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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: penguin, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 231
1. Follow Follow (2013)

Follow  Follow. A Book of Reverso Poems. (Companion to Mirror Mirror) Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Josee Masse. 2013. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, LOVED reading Marilyn Singer's Follow Follow. If you love fairy tales, you MUST read Follow Follow. If you love good poetry, you MUST read Follow Follow. If you're new to reverso poems, to the concept of this form of poetry, you should really read Follow Follow or its companion Mirror Mirror. I love how the form itself is so engaging. It takes poetry to a whole new level for me! (It may do the same for you. I hope it does!)

Author's note:
The reverso, a form I created, is made up of two poems. Read the first down and it says one thing. Read it back up, with changes only in punctuation and capitalization, and it means something completely different. When you flip the poem, sometimes the same narrator has a different point of view. Other times, there is another narrator all together.
The poems:
  • Your Wish Is My Command (Aladdin)
  • Birthday Suit (The Emperor's New Clothes)
  • Silly Goose (The Golden Goose)
  • Ready, Steady, Go (The Tortoise and the Hare)
  • Will the Real Princess Please Stand Up (The Princess and the Pea)
  • The Little Mermaid's Choice (The Little Mermaid)
  • Panache (Puss in Boots)
  • Follow Follow (The Pied Piper)
  • No Bigger Than Your Thumb (Thumbelina)
  • Can't Blow This House Down (The Three Little Pigs)
  • The Nightingale's Emperor (The Nightingale)
  • On With The Dance (The Twelve Dancing Princesses)
I think I LOVED almost all of the poems. There were a few that I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED however.

The Little Mermaid's Choice

For love,
give up your voice.
Don't
think twice.
On the shore,
be his shadow.
Don't
keep your home
in the unruly sea.
Be docile.
You can't
catch him
playing
"You'll never catch me!"

You'll never catch me
playing
"Catch him."
You can't
be docile
in the unruly sea.
Keep your home.
Don't
be his shadow
on the shore.
Think twice!
Don't
give up your voice
for love.

Reading these poems is just a JOY. I love how engaging it is. How it makes you think and reflect on the familiar stories. I love how the poems play around with voice and perspective!!! So very clever!

Read this book!!!


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. Pioneer Girl

Pioneer Girl. Bich Minh Nguyen. 2014/2015. Penguin. 296 pages. [Source: Review copy]

At first, I wanted to love Pioneer Girl. I then settled for wanting to like it. It has an interesting premise: A Vietnamese coming-of-age story with a Little House connection. Lee grew up reading the Little House books. She may not want to admit to liking or loving the TV show, but, the books she loves, has always loved. Her parents came from Vietnam to America in the 1970s. She was born and raised in the Midwest. Her parents, particularly her mother and her grandfather, were almost always in the restaurant business: managing bad buffets mostly. The older she got the more she wanted to distance herself.

So where is the connection to Laura Ingalls Wilder?! Well, her grandfather brought a gold pin with him to America. It was a pin that had belonged to an older woman, a white woman, a reporter doing a story on the war. Lee, as an adult, is convinced that woman was Rose Wilder Lane. Furthermore, she has a feeling that the pin is *the* pin described in These Happy Golden Years, a gift from Almanzo to Laura. The novel also introduces a "what-if" mystery.

The book drifts between her structured thoughts on Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Little House books AND her own meaningless (at least in the moment as she sees it) life. She's a twenty-something young woman, still sorta in school, but wanting to find something more in life: a good job would be nice, but validation maybe that she's made it. Lots of family drama. Bit of angst. These two focuses connect now and then. Lee travels and does research. Or should I just call it what it is: theft.

