author spotlight, Interview, Picture Books

LITTLE LOVEDOG’S LONG WALK HOME: An Interview with Barbara Valenza

One morning in early September, I noticed that I had a new follower on Instagram. Her name was Barbara and she was a a storyteller. I took a closer look at her profile picture and realized that I knew her in a completely different context… and that I had no idea that she was a writer! I immediately scrolled through all her posts. Yes, it was true! I was delighted. After following her back, I messaged her to see if she’d like to meet me for lunch and asked if she would bring along her new book LITTLE LOVEDOG’S LONG WALK HOME.

A few weeks later, on a crisp October day, we met for lunch. I loved her sweet book about a little dachshund who’s having a part that no one wants to come to, or so it seems. Delightfully written and illustrated by Barbara, it warmed my heart with messages of hope and kindness. My kind of book for sure!

But the best part of our lunch was getting to know each other in this new context. How wonderful to discover that we share a passion for instilling themes of kindness, acceptance and love in the next generation. Pictured above is a snapshot we took that day holding our books. Afterwards, I asked if she’d be up for an interview on my blog. She said yes! So now, without further ado, here it is with my questions bolded. I hope you find her as inspiring as I do.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey into picture book writing and illustrating.

Barbara: Sharing stories through children’s picture books has been a dream of mine since I was seven years old when my best friend and I would sit under a cherry tree, writing and drawing stories about a very busy bunny family. I pursued art and writing in college, and not long after I graduated, I landed a job in the art department of Jim Henson Productions (The Muppets) in New York City. I was over the moon! It was such an exciting time working with incredible artists and storytellers. I went on to work for a number of years in educational publishing at a graphic design firm. We had wonderful clients like Scholastic, the Museum of Natural History, and many others. At the risk of sounding like a bit of a nerd, I spent a bunch of my free time checking out children’s books from local libraries. I drew and drew and drew and wrote and wrote and wrote. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing about and drawing little characters.

What inspired you to write Little Lovedog’s Long Walk Home?

Barbara: One of the things that makes me mad is bullying, especially when someone is made fun of for being seen as a bit different from others. Different is what makes life interesting! It’s so hard not to want to fight back when you get bullied, but sometimes, the best thing to do is walk away and remember that being kind is always the better path. And, hey, you never know what bright spot may be just ahead.

As a fellow champion of kindness, your story really resonates with me.  I’m also charmed by your skilled use of both text and image to tell the story. Which came first in your creative process — the theme, the written story or the illustrations?

Barbara: As an illustrator and writer, the process is super interwoven. That said, I’d have to say that the theme bubbles up first. I’m always playing around with stories about feeling left out, or being different, or not quite fitting in with the crowd. It’s so easy, at any age, to get discouraged and feel like you don’t quite stack up to everyone else. I was working on a completely different story called The School for Cats and Dogs about a dog who just didn’t fit in. As I began to sketch dogs and cats while I thought about the story and the school and what it all looked and felt like, I sketched a dachshund…with very short legs and a very long back. I fell in love with him because I knew, the moment I saw him, that he was the one excluded by the other dogs.

He spoke to me because he was so full of love with no one to share it with. I thought, what are some of the worst feelings, especially when you’re little? Two biggies: Being laughed at and having a lonely birthday because no one wants to come to your party! And so, Little Lovedog’s story began. It built from there—sketching, getting to know the characters, their personalities and the unfolding of the story. I asked myself questions: Where does he go after being laughed at? What happens on his way home? Does he encounter more foes? New friends? Is everyone a bully or just some dogs? I wanted the story to speak to how important it is to keep treating others the way you want to be treated, no matter what. Once I had a bunch of character sketches and a sense of what happens, I wrote the manuscript. Then it was a back-and-forth process of working through editing text as the images emerged.

In addition to Little Lovedog, there’s a sweet little dog who trails behind as Little Lovedog heads home for his birthday seemingly without any party companions. (SPOILER ALERT: He’s holding a string.)   How did he come to be part of the story and what do you hope kids will notice/learn from him?

