Once Upon a Story
September 18, 2013

17658592 Here I Am by Patti Kim, illustrated by Sonia Snchez

Published by: Picture Window Books

Release date: July 2013

Ages: 4-8

Pages: 40

From the publisherNewly arrived from their faraway homeland, a boy and his family enter into the lights, noise, and traffic of a busy American city in this dazzling wordless picture book. The language is unfamiliar. Food, habits, games, and gestures are puzzling. They boy clings tightly to his special keepsake from home and wonders how he will find his way. How will he once again become the happy, confident kid he used to be? Walk in his shoes as he takes the first tentative steps toward discovering joy in his new world. A poignant and affirming view of the immigrant experience.



My thoughts:
“The immigrant experience.”  It’s hard to put into words exactly what that looks like.
So how about using pictures instead?
In this wordless picture book, we have a young boy who finds himself embarking on a new life in America.  From the moment he lands at the airport, he is overwhelmed.  The letters on the signs make no sense.  The city is bright and loud and constantly moving.  At school, he is surrounded by chatter, but none of it is chatter he can understand.  In the midst of all this newness, he clings to a seed from home.
Until one day, that seed is lost.  And in order to find it, the boy must venture out from his apartment and search the city.  When he does, he discovers there may be elements of his new city to enjoy after all.  Music coming from an apartment.  A street vendor with a pretzel treat.  Other children playing in a park.  By the time the seed is found again, his perspective has changed, the outlook is brighter, and we are left with a feeling of hope.
Here I Am deals with a subject common to many neighborhoods and schools.  If not an immigrant themselves, most children will, at some point, welcome a classmate who struggles with these same fears, confusions, and obstacles.  This is a book designed for multiple levels.  For younger readers, the pictures tell a simple story of a child who comes from another country, loses something important to him, and, on his quest to find it, discovers hope in his new surroundings.  For older readers, the illustrations hold subtleties that might be missed by younger children.  The street signs, for example, are garbled at the beginning of the book.  Letters are backwards, upside down, or out of order.  As the story progresses, these signs become gradually clearer and more readable.  The seed itself is symbolic of the roots the boy has yet to plant, and once he finds a new friend, the seed sprouts into what we assume will be a lasting friendship.
An endnote explains that this book was created out of the author’s own experience.  Her voice, and that of the illustrator, is clear, the emotions present, sometimes to the point of feeling raw.  The overall effect is an emotional pulling of the heartstrings, both good and bad.
There are many books out there about “the immigrant experience.”
This is one of the good ones.


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!

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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


June 18, 2013

Clementine and the Spring Trip coverClementine and the Spring Trip by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Freeze

Published by: Disney-Hyperion

Release date:March 2013

Ages: 7-10


From the publisher:

In this sixth entry in the thoroughly entertaining Clementine series, the third and fourth grades takes a field trip to Plimoth Plantation, where Clementine learns a few things about rules: who gets to make them, who has to live with them, and when it’s high time to break them.
My thoughts:
I’ll admit, while I was familiar with the Clementine books as a series, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to read one cover to cover.  My oldest is just starting to get into early chapter books, and we hadn’t hit these yet.  Now that I’ve read one, I’ll be going back and picking up the others so that we can read the whole series when my daughter is ready.
What I love best is how wonderfully author Sara Pennypacker has captured the voice and personality of third grader, Clementine. She’s a girl with strong beliefs, as will be clearly demonstrated by the end of Spring Trip.  She’s a friend to Margaret, who is Clementine’s opposite in many ways and who has her own social challenges to overcome.  She’s big sister to Spinach (or Summer Squash or Watercress), and learning to accept the change that will happen when her new brother or sister arrives in a few months.
She’s also fearful of the fourth graders, who make the rules that everyone *must* follow.  She’s aggrieved over being named after a food.  And she has a huge-mega-problem.  Field trip day has arrived and she’s stuck on Bus Seven, surrounded by the unknown odorous smell known as The Cloud.
Classic third grade drama, y’all, wrapped up in an impulsive, tender-hearted, passionate, pint-sized package.
Haven’t met Sara yet?  Or are old friends of Sara and Clementine, but would love to chat more?
Today’s your day!
Welcome, Sara, to Once Upon A Story!
Sara Pennypacker
Sara Pennypacker (www.sarapennypacker.com) was a painter before becoming a writer, and has two absolutely fabulous children who are now grown. She has written several books, including the Clementine series, all illustrated by Marla Frazee, The Amazing World of Stuart, Sparrow Girl, and Summer of the Gypsy Moths. She grew up in Massachusetts and splits her time between Cape Cod and Florida.

