship Zinnia has with her aunt, without which would make her mom’s indifference more intolerable than it already is. After all, it was her mom who pushed Adam away.

The humor shines through when reading the perspective of the hiveless bees hanging out in Zinnia’s hair. They get a chance, every several chapters or so, to share their thoughts on being homeless. This gives readers a chance to get into the bee narrator’s head and think about bees in a whole, hysterical new way. I now bravely scoop dive-bombing bees out of my pool instead of letting them drown thanks to Zinnia and the Bees! (No bees were hurt in the making of this novel, but do not attempt a rescue if you are allergic to bees!)

Davis has crafted a quirky and creative story where the presence of yarn in many ways can be seen as a connector of people, as well as something safe and comforting. The bees represent a longing for home, and Zinnia’s need to be heard and loved unconditionally, like her brother. There are truly many layers to the story of Zinnia and the Bees making this debut novel from Danielle Davis such a sweet, satisfying and thoughtful read.

  • Review by Ronna Mandel

INTERVIEW

Photo of Zinnia and the Bees author Danielle Davis

Author of Zinnia and the Bees, Danielle Davis

Good Reads With Ronna: What was the genesis for Zinnia and the Bees

Danielle Davis 🐝: The idea for this book came from an image my husband passed along to me that had come to mind of someone with bees on and around their head. I was interested in fairy tales and stories that contained an element of the bizarre and even wacky, so the idea appealed to me immensely. With his permission, I ran with it (this is one of many reasons the book is dedicated to him). I wanted to know more about the way the bees might be a stand in for anxiety and navigating difficulties. And I wanted to know more about the person who found themselves in this predicament.

GRWR: Zinnia struggles with several relationships throughout the book and, after her brother Adam’s abrupt departure, she feels completely abandoned and alone. Then a swarm of hiveless honeybees takes up residence in her curly hair. Since the bees feature prominently in your story, can you talk about the significance of this magical realism element and how you decided to have two different perspectives recount the story?

DD 🐝: I was curious about Zinnia, but I was also curious about those insects. Disappearing bees were in the news quite a bit when I was first writing this story, and I’d heard about agricultural bees who traveled around with beekeepers to pollinate fruits and vegetables for humans (it’s a real thing!). So, I dreamed up a colony of bees who, while happy enough in their existence, felt like something was missing and yearned for freedom. I wanted to hear from them, and hoped readers would too. Writing the bee sections was really fun for me—they’re communal and existential and, I hope, hilarious (they always made me laugh!).

GRWR: A yarn bombing episode propels the plot line forward. Zinnia finds comfort in knitting and it feels like there is some symbolism with yarn. Was that intentional? Also, Zinnia has practically yarn bombed every item in her bedroom. As a child, were you a knitter like Zinnia? Is there any particular reason you chose knitting versus another craft since I know you share a lot of crafts on your picture book blog, This Picture Book Life?

DD 🐝: While the yarn symbolism was, admittedly, unintentional, it’s certainly there since yarn can provide comfort and so relates to the concept of home, which is at the heart of the novel. For me, I’d made Zinnia a knitter in the vein of any artist or maker (or writer) who experiences that sensation of flow when immersed in their preferred activity (plus, I’d recently learned about yarn bombing). For Zinnia, knitting is a way she soothes her anxiety, helps make sense of her world, and takes her mind off, well, everything. It’s a way for her to both focus and escape.I was certainly not a knitter—Zinnia is way more talented than I am! But for me, reading was similar to what knitting is for her. As a child, books were a way to soothe my anxiety, focus, and escape. Stories also, subconsciously I imagine, helped me make sense of the world.

GRWR: Your sense of place, your characters, voice, dialogue and plot all come together seamlessly to create, like the knitted lens covers for Birch’s binoculars, a cleverly crafted story. What was the easiest part for you to write and which is the hardest?

DD 🐝: Thank you, and what a neat question! Once I crafted this for a middle grade audience (I started it as something for adults—what was I thinking?), the first draft was pretty easy to write. I was emerging from a very challenging period in my own life, so writing the first draft of Zinnia and the Bees felt sort of effortless and full of joy as an extension of that unburdening. The interactions between Zinnia and Birch were natural and fun to write, as were the bee sections, where I could be as wacky and dramatic as I wanted. But all the revisions that followed, which were numerous and spanned years, were probably harder in general. And then working with my editor, Ali Deering at Capstone, was a little of both. She had brilliant ideas for making the story better in important ways and I got to prove to myself that I could create under her amazing direction and necessary deadline. The harder part was that having an editor meant I also had the pressure of knowing this was going to be a real, published book and that someone might actually read it someday. 

