Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Cave Dada: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Gwen Porter who won CHASING AUGUSTUS from last week's blog.


This week I have another picture book by North Carolina author-illustrator, Brandon Reese. I first featured Brandon on my blog two years ago with his debut picture book, OOTHAR THE BLUE. CAVE DADA is a very different subject, but once again, larger-than-life characters are portrayed in funny illustrations and minimal text in a book that kids and parents will love. To quote from Beauty and the Beast, this is a "story that is as old as time."

Although Dada is tired from his day of hunting and gathering, Baba is not. He demands to be read to.

But Baba is quite firm. He needs a book. And not ANY book. It has to be a BIG book. 

Not even Dada's discovery of fire makes Baba happy.

So, Dada goes on a hunt for a book SO BIG that he needs the help of a wooly mammoth to bring it back.

But what does Dada find when he returns? 

Baba has fallen asleep.

Or, has he?


This book will make a great gift to a new father--or any father for that matter! Children will love the illustrations and even pre-K students will learn to "read" the simple words. Kids and parents will enjoy how true to life it is--and how funny too!


Here is Brandon reading the book--as it's supposed to sound!


To enter, please leave a comment on my blog (with your email address if you are new to my blog). Become a new subscriber to my blog and I'll enter your name twice. Giveaway ends at 6 PM on June 5.


Brandon told me that the sequel to Cave Dada will be coming out in 2021--CAVE DADA PICKY EATER. I can only imagine the hilarious illustrations and storyline for that book! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Chasing Augustus: A Review and an Audio Book Giveaway


What 10 to 14-year-old doesn't enjoy a good dog book?  If your son, daughter, grandchild, or student fits into that category, then Chasing Augustus by Kimberly Newton Fusco, is a book that you want to win for them.  

Rosie's got it tough. Her mother left her as a child to make a better life for herself in California. Her father has a stroke and is hospitalized. That leaves her paternal grandfather, Harry, in charge of raising her--something he is ill-equipped to do. On top of that, when her mother comes home temporarily, she gives away "Gloaty Gus"-- Rosie's "lug of a dog." 

From the first chapter, the reader is rooting for this spunky protagonist who feels as if she is "half the girl she used to be" without her furry, stubborn friend. As the title intimates, the book is mostly about Rosie trying to find Augustus and the various obstacles she has to overcome in the process. Readers see the sandpits which cover the town with grit whenever the wind blows--and which makes riding a bicycle (when she goes looking for her dog) include wearing swim goggles. Readers feel her apathy in school and cringe when she makes bad choices. And of course, they resonate with her longing to be reunited with her dog. 

Although this is a book about determination and not losing hope, it is truly about making friends in unexpected places. Readers meet Rosie's next-door neighbor, Phillipe, a foster kid who won't shrug off his huge overcoat and who is obsessed with Monopoly; Cynthia, a girl who gets on Rosie's nerves because she asks too many questions; Swanson, a mute woman who the town kids mock and fear but who provides surprising answers to Rosie's questions; and even her grandfather Harry, who is an ornery sardine-and-cracker-eating guy who makes Rosie get tutoring over the summer for her poor English grade; and Mr. Peterson her tutor who she despises at first, but who she learns to appreciate. 

Readers will care about Rosie, but they will also see how her behavior is not above reproach. She puts her desire to find Augustus above everything else; not caring about how her Grandfather will worry when she leaves home in a storm or how Phillipe feels when she pushes him into helping her. I think if the book is read in the classroom, I would recommend pointing out her lack of empathy and why she is self-absorbed in her quest. It would also be good to discuss how she resolves her relationships in the end. 

Here's an audio snippet from the beginning of the book. The narrator, Karissa Vacker, created an authentic voice for the first-person protagonist. The secondary characters are also portrayed well through a variety of authentic voices. 

And finally, a line early in the book which summarizes the sand-pit setting as well as Rosie's life, “If you don’t do something with all the grit in your life, things seem to jam up something awful."


A winner will receive a code from Tantor Audio and instructions on downloading the book. To enter, please leave me a comment with your email address if you are new to my blog by 6 PM on May 29. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Two New Picture Books from Sleeping Bear Press

Daddy Loves You!

