Monday, March 26, 2018

Who Can? by Charles Ghigna

Charles Ghigna, also known as Father Goose, brings a winning concept to the world of board books. WHO CAN?  (Orca Book Publishers, March  2018) incorporates simple rhyme and bright, colorful illustrations by Vlasta Van Kampen that will capture the young reader's attention. 

This book will engage and entertain the parent, caregiver, or older sibling who reads the book aloud. Books that become favorites demand to be read over and over again. A toddler will be charmed by the bright pictures; the older reader won't tire of reading the word game puzzles.

Each spread features a sound-it-out riddle with an animal hiding on the next page. Here are two of my favorites:

This is Charles' third board book with Orca Publishers. Click here for the entire list that includes two picture books. Like First Times and many of his other books, his granddaughter, Charlotte Rose, helped inspire this clever book. Charles got the idea when they were playing word games and creating riddles. 

Sorry! No giveaway this time. I'm saving this one for my next grand baby--and for his three-year-old sister to "read" to him!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Run to the Light by Laura King Edwards: Cover Reveal and Giveaway

Congratulations to Donna Earnhardt who won a copy of OOPHAR THE BLUE from last week's blog.

Run to the Light 
“I cried all the time back in 2006, when we learned Taylor has infantile Batten disease. Somewhere along the way, my life before Batten disease dropped out of sight in the rear-view mirror. I cried less and less. Mostly, I stayed angry. I’m still angry, which is good in a way, because it makes me want to fight like hell. Sadness doesn’t get me anywhere. Lately, I’m feeling worn down, so the sadness is back. When I feel it creep into the corners of my eyes, I run if possible. I love to run for many reasons, one of which is that it makes me feel powerful. Each time my ruined feet and ankles pound against the pavement, I beat back the tide. Mostly, it’s working. I cry very little, but when I do—it’s epic.”
Laura King Edwards


After graduating from college, Laura King Edwards has it all: a great job in marketing, a loving family, a new husband, and a house in her hometown of Charlotte, where she can watch her seven-year- old sister Taylor grow up. But one month after her wedding, Edwards and her family receive shocking news: Taylor has Batten disease. A rare, fatal, genetic disease that will cause Taylor to go blind, suffer seizures, and lose the ability to walk and talk. There is no cure. Edwards thought she’d get to watch her baby sister grow up, but instead she’ll get to watch her die.
Unwilling to take “there is no cure” for an answer, Edwards founds a charity with family and friends, Taylor’s Tale, to save children with the disease. Meanwhile, Taylor starts running with Girls on the Run, completing her first 5K race blind with the help of a sighted guide. Inspired, Edwards, a lifelong runner, begins running in half marathons to raise money and awareness. And to run away from the pain. 
Taylor’s Tale becomes the world leader in the fight against Taylor’s form of Batten disease, but the charity can’t work quickly enough to save Taylor. Stripped of her faith, Edwards falls into a dark despair. But Taylor’s unwavering courage in the face of certain death gives Edwards a renewed sense of purpose to turn her family’s tragedy into an opportunity—to ensure others won’t have to suffer, as her sister has suffered.  

Run to the Light is Edwards’s inspiring account of how she found the courage to face indescribable loss, and of what it means to really believe. 


Can you please share a little about Taylor and your journey?

I was 16 when Taylor was born. I already had an 11-year-old brother and didn’t want anything to do with a baby sister. But the moment I met Taylor, I fell in love. 

My sister was beautiful, energetic, smart and healthy — perfect in every way. When I was in college, I used to come home from Chapel Hill on the weekends to spend time with her. But when she was about 7, she started losing her vision and struggling in school. When Taylor was diagnosed with infantile Batten disease my world was shattered. But for the next decade-plus, Taylor’s resiliency inspired me to fight like a bulldog to save her life and those of others like her. 



Tell us about your memoir, Run to the Light

I wrote hundreds of short stories before I studied fiction writing in college, but I never planned to write a memoir. In 2006, I was a recent graduate working on a young adult novel when Taylor was diagnosed with Batten disease. My once-healthy sister lost her vision, and her ability to walk, talk, and swallow food. She suffers from seizures and will lose her life at a young age. Yet Taylor always showed the rest of us how to be brave.

Not long after the diagnosis, Taylor’s Tale become the world’s leading charity in the fight against infantile Batten disease, championing historic legislation and groundbreaking, potentially lifesaving research. Despite our success, I’ve struggled at times to accept the fact that I still have to watch my little sister die. 

