Author Katey Howes Presents: A POEM GROWS INSIDE YOU + A GIVE-AWAY

Just before the holidays I had the pleasure of receiving a signed copy of a new picture book by award-winning author KATEY HOWES. This book is so lovely I wanted to share it with all of you.

poem inside you cover

Here’s my review for this gem:

A POEM GROWS INSIDE YOU by Katey Howes Illustrated by Heather Brockman Lee

A beautiful story of how the seed of imagination – once nurtured and given expression – grows into a poem, using the metaphor of a seedling sprouting, being watered with imagination, and growing as we take a chance sharing our poem with the world. Joyful and animated illustrations accompany the tender and thoughtful rhyme. A treat for the eyes and ears. A wonderful introduction to all the magic of poetic expression.

I was so intrigued by the idea of a seed growing into a poem, I asked Katey about it.

Where did A POEM GROWS INSIDE YOU come from?

Several years ago, author/poet Laura Shovan shared a story. I think it was on Twitter, maybe Facebook.  I wish I could hunt down the details – but you’ll have to bear with my flawed memory instead. As I recall, she posted that a student had come to her a year after having had class with her, to share a poem with her. He had held onto the idea generated in class for a long time, but hadn’t felt ready to write it down. It had lain dormant in his heart until he had what he needed to bring it to life. And when he finally did, he brought it back to Laura to share it with her.

This little window into that student’s experience touched my heart deeply. I had absolutely felt the same way about ideas many times, especially for poems. I know well that often a person needs to be in the right space emotionally, physically, and even spiritually to tackle some topics in their writing. We aren’t always equipped to process the emotions and experiences life gives us- but when we are, poetry can be such a beautiful and healing way to do it.

I held onto the idea of a seed of a poem, planted in the heart, for quite awhile. Checked on it. Dreamed about what it would grow into. Supplied myself with the tools I needed to  nurture it into life. Found its rhythm. And then I began to write.

What do you hope readers will take from A POEM GROWS INSIDE YOU?

I hope readers will recognize that ideas aren’t always ready to grow right away – that they can lie dormant inside us until conditions are right – and then bloom in beautiful and unexpected ways!

If that isn’t inspirational, I don’t know what is!

I am giving away a signed copy of A POEM GROWS INSIDE YOU to one lucky person drawn at random from those who leave a comment on this post.

katey howes

Katey Howes is a haphazard gardener, a darn good rhymer, and a fun mother. She’s also the award-winning author of RISSY NO KISSIES, BE A MAKER, and a growing assortment of other books. You can find Katey under a big tree on a small mountain in Eastern Pennsylvania with a bowl of popcorn, a notebook full of ideas, and a rescue pup named Samwise. Or find her on Twitter @kateywrites, on IG @kidlitlove, and at www.kateyhowes.com.

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Author Sam Subity Presents: THE LAST SHADOW WARRIOR + a Chance to Win a Signed Copy

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Sam Subity, author of the middle grade Viking saga THE LAST SHADOW WARRIOR. Our virtual paths crossed when we shared an episode of Legit KidLIt Draw Off back in October. When I told Sam I’d love to share his book on my blog, he graciously sent a signed copy that I will pass on to one lucky reader.

Here’s my review of the book:

A modern-day Viking tale in the vein of Beowulf, with some Percy Jackson and Harry Potter thrown in. And a female heroine to boot! Anyone who enjoys a good adventure, good vs evil, solving riddles, saving the world, and lots of action will find this book a winner. What’s not to like about a talking tree that loves tacos and does Elvis impressions? Plenty of heart and humor in this story that will be a hit with the middle grade crowd.

I asked Sam how the story came about:

shadow warrior cover

Where did you get the inspiration to write a modern-day Viking tale with a female warrior?

I read Beowulf in college a long time ago and loved it. Then when I read Percy Jackson more recently and saw how Rick Riordan had taken old stories and spun them into new ones, I knew I wanted to do the same thing with Beowulf. Anyone familiar with Beowulf will see a lot of parallels in my story. The female warrior Abby Beckett who is my main character was inspired by my daughter who’s about the same age and is just as ferocious and fearless as Abby.

What kind of research was involved in the writing?

