Once Upon a Story
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!



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!

January 15, 2014

Baby_Penguins_Love_their_Mama coverBaby Penguins Love Their Mama

Published by: Philomel

Release date: January 2014

Ages: 3-5

Pages: 32

From the publisher:

When you’re a mama penguin with lots (and lots) of little ones to take care of, the days can melt together in a blur. Monday: swimming lessons. Tuesday: sliding. Wednesday: waddling. And on and on. Mama loves her babies so much. Do they know, she wonders, just how much? As it turns out, they do–because they love her just as much! And to show it, they surprise her with a thoughtful gesture of their own on Sunday. In her companion to Baby Penguins Everywhere! Melissa Guion offers another adorable book for sharing between mother and child.


Y’all, I am so happy to have Melissa Guion on the blog today!  I “met” Melissa a few month ago when I was happily chatting with another writer friend about her first book, Baby Penguins Everywhere!  Melissa hopped right in, and she’s warm and funny and can relate to all my parenting dramas.

So when I was asked a short time later if I would be interested in having her stop by to share a little bit about her new book, of course the answer was “YES!”

A little more about Melissa before I hand over the reins:Melissa Guion Headshot_credit John Trotter

Melissa Guion’s first picture book, Baby Penguins Everywhere!, was selected for The Original Art 2012, an exhibition of the year’s best illustrated children’s books. Melissa swears she could draw baby penguins all day, but she may take a hiatus to do a book about her daughter’s guinea pigs. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. For more information, visit her website:http://www.melissaguion.com/


And now, ladies and gentlemen, Melissa herself:


BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA is a follow-up to BABY PENGUINS EVERYWHERE!, my first picture book. That first book was about the happiness of a new family. And the challenges. I wrote it when my daughter was very young.
I wrote the the second book to follow the story of that penguin family. I mean, I told myself I was following the penguins, but I guess it reflects my experiences with my own daughter. 
The second book looks at reciprocity. Before I became a mom, I knew what it mean to be on the receiving end of maternal love. I didn’t get the mother’s perspective. I hadn’t experienced the deep satisfaction of seeing your children get stronger. The pleasure of teaching them things, with all the failures and funny mishaps and triumphant successes, on their part and on yours. And the incredible bittersweetness throughout, because you watch them gain confidence, you witness the birth of their independence, which will lead them away from you. I tried to reflect both sides. I don’t expect kids to see the parent’s perspective, but it’s there. Maybe the parent doesn’t always remember the child’s perspective either! But hopefully in the shared experience of reading, there are things both parents and kids can recognize and enjoy. And they get to look at penguins! Which are cute!
Melissa Guion post for NoVaLibMom
(Image used with author permission)
Thank you so much, Melissa, for stopping by!
But we’re not done yet!  Keep reading to find out where Melissa will be stopping on her web tour next.  And then check out the giveaway I have for you today!
Be sure to follow the adorable mama and baby penguins on Melissa Guion’s blog tour!
Monday, Jan 13
Susan Heim on Parenting
Tues, Jan 14
The Children’s Book Review
Wed, Jan 15
Once Upon a Story
Thurs, Jan 16
Kid Lit Frenzy
Fri, Jan 17
Momma Drama
Sat, Jan 18
Booking Mama
Mon, Jan 20
5 Minutes for Books
Tues, Jan 21
Just a Little Creativity
Wed, Jan 22
Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Thurs, Jan 23
Geo Librarian
Fri, Jan 24
As They Grow Up
Sat, Jan 25
Obsessive Mommy
Check out this GIVEAWAY!
One lucky winner will receive a deliciously-scented mama and baby penguin goat’s milk soap (for preening practice, of course!) and a signed copy of BABY PENGUINS LOVE THEIR MAMA.  (U.S. addresses only.)  Entries close at midnight on January 29th.


December 3, 2013

17333265Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release date: September 2013

Ages: 3-7

Pages: 42

From the publisher:

Are you bored with being so proper?

Do you want to have more fun?
Mr. Tiger knows exactly how you feel. So he decides to go wild.
But does he go too far?
My thoughts:
Let’s be honest.  It’s Peter Brown.  The same mind who brought us the hilarity of Children Make Terrible Pets and the wonder of The Curious Garden.  Of course Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is going to be a hit.
When I first read the book with my daughter, she had this to say:
To which Mr. Brown responded:



And that pretty much sums it up.  Reading this book as an adult, the message is both clear and timeless:
Be yourself.