This picture book is the fifth book written by Helen Foster James and illustrated by Petra Brown showing the love of a bunny family member for a young bunny. (Check out Grandma Loves You!, Grandpa Loves You!,  Mommy Loves You!, and Auntie Loves You!.)

This story begins with, 
"Daddy loves you, bunny-bear, much more than words can say. 
You are your daddy's sunshine. I'll love you every day."

The daddy bunny goes on to say how he'll protect his little one, how they'll explore, and play together. 

"Let's see who hops the highest, then spin ourselves around...."

At night Daddy bunny tucks him in bed at night and says, 

"Sweet dreams, my snuggle bunny, I know that this is true,
You are my little angel, and moonbeam...I love you."

Daddy Loves You! includes a blank page for the child's father to write a note to his son or daughter.

Where'd My Jo Go? 

This rhyming picture book by Jill Esbaum and illustrated by Scott Brundage is based on a true story that Esbaum read in a newspaper. Jill fictionalized the story and it's shown from both Al and Jo's point of view--something I've never seen in a picture book! 

Big Al is Jo's furry friend who loves traveling with her on the open road. When Jo takes a break, Al is busy meeting children, finding a snack, and rolling in someone's flower bed. But when he returns to the truck stop, Al can't find Jo!

As difficult as it is, Al waits for Jo, watching as trucks come and go along the highway.

At the same time, Jo realizes that Al is not in the truck with her! 

While Big Al waits, he's sad and scared. He's tempted to go with Zack, a friendly boy who plays with him, but from out of the dark night, Al spots Jo's truck. 

"I have to look, 
Could it be true? 
Oh, Jo. Please, Jo, 
could that be-- 
Bye, Zack! I have to go!
I knew she'd come! 
It's her! 
My Jo!

Where'd My Jo Go? uses simple vocabulary and new readers will enjoy mastering the words. Both books are illustrated in a manner that reflects the story's content; Petra Brown and Scott Brundage show a realm of emotions in their characters! Both books will be enjoyed by children and the adults who read them out loud.

Sorry--no giveaway this week. I'm celebrating the birth of a new grandson and these books will be a great contribution to their family library!

Big sister Eleanor enjoys reading to Luke and baby Caleb.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

What Do Your Eyes Communicate? Answers and a Winner!

Image by Sumanley xulx
Following up on last week's blog showing 21 people in their Covid-19 masks, here is what the subjects self-reported they were thinking or feeling:

#1 Barbara Federlin: Overwhelmed.

#2 Becca Puglisi: Irritation.

#3 Brenda Covert: Shock.

#4 Barbara Lee Bryant: Foolish.

#5 Annonymous Male: Be Positive!

#6 Donna Earnhardt: Happy to have a mask.

#7 Jarm Del Boccio: Peaceful.

#8 Jean Hall: Tired.

#9 Joan Edwards: Surprise.

#10 Laurie Foote: "I must open my eyes wide enough so my droopy eyelids don't make me look 100 years old, while not enough that I look terrified!"  

#11 Melodye Shore: "I felt seen. I felt loved. I felt more protected, of course, but in some ways I felt more vulnerable. And I saw more clearly the vulnerabilities of those with whom I came in contact."

#12 Wendell and Linda Phillips: Glad to have masks.

#13 Mary Ellen Stack Pike: Exasperation.

#14 Virginia and Tom O'Malley: "I was thinking that no one knows I am smiling. Virginia was most likely thinking, 'What a wonderful, loving, and caring husband I have.' or, 'What will we do for dinner?'" 

#15 Kathleen Burkinshaw: "I'm at high risk."

#16 John Craig: "Disappointed in cancellations. I wonder who I would have met."

#17 Pat Baldwin: "I'm the oldest person you know who is wearing a mask!"

#18 Tony Reames: "Thankful to have an appealing mask that my neighbor made." 

#19  Kathy Wiechman: Amused.

#20 Jim Wiechman: "This mask doesn't fit right."

#21 Barry Schifreen: "I hope my hair looks OK."

Photo by  neelam279 / 523 images 

Only three brave souls played the game; synonyms were allowed.

First place: Goes to Joan Edwards who guessed seven correct answers (not including her own).

