Friday, March 29, 2013

Flabbersmashed About You - Perfect Picture Book Friday

In earlier posts this year I reviewed the most recent Charlotte Zolotow award winning book, JacquelineWoodson’s Each Kindness, and one of the honor books, Mara Rockliff’s Me and Momma and Big John. Today’s the day for the second Charlotte Zolotow honor book to have a moment in my spotlight.

Title: Flabbersmashed About You

Author: Rachel Vail

Illustrator: Yumi  Heo (Yumi has bios on several publishers sites but I couldn't find HER website. The link is to Scholastic's bio and visit kit page) For those of you on Facebook, you can go here.

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends, 2012

Audience: The publisher lists 4-8 but I would say 3-6 girls

Themes: Friendship, Fitting In, Helping Others

Opening: “My name is Katie Honors, and I’m a really friendly kid. I like to play with everybody, and they all like to play with me, too. I go on lots of playdates.”

Synopsis: When Katie's best friend decides to play with someone else during recess, Katie is "flabbersmashed." (a word made up by author Rachel Vail that captures the emotion perfectly--and is just plain fun to say, try it!). No one is ugly to each other. Her best friend isn't intentionally mean to Katie. It effectively captures a moment when one person feels left out, even when no one is to blame, and how someone else can turn the moment around.

Resources: MacMillan has a slide show with spread from the book here.
I was surprised that so many reviewers on Goodreads didn't like it as much as I did. Some clearly didn't read the book because it isn't about friends who have a falling apart and then make up. Whether or not they make up is left to the reader's imagination, and I think that's a great talking point. What does it mean to be best friends? Do you have to do everything together? Can three people be best friends? Four? 
I also learned that in 1935 the U.S. Congress proclaimed the first Sunday in August National Friendship Day. Cool holiday! These two sites one and two have a lot of friendship activities 

Have you read Flabbersmashed About You yet? Are there other books about feeling left out by a friend that you would recommend?

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Wooden Sword + The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street and Book Giveaway!

I was recently introduced to a new author. She isn’t new at writing, just new to me. 
She has generously set up a rafflecopter giveaway so you might win a signed copy of the two books I'm reviewing today. Read on to find out how to enter!

Ann Redisch Stampler is one of the genre-busting authors who writes and has had published both picture books and young adult fiction. Her 2010 picture book, The Rooster Prince of Breslov, was a Sydney Taylor Notable Book. I recently read two of Ms. Stampler's books, and although this is the older of the two, I had to write about it. I was unfamiliar with the historical interactions between Afghani Muslims and Jews and was captivated by this 2013 Sydney Taylor Honor story and illustrations. This story was a welcome respite from the somber images I usually associate with the country of Afghanistan.

Illustrator: Carol Liddiment
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Audience: ages 5-8
Themes: Folktales, Multi-cultural, Faith, Afghanistan, Jewish
Opening: “One starry night in old Kabul, the good shah couldn’t fall asleep.”

Synopsis: An Afghani shah disguises himself in his servant's clothes and goes out to find out if the people of the town are "sad or happy, rich or poor, foolish or wise." He meets a poor Jewish shoemaker who is willing to share what little he has and full of faith that everything will turn out as it should. To test the poor man's faith, the shah decrees that there will be no more shoe-mending on the streets of old Kabul. The shah tests him again and again until.....(the shoemaker's clever thinking at the climax brought a smile to my face, I won't give it away!).

Resources: When you search for "the wooden sword" online, you're likely to come up with a lot of links to The Sword of Zelda video game. These links are not relevant (unless you're also a gamer). Similar versions of the tale of The Wooden Sword are on the Unitarian Universalist website here. And the Hasidic stories website here. I enjoyed the final page of the book where the author talks about the history of the folktale. This is a good opportunity to talk about the nature of folktales and how stories change in re-tellings. The book is also a good springboard to talk about poverty in the world. Children can make a list of what they think people need in order to be happy. What do they need? What could they do without? Wikihow has directions for making a wooden sword (they say it looks cool but isn't too dangerous, but I say beware of anything long and sturdy kids can wave around!)

