Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Dirt Book: Poems About Animals That Live Under Our Feet

From the moment you hold The Dirt Book: Poems About Animals that Live Beneath Our Feet (Holiday House, 2021) in your hands, you realize that this is a unique picture book.  After all, how many books do you turn 90 degrees in order to read it? I can only think of one other, Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens, which my (now) adult children enjoyed as kids! 

In fact, the award-winning author of The Dirt Book, David L. Harrison, admitted that the brilliant design concept was worked out between his editor and the artist, Kate Cosgrove (scroll down to her October 13th post). "It was a delightful surprise to see the finished book," David said. 

If you haven't yet seen this STEM poetry book, you might wonder what I'm so excited about. The reader's experience is enhanced by poems and images that begin at the top of the page and are carried through to the bottom--which shows what is going on in the dirt. And of course, since David is a poet, he uses different types of poetry to highlight these critters.


The book begins with a dirt recipe:

(Parents beware: your children may want to try and duplicate this recipe in your backyard!)

What creatures are found in the dirt?

Readers will meet a doodlebug who creates dirt funnels so that ants slide in and become their lunch; a trap door spider, 

and an earthworm who performs dirty work:

Earthworm squiggles,

earthworm squirms,

earthworm dines on 

dirt and germs.

Earthworm dodges,

earthworm weaves,

earthworm nibbles

dear wet leaves.

Earthworm crawls,

earthworm creeps,

earthworm tunnels,

rarely sleeps.

Under our feet are ants that build cities, grubs which kill grass (the immaculate-lawn owner's nemesis!), mice, moles, bees, toads, and... Warning! Warning! Yellow Jacket Wasps.



I love this ending spread with a form of a Tristitia poem:

If you are interested in reading David's inspiration for this book and what he hopes readers will take away from it, please see this interview on Deborah Kalb's blog.


Readers from pre-kindergarten through third grade will enjoy the illustrations and poetry. The book will be a great asset to classrooms and homeschool educators. Christian parents and teachers, please be aware that the introduction includes the belief that dirt was formed two million to four billion years ago.


If you would like to enter this giveaway, please leave your name AND EMAIL ADDRESS (if you are new to my blog). Educators and media specialists, include where you work and I'll enter your name twice. If you decide to follow my blog, I'll also throw in an additional chance. U.S. postal addresses only. The giveaway ends on New Year's Day at 12 PM. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Revision Revisited

 If you're a writer, then someone has probably said to you: "So, are you done with your book yet?" If the person who you are talking to loves you then he may say, "How's the book coming along?" Which is a softer, kinder way of saying the same thing. 

Either way, most people who are not in the writing/publishing world have NO idea how much writing and re-writing goes into creating a book. And either way, you'll feel a little defensive as you try to explain why it's taken years to create a finished product.


Revision happens on so many levels. There are drafts when a writer is just getting the story out. There are big picture revisions when a writer has to re-vision her entire novel. And then of course, there are a host of "minor" revisions to make your characters and story authentic.

A page of side notes on Kate's character development.

I've blogged about the revision process several times. Here is one from the Free Expressions workshop I took ten years ago. And here is a blog with Harold Underdown's advice on not submitting until your work is ready. Mary Jane Nirdlinger wrote an excellent post about revision for the SCBWI-Carolinas region. I highly recommend it.


I started Half-Truths over 15 years ago. I knew I could write, but I'd never written a novel AND I took on a topic that was much bigger (and more difficult to write) than I realized.  Here is the updated blurb for my middle grade book:

In the Jim Crow south, thirteen-year-old Kate Dinsmore meets two people who challenge her world view: a small-town newspaper editor determined to stop the KKK and a young Black maid who proves to be her second cousin. Told through narrative, letters, newspaper headlines, and poetry, Kate comes to grips with her identity, decides what she will stand for, and takes risks to become a journalist who will make a difference. 

Although I imagined the girls' relationship since the book's inception, I went off in many different directions as I wrestled with writing the book. Rebecca Petruck, one of my early critiquers, kept encouraging me to return to that relationship--even when I included murders, boyfriends, and information about the Korean war. (Did I say this was my first novel?)

