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!

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

It’s Time for… the BUNNY FINDS EASTER Friday Roundup!

Happy Friday, friends! Bunny and I have four fun things to share with you this week. First, be sure to check out my blog interview with children’s author and host, Mindy Baker, as we chat about the magical role illustrations play in board books – with a focus on a favorite spread from BUNNY FINDS EASTER. Here’s the link: https://mindybakerbooks.com/a-chat-with-laura-sassi-about-her-new-book/

Next, did you know that March 9th was “Get Ready for Easter Day?” I didn’t either, but I learned about it over at one of my favorite blogs, Celebrate Picture Books, which pairs a picture book with a holiday. Each post includes a review of a book and an activity. And for this holiday the book was… BUNNY FINDS EASTER! Here’s the link: https://celebratepicturebooks.com/2022/03/09/march-7-get-ready-for-easter/

Third, in case you missed it yesterday at 12:12 eastern, here is the replay of my Instagram LIVE interview with host Valerie Ellis, creator of Our Everyday Parables, a blog dedicated to encouraging and empowering parents to use everyday moments and kids’ books to teach, connect, listen, and inspire. We had some technical difficulties at the beginning, but they resolved and she explains in the link how you can skip over those bits.

Finally, if you haven’t already done so, be sure to enter the 25 book giveaway for BUNNY FINDS EASTER which Zonderkidz is hosting over on Goodreads. (And while you are there, please add the book to your to-read list and/or review it, if you you willing.) Thank you! Here’s the giveaway link: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/340275-bunny-finds-easter

YOU’RE INVITED! Join Me and Host Valerie Ellis for an Our Everyday Parables LIVE Interview

Tune in this Thursday, March 10, 2022 at 12:12 eastern on Instagram for my first Instagram LIVE interview. I’ll be joining Valerie Ellis, host and founder of Our Everyday Parables, a blog dedicated to “inspiring families to faith and compassion through everyday moments and excellent books”.  

The interview will include questions from listeners, so if you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask about any of my books or about using books to foster faith in our little ones and want it answered on Instagram LIVE (squee!) please let me know in a comment here and I will share it with Valerie.  You can also DM her with questions on the Our Everyday Parables instagram page.  You can also type your question in during the interview. 

If you want to come, I highly recommend popping over to her Insta page and signing up for the reminder. It’s easy and then Instagram will remind you to come!  Neat, huh?  I signed up so I won’t forget to come either. LOL.

Oh, and there will be a multi-book giveaway too. This image gives a clue as to which four books will be included in that. I hope you can make it.

Blessings all! And remember to leave your question. Any that aren’t answered at the interview, I will put in queue to incorporate into future blog posts!

PRAYING THROUGH MINISTRIES: An Interview with Founder Jessika Sanders

One morning this fall, in anticipation of Christmas, I prayed that God would use my Christmas picture book GOODNIGHT, MANGER to bless others and point them to Him in a special way. I made a list of possibilities: preschool visits, a Christmas Women’s program, a virtual story time. These were all things I had done in the past. But God… Don’t you love that phrase? God had something bigger in mind and He placed that idea in the heart of a woman named Jessika Sanders, founder of Praying through Ministries. The idea was to bless families who found themselves with little ones in the NICU and PICU over Christmas with a copy of GOODNIGHT, MANGER.

Following God’s prompting, Jessika reached out to me. Sensing this might be God’s special plan, I said yes, and that I wanted to write notes of encouragement to accompany each book given because my precious son, now 21, had once been a baby in the NICU as well. Then, wow, with the help of generous souls across the country who donated the books, God grew that blessing to an amazing 771 books given to families in multiple NICUs and PICUs across sixteen states. We were even in the news.

And now I have a special treat you – an interview with Praying Through Ministries’ founder and president, Jessika Sanders. The story of how her ministry came to be is amazing and I know you will be blessed. So, grab a cup of coffee and join us as we chat with my questions in bold.

Thank you for joining me here, today, Jessika.  Like me you are a NICU mama.  Can you tell us a little bit about that story and how it led you to start this ministry?

