AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts with Amanda Cleary Eastep about her debut TREE STREET KIDS SERIES

Today I’m delighted to have long-time editor and debut middle grade author Amanda Cleary Eastep here to share five fun facts about the first two books in her debut TREE STREE KIDS series, illustrated by Aedan Peterson, edited by Marianne Hering, and published by Moody Publishers. Here’s the official description per the publisher’s website:

The Tree Street Kids live on Cherry, Oak, Maple, and Pine, but their 1990s suburban neighborhood is more than just quiet, tree-lined streets. Jack, Ellison, Roger, and Ruthie face challenges and find adventures in every creek and cul-de-sac—as well as God’s great love in one small neighborhood.

And here’s the book trailer:

Now enjoy as she shares five fun facts about the first two books in the series. My favorite? Fact #4. I just love how Amanda, inspired by her daughter, wanted to include fun facts throughout the story and how the books’ designers figured out a creative way to do that. What great team work!

Take it away, Amanda!

Five Fun Facts about Jack vs. the Tornado and The Hunt for Fang (Tree Street Kids series)

by Amanda Cleary Eastep

1. The idea for Jack vs. the Tornado (book 1) was inspired by my childhood experience with two tornados.

The main event, although not the most frightening, happened when I was about 12. My family of four lived on five acres in the middle of an endless expanse of cornfields. Tornadoes are common in the Midwest, and we were used to the blaring warnings that would burst onto the TV screen in the middle of a favorite show. Thankfully, we had a basement to hunker down in. One night, the storms were especially bad, and a twister touched down–right on top of our barn. The small chicken coop only yards away was untouched, as was our house.

Amanda’s childhood farm after the tornado. The barn was destroyed!

2. Henrietta, Jack Finch’s pet chicken, wasn’t in the original draft of Jack vs. the Tornado.

After I submitted my “final” draft to my editor, Marianne Hering, she said, “This book needs an animal. Kids love animals.” And she was right (that’s why authors need editors!). My dad had a favorite chicken that loved to sit on his lap and be petted. So Henrietta was born! Er, hatched. After I tossed her into the mix (not the Shake ‘n Bake kind), her presence in the first chapter raised the stakes. Jack’s care for her helped develop his character and deepens the readers’ empathy for him.

Amanda as a girl with her dog. Notice the chickens in the background.

3. The Hunt for Fang (book 2) has LOTS of animals.

By book 1, Jack is settling into his new neighborhood in the suburbs. As he’s making friends, he’s also making some “enemies.” Not only does he have to deal with the neighborhood bully, Jack has to protect his new puppy and his friend’s cat from the local wildlife, an animal living in the nearby forest preserve that Jack has named Fang. The main theme of this book is stewardship of God’s creation, so there’s a fun mix of everything from frogs to dogs.

4. Both Jack vs. the Tornado and The Hunt for Fang have Fun Facts too!

I love to research, and my daughter, who has an MA in environmental biology, is always spewing interesting facts. Jack’s little sister Midge does the same thing! Ellison likes quoting Bible verses and literature, and Roger is always ready with historical background. Sooo…throughout the books I’ve included Midge’s Phenomenal Facts, Ellison’s Bookmarks, and Roger’s Riveting Histories. I didn’t want these fun facts to end up as footnotes though. Moody’s designers came up with a cool idea: each fact looks as if it’s handwritten on a notecard and “taped” onto the page.

5. Books 3 and 4 will be here in Summer 2022!

Jack vs. the Tornado and The Hunt for Fang both released on April 6, 2021. The next two books will come out together as well. Book 3 is tentatively titled Lions to the Rescue! and book 4 is a mystery (literally and literally).

AMANDA CLEARY EASTEP is not related to Beverly Cleary but wishes she were. She is, however, a children’s author, and the Tree Street Kids is her debut series (Moody Publishers, 2021 and 2022). Her children’s writing has been published in LadybugThe Friend, Sunday school curriculum, and at Story Warren. She’s contributed to Christianity Today, Think Christian, and many other print and online publications. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and she leads writing workshops at her local teen center. 

Amanda is also the senior developmental editor at Moody Publishers in Chicago, working closely with nonfiction authors to help shape Christian books in the areas of Christian living, church and ministry, and personal and spiritual growth. 

You can find her on the web at:

Website: treestreetkids.com or amandaclearyeastep.com

Twitter: AmandaICleary

Facebook: /amandaclearyeastepauthor

Instagram: book_leaves

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Vivian Kirkfield in Celebration of her Latest Release – From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves

Today I am delighted to have the talented Vivian Kirkfield as my guest in celebration of her newest release From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves, written by Vivian, illustrated by Gilbert Ford and published by HMH Books for Young Readers. At 96-pages, it’s not your typical picture book, but it is a remarkable one that curious readers will gobble up. Interested in learning more? Then enjoy this interview with my questions in bold. Afterwards, be sure to check out Vivian’s generous giveaway offer.

Welcome, Vivian. Before we dig in, tell us a little bit about your journey into writing for kids.

I’ve had a love affair with picture books from the first moment my mother sat me on her lap to read me a story – The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton is the first story I remember hearing. As a kid, I loved scribbling little poems. And in school, English was probably my favorite subject because I enjoyed reading and writing so much. But I never seriously considered writing as a career until 2010 when I self-published a parent-teacher guide, Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking. Filled with 100 picture book summaries, craft projects, and cooking activities, that book got me blogging because I wanted to spread the word and let people know about it. Blogging about picture books put me in contact with Susanna Hill and her Perfect Picture Book Friday. It was just about that time when my son gave me a very unusual present for my 64th birthday – he took me skydiving! And when my feet touched the ground, I knew that if I could do that, I could do anything. I’d already been contemplating writing my own picture books…and at the end of that year, when Julie Hedlund announced she was starting a new challenge: 12×12 in 2012, I jumped on board and never looked back.

