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Passion + Hard Work = Great Success: An Interview with Science Writer Beverly McMillan

We are thrilled to share with you Debbie Glade’s interview with science writer and children’s book author, Beverly McMillan.

Beverly McMillan

Beverly McMillan is a powerhouse of a science writer with numerous impressive journal and book titles to her name. From textbooks and ocean science journals to her extraordinary new children’s title I reviewed, A Day in the Life of Your Body, Beverly is educating the world in the most wonderful way with her work. In this interview with the author, we get a rare and inspiring perspective of the life and work of a dedicated science writer.

You have an undergraduate degree in Linguistics. What made you decide to focus on science writing in grad school?

I’d started a linguistics PhD program when I realized that what I really wanted to do was write. I’d always been interested in science, and even thought about medical school, but I wasn’t sure I could handle the required math courses for that, and I was also a single mom with a special needs four-year-old. The Graduate School of Journalism at UC-Berkeley offered a journalism Master’s degree that required students to specialize, and one of the specialties was science writing. That seemed like a way to pursue both my interests, so I applied and was admitted.

Does a Master’s in Science Writing require an equal amount of science classes as writing classes, and how long did it take you to earn the degree?

My degree is a professional Master’s of Journalism (MJ) with an emphasis in science writing. In grad school I took more writing classes than science classes, though I’d already done some undergraduate science coursework in chemistry and biology. It took me two years, which is pretty typical. Today, the programs in science writing that I know about—and there are several really good ones—generally require students to have a double major in a science and the writing curriculum, or a prior degree in a science. Some science writers have Masters or PhD degrees in the area of science they want to write about. Of course, we also see MDs taking up science writing and broadcast journalism.

The author with her grandsons

When and what was your very first paid science writing assignment?

The Berkeley G-School required students to have a publishable Master’s thesis, which could be either a longer piece of writing or a broadcast journalism project. I researched and wrote an in-depth magazine piece on wind-powered cargo ships, which was a technology some entrepreneurs in the San Francisco area were pursuing at the time. My piece was published in Science 81, a popular science magazine that had been launched (no pun intended) by the AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Today, of course, the AAAS still publishes Science, one of the top scientific journals in the world, as well as a suite of other print and online products.

Can you share with us a brief explanation of how the process works when writing a human biology textbook, from research to publication?

Usually, an educational publisher recruits authors for books it wants to publish, in part because textbook writing is fairly specialized. The author or authors work with editorial staff to develop a detailed plan for the book, and they write or work with experts in different content areas to develop the initial manuscript and art plan. For my human bio text,which is for non-science majors, I do all my writing using the publishing software InDesign, which lets you work on an electronic version of the actual book pages. Professional artists and technical illustrators create the necessary line art, and we license photographs from stock houses or other professionals. Once the text and art are reviewed by experts and revised accordingly, the publisher manages the production end of things—copyediting, art development, photo research, putting it all into final electronic files, and printing.  There are many review and revision steps right up until the book goes to press, because it is so crucial that a textbook be accurate and up-to-date.

Do you work with medical doctors and other scientists?

I insist that scientists with expertise in the topic I’m writing about review everything for accuracy. Before I sit down to write I also do considerable research in the peer-reviewed scientific and medical literature. I sometimes visit reputable Web-based medical or health sites to get ideas on in-the-news health topics. There’s a lot of good information on the National Institutes of Health websites, and sites of organizations like the Mayo Clinic and the American Cancer Society.

How did you come to write A Day in the Life of Your Body for kids? It is unquestionably an extraordinary book.

I love this book! A British publisher I’d worked with on the Sharks and Oceans Insiders books and some other projects contacted me and said they had this idea to do a book on what happens in a young person’s body over a 24-hour period—showing kids how all the body’s parts and systems work “behind the scenes.” I thought that was a super idea, because the kids in my life are all so curious about their “innards,” and they also have normal worries about small injuries and minor illnesses. They want to know what makes them yawn or throw up, and why their ears pop sometimes. It is so important to answer kids’ questions in an age-appropriate way, and to nourish that natural curiosity. I had free rein to develop the plan for every single spread, and the publisher brought in expert artists to work with me and the editorial staff in developing the amazing artwork.

