SHADOW GRAVE: An Interview With MG Horror Author Marina Cohen + A chance to win a copy

There are many of us out there who love the spine-tingly feeling we get from reading a good horror story.  I’m not talking about the grisly, slasher fare that leaves little to the imagination. I’m referring to the well-written story that takes us to a scary place with a setting too irresistible to pass up, and keeps us turning pages even when we fear what might be around the corner.

Marina Cohen (THE INN BETWEEN, A DOLL’S EYES) has written that kind of story for the middle grade audience with her new book SHADOW GRAVE.

shadow grave picHere’s the blurb:

Tuck Everlasting meets The Village in this delightfully eerie middle grade novel about a boy trapped in a strange town where secrets turn deadly and the unnatural lurks in the night.

Twelve-year-old Arlo is afraid of fire, creepy TV shows, and even his own shadow―but most of all, he’s afraid of losing his mother to the disease that nearly claimed her life a year ago.

During a Thanksgiving road trip, a sudden collision with a strange beast in the middle of the road totals the family’s car, and Arlo, his mom, and his sister end up stranded in a small town.

There’s something off about Livermore. No one has a phone or a car, and the townspeople aren’t exactly friendly. Without phone service to make a call for help, the family stays at the Samuels’ mansion, but inexplicable sightings at night set Arlo on edge. When he stumbles upon a dark secret that the town’s inhabitants will kill to keep, getting out of Livermore becomes a matter of life or death.

I asked Marina how the story came about.

  1.  I was hooked on this story from page one. Tell us where you got the idea for Shadow Graves.

Being an author yourself you know that ideas come from everywhere—snippets of conversations overheard, strange facts randomly uncovered, interesting people and places one might chance upon. In fact, everything we experience goes into the compost of our imaginations and after time breaks down and eventually comes out as something (hopefully!) fresh and new and engaging. Several things went into the compost of my imagination over the years, including Natalie Babbitt’s brilliant and memorable novel, Tuck Everlasting, Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, an amazing tiny creature called the tardigrade, and the real-life ghost town, Livermore. All of these contributed in varying degrees to what would become the backbone of my story, Shadow Grave.

  1. The setting feels like a character in the story. How did you decide to set the story in New Hampshire?

Settings play such an important role in all novels, but in particular, horror novels. You are correct in that they almost take on the role of a character—in some novels, the setting is the antagonist! In my free time I enjoy researching real ghost towns, their histories, and what led to their demise. When I came across Livermore—especially one particularly gruesome fact that may or may not be true—I knew this was my setting. Even its name plays an important role in my plot. I’d driven through New Hampshire some time ago and had wanted to return and visit the remains of the town in the summer of 2020 before my novel went to edit, however, it seemed the world had other plans. Despite it being a real place, and though I did borrow pieces of its history, the Livermore in my novel is a fictional—almost mythical place.

3. You definitely achieved a creepy, yet realistic setting. It really drew me in from the first page. What are three things readers should know about the main character and his sister?

Arlo has had a rough year leading up to the start of this novel. His mother was diagnosed with cancer and though the outcome was positive the experience left him changed—a more muted and anxious individual. Though he follows the series Zombie Army of Darkness because all his friends do, he much prefers the Nature Channel. He’s both fearful and fierce, but his strength lies in his calm and thoughtful manner, while his sister, Lola, can be brash and bold. Arlo follows rules while Lola likes to break them.

4. They are the perfect foils for such a story. Your choice of words and metaphors paint such vivid pictures and really set the tone for this creepy story. Tell us a bit about your writing process and how you chose to tell the story.

Since the plots of my novels tend to be quite creepy it’s important for me to establish a creepy tone. Like music which uses dissonance and irregular rhythms to create an unsettled feeling, I like to paint pictures that are slightly askew, tilting the world and keeping my readers off-balance and unsure. I write as though I’m seeing my story unfold as a film before my eyes so I lean—perhaps too heavily at times—on the visual.

5. I fell in love with your language and word choices. One of my favorite passages…

“The moon hung like a silver pendant against the velvety black dress of night”

There are so many lovely descriptions like that.  What else would you like us to know about this story?

Though this novel is primarily intended to do what horror novels should—entertain while delivering chills and spine-tingling thrills—I hope this story will leave readers with some very important life questions to ponder.

6. What is next for you?

Currently I’m working on another creepy middle-grade—this one with sci-fi undertones.

Marina is giving away one signed copy of this book to a reader chosen at random. Leave a comment if you’d like to enter. If you share the post on social media, let me know so I can give you a second chance to win.

marina pic

Marina Cohen is an elementary school teacher and author of several middle grade books including The Inn Between, The Doll’s Eye, A Box of Bones, and Shadow Grave. Her novels have been nominated for several awards in both the US and Canada.

Marissa Moss Presents: THE WOMAN WHO SPLIT THE ATOM: THE LIFE OF LISE MEITNER + A Chance to Win a Copy

I recently had the pleasure of reading the newest non-fiction book written by best-selling author MARISSA MOSS. THE WOMAN WHO SPLIT THE ATOM: THE LIFE OF LISE MEITNER is a detailed, and comprehensive account of an unknown female physicist who discovered nuclear fission but received little credit for her discovery.

