Friday, June 14, 2019

Two Free Writing Workshops!

If you're in the Greenville, SC area and you want to find out how to take your ideas for stories or articles from brainstorming to publication, then join me at the Mauldin library on June 29.  

Turning Your Ideas into Publishable Works will meet from 10:30-12. From Finished Work to Publication will meet from 1:30-3:00. 
Registration is limited but there are still slots available. We will brainstorm, write, and have fun. No publishing experience is necessary. 

Come for one or come for both!

Please share on social media or with your friends in the Greenville area. Thank you!

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Next to the Last Mistake: Review and ARC Giveaway

For a second week in a row I'm happy to bring you another clean, contemporary YA novel. I requested The Next to Last Mistake by North Carolina author Amalie Jahn from the publisher, Light Messages, because of the racial themes. It was interesting to see how Jahn handled interracial friendships since that is a theme in my WIP, Half-Truths


Tess Goodwin's peaceful, uncomplicated life in rural Iowa changes the moment her father announces he has reenlisted in the Army. The family moves to an army base in Fayetteville, NC  and Tess is forced to say goodbye to her not-quite-a-boyfriend, Zander, and her beloved cow, Daisy. 

Conflicts navigating her huge new high school mirrors her conflicts over making new friends. When Leonetta, a black girl, is assigned to be her mentor, Tess is surprised by what they have in common as well as how their friendship develops despite racial differences. 

Tess's eyes are opened when Leonetta receives prejudicial treatment, and when she herself is the recipient of cynical comments because she's Leonetta's friend. Tess is enraged by the way her friend is treated and Leonetta explains the rules about being black. Throughout the book Leonetta guides Tess into a greater awareness of Tess's own hidden biases:
"You said it because you have your own biases you carry around with you. We all do. We can't help it. We're human. But that doesn't give us a free pass. You gotta check your privilege, keep an open mind, and consider other people's feelings before you open your mouth. If you do that you'll be okay." (p. 141)
Jahn based this book on interracial friendships she had when she moved to Fort Bragg and her husband was deployed. Good fiction often comes out of her own life experiences. I appreciate Jahn wanting to honor these relationships by showing what her black co-workers taught her about friendship across racial barriers. But some of the dialogue was heavy with lessons and doesn't sound like teenagers bantering back and forth. 

Despite that concern with the novel, there are scenes that are teen-age authentic. When the girls confront the school bully at the prom; when Tess's father announces that he is being deployed to Syria and he gives a "weary, splintered sort of smile that nearly breaks my heart (p. 227); when Zander and Tess begin to figure out their relationship going forward; and when Tess sees Daisy again and breaks down and sobs. 

The motif of chess threads naturally throughout the book. Tess, who played with her father and Zander, begins a chess club at her new school which does surprisingly well. In one conversation with her father over who will win the war in Syria, we find the reason behind the book's title:
"There's this saying in chess: 'Victory goes to the player who makes the next to last mistake.' It basically means during a game of chess you can make mistakes a long the way and still come out ahead as long as you learn from those missteps and adjust accordingly. You don't need to do things perfectly from the beginning to eventually get it right in the end. I've found over the years the theory applies to life as well. And I'm pretty sure it will be the same for war." (p. 253)

Some readers might find that there is too much backstory in the beginning about Tess's life in Iowa as well as a lot of flashbacks about Zander. But overall, I would recommend this book to teen girls who are interested in exploring interracial relationships. Kudos to Amalie Jahn for sensitively tackling a difficult subject as a white author--and keeping it clean. 


To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment and your email address if you are new to my blog. I'll also be giving this away in conjunction with the summer issue of Talking Story, Celebrate Teens. Please leave a comment by June 14. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Perfect Candidate: Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Theresa Jones who won Emily Out of Focus from last week's blog. Remember, when you don't win a book, check it out of your local library. If it's not in their catalog, you can request a purchase. Another way to support authors!



