FIVE FUN FACTS about GRAMA’S HUG with Picture Book Author-Illustrator Amy Nielander

Did you know that Sunday, September 12th was Grandparents’ Day? It’s a holiday I was unfamiliar with before my picture book LOVE IS KIND came out, but one which I quickly came to embrace, not only because LOVE IS KIND celebrates the special bond between Little Owl and his grammy, but also because I dedicated that book to my own grandmothers.

Now each year, I look forward to Grandparents’ Day as a special opportunity to foster intergenerational appreciation and am always on the lookout for new books that celebrate this special bond. With that in mind, I was delighted to discover GRAMA’S HUG, a delightful new picture book, written and illustrated by Amy Nielander and published in 2020 by Page Street Books.

Here’s the official blurb:

May and Grama are a team. They do everything together, from inventing creative projects to going birdwatching to preparing for the annual space fair. And they never, ever say goodbye without a hug. May’s love of science takes her far as her inventions win year after year, helped by Grama’s support, effort, and love. She travels to space camp and eventually beyond, earning her spot as the first kid astronaut to journey into space. As May prepares for her mission to explore the cosmos, she seems ready to go without looking back, making Grama worried that she will leave without a hug. This picture book explores the importance of treasuring even the smallest moments with people you love with heartwarming illustrations, expressive characters, and delightful touches of whimsy.

And now I have an extra special treat for you. Amy Nielander is my guest today sharing FIVE fun facts about this enchanting book. Thank you, Amy, and take it away!

FIVE FUN FACTS about GRAMA’S HUG with Amy Nielander

FUN FACT #1: Grama’s Hug started off as a wordless story.

My first picture book, The Ladybug Race, is a wordless book so it felt natural for me to approach Grama’s Hug the same way. It wasn’t until I attended the Rutgers University One-on-One Conference when my mentor suggested that I add text. The story reflects a passage of time and providing more text would help a young reader understand that movement. Words continued to build as I worked with the publisher, Page Street Kids. After several revisions, May’s (and Grama’s!) voice emerged and my first picture book with text was born!   

FUN FACT #2: The book was inspired by a sentence I heard shouted out one day: “I am not leaving without a hug!” 

The idea for Grama’s Hug landed in 2013 when I was walking my daughter to school one morning. As we approached the entrance, the bell rang and kids ran in. I heard a parent yell out “I am not leaving without a hug!”. I couldn’t get that sentence out of my head and immediately wondered “Would you really just stay here if you didn’t get that hug?” The first draft took shape and I titled it I am Not Leaving Without a Hug!. It was a terrible story though and I quickly changed course after an unfortunate SCBWI round table critique. In the process of revising, a childhood memory was triggered and I began writing a more personal story. The next version was filled with every emotion that memory rattled…love, loss, sadness and joy. 

FUN FACT #3: The space shuttle in the book was inspired by a 1990s concept design called the Venture Star.

As a former product designer, one of my favorite stages in the design process was the concept phase. Imagining what the next version of a product could be always excited me! Even though concept designs have the potential to improve lives, they are often written off early because they cost too much or the technology isn’t quite there yet.  Since Grama’s Hug is a story about a 10-year-old girl going to space, it takes place in a fantastical world. I used my creative license to design a place where previous concepts in history – did not fail. This accelerated the timeline of technology. The Venture Star was built in the 1990s by Lockheed Martin. It was a re-usable spaceplane meant to replace the Space Shuttle. The design didn’t rely on rocket boosters and would reduce materials along with providing other benefits. But after a test vehicle failed, the program was canceled in 2001. As a way to express my gratitude for every designer, engineer and scientist that contributed to that project, I gave the Venture Star a welcoming world to live in (forever!) with Grama’s Hug

FUN FACT #4: May’s elementary school is named after my elementary school.

I tried to infuse the story with personal details to make it extra special for me (in hopes that readers would feel that love in the illustrations). May’s elementary school is called Winchester, which is the school I attended as a child.

FUN FACT #5: Grama’s robe resembles my late grandma’s robe. 

