Friday, May 29, 2015


 You may be familiar with the author/illustrator of today's selection from his Caldecott Honor illustrations for the NYT bestseller, Me . . . Jane. I love him for his comic strip, MUTTS, and his work for animal related causes. And now for this book, too.

TITLE: A PerfectLY MESSED-Up Story
Author/Illustrator: Patrick McDonnell
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2014
Intended Age: 3-6
Theme: Self-esteem, Anxiety
Opening Line: "This is Louie's story. Once upon a time, little Louie went skipping merrily along."

Synopsis: Louie becomes upset when jelly, peanut butter and messy crayon scrawls appear in the story.

What I like about this book: Nobody likes it when things don't go their way. But it's a fact of life that things often don't. And it isn't through the fault of planning or being prepared. Sometimes crap just happens. And Louie has to deal with this situation. This book reminds me of Pete the Cat with the added bonus of showing that Louie isn't a natural zen master. Patience, appreciation for what you have, and perseverance are skills that he (and readers!) can learn.


  • View the book trailer read on Youtube here. No spoiler alert needed for that. You can also see/hear the book read in its entirety on Youtube here (there are many versions-this is one read by a child)
  • The publisher provides a five page educator's guide. As a science nerd I love the inclusion of the examination of various nut butters (chunky and smooth)!The book is also included in Hachette/Little Brown's fall activity guide.
  • List what you can do when things don't go as planned- include all ideas, from anger to compromise and then discuss which ideas are the best ones for you.
  • Read all of Patrick McDonnell's books (listed here). Discuss how they are alike and different.
  • Examine a comic strip (preferably MUTTS!). How is the story-telling different than a book's?
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 
Thanks again for stopping by! :)

Friday, May 22, 2015

NINJA BUNNY by Jennifer Gray Olson - reviewed #PPBF

Ninja Bunny by  

Author/Illustrator:Jennifer Gray Olson
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015
Intended Age: 3-7 (I would say 3-5)
Theme: Teamwork, Friendship
Opening Line: "Rule 1: A super awesome ninja must always work alone."
Synopsis: A little bunny practicing to be a ninja comes up against a big brown bear.

What I like about this book: The cover art charmed me. Olson captures a child-like spirit and stance in her bunnies that kept me turning pages. The pictures provide the humorous reality to the understated, sparse text that is a list of rules to follow in order to become a ninja. The plucky book-reading bunny totes his how-to tome across the pages and with the bunny covered head to toe in ninja garb, the emotion is conveyed with a skillful adjustment of bunny eyebrows!


  • NOTE that there is an online web-comic Ninja Bunny character. This is NOT related to the book. I didn't read the entire (years!) blog for child-friendly content so you may not want to let children web search this on their own!
  • Ask children to compare the story and characters in NINJA BUNNY to THE THREE NINJA PIGS by Corey Rosen Schwartz, NINJA! by Arree Chung and Todd Tarpley's MY GRANDMA'S A NINJA. Which is their favorite story? Why?
  • List character traits for a ninja. Are they good or bad?
  • Discuss why we have rules. When can they be changed?
  • Write your own set of ninja rules.
  • For older readers, talk about what a ninja really is--not the comic portrayal. 
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

Note: I received a review copy from Random House/Knopf Books for Young Readers. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Thanks for stopping by! :) 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I Take You - adult fiction review

If you'd like to read my full review of this novel for adults, please go to
      I Take You by Eliza Kennedy is a fast-paced edgy read. Authentic dialogue and witty descriptions kept me turning pages.
     As a young lawyer, the heroine Lily Wilder is well-written and believable, however, I didn’t find her particularly likeable. The jacket flap describes her as charming and irrepressible but the only thing that others seem to be charmed by is her willingness to act inappropriately. She lacks self control in every aspect of her life and the reader isn’t given any background for her behavior so she felt flat and one-dimensional. We learn in the final chapters that perhaps she is just a product of her environment as her family members gathered for the Key West wedding are equally free-spirited. Only her grandmother and childhood boyfriend have a lick of sense and brought a joyous feeling to the text. 
     The story is propelled by the question whether Lily will marry her brilliant, hunky fiancĂ©. Meanwhile Lily continues her antics and notes social mores that have held men and women to different standards. What’s good for the gander should also be good for the goose. She defends her lifestyle while seeming depressed by it. But what really struck a false chord for me is when Lily has a hissy fit on page 222 upon learning that her fiancĂ© is dabbling in the same kind of conduct. And then one day later both characters agree to convert to monogamy. What?
     The turning point didn’t work for me.
     Lily’s story wants to have it both ways. I’d recommend this book to readers that like Looking for Mr. Goodbar or Fifty Shades of Gray

Note: I received a review copy from Blogging for Books. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My PA SCBWI Pocono retreat round-up