The research was one of the most fun parts of creating the story because I was able to dig back into Viking history and the old Norse myths looking for things I could incorporate. For example, there’s a serpent in Norse mythology that is so big it’s wrapped around the entire world. In my story, I turned it into a sea monster that lives in the school swimming pool and likes Ping-Pong. So just a little artistic license with that one!

It’s fun to imagine a lost culture residing under the streets of Minnesota. My husband is from there and has Scandinavian roots. Was that location intentional? How did you decide on your setting?

It was totally intentional. When I researched regions of the U.S. with the highest populations of Scandinavian ancestry, Minnesota was the clear winner, so it seemed like the perfect place to hide my secret society of Vikings. I guess the freezing winters in the Minneapolis area made Scandinavian immigrants to America feel right at home!

What do you want young readers to take away from this tale?

There’s a theme throughout the book of what it takes to be a hero, and by the end Abby realizes that sometimes a hero is nothing more than the person who has the courage to stand up when everyone else is too scared to do so. I’d love it if kids see that they have the potential to be a hero just as they are, even without any special powers or abilities. Also I’d love it if young readers just have a whole lot of fun reading Abby’s adventures because reading should be fun!

What are you currently working on?

My next middle grade book is a historical fantasy called VALOR WINGS set at the start of World War II. I’m thinking of it as the movie DUNKIRK but with dragons, where kids and dragons organize a rescue mission for the British troops when the Nazis invade France. Look for that in early 2024!

If you’d like a copy of this awesome book, please leave a comment on this post. One winner will be chosen at random from those who enter. USA only please.

sam_subity_author_photo

Sam Subity loves writing stories that explore the magic and wonder of being a kid and is thrilled to share his writing with readers everywhere—both the young in age and the young at heart. When he’s not writing, you might find him running the trails of northern California where the endless, winding miles past fog and ocean inspire tales of adventure and mystery. You can find him online at http://www.samsubity.com, or on Twitter and Instagram at @sjsubity.

Are You SHIPSHAPE? An Interview with Author E.E. Dowd + A Give-away.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a new author during an online event called DrawOff hosted by Legit KidLit. We authors shared our books and had some fun drawing from some prompts and sharing the results. Erin Dowd shared her debut novel SHIPSHAPE. I was intrigued by the premise, so I read the book. wrote my review,  and asked Erin a few questions.

My review:

A kid-friendly tale of robots taking over the school to the detriment of creativity, diversity, and anything other than testing. Perhaps a cautionary tale of what can happen when we are too focused on running schools as if they were businesses and ignoring the unique talents and expertise individual teachers bring to their classrooms. Kids will love the “tech-centered” plot of robots taking over and the kid-friendly steps three friends take toward solving the crisis. A quick read with some great themes for class discussions. Sure to be a classroom favorite.

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What inspired the story SHIPSHAPE? Where did you get your idea?

I’m not really sure where I got the idea for Shipshape exactly. I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo years ago after I left teaching. I had gone through a rough time, so I think writing the book was my way of getting through. I took a lot of my experiences both positive and negative from when I was a teacher and poured them into the book. As for the rest of it, well, I love mysteries, solving puzzles, and putting clues together.

What was the writing process like? Did you have to do any research on the topic of robotics?

The writing process was very very long for this book. As I mentioned, I wrote the first draft as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I was able to write 50,000 words in one month, so I had the first draft. It had a very long way to go. For the next few years, I would work on the novel a little bit at a time. As I was doing that, my life changed. I started working with technology companies, so I learned a lot about coding and AI (Artificial Intelligence). But I also had to research to make sure I knew what technology was available and try to push it a little further.

When I started writing, the things I thought could never happen in schools like cameras all over, actually started to happen. I had to adjust some things as time went on and add more complex technology. The tracking bracelets were a later edition because I read an article about a study that was being done with something similar. Then fitbits and apple watches became popular. I figured it wouldn’t be long before students had them in school too. Eventually, the pandemic hit, and I decided it was time to finally finish writing and get it out into the world. It had been eight years of writing and revising when I found a publisher.

The book changed a lot during that time. Characters had different names, there were a lot of extra scenes that got cut eventually. But I’m glad it took the time that it did. It followed me through my life and a little bit of each part of me is in the pages of Shipshape.

