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!

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: 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.

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.]

‘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: 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/

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

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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. 

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.]