     The PA SCBWI held another Pocono writing retreat last weekend, and I was fortunate to be in attendance.
     Every time a local writing conference is announced I look at the calendar and my budget. But there are a few that shout "don't miss me!" The Pocono is one of those. Held at The Barn in Honesdale, PA owned by Highlights/Boyds Mills Press, the bucolic setting is the perfect place to clear your mind and energize your writing.
     The weekend started early--with peer critique groups at lunchtime on Friday. For me, the physical act of sending off a manuscript jars loose the ideas for revision and it's always helpful to get fresh opinions on my work.
     Friday evening, former Bloomsbury editor Laura Whitaker described what makes a writer desirable to an editor. I highlighted (big letters!) that your title, hook, and pitch letter are your calling card. If these don't shine, your fantastic manuscript may not get read. Publishing is a fast paced world and these folks are too busy to wade through things that don't catch their interest FAST. Think about the title that's going to be the first thing an editor sees in their email subject line!
     The keynote speaker Saturday morning was author/indie publisher Darcy Pattison. Needing to sell 100 books per day (not a misprint!) for a mid 30K salary, she described how she has made indie publishing work for her. At times it sounded as if she never slept, doing all of the writing, editing, art decisions, formatting, marketing, and distribution--whew!--but the reward was the editorial creativity that gives her the ability to make her books connect with the right readers.
     I attended two of author Leslie Helakoski's workshops on Saturday. I practiced wordplay, looking for the rhythm in language and the essence of a picture book's emotional resonance. I dissected successful picture books. I wondered if I really could cut my word counts in half. I was sorry to hear that Big Chickens was no longer in hardcover! Sunday morning, Leslie powered the room with her message of positivity. Isn't it great that we get to do what we do? The rejections fuel and teach us. Aren't they great?!
     Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette took the reins after Sunday morning's keynote, reminding us that we don't have to write hook-driven, voice-driven, plot-driven, theme-driven, character-driven masterpieces. We just need to pick our superpower! Focus on one of those manuscript elements to strengthen the overall book.
     I got feedback on the first page of a draft manuscript. I enjoyed breakfast, lunch and dinner with the faculty and other writers. Critiques with Laura Whitaker and Heather Flaherty were sprinkled through Saturday, giving me advice to chew on when I got home, tired but ready to write more. Write better. Write with passion.
     The speakers' presentations are their intellectual property so if you want more specific information than this you'll have to come to hear them speak at a conference!
     Maybe I'll see you there next year?!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress - #PPBF

     Last week I shared the first of two posts about picture books on the theme of individuality. I hope you enjoy the second recommendation! I'll be away this weekend at the Eastern Pennsylvania SCBWI Spring retreat, so I'll be reading comments (and catching up on the other picture books recommended this week!) next Monday.

TITLE: Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress
Author: Christine Baldacchino
Illustrator: Isabelle Malenfant
Publisher: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi, 2014
Intended Age: 4-7 (I think 3-10)
Theme: Individuality, Bullying, Gender Roles

Opening Line: "Morris Micklewhite has a mother named Moira and a cat named Moo."

Synopsis: The children in Morris' class tease him when he wears a dress from the costume box.

What I like about this book: The author tells us that Morris loves school and I believed it. I absolutely felt his pain when he stayed home because of teasing. The language is gorgeous. My FAVORITE lines:
"Morris likes the color of the dress. It reminds him of tigers, the sun and his mother's hair."
Did you get chills reading that!?
The issue of gender roles and gender identity is dealt with in a way that all children can relate to. It shouldn't matter if astronauts wear dresses. Boys or girls. It is a story about being different. It is also a great resource for families looking to expand their diverse book collection.
  • View the book trailer for Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress here.
  • Read a review in the Wisconsin English Journal that includes this as a "controversial" book. Why anyone would label this book controversial is hard to believe. The book was a Stonewall Honor Book for 2015 (a honor given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender experience) but the book isn't a treatise about gender. It's about a sweet, gentle, imaginative boy. Yes, it raises gender issues and awareness, but it does it as part of Morris' story, without agenda. I wrote my review before the Jenner interview and the Gray arrest in Baltimore but now it feels particularly timely as we explain those events to older children and remind them that part of life is accepting and getting along with all the people around us because we're all just people.
  • Let children select clothes from the dress-up box. Talk about why they selected what they did. Would they want to switch with the child next to them? Why or why not?
  • Ask children what color reminds each of their family. Would they want to wear this color?
  • List character traits for a good astronaut. Go to Nasa's astronaut selection page. Does it say anything about gender or dress code?
  • For older readers, the author wrote a thoughtful post about bullying and being bullied.
  • For further reading, Joanna Marple's review of this book can be found here. 
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
Thanks for stopping by! :)