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1. Scholastic to Shutter Storia

Scholastic is closing its children’s book platform app Storia in favor of pushing its subscription model reading platform Storia School Edition. Essentially the publisher will no longer be selling eBooks, and will instead offer access to its collection of 2000 books for an annual subscription price that costs $2000 (based on school size). There will also be a family plan available next year.

“With the launch of Storia School Edition on September 1, Scholastic will transition to a streaming model for children’s eBook delivery,” the publisher explained on its website. “The switch to streaming means that eBooks you’ve previously purchased may soon no longer be accessible.You may be able to continue using your eBooks by making sure to open them on a bookshelf at least once by October 15.” (more…)

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2. Revolution, by Deborah Wiles | Book Review

Revolution, Deborah Wiles’ second novel in The Sixties Trilogy, sends readers on a journey to Greenwood, Mississippi in the summer of 1964, also known as “Freedom Summer."

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3. Review of the Day: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis

MadmanPineyWoods Review of the Day: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul CurtisThe Madman of Piney Woods
By Christopher Paul Curtis
ISBN: 978-0-545-63376-5
Ages 9-12
On shelves September 30th

No author hits it out of the park every time. No matter how talented or clever a writer might be, if their heart isn’t in a project it shows. In the case of Christopher Paul Curtis, when he loves what he’s writing the sheets of paper on which he types practically set on fire. When he doesn’t? It’s like reading mold. There’s life there, but no energy. Now in the case of his Newbery Honor book Elijah of Buxton, Curtis was doing gangbuster work. His blend of history and humor is unparalleled and you need only look to Elijah to see Curtis at his best. With that in mind I approached the companion novel to Elijah titled The Madman of Piney Woods with some trepidation. A good companion book will add to the magic of the original. A poor one, detract. I needn’t have worried. While I wouldn’t quite put Madman on the same level as Elijah, what Curtis does here, with his theme of fear and what it can do to a human soul, is as profound and thought provoking as anything he’s written in the past. There is ample fodder here for young brains. The fact that it’s a hoot to read as well is just the icing on the cake.

Two boys. Two lives. It’s 1901, forty years after the events in Elijah of Buxton and Benji Alston has only one dream: To be the world’s greatest reporter. He even gets an apprenticeship on a real paper, though he finds there’s more to writing stories than he initially thought. Meanwhile Alvin Stockard, nicknamed Red, is determined to be a scientist. That is, when he’s not dodging the blows of his bitter Irish granny, Mother O’Toole. When the two boys meet they have a lot in common, in spite of the fact that Benji’s black and Red’s Irish. They’ve also had separate encounters with the legendary Madman of Piney Woods. Is the man an ex-slave or a convict or part lion? The truth is more complicated than that, and when the Madman is in trouble these two boys come to his aid and learn what it truly means to face fear.

Let’s be plainspoken about what this book really is. Curtis has mastered the art of the Tom Sawyerish novel. Sometimes it feels like books containing mischievous boys have fallen out of favor. Thank goodness for Christopher Paul Curtis then. What we have here is a good old-fashioned 1901 buddy comedy. Two boys getting into and out of scrapes. Wreaking havoc. Revenging themselves on their enemies / siblings (or at least Benji does). It’s downright Mark Twainish (if that’s a term). Much of the charm comes from the fact that Curtis knows from funny. Benji’s a wry-hearted bigheaded, egotistical, lovable imp. He can be canny and completely wrong-headed within the space of just a few sentences. Red, in contrast, is book smart with a more regulation-sized ego but as gullible as they come. Put Red and Benji together and it’s little wonder they’re friends. They compliment one another’s faults. With Elijah of Buxton I felt no need to know more about Elijah and Cooter’s adventures. With Madman I wouldn’t mind following Benji and Red’s exploits for a little bit longer.

One of the characteristics of Curtis’s writing that sets him apart from the historical fiction pack is his humor. Making the past funny is a trick. Pranks help. An egotistical character getting their comeuppance helps too. In fact, at one point Curtis perfectly defines the miracle of funny writing. Benji is pondering words and wordplay and the magic of certain letter combinations. Says he, “How is it possible that one person can use only words to make another person laugh?” How indeed. The remarkable thing isn’t that Curtis is funny, though. Rather, it’s the fact that he knows how to balance tone so well. The book will garner honest belly laughs on one page, then manage to wrench real emotion out of you the next. The best funny authors are adept at this switch. The worst leave you feeling queasy. And Curtis never, not ever, gives a reader a queasy feeling.

Normally I have a problem with books where characters act out-of-step with the times without any outside influence. For example, I once read a Civil War middle grade novel that shall remain nameless where a girl, without anyone in her life offering her any guidance, independently came up with the idea that “corsets restrict the mind”. Ugh. Anachronisms make me itch. With that in mind, I watched Red very carefully in this book. Here you have a boy effectively raised by a racist grandmother who is almost wholly without so much as a racist thought in his little ginger noggin. How do we account for this? Thankfully, Red’s father gives us an “out”, as it were. A good man who struggles with the amount of influence his mother-in-law may or may not have over her redheaded grandchild, Mr. Stockard is the just force in his son’s life that guides his good nature.

The preferred writing style of Christopher Paul Curtis that can be found in most of his novels is also found here. It initially appears deceptively simple. There will be a series of seemingly unrelated stories with familiar characters. Little interstitial moments will resonate with larger themes, but the book won’t feel like it’s going anywhere. Then, in the third act, BLAMMO! Curtis will hit you with everything he’s got. Murder, desperation, the works. He’s done it so often you can set your watch by it, but it still works, man. Now to be fair, when Curtis wrote Elijah of Buxton he sort of peaked. It’s hard to compete with the desperation that filled Elijah’s encounter with an enslaved family near the end. In Madman Curtis doesn’t even attempt to top it. In fact, he comes to his book’s climax from another angle entirely. There is some desperation (and not a little blood) but even so this is a more thoughtful third act. If Elijah asked the reader to feel, Madman asks the reader to think. Nothing wrong with that. It just doesn’t sock you in the gut quite as hard.

For me, it all comes down to the quotable sentences. And fortunately, in this book the writing is just chock full of wonderful lines. Things like, “An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and the same can be said of many an argument.” Or later, when talking about Red’s nickname, “It would be hard for even as good a debater as Spencer or the Holmely boy to disprove that a cardinal and a beet hadn’t been married and given birth to this boy. Then baptized him in a tub of red ink.” And I may have to conjure up this line in terms of discipline and kids: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, but you can sure make him stand there looking at the water for a long time.” Finally, on funerals: “Maybe it’s just me, but I always found it a little hard to celebrate when one of the folks in the room is dead.”

