Saturday, February 24, 2024

RAT: A Book Review by Tween Guest Blogger, Brooke White

The book RAT by Jan Cheripko is an upper middle-grade/young adult novel offering a unique, first-person perspective of Jeremy, a disabled boy in high school. I would recommend this book for readers 11+ who can comprehend the use of mature language, suggestive dialogue, violence, abuse, and swear words. 


We start in a courtroom, with Jeremy a witness in a trial, stating what he saw when his basketball coach, Coach Stennard, physically abused a cheerleader, Cassandra Diaz. He explains that the coach was trying to kiss Cassandra and physically disrespect her boundaries.


He explains his passion for basketball, expressing that he’s not too good, but that doesn’t change how he likes the sport. He then tells the judge that his nickname is Rat because his “friends” always call him a gym rat! 


Jeremy states that the coach threatened to cut a slit in his throat if he told anyone about what he saw. Jeremy also stated that he saw Cassandra crying, with her blouse ripped.


Jeremy and his “friends” talk about the incident. Jeremy learns that his “friends” are only concerned about getting a new coach and are mad at him for testifying against Coach Stennard.  Jeremy thinks about how his injury at birth to his right arm affects his life. He says the reason he’s good at basketball is because he concentrates and doesn’t miss the hoop. In the gym, Simpson bullies Jeremy, and then Josh, another “friend” says, “Leave it alone”. 


In a basketball game, Simpson chooses Felipe and Josh, while Mr. O’Connor chooses two girls, Katie and Megan. Jeremy is hurt that he hasn’t been chosen, but he still watches the game. In the end, Mr. O’Connor and the girls win!


For Jeremy, it feels good to see Simpson defeated, but that ends quickly. Jeremy attempts to shoot the basketball in the hoop, but then Simpson steals the ball and pins him down using the basketball. Simpson pushes the basketball into Jeremy’s right arm and into his back. Jeremy wiggles on the floor and the kids laugh at him. I found this part of the story a great visual and a good example of what Jeremy experiences.


Mr. O’Connor, the new basketball coach, tells the team that Jeremy is the new assistant manager. No one responds. Mr. O’Connor gives the team a basketball handbook and discusses the principles with the players.


Once Simpson bullies Jeremy again, Coach O’Connor meets with Jeremy in his office. He talks about honesty and reminds him that honesty is the first principle in the handbook. Jeremy thinks about Coach Stennard and reflects on the terrible experience, then decides to reassess. My favorite character is Mr. O’Connor.  I look up to his encouraging, rule-following, and empathetic personality.


Once I started reading this book I couldn’t stop turning the pages! This story guides us through many of Jeremy’s real-life experiences, which we can learn from. Some lessons that stuck out to me were the importance of understanding how to be comfortable in your own skin, and the special perspective of how a relationship with God can be strengthened through trials. In the climax of the story, Jeremy starts to pray to help find his way. 


There are multiple plots in this story, which may be hard for some readers to follow along with, but the subplots lead to the adrenaline-pumping and fast-paced novel that it is.


The reader is left asking questions. Will Jeremy get into more trouble with his team? Will Coach Stennard get out of jail?  Will Jeremy ever find a real friend?     


In conclusion, I would recommend this young adult novel, Rat for ages 11+ or anyone who can process imperfect behavior, violence, and bullying.


Brooke loves books and basketball!

Read Brooke's last review of Hidden Truths on my blog here



 If you live in or near Charlotte, NC, I hope you will join me for a fun, free writing event in cooperation with Charlotte Mecklenburg's Community Read program. The book, Buttermilk Graffiti by Chef Edward Lee, chronicles Lee's culinary adventures as he tastes a variety of foods throughout the country. But unlike other foodies who talk about food with restaurant owners, Lee discusses the history and ethnic background behind each type of food or drink he samples. The book is more than about enjoying West Virginia pepperoni rolls that coal miners used to pack for lunch, participating in Ramadan in Dearborn, Michigan, or smoking a Cuban cigar in Miami. It is about the generations who have imbued their food with memory and identity. Listening to Lee's book was like savoring word candy. His descriptions are original, unexpected, and thought-provoking. 

In conjunction with this book, I am giving a workshop, "Food, Memories, & Writing," in four library locations in March.  Participants will sample food, record their memories associated with each one, and create two poems inspired by the food or drink that elicit strong emotions.  

