Thursday, October 14, 2021

What's in Your Pocket? A Picture Book Review, A Mini Author Interview, and A Giveaway!

Nine curious children who grew up to become scientists. Nine adults who discovered new products, new species, and new ideas. These nine individuals are the backbone of Heather Montgomery's latest book, What's In Your Pocket?  (Charlesbridge, 2021). Illustrated by Maribel Lechuga, this STEM book will be an asset to any K-3 classroom.


When you explore the great outdoors and find something strange and wonderful, do you put it in your pocket?   
Scientists collect specimens so they can observe the details of natural artifacts.

Immediately, young readers will be drawn into the opening pages of this book. The young girl who is pictured on the cover, is seen stooping down, examining a rock, and then pocketing it. 

As she walks off, the reader turns the page and sees a field where young George is examining a seedpod.  He must have put it in his pocket because,

The section ends with a repeated refrain,
Nobody knew that George would grow up to be the famous scientist George Washington Carver....He discovered almost three hundred new uses for the peanut including soap, glue, and fuel...
In this charming way, children are also introduced to William Beebe who held eggs in his mouth while climbing down a tree... and became the first person to see glowing fish and other deep-sea animals alive in their habitat; to Valerie Jane who put wiggly worms under her pillow...and became the famous primatologist, Jane Goodall.

Readers meet Charles Darwin (naturalist, biologist), Meg Lowman (biologist, ecologist), Diego Cisneros-Heredia (naturalist and scientist),

Mary Anning (paleontologist), Bonnie Lei (conservation biologist), and Maria Sibylla Merian (naturalist and scientific illustrator).

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the little girl "narrator" as she explores and collects elements from nature, and the nine mini-biographies of scientists who loved the outdoors as children. The text is very child-friendly and I can practically hear Heather Montgomery speaking directly to the reader!  

The last two pages are a wonderful spread of the animals seen in the book along with the little girl marveling at one of her discoveries. The text reads:

Throughout history, kids have found all
kinds of strange and wonderful things.

They've created collections.
They've made discoveries.
They've changed the world of science.

Every discovery started with just one thing.
One little thing that could fit in a pocket.

What's in your pocket?

Can't you just picture children checking what's inside their pockets after that last line?


I'm a back matter junkie and What's In Your Pocket is an example of one of the best. Four and a half pages are filled with "More About These (Grown-Up) Kids. One and a half pages are delightful notes from the illustrator and author. Readers hear about how nature inspired both Maribel Lechuga and Heather Montgomery and how they researched this book. (Artists and writers: Get ready to be impressed!) I particularly like how Heather included that she respects nature, that she respects the people she lives with by "making sure my artifacts are clean and (mostly) stink-free, and she respects herself. "I don't put my hands where my eyes can't see (like under a rock or log). Field guides and a bibliography complete the book.


CAROL: This is a longer picture book than most.  How did you and Charlesbridge determine the length? 

HEATHER: Originally, I paced this manuscript to be 32 pages; fortunately, in an early discussion about the project, editor Alyssa Pusey suggested expanding it to 40 pages. At that point in 2018, she was looking for longer picture books. I was delighted. It allowed two full spreads for most of the scientists, gave extra space for backmatter, and made room for more of that luscious art.

CAROL: Closely tied to that first question—how did you pick which scientists to focus on? Were there others you wanted to feature who didn’t make it into the book?

HEATHER: Finding just the right stories was the challenge. Researching full biographies, I developed a list of scientists and stories. But those biographies did not showcase enough diversity. I crossed names off my list to make room for others. And that required some creative research (like a Google survey sent to scientists around the world). Not only that, but the anecdotes had to convey the right mix of sweetness and skills. It took careful selection and sequencing to illustrate skill-building.

CAROL: I love the structure of the book where you show the scientist as a child and then the reader turns the page and finds out who they became as an adult. Did you indicate that was how you conceived the book when you submitted the manuscript?

HEATHER: The pause of the page turn can be so powerful. From early on in this project I wanted to make use of the page turn to let readers predict what kind of scientist the young collector might become. It's like an entire biography condensed into two spreads. When I submitted my draft, I used numbers in brackets (i.e. [Page 4-5]) to suggest where page turns might fall. Not every editor wants that, so research before you submit! 