My dad immigrated to the U.S. before I was born and we didn’t really know my grandparents (they lived in Europe). My grandpa visited once when I was too young to remember but my grandmother visited a handful of times. She did not speak English nor did we, grandkids, speak her language. This resulted in an amplified awareness of her reactions in order to interpret dialogue. I’m not sure if it was this heightened sensitivity to all things physical, but I remember a robe she made during one of her visits and wore often. When it came time to design Grama’s outfits for the book, I knew my late grandma’s robe would be a part of her collection. It was my way of honoring a hardworking woman whose heart probably ached often, with family living so far away.

AUTHOR BIO:

Amy Nielander loves making joyful and creative picture books for children. Her first wordless book, The Ladybug Race, exhibited at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair as a Silent Book Contest finalist. Her second picture book, Grama’s Hug, received a starred review from Booklist and was included on Grand Rapids Magazine’s “Summer Fav” book list. Her third book, My Name Is Not Ed Tug! will release in 2022 by West Margin Press. Kids can create new characters with Amy every month on her CREATE A CHARACTER blog. You can also find Amy on Twitter (@nielanderamy) and Instagram (@amynielander).

Five Fun Facts about WOOF! THE TRUTH ABOUT DOGS with Author Annette Whipple

Today I’m delighted to have children’s author and animal lover Annette Whipple here to share five fun facts about her newest book WOOF! THE TRUTH ABOUT DOGS published by Reycraft Books. Here’s the official teaser from the publisher’s website:

How do dogs communicate? Why do dogs sniff butts? Are dogs just tame wolves? These and other questions are answered by the author, along with some extra information provided by the dogs themselves in this second book in THE TRUTH ABOUT series.

As a former teacher and parent, I give this book hearty “woof” for interest and appeal. Annette has done her research well and managed to pack the book full of fascinating facts about dogs.The accompanying photographs are engaging and the layout is appealing to both kids and grown ups. And now Annette has agreed to be my guest today sharing fun tidbits about the book. Enjoy!

Fun Fact #1

Woof! The Truth About Dogs is the second book in The Truth About animal series. The first book, Whooo Knew, featured owls. Dogs were a natural choice for the second book. With so many photographs included in the books, I knew pooches would make readers smile. I knew I’d learn a lot while researching and writing—and I did! Did you know some puppies are born with green fur? I didn’t! (The color changes over time.) 

Fun Fact #2

Dogs talk with barks and growls, but they also communicate with their bodies! Watch their tails, ears, and even lips for more canine communication.  

Fun Fact #3

Puppies are born with closed eyes because they only have the chance to develop for two months within their mothers. After a couple of weeks their eyes open and their hearing develops. That’s when they get more active, too!

Fun Fact #4

Dogs sniff butts to learn more about other pooches. With one big whiff they can even tell the mood of their new canine companion. (Of course, they learn a lot about you when they smell you, too!) 

Fun Fact # 5

I don’t have a pet dog now, but my first dog was named Dog. He was a wonderful Lab/golden retriever mix. I have many fond memories with him, including dancing together to my dad’s 45s (before CDs were available). 

Thanks so much for letting me share about Woof! The Truth About Dogs with these five fun facts. The book includes even more facts and science about our furry friends. A big bonus: The hardcovers of this series include posters that kids love. Laura, maybe I can return to share more facts for my upcoming books in the series featuring spiders, frogs, and cats because FACTS ARE FUN! As you might imagine, my recent research fascinates me.

About the Author:

Annette Whipple celebrates curiosity and inspires a sense of wonder while exciting readers about science and history. She’s the author of ten fact-filled children’s books including The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (Chicago Review Press) and The Truth About series (Reycraft Books) including Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls and Scurry! The Truth About Spiders. Get to know Annette and explore her resources for writers at www.AnnetteWhipple.com

[Note: Thank you to the author for the opportunity to preview the book with a digital ARC that 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 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: 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.]

