Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Memoirs of a Tortoise: Picture Book Review and Giveaway

 Congratulations to Danielle Hammelef who won The Voice that Won the Vote from last week's blog.

Memoirs of a Tortoise (Sleeping Bear Press, 2020) is a clever and heart-warming book written by Devin Scillian and beautifully illustrated by Tim Bowers.  Young readers will follow a year in the life of Oliver, an 80-year-old tortoise, whose "pet" is his fellow senior citizen, Ike. It is a book about friendship, aging, and taking time to enjoy the world around us. 



It's a glorious day and Ike just brought me a plate of lettuce and dandelions and a bright, crunchy apple.

Ike is my pet. I love Ike. And Ike loves me. He runs his hand across my shell and tells me so.

This, this is life and it's beautiful.


Ike throws a stick and says, "Oliver, fetch!" But we just laugh because we both know I'm not chasing a silly stick. We do this every day.



Oliver ambles across the garden to enjoy the hibiscus. He remembers his mother telling him, "The whole world is in a hurry. They miss so much."


"... this is my favorite time of all, just me and Ike and this beautiful garden. How long can we sit here? How about forever?" 


Everything about life has slowed down--including Ike. When the baby pool and garden hose aren't put away, Oliver beings to wonder. Where is Ike?

When Oliver sees sad people come to Ike's home, he realizes that Ike is gone and decides to visit his 137-year-old mother. But it's a long walk to her garden and Oliver has to cross ten gardens to get to her. Finally, he sees her wide smile and sparkly eyes.


"Why do we have to lose people? Why couldn't Ike stay with me?"

Mother smiles. She closes her eyes and raises her head to the sun.

"We only get to have pets in our lives for a little while, she says. They don't live as long as we do. So we have to enjoy them every day."


Oliver is glad to be back home, but when the door to the house opens, he looks for Ike. But he isn't there. Instead, his son Ted greets Oliver. 

"I'm so glad you came home, Oliver. It's you and me now."

Parents and grandparents will enjoy reading this sweet story to their children and grandchildren. 


Leave a comment by 6 PM on Friday, November 27 to enter the giveaway. Please leave me your email address if you are new to my blog. 


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Voice that Won the Vote: A Review and Giveaway

 Congratulations to Barbara Younger who won a copy of Racoon's Perfect Snowman from last week's blog.


After I read The Voice that Won the Vote: How One Woman's Words Made History (Sleeping Bear Press, 2020), I realized that the cover and title were perfect. Inside the book was an unexpected story written by Emmy-winning journalist, Elisa Boxer. Illustrator Vivien Mildenberger's kid-friendly illustrations draw readers into the story. 

The book opens by showing contemporary women lined up at a polling booth.

Very quickly, the author turns the clock back to 1920 when women were denied the right to vote. Boxer tells the reader about Febb Burn, a woman in East Tennessee who studied, went to college, became a teacher, and had a farm.

Every year on election day the men on her farm would head to town hall to cast their votes.

And every year, Febb Burn would watch them go. 

She was sick and tired of staying home, shut out of the process.


So, she sat on her front porch and wrote a letter.

A few days later that letter arrived on her son Harry's desk.  He was the youngest lawmaker in Tennessee and a witness to history in the making.

Thirty-five states wanted women to vote, but the country needed thirty-six to make it law. 

It all came down to Tennessee, the last state left to vote.

But the lawmakers in Tennessee were divided. Half wanted to allow women to vote, half didn't. After the first vote was tied, the lawmakers had to vote a second time. 

It was a soul-searching moment for Harry Burn. Previously he had voted against women's suffrage. Most of the people he represented hated the idea of women voting and many of them were in the audience that day. I imagine he thought about the note he had received from his mother:

                                                      (Image of the back cover.)

He surprised the other legislators and broke the tie by saying, "Yes."


When Harry was asked why he changed his vote, he replied,
"I know that a mother's advice is always safest for a boy to follow."
The people who elected Harry were shocked and angry. Harry understood that his decision probably cost him his political career. But, he told reporters:
"I am happy simply because I followed my conscience. It kept telling me women are people."
It took courage for Harry to stand up for his beliefs. At the next election, he and his mother were probably worried what the results would be. But when the votes were counted, they were thrilled when Harry was re-elected to the Tennessee legislature. 