Hi, and thanks for letting me guest post here. Poking around the site, I felt right at home, and found myself wishing there had been a resource and a community like this when I was raising my kids, especially for the two years we homeschooled.

It was while we were homeschooling that I fell in love with children’s books (my kids were 7 and 9 when we began, and we practically lived at the library) and decided to write them myself. The experience also planted the seeds for what would later become my CLEMENTINE series.

Clementine is the character closest to my heart, because she’s based on a combination of my son and my daughter. Like Clementine, Caleb had some issues with attention (which, okay fine, he got from his mother.) I never mention the letters A.D.D. in the books, because it would be completely inappropriate to do that, but anyone reading them would notice that Clementine is a bit distractible and impulsive.

The first thing I wanted to do in this series was to hold the mirror up to the positive traits children like my son often shine with: artistic ability, empathy, and creative problem solving – three things the world could certainly use more of.

CleThe second thing I wanted to explore was the exquisite grace of an ordinary, functional family.  Because it seemed to me that contemporary children’s fiction had become a little heavy on the dysfunctional side. I had nothing against these beautiful, important, life-changing books that tackled a variety of difficult family problems, but I wondered: where were the books that found healthy family relationships story-worthy?

Books are supposed to be both windows and mirrors for kids – some books will reflect a reader’s experience back at him, saying, “Look, there you are in this story, a member of the human tribe already. Welcome!” and some books will show her new paths to take within the human experience. I wanted to write about an average family dealing with the everyday challenges of raising kids well – to work as a mirror for those kids who enjoyed that privilege, and to provide some vicarious safety for kids who didn’t.

There’s a problem with giving your character this much security, though – no tension, that dramatic current that impels a reader to turn those pages! Clementine is always protected and supported, both by a terrific school environment (the long-suffering, seen-it-all Principal Rice is one of my all-time favorite characters) and so she’s very confident. That’s the part I’ve taken from my daughter – Hillary at age eight, was completely comfortable and successful in her world. Her insights on the world she felt so on top of were hilarious, so the solution to the no-tension problem was humor – if the readers aren’t going to worry about Clementine’s welfare, I want them to laugh with her about how funny life can be…even when it’s not.

Each of the Clementine books revolves around her making some kind of growth.

In the newest release, CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP, I decided to expand her sense of justice a little, the way it often happens for kids this age. She meets a chicken and wakes up to an injustice in the world – people eat animals! – and decides to do something about it.

I’ve just wrapped up the seventh book in the series, due out in 2014, which will be the final one in the series, and I’m already missing this family terribly. Telling their stories has been the most profound joy and honor of my writing life.



Thank you, Sara, for a behind-the-scenes peek at Clementine!  We’ll be looking forward to the final book, and in the meantime, going back to read the first five.  And those who want even MORE of a sneak peek, you can currently read chapter one here!

And thanks to Disney-Hyperion, I have a copy of Clementine and the Spring Trip for YOU!  Giveaway is open from now until July 2nd (U.S and Canada residents).

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And be sure to check out the other stops on the tour for more Clementine fun!

Mon, June 17: GreenBeanTeenQueen – http://www.greenbeanteenqueen.com/
Wed, June 19: Mother Daughter Book Club – http://motherdaughterbookclub.com/
Thurs, June 20: Media Darlings – http://www.mdarlings.com/
Fri, June 21: Sharpread – http://sharpread.wordpress.com/
Mon, June 24: Children’s Book Review – http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/
Tues, June 25: Kid Lit Frenzy – http://www.kidlitfrenzy.com/
Wed, June 26: There’s a Book – http://www.theresabook.com/
Thurs, June 27: As They Grow Up – http://www.astheygrowup.com/
Fri, June 28 Bookingmama http://www.bookingmama.net/
June 14, 2013

Buzzeo_Just Like My Papa (2)-1Just Like My Papa  by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

Published by: Disney-Hyperion

Release date: April 2013

Ages: 3-7

Pages: 32

From the publisher:

A cuddly and determined lion cub emulates his father, the King of the pride, in many different ways in this gorgeously illustrated picture book set on the African savanna.