The BIG, BIG, BIG problem I have with the novel is Lee herself. Lee goes to a library with a special research collection: Lee steals a photograph from the collection. Lee goes to a museum: Lee not only breaks the rules and enters rooms she's not supposed to enter at all, but, she steals more stuff. A letter. A first edition book with scribbles/notes from Rose. Does she have a guilty conscience? No! In fact, she's proud and thinks herself the cleverest of all. I exaggerate perhaps. But the fact that she does think herself super-clever and is proud of what she's done and tells of her exploits says something about her character.

Pioneer Girl is a new adult novel. It's a thoughtful novel, reflective in places. Lee poses a good question now and then, seeking insight into deeper matters. But the book left me unsatisfied. I do LOVE the cover however.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. The Paper Cowboy (2014)

The Paper Cowboy. Kristin Levine. 2014. Penguin. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

"Hands up!"
My best friend, Eddie Sullivan, had a newspaper rolled and pointed at me like a gun. He was only twelve, but over the summer he'd grown so much, he looked big enough to be in high school. 

I've yet to be disappointed by Kristin Levine's fiction. I loved, loved, loved The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had. I loved, loved, loved The Lions of Little Rock. I still would love to find time to reread both books. Her newest book is The Paper Cowboy. The author's note reveals much: The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had is loosely based on her maternal grandfather's memoirs; The Lions of Little Rock was inspired by her mother's childhood in Arkansas. This newest book? Well, it is based on/influenced by her father's childhood. It is set during the McCarthy era, when the threat of communist spies was very strong no matter how big or small the community.

I'm tempted to keep it brief: READ THIS. But would that do it justice? Probably not. But I don't want to give away too much either.

I love The Paper Cowboy for its humanity. It almost aches with its humanity. There's not one perfect, flawless character within. Tommy, the protagonist, is far from perfect. In fact, he's a bit of a bully. But it's almost impossible to keep standing in judgment of Tommy once you get a glimpse of his home life. Time and time again, readers see a powerless Tommy in heartbreaking situations.

I love The Paper Cowboy for its look at family life. Every member of the family is fully developed. (Well, perhaps with the exception of the baby. Tommy's youngest sister is just three months old when the novel opens!!!) But one really gets relationships in this book. Tommy in relationship with his dad, with his mom, with his older sister, with his younger sisters. And the relationships--no matter if they're "good" or "healthy" or not-so-much, the relationships feel completely authentic. The sibling Tommy is closest to is his sister, Mary Lou, who is badly burned--an accident--near the start of the novel.

I love The Paper Cowboy for its sense of community. I loved getting to know folks in his community. Particularly, I loved his developing relationships with several adults within the community: Mr. McKenzie and Mrs Glazov, Mrs. Scully and Pa and Ma Konecky. I just came to CARE for all the characters, no matter how 'minor.' For example, Mrs. Glazov never felt 'minor' to me at all! I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED her.

I love The Paper Cowboy for its look at friendship and school life and even bullying. I didn't "love" the book because of its examination or treatment on bullying. I wasn't seeking out a book on bullying. I certainly wasn't expecting a book on the subject of bullying told primarily from the bully's point of view. But sometimes a book just finds you, you don't have to seek it out. I do think it's interesting to consider Tommy as a whole person. Yes, at recess at his school, he can pick on his classmates and get away with it because he has a way with his teachers. But the reader sees deeper and sees beneath the surface. Yes, absolutely Tommy's actions are just WRONG. But when a character is fleshed out so completely, so thoroughly that compassion may just come easier than judgment. One friendship comes about so slowly that it deserves attention. I loved the character of Sam McKenzie. 

I love The Paper Cowboy because its one that makes you feel--sometimes so much it leaves you aching. It's an emotionally intense read. There are just some TOUGH moments to witness in this coming-of-age novel.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Millions of Cats (1928)

Millions of Cats. Wanda Gag. 1928. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Once upon a time there was a very old man and a very old woman. They lived in a nice clean house which had flowers all around it, except where the door was. But they couldn't be happy because they were so very lonely. 
"If we only had a cat!" sighed the very old woman. "A cat?" asked the very old man. "Yes, a sweet little fluffy cat," said the very old woman. "I will get you a cat, my dear," said the very old man.
And he set out over the hills to look for one. 