And no one was prouder than the woman who, without speaking a word, gave all women a voice.

The book ends with a long author's note about the pressure both Febb and Harry faced after his historic vote. It includes how the women's suffrage movement was linked to the anti-slavery movement. A pictorial timeline of significant events is also provided. 

This book will be useful in second-fifth grade classrooms. You can download the teaching guide if you search for the book using this link.


Since I love knowing the story behind a story, I reached out to author Elisa Boxer to find out how she discovered this little-known story of Febb Burn. Here is what she wrote:

"As a journalist, I've always been drawn to researching unsung heroes. So a couple of years ago, when I decided to write a book about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, I searched online for little-known women in the suffrage movement. When I came across the story of Febb Burn, and learned how she helped save suffrage by writing a letter to her son at a time when society was trying to keep women small and voiceless, I knew hers was a story I wanted to tell. Especially because there were no books about her!"


Leave me a comment by 5 PM on November 20 and I'll enter your name. Make sure you leave your email address if you are new to my blog. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Raccoon's Perfect Snowman: A Picture Book Review, A Giveaway, AND an Author Interview!

 Congratulations to Jana Leah who won T is for Thor from last week's blog.

Today I'm happy to share a new picture book by author/illustrator, Katia Wish. Raccoon's Perfect Snowman (Sleeping Bear Press, 2020) will delight the young reader in your life even as it communicates an important message.


Raccoon was very serious about building snowmen.

He practiced rolling, stacking, and decorating and knew that his friends would want his help making their snowmen.


But things didn't go as Raccoon expected. 

 Raccoon took out all of his snowman-building tools.


When it was time to decorate their snowmen, Mouse wasn't left with much to choose from. 

Raccoon loved his snowman but was very disappointed in what his friends' produced. None of them got it right! With shoulders slumped, Rabbitt, Fox, and Mouse left him alone... and miserable.

Before they were out of sight, Raccoon called them back. He had an idea for a truly perfect snowman. Working together,  they used whatever snow they found, stacked it however they wanted to and lastly, Raccoon told them, 

The new snowman wasn't very clean.

It didn't stand up straight.

And the decorations didn't match.

But it was perfect



CAROL: What role does SCBWI have in your life as a writer/illustrator?

KATIA: SCBWI is huge! All of my contacts, connections, classes, critique groups, and knowledge came from SCBWI. With every new workshop and conference, I gained more and more understanding of what I needed to do to develop my portfolio and improve my writing. 

CAROLHow did winning the 2011 Tomie DePaola Award affect your career? 

KATIA: Winning the 2011 Tomie DePaola Award so early in my career was amazing. Art directors and editors respect and appreciate Tomie’s work so much, so his recognition meant a stamp of approval for my work. Industry professionals noticed and started to pay close attention to the development of my work. It gave me confidence and encouragement to continue working on my illustrations and dummies.

CAROL: What gave you the idea for the story?

KATIA: The book is about friendship and rethinking what “perfect” means. The book is about my childhood memories of building a snowman. It’s such a sensory experience: how the snow changes color in the light, the warmth of the hat, the coldness of the snow, the sounds of the wind, the crunchiness of the snow.

CAROL: What was your publishing journey?
KATIA: When you start from a character, it’s quite a challenging experience. You try different stories on, try different directions. What you are doing at that stage is not developing the story yet, but getting to know your character.

This is something my wonderful agent coached me on through all the years I have worked with him. If the story comes from the character, the character is strong, alive, and believable. It doesn’t matter what kind of story the character will live in, it will still be true and relatable and honest.

We went through many many many drafts getting closer to the heart of the story. The first 5-7 drafts were not even close to the final book at all! But with each draft, the true character was revealed.

It’s an exhausting experience to build stories this way, but it’s worth it. If the story relies on one joke or one trick, it will not have re-readability.

When we were ready to submit, we found a great publisher for the story – Sleeping Bear Press. The editor and art director had more suggestions on how to improve the story and the artwork. They came up with the most brilliant solution to the ending of the book. Even though their solution was so obvious and so undeniably best, I didn’t see that solution even through so many drafts of the story. The fresh set of eyes makes a difference for any creative project or any situation in life!

CAROL: What medium did you use and why did you choose that particular medium? 

