author spotlight, Bible, Interview, review

AUTHOR AND BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Meet Amy Houts and her NEWEST Faith-Based Book for Kids (Plus a GIVEAWAY!)

Look what landed on my porch! It’s children’s author Amy Houts’ newest release, CHRISTIAN Q & A BOOK FOR KIDS. Published by Rockridge Press it came out this month and it’s full of simple, kid-friendly answers to 100 questions kids age 6 – 9 might have about Christianity.

MY THOUGHTS: I am always on the lookout for good resources to teach little ones about faith and this one fits the bill. I appreciate the simple Q & A format with one question answered on each page. The questions are perfect for the target age group, but also thoughtful and deep enough to resonate with the caregivers reading alongside them. I also give a thumbs up to Amy for including a scripture reference in each answer. I think book is a great tool for sparking meaningful conversations with our kids about what Christianity is all about. I can’t wait to share it with my Sunday School class.

Now, in celebration of the book’s release, I am honored to have Amy on the blog with an interview. Let’s get started.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Amy, and congratulations your newest faith-based children’s book. What inspired you to take on this project?

Thank you for having me, Laura! I had learned about Callisto Media, the parent company of Rockridge Press, through another writer. Big shout out to Annette Whipple, who took the time to answer all my questions. Thank you! I contacted the company in February of 2021 by email and asked if they would add me to their database of writers. Then I waited. In November, 2021 I wrote a follow-up email specifically asking if they had a faith-based book assignment. Right place, right time! In early December, an acquisitions editor contacted me to see if I was interested in writing Christian Q&A Book for Kids. This publisher screens authors before awarding a contract by asking for a writing prompt. I was thrilled to be chosen to write this book. It has been such an inspiring challenge!

I’m so glad you took on the project. It seems right up your alley and I have to say that the questions you have chosen are spot-on for this age group. How did you select them?

First, I thought of my three grandchildren, a girl who was 5 and twin boys who were 8 at the time I started writing. I thought about questions they might have and asked them what questions they had. Each contributed one question to the book. I read books I owned and looked online at similar books, searched websites that answered faith-based  questions, and brainstormed. Since I’ve written other books for children and taught  3-6-year olds at Head Start, I knew the questions and answers needed to be very basic.  

You did a great job! Do you have any tips for ways families and churches can use this book? 

Families and children’s ministries can read and discuss one or more questions and answers at a specific time. The appendix includes good times and ways to start discussions, for example, focus on one question at the dinner table. This book is meant as a jumping off point to help clarify basic information and dive deeper into issues that are important. Parents and children can research together. 

Besides keeping this book at the ready, what advice would you give parents and caregivers who want to share their faith with their kids? 

Children are encouraged to think of and write down new questions and a few pages are provided in the book to do that. Having an open heart and mind is important—both for you and the children in your life. Be accepting of their questions, even if they express doubt. Asking questions increases understanding and strengthens faith. 

Finally, what’s next? Are there more books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

I have a Biblically-based Earth Care (climate change) book releasing from Bushel & Peck in March, 2023. I recently started a new assignment to write 5 books for young children with a South Korean educational publisher, Reading Gate. 

You have so many exciting things on the horizon. I can’t wait to check them all out. Thank you so much for joining us. Readers, learn more about Amy and her books in the bio and links below. And don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of the post.

BIO: Amy is the author of over 100 books for children featuring early learning concepts. She writes for both faith-based and mainstream publishers. Amy’s faith-based books include God’s Protection Covers Me (Beaming Books) and The Giant Book of Bible Fingerplays for Preschoolers (Group Publishing). Amy’s educational books include 60 retold tales for the series, Compass Children’s Classics, 2020. Her 10 nonfiction science early readers for Highlights Press were released in 2020.

FIND AMY HERE:

Christian Q&A Book for Kids: https://amzn.to/3zBo3Of

Website: www.amyhouts.com

Twitter and Instagram: @AmyHouts

Facebook: “Author Amy Houts”

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a fresh-off-the-press copy of CHRISTIAN Q & A BOOK FOR KIDS (Rockridge Press, August 2022) follow this blog and leave a comment letting us know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Rockridge Press, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Monday, August 15, 2022 at 11:59 pm EST. This giveaway is now over. The winner is announced here.

[Note: Thank you, Amy, for sending me a copy of the book which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

author spotlight, Bible, faith, Interview, Picture Books

BAPTIZED IN THE WATER: An Interview with Glenys Nellist

Today, I’m delighted to host best-selling Christian children’s author Glenys Nellist for an interview in celebration of her newest release with Zonderkidz, BAPTIZED IN THE WATER. This colorful picture book showcases beautifully diverse renderings of children and adults being baptized by the many varying means across Christian denominations. It got me thinking about my own baptism at age 12 via immersion in a little missionary church in Paris, France! As part my baptism, I also spoke aloud my profession of faith – that I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I’m so glad I took that step all those years ago, for it has made all the difference in this journey called life. Maybe the book will get you thinking about baptism memories as well. And now for the interview, with my questions in blue to match the lovely cover of the book. (Oh, and there’s a giveaway so be sure to check that out at the end of the post.)