Absolutely. Unlike the vast majority of NICU moms, my son was not born premature. He was born at exactly 42-weeks.  Like I had with my second child, I went a very natural route with my pregnancy. I had the same midwife and opted out of all ultrasounds. I had my third natural birth, and my second at-home water birth. Nothing seemed all that out of the ordinary other than my belly shrinking in size the last month, but I attributed it to my son dropping and my getting ready to deliver. 

When our son arrived, the rush of hormones had my head in the clouds. I didn’t realize anything was wrong until they weighed Ezra and a few words broke the heavy silence in the room while simultaneously breaking our hearts. “4 lbs 14 oz.” I could almost feel my heart drop. Something was wrong. I looked across the room at my husband and saw the fear and anguish on his face. 

To give you some background, I had experienced a lot of spiritual warfare during my 3rd trimester. I couldn’t get rid of a nagging feeling that something was wrong. It wasn’t Godly intuition but rather the voice of the enemy. I know this because it instilled fear, a fear that threatened to consume me.  Down Syndrome. Genetic defects. Death. Still birth. Critically ill. I remember fighting with scripture. Each time a negative thought would come to mind, I would take it captive and speak truth over myself and the baby growing in my womb. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Chosen. His. A purpose and a plan. Just three weeks before my son’s arrival, I had a really powerful encounter with God, one in which I heard His voice so clear it felt almost audible. His directions were simple—read through the book of Psalms, circle the passages He told me to circle, and faithfully pray them until He told me to stop.  When I gave birth to my son I assumed the battle was over, but when we learned of his extremely low birth weight, I knew that was far from the truth. Thirty-six hours after he was born, we called an ambulance when he seized in our arms and so began the beginning of our 37-day NICU stay.

I’ll never forget the complex range of emotions I experienced while in the NICU with Ezra. Fear. Shock. Worry. Guilt. Uncertainty. Helplessness. I remember my sole and utter dependence on the Lord and crying out to Him in wordless groans. I wanted to pray continuously but I felt frozen, paralyzed by my circumstances. I sang worship songs and I prayed God’s Word back to Him—literally reading those verses He had me circle a month previously. 

And one day, as I looked around me in the hospital lounge, at the front desk, and through the corridors and into the rooms of others—I was met with pained, worried faces. My heart ached with these women and men, but as my eyes met theirs, I managed a meek smile that I hoped would warm their hearts and show them I saw them and I understood. As I rested in God’s shelter, my pain seemed to diminish. But as mine lessened, I became heightened to the pain of those around me. I wondered to myself “How does anyone do this without Jesus?” This is when our NICU stay began to change course. Suited up in His Word and forever clinging to His character and His promises, I began to reach out to help those around me. I began talking with mothers at the sign-in desk, in the lounge, and in the Ronald McDonald House. I asked about their babies and how I could pray for them. I wrote down their names and their requests.  I see now that this was the beginning of Praying Through ministries. God was slowly preparing me for what was to come.

Oh, Jessika, what an amazing story of God’s love sustaining you and your family through one of life’s most difficult situations and then, wow, God’s love flowing through you to others.  I’m glad that each step of the way you listened to God’s promptings and what a precious reminder to us all of the comfort and power in that. 

What are some of the ways your ministry reaches out to and blesses families journeying through the NICU, PICU and child loss?

The mission of Praying Through ministries is to equip and embolden men, women, and children with Biblical hope and encouragement as they journey through the difficult seasons of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the Pediatric ICU, and Child loss. We provide Biblical support through our Christ-centered online communities (Facebook), through virtual events, and through outreach care packages. 

While the obvious way we bless families is through our outreach care packages filled with personalized notes, artistic keepsakes, and carefully curated books, we are often told just how much our online communities mean to our members. It’s not uncommon for us to hear things like, “When I felt too paralyzed to pray, the Prayer Team and group members lifted me in prayer and provided words that I could pray myself.” I know that this especially blesses my heart because in addition to God doing this very thing for me with His Word, I also had one friend in particular who would periodically send me written prayers, too. Our communities are God-honoring groups where true friendships are cultivated. There is no condemnation, just a supportive group of individuals helping each other to keep their eyes fixed on Christ—even through trials and suffering.

