Monday, March 28, 2022

THE VERY OLDEST PEAR TREE: A Picture Book Review, Mini-Author Interview, and Giveaway

 I'm delighted to introduce you to a new author friend of mine, Nancy I. Sanders. Nancy has published scads of books and her blog is full of information for writers, teachers, and readers. Take your time to look around her site and you'll be impressed as I am with her experience and generosity! If you want to get to know more about Nancy's passion for picture books, check out this interview. 

In today's post I'm highlighting one of her picture books, The Very Oldest Pear Tree (Albert Whitman & Co., 2020). This informational book for readers from 5-8 years old, tells the inspirational story of how the Endicott pear tree grew up with our nation. Click here for links to classroom resources.


The year is 1630. The main character is a pear tree sapling that is shipped to the governor of Salem, John Endecott.  He has missed the fruit trees in England and is determined to start an orchard.

Governor Endecott picked the little pear tree to grow right in front of his house, hoping that it would live a long time. "The tree was small yet strong. Though young, its roots reached deep."

Twelve years later a fire blew through the orchard, destroying hundreds of trees--but the Endecott pear was spared. Generations passed. The family changed the spelling of their last name, the Governor's house crumbled, but the Endicott pear tree--with its new name, stood.  

By the time our second president of the United States, John Adams, ate one of its pears, the tree had become a legend. It inspired Massachusetts poets like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and  Lucy Larcom. 

The tree survived a hurricane in 1938 and vandalism in 1964. Tree experts were unable to graft new branches. But, the Endicott pear tree tree sent out roots and "almost miraculously, a hundred tiny branches sprouted along the trunks. It survived!"

In 1997 a cutting was used to grow a new Endicott pear tree. Clones were made, seeds stored in a storage bank, and now Endicott pear trees have been planted across the nation--including this one, that Nancy planted and is now six feet tall!

Today, about four hundred years old, the Endicott pear tree is the oldest living tree cultivated in America. When John Endecott first planned it in front of his house, he expected the pear tree to outlive him by more than a hundred years. But no one imagined its story could still be told today.

The Endicott pear tree is a survivor. It's older than America itself. And it's still standing strong.


CAROL: How did you get interested in this topic? 

NANCY: I wanted to write a picture book every elementary teacher would want to use in the classroom. I figured that would be a highly commercial topic. So I knew children study Pilgrims in Kindergarten/first grade. So I started reading about Pilgrims to see if I could find any new topics about Pilgrims that hadn't been written about before. I discovered they planted an orchard of apple trees!

I started researching their orchard of apple trees because I love trees...and each time I searched for that on the Internet, links would come up for a pear tree that the Puritans had planted...that was still alive and growing strong! I started clicking on those links, learned about the Endicott Pear Tree, and was hooked. I fell in love with it right from the start!

CAROL: What type of research did you do?

NANCY: First I read everything I could about it. There's actually a lot online from the historical society that still helps care for it.

Then I contacted Bill Endicott, the president of the family's descendants who originally planted the tree. He gave me a lot of information.

Then I took a trip to Boston and Salem and Danvers to actually visit the tree and take lots of photographs. That was so exciting to actually touch the tree and sit near it!

CAROL: What was your path to publication? 

NANCY: This was one of the rare times in my career that I wrote the entire book before I queried a publisher. I sent the manuscript to my agent Cyle Young who submitted it. And Albert Whitman picked it up!

CAROL: Any thoughts on the illustration style?

NANCY: I was so excited to learn that Yas Imamura was picked up to illustrate this book. I was already familiar with her name and her style because she had illustrated some very nice nonfiction picture books at that time. I love her style which has a nice Americana and historic feel.


Leave me a comment with your email address if you are interested in winning a copy of this book; U.S. addresses only. Giveaway ends April 2. This will make a great homeschool or classroom resource--or just a wonderful book for your bookshelf!

