Once Upon a Story
August 3, 2015

Hey, you know what happens when the school year ends, and then you travel for the first 3 weeks in July, and then you come home and run a camp for 115 kids?

*blows dust off blog*

Eesh. Okay. But I’m back with something to share, see!

(P.S. How’s YOUR summer going?)


Space Boy and His Sister Dog by Dian Curtis Regan, illustrated by Robert Neubecker

Published by:Boyds Mill Press

Release date: April 2015

Ages: 4-7

Pages: 32

From the publisher: Niko may live on boring old Planet Home (Earth) with his family, but that doesn’t stop him from having big adventures in space. With a box from his backyard and a little imagination, he flies off into the galaxy, accompanied by his robot, Radar, and his dog, Tag. Who’s not invited on this voyage? His annoying sister, Posh, who seems to pop up at the most inconvenient times. In this first (mis)adventure, Niko and trusty crew (and possibly a sisterly stowaway) fly to the moon in search of a lost cat. Illustrated in a comic-book style, with panels and speech bubbles, this picture book—the first in a series—will captivate boys and girls alike.

My thoughts:

We’re super into spaceships around here. Really, we’re into anything that moves–cars, trains, planes, spaceships, boats. If it moves, and you can make a (loud) noise to go with it, my 3.5yo can tell you about it. But beyond spaceships and space exploration, there are two other themes central to this story.

Imagination. It’s made apparent to the reader from the very first page that this spaceship is imaginary. We see Niko building it, see it’s cardboard construction, see the backyard setting. We even see the little robot co-pilot he’s constructed to accompany him on his journey. After the first few pages, however, we are taken on a ride through Niko’s imaginative play. The rocket becomes real, as does the robot co-pilot, and the setting changes from the backyard into deep space, with Earth fading into the distance. It’s not until the end of the story, when Niko returns safely home, that the reader is brought back to the backyard reality.

Siblings. I have a daughter and a son, a little over 2.5 years apart. They are the absolute best of playmates. Until they’re not, and suddenly they’re beating on each other and screaming for my intervention. I’m guessing both Regan and Neubecker know this scenario. At the start of the book, we’re introduced to Niko and his spaceship invention. We then meet his sister, Posh. But, we are informed, “..she is not in this story.”  Or so Niko thinks. Despite his best efforts to shake her off, Posh keeps popping up. Eventually, our frustrated Niko leaves Posh behind on the moon. He’s soon overcome by guilt, though, and returns to rescue her–only to find out that Posh doesn’t need rescuing. It’s a classic love-hate sibling relationship that plays out a dozen times a day in households all over the world.

Apart from the themes, the other thing I like about this book is the blended formats. It is, without a doubt, a picture book. But this book has eight short “chapters,” each one its own plot event. While it can still be read in a single sitting, it’s a nice (very early) introduction to the next step. Additionally, the story is illustrated in a combination of full spread illustrations and comic format, with multiple frames on each page. The occasional speech bubble is interspersed amongst the text. There’s so much to see and discuss on each page and little elements like the detailed facial expressions take the text to a whole other level

Boyds Mill (which is the book imprint of the well-known Highlights Magazine) is a small press, selective with the limited number of books they publish each year.  But that means you can get some real gems that might otherwise go unnoticed. This is one of them. I’m happy to add this to our shelves, though I doubt it’ll spend much time there.

June 8, 2015

Disappearance of Emily H blog tour banner 

The Disappearance of Emily H. by Barrie Summy

Published by: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Release date: May 2015

Ages: 8-12

Pages: 256

From the publisher:

A girl is missing. Three girls are lying. One girl can get to the truth.

Emily Huvar vanished without a trace. And the clues are right beneath Raine’s fingertips. Literally. Raine isn’t like other eighth graders. One touch of a glittering sparkle that only Raine can see, and she’s swept into a memory from the past. If she touches enough sparkles, she can piece together what happened to Emily.

When Raine realizes that the cliquey group of girls making her life miserable know more than they’re letting on about Emily’s disappearance, she has to do something. She’ll use her supernatural gift for good . . . to fight evil.

But is it too late to save Emily?