Pre-registration is required and space is limited. Find the branch closest to you. I hope to see you there!


March 2 from 11-12:30 at Visart Video. Co-sponsored by the Independence branch.

March 18 from 12:30-2 at the North County branch. Click here to register.

March 26 from 6:30-7:45 at the Matthews branch. Click here to register.

March 27 from 10:00-11:30 at the Market @7th Street. Sponsored by the Main branch. Click here to register.  

Monday, February 19, 2024

TRUCKER KID: A Picture Book Review, Author Interview, and Giveaway!

TRUCKER KID  (Capstone, June 2023)

 From Amazon:

"Although Athena misses her truck-driving daddy when he's on the road, she thinks he has the most amazing job in the world. She loves showing off her love of all things trucking. But her classmates don't quite get her or why she calls herself Trucker Kid. Can Athena change their minds and show the other students that it's cool to be Trucker Kid?"

Written by Carol Gordon Ekster with lively illustrations by Russ Cox, this book teaches kids about the life of a trucker's family and is full of trucking similes and metaphors that both kids and adults will enjoy. 


Athena's got a problem. Her truck-driving dad is leaving for a week and she'll miss him!

"When she heads inside, she deflates like a flat tire."

She stays busy playing with her trucks, drawing trucks, and reading about trucks.

But at school, no one seems to understand her fascination with trucks. 

Her answer is simple:

After Athena tells her friends how she holds the mic for the CB radio and sleeps in the truck's cab, they decide they want to be trucker kids too.

Athena's dad is happy to bring his truck to the school and let everyone explore it.

The story ends perfectly on the play
ground with a "traffic jam of drivers" joining Athena.


Carol B.: Can you tell us about your path to publication?

Carol E.: In March 2013 I visited my daughter in Taos, NM and we dined at our favorite restaurant. I couldn't help but overhear a family's conversation at a nearby table. Three-year-old Athena was discussing a trucking trip she took with her daddy. My writing brain ignited, and I immediately had my title, Trucker Girl. I told the family that I was a children's author, and how their discussion inspired a title, and I asked for their contact information.

 I came home and took out library books on trucks and trucking. I knew nothing! About one month later I started e-mailing the dad to ask some questions. A month after that I brought the manuscript to a critique group.


There have been so many critique buddies weighing too many revisions to count. It gathered close to one hundred rejections!  But then during COVID, I pulled it out again. I had seen how trucks and their drivers were during this difficult time. I added in back matter to show how we rely on trucks and tightened the manuscript. It ended up being one of three manuscripts that helped me secure my first agent.

That agent sent it out on a small round of submissions. Capstone editor, Chris Harbo, acquired it. He was a dream editor and included me in all aspects of the process. Capstone requested a title change from Trucker Girl to Trucker Kid, and of course, I said yes! Almost ten years after that night at the restaurant, I held the book in my hand. 

I love the mysteriousness of this writing life. What if we had not gone to that restaurant at that time or sat next to that family? Trucker Kid was meant to be! My illustrator, Russ Cox, has a son who happens to be a trucker!


Carol has a ton of activities on her website for your K-first grade classroom. Teachers could talk about the figurative language used throughout the story and ask students to create their own. In addition, students could look at trucking routes across the United States.


Capstone is providing two copies for two different blog followers. Make sure if you are a librarian or educator to let me know in the comments; your name goes in twice. Please leave your email address if you are new to my blog. If you choose to follow my blog you'll also get an additional chance. U.S. addresses only. The giveaway ends February 21. 

Congratulations to Kathy O'Neill who won Rosie Woods in the Little Red Writing Hood. 

Saturday, February 10, 2024

ROSIE WOODS IN LITTLE RED WRITING HOOD: Book Review and Author Interview by Guest Blogger Elliott Kurta


I'm pleased to have Elliott Kurta return to my blog. He is now a busy sophomore so I appreciate him taking time from his studies and volunteer work to share his thoughts about Rosie Woods in Little Red Writing Hood.

Audience: 1st – 5th graders; teachers

In 3 Words: imaginative, bite-sized, funny

One Sentence Synopsis: Rosie Woods explores the five steps of the writing process, using the story of Little Red Riding Hood as an example.