GRWR: Though I really like Zinnia and her aunt Mildred, I’m especially fond of Birch who is visiting his Uncle Lou, the neighbor, for the summer. The friendship that slowly grows between Birch and Zinnia is so satisfying. Is there one character you relate to the most or is there a little bit of you in each one?

DD 🐝: I’m super fond of Birch as well—such a patient, loyal friend. While I’m confident there are parts of me in Zinnia, she feels to me like her own person (yes, these characters totally feel like real people to me!). I have a real soft spot for Birch’s Uncle Lou and both he and Zinnia’s Aunt Mildred are examples of the positive, caring adults every kid deserves to have in their lives.

GRWR: Dr. Flossdrop, Zinnia’s mom, is a memorable character. She’s distant, domineering and definitely not warm and fuzzy like the wool Zinnia knits with or her brother Adam whom she adores. How did you develop this dentist who relates better to her rescue dog than her own daughter?

DD 🐝: I knew I wanted Zinnia and her mom to start out feeling as different as possible and then learn that, emotionally, they have a lot in common even if it’s hard to tell from the outside. As for a neighborhood activist dentist who adopts a terrier and brings it to her office? I guess I was going for zany, and someone who would be as infuriating as possible to Zinnia.

GRWR: Do you have a preference when it comes to picture books and middle grade novels and which one do you read more of yourself?

DD 🐝: As in childhood, in adulthood I first fell in love with picture books, and then found middle grade novels. I read and enjoy both consistently, but I’m a bit more immersed in picture books in terms of quantity because of my blog.

And The Red Tree by Shaun Tan is my very favorite book.

GRWR: Where is your favorite place to write?

DD 🐝: I usually write in my apartment. I like the ease and comforts of home (like having neverending cups of tea when working), but I can still hear the sounds of the city and know it’s there. I like to revise out somewhere, preferably a coffee shop.

GRWR: How long did Zinnia and The Beestake you from concept to completion?

DD 🐝: I began the story in 2008, wrote the first middle grade draft in 2010, I believe, and sold it to and edited it for Capstone in 2016, and now it’s out in 2017.

GRWR: Can you talk about your passion for literacy and your volunteer work?

DD 🐝: I’ve been lucky enough to have the ability to volunteer with both WriteGirl and Reading to Kids respectively here in Los Angeles. The former is an organization that mentors teen girls through weekly one-on-one meetups to write together. Plus, the monthly workshops are epic and full of working writers sharing strategies and stories with teens. (And, an amazing WriteGirl who’s headed to college this fall is interning with me over the summer!)

The latter holds reading and crafting events at L.A. area elementary schools one Saturday a month. It is a total joy to participate and each child gets a free book to take home as well. That’s around 800 books given to 800 kids each month! It’s a privilege to be a small part of what the organization is doing to serve kids in my city. I wrote about the experience a couple of years ago here.

GRWR: Can you think of anything else I haven’t asked about that you’d like to share with readers about either Zinnia and the Bees or you?

DD 🐝: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a huge treat to be featured on Good Reads With Ronna!

Visit Danielle’s website here.
Find her at Twitter here.
Find her at Instagram here.
Click here to see Danielle’s Facebook page
And click here to for her Pinterest boards.
Visit illustrator Laura K. Horton’s website here.

 

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Fridays Featuring Flintridge – An Interview With Roderick Townley

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On:

Hilary Taber of Flintridge Bookstore Interviews Roderick Townley

RT in restaurantI recently wrote to Mr. Townley to inquire if he would be agreeable to doing this interview with me. It all seemed something like tossing a penny into a wishing well, one of those moments in life when you shake hands with the universe on an agreement that you will both, ever so briefly say “Who knows? It could happen!” When Roderick Townley responded that he would do the interview, I was happy and completely astounded. I wondered what I would ask this “wizard of words?” This author’s writing always seems to have the charm of a fairy tale, the adventure of a contemporary fantasy novel and the depth of a poem. The Great Good Thing, The Blue Shoe, and The Door in the Forest are all among his literary treasures. Each of these works are well written, highly polished, deeply profound, and leave the reader the richer for having read them.

The Great Good Thing, his first children’s book, was published in 2001. Since then, Mr. Townley has continued to captivate readers of all ages. Possessing a rich background as a poet and also as a journalist, Roderick Townley manages somehow to pull on both imagination and reality. He has crafted books that have inspired his fans to create board games, blue shoes, dolls, and gorgeous illustrations. The author confesses that some of these tales once began as bedtime stories and then “grew up” into the wonderful books we know today – full of beauty, magic, mysteries, adventure, danger, villains, and heroes. It indeed makes sense that Townley’s books started as bedtime stories. As Prospero said in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Hilary Taber: What is your full name and where did you grow up?

Roderick Townley: Grew up all around New York City: East Side, Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, Long Island.

coverH.T.: What was your family like? Did they encourage your writing?

