Interview With Award-winning Author Chris Baron About His New MG Novel THE GRAY + A Chance to Win a Signed Copy

Today it is my pleasure to feature one of the most remarkable books I’ve read so far this year. THE GRAY by Chris Baron. Stay tuned for my interview with Chris.

The Gray cover photo

Here’s my review for the book:

An authentic and relatable story that addresses what it’s like to have anxiety and a hyper-sensitive nature. The thirteen-year-old protagonist, Sasha, works hard to cope with his anxiety and the bullying he faces at school. We get a firsthand account of all that Sasha goes through to manage his anxiety. Baron handles all the mental health aspects of the story in a thoughtful and compassionate way, assuring readers that they are not alone in their struggles. By sharing our feelings – even the dark ones – we can find help and connection with others. Friendship has the power to heal. Talking about our struggles, instead of hiding them, forges a deeper understanding of what many of us face each day. An important message and valuable addition to books with mental health themes. Highly Recommended.

Now for the interview:

What led you to write a story with mental health themes like we find in THE GRAY? 

I didn’t start out thinking that I was writing a book about “mental health.” I mainly imagined it as an  adventure/coming of age story, but as I wrote, it quickly became clear that I would be going deep into these themes. In the Author’s note at the end of The Gray, I talk about my own experiences with anxiety. That’s a start, but also, I’ve noticed that many of my students are experiencing, and thankfully having the courage to share, mental health difficulties. According to the American Psychological Association, “20.5% of youth worldwide now struggle with anxiety symptoms.” Too often-kids who experience anxiety of any kind are not diagnosed or even helped. Kids don’t always know what to do.  From pandemic stress, reliance on technology and information overload, to everyday family struggles, lots of kids and their families are facing stressors they never have before. We need help from family, friends, and many times professionals to help us make it through these challenges. I know this is true from my own struggles, and I think I wanted to offer this to readers as well.

This book is a departure from your novels in verse. Was it easier or more difficult to write Sasha’s story in prose? How did you decide on this format?

It was much more difficult to write in prose.  As I’ve mentioned other times–poetry feels like a native language to me. I see stories in images, and that’s perfect for writing poetry. I drafted most of The Gray in verse (excellent advice from my editor) but The Gray felt different in the process of drafting–more details–more exploration of setting, plot, character, and themes. It seemed to journey on its own down the winding path of prosaic narration.  It was clear to me that this book is meant to be written in prose.  But some of the best prose is lyrical, and it utilizes the joys of poetic conversion and strategies. I hope that’s true for The Gray.

What kind of research was required to write from such a compassionate and authentic POV?

Like most writers, I did endless research.  Even though much of the story and setting is based on my own experiences, I researched everything from mental health issues to horseback riding, to species of trees and animals in the setting of the story.  I even had a mental health professional consultant work with me on the book–she even diagnosed Sasha.  It’s just a huge part of my writing process. I also looked through thousands of pictures from my time living on the horse farm.

What would you hope readers take away from THE GRAY?

I hope that readers will meet Sasha, and through his story, not only feel seen and heard, but know that it is okay to need help.  I want students to discover the many practical ways they can face anxiety themselves, and to feel supported so they know they are not alone!

I hope readers enjoy a story full of suspense, adventure, supernatural mysteries, unexpected friendships, and quiet family strength.

I hope readers will find connection (or learn more) about Jewish Heritage and spirituality, multi-generational  families, and finding the quiet, lighted paths on the journey to be their most authentic selves.

Finally, I hope readers will believe that “even the smallest drop of water can change the largest stone.”  Slow change over time makes anything possible.

Anything else you want us to know?

As an author, I love to connect with readers, and I am happy to visit any book clubs, classes, or anything we dream up.  Please feel free to reach out at

I am happy to do a giveaway!  And if it’s alright with you–here is the preorder link for signed copies.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post. Darlene will choose one name at random and announce the winner later this month. US only, please.