Welcome, Glenys, what inspired you to write a book about baptism?

Since I’m married to a pastor, I have had the privilege of witnessing many baptisms. In our denomination the water is poured or sprinkled, but I’ve also been present at baptisms where the person was fully immersed. Each time I’ve attended this sacred event, no matter where, or how, or when it occurred, it simply felt that we were celebrating our belonging in one wonderful, united family in Christ. The inspiration, then, for writing a book on baptism came from a desire to celebrate this oneness, this unity in Christ, despite the varying traditions or beliefs that may be held. For me, baptism is a beautiful, holy, mysterious moment that none of us really understands. I hope that Baptized in the Water captures some of the mystery and meaning of this ancient sacrament. 

How do you hope churches and families will use the book?

I hope that pastors, Christian Educators, Sunday school teachers, parents and grandparents might use Baptized in the Water to inspire curious conversations with children about the mystery and meaning of baptism. I know that many churches and families have also bought the book as a baptism gift, which is wonderful!

Do you have a favorite spread?

Anna Kazimi did a beautiful job with the diverse illustrations and it’s hard to pick just one!  But I really love the following spread, because it illustrates all the different ways to be baptized.

Are there any special resources that go along with the book that readers might enjoy?

Yes! I wrote this free downloadable Activity Pack to accompany the book, which includes tips for talking with children about baptism as well as signed bookplates, commemorative bookmarks and a certificate. 

Finally, what’s next in the pipeline?

In July my next picture book with Beaming Books will be published, called Little Mole Goes to School, and then in the fall, I have three board books releasing. Good News! It’s Creation! and Good News! God Loves You (Our Daily Bread publishers) make their appearance in September, and the seventh in the Snuggle Time series, Snuggle Time Love, (Zonderkidz) hits the shelves in December. So it’s another busy year for me!

Thank you, Glenys, for joining me today. I wish you the very best with this and all your books.

BIO Glenys Nellist was born and raised in a little village in northern England. The author of multiple children’s books, including the bestselling ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas, The Wonder That is You, and five popular series: Love Letters from God, Snuggle Time, ‘Twas, Good News and Little Mole, her writing reflects a deep passion for helping children discover joy and hope in the world. Glenys lives in Michigan with her husband, David. Connect with her here:

Author Website Instagram

Facebook Twitter

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of BAPTIZED IN THE WATER (Zonderkidz, 2022) follow this blog and comment below saying you’d like to be entered. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Zonderkidz, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Monday, 6/6/22 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced the next day! 

[Note: Thank you to the publisher for an advance copy at the book. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

author spotlight, Interview, Picture Books

RIBBIT! THE TRUTH ABOUT FROGS: An Interview with Author Annette Whipple

Children’s author Annette Whipple is celebrating a book birthday this week! Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs, her newest book in the Truth About Series, published by Reycraft, released this Tuesday. Like her other books in the series, this one is chock full of fascinating facts presented in a kid-friendly, engaging way. The accompanying photographs are beautiful and the layout is appealing to both kids and grown ups. I give it a froggy thumbs up! And now, in the extra special category, I’m delighted to have Annette here today for a bookish interview with my questions in bold.

First, congratulations on this newest book in your series from Reycraft. Please tell us a little bit about the series and how you came to write it and how you landed on the topic of frogs in particular.

Thanks so much, Laura! It’s great to be back! The Truth About series began with Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls. It took me year to figure out how to write it so it would be of interest to readers. I finally landed on the question-and-answer format and added the humorous sidebars. I knew I loved the structure and thought readers (and publishers) would, too.

Since then Reycraft and I have discussed additional books to make it a series. In 2021 we added Woof! and Scurry! Now we have Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs, too. Frogs was on my list of animals that are diverse enough to include tons of beautiful photographs. I knew they were cool before, but I didn’t realize just how TOAD-ally awesome they are until I began researching.

What a great series!  And I agree that the question-and-answer format works beautifully.  It also pairs well with something kids are famous for – asking questions! 

Speaking of kids, the kid in me really enjoyed the illustrated “Leaping Legs” feature of the book. Can you explain what those are and how you came up with them?

Each page spread includes an illustrated sidebar called “Leaping Legs.” In it, the frogs talk and share a bit more information with the reader—often in a humorous way. During my brainstorming process, I knew I wanted to add a bit of humor to the books, but I also didn’t want the main text to be silly or funny. I love layers of text and sidebars in other books. That’s when I realized an illustrated sidebar would be perfect—especially with the animals talking.