Congratulations to Natalie Aguire who won Picturing a Nation from last week's post.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

PICTURING A NATION: A Book Review by Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta

     A front-seat view of America during the Great Depression, Picturing a Nation by Martin Sandler (Candlewick Press, 2021) presents over one hundred and thirty photographs that give life to our past in a way that appeals to anyone, age notwithstanding . Using photos taken by the Historical Records department of the Farm Security Association, this photographical memoir contains the greatest works of Jack Delano, Dorothea Lange, Marion Post Wolcott, Walker Evans, and many more.

            Divided by region, (Midwest, Northeast, South, and West) each of the four sections of Picturing a Nation focus on the people impacted by the Great Depression, not the economics or statistics. Subtitles and text enhance each page, with a caption and perhaps a relevant quote from the photographer besides the photographs. Additionally, a short history of the Farm Security Administration and the people behind it as well as a brief background on the Great Depression introduce the book. These first few pages bring meaning to each of these carefully curated photographs. The only shortcoming of this format is that page numbers have been excluded, making it difficult to revisit favorite photos.

            Each of the photos displayed seems to have at least one out of three purposes; to reveal the humanity of each of the victims of the Great Depression, to show the devastation delt by the Great Depression or finally, to reveal the disparity of the nation’s wealth throughout this challenging time. Below, you can see a photo that serves this last purpose.


Taken by Marion Post Wolcott, this photo was shot at a poolside in Miami, Florida, and illustrates that a small, privileged population of the nation was not aware of the suffering of their neighbors. Picturing a Nation’s candid approach to life during our worst economic depression makes the reality of this event even harsher.         

          On the other side of the spectrum is this Dorothea Lange photograph, Migrant Mother, which was originally taken for the Historical Section of the FSA and is now widely regarded as the face of the great depression. Migrant Mother represents with unflinching clarity what life was like for the fifteen percent of the U.S. unable to find jobs.

          Don’t open this book if you don’t want to learn about the past. Don’t open this book if you want a timeline or a list of people and places to memorize. Don’t open this book if you’re in a hurry. If you want to look into the eyes of migrants and orphans, aristocrats and struggling families, farmers and their fieldhands, and see their soul staring back… then turn the page.

GIVEAWAY (with a caveat)

Leave me a comment by March 30 if you are interested in entering this giveaway. The copy which Elliott read is an ARC and in black and white, and the binding isn't as secure as the final version of the book. As a result, the Introduction's pages are no longer attached to the binding. In addition, the first few pages are out of order and upside down. But, as Elliott said, this is a tremendous pictorial display that chronicles our nation during a difficult time. U.S. addresses only. 

Saturday, March 19, 2022

I ESCAPED THE CALIFORNIA CAMP FIRE: A Middle Grade Review by Guest Blogger, Blake Kurta

         I Escaped the California Camp Fire, by Scott Peters and S.D. Brown, is historical fiction, part of the I Escaped Series that is aimed towards 8–13 year-old readers. However, with its clever descriptions, relatable characters, and pop culture references, it can easily appeal to all ages. For instance, on page 8, the book mentions a character “doing her version of Vanna White and sweeping her hand across the spotless kitchen.” 

            I Escaped the California Camp Fire is a captivating book that draws you in right from the start. I was so engrossed that I had a hard time putting it down. In the opening scene, the protagonists are left at home alone because their parents are on a trip for twenty-four hours. While their parents are away, chaos breaks out. The siblings, Emma and Troy, are racing against a monstrous fire. Amidst all of this frenzied excitement, an electrical black-out takes place making it harder for them to escape. 

            The vivid descriptions made the dangers seem life-like and had me clinging to the edge of my seat, rooting for Emma and Troy to make it out alive. For instance, on page 2 the fire is described as accelerating at a rate fast enough to consume “the equivalent of a football field every second.” Further along, the author writes, “It felt like an oven cranked up to broil.” Later, Troy states, “Look at the hill, flames are spilling down it.” This gave me terrifying visual images while creating a phenomenal picture in my mind. I could practically feel the scorching heat right through the pages. And finally, when I read, “The flames hit the ravine and it looked like a movie filmed in Hades” it made me realize how dangerous the California campfire really was.