Baron Headshot

Chris Baron is the award winning author of Novels for young (and young at heart) readers including All Of Me an NCTE Notable Book, The Magical Imperfect a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable Book/ a SLJ Best Book of 2021 & the forthcoming novels, The Gray (23) Forest Heart (24) from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, and The Secret of the Dragon Gems, a Middle Grade novel co-authored with Rajani LaRocca from Little Bee Books (23) and editor of ON ALL OTHER NIGHTS: A MIDDLE GRADE PASSOVER ANTHOLOGY, from Abrams (24), He is a Professor of English at San Diego City College and the director of the Writing Center. He grew up in New York City, but he completed his MFA in Poetry in 1998 at SDSU. HE lives in San Diego with his family. 





Author Teresa Robeson Presents: WHO IS TIBET’S EXILED LEADER: The 14th Dalai Lama + a chance to win a copy

Today it is my great pleasure to feature the latest book from award-winning author TERESA ROBESON. WHO IS TIBET’S EXILED LEADER: The 14th Dalai Lama is a slight departure from Teresa’s previous picture books since it is a graphic novel that tells the story of Tibet’s exiled leader the 14th Dalai Lama.

Here is my review for the book:

This graphic novel tells the important historical account of the leader of TIBET, THE 14TH Dalai Lama, who was forced into exile in 1959 by the People’s Liberation Army of China. Tibet’s “Precious Protector’s” harrowing escape is easy to read and understand thanks to the graphic format and the periodic history and cultural lessons sprinkled throughout the story. The book provides a summary of Tibet’s ongoing fight for freedom and autonomy. A perfect addition to a multicultural library.

dalai lama Here is my interview with Teresa and her exciting new book.

How did you come to write this story about the exiled Dalai Lama?

My agent at the time spotted a call on Twitter from an editor with Penguin Workshop’s Who HQ series for authors to write graphic format biographies. She asked if I’d be interested in trying out for it, and of course I said yes! Penguin gave us a short list of people to write a proposal for, and I chose Bruce Lee. When they accepted that proposal, they asked if I wanted to write about anyone else on a longer list that they showed me. From that, I chose the Dalai Lama. I could have chosen more, but there were no scientists on that list and I’m not interested in sports figures or the other historical figures they offered.

What were the challenges of writing the “precious protectors” story as a graphic novel? How do you like this format?

The main challenge of writing this book is learning a whole new writing form. I’ve never written graphic novel scripts, or any script, before and had to learn the convention as well as thinking in panels. Luckily, I’ve been reading comics and graphic novels from the time I started reading (because comics are hugely popular in Asia) and also already tend to visualize everything I write like a movie running in my head, so it wasn’t a huge stretch to picture the story that way.

I don’t read comics as often as I used to but I do enjoy the format a lot because I’m somewhat of a visual person.

Tell us a bit about the research involved in this story.

The research wasn’t any different from writing my other nonfiction and biographical prose books. I always start with looking at all the kids’ books on the topic and use the back matter in those to branch out to adult books and journal articles. The key is to go to reliable sources and try to get as close to primary sources as possible.

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

I want readers to see His Holiness’s humanity, humility, and humor. Beneath his assigned role as the political and spiritual leader of Tibet, he is just like the rest of us, with human frailties and foibles. His is not an easy position to be born into but he’s accepted it with grace and uses his celebrity status to spread the idea and ideals of compassion.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

Unlike regular prose, the compressed graphic format of this Who HQ series necessitates inventing some dialogue, scenes, and, occasionally, characters to keep the story moving smoothly. As a nonfiction author, I’d personally call it historical fiction but these books are categorized as nonfiction. I tried to stay true to the actual events/scenes, characters, and even dialogue, though paraphrased, in this book on the Dalai Lama. In the upcoming one on Bruce Lee, which covers a wider span of time, a lot more dialogue and even settings have had to be invented. It makes purists uncomfortable (as it does me), but in the end, if a child gets the gist and spirit of someone’s life without demonizing or idolizing the person, then I think these books will have done a good job.

As a writer of historical fiction myself, I respect that distinction Teresa. Would you do more graphic format books in the future?