Millions of Cats is a Newbery Honor book from 1929.

Premise/Plot: A very old man and a very old woman long for a cat. The husband goes on a quest to bring back a "sweet little fluffy cat" to please them both. Is his quest successful? Yes. A little too successful. For in fact he finds
Cats here, cats there,
Cats and kittens everywhere,
Hundreds of cats,
Thousands of cats,
Millions and billions and trillions of cats.
How is he ever to choose just ONE cat from so many?! Especially since as he picks up or pets each one he sees, he finds it to be the prettiest cat. He can't bring himself to leave any of the cats behind. But it isn't practical to bring home hundreds, thousands, millions, billions, and trillions of cats. You can probably guess what his wife's response will be! Surely, they can't keep them all. For better or worse, he lets the cats decide amongst themselves. One scrawny cat remains, but, it may be the best one of all.

My thoughts: I loved this one growing up. I loved the repetition. I thought it was a fun story. I didn't--at the time--take the man's conclusion that the trillions of cats ate each other up literally. Is the book violent? Perhaps. Perhaps not. See for yourself.  "They bit and scratched and clawed each other and made such a great noise that the very old man and the very old woman ran into the house as fast as they could. They did not like such quarreling." This one might pair well with Eugene Field's "The Duel." (The gingham dog and the calico cat).

Have you read Millions of Cats? Did you like it? love it? hate it?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreamingby Jacqueline Woodson. Nancy Paulsen Books, published by the Penguin Books. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: Woodson uses poetry to tell the story of her childhood, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. She was born in Ohio; moved to South Carolina; and later to New York City. It's a story of Woodson growing up, and learning more about the world around her, and learning how to process that world using words and stories.

The Good: First, yes, this book is wonderful. Perfect. Amazing. I was so, so happy to see it selected as the National Book Award Winner for Young People's Literature. I mean, there is so much out there that already establishes this as terrific, what do I have to add to the conversation?

Brown Girl Dreaming starts with Woodson's birth in 1963:

I am born in Ohio but
the stories of South Carolina already run
like rivers
through my veins.

Brown Girl Dreaming is a look at what shapes one girl, born in Ohio in 1963, following her childhood until about fifth grade. And so on one level, the "obvious" level, it's a book aimed at those who are the child-Woodson's age.

It's also about a young African American girl in the 1960s and 1970s, living both in the South and the North, and her many worlds: the world of immediate family of mother and siblings, the bigger world of grandparents and aunts and uncles, the world of friends and school, and then civil rights and what that meant, or didn't mean. And all those things, while being told by a child, are things that readers of all ages are interested in.

For Brown Girl Dreaming, the age of the protagonist doesn't dictate the age of the reader; rather, the interests of the reader make this book open and of interest to readers of all ages.

So, people like myself -- born just three years after Woodson -- are potential readers. As are older readers who lived during that time. Just because, hey, I also remember watching The Big Blue Marble and singing along to the theme song, even if I did it from New Jersey.

The poetry may make it more accessible for some readers, but that doesn't mean it's easy or simple. Teen readers do like to read about teens -- but it's not the only thing they like to read about. Despite Woodson's age during the time of Brown Girl Dreaming, the things she lives through, her experiences, her world is bigger than her age. A parent's divorce; a move; a new sibling; a sick brother; learning about the world through books; and civil rights; all of this, all of what is in Brown Girl Dreaming, are of interest to all ages. I'd even argue that older readers -- older than ten, anyway -- will get more out of Brown Girl Dreaming because they will understand the references and the emotions in a way that younger readers cannot.

And, finally, selfishly, I don't want this to be it. I want the books that take Woodson further along her journey: Brown Teen Dreaming, Brown Woman Dreaming -- just to suggest a couple of possible titles.