What message do you want readers to take away from this story?

I wrote this book for two audiences: kids and adults, so what I want them to take away is different. For the adults I want them to realize that everything is not what it may seem in school. What you see on the news, what you hear from your kids, and what is actually happening (good and bad) are going to be different. I want adults to read this and think about the ethics of technology, what teachers are expected to do, and how they can get involved in productive ways. The adults in the book, except for Ms. B. are intentionally disconnected. They think they are doing what is right or what will have the best result, but they never bother to find out how it’s impacting the kids. I think this happens often in life.

For my younger readers, I wanted a story they could both relate to and get lost in. I want kids to feel that they can make a difference in their schools and communities no matter how difficult it may seem. When you see something wrong, do something about it. Everyone can be a change-maker.

Please share anything else you’d like us to know about SHIPSHAPE.

While Ben is seemingly the main character, Ellie is really the star. Ben changes and grows throughout the story, but Ellie is the anchor. She knows who she is and what she’s about. No one can tell her what girls “should do.” She knows about technology far above what a fifth grader should know, and she’s proud of it. Ellie often has to wait for her friends to catch up, but she is kind and supportive even in difficult situations. Ellie is a complex character, and I hope readers take the time to notice her more than just being Ben’s friend because she is really the core of the story.

I also added what the tech world would call Easter eggs into the book. These are little surprises that aren’t directly explained. In video games, they might be a secret level or hidden prize. In Shipshape, they are subtle, but if you find them, they give you more information about a character or the plot. I included some Easter eggs throughout the book. One of those ways is through names. I won’t give any more information about that. You’ll just have to read to see if you can find them.

I’m going to have to go back and look for those Easter Eggs! What are you working on now? Any other books in the works?

I have started a few different projects recently. I’m most excited to dive into a new middle grade story for NaNoWriMo this year. Since I live in Costa Rica part of the year, I’m going to see what sort of mysteries unfold around me while I’m here. I have a few ideas, but I’ll have to see where they take me.

Erin has agreed to give away a signed copy of her book to one reader randomly chosen from those who leave a comment (US only please.)

thumbnail Erin Dowd
E. Dowd is an educator, consultant, and the author of her debut middle grade novel, SHIPSHAPE. She believes that wonder and creativity are the foundations of making positive change in the world and that everyone can be a change-maker. When she’s not writing, she can be found exploring the world with her partner Tim or snuggling with her cranky cat Pita in New Hampshire.

Contact info:

email: connect@eedowd.com

twitter: @eedowd27

instagram: @eedowd

website: www.eedowd.com

Author Rachelle Burk Presents: WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD + A Chance to Win a Copy.

I recently had the pleasure of reading a new non-fiction picture book by author Rachelle Burk that introduces fourteen amazing women who defied the norms of their culture and made positive differences in the world.

burk

Discover 14 powerful women with brief biographies for kids ages 3 to 5

Women have always accomplished big things, but history books don’t always teach you about them. This feminist book for little girls and boys is filled with the stories of strong women who used their unique gifts to make the world a better place.

  • Women from all walks of life—Explore the amazing lives and accomplishments of diverse women like Susan B. Anthony, Jane Goodall, Frida Kahlo, and Malala Yousafzai.
  • Colorful illustrations—Bring each story to life with big, vivid pictures on every page.
  • Kid-friendly language—Learn about these important women with language that’s easy to understand for new readers.

Get inspired by the stories of extraordinary women from the past and present with this top choice in women’s history books for kids!

I recently interviewed Rachelle to ask her about this book:

WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD (Rockridge Press) is a great collection of remarkable women for very young readers. Tell Us how the book came about.

Beginning in early 2020 I was fortunate to be offered book projects by educational publisher Callisto Media (Rockridge Press). The first was an illustrated chapter book biography of gymnast Simone Biles, for their “The Story Of” bio series for grades K-two.  WOMEN WHO CHANGED THE WORLD was my fourth book with Callisto Media.

How did you decide which women to feature in this important story of women pioneers?

The publisher provided me with a list of the women to be included in the book. Most were featured in “The Story Of” biography series, which I used as resources.