I think my readers will be curious about what your research process was like for this book. Did you meet a lot of frogs along the way?

I used my typical resources: books, websites, scientific journals, and YouTube. My favorite website was https://amphibiaweb.org/. I also met up with a herpetologist with the Delaware Nature Society. 

He clarified some questions I had and we definitely met some frogs. It was early enough in the spring that wood frogs and spring peepers were the main attraction. But we spotted lots of eggs and heard the calls of a lot of frogs—even in the daytime. 

Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum, and I think that’s especially true for a STEM rich book like this. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

Oh, I love this question because frogs are so much fun and really an easy way to celebrate curiosity! I created a frog teacher guide (which is also great for home use). I included 19 frog ELA and STEM activities. And it’s free!

Finally, what’s next? Are there more books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

I’m excited to say that Meow! The Truth About Cats will come out in the fall! You can see Meow’s cover in this trailer for The Truth About series. (It’s quick!)

I don’t have any official news to share about additional titles, but I hope to tell something in an upcoming newsletter and on social media sooner than later. 😊 

Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs and all of my books are available wherever books are sold. Ask for them at your favorite local bookstore or find them at online retailers. I’d love it if you’d request your local library to carry Ribbit! 

Thanks so much for having me, Laura! If your readers want to learn more about me or check out my resources for writers and educators, they can hop over to my website at www.AnnetteWhipple.com .

Thanks for joining me here today, Annette. I am requesting your books for purchase at my library!

author spotlight, Interview, Picture Books

COVER REVEAL: Rosanne L. Kurstedt’s AND I THINK ABOUT YOU (Plus an Interview!)

THURSDAY JOY! Picture book author Rosanne L. Kurstedt has a new picture book releasing this September with Kids Can Press and the cover is just starting to pop up on the web, so I asked if she’d be my guest for a cover reveal and interview. She said yes!  

First a little introduction: 

Written by Rosanne L. Kurstedt and illustrated by Ya-Ling Huang, AND I THINK ABOUT YOU poignantly captures the love and connection shared by a working mama bear and her cub. During the day, they are apart, but they are always thinking of each other. Told with the feel of a letter (or love song) from mama to child, it is just the kind of story I would have loved to snuggle up with with my own kids when they were little. Rosanne’s warm text pairs nicely with Ya-Ling’s dreamy watercolor illustrations. It’s delightful.

And now, the interview:

Laura: Thank you for joining me here today, Rosanne. What inspired the story?

Rosanne: The story was inspired by a bedtime ritual my older son and I developed.

Laura: I love how a simple bedtime ritual turning into a special bonding tradition.  It makes me remember fondly some of the seemingly little things I did with my kids, that became rituals or traditions of their own kind – but none exactly like this. 

Laura: What are you most excited about for its release in September?

Rosanne: There are so many things I’m excited about – but what I’m most excited about is connecting with families—hearing them talk about the book and also learning about some of the rituals they’ve developed. 

Laura: Thanks again for joining me here today, Rosanne. I can’t wait for the book to release. I am certain it will spark rich conversation, not only at your visits, but also afterwards, as parents and children use your delightful story as a spark to build their own special together-time traditions.

Learn more about Rosanne and her books here:

Website: https://www.rlkurstedt.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RLKurstedtAuthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rlkurstedt/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RLKurstedt

author spotlight, Guest Blog, Picture Books

FIVE FUN FACTS about HERE WE COME with Author Janna Matthies (And a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I’m delighted to have children’s author and music teacher Janna Matthies here to share five fun facts about her newest book HERE WE COME!, published by Beach Lane Books and illustrated by Christine Davinier. Here’s the official teaser from the publisher’s website:

Join a cast of friends, human and animal alike, as they embark on a musical read-aloud adventure in this upbeat, joyful picture book.

A boy sets off with his flute and his stuffed bear and a rum-pum-pum. As they make their way through the town and the woods, they ask, “Wanna come?” Soon, kids and creatures join in the fun one by one, playing instruments, singing, and dancing to the catchy tune. 

But will a storm bring their fun-filled musical parade to an end?

I was delighted to receive a review copy of this book which has universal appeal for anyone who has ever tapped a beat with their feet or sung in the shower or out in the beautiful outdoors. It certainly brought back beautiful memories from my own childhood as well as my children’s of making music in creative and impromptu ways by clapping, stomping, tapping, humming, and singing at the top of our lungs. For all these reasons, I think it would make a wonderful addition to a home or school or town library. And now, enjoy Janna’s five fun facts. And remember to enter the giveaway at the end of the post.