I would like to! But I think I want to try both writing and illustrating instead of just writing. And, I want to do non-biographical nonfiction (specifically science) as well as fiction in the graphic format.

Thanks so much for this interview, Darlene!

It’s been a pleasure Teresa!

Signature banner


Teresa Robeson (pronouns: she/her)

Author (agent: Tracy Marchini, Bookends Literary)

Teresa has agreed to give away a signed copy of her book to one lucky reader. Please leave a comment below and one name will be drawn at random from all those entered. The winner will be announced later this month. USA only please.

What Rhymes with S’mores? By Cathy Ballou Mealey

Author Cathy Ballou Mealey is back with a new picture book.

MAKE MORE S’MORES, is a rhyming story that celebrates the sweet, gooey campfire treat while exploring themes of generosity, patience and sharing between forest friends in a fun and welcoming way. Illustrated by Ariel Landy, MAKE MORE S’MORES released March 15, 2023 from Sleeping Bear Books. Here’s Cathy to tell us a bit about this book with a delicious title.


Thank you for inviting me back for a guest post upon the release of MAKE MORE S’MORES, a new picture book illustrated by Ariel Landy and written by me.

S’mores are a definite pivot away from the puckery pickles featured in my previous post, but the process of writing and revising a rhyming story wasn’t all sugary sweet!

My first draft of this book was numbers-based: ONE marshmallow plus TWO graham crackers plus THREE chocolate rectangles equals one perfectly proportioned, traditional s’more.

I counted, calculated and composed a story filled with hungry forest friends sharing a campfire and sweet snacks. But the story arc became buried under mountains of exponentially-increasing marshmallows.

Cutting, revising, and tightening helped me feel the rhythm of some key words: Roasted, toasted. Sweet treat. Gooey, chewy. Share, bear. Suddenly I was writing a story in rhyme!  I researched simpler synonyms while still keeping the storyline light, charming and upbeat.

ROSCOE smores post

Talented illustrator Ariel Landy brought the hungry bears, busy raccoon and sly squirrels to life in our story. She’s created an enchanting, flower filled forest where furry friends cozy up and enjoy s’more after s’more on a beautiful dusky purple evening. Perfection!

So what rhymes with s’mores? Snores of course! The ending was the easiest part of the book to write!

I hope readers will come away with laughter and appreciation for being or knowing a generous, gracious host who welcomes others warmly. They will probably also come away with a craving for s’mores!

 Thanks Cathy! Your story certainly puts me in the mood for s’mores.

Here’s my review for this delightful book:

MAKE MORE S’MORES is a “sweet” story of generosity, kindness, and the pleasure we get from sharing what we love with others. Good feelings worth celebrating!

Cathy Mealey headshot

Cathy Ballou Mealey is a scone lover and author of WHEN A TREE GROWS, SLOTH AND SQUIRREL IN A PICKLE, and MAKE MORE S’MORES. She has planted acorns, pickled cucumbers, and toasted marshmallows but spends most of her time writing picture books north of Boston where she lives with her family.


To find out more, or get in touch with Cathy:




Author Dianne Salerni Presents A Spooky MG novel: THE CARREFOUR CURSE + a Chance to Win a Copy

Today I am really excited to feature a new book by middle grade author DIANNE SALERNI. THE CARREFOUR CURSE (Holiday House) is one of the most uniquely entertaining books I’ve read in awhile. I couldn’t put it down, and I had to ask Dianne how she came up with the idea for the story.

carrefour 2

Here’s my review:

This middle grade story is a clever and engaging page-turner that had me hooked from the first sentence: “You’ld think spitting up frogs would be a lot like the worst stomach flu you’ve ever had, but it’s surprisingly different.” Who wouldn’t want to read on after that hook?

There is so much that is fresh and original in this ghostly tale of power, charm, curses, and magic.The use of gemstones and their properties as chapter titles adds another layer of intrigue and originality to this kid-friendly and delightful story. Will there be a sequel? Sure hope so.

I asked Dianne a few questions about the novel. Here is the interview:

What do you want readers to know about the story?