R.T.: They read, but were not “literary,” conventional in tastes, but encouraged my writing. My mom always thought I should write children’s books. A decade after her death, I published my first.

H.T.: Who was the greatest inspiration to you in your young life? Is there any one person that stands out in particular?

R.T.: I’ve had encouragers all along the way. Teachers especially, several of whom I saw as father figures after my own dad died. Mostly, though, it was what I read that inspired me. I thought of myself as a poet, and as a teenager was imitating Lawrence Ferlinghetti and (disastrously) Dylan Thomas.

H.T.:  Are there a few writers that you could name that have influenced your writing for children and teens?

R.T.:  Every writer I’ve ever read has influenced me. Bad writers have shown me what doesn’t work; good writers what does. What I look for is intensity (e.g.,James Agee), wild imagination (John Crowley), and depth (Melville, Rilke). You’ll notice that these are not children’s writers. But writing is writing, and in my books for young readers I am always trying for those qualities: intensity, imagination, depth.

41dlFvL3GSL._SY380_H.T.:  I’ve read on your website that when you were a young boy you would write in a notebook, and that writing filled you with excitement that others didn’t seem to notice. What gave you that excitement? Do you still have that excitement now just as it was when you were young, or has it changed?

R.T.: Back then, I was just excited by the story as it unfolded under my racing pencil. It was also exciting to realize that I was creating it–and could change it! What’s different now is that my stories are more dimensional, and I erase almost as much as I write. That makes the process slower and more painstaking. Less “fun” at times, but in the end more satisfying.

H.T.:  I’m a great admirer of your heroine Sylvie from your book The Great Good Thing. If you could close your eyes to enter a more dream-like state and “see” Sylvie, how would you describe what you see?

R.T.:  I see her in motion, a flash of wind-blown hair, quick eyes, dirty knees, disgracefully muddy blue leather shoes. Equally interesting to me is the way others have seen her. The German edition has her sitting in a tree on a sofa (!); the Chinese edition depicts her in stylized woodcuts. And kids send me drawings of Sylvie that are wilder than anything I could have imagined. Every reader meets a different Sylvie, and that’s as it should be.

H.T.: I read that a few of your books begin as a bedtime story to your wife Wyatt. How much of Wyatt do readers see in your heroines like Sylvie, Emily, or Sophia?

R.T.: There’s some of Wyatt, a good deal of me, and a fair amount of our daughter Grace in Princess Sylvie. There’s a whole lot more of Wyatt in the two sequels, Into the Labyrinth and The Constellation of Sylvie, because I consciously wrote her in, as the character, Rosetta Stein. Wyatt, like Rosetta, teaches yoga, and both have the same restless hair–and restless spirit. But Wyatt’s presence in my books has to do with more than her resemblance to certain characters. She’s involved in the whole writing process, from the generation of plot ideas to the elimination of dangling modifiers.

cvr9780689853289_9780689853289_lgH.T.: It would seem unfair not to ask the same questions of you! How much of yourself do you see in your characters Daniel or Hap? Is there a character that you identify with most?

R.T.: I am, in fact, all of my characters, boys, girls, villains, grandmothers. Even the poisonous jester, Pingree. You shouldn’t write any character that you can’t find within yourself.

H.T.: A good deal of your books seem to be infused with poetry. This is not an easy question to answer perhaps, but how do you feel your background in poetry interacts with your writing for children and teens?

R.T.: Children’s literature, at its best, is closer to poetry than to any other kind of writing. I’m constantly distilling, cutting away the unnecessary modifier, the weak verb, the chatty dialogue. And always reaching for the magic that lies just beneath the surface of so-called ordinary life. Those concerns come right out of my apprenticeship a
s a poet.

H.T.: Madeline L’Engle made this statement, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Do you agree? If so, why do you think this is true?

R.T.: It’s a striking statement, and reminds me of Philip Pullman, who said there are some themes so deep that they can only be addressed in a children’s book. That is true of a few extraordinary children’s books (Pullman’s among them), as well as of fairy tales and myths, which evoke archetypes of the unconscious. It’s not true, alas, of most “kid lit,” which tends to the cute, the shallow, and the vampiric.

labyrinth_smallH.T.: If books had a genealogy just as people do, what books might be in your family tree of the books you have written? For example, often I have a Harry Potter fan that wants a book similar to the series. So I explain to them that there are such things as “book cousins.”  Some books seem to be related to each other. They are somehow alike. What books might be considered cousins, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers and so on of your writing for children and teens?