TheWomanWhoSplitTheAtom(1)

Bestselling author-illustrator Marissa Moss tells the gripping story of Lise Meitner, the physicist who discovered nuclear fission. Here is the blurb:

As a female Jewish physicist in Berlin during the early 20th century, Lise Meitner had to fight for an education, a job, and equal treatment in her field, like having her name listed on her own research papers.

Meitner made groundbreaking strides in the study of radiation, but when Hitler came to power in Germany, she suddenly had to face not only sexism, but also life-threatening anti-Semitism as well. Nevertheless, she persevered and one day made a discovery that rocked the world: the splitting of the atom. While her male lab partner was awarded a Nobel Prize for the achievement, the committee refused to give her any credit.

Suddenly, the race to build the atomic bomb was on—although Meitner was horrified to be associated with such a weapon. “A physicist who never lost her humanity,” Meitner wanted only to figure out how the world works, and advocated for pacifism while others called for war.

The book includes an afterword, author’s note, timeline, select terms of physics, glossary of scientists mentioned, end notes, select bibliography, index, and Marissa Moss’s celebrated drawings throughout. The Woman Who Split the Atom is a fascinating look at Meitner’s fierce passion, integrity, and her lifelong struggle to have her contributions to physics recognized.  Recommended for ages 9-up

I recently interviewed Marissa and asked her how this amazing story came about.

  1. How did you discover Lise Meitner and what led you to tell her story?

My youngest son is a grad student in physics and he told me about Lise Meitner. He knows how interested I am in people (often women) who deserve to be better known but haven’t gotten the credit they deserve. He warned me Meitner could be tricky since her discover led directly to the atomic bomb, but she herself refused to work on it (though she was asked) and the more I learned about her, the more compelling I found her. 

2. How did you set up your research for such a complicated and technical project? What was the most difficult part?

I started by reading the two adult biographies written about her and followed up by going through her amazing archive of letters in documents, now in Cambridge, England where she spent the last years of her life. She not only had letters that were sent to her but copies of the letters she sent, so I could see both sides of the conversation. Most of the letters are in German, so I had to dust off my German language skills. It got easier the more letters I read as I became familiar with her writing style.

Two things were especially difficult — the first was to explain the physics involved clearly so a middle-grade student could understand it all. The second was not to sound too angry or outraged about Otto Hahn, her long-time partner who stole the credit for her discovery. I wanted to let the readers draw their own conclusions by simply describing what he said or did, but it was hard to keep calm whenever I wrote about him. Meitner herself was so generous and patient with him in all their many letters, even carefully explaining to him the momentous discovery which he didn’t understand at all, yet had no trouble taking full credit for. 

3. What important ideas do you want readers to remember about Lise and her life’s work?

I want them to know that she was a scientist who faced incredible obstacles, first as a woman, then as a Jew, but she was determined to do what she loved. And she did it with absolute integrity, pure science for knowledge’s sake, never as a tool of politicians or the military. 

4. Why this story and why now?

This was actually delayed due to covid (as so many things in publishing were). When I wrote most of it, Trump was president and the echoes of him and some of Hitler’s actions were positively eerie — the preference, for example, of relying not on experts for information, but on a trusted close circle. So when Hitler’s personal photographer dismissed the potential of atomic energy/weapons, Hitler agreed, rather than listening to the scientists in his government.

Now, with the Russian war on Ukraine, it seems even more timely, as the blanket German support of Hitler seems disturbingly parallel to the blanket Russian support of Putin. The German people thought Hitler was making their country stronger and that’s what mattered most. The average Russian seems to think the same of Putin. 

5. What else should we know about the WOMAN WHO SPLIT THE ATOM?

Meitner’s integrity is an incredible example for all of us to follow. She always did what was right, not what was easy.

**STARRED REVIEW** 
“Moss’ approach to this biography is notable in several ways, from the organization of facts into a very readable narrative to surprisingly clear explanations of Meitner’s scientific work and its significance. Even the back matter is uncommonly useful.”―Booklist

**STARRED REVIEW**
“A scorching profile of a brilliant physicist whose proper re cognition was long delayed thanks to sexism, antisemitism, and personal betrayal. . .A bright tale of a life dedicated to science, well stocked with dramatic moments and discoveries.” –   Kirkus Reviews

I am giving away a copy of this amazing book to one commenter chosen at random. Leave a comment below for one entry. Share this post on social media for a second chance to win.

 

marissa

Marissa Moss has written than seventy children’s books, from picture books to middle-grade and young adult novels. Best known for the Amelia’s Notebook series, her books are popular with teachers and children alike, using graphic formats to introduce history in an accessible, appealing way. Barbed Wire Baseball won the California Book Award, Gold medal and the California Young Reader Medal.

In 2013, Moss founded Creston Books. The small press has earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist, as well as awards. Each list balances picture book and older readers, debut authors and established names, showcasing the best in children’s books.

BIRDIE’S BILLIONS by Edith Cohn: A New MG and a Chance to Win a Copy

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I am a huge fan of middle grade books. Not only because I write them, also because there are so many well-written ones out in the world. Having an opportunity to share my favorites with other book lovers brings me joy.

Today I am excited to share a new book by an author who is new to me. I “met” Edith Cohn when she became a fellow blogger on the group site I post on once a month: Smack Dab in the Middle. She graciously shared her book BIRDIE’S BILLIONS with me, and I am sharing it with you.