Leave a comment by Saturday, October 16 at 6 PM to enter the giveaway. For an extra chance, start following my blog and let me know that you did. U.S. postal addresses only. IF YOU ARE NEW TO MY BLOG, PLEASE LEAVE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS!


Monday, October 11, 2021


 If you're like me and think that middle grade books are some of the best books available and if you like reading about history and ancient mysteries--then Candace Fleming's newest book, THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY (Scholastic, 2021) is for you--or for a young reader in your life.

What reader can resist this opening that is printed in white on a black page:

"It was said...the boy king's tomb was cursed."

Those ominous words are followed by six curses associated with opening the tomb of Tutankhamun. 

What kind of book is this?

Quickly, Candace Fleming shows you exactly what this well-researched book is: an exploration of how ancient Egyptians buried their kings and the ten years that it took to discover and clear out the tomb. From embalming procedures to the innumerable possessions that the deceased would need in the after life, to Carter's meticulous documentation, Fleming included details about it all. 

But don't get me wrong. This is not my boring junior high textbook with lists of dates and facts to be memorized for a test. The Curse of the Mummy reads like a mystery as the reader is lured into wanting to know, "Who were the tomb robbers who carried off golden jewelry, jars of perfume, figurines, mummies, and other priceless treasures?" "Did they ever get caught?" "Were they scared of the mummy's curse?" 

Tutankhamun's tomb (lower left) in the Valley of the Kings,
near Luxor (ancient Thebes), Egypt.

In 1906, 50 years after the Antiquities Service was created, an Englishman named Lord Carnarvon invested huge amounts of money to excavate portions of the Valley of the Kings. The evening after his first "real find"--a mummified cat--Carnarvon witnessed domestic chaos as his staff were convinced that the spirit of the dead cat had come back to haunt him. In the second "It was said..." section the reader may get goosebumps wondering along with Carnarvon, "If a cat could do this, imagine what the spirit of an angry pharaoh might do."


                                    Egyptian mummies of animals in the British Museum. 

Throughout the book, details about the excavation are interspersed with black pages (all written in white ink) that begin with "It was said..."  These pages tell stories about the curses (and rumors of curses) that were popular during the time period of the preceding chapters.

"Why did people get sick and die soon after they were near the pyramids?" "Why were some people tormented with Egyptian visions after looking inside the tomb's lid?"

Questions like these propel the reader through the book. 

Using wonderfully descriptive language, Fleming allows readers to hear conversations between Carnarvon and Howard Carter, the now-famous archeologist who found King Tutankhamun's tomb and catalogued every item in it.  We can smell the scent of oils and perfumes that still lingered in the air inside the tomb and feel the incredible amazement when Carter and his team looked upon treasures that had been buried for over 3,000 years. 


Photograph taken in 1922 of 
Carter looking at the sarcophagus. 

                                         King Tut's sarcophagus

I follow several writing blogs and heard about The Curse of the Mummy on the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. After reading about Candace's visit to King Tutankhamun's tomb and the description of the book, I was hooked! 

In addition to her comprehensive chronology of the excavation itself and the cultural context of archeological digs in Egypt, I was interested in Fleming's opinions about how these ancient artifacts were plundered. First, by grave robbers; second by European treasure hunters who carted away invaluable objects as small as jewelry and as large as monuments--to be sold or placed in museums. And then thirdly, by Carter himself. 

This is her description of November 11, 1925 when Carter and his team unwrapped the mummy:

No one present seemed to care that removing the mummy's bandages meant permanently destroying it. No one seemed concerned that ruling through the boy king's human remains was indecent or a sacrilege. Even Carter, who took great care in conserving the tomb's objects, saw no reason why the mummy shouldn't be unwrapped. (p. 198) 


So, what about the curses? Was Carter cursed as a result of opening the tomb and the way in which he handled King Tutankhamun's remains?

Of course, they weren't true. But, the superstition and myths surrounding finding the child-king make for a good story. And, there's a lot of lessons to be learned in this fast-paced book. 


