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1. An Interview with Elli Woollard, creator of Woozy the Wizard

woozyWoozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well written by Elli Woollard and Al Murphy is the first in a new and very funny series of readers for children just gaining confidence in reading alone.

Woozy is a terribly well-meaning wizard who’s keen to help his friends, but more often than not he gets somewhat mixed up and his spells don’t quite do what they’re meant to. With the help of his pet pig Woozy flies around trying to sort things out, and in the process it becomes clear that whilst it may not be magic, it is certainly something quite magical that helps put the world to rights.

Lots of humour, great rhythm and rhyme (enormous aids when practising reading because they help with scanning a line, and predicting how words should be pronounced), and clear, bright and colourful illustrations all add up to a lovely book perfect to give to your emerging reader.

To celebrate the publication of I interviewed the author of Woozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well, Elli Woollard, about her work. Given Elli is a poet, I challenged her to answer me in rhyme….

Zoe: Rhyming seems to be in your blood. Where did this passion come from?

Elli Woollard: The thing about me is I sing quite a lot
(I rather enjoy it; the neighbours might not),
And I guess if you’re singing for much of the time
Your mind sort of slips into thinking in rhyme.

Zoe: How does your blog, where you regularly publish poems/works in progress, help you with your writing?

Elli Woollard: My blog’s like a sketchbook for scribbles and scrawls
And all of my mind’s muddly mess.
I write them all down, and sometimes I frown,
But some make me want to go ‘YES!’

Elli on the Dr Seuss book bench that was recently on view in London.

Elli on the Dr Seuss book bench that was recently on view in London.

Zoe: What would your ideal writing location/environment be like and why?

Elli Woollard: A hot cup of coffee, a warm purring cat;
There’s not much more that I need than that.
Working at home is really quite nice
(Except when the cat thinks my fingers are mice).

Zoe: What was the most magical part for you in the process of seeing Woozy the Wizard come to life as a printed book?

Elli Woollard: Writing, writing, is ever so exciting,
Especially when you’ve finished and say ‘Look!
All of my creations now come with illustrations!
Bloomin’ heck, I think I wrote a book!’

Zoe: What tips do you have for kids who love to write poetry?

Elli Woollard: Use your ears, use your eyes, use your heads, use your feet,
Stand up proud, read aloud, and just listen to that beat.
Feel the rhythm, feel the vibes of the poetry you’ve heard,
And think about the magic that’s in every single word.

Zoe: Which poets for children do you like to read?

Elli Woollard: Donaldson (Julia), Rosen (Mike),
Lear (Edward) and Milligan (Spike),
I could go on, and write a long list,
But so many good ones I know would get missed.

Zoe: Thanks Elli! I’m already looking forward to the next outing for Woozy, in spring 2015!

2 Comments on An Interview with Elli Woollard, creator of Woozy the Wizard, last added: 10/20/2014
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2. Summertime, summertime

This summer I've been writing, sketching, painting, playing, and learning.

And I've been attending Nerdy Chicks Rule Summer School 2014, Building Character. You can check it out here. This online class is chock full of goodness and it's FREE! Kami Kinard and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen have put together a talented faculty and I'm learning so much. Thanks, Ladies :)

0 Comments on Summertime, summertime as of 7/30/2014 12:32:00 PM
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3. Findus plants meatballs: gardening disasters to make you and your kids laugh out loud

Have you and your kids ever attempted to grow your own vegetables and failed miserably? Maybe the weather’s contrived against you? Or the slugs have slithered wild and destroyed your crops?

findusmeatballsfrontcoverIf so, perhaps Findus Plants Meatballs by Sven Nordqvist will put a wry smile on your face.

Pettson, a crochety but ultimately kind and charming old man lives on a small homestead in the countryside, with a mischievous cat, Findus, as his only real family. Spring has arrived and it’s time to plant their vegetable patch.

But try as they might, the odds are not in their favour. First the chickens dig up the newly planted seeds. Then a neighbour’s pig escapes and runs riot. Should Findus and Pettson just give up on vegetables altogether? (Many a child reader/listener might well cheer at this point!)

Slapstick humour abounds in this seasonal tale full of optimism and utter chaos. It’s is also great for starting discussions about where food comes from (tying in with the primary school ‘field-to-fork’ topic rather nicely).

Fans already familiar with Pettson and Findus (this is the seventh Findus and Pettson book now translated into English and published by Hawthorne Press) will delight in familiar tropes; the threat of the fox, the problematic fellow farmer Gustavsson, the crazy DIY projects and the mysterious mini magical folk. If you’re new to this utterly delightful Swedish import the ramshackle illustrations teeming with life and laughter will quickly win you over.





You’ll be infinitely richly rewarded for spending time pouring of the illustrations; even in choosing just a few cameos to share with you today, we’ve discovered many more visual jokes, even though this must be the 20th time we’ve read the book.

Charismatic characters, high jinks, and heart-warming friendship combined with witty, surprising and satisfying illustrations all add up to another winner from Sven Nordqvist.

We’ve been reading this funny book down on our allotment in between planting our vegetables and flowers for this year.



And just like Findus, the girls said they wanted to see what would happen if they planted meatballs. So I called their bluff, and said that of course they could plant meatballs (along with carrots, onions and beans)…


And thus a new family dinner was created! A field of mashed potato made the most fertile ground for planting sauted onions, carrots, steamed beans, and – of course – some extra special meatballs.



