author spotlight, Interview, Picture Books

COVER REVEAL: Rosanne L. Kurstedt’s AND I THINK ABOUT YOU (Plus an Interview!)

THURSDAY JOY! Picture book author Rosanne L. Kurstedt has a new picture book releasing this September with Kids Can Press and the cover is just starting to pop up on the web, so I asked if she’d be my guest for a cover reveal and interview. She said yes!  

First a little introduction: 

Written by Rosanne L. Kurstedt and illustrated by Ya-Ling Huang, AND I THINK ABOUT YOU poignantly captures the love and connection shared by a working mama bear and her cub. During the day, they are apart, but they are always thinking of each other. Told with the feel of a letter (or love song) from mama to child, it is just the kind of story I would have loved to snuggle up with with my own kids when they were little. Rosanne’s warm text pairs nicely with Ya-Ling’s dreamy watercolor illustrations. It’s delightful.

And now, the interview:

Laura: Thank you for joining me here today, Rosanne. What inspired the story?

Rosanne: The story was inspired by a bedtime ritual my older son and I developed.

Laura: I love how a simple bedtime ritual turning into a special bonding tradition.  It makes me remember fondly some of the seemingly little things I did with my kids, that became rituals or traditions of their own kind – but none exactly like this. 

Laura: What are you most excited about for its release in September?

Rosanne: There are so many things I’m excited about – but what I’m most excited about is connecting with families—hearing them talk about the book and also learning about some of the rituals they’ve developed. 

Laura: Thanks again for joining me here today, Rosanne. I can’t wait for the book to release. I am certain it will spark rich conversation, not only at your visits, but also afterwards, as parents and children use your delightful story as a spark to build their own special together-time traditions.

Learn more about Rosanne and her books here:

Website: https://www.rlkurstedt.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RLKurstedtAuthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rlkurstedt/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RLKurstedt

author spotlight, Guest Blog, Picture Books

FIVE FUN FACTS about HERE WE COME with Author Janna Matthies (And a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I’m delighted to have children’s author and music teacher Janna Matthies here to share five fun facts about her newest book HERE WE COME!, published by Beach Lane Books and illustrated by Christine Davinier. Here’s the official teaser from the publisher’s website:

Join a cast of friends, human and animal alike, as they embark on a musical read-aloud adventure in this upbeat, joyful picture book.

A boy sets off with his flute and his stuffed bear and a rum-pum-pum. As they make their way through the town and the woods, they ask, “Wanna come?” Soon, kids and creatures join in the fun one by one, playing instruments, singing, and dancing to the catchy tune. 

But will a storm bring their fun-filled musical parade to an end?

I was delighted to receive a review copy of this book which has universal appeal for anyone who has ever tapped a beat with their feet or sung in the shower or out in the beautiful outdoors. It certainly brought back beautiful memories from my own childhood as well as my children’s of making music in creative and impromptu ways by clapping, stomping, tapping, humming, and singing at the top of our lungs. For all these reasons, I think it would make a wonderful addition to a home or school or town library. And now, enjoy Janna’s five fun facts. And remember to enter the giveaway at the end of the post.

HERE WE COME! Five Fun Facts

by Janna Matthies

#1: HERE WE COME! is a moonlit, musical adventure. But when I wrote the story, I envisioned it taking place during the day with only human children. The illustrator, Christine Davenier, took the story to the next level by setting the scene after bedtime and bringing in both kids and animals. Don’t you love the jolly bear with the violin, and the pair of clapping hedgehogs? Like any excellent picture book, the telling of this story was shared 50/50 between author and illustrator. I couldn’t be more thrilled by the nighttime blues and violets, and the whimsical charm of all the characters as they gather for a joyous march!

#2: I’d fit right into this musical parade. I have always been drawn to music-making, starting piano lessons at the age of four, violin at eight, singing in high school, and picking up guitar as an adult. In fact, when I’m not writing books for kids, I teach music to PreK and kindergartners at an elementary school. So every week you can find me singing, dancing and playing guitar and percussion instruments of all kinds with kids. Speaking of guitar, that’s what I had in mind when I wrote the line “a pick and a strum”. But if you look closely at the strumming dog in this story, his instrument is small has four tuning pegs (instead of six like a guitar)—it’s a ukulele!