Joyce Hostetter, a wonderful historical middle grade author has been my mentor throughout the process. Under her guidance, I researched widely and found tremendous experts who informed my knowledge of the time period and the plot. I visited places on the Charlotte African American tour. I talked to people who went to the same high school as my characters, Meet My Experts III- Vermelle Diamond Ely and Meet my Experts

In 2016 I sent the manuscript to beta readers (check out the picture of of my technique for plotting my book). I incorporated their feedback and kept on going. Along the way I received editorial advice to write the book from both girls' POV's. I was reluctant to do that since I'm white, but Rebecca encouraged me in that direction. By the time I was ready to submit that version, the publishing industry had changed and that was no longer an option. In 2017 I made the difficult decision to start over from Kate's POV.

It was hard to give up all the work I had done to write Lillian's story, but it was the right decision. I re-outlined the book and started a new version focusing on Kate's journey. In doing that, I still went off on too many rabbit trails! 

Finally, last year (based on Joyce's encouragement) I took Kathy Temean's whole novel workshop. I received excellent feedback from three peers, incorporated their suggestions, and then sent it to an agent who read the entire 78,000 word manuscript.

The agent's insightful feedback provided a TON of things to work on--including deciding if this is a middle grade or young adult book. Ittook several months to incorporate her suggestions--including showing more of Kate's life before she moves to Charlotte. After re-writing the beginning, I realized that I had painted an overly optimistic ending and that needed changing! I decided the book needed to stretch out over an entire year and that required rearranging chapters.

Yesterday, I reached another milestone. I sent the revised 64,000 word manuscript to Joyce. She will go through it with a fine-tooth comb and I will revise it again.

And only after that--will I send it out.

So, that is why this book has taken me so long to write!


Yesterday I texted Kathryn Frye, a Charlotte videographer who produced and directed the documentary, African American Album: Charlotte, NC Mecklenburg History.  She and Vermelle Ely, have been cheering for my book ever since I met them. I told her I feel that it's risky for a white woman to write about race, She responded: 

"It’s a great story from its creator, no matter what shade of human she is! We have always been fully confident that we will hold the book one day."


Do you have a revision story? Please share in the comments!                                                       

Congratulations to Terri Michels for winning Janine Yordy's book, Jellyfish Wishes and Poems About Fishes. After entering my giveaways many times, she finally won!


I have grandchildren coming to visit so I'll be taking a short holiday from blogging. But I'll be back in your inbox soon!

Thursday, December 16, 2021

JELLYFISH WISHES AND POEMS ABOUT FISHES: A Picture Book Review and Autographed Giveaway

 It's always a pleasure to introduce friends' books. Janine Yordy and I met years ago when the SCBWI Charlotte group met at Morrison library in South Park. 

The inspiration for this book came from Janine spending summers at the beach with her boys as well as the beauty she found in nature. As a biologist she picked and researched animals she loved.

It's now my delight to share her second picture book with you, JELLYFISH WISHES AND POEMS ABOUT FISHES with illustrations by Ellen Injerd (Paraklesis Press, 2021)


The book begins with children running down to the sea; here is the first poem:

        BEACH DAY

Sun pops up, and out we run.
Shovels, buckets surfboards, FUN!
And all around us life is brimming--
flying, crawling, floating, swimming.
Sticky sand beneath our feet.
Wonder who we're gonna meet.

The reader is then introduced to  CRABBY:

The poems are full of figurative language and different rhyming techniques which will make the sea creatures memorable. Readers will discover shells with "someone smelly still inside" (alliteration); a lovely osprey who "wishes for a mate to date" (internal rhyme); a heron who goes "SWISH for a fish, and SSLLURP." (internal rhyme and onomatopoeia); and a pelican whose "beaking is super for sneaking and high-dive techniquing" (unique internal rhyme scheme). 

Here's a fun limerick:

Dolphins dance and glide (vivid verbs) and gulls "scuffled over pickled leeks, with yapping, snapping, beachy beaks." (internal rhyme)

Have you ever thought about a stingray flying? Janine did!

Silly poems include a jellyfish waiting to meet her Peanut Butter, an eel that "slithers, swimming with a swish. He's a special, snake-ish fish." (alliteration, fun made-up word). 

A hammerhead shark complains, "No nails, no wood, no way I should be mending someone's fence. My snoot is cute, so I dispute: my name does not make sense."

Here is one of my favorites,

The book ends with the children who are seen through out the book, saying goodnight to the beach under a  darkening sky, and a lovely spread about sea turtles. 


Don't you love the "moon-made map"? I do!


Enter to win an autographed copy by leaving a comment by December 19 at 9 AM.  PLEASE LEAVE YOUR NAME AND EMAIL ADDRESS IF YOU ARE NEW TO MY BLOG. U.S. Postal addresses only. 