BirdiesBillions_cvr_13

Here’s my review:

Birdie and her mama are having a hard time making ends meet since Birdie’s dad is in jail and mama lost her cleaning job because of something Birdie did. Birdie thought things would be different when they moved to the “good” neighborhood in a new town with rich people. But she still feels like an outsider with her thrift shop clothes and worn-out sneakers. If mama doesn’t find another job soon, will they be evicted and out on the street?

            Everything changes one day when Birdie and her cousin skateboard to an abandoned estate set for demolition. Following a stray cat into the house, and into a hole in a wall, Birdie reaches into the hole and pulls out cash. Lots and lots of 100.00 bills. Now her and mama’s troubles will be over. Or, have they just begun? How will Birdie find her way out of the money mess and regain the trust of her family and friends?

            Young readers will enjoy this fast-paced “caper” as one lie after another gets Birdie into a heap of trouble. The positive messages of telling the truth no matter how difficult, and admitting your mistakes are good lessons. As is standing up for what’s important. Highly recommended.

Here’s Edith:

  1. What gave you the idea for the story of a found fortune and how Birdie’s life begins to change because of it?

Years ago a family member of mine actually found a sizable sum of money hidden in the wall of her apartment. She split it with her housekeeper who had helped with the discovery. As soon as I heard this real life story, I began to imagine a fictional one in which a kid finds the money and has to deal with the moral dilemma around keeping it.

  1. Tell readers three things we should know about Birdie.

First off, Birdie has an amazing heart. Despite all her mistakes, she always means well.

Second, Birdie is impulsive. She’s the kind of kid who leaps before she looks.

And last, Birdie is keenly aware of the unfairness in the world, and she is not happy about it.

3. What message do you want young readers to take away from the story?

This is a hard question, because I think every reader might come away with something different. And as authors, I think we always hope that each reader gets the thing they need from the story. So, if I say what the ‘message’ is I think it makes it seem like there is only one right message. When in reality, I think there might be many. Sorry this is a very philosophical answer.

No need to apologize Edith. I think you’re right!

  1. What’s next for your writing? Anything else you’d like to add?

I just turned in a draft of a new middle grade book to my publisher. It’s called The Science of Sisters, and it’s about two sisters who live in a town that was hit by a meteorite that changes everything.

I have a signed copy of Edith’s book along with some swag that I will happily send to one random winner who leaves a comment or answers the question: Have you ever found money or something valuable and if so, what did you do with it?

swag
Edith Cohn is the author of middle grade mysteries: BIRDIE’S BILLIONS (Bloomsbury) and SPIRIT’S KEY (FSG/Macmillan). A former 7th grade English teacher, she loves writing for kids. She was born and raised in North Carolina and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and young daughter.

Edith_Cohn-9621 copy

Edith Cohn, Middle Grade Author of

Birdie’s Billions (Bloomsbury) A Junior Library Guild Selection, PW starred review
The Science of Sisters (Bloomsbury) Coming Spring 2023

Spirit’s Key (FSG/ Macmillan)

Learn more about Edith: http://edithcohn.com

Cover Reveal: Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt by Kathleen Wilford

Today it is my pleasure to be among the first to see the fabulous cover reveal for a debut MG historical. Those who follow me know my love of historical fiction, so I was  excited when debut author KATHLEEN WILFORD contacted me about a blog post cover reveal.

So…without further ado, here is the gorgeous cover of CABBY POTTS, DUCHESS OF DIRT  and a short interview with Kathleen about her book.

Cabby Potts cover (no wrap)

Describe your book in 10 words or less.

Thanks so much, Darlene! How about this:

A sod house, a grand manor. A mystery, a match-making scheme. (That’s 11 . . .)

Tell us about your debut historical MG novel, Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt. When is it coming out?

Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt will be released September 1, 2022 with Little Press/Blue Bronco Books.

The book is set in Kansas in 1875, the year after the grasshoppers devastated the state. My main character, Cabby Potts, is inspired by some of my own favorite literary heroines, Laura Ingalls and the pioneer women in the novels of Willa Cather. Like them, Cabby is “outdoor kind of girl,” more interested in farming than fashion. Cabby’s struggling homestead is her first real home, and she’s desperate not to lose it, even if that means accepting a housemaiding job at stuffy, high-class Ashford manor. She’s also a bit naïve and has what her mother calls an intemperate tongue, qualities that get her in trouble after she hatches an improbable matchmaking scheme between her romantic older sister and the young lord of Ashford Manor. When her rash plot backfires, Cabby must use her voice to stand up for herself, a Native American friend, and her entire community.

How did you get the idea for this story?

I ran across a book called Prairie Fever, by Peter Pagnamenta, and I was intrigued to learn about the British aristocracy’s fascination with the American West. Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt is based on the true story of Victoria, Kansas, an enclave of British aristocrats in the 1870’s. Victoria was designed as a “community of culture and refinement” where “the arts and graces of life” could be imported straight from London. I couldn’t imagine a bigger culture clash than between the English nobility and the hardscrabble American homesteaders who might have worked for them.

