Sunday, July 13, 2014


     Do you know a kid who doesn't like music?
     Me neither.
     That's one reason I'm excited to be part of a blog hop tour for Jennifer Jackson's debut picture book blog tour for: THE PUNKYDOOS TAKE THE STAGE. The book comes with a CD of Punkydoo music!

     Although her debut picture book was just released on July 1, 2014, author Jennifer Jackson isn't a total newbie to the world of publishing. Jennifer Jackson's ( love of writing started in theater, where she has written and directed original ensemble-based physical theater pieces.She also choreographed many projects including American Dreamz and The Beckoning of Lovely.
   Today, Jennifer is graciously answering a few questions about her new book and her writing process.

1. The title, THE PUNKYDOOS TAKE THE STAGE, is so much fun? Which came first, the story or the title?
     The name of the band, The Punkydoos, came before anything else! "Punkydoo" is a nickname my family has used for years. One day I thought The Punkydoos would be a great name for a band that played music for kids. Then I realized it would be even more fun if the musicians were kids themselves. I began to wonder what that would look like in a picture book. The title for the book came once I knew that the story would be about Lexi-Lou finding a place for her (very big!) voice by starting a rock band and putting on a concert.

2. Your author dedication refers to the "real" Punkydoos. Where did you get the inspiration for your story?
 I mentioned that "Punkydoo" is a nickname. First, we all used it for my younger sister. Now it's what we call her little girls. They were the inspiration for the book, particularly for Lexi-Lou's bold spirit and the band's fearless attitude. My nieces are forever optimistic and they never back away from a challenge

3. Who do you picture as the perfect reader for your book?

     Kids who like to dream big!

4. I can picture the Punkydoos as characters in preschool Scooby-Doo-type adventures. Are there more Punkydoo books in the works?

     Yes! The Punkydoos are always up for new adventures. Stay tuned . . . (And by the way, Monkey's favorite cartoon is Scooby-Doo!)

5. Do you dummy the words in your manuscript?

     Once I feel a story is complete, I mock up the entire book with the actual pagination. My stick figures are pitiful, but I find that getting a sense of how the book reads with page turns really helps the revision process.

6. What have you learned from your experience creating your first picture book that you will incorporate into your next manuscripts?

    Some things I know I'll keep working on--conflicts that make kids want to turn the page, upping the stakes, and adding moments of real discovery and connection for the characters.

7. Do you have a critique group or use other revision strategies to polish that first draft?

     I actually love revising. I'm not afraid to take a story apart and put it back together in new ways. Once I feel that I've done all I can to write the best possible story (and this usually takes several drafts!) I'll show it to a few readers I trust to give useful feedback. I don't just want people to tell me it's good! I want to know what needs work. I also like going to conferences and workshops where you can dig in with a critique group run by a strong facilitator.

8. Writing requires a lot of perseverance--and fuel. Do you have a favorite writing snack to maintain your focus and keep the creative juices flowing? (everything chocolate is good in my book!)

     Oh, I agree, chocolate all the way! Mocha lattes. Double chocolate muffins. And for some reason, I love to eat chocolate covered banana chips when I write. You could say they're my Scooby snack!

And now . . . ta-da! Here's the cover of THE PUNKYDOOS TAKE THE STAGE!

I know Jennifer would love to hear your comments and congratulations below! 
If you want to learn more about Jennifer and The Punkydoos, the schedule for the rest of her blog tour and book buying information is listed below. If you want a copy for yourself (and who wouldn't!) visit one of the blog links below. Good luck!