My thoughts:

Need a last-minute Father’s Day gift?  You know how I feel about the lasting power of giving books as gifts, right?  And this one is just perfect.

From the time the sun starts to rise, little Kito is by his Papa’s side.  Whether they are dozing from the hot sun, playing on the savanna, or helping the females with the evening hunt, Kito and Papa are a team.  And when the sun goes down and the moon rises again, Kito and his Papa stand guard together, current and future king.

This story has a very warm and cuddly feel, more traditional in nature.  And the acrylic illustrations are stunning.  Full page spreads of the savanna at different times of day, a giant king and his small son. It’s almost larger than life.

Toni and Mike were kind enough to answer a few questions.  Here’s a little more about this wonderful team.

Toni Buzzeo author photo_credit Sasha Salzberg(1)Toni Buzzeo is the author of nineteen picture books for children, including Stay Close to Mama, a companion to Just Like My Papa, the Caldecott Honor winning One Cool Friend, illustrated by David Small, and No T. Rex in the Library, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa. For sixteen years, she worked as a Maine school librarian. She combines her knowledge of children’s literature with her love of children to write about characters of all stripes (including lions, giraffes, dinosaurs, penguins, loons, and human children) who explore their worlds, their relationships, and themselves in a variety of settings.
Toni works both from a writing cottage just past the gardens at her colonial farmhouse in Buxton, Maine and from her sunny winter nest in Sarasota, Florida. Visit her at www.tonibuzzeo.com.
Mike Wohnoutka (www.mikewohnoutka.com) grew up in Spicer, Minnesota. His dad, an engineer, would bring home reams of paper with highway plans on one side. Mike filled the blank side of the sheets with drawings of race cars, snowmobiles, baseball players, super heroes—everything he was interested in. In high school his art teacher encouraged him to pursue art as a career. He graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a B.F.A. in illustration. Mike has published books with Random House, Dutton, Clarion, and Holiday House. He enjoys visiting schools and talking to students about illustrating children’s books. He currently resides in Minneapolis with his wife and two children.
 And because I’m always curious about what goes on behind a story, I asked if Toni and Mike would mind answering a few questions.  They were very generous with their time, and offered a personal peek behind the inspiration for Just Like My Papa. 
Read on!

Toni, a strong sense of love and pride (no pun intended) comes through with this story. As a parent with two young children, I can relate to the relationship between Kito and his Papa.  You also have a son, now grown.  Was this book in any way a walk down memory lane for you?


Just Like My Papa was very much a memory walk for me, yes! My grown son Topher, who is just now planning to start his own family, has always been very close to my husband Ken. When he was a little guy, Topher loved to work right alongside his dad—especially when TOOLS were involved.

Topher and Ken remodeling2-2

As Topher grew older, though, he transferred his passions to computers, and he seemed less interested in being glued to Ken’s side during our never-ending renovation projects. Instead, the two spent time hiking together and pursuing interests out of doors.

A year ago, however, Topher and his wife Caitlin bought a condo and suddenly now there are long weekends during which the old tool-toting duo resurfaces, with Topher eager to learn everything his dad knows about wiring, plumbing, carpentry, and general household refurbishing. In fact, for Christmas last year, Ken built an amazing workbench for Topher, complete with storage space for every tool a guy could want. It’s such a pleasure to witness this renewed interaction between my own Kito and Papa!


This is your second collaboration with Mike Wohnoutka.  Your first, Stay Close to Mama, also has an African setting and a main character with a Swahili name.  Do you have a personal connection to this region?

I have a very personal connection to Kenya, Africa. I first visited for a month in 1995 and fell in love with the country and the animals. In fact, it was there that I found the germ of the story for Stay Close to Mama! I was lucky enough to return in 2012 to speak at the International School of Kenya in Nairobi after a weeklong visit to the International Community School of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. As a gift to ourselves, my husband Ken and I took three additional days at the end of our journey to return to Amboseli National Park in the shadow of Mount Kilmanjaro. What bliss! And because Just Like My Papa was underway, Mother Nature gave me the honor of spending time with the Papa Lion you see right here.

Toni Buzzeo photo_Lion 2 in Amboseli National Park

Had I been brave—or is the proper word foolish?—enough to reach out the window of our open-air vehicle, I’d nearly have been able to touch him!