Barbara: I love that you ask that! At the start of the story, he’s part of the crowd of other dogs, yet he stands apart, not laughing. I think he too has been bullied for being small, being a little Chihauhau (the number one smallest dog breed). He thinks for himself and does the right thing—he’s nice to someone who needs a friend. He even brings a balloon, since Little Lovedog’s balloon burst.

Tell us the story behind Potato Publishing and how it came to be.

Barbara: Why Potato Publishing? Every so often while I was growing up, my dad would tell me the story of the mysterious potato bag. It was the early 1930s and the Great Depression raged on. My dad’s family was pretty darn poor. They were good-hearted people who worked hard, but finding enough food every day to feed their family of seven wasn’t easy. One day, my dad walked into the kitchen and saw my grandmother–who was a strong and faith-filled woman–crying quietly. When he asked her what was wrong, she said she didn’t have anything to feed them for dinner. But, true to her spirit of positivity, she lifted her chin, squeezed his hand, and said not to worry, all would be well. Sure enough, a short while later, my dad thought he heard a noise at the screen door. When he went to look, he saw no one, but he found a big bag of potatoes on the step. That night they had the most delicious potato soup ever.

It is my hope that the books from Potato Publishing will bring smiles, inspire positive thinking, and remind us all that our world is a brighter, happier place when we are kind to each other.

My books are dedicated to my family, especially my encouraging husband Mark and two amazing grown kids, Laura and Nat, and to my friends and colleagues who have helped me on a difficult journey. My books are also dedicated to my doctor and the caring nurses and staff at Memorial Sloan Kettering. They are truly a silver lining on this journey I can honestly say I didn’t want to take. My doctor advised me to do what makes me happy. And so began Potato Publishing.

(Potato Publishing supports MSK Kids and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital because cancer is rough enough on adults, let alone kids!)

Finally, where can readers find your books?

Barbara: Little Lovedog’s Long Walk Home is available on Amazon, on potato-publishing.com, and at the beautiful little shop in Hopewell, New Jersey, called twine. And, it’s available at the Hopewell Public Library, where I’ll be holding a story time reading in February. Potato Publishing is a new little spud but growing every day. I am grateful for this opportunity to talk about Little Lovedog!

And if you follow me on Instagram at @barbara.valenza.storyteller, you’ll meet plush Little Lovedog who is often out and about in Hopewell having his photo taken.

Thank you so much, Barbara, for taking the time to share Little Lovedog’s and YOUR story with us today. I wish you the very best. And, let’s have lunch again soon, eh?

Interview, Picture Books

GROGGLE’S MONSTER HALLOWEEN: An Interview with Author Diana Murray

Today I am delighted to welcome long-time writing friend Diana Murray to my blog. Diana and I met through a poetry critique group several years ago and our first books came out at roughly the same time. Diana is now the author of over 20 books and I am a fan of all of them. Her rhyme is impeccable and her storytelling is light and fun. Today we are chatting about the release of her newest book GROGGLE’S MONSTER HALLOWEEN, illustrated by Bats Langley and published by Sky Pony Press.

First a little confession, though. Diana’s first Groggle book, GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE is a favorite of mine.  It’s the story of an appealing young monster who wants to make his sweetheart the perfect valentine. Unfortunately, he’s also hungry! I featured that book on my blog back in 2017 when it first released. You can check that post out here.

And now a second confession. I have mixed feelings about Halloween and dislike the darkness that surrounds so much of it. You can see that darkness in the choice of some of the lawn decorations people put out that include gory bodies and other frightening things. These scared my kids when they were little and because of that I’m always on the lookout for fun, non-spooky Halloween options. GROGGLE’S MONSTER HALLOWEEN, still starring that appealing young monster, fits the bill… delightfully! Now, enjoy the interview with my questions bolded.

Thank you so much for joining me today, Diana. Let’s dig right in. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself including your favorite Halloween memory.