I LOVE that sky-diving spirit! And you certainly have soared in your picture book writing career. On to my second question…

The former teacher in me is excited about the upcoming (January 19th!) release of your newest picture book From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves.  At 96 pages, it’s not your typical picture book format.  Can you tell us what makes this format different and special?

That’s a great question, Laura. I’ve just received my box of author copies – and the first thing that struck me was the size of the book. Unlike the usual picture books that average around 9×12 or larger, this book is 7×10 – the perfect size to tuck in a backpack. And inside, it’s very much like the chapter books that middle grade readers enjoy – but different because it’s fully illustrated. Perhaps you might say it’s a cross between a chapter book and a graphic novel because it has the illustrations of a graphic novel, but the text of a chapter book! The best of both worlds, we hope. I love that each chapter opens with a glorious illustration on the left side and the short opening lines of the chapter on the right. This format really invites the reader in.

It certainly invites THIS reader in! Just take a look at this interior spread:

What inspired you to tackle the topic “inventions that changed the way the world moves”?

A phone conversation inspired me to write the story of Eric Wickman, a Swedish immigrant who came to the United States in 1905 with only $60 in his pocket. He spoke no English, changed jobs several times, and failed in his car dealership venture. But he loved America and had experienced the difficulty of getting around such a big country. When the opportunity arose, he bought the showroom model that no one wanted, turned it into a shuttle service, and founded the Greyhound Bus Company. I LOVE stories about how the underdog overcomes obstacles and succeeds…especially when they are true stories. After writing the story, my agent sent it out on submission and Ann Rider, an editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt fell in love with it and asked if I would be willing to write several more similar stories about other visionaries whose inventions changed the way the world moves. To which I replied: YES!

Wow! I’m glad she had such creative vision and clearly loves your work.

Moving on (pun intended), I think readers of all ages will be interested in your process for first researching and then writing the book. Were there any amazing moments where you discovered something completely new to you? 

One of the things I love best about writing nonfiction picture books is that I learn so much! I knew nothing about the back story/inside story of any of these inventions. And discovering the collateral tidbits were amazing. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was in France at the very moment the first manned hot-air balloon flight took place? Yup…he was negotiating the Treaty of Paris between the United States and England and he wrote in his diary, “We observed it lift off in the most majestic manner.” 

And, have you ever wondered who built the first bike…and why? It was all because of a volcanic eruption in 1815 which spewed so much ash into the atmosphere, the climate of 1816 changed and it was called the year without a summer. That’s the summer that Mary Godwin went on holiday in Switzerland with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. A week of unseasonably cold rainy weather kept them indoors and Byron challenged his companions to write the scariest story. And Mary rose to the challenge and penned Frankenstein. In Germany, the oat crops failed and horses died. Since cars, buses, and trains had not been invented yet, the only way to get around was to walk. Karl Drais thought he could to find a way to move more quickly using his own two feet.

I absolutely love stories like that – finding out the why behind commonplace things…and I think kids enjoy that type of discovery as well.

Finally, 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? 

Honestly, Laura, I think a teacher or parent could use this book for an entire semester. With nine individual picture book stories, there is a lot to choose from! Each chapter is brimming with opportunities for activities that integrate math, science, geography, art, and language – extending the learning experience. Here are just a couple:

Extension Challenge #1: Bertha Benz lived in a time when most people thought women were delicate and weak. But when her husband refused to take his gas-powered automobile for a test drive, she did! On the 65-mile road trip with her sons through Germany’s Black Forest, Bertha used her ingenuity…as well as her hat pin and garters to keep the car going. When she returned home, she gave Karl a to-do list of improvements he needed to create for the car. Bertha’s trip garnered lots of publicity – and newspapers spoke of how safe a car must be if even a woman could drive it. Business boomed as people read the reports and bought cars – Bertha’s plan had succeeded.

Ask your children:

  • Get your notebook and pencil. You’ve been asked to cover a big news story! It’s 1888 and a woman is driving a new-fangled automobile through your town. Write your article for the newspaper.
  • The first gas-powered auto had only three wheels and a hand-brake. What would the first gas-powered auto have looked like if you had designed it? Draw a picture of it.
  • Look at a map of Germany. Find the town Bertha lived in. Then find the town her mother lived in. Trace her journey on the map.

Extension Challenge #2: When Eric Wickman arrived in the United States at the age of 17, he had very little money and he spoke no English. Over the next decade, he tried logging, mining, and even opened a car dealership, but he couldn’t even sell one car. Then he started a shuttle service – driving miners from the town to the mine – 15 cents for a one-way ride and 25 cents for a round trip – it was so popular, he needed to buy another car.

Ask your children:

  • Eric is saving money to buy the new car. He can fit 10 passengers at a time in his old car. If the new car costs $100, how many round-trips (at 25 cents for each passenger) does he have to make in order to save up enough to buy the car?
  • Eric built his first bus using a truck chassis as the base. What materials would you need for a bus of your own design? Make a list and draw a picture.
  • Eric immigrated from Sweden, arrived in New York City, traveled to Arizona and then Minnesota to work. Find those places on a globe or world map and trace Eric’s journey.

Extension Challenge #3: Robert Goddard loved science fiction and dreamed of going to Mars. Climbing a cherry tree on his aunt’s farm, young Robert looked up at the sky and decided he was going to build a vehicle that would fly to the moon. He kept diaries and journals to record all of the observations he made and all of the experiments he did.

Ask your children:

  • If you built your own space vehicle, what planet would you visit and why? Which planets would be your next-door neighbors?
  • Draw a picture of your space vehicle and the clothes you would wear and what you would take.
  • You’ve arrived at your destination. Write a letter to your family. Write a letter to your best friend.