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: Five Fun Facts with Rebecca J. Gomez about FEDERICO AND THE WOLF (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Join me in welcoming fellow rhymer and picture book author, Rebecca J. Gomez, whose brand new picture book, FEDERICO AND THE WOLF (Clarion Books), delightfully illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, releases tomorrow! FEDERICO AND THE WOLF received a lovely review from Kirkus and a starred review from School Library Journal. Rebecca’s spot-on rhyming makes the story a joy to read aloud and is a deliciously latino take on the traditional Little Red Riding Hood. As a student of Spanish, I especially appreciated her infusion of Spanish words throughout the story. Now, you are in for a special treat as she shares FIVE FUN FACTS about the book’s creation. (And don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end!)

Five Fun Facts about FEDERICO AND THE WOLF

By Rebecca Gomez

1. FEDERICO AND THE WOLF sold quickly!

The manuscript sold the same year that I wrote it. I wrote the first draft in January 2017, and the offer from Clarion came the following November. I often tell kids at school visits about how slow this business can be, but ten months have never seemed so short!

2. I owe my daughter for the pico recipe.

Most of the credit for the pico de gallo recipe in the book’s back matter goes to my daughter Samantha, whose love for salsa and willingness to experiment in the kitchen with me led to the “perfect pico” recipe. We used tomatoes and jalapeños grown in our very own back yard.

3. No major revisions!

The text of this story changed very little once my editor, Anne Hoppe, got her hands on it. I was prepared to do a round or two (or three) of major revisions, but  Anne loved it as it was and only asked me to do a few minor tweaks. Based on my experiences with my previous editors, I was both stunned and relieved!

4. Elisa was on my dream illustrator list.

Elisa Chavarri was on my list of dream illustrators long before Clarion chose her to illustrate Federico’s story.  How lucky is that! I could not have asked for a better illustrator for FEDERICO AND THE WOLF. 

5. Habanero peppers are as hot as they say!

I tasted a fresh habanero pepper (mentioned at some point in the book) many years ago on a dare from my husband. I barely took a mouse-sized nibble, but I can promise you that those peppers are every bit as hot as they say! I can still feel the burn on my lips when I think about it. 

BIO:

Rebecca J. Gomez enjoys writing stories as much as she enjoys reading them. When she isn’t reading or writing, her favorite things to do are baking, creating art, and hiking through the woods with her husband and three grown children. She lives in Nebraska, where she grows a salsa garden every summer. 

On the web at:

http://www.rebeccajgomez.com

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of FEDERICO AND THE WOLF (Clarion Books, May 2020) leave a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Monday, 5/25/20 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced next Tuesday! THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. The winner is announced here.  

[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.]

EASTER EGG DAY: Five Fun Traditions that Inspired the Book with Author Tara Knudson (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I am delighted to welcome children’s book author Tara Knudson in celebration of her darling new Easter board book EASTER EGG DAY (Zonderkidz, 2020). Told in light verse, it’s a celebration of a beloved Easter tradition – decorating Easter eggs. Tara’s charming text opens with:

“Easter eggs,

Family fun!

White eggs dyed

One by one. ”

Tara then takes the reader through a family’s egg decorating celebration. Illustrated by Pauline Stewart, each spread is full of color and warmth and the most adorable little rabbit family. The back cover has instructions for decorating your own eggs – a fun and concrete way to extend the story.

And now, I have a special treat for you as the author herself shares five fun Easter memories that inspired her to write the book. Take it away, Tara!

About the Author

Tara Knudson is a former teacher who has been writing poetry and stories since she was a young girl growing up in Chicago. Her published work can be found in children’s magazines, greeting cards, calendars, and a poetry anthology for teens. She is the author of Christmas Cookie Day and Easter Egg Day, as well as the forth coming Fun Fall Day and Valentine’s Day Treats, all published by Zonderkidz.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of EASTER EGG DAY (Zonderkidz, February 2020) simply post a comment below letting me know that you’d like to enter. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 3/26/20 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced that Friday! 