Diana: I started writing after my first daughter was born. We read so many books together and I began to fall in love with picture books as a genre. My favorite Halloween memory might be when she dressed up as a yellow duck and tried her very first lollipop. She was about two and I’ll never forget the look of joy on her face. Or, maybe my favorite memory is when my second daughter dressed up as a pumpkin with a little pumpkin hat. She was just barely walking and it was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. Halloween is my favorite holiday and having young kids makes it extra fun.

Groggle’s Monster Halloween is the sequel to your first Groggle book.  How did you come up with the idea?  Were there any challenges?

Diana: The suggestion to do a sequel actually first came from a fan! Because the main character is a monster, Halloween was a natural choice. I did struggle initially, trying to figure out how to make Groggle’s “monster appetite” a problem again, while keeping the story fresh and having a unique ending. I wrote the first story in prose (although there are rhyming poems sprinkled in) but decided to write the second one fully in rhyming verse. That’s just the type of writing that I’m more comfortable with. I had fun with it.

Bats Langsley’s illustrations are so much fun and integral to  the not-so-spooky monster fun of this story. Tell us a little bit about Bats. Do you have a favorite spread? What makes it your favorite?

Yes, it’s so wonderful seeing Bats bring the characters to life! That’s my favorite part of the process.  My favorite spread is at the very beginning when Groggle and Snarlina are walking up a long, winding path to Werewolf’s house. It so perfectly captures the spooky but slightly silly mood, and the colors are so rich. There is also the touch of humor with Werewolf “howling” while watching TV on his roof. So funny and quite brilliant.

What would you like readers to take away from this story?

Well, School Library Journal said that it includes “sweet messages about friendship”. And I think that’s exactly right. I want people to see that nobody’s perfect and you should always treat your friends with kindness and care. Things don’t always go as planned but friends can help. It’s a subtle message wrapped in a silly-spooky story.

Finally, what’s next?  Also, where can interested readers find your books? 

There are many more books to come! For example, the third and fourth sequels to “Unicorn Day”, which are “Unicorn Christmas” and (branching out into other topics) “Mermaid Day”. There’s also “Someday, Maybe” which is an optimistic look at the future with different futuristic jobs explored, “Love Stinks!” which is a Valentine’s Day themed early reader comic starring a skunk, and “Firehouse Rainbow” which is a color concept Little Golden Book about a busy and diverse group of firefighters. And there’s more on the horizon! My website: http://www.dianamurray.com Twitter: @DianaMWrite

Thank you for taking the time for a blog chat, Diana. I wish you the very best and I’m hoping that maybe today a little costumed Groggle come trick-or-treating at my house.

Happy Halloween, all!

Note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my blog using the subscribe button in the footer or sidebar. I post once or twice weekly with inspirational reflections, tips, interviews and more.

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.]

Interview, Picture Books, Story Time

MRS. NOAH: An Interview with Patti Richards, an Invitation, and a GIVEAWAY!

Please join me today in welcoming children’s book author Patti Richards. Patti is the author of the delightful MRS. NOAH, published by Little Lamb Books and illustrated by Alice Pieroni. Here’s the official description:

MRS. NOAH is a celebration of love, and the motivation behind all the amazing things people do to make a house a home, even when that home is an ark! Mrs. Noah knows it takes more than wood, nails, and a hammer to make their big boat a comfy place to live. Stalls need cleaning, beds need making, and food needs baking before the animals come trotting, crawling, slithering and flying aboard! And how WILL she find a place for the elephants to take a bath? Author Patti Richards shows us how Mrs. Noah gets Noah’s help with the loving details before a single raindrop falls.

I love that Patti and I have a shared love of stories inspired by Noah’s ark. For all you Noah’s ark book collectors out there, this is a clever one to add to your collection.

Later this month Patti and I have the wonderful delight of doing a shared story time at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, MI. If you live in the Grand Rapids area, I hope will join a this special multi-book double-author event which takes place July 20th at 10:30 Here are the details for that:

Because Patti and I haven’t actually met in person yet, we thought an interview would be fun. There’s also a GIVEAWAY at the end of this post for ONE FREE SIGNED COPY of Patti Richards’ MRS. NOAH. Thank you, Patti! And now, without further ado, the interview, with my questions in bold.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Patti.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you become a writer?