The eclectic illustrations styles throughout the book reflect the many talented illustrators from the chapter books, which adds to the uniqueness of this book collection.

What do you hope young readers will take away from this volume?

What sets this book apart from other picture book biography collections of great women is that this one focuses in on what the individuals did to further women’s rights and other feminist causes. For instance, people know that Harriet Tubman helped many enslaved people escape. But after the Emancipation, she became active in the fight for women’s right to vote!

Women have always accomplished big things, This feminist book for little girls and boys is filled with the stories of strong women who used their unique gifts to make the world a better place. Explore the amazing lives and accomplishments of diverse women like Susan B. Anthony, Jane Goodall, Frida Kahlo, and Malala Yousafzai. This book will give the reader images of women taking on challenges–from activism, to the arts, to physical sciences–at a level youngsters will find relatable.

Available from Amazon in Kindle and hardcover: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1638781710?maas=maas_adg_C622824C30B4A9F2F80B1591BB129216_afap_abs&ref_=aa_maas&tag=maas

I have a hardcover copy of this wonderful book that I will give away to one winner chosen at random from all who leave a comment on this post. Share your favorite female role model from history and why you find this woman inspiring. If you share this post on social media, I will give you a second chance to win.

 

Rachelle is the author of picture books, chapter books, and a science adventure novel for children. She writes both fiction and nonfiction for ages 2-13. Her most recent Rockridge Press titles include the rhyming toddler book, Stomp, Wiggle, Clap, and Tap: My First Book of Dance, and Let’s Play An Instrument: A Music Book for Kids. For Rachelle’s other titles, or to learn about her school visits, visit her website at rachelleburk.com.

Kathleen Wilford Presents Her Debut Novel: Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt + A Chance to Win a Copy.

It’s been my pleasure to recently read an ARC for a new MG historical. Kathleen Wilford’s debut CABBY POTTS, DUCHESS OF DIRT (Little Press) is a delightful story set in the 1870’s during the migration of Americans to the prairies of the Midwest for homesteading. Here is my review:

This historical fiction story set in the 1870’s, is a fast-paced trip to the days of homesteading on the Kansas prairies. When her parents force her to work at grand Ashford Manor, 12-year-old Cabby Potts will do anything to escape, including playing matchmaker between her sister and the rich young lord of the manor. If it succeeds, her scheme will save her family’s struggling homestead. If it fails? Cabby can’t even think about that.

Can Cabby find the courage to stand up for her family, a Native American friend, and an entire community threatened by land-grabbers?

The author does a wonderful job grounding the reader in time and place with period details and appropriate phrasing and language of the era. “My brain buzzed like it was full of gnats” is one of many similes that feels fresh and original. The characters are well-rounded and engaging, making for a quick read. Readers will enjoy Cabby’s antics and feisty demeanor as she navigates the unfamiliar world of the wealthy. A highly recommended debut.

I interviewed Kathleen to learn more about how she came up with her story.

Cabby Potts cover (no wrap)

What was your inspiration for Cabby Potts?

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 hardscrabble American homesteaders. I pictured an outdoorsy 12-year-old girl forced to work as a housemaid at a grand English manor, and the character of Cabby was born. Trying to save her family’s struggling homestead, Cabby plays matchmaker between her pretty, romantic sister Emmeline and the rich young lord of Ashford Manor. What could go wrong with that scheme?

As an author of historical fiction myself, I was immediately drawn into the setting and era of the story. What drew you to writing historical fiction?

I love the way historical fiction immerses readers into a different world. All good fiction is immersive, but with historical fiction, the past comes alive in a fresh way. And there’s a serious side too: I believe that to understand where we ARE, we need to understand where we’ve BEEN. Non-fiction helps readers do that too, but fiction adds an important layer of empathy.

As for this particular era, 1870’s Kansas, I’ve always been fascinated by pioneer literature, from Willa Cather to Laura Ingalls Wilder. My life is so easy compared to women who endured life on lonely prairies, living in sod houses and struggling to keep themselves and their families alive.

Tell us a bit about your research process.