I imagine writing a science book like that is quite challenging. How did you write such technical information in such understandable terms for a younger audience?

Writing about technical stuff for any lay audience is challenging, and doing it for kids is the hardest of all. Not only do the facts need to be right, but the writing has to be bright and interesting, and the vocabulary has to work. Sentences have to be short, and the flow of ideas has to be crystal clear. When writing for children you have to be always thinking: which details are important, and which ones aren’t? I do a ton of tinkering to try to get all those things right, and I also try to use analogies that kids will get—relating some body process to something kids know about from their daily experience. For example, it’s pretty easy to visualize the blood cells moving through your arteries being like cars on a freeway. I like to make the titles of chapters and subtopics work hard, too. So instead of having a title say “the respiratory system” or even “breathing,” in A Day in the Life I have “Air In, Air Out.” Those four words are easy to read and they convey exactly with the spread is about. Finally, I think it’s vital to respect kids’ intelligence. While I know I have to make the material fun and interesting and easy to understand, I believe an author should never, ever talk down to kids.

Well said! I review so many children’s book and am instantly turned off by patronizing prose. It is indeed difficult to write in the right tone for kids without talking down to them, and you certainly mastered that in your book.

Who illustrated A Day In The Life of Your Body?

The book’s line art is by very talented and knowledgeable artists at Argosy Publishing in Boston. I’ve worked with them on a couple of other projects, and they’re top notch.

This book and the others you have written must take a great deal of time to complete.

Well, I’ve been doing this kind of work for a long time, so it goes faster now that it used to. A Day in the Life of Your Body probably took three or four months, not counting production. When I revise Human Biology, we’re talking six months at hard labor. A book like The Shark Chronicles took more than a year, and I do mean 365-plus consecutive days writing. But I’m a workaholic. I do some kind of writing at least six days a week.

It’s so important for writer wannabes to know just how much research, writing and rewriting work goes into drafting superior quality prose. You have shown us that it requires non-stop dedication and discipline.

Do you have any thoughts on health education, which seems to be greatly lacking in the US?

The U.S. public education system seems to be in disarray, especially in these difficult times of deep budget cuts. I have a stepdaughter who is an elementary school science teacher, so I know what hurdles and challenges she faces on a daily basis. As you know, many, if not most, school districts have felt they must curtail health education because it’s an “extra.” That puts the burden on parents to be knowledgeable about so many key health issues. If I were Queen of the World, I’d want young people to get at least some solid health education, especially in middle school and high school, in courses offered by teachers who’ve had some training in the field, just so kids and youth can have a better understanding of how things like regular exercise and proper diet and getting enough sleep are so important to their lifelong well-being. I’d want the classes to talk about illicit drug use and tobacco and sun exposure, too.

I am fascinated by the books you wrote about sharks. Can you tell us about your journey writing The Shark Chronicles, which you coauthored with John Musick?

My husband John (Jack) Musick is a college professor and a Harvard PhD in marine science. He is an internationally recognized expert on sharks and marine ecology. We’ve collaborated on several books for kids that deal with sharks and life in the oceans, including Insiders:Sharks! and Insiders:Oceans! published by Simon & Schuster. We also coauthored The Shark Chronicles, a book for adults on how Jack and other researchers around the globe have learned about all the different kinds of shark, how their body systems work, how they find prey, their amazing sensory systems, and so forth. Jack and I got the idea to do a book that takes readers to the actual places where shark researchers do their fieldwork, and then to use that to set the scene for describing shark biology and ecology. Our agent sold the project to Times Books/Henry Holt, and they gave us enough of an advance that we were able to travel all over the world—places like Japan and Bimini, Key West and Mexican fossil deposits—to see the research in action and interview the scientists. It was wonderful. The only bad part was that for the chapter Shark Worlds I had to interview Jack about his work on shark ecology, sitting at our dining room table for days and days, which was not so appealing! And at the end the schedule was so tight that I had to write for 120 days straight, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Your travel experience sounds fascinating, worthy of an interview on its own perhaps! What is your next writing project?

I’m working on a novel in between revising my human biology text and another textbook I work on. Who knows where that will go, though! I’m also talking with a publisher about possibly doing another children’s book project.