But that message is embedded in a story about a community of animals who are so uptight as to seem almost Puritan (the illustrations add greatly here). Mr. Tiger tries to fit in, he does. He dresses the right way, says the right things, behaves with the right manners. But something inside of him is just “roaring” to get out. When it does, the town’s reaction is not positive. But over time, Mr. Tiger and his neighbors are able to reach a peace, one we hope all children, even the most “wild” of children, are able to find. There is, after all, a time to be proper and a time to be wild. As a parent, I feel as if I’m relaying this message 1000x a day. Apparently, it’s a message Peter Brown has heard, too.


Go read the story (psssttt!  If you don’t own it, I’m giving a copy away below!)



Because right now, on his website, Peter Brown is offering a free printable activity kit.


There’s a second bonus kit of holiday activities.


Oh, and did you catch that bit about my having a copy to give away?


Thanks to LB Kids and Blue Slip Media, I have a copy of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild for you! Just fill out the form below between now and December 10th for your chance to win! U.S Residents only.



November 18, 2013

Fossil coverFossil by Bill Thomson

Published by: Two Lions/Amazon

Release date: November 2013

Ages: 3-7

Pages: 40

From the publisherWhen a boy and his dog go for a hike, the boy trips on a fossil, and it comes to life, revealing an ancient plant. The boy is so intrigued that he breaks two more fossils that come to life—a dragonfly and a pteranodon. When these prehistoric creatures collide with present reality, the boy must figure out a way to make things go back to normal. Visually told through art, this “wordless story” will surely spark imagination and creativity.

I like to think I’m pretty good with words.  I can express myself clearly in writing, I have some creativity, I have some formal education, and  some informal education.
But, ironically, I’m a very visual person.  Images stick in my head longer than words. So a story told in powerful images?
That’s right up my alley.
Which is why I’m so very excited to welcome Bill Thomson to the blog, and share his new wordless picture book Fossil with you.

I think what impresses me most about Fossil is the blend of fantastical and accurate minute detail.  The story celebrates both creativity and science, imagination and fact.  I asked  Bill to talk a little bit about both writing and reading wordless picture books.  Here is what he had to say:

Bill Thomson RGB photo (2)FOSSIL is your second wordless picture book.  CHALK (2010) also contains a dinosaur theme.  Do these books come out of your own fascination with the topic, or that of your boys? (By the way, my 4yo daughter has confiscated my copy of the book.  She and my 2yo son are both big dinosaur fans.)

While CHALK and FOSSIL both feature dinosaurs, my fascination is actually more with imagination than dinosaurs. Both books apply imagination to different elementary school subjects that I hope children will enjoy and teachers will find useful as teaching tools. Because one of my artistic strengths is working realistically, I try to make my books as convincing as possible, hoping that children forget they are looking a book and accept my fantasy as reality.

With CHALK, I experimented with many different ideas as to what the menacing chalk creation might be. I considered monsters, gorillas, and even giant bugs, but it seemed more natural that a somewhat mischievous little boy might draw a dinosaur. Since I have rarely had an opportunity to paint a dinosaur in my professional life, I was also excited about exploring a subject that was new to me. I had an absolute blast trying make the dinosaur seem believable while also trying to make it both scary and slightly disarming (adding its subtle smile) at the same time. My goal was for children to perceive it as they wanted.

With FOSSIL, I wanted to create a similar fantastical adventure applying imagination to science as the second installment of a wordless imagination-based trilogy. I should also say that following CHALK with a similar wordless adventure was somewhat imposing. I wanted to retain many of the successful aspects of CHALK while also creating something completely different to stand alone. When considering the catalyst for adventure in a book about fossils, another dinosaur offered much greater possibilities than a terrifying trilobite. However, to differentiate it from CHALK, I decided to depict a pteranodon, which is actually a flying reptile, and have the child be the “chaser” instead of the “chasee.”

I love wordless picture books for their ability to open up the story to the reader.  How is the challenge of creating a wordless picture book different than the challenge of illustrating a manuscript with text, which you’ve also done?

The tricky thing about creating a wordless book is making the story lucid without the clarification of words. Because my “readers” are children, my visual stories have to be engaging while also being clearly understood by young eyes and minds. With wordless books, the audience essentially functions as the author. To offer the possibility of different story interpretations, I also try to include layers of possible meaning beyond the obvious. That way, the reader can choose what aspects are significant in constructing their story. For example, one child may see FOSSIL as a book about rocks that come to life. Another child may perceive FOSSIL as a love story about a boy and his dog. The book also includes secondary characters (a dragonfly and ducks) that offer chances for further storytelling twists.  Everything in my visual adventures is there to stretch storytelling possibilities. However, including too much can also lead to confusion, so I strive to find the right balance.