Whilst planting our meatballs we listened to:

  • On top of spaghetti (all covered in cheese, I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed), here sung by Tom Glazer
  • One Meatball by Fred Mollin (from the film Ratatouille) – here’s an older version (lovely, but not quite a jazzy as the Disney version):
  • My Favorite Meatball by Danna Banana (Meatballs the world over unite!)

  • Other great activities to go along with reading Findus Plants Meatballs include:

  • Exploring the garden activities over on NurtureStore. Cathy produces handy month by month guides to getting planting, playing and harvesting with your family.
  • Making some bird houses to put up in your garden. Pettson and Findus’s world is full of little cottages up in the trees and you might find inspiration to add one or two to your outdoor space on this Pinterest board.
  • Creating your own flock of chickens out of old plastic pots. Pettson’s chicks are white, but I do think these from hellokids.com have the right sort of attitude and funkiness to be friends (?!) with Pettson and Findus.
  • Reading How to Grow a Dinosaur by Caryl Hart, illustrated by Ed Eaves. After all, if you can plant meatballs, why not dinosaurs?
  • Have you any vegetable planting horror stories you can share with me? Or enormously successful tales of child-friendly seed sowing?

    Disclaimer: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.

    3 Comments on Findus plants meatballs: gardening disasters to make you and your kids laugh out loud, last added: 5/12/2014
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    4. The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf | Book Review

    A funny reimagining of the Three Little Pigs story, where the wolf isn’t so much big and bad but just hungry … and a bit grouchy.

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    5. Willow-Mia Pig, 1 in 100 Million, by Nancy A. Bolanis | Book Giveaway

    Enter to win a copy of Willow-Mia Pig, 1 in 100 Million, written by Nancy A. Bolanis and illustrated by Donna Secour. Giveaway begins March 16, 2014, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends May 15, 2014, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

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    6. Downton Abbey Season 4, Episode 6: Heartbreak to Flavor Our Puddings for Weeks to Come

    “You do realize even Alfred gets more screen time than you do?”

    (UK / DVD  episode 7. Also, spoilers below.)

    Telegram! Robert has been summoned to America by Cora’s Horrible American Mother to assist Cora’s Impossible American Brother. There’s a scandal involving oil and a Senate committee who may or may not be favorably impressed by a titled brother-in-law, because nothing says respectable like an impoverished English earl who snaps up an American heiress to save his estate, and then loses her fortune on bad investments.

    Bit of a flurry over the notion that Bates must accompany Lord Grantham to America. (I love how it’s always “America.” Last season, when Shirley Maclaine arrived to out-shout the Dowager, she referred to her home as “America” 100% of the time. You have to wonder if Julian Fellowes has ever chatted with any Americans long enough to discover that if you ask us where we’re from, we don’t name our country; we name our state. Unless you’re a New Yorker, in which case you name your borough.)

    Anna puts on a brave face for Bates, but sobs in the hall. Mrs. Hughes takes the case to Lady Mary, who puts on her best stone face and insists she would like to help, but she “must know the facts.” What is Mrs. Hughes to do? She reveals Anna’s secret, and Mary marches straight to her father and orders him to take Thomas to America instead of Bates, wearing that exact same stone face and saying, “I can’t explain it. If I could you’d agree with me.” I actually burst out laughing at this, despite the graveness of the subject matter. It’s so Mary. She expects her father to jump when she says jump and take her word that jumping is the gentlemanly thing to do in this circumstance. But by golly, nobody’d better expect her to take any request on faith.

    All right, then, it’s settled, Bates stays, Thomas goes,  Mary has a moment with Bates (“It wasn’t your fault, Bates. It wasn’t Anna’s, but it wasn’t yours, either”), and—HOLD ON EVERYONE, THE PIGS ARE COMING!

    I absolutely love how every time anyone in this episode says “Pigs,” it starts with a capital letter.

    Pig interlude over, we can go back to bidding Robert farewell. My second shout of laughter came at Cora and Robert’s parting scene. This dialogue—

    “Oh darling. I do think your going to rescue my hopeless brother is an act of real love, and I cherish you for it.”

    “That’ll keep me warm as I cross the raging seas.”

    “Good. Now kiss me.”

    —are you kidding me? We’ve left Melrose Abbey and entered John-and-Marsha territory. I can’t decide if Fellowes is punking us or what.

    Thomas is looking forward to his report from Miss Baxter when he returns. Only Thomas could make an abundance of verbal italics come off as sinister. Molesley, loading the suitcases into the car with humble, gloved hands, overhears the italics and furrows a brow in concern.

    Robert has tender words for Poor Edith, leaves Rose in charge of “fun,” chides Mary for being preoccupied, is too preoccupied to notice his mother is about to keel over, and admits he’s going to miss his dog Isis most of all. The post-war years have not been kind to Robert.