About the Author:Barrie Summy photo

Barrie Summy is the author of the I So Don’t Do mystery series starring thirteen-year-old detective Sherry Holmes Baldwin, and the recently released The Disappearance of Emily H. Barrie lives in Southern California with her husband, their four children, two dogs, a veiled chameleon, and a fish. There was once a dwarf hamster, but let’s not go there.
Visit her online at her website or Facebook page.
My thoughts:
Okay, I admit I’m a sucker for a good magical realism. Stories that are firmly grounded in reality, but have just a twist of the fantastical. Just enough that I can *almost* believe that that magic might actually exist outside my front door.  So The Disappearance of Emily H. caught my interest right away. I loved the premise. A normal eighth-grader, Raine, with one very unordinary skill: the ability to see memories in the form of sparkles. Once Raine holds one of these sparkles in her hand, the memory appears as a vision, transporting Raine right into the moment. Don’t you love the idea that memories are all around us, sparkling on fenceposts, backpacks, and lockers, just waiting for us to grab them?
The book opens with Raine standing in front of her new school…again. Raine has had a lot of new schools. Five, to be exact. Three of them being middle schools. Raine’s mother attracts bad relationships like a magnet. And when the relationship falls apart, her mom packs up the house and moves on for a “fresh start”, dragging Raine with her.
Yielding Middle School is just like all the others. There’s the cliques, the pretty girls, the cute guys, the bullies. Raine quickly makes friends with another new girl, the previously homeschooled Shirlee, and finds a place on the cross-country team. Sure, there’s mean girl Jennifer and her posse. But for once, Raine’s mom seems to be focused on really starting over, without a new guy. She’s even planting flowers in their little house with the pink shutters. Things might actually work out this time.  Raine might actually get to have a normal year.
Until Raine catches a memory that gives her a glimpse into what happened to Emily Huvar, a Yielding Middle School student who disappeared a few months ago. When Raine learns that she’s living in Emily’s old house, she becomes determined to solve the mystery. But the more she digs, the more she realizes she may be in over her head. Then a chance encounter leads Raine to discover that …the answer to what happened to Emily Huvar is closer than she imagined…and a thousand times more dangerous.
I’m showing my age here, but remember The Face on the Milk Carton? This had the same twist-and-turns, confused reality, building-to-a-dramatic-climax feel for me, but with the added benefit of a little sparkly magic. The characters are oh-so-real, the emotions high (as they often are for middle schoolers), and the conclusion one that the reader doesn’t quite see coming. We feel for the missing Emily, but we also feel for Raine as she struggles not only with the mystery that has, quite literally, fallen into her fingertips, but also with her mother, the mean girls, and even the cute boy, elements all middle-aged readers can relate to.
Intrigued? I’ve got you covered!

The Disappearance of Emily H.Giveaway!

One sparkly winner will receive a copy of THE DISAPPEARANCE OF EMILY H by Barrie Summy (U.S. addresses; allow 4-6 weeks for delivery). Enter below by 11:59pm on June 22.




Follow along on the blog tour!

Thursday, June 4
Ms. Yingling Reads
Fri, June 5
Mon, June 8
Once Upon a Story
Tues, June 9
Read Now, Sleep Later
Wed, June 10
Thurs, June 11
Unleashing Readers
Fri, June 12
Small Review




May 25, 2015

Hey, Baby, Look! Cover (203) Hey, Baby, Look!  Kate Shannon, illustrated by Morgan Owens

Published by:Blue Dream Books (website)

Release date: 2014

Ages: 0-3


From the publisher: An important board book addition to any little person’s first library, Hey, Baby, Look! is underpinned by brain research and whimsical creativity. Its sturdy pages are rich in color, beautifully illustrated, and full of rhyming fun!


My thoughts:

In the 6 1/2 yeas I’ve been doing this parenting gig, we’re read a lot of board books. Particularly with my youngest who was a little more “hands on” in his reading.
Meaning, he would either eat or destroy paper books.
We’ve read the simplest of board books, with a single image and corresponding identifying word on a page. We’ve read board book adaptations of longer picture books. We’ve read Sheep in a Jeep until the jeep wasn’t the only thing in pieces.
But we hadn’t read anything quite like Hey, Baby, Look!  Each page starts with the phrase, ‘Hey, Baby, look!’ which, if your kid is like mine, actually works to focus the reader’s attention on that page. This is then followed by a series of questions or directions corresponding with one of four images on the opposite page:
Hey, Baby, look!
Which one keeps you warm?
Point to the boat.
Where is the show?
Which one can float?
The questions vary in cognitive ability, which is nice because it extends the life of this book. Skills range from identifying objects, to colors, to counting, to letters.  The images are simple, bright, and distinct.  Youngest readers can be guided through the questions with finger-pointing, while my older (3yo) reader actively engages and verbally responds without my prompting. We may be beyond the board books that with single images and identifying words, but this one keeps his attention and is kept in regular rotation at our house.
A fun addition to any early literacy library!
May 20, 2015