I like to begin with books that situate the time period I’m studying in a larger historical context. I follow that up with more specific books and then with primary sources. For Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt, I consulted homesteader journals, 1870’s editions of the Dodge City Times, an 1841 book by Dr. Samuel Sheldon Fitch called Diseases of the Chest (fascinating, trust me), Mrs. Beeton’s book on the duties of a housemaid . . . etc.! Since I work for Rutgers, I’m lucky enough to have access to the rich depth of primary materials owned by the university. I think primary sources are key not only to authentic details but to the language of the times.

Several experts also helped me with questions, and of course, Google is great for filling in details!

What amazing thing did you discover while writing?

How much time do we have?? I learned so many fascinating tidbits of information, many of which I couldn’t include in the book but would be happy to tell you about sometime. Some facts that DID make it into the book: people used to believe that walking on the prairie could cure consumption (tuberculosis)—housemaids were not allowed to whistle in the house—dried up buffalo dung was burned for fuel.

One fact that informed my book: fully half of all homesteaders didn’t make it and never “proved up” on their claims. We tend to romanticize homesteading on the prairies, but it was brutally difficult.

What message do you want young readers to take away from this story?

I hope kids will enjoy a funny, fast-paced story with lots of drama! Beyond that, I hoped to give readers a clearer picture of the homesteading life. Along with showing how difficult the life was, I wanted readers to see how race and class prejudices infiltrated even supposedly egalitarian rural America. Cabby wakes up to this prejudice as she forms a friendship with Eli, a half-Kiowa boy. She finally learns to use her “intemperate tongue” to stand up for him, her family, and her whole community. In Cabby Potts, I tried to portray a funny, feisty girl growing into more awareness of her world, with all its imperfections. She learns to use her voice to make that world a better place, something I hope we all can do.

What’s next for you?

I have some irons in the fire, but they’re pretty unformed at this point!

Kathleen has agreed to give away a signed ARC of the book to one lucky reader drawn at random. To enter, leave a comment. If you share this post on social media, I will give you a second entry. Winner will be announced at the end of the month.

Kathleen Wilford head and shoulders

Kathleen Wilford was born in Panama and has lived in four different countries and three different states—but never in Kansas. She studied literature at Cornell University and at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she now teaches writing. When she’s not teaching or writing, Kathleen can be found outdoors, chasing her disobedient dog.

Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt is Kathleen’s debut novel for kids. Connect with Kathleen at https://www.kathleenwilford.com/ On Twitter: https://twitter.com/kathwilford

Ordering info is on my website or:

Pre-order Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Cabby-Potts-Duchess-Kathleen-Wilford/dp/1956378049/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2297827D9DKDE&keywords=cabby+potts%2C+duchess+of+dirt+by+kathleen+wilford&qid=1658255877&sprefix=%2Caps%2C542&sr=8-1

Or at my local bookstore for a signed copy: https://bookwormbernardsville.indielite.org/now-available-pre-order-cabby-potts-duchess-dirt

Danica Davidson Presents: I WILL PROTECT YOU: A Powerful Holocaust Survival Story for MG Readers.

I recently read an amazing first-person account of Eva Mozes and her twin sister Miriam who survived captivity at Auschwitz. holocaust bookWritten by Danica Davidson, I WILL PROTECT YOU is a harrowing and courageous story taken from numerous interviews with Eva and deserves to be shared with the kidlit community.

Here is my review of this important book:

This book for middle grade readers is a powerful and chilling firsthand account of survival from the brutal Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. Eva Mozes recounts the time she and her twin sister Miriam spent at the camp. Since they were twins, they were separated from the rest of the captives so that Dr. Joseph Mengele…the “Angel of death” could do experiments on them. Despite the cruelty, starvation, and deprivation Eva and Miriam were exposed to by Mengele, they survived. They emigrated to the US and lived their lives. Eva spent her later years educating others by sharing her story and spreading her message of forgiveness.  While there are many adult books written by Holocaust survivors, few are written for children. It is not an easy read. It makes the reader sad, scared, uncomfortable, and angry. But it is an important book about an important time in history. A time we should always remember. Because it is through the open minds of children that we can change points of view about the world for the better and stop such horrors from happening again.  Spare and well written, this book should be part of every classroom discussion about the Holocaust.

I had an opportunity to ask author Danica Davidson about Eva’s story and how she came to write it. Here is Danica:

I WILL PROTECT YOU is a remarkable firsthand account of twins who survived the horrors of Auschwitz. How did you discover this story?