Now here's the BONUS! 
Since we didn't have Perfect Picture Book Friday last week, today is a two-fer by the same author. Ann has a new book, just released this week from Kar-Ben publishing.  The Facebook book link about her launch party in Los Angeles on March 23 is here. If you're in the area, please go and say "hi" to Ann! 
And--here's a review of: The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street.

Illustrator: Francesca Carabelli
Audience: 3-8
Themes: Cats, Companionship, Neighbors, Tolerance, Contemporary Israel
Opening: "Up and Down Ben Yehuda Street:  cats, cats, cats,"
I have seen the swarms of feral cats at the Coliseum in Rome. Apparently, Tel Aviv has a similar situation. The setting of the story is contemporary Tel Aviv and there are lots of cats on Ben Yehuda Street. In this story the friendship between a little grey cat and a fluffy white homeless stray brings two lonely adult neighbors together. Interestingly, like in The Wooden Sword, The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street has no young children as characters in the story yet I think it works well for a young audience. The pacing feels off to me in one or two places where the pages are especially text dense, but overall it's  wonderful story that showcases the power of opening ourselves up to other people (and animals!) around us. Mr. Modiano's transformation made even a devoted dog person like me smile.

Resources: As part of the book launch blog tour, there is a great interview with the author Ann Stampler here.    

These reviews are part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.

Other bloggers will be reviewing Ann's books this week and next--including a few 12x names you may recognize! Find the whole tour schedule at

Finally, here's how to enter the giveaway!

A rafflecopter giveaway for The Wooden Sword AND The Cats on Ben Yehuda Street.

Good luck everyone! I'm off to a conference today but I'll enjoy reading everyone's comments when I get back.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dollhouse Update

The beautiful dollhouse I posted about earlier this month (handcrafted by my husband) has a family!

A local charity identified a pre-school girl who will love it. 

We dropped the house off to the charity yesterday so they can present it to her. 

I love happy endings. :)

The next house was started today...a castle!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Just Spring" contest entry- Spring's Promise

     This short story is for Susanna Hill’s “Just Spring” Contest.  The entries have to be stories for children. They can be prose or verse, and no age of the audience was specified. The entry has to be 350 words or under. (I came in exactly at 350!) and end with the line, “[character name] knew spring was here at last!”  The deadline is March 18th.  To read more about the contest visit   Wish me luck!  

Purple martin
                     Spring's Promise

        Since Dad’s accident, Mom was at the hospital all the time.

Instead of pizza Friday night, Maya and Pearl had to eat whatever the neighbors had kindly delivered.

It had only been a week, but nothing was the same.

“I want to go outside,” Pearl complained. “Grandma promised. But she fell asleep.”

Maya forced a smile. “C’mon,” she said. She couldn’t make Dad better. She couldn’t cook dinner. But she could play with Pearl.

She flipped her collar up against the wind.

“Look!” Pearl pointed to a nest on the ground.

“It probably came down in the wind,” Maya said. “Don’t worry. It’s from last year. Most birds haven’t come north yet.”

She walked toward the metal pole in the middle of the yard. The bottom half of the pole to their purple martin houses. Purple martins were Dad’s favorite birds. He even talked back to them, imitating their joyful gargling sound. She helped him clean the houses each winter.

“We’ll put the houses back up on Saturday,” Dad had said last weekend. “To be ready for the scouts.” 

Then the truck rear-ended Dad’s van.

What would happen if a scout came, and the house wasn’t up?

Dad would be sad. Their yard would be quiet. And buggy. Purple martins ate a lot of mosquitoes. Maya thought of Dad again.

He wanted the houses up.

Maya could barely lift the houses. Another pole attached to the underside. She couldn’t balance it over her head to slip it onto the pole in the ground.

“Let’s go!” she told Pearl.

“I don’t want to go in,” Pearl groused.

Maya took Pearl’s hand and went next door.

Mr. Landers answered her knock. “What can I do for you?”

Maya explained the problem.

Before Mom came home, Mr. Landers had the house up.

“You shouldn’t have,” Mom said. “Everyone has done so much already.”

“Just glad to hear Don is doing better,” Mr. Landers said.