Final Verdict: 4.5/5 stars


            Rosie Woods has a problem. A big problem: a bout of writer’s block is stopping her from writing a story for her English class. If only her friend Wolfie would stop talking, she might be able to spin an idea together! Under the guidance of her teacher, Mrs. Marshall, Rosie chips away at her writer’s block, in the process learning about the five elements behind every great story and retracing the path of another familiar hero—Little Red Riding Hood. Studded with illustrator Eleanor Howell’s soft watercolor drawings, Maya Myers' novel is an engaging exposé into the writing process.

            Bringing a new twist to a centuries-old tale, Rosie Woods breaks the art of story-telling into five simple components: setting, hero, problem, solution, and a twist ending. Our story starts as Rosie receives an assignment to write a creative short story. As the novel progresses, she explores the five elements one by one, slowly incorporating each into her own work-in-progress. Each new discovery is similarly mirrored in the novel: the chapter that sees Rosie learn about setting also introduces readers to Rosie’s schoolhouse and briefly explores the nature of Rosie and Wolfie’s friendship. Little Red Riding Hood ultimately forms the backbone for this story, echoed in Rosie’s personal character arc and in the short story she’s writing. While admirably ambitious, the story’s heavy stack of allegories and analogies seems as precarious and towering as a stack of forty mattresses, and after three concurrent retellings, Little Red Riding Hood’s story starts to feel as lumpy and out of place as a pea. Overall, each plotline contains far too many working parts for most kids to keep track of, making it difficult to focus on the writing process the book is trying to teach. 

            Although the plot of Rosie Woods may be lacking, author Maya Myers' writing certainly is not. From start to finish, Rosie remains a likeable, shy heroine every reader can rally behind and relate to, especially if they’ve ever struggled to tell a story of their own. Myers is able to effortlessly relate to elementary school kids, offering them a story with stakes they can understand. Her prose meets readers at their level of experience, neither attempting to gloss over harder concepts nor shoving readers headfirst into the world of creative writing. Unlike the blocky, predigested sentences of most kids’ books, Rosie Woods features whimsical turns of phrase and clever wordplay, keeping kids engaged and entertained. For example, as Rosie considers raising her hand in class to talk about plot twists, we learn that “her tummy made a different kind of twist.” Later, on page fifty-nine, as Rosie worries about accidentally hurting Wolfie’s feelings, it feels “like there… was a storm in her brain.”

            There’s no doubt that Rosie Woods in Little Red Writing Hood is a great introduction to the world of writing. By breaking down a story into five simple ideas, Maya Myers eases kids into the role of storytellers. In presenting the dichotomy between Rosie and Wolfie’s writing styles—Rosie takes all week to finish her story; Wolfie is done after a day or two—she reinforces the idea that no two writers are alike and that everyone is allowed to work at their own pace. While at times confusing, the book imparts several valuable lessons and leaves kids with the impression that anyone can be a writer—all it takes is passion and perseverance.


ELLIOTT: What inspired you to write Rosie Woods in Little Red Writing Hood

MARA: The title came to me first, as a pun, and I thought surely someone must have written this book already, but they hadn’t, not quite. I wrote it as a picture book first, and my agent suggested I adapt it for older readers. I had never written a chapter book before, and I was resistant . . . for about a year. Then I gave in and tried it, and it was so much fun!

ELLIOTT: What did your writing process look like? Are you a “plotter”, a “pantser”, or somewhere in between? 

MARA: I guess I’m somewhere in-between. I often know where I want a story to end up before I know anything else, and it’s usually easy for me to figure out where it starts, but I don’t always know what will happen in between. With the Rosie Wood series, I felt my way in the dark for the first book. I made plot-point outlines before starting the other three.

ELLIOTT: Do you find it challenging to cast yourself back into the perspective of a child when writing? Do you have any ‘beta readers’—like a few kids or fellow elementary-school writers—that you test your books out on? 

MAYA: I used to teach elementary school, so I’m quite familiar with the kid mindset, and I often approach a character or a scene from the perspective of a kid I know. My husband, who also writes for kids, is always my first reader, and I have a few other writer friends I bounce things off of

ELLIOTT: How has your experience within the field of education shaped the stories you write? 

MAYA: This was the first time I’ve really gone into teaching mode in a book, and it was fun. I had to do some research to see how curriculum points have changed since I was teaching, but I think my time in the classroom helped me write pretty realistically about assignments and conflicts that come up for kids this age.

ELLIOTT: In your book, you use an elaborate allegory to teach kids about the different elements of storytelling. Why do you feel it is important that we continue to teach the next generation how to read and write great stories?