When illustrating a manuscript (such as KARATE HOUR or BUILDING WITH DAD, both by Carol Nevius), I always feel a tremendous sense of obligation to portray the author’s story as beautifully as I can. To do this, I need to take visual ownership of the story to create my best interpretation of their narrative. The illustrations don’t need to communicate everything, but must mesh with the story to form one cohesive package. Because the text also helps to advance aspects of the plot, this allows for flashy illustrations that serve to compliment rather than tell the entire story.

The difference between creating illustrations for wordless books and creating illustrations for manuscripts might be compared to showing a movie and exhibiting a series of photographs. While different, each can tell equally beautiful stories. Creating books for children is my greatest passion, and I enjoy the challenges of both formats.

And finally, as a parent yourself, what would you say to those parents who are accustomed to stories with text and unsure how to read a wordless picture book with their child?

Wordless books offer a different reading experience. The great thing about wordless books is that they require viewer participation and stimulate imaginations. Young readers interpret the illustrations based on their observations and create their own stories. These tales can change with every reading. The stories can be told as a descriptive account or from the point of view of different characters. FOSSIL can obviously be told from either the boy or the dog’s perspective, but even the secondary characters like the dragonfly offer more challenging possibilities for narration. Multiple readers can also take turns adding narration, voices, or sound effects to each page. Parents can even hone prediction skills by having their child guess what will happen next. But best of all, wordless books provide a platform for quality time and conversations between parents and their children.


 Bill Thomson has been called “a master at visual storytelling.” He is the illustrator of several children’s books, including Chalk (Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2010), which received many accolades. Thomson is also Professor of Illustration at the University of Hartford. He lives with his family in Connecticut. Visit Bill at www.billthomson.com.


Check out the Common Core guide and the activity guide here.
For more from Bill, make sure to stop by these other spots on the tour:
blog URL
Sat, Nov 9
Booking Mama
Mon, Nov 11
NC Teacher Stuff
Tues, Nov 12
Just a Little Creativity
Wed, Nov 13
There’s a Book
Thurs, Nov 14
Fri, Nov 15
Kid Lit Frenzy
Mon, Nov 18
Once Upon a Story
Tues, Nov 19
The Children’s Book Review
Wed, Nov 20
5 Minutes for Books
Thurs, Nov 21
Geo Librarian
Fri, Nov 22
Growing with Science
Thanks to Two Lions and Blue Slip Media, I have a copy of Fossil for you! Just fill out the form  below between now and December 2nd for your chance to win! U.S Residents  only.



September 13, 2013

SKY JUMPERS Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman

Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Release date: September 24,  2013

Ages: 8-12

Pages: 288

From the publisher: What happens when you can’t do the one thing that matters most? Twelve-year-old Hope Toriella lives in White Rock, a town of inventors struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of compressed air that covers the crater left by the bombs—than fail at yet another invention. When bandits discover that White Rock has priceless antibiotics, they invade. With a two-day deadline to finish making this year’s batch and no ingredients to make more, the town is left to choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from the disease that’s run rampant since the bombs, or die fighting the bandits now. Help lies in a neighboring town, but the bandits count everyone fourteen and older each hour. Hope and her friends—Aaron and Brock—might be the only ones who can escape to make the dangerous trek through the Bomb’s Breath and over the snow-covered mountain. Inventing won’t help her make it through alive, but with Aaron and Brock’s help, the daring and recklessness that usually gets her into trouble might just save them all.



My thoughts:
This is one of those books that wastes no time getting to the action.  The story opens with Hope and her friend Aaron standing at the top a cliff, preparing to jump.  But this isn’t just any cliff dive.  This is a cliff dive through a toxic cloud, one left behind by the bombs that decimated the land during WWIII.  Jumping through the Bomb’s Breath is like flying in slow motion.  One moment you’re in free-fall, and the next, your movements are slowed and weightless until you drop out of the bottom of the cloud again.  Thrilling, but take a breath at the wrong moment, and the thrill becomes deadly.
Sky Jumpers takes place in a world we hope to never see, but at the same time has a strangely real feel to it.  WWIII has occurred, bringing with it atomic bombs that have destroyed the world as we know it.  What’s left is a wasteland where small pocket communities live in isolation, populated only by the progeny of a few lone survivors who are starting over.  Each community has a specialization: textiles, agriculture, invention.  12 year old Hope lives in White Rock, a community at the bottom of a giant crater, protected above by the Bomb’s Breath.  The bombs have altered not only the landscape, but every part of day to day life.  Properties of metals have changed, electricity is non-existent.  Many of the inventions we take for granted today no longer exist, and some cannot ever be recreated.  Everyone in White Rock is an inventor.  It’s their inventions that are shared with the other communities, allowing them to live in “modern” society.   But inventing doesn’t come easily to Hope. No matter what she does, her efforts at inventing are failures.  To be embarrassed in front of her peers is bad enough, but to be a failure AND the daughter of one of the town’s leading members?  That hurts Hope even more.
And then a danger completely unrelated to the Bomb’s Breath falls on the town, and Hope realizes that she may have something to offer after all.  In fact, she may be the only one who can save the town of White Rock.  What follows is a quest that teaches Hope about herself, about the world that she lives in, and about recognizing her own strengths, even when others can’t see them.
An edge-of-the-seat read for all those looking for adventure, especially those whose gifts sometimes go unrecognized.
Want a copy of Sky Jumpers for your home or classroom?  Random House has generously offered a copy!  Just fill out the Rafflecopter below between now and midnight on September 27th to enter.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Read more about Sky Jumpers on the rest of the blog tour!

