Once Upon a Story
July 14, 2014


For me:

The Night Gardener

Jonathan Auxier

Perfectly chilling, with an classic storytelling feel. Irish immigrant children, an old house, a family literally wasting into nothingness. I have so much more to say about this book, and if I get the chance, I will. For now, if you’re the type who likes something dark and twisty, this is wonderfully written.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini

What?! An adult novel? Why yes, I do sneak one of those in every once in awhile. Actually, this is the third time I’ve started this book and I’ve always had to put it aside for some other commitment. I’m finally sinking into it, and it’s fantastic, as are Hosseini’s previous novels. So many characters coming together in the most unexpected of ways.

For the kiddos:

In addition to Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine series, which we are reading our way through, my 5yo has recently declared that she wants to start reading books all by herself. Which is great. Except that we’ve been reading chapter books aloud for months, and so she’s developed a taste for stories with slightly more complex plot structure. ‘Hop on Pop’ just isn’t cutting it.

So on an excursion to our local indie bookstore Hooray for Books! I searched around and came across this series from Penguin Books for emergent readers.

Bake, Mice, Bake!

We picked up Bake, Mice, Bake and a Ladybug Girl text, both at the upper end of Level 1.  She’s not quite reading them independently, but I was surprised how many words she did know, and how quickly she picked up on words she didn’t after just a few repetitions. It won’t take long before she is reading them independently.


A new milestone is on the horizon.


Happy Monday, Friends!

June 23, 2014

Time for our weekly roundup! And we’ve been exploring a mix of old and new this week.

We took a mini vacation, a long weekend at the beach. And while the kiddos aren’t quite old enough for me to read on the beach (someday!), the fact that we’re all sharing a hotel room means that “bedtime” comes early for the adults. And that I got some reading time of my own in this week.

For me:


Rainbow Rowell

I first fell into Rowell’s writing with Eleanor and Park, which I’m still chewing on. I’m now going back and reading what I missed. While lighter in tone than E&PAttachments made me smile and was the perfect vacation read.

For the kiddos:

Last-But-Not-Least Lola and the Wild Chicken

Last-But-Not-Least Lola and the Wild Chicken

Christine Pakkola, illustrated by Paul Hoppe

I recently picked up this ARC (book is slated to release September 2014) because I thought it might be a good one to read with my 5yo. We’re only a few chapters in, but so far it’s a winner. We’ve been working our way through the Clementine series, knowing that it will eventually come to an end, so I’m excited to find this series from Boyds Mill Press that has a similar feel.  Spunky female lead, loving, but appropriately unusual family, real, solid friendships. This is only the second book in the series, I’m hoping there will be more.

The Bears in the Bed and the Great Big Storm

by Paul Bright, illustrated by Jane Chapman

This reminds me of Karma Wilson’s Bear books (same illustrator), but not in verse. Cute bedtime story, fairly predictable ending, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Elephants Cannot Dance

by Mo Willems

The 5yo has long since been a Mo Willems fan, especially Elephant and Piggie. And now the little one, at 2.5, is catching on to the fun. I love that these are books that both will sit and giggle to together. I think Elephant and Piggie may be our first real family storytime series.


Happy Monday, Friends!

June 17, 2014

The Change Your Name Store by Leanne Shirtliffe, illustrated by Tina Kugler

Published by: Sky Pony Press

Release date: May 2014

Ages: 4-8

Pages: 32

From the publisher:

Who am I? It’s a question a lot of children seem to ask themselves, at which point being “them” simply isn’t enough. They want to be someone better. Many kids want to change their names. This is what happened to Wilma Lee Wu. One day, Wilma decides she no longer likes her name, and she sets off for the Change Your Name Store to find a new one. Once at the store, the possibilities seem endless. Mrs. Zeena McFooz, the storekeeper, says that Wilma can try out any new name she wants with one catch: she must “go for a ride” to discover what it means to be that name. Will being Babette Bijou from France be better than Wilma Lee Wu? What about Dominga Delfino from Belize?

My thoughts:

I’ve had to do it. Twice.

You stress over it. You make lists. You discuss. You scratch out. You add. You discuss some more.

Sound familiar?