Second place: Goes to Angela Ackerman who guessed six correctly.

Third place: Goes to Barry Schifreen with four correct answers. 

For those of you who were pictured, you may want to look at the comments on last week's blog to see what these three readers thought your eyes communicated.

Angela Ackerman wrote in a Facebook message, "It was tough, lol, but it really made me think!" She and I went back and forth on how writers need to use more than eye expressions to show what a character is feeling. Hopefully, that will be the topic of another blog.

Cathy Biggerstaff commented: "My daughter is a nurse in a Covid-19 unit and one of her patients wrote an article for his local newspaper when he got well. He said he came to know his nurses through their eyes because that's all he could see. I thought that was a powerful statement."

 Anestiev / 1182 images 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

What Do Your Eyes Communicate?

Congratulations to Linda Phillips for winning THE HEART CHANGER from last week's blog.


This week I have something different for you. The first time I went out in public with my Covid mask and saw other people in their masks, I thought about how as a writer, I try to capture nonverbal expressions to show (rather than tell) how my characters are feeling. Many times, that is through their eye expressions. It also made me think of One Stop for Writers and all of their helpful tools for writers. Like this one from the Eye entry of their Physical Feature thesaurus:

Then, my sister, Barbara Federlin, texted me a selfie in her mask:

#1 Barbara Federlin

From there, this post and a "game" was born.


Starting with the picture of my sister Barbara, leave me a comment with the feeling you think the person was experiencing (or what you imagine they were thinking) when the picture was taken. Synonyms are OK. Surprise and shock, for example, would be considered acceptable synonyms. Likewise fear, anxiety, or worry. Let's see who can read eye expressions the best. If an emotion isn't obvious, just guess!

Next week I'll share the answers and who read the eyes the best. 

Note: The last person pictured doesn't have a number because all he was concerned about was that the picture came out OK! But I thought it was the most unique mask of all--his wife made it for him out of a yarmulke

BONUS FOR WRITERS: At the end of this blog I have two diagrams I have on my Pinterest board and lengthier quotes from a few of my FB friends. 

#2 - Becca Puglisi 

#4 Barbara Lee Bryant

#5 Annonymous male

#6 Donna Earnhardt 

#7 Jarm Del Boccio 

#8 Jean Hall

#9 Joan Edwards

#10 Laurie Foote

#11 Melodye Shore

#12 Wendell and Linda Phillips 

#13 Mary Ellen Stack Pike

#14 Virginia and Tom O'Malley

#15 Kathleen Burkinshaw

#16  John Craig

#17 Pat Baldwin

#18 Tony Reames

#20 Jim Wiechman

Barry Schifreen 


In the comments write the number of the photo and the emotion or thought that you think was going through the subject's mind or what he or she was feeling. 


From Melodye Shore: "I felt seen. I felt loved. I felt more protected, of course, but in some ways I felt more vulnerable. And I saw more clearly the vulnerabilities of those with whom I came in contact. Even though most of our faces aren’t visible, we can still make eye contact. That’s important and a critical difference to how things usually are. Our eyes reveal so much about who we are and how we are feeling! They truly are the windows to our souls." 4/23/20

From Tony Reames: "I was thinking that wearing masks in public may become the new normal as some states rush to “open back up.” 4/21/20

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Heart Changer by Jarmila del Boccio: A Review and E-Book Giveaway

Congratulations to Jana Leah who won D is for Down Under from last week's blog.

I will never read 2 Kings 5 the same again.

For those of you who don't know this Biblical account, this chapter of the Old Testament tells about Naaman, a captain in the Syrian army, who has leprosy. A young Israeli girl who he captured and gave to his wife, tells Naaman about how the prophet Elisha might be able to heal him. Despite his reluctance and pride, Naaman follows Elisha's instructions to dip seven times into the Jordan river and is healed. 

In Jarmila del Boccio's (she goes by "Jarm") debut middle grade novel, The Heart Changer, this Old Testament story is brought to life.