[Note: Thank you to the author for this complimentary book that 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 WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY with Darlene Beck Jacobson

Today I am delighted to kickoff Darlene Beck Jacobson’s blog tour celebrating her charming new middle grade novel in verse WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY. Releasing with Creston Books on April 7th, 2020, it tells the story of Jack, who is worried about his father, who missing in action in Vietnam. His family, new best friend, and a bully unexpectedly all help Jack find the courage to do the right thing, not the easy thing. I was given an advance copy for review and was immediately engaged by Darlene’s voice in verse. It’s a great story and one that would be a nice addition to any library, class room, or middle-grader’s book collection. Now, in celebration of good writing and good stories, I’d like to introduce the author herself as she shares FIVE FUN FACTS about the book. Take it away, Darlene!

FIVE FUN FACTS ABOUT WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog Laura. I’m really excited to be here to share my new middle grade book WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY  (Creston 2020). Today I’m going to share FIVE FUN FACTS about the story.

FACT #1: In the original title FISH, WISH, AND OTHER FOUR LETTER WORDS, every poem had a four-letter word for a title. This didn’t happen by chance. The main character – JACK – spoke to me one morning in May of 2018 as I was waking up. He introduced himself and was insistent that I listen to what he had to say. He shouted four letter words like FEAR, HOPE, WISH, GONE, etc and I pulled out a notepad and began to write them down. He gave me that tile, and the premise that he missed his DAD who was MIA.  I wrote down four pages of notes based on this early morning “wake up call”, and filled another page with four letter words. These words became the chapters – poems –  of the story written in verse.

FACT #2: I was around the same age as Jack and Jill in 1964, and all the things they had fun doing – kite flying, scavenger hunts, reading comic books, riding bikes, going to the beach and drive-in movies – are the things my sister and I enjoyed as kids.

FACT 3#: The space program was a new and exciting thing in the 1960’s. Jack remembers watching in school as astronaut John Glenn orbited the moon in a rocket called Friendship Seven. Our entire fifth grade class did the same thing. We crammed into the Kindergarten room – the largest room in the school before the all purpose room was built – and stared up at a small black and white television, counting down to “Blast Off!” and cheering when he reached orbit around the moon.

FACT #4: In order to stop himself from making a terrible wish, Jack needed a “cautionary tale” about what happens when wishes go terribly wrong. “THE MONKEY’S PAW”, a horror story by W.W Jacobs is that tale. To learn more check here.

FACT #5: “The Song That Doesn’t End” – featured in the poem titled SING (pages 198-199) was a popular song from a kiddie show called THE SHARI LEWIS SHOW, featuring a puppet named LAMBCHOP singing the song. We loved singing it as kids because it drove our parents crazy.  Some things never change. You can check it out on this You Tube link:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Darlene Beck Jacobson is a former teacher and speech therapist who has loved writing since she was a girl.  She is also a lover of history and can often be found mining dusty closets and drawers in search of skeletons from her past. She enjoys adding these bits of her ancestry to stories such as her award-winning middle grade historical novel WHEELS OF CHANGE (Creston 2014) and WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY (Creston 2020). 

Darlene lives and writes her stories in New Jersey with her family and a house full of dust bunnies. She’s caught many fish, but has never asked one to grant her a wish. She’s a firm believer in wishes coming true, so she tries to be careful what she wishes for.

Her blog features recipes, activities, crafts, articles on nature, book reviews, and interviews with children’s book authors and illustrators.

Find her on the web at www.darlenebeckjacobson.com or on Twitter at @DBeckJacobson

Preorder her book now at Barnes and Noble or Amazon or your favorite indie bookseller.

TEACHERS: Learn more about the book and download the curriculum guide at the Creston Books website. Here’s the link: https://www.crestonbooks.co/wishesdares

And don’t miss the NEXT stop on her blog tour on Thursday, March 12, 2020 at https://joshuadavidbellin.blogspot.com/p/my-blog.html

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts about WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? and WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? with Dawn Prochovnic

Today I am delighted to be hosting children’s author Dawn Babb Prochovnic as we celebrate the release of her darling companion picture books WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? and WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? both illustrated by Jacob Souva and both published by West Margin Press. Congratulations! Now, without further fuss, here are FIVE, not just FUN, but truly INSPIRING FACTS about the books from the author herself.

FIVE Fun Facts About Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? & Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?

By Dawn Prochovnic

FUN FACT #1 Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? was inspired by the antics of my son, then a toddler, now a senior in high school. 

There was a day when my son was being particularly silly, running through the house with a diaper on his bottom, a bandana on his head, and a pirate’s patch over one eye. He looked at me with an ornery twinkle in his uncovered eye, and asked in his best, pirate-y gruff toddler voice, “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?”  I knew immediately that was the title for a book, and I started drafting a manuscript soon after. It took many years and many revisions to get this story just right, but what I continue to love about it is that each time I read it, I am instantly transported back to that memorable moment shared with my son, when he first posed that silly question to me. 

FUN FACT #2 Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? emerged out of a writing exercise.

My pirate manuscript was a crowd-pleaser at open mics at writing conferences, and it received several close looks from different editors and publishers, but it had yet to sell. Eventually, I decided to completely reimagine the story with another main character. In 2015, I was invited to contribute a story to a beautiful picture book anthology called Oregon Reads Aloud. The primary submission guideline was that every story in the book needed to relate to Oregon in some fashion. I took a close look at my work-in-progress file, and after some encouragement from one of my critique partners, I decided to “Oregon-ize” a “first-day-of-school” story that had gotten a few editorial nibbles, but that also hadn’t sold. I LOVED the experience of revising within a structured framework. Ideas for clever revisions that fit within the Oregon theme and within my overall plot structure and rhyme pattern came relatively easily. Happily, the story was accepted for inclusion in the anthology, and I had a refreshed publication credit under my belt and a renewed sense of confidence in my writing ability.   


A couple of years later, as a writing exercise, I challenged myself to experiment with westernizing my pirate story. Unfortunately, my attempts fell flat. I eventually came to realize that I was essentially inserting a random cowboy into my pirate’s story. I needed to do some deeper work on character development. Then I had a new idea: What about a cowgirl

I found myself immediately transported back to a time when my college-aged daughter was in grade school, and her wardrobe included a bright pink pair of cowgirl boots. I paged through old photos and found the one I was looking for: A photo of my daughter dressed-up for her western-themed grade school carnival. I finally had the kernel of a new character in my mind’s eye. This character was unique and separate from the pirate character that I couldn’t let go of, and she had her own story to tell. Yee-Haw!

FUN FACT #3 I went from having no contract offers on the table for my “potty books” to having two simultaneous contract offers on the table–one for the pirate story and the other for the cowgirl story. 

Once I finished my cowgirl story, I identified a list of publishers that would be a good fit and started the process of submitting this new story. I had not submitted my pirate story in quite some time, and unbeknownst to me, it was going through the acquisition channels at a New York publishing house. Seemingly suddenly, I had publishing offers from two different publishers on the table, each primarily interested in one of the two books. Soon, both publishers indicated they would like to acquire both books and publish them as companion pieces, so I needed to decide which of the two publishing houses I wanted to work with and begin negotiating a contract. I reached out to a handful of agents on my agent prospect list to see if anyone would help me navigate this opportunity. I only heard back from one, and she graciously declined. I then reached out to a handful of authors, booksellers, and librarians in my personal and professional networks to seek input and advice. Once I decided that West Margin Press (then called Graphic Arts Books) was the best fit for my vision for the books, I turned to the Authors Guild to help me identify the contract terms that were most important to me. 

Although I certainly would have welcomed representation during this process, I learned so much along the way, and I don’t regret how it all turned out. I’m very comfortable with the decisions I made, and I couldn’t be happier with the experience of working with West Margin Press. That said, I continue to have deep admiration for the publisher I didn’t get to work with–and I continue to hold hope that we will land on another project that is a good fit. 

FUN FACT #4 I used a HEAP of sticky notes to help me organize my thoughts and ideas during the editorial process for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? 

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a big fan of sticky notes. I use sticky notes to help me prioritize competing to-do’s and organize larger projects, and I’ve taught many others to do the same in the workshops I teach. I have them plastered near my front door to remind me to bring a particular something with me when I leave the house. I have them in my car to remind me of errands I need to run. I leave them on the kitchen table to let my kids know where I’ve gone and when I’ll be back, and I have them in wild disarray all over my desk with scribbles of story ideas, to-do’s, and phone numbers. Every so often (truthfully, not often enough), I consolidate the notes scattered on my desk to one or two notes, and start anew. 

I heavily leaned on sticky notes during the revision process for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? to help me organize my thoughts and the characters’ dialogue. After the editing process was completed for Cowgirl, I wrote out the text of the story on sticky notes. The story is told in dialogue bubbles, so I used different colors to indicate main character, supporting character, etc. I then did the same for the (yet to be edited) Pirate story, leaving blank sticky notes for dialogue that had not yet been written or that needed to be revised to align with the structure and tone of the Cowgirl story. I find that sticky notes makes it easier to revise/move text, and it creates a visual point of reference to assess the pacing of the story. 

FUN FACT #5 Helping create songs for Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does A Cowgirl Go Potty? may just be the most fun I’ve had yet! 

Last year, as a gift to my husband for our 30th wedding anniversary, I wrote the lyrics for a song and worked with a singer/songwriter who wrote the music and recorded the song  (You can listen to the song and read a blog post that tells the story behind the song here. The process reminded me how much I love being a part of “music.” Whenever I see live music, mostly in small, local venues, not only do I enjoy the experience of listening, but I find myself wishing I were on the stage performing with the artists. I’ve long joked with friends that I’d like to be part of a “girl band” (whatever that means), saying I play a mean tambourine and could sing back-up (I played the drums in middle school and can still keep a pretty decent beat… and I regularly lead songs in my parent/child “sing and sign” classes). 

This past January, as I was making goals for the coming year, I realized that I was making this “joke” more and more often, and that I really wasn’t joking–I DID want to be part of something musical.

So …. I started reaching out to my personal and professional networks, (and in some cases perfect strangers), and eventually was introduced to two different singer/songwriter/performers. They each have completely different work styles and musical styles, but what they have in common is that they are both wonderful musicians and sincerely good people, that I now call friends. I collaborated with these musicians to create a companion children’s song for each book. In one case I wrote all the lyrics, in the other I co-wrote the lyrics. In both cases, the musicians wrote the music and performed and recorded the songs, which are works of art in their own right. I couldn’t be any more proud about how the songs turned out. 

The music for the Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? song was written and performed by AnnieBirdd Music, LLC, with Annie Lynn, Walt Wilczewski, and Chris Arms, and starring Red Beard The Pirate, a.k.a. Alexander Wilczewski. 

You can listen to our song by viewing the animated book trailer that illustrator Jacob Souva created for our book:

The song for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? was written and performed by Singer/Songwriter/Performing Musician, Marshall Mitchell.

You can listen to our song by viewing the Cowgirl book trailer here: https://youtu.be/VCC90qkNk7I

The song-writing process was SO. MUCH. FUN! … I can’t wait to do it again!

Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Laura! I really enjoyed thinking about and writing about Five Fun Facts related to my new books. 

About the Author: Dawn Babb Prochovnic is the author of Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes Series, including one title that was selected as an Oregon Book Awards finalist, and she is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud. Dawn is a vocal advocate for school and public libraries and was honored as a 2015 Oregon Library Supporter of the Year by the Oregon Library Association. She is a frequent presenter at schools, libraries and educational conferences, and the founder of SmallTalk Learning, which provides American Sign Language and early literacy education. Dawn loves to travel and has visited thousands of potties across the Pacific Northwest and around the world. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, two kids, two cats, and a feisty dog. Learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com

Social Media Links:

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