I am always delighted to find a well-written young adult novel to recommend. The Perfect Candidate by Peter Stone passed my "Is it clean?" standards with a book that is entertaining, suspenseful, and will be enjoyed by both girls and guys.

Cameron Carter, a recent graduate of Lagrima High in California, is excited about his Washington, D.C. summer internship with his congressman, Billy Beck. He wants to honor his late mother's memory because she was also an intern on the "Hill." Since he's from a small town and a lower-middle class family, he feels out of place in D.C. but is convinced that this internship will jumpstart his political future and provide an opportunity to "make a difference."

He quickly discovers that there are reasons that D.C. is referred to as the "swamp." His fellow-staffer, Ariel, gives him a mysterious message about contacting a girl named Caitlin if anything should happen to her. When she dies in an apparent drunk driving incident, Cameron is left with a lot of questions--and a dizzyingly fast cover-up by Representative Beck who is accused of having had an inappropriate relationship with Ariel. Who is speaking the truth and who is spinning public opinion? 

When he is contacted by a stranger who turns out to be Memo, an FBI agent, Cameron is both spooked and intrigued. Memo insists that Cameron is in a unique spot as an intern. He has "all the access but no profile" to investigate the apparent suicide of Branson, a pharmaceutical CEO. Cameron reluctantly agrees because of Memo's carrot--Cameron's father will receive a large landscaping bid that will set his business for life.

Cameron's research, interrupted by a romance with the Mexican ambassador's attractive daughter, leads him from one disturbing clue to another. Why did Branson commit suicide? How was his death related to Ariel's? Who was Caitlin and why did Ariel want him to contact her? Why did Ariel's mother (a junior congresswoman who has been assisted by Beck) say, "We all tell the stories we want to believe"? How is this all connected to Congressman Beck, who appears genuinely interested in him and concerned for his constituents? 

Cameron's slightly sarcastic voice is authentic for a rural teen experiencing D.C.'s subterranean train system as well as the inner workings of the political system. The life and death stakes make this a page turner (if you're reading the book) or keep you entertained on a long car trip. And by the way, you'll never guess the surprise ending!

Here is an audio snippet from John Kraft, the able and entertaining narrator: The Perfect Candidate.


To enter to win my copy of this debut YA book by Peter Stone, please leave me a comment by June 10. I'm giving it away in conjunction with the summer issue of Talking Story Celebrate Teens. Please leave your email address if you are new to my blog. 

And remember, "When you don't know who's watching you, you don't know what's being watched."

Monday, May 27, 2019

Emily Out of Focus: A Review and ARC Giveaway

I've reviewed two other middle grade books by Miriam Spitzer Franklin on this blog (Extraordinary and Call Me Sunflower) but Emily Out of Focus is special to me. Miriam and I were in a SCBWI critique group together for many years and I heard about her trip to China in 2006 to adopt their daughter. Emily Out of Focus (Sky Pony Press, 2019) draws from her family's experience in China. I am delighted to share this well-titled book with you.


From the opening pages of the book the reader gets a glimpse into what Emily wants:

-- to be a photojournalist like her grandmother,

and what she fears:

--not liking or being liked by her new little sister Mei Lin,

and what she wonders:

--why did her parents need another child and why wasn't she enough?

In order to follow her grandmother's career as a photojournalist, Emily decides to, 

a) bring along her grandmother's camera to China without her parents' permission so that,

b) she can take pictures and win a scholarship to the best photojournalism camp in the country. 

These threads weave throughout the book and--you guessed it--get her into trouble. 

Right off the plane, she meets a Chinese girl named Katherine who was adopted as a baby. Katherine's family are a part of Emily's group and have come to China to adopt another child. Although Emily has her doubts about Katherine, the two end up bonding over Katherine's secret: she plans to contact her birth mother while in China and needs Emily's help. 

Emily's days are filled with boring meetings over finalizing Mei Lin's adoption, secret adventures with Katherine, and learning to love and be loved by Mei Lin. 