At the same time, I didn’t want to portray Americans as somehow free from the race and class prejudices of the wealthy English. One of the things Cabby wakes up to as she befriends a Kiowa boy is the pigheadedness, as she puts it, of her own community, beloved as it is.

The cover for this book is beautiful. Tell us about it.

 Thanks, I love it! The cover was created by Katie Kear of the Bright Agency. I think she captured Cabby’s character: curious, determined, a bit headstrong, and not very girly! That’s Ashford Manor at the bottom, a grand English manor plunked down on the windswept plains of Kansas. You’ll also notice a brooch and a mysterious document on the cover—there’s a mystery in this book that readers will enjoy helping Cabby puzzle out.

Here is the artist’s website to see more of her amazing work. Her name is Katie Kear, and the website is:

 Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?

 I would describe my speed along the road to publication as . . . glacial. My first novel manuscript, which I still hope to revise one day, suffered from rookie mistakes like not considering marketability! I gained from experience, and I think that Cabby is a stronger book. Still, after a few close calls with editors and agents, I stopped submitting for over a year. I was still in that stage where a rejection seemed like a verdict. You know, “lousy book.”  

I will be forever grateful to Michele McAvoy of The Little Press for seeing the potential of the book based on a #PitMad tweet in the summer of 2021. After acquiring Cabby, Michele and her team have guided me through an editing process that has made the story as polished and strong as possible.

What are some of your favorite classic MGs? How about recent ones?

 I grew up with immersive fantasies like the Narnia books and The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Anything English seemed magical to me, but I also loved Beverly Cleary and The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. 

There are so many recent MG’s I admire, so I’ll just name some historical ones I think are amazing: Moon Over Manifest, The War that Saved my Life, Esperanza Rising, Front Desk, and anything by Linda Sue Park.

war

 What projects are you working on now?

I’m having a great time reading some super-recent MG’s like Cuba in my Pocket, A Place to Hang the Moon (more English magic) and Frankie and Bug. manifestAnd my fellow #22Debuts authors have some great things coming out!   

What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same as you’d give to aspiring authors?

 My biggest advice to my younger self would be to start writing earlier, ha ha!

For aspiring authors, my first piece of advice would be to join a critique group. For a thousand reasons.

Also, read, read, read! Study the market and read in your genre. When you come across a book you love, study its structure, themes, characters, etc.

And be willing to learn. Don’t fall in love with your first draft. When agents or editors are “critical” of your work, try to understand why. Writing for publication is a skill not learned overnight!

Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.

 No surprise, I was a READER as a kid. In fact, my memories of childhood are often pegged to books. Snuggling with my mother as she read out loud: Heidi (I cried.) Summer camp rest time: Rascal. Favorite Christmas present: my now worn-out boxed set of the Narnia books. There was never any question what I’d study in college and grad school: English literature. I taught middle-school and high school English, and I now teach writing at Rutgers University.

Several years ago, I started pursuing what had always been a background dream: writing my own books. I’m grateful to a friend who encouraged me to get started, to SCBWI for opportunities to learn from industry insiders, and most of all to my dedicated, professional critique group who help me conquer my self-doubt. It’s been quite a journey, and we’ve been on it together.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?  Kathleen Wilford head and shoulders

I was born in a place that no longer exists: The Panama Canal Zone, Panama. (The Canal Zone was once a U.S. territory but was formally returned to Panama in 1999.) I also lived in Costa Rica and Colombia. I can speak some Spanish, but I’m rusty.

Where can people find you online?

People can find me on Twitter by following @kathwilford. I also have a website at kathleenwilford.com.  

Congratulations on your first book Kathleen. Can’t wait to see it out in the world!

Author Tara Lazar Has a Word For You…More Than 750 Words to Be Precise.

I recently had the pleasure to read an ARC copy of Children’s Book Author Tara Lazar’s newest book ABSURD WORDS:A Kids Fun and Hilarious Vocabulary Builder for Word Nerds (Sourcebooks explore) and I am hooked! Not only is it a  classroom resource for writing programs, it is also a fantastical humdinger of a volume for anyone who loves words.Since I fit that category, I got a copy for myself. And I asked Tara to tell us how she came to wrote this unique tome. Here she is in her vivacious and effervescent style:

absurd cover

  1. I know you’ve been a word nerd for a long time. How did your collection of unusual words come about?
You know those people who sing along to a song but mess up all the words? Yeah? That’s not me. I’ve always been tuned into words not only for their meanings, but for their sounds. 
I was reading several years ago and came across the word “archipelago”. I thought to myself–I LOVE that word! And I hadn’t heard it in so long! So I wrote it down. I wanted to remember that I loved it, and I didn’t want it to disappear again for years. 
Then, each time I came across another fabulous word, I wrote it down. Soon I had a large word menagerie and I placed it online…where I added to it even more! It became one of the most popular pages on my website. (https://taralazar.com/2014/06/09/list-of-200-fun-cool-and-interesting-words/)
  1. The user-friendly format of this book is great. What led you to arrange the words in such a unique way?
That was my editor Bunmi Ishola’s idea. And it was brilliant! I had put the words in simple alphabetical order, but we knew that wasn’t right. It wouldn’t invite people to read through it in such a common, predictable order. These were AMAZING words and they needed an equally AMAZING format! She came up with the category format and I was immediately sold!
(But then it took weeks and months to figure out the categories!)     internal image
  1. What was the research process like?
Weeks and weeks at the library, among the reference materials–dictionaries and etymology books. I enjoyed digging in, except for the uncomfortable chairs. I had to bring along my own cushion!
  1. Use your five favorite absurd words in one sentence?
“I found zaftig Aunt Barbara’s pulchritudinous baubles–eureka!–in a labyrinth of tchotchkes at her bungalow in the willowwacks.”
That’s eight!
  1. What do you want writers young and old to know about this book?
This is the book I always wished I had. I made it fun and engaging so you could pick it up and spend hours learning odd words and odder facts–and not even notice the hours ticking by. In fact, it was such a long process between writing and the final product that I picked it up and spent hours with it myself!
  1. Anything else you’d like to add?
I hit a brick wall at the word “nudnik,” which is a Yiddish word for a numbskull. I had an etymology dictionary say it came into English usage after the movie “Nudnik of the North.” Well, that sounded like a comedy spoof of “Nanook of the North,” which is a fun fact, so I searched those references. Nothing. I contacted the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis and they had no records of “Nudnik of the North”. I even contacted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences–the Oscar people!–and they couldn’t verify the movie, either. Eventually I just left “nudnik” out of the book, which still bothers me!!!
 
Lucky for all you word nerds out there, Tara has agreed to give away a signed copy of the book to one randomly chosen winner. Leave a comment sharing one of your favorite underused words to enter. Share this post and get a second chance to win.

taraflowerscircleStreet magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books where anything is possible!

Tara’s newest book is BLOOP, about an alien who comes to conquer earth but believe the dogs are in charge. (Well, aren’t they?)

7 ATE 9: THE UNTOLD STORY was honored with the 2018 Irma S. & James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature from Bank Street College of Education, chosen by thousands of children across the US. Her other titles include THE MONSTORE, I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD, NORMAL NORMAN, WAY PAST BEDTIME, YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL, THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN, and THE UPPER CASE: TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY, the sequel to 7 ATE 9.

Tara’s signature writing style is full of puns, wordplay, and goofy fun that makes both kids and adults giggle non-stop.

Discover original stories, book reviews and giveaways at her award-winning blog “Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)” at TaraLazar.com.

Tara was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010. She speaks professionally about overcoming disability to achieve your goals and dreams. Tara teaches writing workshops for SCBWI, Highlights Foundation, and schools across America. She’s Co-Chair of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature 1-on-1 conference and a former picture book mentor for We Need Diverse Books (WNDB) and #PBChat, a social media writing community.

Tara lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters, and a skateboarding hamster named Ozzie.

GUEST POST: Sparking Conversations with BUNNY FINDS EASTER (and a Book Walk Activity) by Laura Sassi

Bunny Finds Easter by Laura Sassi, Board Book | Barnes ...

Thank you, Darlene, for having me as your guest today. You asked me to share how I came to tell this story in such a simple way and wonderful (thank you!) way. Here’s the scoop:

As a young child I was confused about what we were celebrating at Easter. I loved getting dressed up and hunting for colorful eggs, but it wasn’t until I was a tween that I made the connection that Easter is when we celebrate Jesus’s resurrection.

Later, as a parent with young children, I tried to be intentional about connecting the wonderful traditions of Easter to the real meaning of the holiday. My favorite strategy was making simple, concrete connections. For example, while nibbling jelly beans with my little ones, we’d ponder how they were good, just like God, who in His goodness, sent us Jesus. Or, while oohing over ducklings at the park, we’d marvel at our new life in Christ.

Hoping others might appreciate a book like this, I set about writing BUNNY FINDS EASTER.  And after many, many rounds of revision, it was acquired by Zonderkidz. It’s my fourth book with them.

Here’s the link to the book trailer for this story:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ltaGEWoeyk

Now, in the hopes that BUNNY FINDS EASTER will be used as part of Easter celebrations this year, here are instructions for creating a Book Walk with BUNNY FINDS EASTER at your church or faith-based preschool. (And special thanks to my publisher for creating this beautiful pdf with the instructions.)

BunnyFindsEaster_BookWalk_2022_2

Happy Easter season!

Laura has agreed to do a giveaway of this delightful book to one winner age 18+ with a US street mailing address (Not a P.O. Box). Please leave a comment to be entered in the random drawing. If you share this post on social media, you will be entered twice.

thumbnail_Laura Sassi with SunflowersLaura Sassi

Children’s book author and poet

GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, August ’14)

GOODNIGHT, MANGER (Zonderkidz, October ’15)

DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE (Sterling, Spring ’18)

LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz, Fall  ’18)

EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO (Vida Zondervan, Fall ’19)

LITTLE EWE: THE STORY OF ONE LOST SHEEP (Beaming Books,  Spring ’21)

BUNNY FINDS EASTER (Zonderkidz, Spring ’22)

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Amalia Hoffman Presents a New PB: MASHA MUNCHING + A Chance to Win a Copy

Today it is my delight and pleasure to host Author/Illustrator AMALIA HOFFMAN during the launch of her new PB MASHA MUNCHING.  This story, about a goat with an unusual appetite is a delight to read and a visual treat as well thanks to Amalia’s colorful and lively illustrations.