            Troy and Emma were in a couple of tricky situations, but they fought through the smoke and flames managing to survive. It’s truly remarkable how they were able to live through the sixth most likely devastating fire in the U.S. all by themselves.

This book demonstrates how devastating fires can be and the long-lasting impact on people’s lives and the environment. For example, the California Camp Fire destroyed thousands of buildings, and some people are still financially recovering from the fire. It is estimated that the fire cost people 150 million dollars. 

            For all of the reasons above I would highly recommend this book. Overall, it was thrilling, action-packed and I really enjoyed reading it. While the story itself is fictitious, I learned about a fascinating, albeit scary historical event from reading this book.

Blake Kurta is 12-years-old and lives in Charlotte, NC. He is homeschooled. In his spare time he enjoys constructing 3D Metal Earth rockets, painting, and pickle ball. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

JACKIE AND THE MONA LISA- PART II: An Interview with the Author and Illustrator

 Thanks for returning to my blog for this second post featuring JACKIE AND THE MONA LISA. (Click here if you missed Part I). Deborah Robin Murphy graciously agreed to answering a few questions about her debut picture book, and I'm happy to also have illustrator Jen Bricking join the conversation. 

Deborah Rovin Murphy, Author

Carol: How did you get interested in Jackie and the Mona Lisa

Deborah: I have always been a fan of art, history, and museums. I read an adult book about Jackie Kennedy and the Mona Lisa, and I was so fascinated and surprised when no one I talked to about it really knew about the story…even those old enough to have possibly seen it in a newspaper or heard about it on TV. I love stories that have “fallen through the cracks” and aren’t well known. The Mona Lisa is so iconic and famous, and I couldn’t believe that it was actually in the United States. I have also always admired Jackie Kennedy and all she did as First Lady and beyond. 

Carol: What was your path to publication?

Deborah: I wrote the first draft of this story about seven years ago. It looked a lot different than the final story you see in the book today. I submitted to many publishers using the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Guide and connections I made from being a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) as a guide.  Five years and multiple rejections later, my awesome editor at Sleeping Bear Press liked the story and offered me a contract. I literally screamed when I saw the email… to a writer that is like winning the lottery-especially with years and years of trying with this and other stories I have written.

Carol: What went into researching the text? Do you have any personal connection to Jackie? 

Deborah: I love research! For me, the library still remains one of the best places to look for information. I like to be able to find books that explore my topic and make use of the traditional tools such as using the index and exploring the chapters of the book myself because I may find a piece of information that wouldn’t have come up on an internet search. Of course, the internet is definitely a great tool for research; however, like any tool, I think you have to know how to use it efficiently and effectively. I believe that you want to approach your research with a plan. Where will you find the best and most accurate information? For me, finding the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library website was invaluable. I could access their archives and see actual documents, speeches and photographs that tied in with Jackie and the planning that went into Mona Lisa’s visit to America. I researched Mona Lisa’s background as well. I like to get all of the information I can and start to whittle it down to the important parts I want to include in the book.

I guess my personal connection to Jackie would be that I remember my mom telling me how much she admired her when she was First Lady in the 1960’s and how she herself had outfits modeled after Jackie’s style. My mom even had a pillbox hat with her wedding veil! As I grew older and read more about her, I loved that Jackie was such an amazing mother who made raising her children her number one priority. As a mother myself, I value that.  My favorite Jackie quote is, “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters much.”


Debbie has loved visiting museums since her class trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art when she was in elementary school. An elementary school teacher herself, she even considered becoming an art teacher because of her love of art. She was so inspired by Jackie Kennedy when she read about what she did to promote the arts in America and amazed when she found out Jackie was responsible for getting the Mona Lisa to come to the USA. She lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and was lucky enough to have seen the Mona Lisa on her trip to France.  