He also creates little moments that stay with you. Kissing a reflection only to have your lips stick to it. A girl’s teeth so rotted that her father has to turn his head when she kisses him to avoid the stench (kisses are treacherous things in Curtis novels). In this book I’ll probably long remember the boy who purposefully gets into fights to give himself a reason for the injuries wrought by his drunken father. And there’s even a moment near the end when the Madman’s identity is clarified that is a great example of Curtis playing with his audience. Before he gives anything away he makes it clear that the Madman could be one of two beloved characters from Elijah of Buxton. It’s agony waiting for him to clarify who exactly is who.

Character is king in the world of Mr. Curtis. A writer who manages to construct fully three-dimensional people out of mere words is one to watch. In this book, Curtis has the difficult task of making complete and whole a character through the eyes of two different-year-old boys. And when you consider that they’re working from the starting point of thinking that the guy’s insane, it’s going to be a tough slog to convince the reader otherwise. That said, once you get into the head of the “Madman” you get a profound sense not of his insanity but of his gentleness. His very existence reminded me of similar loners in literature like Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson or The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton, but unlike the men in those books this guy had a heart and a mind and a very distinctive past. And fears. Terrible, awful fears.

It’s that fear that gives Madman its true purpose. Red’s grandmother, Mother O’Toole, shares with the Madman a horrific past. They’re very different horrors (one based in sheer mind-blowing violence and the other in death, betrayal, and disgust) but the effects are the same. Out of these moments both people are suffering a kind of PTSD. This makes them two sides of the same coin. Equally wracked by horrible memories, they chose to handle those memories in different ways. The Madman gives up society but retains his soul. Mother O’Toole, in contrast, retains her sanity but gives up her soul. Yet by the end of the book the supposed Madman has returned to society and reconnected with his friends while the Irishwoman is last seen with her hair down (a classic madwoman trope as old as Shakespeare himself) scrubbing dishes until she bleeds to rid them of any trace of the race she hates so much. They have effectively switched places.

Much of what The Madman of Piney Woods does is ask what fear does to people. The Madman speaks eloquently of all too human monsters and what they can do to a man. Meanwhile Grandmother has suffered as well but it’s made her bitter and angry. When Red asks, “Doesn’t it seem only logical that if a person has been through all of the grief she has, they’d have nothing but compassion for anyone else who’s been through the same?” His father responds that “given enough time, fear is the great killer of the human spirit.” In her case it has taken her spirit and “has so horribly scarred it, condensing and strengthening and dishing out the same hatred that it has experienced.” But for some the opposite is true, hence the Madman. Two humans who have seen the worst of humanity. Two different reactions. And as with Elijah, where Curtis tackled slavery not through a slave but through a slave’s freeborn child, we hear about these things through kids who are “close enough to hear the echoes of the screams in [the adults’] nightmarish memories.” Certainly it rubs off onto the younger characters in different ways. In one chapter Benji wonders why the original settlers of Buxton, all ex-slaves, can’t just relax. Fear has shaped them so distinctly that he figures a town of “nervous old people” has raised him. Adversity can either build or destroy character, Curtis says. This book is the story of precisely that.

Don’t be surprised if, after finishing this book, you find yourself reaching for your copy of Elijah of Buxton so as to remember some of these characters when they were young. Reaching deep, Curtis puts soul into the pages of its companion novel. In my more dreamy-eyed moments I fantasize about Curtis continuing the stories of Buxton every 40 years until he gets to the present day. It could be his equivalent of Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House chronicles. Imagine if we shot forward another 40 years to 1941 and encountered a grown Benji and Red with their own families and fears. I doubt Curtis is planning on going that route, but whether or not this is the end of Buxton’s tales or just the beginning, The Madman of Piney Woods will leave child readers questioning what true trauma can do to a soul, and what they would do if it happened to them. Heady stuff. Funny stuff. Smart stuff. Good stuff. Better get your hands on this stuff.

On shelves September 30th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

First Sentence: “The old soldiers say you never hear the bullet that kills you.”

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Notes on the Cover:  As many of us are aware, in the past historical novels starring African-American boys have often consisted of silhouettes or dull brown sepia-toned tomes.  Christopher Paul Curtis’s books tend to be the exception to the rule, and this is clearly the most lively of his covers so far.  Two boys running in period clothing through the titular “piney woods”?  That kind of thing is rare as a peacock these days.  It’s still a little brown, but maybe I can sell it on the authors name and the fact that the books look like they’re running to/from trouble.  All in all, I like it.

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4. Scholastic’s Revenue Grew 2% in 2014, 8% in Q4

Scholastic’s total revenues for fiscal 2014 reached $1.82 billion, representing a 2 percent increase from $1.79 billion in 2013. The company also revealed that its fourth quarter revenues for the year were $549.3 million, up 8 percent from the $506.9 million in revenue that the company brought in during the fourth quarter of 2013.

The company also revealed that its Book Clubs revenue rose 12 percent during 2014 and that its  education technology sales grew by 9 percent during the year.

The publisher expects their momentum to continue into 2015. Here is more from the press release:

In fiscal 2015, Scholastic expects revenue growth and enhanced profitability across the majority of its businesses and channels.  In its children’s book businesses, the Company’s outlook reflects expectations for continued growth in its re-positioned book clubs and increased revenue per fair in its book fairs unit.  Scholastic also expects the recent success of Minecraft to continue, with two additional titles and a boxed set scheduled for release later this year, as well as new titles in many of its bestselling series, like Captain Underpants and Star Wars: Jedi Academy.

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5. Swift Boys and Me (2014)

The Swift Boys & Me. Kody Keplinger. 2014. Scholastic. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Having read The Swift Boys & Me, I'm not sure the book matches the cover. I think the cover is cute enough, mind you, but The Swift Boys & Me is not exactly a "cute" kind of book. For one thing, this coming-of-age novel is much more serious than you might suppose. I also don't like the fence, though I suppose it might work symbolically to show the new and uncomfortable distance between the heroine, Nola Sutton, and the three Swift brothers (Brian, Canaan, and Kevin). Still. In Nola's subdivision, there is only ONE house with a fenced in yard. All the other houses are fence-free. The children run and play WHEREVER they want, WHENEVER they want throughout the neighborhood. Teddy Ryan is the boy who lives in the fenced-in house. He is the boy in isolation, the boy with no friends.