Of course, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2014.



Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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6. Review of the Day: Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

OnceUponAlphabet 219x300 Review of the Day: Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver JeffersOnce Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters
By Oliver Jeffers
Philomel (an imprint of Penguin)
$26.99
ISBN: 978-0-399-16791-1
Ages 6 and up
On shelves now

Beware ever becoming a brand, my sweet, for that way lies nothing but unhappiness and ruin. Or not. I think the only real and true problem with becoming extremely popular in your field is that you have to battle on some level the ridiculous expectations others set for you. You did “X” and “X” was popular? Make another “X”! Creativity is haphazard and in the children’s book biz even the most popular illustrators do jobs that simply pay the bills. Such is NOT the case with Oliver Jeffers’ Once Upon an Alphabet. I have seen Jeffers do books that were merely okay and some that didn’t quite pass muster. I have also seen him be consistently brilliant with a style that is often copied, whether artistically or in tone. Yet in his latest book he does something that I honestly haven’t really seen before. Each letter of the alphabet is worthy of a story of its own. Each one distinct, each one unique, and all of them pretty much hilarious. No other author or illustrator could do what Jeffers has done here or, if they did, the tone would be entirely off. Here we have an abecedarian treat for older children (at least 6 years of age, I’d say) that will extend beyond Jeffers’ already gung-ho fan base and garner him new devotees of both the child and adult persuasion.

“If words make up stories, and letters make up words, then stories are made of letters. In this menagerie we have stories, made of words, made for all the letters.” So begins Once Upon an Alphabet, a book that seeks to give each letter its due. The tales told vary in length and topic. For example, “A” is about Edmund the astronaut who wants to go on an “adventure” and meet some “aliens” “although” there’s a problem. “Space was about three hundred and twenty-eight thousand, four hundred and sixteen feet above him . . . and Edmund had a fear of heights.” Many of the stories seen here rely on a twist at their conclusion. Danger Delilah may laugh in the face of Death but she’ll book it double time when her dad calls her for dinner. And then there’s Victor, plugging away on his vengeance. Told with wit and humor these tales are each and every one consistently amusing and enjoyable.

One thing that sets Jeffers apart from the pack is his deft wordplay. He has always been as comfortable as a writer as he is an illustrator or artist. Examining the tales I saw that some of the stories rhyme and others do not. This could potentially be off-putting but since each letter stands on its own I wasn’t bothered by the choice. The book could also be a very nice writing prompt title, not too dissimilar from Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Once kids get the gist of what Jeffers is doing here they could be encouraged to write their own letter-inspired tales.

As for the art, it’s recognizably Jeffers, but with a twist. A close examination of the book shows that Jeffers changes up his artistic style quite a bit. While I’d say all his art is recognizably Jeffersish, his choices are fascinating. What determines whether or not a character gets a nose? Why is the terrified typist of “t” made so realistic while Ferdinand of “F” is done in a more cartoony style? Then there’s the use of color. Generally speaking the book is black and white but is shot through with different colors to make different points.

You also begin to read more into the illustrations than might actually be there. When the elephant dutifully eats nearly nine thousand envelopes in answer to a riddle, he is directed to do so by a nun who is keeping score. Adults will see this and wonder if it’s the equivalent of that old riddle about how many angels will dance on the head of a pin. I know the nun is there because the letter is “N” but that doesn’t stop me from seeing a connection. Other times there are connections between letters that aren’t explicitly mentioned but that will amuse kids. The owl and octopus that search and correct problems fix the cup that made an unseemly break (literally) for freedom at the letter “C” only for it to break again around the letter “T”. Then there are the back endpapers, which manage to wrap up a number of the stories in the book so subtly you might not even realize that they do so. See the frog hit on the head with a coin? That’s the ending to the “F” tale. And a closer reading shows that each person on the back endpapers correlates to their letter so you can read the alphabet found on the front endpapers through them. Pretty slick stuff!