The Punkydoos Take the Stage Blog Tour Schedule:
Friday, July 11th
·         Mundie Kids: Review and Giveaway

Saturday, July 12th
·         Lille Punkin’ Reviews: Guest Post and Giveaway

Sunday, July 13th
·         Book Rock Betty: Review and Giveaway

Monday, July 14th
·         Noodling with Words: Interview

Tuesday, July 15th
·         Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers: Review, Punkydoos Playlist, and Giveaway

Wednesday, July 16th
·         As They Grow Up: Giveaway

By Jennifer Jackson, illustrated by Dan Andreasen
Disney Publishing Worldwide
ISBN: 978-1-4231-4339-0; ages 3-5 Yrs; $17.99

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Super Vacation - Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

     I don't usually blog about family or personal things. This is about "noodling with words," reading and writing.
     But part of having a fertile mind for writing is getting out into the world. Meeting new people and seeing new places brings new inspiration and points of view. And I went somewhere so terrific that I had to share!
     If you are a pet lover and you haven't been here yet, put the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary on your bucket list.
     Our family had been to Utah once before. After visiting Las Vegas and the south and north rims of the Grand Canyon we headed up to Bryce Canyon. But it was at the end of our trip, and with everyone getting tired of the lo-ong car rides between these places, we didn't stop when we saw the tiny roadside sign for Best Friends. Ten years later, the sign is BIG! And this time Kanab, Utah and Best Friends was our primary destination.

     We have supported Best Friends for years and enjoyed their magazine and the Dogtown show on the National Geographic channel on TV. But to see it in person was awe inspiring.
     First the beauty of the physical surroundings. Shades of red rock rising around the canyon. Jackrabbits darting across the road. Horses grazing. Hummingbirds swarming the feeders at the Visitors Welcome Center. The sanctuary occupies 3,700 acres and even though there are hundreds of people hard at work taking care of the hundreds of animals there, the feeling was one of peaceful purpose.
     If you aren't familiar with the sanctuary, in a nutshell their purpose is a world with no more homeless pets. While the ASPCA and Humane Society and many local shelters all work toward this same purpose, what I think makes Best Friends unique is its mission to help the most difficult cases. They take animals that local shelters don't have the time or resources to rehabilitate. A large number of the dogs from the Michael Vick dog-fighting case went here. And even though
these animals were deemed "unadoptable" at other locations, Best Friends works with them and adopts out approximately 80% of the animals every year.
     But back to OUR trip.
     First, we took the free tour of the sanctuary. We had pre-booked a 10am tour, so all we had to do was climb aboard the air-conditioned minibus, sit back and enjoy. The bus drove past all of the major areas: horses, pigs, birds, wild rehab center, rabbits, dogs and cats. The bus stopped and we went inside to meet some of the caregivers and animals at the spanking clean Cat House and Dogtown. If you're feeling the itch to go, alll you need to know about visiting is here.
     We took advantage of the $5 all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet in the cafeteria at lunchtime, then headed over to the Bunny House which has a 2PM Open house where we learned how much more complex these creatures are than I had previously thought!
     Starting the next day, we volunteered in Dogtown. Over the next few days we volunteered with old dogs, young dogs, puppy training, and more "difficult" dogs with some socialization issues. The volunteer shifts are 8:30am to 11:30 and again 1-4:30pm. We walked dogs, cleaned outdoor runs, swept the octogon buildings, scrubbed doggie wading pools, cleaned and refilled water buckets and even took one dog for a car ride when the caregiver said that would help him acclimate to cars and hopefully find a home. Because isn't that what it's all about?
     For cat lovers, here's a one minute video about one of the cats from the Best Friends youtube channel.
     Helpful hints:
     Walking dogs is done only in the morning in the summer, and in June it was already hot by lunchtime. Don't be fooled by the cool desert evenings and waking up to 55 degrees. Dress in layers you can take off And the red sand that you walk in is quite a workout! By the tenth dog, I was panting along with the pooches.
     The Rocking V restaurant in town had some of the best meals I've had anywhere. It would make a great stop if you're driving from the Grand Canyon to Bryce or Zion and just need somewhere to stop and eat. It isn't inexpensive, but the entree price includes a choice of soup and we cleaned every morsel off our bowls and plates.

     So have you been to Best Friends or somewhere else that amazed and inspired you this summer?  I hope you find your special spot to re-energize.