Our next book, entitled My Bibi Always Remembers, is also set in my beloved Kenya and will be graced with Mike’s gorgeous illustrations. It tells the story of the elephants of Amboseli and the loving matriarch, Bibi, who in a time of great drought, cares for her family and teaches her grandchild everything she needs to know to become the family matriarch herself someday.


Mike, the full-spread illustrations in the book are stunning.  As an urban dweller, I don’t get to see skies like the ones you have depicted here very often.  I’m guessing your hometown of Minneapolis doesn’t get skies like these very often either, so where does your inspiration for this book come from?

Thank you!

Whenever I start a new book I get lots of visual reference, but there comes a point when I need to put all of that reference away and make the illustrations my own.  My inspiration often comes from the emotion of the story.  Fortunately Toni’s beautiful stories are full of emotion. The sky for me is the emotional core.  So when Kito is asleep on his father’s paw there is only subtle contrast between the billowy clouds and sky giving the piece a calm stillness.  In comparison, when the lionesses are chasing the wildebeests there is much more contrast (in color and value) in the sky to add to the drama of the scene. It’s a matter of painting and painting until I feel that I’ve captured that specific emotion I’m looking for.

Mike KitoSleepingWeb

Illustrations © 2013 by Mike Wohnoutka from Just Like My Papa

Mike Chasing

Illustrations © 2013 by Mike Wohnoutka from Just Like My Papa

Mike, you have two young children, who are prominently (and adorably!) displayed on biography

portion of your website.  While they may not be learning how to lead a pride, or bring down a wildeb

Mike Family

Mike and his family at a publication party for Stay Close to Mama

Thank you, again!

Unfortunately, my father was not patient and I have no memory of him playing with me.  So I was really nervous about becoming a father.  I didn’t want to be an impatient, angry dad always yelling at my kids. Shortly after my son, Franklin, was born I took many ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) classes. This helped immensely.  Having an amazing wife helped, too!

I want my kids to be loving and curious. Hopefully they will learn some of this from me.  They will learn this by example, but also, I believe, through books.  We read together so much as a family. I think this is one of the most important things I can do for them.


Toni and Mike, Just Like My Papa, is a story about a child (or cub’s) personal hero.  Every child needs one of these.  Did you have a personal hero in childhood?

Toni: My personal hero is the man to whom Just Like My Papa is dedicated, my Uncle John Mackey. I love him for who he is—a strong, capable, and endlessly curious man—and for who he has always been for me, my rock, the source of unconditional love through some mighty difficult times. How lucky I am to have him in my life still and to have the opportunity to spend time with him every week during the winter months I spend in Sarasota, Florida. Even now, as he struggles with a devastating loss of eyesight, I learn from his resiliency and his optimism. He really is my hero!

Mike and Mr Chase

Mike and his art teacher, Mr. Chase (left) at a booksigning.

Mike: I would have to say my high school art teacher, Mr. Chase.  He is the first person to instill the love of drawing in me.  His humor and fun-loving personality was infectious. But he also pushed me and made sure I never took my talent for granted—there is always room for improvement.  He was also the first person to tell me that if I worked really hard, someday I could actually make a living creating art!


Thank you so much to Toni and Mike for your time!

And thanks to the generosity of Disney-Hyperion, I have a signed copy of Just Like My Papa to give away! (Open to U.S. and Canada). Just fill out the Rafflecopter below between now and FRIDAY, JUNE 28th. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway


For more Just Like Papa fun, visit the other stops on the tour.

Children’s Book Review – http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/
Kid Lit Frenzy –  http://www.kidlitfrenzy.com/
As They Grow Up –  http://www.astheygrowup.com/
Susan Heim on Parenting – http://susanheim.blogspot.com/
Mundie Kids – http://mundiekids.blogspot.com/
Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – http://insatia blereaders.blogspot.com/
There’s a Book – http://www.theresabook.com/
Momma Drama – http://blogginmommadrama.blogspot.com/
One Book at a Time – http://onebooktime.blogspot.com/
June 5, 2013

Far Far AwayFar Far Away by Tom McNeal

Published by:Knopf Books for Young Readers

Release date:June 11th

Ages: 12 and up

Pages: 384

From the publisher:

It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn’t even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he’s able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since. After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it’s been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn’t been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm. Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion. And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings. . .
My thoughts:

I don’t often share or review young adult novels on here, but this one caught my attention months ago, and then kept me spellbound from the first page, so how could I not share it with you?  And while it’s technically classified as young adult (and the main characters are older teens), I think you might get away with doing this as a read-aloud/read together with a mature or older middle grader.