Peggy Eddleman 2September 11th: Taffy’s Candy
September 12th: Smack Dab in the Middle
September 13th: HERE!
September 14th:
Inky Elbows
September 15th:
Society of Young Inklings
September 16th:
Me, My Shelf & I
September 17th:
Kayla’s Reads and Reviews
September 18th:
The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
September 19th:
Kid Lit Frenzy
September 19th:
Word Spelunking
September 21st:
The Mod Podge Bookshelf
September 22nd:
The Write Soil
September 23rd:
The Hiding Spot
September 23rd: Literary Rambles
September 23rd:
Nerdy Book Club
September 24th: OneFourKidLit


September 9, 2013

Zero-Tolerance-Cover_small (2)Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills

Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Release date: June 2013

Ages: 8-12


From the publisher:

Seventh-grader Sierra Shepard has always been the perfect student, so when she sees that she accidentally brought her mother’s lunch bag to school, including a paring knife, she immediately turns in the knife at the school office. Much to her surprise, her beloved principal places her in in-school suspension and sets a hearing for her expulsion, citing the school’s ironclad no weapons policy. While there, Sierra spends time with Luke, a boy who’s known as a troublemaker, and discovers that he’s not the person she assumed he would be–and that the lines between good and bad aren’t as clear as she once thought. Claudia Mills brings another compelling school story to life with Zero Tolerance.

My thoughts:

When I was in school, I don’t remember “zero tolerance” ever being a phrase that was tossed around.  At least, not for most of my school years.  But I was a high school junior in the spring of 1999 when the nation was rocked by the Columbine tragedy, and things began to change.  “Zero tolerance”, in regards to weapons and what constitutes one, has continually been a hot button issue.  I’ve been a classroom teacher and I’m sympathetic to the school administrators who have to come up with a policy that protects the entire student body.  Next year, I will send my oldest off to kindergarten and of course I want her in the safest environment possible.  But we’ve also all heard of extreme cases where a child brings a “weapon” to school accidentally, or where the definition of a “weapon” seems overly strict.  So how do we find that balance between protecting our children and not punishing a child for what truly is an innocent mistake?

In Zero Tolerance, Claudia Mills examines this dilemma through the eyes of seventh grader Sierra Shepherd.  What’s most impressive is that Mills keeps a careful balance of both sides. Even Sierra herself, the “victim” in this scenario, finds herself torn in finding the perfect solution.
Today, Sierra and a few of her friends have stopped by the blog to leave their thoughts on the matter.  Check out what they have to say, and then scroll down to win your own copy of Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills.

Claudia Mills, Philosophyclaudia.mills@colorado.eduphoto by: Larry Harwood

Claudia Mills is the author of many chapter and middle-grade books, including 7 x 9=Trouble!; How Oliver Olson Changed the World; and, most recently, Kelsey Green, Reading Queen. She also teaches philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She lives in Boulder, Colorado. To learn more, visit her website:claudiamillsauthor.com

Claudia says: Thank you for hosting me today on Once Upon a Story, Maria! And thanks for the terrific suggestion for my post. Because one crucial scene in Zero Tolerance involves a letter Sierra writes to the newspaper, signing someone else’s name, I’m taking Maria’s idea and offering up a full editorial page of letters from some of the book characters, so you can see what’s on their minds. . . .



Dear Editor:

School stinks, and I don’t think kids should be made to go every day until they’re sixteen. I haven’t liked a single day of school since kindergarten or learned a single thing worth knowing. Well, until this week, I guess. I’m doing In-School Suspension (again), and I’m hanging out with this girl who I always thought was a stuck-up, goody-goody, rah-rah type, the kind of girl who would never end up in suspension. But guess what, she did. And she’s cooler than I thought. So, okay, I learned something this week. But what does it say about school when you learn more in suspension than you do in class?