Half-way through the book Mei Lin gets sick and Emily begins to realize how much she cares for her little sister. Another crucial scene is when the group visits Mei Lin's orphanage. Suddenly, Emily begins to see what it was like for Mei Lin and Katherine to be abandoned as babies. When the girls visit the park where Katherine's mother left her (a common practice), Emily watches her friend.
She sunk on the ground, running her hand over the grass, "This is where she left me," she said quietly. 
I just stood there, not knowing what to say. I reached for Nana's camera, but I froze as I looked at Katherine through the lens, the way she was staring down at the grass, a look in her eyes I'd never seen before. Despair. Overwhelming sadness,. Loss. Her eyes were filled with a kind of pain I would never know, the kind that comes from realizing your mother--the person who was supposed to love you and keep you safe--had abandoned you in the exact spot where you were standing.
I put my camera down. (pp. 153-54)

Emily Out of Focus is a realistic portrayal of a 12-year-old girl's coming to grips with a new adopted sibling. Combining Mei Lin's story with Katherine's brings a richness to the novel and will open middle grade reader's eyes to a world they might never have known.  


I am giving away my ARC to one fortunate reader. Leave me a comment by 9 AM on May 30 and will pick a winner. If you share this on social media or become a new follower of my blog, I'll give you two chances! Please tell me what you do and provide your email address if I don't already have it. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Sleeping Bear Press Part III: 2 Picture Books, 2 Easy Readers

Congratulations to Jo Lynn Worden who won a Skype visit with Cathy Briesacher.

As of today, Linda Phillips has accumulated almost fifty books including the twelve provided by Sleeping Bear Press for the Eastern European school. I don't know about you, but I'm thrilled with the thought that these books are the beginning of a classroom library!

Digger and Daisy

New readers (and ESL readers) will appreciate the repetitive language and simple story by Judy Young of two siblings on their first camping trip.  Digger is afraid that every noise he hears is a bear, but his older sister always has an answer to allay his fears. The tables turn when she wakes up at night convinced that there is a bear outside their tent. The fun ending will delight readers at the same time that they take pride in reading the book themselves. The lively illustrations are by Dana Sullivan. You'll find more Digger and Daisy books on the Sleeping Bear Press website.

Tip and Tucker: Road Trip

In this first book in a new series, young readers meet Tip and Tuckertwo very different hamsters with two different personalities. Tip is shy and fearful of new places and Tucker likes to explore. These two friends set off on a new adventure when Mr. Lopez purchases them at the pet store and then drops them in a place they've never seen before: a school. Although they're both a little unsure of what this means for the two of them, they do know they'll find out together. The series is written by Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion. The illustrator, Andre Ceolin, is familiar to me; he illustrated Hanukkah Hamster. Another great book for ESL readers.

Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? Footprints at the Shore

A great book for summer vacation, Susan Wood's book in lilting verse, Sandy Feet! Whose Feet? will engage young readers to investigate footprints in the sand. Lifelike illustrations by Steliyana Doneva (illustrator of An Extraordinary Ordinary Moth) compliment each page spread. Parents can use the glossary at the back of the book to play a matching game with young readers and explore the text further with their older siblings.  

Good Night, Library

Readers will recognize the rhyme and rhythm of Goodnight Moon in Denise Brennan-Nelson's third book in her Good Night series. (Another one of those books that will make writers slap their hands to their forehead and say, "Why didn't I think of that?") Written from the point of view of young patrons saying good night to their favorite part of the library, "Good night, characters/Close your pages/Good night, plots/And puppet stages," each spread celebrates the amazing world of libraries. Marco Bucci's bold artwork will make readers want to find a library just like this in their neighborhood. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Sleeping Bear Press Part II: Silly Picture Books and a Skype Giveaway

Congratulations to Gail Hurlburt who won the Skype visit with Sophia Gholz. 

As I mentioned last week, I'm donating the books I recently received from Sleeping Bear Press to an impoverished Eastern European classroom. As I handle each book, I picture it in the hands of happy children delighted to receive these additions to their classroom.