Snowshoeing in Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park

I’d love to read your next children’s book! What advice do you have for someone who is considering a career in science writing?

Educate yourself and be ready to work very hard. Research the graduate science writing programs that are available, and if you want to go that route, plan on getting at least an undergraduate science degree, if not an advanced degree, first. Look for ways to begin publishing your work, whether it’s in your local newspapers, magazines, or online. You’ll need clips or samples of your published work to get almost any kind of science writing job. Be dedicated to accuracy, because in science writing, over time your reputation will be your calling card. Read every kind of science writing you can get your hands on, and learn from what others are doing. Network with other writers. From a pragmatic perspective, until you’re more established you’ll probably need some other way to make a living. I worked as an assistant project manager arranging signage for shopping centers and did freelance editing on the side. But if you are passionate about science writing and you put in the work, you can have a very rewarding and satisfying career.

When you are not researching or writing, what do you enjoy doing most?

Beverly and her fishing guide celebrate catching this 35-lb. King Salmon on Alaska’s Kenai River summer 2011

I love to power walk and try to put in at least 15 or 20 miles a week. It keeps the brain lubricated, somehow. Jack and I enjoy spending time with our kids and G-babies. Both of us do sort-of gourmet cooking, and I bake all our bread. We have a simple cottage in a part of northern California where we go trout fishing and snowshoeing and hang out in the old hot tub under a redwood tree. I’m so grateful for all the good things in my life.

And we are so grateful to you, Beverly, for taking the time to give us such thoughtful and meaningful answers to our questions. Your passion for science writing shows, and your work is so important to the future of science.

To our readers, I highly recommend you purchase a copy of Beverly’s book A Day in the Life of Your Body for your children. It is an essential addition to your home library that can be used for reference over and over again. Your children will understand the basics of how the body works and how important it is to eat healthy foods and exercise – something they will not likely learn in school. Click here to check Beverly McMillan’s other books.

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Give Peas A Chance

Peas on Earth ($6.99, Robin Corey Books, ages 0-3) by L.A. local Todd H. Doodler is reviewed today by Krista Jefferies. For her bio, please visit our homepage.

Peas on Earth is an adorable board book by Todd H. Doodler, a pseudonym for author and artist Todd Harris Goldman.  This is an easy-to-handle book that will entertain young children while teaching them the value of peace on Earth.  The author plays with the word “peas” to show how everyone should get along like “two peas in a pod” or like “peanut butter and jelly,” which is an uplifting and positive message for children.  This story blends learning and fun with every color-filled page. Because of the playful artwork, children might not even realize that they are absorbing a valuable lesson, but their parents will certainly appreciate both the images and the intent. The book illustrates a world in which even ants would say, “Bless you!” to an anteater’s sneeze, and elephants and mice would “share their cheese.” The cheerful faces throughout the book happily lead up to the delightful pop-up at the end, which children will enjoy getting to over and over again.  This book is sure to appease any young reader!

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Lauren Child’s Fun New Spy Thriller

Ruby Redfort Look Into My Eyes ($16.99, Candlewick, ages 8-11) by Lauren Child is reviewed today by Amanda Hogg.

Compared to Ruby Redfort, almost everyone is a bozo. At the age of seven she won the junior code-cracker championship. The following year she was offered admission to Harvard, which she declined because she had no interest in becoming “some kind of geek freak.” When we meet her at age 13, Ruby Redfort has been called in by Spectrum, a top secret spy agency, to help crack the Fool’s Gold Gang’s code and stop a robbery. But the code is not the only mystery Ruby has to solve. Ruby’s mother has a couple near misses with death and Mrs. Digsby the housekeeper has gone missing along with the entire contents of the Redfort house.

Bike, drive and sprint through Twinsford with Ruby, her pal Clancy Crew and Hitch, Spectrum agent/bodyguard/butler, as they try to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together. Who is involved in the Fool’s Gold Gang? Why is someone trying to run Ruby’s mom off the road? And just where has Mrs. Digsby gone?

You may be wondering how this book differs from any other kid genius mystery. Well let me tell you, buster. Ruby Redfort Look Into My Eyes has layer upon layer of mysteries to solve, codes to crack and clues to find which the reader can unravel along with Ruby. Thankfully, for those of us who have no patience for problem solving and code cracking, clears up some of the more frustrating conundrums for us.