Luke Bishop


Dear Editor:

As a concerned mother of a seventh grader, I write to express my worries about the direction our schools are heading these days. With so much high-stakes testing and rigid enforcement of endless rules, there is not enough time for students to develop their artistic and creative side. When budget cuts are threatened, it’s always the arts that end up on the cutting board. But frankly, I have never spent a minute of my adult life using a minute of algebra, whereas I try to fill every minute every day with music, visual art, poetry, theater. Isn’t it time for the arts to get higher priority in our children’s education?

Angie Shepard


Dear Editor:

There is all this huge fuss going on now about my school’s zero tolerance policies concerning drugs and weapons, and everybody is saying that nobody should be punished just for making an innocent mistake. I have to say I don’t agree. If you make a mistake, that shows you were careless, right? That you didn’t even bother to check whether you brought something to school in your backpack or lunch that shouldn’t be there? If you make a careless mistake on a test, you still lose points, just the way you would if you weren’t smart or hadn’t studied. Why shouldn’t you get in trouble for other careless mistakes? I mean, check your work, people!

Celeste Vogel


Dear Editor:

The excellent reputation of Longwood Middle School has been tarnished this week by your one-sided coverage of the unfortunate incident of the honor student who brought an apple-cutting knife to school by mistake. Where in the media circus triggered by this incident is there any mention of the justification for zero tolerance policies regarding weapons and drugs: that they make schools safer places for students to learn? Is it unfortunate that a fine student is now being penalized for an innocent mistake? Yes. Would it be even more unfortunate if laxer weapons policies resulted in a fatal school shooting? The answer here also is yes.

Thomas Alford Besser, Principal, Longwood Middle School


Dear Editor:

I and 378 other students have signed a petition in protest of the proposed expulsion from Longwood Middle School of Sierra Shepard. No student should be penalized for a completely innocent mistake! The details of this particular case are not what is important, but the general principle. The most important thing in this case is not what happens to any one individual, such as Sierra Shepard, but the protection of our civil liberties as students!

Colin Beauvoir


Dear Editor:

This week a fraudulent letter was published over my name, making it appear that I oppose Longwood Middle School’s zero tolerance policies. I do not. For every student who is unfairly punished according to our school rules, there are a dozen other little darlings who are getting away with all kinds of completely inappropriate behavior. Believe me, I have worked in the office at this school for twenty years, and I know. It’s high time that our students were held accountable for their poor choices and punished to the full extent of the law.

Susan Lin, Longwood School Secretary


Dear Editor:

As a father and attorney, I demand an apology from Longwood Middle School for the unconscionable and illegal way in which our daughter has been treated by the school’s principal and staff in response to her completely innocent mistake. Thomas Alford Besser cannot continue to say with a straight face that he can conceivably think he has made this school safer in any way whatsoever by his ridiculously rigid enforcement of his school’s no-weapons policy. If our family does not receive an apology immediately, Longwood Middle School can expect to see us in court.

Gerald Shepard, Esquire


Dear Editor:

We think it is COMPLETELY UNFAIR that Sierra Shepard, who happens to be our best friend, is being punished for something so COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS! We can’t believe this is happening, except that it is! But it shouldn’t be! Sierra is WONDERFUL! WE LOVE HER! THIS SHOULDN’T BE HAPPENING TO HER!

Lexi Kruger and Emma Williamson


Dear Editor:

Why are you publishing all these letters about something as unimportant as school? Why don’t all these humans stop talking about rules and punishment and zero tolerance and find a soft cushion in a sunny corner of the house and take a nice long nap? That is my advice to all of them.

Cornflake the Cat

You’re intrigued, right?  Because this is a must-have for both home and classroom libraries.  Here’s your chance to win!  Thanks to the publisher, I have a copy to giveaway.  The giveaway will run from now until midnight on MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 23rd.  U.S. Residences only.  Good luck!

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Thank you so much, Claudia (and friends) for stopping by!  For more insight, check out the other stops on Claudia’s tour:
Wed, Sept 4 Read Now, Sleep Later AND SLJ Teen giveaway http://www.readnowsleeplater.com/
Thurs, Sept 5 proseandkahn http://proseandkahn.blogspot.com/
Fri, Sept 6 The Book Monsters http://www.thebookmonsters.com/
Mon, Sept 9 HERE!
Tues, Sept 10 Pass the Chiclets http://passthechiclets.blogspot.com/
Wed, Sept 11 The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog http://thelatebloomersbookblog.blogspot.com/
Thurs, Sept 12 Mother Daughter Book Club http://motherdaughterbookclub.com/
Fri, Sept 13 The Children’s Book Review http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/
Sun, Sept 15 Nerdy Book Club http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/
Mon, Sept 16 Geo Librarian http://geolibrarian.blogspot.com/
Tues, Sept 17 A Life Bound by Books http://alifeboundbybooks.blogspot.com/