OINK-OINK! MOO! Cock-a-Doodle-Doo!

Board books are usually found in the hands of toddlers, but English language learners will enjoy this silly, simple story. Each animal in Jennifer Sattler's book, OINK-OINK! MOO is shown "saying" it's sound --even when doing something entirely un-dog, un-pig, or un-cat like. I can only imagine the delight a child will have in pointing out how silly these animals are acting! 

Chip and Curly: The Great Potato Race

We go from talking animals to...talking potatoes. Chip and Curly by Cathy Briesacher, with cute illustrations by Joshua Heinsz, is full of every potato pun you can imagine. Are you a secret coach potato watching from the sidelines? Or, are you more like a waffle fry who can't decide who to cheer for?  Check out this fun story that also demonstrates the power of friendship because, as Curly tells Chip at the end, "No matter how you slice it, we'd make a great team." What a fun book to share with a young reader --and also to demonstrate some of the idiosyncrasies of the English language!

Ollie on Stage!

Talking animals. Talking potatoes. What's next? Talking ogres--of course! Ollie on Stage by Keith Brockett and illustrated by Ashley King (with bright, silly pictures) is a story in verse about an ogre who decides to try out for a talent show. He attempts to dance, sing, and perform magic but whatever he tries, his humongous strength ruins his act. In the end, Ollie uses a talent he didn't know he had, saves the cast from doom and destruction, and proves that he really did belong on stage after all. This is a story about self-acceptance and hidden talent. It's fun thinking that these ESL readers will add "ogre" to their vocabulary!

Little Yellow Truck

Here's another personification story to add to your "To-Be-Read" pile, Little Yellow Truck by prolific author Eve Bunting. Adults as well as children have had experiences in which they've felt unimportant or left out. In this sweet story, Little Yellow Truck (personified nicely by illustrator Kevin Zimmer) is worried that the other trucks have important jobs to do when constructing a children's park--but he doesn't. He's thrilled when he discovers a special job that is perfect for a little truck like him. Young children will identify with Little Yellow's joy when he's picked to help complete the park. 


Once again, one of these authors has stepped up and offered a SKYPE (or Google Hangout) author visit. Even if you no longer have children in school, this is a great gift for your local school's library. Media specialists love talking up books! This time, Cathy Briesacher will "come" to one of your schools. Leave me a comment and your email address if you are new to my blog and I'll enter your name. Giveaway ends May 16. 


Monday, May 6, 2019

Sleeping Bear Press Part I: Four Non-Fiction Picture Books, One SKYPE Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won The Forgiving Kind from last week's blog.

As I've mentioned before, one of the pleasures of reviewing books is that books arrive on my doorstep--sometimes even without me asking for them! Recently, I received several new publications from Sleeping Bear Press and I'm happy to share my reviews with you. No book giveaways though--I'm giving these books to Linda Phillips to fill her suitcase as we spread literacy and literature around the world! But read on-- one of the authors, Sophia Golz, is donating a 15-minute Skype visit. By the way, not only will these books serve as ESL resources in an underprivileged Eastern European classroom, they will be fantastic curriculum resources in American preK-3rd grade classrooms.


Have you ever heard of Jadav Payeng? I hadn't until I read this informative, inspirational, and beautiful book, The Boy Who Grew a ForestSophia Gholz's debut picture book. 

As a boy, Jadav was upset that a nearby island in northeastern India was losing its trees. The island was eroding away into the river leaving hundreds of snakes without homes. In 1979, Jadav began planting bamboo. He brought seeds from neighboring villages and despite many odds, the forest became filled with wild animals and diverse vegetation. It grew from ten acres to 1360 acres--which is larger than 900 football fields! The lush illustrations by Kayla Harren show Jadav's toil as well as the joyful fruit of his labors. Gholz's End Notes include her inspiration for writing this book and a simple seed planting activity that children and their parents or teachers would enjoy. 