Kate Walden Directs: Bride of Slug Man Kate Walden Directs: Bride of Slug Man by Julie Mata

Published by: Disney-Hyperion

Release date: May 2015

Ages: 8-12

Pages: 288

From the publisher:

After her huge success with her first feature-length movie, seventh-grader Kate Walden is eager to start on her next film, a sci-fi romance called Bride of Slug Man. When a new kid comes to town from New York City, Kate thinks she might have a new found film buddy-someone to share her interest with. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s pretty cute. But it turns out that Tristan is making his own movie, and now the classmates Kate thought were eager to join her cast and crew are divided. With rumors spreading in school and between sets, Kate finds herself juggling more than just call times and rewrites. And judging from the whispers Kate hears about Tristan Kingsley, she suspects that he isn’t interested in having a fellow film-buff friend; he just wants to prove himself as the best filmmaker in school by winning the Big Picture Film Festival. Kate vows to enter too, and tries to focus on just making the best movie she can. But between the cutthroat popularity contest, a bully situation that goes from bad to worse, and several on-set mishaps, Kate is going to need all the movie magic she can get to make sure Bride of Slug Man hits the big screen.


About the Author:Julie Mata_credit Tony Mata (2)

Julie Mata grew up outside Chicago and currently lives in Wisconsin, where she owns a video production business with her husband.. She loves movies and once wrote and directed her own short film. She also loves traveling, gardening, and reading a really good book. Her first book was Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens. For more information, including a downloadable curriculum guide and a filmmaking tip of the month, visit her website: juliemata.com.
Twitter: @juliehmata
My thoughts:
Yes, this is a story for film enthusiasts. Like Mata’s first novel, Night of the Zombie Chickens, the plot revolves around Kate and her new film project. This time, it’s not her mother’s evil chickens who are the focus of her camera, but a goopy, slimy creature, inspired by her younger brother’s homework assignment. And yet,this story is really about middle grade relationships…and the rollercoaster of emotions that come with them. There’s the rivalry between Kate and the new kid, Tristan, who himself is a kid film producer. And from New York City, no less! There’s Kate’s internal struggle regarding her bullied friend Doris. Kate knows that what is happening to Doris is wrong, but standing up for her friend isn’t always easy. And there’s mean kid Paul Corbett, who has resurrected Kate’s nickname from last year…Crapkate. All that, and Kate still needs to finish her movie in time for entry in the Big Picture Film Festival.

Seventh-grade is no big deal, right? Set against the film-making backdrop, this is a story that takes the reader behind the scenes of the film industry. Or at least, behind the scenes of Kate Walden’s film industry. But it’s also an inside look at what it means to survive middle school, something every reader can relate to.

Here’s author Julie Mata to tell you more about her book in her own words.

Movie Magic in Kate Walden Directs: Bride of Slug Man

 By Julie Mata

 In the movie Super 8, there’s a moment when a band of kids is shooting a movie scene at a train depot late at night. Suddenly, a real train hurtles out of the darkness toward them. The director, a kid named Charles, shouts “Production Value!” and feverishly tries to film while the train is passing by. This scene makes me laugh because it’s so true. Directors will do almost anything to add extra sizzle—also known as production value—to their movies.


In Kate Walden Directs: Bride of Slug Man, twelve-year-old Kate is dying to make a science fiction movie but her best friend longs to star in a romance. In Kate’s mind, flying saucers and aliens add sizzle. Romance does not. Throughout the story, she bounces between wanting to keep her friends happy and trying to make the epic sci-fi flick of her dreams.