Naming my unborn children felt like this huge responsibility. It’s important, that name. It’s how they will be identified for the rest of their lives. You want to do it right.

And you do. Eventually, my children received names. And honestly, I can’t imagine them as being called anything else. Maybe it’s because I’m used to calling that name 1,467 times a day, but the names just fit.

Wilma Lee Wu would disagree with me. Wilma is, in fact, so dissatisfied with her name, that she sets out to find the Change Your Name Store. Not easily located, Wilma trudges around town, finally arriving at her destination tired and messy, but confident in her ability to find the perfect new name.

Babette from France? Dominga from Belize? Nuru from Kenya?

Author Leanne Shirtliffe takes the reader on a global adventure, as Wilma Lee Lu tries on name after name, until she does, in fact, find the perfect name for her. A name that sends her running, rushing, leaping home to her anxiously awaiting parents. Written in verse, the text demands to be read aloud. But when the read aloud is over, put the book in the child’s hands and send them on an exploration of their own. Because artist Tina Kugler has hidden names throughout the illustrations. Names from the traditional, to the unusual, from North America to Asia to Africa to Europe. I found all four of our family members, plus the dog. It’s that little added bit of fun that kids will love. What’s better than finding your own name in a book?!

And because once you find your name, you’ll want to keep that book forever, I have a copy signed by Tina herself, as well as some fun swag,  to give away!



And the winner, according to random.org is…

Betsy T.!



1. Fill out the form below

2. One (1) entry per household

3. U.S Residents only, please.

4. Giveaway closes at 11:59pm on Tuesday, July 1st.

Good luck!



June 2, 2014

It’s June! It’s warm! We can go outside!

Which after this last never-ending winter, we’re doing.  A lot.

Also, Virginia humidity is coming.

So, outside it is.

And squeezing in a few books, too.

WWere Liars

E. Lockhart

I’ve been having some good discussions about this book!  Have you read it? What did you think? (But NO SPOILERS!)

The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw

Christopher Healy, illustrated by Todd Harris

The last in this trilogy that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

Clementine: Friend of the Week

by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee

The 5yo and I have been reading our way through this series. She loves the quirky Clementine. I’ve even caught my husband listening in and laughing out loud a few times.

Beezus and Ramona

by Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

I bought this box set at Christmastime. The 5yo and I read the first book, but it might be a little old for her yet. Didn’t quite capture her interest, though she didn’t complain, either. I think we’ll hold off on reading the others for a bit.

The Change Your Name Store

by Leanne Shirtliffe, illustrated by Tina Kugler

Who hasn’t wanted to do this, at some point? I have a whole post about this book, AND a copy signed by illustrator Tina to give away later this week!

Oh, and speaking of giveaways:

Today’s the last day to enter to win all THREE Franklin School Friends chapter books by Claudia Mills.

Click the picture below to be redirected to the giveaway!

Happy Monday, Friends!

May 29, 2014

We have a new author in the family.


Her debut book,  Mr. Lion Book, is simple. It’s the tale of Mr. Lion, whose friends come to play. When Mr. Lion loses his favorite toy, the friends all come together to help him find it. Which, of course, they do, because what’s a story without a happy ending?

Written, illustrated, and published in house kept overhead costs low. It’s nothing fancy.

But I’d say the first reading was a success.


May 19, 2014

Annika Riz, Math WhizAnnika Riz, Math Whiz by Claudia Mills, illustrated by Rob Shepperson

Published by: Farrar Straus Giroux

Release date: May 2014


Pages: 128

From the publisher:

Annika Riz loves math more than anything, so when she hears about a sudoku contest at the local public library, she is determined to win it—maybe then her friends Kelsey Green and Izzy Barr will see that math is just as cool as reading and running. When the school carnival, the biggest fundraiser of the year, comes around, Annika realizes her class booth is losing money by selling their lemonade too cheaply. Annika embraces her math skills, saves the day, and shows her friends that math can be useful and even a bit of fun, too.



About the author: Claudia Mills, Philosophy claudia.mills@colorado.edu photo by: Larry Harwood

Claudia Mills is the acclaimed author of fifty early-chapter and middle-grade books, including 7 x 9 = Trouble!, How Oliver Olson Changed the World, and Zero Tolerance. Claudia was a professor of philosophy for over twenty years at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she received many teaching awards, before leaving the university to write full time. She has two sons. To learn more, visit her website at claudiamillsauthor.com.
Check out the downloadable curriculum guide for the Franklin School Friends here!