Congratulations to Susan Rice who won DINO PAJAMA PARTY.

Monday, December 13, 2021

DINO PAJAMA PARTY: A Picture Book Review and Giveaway

It probably comes as no surprise to you, but not only do I enjoy giving books alway--I like winning them too! I was delighted to win Laurie Wallmark's new picture book, DINO PAJAMA PARTY (Running Press Kids, 2021) from Kathy Temean's wonderful blog. I recently featured Laurie with her other new book, Code Breaker, Spy Hunter. Which just goes to show--talented picture book authors can write in a variety of genres!) 

Move over Sandra Boynton (Dinosaur Dance)! DINO PAJAMA PARTY, featuring a cast of rollicking dinosaurs, is sure to be an equally asked for bedtime book. Illustrations by Michael Robertson provide humor which enhances the text. 


This opening stanza sets the stage:

Dinos rock, and dinos roll.
Dinos stomp and dinos stroll.


And what else do these pajama-dressed dinosaurs like to do?

They roar, they shriek, they boom, and squeak.

They sing, they dance; they plunk, and strum. "Dinos toot and dinos drum."

They even "come from all around just to play that rocking sound." (Note the band's name!)

Worn out from all that swinging and shaping, 

Dinos yawn,
and dinos drag.
Dinos droop,
and dinos sag.

Dinos toes are getting sore
All the dinos leave the floor.


"Fast asleep, 
the dinos snore."

I've tried writing a rhyming picture book and Laurie Wallmark makes it look simple! The text is memorable and incorporates a great beat. Children will develop pre-reading skills as they chime in with the rhymes. 

For more information on the backstory behind this book, please see Laurie's description of her book journey on Kathy Temean's wonderful blog.


To win a copy of this cute bedtime book, leave me a comment (with your email address if you are new to my blog) by noon on December 16th. If you decide to follow my blog or share on social media, I'll enter your name twice.  Continental U.S. addresses only. 

Congratulations to Antoinette Martin who won A FRIEND LIKE YOU from last week's blog. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

A Friend Like You: A Picture Book Giveaway

As promised on my last blog, here's another book in Frank Murphy's "Like You" series published by Sleeping Bear Press.  A FRIEND LIKE  YOU is co-authored with his dynamic friend Charnie Gordon. The bright, colorful illustrations are once again created by Kayla Harren


Here is the opening spread:
You'll meet thousands
and thousands
and thousands
of people in your lifetime.
Some you will only meet once.
Some you'll get to know a little.
And you'll get to know some friends so
well that you'll call them friends.

 "Go out into the world and make friends. The world needs a friend like you!"

Some friends will look just like you...but others will look and believe differently. Some will wear different types of clothes, eat different foods, have different presences. 

Good friends forgive,

share toys, games, laughter, and dreams.

I think this text and illustration summarizes the message of this book:


Back matter includes why friendships are important and a letter writing activity. In a day of emails and FaceTime, it's great to see a plug for old fashioned letter writing!


To enter this giveaway, please leave your name and email address if you are new to my blog. U.S. addresses only. Giveaway ends on Monday, December 13th at noon. 

Christian parents, teachers, and caregivers should be aware of the pro LGBTQ+ agenda communicated in some of the text and pictures.

Congratulations to Danielle Hammelef who won A Teacher Like You.


Tuesday, December 7, 2021

A Teacher Like You: Picture Book Review and Giveaway

If you've been following my blog for awhile, then you will have seen my posts about A Girl Like You and A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy and illustrated by Kayla Harren. This week I have two more books in this series by Sleeping Bear Press that will be enjoyed by young readers, or would make great holiday gifts. Later in the week I'll bring you A FRIEND LIKE YOU. But today's post is about A TEACHER LIKE YOU. By the way, this book is co-authored by Barbara Dan, who teaches with Frank at Holland Elementary in Bucks, County, Pa. 


This first illustration captures the spirit of this book:

I love this page too,

The book sings praises to teachers who "soar through story after story" and learn about "life from new perspectives." And highlights teachers who teach children how to be creative and express themselves.

Coaches are teachers too:

Good teachers inspire by example (like volunteering) and create a safe place for learning to happen and for potential to be discovered. 

Teachers care, comfort, and challenge.

The refrain, "I needed a teacher like you" is repeated throughout this book. I think, the teacher in your child's or grandchild's classroom need a book like this.