The Carrefour Curse is my homage to all things gothic, but especially Dark Shadows, the supernatural soap opera from the 1960s and 70s. I used to watch this show as a preschooler—from behind a sofa—while I was supposed to be napping. I thought I was being sneaky, but my mother now tells me that she knew I was there and simply gave up trying to put me back to bed. One can probably pinpoint this show as the reason I have always loved creepy mansions, family secrets, ghosts, and time travel.

How did you decide on the plot/storyline using the gemstones as chapter headings?

As is typical for me, I outlined the first half of the plot and pantstered the rest of it. This resulted in a rather important character inventing herself in Chapter 23, inserting herself into the climax in Chapter 27, and forcing me—in later drafts—to weave her very existence into the first half of the book.

As for the chapter headings, they were a rather late addition. I wanted to provide more background into the kind of magic Garnet, my main character, performs with gemstones in a way that didn’t bog down the story. The chapter headings felt like the best way to do that because readers can skim them, read them closely, or ignore them at will. So far, early readers have reported enjoying both the glimpse into the mystical properties of gemstones and the hints that these headings provide on what might be coming up in the chapters.

That’s one of the things I enjoyed! What kind of research was involved in the story?

Well, first and most extensive was the research into the mystical properties associated with certain stones and gems. There’s a lot online, and I have a couple books on the subject. I also visited a local metaphysical shop called Find Your Harmony. In most cases, the properties attributed to various stones are so broad, I could pick and choose what best suited the story.

Additionally, I wanted a model for the crumbling Carrefour family mansion and eventually found what I was looking for in the abandoned Summerwind Mansion in Wisconsin. You can find photos of the dilapidated mansion at this website. The house burned down in 1988, so I had no idea what the interior was like and spent a great deal of time trying to track down floor plans or photographs. I gave up when a man in a discussion group claimed to have the floor plans and offered to show them to me if I met up with him in person. That sounded like a recipe for getting murdered, so I used the exterior of Summerwind as my model for Crossroad House and created my own interior design.

Encountering a spooky character while researching the story certainly added another layer of intrigue. Tell us a bit about the background/setting and how you developed that.

I was deliberately vague about the geographic location when I wrote the book, only mentioning New England once and having a character use the slang word wicked to mean extremely. But I definitely had Dark Shadows in mind, which was set in Maine.

Action centers on the crumbling, semi-sentient family mansion, Crossroad House. Garnet’s relatives tell her repeatedly that the house is not alive, but she overhears them saying things like, “The house is always listening,” and she herself feels as if she’s being watched.

Just like in the soap opera, there are also nearby ruins of an older family house, the original Carrefour manor that mysteriously burned down in the 1890s. On Dark Shadows, the Collins family referred to “the old house,” and I borrowed that language when I had the Carrefours call their ruins Old House.

Bad things happen at Old House, events I modeled after the eerie happenings in Ambrose Bierce’s 1889 vignette, The Spook House, in which two men stumble upon a house on a rainy night and discover a room full of dead people.

The Carrefour Curse was hard to put down, and it was also hard to say goodbye to the characters you created (every author’s dream!) Do you envision a sequel?

Until a couple months ago, I would have said that this is a standalone mystery. But several early readers have mentioned that there’s ample material for a sequel, so now I’m considering the idea. The time-traveling element means I can delve into the family’s past as well as their future. If the original book is successful, I might start poking around in the Carrefour family tree for a new conflict and a new villain.

What theme/message do you want readers to take away from this book?

Although my books tend toward speculative genres—fantasy for the Eighth Day series, ghosts for Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts, and science fiction for Jadie in Five Dimensions—my themes always seem to revolve around the same realistic one: families that rally together despite differences and estrangement. In The Carrefour Curse, I explore intergenerational trauma. The generations preceding Garnet have lived with the “curse” inflicted on them by an ancestor’s mistake, accepting dire consequences as unavoidable. Not so Garnet, who, along with her cousin Ash and others in her young, get-it-done generation, sets out to break the curse and make things right.