I had experienced increased antisemitism in my life, especially in my work as a journalist, and I was trying to figure out something I could write that could possibly be helpful. I was reading a lot of Jewish books and seeing Jewish speakers, and one day an email came from my temple telling me that a Mengele twin was going to be giving a speech at a university about an hour from me. This was Eva. So I read up all about her and showed up for her speech. After she talked I introduced myself to her, hoping I could maybe interview her for a magazine, but when I mentioned I’d published sixteen kids’ books, she lit up and exclaimed she wanted to do a kid’s book about her story.

Why do you feel this story is an important one for young readers of today?

Eva said the only way to really fight antisemitism is to teach kids about it in an accessible way. She said that Holocaust education in schools usually starts at 12 (if at all), and by then it’s too late because the prejudices are already formed.

I agree with her. I knew all about the Holocaust in elementary school (mainly from my dad and from reading), and it’s been shocking to me over the years to realize how abysmal Holocaust education is, and how many people know next to nothing about the Holocaust. Knowing history helps us from repeating history.

You were lucky enough to interview Eva Mozes for this book. Tell us what she was like. What was it about her that resonated with you and made you want to tell her story?

Eva was vivacious, feisty, accessible, passionate, and strong. She was a relentless educator of the Holocaust, because she didn’t want it happening again. The horrible memories had taken over her life for years, but by the time I met her, she had faced her demons and was stronger for it.     Mozes Kor_Eva_no credit

I wanted to tell her story because I recognized how rare it is for a child to survive a death camp, and her child’s perspective would be a way to reach young readers about the Holocaust. After interviewing Eva and talking with her extensively, I would write chapters at a time and send them to her for her approval. She really liked how the book came together.

What message would Eva want young people to remember from her experience as a concentration camp survivor?

Eva would want young readers to know that you can accomplish amazing things, no matter what your age. She would encourage kids who listened to her speak to go out and do a good deed. What the good deed was, she left up to them, because there are many good deeds out there and people are talented in different areas. She also hoped that abused kids could find some solace in this book and understand that healing after trauma is possible, and that if you’re abused it’s not your fault. It is always the abuser’s fault, and you don’t have to carry that trauma with you.

What else would you like readers to know about this book?

I’d like readers to know that there is nothing else like this book on the market for the age range, and it’s meant to revolutionize Holocaust education and fill a gap. Eva hoped every child would be able to read this book. She passed away fifteen days after we accepted Little, Brown’s offer on the finished manuscript, and nothing is the same without her. But I’m doing my best to make her vision happen and have this book reach as many readers as possible.

danica

Danica Davidson is the author of eighteen books for young readers, ranging from serious nonfiction to 12 middle grade Minecrafter adventure novels, to comic books, to the manga how-to books Manga Art for Beginners, Manga Art for Everyone, and Chalk Art Manga. Please visit her website at www.danicadavidson.com.

Order info: I Will Protect You is available as a hardcover, ebook and audio book. You can find a list of places to order online here [https://www.lbyr.com/titles/eva-mozes-kor/i-will-protect-you/9780316460637/]. It’s also available in local bookstores.

Praise

“The gripping story and fast-paced chapters make this a valuable purchase for reluctant readers. In a world where most people who lived the Holocaust are no longer with us, this book is a sincere and truthful reminder of this horrific event.” —School Library Journal

“Powerful… Unflinching in its first-person telling, the narrative is carried by its narrator’s passionate conviction, per an afterword, that ‘memories will provide the necessary fuel to light the way to hope.'”—Publishers Weekly

“A compelling story of survival.”—Booklist

“Bright and compelling, Eva invites young readers to plant flowers of knowledge, love, and acceptance in their own minds. Moving and informative; a powerful resource for Holocaust education.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Few Holocaust survivors have had Eva Mozes Kor’s impact. Together with Danica Davidson, the story of this young girl is narrated in a manner that I would not have thought possible, faithful to the history and yet accessible to young readers. Read this work and meet a person you will never forget with a story that is worth telling and retelling.”—Michael Berenbaum, award-winning author; Professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University; and former Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Holocaust Research Institute

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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!