No giveaway this time; I'm saving this book for my granddaughter who at six-years-old has begun learning about ancient Egypt!

Congratulations to Danielle Hammelef who added another book to her picture book collection by winning LET'S POP, POP POPCORN from last week's blog. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Let's Pop, Pop, Popcorn! A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

Today my 9-year-old granddaughter, Libbie, is helping me review books. Here's her first review of a recent Sleeping Bear Press picture book. 

 Guest Reviewer Libbie K.


Let's Pop, Pop, Popcorn! by Cynthia Schumerth, is a good book for little kids showing them the process of making popcorn. It includes how to plant, water, and grow corn and all the work that goes into it. 

I think kids will also like this book's clever rhymes. 

The illustrations, by Mary Reaves Uhles, are also very well done and show exactly how to grow corn and make popcorn.

This is an easy book to read and it makes me want to get up, pop some buttered popcorn, and eat it! You can always sit down and eat popcorn while you are reading this fun book (just make sure not to get buttery fingers on the book! 🍿 😂). This book was very good and I recommend it to 3-6 year olds. Or just about any age!


Did you know there are four types of corn? If you read the STEM  information and activities you will learn the differences between dent corn, flint corn, sweet corn, and popcorn, as well as the layers inside each kernel. Readers will discover what old maids are and have fun with two different popcorn activities. And like Libbie suggested, there's always good eating when someone says, Let's Pop, Pop, Popcorn!

                            I found this cute reading of Let's POP, POP, POPCORN on youtube!


Leave a comment by 6 PM on October 8 to enter this giveaway. Tell Libbie your favorite popcorn story and I'll enter your name twice! Continental U.S. addresses only.

Please leave your email address if you are new to my blog!!  


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

WOOF! and SCURRY! Two "The Truth About" Books, a Mini-Author Interview, and 2 Giveaways!

They say that titles should draw a reader into a book--and these two titles got my attention, how about yours?


WOOF! is Annette Whipple's second book in her "Truth About" series published by Reycraft Books

In 32 packed pages the author covers a gamut of information about these much loved pets. Readers in kindergarten through fourth grade will enjoy the pictures, accessible text, and art illustrations throughout the book. 

Woof! is set up to answer the questions which kids typically ask:

"Why are puppies born with closed eyes?" (The answer includes information on development in the mother's womb.)

"Do dogs have feelings?" (The answer is accompanied by pictures which portray dogs emotions.)

"How do dogs communicate?" (Surprise: there is more than one way to bark!)

And one I wouldn't have thought to ask:

There are no off-limit questions in this book. Why dogs sniff embarrassing body parts, chew shoes, and even if dogs are just tamed wolves!

WOOF! also includes how to greet a dog, how to help dogs, a DIY tug toy kids can make, and a glossary. This would be a great addition to any library or as a gift to the dog-loving child in your life.



True confession. I am NOT a fan of spiders. As a kid I wouldn't even look at a picture of one! (Any other folks with arachnophobia out there?) 

Like WOOF!, SCURRY! also focuses on answering children's common questions. Starting with "What are spiders?" and "Where do spiders live?" Illustrated spiders amplify the text in "Spider Spin" sidebars.

Your budding entomologist will be happy to report why spiders are hairy, what they eat, how they hunt their prey, how males find females, how females lay eggs, and how they grow. Back matter includes a spider web challenge, a glossary, and a list of spider families and species.

I'd rather meet a dog than a spider. But, maybe if I'd had this book when I was a child, I wouldn't want to automatically squish one when it crawls across my bathroom floor!


CAROL: Did you pick these topics and query Reycraft with a proposal or did you write the first and then get contracted for the others? 

ANNETTE: I pitched the first book, Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls with just the manuscript. Once we were ready to turn it into a series, I shared ideas with my editor. He discussed my ideas with the editorial team about moving forward. From there, they decided on dogs and spiders! Then I received the contract for the second and third books in The Truth About series with Reycraft Books.

CAROL: Any reason you picked these three topics? 