KATIA: At this point, I work primarily with watercolor and pencil. I start with idea generation, loose doodles, color studies. 

Then I transfer the sketch on watercolor paper and have a lot of washes and build up layers in watercolor. Things still look very ambiguous and not promising. So I have to stay in this uncomfortable stage for a very long time. 

But then in the last 20% of the process, I start adding linework and everything comes to life - characters’ expressions, details, depth. It’s sort of magic how things transform. 


I'm happy to give away this book to one fortunate reader. Please leave me a comment with your email address if you are new to my blog. A winner will be drawn after 6 PM on November 13. 


I've been playing with Lumen 5 and creating short videos for the books I review. Here's the one for Racoon's Perfect Snowman.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

H is for Honey and T is for Thor: 2 Alphabet Book Reviews and 1 Giveaway

Congratulations to Danielle Hammerlef who won Little Thief! Chota Chor! from last week's blog.

This week I'm reviewing two new alphabet books from Sleeping Bear Press. Giveaway details are below. True to other books in this series, each letter has a short poem for young readers and a sidebar with more detailed information for older kids. 

H is for Honey: A Beekeeping Alphabet 

"Apis mellifera, otherwise known as the honey bee, is one of the most important insects on the planet." Written by beekeeper, Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen, and illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen, this book would be a great curriculum resource for grades K-4. 

Here are a few of the poems and illustrations which interested me and I shared with my third-grade granddaughter. 

C is for Communication

With their bottoms in the air
as they dance the comb,
it's the bees' way of saying,
"Hey, this is our home."

E is for Egypt

G is for Guard

They keep their hive safe
from robbers and thieves
like skunks, birds, or bears.
Only family members, please!

K is for Keeper

P is for Propolis

Propolis is a mixture of plant resins, wax, oils, pollen, and bee saliva. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians used this bee glue as an antiseptic to kill germs and it is still used in toothpaste!

U is for Urban Beekeeping

Whether or not your young reader wants to be a beekeeper, this book presents a lot of information about the history of honey and beekeeping, honey's medicinal properties, and the science of bees. Habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change are threatening bee colonies around the world. The end matter provides information on helping bees, fun facts, and how to become a beekeeper. Illustrator Eileen Ryan Ewen's pastel color palette amplifies the book's contents. 

T is for Thor: A Norse Mythology Alphabet

"Norse refers to areas in Northern Europe, including Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. Ancient Norse people believed that powerful gods and goddesses ruled over them all." This book, written by Dr. Virginia Loh-Hagan and illustrated by Torstein Nordstrand, shows everything you might meet in the Norse world: realms, halls, beings, gods, giants, monsters, humans, landmarks, and weapons. 

Here's a peek at a few things I learned:

A is for Asgard

Filled with fields of green
and castles of gold,
Asgard was home
to the strong and the bold. 


E is for Elivagar

Elivagar rivers were filled
with venomous snakes.
To swim in these waters
would be a deadly mistake.


F is for Freya and Frey

I is for Idunn

J is for the Journey of Life and Death

After starting one's journey
to the realm of the dead,
Norse afterlife was based
on the life one had led. 

P is for Prose Edda and Poetic Edda

Q is for Queen of Asgard

T is for Thor

Of all the Norse gods,
Thor is the most known;
nothing can stop him
once his hammer is thrown.

If you know readers who enjoy myths and Scandanavian folklore, then this would be a book for them. It would be a good classroom resource for a discussion of the Vikings, who were devoted to the Norse gods. A comprehensive glossary in the front and a list of Norse connections in the back complete this book. For example, every day of the week is named after a different Norse god. Which one isn't? 

The illustrations in this book are somber and dark (except for Ildun) and are markedly different than those in H is for Honey. Since I can barely draw a stick figure, it is interesting to see how different artists reflect the tone and content of the books they illustrate. 

I recently listened to a webinar by author-illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba who spoke about focusing the reader's attention. She pointed out that illustrators accomplish this by contrasting light with dark. I was aware of that as I paged through this book; the illustrator effectively focuses the reader's attention exactly where he wants by the use of shades of gold and white. 


My grandkids will be the fortunate recipients of H is for Honey Bee, but I am giving away my copy of  T is for Thor. Please leave your name and email address (if you are new to my blog) by 6 PM on November 6 when a winner will be drawn. 

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...