A Bite of Inspiration by Beth Ferry + Book Give-away + Easy Shark Puppet

The inspiration for my new picture book, Land Shark, illustrated by Ben Mantle, and published by Chronicle Books, came from a cuddly puppy with some tiny teeth . . .
which inflicted some big damage!
Which prompted a little research.
Which resulted in some interesting facts:                Land Shark_FC_3D-2

• Up until the 16th century, sharks were known among sailors as “sea dogs”.
• Baby sharks are called “pups”
• Sharks can smell one drop of blood in a million drops of water. Dogs can detect a teaspoon of sugar in one million gallons of water.
• Dogs eat garbage. Tiger sharks eat garbage.

You get the drift.
And that drift floated me right into the idea of Land Shark, a book about a shark-loving boy who comes to realize that puppies have oh, so many shark-like qualities. As the boy grows to love and appreciate his new puppy, he realizes he can love more than just sharks and that, in fact, there are a lot of amazing things to love, puppies included.

Land Shark is my sophomore picture book, publishing just as my daughter is finishing her sophomore year of high school and my son is beginning his sophomore year in college. The word sophomore translates loosely into “wise fool”, which seems pretty appropriate, because although I know a lot more than I did a few years ago, there is much, much more to learn about writing and publishing.

And see how the word “more” is lodged so nicely in the word “sophomore”.
Because there is always more to know, to do, to try, to learn, to write.
Sophomore also rhymes with some other great words, so to segue a bit into some random things . . .

I abhor swimming far out in the ocean (more than 10 feet) because I am scared of sharks!
I love to explore connections between words.
I live next door to a wildlife management area so I often see wild turkeys, foxes, deer and giant snapping turtles.
I often ignore traditional meal suggestions and eat pizza for breakfast and pancakes and cereal for dinner.
I deplore getting up early.
I adore receiving my author copies and seeing a stack of my very own books.

Holding a copy of Land Shark was just as exciting as holding Stick and Stone. Every book is unique and different, but just as jaw-some, I mean, awesome! I am excited for this book and hope kids will join Bobby on his frightful, bite-ful, delightful journey. Now excuse me as my own not-so-little bite of inspiration is barking to go out.

Beth Ferry is the author of the New York Times Bestseller: Stick and Stone, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, available April 7, 2015. She is also the author of Land Shark, coming August 4, 2015 and Pirate’s Perfect Pet setting sail in the Fall of 2016. Her latest picture book, Swashby and the Sea, will be released in 2017. Beth writes and lives by the beach in New Jersey with her family and two lazy land sharks. You can learn more at http://www.bethferry.com.   

To win a copy of LAND SHARK leave a comment below.  Your name will be put in a drawing and one winner will receive a signed copy of Beth’s awesome book. Winner will be announced on 8-12-2105.         Beth_Ferry_photo

Now, as promised in the title, here is the super easy Shark Puppet Craft (Compliments of Darlene).

All you need to make a cool shark puppet are:
A long business-size envelope, black marker, tape and scissors. I used pinking shears to give the shark’s mouth “teeth”, and regular scissors for the tail end.
1. Seal the envelope. Draw a line in one end, and a triangle on the other as shown in the photo.  2014-07-12 00.56.00
2. Cut along the drawn lines, saving the triangle for the fin. You can discard the tail end.
3. Tape the fin to the shark’s back. Draw an eye and gills as shown. Flip it over and do the same on the other side.    2014-07-12 00.57.34
4. Put your arm into the envelope and make the shark “swim”.       2014-07-12 01.01.45

Interview With MG Author Jane Kelley: Would You Dare? Plus a Give-away!

I’ve been seeing and hearing some wonderful “Buzz” regarding a book that’s just been released (July 14): THE BOOK OF DARES FOR LOST FRIENDS by Jane Kelley.  Jane is a fellow member of the Smack Dab in the Middle blog  (http://www.smack-dab-in-the-middle.com) that we contribute to.  So it is a pleasure to have her as a guest today.  Here’s Jane.                   JAK author photo

I’ve been making up stories all my life, but I didn’t really become a writer until about ten years ago, when my daughter was nine years old. As she read the beginning of a novel I was writing in a notebook, I saw what captivated her––and what did not.

“Mom,” she said, “I think you’re going to run out of story.” I sure didn’t like hearing that! But I took her advice and rewrote it. NATURE GIRL became my first published novel.

Since then, I’ve relied upon her as a critic and a connection to younger people. She’s a busy college student now, but she still gives me feedback. After I described my plan for THE BOOK OF DARES FOR LOST FRIENDS, she said, “I’ve read so many books about friends who get left behind. I’d like to read one that explores the person who does the leaving.”