Diane has agreed to give away a signed copy of THE CARREFOUR CURSE to one lucky reader. To enter, leave a comment on this post and share it on your social media. A winner will be drawn at random from those entered and announced later this month.


DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of eight YA and middle grade novels, including Junior Library Guild Selections Eleanor, Alice, & the Roosevelt Ghosts, Jadie in Five Dimensions, and The Carrefour Curse, as well as the state award nominated Eighth Day series. Dianne was a Pennsylvania public school teacher for 25 years before leaving the profession to spend time hanging around creepy cemeteries, attending ghost hunting classes, and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research. In her spare time, she volunteers at her local animal rescue shelter, walking dogs and serving the needs of the feline overlords.


MIRROR TO MIRROR: Book Review and Interview With Newbury Honoree Rajani Larocca + A Chance to Win a Copy!

It was my thrill and privilege to read an ARC for author RAJANI LAROCCA’s newest middle grade novel in verse MIRROR TO MIRROR. Rajani won the Newbury Medal Honorable Mention for her previous verse novel RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE. In her new book, she explores the connection between identical twins, not only in the physical sense, but the emotional connections as well.

mirror cover

Here is my review of this amazing and timely book:

This lyrical novel in verse captures the pressure and anxiety of striving to be perfect in order to live up to the expectations of others. Raw and spare verse cuts to the heart of alternating voices of the twin sisters who despite their love and devotion to one another, grow further apart as they try to give each other space to shine.

This story will open up dialogue regarding mental health and the importance of speaking up and sharing feelings with someone so we don’t feel alone. Silence can often hurt and do more damage than words shared in love and understanding. Highly recommended.

I asked Rajani some questions about MIRROR TO MIRROR . Here is the interview.

I love the idea of twins telling the story in alternating voices. How did you settle on this format and the title for the book?

I knew this book would be dual POV from the very beginning. Dual POV is challenging to pull off, especially with identical twin characters, because it’s important to keep the characters’ voices distinct and make sure that each POV moves the story forward. In my first draft, I wrote Maya’s voice in verse and Chaya’s in prose, but I felt jarred going back and forth, and found myself writing chunks of the story at a time rather than alternating the voices as I wrote.

In revision, my editor suggested that I write both POV’s in poetry . . . and she was right. I still had to work hard to make the voices different from one another using the content and attitude in the poems, as well as structure, imagery, and word choice. The book starts with a couple of short paired poems, each titled “She’s the One,” where the twins express how they think about each other. These poems were drafted during that first revision, and I thought they vividly set the tone of the book and established the viewpoints of each twin.

The name of this book changed while I was revising! It was originally called Switch, but the story isn’t only about the twins switching places. Given the importance of mirrors in the book, my editor suggested Mirror to Mirror, and I thought that title worked really well.

How did you decide the time was right for a story like this?

It’s not easy to write about anxiety and mental health. But given the events of the past several years, anxiety is something that many people, including children, have had to contend with. As a doctor, I’ve seen my patients with anxiety and depression have worsening symptoms in recent years, and even some of my patients without a prior history of anxiety have developed it. And rates of anxiety and depression among young people have skyrocketed.

I wanted to explore anxiety and mental health in a poetic way. I wanted to show that people can struggle not only with symptoms, but also with telling others that they are struggling. I wanted to depict the helplessness that comes with seeing someone you love going through something difficult.

I love the emotional contrast between the girls and their parents, how each seems to take after one even though they begin the story doing everything together/the same. What kind of research/reflection did you have to do in order to make Maya and Chaya’s voices ring true?

Thank you! I did a lot of research for Mirror to Mirror. I interviewed several sets of identical twin sisters, and it was fascinating! Not only were they closer than other siblings, but some described each other as “soulmates.” They told me stories about eerie connections they had, and how no matter what else was going on in their lives, their bond was unshakable.

But there is room for misunderstanding even in the closest relationships. I tried to create a story where each twin thinks she’s doing something to help the other, but instead drives a wedge between them.

What do you want young readers to understand about these complex and often scary emotional experiences we all have and you so artfully portrayed in this story?

