Wednesday, October 28, 2020

LITTLE THIEF! CHOTA CHOR! A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

 Congratulations to Cathy Ogren who won Lulu and Rocky in Indianapolis from last week's blog.

It is my honor to present Vijaya Bodach's new picture book, LITTLE THIEF! CHOTA CHOR! (Reycraft, 2020) Vijaya is an active member of SCBWI-Carolinas and a great supporter of all things literary. Last year I reviewed her YA book, BOUND


True to "in media res," the book opens with Anjali startled awake by a strange noise. She decides to investigate.

She lifts the mosquito net and tries in vain to wake her mother and warn her. The floor is cooler than usual--the door must have been opened! Someone has entered their home!  Despite her fears, Anjali determines she will find the thief. 

Details of her home alert the reader to its distinctive nature: "Scrambling into the kitchen she saw that jars of pickles, chutneys, and jams stood silently on the shelves. Burlap sacks containing flour, lentils, and rice were tied closed."

When Anjali checks the front room, she is dismayed to find that her favorite sparkly skirt, some coins, and her mother's treasured silver comb are gone.


Anjali screams that a thief has invaded their home and quickly gathers the help of her mother, the neighbors, and the night watchman.

While her neighbors scour the street, Anjali looks for clues inside her home. She discovers that her smooth, pretty river rocks are missing and mistakenly thinks that the thief is a little girl who would treasure rocks like she does. 

Convinced that the thief is a frightened little girl, Anjali runs to her favorite hideout--the peepal tree. There she finds her sparkly skirt and is peppered by a few stones. When she looks up, she discovers the culprit!

Quick-witted, Anjali uses a banana to lure the monkey down.

With the mystery solved and her treasures returned, Anjali slips "into sweet dreams of her Chota Chor and their many adventures to come."

Nayantara Surendranath's vibrant illustrations magnify Vijaya's text. I loved how explosive they are and show Anjali's emotions as well as the events and the setting. Did you catch the bananas on Anjali's pajamas? Great artistic touch.

Coincidentally, while I was preparing this review I was in the middle of Daniel David Wallace's Plot Summit. I listened to Joseph Nassise describe how to use the character's emotional journey to connect to the reader. Although Nassise used novels as examples, LITTLE THIEF! CHOTA CHOR! fit his points too: A little girl has a problem that she reacts to emotionally, she tries and fails to resolve that problem, but ultimately finds the final piece to the puzzle and solves the mystery.

I also listened to Michelle Schusterman's talk about writing middle-grade mysteries. I think the rocks are a great example of a red herring

Make sure you read Vijaya's backstory behind writing this terrific multi-cultural picture book!


One fortunate reader will win this book. Please leave me a comment by October 30 along with your email address if you are new to my blog. One of you has been leaving comments from "Unknown." Please leave your name and contact information to be entered in the giveaway. United States addresses only. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Books for Young Readers: Tip and Tucker-Paw Painters, Lulu & Rocky in Indianapolis and a Giveaway

 Congratulations to Jana Leah who won the ARC of Just Between Sam and Me from last week's blog.


Tip and Tucker--Paw Painters

Tip and Tucker first appeared on my blog last year when they were on a Road Trip. Written by Ann Ingalls and Sue Lowell Gallion and illustrated by Andre Ceolin, this series for readers in K-1 features the adventures of two classroom hamsters, Tip and Tucker. 

Tucker is adventuresome, Tip is a bit shy--but put the two of them together and they are fast friends! 

When Mr. Lopez announces that it is Art Week, his students and hamsters are interested. What will they create with marbles and boxes?

Tip and Tucker soon find out that marbles can create paintings and boxes can become a rocket.  When the students leave for recess, hamster exploration begins!

Pretty soon Tip and Tucker's rocket tips over and the hamsters escape. They discover the paint and mayhem ensues.

The students come back to find interesting artwork all over their classroom. Tip and Tucker are cleaned up and put back into their cage for a nap. When they wake up, they discover that they are artists too!


Lulu & Rocky in Indianapolis is the second book in this series I have reviewed. Here's the first one: Lulu & Rocky in Milwaukee. The series is written by Barbara Joosse and illustrated by Renee Graef. 

Lulu and Rocky greet one another, jump into a hot rod car, and then drive by a museum with a dinosaur crashing through the walls!