What fascinated me about the synopsis for Far Far Away was that it was a story about stories.  Or, at least, a famous storyteller and his stories.  The ghost of Jacob Grimm? How often do you see that as a main character?

There are a couple threads that begin separately, but ultimately combine in one glorious ending.  First, we have Jacob Grimm who is held earthbound by some unfinished business.  And yet, he has no idea what that unfinished business is.  Then we have Jeremy, who besides being the town oddball, is dealing with a recluse father, a shop nobody wants to visit, and a mortgage nobody is able to pay.  And finally we have the mystery of the children who have been disappearing over the last several years.

The story begins fairly simply, with a boy and his ghostly companion.  The first half of the tale focuses on Jeremy, his developing relationship with Ginger, and his attempts to keep his family home and shop.  And then…things take a twist.  The second half of the story is a modernized version of a Grimm fairytale, the kind that has not been watered down for today’s younger children.  The mashup of traditional and modern works incredibly well.  I stayed up way too late into the night/morning reading the entire second half in a sitting because putting it down just wasn’t possible.  McNeal weaves portions of traditional Grimm tales in amongst the modern day action until the reader finds himself drawing parallels and looking at well loved stories in a whole other light.  And the conclusion…well, that too is something straight out of a Grimm tale.

Highly recommend for audiences who like a little thrill to their reading and can appreciate the traditional fairytale connections.



May 24, 2013

Truck Stop coverTruck Stop by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Melissa Iwai

Published by:Viking Juvenile

Release date: May 2013

Ages: 3-7

Pages: 40

From the publisher:

Early each morning,
before the sun is even up,
the Truck Stop opens for breakfast,
and the trucks start pulling in.
Eighteen wheeler,
milk tank,
moving van,
and flatbed!
Their drivers order eggs and bacon,
pancakes with syrup,
and a blueberry muffin.
For the boy who helps his parents at the counter, there is nothing better than seeing all the trucks roll in; he knows every single one . . . and can tell when one is missing!Here is a story for very young truck lovers, worth stopping for again and again.
My thoughts:

I’m so delighted to be the final stop on the blog tour for Anne Rockwell’s Truck Stop today. I’m going to keep my comments short because Anne and Melissa were kind enough to agree to an interview, so I will let them tell you about Truck Stop. But before I do…

Truck Stop is a story about a young boy and his family, and the roadside diner they open bright and early each morning. As the pages turn, readers meet all the regulars, from Eighteen-Wheeler and Sam, to Diligent Dan’s Moving Van, to Pete and Prischilla’s Tow Truck. But on this particular morning Green Gus and his driver are missing. Green Gus is always on time. Where could he be?

This is a story about the best part of childhood. About feeling loved and secure, about a sense of community, about people looking out for each other. The text has a classic feel, while the illustrations are bright and bold. The overall package is one that will appeal not only to small truck lovers (like my own 18 month old boy!) but to all young children who just enjoy a warm, simple story.


Now that you’ve heard my thoughts, please welcome Anne Rockwell and Melissa Iwai!

Sullivan Wong Rockwell reading his first book not yet knowing that his NaiNai (Mandarin Chinese for paternal grandmother) wrote and illustrated it many years ago for another little boy who grew up to be Sullivan’s BaBa.

Anne Rockwell began writing and illustrating children’s books in the 1950s and is well known and loved by generations of children. Her work has won many awards and accolades. She lives in Connecticut.



Melissa Iwai has illustrated over twenty picture books, and has both written and illustrated Soup Day. A California native, Melissa now lives in Brooklyn, not far from the Brooklyn Bridge, with her husband and son.


Anne, you’ve been writing books for children for more than 50 years, and have covered an amazing number of topics relevant to young children. What keeps you going? How do you keep fresh and inspired?

Thanks so much for calling my work “fresh and inspired.” It doesn’t always feel that way when you’re working, but I’m glad you don’t see any blood, sweat and tears!