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Laura!

The pleasure is all mine! Congratulations on this new book and I’m sure teachers and parents everywhere will want to add this to their collections.  

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! Vivian is thrilled to offer a giveaway of either a picture book critique (rhyming or prose/fiction or nonfiction – under 1000 words) OR a FREE copy of From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves. To enter, simply post a comment below letting me know that you’d like to enter. (NOTE: For the book prize, you must be U.S. resident.) The giveaway ends Wednesday, 1/13/2021, at 11:59 pm EST. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. Winner named here.

About Vivian: Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, and visiting kidlit friends all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the picturesque town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, and Junior Library Guild Selection.

To connect with Vivian and learn more about her books:

Website: www.viviankirkfield.com
Facebook www.facebook.com/viviankirkfield
Twitter: www.twitter.com/viviankirkfield
Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/viviankirkfield
Instagram: www.instagram.com/viviankirkfield

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Celebrating HAPPY BIRTHDAY TREES and A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE with Children’s Author KAREN ROSTOKER-GRUBER

Today I am thrilled to interview talented children’s book author Karen Roster-Gruber in celebration of not one, but TWO 2020 releases. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TREES, illustrated by Holly Sterling and published by Kar-Ben Publishing is a cheery board book celebrating Tu B’Shevat—Jewish Arbor Day. Told in song-like verse, it captures the joy of planting a tree with three diverse children working together to get the job done. A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE, illustrated by Kristina Swarner and published by Albert Whitman, is Karen’s delightful retelling of an old Yiddish folktale. Told in a combination of prose and spot-on cumulative verse, it had me smiling with each page turn. Kristina Swarner’s illustrations, rendered in ink and watercolor with lots of texture and humor, work well with Karen’s charming text to capture the feel of a traditional folktale, but with modern humor.

Both are delightful and would make wonderful additions to your home or school library. I will be recommending them for purchase at my local town library. Now, the moment, you’ve all been waiting for — the interview with my questions in bold.

Congratulations on the release of both of these fabulous books.  Let’s start with A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE.  I’m smitten with this cumulative tale based on a Yiddish folktale. What inspired you to retell it? Is there anything special about the names Earl and Marge?

My parents are named Earl and Marge and I finally got to use them in a book!  I tried getting my grandmother’s name in there as well, but the publisher took it out.  Her name was Zelda.

I wanted to reimagine a Yiddish folktale and make it a story that everyone could enjoy, so I took out the Rabbi and the Yiddish words, and added in a wise woman because times have changed.

I also wanted to make the tale a bit more lyrical.  I added a touch of rhyme–a repeated refrain, which kids love.  Kids also like when they can predict something. 

Right now this tale is perfect, as everyone is feeling like Farmer Earl, stuck in a too-small space with their cats, dogs, and kids during COVID; It’s too crowded!

HA! Yes, we can all relate to that cooped up feeling. That’s for sure!

The illustrations by Kristina Swarner mirror perfectly the folksy, whimsical feel of your text.  Can you offer any tips for caregivers for how to make the most of this pairing?  (Ex:  stop and count, play “find the…” etc?)

Everytime I look at my book, I find things that I didn’t see before.  Illustration-wise, the only thing I can take credit for is the  duck on the front cover taking a bite out of the letter “A” in the word “FOLKTALE.”  The duck was already on the roof in the sketches and sooooo very close to the letter “A,” that I thought it would be hysterical.  I called my editor and she agreed. 

She told the illustrator and it was done.  

There’s also a toilet paper scene that quacks me up!

Many people I know are telling me that they have their kids counting the ducks, the horses, and the goats on each page. And, asking them to find certain things–like the duck in the toilet or the mouse underneath the bed. 

 I tell people to take notice of the fabric on the wise woman’s dresses, the drapes, and the wise woman’s chair.  Look at the patterns on the wallpaper.  And, to pay close attention to what appears in the wise woman’s windows. It will give the children an idea of what the wise woman will say to Farmer Earl next.  Her plants grow in each instance as well.

In addition, the cats in the book are not amused with all of the ducks, horses, and goats coming into the house, so their facial expressions are a killer.

Here’s the toilet paper scene: 

I agree. There are SO many ways young readers can delight in the joy of discovering the many details in both illustration and text.

Oh my goodness, life is good. Two books out in the same month – each as darling as the other!  Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TREES.

In the past, I’ve had two books come out in the same year, but I’ve never had two come out in the same month!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY TREES came about because I was invited to a luncheon sponsored by the PJ Library.  When they told us what they were looking for, they said that they needed good board books.  So, I went home and looked in my file for the many board books that I had written.  I found one called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” I sent it to the PJ Library and won a 2000 author incentive award.  Then my agent found a publisher for it.  

(For my first 14 books I didn’t have an agent though.  For these two I did.) 

You certainly have a gift for rhythm and rhyme. Both stories shared today have very distinct rhythmic voices and rhyme patterns. As an author, how do you decide the verse style you will use for a given story?  

It literally happens to me at 3am.  With A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE, after reading countless folktales from all over the world and settling in on two, the next morning I wrote this on a sticky note.  That note became the repeated refrain for the book.

I can relate to that! Good thing you keep sticky notes and a pen by your bedside. This has been such a lovely chat, Karen. In closing, where can interested readers find your books? 

You can order both of these books from any bookstore near your house. 
If you want signed copies, though,  I signed extra copies at my local bookstore: The Bookworm.  To get a signed copy here’s their number.  They can ship anywhere. 908-766-4599.  