Jen Bricking, Illustrator

Carol: What went into researching the illustrations? Do you have any personal connection to Jackie?

Jen: Researching and the early sketch phase are two of my favorite parts of the picture book making process, and I love to doodle while I collect reference! Once I received the manuscript, I basically did a deep dive into all things Jackie. I researched historical photos, watched videos and movies, and read everything I could find about Jackie, the time period and, of course, the Mona Lisa. I wanted to make sure my illustrations were historically accurate (aside from minor details to pump up the charm), so I combed through the JFK Library and The National Archives. They have a comprehensive collection of resources from Jackie’s time as First Lady, her White House restoration, and when she brought the Mona Lisa to the United States. I relied heavily on these collections, along with other websites and blogs dedicated to Jackie’s life. I collected around a thousand reference images and even made a Jackie Pinterest page. 

Other than what I learned in history classes or saw on TV as a kid, I didn’t know too much about her life before or after being First Lady. I especially didn’t know about some of the fun and interesting facts this book reveals. I remember both of my grandmothers having a great fondness for her, and I’ve always admired her for her contribution to the arts and her pursuit in making it accessible for everyone.

Carol: What was your medium and what influenced your choice of that medium and your choice of the color palette?

Jen: I used pencil and digital to create the illustrations. I sketched some of the initial character designs and layouts with pencil on paper, but I primarily used my iPad and computer to sketch and paint all of the illustrations. I painted digitally in the same manner as using watercolor to give it a soft, traditional, and timeless look, perfect for Jackie! Because Jackie was also known as a very influential fashion icon, I referenced a lot of 1960’s fashion illustrations, magazines, catalogues, and advertisements. I wanted to evoke a nostalgic yet modern visual style, and so the color palettes of the fashion of that era, especially Jackie’s colorful dresses and pillbox hats, were a big influence. It was all very vibrant but soft, and I wanted that to come through in my illustrations.

Jen has seen the Mona Lisa twice and, like Jackie, loves everything French. She works as an illustrator and artist for video games and animation. Her other books include Ten Magic Butterflies, Jane and Me series for the Jane Goodall Institute and various illustrated novels. When she isn’t drawing, she likes to travel, ride her bicycle and skateboard. You can follow her on Instagram at jenbricking or visit her at


For a chance to win this book, leave a comment with your email address, or send me an email if you prefer. If you follow my blog you get another chance. Giveaway ends Monday, March 21. U.S. addresses only. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

JACKIE AND THE MONA LISA- PART I: An Informational Picture Book Review and a Giveaway!

 When Jackie Kennedy became the First Lady in 1961, everyone loved her, and everyone wanted to be like her. In turn, Jackie wanted everyone to love art and culture as much as she did. JACKIE AND THE MONA LISA (Sleeping Bear Press, 2022) is a new picture book biography that shows how with "sway, style and persistence" Jackie was able to accomplish her goal. Written by author and teacher Deborah Robin Murphy and illustrated by Jen Bricking, this delightful book will be enjoyed by children from grades 1-4-- as well as their grandmothers who remember Jackie!


As many other picture book biographies do, Jackie and the Mona Lisa begins when Jackie is young. She visited the White House for the first time when she was eleven.

When Jackie arrived as First Lady many years later, she's disappointed that not much has changed. Same boring rooms and still no guidebook! "The White House was supposed to be a symbol of American history, but the rooms weren't historical at all."

So, Jackie went on a hunt.

One year later, Jackie went on television and showed the American public how she had filled the White House with American treasures.

But that wasn't enough. Jackie wanted to introduce Americans to living treasures--ballerinas, actors and actresses, and musicians. She showed "the whole world that American had inspiring art and culture."