Once again, I took her advice. The novel follows two friends starting middle school who make drastically different choices. Val is loyal. Lanora is ambitious. My daughter’s comment encouraged me to tell all sides of the story. I thought more deeply about why someone would pick the wrong friends, what happens when she starts to regret it, and what, if anything, could be done to make things right again.                   BofD cover copy

THE BOOK OF DARES FOR LOST FRIENDS will be released on July 14th.

“This entertaining and compassionate coming-of-age story explores middle-school cruelty, the heartache of abandonment, and the supple bonds of friendship”. – Publishers Weekly

Val and Lanora have been friends forever. Val expects their relationship to stay the same. But after they start middle school, Lanora decides to reinvent herself. Her parents have split up, and she wants to rise above that. Unfortunately Lanora’s choices lead her into trouble. Val hates watching her friend lose her way. She wants to rescue Lanora, but how? Val doesn’t know what to do until a stray cat leads her to a strange boy who lives in an even stranger bookshop. Together they embark on a quest. Will they be able to save a lost friend? Will they get lost themselves? Or will they find a way to help each other become who they want to be . . . .

Jane Kelley has created a nuanced, universal story about friendship and that delicate time of adolescence when there is much to lose and much more to find.

One lucky reader of this blog post will be able to enjoy this delightful story by winning a FREE SIGNED COPY of THE BOOK OF DARES FOR LOST FRIENDS.  Just leave a comment in this post for one entry, tweet about it for a second entry and reblog it for a third entry. Let me know what you’ve done and I will pull a name on Sunday 8-9 and announce the winner on 8-10. 

STAYING AFLOAT: 4 Writerly Things I Learned From Noah and his Ark (And a GIVEAWAY!)


Couldn’t let this great opportunity pass …

Originally posted on Laura Sassi Tales:

IMG_0257With the release of the board book edition of GOODNIGHT, ARK just a week away, I thought it would be fun to share four things Noah and his ark have taught me about getting boats, er stories, to float.
Don’t expect your boat to float overnight. When I first got the idea for GOODNIGHT, ARK my mind whirred with possibilities. Which animals would be scared of what?  How would they get to Noah’s bed? And how would Noah ever comfort them and return them to their bunks?  I knew early on that I wanted to write the story in rhyme but finding the perfect meter and line length did not come easily. So I played around with plot and form again, and again, and again. Each time I finished a draft, I’d put it away and work on other things for several weeks so I could see it with fresh eyes…

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The Disappearing Butterfly…How You Can Help!

While many insects make a lot of people say “yuck”…butterflies are in a category of their own.  There is no ick factor to these beautiful and amazing creatures.  One of the most recognized – and perhaps most popular – butterflies in North America is the MONARCH. Sadly, this beautiful insect is disappearing at an alarming rate.  In the 1990’s up to 1 BILLION monarchs migrated from the Northern US and Canada each fall to the OYAMEL FIR forests of Mexico.  Another million wintered in forested groves along the California coast.       monarch Now, scientists estimate that only 56.5 MILLION remain.  This represents a decline of nearly 80%.  Most of the decline is blamed on changing use of land; but we homeowners can change that.  You can use your property to create “monarch way stations” by planting MILKWEED and other nectar filled plants.  These plots allow monarchs to successfully produce generations and sustain them for their annual migrations. Milkweeds are the ONLY plants on which monarchs deposit their eggs and on which their larvae feed.  Without milkweed, there would be no monarchs.     To learn more about monarchs and way stations visit: http://www.monarchwatch.org Milkweed is easy to grow from seed.  And, here is a link for free milkweed plants.  They require little care and will spread easily once they take hold.  They can take over a garden, so be careful where you plant them. Go to: http://www.livemonarch.com/free-milkweed-seeds.htm          

Milkweed from my garden.

Milkweed from my garden.

  Not only will you bring beauty to your own habitat, but you will be helping an endangered species. Here’s a link to a wonderful post to start a discussion about Monarchs from Terry Jennings.: http://www.kcswildfacts.com/KCs-Blog.html?entry=monarch-butterflies-amazing-travelers

Introducing Children’s Book Author/Illustrator, Patricia Keeler

Today it’s my pleasure to have an interview with an author/illustrator friend I recently had the pleasure meeting at the NJSCBWI Conference this past June.  Patricia Keeler’s work is playful, uplifting and filled with a sense of whimsy that is a joy to behold.  Here’s Patricia:

What kind of art interested you as a kid?
I would say everything I did in my free time as a kid qualified as art–decorating cookies, stapling together Halloween costumes, cutting my hair, making mud villages, and chalk drawing on the sidewalk. Drawing was in the mix, but it was probably one of my least favorite types of art.