My thoughts:

Last fall, I read and shared Claudia’s middle grade, Zero Tolerance. I found her style to be simple and straightforward, but striking right to the heart of a very real issue.

Now, Claudia is bringing that same clear voice to a new series,  Franklin School Friends. The first book, Kelsey Green, Reading Queen released last year.  In Annika Riz, Math Whiz, we meet one of Kelsey’s best friends.  Kelsey, Annika, and their third “musketeer”, Izzy, do everything together. But there’s one area where Annika stands out: Math. Annika loves math. You could say she’s born into it. Her father is a high school math teacher. Her mother is a tax accountant. And Annika is convinced that she can teach her dog, Prime, to count.

Annika’s two best friends, however, hate math. So when the opportunity arrives for Annika to enter a Sodoku competition at the local library, she jumps at it. Not only will it be fun, but she’ll show her two best friends how wonderful math can be. In the end, though, it’s not a competition that wins her friends over, but a real life application that shows Izzy and Kelsey just how valuable Annika’s math skills are.


Just as Claudia Mills found the voice for the middle grade student in Zero Tolerance, so too has she found the voice for elementary students in Franklin School Friends. Her tone is light, her pacing quick, but the dilemmas Annika and her friends face very real. From unique interests to burnt cookies to classroom rivals to school fundraisers, she has captured what it is to be a “big kid”. Moreover, I appreciate that this series supports the idea that every child has a unique gift or talent, be it reading, math, sports, etc. One of those talents isn’t more valuable than the other and each child’s talent deserves showcasing.

Isn’t that a message we want all kids to hear?



One lucky winner will receive a copy of the first two books in the Franklin School Friends series–KELSEY GREEN, READING QUEEN (paperback) and ANNIKA RIZ, MATH WHIZ (hardcover). U.S. addresses only. Giveaway closes at 11:59pm on Monday, June 2nd.

Giveaway Closed!

The winner, according to Random.org is….

Rachel B!


Congratulations, Rachel!

Please respond within 48 hours to claim your prize.



May 13, 2014

I spent last week here:


Tucked up into the far northwest corner of Pennsylvania with seven other writers and 3 amazing faculty.

When I applied to the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop at the end of last year, it was on a whim. I had just finished my first novel the month before and was fighting my way through the first round of revisions. I thought this would be a chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity to get some guidance, and I’d heard wonderful things about the Foundation workshops.

Including how popular they were.

So I applied, not really expecting to be accepted, but figuring it was worth a shot.

And then came the email offering me a spot.

And I panicked. Seriously? Was I out of my league? Was *my* kind of fantasy the *right* kind of fantasy?

Fortunately, I have the kind of support system who, unequivocally, yelled:


So I did. I packed up, left my kids in capable hands for a week, drove the five hours from my house and committed to a week of refreshing, recharging and rewriting.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around everything.

One on one mentorship.

Workshopping and critiquing.


Time to WRITE (with a 2yo and a 5yo, this is one of my biggest challenges)

Craft instruction.

Food (Oh heavens, the FOOD.)

I feel as if, in one week, I made connections that I can fall back on as I continue to plow forward with this story.

I have a revision plan.

I have the energy to keep at it.

I’m refreshed. I’m recharged.

It’s time to rewrite.

April 28, 2014


Two birthdays.

One birthday party.

An Easter Egg Hunt.

Visiting family (x2)

Easter (with a stomach virus)

Nursing school graduation

Wedding dress shopping.


And normal, everyday living.


Which didn’t leave much time for blogging.


But we DID have a crazy, fun, pink and purple Fancy Nancy birthday party for a very special 5 year old. A 5 year old who has been planning this party since shortly after her fourth birthday last year.


I can’t tell you how relieved I am that it met her expectations.


We decorated hats, made tissue paper corsages, held a fashion show, and ate cake.  It was (my) little girl’s dream afternoon.




Little Brother doing what little boys do best.



Birthday girl hat-making.