I hope that young readers understand that we all go through difficult times, even when we are surrounded by friends and family. I hope they learn that although we may sometimes struggle with anxiety and depression, we don’t have to deal with these feelings alone, and it’s important to share with those we love and trust, because only through sharing can we start to get help.

What is one of the ways this book can be used in the classroom?

I have some ideas for using poetry in a classroom:

  • Take someone you know well — a real person, or a character from a book or a movie — and write a poem about a secret or hidden side to that person
  • Write a poem about a secret or hidden side to yourself

I also hope educators can use the story to start a discussion about mental health and self-care.

Anything else we should know about MIRROR TO MIRROR?

Music plays a prominent role in many of my books, including this one. I used the titles of some real pieces of classical music in the story, and I also made up my own musical—and had a great time doing so.

Rajani has agreed to give a signed copy of her amazing new book to one lucky reader of this post chosen at random. To enter, leave a comment. USA only.

Rajani_LaRocca__Author 2Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young people, including Red, White, and Whole, which won a 2022 Newbery Honor, the Walter Dean Myers Award, Golden Kite Award, and New England Book Award. Her other books include: Midsummer’s Mayhem (2019), Seven Golden Rings (2020), Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (2021), Much Ado About Baseball (2021), Where Three Oceans Meet (2021), My Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris (2021), The Secret Code Inside You (2021), I’ll Go and Come Back (2022), and more. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she is an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks. To connect with Rajani and learn more about her and her books visit her at and on Twitter and Instagram @rajanilarocca.

MY TENDER HEART BIBLE: Capturing the Essence of God’s Story in Rhyme with Author Laura Sassi + a giveaway

Today it is my pleasure to feature one of my favorite picture book authors: Laura Sassi. She has a new book titled MY TENDER HEART BIBLE, and I asked her how this unique collection for the very young came to be.


Here’s my review for MY TENDER HEART BIBLE:

This picture book for young children is a beautiful introduction to the Bible and many of its beloved stories. Told in gentle rhyme, each story features a heart moment – a simple prayer for sharing the message conveyed in each story. This addition, along with the colorful and inviting illustrations, gives children a moment to reflect on each lesson and talk about them. A thoughtful addition to Christian books for the youngest children that invites readers to welcome and nurture a relationship with God.

Here’s LAURA:

My newest book, MY TENDER HEART BIBLE, introduces littlest ones to twelve of my favorite stories from the Old and New Testament rendered in poetic rhyme which both individually and together point to God’s redemptive love. Each retelling is accompanied by a Bible citation, a beautiful illustration by Sandra Eide, and a Heart Moment of prayer. The book is inspired by memories of sitting with my own children when they were little to read or re-tell (in my own words so they could understand) Bible stories so they could grasp just how much God loved them. 

Darlene, you invited me to share my process, first for capturing the essence of each story and, second, for putting it into rhyme. I am so glad you asked me this!  It may be the deepest question about my writing and my faith that I have ever been asked and I hope my answer does your excellent question justice.

For me, capturing the essence of each story was a spiritual, prayerful process. This is because, unlike most of what I’ve written, I wasn’t just writing any story. Rather, I was conveying, for little ears, the essence of God’s story, and wanted to make sure I got it right. In creating the collection, I spent hours reading my own Bible, looking things up in various concordances and then cross-checking Scripture against Scripture. I also had several Christian colleagues and friends read the stories with a critical eyes towards honoring the Biblical text.

Once I felt each story was well-grounded, it was my joy to put it into rhyme. Those who know my writing well, know that rhyme is my favorite way to write. With this collection, I had four guiding principles.

First, the story, not the rhyme, needed to come first.

Second, the versification I selected for each story needed to fit the feel of each story.

Third, the story told in rhyme needed to be short enough to appeal to the toddler audience, while also appealing to older siblings (up to age six or so) who might also be joining in the reading.

Fourth, I decided early one that each rhyming retelling would be accompanied by a non-rhyming “Heart Moment” of prayer, because, when we encounter God, it touches our hearts and begs us to respond!