They explore the Children's Museum of Indianapolis and then go to Sports Legends.

The pair tour the Eiteljorg Museum and ride a clip-clop stagecoach.

Lulu and Rocky eat cookies that look just like them at the Illinois Street Food Emporium, read books at Kids Ink, and finally get to the "brickyard"--the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where Lulu catches racecar fever!

Their last stop is Monument Circle where "Miss Victory" holds a golden light to welcome everyone. 

The pair "wave goodbye to Indianapolis, and Indianapolis waves back."

This book is complete with a traveler's guide to the highlights of the city. This is the third book in the series and next up is Lulu & Rocky in Rocky Mountain National Park.


Since one of my granddaughters is just learning to read, Tip and Tucker landed on her bookshelf. I am giving away Lulu and Rocky. To enter, please leave a comment by October 23 (with your email address if you are new to my blog). 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

National Bullying Month and a Conversation with Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell, authors of "Just Between Sam and Me"

Congratulations to Lois Bartholomew who won Bionic Beasts from last week's blog. 

As promised in the last post about Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell's collaborative process, this is the third blog leading up to the release of their book, Just Between Sam and Me on December 2. Since October is National Bullying Prevention Month, Cat, Rosie, and I decided to talk about bullying, which is a major theme in their middle-grade novel.


Carol: I understand Olivia is your protagonist and the ME in your story of Just Between Sam and Me. Tell us more about Sam and his relationship with Olivia.

Cat: Sam is Olivia’s cat! He’s a big orange tabby. Tough on the outside but a soft heart for his Human. 


Shy Olivia is ashamed to let people know she’s being taunted by a mean girl clique at school. Instead, she pours out her problems by writing to Sam in her journal, who’s usually purring beside Olivia as she writes.



Rosie: We want to show children that talking about bullying with a trusted adult or friend (or even writing in a journal to a cat!) helps them feel they’re not alone and often leads them to stop bullying behaviors.


Carol: Got it! Olivia’s journal is what stays “between” Sam and Me in your title! Why did you decide to add that epistolary element to your story?

Cat: We wanted readers to dig deeper into our main character’s head through her journaling. And honestly, the 13 journal entries are sprinkled with kid-speak, different fonts, and funky graphics to break up lines of text. More fun for kids and less overwhelming. 


                           Just Between Sam and Me, by Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell

Carol: What kind of research did you do about bullying before you started writing?

Cat: We’re no experts on bullying, but from the years we worked in the classroom, Rosie and I saw firsthand what happens when kids are excluded and mocked. We also consulted several trusted online sources that we include in our back-matter.


Carol: Why did you decide to make your main character a child who is bullied?

Cat: When plotting our book, Rosie and I brainstormed different kid-sized obstacles to throw at our 11-year-old protagonist. We wanted to keep tweens engaged while adding subtle social messages.

Social bullying became personal when my fourth-grade niece was taunted by mean girls at school. She was devastated. Fortunately, her parents and teachers immediately picked up on the bullying behaviors and stopped them. Yet, my niece still remains anxious about approaching new school experiences. 

Olivia’s character arc quickly became her struggle to overcome the taunts of a trio of mean girls at school. In fact, several social bullying incidents in our book, and especially the seminal event that causes Olivia’s greatest heartbreak, are based on encounters that actually happened to my niece. 

Carol: Do you include any upstanders to help Olivia and show young readers how people can prevent bullying? 

Rosie: Absolutely! We have two characters in the book who support her. One is an unexpected source. However, our main character’s BFF, Isabella, squashes bullying behaviors when she observes them:

“What do you think about this writing contest?” Brooke asked at lunch, scooting next to Candace and Bethany at their table.

Candace glowered. “I have to write about moving to this stupid, boring town.” 

Isabella held up a slice of pizza. “I’m writing about spring harvest and how it should be required for school to serve pizza every day.”

“Just eat already, Isabella,” Olivia laughed.

“What’s your essay about, Olivia?” asked Bethany.

“I bet she’s going to write about that stinky horse of hers,” Candace said.

Olivia’s face turned red. “Well, yes. My essay is about getting Star ready for the halter competition at Spring Daze.” 

Candace whinnied and pawed at the table with her hands as pretend horse hooves. Bethany and Brooke giggled and joined her. 