Here's another topic I haven't thought about much: dragonflies. Sheri Mabry Bestor's book, Soar High, Dragonfly! does double duty. The top lines in larger text appeal to young readers with simple descriptions of the dragonfly's life cycle. The bottom text (which sometimes is literally under water--very clever!) goes into great detail about the dragonfly's behavior, habitat, and metamorphosis. Jonny Lambert's illustrations reminded me of Eric Carle's vibrant palette. This book will appeal to children and adults of all ages. 


Fifty years ago Apollo 11 carried the first men to the moon. Like Soar High, DragonflyTHE FIRST MEN WHO WENT TO THE MOON is written on two different levels. Rhonda Gowler Greene's lovely verse will be read as a story while the reader points out how the illustrations enrich the text. Older children will appreciate the secondary text which provide more details about what occurred during the space mission. To be honest, I've never seen a picture book written in this type of rhyme, but it works! The last five spreads repeat the first two lines of each poem and act as a fitting, circular conclusion. The last spread gives more information about the astronauts and the mission. Scott Bundage is the same talented illustrator who provided colorful and realistic illustrations for A is For Astronaut.


MARTY'S MISSION by Judy Young is different than the three nonfiction books mentioned above. A part of Sleeping Bear Press's "Tales of Young Americans" series, this is a lengthier text about a young boy named Marty who tracked Apollo 11's voyage from his home in Guam. Marty and his family had moved to Guam for his father's job at the NASA tracking station. The night that the Apollo 11 was to splash down, the antenna got stuck. Marty is asked to perform a task that only a young person could do--fix the antenna. Based on the true story of ten-year-old Greg Force, a young American was instrumental in bringing the astronauts safely home. Readers who prefer learning via a true story rather than through an informational text, will enjoy MARTY'S MISSION. The life-like illustrations by David Miles amplify a text that both boys and girls (and their parents!) will enjoy. 


Sophia Golz is donating a 15-minute Skype visit to one fortunate classroom. Leave me a comment (with your email address please!) and I'll add your name to the hat. Giveaway ends May 9th. 


Stay tuned for reviews of some silly picture books from Sleeping Bear Press!

Linda and I are packing her suitcase!
Email her to find out how you can add your
picture books and chapter books to the suitcase.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Forgiving Kind: A Review and Audio Book Giveaway

Donna Everhart warned me that her newest book, The Forgiving Kind (Kensington, 2019) had some tough parts.

She was right. 

Like her previous book, The Road to Bittersweet, The Forgiving Kind  also features a young woman coming of age in rural North Carolina. The time is the 1950's and the place is 300 acres of Jones County--cotton territory. Although both books have young protagonists, the serious content of each novel lends themselves more to an adult rather than teen audience. 


Twelve-year-old Sonny Creech loves the land as much as her father and like him, has the ability to dowse water. Although her two brothers Ross (16) and Trent (14) work the farm alongside their father, Sonny's passion runs deepest and Donna Everhart brings this to life through a deep point of view showing Sonny as she runs through the soft mud, inhales the smells of the fields, and experiences the woods like an extension of herself. 

Tragedy strikes early in the book. Sonny father dies unexpectedly and her mother is "layered with sadness" as she and the children shoulder the burden of struggling to keep their cotton farm financially afloat. 

A wealthy neighbor, Frank Fowler, shows up and worms his way into the family by lending them money. From the start, Sonny distrusts him: "Mr. Fowler's work clothes were spotless and pressed. He was the type who lifted a finger only to say, do this, do that." Repeatedly Sonny observed that Mr. Fowler was nice to her mother, but spoke and acted as if she wasn’t there.

Before his sudden death, Sonny's father gave her his willow branch that he used to dowse water. Everhart describes it as, "Tugging on my lower leg muscles. The willow branch dipping to water. She couldn’t have pulled it up if she tried." The branch is a deep connection to her father but Mr. Fowler, and her peers at school make fun of her ability. When Sunny finds the burnt branch in the trash bin outside, Mr. Fowler denies his actions. 
Along the way, Mr. Fowler meets Sonny's close friend, Daniel. He reacts strongly to him and is verbally abusive. Sonny finds herself attracted to Daniel, but her attraction is not reciprocated. The two end up meeting secretly to avoid Mr. Fowler's fury.