Thank you, Darlene, for asking me to ponder these deep writerly thoughts today. I hope my reflections inspire any of your followers who may be seeking ways to connect their writing with their faith. Blessings, all!

I have a signed copy of Laura’s beautiful book for one lucky reader. If you’d like to be considered, please leave a comment at the end of this post. i will draw one name from those entered.

LAURA SASSI: Children’s book author and poet  thumbnail_Laura Sassi with Sunflowers

A Beautiful Debut Picture Book From Author Hanh Bui + a chance to win a copy

A couple months ago, I had the honor and joy of reading a beautiful picture book by a new author named HANH BUI.

yellow Hanh

I am excited to share my review for the book as well as an interview with HANH on how the book came to be. Here is my review:

A beautiful story of culture, family, and tradition told in loving and gentle prose. The illustrations are lively and animated, filled with the emotions of Naliah and her love for her family. A perfect addition to a multi-cultural library collection.

Here’s my interview with author HANH BUI:

What an honor and pleasure it is to read your beautiful book! Thank you for sharing it with me.  How did you decide to write this story with the focus on this special tradition of the dance and the AO DAI? 

I decided to write THE YELLOW ÁO DÀI after my daughter shared her sadness with not having a grandparent to attend her school’s Grandparent’s Day. Every year, I would be there with her on that special occasion. She said it wasn’t the same because unlike her classmates, she was the only one who didn’t have at least one grandparent. She also wished she would have known her beloved grandmother (my mother-in-law).  The idea for the story came to me when I saw my daugher admiring her grandmother’s traditional Vietnamese dresses hanging in my closet. She asked if she could try on the yellow áo dài. I told her it was much too big for her since she was only 6 years old. After some negotiating, we settled on her being able to wear the dress when she’s sixteen. However, I did let her try it on for a bit so she may feel a connection to her grandmother. This was the beginning of my story seed. The Fan Dance is a nod to my childhood experiences dancing the Fan Dance at my school’s International Day. 

We live in such a disposable society, where clothing is used, tossed. I love the idea of a garment so special it is handed down through the generations. What inspired you to tell this particular story?

As Vietnamese refugees, we could only bring a few items of clothing on our journey to America. My mother-in-law loved her special áo dàis as they were treasured keepsakes from her homeland. Each one was carefully crafted by a seamtress whose exquisite art are lovingly stitched on to each dress. If my mother-in-law ever had a rip or needed alterations, she would use her sewing kit to repair her dresses to be worn again and again. Her beautiful áo dàis have become family heirlooms passed from generation to generation. I also wanted to celebrate the sewing skills of Vietnamese women who often learned at a very young age how to mend clothes and create new ones.

How do you pronounce AO DAI?

The word áo dài is pronounced ow-YAI. My editor and the design team came up with a clever way to help readers pronounce the word and remember it. They put in the beginning of the book before the story begins that  áo dài rhymes with “now fly”. This is so thoughtful because in the book, Naliah grows in courage to soar by the end of the story.

I love how yellow is the color of happiness. (It’s my favorite color.) Was choosing this color intentional?

Yes, choosing this color was intentional. Yellow is my dauhgter’s and my mother-in-law’s favorite color. It is such a joyful color and I wanted to share the special meaning of this color in Vietnamese culture. I love that yellow is also your favorite color!

The illustrations are lovely and so full of animation and Naliah’s emotions. Did you have any input? What are your feelings about them?

I was thrilled when my editor announced that Minnie Phan would be the illustrator for this book. My editor and the design team at Macmillan F&F were respectful of the process and welcomed my thoughts when Minnie shared the sketches. They really cared about making sure that my story is portrayed authentically. Since Minnie is also Vietnamese American, she was familiar with the Fan Dance and her mother also gifted her a yellow áo dài. Collaborating with Minnie on this story and honoring our Vietnamese heritage together made this debut book even more meaningful. I love the finished book. The art beautifully portrays the heart of our story.

What message do you want readers to take away from this story of culture, family, and tradition?