So. The Swift Boys & Me is a coming-of-age novel. It opens with Nola witnessing something big, though she was clueless at the time. She sees Mr. Swift drive away late one night. She doesn't learn until later that his driving away meant he was LEAVING the family for good. Brian, Canaan, and Kevin react to their dad leaving in different ways. Though none of the ways really includes staying friends with Nola. Kevin, the youngest, stops talking. He blames himself for the last argument. Canaan, after the first forty-eight hours or so, decides that Nola is nothing to him. That he should start hanging out with other boys his age instead. He ends up getting in with a group of boys who thinks it's fun to step on dog's tails and spray paint mailboxes with bad words. And Brian, well, he essentially runs away from home skipping around from friend-to-friend-to-friend. This will be the very first summer that Nola remembers where she is NOT friends with the Swift brothers at all. Do you see why the description "Four friends. One summer." is a bit off?!

So since Nola is NOT friends with Canaan and Kevin and Brian, how does she spend her days?! She spends them working small jobs and hanging out with other neighborhood kids. She discovers that she LIKES spending time with other kids. Even Teddy Ryan. In fact, she might like like him. She also spends her time getting ready for her mom's wedding. She also is preparing to pack up and MOVE neighborhoods.

The Swift Boys & Me is definitely a book about changing and growing up. Nola is essentially preparing to say goodbye to what was. Changing neighborhoods isn't the only change in her future. She'll be starting middle school in the fall. The fact that she is no longer speaking to the Swift brothers (with the slight exception of Kevin who sometimes still comes around though he doesn't really speak) makes the change easier to accept.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Swift Boys and Me (2014) as of 7/25/2014 12:48:00 AM
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6. Hidden Like Anne Frank (2014)

Hidden Like Anne Frank. Marcel Prins. Peter Henk Steenhuis. Translated by Laura Watkinson. Scholastic. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

If I had to pick just a few words to describe this Holocaust collection, I would choose the words honest and haunting. Hidden Like Anne Frank is a collection of fourteen true stories of survival. All of these stories are set in the Netherlands during World War II. All focus on children (or teenagers) who hid from the Nazis. Anne Frank is perhaps the most famous hidden child from the war, but unlike Anne Frank, these are the survivor stories, the so-called happy-ending holocaust stories. Before I read the book, I would have considered the fact that they survived through the war enough to make it a happy ending. What I learned was that was not always the case.

What followed was years of tears. A whole lifetime. That war will not be over until I take my last breath. (211, Donald de Marcas)

The fourteen: Rita Degen, Jaap Sitters, Bloeme Emden, Jack Eljon, Rosemary Kahn, Lies Elion, Maurice Meijer, Sieny Kattenburg, Leni de Vries, Benjamin Kosses, Michael Goldsteen, Lowina de Levie, Johan Sanders, and Donald de Marcas.

I liked the fact that these were individual stories. Each writer, each survivor, has their own voice, their own story, their own message. No two stories really read alike. This is as it should be. Readers catch glimpses of what life was like before, during, and after the war.

I found Hidden Like Anne Frank was a book I had to read very slowly. To read more than two or three stories at a time proved too much. This one is not a light read. It is compelling and honest and important. But it is not easy.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Hidden Like Anne Frank (2014) as of 7/14/2014 10:33:00 AM
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7. Best Selling Kids Series | July 2014

Thanks to World Cup Soccer, the new Magic Tree House book, Soccer on Sunday, has the series on top of The Children’s Book Review’s best selling kids series list.

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8. Where The Rock Splits the Sky (2014)

Where The Rock Splits the Sky. Philip Webb. 2014. Scholastic. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Where The Rock Splits The Sky definitely has a unique and intriguing premise: there has been alien invasion which destroyed the moon and altered life on earth forever. Some areas are more affected than others. There is "the zone" where anything and everything can happen: no natural rules or laws apply. This "zone" is in the new-old west. Yes, this science fiction has a very western feel to it. Outlaws and sheriffs. Horses and Stagecoaches. Of course, modern technology does not work in the zone. The good news, and this novel desperately needs good news, is that the heroine discovers that ALIENS are just as vulnerable INSIDE the zone as un-invaded humans. She doesn't know why, she doesn't particularly care about the why.

Megan, Luis, and Kelly set off into the zone. Technically, Kelly is a friend they pick up in the zone after their official mission has started. But. Kelly is probably the most intriguing character in the novel. I'm not sure she's meant to be. All three join together, but, all three have their own personal agenda. Luis wants revenge, in other words, he wants to kill some aliens. Kelly is looking for answers. Twenty years of her life is missing. She wants to know if any of her family or friends have survived. And Megan, the heroine, wants to find her father. Megan is the leader of the three, she is the one most in-touch with the zone, most sensitive to its strangeness.

Where The Rock Splits the Sky is not my kind of book. I'm allergic to westerns even if there are aliens it seems. I was hoping the science-fiction would overcome that. It didn't quite work for me, but, it might work for you.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Where The Rock Splits the Sky (2014) as of 7/2/2014 10:47:00 AM
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9. Review of the Day: The Dumbest Idea Every by Jimmy Gownley

DumbestIdea1 206x300 Review of the Day: The Dumbest Idea Every by Jimmy GownleyThe Dumbest Idea Ever
By Jimmy Gownley
GRAPHIX (an imprint of Scholastic)
ISBN: 9780545453479
Ages 9 and up
On shelves now.

Is it or is it not a good idea to tell young people that they are special and unique? It’s a legitimate question. When I was growing up the emphasis in school was clearly on self-esteem. On Track and Field Day everybody got the standard participation ribbon. Effort, even minimal effort, was rewarded. And if you grew up in a small town there was the extra added benefit of getting to be a big fish in a small pond. The combination of being told you were one-of-a-kind, the best of the best, and more combined with local aplomb has a way of going to a kid’s head. It’s the stuff of the best memoirs, actually, but usually of the adult or YA variety. Not a lot of kids stop to think about how they stack up against the rest of the world when they’re trying to find their feet. What makes The Dumbest Idea Ever different, then, is that it combines the familiar children’s book motif of “finding the thing that makes you special” and the takes it one step further to say “but not THAT special . . . and that’s okay.” I’ve never really seen anything like it. Then again, I’ve never really ever seen an artist like Jimmy Gownley – a guy who has paid his dues and just cranks out better and better work all the time as a result. And The Dumbest Idea Ever gives us a hint of how he got started.