August 21, 2013

ProblemWithBeingSlightly_LoResCover (2)The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Abigail Halpin

Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Release date: August 2013

Ages: 8-12


From the publisher:

Dini is back from India—with Bollywood star Dolly in tow! But life in the States isn’t all rose petal milk shakes…Dini and Maddie, very best friends, are back in the same country at the same time! Better still, Dolly Singh, the starriest star in all of Bollywood, is in America too. Dini’s only just returned from India, and already life is shaping up to be as delicious as a rose petal milk shake. Perfect. Then why can’t she untie the knot in her stomach? Because so much can go wrong when a big star like Dolly is in town. All Dini has to do is make sure Dolly has everything she needs, from a rose petal milk shake to her lost passport to…a parade? And an elephant?Uh-oh… It’s time to think. What Would Dolly Do? If Dini can’t figure it out, Dolly might take matters into her own hands—and that will surely lead to the biggest mess of all!

My thoughts:Soli Dustup_magazine spot (2)

You know how when you’re in that slightly awkward adolescent age, life just seems to be one big dramatic moment after another? That’s life for Dini.  She expects her time with her best friend in the U.S. to be perfect: after all, they’re playing hostess to one of Bollywood’s biggest stars.  They’re even responsible for being the opening dance at Dolly Singh’s U.S. movie premiere.

Except a passport is lost, a famous actress is on the verge of a panic attack, and an elephant is on the loose.
So let’s trade perfection for chaos.
Trying to regain control of this situation is Soli Dustup, the manager and owner of Bombay’s Starlite Studios.  Soli has his hands full, and rarely appears in public, but we’re fortunate to have him here today!

Hello, Mr. Dustup.  Thank you for joining us at Once Upon A Story while you’re here in DC. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?

Thank you dear lady and thank you to all the readers of this fine blog. Once Upon a Story. What a very fine title you have for your blog. Practically a movie title if I may say so. 

 Me? I am a fillum executive. Now I don’t know what that means in your Hollywood movie business–you Americans have your own way of doing things. But I am a Bombaywalla all the way from India, and for me being a fillum executive means that I carry the burdens of making a fine movie upon my shoulders. I tell you, it’s a big job, and sometimes my shoulders scream in protest. What did you say? Oh, what is it I do exactly? I tell you, that’s a big question! Finding a director, signing on the stars, raising money, importing equipment, supervising the shooting schedule, keeping screenwriters from throwing tantrums–I do it all!


I know that you work with the famous Dolly Singh. What is that like?  She has so many fans!

Our precious Dolly–I am her biggest fan, trust me. But can I tell you something? In confidence? Of all the jobs I have to do, all those challenging and troubling and toothache-causing jobs, the biggest job of all–I mean joy, JOY!–the biggest JOY of all is keeping our Dolly happy. She is a star, and naturally, stars can be temperamental. Such grace, such energy–terrifying. I mean amazing. And a lovely voice, lovely. But on the phone, when she gets mad–well, never mind. Just tell your public I’m overjoyed that America has embraced our Dolly so enthusiastically. 

I’ve heard that you got a private tour of our National Zoo’s Elephant House.  Do you have a particular love of elephants?

I did indeed. I have to say that the Zoo Director was a little huffy at first but then he came around when he realized that he was speaking to a professional. Elephants? I am quite fond of them, yes. There have been many fine Hindi movies with elephants in them. Although I must say that in person they make me a little nervous, you know, being wild and all. Mind you, that Mini was quite charming. Never let it be said that Soli can’t recognize a star when he sees one. 

Dolly is rumored to battle stress with rose-petal shakes.  What is your stress-buster?

I’m partial to antacids myself. I keep a bottle on my desk, in case of heartburn. People think of heartbreak when they think of the movie business, but really, it’s all about heartburn. My other stress-buster is a nap. I love my afternoon nap. It revives me like magic. I recommend it highly. Try it sometime. Be sure to turn the phone off, however, because a ringing telephone in the middle of a nap can induce instant–that is correct, dear readers and Dolly fans–heartburn. 

We hope that you enjoy your visit to Washington, DC.  What is one thing that you’d like to do or see before you go home?

I have it all planned. Dolly and Chickoo and me, we’re going to drop in at the White House. It seems the President wants to talk to us about shooting a scene there for Dolly’s next movie. Personally, I have heard good things about the South Grounds–good setting for a dance scene, I’m thinking. 

