HUMMINGBIRD by Natalie Lloyd: An MG Book Review

I recently had the pleasure of reading a remarkable MG from Best-selling author Natalie Lloyd.  hummingbird cover

Here’s the blurb for this extraordinary story:

A Schneider Family Book Award Honor Book

From the bestselling author of A Snicker of Magic comes a heartfelt story about a girl who — armed with her trusty, snazzy wheelchair — refuses to let her brittle bone disease stand in the way of adventure

Twelve-year-old home schooled Olive is tired of being seen as “fragile” just because she has osteogenesis imperfecta (otherwise known as brittle bone disease) so she’s thrilled when she finally convinces her parents to let her attend Macklemore Elementary. Olive can’t wait to go to a traditional school and make the friends she’s always longed for, until a disastrous first day dashes her hopes of ever fitting in.

Then Olive hears whispers about a magical, wish-granting hummingbird that supposedly lives near Macklemore. It’ll be the solution to all her problems! If she can find the bird and prove herself worthy, the creature will make her most desperate, secret wish come true.

When it becomes clear that she can’t solve the mystery on her own, Olive teams up with some unlikely allies who help her learn the truth about the bird. And on the way, she just might learn that our fragile places lead us to the most wonderful magic of all…

Here is my review:

This is a wonderful middle grade tale of hope, courage, adventure, and discovery. The lyrical language and fresh metaphors sing from the pages as Olive sets out to live her dreams and forge new friendships along the way. Soaring, taking flight, singing, and other “bird” metaphors give a poetic and ethereal quality to the prose, making us cheer for Olive’s efforts and discoveries about herself and the world around her. I love her intelligence and indomitable spirit. I also love the quirky names and personalities of supporting players: Jupiter, Hatch, Uncle Dash, Kester. One of my favorite quotes: “My dad, Jupiter, is his own planet, his own universe, and we all orbit around his weird and wonderful light.”  A story with humor, heart., and a bit of magic.

You shouldn’t miss this one.


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:




A New STEM Picture Book From Author Laurie Wallmark + A Chance to Win a Copy

maria mitchell cover

Today I am happy to feature the latest STEM biography from author LAURIE WALLMARK.

HER EYES ON THE STARS: Maria Mitchell, Astronomer

(Illustrated by Liz Wong)

Here is the blurb for the book:

Maria Mitchell’s curiosity about the night sky led her to spend hours studying the stars. She discovered a comet as a young woman, winning an award from the King of Denmark for being the first person to discover a new comet using a telescope.

Now famous as “the lady astronomer,” Maria went on to become a professional astronomer, an unheard of achievement for a woman in the 19th century. She was the first woman to get any kind of government job when she was hired by the United States Naval Observatory. Then as the first woman astronomy professor in the world, Maria used her position at Vassar College to teach young women to set their sights on the sky, training new generations of female astronomers. Her story inspires all of us to reach for the stars.

MY review:

This new picture book from STEM author Laurie Wallmark is an inspiring story where science meets feminism and the sky’s the limit.

Bound and determined to map the stars in the night sky, Maria went up to her rooftop observation spot in all kinds of weather. Her careful and precise observations led her to be the first American to discover a comet. There are many other firsts for the female astronomer, including teaching an entire generation of women at Vassar College to be astronomers. Themes of perseverance, dedication, and belief in yourself are great discussion topics beyond the STEM focus.

A thoughtful and beautifully illustrated story that deserves a place in any STEM collection.

Laurie has agreed to give away a signed copy of this book to one lucky reader of this post. To enter, please leave a comment and share the post on your social media. I will draw one name at random from those entered and announce the winner on this blog later this month.

Laurie Wallmark-300dpi4x6Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark writes picture book biographies of women in STEM as well as fiction. Her books have earned five starred trade reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Crystal Kite Award, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’ Choice Gold Medal. Her titles include ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, BREAKER, SPY HUNTER, RIVKA’S PRESENTS, THE QUEEN OF CHESS, and DINO PAJAMA PARTY. Laurie has an MFA in Writing from VCFA and is a former software engineer and computer science professor. You can find Laurie online at and @lauriewallmark.