I have to admit to loving TRUCK STOP, for it just seems right. I think we all forget how much young children love to work—not just play. The narrator has a job to do, even before he heads off to school. And he gets the chance to be a hero too, when he finds the missing breakfast regular and gets him where he’s meant to be.

What keeps me going is the memory of how I loved books as a child, and saw that same love in my three children, and five grandchildren. I think picture books are very, very important in introducing a small child to his/her world. I don’t understand their unique power, but it’s there, in spite of other media. Maybe it’s because books require imagination from their readers, their lookers, their listeners. But it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of through creating books for children I’ll never know.

I love the stories of real people who triumphed in some way. I realize that such stories are for older children, and illustrations don’t play as big a part for the reader.


Melissa, your portfolio is both beautiful and diverse in style. One of the things I enjoyed about Truck Stop was the bright, bold colors. How do you decide what style to use with a text?

Thank you!

Because Truck Stop is for young children, I wanted to have bright colors. I also wanted to keep the shapes pretty simple and graphic. So I decided to create the artwork using collage. Because I had to cut the shapes out of paper (I used a variety: hand painted paper, origami paper, patterned paper, etc.), it forced me to keep the shapes simple and graphic.

Melissa Iwai illus_trucks


I love the classic feel of Truck Stop. The message of friendship and community is one I think children always need to hear. I remember, years ago, stopping at a truck stop for breakfast while traveling with my parents and grandparents. As in Truck Stop, the place was packed with regulars. Do either of you have a particular truck stop memory or experience?

Anne: I’m so glad that love of belonging to a community comes through! I think we underestimate how important community is for small children. And thanks for loving the classic feel of TRUCK STOP. As adults we’re jaded from all the images, words, everything and are afraid of boring children. We want books for children to excite the adults who read them. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it doesn’t lead to books with sophisticated and adult humor, but it often does.

I don’t know the name of the truck stop that inspired me. The book is derived from many. My first visits to truck stops were along the highway in the Mississippi Delta somewhere on our way to visit relatives. There was always someone my father knew, for he was a native of those parts. While my parents had coffee I could have a Dr. Pepper, and maybe the last skinny piece of peach pie sitting under a plastic dome to keep the flies off. I can still taste it.

Melissa: I grew up around truck stops because my hometown is in the agricultural belt of California. But I didn’t actually go into the truck stop diners to eat until I was working on the illustrations for TRUCK STOP! I also visited truck stops in Illinois and Wisconsin while working on the book. But I have always had a fondness for diners. I especially love old diners that have the patina of age and authenticity.

The narrator in truck stop has a regular morning routine. Are you a morning person? What does your work day look like?

Melissa: I was never a morning person for most of my life, but having a baby changed that. My sleep schedule never seemed to return to pre-baby days! So now it is common for me to wake up at dawn, and often before dawn. On most days, I go to the gym around 6:00 am and lift weights. It’s very meditative. Then I shower and come home around the time my husband and son wake up. I make breakfast and take my son to school. Then I’ll work on whatever projects I have until lunch time. My husband also works at home, so we always eat lunch together. If it’s a Thursday or Friday we do the NY Times crossword puzzle together (otherwise I do it by myself—also the KenKen puzzle—I’m addicted to KenKen!).

I work some more until my son comes home from school. We’ll have a snack together. If he has a play date at someone else’s home, I’ll just work until he gets home. I try to schedule my “heavy” thinking work (maybe concept sketches for a new project or writing) in the morning when I have no distractions. In the afternoon, when he’s here, often with a friend, I’ll do my “lighter” thinking work, like blogging or painting or finishing a piece on the computer. I can work and talk and be interrupted multiple times and it’s OK. Soon it’s time to cook dinner (we rarely eat out!) and then we eat together and talk about our days or play word games. I usually work a little more after dessert until it’s time for my son to go to bed. We have our bedtime rituals. Then I hang out with my husband for awhile, and I usually go to bed before him, as HE is still a night person!


And of course, the most important question…what would YOUR truck stop breakfast order be?

Melissa: I always order two eggs over easy with toast and coffee and maybe bacon, just like Sam in TRUCK STOP!

Melissa Iwai_Sam's breakfastfor Once Upon a Story

Anne: I enjoy orange juice, black coffee, and a blueberry muffin!


Thank you so much for stopping by, ladies!

This is the last stop on the blog tour, but you can check out Cracking the Cover today for more thoughts on Truck Stop!