Our ministry is also in the process of creating virtual resources and events to reach the families we serve.  Because our outreach care packages are shipped within the United States, and we have members in Canada, England, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia, virtual resources and events will allow us to bless families regardless of their country of residence. Our first virtual event was actually our “Christmas in the NICU” Live Author Reading with you, Laura!

Everything your ministry is doing amazing and so honored and humbled to have been chosen to participate in that with you. It made my Christmas… that and all the notes and books we were able to send thanks to the donations of so many. 

And I’ve been delighted to discover that you are also a writer. How does that fit in with your mission?

Yes, I am. I remember prior to Ezra, I felt like God had already given me plenty to write about what with a broken childhood, the divorce that led me to my salvation, and forgiveness. But when I was carrying Ezra, I just had this feeling that God was about to give me even more material. I never would have dreamed it would have been NICU and PICU stays with multiple close calls of almost losing him, yet that’s where He called us. With regard to how I feel my writing will fit in with our ministry’s mission, I believe there are real holes and felt needs within the audience our ministry serves. I am believing God will use me to create much-needed, faith-based resources for NICU families and resources specifically for bereaved fathers.  

And those will be a blessing.  I can’t wait to see where God takes you on that front.  Finally, I know many of my readers will be moved by your ministry. How can they be involved?

Thank you so much for asking, Laura. Our ministry is fully funded by the generous donations of others. We are always in need of financial donations for the daily running of our ministry—fees for our website, communication platforms, and for creating marketing materials found in our care packages. We also always humbly accept any of the items from our Amazon Wish List.  These are the books that make up our care packages. Generous donors can purchase them and have them sent to us directly—doing so helps cut out the turnaround time for packages to get sent out in a timely manner. To get involved in either of these ways, you can visit our the “Support Us” tab of our website.

For anyone who has experienced the NICU, PICU, or Child Loss—no matter how long ago it may have been, there is always room and an invitation for you to serve within the ministry.  We can never have too many Prayer Team members for our online, Christ-centered communities on Facebook. We are also looking to fill a few of our Board Member positions for those who have experience with accounting, social media, and marketing. To learn more about these opportunities you can visit our website under the “About Us” tab.

And lastly, you can be involved by helping us be known! We would love for you to share our ministry with others.  Whether it be sharing one on one with someone who is being impacted by the NICU, PICU, or Child Loss or sharing collaborative opportunities with your church team or local hospital, we would greatly appreciate your efforts to share our ministry within your sphere. 

Laura, I cannot thank you enough for your love offering with our first annual “Christmas in the NICU” Book Drive.  With your compassion and care, you have set the bar extremely high. It was an absolute honor to work alongside you and your precious group of friends to pull off such an incredible event. I look forward to seeing what God does next year!

Amen! Thank you, Lord, for using us to serve others this special way. And thank you, Jessika, for following God’s call. You are an inspiration to all.

BOOKS THAT SPARK Podcast Interview (And a Winner!)

This week it was my pleasure to be interviewed by podcast host Terrie Hellard-Brown. Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning. 

Terrie has interviewed many authors including Glenys Nellist, Annette Whipple, Danielle Hitchen and more. Recent topics include Helping our Children Have Hearts of Thankfulness and Preparing for Advent.  And in our podcast we chat about Pointing Kids to God.

Here are a view visual nuggets to whet your appetite.  And here is a link to the podcast. Enjoy!

For more information about Terrie, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com.

And now for the WINNER of last week’s two-bundle giveaway! I’m delighted to announce that the winner one copy of each Glenys Nellist’s two new books, TWAS THE SEASON OF ADVENT and I WONDER: EXPLORING GOD’S GRAND STORY, is  

Sarah M…

Congratulations! I will be in touch with you today so we can get the book to you. Thanks again, Glenys, for your Christmas-y guest post. I’d also like to thank Zonderkidz for providing the winning copies. Happy Tuesday, all!

SIMPLY CHRISTMAS: An Interview with Christian Author Tama Fortner

This week, I’m delighted to chat with Tama Fortner, an author of multiple faith-based books for children and adults. Today we are celebrating the release of her newest title with Ink and Willow, a Christmas devotional for mothers called Simply Christmas: A Busy Mom’s Guide to Reclaiming the Peace of the Holidays

Here’s the publisher’s description, which doubles as an invitation to read the book: 

Allow Simply Christmas to be your personal invitation to slow down and savor the beauty of the manger this year. These thirty-one devotions are not dated, so you’re welcome to begin reading anytime–whether that’s on December 1, Christmas Eve, the day after Thanksgiving, or the middle of July–without even a smidgen of guilt or shame.

Accompanied by seasonally inspired full-color photographs, this thirty-one-day devotional brings a bit of calm to each day through a short reflection and Scripture, together with points to ponder and fun ideas for simplifying your Christmas traditions. 

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I didn’t follow the instructions exactly, because I couldn’t resist and sat down and read the whole book in one sitting. What a delight! I plan to follow the suggested slower approach starting the day after Thanksgiving.

Now, without further ado, grab a cup of tea, or hot cocoa to match the cover, and join me as I chat with Tama with my questions bolded.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write Simply Christmas: A Busy Mom’s Guide to Reclaiming the Peace of the Holidays.

My name is Tama Fortner, and I’m from Nashville, Tennessee. I’m a wife, a mom, an occasional author, and an always daughter of the King. I’ve been married to my husband, Jeff, for twenty-three years now. We have two college-age kiddos who have grown up much too fast for their mama’s liking. And I am the proud owner of the world’s laziest dog, who also doubles as a foot warmer.

For as far back as I can remember I have loved words—reading them and writing them. I love the way they “click” together to share a message, to communicate thoughts and feelings. One of my all-time favorite books is Little Women, which I discovered back in the third grade. At the ripe old age of eight, I decided I would be like Jo—even going so far as to set up a cardboard-box writing desk in the back of my childhood closet. Now, as a wife and mom, combining my love of words with my love for God and for my family just seems natural.

You and I are kindred spirits! I’m so glad you followed your passion to share God’s love with your words.  

What is your greatest desire for the moms who read this book? 

I remember one year, getting to the end of Christmas Day and staring at the mounds of crumpled wrapping paper, empty boxes, and scattered bows. And I thought to myself, Is this it? This can’t be it. There’s supposed to be joy—have I missed the joy? It’s not as if we’d had a terrible Christmas. It was wonderful in so many ways. But I wanted more—and the “more” I wanted was more God. I also realized that wasn’t just going to happen. I was going to have to be a bit more intentional with my time, with my nos and yeses, and I was going to have to learn to hold onto that joy even in the midst of the holiday chaos.

With Simply Christmas, I want to encourage moms to reconnect with the real reason we celebrate Christmas: the birth of Christ. I want to equip them with some tools, some tricks and tips—mostly ones I’ve learned the hard way—that will help them find and hold onto the joy. And I want to give them permission to slow down and savor this time with their loved ones and their Savior.

I couldn’t resist and read your book straight through and it’s wonderful! I can’t wait to slow down and re-read it one day at a time this advent season.

Do you have a favorite devotional in the 31-day line up?  Why is it your favorite?

That’s a little like picking a favorite child, isn’t it? But one of my favorites is Day 18. It’s about Mary and the verse from Luke 2:19: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (niv). Keep in mind that this treasuring and pondering takes place after a less-than-comfy trip to Bethlehem, childbirth amongst the animals, and a flock of shepherds bursting into praise the Little One whose crib has been fashioned from a manger. I love it because Mary is a mom, collecting memories, treasuring, and pondering in the midst of all the chaos. She’s taking time to sift out what matters most, and she’s holding it close to her heart. Over two thousand years later, I think that’s what moms are still longing and trying to do.

Yes, indeed. I think that longing is timeless and that your book will most certainly resonate with mom all stages of motherhood – from moms of teeny tinies to moms of teens and beyond. 

You are also the author of several faith-based picture books including the joyful Christmas Is Coming! How can parents use this sweet book and others to point little ones to God?  Any specific tips?