Amalia has agreed to give away a signed copy of her book to one lucky reader. If you’d like to be considered, please leave a comment at the end of the post. If you share this post on social media, let me know and I will give you a second chance to win.

Here’s Amalia to tell us more about how MASHA MUNCHING came about:

thumbnail_with book & puppet sitting

  1. What inspired the story?

One of the most vivid memories that I have from raising two boys is when we were asked to leave a restaurant after my son threw the food on the floor while sitting in the high chair. I thought that many parents would relate to that.

Growing up in Israel, we spent our summers in a small village where farmers raised cows, chickens and goats. We used to laugh as the goats tried to nibble on our cloths and shoes.  I have another book, The Klezmer Bunch, with a goat character, also named Masha so that means that I have a soft spot for goats.  One day, I just came up with this alliteration; Masha Munching and that kind of sat in my brain for a while till I came up with the idea of a goat that longs for great food.

I am always interested in writing stories that have a message but are not preachy. In Masha Munching, I had the opportunity to say that what is most important is that we share pleasures with good friends and the quality of the meal is less satisfying than the friends we share it with. Also, Masha thinks of her friends all the time during her trip and when she gets back, she uses what she learned to open a restaurant for the farm animals.

The scenes in the restaurant are really delightful. I love the thought you put into creating them.

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2. Kids will be laughing at the silly food choices Masha makes in the restaurant. How did you arrive at this plot element?

In my first drafts, I only had 2 characters: Masha & the penguin waiter. I also had the idea that Masha will eat all the “wrong” things. Then, when I started working with Yeehoo Publishing editor, Brian Saliba, we brainstormed for a while about introducing other animals. I wanted Masha to go for funny foods but also foods that are connected to what she eats in the farm. I started thinking what Masha could find at the Bistro that can remind her of what she’s used to because that would make the story even sillier.  I picked the baguette basket because it’s made from material similar to the straw she chews and chomps with her friends, the pigs. Eating the tasty table could be mistaken by a goat to eating the wood she gobbles and gnaw with the other goats. Drinking bubbly water is a step fancier than slurping sploshy water with the ducks.

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3. The illustrations look textured and three-dimensional. How were you able to achieve this effect?

I wanted to convey the feeling that things are in motion so I used paper cut technique. I cut and color the elements by hand. I cover the board surface with Liquitex modeling paste and add textures by scraping the surface while it’s wet with a comb or other tools. When dry, I paint and sponge the background on the board. Then I glue all the cut-up elements and arrange their movement and expressions by curving the legs or arms or opening the beak wide. When satisfied, I photograph the image. Sometimes, I add more textures, details, and color in Photoshop.

Thanks for sharing your technique and the origin of this story Amalia.

Here’s my review of this book:

“Masha the goat gets bored eating the same old farm food and sets out to expand her palate at a fancy restaurant. She never gets to the entrees, because the fancy table and decorations look yummy enough to eat. Young readers will delight at Masha’s silly food choices in this delightful and funny picture book. The lively, three-dimensional illustrations add another layer of fun as they seem to jump off the page in excitement and enthusiasm. A 5 star winner.”

Here’s a link to a teacher’s guide, coloring pages & fun facts about goats

http://www.yeehoopress.com/wp-content/uploads/Masha-Munching-Lesson-Plan.pdf

Here’s youtube section of Amalia presenting the book with puppet

Author Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo Presents a New MG: EACH OF US A UNIVERSE + A Chance to Win a Signed Copy.

Today it is my absolute pleasure to share a book I recently read by middle-grade author Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo titled EACH OF US A UNIVERSE. I asked Jeanne what inspired her to write this lovely story. Her answers follow as well as my review and a chance to win a signed copy. Here’s Jeanne:

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  1. I love the title of your book: EACH OF US A UNIVERSE. How did you arrive at that title?

I did a great deal of research for this book especially in the field of astrophysics, cosmology, and meteoritics (study of meteorites). Neil deGrasse Tyson’s books and documentaries were incredibly helpful. Watching COSMOS, I came across Tyson’s quote: “There are as many atoms in a single molecule of your DNA as there are stars in the typical galaxy. We are, each of us, a little universe.” I found this so inspirational. It seemed to encompass Cal’s and Rosine’s journeys. It was also a concept that Rosine had begun to understand, and one Cal was just learning. It felt like the perfect title for the book.

  1. There is a lot of detail about the sport of mountain climbing. What kind of research did you have to do for the story? Where did your inspiration come from?

Tons of research! And it was so fun! Rock climbing is an inherently dangerous sport, but can be done safely with the right tools and instruction. I began by joining my local climbing gym and took several lessons. Universally, the climbing community is incredibly welcoming! My entire family also travelled to Mount Mansfield in Vermont where we had a lesson on outdoor mountain climbing at Smugglers’ Notch. It was really hard, but so rewarding!

  1. The mountain looms large in the story as a physical presence and as a metaphor for the struggles and fears of the main character. How did this come about?

I hike almost every day on our local (very small) mountain, Soapstone Mountain. Although mountain hikes can be challenging physically as well as mentally, there is something incredibly spiritual—even magical—about the experience. With all the struggles and challenges Cal and Rosine were facing, I wanted them to experience that magic. I knew the mountain was where they would find it.