R.T.: Publishers say they are looking for work that’s completely original. That is not true. Often they are looking for something very much like a well-known work–but with a twist. Let’s say, Harry Potter on ice skates. When I wrote The Great Good Thing, I didn’t think it was like anything I’d ever read. Reviewers later said it reminded them of Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, although my book came out a year before hers. Basically, I try for stories that don’t remind me of other stories–why repeat what’s already been done? I leave it to others to discover the “cousins.” Those relatives do exist, but I don’t know about them beforehand and don’t concern myself about them later. Not my job.

H.T.: Are you in the process of writing a new book?

R.T.: I am. In the new novel, tentatively called The Black Rose, a woman disappears during a magic act, and her daughter, Cisley, is determined to find her and bring her back. The girl lives in a glass castle and walks her pet lobster on a golden leash along the seawall each morning. I’m open to suggestions about how it ends.

H.T.: What do you hope for most that your readers will remember after reading your books?

R.T.: Aside from the name of the author? I hope, of course, that they’ll think of the story with delight; but more important, that they’ll be left with a sense of their own inner world, the substratum of magic that is our deepest self.

H.T.: Imagine that you found a book in the woods behind your house. This book is a mystery. It has a short beginning and an equally short ending already written. However, there is nothing written in the middle of the book. You’ve asked around and it seems to belong to no one. In fact, it appears to be very old and possibly entirely magical. Would you finish writing it or would you leave it alone?

R.T.: Oh, of course I’d have a go at finishing it. The hardest parts of writing, for me, are finding the beginning and the end. If those are supplied, I’d be in writing heaven.

H.T.: Imagine an enchantress who has a magical ring on each of her fingers. These rings have magical powers. What does each one do?

R.T.: That’s ten powers, if she has ten fingers. (Does she? Does she have eleven?) I have no idea what her powers would be. If I had a ring, I’d hope it would magically do the dishes and put out the trash.

constellation_smallH.T.: Imagine that the wind is a friend who visits you and Wyatt every so often. What does the wind look like or can you see the wind at all? What do you three talk about?

R.T.: We live in Kansas, named after the Kanza Indians, called “People of the Wind.” Mostly the wind talks to us, rather than the other way around. It circles the house, enters and leaves our lungs, prowls through our poems. Its moods are unpredictable, one day furious (we live in “tornado alley”), the next day sweet natured. The thing I most admire is its fashion sense. Invisible itself, it dresses up in trees, smoke, flying debris, and the smell of violets. It’s why we live where we live.

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Many thanks to Roderick Townley from all of us at Good Reads With Ronna for his time, his talent, his insights and for bringing us “the magic that lies just beneath the surface of so-called ordinary life.” For more information about his wonderful books for children and teens, please visit www.rodericktownely.com.  Click here now to read Hilary’s post about his novels. Why not tell us your ending for his new novel tentatively titled The Black Rose? We’d love to hear from you.

Do you like fan art? Please click here to see some fab fan art. Find an artistic rendition of Princess Sylvie from The Great Good Thing with quotes from the books all along the edges. A huge tribute to Townley’s work by Shaylynn Rackers!

HilaryTaberStop by the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads  and relax over a great cup of coffee.  Check out the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events. And when you stop by, keep a lookout for Hilary peeking out from behind a novel.

 
 
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An Interview with Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan by Debbie Glade

Kerrie Logan Hollihan is the author of: The Latin American Celebrations and Festivals 4-book series; Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities (For Kids series); Theodore Roosevelt for Kids: His Life and Times, 21 Activities (For Kids series) and her latest book, Elizabeth I, the People’s Queen: Her Life and Times, 21 Activities (For Kids series).

After reviewing two of Kerrie’s fabulous nonfiction books for kids, Theodore Roosevelt for Kids and Elizabeth I, the People’s Queen, I asked her if she’d answer some questions for our curious readers. She said yes, and wow did she share some invaluable information!

Meet Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan

How did you get started writing nonfiction for children?

When I was a kid growing up in Oak Park, Illinois, I lived two blocks from an African American chemist whose home was firebombed when he moved in with his family. I did some research on him and discovered that my neighbor, Dr. Percy Lavon Julian, was the first black admitted to the National Academies of Science. He developed a plant substitute for cortisone in the 1930s — from soybeans! Dr. Julian fought racism his whole life.

So…I decided to write a middle grade biography about him. To make a long story short, the manuscript hasn’t yet found a home.

I connected with a local group from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Two nonfiction authors saw me carrying a stack of books about Isaac Newton out of the library and connected me with their editor at Chicago Review Press, and that’s how I got started.

What a great story, and now you’ve got me interested in Dr. Percy Lavon Julian!

What made you decide to choose Queen Elizabeth I for your latest biography?

I figured that the Tudors always have a following, and I pitched the idea to Chicago Review Press. Over the course of a few months, the topic was refined a bit and we ended up with “Liz” as my subject. Because we develop at least 21 themed activities to our subjects, I was sure I’d have some fun thinking about what to go with. I tried to tap into a variety of activities that relate to life in Elizabethan England.