To enter this giveaway, please leave me a comment (and your email address if you are new to my blog) by December 9 at 6 PM. Educators, librarians, and home school educators --let me know where you work and I'll enter your name twice!

And congratulations to Beth Schmelzer who won MIGHTY INSIDE from last week's blog. Thanks to all of you who left comments. Tough competition! 

Friday, December 3, 2021

MIGHTY INSIDE: A Middle Grade Historical Novel Review and Giveaway

Although I've never met Sundee Frazier in person, I feel as if I know her. When I first started researching Half-Truths, I read her autobiographical book, Check All That Apply: Finding Wholeness as a Multiracial Person (InterVarsity, 2002. The daughter of a white mother and a Black father, Sundee wrote candidly about her struggles to fit in, to feel accepted as a multiracial person, and how her Christian faith helped her in her journey to wholeness.

Fast forward several years, and Sundee wrote The Other Half of My Heart (Random House, 2010) about twin girls--one who is "milky white" and the other is "cinnamon brown." Their Black grandmother insists that both girls enter the Black Pearls of America pageant--which produces high drama for both girls! (Click here for my interview with Sundee about this book and how she mined her life to write it.)

Sundee's most recent book, Mighty Inside  (Levine Querido October, 2021) also draws from her own life--this time most specifically about her father's and grandparents' experiences in Spokane, Washington in 1955. After you read my review, please click on the video. Sundee and her family share some of the stories that informed this wonderful middle grade novel.

(Please see Sundee's website for her other children's books.)


Every time he opened his mouth, his words backed away like a kid afraid to jump off the high dive--running to the end and then stopping, over and over--until he could feel the pulsing of an artery in his forehead. His tongue felt as heavy and solid as a brick. (p. 17)

That's how Melvin Robinson describes his "traitor mouth" that trips over "sticky" letters like "T" "P" or "B." It's the Stutter that has been with him ever since he was a little kid; the mouth that prevents him from speaking his mind; the tongue that will embarrass him as he enters high school. 

He makes it through his first day of school with one big accomplishment: he meets Lenny--a talkative, Jewish, white sax player who sticks to Melvin like a burr. But, as Melvin finds out, Lenny ends up being the best friend a kid could have. 

As the book progresses, Sundee skillfully weaves in backstory. Melvin overhears an argument between Melvin's father and his Uncle T.:

"Why you think that boy got that stutter? 'Cause he's surrounded by all these white folks, that's why. You shouldn't be here. You should be on the east side. Or do you think you're too good for that?" 


Pops had crossed a line. Was Melvin suffering because of it?" (p. 52)

School is a mixture of pain with some spots of pleasure. Despite faithfully doing his tongue exercises, Melvin messes up frequently--and is teased by several bullies. But, his day is brightened by brief glimpses and interactions with his crush, Millie, a Japanese American. Science (taught by a veteran who lost a hand in WWII) and choir are highlights. When he sings the Stutter never appears. 

But where Melvin really begins to shine, is playing accordion alongside of Lenny. The two become so good that Lenny convinces Melvin that they should try out for a television show featuring local kid performers. Although Melvin is scared, he realizes that his accordion speaks better than he does.  

I don't want to include any spoilers, so I'll just say:

  • I really appreciated how Sundee threads Melvin's Christianity--as well as his questions into the novel. During a stressful time, Melvin recites portions of Psalm 23. Although he wonders why God gave him a "broken tongue," his faith helps him conquer his fears. 
  • Other plot points about Emmett Till, Lenny's father, and Millie's experience in Japanese internment camps enrich the book.  
  • I liked the metaphor of the "walls" of prejudice that Melvin keeps running into.
  • And finally, just like Jackie in Joyce Hostetter's latest novel, Equal, Melvin also discovers: 
He knew he would get stuck on some of his words, and it was all right. He had decided the best way to deal with an enemy, if he could, was to make that enemy his friend. The Sutter was a part of what made him him and he was okay. Just the way he was. (p.229)

The Author's Note includes how Sundee's grandparents acquired their home and some of the family stories she drew from. Here's the promised video: 



To enter this giveaway, please leave a comment by December 7 at 9 AM. If you decide to follow my blog for the first time or share this on social media, I'll put your name in twice--just let me know what you did. If you are new to my blog, please leave your name and email address.  

Congratulations to Amy Houts, who won Dear. Mr. Dickens from last week's blog.

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...