One of the great parts of writing about a character who makes movies is that I get to research all kinds of fun filmmaking facts. To get ideas for a flying saucer, I laughed through the epically bungling movie Plan Nine from Outer Space, which won director Ed Wood the dubious title of Worst Ever Movie Director. Ed didn’t have a budget for fancy special effects so he tied fishing line to a toy UFO and dangled it in front of the camera. In an homage to Wood, and because it’s exactly what a twelve-year-old would do (sorry, Ed), Kate gets her UFO shots the same way.


Kate even uses a technique called forced perspective to make her flying saucer look life size. It’s all about putting small objects close to the camera lens to make them look huge, and placing people far off in the distance to make them look small. Kate feels pretty pro when she learns that Steven Spielberg used the same technique in Close Encounters of the Third Kind to make a model ship tanker look real. (And I felt pretty pro writing about it.)


Of course, some of the lessons Kate learns can’t be found in a moviemaking how-to manual. She learns the hard way that you don’t have to be a big-time Hollywood director to end up with a big-time Hollywood ego. She also struggles with bullies, friendship dramas, and wardrobe malfunctions while trying to finish her movie.


Writing about Kate has allowed me to combine two of my passions—moviemaking and writing. I’m no Spielberg but I did write and direct a short film once called Bus Driver. You can check it out on YouTube but be warned, it doesn’t have cool flying saucers or alien creatures from Mars. I guess I was out-sizzled by my own MC.


More good stuff:

PicMonkey CollageGiveaway!

One lucky winner will receive both books featuring Kate Walden – KATE WALDEN DIRECTS: NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIE CHICKENS and KATE WALDEN DIRECTS: BRIDE OF SLUG MAN. (U.S. addresses; allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.) Enter below by 11:59pm on Wednesday, June 3rd.

Follow along on the blog tour!

Monday, May 18
Wed. May 20
Once Upon a Story
Thurs, May 21
Read Now, Sleep Later
Fri, May 22
Curling Up with a Good Book
Tues, May 27
The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
Wed, May 28
BookHounds YA
Thurs, May 29
The Brain Lair
Fri, May 30
Kid Lit Frenzy
Monday, May 18
Wed. May 20
Once Upon a Story
Thurs, May 21
Read Now, Sleep Later


May 4, 2015

Twice in the past week, on two separate occasions, with completely different groups of people, I have overheard a mother talking about how her daughter had wanted a doll (one was an American Girl, the other non-specified) for her birthday. Both these mothers had daughters somewhere in the 4-7 range. Both mothers were discussing how they had bought their daughter something else because they didn’t want to get them hooked on that “girly stuff.”

“Girly stuff.”

Like how to gently hold and take care of a baby? Like how to put on clothes and do buttons and zippers and comb hair? That “girly stuff”?

This song keeps bouncing around in my head:

But now nobody can have a doll–boys or girls.

I’ve been running into several similar posts in the children’s lit blogosphere. Posts about quality books for girls, books that empower them, make them strong, teach them to be leaders.

I’m all for that. And I’d encourage you to  check out this wonderful post by author Kirby Larson about why she will no longer write about “strong girls.” It’s perfect.

But you wanna hear my dirty little secret?  Here’s the book my 6yo daughter is currently reading to herself:

It’s PINK.


It’s about FAIRIES.

This is not female empowerment. This is not STEM-based. This is not about girls overcoming hurdles.

It’s about a pink, sparkly, fairy. And it gets worse. There’s more. A whole series, in fact.

Yep. She’s read more of them.

You know why?

Let me back up to an important sentence:

Here’s the book my 6yo daughter is currently reading to herself

My kindergartener, my new reader, loves these chapter books, and she loves that she can read them all by herself. She looks for the fairies that have the same names as her friends, and those are the ones she picks. Is it the most effective way of selecting a book. Eh. Maybe not. Depends who you ask. But it’s her way, and she’s so pleased when she brings another one home.

Why on earth would I want to shatter that excitement because it’s a sparkly, pink, fairy book?

Can we stop the shaming? Can we stop keeping a child from enjoying a book because we think it’s fluffy and insubstantial? Can we stop categorizing “boy books” and “girl books” and just let them read whatever it is they want?

Are there books I want her to read, characters I want her to meet, favorites I want her to enjoy? Of course there are. And we read those, too, as read alouds. More than once, she’s had me read something to her and then asked for another book in the series, or by that same author. It’s my way of booktalking to my independent reader.