    As soon as he drives off, Violet admits to Isobel that she feels ill. Isobel offers to help her home, but “that is the very last thing I would want.” Which means, of course, that Isobel’s help is the very only thing she’s going to get for the rest of the episode. She comes down with a nasty case of bronchitis, Isobel gamely volunteers to nurse her round the clock, the doctor makes eyebrows, Cora and Mary stand three feet away from the bed on their one and only visit to Granny during the whole episode, and Violet is every bit as mean to Isobel in her fevered delirium as she is in her highest spirits. Last week, the volley of barbs between these two characters was the funniest part of the episode, even if their scenes did have COMIC FILLER written in Sharpie across the top of every page. But this week, ugh. We get it. They annoy each other, they need each other, they have each other’s backs as long as they can grumble about it. Now give me back my Lady Sleuths show, please?

    (Violet’s arch “Oh, goody goody” at the end of the episode was almost worth the price of admission, though.)

    Mary spars with Charles Blake: he’s frustrated by the stubborn helplessness of the owners of “these failing estates,” and she’s shocked, SHOCKED I TELL YOU, by his suggestion that God isn’t weeping to see aristocrats losing hold of their lands.

    Wait, did someone say Pigs? Even better! PIGMAN! There’s a Pigman, and he’s been hired! For the Pigs!

    Tragedy strikes the servants’ hall: Alfred wants to stop in for a visit. Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes are Highly Alarmed, because undoubtedly his presence will reignite the Daisy/Ivy feud—you know, the one that never actually ceased, because it would kill Daisy not to mutter darkly in Ivy’s direction every five minutes. To prevent the reignition, the senior servants whisper plans back and forth through several scenes. I don’t know why they’re whispering; Ivy and Daisy can’t hear them anyway over all their feuding.

    Anyway, the grand plan is to tell Alfred there’s flu at Downton and he must stay at the inn, lest he jeopardize his cooking course. I mean, this is one elaborate lie. Carson has to waylay Alfred right off the train and divert him to the inn, and stay and have a drink with him, and foot the bill. Back in the kitchen, Daisy hears Alfred isn’t coming and rips right into Ivy, fueled with fresh ammunition because obviously Alfred doesn’t want to return to the place where his broken heart is buried. Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore, listening to the warfare, congratulate themselves on having prevented it.

    Later, Alfred will pop in anyway, flu be damned. More sniping! The End.

    Mary has a heart-to-heart with Evelyn Napier about why Charles Blake seems not to like her. Since Napier’s heart is a timid little rabbit thumping away in his genteel breast, the closest he can come to proposing to Mary (which we all know he’s been wanting to do since the year the Titanic went down) is to tell her Charles Blake thinks he, Evelyn, is blind where Mary’s concerned. Mary’s not listening anyway; she’s still puzzling over the news that Blake finds her “aloof.”

    She pesters Anna on this point: Moi? Aloof? “Do you want me to answer truthfully, or like a lady’s  maid?” replies Anna, which is entirely too honest for Mary’s comfort. Mary immediately turns the subject to Anna’s secret, which she knows Anna knows she knows. Anna is not ready to talk about it, not to anyone, though she admits to being relieved there is “honesty between us again.”

    Stop the presses, THE PIGS HAVE ARRIVED. Oh, but Mary missed it. It seems she was busy standing a safe distance from her grandmother’s bed at the time. Never mind, she can see them tomorrow.

    Edith and Rose go up to London, each with her own secret plans. Rose wrangles permission to visit some Totally Respectable Friends, and is next seen floating down the river in a boat with Jack Ross, the jazz singer. He seems pretty level-headed about the future prospects of this relationship, but Rose is all, “Oh shut up and kiss me.” John! Marsha!

    Edith’s secret is, of course, much graver. Aunt Rosamund ferrets the truth out of her: Edith has scheduled an abortion. This was a pretty touching scene: Edith’s anguished cry, “I’m killing the wanted child of a man I’m in love with and you ask me if I’ve thought about it” strikes home with Rosamund, who announces she’s going with her to the appointment. Once there, a heartbroken Edith confesses that she can’t bear the thought of being an outcast all her life, as will certainly be the case if she tries to raise a child born out of wedlock. She has always, always been the odd man, even (or especially) in her own home. She can’t let herself become some “funny old woman” living in isolation, endlessly gossiped about and received by no one. But then she hears another patient sobbing, and she changes her mind. Perhaps she can’t bear to be an outcast, but neither can she go through with the abortion. Rosamund takes her home, and we don’t yet know what Edith’s fate will be.

    Rose pitches a dainty fit at the news she’s going back to Downton sooner than anticipated, and that’s about it for Rose this week.

    But she gets more screen time than Tom, who is mostly busy around the fringes playing chauffeur, dog-watcher, and Greeter of the Pigs. But he does show up at the political meeting Isobel urged him to attend, and winds up sitting next to an amiable young woman—after both of them are singled out to embarrassing effect by the politician at the podium. I assume we’ll meet this new friend again? Here’s hoping.

    BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PIGS?! I mean, the suspense has been something awful. Come on, Downton, you promised me Pigs.

    Mary and Charles decide to wander out to visit the famous Pigs after dinner, still wearing their fancy dress. (Obviously. One mustn’t underdress for Pigs.) It’s a long walk, but no one gets chilly in a beaded dinner dress in England in the evening, and high heels are perfect for strolling across damp fields. At last we meet them, the marvelous Pigs. But oh no! Where is the Extremely Reliable Pigman? Off celebrating his lucky station in life, no doubt. And if you thought the Alfred situation was tragic, brace yourself: these Pigs are Not Doing Well At All. They’ve knocked over their water trough, and the brutal English sun has baked them to the brink of death.

    Cue the special Pig Music! With no time to lose, Charles springs into action. Mary will not sit idly by and watch this loathed fellow save Her Pigs all by himself. It’s nice that there are four water pails so ready at hand. The two of them work tirelessly long into the night, saving the Pigs with carefully apportioned swallows of water. And it’s a well known truism of television that a rich woman never looks lovelier than when she is tastefully smeared with mud (preferably with a lock or two of hair wisping down), so down Mary must go, flop-bott. Charles looks upon her with new eyes, and when, having delivered salvation to her beasts, Mary laughs her throaty laugh, Charles is a goner.

    Sorry, Tony Gillingham. Who by chance arrives the next day! But first Ivy has to stumble upon Mary and Charles in the kitchen at the crack of dawn, enjoying well-deserved scrambled eggs and glasses of Carson’s best wine. But no one’s at all suspicious of shenanigans, because Mary Wouldn’t Behave that Way. Well, except for that one time her foreign lover died in her bed and she had to drag his corpse down the hall, but come on. Bygones.

    Mary does look genuinely delighted to see Tony. Her face softens and she’s very warm with him, and only jabs him once about Mabel. Seems Tony and Charles are old war buddies. Napier shuffles nervously: oh dear, more competition. It’s sweet the way he thinks he’s actually in the running.

    But along with Tony Gillingham comes his valet, the rapist. Mrs. Hughes confronts him: I know who you are and what you’ve done. Green tries to pass it off as if Anna was drunk and willing, but of course Mrs. H. isn’t buying that. Now, here’s the part that confused me. He thanks her for not telling Bates he was the attacker—so he seems to have some inkling that Bates will kill him (probably literally) if he finds out. And yet a few minutes later, there Green is at dinner with the servants, spouting loudly and pointedly about how, on his previous visit, the opera singer was “screaming and screeching as if her finger was stuck in a door” and he escaped her performance by coming downstairs. He knows Bates knows that’s when and where Anna was raped. He’s just begging for revenge. He should have taken Mrs. Hughes’s advice to “stop playing joker, and keep to the shadows.” Because now Bates is looking murder at him, and the Melrose Abbey soundtrack tells us there is danger ahead.

    But I very much fear I’m never going to find out what became of the Pigman.

    My previous Downton Abbey recaps are here.

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    7. SkaDAMo 2013 Day 21

    pig in a blanket450 2

    “Pigs in a Blanket”

    Well at least two of them.

    The lovely Laurel Gaylord of Studio Lolo suggested this porcine pun. One of a many other idioms and puns. A girl after my own heart, she is. Can’t wait to dig in to that list.

    Stop on by here to see what the other SkADaMo participants are up to.

    10 Comments on SkaDAMo 2013 Day 21, last added: 11/27/2013
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    8. Blog Hop!

    I was recently tagged by my dear friend, Renee Kurilla, for this author/illustrator blog hop!

    What are you working on right now?

    I'm working on playing more while I wait for sketch revisions on a work project. I've been creating lots of new art for the past two years for my portfolio, but I'm never satisfied. Recently, I realized that I had stopped doing some of the things I love to do, like collage and smearing paint around a canvas. I returned to that for my recently completed Tomie dePaola Award contest. Now I want more of this style in my portfolio, so it's back to the drawing board.

    How does this differ from other works in this genre?

    I'm exploring how I do collage. Lots of other artists are doing it, but I am working on my own unique voice. I strive to keep it as simple as possible.

    Why do you write what you write?

    I love drawing adorable animals. In my writing, I give them a home and a story. I love funny books that seem straightforward but are anything but. I like to throw in a little subversive twist. I'm currently writing a story for these two. I'm also participating in #PiBoIdMo and loving it. That's what got me started writing in the first place. 

    The hardest thing about writing, is, well, the writing! These pigs have an amazing story. They have too much story! What started as a simple idea took off in so many directions that I just had to step away to clear my head. I'm almost ready to try to rein them in again, but so far, they have resisted all of my efforts to contain them. They are irrepressible and unapologetic.

    Now to spread the fun and tag some more lovely author/illustrators:

    4 Comments on Blog Hop!, last added: 11/14/2013
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    9. Maurice Sendak Profiled by Dave Eggers

    On September 6th, Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak will release Bumble-Ardy. This picture book will be the first publication Sendak has written and illustrated completely on his own since Outside Over There (1981).

    Writer Dave Eggers profiled the 83-year-old Sendak for a piece in Vanity Fair (Eggers wrote The Wild Things, a novel loosely based on Where the Wild Things Are). According to the article, Sendak has spent the last three decades illustrating books and designing operas. 

    Here’s more from the article: “Like all Sendakian rumpuses, it [Bumble-Ardy] gets out of hand, and for 10 pages we’re treated to the most bizarre tableau of celebrants, all in costume: pigs dressed as monsters, pigs dressed as cowboys and Indians, pigs dressed as old ladies painted garishly. As with any Sendak book, the pictures are full of references and echoes. One pig is reading a newspaper that says, WE READ BANNED BOOKS. A sheriff’s yellow badge calls back to the Warsaw Ghetto. Messages are written in Hebrew, Italian, Russian.” (via The Guardian)

    New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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    10. Pretty Princess Pig

    Pretty Princess Pig. Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple. Illustrated by Sam Williams. 2011. Simon & Schuster. (Little Simon). 24 pages.

    Pretty in pink is Princess Pig.
    Her trotters are tiny. Her snout is big.
    She loves to eat. She loves to dig.
    Pretty Princess Pig.

    At the first pink light of dawn, 
    she snorts one enormous yawn,
    then throws her flowered party dress on.
    Pretty Princess Pig.

    At first, I hated it. I'll be honest. The first few pages, I was like this book is NOT for me. It's too pink, too glittery, too rhyming. But I kept reading. I looked past the pinky-pinkness of it. I looked past the princess nonsense, and what I discovered was that it is actually a funny story about a pig who keeps getting messier and messier and messier as she prepares for a gathering of her friends--tea, cookies, scones, crumpets, etc. The messier she got, the messier her home got, the more I liked her.

    So while I wouldn't say this book is a new favorite. I ended up liking it more than I thought I would.

    Text: 3 out of 5
    Illustrations: 3 out of 5
    Total: 6 out of 10

    © 2011 Becky Laney of Young Readers

    0 Comments on Pretty Princess Pig as of 9/27/2011 1:29:00 PM
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    11. Samples: Pigs Of Summer

    I forgot to post this illustration project that I did a-way back in the late winter for the June 2011 issue of Highlight’s High Five magazine. “Pigs Of Summer” was the title of a spread for an “action rhyme”. As always, it’s a pleasure (and blast!) to work with the art directors at Highlights, drawing all kinds of fun and interesting stuff to encourage kids to learn and grow.

    Below: The rough sketches.

    copyright Highlights For Children, 2011

    0 Comments on Samples: Pigs Of Summer as of 1/1/1900
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    12. New Books about Animals

    By Nicki Richesin, The Children’s Book Review
    Published: November 8, 2011

    Whether you prefer animals as loveable yet zany characters who talk or as a species that live in the natural world, these entertaining books teach children about both fantasy and science. You’ll have a beastly good time reading with these funny, furry creatures that might inspire a life-long interest in nature. Let the wild rumpus commence.

    School for Bandits

    by Hannah Shaw

    School for Bandits by Hannah Shaw is a fun romp with a little raccoon who wants to be a fine scholar yet enrolls in a school plagued by ruffians where “no niceness is allowed.” Check out the trailer for a sneak peek at the high jinx that ensues. (Ages 5-8)

    A Cat Like That

    by Wendy Wahman

    A Cat Like That by Wendy Wahman details all the many benefits of having a furry feline friend. Pay close attention to the traits a cat looks for in a devoted companion in this lovely trailer. (Ages 4-7)

    The Incredible L

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    13. Pinata - A Review

    Jorge the Pinata maker is a fabulous artist - "Twelve circles to the left and three to the right.  A dash of hope and a sprinkle of light..."

    His newest creation is about to be brought to life.  Set high upon the shelf with Miguel the Monkey and Cynthia the dog, Pancho the pig is finally finished.  He's still a bit shy and not quite understanding what has happened, but soon the duo explain to him what being a Pinata is all about - being lifted up high at the fiesta and admired by all.  However, when Duck comes back torn in two the trio soon learn the real horror behind the Pinata.

    Pinata by Ken Locsmandi and Sebastian A. Jones is a fun, humorous and endearing tale.  It's filled with surprises that not only have you cheering for the "doomed" pig, but also have you wanting him to fulfill his intended purpose. 

    The illustrations by Tomo are second to none - pay attention to the little mice on each page as they are funny and so entertaining - Tomo has also captured each character's facial expressions which really sets the tone for all the adventure.

    In addition to one of the best children's books to hit the market, Pinata also includes instructions to make your own pig Pinata and also a bio on each "helpful" candy thieving mouse - my favourite is Yosh the charmer, dreamer and wishful thinker - so clever!

    If you haven't experienced Pinata for yourself you need to grab a copy today - this would make a great Christmas present - Pinata needs to be in your library and is sure to become a nightly read.  If this isn't enough to convince you, 10 percent of all proceeds from Pinata goes to Kids Need to Read.

    I LOVED this book and am definitely going to make my own pig Pinata.  Thanks Stranger Kids!

    Check out Pinata at; http://www.strangerkids.com/pinata/ and all of Stranger Kids books at; http://www.strangerkids.com/

    1 Comments on Pinata - A Review, last added: 11/12/2011
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    14. Mercy Watson to the Rescue - a review

    Dicamillo, Kate. 2006. The Mercy Watson Collection: Volume 1. Read by Ron McLarty. Listening Library.
    41 minutes

    Last week, I was about ready to leave for work when I realized that I had nothing loaded on my mp3 player for the commute. (I have neglected to mention it here, but in January, I traded in my bicycle commute to return to my previous branch) In any case, I began frantically searching my library’s available downloads for something that would load quickly and keep me entertained during my drive to work.

    My choice? Mercy Watson. Despite the book's irresistibly cute cover art, I’d never read a Mercy Watson book before.  I thought it was about time. And anyway, how can you go wrong with Kate Dicamillo? 

    Answer:  You can't.

    Despite the loss of Chris Van Dusen’s charmingly funny artwork featured in the print version, Mercy Watson still "clicks" as an audiobook.  Upbeat intro music sets the stage and Ron McLarty's narration is a perfect fit, with kind of a retro feel to it - as if you're listening to a favorite old story that you've heard a thousand times before.  (It's hard to believe that he's also the voice of books by David Baldacci, Danielle Steel and Stephen King!)

    However, the best thing about Mercy Watson to the Rescue (the first book in the series), is Mercy herself.  She may be a pig, but she's an awful lot like most children - when sent to find help to rescue her parents, she quickly forgets her mission and goes instead, in search of buttered toast!  And when chased by mean neighbor, Eugenia, Mercy waits until Eugenia's good and close before she starts running.  After all, it's all about the chase, isn't it?  Mercy is simply delightful.  I'm sorry I waited so long to find her.

    What else do I love about the book? 

    - that calling the fire department is the solution of choice when one's bed has collapsed (I'm rather partial to firefighters, having married one and all)
    - that Mercy's parents adore her unconditionally

    Here's an excerpt.  Enjoy!

    One thing I found particularly amusing is the choice of Eugenia as the name for the neighbor. When my chi

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    15. Prepare Yourselves, Because April 24th is Pigs in a Blanket Day! And That Can Only Mean One Thing...

    ...storytime may be a bit more exciting than usual this evening...

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    16. Barnyard Mysteries underway...Pencil sketch characters down on Penny Pac farm...

    Piggie Pie:  Jr. detective- Hates taking a bath, his spots and tea time at 3
    Master detective ...loves luxury, solving mysteries and tea at 3...
    Hermoise Hen: Master detective - loves, luxury, solving barnyard mysteries and tea time at 3.

    Penny Pac farm....

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    17. This and That.

    From my sketchbook.

    I feel like I'm sitting on a powder keg of possibility, but I can't find the match. I have so much art to create & not enough time. Back to work!

    2 Comments on This and That., last added: 5/18/2012
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    18. Pigs on a Road Trip

    I'm working on adding to this story. These pigs are in for some adventure.
    You can see a peak of the sketches here. It feels so good to update my website!

    Everyone's out enjoying the summer, hitting the road to places far and wide. Me?
    I'll be in the studio all summer, available for your illustration needs ;-)

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    19. You all know Becky Dreistadt’s work, don’t you? And...

    You all know Becky Dreistadt’s work, don’t you? And you know how prolific she is with her amazing gouache paintings and painted comics?

    Well, the folks at Rainn Wilson’s Soul Pancake made a time lapse of one of her recent paintings as she made it, and they were kind enough to slow the action down for us. That’s how time lapse works, right?

    Is is okay for me to say that I was mesmerized and cursing out loud for the entire movie? No? I’ll keep that to myself then. Awesome work, Becky!

    Timelapse Painting by Becky Dreistadt (Art Attack) (by soulpancake)

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    20. HoHoDooDa Day 2


    A Digital re-sketch of one of my Twelve Days of Christmas challenge a couple of years ago.

    Swing on by and check out what my fabulous fellow HoHoDooDa Doers are doing!





    Laura Anne

    Oh, and if you have joined in the fun but don’t see your name on the list, let me know and I’ll pop you on there!

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    21. Lisa the Pig Finds A Home a Sanctuary One

    The family of Animal Helpers is growing. The second installment Animal Helpers: Sanctuaries is due to hit bookstores later this month, and once again author Jennifer Keats Curtis introduces us to passionate animal caretakers at five sanctuaries.

    Sanctuary One is a care farm, which is a working farm that brings people, animals and nature together in a unique therapeutic environment. One special resident is Lisa the pig, at 700 pounds Lisa’s former owners were unable to continue to care for her. She is now a permanent resident a Sanctuary One, and just in time for Valentine’s Day you can watch this love story unfold below.

    Caring for Lisa and all the other animals at Sanctuary One is very costly; they will be selling Animal Helpers: Sanctuaries as a fundraiser. Please visit their website to learn more about Sanctuary One.

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    22. Of Pigs and Peanut Butter, Smiles and Books (But Not Necessarily All Four Together)

    March 1st is quite the celebratory day as Little Known Holidays go - and in 2013, there are eight of them (that I know of at this time). Every one looks like a ton of fun, but with only so many hours in a day and only so much space in a blog post, let's split the difference and choose exactly half, and celebrate accordingly.

    Let's start things off with National Pig Day. Created in 1972 by two sisters - Ellen Stanley and Mary Lynne Rave - the purpose of the day is "to accord the pig its rightful, though generally unrecognized, place as one of man's most intellectual and domesticated animals." 

    Next on the list is Peanut Butter Lover's Day. And Share a Smile Day. Not sure what the backstory is on either one of these, but the porcine fellow below sees no reason why he shouldn't celebrate both - from ear to ear and elbow deep:

    Last, but most certainly not least, March 1st is the day chosen by the National Education Association to observe 2013's Read Across America Day. (The official date for Read Across America Day is March 2nd - the birthdate of the late Theodor S. Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss.)

    Well. Not wanting to be outdone by a multitasking pig (clever though he may be), I thought it would be fun for us to celebrate not just two, but three of March 1st's holidays, all at once:





    Books for Young People

    Why not all four? Um, well, I think we have to draw the line at mixing books and peanut butter in the same celebration. That just does not end well. (The last time I tried, I ended up with peanut butter on the cover of one of my favorite books. And do you know, a little bit of that peanut butter is still there? True story!)

    But enough about my peanut-buttery past. Let's get to those books. Below, you'll find five pig-populated books that I've very much enjoyed reading and/or sharing with my kids over the years. For each one, I've listed the title, author and illustrator, reading level, and the book's Piggy Connection. If I've reviewed or posted in some way about the book, the title will be a clickable link that takes you directly to that post.

    Pete & Pickles
    Written and Illustrated by Berkeley Breathed
    Ages 4-8

    Piggy Connection: Pete is a very orderly pig, whose orderly life takes a sudden disorderly turn.

    Arthur, For the Very First Time
    Written by Patricia MacLachlan
    Illustrated by Lloyd Bloom
    Ages 9-12

    Piggy Connection: Bernadette, Uncle Wrisby's beloved pet pig, will soon give birth to a litter of wiggly piglets. And when she needs some help, it comes from a very unlikely source.

    Charlotte's Web
    Written by E.B. White
    Illustrated by Garth Williams
    Ages 6-11

    Piggy Connection: Wilbur the pig is the runt of the litter, destined for a very short life, indeed. But then Fern the farm girl steps in to save him, and Charlotte the spider helps him find his way in this world.

    Written by Audrey Wood and Don Wood
    Illustrated by Don Wood
    Ages 5 and up

    Piggy Connection: Fingers and toes. Who knew these "piggies" could be so much fun?

    The Three Pigs
    Written and Illustrated by David Wiesner
    Ages 4 and up

    Piggy Connection: The classic tale of the Three Little Pigs gets a not-so-classic retelling. Because this time, the pigs are taking charge of their story.

    * * *

    And that concludes our little celebration. But the fun doesn't have to end here. Go on, enjoy March 1st in your own creative way, in all its piggy, peanut-buttery, smiley, book-filled glory. (But remember, you might want keep the peanut-buttery parts separate from the book-filled parts...)

    3 Comments on Of Pigs and Peanut Butter, Smiles and Books (But Not Necessarily All Four Together), last added: 3/1/2013
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    23. One Smart Pig!

    In Animal Helpers: Sanctuaries you meet Lisa the pig, a 700 pound loveable animal that just got too big to stay with her owners. Sanctuary One’s newest resident pig Jigsaw is just as loveable and very smart. Just watch how well mannered this pig is:



    Sanctuary One provides the community with a place to connect with nature and meet animals that children or adults may not have the opportunity to meet otherwise. They are very passionate and we hope you enjoy the video, and meeting them in the book Animal Helpers: Sanctuaries.
    The Animal Helpers series by Jennifer Keats Cutis is a great way to introduce children to the challenges and rewards that a career helping animals entails. Each book in the series features work of special organizations and caretakers like Sanctuary One. These organizations are able to use the book as a fundraiser; it is expensive, and requires a lot of work to care for a farm of formerly homeless animals.
    We at Sylvan Dell are happy to feature the great work of not only Sanctuary One, but also the other Animal Helpers. If you, or your children are interested in caring for animals there are organizations all across the country that need support and volunteers!

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    24. Illustrator Interview – Elizabeth Rose Stanton

    By popular request, they’re back! Every Wednesday, I shall be interviewing illustrators from the world of children’s literature, those you know well and also introducing you to pre-published future Caldecott potentials! Today’s guest is my go to pig-me-up on FB when I need a smile and a bit of whimsy to brighten my day. Welcome to Elizabeth Rose Stanton, whose debut picture book, HENNY, will be published next January by Simon & Schuster.

    [JM Illustrator or author/illustrator? 

    [ERS] Author/illustrator

    [JM] What’s your nationality and which and how have certain cultures/regions influenced your work?   

    [ERS] I am “all” American. Multiple lines of my family go back to the early 1600s in North America, and I have a touch of Native American.  It’s probably more accurate to say that my work has been influenced more by children’s literature, in general, than any specific culture or region. That said, I admire the work of many artists and illustrators, including:  Beatrix Potter, Lisbeth Zwerger, John R. Neill, John Tenniel, Edward Gorey, James Thurber. 

    I could go on and on . . . 

    [JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings as an artist.

    [ERS] I studied art history in college, and then went on to get a graduate degree in architecture.   After I got married and had children, I decided to set aside my career as an architect to be a full-time parent.  I began to work as an artist, as time permitted, when my youngest child started kindergarten.  I did portraits, fine art (was represented by a gallery here in Seattle), some graphic design, and became a certified scientific illustrator.  It is only recently, now that the nest is empty, that I have been able to dive full-time into writing and illustrating for children.   

    [JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in? 

    [ERS] I work mostly with pencil and watercolor, and sometimes with pen and ink and/or colored pencils. 

    [JM] What does your workspace look like?        

    Studio_ERStanton[ERS] It Usually looks messy! :-)   I have a cove in the basement lined on one side with bookshelves, and a desk at the end.  I call it “The Trench.”

    [JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

    [ERS] My process varies a little, depending on where the final image(s) end up. For my books, I work completely on paper.  HENNY was rendered in pencil and watercolor, and the final art was packed up and physically sent to Simon & Schuster in New York.    For posting on-line (such as my Facebook “daily” sketches or for blog posts), I always begin with pencil/paint on paper, scan it, then often do some touch up.  I have a very old graphics program that I use that is quite adequate for what I usually need to do—cleaning up stray lines or enhancing color here and there.  But the short of it is, I prefer to work old-school.  


    Begins with a simple pencil sketch

    Then I begin to paint, using a variety of watercolor, and sometimes gouache.

    Then I begin to paint, using a variety of watercolor, and sometimes gouache.

    I go back and forth with color and pencil until I feel the picture is balanced

    I go back and forth with color and pencil until I feel the picture is balanced


    Then, in this case, I scan it in, clean it up a little, and send it on its way.

    Then, in this case, I scan it in, clean it up a little, and send it on its way.

    [JM] I know you have your debut picture book coming out in January of 2014. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration and development of HENNY? 

    [ERS] Most of my ideas pop out spontaneously by way of the characters. A couple of years ago, I drew a fanciful bird with arms. He morphed into a chicken.  Then I started to think about all the challenges, and fun, a little chicken with arms might have, and Henny’s story unfolded from there.

    Armed Chicks

    Armed Chicks


    Jacket cover for HENNY (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books)

     [JM] What’s with all the pigs? :-)  

    [ERS] The book I’m working on now is about a pig.

    EPSON scanner image

    [JM] How do you approach the marketing/business side of the picture book world?

    [ERS] Having a fabulous agent, Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary & Media, helps.  I couldn’t have asked for a better person to represent me. She is helpful, responsive, and she really knows the business. I also have the benefit of the expertise of the talented team at Paula Wiseman Books. Meanwhile, I’ve been working to build up my social network platform. I try and keep my blog current, as well as post sketches and little paintings on Facebook as frequently as I can.  I use Twitter occasionally, too.  Specifically for HENNY, I will be having the book launch here in Seattle the first week of January, and will then be working hard to make the rounds, so to speak, singing her praises! :-)

    EPSON scanner image[JM] What has been your greatest professional challenge?

    [ERS] Staying focused. I always want to do other things (I have a pretty long bucket list).

    Five Fun Ones to Finish?

    [JM] What word best sums you up? 

    [ERS] Quirky.

    EPSON scanner image

    [JM] If you could live anywhere for a season, where would you go? 

    [ERS] Paris–because I’ve never been.

    [JM] What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing?

    [ERS] Strong tea and the darkest of dark chocolate.

    [JM] Cats or dogs? 

    [ERS] Both!  I have an ancient one-eyed dog and two Scottish Fold cats.

    [JM] If you could spend a day with one children’s book illustrator, with whom would that be? 

    [ERS] Current: Lisbeth Zwerger    Past: Beatrix Potter

    [JM] Where can we find/follow you and your work, Elizabeth?





    [ERS]  Thank you for the interview, Joanna!  It’s been fun!

    [JM] Thank YOU for being on Miss Marple’s Musings, Beth. To your continued success. I am looking forward to seeing HENNY when she comes out!

    EPSON scanner image 

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    25. May picture book roundup

    I am in the midst of transferring from one branch to another, and I now have two desks overflowing with great new books!  Here are a few:

    Gibbs, Edward. 2011. I Spy with my Little Eye. Somerville, MA: Templar. (Candlewick)

    That big (almost 2.5"), yellow, circular eye on the cover is actually a hole - an oh, the things we can spy through that hole!  On a predominantly white spread with an eye on the left page and a circle of blue on the right, we read,
    I spy with my little eye  ... something that is blue. "I am the biggest animal in the world."
    Turn the page to find a richly colored blue whale, which due to some artfully placed curlicues, manages to appear realistic and at the same time, fanciful.

    I'm a BLUE WHALE.
    Each featured animal unfolds in the same manner.  The rear cover of the book features a hole for your own little eye to go spying! Colors, animals, guessing - this book has it all!
    Edward Gibbs is listed as a "debut artist."  What a debut! This one's dynamite!

    Tusa, Tricia. 2011. Follow Me. Boston: Harcourt.

    From the book jacket, here is the description of the art,
    The illustrations in this book were done using an etching process with monoprinted color.  The text type was set in Prin.  The display type was set in Rats and Carrotflower.
    (Rats and Carrotflower? - love that one!)  What this means to me is a softly-colored book with fanciful drawings outlined in etched brown lines.  The color sometimes spills out of its intended (?) perimeter in much the same way that the young protagonist spills out of her swing and floats and flies through the breezes, "lost in small, green, happy music."  She invites the reader to follow her through all of nature's colors, "deep into brown, into the bright white of yellow, into orange that slips into red."   From the illustrator of In a Blue Room, another beautiful book!

    Johnson, Lindsay Lee. 2011. Ten Moonstruck Piglets. Ill. by Carll Cneut. Boston: Clarion.

    All in a scramble,
    all ready to gambol,
    ten moonstruck piglets
    on a midnight ramble.

    Through the mud wallow,
    beyond the wide hollow,
    leapfrogging piglets
    in turns lead and follow.
    It's all fun and games until the moon goes behind a cloud!  But not to worry - Mama's coming.  These sleepy-eyed, wrinkly little runts are irresistible!

    Where Ten Little Piglets is filled with amusing detail, this next book features uncomplicated simplicity ... (but in both books, you can count on mom to the rescue!)

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