Filled with cartoonish villains, secret agents and nifty gadgets, Ruby Redfort Look Into My Eyes by Lauren Child is a fun, raucous spy thriller that will have adults and kids alike on the edge of their seats. This book will appeal to readers who like Clarice Bean, Harriet the Spy and just about any book where snarky, spunky kids are smarter than their adult counterparts.

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A Bright New Approach To Learning Colors From Pantone



Today’s review was written by Ronna Mandel

My uncle was an art director for a big New York department store almost 50 years ago and, as a child, I loved checking out everything on his desk from markers and tracing paper to inks and special artist’s pens. The first time I saw Pantone colors had to be in the early ’60s in my uncle’s studio, probably not long after their launch in 1963. Now with the publication of a new board book called  PANTONE: Colors ($9.95,  AbramsAppleseed, ages 1 and up), I can once again enjoy this marvelous array of colors in the signature style so universally recognizable. In fact, I am sure that just looking at the bright, bold pictures in the most wonderful colors and shades will bring hours of pleasure to you and your children.

This first-color book will delight little ones as they turn from page to page and explore colors in such a unique way.  Experience shades of yellow with a lion, orange with a fish, red with a wagon, pink with a piggy bank plus 5 other colors you’ll not want to miss including my all-time fave, purple.  Every page contains 20 shades that will lead to lots of interesting discussions with children. For example, what a fun discussion can ensue over colors called Peanut Butter Brown, Meatball Brown, Pretzel Brown, Caramel Brown and Barbecue Sauce Brown.  Not only will your mouth water, but comments from kids are certain to be entertaining to say the least!  

Take this book out with you on the town and visit places where you can search for objects similar to colors in the book. Listen to your children explain which colors they like and help them rank them in order of popularity. Watch the colors jump off the page straight into your child’s vocabulary and memory as you introduce blues at the beach, greens at the park and white, gray and black in the supermarket. Bring the book into restaurants, on car trips and watch the time fly by as your child begins looking at the world in a new and colorful way. I can’t wait to see what the exciting Pantone and Abrams Appleseed partnership delivers next.

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Gotta Love a Mystery

Middle grade readers love to solve mysteries, and after reading The Seals That Wouldn’t Swim ($5.95 Stone Arch Books, ages 9 and up) one of several books in the Field Trip Mysteries Series, I know I love to solve them too. In this story, a 6th grade science class takes a trip to an aquarium to observe the marine life. But not long after they arrive, they discover the seals at that aquarium are sluggish, and the marine animal show has been cancelled. Just as the students try to figure out why the seals are so sleepy, those students learn that the seals are now missing from the aquarium. Where can they be? Who could be involved in their disappearance?  With some methodical thinking and clever detective work, can they solve the mystery?

What I like about this book, written by Steve Brezenoff and illustrated by Marcos Calo, is that it is easy to understand, yet it really makes the reader pay attention to the details and think outside the box. The solution is not obvious, so I found myself going back to previous pages to check the facts to try to figure out who was responsible for the missing seals. The students in the story explain in detail how they reached their conclusions, which really helps kids at this age develop their reasoning skills. In the back of the book is a detective’s notebook with more information for further detective work. The Field Trip Mysteries Series would make a great collection for any middle grade reader who enjoys a good whodunnit. These are the kind of stories kids have fun reading and solving together.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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Spring is Here, There and Everywhere

If you could see my shelves at home, you’d know how much I love books about gardening. And one of my greatest pleasures is sharing my gardening knowledge with children. And Then it’s Spring ($16.99, Roaring Brook Press, ages 4 and up) is a perfect book for curious little gardeners. There are but a few wonderful words on every page, written by Julie Fogliano, and a whole lot of story telling going on with the illustrations, by Erin E. Stead. The story is about a boy and his dog who are eager to be done with winter so they can see less brown in the garden and more green. Yet day after day, week after week, brown is all they see. Until one day spring has arrived. I love the way this story charmingly epitomizes the anticipation every child experiences while waiting for something truly important to him or her. It also inspires kids to want to get out in their yards and plant seeds. And that is a very good thing.