MAYA: I didn’t really think of it as an allegory; it was pretty straightforward in its intention, which is to engage readers in learning the elements of storytelling. I think it’s a kind of superpower to understand the components that make a story compelling. I want kids to want to write because it’s a great way to process the world, to understand ourselves and build empathy for the people around us. It’s incredibly rewarding to create something that brings joy and understanding to other people. And I love to read, so I want more writers making more stories!

ELLIOTT: What books did you adore as a child? Have any of them influenced your own writing style? 

MAYA: I loved everything by Beverly Cleary, especially Ramona the Pest. I liked classic series I could dive into for long periods—Anne of Green GablesLittle House on the PrairieThe Chronicles of Narnia. I have no doubt that all those stories are inside and guiding me.

ELLIOTT: When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer? 

MAYA: I think I probably thought about it when I was around 8 or 9. But it wasn’t a dream that stayed with me throughout my life. I did other things and then wrote my first picture book when I was almost 40. So, it’s never too late to start!

ELLIOTT: Do you plan to continue Rosie Woods’ saga or start any new projects or novels? 

MAYA: Three other books are coming in the Rosie Woods series (Jack and the Bean Shock Rosielocks and the Three Bears, and The Three Billy GOATS Graph), and I have a few other picture books in the pipeline. I’m hoping to return soon to working on a chapter book series I started a while ago, about two kids who are enemies at school and wind up step-siblings—stay tuned!


Maya is giving away a copy of Rosie Woods to one fortunate reader. Please leave a comment by February 14 to enter; U.S. addresses only. This is a great book for 3-4th grade classrooms so educators and librarians will get an extra chance. Make sure you leave your email address if you are new to my blog. 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Celebrate Valentine's Day with a Giveaway of VALENTINES FOR ALL by Nancy Churnin

 It seems as if we just celebrated New Year's and now it's time for Valentine's Day! To help celebrate, I have the perfect book for your child, grandchild, classroom or library-- VALENTINES FOR ALL: Esther Howland Captures America's Heart by Nancy Churnin and illustrated by Monika Rosa Wisniewska


From the opening of the story where Esther Howland gets the idea of creating valentines, to the end where she is a woman in a wheel chair watching a young couple read one of her valentines, each page is decorated with a fictional "Rose are Red, Violets are Blue" rhyme. How can you not love a book that is historical, sweet, and poetic all at the same time?

                          Roses are red. Violets are blue.  
I've got an idea for something new.

Despite Esther's brothers' skepticism that her business wouldn't take off--it did! She believed that people couldn't always express big feelings in words and that cards would help them communicate how they loved another person.

When her first order was for five thousand cards she enlisted her friends to help make them.

Roses are red. Dahlias are lime. How can I make so many in time?

When the Civil War began in 1861she was surprised how many wives asked for cards for their soldier husbands.

Roses are red. Pussy willows are gray.
When people are hurting I know what to say.

Eventually, Esther realized that she could create birthday and holiday cards that would help people convey their feelings throughout the year.

Roses are red. Night tulips are black. Looking for words? They're in my card rack.

Esther had to use a wheelchair after she slipped, fell, and injured her knee.  That didn't stop her card-making business though. She printed a poetry book so that her customers could cut and paste words and create their own cards. 

Esther is a great model of perseverance to make your dream come true. As Nancy Churnin's last poem states:

Roses are red. Forget-me-nots, blue. Why don't you make your dreams come true?


The Author's Note includes wonderful information about how Esther was a successful woman entrepreneur many years before women earned the right to vote. At the height of her business, she earned more than $100,000 per year--which is the equivalent of two million dollars today.

There is a page dedicated to creating your own valentines and how to send them to Nancy's website or to the Worcester Historical Museum in Worcester, MA where Esther lived.


This book can be used as a resource when teaching American history, women's changing roles, writing, and art. Since the author frequently mentions Esther Howland's desire to strengthen relationships, VALENTINES FOR ALL can also be a SEL resource. The illustrations inspire readers to create their own valentines.


Albert Whitman is giving away a copy of VALENTINES FOR ALL to one fortunate reader. To get this in the mail ASAP, this giveaway ends February 3. As usual, if you share on social media, sign up for my blog, or are an educator or librarian, you will get an extra chance. Let me know in the comments and make sure to leave your email address if you are new to my blog. U.S. addresses only.


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