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, 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, 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, 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/

author spotlight, board books, faith, Interview

GOD’S ALWAYS LOVING YOU: An Interview with Author Janna Matthies

This week, I’m delighted to chat with Janna Matthies, a picture book author, who like me, writes books for both the mainstream and faith-based markets. And today, we are celebrating the release of her newest board book God’s Always Loving You, published by WorthyKids and illustrated by Airin O’Callaghan.

Here’s the publisher’s description: 

This powerful little book is filled to the brim with hope and comfort. Simple, child-friendly verse outlines relatable moments of crisis, uncertainty, and fear common to a child’s life, and asks who helps us in each of those scenarios. “God, that’s who” is the reliable answer, forming a pattern kids will quickly pick up on. Each answer reinforces the book’s deeply comforting message: God is always there for us. He loves us, He knows us, and He cares about our needs.

This is such a needed message in today’s world. Thank you, Janna for writing it and thank you, WorthyKids, for publishing it!  And in the extra neat department, Janna will be mailing one signed copy of the study to one lucky reader, so be sure to check out the details for that at the end of the post. And now, grab a cup of tea and join me as we chat with Janna with my questions bolded.  

Thank you so much for joining me today, Janna. Let’s dig right in. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write God’s Always Loving You.

When I’m not writing children’s books, I’m a music teacher for grades PreK, K and 1st, and I see all kinds of troubles touch the lives of my students. I also recently walked through a 3-year leukemia battle with a dear friend and her family. So I became interested in writing a book that brings hope and reassurance to kids going through hard times. But I didn’t want to offer platitudes or empty promises, because God’s ways aren’t that simple. My aim was to hone in on the absolute promise that God and His loving presence are always with us. 

As one who has been through hard times with my own kids, I’m grateful that you dug deep to write this book, but, oh my, what a tall order. What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?

As I mentioned, I was focused on “the hard times,” but my editor—Melinda Rathjen at WorthyKids—suggested I add a couple stanzas featuring good times, too. At first I was hesitant, not wanting to dilute the impact for readers truly in the valley. But I followed her suggestion, and in the end agreed that the positive stanzas give balance and a vision for the gifts of peace, joy and redemption. I’m grateful to Melinda and also to the fantastic illustrator, Airin O’Callaghan, for her heart-felt, creative partnership.

Yes, I agree!  The balance makes the message even richer. What is your greatest desire for the readers who read God’s Always Loving You?  

The book is essentially a series of questions, all answered by the refrain, “God, that’s who.” My greatest desire is that readers would see God himself as the answer, and that they’d find His presence to be enough in the midst of whatever they’re going through. It’s natural when we’re down to focus on the thing that we want, the specific answer to prayer that we’re awaiting. My personal hope is that I’d learn more and more to focus on God as the answer, and to trust that the rest will follow.

Besides reading wonderful books such as this, what advice would you give parents and caregivers who want to share their faith with their kids? 

In my experience as a mom, teacher, friend, I find that living life authentically in front of kids is critical. Let them see you take quiet time with God, pray in the good and bad times, need others to support you in your own faith journey. Include them in family devotions/movies/book discussions where they can express real feelings and questions. And notice teachable moments when they’re open to hearing stories of your own high and low points as a believer.

These are great and very do-able suggestions. Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

Yes! My next picture book, HERE WE COME! (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, coming spring 2022), is illustrated by Christine Davenier and features an impromptu parade of little musicians in the moonlight. Two more books are currently in contract phase, and a variety of others are being shopped around by my agent.

For buying options and to learn more about Gods’s Always Loving You, click here.

Please like and follow me on:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JannaMatthies

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Author-Janna-Matthies-417157575128412

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/janna.matthies/

And visit my website at http://jannamatthies.blogspot.com

Thank you, Janna, for taking the time to answer these questions so thoughtfully. And now for the promised giveaway!

HERE ARE THE DETAILS FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a complimentary signed copy of God’s Always Loving You, simply post a comment below letting me know. (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 Friday, 7/23/2021 at 11:59 pm EST.