What better time than spring to read a book about farmyard animals? Even better yet, this book should be read on a night when your little one is having trouble settling down to go to sleep. Farmyard Beat ($15.99, Knopf Books for Young Readers, ages 1 and up) by Lindsey Craig is a catchy rhyming story about different farm animals that cannot sleep because they’ve got a beat going on in their heads. What you’ll truly love about this book is the fact that the animals eventually do wear themselves out, hopefully inspiring your child to do the same! You’ll also admire the illustrations by the inimitable Marc Brown (of the Arthur books and cartoon fame). The vivid pictures are actually collages made from hand-painted papers, and they’re just so darn cute.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade. To see Debbie’s organic tomato garden video, click here.

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Have You Got That in Pink, Size 5?

Do you remember that wonderful feeling you got as a child, when in August, all the stores started to display the new fall styles? As the school year approached your excitement grew at the prospect of buying clothes in a bigger size because you grew, too.

In A Dress For Me! ($12.99, Marshall Cavendish/Pinwheel Books, ages 4-8) by Sue Fliess with illustrations by Mike Laughead, Hippo is keen to get a dress and, as in Fliess’s earlier companion book  Shoes For Me!, the choices are plentiful.

“Rows of dresses,
Wall to wall.
Watch me as I
Try them all.”

That’s exactly how I feel when I go shopping so I could not have said it any better! What I enjoyed in Fliess’s first picture book I once again enjoyed here. Her rhymes are terrific, none are forced or off beat. They flow easily which makes reading the book aloud with children such fun! Her descriptions truly convey the delight Hippo feels as she admires the selection.

“Pointy collar,
Puffy shirt,
Polka-dotted poodle skirt.”

The illustrator, Laughead has colorfully captured Hippo in all her dress-shopping glory.  His artwork is done in a bright and cheerful manner and makes me want to ask, “Do you have that in a size 10?”

If your kids are not already into all things clothing, they will be after this great read. “I’ll take this one, please!”

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Travel Around the World (Without Leaving Your Chair)

Debbie Glade reviews two books that offer creative ways to introduce your children to geography, cultures and ancient history.

There’s no denying that there’s something mysteriously exciting about hieroglyphics, pharaohs, pyramids and buried treasures. Perhaps that’s why I never met a child who was not fascinated by Ancient Egypt.  Ancient Egypt: Tales of Gods and Pharaohs ($16.99, Candlewick Press, ages 6 and up) is a very unique and creative book. Author/illustrator Marcia Williams retells nine Ancient Egyptian tales using the format of a comic book. But don’t be mistaken – unlike a regular comic book, this is a very sturdy, well-crafted hardcover book with vibrant illustrations using the quintessential Egyptian colors and high quality paper. Dialogue goes on inside the comic frames, while stories are told in bits beneath each frame. The dialogue is often funny, and oh so entertaining. The best part is that young readers will learn a lot about Egyptian culture and discoveries, without having to study a boring textbook. Your child will love the dialogue and the illustrations. There’s a lot to look at here and a lot to learn too.

Tales from India: Stories of Creation and the Cosmos ($19.99, Templar Books, ages 9 and up) is a big (88 pages), beautiful book, filled with Hindu tales and colorful, one-of-a-kind illustrations by award-winning illustrator, Amanda Hall. Written by award-winning author, Jamila Gavin, this books takes readers on a journey though creation, natural disasters, evil kings, powerful romances, unsung heroes and so much more. Think of it as a sophisticated book of Indian mythology. The stories are ideal for advanced readers and for upper elementary and middle school classrooms. They can easily be read out loud for the entire class to enjoy and can easily spark some creativity for doing social studies projects.

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This Magic Hat Trick Never Gets Old

Today’s review comes courtesy of Debbie Glade.

Hocus Pocus ($15.95, Kids Can Press, ages 3 -7), written by Sylvie Desrosiers and illustrated by Rémy Simard, is a young child’s version of a graphic novel.  Told through pictures, it is a story about a rabbit that appears from a magic hat in the house of a man and his dog. The dog and the rabbit engage in a classic feud as the man, wearing headphones, is sound asleep in his easy chair. (The rivalry pleasantly reminds me a little bit of Sylvester and Tweety Bird.) The only words in this book are essentially sound effects, as the story cleverly comes to life one frame at a time. The illustrations are crisp and colorful and pretty darn adorable. What I love about this story is that the youngest readers can really savor the book and take their time to uncover the plot using their own detective work and interpretations. It’s a really cute story, and parents will love it too. There’s sure to be a few audible giggles when you read it together and talk about what’s going on in the pictures. The true magic of this story is that you don’t have to own a dog (or a rabbit) to appreciate the humor.