Jimmy’s not special. He was for a while, making the best grades and acting as the star of his Catholic school’s basketball team. But a bout of chicken pox followed by pneumonia changes everything. When Jimmy’s grades start to slip it feels like they’re now out of his control. And faced with the knowledge that he’s no longer special, Jimmy starts turning to the comfort of his comic books more than ever. When a comic he writes inspires a friend to suggest he do something a little more realistic, Jimmy’s not convinced (hence the book’s title). Yet a realistic comic is exactly what propels him out of local obscurity into small time stardom. Now he’s dating the cutest girl in school, getting interviewed by the local news, the works! It’s all going great, but what happens when you discover that the work you’ve been doing isn’t as big and important as you always thought? What happens when you realize that you’ve only just begun?

DumbestIdea2 300x214 Review of the Day: The Dumbest Idea Every by Jimmy GownleyI’ve noticed an odd little theme in the middle grade (ages 9-12) novels of 2014. A lot of books are tackling the idea of what it means to be average. Books like Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff, where the kid really isn’t exceptional and never will be. It’s like we were afraid to talk about this to children in the past, opting instead to drill it into our kids that they have to excel in everything at all times. Now in the age of helicopter parenting and overbooked schedules, literature for kids is backing off a tad. Admitting that while some kids really are extraordinary, for others it’s okay not to be top of your class or the best in all categories. The journey Jimmy takes in this book starts with his fall from grace as the golden boy of school. It’s the slippery slope of no longer being top dog and then having to deal with that.

I’m one of those children’s librarians who honestly thinks that Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia Rules series is one of the greatest graphic novel arcs in children’s literary history of all time. I own every single book in the series and reread them constantly. For me, Gownley’s characters are flesh and blood and real to me in ways I’ve almost never encountered anywhere else. What’s more, the books get better as they go and aren’t afraid to bring up big questions and dark issues. When Gownley ended the series I was heartbroken. I waited with baited breath for him to give me something similar. ANYTHING, really. So when I heard that he’d penned a graphic memoir of his own life as a kid I was thrilled beyond measure . . . and wary. I’ve been burned before, man, and memoirs of children’s book authors are tricky things. I love ‘em but they’re tricky. Does the writer encapsulate their entire life or just a section? What’s interesting about The Dumbest Idea Ever is that it’s the closest thing I’ve found to Raina Telgemeier’s Smile. Yet through it all there is something distinctly Gownleyish about this entire endeavor that you’d never mistake for anyone else. And how he chooses to frame the book is exceedingly smart.

DumbestIdea3 Review of the Day: The Dumbest Idea Every by Jimmy GownleyThe heart of the novel, as I see it, is the personal journey we all have to take at some point. We all want to be good at something. Preferably something cool that few others around us are as good at. We want acclaim for this specialness. And then, ultimately, what we really want is universal love and acceptance, preferably without a whole lot of work. It’s that last desire that’ll get you in the end. The crux of the book comes with Jimmy visits New York City for the first time. In some ways, NYC was created for the sole purpose of crushing little souls, like Jimmy, into the dust under its grimy shoe. No matter how good you are at something, there’s somebody in NYC who’s better and the city isn’t afraid to let you know about that fact repeatedly. And when you face the fact that you are, indeed, ordinarily a big fish in a small pond, what do you do? Do you try to better yourself so that you can compete in a big pond, do you relegate yourself to your small pond (no shame in that), or do you give up entirely? That’s something kids everywhere need to think about, even if the choices we’re talking about won’t be something they need to deal with for a couple years.

The thing that librarians tend to forget about children is that they love reading about older kids. You think large swaths of 17-year-olds are reading Archie comics just because the kids are in high school? Not even. So when Jimmy allows himself (so to speak) to enter into high school and to start dating, I didn’t even blink. My worry is that someone will read this book, see that the character ages, and slot this book solely into the YA section of their bookstore or library. And certainly there’s nothing wrong with that. A teen would get a lot out of Jimmy’s journey too. Still I think there’s a lot of value in letting kids see what happens when a child like themselves has their ego squashed into a small pile of goo (to their betterment). It’s nothing something I’ve found in that many books for children, after all.

I live and work in New York City where all the kids I see are little fishies in the world’s biggest pond. You’ll always find little ponds within a big one (my metaphors are breaking down – abandon ship!) so kids will always find people and places that praise them, even when surrounded by a mass of other talented people. That said, NYC kids miss out on the experience of feeling special in a smaller setting. It’s something that yields remarkably creative people, and if they follow that drive to keep going and to succeed based on their own hard work then you sometimes end up with something really cool . . . like The Dumbest Idea Ever. It’s a graphic memoir covering a subject both original and incredibly familiar. Your children’s book bookshelves are better off with this book on them.

On shelves now.

Source: Borrowed printed copy from library for review.

Like This? Then Try:

  • Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Other Blog Reviews:

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Misc: This is fun. Mr. Gownley went back to the schools portrayed in this book to talk about the experience of writing it.

Videos: A low-key book trailer rounds us out.



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10. Biographies for Young Readers: Dip into the Minds of the Greats

There's a fine art to turning a great life into something digestible for a child. The art lies in finding the essence, an almost haiku-like writing that condenses, getting only the most salient details on the page. Each of the following biographies rises to that fine art.

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11. Reread #25 Julia Gillian And the Art of Knowing

Julia Gillian (And the Art of Knowing) by Alison McGhee. 2008. Scholastic. 290 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Several years ago, I read the Julia Gillian series. The first book in the series is Julia Gillian And the Art of Knowing. The book introduces us to a lovely little heroine, Julia Gillian, who is something. She is not really like other children her age (she's about 10) and she's not really like other adults either. She is individual, unique, special. While I did not see myself in each and every bit of Julia Gillian, there was one thing in particular we share. (Or should I say shared.) Julia Gillian is afraid of books with sad endings. Julia Gillian has recently bought a book, a green book, I believe, with a dog on the cover. (As a child, I would have known to avoid it.) When she started the book, all was well. A few chapters in, and Julia has become WORRIED, very WORRIED about the dog in the story. She's afraid that the dog might...dare she say it...DIE in the end. The second she begins to worry, she stops reading. She puts the book aside. But. Julia Gillian can't stop thinking about the book, about the characters. Though she's not spending time with the book anymore, it's still haunting her. Her parents guess this, as do some of her older friends, and for some reason they make her finish the book. (The reason why sounded a bit unbelievable to me.) Can Julia Gillian survive reading a sad book, a sad dog-dying book?