Sonny worries about her mother not seeing Mr. Fowler's intentions: "I couldn't explain my worry anymore than I could explain how the dowsing stick worked." When they marry, Sonny's fears and unhappiness increase as she feels like her mother has betrayed her and the memory of their father. 

Through the use of deep point of view, the reader is privy to Sonny's anger, fear, conflicts, and pain. Sonny hears and sees the results of Mr. Fowler's abusing her mother. "Mama's life is getting eaten up." Her hatred towards Mr. Fowler grows when she realizes he and his friends are members of an evil white supremacist group. She and her brothers are forced to observe his gross mistreatment of Daniel and fear what might happen to any of them if they speak of it. Everhart paints a picture of a deeply disturbed antagonist that is gripping and unforgettable. Readers who are in an abusive relationship might resonate with how Sonny's mother tries to be the peacemaker and placate her new husband. 

Some readers will find the way in which Sonny's mother resolves her situation to be satisfactory and they may also be sympathetic to Daniel's plight as a homosexual. Although I thought that The Forgiving Kind is written extremely well, as a committed Christian I am uncomfortable with these aspects of this book. 

Donna was right. This is a tough book to read and digest. But a book worth reading, thinking, and talking about. 


I am giving away my Audio CD, which is narrated beautifully by Tiffany Morgan, courtesy of Tantor AudioLeave me a comment by May 2 and I'll enter your name in the giveaway. 

Here is an audio snippet from the book that will give you a flavor of the book and the narration. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Literacy Around the World -- Featuring Guest blogger, LInda Phillips

Congratulations to Dorothy Price for winning Mine. Yours. on my blog last week. 

Today, I welcome my close friend and writing buddy, Linda Phillips. Many of you know her through SCBWI-Carolinas but others of you have read about her on my blog. Either way, I expect you will enjoy this post about facilitating literacy around the world. Take it away, Linda!

In the past four months, I have traveled 32,365 miles, spanning three continents, four countries, and eleven classrooms.  It cost me zero dollars and only on a few occasions did I incur the slight inconvenience of a predawn or late night "flight." I never had to stand in a line or pass through security, and most of the time, the "connections" were smooth.  Oh, and I had the pleasure of bringing my two books, Crazy and Behind These Hands, into classrooms and talking about them at every stop.  In fact, the books were my ticket, and that's what I'm excited to tell you about.

Two years ago, I signed on to participate in World Read Aloud Day in February, but through my own cyber-ineptness, I dropped the ball and promptly forgot about it.  Last year when I received an email again reminding me about WRAD and Literacy Month, I paid attention and grew excited as I learned:

World Read Aloud Day is just one piece of Literacy Month (February) which is part of Skype in the Classroom, a Microsoft in Education program.

Authors can become a guest speaker by completing a profile. This enables teachers from around the world to invite them to Skype with their students or faculty.  For more information see

Authors can set their own schedule of availability here:

Skype in the Classroom team members will help authors create a Skype Lesson if they send a request to

For a sample lesson, visit my page

By the time I finally connected to this fascinating opportunity through Microsoft in Education, I had missed an offer for free training sessions in January. I muddled through the registration process on my own. After nearly two years, I finally put the whole picture together and had my first Skype in the Classroom experience in Dubai on January 31, 2019.  

I have travelled abroad extensively, but nothing matches this virtual trip to places such as Bahrain, New Delhi, Ontario, Alberta, Albania, as well as stops across America. Each visit has been unique. While I have sometimes encountered poor Skype connectivity and limited English, I most often experienced appreciation that I bothered to "drop in" from so far away. 