#3: One of the most fun things about writing this book was finding just the right words that rhyme with “come”. The story began with a line that popped into my head: “Here we come with a rum-pum-pum…wanna come?”. I immediately knew I wanted to continue the tale by adding more musical sounds, and that each new phrase needed to end in a rhyme with “come”. So I brainstormed a long list and was able to use most of them. At the very end, I almost used the phrase “Anyone for a plum?” but decided “Some yum for the tum?” was more open-ended and fun. Can you think of any other words rhyming with “come” that I didn’t use?

#4: Something else I love about Christine Davenier’s illustrations is the path the characters follow from village, through forest and into the countryside. Christine is from France, and you might notice a European flair to her scenes. At the same time, this setting takes me back to my own childhood in suburban Ohio. A wooded creek ran through my neighborhood, and my best friend Elizabeth and I often tromped through while singing and imagining stories and poems. Do you have a favorite outdoor place? What stories can you imagine taking place there?

#5: While this book features instruments like a whistle/recorder, ukulele, violin/fiddle, and drum, the story is about making music any way you like! Music can be made with the voice, on real or homemade instruments (think beads in a plastic bottle, or rubber bands across a box), or simply with sounds that occur in daily life or nature—like dripping rain, stomping feet, the honking of car horns. Rhythm and melody are everywhere, and everyone is invited! WANNA COME? How do you like to make music?

BIO: Janna Matthies is a picture book author and early-elementary music teacher in Indianapolis. Her books include HERE WE COME! (Beach Lane Books/S&S); GOD’S ALWAYS LOVING YOU (WorthyKids); TWO IS ENOUGH (Running Press Kids), THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN (Albert Whitman) and others. When she’s not read, writing or making music, Janna enjoys gardening, walking her dog, and spending time with her husband and three mostly-grown kids. 

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of HERE WE COME!  (Beach Lane, 2022) follow this blog and comment below with your favorite fact from today’s post. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Janna, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Thursday, 3/31/22 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced the next day! 

[Note: Thank you to the publisher for an advance copy at the book which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

Christmas, faith

GOODNIGHT, MANGER: Thoughts on a MESSY CHRISTMAS

On Tuesday evening, I was invited by Rev. Ian Rankine at Pluckemin Presbyterian Church in Pluckemin, New Jersey to do a reading of GOODNIGHT MANGER and share a brief inspirational message at their Messy Church, a monthly, mid-week gathering for children, parents, and grandparents to come together for supper, a brief Christian message, music and a craft or game appropriate for all in attendance. Messy Church is a world-wide movement that started in the UK as a way to introduce Jesus and grow closer to Him. Learn more in this short video, then I hope you will continue below for my message of encouragement and hope for you this Christmas.

Pluckemin Presbyterian’s Messy Church opened with prayer and a delicious meatball and ziti dinner with pumpkin pie (my fav!) for dessert. After supper we sang some carols, then it was time for the message and reading.

Now since I hope this message might be encouragement for all, I thought I’d share an excerpt:

“Ian invited me here this evening to share my picture book GOODNIGHT, MANGER, but before I share this story about putting Baby Jesus to sleep in a very busy stable, I wanted to share a neat tie-in to this whole idea of Messy Church.

You see contrary to what we sing in the carols about it being a silent night with Baby Jesus peacefully sleeping, I can’t  imagine that it actually was. I think actually it was a very MESSY night. Nothing was going as Mary and Joseph had hoped or planned. Think about it. Mary’s just about to have a baby and they have to travel on foot, or maybe donkey, over rough and rocky terrain to get to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus has scheduled this census to be taken – at a very in opportune time – just as Mary is due to give birth any day. 

And then it gets worse! There’s no room in the inn. Instead, they have to stay in a stable with itchy hay and smelly animals and there isn’t even a proper place to lay sweet Baby Jesus – the SAVIOR OF THE EARTH – so they have to put him in a manger – a feeding trough for animals. Talk about MESSY! 

And so it is in my picture book that Christmas night isn’t depicted as tranquil and serene.  As you will soon hear, the scene in GOODNIGHT MANGER is most definitely MESSY. Baby Jesus is crying. Sheep are leaping. Water pails are tipping.  And, as one reviewer on Amazon said, “Mary is having a very bad hair day!”

And what’s my reaction to all that – but especially to that bad hair day? My reaction is YES! and AMEN! and ALLELUIA! and thank you JESUS! Thank you for coming into our mess. Thank you for coming in to our darkness. Thank you for taking on the form of a baby – becoming man – dwelling among us where you cried and felt hurt and suffered.  