Friday, June 27, 2014

UNCAGED - Book review #kidlit #YA

     Summer is here which means -- beach reading!
     Now, I don't mean to imply that you have to go to a beach. I don't know if other readers find this to be true but I tend to read less for pleasure in the spring and fall. Then when the mercury rises and the slightest move means breaking a sweat, I find a shady spot and plunk down with a good read. Something that immerses me in another (hopefully cooler!) place and time.
     Here's my first recommendation of the summer.

Image from the author's website
     I was fortunate to receive an advance reader's copy of Uncaged by John Sandford & Michele Cook. This is Book 1 of a new YA series titled The Singular Menace. A clever play on words because Singular is the corporate antagonist.
     The advance copy that I received opens with a five page prologue then jumps to the action in chapter one with a group of animal rights-activist teens breaking in an animal experimentation facility owned by Singular. I'm guessing that the prologue is there to introduce the main character, Shay, a teenage runaway from her foster home who wouldn't otherwise show up in the book until chapter four. Personally, I think the book would work better without the prologue and the information it gives away, but that's a small quibble.
      The story isn't unique - kids taking on an evil corporation - but the fast-paced action pulled me in. And once a dog was involved, well that sealed it. I had to learn what happened to him. 
     The book is targeted for ages twelve and up. Book 1 didn't have any explicit sexual or drug content but there is some violence. The description of the research is a bit gruesome, but no more so than scads of highly popular zombie-filled apocalypse films and games for this age group. One character dies (needlessly, I thought).
     Kirkus Reviews described the book as "languid" but I didn't find that to be true. I kept looking for opportunities to sit down and read more. Note: the age range Kirkus gave to the book is for ages 15-18. Since this is Book 1, I didn't expect the ending to be tied up neatly, and it isn't. Bring on Book 2!
     Book 1 is slated for publication on July 22, 2014.

     Thanks to Random House Children's Book Department for providing the advance reader's copy. A review was not required in return. This is an honest review of the book.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Beauty and the Beast - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     I was just introduced to this book last weekend and today is the last picture book review before the summer hiatus. Talk about perfect timing for a perfect picture book!
     The underlying story isn't new, but the re-telling transports the story to West Africa with illustrations that will take your breath away.
     TITLE: Beauty and the Beast

     AUTHOR: H. Chuku Lee
     ILLUSTRATOR: Pat Cummings
     PUBLISHER: Amistad (imprint of HarperCollins), 2014
     INTENDED AGE:4 to 8
     THEMES: Fairy tale, unexpected friendship, love
          "Father had to hurry into the city on business, but before he rode off, my older sisters gave him a long list and asked him to buy them all sorts of finery.
           Father asked what I wanted and I said, "A rose." "
     SYNOPSIS: When the Beast threatens to imprison Beauty's father for taking a rose from the Beast's garden, Beauty offers to take her father's place. Over time, Beauty and the Beast become friends but she is still his prisoner. When she is allowed home to visit her sick father, Beauty has to decide whether to fulfill her promise to return to the Beast, knowing that not doing so may kill him.

     WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK: This story is all about the capacity for and the power of love. What better message is there? And this book captures it in a fresh telling. As a disclaimer, the illustrator was my group leader for a recent writing workshop and the book was a gift to all the attendees. But I didn't write this post out of gratitude even though I have plenty of that. I wrote the post because the book is a sensory delight. Beauty's changing hairstyles alone are a treat, but my favorite spread is Beauty looking at her family in her magic mirror, surrounded by sumptuous fabrics, jewels, and perfume bottles while the stone columns and even a tiny knob on an open drawer sport scowling faces while grain of the wood on the side of the dresser forms inlaid eyes squinting her direction. One column has a carved hand projecting from it holding a pitcher! Note: this version of the tale DOES NOT have the character of Gaston (and his death) and is appropriate for the youngest readers. Doing research for this post I also learned that the author and illustrator are husband and wife and that my 12x12 internet Friend Tanja Bauerle saw some of these illustrations in progress and posted the Kirkus review back in February! Small world (and a lucky woman).