It’s so important to spend time with God every day—and for our littles (and not-so-littles) to see us making that a priority. Of course, the more time we’re able to spend in His Word and in prayer, the better. But we’re moms, and our schedules aren’t entirely our own. So let’s fill our lives with resources—like verse-a-day apps, like Simply Christmas, Christmas Is Coming!, and your own Goodnight, Manger. Devotionals allow us to “grab” a verse and a quick thought to carry with us through the day. Picture books bless us with not only a chance to share a story about God, but also sweet snuggle time. Let’s grab every opportunity to pour God’s message into our lives and into our children. Because that’s where we find the Joy—in treasuring and pondering Him.

Amen! Now, just for fun, let’s close with a non-book-related question. What is your favorite mom Christmas memory?

It’s difficult to isolate just one. There’s this sort of collage that runs through my mind—images of smiles, of lights and trees, of singing carols and Christmas plays. There were the giggles and the rush to jump in bed when the official NORAD Santa Tracker showed his sleigh getting close to Nashville. There’s the annual making of the gingerbread house—always small and always slightly lopsided (check out Day 5 of Simply Christmas to see why that matters). There’s the sound of my children’s voices reading the real Christmas Story from Luke. There’s the feeling of holding littles in my lap and the wonder of their hugs and love now that they’re big. In short, I feel like I’ve gathered this whole collection of memories. And like Mary, I treasure and ponder them.

And leads me to something I want to encourage mom’s to do as they get ready for this Christmas: start by thinking back over past Christmases. What are the memories you treasure? What made you and your loved ones smile? I’m betting it wasn’t the perfect tree, the perfect present, the perfect dinner, the perfect . . . anything. It’s the smiles, the laughter, the love—of God, of family, of friends. Yes, right in the middle of the chaos. Focus on those things this year. Skip the comparison, the perfection, and let it simply Christmas.

This is WONDERFUL closing advise for all my readers and me too!  Thank you, Tama, for joining us today and for listening to that little voice that said, “Write!”

About the Author:

Tama Fortner is a bestselling writer with more than 40 titles to her credit. As a ghostwriter, she has collaborated with some of the biggest names in Christian publishing to create inspirational books for children, teens, and adults. But her greatest accomplishments happen in a happy little home on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her family and an incredibly lazy dog who doubles as a foot warmer. For more information, visit www.tamafortner.com


[Note: Thank you to Ink and Willow for sending me an advanced copy 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.
]

AROUND THE WEB: October GUEST GURU at Rate Your Story

HAPPY OCTOBER! In the fun category, I’m Guest Guru at Rate Your Story for the month of October. Check out the interview and learn more about this resource for picture book writers. As part of my special duties, I’ll be rating four stories over the course of the month. So honored to be participating in this way, helping others along this journey. I hope you’ll pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee or tea and pop over for a read. I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link to the interview.

Happy reading and writing!

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/

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: It’s Time for a Read, Discuss, Do! Interview with Tina Cho

I’m so excited to be a part of a fabulous reading initiative geared to families, librarians, teachers and anyone, really, who enjoys reading picture books with their kids. 

Created by founder and picture book author Rebecca J. Gomez, Read, Discuss, Do! exists to help you extend the magic of story time beyond the last page by following three simple steps: 

Read a book. 

Talk about the book. 

Do a simple activity inspired by the book.

And now she’s supercharged the whole experience by launching a website with newsletter devoted to all things #ReadDiscussDo! providing a wonderful landing place for book-themed lists, reviews, activities and more. And she’s asked a team of us to help! (Can you tell I’m excited!)

And today on ReadDiscussDo.com, I am interviewing my friend and children’s author Tina Cho. Tina and I met through our online critique group and I have enjoyed each and every one of her books. I even created a Picture Book Sundays lesson for her MY BREAKFAST WITH JESUS which you can find here. In today’s interview she shares her thoughts on connecting with kids through books, the benefits of reading picture books, and more! You’ll also get a little peek into her newest book THE OCEAN CALLS: A HAENYEO MERMAID STORY.

I hope will take a moment to pop on over for the interview and explore the website. Maybe you’ll even decide to sign up for the newsletter. That way you’ll be first in line for all the wonderful things we have planned for the fall. I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link.

Happy Reading, Discussing… and Doing!