I guess the only real correlation to this book is Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies alphabet. Even if the name sounds familiar I’m sure you’ve heard it. “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears.” I’ve often thought that Jeffers’ sense of humor owes much to Gorey’s. You see it in letters like “H” which features a woman falling off a cliff or “T” where an author meets an untimely end at the hands (or, more likely, mouth) of a monster. And like Gorey, Jeffers is capable of giving potentially gruesome and macabre poems an almost sweet edge. Gorey’s stories dealt well in funny melancholy. Jeffers, in contrast, in a form of humor that turns tragedy on its head.

From what I can tell the book is pretty universally loved. That said, it is not without its detractors. People who expect this to be another alphabet book for young children are bound to be disappointed. No one ever said alphabet books couldn’t be for older kids as well, y’know. And then there’s one criticism that some librarians of my acquaintance lobbed in the direction of this book. According to them some letter stories were stronger than others. So I read and reread the book to try and figure out which letters they might mean. I’m still rereading it now and I’m no closer to finding the answer. Did they not like the daft parsnip? The missing question? The monkeys that move underground? I remain baffled.

Or maybe I just like the book because it ends with a zeppelin. That could also be true. I really like zeppelins. I am of the opinion that 90% of the picture books produced today would be greatly improved if their authors worked in a zeppelin in some way. Heck, it’s even on the cover of the book! But if I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, I suspect that even if you removed every last zeppelin from Once Upon an Alphabet I’d still like the puppy. A lot. A lot a lot. You see Jeffers knows how to use his boundless cleverness for good instead of evil. This book could be intolerable in its smarts, but instead it’s an honestly amusing and tightly constructed little bit of delving into the alphabet genre. It remains aware from start to finish that its audience is children and by using big long fancy dance words, it never talks down to kids while still acknowledging the things that they would find funny. All told, it’s a pip. No picture book alphabet collection will be complete without it.

Like This? Then Try:

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7. Pois Penguin


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8. laying down an icy background...

©the enchanted easel 2014
on some arctic adorableness! :)

it's no secret how much i LOVE winter (yes, i know, i'm a freak...but hey, someone has to love that beautiful season...). so....

i thought i would do a quick set of penguins. cute penguins, of course. will be selling the ORIGINALS of these cuties once they are done.

ah, winter, my friend. can not wait for your return! :)

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9. Melissa de la Cruz to Write a YA Spinoff Based on the ‘Witches of East End’ Novels

Witches of East EndMelissa de la Cruz plans to write a spinoff project inspired by her Witches of East End adult novels. Penguin Young Readers Group will release Triple Moon: Summer on East End, the first installment of de la Cruz’s young adult series, on July 14, 2015.

The Triple Moon story stars twin witches named Mardi and Molly Overbrook. Two characters from the original book series and the TV show, Freya and Killian Gardiner, will appear in the new books.

With Lifetime’s Witches of East End TV series facing cancellation, de la Cruz wants to take a hands-on approach to help her fans. In a statement emailed to Entertainment Weekly, de la Cruz explains: “I have asked producers if there is no hope for the show, if I can weave in some of the cliffhangers from season two so I can resolve them and bring closure. I have an idea on how to do it, but we’ll see. It’s a legal issue so it might not be able to fly.”

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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10. SkADaMo 2014 Day 11

Piguin 2

March of the Piguins!

What is SkADaMo? Check it out here.


4 Comments on SkADaMo 2014 Day 11, last added: 11/13/2014
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11. stripes and bows...

©the enchanted easel 2014

©the enchanted easel 2014























and a sweet little penguin named alaska!

that's what's been on the easel this week...in honor of my favorite season, which is right around the corner...WINTER! :)

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12. so....

i'm thinking a penguin would make the perfect pet for me...considering we both LOVE arctic weather! :)


sweet little alaska...a very stylish and fashion savvy penguin, if i do say so myself. 