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Won’t You Be Mine, Valentine?

Debbie Glade reviews three heart-warming Harper Collins books, perfect for the little Valentine in your life. Scroll down to see our easy Valentine card you can make with your child.

Who wouldn’t love a Valentine book with glitter on the cover and on the inside pages? Plant a Kiss ($14.99 Harper Collins, ages 4 and up) by NY Times Bestselling author, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, is charming, fun and so perfect for Valentine’s Day. A young girl plants a kiss in the ground to see what will grow. She waters it and waits and waits for something to happen. Just when she thinks nothing is ever going to happen, she is pleasantly surprised. The book is written with just a few clever rhyming words on each page. The small, cute illustrations by Peter H Reynolds really make the story extra special. I love this book, and you will too.

Snowy Valentine ($15.99, Harper Collins, ages 3-8), written and illustrated by David Petersen, is a story about Jasper the bunny, who longs to find the perfect Valentine for his wife, Lilly. He asks all the other animals in town what they are giving their wives, yet he still cannot find the perfect gift – that is until he discovers something extraordinary by accident. This story is endearing and has a great message. What’s more, the illustrations are outstanding, and you will want to take the time to look at all the details on every page with your children.

As you might imagine from the title, Hedgehug: A Sharp Lesson in Love ($9.99, Harper Collins, ages newborn-7) is a story about an animal with pesky spikes that get in the way of everything. Hedgehug is a little guy who just wants what all of us want – to find true love. So he makes a special card and sets out on Valentine’s Day to find a special someone who may just return his Valentine wishes. It’s just that his hugs cause his would-be-Valentines too much pain.  Just when he thinks there is no hope in finding true love, something really special happens. This adorable story was created and illustrated by Dan Pinto and was written by Benn Sutton. The pictures are colorful and darling, just like the story.

Make a Fun and Easy Valentine Card!

Click here for instructions on how to make the card.

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Gift it! Never Too Young to be a Scientist

You can probably tell by the title, 11 Experiments That Failed ($16.99, Schwartz and Wade Books, ages 4 and up) that this is a unique sort of science book. Author Jenny Offill put together 11 simple, fun and educational science experiments that are meant to go wrong. Each experiment includes a question, a hypothesis and a list of what you’ll need, of course.

Any budding scientist will get a kick out of learning what makes fungus grow, whether or not a gerbil prefers a bigger wheel or what happens when a live beaver is ordered through the mail. Each experiment is supported by fun illustrations by Nancy Carpenter, and the most likely results of each project are listed.

As a parent of a college science major (geology) I can personally relate to children’s science experiment books; my daughter could never get enough of these while growing up. We sure did have a lot of fun doing experiments together. The holidays are perfect time to receive science books as gifts, and this one in particular is a winner.

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Children’s Holiday Book Roundup and Giveaway

We may not get snow here in sunny Southern California, but we do get all the wonderful holiday books to help us get into the festive mood!  Ronna Mandel and Debbie Glade have put together a brief collection of recommended books for parents to consider when making up their gift lists this season. No matter what time of the year, one of the most important things to do with your child is read. So buy a book or two, put the kettle on and then snuggle up close to your little ones and explore lands near and far as they come alive with every page you turn.  For a chance to be the winner of three of these terrific holiday books, please leave a comment on the blog, LIKE Good Reads With Ronna on Facebook and be sure to provide an email where you can be contacted.  The contest ends at midnight on Friday, Dec. 23, 2011. Scroll down for contest *rules.