     RESOURCES/ACTIVITIES: The most obvious activity for all ages is a discussion of the importance of appearances. Does it matter? Should it? 
     Older readers may want to compare this story to the Disney version. A lot of the online resources relate to the stage productions of Beauty and the Beast. 
     The ESL teaching workshop, ESL, has vocabulary and comprehension worksheets that could be modified to this version.
     You can view the first eight pages of Beauty and the Beast on HarperCollins Web Sampler. Read the Kirkus starred review here
    While not directly on point with this book, I found a fascinating storyteller's website, Beauty and the Beast Storytellers from Ithaca, NY who do school visits. Their teacher's guide relates to the the visual aspects of hearing a storyteller tell this story but some of the questions were thought provoking for all stories.
     The free coloring book pages I found online all use the caucasian Disney version of this story. Same for Beauty and the Beast cakes on Pinterest. If there are multicultural versions out there, let me know so I can link them!
     Find swatches of colorful fabric and dress up as characters from this version of the story. 
This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF 

I will be posting this summer, but no more perfect picture books until fall. Follow me to keep in touch!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Picture Book Boot Camp - June 2014

     I have been lying low the last two weeks. Ten days was vacation, which I will post about later because it was the most amazing volunteer vacation ever. The last four days was a picture book book camp hosted by the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, Pa.
Cabin #18 (19 and 20 in the background)

     The faculty for the four day experience included Pat Cummings, Bruce Degen, Denise Fleming, and Paul O. Zelinsky.
     Re-read that last sentence, picture book writers!
     Yes, I spent four days with picture book rock stars. The especially great thing about it was that these rock stars weren't twerking twerps, they were talented, generous, funny people who came with the purpose to help the nineteen writers who were accepted to the program.
     If that isn't enough to get your heart beating fast, the last two days of boot camp added Laurent Linn, Rachel Orr and Rotem Moscovich to the faculty. In addition to their vast knowledge of the picture book industry, these folks also shared their expert techniques on how to make s'mores. Count me among the initiated. Good stuff.
     I can't possibly capture everything I learned in this post, but I will share a few highlights of Highlights.
     1. Emotions are everything in a picture book. Your character MUST elicit an emotional response from the reader.

     2. Follow your passion in writing a story but before you submit the story to agents/editors be sure you know who the audience for your story will be.

My group leader, Pat Cummings, and me
     3. Black bears are big! Baby bears are cute. We got a visit from Mama and her baby before sunset of  the first night session. Sadly, I took a photo but in the excitement forgot to click "save" and so it is lost to the digital ether.

     4. Writers are a multi-talented bunch. Be prepared to share your talent(s) at a moments notice. I am hoping no one was taping my moment in the spotlight. . . .

     5. Keep working on new material. It may take ten years (or longer) to sell your story. 

    6. Set writing goals. Put in the work. Never stop.

    7. Hearing praise for your work and having supportive writing friends make #6 easier.

     8. The staff at Highlights will provide delicious food, morning yoga and a quiet place to work. Just do it.
     9. Everyone looks better in a mustache.
Paul O. Zelinsky

Laurent Linn

Denise Fleming and Pat Cummings
     My antiquated flip-phone photos of some of the other faculty didn't turn out. I'll post a few more in the writers and writing section of my blog.
     If you have any specific questions about this great event, shoot me an email or PM.

Friday, May 23, 2014

RAIN SCHOOL by James Rumford - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     Last Friday we had a deluge. Then another yesterday, complete with thunder shaking the ground. But from what I learned reading my selection for this week, our rain was nothing compared to the rainy season in Chad.  I drank in the account in Rain School. This book is four years old, but it isn't on the Perfect Picture Book Friday list. This is an oversight that must be corrected!

cover image from the Publisher's website
TITLE: Rain School
Author/Illustrator: James Rumford
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2010
Intended Ages: 4-8
Themes: School/education, Africa

Opening lines: In the country of Chad, it is the first day of school. The dry dirt road is filling up with children. Big brothers and big sisters are leading the way.

