Saturday, July 29, 2023

SOUTHPAW SALLY: A Guest Blogger Review and Giveaway

REVIEW by Mara Scudder

As an avid reader who has no interest in baseball (and sports in general), I fell far from Steve Carman's upper middle-grade audience range. But Southpaw Sully’s characters are irresistible in any genre, and Sully and the rest of the cast pulled me in from the very first page. The author didn’t use Sully’s missing hand as an excuse for sympathy, instead developing him as a well-rounded and relatable character, despite his unusual circumstances. 

Sully was born into a family dedicated to baseball -- his father coached their town’s underdog team, and he and his twin brother, Brendan, practiced every chance they got. He and Brendan made up their minds that once they got old enough, they were going to break the losing streak that their team couldn’t seem to break. But Sully ends up having to do it alone.

After a car crash, lost Sully lost his brother and his right hand. All he cares about now is living up to the promise he and Brendan had made to end the streak. At fourteen, Sully is pitching for his team with a passion. Once he thought he could never play baseball again. Now it's all he cares about.

Although the characters are vibrant, relatable, and unique, the plot happens to be the weakest point of the work. Each chapter involves Sully facing another unforeseen and improbable obstacle (from a stolen dog to an untimely heart attack) that almost keeps him from competing in the championship. Each time, deus ex machina swoops in to make sure Sully and his friends make it to the next game.

But aside from that, I enjoyed the story immensely. The characters were especially enjoyable, from their unique personalities to the unexpected twist the author added to each character arc. The overweight bully becomes the protagonist’s loyal sidekick, and even the archenemy ends up learning to respect those he disagrees with. Each character brought something new and exciting to a unique story. 

On top of the vibrant characters, the stakes were high. We wanted Sully to win not just because he had a passion for baseball, but also because he saw his brother everywhere -- and he knew that Brendan would have loved to watch Sully take their losing team to victory. I cheered him on not because the game mattered, but because of what it represented to him and his family. Those stakes created unusual tension for a slice-of-life sports story and ensured that Southpaw Sully will stand out from other books on the shelf for years to come. 


Please leave me a comment if you want to win this book for yourself or a young reader in your life. If you share this post on social media let me know and I'll enter your name twice. You can also email me to enter. U.S. addresses only. The giveaway ends on August 2.

For other great middle-grade books, check out Greg Pattridge's Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday books!

Monday, July 24, 2023


I always enjoy sharing my writing friend's new books and am happy to tell you about Jolene Gutiérrez's sensitive picture book, TOO MUCH! An Overwhelming Day (Abrams Books). The book which is beautifully illustrated by Angel Chang, is coming out on August 1 and can be preordered here. Remember! Preorders are one way you help authors get the word out about their books. If you don't want to purchase it yourself, then ask your library to add it to their collection. 


The book is written in simple poetry but tackles a difficult topic: Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Jolene is intimately acquainted with this condition so she is uniquely qualified to write about a child who suffers from SPD.

As the little girl gets ready for school, the reader sees in a very close POV how light, sounds, textures, and even crunchy cereals bother her.

At school, she must navigate playground friends who want to hug her--which creates sensory overload.

Our little friend is so upset that all she can do is hide.

Fortunately, she knows to ask for something that will calm her down.

I take deep breaths

you hold my hand

I'm thankful

that you understand.


                              When feelings go 

                     on overload,

                     I pause and breathe,

                     and all is...


Jolene included four terrific pages of information about SPD, sensory systems, and even how to create a sensory diet. 

I recommend this book to parents, librarians, and teachers who suspect a child has a sensory disorder.  The little girl's needs are so sweetly and simply showed that I think every preK-1st grade teacher needs this in her classroom. It will help other students develop empathy for a child experiencing these issues and would be useful when targeting social-emotional learning. Here is a link to the caregiver's/teacher's guide on Jolene's website.


Carol: Why did you choose poetry to write this story?  

Jolene: I did NOT want to write in rhyme because rhyme and rhythm are a challenge for me, but this story demanded it. The piece “Too loud! Too bright! Too itchy! Too tight!” came to me first, so I wrote those words down and eventually built a story around them. 


Carol: I understand that you and your children have experienced sensory processing issues. Is this a genetic disorder?


Jolene: Yes, my daughter, my son, and I all have sensory processing disorder, and this is absolutely the book that I needed as I was trying to raise my children (and probably the book my parents needed as they were trying to raise me). Many of my sensitivities are based around sound, light, and textures (of food and of clothing). My daughter is my oldest child, so she is the person I got to learn to parent on. Her sensitivities looked different from mine—she didn’t like touch or certain types of movement. I was slow to realize that we were both struggling with sensory input and regulation but in different ways. With the help of a play therapist who recommended testing and occupational therapy, we both learned about sensory needs. Since many types of neurodiversity seem to be inherited and sensory processing disorder is one of those differences, I would say that yes, in my non-expert opinion, sensory sensitivities can be genetic.


Carol: Can you talk a bit about how your experiences informed this book? Was it difficult to write about something this personal? 


Jolene: Those experiences ARE this book—I brainstormed things that I struggled with or that my kids struggled with and wrote scenes around them. The only difficulty in writing about this is the guilt I feel for not recognizing what was going on with my daughter sooner. This is the book I needed so I wouldn’t feel like a bad parent who was doing something wrong AND the book my kids needed so they wouldn’t feel different. Had I known what was going on earlier, I could have anticipated my kids’ needs and advocated for them. I hope this book will be a helpful tool for the families and kids who need it and a way to encourage compassion and understanding for those who haven’t experienced sensory overwhelm.


Carol: How did your experiences as a teacher and librarian at a school for kids who are diverse learners shape this book?

Jolene: My students are often neurodiverse learners. Some of my students may have diagnoses that include dyslexia, ADHD, or autism spectrum disorder. Amongst students with some type of neurodiversity, co-occurrence of differences is common.  I see a lot of sensory sensitivities in my students. When I’m teaching, I’m sure to name some of mine, too: “I get really overwhelmed and distracted by sound, so it helps me if you don’t have side conversations when I’m trying to teach.” As I wrote TOO MUCH!, I thought of what would help my students.


Carol: What was your book journey?

Jolene: This manuscript originally started as a board book manuscript. There were three editors interested in it and two of the editors wanted some revisions, so I ended up with three versions: the original version, a version with problem/solution format (one stanza introduced a problem and the next stanza introduced a solution), and a version where the caregiver has more dialog. Each of the editors was so thoughtful and kind but Meredith Mundy at Abrams Appleseed is the editor who connected most strongly with this manuscript, and I’m so honored and happy to work with her! Ironically, this manuscript is coming out first as a picture book and eventually will be released as a board book. I also have two other picture books (both co-authored) coming out with Meredith at Abrams Appleseed in the next two years. Mamiachi and Me, a picture book co-authored with my son Dakota about an all-female mariachi group; the other hasn’t been announced yet. 


Carol: The illustrations are fantastic. Did you have any input into them?

Jen: I love them, too! Angel Chang is amazing! Meredith gave me some choices and also asked if I had a specific art style in mind. Since I try not to imagine illustrations when I’m writing and because sensory overwhelm seems like such a tough subject to illustrate, I didn’t have many ideas. But as we explored some of the illustrators Meredith and art director Heather Kelly suggested, we all gravitated to Angel’s art. She did the most brilliant job of illustrating something that we were all worrying about: “How do you illustrate sensory overwhelm?” Through the use of color, lines, and little shapes that Angel called “emotional friends,” we can see when Birdy, the little girl Angel created, is overwhelmed.

Meredith and Heather allowed me to look over the art at various stages and asked for feedback, so they worked very collaboratively with me and with Angel to ensure that the final product reflected both of us. One of the main scenes where I offered feedback is the playground scene. Initially, Birdy was on the top of the play structure peeking out at her playground friends below. My feedback was based on my own experiences. If Birdy was overwhelmed, she would be shutting down and trying to shut the world out, so she would probably be hugging herself, hiding her face, etc. Angel used that feedback to create a Birdy authentic to my experiences.


Leave me a comment or email me by July 26 to enter. Sorry, U.S. addresses only. If you are an educator or librarian, you get two chances. Please leave me your email address if you are new to my blog. 

Congratulations to Linda Trott Dickman who won Find Me In the Time Before from last week's blog.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

FIND ME IN THE TIME BEFORE: Review by Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta and a Giveaway

While traveling through time, teen scientist Charley Morton has met Leonardo da Vinci, explored the Renaissance, and even been tried for witchcraft. Now, on her most daring adventure yet, she sets her eyes on journeying back in time to 17thcentury to meet her “shero”, Émilie du Châtelet. After receiving a distress call from a fellow time traveler, Carolina, Charley is determined to make her way back to medieval Paris in order to rescue her friend and meet her STEM idol. In order to make the journey, she recruits Billy, her best friend and partner in time travel, and Beth, a fashion-obsessed classmate. Will Charley be able to save Carolina without endangering herself in the process?