You know what else has happened? I’ve read aloud (or tried to) a book that I think is great…and she’s completely bored by it. While that sometimes bruises my ego, it’s also fine, and I get over it, because she’s an independent reader. An independent reader who likes fairies, princesses, robots, toast-loving pigs, and non-fiction about any kind of wildlife.

I may be biased, but I think she’s doing just fine.

So let’s let them be independent. Let’s let them read whatever they want, without our adult judgement getting in their way.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go brush off my Babysitter’s Club collection.

I know she’s going to love them.

April 21, 2015

The Tiny Travler series by Misti Kenison

Published by: Sky Pony Presss

Release date: January 2015

Ages: 0-4


From the publisher:

Each book in Misti Kenison’s new Tiny Traveler board book series is sure to give your child the travel bug early by transporting little ones to exotic and fantastic places while teaching basic concepts—such as shapes. Now you and your little one can explore the world together from your living room.

Egypt: A Book of Shapes

If you’re going to learn about shapes, why not do it in the exciting land of Egypt? Egypt’s Great Sphinx, pyramids, and camels all come to life in this new board book by graphic designer Misti Kenison. Toddlers will learn basic shapes such as triangles, hexagons, and circles with bright, geometric spreads while getting a flavor for Egypt’s rich and fascinating culture.


France: A Book of Colors

The Arc de Triomphe, the Moulin Rouge, the Eiffel Tower–there is so much to do and see in the colorful city of Paris. From graphic designer Misti Kenison comes an adventurous new board book for your toddler. The culture and monuments of France are rendered into bold, graphic illustrations accompanied by vocabulary to teach toddlers basic colors. 

My thoughts:

We were fortunate enough to receive both Tiny Traveler books. To be honest, I wish we’d had these a couple of years ago, they’re such a fun little series. The text is simple, typically 3-5 words on a page, with each page following the same sentence structure. The illustrations are bright, simple, and aesthetically pleasing for even the youngest lapsitters. These are the kind of books you read to your infant from the very beginning.
But as we all know, those infants grow quickly, so what happens then?
My youngest reader turned three in December. We are smack dab in the middle of the preschool “academic” stage. That time where all of a sudden, those tiny people are learning letters, and numbers, and colors, and shapes. Which means even though we were not able to enjoy these books in his infancy, we’re getting a lot of use out of them now, as interactive texts. Whereas I once would have read them straight through, now he’s filling in the blanks for me:
The dancer’s dress is _______ (red).
The beard is a ________ (rectangle).
Each color or shape is illustrated in the most obvious way possible. We can read the word/point to the word, point to the correlating part of the illustration, and cheer his success.
(Seriously. Cheering. My kid is his own best cheerleader. “Yay! You got it!”)
And in the process, even though his world is currently pretty small, he’s getting to experience a bigger global view, and asking questions that will (hopefully) lead to further curiosity as he gets older. In fact, my kindergartener also likes these books, for their pictures of places she’s heard of but not (yet) seen.
Books both my 3yo and my 6yo want to read?
That’s a win for me.
April 15, 2015

Lucky Strike Lucky Strike by Bobbie Pyron

Published by: Arthur A. Levine

Release date: March 2015

Ages: 8-12

Pages: 272

From the publisher:

Nate Harlow would love to be lucky, just once!

He’d like to win a prize, get picked first, call a coin toss right, even! But his best friend, Genesis Beam (aka Gen), believes in science and logic, and she doesn’t think for one second that there’s such a thing as luck, good or bad. She doesn’t care what names the other kids call them. She cares about being right, about saving the turtles of Paradise Beach, and she cares about Nate.

Then, on his birthday, at the Goofy Golf mini-golf course, Nate is struck by lightning — and survives! Suddenly baseballs are drawn to his bat-popular kids want HIM on their side. It seems the whole town of Paradise Beach thinks Nate has the magic touch.

But is there room for Gen in Nate’s lucky new world?


My thoughts:

Nate Harlow is the kind of kid you immediately feel sorry for. His parents were both killed in a drunk driving accident when he was four.He’s scrawny (as my 11-year-old boys are). The toaster always burns his toast.

On April eleventh, on Nate’s eleventh birthday, he wakes up feeling lucky. Today, he’s sure, his luck will turn.