How on earth did you sort through and organize all the information out there about Elizabeth I for your book? That must have been quite a time-consuming challenge for you.

When I start with a topic like Elizabeth I, I read several adult biographies first. I try to choose one of the “classic” biographies from earlier in the 20th century, and at least another one published since 1990. That way, I have a feel of how history’s view of her has changed over the years. I also read several examples of juvenile biography to see how other authors have presented her since the 1960s. Then I dip into general histories of the time to help with context and background. My favorite go-to resource for historical overviews and authenticating details is Britannica.com.

I develop a timeline with key events and people — always keeping in mind what I want my middle grade readers to understand about Elizabeth and the backdrop of her life, the Reformation. I have to keep things simple but still explain the historical setting in which she lived. In writing about the Reformation, I tried to show both the Protestant and Roman Catholic point of view.

I use MS OneNote to organize all my research. It’s a wonderful tool. For Elizabeth, I wrote an outline for each chapter in a section and added other information that I wanted to include. By the time I start writing, I feel fairly familiar with the information I have and it goes from there.

That is quite a process! Before writing this book, did you find the British royal family tree to be as confusing as so many others do?

Yes and no…at one time I could have told you every English/British monarch from Alfred forward to Elizabeth II. I knew about the Tudor line of course, but when I studied Elizabeth’s family tree I gleaned a lot of new information…all those aunts and uncles and cousins and the sometimes crazy stories about what happened to them.

One cool thing I always enjoyed is that Elizabeth was a direct descendent (through her grandmother Elizabeth of York) of Katherine (Kathryn) Swynford, mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt. Back in the day, Anya Seton wrote a fabulous historical novel about her entitled Katherine.

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An Interview With Big Dreamer Kristi Yamaguchi

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I recently read Kristi Yamaguchi’s wonderful new children’s book, Dream Big, Little Pig! and thought it would be fun to find out just what makes this amazingly talented and committed woman tick. Please read my interview with this figure skating superstar, Olympic gold medalist, philanthropist and mother.

By the way, fans, she’ll be in L.A. to promote her book March 21st – 23rd! L.A. Parent is giving away four family four-packs of tickets to the Pasadena Ice Skating Center on March 22nd (6:30-8:30pm) where she’ll be skating around and signing books for her fans. Click here for more info, but please note that the contest ends 9:30 a.m. on March 17.

Q. In your new picture book for kids, Dream Big, Little Pig, Poppy the Pig never seems to get overly discouraged because she has such strong support and encouragement from family and friends. As a child, did you have the same type of “You can do it” encouragement?
A. I did have similar encouragement growing up. From my family as well as my friends and skating coach.

Q. What would you say to parents who push their children to achieve what they want for their kids, rather than what the children want?
A. It’s a fine line between pushing too hard and lending support and encouragement. Sometimes kids need a push to get them on track again, but if it is constant, maybe that’s a cue that it is just not for them. An athlete needs to have a certain passion for what they do, for their sport. Success doesn’t come easy and if they don’t absolutely believe in what they are doing, it’ll be a tough road for everyone involved. Let the child take ownership of his /her activities.

kristi-yamaguchi_credit-claire-deliman-for-m-magazine1Q. What words of advice can you offer to children who suffer from low self-esteem and are fearful to try something new?
A. As a mom now, I find myself faced with all of these issues. I ask my daughter what is it that makes her afraid. And then try to reason or alleviate her fear or anxiety. Then show her how fun it can be. I also try to stress that it is OK to make mistakes. That is how we learn. ie. when we go skating I will fall on purpose on the ice and say ” see, even mommy falls down.” It’s all about trying and trying again.

Q. Your Always Dream Foundation inspires children to reach for the stars. But down to earth, how do you as a busy mom positively influence your two daughters on a day-to-day basis?
A. Easier said than done. Sometimes I feel like I’m just trying to get through the day remembering everyone’s schedule:) But I try to be positive myself around them and try to instill in them the same values that my parents gave me – having manners, treating people how they want to be treated, responsibility of their own things, trying as hard as they can in whatever they are doing.
Q. How is writing for kids different than writing your previous books?
A. With Dream Big, Little Pig!, it was fun to come up with a character with personality. I had my own big dreams of what Poppy would be like and what she would try. I wanted it to be very whimsical rather than factual like my other books. I had to also imagine the illustrations that would go along with the story.

Q. What qualities do you admire most in Poppy the pig?
A. I admire the perseverance that Poppy has. She is willing to try new things and when she finds that they aren’t for her she continues to look for her “passion.” When she discovers her passion, despite the obstacles and doubters, she pushes on and enjoys her own feeling of personal accomplishment. I love her positive attitude, too!