Julia Gillian lives life. She is very, very, very close to her dog, Bigfoot. Her dog is her best, best friend. So it's understandable why she has such a hard time reading the book. Her fear is, in a way, not so much that the fictional dog will die as it is that HER beloved dog will die.

There are several little stories going on in Julia Gillian and the Art of Knowing. I liked how Julia reaches out to a neighborhood girl who is about to start kindergarten. They have two conversations, I believe, but in them we see Julia Gillian at her best.

I definitely enjoyed rereading this one.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Reread #25 Julia Gillian And the Art of Knowing as of 6/20/2014 11:11:00 AM
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12. The Last Present (2013)

The Last Present (Willow Falls #4) Wendy Mass. 2013. Scholastic. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

The Last Present is the sequel to 13 Gifts. The two books are closely connected. 13 Gifts had a cliffhanger ending--for better or worse. Much of 13 Gifts was spent hinting that Leo and Amanda had a BIG TASK AHEAD which required them to sacrifice talking to one another for an entire year. (Only texting and writing was allowed.) Tara, the heroine of 13 Gifts, came to town in the last weeks of their sacrifice. At first, Leo and Amanda, guess that it's all about Tara, and then that it's all about David. Two friends celebrating birthdays the same weekend in July. But at David's party, the truth becomes obvious. Grace, the younger sister of Connor, one of David's friends, falls into a coma after babbling nonsense. Amanda and Leo have no doubt that Angelina will be needing them to save the day somehow, someway. Such is the case.

The two will be traveling back in time. They will travel to each of Grace's birthday parties. They will fix what went wrong with Angelina's "blessing of protection." What they notice from the start is that Connor and another relative seem to be acting against them each and every time. They have no idea if Connor is ruining his sister's parties on purpose or if it's completely accidental. Their mission is clear. How that mission is actually accomplished remains a bit of a puzzle. Readers are just told at each twist and turn that it's the work of Angelina, and that she alone knows what is going on, and since Angelina wouldn't ever dream of sharing that knowledge with anyone no matter what, everything the kids do is on faith.

I liked this one. I didn't not like it anyway. But for a book that supposedly answers all the questions and solves the mystery that is Angelina, this one left me unsatisfied. Out of all the novels, this one is definitely the clearest that this is FANTASY and that magic is going on all around. But the little details seem messy from my perspective.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Scholastic Opens Applications For Kids News Press Corps

The Scholastic News Kids Press Corps has opened up the applications process and is accepting submissions from 2014-2015 applicants.

Students aged 10-14 that are interested in journalism and writing are encouraged to apply. The news crew covers stores in all new categories including current events, breaking news and entertainment stories. The stories are featured online, as well as in select print editions of Scholastic Classroom Magazines. Past participants have interviewed politicians, entertainers, authors, scientists and sports stars.

The deadline for applications is September 26, 2014.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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14. 13 Gifts (2011)

13 Gifts. (Willow Falls #3) Wendy Mass. 2011. Scholastic. 341 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Tara Brennan is the heroine of Wendy Mass's 13 Gifts. It is a companion novel to 11 Birthdays and Finally. It is set in Willow Falls. Tara's mom and dad were born and raised in Willow Falls. They have moved dozens of times since they got married. Tara is tired, very tired, of all the moving. Tara wishes that she had some place to call her own, to be HOME. After an incident at school involving a stuffed goat in the principal's office, Tara is "sent away" to Willow Falls to live with her aunt, uncle, and cousin. This cousin, Emily, was first introduced in Finally. Emily was Rory's first babysitting job. Tara just happens to be the same age as Rory, Leo, and Amanda. All characters introduced in previous books. The group soon realizes that Tara belongs, that she too has been chosen by Angelina d'Angelo. Tara is given a task, a big task, a can't-handle-it-by-herself task to accomplish by her thirteenth birthday in July. She is to acquire what appears to be completely random items from individuals in the town.

The list:
  • One wicker basket with handles in the shape of hearts
  • One gray wool blanket with two-inch red stripes around the border
  • One brass candlestick in the shape of a fish
  • One large white shawl with the initials ER on the left corner
  • One knife with a black handle inside a red sheath
  • A 2-ounce purple glass bottle with a silver stopper
  • One long strand of pearls with a gold clasp
  • One leather-bound copy of the Bible, black, Book of Genesis repeated twice
  • One wooden key with the words "Made in Willow Falls, 1974" carved in the shank
  • One black steamer trunk with gold latch
  • One violin, silver plating on back reads Sam, 1902
  • One bottle of apple wine, 1925, brewed by Ellerby-Fitzpatrick Brewers
  • One wooden cane, handle shaped like a duck's beak
Tara needs friends; she needs friends who are smart and resourceful and who KNOW Willow Falls. Her new friends have ideas and are more than willing to help her on her quest. In addition, readers meet new characters like David, Connor, and Grace.

I enjoyed 13 Gifts. I liked how Tara's quest was about healing the community and righting past wrongs. I liked that Tara--and readers--were clueless about the bigger task until the very end. I liked spending time in Willow Falls. Readers get to spend more time interacting with residents than in any previous novel. It was fun.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Finally (2012)

Finally (Willow Falls #2) Wendy Mass. 2010. Scholastic. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Finally is a companion book to Wendy Mass's 11 Birthdays. Both books are set in Willow Falls. Both books feature "the old lady with the duck birthmark on her cheek," Angelina D'Angelo. Both books reveal Angelina's "thing" about birthdays. Did I enjoy Finally as much as I enjoyed 11 Birthdays? Probably not.

Rory Swenson, our heroine, is something. Before she turns twelve, she's a bit on the whining side. She has a list of twenty-two things she wants to do when she turns twelve. Eleven are supposedly big things; eleven are supposedly little things. Because Rory lives in Willow Falls, because Rory catches the attention of a certain old lady, none of the things on her list will go well for her...at all.

Rory truly is unlucky in Finally. All of these unlucky circumstances point back to Angelina in some ways, but not all ways. I have to believe that we still get to know the real Rory in spite of all the misfortune. She happens to learn that she's allergic to certain plant-based cosmetics. Her face swells up in a horrid reaction. She happens to learn that she's allergic to gold when she pierces her ears. Again another allergic reaction. She happens to scratch her eye when trying to get her first pair of contacts out which leads her to having to wear an eye patch until it heals. She happens to do some serious damage to one of her legs while shaving for the first time. She happens to lose her cell phone within ten or fifteen minutes of buying it with her dad. The list goes on and on and on.