And then he’s struck by lightning.

Unlucky, right? Maybe. But then strange things start to happen. The toaster pops perfect toast onto his plate, time after time. His touch starts the dead engine of an old, rickety boat that then wins the annual boat race. His raffle ticket wins his Grandpa a brand new truck. He becomes the new star baseball player.

But with his new-found luck comes trouble. Once an outsider with his best friend Gen, Nate suddenly finds himself one of the cool kids, leaving Gen to fend for herself. Grandpa’s new truck is finicky. And not all the townspeople of Paradise Beach are a fan of Nate’s new magic touch. Soon, Nate is starting to think getting struck by lightning was the most unlucky thing that’s ever happened to him. But then another tragedy occurs, one that shakes not only Nate, but all of Paradise Beach.

Bobby Pyron has captured the essence of a close-knit, working-class town. These are, for the most part, good, honest people and we want things to work out happily ever after for them. Throughout the story, we can’t help feeling sorry for Nate, first for his constant string of bad luck, and then for his curse of good luck. It’s a “careful what you wish for” type of scenario, and the reader catches on right away, torn between wanting Nate to be well-liked, and waiting for the other shoe (ha!) to drop. When it does, we feel the impact of Nate’s lesson, even while we’re shaking our heads and muttering, “I knew something like that was going to happen.” And then there’s Gen, who is perhaps most negatively impacted by Nate’s good luck. Strong, awkward, independent…Gen is the embodiment of adolescence.  Trying to find her place, itchy in her own skin (even if she pretends not to be), as hungry for acceptance as she is for remaining true to herself. Lucky Strike‘s greatest strength is its characters. In our willingness to cheer for them, to frown on them, to shake our heads at their blinders, and to feel ourselves lucky enough to be a part of the Paradise Beach community.

Interested in reading more?  Check out the excerpt below!

Monday morning found Nate fixing his own breakfast and telling himself to hurry up or he’d miss the bus.

“Sorry, boy,” his grandpa had said the night before as he packed his cooler for the next day. “I got so many fishing trips lined up this week, I have to be out the door before sunup every blessed day.” Grandpa bustled around the little trailer, smiling in a way Nate hadn’t seen in a long time. “Don’t know why my luck’s changed, but I got to get while the getting is good! Got to ride this wave right in to red snapper season,” he said, pretending he was riding the surfboard of his youth.

Nate popped two slices of bread into the toaster. He watched the appliance with an eagle eye while he stirred powdered coco into his milk. Yes, the toaster had been reliable lately, but he reckoned that wouldn’t last.

Ping! Both pieces of toast sailed into the air and landed neatly, side by side, on the paper towel. The toast was truly wondrous in its perfection.

“Jeez Louise,” Nate breathed. “Did you see that, Grandpa?” He turned to the couch, grinning. But of course, his grandpa had been gone for hours.

“I’m telling you, Gen,” Nate said as the school bus bumped along the sandy road. “it was like that toaster had it all planned out. I wouldn’t have been surprised if it hadn’t buttered itself and opened the jelly jar.”

Gen looked up from her book on theoretical physics and sighed. “Nathaniel, a toaster cannot have a plan because a toaster does not have a brain.” She shook her head and poked her nose back into the book. She’d just started the chapter on Chaos Theory and found it, well, disturbing.

“I know that. I’m just telling you what I saw is all. They landed right next to each other, neat as you please. What do you think the odds are of that?” He poked her in the ribs with his elbow.

Not looking up from her book, Gen said, “It’s just like flipping a coin. If you do it enough times, the odds are in your favor. If the toast flies out of the toaster, as you claim, enough times, odds are they will land side by side one of those times.”

Nate slumped in his seat and picked at the stuffing oozing from a tear in the vinyl. “It’s not the same at all,” he mumbled. “I knew that coin was going to land on heads. I felt it for a fact.”

The bus pulled up to the entrance of the Liza P. Woods elementary. The familiar dread Nate always felt when he got to school lodged in his stomach like cold, leftover grits.

Gen gathered her books and pushed her glasses up on her nose. She watched the chaos of running, screaming, laughing, crying kids and sighed. She reached up to pluck at an eyebrow, then popped a rubberband on her wrist instead—Mrs. Beam’s latest attempt to preserve Gen’s eyebrows. Nate pulled the sleeve down on his bandaged hand and arm.