BIO: Karen Rostoker-Gruber is a multi-award-winning author of over 16 books with hundreds of thousands of copies sold. Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, was named a National Jewish Book Award Finalist and was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Children’s Literature Award from the Church and Synagogue Library Association. Her books Bandit (Marshall Cavendish 2008), Bandit’s Surprise (Marshall Cavendish 2010), and Ferret Fun (Marshall Cavendish 2011) all received starred reviews in School Library Journal; Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo (Dial 2004) and Bandit were both International Reading Association Children’s Book Council Children’s Choices Award recipients;  three of her books, Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo(in 2005), Bandit (in 2009), and Ferret Fun (in 2012) were all chosen for the 100 Best Children’s Books in the Bureau of Education and Research’s Best of the Year Handbook.  Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-DooandFerret Fun were nominated for the Missouri Show Me Award; Bandit was nominated for the South Carolina Book Award; and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was a Dollywood Foundation selection two years in a row (in 2007 the Dollywood Foundation bought 73,579 copies and in 2008 it bought 88,996 copies). Karen’s book, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, published by Apples and Honey Press, a division of Behrman House, was named a PJ Library book selection in July of 2017 and went out to 21,000 4-year-olds in the US and Canada. Karen’s latest books, Happy Birthday, Trees (KarBen) and A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale (Whitman), will both be out in 2020.  Karen is an active member of SCBWI, has twice co-chaired the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature’s One-on-One Conference, and is one of the co-founders of The Book Meshuggenahs.  http://www.karenrostoker-gruber.com

[Note: Thank you to Kar-Ben Publishing and Albert Whitman for the sharing ARCs 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.]

A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE: An Interview with Author Jennifer Grant

When I read the description of Jennifer’s newest book, A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE, illustrated by Gillian Whiting and published last month by Church Publishing, I knew immediately that I wanted to interview her.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

“In this beautiful book for children, a child tells her story of losing a beloved neighbor and friend. A young girl remembers playing with her neighbor’s cat, stories that her neighbor told her, and the special mementos her friend kept on a shelf above her kitchen sink, including a little blue bottle she kept to remind her of Psalm 56:8: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” A Little Blue Bottle doesn’t provide pat answers or heavy-handed messages about life or death, but allows the grieving child to articulate her loss and her love for the deceased friend, while wondering how God is near when we suffer. A gentle and insightful resource for children who are grieving, and for those who care for them.”

Wow! I sure could have used a book like this when my mother passed away a few years ago and we all, including my then 9 year old daughter and 13 year old son, were grieving. In the special connection department, I have on my window sill the little collection of blue bottles that my mother kept on her window sill. So you see, interviewing Jennifer was meant to be. Thank you Jennifer! And now, the interview with my questions in bottle blue.

First off, congratulations. A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE released on September 3oth! How has the launch been with the pandemic in full swing?

Thank you! I’m glad it is finally out! Launching a book in 2020, of course, has been very different from any of the other times I’ve released a book. 
I have a few favorite independent bookstores, including Prairie Path Books in Wheaton, IL, where I normally have book launch parties. The last one, for Maybe I Can Love My Neighbor Too (2019) was so much fun! My oldest and dearest friend came from out of state, my in-laws and mother from nearby, and many others were there to celebrate the book coming into the world. When I was in 7th grade, I had a special teacher who encouraged me in my writing; we’ve stayed in touch and she always comes to book launch parties in the Chicago area, which means the world to me. But this year, no launch parties… 


My husband offered to set up something on Zoom, but after attending my daughter’s high school graduation, my son’s college graduation, and birthday parties—including my husband’s grandmother’s 100th birthday celebration—via Zoom, I just didn’t have the heart for it. 


As you know, one of the delightful things about writing for kids is reading to them—it’s been strange just having the book slip out into the world and not to experience it with children, in person.


Yes, I know what you mean. Virtual is better than not at all, but there’s nothing as special as in-person connecting through reading.

You write for both adults and children. Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.


I always wanted to be a writer when I was growing up. In college, I took all the creative writing classes I could and then went on to grad school, studying English and Creative Writing. The kind of winding path of my career has always involved writing. I’ve written annual reports, white papers, newspaper features and columns, blog posts, articles, and books. It’s been over the past 4-5 years when I’ve turned my attention toward children’s literature.

I’m so glad you did! What inspired you to write A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE?

interior spread from A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE written by Jennifer Grant and illustrated by Gillian Whiting


A friend of mine lives near Newtown, CT, and after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I asked her whether she was finding good picture books about grief or death to read with her young children, some of whom knew kids who were murdered at their school. She said she hadn’t found anything she wanted to share with them during that time. That planted a seed in my mind; I thought it would be an honor to write a story that might offer comfort to grieving kids. The main character of Mrs. Wednesday (the older woman who dies in the book) is based on a few real-life older neighbors I’ve had, both as a child and when I was raising my kids. Certain details, like the cat hiding under the bed, are taken from real experiences with older women I’ve known. Intergenerational friendships can be so rich; I wanted to celebrate them in this book, too. 

What is your greatest desire for the readers who read this book?  What other resources are available for extending the reading? 


I thought for a long time before writing the dedication to A Little Blue Bottle. I think it answers your question, and it reads: “For all who grieve—may your loneliness be eased and your hope reawakened.”

The publisher also made some downloadable activity pages related to the story. You can find them at: https://www.churchpublishing.org/littlebluebottle.

That’s a beautiful dedication for a much-needed book. Just lovely.

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


I’m currently working on two projects, and both of them will be released in Fall 2021. 


One is a book for adults, from Broadleaf Books, called Dimming the Day: Evening Meditations for Quiet Wonder. It’s a book of 20 readings about things in nature (things as ordinary as dandelions and as ornate as starling murmurations). Each short chapter tells a story, includes scientific information on the topic at hand, and ends with some poetry or a part of Scripture, and then a prompt for sleep. The idea is to change up the way we end the day—rather than doom-scrolling through the news headlines or social media, feeling a sense of wonder and awe about the natural world to relax before sleep.