Rory's humiliations catch the notice of a certain movie star, a teen celebrity, that, of course, just happens to be filming at her very school in Willow Falls. Thirty extras are needed for the film, and Rory and her friends--some new friends, some old friends--are chosen, of course.

Everything, or almost everything, that happens in Finally is for Rory's ultimate good, or, so we're led to believe. Rory's trials are transforming her life for the better. Her misfortune is bringing new friends into her life. These friendships and relationships are life-changing.

Finally was an entertaining read. In my opinion, the Willow Falls series isn't supposed to be taken seriously as realistic fiction. That was perhaps a little more obvious in 11 Birthdays with the reliving-the-same-day-eleven-times plot. But it's true here as well. The town is far from ordinary, and its citizens are touched--some more than others--by hints of spells, curses, and magic. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Syracuse School District Distributes Almost 100,000 Books For Summer Reading

A school district in Syracuse New York has plans to send every K-5 student in the district home with a backpack full of 10 books for summer reading. This adds up to 92,910 books. Scholastic donated more than $100,000 in materials to the project and brought out Clifford the Big Red Dog to help distribute the backpacks to the first-graders. Syracuse.com has the story: Scholastic Upstate account executive Bob Webber said Scholastic runs the program in many school districts across the country, but this is the first time the Syracuse district has participated. The district kicked off the program this morning at Salem Hyde Elementary School. Mayor Stephanie Miner spoke to first-graders at the school, urging them to read throughout the summer.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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17. Reread #23 11 Birthdays

11 Birthdays. Wendy Mass. 2009. Scholastic. 267 pages. [Source: Library book]

I am so glad I reread 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. I had forgotten how lovely this one is. Amanda and Leo share a birthday in June. For ten years, these two kids shared a big birthday party together. For ten years, these two were close friends. But at the tenth birthday party, Amanda overhears Leo's friends asking him WHY he was having a birthday party WITH A GIRL. Leo, wanting to stop the teasing, said something he shouldn't have. He said that he "had" to have a party with Amanda, that he didn't "want" to. Amanda, crushed, fled the party and a great friendship was at an end. The book opens on the day before their eleventh birthday party. For the first time, Amanda and Leo will be having separate parties, for the first time, their classmates, their friends, will have to choose which party to attend. Amanda is not exactly in a happy place when the novel opens...

11 Birthdays is a FUN read about families, friends, and reconciliation. Leo and Amanda celebrate their eleventh birthday eleven times! Yes, Amanda and Leo are caught in a time loop! It will take them working together, speaking together, forgiving one another to break the spell...

I definitely recommend this middle grade novel!

I first reviewed 11 Birthdays in March 2010.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Best Selling Kids Series | June 2014

Best Selling Books for Kids This month, DK Readers: Star Wars are on top of The Children’s Book Review’s best selling kids series list.

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19. Top 10 Tips for Getting Kids Reading this Summer: Scholastic Infographic

As I posted on Monday, Scholastic's Summer Reading Challenge launched this week. As a life-long fan of outdoor reading, I like this year's theme of "Reading Under the Stars". Scholastic prepared this companion infographic, which I thought parents might find useful. It's somewhat tied to the Summer Reading Challenge, with emphasis on tracking time spent reading, but there are also tips here (with references) that could benefit any parent.

I especially like tip #1: Let Kids Choose. I think that's so important. And of course I'm an expert at Tip #8: Be a Reading Role Model. Click to expand the image. 


This post (c) Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. The infographic copyright belongs to Scholastic. 

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20. Growing Bookworms Newsletter: May 7

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. I currently send out the newsletter once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews (picture book and young adult) and two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently (including a ton of links related to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign). I also have two posts with content from Scholastic about Summer Reading. Not included in the newsletter, I posted:

I do have more picture book reviews coming up in the next couple of weeks, for those who are interested in those. 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I read two young adult and three adult books:

  • Laini Taylor: Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy, Book 3). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Young Adult. Completed April 24, 2014, on Kindle. My review.
  • Amber Kizer: Pieces of Me. Delacorte Press. Young Adult. Completed April 25, 2014. My review.
  • Jo Nesbo: The Bat (the first Harry Hole novel). Vintage. Adult Mystery. Completed April 27, 2014, on Kindle (library copy).I found the characters well-developed and the mystery intriguing in this, my first of Nesbo's books. But there were too many digressions for allegorical stories told by the characters for my personal taste. 
  • Sue Grafton: U is for Undertow. Putnam. Adult Mystery. Completed May 1, 2014, on Kindle (library copy). I'm finding these good exercise bike books, for some reason. I'll be sorry when I finish catching up. 
  • Jodi Picoult: Second Glance. Atria Books. Adult Fiction. Completed May 3, 2014, on MP3. This book got off to a slow start for me, but I enjoyed it once I became invested in the story. It's a book that will make readers think. 

I'm currently reading Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life by P.J. Hoover in print and Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell on Kindle. I'm listening to Influx by Daniel Suarez. Baby Bookworm is obsessed with Moldylocks and the Three Beards by Noah Z. Jones. You can check out the complete list of books we've read to her this year if you are interested to see more. You can see on the list the impact of her recent visit to the library, from which she brought home a host of TV tie-in and Little Critter-type books. 

What are you and your family reading these days? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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21. Job Moves at Scholastic

Ellen Duda will come on board at Scholastic Trade as a designer. In addition, several staff members at the company have received promotions recently. Julie Amitie is now executive director of marketing. Beth Noble has been named associate marketing manager. Emelia Zamani will serve as the editorial manager for the Chicken House and David Fickling Books imprints. Nina Goffi now holds the position of senior designer. Rachel Hicks has been promoted to managing editor of the trade hardcover and paperback division.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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22. By My Side (2014)

By My Side. Sue Reid. 2014. Scholastic. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I definitely enjoyed reading Sue Reid's novel By My Side. This novel is told entirely through diary entries; it is set in the Netherlands during World War II during Nazi Occupation. The heroine of By My Side, Katrien, falls in love with a Jewish boy, Jan. Katrien, unlike some of her friends, is not boy crazy. She wasn't looking for a boyfriend; she wasn't planning on falling in love. But there was something different about Jan, setting him apart from other boys she knew. He was slightly older, true, but that wasn't really it. One thing she does learn early on, however, is the fact that he's Jewish. That is why he stopped attending school. That is why he's sometimes a bit hesitant to do the things she wants. At the very, very beginning, she does seem a bit oblivious and insensitive. Her intentions were always good, mind you, but she didn't stop to think about how his being Jewish could effect WHAT they do together: going to the park, going to the movies, etc. She'd never had reason really to stop and think about how many restrictions are placed on the Jews and the seriousness of the situation. Of course, after seeing him a few weeks, she's grown up quite a bit. That doesn't mean Katrien is mature and wise, mind you. She decides to keep Jan a complete secret from her parents; he wants her to be honest, he wants to come to her house as her boyfriend. She is reluctant.