I wrote Run to the Light after going through a particularly rough time. In 2013, as Taylor fell deeper into the rabbit hole, I lost my will to move forward or my ability to believe in anything good. Then one day, I realized that to survive, I had to learn to “see” the world like Taylor, who never faced her illness with anything less than courage. 

For five months, I trained to become a “blind” runner. That fall, I returned to the same course where my sister ran her first race and completed the half marathon – blindfolded. 

Run to the Light isn’t about Batten disease. It isn’t even about running. Instead, Run to the Light is about how to believe, even if “believe” doesn’t mean what you once thought. It’s about turning a loss into a legacy. 

I wrote this book as a love letter to my little sister and to raise awareness of Batten disease. But I hope it also serves as a testament to the strength of the human spirit. I hope it helps readers find the courage to face whatever they’re fighting in their own lives.

How did running blindfolded help you write the book? 

Before I ran blindfolded, I was at such a low point that I wasn’t just worried about my sister’s survival — I was also worried about my own. It was difficult to wake up each day and find joy or even interest in anything when I knew my once vibrant, healthy sister was dying. 

When I ran “blind,” I had to rely much more on all of my other senses — hearing, touch, smell and even taste (when I ran blindfolded, I could tell a storm was coming by the taste of the breeze). This new perspective helped me recognize the good in a bad situation, too. 

Running blindfolded gave me the will to survive and energized me to capture and share my sister’s amazing story beyond blog posts, social media and public talks. Not long after the race ended, I knew I wanted to write this book. 

Do you have any recommendations to other writers who think about writing a story that is close to their heart? 

If you feel called to share your personal story, don’t hesitate. Focus on getting the words on paper rather than worrying about where the project is headed or if other people will want to read it. True stories have a life of their own, sometimes even more than fictional ones. Let go of all of your inhibitions, and just write.  

Laura and Taylor at their brother's wedding, 2017

Now for the drum roll.... here is the cover!

Photo by Rusty Williams.
Rusty took the picture on a side street
in Myers Park off Queens Road West, the site of one of the last scenes in the book.


Run to the Light is coming out November, 2018. I'll be reviewing Laura's book on my blog in the fall. Leave your name and email address and I'll start a giveaway list now. Leave it again when I review the book and your name will be entered twice. 


Monday, March 12, 2018

You Heard it Here First: OOTHAR THE BLUE by Brandon Reese and a Giveaway!

Congratulations to Linda Phillips who won the ebook copy of Rebecca Petruck's new book, BOY BITES BUG.

You know how I love sharing fellow writers good news--particularly for those who are debut authors. When I read on the SCBWI-Carolinas Pals group that Brandon Reese's first picture book was coming out in May (Lion Forge) I knew this was a story I wanted to share here. Since Brandon is the author/illustrator--you get to hear about his publishing journey AND see some of his great illustrations!

CAROL: What was the inspiration for OOTHAR THE BLUE? I love his name! How did you come up with it?

BRANDON: As with most of my stories, Oothar started out with a sketch. I keep a sketchbook and try to draw in it everyday. If I’m lucky, those drawings become the seeds of a story. 

To be honest, I’m not really sure how the name Oothar came about! I wanted something fantastical and Scandinavian sounding and Oothar just popped into my head.

CAROL: This is your debut picture book, but you have illustrated others. Can you share about how you went from illustrator to illustrator/writer? 

BRANDON: Being an illustrator/writer has always been the goal. I knew I needed to strengthen my writing. So I worked on it by regularly attending SCBWI conferences and just making myself work through a story. 

CAROL: Tell us more about your path to publication. 

BRANDON: I drew constantly as a kid. My mom read somewhere that if you wanted to foster creativity in your child you shouldn’t give them coloring books. Instead you should give them blank pieces of paper to draw and color on. So, blank sheets of paper were never in short supply!

I went to the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale where I took some art classes but not a lot. The focus was on graphic design. After graduating I eventually got a job art directing and designing a small children’s magazine. I would assign myself illustration jobs for the magazine. It’s there where I honed my illustration skills... or at least started to. 

OOTHAR with Fettle the Wizard
CAROL: What role did SCBWI have in your life?

BRANDON: SCBWI is a great organization. I wish I had joined years ago! It wasn’t until after attending my first conference that I started to get some traction in the publishing world. 