The other book I’m working on is a picture book, and, again, I’m collaborating with the amazing artist Gillian Whiting, who illustrated A Little Blue Bottle. It’s a story I wrote early on in the pandemic and tells the story, for young children, about what has happened, how things have changed, and more about this time. Gillian is using a very different style in these illustrations. They’re powerful.


People can find my books online wherever they buy books or at bookshop.org, a wonderful way to purchase books and benefit independent bookstores. My writing guild, INK: A Creative Collective, has a bookshop store: https://bookshop.org/shop/INKcreativecollective.

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Jennifer. Best wishes with this and all your upcoming projects.

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Grant is the author of five books for adults and several for children, including the award-winning picture book Maybe God is Like That Too. A former newspaper columnist and the mother of four young adult children, she lives with her bicycle-obsessed husband and rescue dog Scarlett in the Chicago area. More at jennifergrant.com or find her on Twitter @jennifercgrant.

FALL FUN DAY: FIVE TIPS for Celebrating Fall with Author Tara Knudson

Today I am delighted to have children’s author Tara Knudson here in celebration of the release of her most recent board book with Zonderidz, FALL FUN DAY. First, enjoy the colorful cover, illustrated by Juliana Motzko. Then, enjoy her five fun tips for things to do with your little ones after reading the book.

FIVE FUN ACTIVITIES for a FUN FALL DAY

By Tara Knudson

Thank you, Laura, for inviting me to your blog today! 

FUN FALL DAY allows the reader to step inside a fall fair with a petting zoo, pumpkin patch, hayride, and more! Even if you can’t go to a fall fair this year, there are still plenty of fun things in the book that you can do at your house or nearby. Here are five activities for a fun fall day!

GO FOR A NATURE WALK. Do the fall leaves change colors where you live? If they do, enjoy them with your kids. Shuffle through the leaves on the ground and hear them crackle and crunch! Collect the prettiest ones you can find. Make leaf piles and jump in! Where I live in Florida, the leaves do not change to the beautiful shades of red, yellow, orange, and gold that are associated with fall. I have not seen colorful fall leaves in several years and I miss the beauty of them. I hope to drive north and see some this year with my family.

PICK OUT A PUMPKIN. If you can’t make it to a pumpkin patch, it is still fun to pick out a pumpkin from a farmer’s market, your local grocery store or a roadside stand. Besides carving pumpkins, it is fun to decorate them with paint, stickers, glitter, and more.

MAKE A FALL TREAT. When I was young, we used to go to a village near Chicago named Long Grove and visit the Apple Haus. We bought and ate the most delicious apple cider donuts! You can bake apple cider donuts at home or a different fall treat with apples, pumpkin, cinnamon, maple – there are so many delicious flavors of the season.

MAKE A FALL CRAFT. This picture frame activity was created by Instagram: @glitter_on_a_dime. It is a simple fall craft that children will enjoy making. There are so many great projects online. Gather ideas and create!  Here’s the link: https://www.glitteronadime.com/fall-popsicle-stick-frame-craft/

MAKE YOUR OWN RIDE. A wagon ride may not be as exciting as a hayride, but it’s still fun. Have your kids cuddle under a blanket, feel the cool fall air, and admire the beauty of the season as you ride through your neighborhood.  

Enjoy the season everyone!

Learn more about Tara Knudson and her books here. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts with Nancy I. Sanders about THE VERY OLDEST PEAR TREE

Today I’m delighted to have best-selling picture book author Nancy I. Sanders here to share five fun facts about her latest picture book release, THE VERY OLDEST PEAR TREE. Illustrated by Yasmin Imamura and published by Albert Whitman and Company, it’s just the kind of historical picture book I would have read to my students back when I was a fourth grade teacher.  Here’s the official description per the publisher’s website:

In the 1630s in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a Puritan settler planted a pear tree—the first pear tree in America. More than a century later, the tree still bore fruit, impressing a famous poet and one of the first US presidents. The pear tree survived hurricanes, fire, and vandalism, and today, more than 350 years after it was first planted, it’s alive and strong, and clones of it grow all around the US. This is the amazing true story of the Endicott Pear tree, and how it grew up with our nation.

Now grab a pear (for it’s the season!) as she shares five fun facts about the this amazing tree and the interesting discoveries she made.  My favorite?  Fact #3. I just love how Nancy’s inquisitive mind, not only led her to write the book, but it also led to the planting of Endicott trees in two national parks where the history of the tree had been lost! Thank you, Nancy for sharing this story with the world!

Five Fun Facts about The Very Oldest Pear Tree.

Written by Nancy I. Sanders.

Art by Yasmin Imamura.

Fun Fact #1

The nonfiction picture book, The Very Oldest Pear Tree, first started out as a picture book about apple trees! I had read somewhere that the Pilgrims planted apple trees, so I thought that would make a terrific picture book. But when I started researching this topic, I discovered all the apple trees died that the Pilgrims planted. However, an article showed up in my Google search about a pear tree the Puritans planted—that is STILL ALIVE nearly 400 years later! I was hooked and wanted to tell its story.

Fun Fact #2

Family members, descendants of Governor John Endecott who planted the tree in 1632, still help take care of the tree today (along with others). William T. Endicott is the current President of the John Endicott Family Association.