            Find Me In the Time Before by Robin Stevens Payes, owes a lot of its appeal to its unique writing style. Among other YA novels, the book is set apart by Charley’s narrative voice in her use of slang and cultural references. Whether she’s explaining how Émilie du Châtelet’s commentary of Newton’s Principia revolutionized physics or who she plans to go to homecoming with, Charley effortlessly incorporates mentions of popular memes, uses texting abbreviations, and remains clear and relatable. As a scientist and historian, Charley’s voice is a blend of subtle references to both modern and ancient works. The book references Shakespeare’s plays, Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, and The Thinker by Rodin, making Charley’s adventures just as engaging as they are educational. Much like Percy Jackson in The Lightning Thief, a sarcastic and whip-smart narrator sets this book apart as a teen novel.

            Despite the net historical accuracy of the novel, there are quite a few moments that stretch disbelief in Find Me In the Time Before. For example, Charley’s time travel is enabled by an AI assistant that her best friend and computer enthusiast Billy manages to program in just a few weeks. Similarly, despite being stranded in time, Charley is able to receive text messages from her friends, often at key moments in the plot. These moments are easily glossed over, but still take away from the overall authenticity of the book. However, the novel remains mostly accurate, with the dialogue of historical characters, such as Voltaire, made up of famous quotes that fit seamlessly into the conversation.


            In conclusion, Find Me In the Time Before is an engaging book for teens, featuring an absorbing protagonist and incorporating many historically important characters and topics. Charley’s witty comments and endless curiosity help drive the book forward, while the varied characters she meets while journeying through time, including Émilie du Châtelet and Voltaire, will inspire teens to tackle history with a new zeal. Additionally, the book is the latest in the Edge of Yesterday quartet, each of which features Charley’s latest adventure through time. With a passion for learning and a witty remark at the ready, Charley’s adventures make for perfect reading material for reluctant teen readers.


I think this would be a fabulous book for upper middle-grade and teens who love adventures, history, and STEM. Leave me a comment by July 19 and I'll enter your name. If you share this post on social media please let me know and I'll enter your name twice. U.S. addresses only. If you prefer to email your entry, send it to me here.

Make sure you check out Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog for other book recommendations.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

THE FATHER GOOSE TREASURY OF POETRY: A Review and Giveaway Through Talking Story

 As promised last week, I'm back again with another marvelous poetry book by Charles Ghigna. But this time, it's not just one poem It is one hundred and one! THE FATHER GOOSE TREASURY OF POETRY (Schiffer Books: 2023) is divided into seven sections. There is one section for each season, plus "Home," "Animals," and "Poetry." In this blog, Charles talks about the process of how he decided which poems to include in the anthology-- as well as his favorite sweet treats.


Charles uses nature themes and a vivid imagination to write poetry that brings smiles to readers of all ages. The way he incorporates sensory imagery makes readers take notice of word choice and world details. 

Take this poem for example:

            White Butterflies

I like to watch the falling snow.

It puts on such a lovely show.

It looks like little veils of lace,

White butterflies upon my face. (p. 37)

I found three types of figurative language in this word picture--how many do you find? Highlight the following phrase for the answer. personification, simile, metaphor).

Or, how about this sing-song poem with its unique way of rhyming? This one reminds me of how Charles listened to music as a child--you can almost hear the music behind his words.

The title itself makes me laugh and the illustrations of trees dancing in the wind compliment the poem perfectly. Look closely at the cloud and goose and you'll see collage elements that illustrator Sara Brezzi incorporated.

"Morning Rain" reminds me of one of my childhood favorites, Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. (Does anyone else remember the "Land of Counterpane"? I was pleased to find out that Charles and I both read this book as children!)

           Morning Rain

Like a shadow

Passing by,

Storm clouds

Fill the morning sky,

From my window

I see wonder,

A lightning strike,

A clap of thunder.