Synopsis: The story follows a young boy named Thomas from his first day of school in Chad until the end of the school year nine months later. His first lesson isn’t reading, writing or arithmetic. There are no computers. The first lesson is making bricks.

Why I like this book: Among the books I choose for Perfect Picture Book Friday are books that make me laugh. Books that make me cry. And books that make my eyes widen. This is an eye-widening book.
  The author lived in Chad as a Peace Corps volunteer and taught school there. The book is based upon his personal memory of coming upon the mud ruins of a primary school during the rainy season (summer vacation) as well as his own teaching experience.
    The illustrations in this book are all focused in the foreground. The dusty yellow-orange background conveys the feeling of desert heat and is the simple foil for the story about people and their desire for education. While the school may lack amenities that many of us would deem essentials, the joyous sense of community is palpable.
Resources/Activities: The author has a great page of questions relating to this book on his website relating to thinking about schools in other places and during other times in the past as well as using one picture to spark a story. He chose a Winslow Homer painting for the story spark, but you could choose any!
    Put a world map on the bulletin board and place a push pin for the setting/location of each story that you read. Starting with Chad, see if you can go around the globe. Learn about Chad on the CIA website here.
     Watch a Youtube video reading of the story. The note with the video indicates that Rain School is required for the NYS Common Core Curriculum in third grade.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF 

What has your weather been like? I keep reminding myself, the grass is always greener on the other side!

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Adventures of Beekle - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     Last week I teased you with my upcoming post! So for those of you who have been drooling --here it is.

TITLE: The Adventures of Beekle The Unimaginary Friend

Author/Illustrator: Dan Santat

Intended age:3-6
Themes: Friendship, imagination

Opening lines: “He was born on an island far away where imaginary friends were created. Here, they lived and played, each eagerly waiting to be imagined by a real child.”

Synopsis: The opening lines say it all. A creature who looks like a cross between a cotton ball and a marshmallow with legs wants to find the child who imagines him, the child who will be his perfect match. But when the child doesn’t appear, he sets out to find him/her.

Endpapers showing everyone paired up-except Beekle (sniff!)
What I liked about this story: Confession. Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer is my FAVORITE holiday show on television. I sing along with Clarice and my eyes well up at the Island of misfit toys every time. Even though I know what's coming, I fall under the spell. This story about first friendships has that same spell-spinning magic. When I read Beekle, I immediately thought of the characters on the Island of misfit toys waiting for someone to want them. So yeah, I got a little teary-eyed. Beekle is a simple story. One that won’t wow you with flashy language. But the simplicity is part of its charm. It’s a simple message—everybody needs somebody and we’re better for our friendships—and it’s well told. The text oozes sweetness and happiness. 
     The art is equally charming. We see Beekle's crown in the first spread but it isn't until three-quarters of the way through the story that we see the back of the crown up close and Santat reveals that it is a paper crown seamed in the back, taped together. Just what a child would imagine! The bright colors of Beekle's birthplace give way to muted colors in "the real world" but once he encounters children, the vibrant colors re-emerge. If Santat hasn't started making Beekle cuddly toys he should because this is the kind of character a reader wants to HUG!

Activities/Resources:  Watch the trailer. See if you agree that the author has a tribute to Max and Where the Wild Things Are in the story. Minh Le has a great interview with the the author on his Book Riot blog.
     Talk about how someone goes about making a friend.
     Pick a new name for yourself, or someone else.
     Make cupcakes (the ones in the book look like chocolate cake with vanilla icing!) to share with someone who might be a new friend. :) If you want to eat them all yourself - maybe it's an imaginary friend!
     Draw a picture of an imaginary friend.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF