A REAL FRIEND: An Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Jennifer Wolfthal

Join me in welcoming picture book author, Jennifer Wolfthal, whose debut picture book, A REAL FRIEND (Clavis Publishing), is out this month! Kirkus Reviews hails it as “A feel-good read about a friendship that feels real, indeed” and by School Library Journal calls it “A well-told, relatable story about friendship, fighting, and making up for children everywhere.” And here’s my reaction: Playfully illustrated by Judi Abbott and told with lovely gentle humor with a message that’s universal, this story of friendship and struggle is a winner. It would make a terrific addition to your class or home libraryAnd now for the interview with my questions in bold

Thanks so much for joining us today, Jennifer. I love your sense of imagination and ability to tell a story from an authentic-feeling kid perspective. Please tell us a little bit about your journey into the book world. How did you become a writer?

Thanks for having me, Laura! I’ve always loved writing. When I was a kid, my parents and I often wrote letters to each other when we were apart. To this day, I have bags full of letters. Whether I was writing poems, stories, or in journals, I was always most comfortable communicating through writing.

As an adult, I was thankful for the opportunity to teach fourth grade for eight years. Writing is huge in fourth grade, and it was a chance for me to share this passion with my students. It’s also when I developed a love for picture books. I started this author journey by reading lots of picture books to my own children and analyzing their structure. I also read books on the craft of writing for children, joined SCBWI, wrote many manuscripts, and revised a lot! I got critiques, endured the rejections, and ultimately got my first acceptance through Clavis about a year ago. Having your first book published in the middle of a pandemic and major election definitely has it’s difficulties, but you could also see it as a little rainbow in the storm.

Yes, a lovely rainbow! And your response is a wonderful reminder that patience and endurance are important parts of the author’s journey.

What inspired you to write A Real Friend?

There were times during my classroom years where I felt more like a referee than a teacher! 🙂 Best friend drama was always at the top of the list. It seemed like every other day kids were declaring, “you’re not my best friend anymore”. Only to be playing together the next day. Lol. When brainstorming ideas for a story, I knew this was a topic kids could relate to that I wanted to write about in a fun and imaginative way. 

Ah, yes! The best stories come from kid-tested, heart-felt moments like these. I’m glad you made note of the idea and found a fun way to turn it into a story.

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

Even though friends have their ups and downs, friendship is a gift to be treasured. And real friends – always stick together. 

Perfect!

A Real Friend is your debut picture book.  How does it feel to be “post-publication”? What do you like best about this exciting new stage? 

It feels great! There’s definitely a relief in being familiar with the process. Before this year, I didn’t know much about book publishing, creating launch teams, visiting blogs, etc. Now that I have a better understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing world, I can focus more on what I love – writing stories!

Finally, what’s the one question that you wished I’d asked but didn’t.

Fun question, Laura! Here’s one: What’s something about you not many people know? Now I feel like I should answer it. Lol. Before I married my husband, I wed – Micky Mouse! My aunt dressed me up as a bride, and we had a ceremony and all. Ha! Ha! (Don’t tell Minnie.) 

Thank you so much for joining us today and best wishes with this lovely new book.

Biography: Jennifer Wolfthal graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education. She has been a certified teacher for the past fourteen years. She is also an internationally published author. Her debut picture book, A Real Friend was published in the USA in November 2020 (Clavis Publishing). Corabelle’s Butterfly is due to be released in 2021 (Doodle and Peck). She is a member of SCBWI and enjoys developing her craft through online courses and critique partners.  

You can find her on the web at:

www.jenniferwolfthalbooks.com

www.instagram.com/jenniferwolfthal

[Note: Thank you to Clavis Publishing for an advance copy of this 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.]

LITTLE EWE: THE STORY OF ONE LOST SHEEP – Six LOVELY Endorsements!

I was looking at the LITTLE EWE page on Amazon and was delighted to spot a new addition: six endorsements for this upcoming title. I’ve never had endorsements before and I’m very grateful. They are one tool a publisher uses to introduce a new book into the world.