“Really? Imitating farm animals, Candy? We did that in kindergarten,” Isabella cut in. 

The new girl snapped and stopped her mischief. “Don’t call me Candy! My name is Candace.” 

Her stony glare didn’t bother Isabella one bit. 

Excerpt: Just Between Sam and Me, by Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell


Carol: How do you make your readers empathize with your antagonist, Candace, and perhaps feel sympathy for her, despite being the mean girl?

Cat: We want kids to boo at our baddie but not hate her. Plus, we show that kids who bully often act out of their own despair and trouble. Doesn’t excuse those actions, but it helps children understand why:

Candace set her phone alarm for early Saturday morning. Last night, Dad had promised to make his special waffles from Grandma Nettie’s recipe and top them with strawberries, whipped cream and maple syrup. It would be a breakfast for the two of them together.

She didn’t care about his waffles, although they were delicious. She wanted to spend time with her father. Dad spent every Saturday morning showing his clients homes for sale in Spring Hope. But this Saturday, he had pushed back his appointments and promised a father-daughter meal. 

Candace threw on a bathrobe and walked past Dad’s bedroom on her way to the kitchen. She noticed his bedroom lights were on. He was probably up already and getting ready for her! 

Knocking softly, she entered when he didn’t answer. Dad was propped against his pillows with his laptop, sound asleep. Candace sighed. He had been working late again. She gently removed the laptop and tucked the covers around him. 

Excerpt: Just Between Sam and Me, by Cat Michaels and Rosie Russell


Carol: What do you want your young readers to take away about 


Rosie: Olivia’s teacher says it best after she privately admonishes 

Candace for making fun of Olivia in class:

We have zero tolerance
for children who make fun of others 
or who are cruel in any way.


Cat: We want kids to reach out for help and look for upstanders. We 

say this upfront in our dedication page:

For upstanders, who break the cycle of bullying. 

For teachers, parents, and grown-ups, who step in to help. 

Most of all, for every child, who has experienced cruelty from others: You are brave, amazing, and wonderfully unique inside and out. There is someone waiting to help you. Reach out to them now! 


Be one of the first to read Between Sam and Me! Leave a comment with your name and email address (if you are new to my blog) or send me an email and I'll enter your name to win an ARC. The winner will be drawn on October 16. 


Award-winning author CAT MICHAELS has an M.S. degree in special education from the University of Kansas plus decades of teaching experience. Her books for young and reluctant readers have been recognized for excellence in writing children’s literature with three Purple Dragonfly Awards, a first-place honor from the Children’s Literary Classics Book Awards, and a silver medal by the Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards. Her last book, Sweet T and the Turtle Team, also won the Wind Dancer Films competition and was considered for adaptation to movies or TV.

Cat and her family live in North Carolina, where she creates a fairy garden for her neighborhood children, enjoys photography, devours British mystery novels and period TV series, works out most days, and writes.











ROSIE RUSSELL is the author and illustrator of nine books for young readers. After her studies in early childhood education, she taught in elementary and middle schools for fifteen years.  She enjoys sharing her books with students and encouraging them to write and illustrate their own stories.  

Rosie now writes and illustrates full-time in her Kansas City, Missouri, hometown.  As an avid reader, baseball fan, and crafter, her greatest joy comes from spending time with family and friends.  

Learn more at Books by Rose


Facebook: Books by Rose 




Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Bionic Beasts by Jolene Gutiérrez: A Giveaway and A Mini-Author Interview

 Congratulations to Barbara Younger who won Acoustic Rooster's Barnyard Boogie from last week's blog.


In the last few weeks, I've featured picture books for young readers. Today, I'm happy to help launch Jolene Gutierrez's debut middle-grade nonfiction book, Bionic Beasts (Lerner Books, 2020) Since it's full of photographs, it's technically a picture book too--but this isn't a book for young readers. The challenging and informative text will be appreciated by students in grades 5-8; particularly by those who love animals and are possibly considering a career working with animals.  