Q. Will Poppy be back to conquer more challenges?
A. I certainly hope so!!!

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Target is On Target

As their name implies, Target is definitely On Target when it comes to promoting reading.  Let me tell you briefly about some of the literary luminaries and other amazing kids’ entertainers I laid eyes on and/or interviewed at the Target Children’s Stage during the L.A. Times Festival of Books this past weekend. I will write more about these authors’ books in another post, but couldn’t wait to share this info with you:

I saw Carl Reiner, Todd Parr, Nickelodeon’s The Fresh Beat Band, Caitlin Sanchez (the voice of Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer), Hip Hop Harry, Jade-Lianna Peters (the voice of Kai-lain from Nickelodeon’s Ni Hao, Kai-lan), Bernadette Peters, David Soman & Jacky Davis “Ladybug Girl at the Beach,” Peter Yarrow, Jimmy Gownley, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, Megan McDonald, Shawn and Marlon Wayans, Carolyn Cohagan, Matthew Reinhart, and Justin Roberts & the Not Ready for Naptime Players. Phew! And that was just on Saturday …

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Join L.A. Parent live at L.A. Times Festival of Books

filler-banner_tdes2_finalCelebrity Authors Come Together

on Target Children’s Stage to Inspire Love of Learning

L.A. Parent Editor Carolyn Graham and I will be blogging and tweeting live behind the scenes this Saturday, April 24th, as we meet all your favorite authors.

What: Children of all ages and their families will gather at the Target Children’s Stage on the UCLA campus for the 15th annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The event, which is free to the public, will feature two full days of celebrity book readings and signings, live entertainment and musical performances – all in the name of helping to foster children’s love of reading as a fun and recreational activity.

In addition, Target is partnering with Times in Education to support local Los Angeles schools. All attendees of the Festival of Books are welcome to bring new and gently used books to the Target Donation Station. All books collected will be donated to nine Los Angeles area K-6 schools.

songs-for-little280a6eter-yarrowWho: Celebrity authors including John Carter Cash, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Holly Robinson Peete, Carl Reiner, Bernadette Peters, Henry Winkler, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, and Shawn and Marlon Wayans will appear on the Target Children’s Stage to bring their books to life for children of all ages and the young at heart, while seated on the larger-than-life Target filler-banner_tdes3_final“Big Red Chair” – a symbol of the company’s commitment to supporting education and fostering children’s love of learning. Families are also invited to enjoy live musical performances by some of today’s most popular children’s groups including Nickelodeon’s The Fresh Beat Band, Hip Hop Harry and Justin Roberts & the Not Ready for Naptime Players.

When: Saturday, April 24, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. and Sunday, April 25, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Where: UCLA Campus , Los Angeles, CA

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An Interview With Carl Reiner

51zybomaivl_sl500_aa240_Just in time for Halloween and all the haunting activities which typically accompany it, I was thrilled to interview multiple Emmy-winning comic icon, and a personal fave, Carl Reiner, about his new hit book, Tell Me Another Scary Story…But Not Too Scary! Illustrations are by James Bennett and the book, ($16.95, ages 4-8) published by Dove, an imprint of Phoenix Books, is available in stores everywhere as well as online. Fans will love the fact that a bonus ‘read-along’ CD of the book is included so they can take Reiner reading his Scary Story on the road.

carlrQ. Where did your idea for Tell Me Another Scary Story… come from as you certainly did not have a next door neighbor named Mr. Neewollah and how does it differ from your first Scary Story?
A. It came from the original Tell Me A Scary Story and it being a hit, and the publisher asking me for another Scary Story. In the second story, the boy becomes friends with the neighbor who one frightened him to death in the first story.

Q. The message in the story is an important one and so well conveyed. Do you think children today are less respectful, less thoughtful than when you were a child?
A. I think children have already reflected the mores of society and the disciplines that their parents instilled in them, and that has not changed.

Q. Has the media together with books actually helped make children of the 21st century more prepared for emergencies like the one in your story?
A. Yes, the media has prepared children. At the end of Tell Me Another Scary Story, the boy, faced with a man who obviously fainted, calls 911. Weeks before on TV, I had seen or heard or learned about a four year old who actually dialed 911 to get help for his mother, who had collapsed while driving.
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Q. Is it harder or easier to write for children?
A. Equally. It is the same process. I get a good idea and develop it.

Q. I love how you tease the reader with your warnings about turning the page. To me that’s the fun part of a scary story and Halloween; all the frightful possibilities.
A. I’m very proud of the fact that I found in the first Scary Story the idea of warning the children that they have an option…that if they get scared, they have the option of not turning the page.