Gen blinked up at him. “Ready?”

“I guess,” he said, and followed his friend out of the bus.

“See you back here after school,” she said, like she always did, something that gave him comfort.

A spitball sailed through the air and landed in her hair. Nate plucked it out.

He watched as she walked down the long corridor, through the gauntlet of kids who laughed and taunted her. Her backpack full of books hung almost to the back of her knees. She was the only kid in school who had ironed creases in her jeans, and the face of Albert Einstein on her backpack. For one single second, Nate wanted to run and catch up to her, to glare and holler at the kids who made her life at Liza P. Woods miserable.

It wasn’t any use trying to protect Gen, though. They were the same kids who made his life miserable too. The difference, Gen always said, was he cared what those kids thought and she did not. Easy for her to say, he thought, as he turned and headed to the other end of the building where his classroom waited for him. She had the whole big, chaotic, noisy love of the Beam family behind her.

Nate pulled open the door to room 311. The cold lump of dread shimmied in his stomach. He hunched his shoulders and braced for the snickers and the eye rolling and the feet that would try to trip him up as he walked to his desk.



April 2, 2015

Hooray! It’s that time of year again.

It’s the day I can totally overindulge on chocolate cake and queso and whatever else my heart desires and not feel an ounce of guilt because

Hey! It’s my birthday!

Once upon a time I could sleep in late, too, but now there are little people in my life for whom “sleeping in late” means sleeping until 7am. And then they want cake. For breakfast.

It’s all about the cake.

Okay, the cake and the books.

Because it has become tradition around here to share the joy with a little birthday book giveaway!

I’ve done something a little different ever year. It’s always somehow personal to me (it is my birthday, after all), but also a chance to share some of the celebration with YOU.

So here’s what I’ve come up with this year.

In January, I picked a word to be my “guide” for the year. This is not a new practice, but it’s the first year I’ve done so. The word I picked was:


That means different things to different people, but for me it meant setting goals and reaching for them. Looking for the silver lining in tough situations. Focusing on the positive. Acknowledging the small gifts in the midst of all the negative. Being the shine for others.

For this year’s giveaway, I want to shine some light on a few books that, in one way or another, fit with my personal theme for the year.

Here’s how it works:

1. Check out the books below. I’ve selected two early readers, 2 picture books, and 2 middle grades.

2. Fill out the entry form (U.S residences only, sorry! One entry per household) by midnight on THURSDAY, APRIL 9th.

3. Submit.


That’s it! I’ll draw one winner and ship them the book of his/her choice.


That’s just as good as cake, right?

This year’s selections are:

(click on an image for more info)

Good luck!


Maria G. , enjoy your copy of FISH IN A TREE!


March 9, 2015

(Just a reminder: You can always click on the image for more information about the book, including a summary.)

Okay. It’s because I said ‘spring’ wasn’t it? I dared get excited, dared utter the word.

Which is why last week brought our biggest snow of the season.

Of course.

So I’m just going to not say anything and move right on to the books this week.

For me:

The Girl on The Train

Paula Hawkins

I have been waiting for what seems like forever for my hold on this book to become available at our public library. I rarely read adult books, but the synopsis for this one fascinated me, and the buzz was above-and-beyond positive.

Well worth the wait.

Intense, emotional, fast-paced. I’m totally hooked, just as everybody said I would be.

For the kids:

Melvin Might?

by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by David Shannon, Loren Long, David Gordon

Yup. Still reading about diggers. Always, always, the diggers.

 Tap the Magic Tree

by Christie Matheson

Such a beautifully illustrated book about seasons, but with the interactive element that reminds me (and my delighted 3yo) of Tullet’s Press Here.


by Tomie DePaola

I’ll read anything he touches. Period.

Happy Monday!

What are YOU reading this week?