To get the flavor of my home growing up, my mom was a fibers artist. She shaved our black French poodle and wove cloth for a dress for herself. I didn’t want a dress made from my dog.

When did you decide to pursue illustration as an art form?
I was hired to create sets, do advertising, and background images for PBS television programming in Virginia. I was amazed you could get paid for doing that!

Did you go to school or are you self-taught?
I’d say self-taught, as I got a Master’s in Art Education.

What advice would you give to kids who are interested in drawing and illustrating?
Say something through your art about your day. Got wet feet on the way to school? Mystery meat for lunch? New cat? Show what your feet feel like wet, what the lunch room mystery meat tasted like, and how happy your new cat was to see you. (Show what your cat would look like if you found her wet and eating mystery meat.)

Don’t worry about using a certain medium like watercolors or colored pencils. That ‘pick a medium’ is a made-up rule. Use whatever in that moment that helps to get your idea out.

Which illustrators do you admire?
I fall in love with every piece of children’s book art I see these days! It’s crazy–or folks are just that good. I think children are amazing artists! But my current perfect illustration person would be a mash-up between Laura Cornell and Frank Viva.

What is your process?
I get coffee from Starbucks and one of those chewy chocolate cookies. Those are scary good. I sit by the Hudson River and watch the boats go by, the dog walkers, babies . . . Then something floats up in my mind that makes me laugh. Like babies flying with books for wings.     BOOK FAIRY

After that it’s a wrestling match with pencil, colored pencil, watercolor, and digital. It’s like trying to pick out a tiny, slippery seed from the inside of a ripe tomato. I just keep picking at that idea until it fabricates.

Generally I make a lot of sketches, than paint a few loosely in watercolor. I scan the images into the computer. I change the colors and add textures.


Digital gives me so many colors, texture, placement options–and I’m learning more all the time. So mostly I run out of time. I feel like I could play with the ideas in Photoshop indefinitely.

Do you have an agent?
Yes! I’m excited to be working with Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris of Liza Royce Agency.

Do you have new picture books coming out?
I have a busy year ahead because I’ll be illustrating two new books! Both books will be published by Sky Pony Press in the spring of 2017. The working title for the first book is LIZZIE AND LOU SEAL. For the second book we’re still working on the title.

I’ve illustrated, photographed, and/or written trade and educational books including DRUMBEAT IN OUR FEET, (Lee and Low Books, 2006) and A HUGE HOG IS A BIG PIG, (Greenwillow, 2002), a selection of the Junior Library Guild and the Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club. I received the Christopher Medal and the New York Book Festival First Prize in 2011 for illustrations in WOULD YOU STILL LOVE ME IF, an Indie picture book, written by Wendy LaGuardia. Over the years, my books have been reviewed by the New York Times Book Review, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, Booklist and The Horn Book.

An original painting from DRUMBEAT IN OUR FEET went to the Children’s Art Auction, ABFFE, this past May 2014. This piece was purchased by the Kerlan Collection’s curator, Lisa Von Drasek. The Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota may be the largest collection of children’s books in the world, as they house more than 100,000 books, as well as original manuscripts, galleys and color proofs.

Eventually the Kerlan Collection was interested in the entire DRUMBEAT file, from illustrated pages, galleys, proofs, acceptance letter, contract, pages of editorial critiques, and early sketches to the original paintings. I’m pleased my work found a final home and is now available for students and artists to explore a comprehensive example of children’s book illustration process.      

Patricia in her studio.

Patricia in her studio.

More of my work can be seen at http://www.patriciakeeler-author-illustrator.com.

You can also contact Patricia at:



Thank you, Darlene for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and process.

Kudos: ‘Stargirl’ Movie Nabs The ‘Twilight’ Director & Give-away


This post was too good to not pass around. Kudos to Jerry Spinelli!

Originally posted on Writing and Illustrating:

stargirlAs most of you know, I’ve been Jerry Spinelli’s webmaster for the last 12 years. It’s been a fun journey with Jerry and Eileen (her webmaster, too). I’ve read and enjoyed all their award winning books (which is all of them).

I have always been amazed at the love readers have for Stargirl. Everyone sees a little bit of Stargirl in themelves. Even 55 year old women have written Jerry telling him how much they appreciated the book and how it helped validate their time in high school.

But now, we have gone to the next level. The movie rights were sold years ago, but last week Variety announced that ‘Twilight’s’ Catherine Hardwicke is on board to direct an adaptation of the bestselling YA novel “Stargirl.”

When Jerry told me about how Eileen and him drove up New York City to convene “Team Stargirl” with producers and publishers…

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