But Jackie still wasn't satisfied. She wanted people to see art in person...she wanted them to "be inspired in the same way she was" by great artistic masterpieces.

She decided to bring the Mona Lisa to America!

Jackie traveled to France and talked with the man in charge of the country's treasure. Much to the chagrin of the French, he said yes! 

With every precaution possible, the famous painting was boxed up and transported by ship to the States. It was even escorted by a secret service agent when it rode in a special truck to Washington, D.C.!

Jackie gave a party for 2000 guests to come and see
the Mona Lisa!

Jackie was thrilled to share it with the American public and visitors flocked to the National Gallery of Art to see the famous painting.

The painting was met with crowds and Mona Lisa mania wherever it was exhibited. 

In the end, Jackie Kennedy accomplished her dream. She not only brought a famous painting to the United States, but she continued to make art important to all Americans. 
From the creation of the Kennedy Performing Art Center to helping preserve historical buildings like Grand Central Station to becoming a book editor...she continued to invite others to see the world as she did--a museum of wonder and beauty...if you just knew how to look! 


For a chance to win this book, leave a comment with your email address, or send me an email if you prefer. If you follow my blog you get another chance. Come back on Friday for an interview with both Deborah Robin Murphy and Jen Bricking--and another chance to win this witness to Jackie Kennedy's flair and influence! Giveaway ends Monday, March 21. U.S. addresses only. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

WRITE TO IGNITE PRESENTS: A Master Class on Writing Devotionals

 I am happy to share that the Spring 2022 Write2Ignite Master Class will be taught by author and speaker, Karen Whiting. Check out the pile of devotionals she's written!

Since the world is still in a Covid/Post-Covid mode, the class will be on Zoom and will be recorded.

Karen has a full day scheduled for all attendees. Take a look:

Session 1 Writing Devotion Basics and the Core Message

  • The basics of writing devotions for various age groups.
  • Step-by-step instructions on writing devotions.
  • What makes a devotion touch readers and impact lives.

Session 2 Polishing the Devotion

  • Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of sample devotions.
  • How to edit for tightness, readability, sense appeal, and take-away.
  • A checklist for both strengths and weakness.
  • How to accessorize your devotion well.

Session 3: Submitting Devotions and Creating a Collection of Themed Devotions

  • How to submit devotions and apply to write devotions for publications who assign devotions to authors.
  • A series of devotions can become a book if they are cohesive. How to center around a theme and target a specific intended audience.
  • What is the “Big Idea” of a devotional book?
  • How to divide the big theme into smaller ones for weeks or months.


Guest speaker, Michelle Medlock Adams will talk about her new children's imprint with End Game Press and Marianne Hering will share what type of parenting tips and hacks she's looking for Focus on the Family.

If you're a Christian writer who wants to break into the devotional market, than this is the class for you!

Here's the link to register

To read a sample devotional by Write2Ignite's friend, Lori Hatcher, go here. To read some tips on writing devotionals for kids and adults, read  Jarm Del Boccio's post here.

Since I coordinate the W2I blog I'd love it if you signed up for it! (Scroll all the way down on the right to find the "To subscribe" button). 

To sign up for W2I's monthly newsletter, click here.

Questions? Email me here.

Hope to see you in April on Zoom!

Saturday, March 5, 2022

THE AGING MACHINE: A Young Adult Book Review by Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta, and a Giveaway

 Paul Schreyer’s second young adult novel, The Aging Machine, is a science fiction novel exploring the use of the eponymous Aging Machine. Elmore Fishbein, a greedy inventor, has just invented a machine that uses artificial radiation, which mimics the wear and tear of daily life to age its victims. In exchange for fame and a large sum of money, Elmore has signed his project over to Governor Tom Willis, who has promised to use the dangerous device to fix the justice system.