ANNETTE: I originally chose owls because they absolutely fascinate me. They're an amazing animal and I wanted everyone to know how incredible they are. Since each book includes so many photographs, we knew that the series needed to continue with highly photogenic animals--and ones with lots of species for variation. Dogs are a great choice for the series because we think we know them, but really, there's a lot for people like me to learn about dogs. Spiders were also a great choice because they're so misunderstood! 

CAROL: Will there be more books? 

ANNETTE: Next year two more books will be added to The Truth About series. Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs releases in spring 2022. Then Meow! The Truth About Cats comes out fall 2022. I've already seen the frog book in design and it's toad-ally awesome! This fall I should be able to show my newsletter subscribers the cover for Ribbit! I can't wait!

Be sure to check out Annette's website for printables, a link to her newsletter, and information for teachers and writers. Both WOOF! and SCURRY! will make great curriculum resources for lower elementary schools. 


Comment on this post by 6 PM on October 1 to enter the giveaway. PLEASE leave your email address when you comment if you are new to my blog or else I can't include your name in the giveaway. Share this post on social media and tell me what you did and I'll put your name in twice. Continental U.S. addresses only. 


Congratulations to Barbara Younger who won Our Michigan! and to Rosie Russell who won Lulu & Rocky in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Two Destinations, Two Picture Books, Two Reviews, and Two Giveaways

Today I have two more lovely picture books courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press. If you're hankering to get a glimpse into Michigan or the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, you're in the right spot.



Our Michigan! We Love the Seasons is written and illustrated by Gijsbert Van Frankenhuzen, who has illustrated 34 books for Sleeping Bear Press-- many about Michigan--Sleeping Bear's home state. Each season is shown through the author's paintings accompanied by brief, sensory descriptions.

Spring in Michigan is walking near a pond and hearing croaking frogs, running through daisy meadows, and...

Summer in Michigan is seagulls at the water's edge,

riding a ferryboat,

and counting stars in the summer night.

Autumn in Michigan is... 

"hearing dry leaves scrunch under foot," and watching the beautiful sunset "over green-gold hills."

Winter is foxes tracking through snow, "smelling the smoke from a wood fire," and...


Lulu & Rocky in Rocky Mountain National Park

My blog readers will probably recognize Lulu and Rocky, stars of this adorable series written by Barbara Joose and illustrated by Renee Graef. In this fifth book, the two fox-boxing cousins explore Rocky Mountain National Park along with their sidekick Pufferson. (I blogged about their trip to Indianapolis here, and to Milwaukee here, ) If you are new to this series, each book includes a map showing where the characters visit. The stories include interesting facts which will inform children (and adults!). 

Every Lulu and Rocky book begin with an invitation from Aunt Fancy. Although we never get to meet her, she's a silent planner behind every trip. This is the image before the story begins:
"A purple envelope arrives...'Are you ready for an adventure?'" Aunt Fancy writes. Immediately, Rocky starts packing.

He meets his cousin Lulu and their guide Henry at the Stanley Hotel. The next day they hike, find a squabbit (a type of squirrel that looks like a rabbit because of its long ears) and set up camp. The next day they hit the trail again, this time on horses.

Their adventure includes learning about the Junior Rangers program, singing around a campfire with the coyotes, and 

They watch bighorn sheep nibble on grass, applaud a shooting star show, and "bump over switchbacks and hairpin turns in the thrills-and chills roller-coaster ride of a lifetime!

At the Alpine Visitor Center they buy souvenirs and leave the park how they found it--which is what Junior Rangers pledge to do.

The book ends with the author's signature finale. As the friends say goodbye to all they've seen and done, they "shout goodbye to the Rockies..." 

Which is such a wonderful way to end their adventure.


Both books have additional information at the end of the book. 
Our Michigan! has two pages of craft activities. Lulu and Rocky in Rocky Mountain National Park includes two pages of definitions. 


If you prefer one book over the other, please let me know in the comments. And PLEASE leave your email address if you are new to my blog. Continental U.S. addresses only. The giveaway ends Friday, September 24 at 6 PM, so enter now!