Here’s the wonderful news that I hope you will take to heart as I share my story. Because Jesus — God in human form — came down to redeem us through this wonderful miracle of Christmas and because He cried and experienced all that we feel and yet was without sin, He can understand our hurts and needs and fears on a deep level. He and only He can comfort us and HEAL us and restore us to a right relationship with God. That is the gift of Christmas! He came into our MESS!!

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I pray that this Christmas, you will find comfort and hope in the miracle of the season — that JESUS came for us in the MIDST of our MESS to heal and love and restore.  

Blessings to you all!

Christmas, Picture Book Sundays

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas (A Faith-Sparking Lesson)

When I was Children’s Ministry Director at a small satellite church, I planned a Sunday morning children’s program called “PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: Sparking Faith Conversations using Picture Books and Scripture”. Each week, using an engaging picture book as the spark along with games and a craft, children ages 3 – 10 delved into Scripture as we investigated what it means to be a beloved child of God. The kids enjoyed the lessons so much, that I have decided to continue with a regular blog series focusing on picture books that can be used as the spark for conversations about faith with your children. 

Today’s lesson uses ’TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS (Zonderkidz, 2017 ), written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanovaas as the picture book hook. I hope it sparks thoughtful conversations with your kids.

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: A Faith-Sparking Lesson

featuring

’TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS

by Glenys Nellist

PURPOSE:  To celebrate the forthcoming birth of Christ and amplify the meaning of the season in a fresh and special way using Glenys Nellist’s ’Twas the Evening of Christmas as our focus. 

OPENING PRAYER AND GATHERING GAME: Caring for Baby Jesus

Open in prayer, then, sitting in a circle, ponder the idea that Jesus was once a baby.  Ask them what makes babies special and how they need to be cared for so gently and lovingly. Then, take turns gently rocking the Baby Jesus. Pass the baby around until everyone has a chance to be sweet and gentle with the baby. Then, say, “Isn’t it wonderful that God sent his son Jesus, as a precious baby,  to be our savior? That’s what we celebrate at Christmas – that God sent his Son, Jesus, to be the Savior of the World.

INTRODUCE THE STORY

Introduce the story asking the children if they know the story ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.  (Maybe even have that one on hand.) Then explain, that this one, instead of being about Santa, is about Jesus and the night He was born. Then share the story ’TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, pausing to ponder and enjoy each spread.

FAITH-SPARKING CHAT TIME:

After reading the story, take out a nativity creche that includes all the figures that you have just read about in the story.  As you hold them up, one by one, have the children tell who or what the figure is and how they fit into the Christmas story. Then, marvel together at what a special night that first Christmas was. It’s when God sent his precious son, Jesus to be the savior of the world!

And where can we learn more about that precious night? In the Bible!

DIG INTO SCRIPTURE TIME: 

Special note: For first grade and up, I recommend having several children’s bibles on hand so children can work in pairs to find the verses. They LOVE this and in the process learn how to locate biblical passages by book, chapter, and verse – a rewarding and important foundational skill for future bible study.

Wrap up the discussion by digging into scripture together to find the Christmas story. 

 Luke 2: 1 – 20

STORY-BASED ACTIVITY TIME:   Make Nativity-Themed Christmas Ornaments

Ahead of time, gather the materials needed so children can create a nativity-themed ornament to take home and hang on their Christmas trees.  Design your own or choose from these adorable options: 

Fluffy sheep ornament:  https://www.icanteachmychild.com/sheep-ornament/

Baby Jesus ornament: https://kidscraftroom.com/handprint-baby-jesus-ornament-craft/

WRAP UP: As children are finishing up craft – have them review with you the different parts of the story using the nativity. Then, give thanks that Jesus came to earth to be our Savior. Remind them that this is the real gift of Christmas. 

OPTIONAL SNACK IDEA:  Animal Crackers – Pretend they are coming to visit and worship Jesus.

EXTRA RESOURCE:  ’TWAS THE EVENING OF CHRISTMAS Activity Pack

author spotlight, Guest Blog, Picture Books

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).

faith, Picture Book Sundays, Picture Books

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: The Lord’s Prayer (A Faith-Sparking Lesson)

When I was Children’s Ministry Director at a small church, I planned a Sunday morning children’s program called PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS:  Sparking Faith Conversations using Picture Books and Scripture. Each week, using an engaging picture book as the spark along with games and a craft, children ages 3 – 10 delved into Scripture as we investigated what it means to be a beloved child of God. The kids enjoyed the lessons so much, that I have decided to continue with a monthly series focusing on picture books that can be used as the spark for conversations about faith with your children.

Today’s lesson uses THE LORD’S PRAYER (Zonderkidz, 2011) illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson
with commentary by Rick Warren
as the picture book hook. I hope it sparks thoughtful conversations with your kids.

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: A Faith-Sparking Lesson

featuring

THE LORD’S PRAYER

illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson
with commentary by Rick Warren

PURPOSE:  To understand that God wants to be in conversation with us. This conversation is called prayer. Jesus thought it was so important that He showed his disciples (and us) how to pray. This prayer is called the Lord’s Prayer.  Let’s celebrate and give thanks that we can talk to God by… praying!

OPENING PRAYER AND GATHERING GAME: Telephone (… a communication challenge!)

Open in prayer, then explain that in today’s book, we will be learning about how we communicate with God. But first, a game to see how effective it is (or isn’t) to communicate to another through a whole line of people! To demonstrate play a few rounds of the old-fashioned classic “telephone” in which all the children sit in a circle and one child is selected to whisper something to the child beside him/her.  The whispered message is repeated around the circle and when it comes back to the originator, the group can see if the message is correct or if it got jarbled along the way. Use this as a tie-in today’s story, where we’ll be learning about how we can communicate directly with God from his very Son, Jesus!

INTRODUCE THE STORY: Begin by saying one of our greatest privileges as teachers and parents is passing along our love for the Lord with our children. And one of the ways we do this is by learning to pray together. Ask if they know what prayer is?  When do they pray?  What do they pray? Do they know that prayer is actually talking to God – directly!?! (As opposed to the way we shared our message in the game we just played.)  Do they know that God LOVES it when we pray and wants us to pray to Him?  Yes, He does! Prayer is so important to God that He had His Son Jesus teach us how to do it while he was here on earth. That prayer is called the Lord’s Prayer and it is the focus of our book today. Explain that first you will just be reading the prayer through, and then you’ll go back and think about the meaning of each part of the prayer. 

FAITH-SPARKING CHAT TIME: After reading through the whole prayer, return to each spread. Have a child read that portion and then ponder together how the illustrations help us to understand what each part of the prayer means, using Rick Warren’s wonderful guide at the end of the book as an aid.  

Close the time by challenging the children to memorize this prayer as Jesus’ example of good praying. Then pray it together.

STORY-BASED ACTIVITY TIME:   The Lord’s Prayer Bookmarks

Ahead of time, type up the Lord’s Prayer using the columns feature on your computer to create long narrow text that can be cut into book mark shaped strips. Print on card stock and cut. Let the children decorate their book marks using markers and stickers. For an extra special finishing touch, punch a hole at the top and add colorful ribbon or yarn, as shown.

WRAP UP:  As children are finishing up their bookmarks – challenge them to begin memorizing the Lord’s Prayer, phrase by phrase. Then, give thanks that God loves us so very much that He even created a way for us to communicate directly with Him – through prayer. 

author spotlight, board books, Interview, Picture Books

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.]

author spotlight, faith, Interview

A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE: An Interview with Author Jennifer Grant

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

Here’s the publisher’s description:

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

Picture Books, Reading

Cover Reveal – LITTLE EWE: THE STORY OF ONE LOST SHEEP

Guess what? I have a new picture coming out in 2020 with Beaming Books!  LITTLE EWE: THE STORY OF ONE LOST SHEEP is scheduled to release November 17, 2020, just in time for the holidays.

Here’s the scoop from Beaming Books:

Little Ewe would rather jump on logs and investigate spider webs than follow the shepherd when he calls. But what happens when she gets lost? How will she find her way home? Told in whimsical rhyme, this humorous counting book for our littlest ones is a delightful reminder that, like a loving parent, our Shepherd will find us and care for us, even when we wander from the path.

In Little Ewe: The Story of One Lost Sheep, award-winning author Laura Sassi and illustrator Tommy Doyle tell an endearing tale of a distracted sheep and her persistent shepherd, inspired by the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15.”

Thank you, Beaming Books, for publishing this next picture book. And now for the moment you (or at least I) have been waiting for… the COVER REVEAL! Thank you, Chirping Moms for hosting. The cover reveal plus an interview (and maybe even a sneak peek at an interior spread!) can be found by pressing here.

Happy Peeking!

Book Launch, Picture Books

¡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!