The first subjects of the Aging Machine are unlikely and unwilling. John and Taylor are two orphaned fifteen-year-olds who are currently living in the Surrogate Care Facility, an industrialized orphanage. After John and Taylor are wrongfully convicted of murdering the superintendent of the facility, they are put into the aging machine and emerge as seventy-five-year-old men.  While they try to readjust to their new lives, young journalist Amy Wilson is uncovering the full story behind the machine. Meanwhile, Quincy Nash, a police officer with a savage streak, believes the boys-turned-men deserve to have their lives ended, not shortened, and is willing to do the job himself. Each of the four characters collide on the path to find a researcher whose name is suddenly on the tip of everyone’s tongues: Doctor Scott—a mysterious figure who is hiding a secret about the Aging Machine that could change the world.

            While the premise of this adventure story seems promising, the concept is ultimately undermined by sub-par writing. Most of the dialogue feels forced as contractions are rarely utilized. Conversations are hard to follow due to a lack of names and surplus of pronouns. Despite often unusually talkative characters, there’s a lack of meaningful or revealing dialogue.

Finally, Paul Schreyer’s tendency to avoid the use of adjectives leave most of his descriptions confusing. Additionally, his scenes are often repetitive and his characters illogical. Take for instance, young reporter Amy Wilson. In the below excerpt, found on page 178, she’s driving a car next to train tracks where Quincy Nash, John and Taylor are engaged in a fight to the death.

            “Amy regained control of the steering wheel after colliding with the train. She pounded the dashboard in frustration.

            Twice, she thought, I missed him (Quincy) twice.”

            By page 182, Amy’s made three passes at Quincy with her car and has given up. Her dubious ethics and even more questionable driving skills make an already prolonged scene even worse.

            It’s also worth mentioning that a chapter earlier, there’s a scene in which Amy hurls herself against a door with enough force to throw a man nearby to the ground. This is obviously impossible and another example of frequently illogical action sequences. The exact quote is below and can be found on page 166 of The Aging Machine.

            “He started to form the word fire when the door exploded inward, smashing into his back and knocking him off his feet. He flew through the air face-first…

            From the hallway, Amy Wilson had seen Quincy Nash… She knew she didn’t have much time. She backed up and ran full speed at the door, throwing her weight against it. She ricocheted off the door and landed in a crouch, fists tightly clenched and leveled in front of her…”

Ignoring the shallow characters and stiff interactions, this young adult adventure can be mildly entertaining. Governor Willis and Elmore Fishbein share the stage with John and Taylor, and the story switches between political tension and tense business meetings, to learning how to drive and juvenile antics. The idea of an ‘aging machine’ isn’t uncharted territory, but the way Paul Schreyer approaches this concept is. In order to read this book, the reader must puzzle out confusing scenes and muddle through bland descriptions. Still, The Aging Machine has its moments. The message behind the book, that youth is our most valuable resource—as well as the questions you’ll ask yourself after the last page—means that perhaps this novel deserves a chance to be read.

Elliott is a prolific reader of various genres 
who is more than happy to share his opinions on books.
 In his free time, he enjoys writing, reading, and running. 
He is an 8th grade homeschool student in Charlotte, NC. 


To enter this giveaway, please leave a comment with your email address by March 10. U.S. postal addresses only. 

You'll find this review and other recommended books on Greg Pattridge's marvelous blog, Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!

Thursday, March 3, 2022

BATTLE OF THE BUTTS: The Science Behind Animal Behinds-- A Nonfiction Picture Book Review and Author Interview

BATTLE OF THE BUTTS (Running Press, 2021) by Jocelyn Rish with illustrations by David Creighton-Pester, is really about a battle to determine which animal has the best buttocks of all. As Jocelyn tells her young readers in the introduction:

You're the judge in the Battle of the Butts. As you meet each challenger in this battle and learn about their posterior power, it's up to you to rate them:

        • Terrific Tushie
        • Remarkable Rump
        • Cool Caboose
        • Passable Posterior
        • Boring Backside
What kid can resist being a judge--particularly a judge of animals' backsides?!

With that intriguing set-up, Jocelyn begins this fact-filled and incredibly kid-friendly book. 


Two spreads are dedicated to each of the ten challengers" posteriors: the "Pudgy Posterior" A.K.A. the Manatee; the "Tough Toushie A.K.A. the Wombat; the "Bum Breather" A.K.A. the Fitzroy River Turtle; the "Toot Talker" A.K.A. the Herring; the "Cannon Caboose" A.K.A. the Bombardier Beetle, the "Projectile Pooper" A.K.A. the Silver-Spotted Skipper Caterpillar; the "Fatal Farter" A.K.A The Beaded Lacewing; the "Beach Bum" A.K.A. the Parrotfish; the "Two-headed Tooter" A.K.A. the Sonoran Coral Snake; and the "The Hotel Hiney" A.K.A. The Sea Cucumber. 

(Clearly, Jocelyn has too much time on her hands if all she is doing is sitting around thinking up amazing alliterations!)

The Manatee's Posterior Power

The book begins with the manatee (which by the way, I had the pleasure of swimming with a few years ago. Unfortunately, the water was a little murky so I didn't get to observe their "posterior power" -- they swim using farts!).

Besides that important piece of information, In the "Extra Booty" section I also learned that manatees' intestines are as long as a bowling alley (65 feet) and as wide as a dollar bill (6 inches in diameter). But wait--there's more! 
Butt Bonus: When manatees are unable to poop because they're constipated, they lose buoyancy control and float with their tails higher than the rest of their bodies. Once they are finally able to poop again, they will let out a massive fart and are then able to swim normally.

I know... you've been waiting all your life to know that about manatees, right?

The Wombat's Posterior Power

Jocelyn's research took her far and wide. In the process she found the Australian wombat. You'll never guess what their posterior power is so I'll let you in on a secret---their butts are shields that protect themselves and destroy their enemies! 

If a predator manages to push its head into the entrance, the wombat uses its strong legs to slam its butt against the predator's head. Wham! It crushes the predator's skull against the roof the burrow, killing it. That's one deadly derrière!


Not only that, but according to the "Butt Bonus," wombat poop is shaped like cubes. They mark their territory on rocks and logs and the square shape stops the pellets from rolling onto the ground. Pretty amazing, huh?

Whether you want to read more about a turtle who breathes through his butt; herring who communicate through farts ("Bluurp! Hey dude, you're too close to my left, move over a few inches); or the beetle that deploys a chemical poison from his "super soaker butt"--than this is the book for you! Parents, caretakers, teachers--you all will love introducing your pre-school through second grader to these crazily cool creatures. (Uh oh, Jocelyn! Your alliteration is contagious!)

The book ends with a challenge to the kid judges and a glossary highlighting unfamiliar words. Kudos also to artist David Creighton Pester for his clever and colorful illustrations. 


In this interview Jocelyn not only shares what's coming up next, but her (very early!) inspiration for writing BUTTS.

CAROL: “Why butts?” Why did you think of this idea in the first place?

JOCELYN: I'm not sure if I should admit this, but I have a pretty terrible Twitter habit. Late one night when I should have been doing something productive (like sleeping!), I was mindlessly scrolling Twitter when I saw an adorable graphic of a manatee that said, “Manatees can control their buoyancy through an endless cycle of farting. There. That’s a thing you know now.” I didn't think that could possibly be true, so I googled, and it was! The best part is the google search also brought up articles about other animals that do weird things with their tushies. From that night of learning funny fanny facts, BATTLE OF THE BUTTS was born!

The picture that started it all.
FUN FACT: Jocelyn has been enamored with manatees since she was a kid.

CAROL: How did you pick these ten animals? 