I definitely enjoyed this romance. It was a quick read. By the end, it had gotten quite intense as well.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Illustrator Saturday – Mike Moran

mikepicMike Moran is a New Jersey based artist and children’s book illustrator. “Are We There Yet?” is a peek into his humorous world of zombies, down and out mice, sea creatures and more. His work is presented through a variety of mediums from wooden sculptures to prints on bullet-proof glass.

Over the years Mike has  worked for some really fun clients like: Major League Baseball, The Grammys, Scholastic INC., Disney, American Greetings, Dial Books, Penguin Books, Harper Collins, Blue Apple Books, Highlights for Children, MasterCard, New York TImes and many more. One day he hopes to play first base for the New York Mets and be a songwriter in Nashville!

Here is Mike explaining his process:


1) I still do my sketches with pencil on tracing paper. The Art director for Dial sent me a PDF of my sketch in layout form.

I placed it in an illustrator file then made it a template. I then added a new layer to start working on.


2) With the pen I start to go over my sketch with a stroke lining out shapes. I don’t work in the outline setting, I like to see the colors as I go along. As I keep creating stroke shapes I turn them into fills, again I like seeing the color, not just an outline. For the shading behind Iggy’s eyes I make fill circles then blur them with a gaussianr blur (under effects), then lowering the opacity for the right fee.


3) Other ways I do shading is with gradients. Sometimes I just make a fill color shape like the crescent on step 3 then lower the opacity.


4) I keep adding shapes together to form Iggy all on different layers. I place the eyes over the blurred circles. I work very hard on getting the eyes just right. I feel it’s the most important part. I add a brush stroke of the hair.


5) Iggy is completed! To give the knees on the jeans a worn out feeling I add white blurs.
The designer asked for a yellow background so I added that.


6) I wanted to give Iggy a little super hero glow around him so I added another blur.


7) I add some bees then I’m done working in illustrator. I export him in photoshop to keep all the layers.


8) I take a texture of a brown paper bag. Place it over the layer with the yellow background. I lower the paper bag opacity to 70%.


9) Using a textured brush I go along the blanket giving it a fuzzy look. Iggy is done and officially a superkid in training!


Here is the final cover.


Another book over to the series.


Interior cover art for POOPENDOUS.


Cover art for POOPENDOUS


How long have you been interested in art?

I fell in love with drawing when I was just a kid. I learned from the best Hanna-Barbera. I spent many, many hours watching and drawing the Flintstones, The Jetsons and Top Cat.   When I discovered Charlie Brown I would then create my own cartoon strips. Haven’t stopped!


Did you study art in college? If so, what college did you attend and what did you study?

I went to community college for 2 years then transferred to the School of Visual Arts in NYC. That was a bit of an eye opener. Here I thought I was this really good artist and walked into SVA and was blown away with all the talent.

I majored in illustration I took a lot of life drawing classes, painting and illustration classes. I also took some graphic design, photography, printmaking plus all the other classes needed to get a BFA degree.


Can you tell us a little bit about the classes you liked?

One of my favorite classes was an illustration class taught by one of my

favorite teachers Marshall Arisman. In the class we would talk about past and present illustrators, the highs and lows of the business. He would always have a guest artist come in who was currently the hotshot illustrator of the NY Times at that moment.

One minute we would be talking about Thomas Nast then Ralph Steadman.

Marshall was a very fun, caring teacher and what a talent!


What was the first painting or illustration that you did for money?

My first paid job was a spot illustration for NJ Monthly magazine.

If I remember correct the article was about a statue of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. I remember it took me forever to finish the illustration it had to be perfect because it was my first paying gig. I think I had over a week to finish it and I took every minute of that to do it.


What type of job did you do right after you graduated?

I paid my way through college working at a liquor store. When I graduated SVA I continued to work there. I would work the night shift and all weekends. During the day I would work on my portfolio or take it into NYC to show art directors. I also did some graphic design that I wasn’t crazy about. Working at the liquor store provided me with more time to work on my art and shop it around during the day.


What do you think influenced your artistic style?

Top Cat! I just grew up a fan of cartoons. That’s how I geared my style.

That’s what makes me happy and I want to make people laugh and smile.


When did you do your the first illustration for children?

I don’t recall. I did a lot of work for Scholastic when I first started, good chance it was for them.

beaver copy copy

How did that come about?

When I first started out you could call up an art directors and make an appointment to show them your portfolio. There were also drop off days when you would drop your portfolio for review then pick it up the next day I’m sure that’s how I got my first illustration for children.


When did you decide you wanted to illustrate a children’s book?

I’ve always wanted to just illustrate. Books, toy packaging editorial, animation. I wanted to do it all, still do.


How long did it take you to get your first picture book contract?

I’m not sure how long it took. My first book fell in my lap.


What was your first book that you illustrated?

The Naturalist Handbook : Activities for Young Explorers for Gibbs Smith.


I see that you have done a number of Cloverleaf books, published by Millbrook Press. How many have you illustrated and how did the book contracts come your way?

I’ve done about 6 books for them. They came to me. I have them on my mailing list so it might have come through that. I worked with a few different editors there so I think they most likely saw the other books I did for them.


Are you open to illustrating a self-published book?

If you mean working with an author who is self publishing ,no. I like to deal with a publishing company. That way I know the story , design, text , printing are top noch. I want to represent myself the best way I can.

mikecarepairHow did you get the contract to illustrate Iggy Loomis, Superkid in Training?

Luck! I illustrated a Scholastic joke book for Marc Tyler Noble. He is friends with Jennifer Allison the author of Iggy Loomis . She asked him for an illustrator recommendation and it was me. I soon heard from the good folks over at Dial. Small world. I just finished up the art for the second Iggy Loomis book last week. We are hoping for good things!


Have you worked with educational publishers?

Sure have many ,many of them.


How many children’s books have you illustrated?

