Monday, July 15, 2019

What's New with Write2Ignite 2019

Congratulations to Jana Leah Burkhardt who won The Perfect Candidate and Sandra Warren who won The Next to the Last Mistake from recent blog giveaways.

After presenting at Write2Ignite 2018, I decided to volunteer my services to this South Carolina based organization dedicated to training Christian writers to provide quality literature for children and young adults. Since then, I've become their official blogmeister and am presenting three teen workshops at the annual conference on September 20-21 at North Greenville University. I'm turning this blog over to my fellow team members who have created several informational videos. Feel free to share this blog with a friend or teen who aspires to be a writer! The Early Bird discount ends August 31.  

Teen/Tween Writing Contest

In this video, Director Deborah DiCiantis, talks about a GREAT contest for teens and tweens. The winner will receive a scholarship to the conference! Check this out for more details.

Make the Most of Your Conference Meeting

Here is Diane Buie on making the most of your 15 minute meeting at a writer's conference:

A Good Critique Experience is Precious

Brenda Covert talks about the critique opportunities at the conference:

Other Conference Benefits

Jasmine Covert, Brenda's daughter, shares some of the benefits teens receive from attending:

Linda Phillips Helps Announce our Bring a Friend Discount!

This discount has been extended through the entire registration period. You and your friend will each receive $15.00 off when you register

And Some Writing Tips From Yours Truly 

Of course, I had to add my own video to the Write2Ignite collection. Here I am sharing five writing tips particularly for new writers. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Projekt 1065: A Review And TALKING STORY Giveaways

Congratulations to Janet Davis-Castro who won HER FEARLESS RUN on last week's blog. 

No giveaway this week, but I hope you'll check out one of Alan Gratz's wonderful books. 

From the Author's Note:
Project 1065 is a work of fiction set against the very real backdrop of Nazi Germany in World War II. Kristallnacht, the Gestapo, the SRD, the concentration camps, the Hitler Youth, the Edelweiss Pirates, the "Aryan" education in German schools--all of this real. Everything Adolf Hitler says to Michael and the other boys in this book is an actual quote from Hitler; I gathered them together from various speeches and interviews so that I wasn't putting words in Hitler's mouth. Adolf Hitler said enough crazy, awful things that I didn't need to make up anything new for him. p.307
I have the privilege of knowing Alan Gratz, the North Carolina author of this middle grade book for boys and girls. That last sentence is pure Gratz--I can hear his earnest voice saying those exact words.

As readers of my blog know, this isn't my first review of one of Alan's well-researched and well-written pieces of historical fiction. Here is my review of Prisoner B-3087 and one of Refugee. Since Alan's latest book, Grenade takes place in Okinawa in World War II, you can see the connection. Hands down, Alan knows how to connect young readers to the facts and realities of war.


"It's hard to smile when you're having dinner with Nazis." (p.1) This attention-grabbing opening line says a lot. The speaker, thirteen-year-old Michael O'Shaunessey lives a life of pretend. The son of the Irish ambassador to Germany, he is in a precarious position: his parents are spies for the Allies and his uncanny ability to memorize words, numbers, and diagrams is one of their secret tools.

Michael's spy work is under the cover of being a member of the SRD, the junior group that will eventually join the Hitler Youth. It's a role he despises but one that grants him opportunities to access information which he passes along to his parents. He is in class with forty other members of the junior Hitler Youth; much of their time is taken up in learning Nazi propaganda and training to die for Germany.


Fritz Bendler, a new scrawny boy at school who Michael befriends; Michael's teacher, Herr Professor Doktor Major Melcher; and Simon Cohen, a Jewish airman who the O'Shaunessey's hide in the Irish embassy, are all important secondary characters. Although Simon teaches Michael important lessons about facing his fears and being willing to make sacrifices, I'm going to share some excerpts about Fritz and Melcher which help define Michael's journey.