  1. What are 3 things readers should know about the main character Calliope Scott and 3 things about Rosine Kanambe?

Cal has lived in the small, rural town of Bleakerville, CT her entire life.

She and her father are struggling with her mother’s cancer diagnosis and treatment.

She is so much stronger than she knows.

Rosine is from Democratic Republic of the Congo but lived as a refugee in Burundi for — years before being resettled in the United States.

She is struggling with her sister’s sadness and desire to keep moving.

Rosine already knows how strong she is.

  1. What scene was the easiest to write? The hardest?

I loved writing the climbing scenes, especially the one where Cal thinks back to the time she scaled Ragged Mountain with her father. Ragged Mountain is a real place in Southington, CT that I have hiked with family and friends. It is a truly special mountain, and you can’t help but feel a combined sense of peace and joy when climbing it.

The scene in which Cal visits her father in prison was challenging in that it was so emotional for me. As a former public defender, I made hundreds of professional visits to clients in prisons. I’d wait in the waiting room, and then enter the facility alongside family members who were visiting loved ones. From the moment I’d enter the prison, I would feel the weight of those friends and family. Their nervousness was palpable. But I also witnessed happiness in those visits—the simple joy that comes from human connection. I wanted to bring that emotion to the scene, while letting kids who’ve had experience with prison visits know they aren’t alone. I also want them to understand that, like Cal, they are a great deal stronger than they realize.

Here is Darlene’s review for this amazing story of courage.

“Calliope Scott runs. She is always on the move, trying to escape from all the things troubling her in the small town of Bleakerville. Mountain climbing is her passion, something she did with her dad…before he went to prison. Before her mom got cancer. When a new girl moves into town, a girl whose love of the mountain is as strong as Cal’s, they set out to conquer Mt. Meterorite and the magic they both hope will save their families.

Will Cal and Rosine climb all the way to the summit? Will they find the magic said to reside there from local legends? Young readers will keep turning pages to find out in this heartfelt and honest story of a girl’s love of the mountain that looms large literally and figuratively in her life.

Themes of believing in yourself, the power of friendship, and how love can help you through life’s difficult and scary moments resonate throughout. Magic happens when you believe.”

Zulick Ferruolo Headshot

Jeanne has agreed to give-away a signed copy of EACH OF US A UNIVERSE. Leave a comment if you would like to be considered. One name will be drawn at random from all who enter. If you share this post on social media, I will give you a second chance to enter.

Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo is the author of Each of Us a Universe, A Galaxy of Sea Stars and Ruby in the Sky, which earned two starred reviews and which Booklist called “quietly magical.” She is also a volunteer with IRIS-Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services in New Haven, Connecticut. She lives in Ellington, Connecticut, with her family.

Contact information

website: http://www.jzulferr.com/

email: jzulferr@gmail.com

Twitter:  @jzulferr

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jzulferr/

EACH OF US A UNIVERSE

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780374388683

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Each-Universe-Jeanne-Zulick-Ferruolo/dp/0374388687/ref=sr_1_1?crid=GU7Y47ES5EYE&keywords=each+of+us+a+universe&qid=1642614214&sprefix=each+of+us+a+universe%2Caps%2C75&sr=8-1

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/each-of-us-a-universe-jeanne-zulick-ferruolo/1138778045?ean=9780374388683

A GALAXY OF SEA STARS

Indie Bound:  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781250763266

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Galaxy-Stars-Jeanne-Zulick-Ferruolo/dp/1250763266/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3HLD33JS1MUMI&keywords=a+galaxy+of+sea+stars&qid=1642614252&sprefix=a+galaxy+of+sea+stars%2Caps%2C76&sr=8-1

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-galaxy-of-sea-stars-jeanne-zulick-ferruolo/1130769020?ean=9781250763266

RUBY IN THE SKY

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781250233295

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ruby-Sky-Jeanne-Zulick-Ferruolo-ebook/dp/B07BF87NPF/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3PKHWDJQCOOYE&keywords=ruby+in+the+sky&qid=1642614317&sprefix=ruby+in+the+sky%2Caps%2C81&sr=8-1

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ruby-in-the-sky-jeanne-zulick-ferruolo/1128119440?ean=9781250233295

Author Colleen Kosinski Talks About Her New PB: A HOME AGAIN.

Picture book author/illustrator Colleen Kosinski has a new book out, just in time for the holidays. I asked Colleen where the idea came from and also left my review and the end of the post. Here’s Colleen:.

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Q: Why did you decide to write A Home Again?

A: It’s a funny story. All of my children had moved out and my husband and I were talking about downsizing. When my children got wind of our plan, they were not happy. They couldn’t imagine riding by our house and not being able to stop in and visit. My own parents are still in my childhood home, so I never really thought about how I’d feel if I couldn’t visit the house I grew up in. Anyway, we decided to stay in our house.

Q: How did the unique POV come about?

A: As I was thinking about my childrens’ reaction I started thinking how the house would feel if we left. Then something just clicked, and the story was born. As I wrote, I tried to think of the house as a child. How would a child feel if they were suddenly abandoned? Confused? Sad? Angry? I tried to think about how a house could express its emotions.

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Q: What simple message do you want readers to remember about A HOME AGAIN?