One visit to a small, under-developed corner of eastern Europe touched me the most. It was by far the least prosperous looking school that I visited, so much so that I interrupted my spiel to begin asking the teacher questions.  Did they have pleasure books to read?  Was there a library? Were the books she was trying to use to teach English age-appropriate and adequate?  She answered "no" to every question.  I told her I was going to see what I could do about getting some books to her. After we disconnected, the stark image of the tiny, cramped room with a rusty-looking pipe in the corner--most likely the heating system--brought tears to my eyes. 

Here's the serendipitous part. I have a friend who is a missionary in a larger town a couple hours' drive from that tiny school. When I described my Skype visit to him, he put me in touch with another missionary in that same village.  And when I contacted her, she told me she had been this teacher's walking partner for four years! Through further conversations with both missionaries, I learned that the concept of lending libraries doesn't exist in this corner of the world. In addition, the tightly controlled corrupt politics almost guarantees that a box of books would likely be held up for payment in the hundreds of dollars at the post office. 

The idea of a country where children have no access to books is driving me crazy, and I'm not going to let a little political corruption stop me. When I learned that the missionaries will both be in the United States this summer, we came up with a viable plan to load a couple of old suitcases for them to return with.  Now I'm determined to fill those suitcases, and that's where you come in.  If you have new or gently used books, preferably picture and chapbooks, that you would like to donate, please email me and I will figure out a way to obtain them.

Linda is packing her first suitcase!

Obviously, my world-wide journey through Skype in the Classroom has made a difference in my life as a writer, but more importantly, as a citizen of the global community. No one can argue the merits of getting your books around the globe at no cost without leaving your house.  And if you aren't a writer but love books, you already know the joy of sharing them with others.    

Linda Vigen Phillips has a passion for realistic fiction that offers hope and encouragement to young adults and families facing mental or physical health crises.  Her debut book, Crazy, depicts the struggles of a teenage girl in the 1960’s coming to terms with her mother’s bipolar disorder. Like Crazy, Behind These Hands is a Young Adult verse novel. In its starred review Kirkus said, “Free verse evokes the myriad emotions brought up by the story's numerous well-balanced themes. The result is a richly woven, unforgettable symphony of feelings and words.”    

Monday, April 15, 2019

Mine. Yours. A Nearly Wordless Picture Book Review, Challenge, and Giveaway

Congratulations to Mary Jane Coward who won Daddy, Can You See the Moon? from last week's blog.


Marsha Diane Arnold is back with another new picture book. This one is practically wordless! But yet an important story is told through three words and Qin Leng's exquisite, detailed illustrations. 

Mine. Yours. (Kids Can Press, 2019)  follows Little Panda in his exploration of what belongs to him and what belongs to others.  Important lessons about boundaries and possessions are told as he is "sternly" instructed by Big Panda and the other animals in the forest. When his beloved kite becomes a source of conflict among the animals, Big Panda teaches them all a sweet lesson about "Ours". This book will be useful in the Pre-K through first grade classrooms as a great conversation-starter about ownership and sharing. 

Join me in this interview with Marsha as she shares insights into writing this almost wordless picture book.


Carol: It’s my understanding that publishers don’t want illustrator notes from the author, they just want the text. So, how did you “get away” with breaking the rules?

MARSHA: It’s true that many editors prefer manuscripts without art notes. It’s also true that most of the writers in my writer’s group use art notes as needed. I think one reason I see more art notes on mine and other writers’ manuscripts is because picture book texts are much shorter than they were when I began writing. My first picture books had no art notes at all, but they were also 1200 to 1500 words long. Today, most of my manuscripts are less than 500 words so visual cues are sometimes helpful.

There are always exceptions to the “norm.” Of course, for a minimal text manuscript like Mine. Yours. art notes are necessary. There are only 3 different words, 25 words in all. As in any story, the writer determines the setting, the characters, and the plot. The art notes were written and revised and revised, just as any manuscript would be.

Here’s an example from my manuscript:
[Two Yellow-throated Martens make orchid flower crowns/necklaces on top of a rock.
Kite dips down entangling several strings of flowers in its tail, trailing them into the sky.]