I sit beside

The window pane

And watch the world

Fill up with rain.  (p.21)

Many of Charles' poems are playful,

            Thunder Bugs

On stormy nights

I often wonder,

Do lightning bugs

Make the thunder? (p.59)

Some are thought-provoking:


      Orion's Way


Each evening

he enters

the black forest

of night

and spreads

his star crumbs

across the sky

to find his way

back home.  (p. 29)


In honor of the Talking Story issue on wordplay, I had to share this one:

       Wild Romance

I love EWE

I'm not LION

I really GOPHER you.

I never GNU this would happen.

You are so DEER to me.

It's more than I can BEAR.

Let us SEAL our love with a kiss.

I will always BEE yours.

I will never have any EGRETS.

You are my one and only GULL.

OWL always love you. (p. 101)


Parents, grandparents, teachers, and librarians--don't miss the opportunity to add this book to your collection! It's a wonderful read-aloud as well as an opportunity to teach figurative language.

Leave one comment here for one chance to win this book. Leave another through Talking Story for a second chance. On the far right column, you'll see an email address to enter four giveaways. Click on the link and let me know which book you are most interested in winning. (I try to honor requests-but I can't guarantee what picks!). U.S. addresses only. The giveaway ends on July 15th.

Congratulations to Gail Cartee who won A Poem is a Firefly from last week's blog.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023


As I mentioned in a previous post, the summer issue of Talking Story is on wordplay. Today and in my next blog I will share two books written by Charles Ghigna, our author-expert for that issue.  (Spoiler alert: In the next blog I'm reviewing his newest anthology THE FATHER GOOSE TREASURY OF POETRY and in the newsletter, Charles gives a few hints on how he writes his poems.)

"Father Goose" as he is affectionately known, is no stranger to my blog; you'll find a review of his adult collection here and a nonfiction book about strange, unusual, gross, and cool animals here. I admire his ability to create fun poems for children--he makes it look easy! 

REVIEW of A Poem is a Firefly

The book opens with the main character asking,

As the bear quickly finds out, a poem can be ANYTHING! That doesn't exactly answer his question, so Bear goes on a quest for the answer, which his animal friends supply. A hedgehog hurries to help him:

and a bee buzzes,

A butterfly blips onto a page and says, "A poem is an echo... slowly passing by."

A spider shares that,

The creatures converge:

Finally, as the sun sets, they suppose,

Illustrations courtesy of Charles Ghigna.


I think this is a fantastic book for preschool through second-grade readers. The rhythm of the poems, the lyrical language, and the animal characters will engage each and every child. Like I have recommended in the past, read the book through several times with your audience. Then take it apart and point out the figurative language. See what nature comparisons your students can come up with. 

I think you'll agree that the illustrations by Michelle Hazelwood Hyde are outstanding and also engaging.  By the way, the title on the cover lights up in the dark--just like a firefly!


CAROL: What was your inspiration for writing FIREFLY

CHARLES: I wanted to create a book that would be an original, fun way of introducing children to poetry and metaphor based on a "show, don't tell" method. I choose a friendly group of woodland animals as my main characters and had them meet in the woods to discuss "What is poetry?" Each animal compares (metaphor) what they think a poem can be with answers that rhyme. It was fun for me to brainstorm on all the different aspects of nature that I could compare to poetry and create rhymes to lift the narrative with melody, lyrical language, and rhyme.

CAROL: I read on one of your sites that you work on 3 books at a time. What’s that process like? 

CHARLES: I always have more than one project going on at a time. It's fun switching back and forth between the manuscripts, often returning to the other one with new eyes and inspiration. Right now I have five new book manuscripts in the works. It makes getting up in the morning a little more exciting, wondering which ones will reignite the spark that will keep me writing all day ... and night.

CAROL: I assume that they’re each in a different phase? 

CHARLES: Yes, I like to let each of my new projects complete themselves on their own good time. 

CAROL: Did you like poetry as a child? 

CHARLES: My earliest discovery of the power and wonder of rhyme and poetry came from listening to songs. The radio was always on in our house. 


So, teachers, parents, and homeschool educators let your students and children listen to songs and poetry. It will increase their love of words!


Please leave a comment by July 8th if you are interested in adding this delightful book to your home or school library. Remember, you'll have a second chance to try and win it through Talking Story. If you're not receiving this quarterly newsletter, you can subscribe here. U.S. addresses only. Your comment might not go live immediately so be patient! Educators get two chances; just let me know in the comments. If you are new to my blog, please leave your email address so I can contact you if you win. If you're uncomfortable doing that, you can email me here.

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...