Congratulations to Gail Hurlburt who won WITHOUT SEPARATION from last week's blog.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez- Picture Book Biography and Giveaway

I am happy to be part of the Calkins Creek blog tour for Larry Dane Brimner's new informational book, Without Separation


Since I'm interested in writing nonfiction picture books, I've taken several webinars recently with The Writing Barn. (BTW, they're affordable and a fantastic way to learn a new genre!). The last one I took was with Liz Garton Scanlon on "Openings and Endings".

According to Scanlon, the opening of the book is a "promise to the reader. This is a story about a problem and we’re going to get to the end and it’ll be okay." After looking at several picture book beginnings, she showed how the ending brings the story full circle and fulfills that initial promise. In fact, if you only read the beginning and the ending of a picture book, you can guess what you might find in the middle. (Try it sometime with a picture book off your shelf. You'll be amazed at how this works!)

Why am I explaining all of this? Because that's what I found in Without Separation.


On January 8, 1931, Roberto was happy to go back to Lemon Grove Grammar School outside San Diego California.

His friends were happy to see him, but he and his Mexican friends were not welcomed by the principal. He told them that their teachers were waiting for them in the Mexican school on Olive Street.

As it turns out, in the summer of 1930, the board of trustees of the school district had met and complained about the Mexican children. They claimed that they held back the white students, were unclean, and a danger to the health of others. A decision was made to build a separate school--but no one told the Mexican parents.

Roberto and his friends refused to go to the new school which they called la caballeriza--the barnyard.  Roberto was a good student and didn't want to attend a separate school. His family agreed. The Mexican families met and recognized that the new school was meant to segregate--not to provide English language instruction. 

Roberto was chosen to be the lead plaintiff in the case against the school district. Roberto was perfect for the job: he had been turned away from Lemon Grove, was a good student, and fluent in English. His case could prove that the school board's justification for a new school was false. 

On March 11, 1931 a Supreme Court Justice of California ruled: "The Lemon Grove School District had no power to set up a separate school for Mexican children." 

Roberto had won! Not only was this a victory for him, but also for all the Mexican and Mexican American children within the school district. 

The story comes full circle. At the end, all are welcomed.

As I mentioned in the introduction, Larry Brimner fulfilled his promise to the reader. There is a problem that gets solved and in the end...everything is okay. 


This book can be used in 2-4th grade classrooms as classes discuss immigration, prejudice, and segregation. The Author's Note is geared towards older readers and goes into extensive detail about Roberto's case and the historical and geographical context of the court decision. In particular, the author mentioned that this ruling was cited as a precedent before the US Supreme Court made its historical landmark decision of 1954 known as the Brown v. Board of education of Topeka (Kansas).

The acrylic illustrations by Maya Gonzalez are vivid and colorful in keeping with Mexican art and Mexican folk art.


Leave a comment by 6 PM on Friday, September 17 to enter. PLEASE leave your email address if you are new to my blog. In honor of National Hispanic American Heritage Month, if you are Hispanic let me know and I'll enter your name twice.


Congratulations to Margo Jantzi, a librarian who took advantage of having two chances to win last week. She won June Almeida: Virus Detective from last week's blog.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

June Almeida, Virus Detective: A Nonfiction Picture Book Review and Giveaway

When author Suzanne Slade read about June Almeida in National Geographic in April, 2020, many of us were still figuring out how the coronavirus pandemic would impact our lives. Suzanne put aside the book she was working on and spent two intense weeks (after serious research and interviewing June's daughter Dr. Joyce Almeida), to complete a decent first draft. She contacted two publishers with whom she had previously worked. She wanted to know who could do the fastest turn-around since she was hoping to get the book out in one year. Sleeping Bear Press was the most excited about the topic and were prepared to "move mountains" to release it in one year-- which they did. In early 2021, Suzanne's book about the woman who discovered the first human coronavirus was published by Sleeping Bear Press. What a timely book!


As a child, June loved school and discovering new things in science. 

She also loved her baby brother Harry. When she was ten he died of a serious illness. As she grew up, June never forgot him and the illness that took him away at such a young age. 