Early in the book Michael provides an observation that is as much about himself, as it is about his teacher:

Even though I wasn't his biggest fan, I had a soft spot for the old codger. I'd gotten the impression he didn't love the Nazis. It was nothing Melcher had said or done--anything that explicit would have gotten him hauled off to a concentration camp or reenlisted in the army, even though he was too old to fight again. it was just the way he talked so lovingly about the way things used to be. I felt he was a kindred spirit. A fellow faker. (p. 29)

Later on, his classmates are taken aback when Doktor Melcher points out that Hitler, and the other Nazi leaders do not fit the blonde, blue-eyed, straight-nosed Aryan ideal.

You could almost hear the classroom gasp. Was Herr Professor Doktor Major Melcher joking? It had to be a joke. It was no secret that the Führer didn't match the Aryan ideal that he'd gone to war to defend, but no one talked about it. To speak of it in public was like saying the emperor wasn't wearing any clothes. It just wasn't done. But Melcher wasn't joking. I could tell, and so could the other boys. I felt as though I could hear the heartbeats of every boy in the room but mine slow to a cool, calculated thrum. They were trained to be on the lookout for dissenters, people who didn't agree with the Nazi party, tuned in like the special radios that Nazis sold that only picked up German radio stations.
.....If he wasn't careful he was going to end up in a concentration camp. (pp. 103-104)

Meanwhile, Fritz is frequently picked on because of his short stature. Michael decides to teach Fritz how to defend himself and the other boys set up a boxing match between the two friends. To his surprise, Fritz doesn't hold back and tries to clobber him. The scene graphically shows Michael's inner turmoil as well as the brutality of the fight. 

I savaged him, fueling each new punch with some new hatred. I hated Hitler for starting this war. I hated the Hitler Youth for their constant bullying. I hated Fritz for making me hit him again. I hated myself for hitting him. 
When at last I stopped, Fritz lay motionless on the ground, completely and totally beaten. All around us was utter silence. I looked up, eyes afire, chest heaving, arms tensed for another fight. Horst took a step back in fear. I had managed to scare even the monsters, and when you can scare monsters, you can be sure you've become one yourself (p. 128).

As the story progresses, the SRD boys--led by Fritz--torture and capture Doktor Melcher while the police stand by. Michael realizes that the police were scared of a group of 13-year-olds who could turn them over to the Gestapo. He is in agony--but chooses not to say anything in order to carry out his vital plan: steal the plans for Projekt 1065 from Fritz's house.
In a moment of painful analysis, Michael finally realizes why Fritz has become cruel and calculating.

Fritz stood over me, a look of fierce cruelty in his knitted eye-brows and suddenly I understood. Why Fritz had wanted me to teach him how to fight. Why he'd been so desperate to join the SRD. All his life, Fritz had been the boy with the bloody nose sitting here on the ground, looking up at the bully who'd beaten him. 
He'd joined the SRD so he could become the bully himself. Just like little Hitler. (p. 236-7)


If you haven't already realized it, I believe this book is a must-read for middle school students, teenagers, and adults. It is suspenseful, full of tension and page-turning action. At many points Michael is forced to make difficult choices, to sacrifice beliefs and people he loves, and to conquer his own fears. Although it is a frightening book because of the subject matter, the material is not gratuitously graphic for the sake of displaying violence. It is unfortunately, an accurate description of what life was like for these young boys who were brainwashed and forced to assume responsibilities that even adult solders would abhor.

My father was forced to flee Germany in 1939. He remembered the Hitler Youth rallying outside his parents' apartment in Nuremberg and that one boy betrayed his parents. "Either you were in the Hitler Youth--or else," he told me. 



The summer issue of Talking Story, Celebrating Young Adults is now live. Our expert and illustrators are young adults and we're giving away four wonderful books: The Perfect Candidate, The Next to the Last Mistake, When Worlds Collide and Don't Blame the Reckless.  Giveaway ends July 11th and don't forget to leave your email address if you are new to my blog. Also, please let me know which book you're interested in too. 