CAROL: What role has your critique group played in your development as an author/illustrator?

BRANDON: The most beneficial thing I’ve done to help my writing is join a critique group. You know right away if something is working by the reactions. Nothing is better than hearing a critique partner giggle their way through your manuscript. Well, a humorous book, that is! I suppose it would be a bit of a nightmare if a reader is laughing their way through a serious project. Illustrating and writing are mostly solitary endeavors. It gets lonely. It’s great to have a group of artists who understand your struggles and cheer your successes. 

Brandon created his artwork using digital painting in Adobe Photoshop
CAROL: What was the process of getting your publisher?

BRANDON: Connecting with Lion Forge and ultimately selling Oothar to them was a bit of a surprise. I had some down time and I was looking for comic book illustration work. I worked up a mock Oothar cover and sent it to a list of publishers I found online. Andrea Colvin, the executive editor at Lion Forge, wrote back right away and said that unfortunately she didn’t have any illustration work at the moment but wanted to know if I had any manuscripts she could read. 

I’m still thinking she wants comic book or graphic novel stuff, so I sent her three stories I thought would translate well to that format (Oothar being one). It wasn’t until she wrote back to say she loved Oothar and wanted to take it to an acquisitions meeting that I found out she was looking for picture books. So I quickly sketched up some extra sample art for her to take to the meeting.
The poster Brandon sent to publishers.

CAROL: When did you get your agent? Did you query several before signing?

BRANDON: I signed with Jennifer Mattson from Andrea Brown Literary in February. I still have that new client smell! I queried maybe 15 other agents. I had other offers but I ultimately felt Jennifer was the best fit for me.

CAROL: What are you hoping your young readers will take away from OOTHAR?

BRANDON: Feeling blue or depressed is a normal emotion. It is an indicator of something askew in our lives. If something isn’t bringing you happiness anymore, you can make a change!

Remember what I said last week? One way we support authors is by preordering their books. Click on over to Amazon and preorder OOTHAR now!

To enter the giveaway for your copy of OOTHAR, please leave a comment along with your email address if you are new to my blog. Share this on social media (please tell me what you do) or become a new follower of my blog and I'll enter your name twice. Winner will be chosen on March 16.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Boy Bites Bug: A Review and an E-Book Giveaway!

Congratulations to Rosi Hollinbeck who won BACKFIELD BOYS from last week's blog. Rosi is my California counterpoint since she reviews and gives away books too. You might want to follow her blog!

Many of my faithful blog followers have read about how Rebecca Petruck has mentored me while I've written Half-Truths. She's guided me through countless revisions with an amazing talent to see the forest and tell me which trees need to be felled.

Rebeca can do this, because she's a gifted author. (Here's my review of her first middle grade book,  Steering Toward Normal.)

Now I have the privilege of introducing her second book, BOY BITES BUG (Abrams, May, 2018)

Although you might look at this amazing cover and fun title and think this is simply a humorous book for boys. But I can assure you that the story takes the reader on a much deeper journey than that.  And of course, girls will enjoy it too!


Seventh grader Will Nolan has a problem. In fact, he has more than one. Stinkbugs have invaded the school library "bobbling like weather-worn boats on a calm sea." (p. 5) His best friend, Darryl, decides to squash them using Will's copy of Wrestling for Dummies. 

Knowing the stench that would produce, the new kid, Eloy, intervenes with, 
"Are you crazy?!" 
"No one asked you, cholo," Darryl snapped back.
Will inhaled sharply. It felt like the world went into slo-mo. (p.6)

Will is caught off guard. There are other Hispanics in their Minnesota school, but Darryl's attitude makes Will uncomfortable. Things go from bad to worse when the boys start daring each other to eat a stinkbug. When Darryl responds with,  
"Me? No way. Dare the Mexican. I've seen stuff on TV--they eat bugs all the time." 
"Dude, I'm from Rochester," Eloy said. 
Will didn't say anything. His tongue was frozen in shock at hearing the friend he'd known since kindergarten talk like that. The Mexican?... He knew better than to talk trash about people because of where they came from. (pp. 9-10)
Will takes the heat in order not to look like a prejudiced redneck, tosses the stinkbug into his mouth, and "Bug Boy" is born.

But not without serious fall-out.