And now, with the permission of Beaming Books, I’m delighted to share those endorsements here. I hope they inspire you to pre-order your copy of the book. And a big thank you to the endorsers for their thoughtful descriptions and recommendations.

“This adorable counting book incorporates the parable of the Lost Sheep and teaches little ones about the Shepherd’s love. With sweet rhyming text and colorful illustrations, parents will smile when their child says, “Read it again!” –– Crystal Bowman, bestselling author of more than 100 books for children including Our Daily Bread for Preschoolers and My Mama and Me.

“Meet Little Ewe and Shepherd in this perfectly penned rhyming, counting tale. A charming new take on an old story.”   — Glenys Nellist, author of author of over 20 children’s books including Little Mole Finds Hope and Little Mole’s Christmas Gift.

“Count along with Little Ewe as she explores the countryside in this beautiful picture book for young readers. Ignoring her shepherd, Little Ewe encounters spooky eyes and other captivating creatures. Caregivers and children alike will enjoy the reminder that when we feel lost and alone, our Shepherd’s love is always near and comforting.”  — Tina Cho, author of Rice from Heaven, My Breakfast with Jesus, and The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story

“From the engaging rhythm to the emotive illustrations, Little Ewe provides parents, teachers, and leaders with a powerful tool for sharing this seemingly simple retelling of the story of the Shepherd—and that one lost sheep. Kiddos will no doubt bounce and count along to the beat, while internalizing the unconditional love of a Shepherd who is always looking for that one mischievous little ewe.” —Amy Parker, Bestselling Author & Podcast Host

“Wrapped in lilting rhyme and inviting illustrations, Little Ewe is a delightful and poignant tale of God’s love for each one. Surrounded by a clever cast of characters and engaging numeric climb, we find our sweet Ewe in need of rescue that only the Shepherd can bring. Kids and grown-ups alike will enjoy the adventure again and again.” –– Becky Kopitzke, author of The Cranky Mom Fix and The SuperMom Myth

“Little Ewe skips away from her herd on her own counting adventure under the watchful eye of the Good Shepherd. Though her distractions lead her to a dark place where she is hungry and alone, the Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep to bring her back in a ‘Shepherd’s hug.’  This parable for young readers not only teaches numbers but the healing power of reconciliation.” — Rev. Elizabeth Wilder, Lead Pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church & School, Maplewood, Minnesota

It won’t be long now, until “ewe” too can read LITTLE EWE because it releases in just over three months –– February 23, 2021!

Please consider PRE-ORDERING your copy today from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbook.com, Indiebound.com or the vendor of your choice because pre-orders really do make a difference. If you do, let me know, and I’ll add you to my list of folks to send the pre-release link for the activity kit when it’s ready.

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

MEET LITTLE EWE: My Companion for AUTHOR VISITS… STUFFY Style!

My decision to use puppets at author visits began quite by chance. Since a pair of skunks play an important role in my first book GOODNIGHT, ARK, and figuring that some of my very youngest readers might not be familiar with the species, I thought having a pair of skunk puppets would be a fun way to introduce the story.

The skunks were such a great hit, that when my second book, GOODNIGHT, MANGER, came out, I knew I wanted a new, book-specific puppet. Thankfully, without too much trouble, thanks again to Folkmanis, I found the perfect companion — Rooster!  

My third book, DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE, stars a diva seal and opera-loving mouse.  And again, they are the warm-up act to my story times and, boy, are they a hit!  Delores even sings opera!  (She gets the kids to sing too… and the parents and teachers!)

My fourth book, LOVE IS KIND stars Little Owl and that puppet was made for me by the very kind director at one of the programs I visited. She said, “I can make you a puppet that looks just like Little Owl!” and then a few days later a delightful package arrived in the mail. Isn’t he darling! 