HERE WE COME! Five Fun Facts

by Janna Matthies

#1: HERE WE COME! is a moonlit, musical adventure. But when I wrote the story, I envisioned it taking place during the day with only human children. The illustrator, Christine Davenier, took the story to the next level by setting the scene after bedtime and bringing in both kids and animals. Don’t you love the jolly bear with the violin, and the pair of clapping hedgehogs? Like any excellent picture book, the telling of this story was shared 50/50 between author and illustrator. I couldn’t be more thrilled by the nighttime blues and violets, and the whimsical charm of all the characters as they gather for a joyous march!

#2: I’d fit right into this musical parade. I have always been drawn to music-making, starting piano lessons at the age of four, violin at eight, singing in high school, and picking up guitar as an adult. In fact, when I’m not writing books for kids, I teach music to PreK and kindergartners at an elementary school. So every week you can find me singing, dancing and playing guitar and percussion instruments of all kinds with kids. Speaking of guitar, that’s what I had in mind when I wrote the line “a pick and a strum”. But if you look closely at the strumming dog in this story, his instrument is small has four tuning pegs (instead of six like a guitar)—it’s a ukulele!

#3: One of the most fun things about writing this book was finding just the right words that rhyme with “come”. The story began with a line that popped into my head: “Here we come with a rum-pum-pum…wanna come?”. I immediately knew I wanted to continue the tale by adding more musical sounds, and that each new phrase needed to end in a rhyme with “come”. So I brainstormed a long list and was able to use most of them. At the very end, I almost used the phrase “Anyone for a plum?” but decided “Some yum for the tum?” was more open-ended and fun. Can you think of any other words rhyming with “come” that I didn’t use?

#4: Something else I love about Christine Davenier’s illustrations is the path the characters follow from village, through forest and into the countryside. Christine is from France, and you might notice a European flair to her scenes. At the same time, this setting takes me back to my own childhood in suburban Ohio. A wooded creek ran through my neighborhood, and my best friend Elizabeth and I often tromped through while singing and imagining stories and poems. Do you have a favorite outdoor place? What stories can you imagine taking place there?

#5: While this book features instruments like a whistle/recorder, ukulele, violin/fiddle, and drum, the story is about making music any way you like! Music can be made with the voice, on real or homemade instruments (think beads in a plastic bottle, or rubber bands across a box), or simply with sounds that occur in daily life or nature—like dripping rain, stomping feet, the honking of car horns. Rhythm and melody are everywhere, and everyone is invited! WANNA COME? How do you like to make music?

BIO: Janna Matthies is a picture book author and early-elementary music teacher in Indianapolis. Her books include HERE WE COME! (Beach Lane Books/S&S); GOD’S ALWAYS LOVING YOU (WorthyKids); TWO IS ENOUGH (Running Press Kids), THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN (Albert Whitman) and others. When she’s not read, writing or making music, Janna enjoys gardening, walking her dog, and spending time with her husband and three mostly-grown kids. 

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of HERE WE COME!  (Beach Lane, 2022) follow this blog and comment below with your favorite fact from today’s post. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Janna, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Thursday, 3/31/22 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced the next day! 

[Note: Thank you to the publisher for an advance copy at the book which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

author spotlight, devotional, Extension Activity, faith

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts about FRUIT FULL with Christie Thomas

Today I am delighted to have Christian children’s author Christie Thomas as my guest. She’s here today to share five fun facts about her newest release with Kregel Publications, FRUIT FULL: 100 Family Experiences For Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit. This is just the kind of resource I would have LOVED when my kids were little and it’s a wonderful resource for anyone in Christian family ministry. Here’s an excerpt from the official description:

“Christie Thomas is skilled at taking complex ideas and making them accessible to kids . . . and adults learn a lot along the way too. Each of her devotions is designed to help parents connect their children with the Holy Spirit through a Scripture passage, thought-provoking questions, ways to apply each verse, and a prayer. And for each fruit, parents can use the optional hands-on activities when there’s extra time.”

Sounds great, right? And now for FIVE FUN FACTS about the book from the author herself.

Five Fun Facts about FRUIT FULL with Christie Thomas

Fun Fact #1: Fruit Full led me full circle to a lovely editor I had connected with in 2016. She really liked another project of mine, but we fell off each other’s radars. Four years later, she had moved to another publisher and the proposal for Fruit Full came across her desk. She recognized my name and now here we are in 2022 with a book!

Fun Fact #2: With my previous devotional book, I read every one of the devotions with each 3 of my boys because it was a new way of writing for me and I wanted to make sure I wrote on their level. With Fruit Full, I had less time to write and more devotions to write, so each of my boys heard about 40% of the book. It’s fun to read it with them now, because it’s fresh for all of them! 