Uma Krishnaswami photo_low res

Uma Krishnaswami is the author of several books for children, including the first story featuring Dini, Maddie, and Dolly, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. She is also on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Ms. Krishnaswami was born in New Delhi, India, and now lives in Aztec, New Mexico. To learn more, visit her website: http://www.umakrishnaswami.com/.



And thanks to Atheneum Books, I have a copy of The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic for YOU! Giveaway is open from now until September 4th (U.S residents only).

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Be sure to meet the rest of the characters on the blog tour!

Mon, Aug 19
Tues, Aug 20
There’s a Book
Wed, Aug 21
Once Upon a Story
Soli Dustup
Thurs, Aug 22
The Compulsive Reader
Dini’s father
Fri, Aug 23
Chickoo Uncle
Sat, Aug 24
Booking Mama
Mon, Aug 26
Read Now, Sleep later
Tues, Aug 27
I Read Banned Books
Wed, Aug 28
Through the Wardrobe
Chef Armend Latifi
Thurs, Aug 29
The Book Monsters
Fri, Aug 30
The Brain Lair


July 10, 2013

Brodien-Jones3covers (2)The Glass Puzzle  by Christine Brodien-Jones

Published by: Delacorte Press

Release date: July 2013

Ages: 9-12

Pages: 336

From the publisher:

Eleven-year-old Zoé Badger, imaginative, carefree and adventurous, lives a transient life, moving with her mother from one town to the next—except for summers, when she stays with her granddad in Tenby, Wales. But when she and her cousin Ian discover a glass puzzle that’s been hidden away for decades, ancient forces are unleashed that threaten to change their safe-haven summer town in sinister ways.
My thoughts:

American cousins visiting their grandfather in Wales.  A local girl. A glass puzzle that was meant to stay fractured forever.  Evil creatures known as Scravens that are released across space and time to get revenge.  And a mission to capture the Scravens and return them to where they belong.

This middle grade novel is fantasy, mystery, and thriller all rolled up into one.
Have I hooked your interest?
Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Christine Brodien-Jones to the blog.  And she’s sharing an amazing behind-the-scenes look at The Glass Puzzle.
Christine Brodien-Jones photo_credit Peter L. Jones

CHRISTINE BRODIEN-JONES is the author of three middle-grade fantasy adventure novels, The Glass Puzzle (Delacorte, July 2013), The Scorpions of Zahir (Delacorte, 2012) and The Owl Keeper (Delacorte, 2010).Booklist magazine praised her writing, saying “Brodien-Jones mixes fantasy and adventure in a way that would make Indiana Jones feel right at home.” Ms. Brodien-Jones studied writing at Emerson College in Boston and has worked as a reporter, an editor, and a teacher. She divides her time between Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Deer Isle, Maine. Learn more about her life and work and download additional free discussion guides for her novels at her website.  Or visit her on Facebook.

Behind the Scenes: Characters from The Glass Puzzle

by Christine Brodien-Jones

 The idea of a glass puzzle being a gateway to a parallel world first came to me many years ago. I’d never written a novel before but I wanted to give it a try, and it took over a year to write the first draft. Unfortunately the characters seemed static and I had trouble describing the parallel world inside the puzzle. Were the buildings made of glass? What were the dangers? Who lived there? Over the years I worked on several versions of The Glass Puzzle, writing manically, shelving it, taking the manuscript out again and working on it, but something was still missing.


The book finally came together when I changed the setting. Instead of a small American town similar to where I grew up, I plunked my characters in the seaside town of Tenby, Wales. I’d visited Tenby several times and had always been charmed by it. Surrounded by an impressive medieval wall, Tenby is famous for its smugglers and pirates, and for the unexplored tunnels zigzagging beneath its streets. Wales was a logical choice: my husband Peter grew up there and we were married in Wales; over the years we’ve gone back to travel and visit family. So when my characters speak in The Glass Puzzle, I can hear them talking in lilting Welsh accents.


Once I chose Tenby, things began to click into place. Eleven-year-old Zoé and her cousin Ian seemed to jump off the pages. New quirky characters unexpectedly appeared. The story became more layered, building on elements like enchanted caves and mysterious tunnels, secret societies, Welsh mythology, runestones and a sunken island. Peter acted as my Welsh consultant and suggested some of the fantastic elements, including the third eyes of the Scravens (the monsters threatening Tenby), the idea of glasses with blue lenses that reveal the true Scravens, and the mechanized turning claws which guard the town of Wythernsea.


I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of humans being taken over by alien creatures yet nobody suspects anything because they appear normal. This was a theme I used in this novel. I remember watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers on TV one Saturday afternoon with my dad. It was a thrilling, disturbing classic black-and-white science fiction film about outer space invaders replacing human beings with duplicates that appear identical on the surface but are devoid of any emotion. The main character, a doctor, figures out what’s going on and tries to stop them, just like Zoé and Ian try to stop the Scravens from coming through the puzzle and taking over the people of Tenby.