The young Israeli maid who Jarm named Miriam is given an authentic backstory which makes her believable and likable to modern-day girls. The story opens with Miriam's capture by the Syrians. Immediately, the reader empathizes with Miriam as she is torn away from her family. She is brought to Naaman's palace where the language, customs, religion, and people all are strange to her. Miriam is angry with Naaman for stealing her away, with God for deserting her, and for being forced into servitude to a woman who worships foreign gods. Add to that she is overwhelmingly worried that she will ever see her family again and must share a room with the servant girl who she replaced and who despises her. 

Throughout the book Miriam struggles with wanting to please her Heavenly Father and accept His will for her, at the same time that she struggles against homesickness and wanting her freedom. Bonds are established between Miriam and her master's wife who treats her as if she is her own daughter. In time, Miriam is able to say a few words to her mistress about the one true Jehovah. When Naaman discovers his leprosy, Miriam is the one who encourages him to seek the Lord's help--through the prophet Elisha. 

Miriam accompanies her master and mistress as they travel through Samaria to find Elisha. When they get to her village Miriam is fearful that her family has been killed. She is overjoyed to find out that they are still alive. 

In the end, not only is Naaman's body cleansed, but his heart is also changed. And so is Miriam's. She and her family learn to forgive those who harmed them and to accept the Lord's sovereignty in their lives.

Jarm's exhaustive research into the typography, animals, plants, food, dress, and customs brings the book to life. Girls from 8-12 and their mothers will enjoy reading or listening to this book together. 

I listened to the audio version and thought that the narrator, Brittany Goodwin, did an excellent job with the variety of voices. If you click on the audio version link, you'll find a link to hear a  snippet. 

To celebrate her book's one year birthday, Jarm is giving away a copy of the ebook to one fortunate reader. Leave me a comment (with your email address if you are new to my blog) by 6 PM on May 1 and I'll enter your name. Share this on social media or subscribe to my blog and I'll add another chance to win! 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

D IS FOR DOWN UNDER: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

Look at this cover.

Now, look again. 

This is a great example of illustrator, Geoff Cook's self-defined quirky sense of humor. The illustrations in D is For Down Under: An Australian Alphabet are just part of what will engage readers in a book that is part of Sleeping Bear Press's Discover the World series. The text by Devin Scillian combines poems for young readers and longer exposition for students in grades 2-4. Facts, trivia, and history are packed into spreads about every letter of the alphabet. 


The perfect opening for this book is A for Aboriginal People. The reader immediately learns of the ancient people who first populated this island continent. Their art, music, and traditions still influence Australian culture. 

The following pages contain both familiar facts and unusual information that will entertain and educate. Take "G" for example. You probably would expect that in a book about Australia, G might be for the Great Barrier Reef:
You're swimming round in snorkel and mask staring in disbelief, 
surrounded by our letter G, the Great Barrier Reef. 
Sharks and starfish turtles and whales, fish of every size.
The colors of the rainbow parade before your eyes.

In the same way, you might guess that K would be for kangaroos, koalas, and kookaburras. 

But, would you have guessed that  E is for Echidna? This spiny anteater rolls up into a ball to defend himself and is only found in Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea. 

Maybe you have heard of a Jackaroo, but I guarantee the illustration of this modern farmhand will get some laughs out of young readers!

Q is for Qantas Airline--what else? Here's another example of Geoff's artistic humor and Scillian's poetry:

Do you know what Vegemite is? It's a brown sticky paste that Australians and New Zealanders love to eat on toast. It tastes salty and slightly bitter and apparently is a treat that the rest of the world doesn't quite appreciate.

W is for Waltzing Matilda. I remember singing this folk song in elementary school--without a clue as to what the words mean!

All of the other letters of the alphabet are appropriately honored with their contributions to Australia's landscape and people. This book would make a great classroom resource as well as a fantastic read-aloud at home or in a library.  


I am giving away one copy of D is For Down Under through my blog, and another through the spring issue of Talking Story on Australasia. Leave a comment on my blog (along with your email address if you are new to my blog) for one chance to win. Leave another comment through the link provided in Talking Story and you'll be entered twice. (Tip: You'll find other giveaways through the newsletter too!) Winners will be drawn on April 25. 

Cave Dada: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Gwen Porter who won CHASING AUGUSTUS from last week's blog. REVIEW This week I have another picture book b...