Now LITTLE EWE: THE STORY OF ONE LOST SHEEP will be coming out in November!  And I’m delighted to share that I’ve found my puppet. Actually, it’s not a puppet; it’s adorable Baby Gund stuffed lamb. I’ve named her Little Ewe, of course, and doesn’t she look like she’s just hopped off the cover of the new book – ready to share her story with children everywhere at author events!  She even plays music – which I think will make a lovely finale at preschool visits.  

Have all these adorable story companions inspired you?  If you decide to bring a puppet along to your next author visit and want a few tips for creative ways to incorporate puppets into your presentation, you might enjoy this guest post I wrote on Lauri Fortino’s blog on the topic USING PUPPETS TO ENGAGE YOUNG READERS.

And if you want to help Little Ewe make a big splash when she releases, please take a moment to pre-order your copy of the book now at your favorite online vendor – such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble or ChristianBook.com. You can also suggest the title to your local bookstore, which would be a wonderful way to help raise awareness of this upcoming title.

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO!

¡Feliz cumpleaños! That’s right today is the birthday of a very special book — the Spanish edition of LOVE IS KIND! The Spanish title is EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO and it’s published by the Spanish division of Zondervan, Editorial Vida.

I’m so excited for the release of this book for several reasons.

First, I’m delighted that the book’s special message of kindness and love will now reach an even wider audience.

Second, I just love the story in Spanish. I mean what could be cuter than an earnest Pequeño Buho on a quest for chocolates for his abuelita! (And just wait until you see this new version – even the 1 Corinthians text that is found in the illustrations has been seamlessly transformed into Spanish in the new version. It’s beautiful!

Third, I have for a long time wanted to re-learn Spanish, which I spoke fluently as a five year old living in Mexico. I have always regretted that I lost my ability to speak upon return to the US- due to lack of practice. Later, after we returned from France, where I, too, became fluent, and remembering my earlier regret, I worked hard to keep up that language. Now is my chance to return to the Spanish language, in the hopes that very soon I will be able to read EL AMOR ES BONDADOSO in Spanish to a group of children. That is on my list of treasured-things-to-do! Stay tuned!

GOOD NEWS: New Picture Book Deal!

I’ve been keeping this to myself for a little while, but the announcement ran in Publishers Weekly yesterday, so I think I can finally let out exuberant, “Baa-aaah!”

Thank you, Beaming Books, for taking on this project, one of my favorites. I can’t wait for you all to meet Little Ewe and share in her adventures as she counts her way farther and farther from Shepherd. You won’t have to wait too, too long. The book releases in November 2020!

Here’s my writerly takeaway from this latest fun news: Keep writing.  Keep subbing. Keep honing your craft.  Be true to yourself and good things will come.  Happy writing all!

Happy Book Birthday! LOVE IS KIND (board book edition)

Hoot, Hoot, hooray! 

It’s on its way!  

The LOVE IS KIND board book

Releases today! 

With sturdy pages and a padded cover, the board book version of LOVE IS KIND is terrific for littlest readers who want to turn the pages themselves. It’s a good size too – perfect for showing off all the wonderful details in Lison Chaperon’s illustrations. And this format makes a wonderful baby shower or toddler gift. Order yours today at your favorite book vendor.

Or, if you want a signed copy of this or any of my books, remember you can always call my favorite local indie bookstore, The Town Book Store in Westfield NJ.

When you call be sure to explain that you would like order a book or books to be signed by the author and pass along the names you’d like included. They will take the order and do the transaction. I will then come in and sign the book or books. Readers can either pick them up in-store at no extra charge, or have them mailed. There will be a shipping fee to cover the cost of mailing, but they can give you those details.

I thought this was a nice way to make signed copies available and support a wonderful independent book store.  Their number is: The Town Book Store (908) 233-3535. You can also email the owner, Anne, at anne@townbookstore.com.

FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK: Six Extension Activities for Families and Classrooms

There’s a new NATURE-LOVING picture book on the trail, just in time for spring hikes and summer explorations with your child. It’s called FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK (Pomegranate Kids, March 15, 2019) and it’s written by Vivian Kirkfield with illustrations by Mirka Hokkanen. It’s a beautiful read and perfect for sparking thoughtful conversations with your little ones about nature – and especially about endangered species.