Q. What elements come together to make a great scary story for kids?
A. The same elements that make any great story. Good characters, good situations, suspense, and ultimately, a happy ending.
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Q. Apart from the candy, what makes Halloween such an enduring holiday in our culture? I’m a sucker for Tootsie Rolls, what’s your treat of choice?
A. Dressing up. Kids always love to put on costumes and make believe they are somebody else, and this holiday makes it possible for them to live out their dreams… and get candy while doing so. I think Tootsie Rolls were everybody’s favorite, including mine.

Q. What do you say to children who ask you how to become a writer?
A. Write…write…write…write…write. Nobody can stop you from writing if you have paper, a pencil and an idea.
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Q. What is the best thing about writing for kids?
A. Hearing about how much they enjoyed reading and re-reading, and re-reading, and re-reading and re-reading the book you have written.

Q. Are people simply born funny?
A. I think people are born with a clean slate. If they are born where parents put a premium on laughter and expose children to television, movies and albums that are meant to make you laugh, they will appreciate and be honed by, this experience.
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Q. Who are some other authors you admire?
A. Let’s start with Mark Twain, who was probably the greatest writer of all time, and then of course, we have Phillip Roth and Richard Dawkins, and Doctorow, etc. etc.

Q. Do you know what you’ll be writing next?
A. If that’s the last question, then nothing…oh yes, for next year, I have written Tell Me A Silly Story and Tell Me A Sillier Story, which I think may be my best works. We’ll see.

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An Interview with Grammy-Nominated Trout Fishing In America

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Following a successful stop at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, four time-grammy nominated Trout Fishing in America will play in various venues around the country. You can see them at the Robert Irwin’s Central Garden at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles August 22 & 23.

This fantastic duo is on tour promoting their new storybook-music CD My Name Is Chicken Joe (for more information, please visit http://www.thesecretmountain.com) which I can wholeheartedly recommend. Not only is the book filled with funny illustrations and original, sometimes zany song lyrics, but when you listen to the accompanying music (11 songs in total) you’ll soon be humming along. I can see why it’s so easy to get hooked on Trout Fishing in America!

I recently interviewed the multi-talented Keith Grimwood who plays bass, sings, and writes songs with Trout Fishing in America. (In case you’ve seen a picture of the group, Grimwood is the shorter half of the band.) He’s really excited about the new book and I am sure you will be, too.

Q. Why write a book called My Name is Chicken Joe?

We have always felt that our songs are very visual and the idea of having them illustrated has always appealed to us. The trick was to make the connections to make it happen. Roland Stringer, of The Secret Mountain publishing company, and Dick Renko, our manager, are friends. Well, as I understand it, they got to talking one day and the idea of a book/CD came up. We jumped at the chance right away.

Q. Which came first, Chicken Joe lyrics or music?

Whew…you scared me! I thought you were going to ask, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Now that’s a really hard question.

dsf7008_medWhen we write, I generally start with lyrics and Ezra starts with music. Then we get together in a co-writing session and see if any of my words fit any of his chord progressions. That’s how this song got started. So the answer is that they started separately, but pretty much at the same time. Don’t you wish that chicken or the egg question was that simple?

Q. I love the character of Chicken Joe and how he pops up throughout the book. Is he based on a cat you know?

Chicken Joe is one of my cats. I have a lot of cats but Chicken Joe is one of our favorites. When he was a little kitten, he’d turn up missing when we went to feed the cats in the morning. We’d find him out in the chicken coop. He’s a smart cat. You may not know it, but hens generate a lot of heat. They really kept him warm. That’s how he got the name Chicken Joe.

Q. The illustrations are wonderfully evocative yet simple – how did you find your artist?

Roland sent us examples of several artists that The Secret Mountain had worked with before. We were particularly fond of the beautiful watercolor works of Stephane Jorisch. He sent us some initial sketches and we gave him a few suggestions. He really captured the personalities of all these animals. I especially like his chickens. They look like a bunch of punk rockers to me.

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Speak with Spinelli

Write SPINELLI on your calendar and recharge your cell phone batteries now!

jerryspinelli_gs“DIAL INTO SUMMER” WITH NEWBERY MEDALIST AND NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR JERRY SPINELLI AS HE HEADS TO THE LOS ANGELES AREA—VIA PHONE!

If you or your child has a question for the author, think about heading over to La Verne to join readers as they chat with this renowned author about his beloved books, STARGIRL and LOVE, STARGIRL. “As charming and unique as its sensitive, nonconformist heroine.” —School Library Journal

WHO: JERRY SPINELLI – Newbery Medalist and author of more than a dozen books for young readers, including Maniac Magee, winner of the Newbery Medal; Milkweed; Wringer, a Newbery Honor book; and Knots in My Yo-Yo String, his autobiography.