March 4, 2015

Jack At The Helm (The Berenson Schemes #3)  by Lisa Doan, illustrated by Ivica Stevanovic

Published by: Lerner

Release date: April 2015

Ages: 9-12

Pages: 152

From the publisher:

Jack’s parents have bought a farmhouse in Nepal. It’ll be the site of a new religion―their latest get-rich-quick scheme. Sure, the Berensons don’t know quite how to get to the place. But once they arrive, their plan is sure to work. When the Berenson family’s travels leave Jack lost in the wilderness of Nepal, a patched-up old raft is the only way to track down his mom and dad. At least this time, Jack has company. He’s riding with Harry from Connecticut, a traveling dude who has been trying to find himself―and who also wound up stranded. As Jack and Harry ride down a winding river, they’ll have to watch out for rocks, rapids, and even crocodiles!


About the Author:Lisa Doan

Lisa Doan is the author of The Berenson Schemes series – Jack the Castaway, Jack and the Wild Life and Jack at the Helm. She received a master’s degree in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her extensive travel in Africa and Asia and eight years spent living in the Caribbean were the basis for the series’ international settings. She has hatched her share of harebrained schemes, including backpacking alone from Morocco to Kenya, hitchhiking across the Sahara with Nigerian car dealers, sauntering off on an ill-advised, one-person walking safari, and opening a restaurant with no actual restaurant experience. Her occupations have included master scuba diving instructor, New York City headhunter, owner-chef of a “sort of Chinese-like” restaurant, television show set medic, and deputy prothonotary of a county court. Visit the author and download free, CCSS-aligned curriculum guides at lisadoan.org.
My thoughts:
Upon reading Jack at the Helm (and the first two books in the Berenson Schemes series) what struck my most was Jack’s unique voice. Poor Jack is a child burdened with well-meaning, but rather eccentric parents who just can’t seem to keep track of him. In this latest book, he finds himself wandering Nepal, but Jack’s no stranger to having to survive on his own. I invited Jack (and author Lisa Doan) to the blog to share a few survival tips:

Jack Berenson’s Top Tips on Surviving a Foreign Family Trip

So . . . Mom and Dad got you a passport and are taking you overseas. Here are a few guidelines for the  wanting-to-live young traveler.

Job one: Never take your eyes off your parents! It’s a little known fact that adults like to wander  off—mine have escaped me three times already. Don’t let yours get away.

 While you continue to stare at your parents, don’t pitch a tent at a random camping spot. If nobody else is camping there, then either everybody knows it’s a bad idea or everybody is dead. Don’t be that kid  that got carried off by wild dogs or dragged into the water by a crocodile.

While you keep watching your parents, stuff your pockets with a compass, Swiss army knife, antibiotics, water purification tablets, Neosporin, bandages, trail mix, an SAS Survival Handbook, rope, a tarp, rain gear, a map and flares. I’m not saying you’ll need them, but. . . .

 You blinked and your parents have disappeared. You’re in a foreign wilderness and will have to dig deep and use MacGyver-like focus to survive the night. (Bonus tip: don’t use the antibiotics you stuffed in your pocket to treat your runny nose—you’re just crying, not sick.)

 By some miracle, you’re still alive at dawn. Do you wait for your parents to rescue you? Be honest with yourself: Do you have enough food to last through their long, badly planned and poorly executed rescue operation? My own personal experience is, don’t wait.

You decide you’d better try to save yourself. Depending on where you are, you may face: avalanches,  tsunamis, wild animal attacks, heat stroke, malaria, snake bites, mud slides, volcano eruptions,  earthquakes, hurricanes, frostbite, dengue fever, ant swarms, bee swarms, locust swarms and the  occasional military coup. Prepare for the worst and know that being a good person won’t save  you—you’re going to need a lot of quick thinking and a lot of luck.

  Let me know if you make it back!


ONE LUCKY WINNER will receive ALL THREE BOOKS in the Berenson Schemes series: Jack the Castaway, Jack and the Wildlife, and Jack at the Helm.  (U.S. addresses only). Enter below by 11:59pm on Wednesday, March 18th.







Good luck!

Follow Jack on the rest of his tour:

Mon, Mar 2
Just a Little Creativity
Tues, Mar 3
The OWL for YA
Wed, Mar 4
Once Upon a Story
Thurs, Mar 5
Kid Lit Frenzy
Fri, Mar 6
Children’s Book Review
Mon, Mar 9
The Compulsive Reader
Tues, Mar 10
Books Unbound
Wed, Mar 11
Geo Librarian
Thurs, Mar 12
The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog
Fri, Mar 13
The Hiding Spot


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