Fun Fact #3: There’s one story in the book where I explained how my apple tree didn’t even flower for several years, and I later discovered it was because I had given it the wrong fertilizer. I didn’t say it in the book, but the wrong fertilizer…was urine! I had been asking my potty-training boys to pee near the tree when in the backyard for years because I thought it would be good for the tree. Turns out, urine has a lot of nitrogen, which is perfect for leaf growth but too much can stunt flowering and fruiting. Oops! 

Fun Fact #4: I originally wanted to add a hands-on family activity to each devotion, but we realized it would make it feel too overwhelming for families. Instead, we put a list of simple activities at the beginning of each section for families to pick and choose from when they had time. 

Fun Fact #5: There’s a smaller devotional book tucked inside Fruit Full. At the end of each fruit-themed section (Love, Joy, Peace, etc) there are three devotions specifically on the Easter part of Jesus’ life. These could be tied together for a shorter, 27-day reading plan specifically connected with Easter.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Christie. I know your book will be a blessing to many. And I have one closing question for our readers. Which fact was your favorite? (I’m partial to #3 and I also love how Christie’s kids are involved in her devotional writing process.)

Christie’s books are available wherever books are sold.

Connect with Christie on her other platforms:

Website: https://littleshootsdeeproots.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChristieThomasLittleShoots 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/littleshootsdeeproots/?hl=en 

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.ca/cthomaswriter/ 

BIO: Christie Thomas is a homeschool mom of 3 and former Children’s Ministries Director. She is the author five books for Christian kids, including Quinn’s Promise Rock  and The Mother and Son Prayer Journal. Her newbook, the Christ-centered devotional, Fruit Full: 100 Family Experiences for Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit, waswritten over many late nights beside a cold cup of blueberry tea. She lives in Western Canada and spends her time homeschooling, digging in the garden (when it’s not under 2 feet of snow) and equipping Christian families to disciple their kids.

author spotlight, Picture Books

FIVE FUN FACTS about YOU’RE THE HUGS TO MY KISSES with Barbara Herndon (And a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I’m delighted to have former Zonderkidz acquisitions editor Barbara Herndon as my guest. I got to know Barbara professionally ten years ago. She acquired my debut picture book, Goodnight, Ark plus three more after that. What a treat, then, to learn that she now has a picture book releasing with Zonderkidz. Full of fun rhymes that celebrate the joy of loving others and embracing the special connections that caring for others brings, You’re the Hugs to my Kisses is a perfect pick for Valentine’s Day or any time of year. Barbara’s bouncy rhyme is fun to read and Diane Ewan’s illustrations stand out for their colorful and wonderfully diverse cast of children and loved ones of all ages enjoying each others’ company in various delightful ways. Take a moment to enjoy the book trailer, then get ready to smile as Barbara shares five fun facts about the book. (And don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end for a chance to win a SIGNED copy of this delightful new book.)

Five Fun Facts

YOU’RE THE HUGS TO MY KISSES

By Barbara Herndon

Fun Fact #1: It all began with a donut.

From the time I was a child, my mother loved donuts. It was a wonderful treat that my dad would present to her for special occasions like Mother’s Day and her birthday. A delicious dozen that always included her favorite, jelly sticks. Many years later my mom still loves her donuts, and when I brought her some and she said to me, “You’re the jelly to my donut”, a book idea was born. I began to think of other popular pairings and similar phrases (“You’re the milk to my cookies” “You’re the ketchup to my French fries”) that I thought might be fun to compile in a children’s book. “You’re the jelly to my donut” is still my favorite phrase (for obvious reasons) and the one that begins the book. ☺

Fun Fact #2: This children’s book is not just for children.

When I first wrote the manuscript, You’re the Hugs to My Kisses, I was thinking this book would be filled with a diverse group of children. But the more I worked on the text, the more I began to imagine the pages filled with people of all ages, representing all sorts of relationships. We ended up including a variety of children (friends and siblings), parents, grandparents, pets, as well as an older couple dancing under the stars and a younger couple sharing a cupcake in the park. We all have people in our lives that mean the world to us, and I wanted to create a book where everyone young and old could find themselves reflected in the pages. 

Fun Fact #3: I not only wrote the manuscript, I helped choose the illustrator.

In children’s picture book publishing it’s very unusual for the author to have a say in the look and style of the final product. Usually, the manuscript is acquired by an editor and that person casts their vision, researches artists, and makes their final decision based on input from the creative department as well as the sales and marketing teams. Because I previously worked as an acquisitions editor at Zonderkidz (and choosing artists was a large part of my job), they welcomed my input and direction. I fell in love with Diane Ewan’s style right away and felt she would be perfect to capture the joy, whimsy, and heart of this book. And I will be forever grateful that the Zkidz team agreed.

Fun Fact #4: I’ve read this book aloud more times than I can count.