Monday, July 1, 2019

Her Fearless Run: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won Gayle Krause's Once Upon a Twisted Tale on last week's blog. As she's found out, it pays to enter twice!!

Not only do I give away books, but I enter giveaway contests myself. Recently I won Her Fearless Run (Page Books, 2019) by Kim Chafee and illustrated by Ellen Rooney from Kathy Temean's blog. (By the way, if you're interested in writing or illustrating for children, this is a blog you want to follow!) I'm pleased to share this book with you and the young runners in your life. 


Ever since she was a young girl, Kathrine Switzer loved to run. As a twelve-year-old, she would mark her laps with a piece of chalk on a tree along her route. 

The mailman stared. The milkman asked if she was okay. Because in 1959, it was strange to see a girl running.
Girls weren't supposed to sweat. Girls weren't supposed to compete. They were too weak, too fragile, for sports. That's what most people thought.
But not Kathrine.

Kathrine loved running so much that when she went to college and didn't find a women's running team, she joined the men's team. She learned about the Boston Marathon and decided she wanted to train for it. When she told the volunteer team manager and her coach, Arnie Briggs, her dream he replied, "Women can't do that kind of distance. They can't run that long."

"But I run six or even ten miles with you every night!" Kathrine shot back.

Determined to prove that she could complete the marathon, Kathrine ran despite bitter cold, snowbanks, and swollen toes. She even had to cut triangle wedges out of her sneakers to get them on her feet.

On April 19, 1967, 741 runners registered (a record!) and Kathrine was the only woman with an official number. Even though a race official attempted to push her out of the race, Kathrine ran on. 

For a moment, Kathrine wondered if she should quit. She still had twenty-four miles to go.
Suddenly, finishing wasn't just about her. If she quit now, no one would believe that a woman could run a marathon. People would still say women weren't supposed to sweat. Women weren't supposed to complete. They were too weak too fragile. They shouldn't be allowed to run.
When she rounded the final corner and crossed the finish line, reporters surrounded her and asked what made her run the Boston Marathon.

Her answer was simple. "I like to run. Women deserve to run too."


I am giving away this inspirational picture book to one fortunate individual. Share this blog on social media or become a new follower of my blog and I'll enter your name twice. Make sure you tell me what you have done in the comments and leave me your email address if you are new to my blog.

Teachers: You can download a classroom guide for use in grades 1-6. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Once Upon a Twisted Tale- A Review and Giveaway

Congratulations to Deborah Allmand who won Among the Imposters from last week's blog.

This week I bring you a new book from Gayle Krause, no stranger to my blog. This time, her creativity explodes in wacky, poetic, fractured fairy tales. Ever think of combining Jack and the Beanstalk with The Emperor's New Clothes? Or, what would happen if a princess was turned into a frog as a part of the Pied Piper's march through the streets? How about imagining the Big Bad Wolf falling into Little Hen's kitchen? Gayle Krause has thought of all of these and more as characters from one fairy tale end up in something silly, fun, and unexpected. 


I think the best way to review this collection is to provide teasers from three different tales. 

The Emperor's Bodyguard

Jack fled down the beanstalk
and crashed into the King,
whose royal backside was exposed.
He didn’t wear a thing.

The naked King was trembling.
He only wore his crown.
“Turn back,” yelled Jack. “I need to hack
the giant’s beanstalk down.”

“I need the big guy’s help,” he cried.
“I’ll give him a reward
to catch the thieves who hoodwinked me.
This cannot be ignored.

FracturedA Story-time Pantoum

What makes this a fractured tale of “fairy?”
Spouting poetry, free verse, and rhyme.
Eavesdropping children must be wary,
as I weave these tales at story-time.

Spouting poetry, free verse and, rhyme.
Frogs are Kings, and a princess seeks a quest.
As I weave these tales at story time.
Answers to riddles must be guessed….

A Rat’s Life   

A piper with a flute
led the pesky
rats through town,
down to the river,
where all but
one would drown.
The rat that
survived the deadly
rat parade
was turned into a coachman

for a pretty cinder maid….