Fashion show anticipation.



April 7, 2014

18405514Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake by Julie Sternberg, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Published by: Abrams Books

Release date: March 2014


Pages: 192

From the publisherI did a mean thing.
A very mean thing.
I HATE that I did it.
But I did.
This is worse than
carrot juice on a cupcake
or a wasp on my pillow
or a dress that’s too tight at the neck.

In the third installment from the team who created Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie and Like Bug Juice on a Burger, Eleanor’s relationship with her best friend, Pearl, experiences its first growing pains. When a glamorous new student transfers to school, at first Eleanor’s excited about the possibility of a new friend. But when Pearl is assigned to be the new girl’s buddy, Eleanor fears she can’t compete. To make matters worse, Eleanor’s been chosen for the lead role in the springtime musical, which means she has to sing a solo in front of the entire school!
From overcoming stage fright to having a secret crush, young readers will relate to Eleanor as she navigates the bittersweet waters of growing up.

My thoughts:

As adults, we sometimes look back on our childhoods as carefree.  And for many, in many ways, they were.  But when you’re in the midst of that childhood, it can be tough.  There’s changing friendships, and new experiences, and fears to be conquered.  With the gift of time, those pain of those challenges fade and we forget.

Fortunately for today’s kids, Julie Sternberg hasn’t.

In Like Carrot Juice for a Cupcake, Sternberg gives voice to the everyday fears of today’s elementary-age youth.

Why does my best friends suddenly have a new best friend?

What does it mean that the boy sitting behind me pictures and kicks my chair every day?

Will my parents give my dog away if he doesn’t stop destroying the house?

This is childhood. And rather than waving away these big heartaches of youth, Sternberg confronts them head on in a way every child can relate to.  Couple that with Cordell’s sketch-style illustrations and you have a winning chapter book series.

Haven’t met Eleanor yet?

Here’s your chance. I have ALL THREE BOOKS to give away to one lucky recepient!

That’s Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie (2011), Like Bug Juice on a Burger (2013), AND Like Carrot Juice On a Cupcake (2014), all in one fantastic giveaway package!

U.S. Residents only, please.

Giveaway closes at 11:59pm on Monday, April 21st, 2014. 

Winner will have 48 hours to respond by email before a new winner is selected.


Good luck!

Congratulations, Julie W.!



April 2, 2014

Hooray, hooray, it’s my birthday today!


(That, folks, is as good as my rhyming gets)

If you’ve been following the blog for more than a year, you know what happens today. If you’re new (or just have a slippery memory), I’ll remind you:

It’s GIVEAWAY day!


Every year, I celebrate another year of health (still good!), wealth (HA!) and happiness (definitely) with a little giveaway.  I mix things up from year to year, but the intent is always the same.  To pass along some of my beloved favorites to you.

The deal this year is simple:

1.I’ve selected six books, three picture books and three middle grades that are currently at the top of my list and have been published since my birthday last year. You can check them out below. Click on each image to read more.

2.Decide which book you’d like to own, or give as a gift.

3. Enter your information in the Google Form below.  None of your information will be shared.

4. Do all this by 11:59pm EST on April 9, 2014. No entries will be accepted after that point.

5. U.S. addresses only, please.

6. Cross your fingers!

That’s it!

I will select a winner via Random.org and will announce here on April 10th. The winner will also receive an email and will have 48 hours to respond.


Because I believe in supporting small businesses, I will purchase the book through my local children’s indie bookstore, Hooray for Books.

Got it?

Okay.  Here are this year’s picks.  First, in the PICTURE BOOK category:


The Invisible Boy

written by Trudy Ludwig, illustrated by Patrice Barton


Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue

by Naoko Stoop


Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great

by Bob Shea

And now for the MIDDLE GRADE category:


Listening for Lucca

by Suzanne LaFleur


Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

by Liesl Shurtliff


The Real Boy

by Anne Ursu

Phew! Narrowing it down to three in each category was no easy task! Hopefully picking your favorite is a little easier (or maybe it isn’t and now I’ve got you wanting to read ALL THE BOOKS!)

But pick you must, and enter here:


Good luck, friends! I’m off for a dental cleaning (because adult birthdays are so very glamorous).  But tonight…cake!

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