[A Golden Snub-nosed Monkey plays Chinese Jianzi with a shuttlecock (feathercock) in the
branches of a tree. Kite whips up, the tail snatching the shuttlecocks.]
[As the wind whips and dips more wildly, Little Panda tries to untangle the items in kite’s
tail.  Suddenly, he too is lifted off the ground. He grips the string as he and kite fly off the
page, exiting right.]

CAROL: Was your agent involved or did you negotiate it yourself?

MARSHA: My wonderful agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, negotiates everything for me. I’m so grateful to have her.

However, I was lucky to meet someone from Kids Can Press at ALA a few years ago. She was the one who opened the door for me to send my manuscripts. Kids Can Press is a Canadian publisher and most often works with Canadian writers and illustrators.

CAROL: What was your inspiration for Mine. Yours.?  

Mine. Yours. came about in a very different way from most of my books. It was meant to be a follow-up to my picture book Lost. Found., but that didn’t work out. I rewrote the story with different animals. It took awhile to decide on the setting in China and Asian animals, but I’m so happy that’s where the story landed, just as I am happy the book landed with Kids Can Press.

Check out more of Marsha's picture books on her blog. Parents and educators, click on this link for a downloadable pdf of two activities you can do with your children. (Make sure you click on "View File" in the blue box on the top left. It takes a few minutes to load.)

NOTE AND CHALLENGE: I recently watched a television ad for an investment company. It used about 25 words to tell the story of a man's life--from birth to caring for his invalid mother. The viewer got the message! Lots of ads tell stories. Can you create an almost wordless story? What images would you use to tell it?


Leave a comment and your email address (if you are new to my blog) to enter this giveaway. A winner will be chosen on April 18. Continental US only. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Daddy, Can You See the Moon? A Review and Picture Book Giveaway

Congratulations to Vijaya Bodach who won ONE WEEK OF YOU from last week's blog and to Gretchen Griffith who won A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS. 

In Daddy Can You See the Moon? (Spork, 2019) a well-written and beautifully illustrated picture book, author, Gayle Krause, sensitively portrays one of war’s harsh realities: a soldier’s devastating injury. 

Krause's rhymes and Carlos de la Garza's illustrations, demonstrate three constants in the story: the moon, love, and courage. Before he leaves to serve, the father says: 

Though I'll be gone 
I have a way 
For us to share 
Part of each day.
At bedtime,  
Look up at the moon 
And I will too. 
I'll be home soon. 

While his father is away, the little boy counts the days and six full moons pass. Until the day his mother hears alarming news:

She sets down her coffee mug and wraps me in a giant hug.
I wipe her tears, and ask, "What's wrong?"
She answers "Son, you must be strong."
Daddy stepped on unsafe ground. His legs were hurt when he was found.

That night the boy looks out his window and fearfully wonders, 
“Daddy...can you see the moon 
Marching in a dream platoon?”
You're marking time at Soldier's Gate 
But I hope that you can wait. 
cause Baby, Ricky, Mom and me, 
We need you in our family.
His father comes home and the little boy helps his father rehabilitate. Courage—is shown, not told--through the text and illustrations. 

Reminiscent of one of my favorite picture books, I’ll Love you Forever, the book goes full circle ending with the boy having grown up and now a soldier looking at the moon. He holds his father’s picture while his father—back home—gazes at the moon too. 

See Kathleen Temean's blog for more information on Gayle's book journey. 


To celebrate her book birthday tomorrow, April 9th, and in conjunction with the Month of the Military Child, Gayle is giving away an autographed copy of Daddy, Can You See the Moon? Leave me a comment by April 11 (with your email address if you are new to my blog) and I'll enter your name. If you have a family member in the military or plan to give this to a child whose parent is in the military, I'll enter your name twice. 

Two Free Writing Workshops!

If you're in the Greenville, SC area and you want to find out how to take your ideas for stories or articles from brainstorming to publi...