And thanks to the generosity of Viking Juvenile, I have a copy of Truck Stop to give away! (Open to U.S. Residents only). Just fill out the Rafflecopter below between now and FRIDAY, JUNE 7th. Good luck!

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May 22, 2013

Because I'm Your DadBecause I’m Your Dad by Ahmet Zappa, illustrated by Dan Santat Published by:Disney-Hyperion

Release date: April 2013

Ages: 3-7

Pages: 32

From the publisher:

“In a text that’s both playful and loving, a father expresses his hopes and dreams for a one-of-a-kind relationship with his child. Whimsical monster characters bring the silly and sweet scenes to life and keep the book universal. The book’s ending, a moving tribute to the author’s father, guarantees intergenerational appeal.”
My thoughts:

Add this one to your list of Father’s Day gifts, especially if you have young children. If your house is anything like mine, the relationship between child and dad, and child and mom, looks very, very different.

Dad gives poptarts for breakfast.

Dad is more lenient with climbing/jumping off the furniture.

Dad doesn’t “do” pigtails, resulting instead in the slightly bedraggled but spared-the-trauma-of-the-comb hairstyle.

Dad can be convinced to order pizza for dinner.

Dad recreates Wrestlemania (gently, of course) as after-dinner play.

Dad has more tolerance for tidal-wave splashing during bathtime at the end of the day.

Which leaves mom as the no-fun, eat your dinner, stop picking on your brother disciplinarian.


Okay, maybe it’s a bit more balanced, but the relationship between dad and child is unique and different. Because I’m Your Dad celebrates that relationship. Breakfast for dinner? Sure! A rock concert in the living room? Absolutely! Wild and crazy stories at bedtime? You bet. But dads also make other important promises. To go to soccer games, even the ones far away. To carry sleeping children in from the car after busy days. And to make a child feel safe, even if that means checking for scary beasts under the bed (more than once).

The text is beautifully and boldly complemented by Dan Santat’s illustrations. Lots of happy, loving monsters, bright colors and humor done in Santat’s signature style. Book people might recognize him from such works as Chicken Dance, Bawk and Roll, The Three Ninja Pigs, or the Oh No! books (among many others). He’s also the mind behind Disney’s tv show, The Replacements.

Recommended for dads, grandpas, uncles, or any special male in a child’s life.


May 1, 2013

In the Tree HouseIn the Tree House by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Dusan Petricic

Published by:Kids Can Press

Release date: April 2013


Pages: 32

From the publisher:

My thoughts:

If Spinelli’s Hokey Pokey met with Rocco’s BlackoutLarsen’s In the Tree House would be the result.

In the Tree House is the story of two brothers.  A year ago, when the narrator and his family move into their new house on the suburbs, one of the first priorities wad building a grand treehouse.  That summer, the boy and his older brother spend every waking minute in the tree, building houses out of cards, reading comics, and beaming flashlights into the dark.  The only thing they can’t do is see the stars in the well-illuminated suburban sky.

But the next summer is different.  The older brother has new friends.  He’s too busy, too mature, to play with his little sibling.

Which leaves just one lonely boy in a treehouse.

And then comes the night of the blackout.  Suddenly, the world is dark and quiet.  But most amazingly, the sky is filled with stars.  As the neighbors below come out in a block party, a certain big brother climbs his way back up into the treehouse.  There, he rediscovers the joy of comic books, cards, and shining flashlights over the neighborhood.  Long after the blackout ends, these two brothers enjoy a special night.

This is a coming-of-age story, one that reflects a milestone that most siblings experience: that moment one the older sibling suddenly acts older, and what used to be a minimal difference in age now seems significant.  Larsen’s text is a bit of a roller coaster ride, from jubilation, to sorrow and loneliness, and back up to a more subdued but present joy.  Much like adolescence.  That period of life where you’re just not quite sure how to act or feel, straddling the divide between childhood and adulthood.

The illustrations did not quite work for me, and I was prepared to feel disappointed, until the latter half of the book.  Here, Petricic manages to make even the blackest night warm and welcoming.  My favorite page is the last page of the book, an illustration of two boys in silhouette, looking out over a sleeping neighborhood.  Who doesn’t like a happy ending?

Recommended for a home collection, especially for those experiencing a divide between siblings.


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