Apart from studying biology and finding out about cells and their jobs, she also enjoyed photographing nature. 

To help support her family, June left school at 16 and obtained a job at a local hospital. She gained skills in using a microscope. Several years later she used these skills when she started working with a powerful electron microscope. 

Photo from the Washington Post January 2021
but courtesy of Julie Almeida.

Instead of using light, this huge microscope shot a beam of electrons at the sample being examined. It recored how the electrons acted when they hit the sample and then created a detailed picture...The microscope's photos were helpful. But it was hard to tell which tiny blobs were viruses and which were cells....June was determined to get better pictures.
Using her photography and electron microscope skills, June blasted antibodies and virus cells with an electron beam. "The antibodies "crowded around the virus--just as she'd hoped." 

Her excellent pictures made her famous in the scientific world. A London scientist sent her a mysterious virus no one in his lab could identify. 

June used a technique called negative staining and spotted the mystery virus!

Photo courtesy Julie Almeida and A.J. Tyrell.

Years earlier she'd seen two other viruses that looked like this virus, but researchers rejected her paper saying she couldn't have possibly found a new virus.

But in 1964 she did. She and the scientists named it Coronavirus. 


This inspirational curriculum resource will be a welcome addition to home and classroom libraries in grades 1-4. I love that this STEM book ends with a poem which June wrote, (with apologies to poet William Blake, the author of "The Tyger").
Virus, Virus, shining bright,
in the phosphotungstic night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fivefold symmetry.
The author explains that "the first two lines refer to the phosphotungstic acid June used to turn the liquid surrounding virus particles black, making it easier to see bright white virus particles. The last line describes a virus particle with five identical sections."

As you can tell from the illustrations and the book trailer below, illustrator Elisa Paganelli and Sleeping Bear Press did a great job paying attention to details. No wonder Suzanne said, "I'm incredibly happy with how the book turned out."


Back matter includes more information bout June, her use of the electron microscope, a timeline, and a bibliography. 


Leave me a comment (with your email address if you are new to my blog) by 5 PM September 10. If you are a teacher, homeschool educator, or media specialist please let me know and I'll enter your name twice!

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

WRITE2IGNITE PRESENTS: A Young Adult Master Class with Tessa Emily Hall

For those of you who have followed my blog for several years, you know that Write2Ignite is dear to my heart. I've served on their planning team for several years and administer their blog (no surprise there, right?). Our mission is to encourage and teach Christian writers who want to share their faith through literature. Whether that's through explicitly Christian books or books that reflect Biblical values, our commitment is strong: to present quality, clean, books for children and young adults that will inspire, educate, and entertain. 

Since COVID, we exchanged our annual conferences for semi-annual virtual master classes. This year, our class is on September 18 and will be taught by writer and editor, Tessa Hall.

For only $69.00, writers will spend the day learning from Tessa and practicing the principles Tessa has presented. Here's the schedule:

In addition, during lunch I will interview Tiffany Slack, head librarian at Matthews Christian Library. She will tell us about the books she'd like to add to her collection. 

If you are a Christian who longs to write books which impact teens, please join us! Registration information can be found here

By the way, our blog has provided excellent young adult resources this summer. Here are some posts that might interest you:

Recommended YA Books and Series

Perceive the Trends in the Young Adult Market 

Purple Moon by Tessa Hall: Book Review 

Should Writers be Hopeful about the State of YA Christian Fiction? 

Writing Christian Fiction in Young Adult Literature

Writing Clean YA Fantasy

I hope you can join us for a day that will inform and encourage you!

And just in case you have a manuscript that you would like critiqued, here is a special offer for you:

And here are two short movies in which I interviewed teens in my church to find out what they liked and didn't like in YA literature.


Congratulations to California book blogger Rosi Hollinbeck who won A CAPE! and to Cathy Ogren who won DON'T CALL ME FUZZYBUTT. I still have stacks of books to share with you--so more coming soon!

What's in Your Pocket? A Picture Book Review, A Mini Author Interview, and A Giveaway!

Nine curious children who grew up to become scientists. Nine adults who discovered new products, new species, and new ideas. These nine indi...