Because picture books are meant to be a shared experience and read aloud with a child, it’s very important for me to hear how the book sounds as I’m writing the manuscript. As I worked on the text, I would continually read it out loud from start to finish to make sure the phrases flowed and nothing made me stumble in the reading. It’s not an exaggeration to say I probably read this material out loud hundreds of times before anyone ever saw the manuscript.

Fun Fact #5: Once you start thinking of these phrases, you can’t stop.

Once I started brainstorming the book thinking of the phrases (You’re the X to my Y) I couldn’t stop! I have a very long list of these pairings that didn’t make the cut. Fortunately, I’m channeling this obsession into a holiday sequel that I hope to share with my publisher very soon. ☺

Thank you, Barbara! I think Fact #2 is my favorite! I wonderful which fact my readers will pick. I wish you the best and look forward to reading more of your books.

BIO: Barbara began writing for children on the award-winning animated series Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys. After writing and producing children’s television and film projects for Nickelodeon, Paramount, Disney, PBS, Cartoon Network, National Geographic Kids, and American Greetings, Barbara turned her focus to children’s publishing. A lifelong fan of picture books, Barbara worked as an acquisitions editor for HarperCollins Publishing, acquiring and developing a long list of successful projects including Amazon editor’s pick I Love You, Funny Bunny and the New York Times bestselling Fiona the Hippo.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a SIGNED copy of  YOU’RE THE HUGS TO MY KISSES (Zonderkidz, 2022) simply post a comment below letting me know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Barbara, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Friday, 2/4/22 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced the next day! 

[Note: Thank you to Zonderkidz for sending me an advanced copy of this book which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

author spotlight, Christmas, faith, Guest Blog

‘Twas the Season of Advent: FIVE Family Activities around the Christmas Tree with Glenys Nellist (Plus a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I am delighted to welcome back beloved children’s book author Glenys Nellist. Glenys has two new books out just in time for the Christmas season. One is a bible story book called I WONDER: EXPLORING GOD’S GRAND STORY. It includes thirty vivid retellings with three “I wonder” questions at the conclusion of each. The other is an advent devotional for families called ‘TWAS THE SEASON OF ADVENT: STORIES AND DEVOTIONS FOR THE CHRISTMAS SEASON. It is comprised of 25 readings, stories and prayers. Published by Zonderkidz, both are wonderful and my mind is already abuzz with ideas for how I can incorporate them into my role as Sunday school teacher as well as using them for our family advent readings this December.

Now enjoy a special guest post from Glenys as she shares some ideas for family activities around the Christmas tree. Zonderkidz is also offering a copy of each book in a giveaway so be sure to read about that at the end of the post. And now, without further fuss, here’s Glenys:

Five Family Activities Around the Christmas Tree

by Glenys Nellist

The season of Advent is a wonderful time to make memories and establish family traditions with our children. Set aside some time each night to gather around the Christmas tree and enjoy these activities together.

  1. Celebrate Advent: Begin a new family tradition from Dec 1-Dec 25 by reading one story per day from Twas the Season of Advent. Countdown to Christmas using the family activities and the 25 free, downloadable Advent images available here.
  1. Favorite Ornament: Have everyone choose a favorite ornament from the tree. Take turns telling each other why you chose that one.
  2. Wondering About the Birth of Jesus: Download your free coloring sheet of the birth of Jesus from the I Wonder Coloring Pack. If you have a copy of the book, read the Christmas story together, or simply talk about what you see in the pictures. Spend some time talking about the three I Wonder questions. Then color the picture together.
  1. Light of The World: Turn off all the lights in the room except the lights on the Christmas tree. Sit quietly for a few minutes as you think and talk about how Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus said that we should let our light shine. Brainstorm how you could be a light in your family or neighborhood this Christmas.
  2. Favorite Memories: Take turns sharing your favorite memories of the past year. Now write about (or draw) them. Put each in its own envelope or a special box and save them. Next year, open and read them around the tree.

Happy memory-making!

Thank you, Glenys, for sharing these terrific ideas.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE  two-book bundle that includes one copy each of TWAS THE SEASON OF ADVENT and I WONDER: EXPLORING GOD’S GRAND STORY both written by Glenys Nellist and published by Zonderkidz let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Monday 11/22/21 at 11:59 pm Eastern. The winner will be announced the next day.

[Note: Thank you to Zonderkidz for sending me an advanced copy of each of these books which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

author spotlight, Guest Blog, Picture Books

FIVE FUN FACTS about GRAMA’S HUG with Picture Book Author-Illustrator Amy Nielander

Did you know that Sunday, September 12th was Grandparents’ Day? It’s a holiday I was unfamiliar with before my picture book LOVE IS KIND came out, but one which I quickly came to embrace, not only because LOVE IS KIND celebrates the special bond between Little Owl and his grammy, but also because I dedicated that book to my own grandmothers.