At the start of the book, Zoé jokes about Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Iris Tintern, the dour proprietor of The King’s Ransom Café:

 “Zoé leaned across the table, knocking over a jar of malt vinegar. ‘I think something’s happened to Iris, because she looks and acts like Iris but she’s not Iris anymore. Just like in the movie, when fake people hatch out of the pods! What if Iris is a pod person and we don’t know it?’ She gave a nervous snicker, realizing how silly she sounded. ‘Just kidding.’”


In my hometown there were three cafés—back then we called them soda fountains—and as kids we spent hours hanging out in the vinyl-covered booths, drinking cherry cokes and reading comic books. Iris Tintern is based on a drab, grumpy elderly woman who worked in one of these cafés. The cokes she served were always warm and iceless.


Early on in the book Granddad gives Zoé and Ian an ancient silver box encrusted with seaweed, barnacles and dried mud, which they take up to the attic. When they open the box they find a jumble of blue glass—and a secret message falls out:

 “Property of Wyndham S. Marriott. Keep Out! Trespassers shall be prosecuted. And that meens you! Under no circumstances are you to put this together.

Signed: George R. Marriott, Hero, Inventor, Mastermind”


When my father was a boy, he wrote this exact keep-out warning (misspellings and all) and years later I found it inside one of his old books. He’d signed it “Cecil B. Brodien, Hero, Inventor, Mastermind.” And just as Zoé tries to imagine George Marriott as a kid, I tried to imagine what my dad was like when he wrote that message. The book is dedicated to him.


I based George Marriott, the antiquarian bookseller who helps Zoé and Ian, on two actual people: (1) a hermit-like Welshman known as Mr. Marriott who was a friend of Peter’s father and (2) a blustery high school English teacher with a bald head and walrus mustache who encouraged my writing:

 “They shook hands and Zoé liked him at once. Gazing down at his ink-stained fingers, she noticed a tattoo on one wrist: a fiery red Welsh dragon, so finely detailed she wondered if it was a stick-on.”


Zoé’s cousin Ian is a younger version of my grown-up son Ian. I promised Ian I’d put him in a book, ever since his brother Derek appeared in my first book, The Dreamkeepers, years ago. Like Ian in The Glass Puzzle, my son Ian has always had a knack for numbers and theorems and scientific data.

 “His mind seemed to be crowded with data and theorems, cyberspace and streaming molecules. He favored straight lines, neat grids and columns of figures that added up. His life was circumscribed by borders, graphs and diagrams. According to him, there was nothing in the universe that couldn’t be explained scientifically.”


Finally…the Scravens! These terrifying creatures sneak through the glass puzzle each time Zoé and Ian assemble it. Scravens have the ability to inhabit humans, so once they’re loose in Tenby they begin taking over people. The concept is pure “Body Snatchers.” The Scravens themselves come from the nightmares of my childhood.

         “Without warning, a dark clotted shadow burst out of the puzzle and her heart jumped into her throat. It was a wavering shape, chilling and distorted, bringing with it a cold light. Then two more flew out.

“She saw Ian standing there, rigid and trembling, as more menacing shapes rose out of the puzzle, and in the awful, heavy silence of the attic she listened to her own wild heartbeat. This can’t be happening, she told herself, I’m not really seeing these things—”


Thank you, Christine, for stopping by!
And thanks to the folks at Delacorte with providing one lucky reader the opportunity to win ALL THREE of Christine’s  middle grade fantasies!  THE OWL KEEPER (2010), THE SCORPIONS OF ZAHIR (2012), and THE GLASS PUZZLE (2013).
Winners must be a U.S. Residence.  Giveaway will be open until 11:59pm on Wednesday, July 23rd.  Good luck!

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For more about THE GLASS PUZZLE, and other chances to win check out the other stops on the blog tour:

Mon, July 8: Read Now, Sleep Later – readnowsleeplater.com
Tues, July 9: Sharpread – http://sharpread.wordpress.com/
Thurs, July 11:  The Book Monsters – http://www.thebookmonsters.com/
Fri, July 12: I Read Banned Books – http://www.jenbigheart.com/
Mon, Jul 15: Children’s Book Review – http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/
Tues, July 16: The Book Smugglers – http://thebooksmugglers.com/
Wed, July 17: Cracking the Cover – www.crackingthecover.com
Thurs, July 18: Mother Daughter Book Club – http://motherdaughterbookclub.com/
Fri, July 19: Hobbitsies – http://hobbitsies.net/


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