Fun Fact #3

Clones of the Endicott pear tree have been planted since writing this book. In my research, I discovered that twigs were cut from the original Endicott pear tree, gifted to John Adams, and planted by the former President himself on his farm in Quincy. I contacted the Adams National Historical Park to see if these pear trees were still alive. They weren’t, and the current staff at the park had never even heard of this story. They immediately looked up the research themselves, discovered that these pear trees had been actually planted, and said they wanted to plant clones of the pear tree today! Through contact with William T. Endicott and members of the Endicott family, arrangements were made with not just one, but two national parks, to plant about a dozen Endicott Pear Trees in the spring of 2020: The Adams National Historic Park, and the Minute Man National Historic Park.

Fun Fact #4

Growing up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania, we had two pear trees. They were in the pasture for our horse and pony. I remember climbing up a tall ladder with a basket to pick pears each summer. At that time, I didn’t know there weren’t any pear trees in America until the day the Endicott pear tree was shipped over from England. Planted in 1632, the Endicott pear tree is the very oldest pear tree in America!

Fun Fact #5

The Endicott pear tree cannot bear fruit without a second pear tree near by. So when I started asking people where this second pear tree is—nobody knows! This is a mystery just waiting to be discovered!!!! It would be fun to go on a treasure hunt in the neighborhood one day to find it. 

Thanks, Laura, for featuring my newest book here on your blog! It was so much fun, and that’s a fact!

And it was my pleasure to have you here!

Nancy I. Sanders loves to go on treasure hunts to dig up interesting facts for kids to know. Lots of times she and her husband get to take trips to research everything they want to learn about the books she is writing. They traveled to Danvers, Massachusetts, to visit the Endicott Pear Tree while writing this book. When she wrote, Jane Austen for Kids, they flew to London and walked in Jane’s footsteps all over England in the places she lived or visited. Nancy is the bestselling and award-winning children’s author of over 100 books. Visit her website to find out more at www.nancyisanders.com.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts about WAITING TOGETHER with Danielle Dufayet

Today I’m delighted to invite picture book author Danielle Dufayet to my blog to give a behind-the-scenes perspective on her charming new picture book WAITING TOGETHER (Albert Whitman, September 1, 2020), written by Danielle and illustrated by Srimalie Bassani.

Here’s the official blurb from the publisher’s website: Waiting is not easy! And waiting can take a long time. Like waiting on the drip, drip, drip of rain to stop or the ding of the timer for cookies to be done baking. But there’s one thing that can make waiting go a little bit faster—a friend! A perfect read aloud, this book encourages readers to enjoy every kind of wait.

I had the opportunity to read an advance pdf of the book and I couldn’t agree more! Danielle’s newest book is charming and would make a great addition to your home or school library. And now, with out further fuss, here’s Danielle with her five fun facts. Which fact surprises/encourages you the most?

Five Fun Facts about 

WAITING TOGETHER

by Danielle Dufayet

Fun Fact #1: Waiting Together was the manuscript that landed me my dream agent, Karen Grencik, at Red Fox Literary. Another agent wanted to represent it before her, but her communication style was so inconsistent and unreliable! So glad Karen took me on!

Fun Fact #2: I had to put Waiting Together away for 4 years because two other, very well-known authors, were coming out with books about waiting. (Kevin Henkes and Antoinette Portis). One morning I woke up and said, “It’s time.”

Fun Fact #3: The idea for Waiting Together came to me in an instant after I read Deborah Underwood’s wonderful The Quiet Book. There are so many different kinds of quiet and there are so many different kinds of waits.

Fun Fact #4: I revised Waiting Together at least 30 times. I tried out a bunch of different arcs and plots until I decided to make it super simple with a morning to night arc and a heavy focus on onomatopoeia.

Fun Fact #5: I wanted the take-away to be: life is full of waiting and it’s not always easy, but always better with a friend! This was such a fun story to write!

And fun to read. Thanks, Danielle, for sharing your five fun facts! And readers, the book is available at bookstores everywhere! Enjoy!

Connect with Danielle on her platforms:
website: https://www.danielledufayetbooks.com
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/danielledufayet
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/danielledufayet
Art Website:  https://www.danielledufayet.com
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/ddaniwriter/

BIO:

Danielle Dufayet, born in Yonkers, New York, now lives in sunny San Jose, California, where she writes children’s books and paints. She also teaches English and Public Speaking (Self-Empowerment) to grades K-12. Danielle read her first picture book (Little Raccoon and the Thing in the Pool) when she was 18 whereupon she was blown away by its simplicity, timelessness and transformative power. That’s when she knew it was her calling. Thirty five years and a Master’s Degree later, she finally made her dream come true and she’ll have TWO books out in 2019 – one about inner strength and the other about self-love/compassion. Her third book, Waiting Together, by Albert Whitman, is out September 1, 2020.

[Note: Thank you to the author for a sneak peek 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.]

GRANDMA SNUGGLES: TEN Ways to Stay Connected with your Grandchildren during Covid19 Curated by Glenys Nellist (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I am delighted to have bestselling Christian children’s author Glenys Nellist here in celebration of the release of her most recent board book with Zonderidz, GRANDMA SNUGGLES. First, enjoy these delightful snapshots of Glenys with the book and her grandchildren. Then, take a peek at the lovely book trailer.

Now enjoy Glenys’ tips for staying connected during a pandemic and remember to enter the giveaway a chance to win a copy of GRANDMA SNUGGLES (Details at end of post.) Enjoy!

Ten Ways to Stay Connected with Your Grandchildren During Covid19

Curated by Glenys Nellist

I never imagined when writing Grandma Snuggles two years ago that this little board book would be released during a pandemic—the very time when all grandmas everywhere are yearning for their snuggles. 