Here’s the description from the inside flap:  

“Water wakes. Wildlife greets the day and finds shelter, safety, and fun on the river in this lyrical, ecologically oriented counting book. One willow flycatcher, two dragonflies, three kit foxes, and more thrive in their habitat. As kids count, the day turns from dawn to dusk, and the character of the water changes as quickly as a child’s moods. Animals sing, leap, tiptoe, toboggan, hoot, hunt, flit, flutter, and hover. They ride out a storm, bask in waning rays, and tuck in under the silver moon.

Filled with modern wood engravings, Four Otters Toboggan celebrates wild beauty, encouraging readers of all ages to preserve and cherish our planet. After the story is finished, children can read more about each species in the back of the book, conservation efforts, what causes animals to become endangered, and what people can do to protect wild habitats.”

Now, in celebration of the book’s release, and in the hope of sparking some good conversations with your children, here are SIX extension activities for  FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN!  

1. Take a counting hike.  After reading FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN, take your child on their own nature walk through your neighborhood or at a local preserve. Bring along a notebook so they can keep a counting list of what animals, insects etc. they see. With each creature they spot, stop an marvel at what a wondrous gift it is to able to see these animals in the wild.

Here are some creatures my kids and I have spotted over the years:

2. Make your own animal counting book.  Inspired by Vivian’s delightful text and Mirka’s wondrous illustrations (and using the counting list they tallied in the hiking activity), challenge your child to create their own nature counting book.

3. Visit a local nature center.  Extend the lessons of the book by visiting a nature center or museum in your area. For example, all within an hour radius of our our, I have taken my kids to a nature museum by the sea, in the woods, and along the marshes. Some of these museums are tiny, but what they all have in common is that they celebrate and teach about the local species in each of those habitats.  

4. Watch the illustrator create one of the engravings from the story. One of the standout features of this delightful book are illustrator Mirka Hokkanen’s amazing modern wood engravings. With that in mind, older children might enjoy hearing and watching the illustrator herself as she describes the process using the very engravings that appear in the story!  Her presentation has three parts. I’m sharing the second part because it shows her actually engraving the owls from the story!  

Here it is: 

5. Create your own simple engravings.  After watching Mirka describe her process, you children might be inspired to try their own engravings. Here’s a link to a simple block printing project from Art Class Curator that even the youngest child can do.

6. Download the “Otterly Awesome Companion Activity Book for Four Otters: A Counting Book”.  This eleven page booklet includes crafts, coloring pages, puzzles, a hands-on idea page for how to care for endangered species and more! It will provide several sessions of wonderful follow-up conversation and thought.

To learn more about Vivian Kirkfield: https://viviankirkfield.com   

To learn more about artist Mirka Hokkanen: http://www.mirkah.com/books/

To learn more about Pomegranate Kids: https://www.pomegranate.com

LOVE IS KIND Blog Tour!

 

It’s official! In celebration of the release of my newest picture book, LOVE IS KIND, we’re going on tour, BLOG tour that is! Over the next few weeks, we’ll be making stops at the following blogs. There will be interviews, giveaways and more.  Please stop by!

Love is KInd Blog Tour Schedule

LOVE IS KIND: Meet Little Owl!

67b2733c-1893-444b-bd74-cc780cde2842-11991-000007ad5ce2077dI haven’t received my advanced copy of LOVE IS KIND, so I can’t yet give you a proper advanced “flip through” of the book, but I think you’ll enjoy this delightful video clip, created by illustrator Lison Chaperon, introducing Little Owl, the sweet protagonist of LOVE IS KIND.  All Little Owl really wants is to get his grammy a box of chocolates, but his attempts keep getting thwarted.  In the process, though, he learns the true meaning of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. Real love, as it turns out, isn’t found in a box – even one filled with chocolates. Now without further ado, meet Little Owl!  (Isn’t he adorable?)