Now each year, I look forward to Grandparents’ Day as a special opportunity to foster intergenerational appreciation and am always on the lookout for new books that celebrate this special bond. With that in mind, I was delighted to discover GRAMA’S HUG, a delightful new picture book, written and illustrated by Amy Nielander and published in 2020 by Page Street Books.

Here’s the official blurb:

May and Grama are a team. They do everything together, from inventing creative projects to going birdwatching to preparing for the annual space fair. And they never, ever say goodbye without a hug. May’s love of science takes her far as her inventions win year after year, helped by Grama’s support, effort, and love. She travels to space camp and eventually beyond, earning her spot as the first kid astronaut to journey into space. As May prepares for her mission to explore the cosmos, she seems ready to go without looking back, making Grama worried that she will leave without a hug. This picture book explores the importance of treasuring even the smallest moments with people you love with heartwarming illustrations, expressive characters, and delightful touches of whimsy.

And now I have an extra special treat for you. Amy Nielander is my guest today sharing FIVE fun facts about this enchanting book. Thank you, Amy, and take it away!

FIVE FUN FACTS about GRAMA’S HUG with Amy Nielander

FUN FACT #1: Grama’s Hug started off as a wordless story.

My first picture book, The Ladybug Race, is a wordless book so it felt natural for me to approach Grama’s Hug the same way. It wasn’t until I attended the Rutgers University One-on-One Conference when my mentor suggested that I add text. The story reflects a passage of time and providing more text would help a young reader understand that movement. Words continued to build as I worked with the publisher, Page Street Kids. After several revisions, May’s (and Grama’s!) voice emerged and my first picture book with text was born!   

FUN FACT #2: The book was inspired by a sentence I heard shouted out one day: “I am not leaving without a hug!” 

The idea for Grama’s Hug landed in 2013 when I was walking my daughter to school one morning. As we approached the entrance, the bell rang and kids ran in. I heard a parent yell out “I am not leaving without a hug!”. I couldn’t get that sentence out of my head and immediately wondered “Would you really just stay here if you didn’t get that hug?” The first draft took shape and I titled it I am Not Leaving Without a Hug!. It was a terrible story though and I quickly changed course after an unfortunate SCBWI round table critique. In the process of revising, a childhood memory was triggered and I began writing a more personal story. The next version was filled with every emotion that memory rattled…love, loss, sadness and joy. 

FUN FACT #3: The space shuttle in the book was inspired by a 1990s concept design called the Venture Star.

As a former product designer, one of my favorite stages in the design process was the concept phase. Imagining what the next version of a product could be always excited me! Even though concept designs have the potential to improve lives, they are often written off early because they cost too much or the technology isn’t quite there yet.  Since Grama’s Hug is a story about a 10-year-old girl going to space, it takes place in a fantastical world. I used my creative license to design a place where previous concepts in history – did not fail. This accelerated the timeline of technology. The Venture Star was built in the 1990s by Lockheed Martin. It was a re-usable spaceplane meant to replace the Space Shuttle. The design didn’t rely on rocket boosters and would reduce materials along with providing other benefits. But after a test vehicle failed, the program was canceled in 2001. As a way to express my gratitude for every designer, engineer and scientist that contributed to that project, I gave the Venture Star a welcoming world to live in (forever!) with Grama’s Hug

FUN FACT #4: May’s elementary school is named after my elementary school.

I tried to infuse the story with personal details to make it extra special for me (in hopes that readers would feel that love in the illustrations). May’s elementary school is called Winchester, which is the school I attended as a child.

FUN FACT #5: Grama’s robe resembles my late grandma’s robe. 

My dad immigrated to the U.S. before I was born and we didn’t really know my grandparents (they lived in Europe). My grandpa visited once when I was too young to remember but my grandmother visited a handful of times. She did not speak English nor did we, grandkids, speak her language. This resulted in an amplified awareness of her reactions in order to interpret dialogue. I’m not sure if it was this heightened sensitivity to all things physical, but I remember a robe she made during one of her visits and wore often. When it came time to design Grama’s outfits for the book, I knew my late grandma’s robe would be a part of her collection. It was my way of honoring a hardworking woman whose heart probably ached often, with family living so far away.