A: In my story there are two families. The one who moves away, and the new one who makes the house a home again. The second family in my story is a gay family who adopts a baby. It’s not the focus of the story, just another family who loves the house and who the house loves. So, I’d say the message of my book is “Love is love and love makes a home.”

“Love is love and love makes a home.” is a beautiful message for a lovely story. Thank you Colleen, for sharing it with us.

Here is my review for: A HOME AGAIN by Colleen Kosinski, Illustrated by Valeria Docampo

Exquisite illustrations compliment a text that conveys all the special things that make a house a home. Told from the house’s POV, all the feelings that come from being lived in, cared for, and celebrated shine through the house, until its occupants move away. Then feelings turn sad, grey, lonely, as the house sits neglected. Can it ever be a home again?

A gently told story of what it means to treasure and appreciate the place we call home.

“Love is love and love makes a home.”

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@Colleen Kosinski http://www.ColleenRowanKosinski.com

Colleen writes picture books and middle grade novels. Her picture books include Lilla’s Sunflowers, A Home Again, and Love Made Me More (2022). Her middle grade novel is titled, A Promise Stitched In Time. For the last year she has been working as an editor at Reedsy.com and teaching classes on picture book writing. She is also involved in her local chapter of the SCBWI, and the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature. Colleen is a graduate of Rutgers University, as are her husband and sons. Her daughter followed the bright lights to work in the film industry in LA. Colleen works from her Cherry Hill, NJ studio with her canine assistant, Sage.

Check out Colleen's new picture book!
A Home Again
https://colleenrowankosinski.com/my-books/a-home-again/

and her other titles
https://colleenrowankosinski.com/my-books/

Author Christine Van Zandt Presents: A Brief History of Underpants + A Giveaway…of a Signed Copy, Not Underpants!

Today it is my pleasure to feature a fascinating picture book by author CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT (Illustrator Harry Briggs) about something we all use, and rarely think much about until we run out…underpants!

How did you decide to write about “unmentionables”?

While volunteering at our elementary school’s annual Book Fair, kids told me they thought nonfiction picture books were boring. Set out to prove them wrong, I brainstormed for a topic. Our (then) third grader came up with underwear.

After researching what had been published, there seemed to be room in the marketplace, so I wrote the funny nonfiction picture book, A Brief History of Underpants, then connected with a publisher via the Twitter event, #PitMad.

Cover, A Brief History of Underpants by Christine Van Zandt

What was the research process like?

Researching was crazy because the pandemic had closed down libraries and bookstores right when I most needed them. I ended up buying a lot of reference books online and using reputable e-sources to uncover underwear info from all of the continents back to the beginning of time.

Finding underpants facts in general is harder than you’d think—I guess there’s a reason they’re called “unmentionables”!

What is the funniest thing that happened since the book’s been out?

Since my book’s about all the things we’ve historically worn “down under,” I think it’s funny that my book’s quite popular Down Under with high sales numbers in Australia to bookstores, libraries, and readers.

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The illustrations are so much fun and add another layer of laughs to the book. Did you have any input into the illustrations?

I enjoy Harry Briggs’s art; his iconic comic-style worked well with this book. His illustrations for A Brief History of Underpants had to be somewhat realistic so I communicated links with images of historical underwear for his reference. H took it from there. I good example of this is the Ötzi the Iceman spread. The clothing scraps echo the real items Ötzi was found wearing; everything else is just Harry’s fabulous imagination!

Otzi

What is your favorite fact from the book?

There are so many, it’s hard to choose. While I’m fascinated that King Tut was buried with 145 loincloths (and wish I knew why!), I have to vote for the Medieval fact that ashes mixed with pee help remove stains, brighten colors, and degrease spots. That’s kind of gross to our modern sensibilities, yet I appreciate how it’s practical and natural to reuse things that would otherwise be thrown out. I’m not saying we should do this exactly, but finding another use for garbage seems like a great idea.

What’s next for your writing?

I have a number of completed picture books. One I would like to see take wings is a lyrical narrative nonfiction picture book about the challenges faced by monarch butterflies, from egg through metamorphosis. This manuscript has won a few prestigious awards, such as through SCBWI. I hope the story connects with a publisher so I can share this amazing creature’s struggle to survive and how actions such as growing pesticide-free flowers and milkweed can make a difference in this butterfly’s survival.

Here’s my review of this delightful and entertaining book: “A humorous and entertaining walk through the history of underpants. Ever wonder what astronauts in space or explorers in Antarctica do with dirty undies? Want to dress like a samurai? Ever wonder who invented underwear to begin with? All these questions and many more are answered in an informative, pun-filled way. The playful and funny illustrations add another layer of enjoyment to a subject kids will be drawn to. Everyone needs underwear…and you will need this book for the classroom and beyond.”

Christine Van Zandt with her book, A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS

 

Christine Van Zandt hasn’t found fossilized underwear (yet!), but loves digging up ideas that make great books for kids. She’s a literary editor and lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family and a monarch butterfly sanctuary.

Visit her online at  christinevanzandt.com.

Author photo by Marlena Van Zandt             Book images courtesy of becker&mayer! kids

GIVEAWAY:   Christine has agreed to mail a signed copy of the book to a US address randomly chosen from those who leave a comment below. If you share this post on social media, I will give you a second chance to win.