Gayle used different types of poems in this collection -- from hip hop to free verse to pantoum-- and readers will be exposed to a variety of poetry forms. With lively illustrations by Caroline O' Neal, this book will delight young readers and the parents or caretakers who read it aloud. Middle school language arts teachers could compare these tales with the original fairy tales and encourage their students to come up with their own fractured fairy tale. 


To enter this giveaway for an autographed copy of Once Upon a Twisted Tale (Clear Fork Publishing, 2019), please leave me a comment by June 27. Make sure you leave me your email address if you are new to this blog. If you want two chances, leave your idea for a twisted fairy tale in the comment box. If Cinderella met the Big Bad Wolf what would the outcome be? Gayle will send an autographed copy of the book to the winner and we promise not to steal your idea. (But I can't vouch for the Gingerbread Man. You never know what he might do!)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Among the Imposters: An Audio Book Review and Giveaway

Among the Imposters is the second book in the Shadow Children series by Margaret Haddix. Although I hadn't read the first book, Among the Hidden, Ms. Haddix's reputation is legendary and when this book was available through Recorded Books, I was glad for the opportunity to review it. 

As expected from an award-winning author, the reader is quickly acquainted with Luke Garner's history and enough information to make this second book understandable and enjoyable. Although classified as young adult, upper level middle grade readers will also enjoy this dystopian novel.


The only link Luke Garner has to his parents or his brothers, Matthew and Mark, or to his best friend Jen who recently died, is his real name. But it is no longer safe to be Luke. It is only safe to be Lee Grant.

Luke is a shadow child. Just like all third children, his parents hid him from the Population Police so that he would survive. (The population laws came about because of a famine and not enough food for everyone.) His goal in coming out of hiding is to help other third children although it is unclear to him how he will accomplish this. 

Now, at twelve-years-old, Jen's father risked his own career to obtain an identity for him and bring Luke to Hendrix School for boys. Never having been off his family's farm, Luke feels out of place and is frightened that the teachers or the other boys will discover he is not who he is pretending to be and that he is an imposter.

Inside the school he is the victim of bullying but also experiences a great deal of anonymity as the teachers pay little attention to him. Gradually he realizes that many of the boys are autistic or agoraphobic and he wonders what Hendrix School is really about--which he figures out by the end.

An accidental encounter with a door leads him outdoors. Remembering the woods and how his parents grew food, he decides to plant a garden. The garden is a great source of pleasure and gives him unexpected confidence.

Eventually, Luke recognizes that, everyone at the school is a chess piece and most of the boys are pawns. Life gets complicated when he meets other third children and he wonders if Hendrix is a place for all of them to hide. His antagonist tries to befriend him but then Luke discovers he is a traitor. Power shifts and double crossing throughout the novel keeps readers guessing--who are the imposters?

Hendrix writes in a close third person POV and Luke's "What if?" questions lead the narrative. In a world where nothing is as it seems, Luke gains voice and agency throughout the book. He determines, "He was not a pawn to be moved across a chess board according to other people's plan. " In a satisfactory manner, the ending allows Luke to reach his goal of helping other third children and makes readers want to read the sequel. What happens next? 

The book raises important questions about population control, the role of the government, loyalty, friendships, and dishonesty. I checked on Goodreads and there are many reviewers (both teens and adults) who loved the book. One reviewer found that the Shadow Children series became more and more violent as the books progressed. Therefore, I recommend reading/or listening to it yourself before passing it along to a young reader. In my judgement, this particular novel was not violent.

The book is ably narrated by John Kroft. Here is a link to the audio snippet. 


Please leave me a comment by June 21 along with your email address (if you are new to my blog) to enter this contest.  

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. 

What's New with Write2Ignite 2019

Congratulations to Jana Leah Burkhardt who won The Perfect Candidate and Sandra Warren who won The Next to the Last Mistake from recent blog...