The advent of Covid19 has meant that many families have been unable to spend time together, and grandparents have been forced to find new ways to stay in touch with their little ones. In honor of the release of Grandma Snuggles, here are ten creative ways to stay connected with your grandchildren during Covid19:

  1. Write to them. This might sound old-fashioned, but children LOVE receiving real mail! Even if they can’t read yet, and even if they’re tiny, your letters will become treasures for them in years to come, especially if you describe the world we’re living in right now.
  2. Celebrate milestones virtually. Just because you can’t be with your grandchildren physically doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate their birthdays, class graduations or other special occasions. For example—buy or bake that birthday cake, call your grandchild via Skype, Facetime or Video Messenger, sing Happy Birthday and have them blow out the candles on the cake. (Grandpa is, of course, hiding off-camera to blow them out!)
  3. Designate a certain time and day of the week, such as ‘Friday Funnies at Five’ to share jokes over the phone.
  4. Bake together via video call… arrange for your grandchild to have the exact same ingredients on hand that you have and bake cookies, or cupcakes, or try out a new recipe.
  5. Work together on a craft via Zoom.
  6. Do a Scavenger Hunt via Zoom or video call. Think of ten regular household items that your grandchild has to find. Name them one at a time and have your grandchild race to find them. Then let them name ten items for you! For extra fun, use a timer. Who was the fastest to find their ten objects…your grandchild, or you?
  7. Do puzzles together via Zoom or Facetime. Download a printable wordsearch or crossword puzzle. Mail a copy to your grandchild or have their parents download it. Work together to complete it.
  8. Use the Zoom whiteboard feature to play Tic Tac Toe or Pictionary together.
  9. Read together via video call. For younger children, choose picture books that have lots of detail in the illustrations. After you read to them, play ‘I Spy’…ask your grandchild to spot things in the pictures. For older children who enjoy chapter books, try taking it in turns to read one chapter each.
  10. Finally (and quite possibly, my favorite activity!) is to read Grandma Snuggles to your grandchild via video call. Written in rhyme, this brand-new board book features eight grandma animals with their little ones. A fun game to play with this book is ‘Guess That Grandma.’ Read each poem to your grandchild and have them guess the animal before you show them the picture. Can you guess this one?

I have a snuggly grandma,

God made her teeth so strong!

We build our home together,

It doesn’t take us long.

And when our lodge is ready,

We’re comfy as can be!

Grandma snuggles are the best,

She’s God’s gift to me.

And here’s one more bonus activity… download and print one of these cute coloring sheets from Grandma Snuggles. Color together over Facetime, but don’t look at each other’s until you’re both finished. Then compare the colors you used. As you color, take turns to talk about your favorite things: colors/ games/ candy/ fruit / places/ animals/ books / movies/ cereal / ice-cream flavor etc.

However you choose to stay connected with your grandchild, the most important thing is to find what works for you, and simply stay in touch. 

Thank you, Glenys! These are wonderful suggestions. To learn more about Glenys and her books, check out her website.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a complimentary copy of GRANDMA SNUGGLES (Zonderkidz, 2020) simply post a comment below letting me know. (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 Thursday, 8/13/20/20 at 11:59 pm EST. NOTE: This giveaway is now OVER. The winner is announced here.

Special note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider following my blog or “liking” me on my Facebook Author page, Twitter, or Instagram. I’d love the support and connection.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts about DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS with Carrie Finison (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I’m delighted to have rhyming picture book author Carrie Finison here to share five fun facts about her debut picture book release, DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS. Illustrated by Brianne Farley and published by Putnam, it’s about a generous but increasingly put-upon bear who makes batch after batch of doughnuts for her woodland friends without saving any for herself.  Take a peek at the lovely reviews Carries’s book has received from Publishers Weekly and Youth Services Book Review, then grab a doughnut and enjoy as she shares five behind-the-scenes facts about the book’s creation.  My favorite?  Fact #1. It’s a good reminder that good writing takes time.  Happy reading, all!

Five Fun Facts about

DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS

by Carrie Finison

Fun Fact #1: Draft 89 is the one that was published.

I save a new file every day that I work on a story. That doesn’t mean every one of those drafts was significantly different – sometimes I may have only changed a line or two. But it does mean 89 separate days of work on the story – plus lots of thinking time in between. Since the book is written in rhyme, it can take a LOT of revision to change even a few words. That’s because when you revise, you have to find a way to say what you want to say in rhyme – and make sure you’re not repeating a rhyme from earlier in the story. So even a small change can involve alterations to many stanzas. It’s a fun challenge, but not easy!

Fun Fact #2: MANY doughnuts were harmed in the writing of this book.

My kids were quick to point out that every important publication milestone – acceptance, completion of the manuscript, the cover reveal, and now publication, be celebrated with doughnuts. In addition to all those doughnuts, I worked to develop a doughnut recipe that would be easy enough to make with kids (with adult stove supervision). I had hoped this would be in the back of the book but, alas, we ran out of pages! However, I’ve posted the recipe on my website and also wrote about developing the recipe on the Soaring ’20’s blog.

Fun Fact #3: All the animals in the book are hibernators – except one!

In some of the earlier versions of the story, the book ended with all the animal friends going to sleep for the winter together. I went down an Internet rabbit hole (or maybe a chipmunk den?) researching hibernators and learned a lot about the different ways animals cope with winter. The only animal in the story that does not hibernate in some way is Topsy, the opossum. Poor opossums have a hard time dealing with the cold and often get frostbitten on their bare feet and tails. I’m glad that Topsy found a warm spot in her friend LouAnn’s house!

Fun Fact #4: The characters didn’t always have names.

The animals in the book didn’t have names at first, they were just called “Bear” “Raccoon” and so on. When I decided to name the main character, LouAnn, I realized all the other characters would need names, too. It was a fun afternoon dreaming up those names! My favorite is “Mouffette” which is the French word for “skunk.” Isn’t that a pretty name?