“Look!” Maya pointed to a lone bird circling overhead. “It’s a scout!” And she smiled for the first time in a week.

Maya knew Spring was here at last.


Thanks for stopping by to read! I appreciate knowing what you think in the comments.
I'm betting there will be a lot of stories to check out this week. Stop by Susanna's blog to read the others if you get a chance.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bug Patrol - Perfect Picture Book Friday

Last month I won a picture book on Kathy Temean’s “Writingand Illustrating” blog. After what I had read about Denise Dowling Mortensen’s Bug Patrol, I expected a totally silly read. But Bug Patrol is a chameleon of a story. The silly premise and adorably whimsical illustrations are the foil for a story about police work and proper behavior.

Title: Bug Patrol

Illustrator: Cece Bell

Publisher: Clarion, 2013

Audience: 4-8

Themes: Time telling, Police work, Manners

Opening: “ 9 A.M.

            Behind the wheel,

            Riding in

            My Bug Mobile.

            Coffee, cruller,

            Cruise control.

            I’m Captain Bob,

            Bug Patrol.

Synopsis: Told in playful verse, Bug Patrol follows Captain Bob through a day of police work in the insect world with tongue-in-cheek references to donut-eating police officers and roach motels. Instead of one over-arching conflict, the book uses a series of vignettes to power the story. Insect crimes include rude conduct, fender benders, speeding and noise violations. Busy Captain Bob saves lost fleas and finds safe housing for roaches, too!

Activities/Resources:To get a taste of this book watch the book trailer.  

Cynthia Leitich Smith interviewed the author on the subject of mining childhood memories in her work. Write a list of your daily activities, check the times with Captain Bob's schedule in the book. Schedule a visit to your local police station or an insectarium. Discuss the importance of following rules. Practice what to do if you get lost.

This book is a great read aloud!

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Spring Break

     Today's post isn't about writing per se. 

     It is Spring Break at my house. Everyone is sleeping late and mellow for a week! But I'll treat you to some creativity all the same. My husband likes to build things, too. Just not with words. With wood.

     The last dollhouse he built was a castle. He donated it to the local YMCA for a charity raffle. 

     The current house is a center hall colonial with a beautiful wooden staircase to the second floor (these photos don't do it justice). He hasn't decided what to do with the latest one yet. And yes, he put in crown molding and wooden door frames. The hundreds of wooden roof shingles were cut by hand.

     Our family is nothing if not precise.

     The living room paint is our living room. The yellow kitchen is our kitchen. The bright orangey paint in the bedroom is actually our laundry room. The blue exterior and maroon colors are from other projects (too dark for me!).

     The top tilts up on a child-safe hinge so you can store furniture or figures there. It really is gorgeous and he is so smart!


Friday, March 1, 2013

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel – PPBF

In a short discussion about picture book biographies, a fellow participant in Julie Hedlund’s 12x challenge reminded me of this book on my shelf. While we are used to seeing picture books with child, or child-like protagonists, biographies are one area in which adults are prevalent. The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau is unusual perhaps because there isn’t a hint of Henri’s childhood. The opening takes my breath away-imagining Henri beginning his artistic journey. The illustrations are similarly inspiring, done in Rousseau’s style--lush, bold and playful.

Title: The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau  
Author: Michelle Markel 
Illustrator: Amanda Hall
Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2012 Audience: 3+ years of age 
Themes: Art, Dignity, Persistence, Self-Belief

Opening:  “Henri Rousseau wants to be an artist. Not a single person has ever told him he is talented. He’s a toll collector. He’s forty years old. But he buys some canvas, paint, and brushes, and starts painting anyway.”

Synopsis: Readers expecting quick success will be disappointed. Henri Rousseau endured years of criticism and derision from the art community in Paris. But he knew that he wanted to paint, he knew it made him feel alive, it let him visit exotic places in his mind, and so he kept painting. It wasn’t until late in his life that he enjoyed a modicum of success.

Activities/Resources:To get a taste of this book you can visit Eerdman's book trailer: Author Michelle Markal has a discussion guide for the book on her website. This book is a useful springboard for discussing why some people like certain types of art and how art is valued. Then grab the markers, paints, pencils and crayons and make some art!

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.