Thursday, May 26, 2022

SAGUARO'S GIFTS: A Informational PIcture Book Review and Giveaway

 I'm always impressed with the scope of picture books that Sleeping Bear Press publishes. Today's book is no exception.  SAGUARO's GIFTS should adorn elementary school classrooms and family bookshelves with its evocative yet child-friendly poetry by Kurt Cyrus and gorgeous illustrations by Andy Atkins


That opening page is followed by 

The world is dark. The bloom is white.
A bat emerges from the night.
"Hello, Saguaro!"
Every year I find the sweetest nectar here.
And happy birthday, by the way.
One hundred years, this very day!

Throughout the book, desert animals, birds, and insects pay homage to the cactus on its' 100th birthday. Play a game with young readers and ask them to find the hummingbird, woodpecker, owl, butterflies, a coyote, and a tortoise. 

All the animals pause when they hear,

A bobcat races up the trail

with javelina on his tail.

"Clear the way!" the bobcat screeches,

scrambling to the highest reaches.


The tortoise ends the day:

Another day is done old friend.

One hundred years have come and gone.

but you and I go on and on.



The book ends with a spread showing a meteor lighting up the night sky and the words, 
Another gift exchange tomorrow--
Happy birthday, dear Saguaro.
By the way, the flowers appear from April through June and are open for less than 24 hours. On a trip to Arizona nine years ago, I saw how huge these cacti are but unfortunately did not see their beautiful flowers.


Leave me a comment by May 30 to enter this giveaway. Please leave your full name and email address if you are new to my blog. You can also email me if you prefer. Become a new follower or share this on social media and I'll enter your name twice. Make sure you tell me what you did! U.S. addresses only. 

Congratulations to Marci Whitehurst who won So Much More to Helen from last week's blog.

Friday, May 20, 2022

UPSIDE DOWN MAGIC- Part I by Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta

Please welcome back Elliott Kurta with his evaluation of an 8-book series by Sarah Mlynoski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins.



    The Upside-Down Magic series spreads a message of positivity and acceptance by using magic as an analogy for individuality. Perfect for upper elementary and middle-school students, these novels capture a fifth-grade class as they make friends, confront bullies, and define themselves in today’s world. Each book features the protagonist, Nory, and one of her friends. Read ahead for a review of the first four books, and be sure to come back later for a review of the remaining four!


Upside-Down Magic (Book 1)


      Upside-Down Magic follows Eleanor Boxwood Horace, aka Nory, as she tries to control her magic. Nory is a Fluxer, one of five types of magical abilities, which means she can turn into different animals. However, unlike most fluxers, Nory doesn’t turn into one animal at a time. Her kitten, which is the first form young Fluxers learn, often ends up being half-beaver, half-goat, or on one memorable occasion, half-dragon. Nory’s father has been waiting for Nory’s chance to test into Sage Academy, where he happens to be the headmaster. So, when Nory flunks the entrance exam for Sage Academy, her world crumbles around her. Her father isn’t speaking to her, and her brother and sister don’t want to be seen with her.

In a whirl, Nory is sent to live with an aunt and finds out she’s going to a different school, one that offers a special program for kids who are “wonky” like her. As Nory readjusts to her new life, she realizes that the Upside-Down magic, or UDM program, isn’t that bad. Ms. Starr, her teacher, doesn’t mind Nory’s mixed-up transformations, and neither do her classmates. Still, Nory feels ashamed of her magic. When she tries to test out of her UDM class along with a classmate, Nory thinks she has a shot at being “normal”. However, a prank that ends with one of her classmates in danger convinces Nory that wonky doesn’t mean worse and normal doesn’t mean better.


Sticks and Stones (Book 2)

Nory is happy at the Dunwiddle Magic School, and she loves her new friends. Unfortunately, not all of her classmates feel the same way. Lacy Clench has had it out for the Upside-Down Magic class since one of their students shrank her to the size of a doll for a few hours. And now, she’s started a petition to end the Upside-Down magic program! Worse, objects all over the school have been turning to stone, and fingers are being pointed at the UDM class. The most likely culprit, Bax, has Upside-Down magic that makes him flux into a boulder when he’s mad or stressed. But Bax has his own things to worry about, and he’s already tired of all the accusations.

While the suspicion builds, Nory decides to join the Kittenball team, where her advanced fluxing means she might have a chance to be good at something. Her classmates have agreed to attend her first-ever Kittenball game. However, Nory’s friends are anxious about keeping their magic under control in front of a large, noisy stadium. With Lacy’s petition gaining interest, a mysterious plague of objects turned to stone, and the incoming Kittenball match, the UDM class needs to shape up, and fast!


Showing Off (Book 3)

The Dunwiddle Show Off is here, and Nory is excited to perform with her classmates! The Show Off is a school-wide talent show, and the other fifth-grade classes have already picked out their acts. None of the UDM kids can agree on a performance, and they’re considering opting out. 

Nory has other plans. Her father has decided to visit for the first time and chose the weekend of the Show Off.  Nory sees the trip as the perfect opportunity to convince her father that she can come back home and go to a normal school. Unfortunately, one of Nory’s classmates doesn’t share her enthusiasm. Pepper, whose upside-down magic makes every animal nearby deathly afraid of her, is worried that performing will just cause trouble. Ms. Starr, the UDM teacher, has been teaching Pepper how to pause her magic. Still, Pepper isn’t sure that she can hold her magic off while her friend, Nory, fluxes into a flamingo for the musical performance. Will Pepper be able to control her powers, or will she ruin Nory’s chance at impressing her father?


Dragon Overnight (Book 4)


Nory is ecstatic to take a field trip to Dragon Haven, a dragon rehabilitation center. She’ll get three days off of school, and those three days will be spent petting dragons and eating smores with her friends! But even before Nory and her friends get to Dragon Haven, things go awry. Andres, whose upside-down magic makes him float upwards permanently, is almost left behind. Once Nory and the rest of the class arrive safely at Dragon Haven, they discover something that might ruin their field trip: another school will be visiting at the same time as them. The Sage Academy, where Nory’s father is the headmaster, will be next to the UDM class at every turn. While Nory is thrown off-kilter by her father, she’s still determined to enjoy the dragons. Soon, Andres’ desire to impress the kids from Sage Academy ends up putting him in danger, while Nory’s obsession with dragons ends up endangering a young hatchling.

You can find some classroom activities here. Recommended by the publisher (Scholastic Kids) for ages 8-12. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

SO MUCH MORE TO HELEN! The Passion and Pursuits of Helen Keller: A Picture Book Biography and Giveaway

 What do you know about Helen Keller?

Many of us have grown up knowing the story of how Annie Sullivan taught Helen to sign her first word, "water" by the family's water pump. 

But as the title of this new picture book from Sleeping Bear Press indicates, there is much more to know. Written by Meeg Pincus (no stranger to my blog) with lush illustrations by Caroline Bonne-Müller,
this book will appeal to Kindergarten-third grade readers. As you'll see from the illustration samples below, each spread includes basic information written in a rhyming couplet with additional details provided in a text box for older children. 


On the first page, readers discover that Helen was a friend to a young black girl as well as to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Inventor Alexander Graham Bell.

Then we discover that, 

And she was,


                Braille and signing, first through college.

Helen was a dog lover and an author...

            Always writing, never slowing.
            Essays, books, and stories flowing.

Helen was an activist, a jokester, and also, 

Did you know that Helen was a romantic who fell in love with Peter Fagan, a journalist? Her parents wouldn't allow her to marry him since many people at the time didn't think DeafBlind people should marry or have children. 

Indeed, Helen was a survivor. 

            Discrimination, heartbreak, grieving.
            Never gave up, kept believing. 

She traveled to five of the seven continents as a humanitarian and peacemaker.  After the World Wars, she visited wounded soldiers and damaged cities to help foster goodwill and healing. She gave speeches in packed amphitheaters and met with world leaders as well as everyday struggling people.

Helen was a changemaker.

Fought for those with deafness, blindness.
Laws, employment, schools--and kindness.

The last spread shows thirteen individuals with either visible or invisible disabilities. 


The last two pages include more details and quotes about each "job" that Helen had. There is also a smaller version of the last spread identifying the thirteen "solutionaries" (someone who tries to solve problems for people, animals, and the planet) and what their disabilities and accomplishments are.

Meeg includes her interest in Helen Keller which stemmed from a high school project. She ends with, "I hope this book inspires you-- whatever disabilities or challenges you may face--to follow our passions and be a solutionary too."

This is an excellent curriculum resource, but I wish a bibliography was included for students and teachers who wanted to read more about this DeafBlind heroine. Click here for Meeg's Free Teaching Tools.

For more of the author's backstory, please see Kathy Temean's blog (and another giveaway!). 

And check out this book trailer:


Leave me a comment (with your last name and email address if you are new to my blog) by May 23 to enter the giveaway. U.S. addresses only. 

Congratulations to Terri Michels who won Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

"You're Almost in Labor!" A Celebration of Stages

 If you're reading this and have been pregnant for nine long months, or if you've been close to someone during that-seemingly-endless amount of time waiting for a baby, then you know how pregnant mamas look forward to their delivery date.

Many people compare publishing a book to having a baby. So, when I contacted Rebecca Kurta, Elliott Kurta's mom (my frequent middle grade guest blogger) about giving a copy of Half-Truths to Elliott, she made the baby comparison. When I explained that although I'm close, my book is still not ready to be delivered, she wanted to know what else was left for me to do. 

Thanks to Lori Steel, who suggested printing out
a close-to-final draft so it looks and feels like a book.

I told her there are just a few "simple" things that happen next.

  • I've hired Deborah Halverson, a free-lance editor (who came  highly recommended from Harold Underdown) to comb through the manuscript and find any issues with the plot, the character's voice, deep point-of-view, tension, stakes, etc. 
  • Once Deborah returns the manuscript, she and I will talk.
  • I'll incorporate her feedback. I will get my baby as spotless as possible.
  • I'll hire a copy editor to make sure it's formatted perfectly.
  • THEN...I'll start submitting to agents. Over the years I've assembled a list. Now will be the time to perfect my query letter and polish my synopsis.
  • THEN...I'll get busy with my next project and try not to obsessively check my email for agent responses. I have 3 picture books that I'm working on as well as an idea for a nonfiction graphic novel. 
  • And THEN...I hope my agent-to-be finds a publishing house who will embrace Half-Truths.
  • And THEN...I tell y'all about it! 
After I sent the manuscript to Deborah this week, I felt empty. The next day I felt relieved as I realized just how much Half-Truths has consumed my thinking for umpteen years!

Yesterday I celebrated this step of my writing journey by delivering the manuscript to two teen beta readers.


I gave one copy to my granddaughter
Caitlin K.,

and another to Elliott.

On my way out the door, Rebecca said, "You're almost in labor!" Thanks, Rebecca, for that reminder to celebrate every stage of my writing journey.

And today, I'm sharing this milestone with you, my faithful blog readers. 

Congratulations to Lisa Fowler who won EQUAL from the "Pick-Your-Own-Book" post.

Remember! Look for more Middle Grade posts on Greg Pattridge's MMGM blog on Monday!

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

RIBBIT! THE TRUTH ABOUT FROGS: A Nonfiction Picture Book Review and Mini- Author Interview


Have you ever wondered what the difference was between toads and frogs? Or, maybe as a child you were curious about how frogs ate. Or, maybe your kid wants to know the different sounds that frogs make.

Whatever your question is about frogs, Annette Whipple's new "Truth About" book from Reycraft Books will answer it. With amazing photographs and "Leapin Legs" illustrations on many pages, Annette provides so many answers that you and your child will want to start building a DIY toad house (directions included, of course) immediately! 

To be perfectly honest, reading this book is like having a chat with your own personal herpetologist!

Here are a few things I learned from Ribbit!:

  • More than 100 species of new frogs are discovered each year.
  • Some frogs quack. (yes, really. Wood frogs!)
  • The Cane toad can lay 30,000 eggs at a time. WOW! That's a lot of babies!
  • Frogs invented the frog kick. Duh...
  • Some frogs live underground. You're going to have to read the book to find out which ones burrow to stay cool in deserts.
  • Sugar in a frog's body acts like antifreeze and keeps it from freezing during the winter. 
  • Frogs are important to science (see the book for surprising reasons why) and to our ecosystems. 


his is Annette's fourth book in the "Truth About Series." All of them make great science books for grades 1-3. You can read about two of her other books (on dogs and spiders) here

All of Annette's books are great STEM assets for school and home school classrooms, as well as for libraries. Several resources and downloadable activities  are available on her website; here's a link to the frog Teacher Guide.

Coming soon on Annette's site!

By the way, for those of you who are feline fans, her next book, MEOW! The Truth About Cats will be out in the fall. 


CAROL: Why frogs?

ANNETTE: I chose frogs because I was already curious about them. I also knew with all of the varied species they'd showcase beautifully in photographs, too. 

CAROL: How did you come up with the question and answer format? Obviously, I think it works really well!

ANNETTE: After setting aside my manuscript for what became Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls for a couple of years, I returned to it and completely changed it. I changed the structure to a question-and-answer format. I also made it for a younger audience and added the humorous sidebars. As soon as I made these changes I knew it was finally marketable. (The previous drafts were well-written, but they didn't shine enough for a publisher to be interested.) 

CAROL: What is your research process like?

ANNETTE: When I research any topic, I use a combination of books, online resources, videos, and professional journal articles. I also consult with experts. Typically, I try to meet with an expert after I have a solid understanding of my topic. However, I met with an herpetologist early in my research for Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs because the timing was right. It was early spring! I keep a physical research notebook and file folders (physical and digital). You can see a bit of a research notebook at my blog

Check out this cute book trailer for all five books!


If you are interested in adding this book to your home or school library, leave me a comment by May 14. If you follow my blog or decide to become a new follower, let me know in the comments and I'll put your name in twice. U.S. addresses only.

Congratulations to Marci Whitehurst who was thrilled to win DIVING DEEP. 

Friday, May 6, 2022


 "This is the house that the Hinkle sisters lived in, and that's the muddy river where Thomas and Jackie fished together." Joyce Hostetter pointed out the car window as we drove around around her hometown, Hickory, NC--the setting for her Bakers Mountain Series. "See that old building? That's the hosiery factory where Junior worked for a few days. Over there is where the car mechanic lived who helped him fix his truck."

The Honeycutt family and their friends, who already had a special place in my heart from reading AIM, BLUE, COMFORT, DRIVE and EQUAL, became even more real as I saw the places where they lived, played, and worked--all within sight of Bakers Mountain. 

Bakers Mountain, photo courtesy Joyce Hostetter

How did Joyce end up writing a series of books that rose up out of what was once a rural community? It all began when Carolyn Yoder, senior editor at Calkins Creek, suggested that Joyce find the story in her own backyard. When Joyce began researching the history of Hickory, NC, she discovered the Miracle of Hickory at her local library.

Mural in downtown Hickory. Do you see Joyce?

She researched, read old papers, interviewed polio patients...and BLUE was born. Read some of Joyce's thoughts on the process of discovering her stories here

Part of Joyce's real backyard. Photo courtesy Joyce Hostetter

A few years after BLUE was published, I met Joyce in Birmingham, Alabama at a literacy conference. She was presenting on BLUE, I was presenting on Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8.  

We bonded over reading and writing. We co-presented several times and continue to publish a quarterly newsletter, Talking Story. We are critique partners and good friends. 

I felt Joyce's influence when I began brainstorming my own first novel. I rode my bike, walked, and drove through neighborhoods. What could have happened here? Half-Truths incubated. Ideas hatched. A novel slowly took shape. It changed. Got revised (many times!). Was reborn. 

What did Carolyn mean when she gave Joyce that assignment? Possibly she was not only talking about an actual backyard but was also encouraging Joyce to reach inside of her own experiences to find something she could relate to and authentically show in her writing.  

Let's face it. There might not be a compelling story about polio or pre-civil rights tension in your community, city, or state. Or, maybe you write science fiction or fantasy that's not even rooted in this continent or world--let alone in your neighborhood! How are you going to find that "backyard" story?

At the foot of Bakers Mountain and staring at Joyce's budding trees and the grass turning green I thought--my backyard is bigger than the crazy intersecting streets of Myers Park, NC. where my characters live. 

It's my whole life. 

It's writing what I know with a twist. 

It's taking my grief over losing someone I loved and embedding that in Kate, my protagonist's heart when she leaves home. It's realizing how making choices is not always very linear and conveying it on the page; it's understanding how gut-wrenching it is to feel betrayed--or be the betrayer. 

How about you? What have you used in your life--whether it's a place, person, event, or experiences--that has made it's way into your book? 

What is in your own backyard? 

Some backyards are under construction,
like mine is!


For the first time on my blog, one fortunate blog reader will be able to pick which book in the Bakers Mountain Series they want to win! Leave me a comment by May 11 to enter this giveaway and tell me which book you are interested in. U.S. addresses only. Make sure you leave me your full name and email address if you are new to my blog.

Make sure you check out the other great books on Greg Pattridge's MMGM blog! 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

DIVING DEEP: Using Machines to Explore the Ocean: A NonFiction Picture Book Review and Giveaway

The title of this picture book says it all. The text by Michelle Cusolito and the magnificent illustrations by Nicole Wong provide readers of all ages with an intimate glimpse of ocean. Diving Deep is to be released in June, 2022 from Charlesbridge, but go ahead and pre-order it now!



This book will make you and your child or students say "WOW!"

Far away from shore, 

past beaches and coral reefs,

the ocean's surface conceals 

Earth's last unexplored wilderness.

What drives humans to dive into the sea

and sink deeper than the last inkling of light?


All illustrations copyright 
© 2022 by Nicole Wong. Used with permission.

The book begins with the simplest (and most shallow) way to explore the ocean (snorkeling) and ends with the most complicated and deepest (tucked inside a thick metal sphere inside a submersible). Each of the nine ways to explore the ocean are first illustrated with text that is accessible to kindergarten through second graders. Additional text on the accompanying page is aimed at third to fourth grade readers. These pages include details such as how deep the people or machine can go, how long they stay under water, how many people are involved, and also includes potential dangers.

This illustration of an underwater lab captivated me. Don't you love the grouper outside the window?

Here is the text explaining Aquarius Reef Base which is located off the coast of Florida:

It is slightly bigger than a city bus. Scientists who live and work in Aquarius dive to the lab using scuba gear. They live at two and a half times the pressure at sea level. Observers at the surface monitor the habitat through live video and audio feeds. By living at depth, scientists can dive for many more hours than from a boat on the surface, and they can complete research projects in less time. Before returning to the surface, they go through seventeen hours of decompression inside Aquarius. Then they swim to the surface using a small tank of air. Dangers include Aquarius system failure and DCS during quick emergency returns to the surface. 

How about a submersible? Notice the verb use of he word "pretzel."

Typical depth: up to 1,000 meters (3,300 feet)
Time: 6 to 12 hours. Number of people: 1 to 3. 
A DeepWorker submersible is like a chair with a submarine wrapped around it. As with other submersibles, the pressure inside is the same as at sea level. A clear, domed top provides a wide view, and dives last about six hours. The pilot drives with their feet, leaving their hands free to take notes or photographs. A headset allows communication with the surface. Triton 3300 submersibles carry one to three people and can dive for eight to ten hours.

The book returns full circle to the young girl and her adult companion snorkeling in a coral reef.

Tomorrow we may 

unlock more secrets of life on Earth.

The last two pages show images of individuals and machines in various water depths.


An extensive Author's Note includes Cusolito's previous work, Flying Deepsome information on her research process, and a brief history of underwater exploration. There are also notes about measurement, an extensive glossary, and a bibliography.


Michelle told me that she and Nicole have a special pre-order campaign going with Eight Cousins Books. Anyone who preorders from them will receive an adorable, frameable 4x6 print of the strawberry squid from the back matter. All preorders from Eight Cousins will also be signed by me AND Nicole Wong, the illustrator. 


Interested in adding this book to your home or school library? Please leave me a comment by May 9 (along with your name and email address if you are new to my blog) to enter the giveaway. Sign up to follow my blog or share this on social media (make sure you tell me what you do!) and I'll enter your name twice. Continental U.S. addresses only.

Congratulations to Natalie Aguirre who won The Captain's' Daughters. 


  Although I moved to WordPress for my new website , I'm still having issues with sending out blog notifications. Here's this week&#...