Rebecca skillfully portrays Will's journey of self-discovery and figuring out who his friends are in the events that follow like falling dominoes. This serious theme is against the backdrop of Will's development as a wrestler and the humorous interplay and drama of boy vs. boy. 

In this snippet, you'll glimpse how Rebecca accurately captures the boy's voices and Will's internalization. This scene takes place after Simon, one of Will's friends, anonymously sends him 1000 crickets.
Back at school Monday morning, Will unloaded books from his backpack. 
And freed half a dozen crickets.
He banged his forehead on a locker door, repeatedly.
"Bug Boy strikes again!" Simon said. He nudged a cricket that hadn't taken off yet and hooted when it arced through the air. He poked into Will's backpack. "What are you doing with the others?"
Will froze, head still pressed against the metal lockers, cold seeping into his brain. He turned slowly. "So it was you?"
 "A thousand crickets? Of course it was me! So what will you do with them?"
Will imagined "nudging" Simon and watching him arc through the air. "Why didn't you warn me?"
"Are you kidding? I wish I could have seen your face. A thousand crickets are funny!"
"Not when they escaped in my house and I had to kill them!" 
"What did you do now, losers?" Darryl leaned against a locker, acting extra casual.
Will darted an instinctive glance toward Eloy's locker, but he wasn't around, which was strange but for the moment kind of OK.
Ever since Darryl had stomped off to the library last week, he and Will had been weird together but trying to act normal until they got back to normal. Calling one another losers was an ordinary thing, a razz just because.
But after killing all those crickets, Will felt like a loser for real. He tried to shrug it off. (p.116-118) 
As I mentioned, Rebecca has helped me dig deeper into Half-Truths. As I read BUG, I realized that Will's journey into discovering his own subtle prejudices was similar to what Rebecca encouraged me to probe about Kate Dinsmore, my protagonist.

With the risk of including a spoiler, towards the end of the book, Will has the following "Aha!" moment:

Eating grasshoppers wasn't exactly part of Eloy's day-to-day life, but it wasn't weird, either. It was even ordinary when he visited his family in Mexico. But Will had treated it like it was weird and worse than weird, a trick to get back at someone. 
Eloy had put up with Will a lot longer than Will would have if the situation was reversed. The only person who had done anyone a favor was Eloy. He'd given Will the benefit of the doubt, trying to make him see. (p.198-9)

As I teach my writing students, figurative language, or Muscle Words, are the engines that drive good writing. Here are three of my favorites. Can you guess what the first one describes?

Brown-and-beige banded antennae twitched at Will from a too-small head resting on extra-wide shoulders. It looked like a miniature football player in pads. Speckles like dimples on a golf ball dotted its brown body and thick outer wings. (p.9)
The day had started so normal. But it had gotten chased around the mat and pinned like a lightweight taken down by a heavyweight. (p. 30)  (Note: I love how Rebecca used the wrestling theme to highlight what Will was feeling.)
When Mr. Taylor took attendance, Will felt as if someone were pulling his belly button through his back. (p.136) 
There are tons more examples in the book--you'll just have to get a copy to discover them yourself!

For fans of STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, the ending of BUG ties neatly back into Rebecca's first book. And since a book on entomophagy would be incomplete without recipes, Rebecca has included three that are from The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook  by David George Gordon.


I asked Rebecca why she chose wrestling as the boys' sport. She responded: "I fell into wrestling simply because I wanted to do something I don't see as often as other sports in books, and then it ended up being perfect for the story. Wrestling is all about the mindabout committing to those six minutesYou can lose a match before ever stepping on the mat if you don't believe in your skills or yourself. It's a wonderful metaphor for Will's journey because he's made a commitment to not only Eloy but also to himself and the kind of person he wants to be, and he has to see it through. On one hand, it is him alone on the mat, but he also has the support of his coaches and teammates so he's never alone, and that's true for Will off the mat, too."


One way we support authors is by pre-ordering their books. You can find BOY BITES BUG on Amazon or on Bulk Book Store if you want to order it for your classroom. It would make a great classroom resource to open up conversations about prejudice as well as ways to feed the planet in the future!


I can't give away my arc because the book is "on tour" and goes to the next reader. 
Rebecca encouraged all readers to write
comments in the arc. What a great idea!

But, Rebecca is giving away an e-copy. Leave a comment by March 9 and I'll enter your name. Share this on social media (and tell me what you did) and I'll enter your name twice. If you are new to my blog--welcome!--and please leave your email address.


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