Fun Fact #5: The cast-iron pan that LouAnn uses to cook doughnuts is verrry familiar.

When I saw Brianne Farley’s illustrations for LouAnn’s kitchen, I was thrilled to see the cast-iron pan that LouAnn cooks her doughnuts in. I have the exact same pan, which once belonged to my grandmother! So now, when I read the book, I’m reminded of my grandmother. I love that LouAnn is a bit old-fashioned at heart.

Author Bio:

Carrie Finison began her literary career at the age of seven with an idea, a box of markers, and her father’s typewriter. She has been writing off and on ever since, though she has (somewhat regretfully) traded in the typewriter for a laptop. Her debut picture book is DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (July, 2020), and a second picture book, DON’T HUG DOUG, will follow in January, 2021. She also writes for children’s magazines including Babybug, Ladybug, High Five, and Highlights. When she’s not writing, Carrie enjoys reading mystery novels, trying new recipes, and curling up on the couch for family movie nights. She lives outside Boston with her husband, son, daughter, and two cats who permit her to write in their cozy attic office. Find her online at www.carriefinison.com or on Twitter @CarrieFinison.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a SIGNED copy of DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (Putnam, July 2020) simply post a comment below letting me know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Carrie, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Thursday, 7/30/20 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced the next day! NOTE: This giveaway is now over. The winner is announced here.

Special note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider following my blog or “liking” me on my Facebook Author page, Twitter, or Instagram. I’d love the support and connection.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Michelle Lord Chats about THE MESS THAT WE MADE

Today I am delighted to welcome one of my first critique partners, Michelle Lord, for an interview to celebrate the release of her recent picture book THE MESS THAT WE MADE, published by Flashlight Press and gorgeously illustrated by Julia Blattman. I spotted her book at the ALA Mid Winter Meeting this past January and not only snapped this picture, but also enjoyed savoring every word and illustration. Written in flawless rhyme, echoing the traditional “This is the House that Jack Made,” Michelles’ story offers teachers, librarians and caregivers a wonderful way to engage children in issues of preservation- specifically relating to the world’s oceans. Now for the interview, with my questions in bold.

Welcome, Michelle. Please tell us a little bit about your journey into the book world. Have you always been a writer? 

As a child, I loved to read and escaped into a book whenever I could. I wrote and illustrated my first book, Freddy the Fly, at age five. I returned to writing when my own children were young. I read many picture books in those days (and still do), and admired the artful combination of words and pictures. I decided to give it a try…  

I joined SCBWI, took classes, went on retreats, and learned as much as I could about writing for children. Lee & Low Books published my first book in 2006. I belong to a critique group of wonderful women who help take my writing to the next level. My kids are now all in their twenties, and I’m still working to find the right combination of words to tell a good story.

Congratulations on the release of your beautiful new picture book with Flashlight Press.  What inspired you to write THE MESS THAT WE MADE? 

Thank you! Kids inspired me to write this book. I feel terrible that they will inherit such a mess! The ocean is vital to all of our lives. Humans depend on the ocean for the air we breathe—it produces more than half of the world’s oxygen. Millions of plants and animals make their home in the ocean and provide us with needed food and medicine. Besides, who doesn’t love splashing through the surf or listening to waves crash ashore at sundown? We must appreciate and take care this precious resource—the ocean. 

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? 

My editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, and I had various back-and-forth emails regarding the type of illustration that would best fit my story. An illustration style that wasn’t too cartoony was important to me because of the subject matter. Shari wanted to find an illustrator who had a mastery of light. When Shari sent samples of Julia Blattman’s work, I agreed that her style art complimented my text. When I finally saw the completed illustrations, I was amazed by the beautiful illustrations Julia created! The images really moved me from sadness to triumph as the characters work their way through the story. Art is powerful.

One of my favorite illustrations in THE MESS THAT WE MADE shows seals swimming around their plastic-free environment after the characters have cleaned up the mess that we made. The text reads, “We protest the boat of welded steel, collect the nets and free the seal, that eats the fish…” This image gives me hope.

 Your book stunningly brings into focus the pressing need to protect our seas. Can you offer any advice for teachers/parents for how they can use this book to spark meaningful conversation and action with their kids?

Some people may think that children are too young to learn about the devastation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I believe children should learn the reality of plastic pollution. Most of us don’t think about how our daily choices impact the planet—that the plastic bag from the grocery store could end up in the ocean. I hope my book gives children a glimpse of the harm plastic causes for sea life. If THE MESS THAT WE MADE can start conversations about environmentalism and inspire people to create change, I’ve accomplished my goal. Children have the power to make a difference in their world. Julia’s illustrations alone motivated me to think more about plastic use in my own life. 

The backmatter contains calls to action, things kids and families can do to fight ocean pollution. One suggestion is cut down on single-use plastics. Children, parents, and educators can also look up the locations of ocean garbage patches on the map provided, or discover how long it takes for common things we use to decompose.

Plastics that are used one time before being discarded are called single-use plastics. Items like water bottles, grocery bags, and food baggies are single-use plastics and compose approximately 40% of ocean trash. If each of us enacted a few changes, we could make a big difference. We can help save our oceans if we forgo straws, drink from reusable water bottles, and pack snacks in reusable containers. 

During this time when many of us around the world are wearing disposable masks and gloves, please dispose of these in the trash instead of on the ground. Reusable masks with or without a filter create less waste. Stay well!

Thank you, Michelle! And now for a final treat, enjoy listening to this recording from the publisher of the author herself reading the book!

About the author: Michelle Lord is the author of several books for children including Paterson Prize Honor Book A Song For CambodiaNature Recycles, and Animal School: What Class Are You? She lives with her family in New Braunfels, TX. Find her on the web at https://michellelordbooks.com.