Give or take 15 ?


Do you have any desire to write and illustrate your own book?

I do. Right now I’m working on some ideas and have I have been pitching them to my agent. One idea I’m starting to flesh out right now. It’s exciting.


Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

Oh, yea! I’ve had worked for many from the US to Canada. It’s really sad to see what was come to the world of magazines. There are a few hanging on and that’s a good thing that is happening.


Do you have an agent to represent you? If so how did you connect? If not, would you like one?

I am represented by Erica Silverman at Sterling Lord Literistic in NYC. I was introduced to her by Jennifer Alison the author of Iggy Loomis.

gator copy copy

What types of things do you do to find illustration work?

I send out postcards with my own mailing list I keep. Networking, I’m on a  few group websites. Lots of web exposer. I’ve gotten work through facebook that has turned into a monthly column for a magazine.


What is your favorite medium to use? 

I’m in love with the computer! I’m a big fan of illustrator . More and more I’m loving working in photoshop. Can’t get enough of a marker and a sketchbook.


Has that changed over time? 

Everything has changed. More and more companies have closed many art directors and editors losing jobs. I once did a lot of editorial work for major magazines and newspaper, its all changed. There are still open doors out there just not as many.


Do you have a studio in your house?

My studio is in the house. It nice to be home when my boys get come home. The hard thing is the studio is right in the house. It’s always hard for me not to go in there and do something. You feel like you are always on duty.


What is the one thing in your studio that you could not live without?

My computer and Adobe software.


Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I’m always working on making my work better. The best is when I just sit down and work on my own personal work. I just recently had a solo gallery show at The Speakeasy Art Gallery in Boonton NJ. http://speakeasyart.wix.com/speakeasyart

Besides showing my digital work (some printed on bulletproof glass) I started making crazy wooden toys for the show. That was so much fun working with wood.


Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project? 

I don’t take reference pictures that much at all. Maybe if it’s a difficult angle of a hand. I do use the internet for research all the time. I illustrated a children’s book Poopendous by Artie Bennet for Blue Apple books. It’s a humorous/educational look at the use of poop. I had to research all kinds of animal dung. Fun!


Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you? 

Oh, yes the internet has opened many doors. For good or bad.

One good thing is now illustrators are reaching out to each other illustrators becoming friends and networking. You don’t feel alone as much locked alone in your studio all the time. Finding information is so much easier like names for your mailing list.

How about getting layouts sending in sketches and finals. Not like the days of faxing in sketches and using FedEx to send in the finals and hoping the art didn’t get bent.


Do you use Photoshop with your illustrations? 

The majority of my work is done in illustrator then I export it into photoshop for textures .

mikemonster500aDo you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating? 

I have the largest Wacom Intuos that they made. It’s 24 x18 and the drawing area is 19×13. I can really move my arm around and it gives me the feeling like drawing on paper. Thinking about getting the Cintiq. I played with one in NYC a few months back. Photoshop felt great , illustrator felt a little clunky. I need to go back and play with it more.


What do you think is your biggest success thus far? 

I’ve had many cool clients/jobs I have worked for over the years. One of my tops is that I illustrated the 2008 World Series and playoff programs, Phillies vs Rays. I’m a big baseball fan so that was a thrill. The programs go into the Baseball Hall of Fame so I joke that I’m in Cooperstown!

PZM_interface copy

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill? 

Of course, getting a book that I wrote published would be fun. I love animation. Want to learn it better. I’ve pitched cartoons series in the past. Getting one of those would be amazing.


What are you working on now? 

I just finished up the art for the second Iggy Loomis book last week, “Iggy Loomis and a Hagfish called Shirley”. Ever see a hagfish? They are disgusting!

Now I’m working on a series of ads for Disney Resorts, a few Highlights projects and I do a monthly cartoon strip for Boy’s Life Magazine.


Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

I use a great plug-in for illustrator called Xtream Path. It allows you to rag,stretch , push and pull the path. Here is the link http://www.cvalley.com/products/xtreampath/

For photoshop I’ve been using Kyle T Webster’s photoshop brushes.

Kyle is very talented, good guy and one of the hardest working illustrators out there. You will love his brushes. I’m having so much fun with them.



Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

I think one important thing is to remember you are a business and have to act like one. Dealing with promotion, clients needs, deadlines, billing to contracts. There is much more then involved then just drawing pictures.


Mike, Thank you for sharing your illustrations, journey, and process with us this week. We look forward to following your career, so please let us know about your new books and all of your future successes.

You can see more of Mike’s work at : http://www.mikemoran.net  

or on ChildrensIllustrators.com  

Please take a minute to leave Mike a comment. I am sure he would love to hear from you and I would appreciate it, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,


11) The Naturalist Handbook : Activities for Young Explorers for Gibbs Smith.

Filed under: Advice, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Process, Tips Tagged: Erica Silverman, Iggy Loomis, Lord Sterling Literistic in NYC, Mike Moran, Scholastic

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24. Two 2014 Board Books

Honk, Honk! Baa, Baa! Petr Horacek. 2014. Candlewick. 16 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Hee-haw, hee-haw says the donkey.
Baa, baa says the sheep.
Oink, oink says the pig. 

Petr Horacek's Honk, Honk! Baa, Baa! is a very simple, very bright board book for young ones. Each page focuses on a farm animal and the sound it makes. This one offers a bit of a surprise at the end.

There are plenty of farm board books for little ones. This one has good illustrations. My personal favorite will probably always remain Dorothea Deprisco's Pig-a-Boo! A Farmyard Peekaboo book. Do YOU have a favorite?

Five Hungry Pandas. A Count and Crunch Book. Alexis Barad-Cutler. Illustrated by Kyle Poling. 2014. Scholastic. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]

1 Hungry panda eats something yummy.
But 4 hungry pandas still need to fill their tummies!
Chew! Chew!
2 Hungry pandas pick something to munch.
But 3 hungry pandas still want their lunch!

I love this one. I love, love, love it. I love the problem solving, the counting. I love that it shows (some of) the ways to get to five. (1+4, 2+3, 3+2, 4+1) In a way, it's very simple, but, in another it's quite clever! It surprised me completely. I wasn't expecting to love it!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Best Selling Picture Books | June 2014

The Children's Book Review's best selling picture book for this month is the gorgeously illustrated picture book from Jon J. Muth, The Three Questions. As per usual, we've also shared our hand selected list of the most popular picture books from the nationwide best selling picture books, as listed by The New York Times.

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