WHAT: “DIAL INTO SUMMER” tour via telephone (something right up every tween and teen’s alley) is a new initiative from Random House Children’s Books in which Jerry Spinelli “tours” via telephone and calls in to bookstores to speak with readers! How cool is that?

love-stargirlAccording to Random House, this innovative “Dial Into Summer” tour is in support of the paperback release of New York Times bestseller LOVE, STARGIRL on sale April 28th, (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $8.99; Ages 12 up)

WHERE: MRS. NELSON’S TOY & BOOKSHOP
1030 Bonita Avenue,
La Verne, CA

For more information call: (909) 599-4558

WHEN: Monday, May 4th at 4:00 pm (PST)

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Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat!

We’re All In The Same Boat is written by Zachary Shapiro (read on for my interview with the author immediately following this review) and illustrated by Jack E. Davis. Today’s Guest Reviewer is 8 year-old Allegra, from the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles. A second grader, Allegra loves playing soccer, swimming, spending time with her family and visiting her Arizona friends!

100_2293The book, We’re All in the Same Boat, was about a bunch of animals on Noah’s Arc who were unhappy to be on a boat! They were naggy, bored and grumpy all of the time. They blamed Noah. Noah finally shouted, “We are all in the same boat!” and that helped the animals feel better. They started being happier and then they went to sleep and there was peace on the boat. I liked the book because, I believe in Noah and I love animals and the pictures were really pretty!

NOTE FROM RONNA: This is an ideal book to use when helping kids learn the alphabet since the alliteration from A-Z is quite appealing. You may actually get attached to the astonishing assortment of animals on board Noah’s Arc!

INTERVIEW

I sat down and chatted with author and Rabbi Zachary Shapiro at Totz Only in Burbank last week. I’ve never seen books fly off the shelf so quickly and it’s obvious why – Zach, as he asked the kids to call him, loves what he does. In his third year now as Rabbi at Temple Akiba in Culver City, Shapiro says he “always had a dream of writing children’s books.” His goal was “since being a kid, to bring goodness into the world.” Extra good fortune arrived in the form of illustrator Jack E. Davis, a winning pick served up by G.P. Putnam. Encouraging to me was learning that Shapiro’s manuscript was sent to the publisher unsolicited and then chosen, quite a feat these days when stories of overflowing slush piles prevail! He originally hails from Boston and is also a musician who enjoys playing the guitar and writing music. The audience at his reading last Thursday clearly found his philosophy of goodness and loving kindness contagious. Catch the bug, too, by visiting him either at www.RabbiZachShapiro.com or at www.allinthe sameboat.com

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Staying Awake and Going to School With Jake

laparent1When I picked up Michael Wright’s two kids books, Jake Stays Awake and Jake Starts School, I didn’t know what to expect, but was instantly wowed by the cover artwork. I first saw Wright’s name on a flyer at my son’s elementary school in La Canada where he was scheduled to be a guest reader. I ran home and flipped through the school phone book to no avail. He was not a school parent. After Googling him along with the Jake book titles, I ended up at his cool and colorful website and contacted him.

Turns out he’s what we call a local writer at L.A. Parent. Hailing from Manhattan Beach, this father of three has a hit series on his hands and the good news is 9780312367978there’s more on the horizon. Despite the downpour last Thursday, I headed over to hear Michael’s talk and found him to be not only an engaging speaker, but truly in love with what he does. The kids in the audience got such a kick out of Wright’s comic delivery when he read the stories out loud and projected the images on the screen – my favorites being the family asleep on the kitchen counters in Jake Stays Awake and the whole family riding together on one tricycle in Jake Starts School. 97803123679852Let me know which pix are your faves by leaving a comment for me below. And if you’ve ever had similar experiences as Jake’s parents did (a child who did not want to sleep alone in their own bed or an anxious kindergardener), I’d love to hear about that, too!

Wright treated us to a short story (rather loudly since that’s part of the plot) called Russell the Butterfly about patience and kindness. I have no doubt a few aspiring writers went home that img_0673evening to try their hand at short story writing. The funniest comment of the evening came as a youngster asked how long Wright took to design a two page spread and when he replied, “around two weeks,” the child was shocked remarking he could “draw a picture in like, ten minutes!” img_0672Inspired by his youngest son, Michael explained how he began incorporating his zany artistic style into writing children’s books and it’s clear the hysterical stories are drawn from personal experience. In a brief conversation after his book chat I also learned we had several things in common.

Like me, he’s originally from Long Island, N.Y. and has a peanut butter obsessed child. But when you’re as talented as Wright is, you take that obsession (or to quote Wright, his son’s “deep and abiding love for peanut butter) and create what is bound to be another super story called Jake Goes Peanuts, so watch out for that one at your local bookstore. And speaking of local bookstores, Wright was brought to Coleman’s school’s attention by Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, an L.A. Parent’s Best Of 2008 Winners!

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