JOCELYN: As I discovered there were other animals out there with remarkable rumps, I started googling things like: "animals with weird butts" and "funny butt abilities" and other silly terms like that. As new animals came up in searches, I added them to my notes. Then I researched each animal further in scientific journals to separate fact from internet legend. When it came time to decide on the final ten animals, I tried to pick a variety of scientific classifications, with different types of booty abilities, and a mix of water and land (there are five of each). But I still have plenty of animals with funky fannies available to make BATTLE OF THE BUTTS NUMBER 2. 😆

CAROL: I love the judging format. How did you come up with that?


JOCELYN: Thank you! As I read about the various fanny facts, I envisioned the animals on stage showing off their tushie talents reality show style, like America’s Got Talent or American Idol. I started playing around with titles like Butts Got Talent or Butt Idol, but those didn’t feel right. When I hit on the alliteration of BATTLE OF THE BUTTS, I immediately knew that was the title. So then I started thinking, if it’s a battle, then there has to be a winner, and if there’s a winner, there should be judges – and of course the kids will be the judges! From there, it was just a matter of hitting up the thesaurus to come up with fun names for each judging category. 

CAROL: The language is very kid-friendly.  Did it take many drafts to get in all the lovely alliteration?  Did you have any kid beta-readers? 


JOCELYN: I’m so glad you think so! It was important to me that along with the funny butt facts that the book also be fun to read out loud. I’m actually an alliteration aficionado (probably too much so!), so it kind of comes naturally as I write. I found lists online of synonyms for butts, farts, and poop (there are a shocking number of alternate potty words!) and kept those beside my thesaurus as I wrote my first draft. Then I sent it to my critique partners, and from their feedback, I did some tightening and tweaking. At that point, I felt ready to query, so it was really only two drafts. 


My cousin’s son loves animals and nature, so he read it for me and found an issue where I said poisonous rather than venomous when talking about the snake, so that was a great catch (Thanks, Colton!). I also read it with my Reading Partners student, having him mark places that made him laugh and places he didn’t understand. That was very helpful for adding words to the glossary. 


CAROL: How has the book been received? Are schools using it? Do you have plans for online curriculum guides? 


JOCELYN: Friends and even strangers on social media have been so sweet about sending me videos of their kids reading BUTTS and giggling. One little girl was laughing so hard she fell over sideways on the couch, which totally made my day. So I think kids are enjoying it like I hoped. 


I participated in World Read Aloud Day with ten schools last month and had such a blast reading with the kids. They asked such insightful questions. And I’m reading with eight more schools next week for Read Across America Day – I can’t wait! I’d love to have a curriculum guide, but I’ll definitely have to outsource that. It’s on my To Do list! 

CAROL: What awards have you won?


For BATTLE OF THE BUTTS, I was thrilled that the Missouri Association of School Librarians included BUTTS on their 2022 Dogwood Book List for Nonfiction.


As for non-BUTTS awards, I’ve been fortunate to win several like the 2020 Book Pipeline YA Unpublished Contest, the 2013 SCBWI WIP Grant for Contemporary Novel for Young People, and the 2009 Highlights Fiction contest. 

It’s because of that last one that I first met you because my prize was tuition to the Highlights Chautauqua summer session! 

This picture popped up in Jocelyn's FB feed.
I'd forgotten we were there together!


CAROL: What’s next?


The illustrator David Creighton-Pester is currently working his magic again on BATTLE OF THE BRAINS, which is scheduled for release on Nov 8, 2022. It’s about ten animals with mind-blowing brain abilities.


And I’ve pitch my agent and editor several ideas for a third BATTLE book, so fingers crossed. Also, I was inspired by Tara Lazar’s Storystorm with several fiction ideas, one of which I’m currently scribbling about in my notebook. I hope it shapes into something creepy and fun!



No giveaway this time.  I hope my grandkids laugh themselves off the sofa when I read them this book! Congratulations to Joan Edwards who won The View from the Very Best House in Town and to Donna Johnson for winning I Want My Book Back. 


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