Author Kirsten Larson Presents: THE FIRE OF STARS, A New PB Biography + a Chance to Win a Copy.

Today it is my pleasure to feature the newest picture book by author KIRSTEN LARSON


Here is the publisher’s blurb:

Wrapped in a blanket of sparkling space, an unformed star waits for its bright future to begin. Deep inside, something glimmers and glows: a new light. Astronomer and astrophysicist Cecilia Payne was the first person to discover what burns at the heart of stars.

But she didn’t start out as the ground-breaking scientist she would eventually become. She started out as a girl burning with curiosity, chasing the thrilling lightning bolt of discovery, hoping one day to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

With lyrical, evocative text by Kirsten W. Larson and extraordinary illustrations by award-winning illustrator Katherine Roy, this moving biography powerfully parallels the kindling of Cecilia Payne’s own curiosity and her scientific career with the process of a star’s birth, from mere possibility in an expanse of space to an eventual breathtaking explosion of light.

Here is my review for this beautiful picture book:

THE FIRE OF STARS by Kirsten Larson (Illustrated by Katherine Roy): A biography of the life of Cecelia Payne, the woman who discovered what stars are made of.

Two stories – told and illustrated in parallel fashion – unfold on each page to tell the tale of the birth, growth, and brilliance of a star as well as the growth and brilliance of Cecelia’s curiosity, determination, and discovery. Back matter highlights Cecelia’s accomplishments and details star formation with words and illustrations.

A brilliant addition to STEM collections.


★ ”A luminous thematic pairing.”  —  Kirkus, starred review

★ “A stellar subject, breathtaking artwork, and unique layout set this biography for young readers apart from the rest.” — School Library Journal, starred review

★ “Marrying format, language, and subject, Larson conscientiously emphasizes Payne’s accomplishments. Taking place alongside inky interstellar sidebar views, accompanying pencil and ink illustrations by Roy glow…” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ “Kirsten Larson deftly weaves together her compelling biography of an important woman who “stick[s] to her path” despite the odds. The decision to parallel Cecilia’s development with that of an emerging star is an inspired one, and Katherine Roy uses pencil, ink and digital color to create luminous illustrations that crackle with energy.” — Shelf Awareness, starred review


Bio: Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of the picture books: WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021), THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, February 2023), and THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Little, Brown 2024). She also is the author of the middle grade, graphic nonfiction, THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock, (Roaring Brook, 2023), along with 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Learn more at

If you’d like to have a chance to win a signed copy of THE FIRE OF STARS, leave a comment on this post. I will draw one name at random from those entered and announce the winner later this month. Good luck to all!

CELEBRATE POETRY MONTH: Book Review: GOOD DIFFERENT by Meg Eden Kuyatt + a chance to win a copy.

good different cover

GOOD DIFFERENT by Meg Eden Kuyatt

Full disclosure: I was given an ARC of this book to write a review.  I am so glad this verse novel came into my life.

Raw, heartfelt, honest, and true are just a few of the adjectives that describe this powerful story of the life of a teen with autism. This novel in verse highlights the inner life of Selah, the main character who shares her struggles to fit in and follow the rules. Readers will cheer as Selah discovers her true nature through poetry and learns how poems can heal and help others understand. Poems allow her to discover her own truths and how to express her fears to her friends and family. A highly recommended story inspired by the author’s own life.

good different blurb

good different blurb2

If you’d like a copy of this extraordinary book, you can enter the Rafflecoptor giveaway here:

For more about author MEG EDEN KUYATT:

Meg Eden Kuyatt

Twitter: @ConfusedNarwhal

Instagram: @meden_author

Facebook: Meg Eden Writes Poems



GOOD DIFFERENT comes out in April 2023 (in time for National Poetry Month and Autism Acceptance Month!). Preorder now from!


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.


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.