AUTHOR BIO:

Amy Nielander loves making joyful and creative picture books for children. Her first wordless book, The Ladybug Race, exhibited at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair as a Silent Book Contest finalist. Her second picture book, Grama’s Hug, received a starred review from Booklist and was included on Grand Rapids Magazine’s “Summer Fav” book list. Her third book, My Name Is Not Ed Tug! will release in 2022 by West Margin Press. Kids can create new characters with Amy every month on her CREATE A CHARACTER blog. You can also find Amy on Twitter (@nielanderamy) and Instagram (@amynielander).

author spotlight, Interview

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: An Interview with Henry Herz in Celebration of the Release of I AM SMOKE

Today I’m delighted to host Henry Herz, author of many children’s books, including, most recently, I AM SMOKE (Tilbury House Publishers, 2021) which released two days ago. Illustrated by Mercè López, smoke itself acts as narrator in Herz’s story, telling us how it has served humankind since prehistoric times in signaling, beekeeping, curing and flavoring food, religious rites, fumigating insects, and myriad other ways. The book has already earned a Kirkus starred review, been listed in School Library Journal‘s The Most Astonishingly Unconventional Children’s Books of 2021, Kirkus’s 150 Most Anticipated Fall Books, and Children’s Book Council’s September 2021 list of anticipated bestsellers.

And now for the interview, with my questions bolded.

Welcome, Henry. You write for a variety of ages and in a variety of genres. Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.

I was an engineer by education and profession. About fifteen years ago, I wanted to share my love of fantasy with my young sons. They were too little for watching most of the fantasy movies. Struck by inspiration one day, I came up with a way to share the joy of entering the magical realms of fantasy. I would create a fantasy book for them. That decision led me to discover my love of writing for kids.

If smoke were to narrate some lessons I’ve learned along my writerly journey, it might say:

  • I proofread over and over, but my manuscript still contains typos.
  • I must be in touch with my emotions to write, but I must develop a thick skin to handle the unavoidable rejection by agents and publishers. 
  • I must develop innovative concepts, but my books must fit into what publishers view as  marketable categories.
  • I must submit my manuscript at some point, but I always want to make one more revision.
  • I am eager to move ideas from my head to paper, but I must be patient while waiting for publisher responses.

What inspired you to write I AM SMOKE?

I’m inspired by many things in the natural world. I love how much personality dogs possess. I’m amazed that you can cut a piece off of a succulent, stick it in the ground, and grow a brand new succulent. That’s like making a whole new person from just a finger! The range of defense mechanisms employed by animals is amazing—from camouflage to squirting ink to being poisonous to mimicking predators. 

I find the use of fictional elements to convey facts a great way to engage with young readers and teach them without them realizing it. Fiction can be the melted cheese we pour on top of the broccoli of nonfiction. There are some picture books with anthropomorphic characters, but I’d never seen smoke treated as a character. And who better to explain the various ways in which people have employed smoke over the ages and across the world than smoke itself?

How does one research smoke? Were there any amazing moments where you discovered something completely new to you?

 I researched wood smoke and discovered it’s primarily carbon dioxide, ash, and water vapor. That got me thinking about the water cycle. Then it hit me that trees sequester carbon they extract from breathing in carbon dioxide. Eureka! Smoke has a “cycle” too. Fire releases wood’s molecules. Water eventually rains down and trees extract the carbon from the air to grow more wood. The “smoke cycle” became the framework within which I shared some of the many ways smoke has been used to fumigate homes, communicate over distances, cover unpleasant smells, aid beekeepers, flavor and preserve foods, participate in religious ceremonies, and heal. 

Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum, and I think that’s especially true for a STEM rich book like this. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

I don’t have any extension activities developed, but I would like to point out that in addition to its obvious chemistry (STEM) linkage, I Am Smoke can also be used to initiate conversations around history, geography, religion, and social studies.

Finally, what’s next? Are there more books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

I have a sci-fi/humor middle grade novel on submission and am revising a fantasy middle grade novel. I just became an editor for a small publisher, Running Wild Press. That should yield some interesting projects. My forthcoming books and stories include:

  • Denver Horror Collective’s adult horror anthology, THE JEWISH BOOK OF HORROR, will include my short story, Demon Hunter Vashti.
  • Launching in 2022 my contemporary magical realism early chapter book, THE MAGIC SPATULA from Month9 Books with co-author Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien.
  • Launching in 2022 the middle-grade #ownvoices anthology from Albert Whitman & Co., COMING OF AGE, including my sci-fi/humor short story, Bar Mitzvah on Planet Latke.
  • Launching in 2022, the young adult horror anthology from Blackstone Publishing, THE HITHERTO SECRET EXPERIMENTS OF MARIE CURIE, including my short story, Cheating Death.
  • Highlights for Children has purchased two more of my stories, but I don’t know when those will come out. 

Thanks for having me!

Thank YOU for being my guest and for using your writing talents to create great books for kids.

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Henry Herz is the author of 11 traditionally published children’s books, eight children’s short stories, and over 20 adult short stories. He is co-editor of two children’s anthologies: THE HITHERTO SECRET EXPERIMENTS OF MARIE CURIE (Blackstone Publishing, YA) and COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES (Albert Whitman & Co., MG).

CONNECT ON THE WEB:

Website: https://www.henryherz.com 

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/HenryLHerz 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Henry.Herz 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/henry_herz/