Record a Memory: Our Family Christmas Memories (approx. $15.95, Publications International, Ltd., all ages) makes it easy for families to share memories and then treasure them for years to come.  The sparkly, embossed cover beckons readers to open the book, fill in the requested info, add voice messages wherever there’s an icon pictured and turn good times into a customized scrapbook. With a little help from an older sibling or adult, even the youngest child can add their input by simply following the handy instructions provided on the opening page. Everyone will enjoy the 48 beautiful pages, with their ample room to include photos of Christmas stockings, Christmas dinner plus places to jot down specific recollections like a favorite Christmas past or yummy recipe.  Best of all is the six-button module designed to allow users to record a special memory, making Our Family Christmas Memories a keepsake families will return to again and again. Three AAA batteries are included and the books can be found at major retailers nationwide.  Add Record a Memory to the rest of your family’s holiday traditions and capture cherished moments for a lifetime.

A Bad Kitty Christmas ($15.99, A Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press, ages 4 and up), written and illustrated by Nick Bruel cannot fail when its cover alone cracks me up! Anyone who knows me knows I adore cats and now, having just adopted two maniacal brothers whose exploits compare to those of Bad Kitty’s, I love Bruel’s series more than ever. The picture book opens with, “Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the city, not a creature was stirring … (Blam! Crash! Kaboom! indicating sound of garbage pails flying) … Except for Bad Kitty.” If this line does not set the tone for what havoc will be wreaked by this fabulously feisty feline, I’m not sure what does. Soon Kitty shows her disinterest in spending Christmas Eve with Uncle Murray and leaps from her owner’s auto (followed by Puppy), getting lost in the big city until rescued by an elderly lady.  After an afternoon of listening to the old lady reminisce, Bad Kitty  yearns to return home to his family. Sensing the cat’s homesickness, the caring woman realizes she has an important holiday mission to accomplish.  Will Bad Kitty (and Puppy) be reunited with their family for Christmas? Put this book on your holiday list to find out how they all fare.  Still eager to continue the craziness?  Check out more shenanigans at the Bad Kitty website.

Chanukah Lights ($34.99, Candlewick Press, ages 5 and up), is written by Michael J. Rosen with pop-art by Robert Sabuda.  Not all pop-up books are created equal and when you combine the talents of the masterful Rosen with those of Sabuda, you get a rare Chanukah treat for the entire family to enjoy.  Travel across the globe and through time by experiencing eight wondrous and intricately designed scenes of the Jewish Festival of Lights. Whether viewing the Temple where the oil that lasted eight days was discovered, journeying to a shtetl where “six lights flicker,” or traveling to a kibbutz in the Promised Land replete with olive groves and this time showing eight glimmering flames, the faith of those who have carried on the Chanukah tradition is beautifully reflected on every page. This unique interpretation of the holiday will not disappoint.

Create-A-Story Kit: StoryWorld – Christmas Tales ($9.99, Templar Books, ages 9 and up) by John & Caitlin Matthews is just the answer for kids stuck indoors with relatives and other visitors over the holiday break. Christmas Tales allows everyone to take control of their boredom transforming it into fun and games when using the set of cards provided. There are multiple ways to use the colorful cards and a handy storytelling book included that gives tips to get players started. Pick a card and begin telling a tale, or maybe play a card game of hidden clues. Kids can even put on a play based on the card images. My favorite card, The Christmas Ghosts (who appear only at Christmastime) sets my imagination soaring.  Thought provoking questions on the card’s reverse side ask: “What stories can they tell about their lives?”  “Why have they appeared this year?” Or in my case, the question would be “Why have they NOT appeared this year?” Then I would also incorporate the last question, “Who is able to see them and who cannot?” and so would begin my tale … Make Create-A-Story series part of your family’s annual celebration and see what a good time being stuck with relatives and visitors can really be!

The Littlest Evergreen’s talented author and illustrator Henry Cole, ($16.99, Katherine Tegan Books by Harper Collins, ages 4 and up) really knows how to captivate the hearts of his readers. This is an enchanting story, with an environmental message, about a how a tiny evergreen grows into a Christmas tree and about what happens to him after the holiday is over. Cole’s illustrations are beyond exceptional – so much so that I found myself looking at them over and over again. He uses vivid acrylic paints in such a way that they have crisp edges to make featured objects contrast beautifully with the backgrounds. This artist has illustrated more than 50 children’s books, including several he has written himself. Every child, who celebrates Christmas and loves to choose a fresh tree every year, will also adore this book. It is without-a-doubt one to keep and read every year before Christmas. It sure got me in the Christmas spirit!