I want readers to know that even when someone we love isn’t near or has passed on, the connection we feel for them will always exist in our stories, traditions and the love we all share. I also hope that THE YELLOW ÁO DÀI will inspire readers to learn more about their family’s keepsakes, traditions and stories.  

Anything else you’d like to share? What’s next?

I’m excited to share that my next picture book is inspired by my first teacher in America and the lifelong impact of a kind teacher. In this story I will share with readers my first English word. Thank you for your thoughtful questions, Darlene. You have been a kind friend and ally on my creative journey. 

Hanh’s book will be out in the world in April. In honor of her three children, she is giving away THREE signed copies to lucky winners who doesn’t mind waiting for this gem. Please leave a comment and (if you care to) share a story of a family heirloom that has meant a lot to generations in your family. Three winners will be chosen at random and announced later this month.


Inspired by her first teacher at the refugee camp, Hanh Bui pursued a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and taught second grade before becoming a full-time mother to three children. She also served as a Development Officer for Senhoa Foundation in support of women and children who survived human trafficking in Cambodia, and has served on boards supporting children and parents in building community. Hanh’s commitment to celebrating her heritage includes giving presentations in school visits about her refugee experience to children studying immigration as part of their school curriculum. She serves as co-chair of the Equity and Inclusion Team for the Mid-Atlantic region of SCBWI, and has been featured in Highlights For Children magazine and Next Avenue. She is the author of The Yellow Áo Dài and Ánh’s New Word.

Author Katey Howe Presents: WOVEN OF THE WORLD, a new PB + a give-away.

Today it is my pleasure to share another wonderful picture book by author Katey Howes.

woven cover

Woven of the World

Words by Katey Howes  Art by Dinara Mirtalipova

Published by Chronicle Books  Releases Feb 7, 2023

Katey uses the metaphor of how we are all woven together into a tapestry of humanity to pen this lovely book about how weaving has shaped and connected cultures throughout history.

Here is my review for the book as well as an interview with Katey about how WOVEN came to be.

“The clack and swish of loom song carries stories to my ears” is one of many figurative expressions used to convey the sensory experience of weaving as an art form that connects cultures across the world. Weaving as song is conveyed not only in the thoughtful rhyme, but also in folk art-like illustrations that show cultures of the past and how these traditions are “woven” into our psyches as humans. A beautiful introduction to an ancient craft that transcends time and place. Weaving fibers not only creates cloth. It connects the weaver to those who came before. A lovely message and a lovely book.

What inspired you to write Woven of the World?

People who know me, know I love a good metaphor. Seriously, my family sometimes makes fun of me for it! And when I find metaphors that I think will speak to children, that will help them connect something physical and tangible with an idea or concept, those are the ones I like best.

My children all have a fondness for fiber arts – one embroiders designs on her clothing and makes stuffed toys, one knits scarves for friends (sometimes during chemistry lectures), one pulled my punch-needle out of my hands and took over. I know that kids of all ages and backgrounds can really connect not just to playing and creating with yarn and fabric, but to the emotions that are carried by sharing a cozy gift – or a cozy art form!

Woven of the World was shaped from the beginning by the idea that a child could be unsure about their identity, their future, but comforted by imagining themself as a tapestry, a piece of art woven row on row, with many different yarns brought together to create pattern and strength and warmth.  The idea that we are each a tapestry, woven of the world, took me on a long journey down a lot of (fuzzy, colorful) rabbit holes!

What do you hope people take away from the book?

Honestly, this book traveled way beyond my imaginings for it. It carries the reader around the world and through time…but also into the loving relationship between a child and an elder, sharing a beloved craft. Plus, it’s stuffed with back matter on weaving tools and weaving milestones and moments in history. I don’t suppose any two readers will take away the same meanings or emotions from reading it – but I do hope everyone who reads it comes away feeling connected.

I have a signed copy of this beautiful book for one lucky person chosen at random from those who leave a comment on this post. Good luck!

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

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

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 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, or on Twitter and Instagram at @sjsubity.