Thanks so much for having me, Laura! It’s an honor to be here! 

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but one experience stands out as the time when I knew it was what I wanted to do as part of my life’s work. I was sitting in my seventh-grade language arts class working on a writing assignment (I don’t remember what we were writing about). I looked out the window and could completely picture what I was putting on the page, almost like a movie playing out in front of my eyes. It seemed so real, and I remember feeling an urgency to get it all down before it disappeared, and then the satisfaction I felt when I wrote the final word. When I got the story back there was an A at the top of the paper and a comment, “Have you ever thought about being a writer?” And that was it! Of course my journey to writing full time wasn’t a straight path…there were the years of wanting to be an actress and singer on the Broadway stage, then the calling to teach language arts and theatre for a time, then marriage, then children and being a stay-at-home mom. . .all the while always writing, always reading. Then I had an opportunity to submit a story to a local newspaper. And when they kept calling and asking me to do more I thought, “Maybe now?” and God whispered, “yes.” So little by little I built my writing resume with freelance work while learning the craft of writing for children. And then last October, my first fiction picture book for children, MRS. NOAH, was released!   

I’m glad you listened to those affirmations along the way and followed God’s whisper. And now your first book is out! What inspired you write MRS. NOAH?

I was getting my family of five ready for our very first cruise to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. In the middle of all the planning, shopping, laundry, getting pet instructions ready for the house sitter, cleaning, stopping the mail, paying the bills, I said out loud…” If it’s this hard to get a family of five ready for a three-day cruise, how in the world did MRS. NOAH get the ark ready for all of those animals?” Of course, I had to stop in the middle of what I was doing and get the idea down and saved in my picture book idea file. From there it took almost nine years until MRS. NOAH was released into the world with lots of twists and turns along the way.  

Ha! I’m glad you recognized this gem of an idea while you were getting everyone ready for that ark, er I mean cruise ride and wrote it down.

Can you tell us about the illustrator? What was it like seeing your text come to full color with illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread?

I love Alice Pieroni’s vision for MRS. NOAH! It’s funny how you have a picture  in your head of how everything should look, but when you see the illustrator’s interpretation of the story, aside from a few tweaks that are part of every book’s journey, you realize it’s exactly what it needed to be. We’ve had so much positive feedback about her beautiful illustrations! My absolute favorite spread is the one with the giraffes and the shelves Mrs. N. builds so they’ll have a place to rest their heads! 

Humor in illustrations adds so much and Alice’s work is darling.

What would you like readers to take away from this story?

I’d like young readers and their caregivers to see that love is in the details when it comes to making a house a home. I’d also like them to see that there’s always more to a story than meets the eye, and that team work can really get the job done! 

That’s a beautiful and heartfelt message. Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

Thanks so much for asking, Laura! I have two picture books coming out in the next couple of years. One is called O POSSUM’S PREDICAMENT (Blue Whale Press), about a theatre-loving opossum that’s tired of playing dead and wants to play Hamlet instead. The other picture book I have releasing in 2023 is called, MILLIE’S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE (Little Lamb Books), about a mouse and her best friend a sheep who work together to knit swaddling clothes for a very special baby. 

And I’m always shopping new material to publishing houses and am currently in search of the perfect agent! New friends can find my books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop.org and wherever books are sold! 

Thank you for joining us today, Patti. Learn more about Patti on her website and around the web

@pattigrichards for Insta and Twitter

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pgwrites5https://www.facebook.com/pbrichards/

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/pgwrites/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15888762.Patti_Richards

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/pattigail1/_saved/

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a SIGNED copy of MRS. NOAH (Little Lamb Books, 2021) 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, Patti, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Thursday, 7/14/22 at 11:59 pm EST. This giveaway is over. The winner is announced here

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

Interview, Picture Books

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!

Christmas, Interview, review

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.
]

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/