In the pages of this unique book, readers will meet remarkable animals and the doctors and students who used modern technology to enable them to live normal lives. Here are the five main characters: Lola, a Kemp ridley sea turtle with a missing flipper;  Mosha, an Asian elephant who stepped on a land mine; Cassidy, a three-legged German Shepherd; Vitória, a greylag goose who had lost most of her beak; and Pirate, a Berkshire-Tamworth pig who was born with a fused tarsal joint in his hock. All of the animals needed extraordinary veterinary intervention which they received.

Each section of the book includes facts about the animals, the patient's history, environmental dangers the animal faced, how their injury affected their body, and how prosthetists, orthotistsveterinarians, and engineering students developed materials, prostheses, and even a fake beak! Every section concludes with an activity that enhances the reader's comprehension.

Lola, an endangered turtle who lives in the Gulf of Mexico weighed less than an ounce when she was found on Mustang Island, Texas. She was fitted with a tracking device that was the size of a grain of rice.  Her right flipper had to be amputated leaving her unable to swim in a straight line. Students at Worcester Polytech Institute wanted to create a replacement flipper--and that's exactly what they did! Although Lola will always live in an aquarium, as a result of several determined college students, she can now gracefully swim and dive.

Mosha, as pictured on the front of the book, was fitted with a prosthesis--but she outgrew them thirteen times! As she grows, she needs to be fitted with a new prosthesis every six months. She lives in the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital where she socializes with other elephants and her human caregiver. 

No one knew how the rescue dog, Cassidy, lost his leg. All that his prospective owner knew was that he wanted to save him from being euthanized. Although he gained weight and grew back his hair after moving in with his family, Cassidy struggled to walk. At first, Cassidy was fitted with a removable prosthetic leg but he kept kicking them off. Finally, he was fitted with a metal prosthesis that was implanted into his leg bone.  Osseointegration was not without risks. But the surgery, performed at North Carolina's State University College of Veterinary Medicine, was successful. The process of creating an endoprosthesis was complicated, but here was the final result:

Vitória, a greylag goose was found off the coast of Brazil in 2015. It was missing part of its beak and was brought to the Friends of the Sea where she was cared for by a biologist and environmental technologist. Although she learned to trust him, she couldn't feed properly and he sought the help of a veterinary team called Animal Avengers. They had to engineer a top and bottom beak so that Vitória could eat and preen. Using sophisticated software, the team created her new beak and attached it during a two-hour surgery.  That first beak was too heavy and using photogrammetry, the team created a prosthesis that was one third the original size.  

Here she is with her mate and goslings!

Pirate, a Berkshire-Tamworth pig, was born with a right-hand leg that was permanently bent at a 90 angle.  A veterinarian suggested that the piglet would need a hybrid orthosis-prosthesis to support his leg. As of a year ago, Pirate was 500 pounds and wearing his fourth device, designed by a man who had made orthosis for dogs and humans--but never for a pig! 


CAROL: How did you end up writing a book about bionic animals?

JOLENE: Carol Hinz, my editor at Lerner, put out a call for STEM picture books in the spring of 2018 (I heard it through my SCBWI chapter-Rocky Mountain). I submitted a < 1,000-word picture book titled BIONIC BEASTS to her, and she told me she loved it but wondered if I'd be willing to make it a middle grade with 5 chapters (plus an intro and conclusion) about 5 different animals. The book is now ~10,000 words and researching each chapter was like writing a separate book because I had to track down the people involved with the stories, they had to be willing to share their stories (some weren't), there had to be photos available for Lerner to use, etc.

I chose to write about animals being helped through technology because I grew up on a farm and in a community where injured animals, runts, etc. were routinely put down. I spent years of my childhood arguing, crying, and protesting that. This book is my way of honoring the kind-hearted, skilled people who have stepped up around the world to help animals who need their support.

                           Jolene worked through piles of files papers as she sorted out her research. 


Bionic Beasts will make a great curriculum resource for the 5-8th grade classroom or homeschool family. Please click here for a link to the teaching guide. The author provides information on technology, science, veterinary medicine, and environmental issues in a very accessible manner. The activities at the end of each chapter reinforce students' learning.

Here is a short video of one of my granddaughters building a robotic hand, the activity associated with Mosha.


Please leave a comment (and your email address if you are new to my blog) I will enter your name. Winner will be drawn on Ocober 9.

THE NIGHT WAR: A MG Historical Novel Review

  By now you should have received an email from my new website about my review of THE NIGHT WAR by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. (It'll com...