*This giveaway will run through midnight on December 23,  2011 (PST). Winner will be chosen using from all valid entries and notified via email. Winner will have 48 hours to contact us at before another winner is chosen. Giveaway is open to U.S. (18+) residents only.

*Good Reads With Ronna did not receive monetary compensation for these reviews.  Three (3) giveaway items worth a total value of  $67.97 will be provided by Good Reads With Ronna. 
 The reviews are in our own words and is our opinion. Your opinions may differ.

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Welcome to the World

My son and I just loved editor and author Valerie Wyatt’s How to Build Your Own Country which I reviewed in the November 2009 issue of L.A. Parent. We spent countless hours discussing that book so when I received a copy of Welcome to the World ($14.95, Kids Can Press, ages 0-3 ) written by Valerie Wyatt with photographs by Lennette Newell, I knew it would be terrific, too. In just 24 pages, half of them adorable close-ups of babies, animals and nature, the author succeeds in capturing the emotions a parent feels and wishes to share with their child.  It begins perfectly with:

Dear Baby,
Welcome to the world
and all its wonders.

You will feel the sun on your skin
and be warmed by it.

And ending no better way than with:

You will be loved.

While this is not a board book and so must be handled more carefully with infants, reserve it for bedtime when the endearing messages can be firmly planted in a little one’s heart just before nodding off.

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It’s Hard Work Being Perfect

This review by Ronna Mandel of The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $14.99, ages 4-8) by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein, illustrated by Mark Pett, can be found in the November issue of L.A. Parent.

It’s hard work being perfect – not that I know of course, but I can just imagine. And when you never botch up like the main character of this book, Beatrice Bottomwell, people come to expect you will never make a mistake, never forget to do your homework, mismatch your socks or, horror-of-all-horrors, be unprepared for the school talent show juggling act! Pett and Rubinstein’s story and Pett’s totally in sync artwork come together to share an important message: it’s OK to try your best, but when it becomes all consuming and nothing less is satisfying, more is lost than gained!

All that striving for perfection can certainly create a lot of stress. It gets to the point for 9-year-old Beatrice that, after one near miss with an egg while baking, she starts avoiding activities for fear of failure. While Beatrice’s friends and even her younger brother could care less about falling down while ice skating or playing piano the wrong way, Beatrice’s worrying about making a mistake makes her feel ill until … she actually does make a major mistake in front of a packed school auditorium during her juggling performance in the talent show. What results is anything but a disaster! In fact, Beatrice, and the audience, end up finding the whole thing so hilarious, that from that moment forward Beatrice is surprised to find out how absolutely wonderful and rewarding it is to stop trying so hard and just be herself.

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Kohl’s Shares the Love This Holiday Season

Kohl’s Cares Books and Plush Toys Spark Kids’ Imaginations While Supporting Health and Education Initiatives

At this time every year I look forward to moving the clocks back, getting my down comforter out from storage and seeing what wonderful books Kohl’s will be offering in their Kohl’s Cares program. Seriously, where can you find $5 brand new books and plush toys to fill stockings and children’s hearts? With these great values, don’t just buy for the family!  Now through December stock up on your holiday presents and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Take advantage today of this inspiring collection of gifts that doesn’t break the bank. Through the generous Kohl’s Cares cause merchandise program you can get both quality books to entertain your kids while helping improve the lives of other children nationwide. This season Kohl’s is featuring best-selling author Nancy Tillman’s books The Spirit of Christmas, On the Night You Were BornWherever You Are My Love Will Find You and It’s Time to Sleep, My Love along with adorable coordinating plush toy, for just $5 each through the Kohl’s Cares cause merchandise program.

For just $5 each you can feel good about staying on your budget and giving back. Kohl’s donates 100 percent of the net profit to children’s health and education initiatives nationwide.

In addition, Kohl’s is offering Good Housekeeping’s cookbook, A Very Merry Christmas Cookook. You can also purchase Have Yourself A Merry Little Country Christmas CD featuring tunes by popular country artists. What better way to get into the holiday mood than baking delicious treats with some spirited country music playing in the background?

Wishing you a joyous holiday season. Just remember to spread the love around!

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