{probably taking a page from my book, she is...;)}

she will be available FOR SALE very soon (as a PRINT)...and for the first time all year, i will be offering the ORIGINAL PAINTING-FOR SALE as well.

arctic cuteness~coming soon! :)



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13. a fashion savvy little penguin...

truly a bird after my own heart!

meet little alaska, a sweet and stylish little penguin. from her striped scarf and her pink bow...well, let's just say i may have been her inspiration. i mean, i do LOVE me some bows and the color pink. 'nuff said! ;)

she is FOR SALE AS A PRINT FOUND THROUGH THE SHOP LINKS HERE:

also, (wait for it...wait for it....) for the first time all year i am offering the ORIGINAL PAINTING FOR SALE! she is sized at an 8x8 (a perfect square-my favorite shape...just sayin') and is painted in brightly colored acrylics on a .75 gallery wrapped canvas. i made sure to seal her with a nice matte varnish to keep her happy and healthy through those long cold arctic winters. ;)

EMAIL ME AT enchantedeasel@yahoo.com IF INTERESTED IN PURCHASING THE ORIGNAL PAINTING! please be sure to put ALASKA in the subject line. please...and thank you.

up next...well her faithful and dapper little companion, aspen, of course! ;)

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14. this little guy...


©the enchanted easel 2014

 he's what's on the easel this week!

another penguin...coming soon! :)

{dapper little fella he is...}














©the enchanted easel 2014

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15. little Aspen...

aspen penguin
©the enchanted easel 2014
bringing a bit of dapperness to the month of december! :)

this is my last official painting for the year 2014...and wow, what a year it has been! from my upgrade/evolution in painting style to the rebuilding of my site and opening some new (online) shops, well i like to think it's been a pretty productive year! now...BRING ON 2015 'cause this girl is READY!!!

ok, back to little Aspen here {sorry to steal your thunder there for a minute, little buddy...;)}. he is FOR SALE AS A PRINT at the shops found here:

also...i am offering the ORIGINAL PAINTING FOR SALE as well! *EMAIL ME AT THE ADDY LISTED ON THE CONTACT PAGE OF MY WEBSITE IF INTERESTED*. he has a little girlfriend, named Alaska (pictured below) 
alaska penguin
©the enchanted easel 2014

and she is also FOR SALE! if interested in the ORIGINAL PAINTINGS as a set, i would be more than happy to accommodate you at a discounted price for the both of them. just send me an email and we can make it happen! 


i'll be posting some sketches and some finished drawings (which i will be offering up FOR SALE) for the rest of december! until then...

"LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW!" :)

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16. Is it worth it?



Any writer who has been through the launch of a new book will tell you, the process can be all-consuming. Sometimes it feels as though it's impossible to write and market your writing at the same time. Whether you're a well-known author on book tour with a top tier release, or a newly published writer managing the logistics of marketing mostly on your own, it takes tremendous effort and energy to send a new book out into the world.

For my first two picture books, I didn't really do much for the launches. Both times I had small children at home—for the second book I was pregnant and my mom was very sick—so, beyond a book signing at my local bookstore attended by mostly close friends and family, the books went into the world quietly, despite some lovely reviews.

This time around is different. While I do still have little kids at home, the youngest of whom is only three, I am a more experienced parent, far better at multitasking and juggling work tasks with mom tasks. And with the help of my publicist at Penguin, and the incomparable marketing guru Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, I have a plan. A full-fledged marketing plan complete with book trailer, blog tour, giveaways, story hour kits, social media campaign, launch party, holiday tie-ins... heck, I even started my own hashtag (#BakingDay).

I explained this to a family member recently, who very candidly (and not unkindly) asked, "Do you think it's worth it?" Translated, this person was asking, will all the work and investment amount to significantly more book sales? And the honest answer to that question is, "I don't know, yet." I believe it will. But I can't say for sure until the book is out there and our promotions get rolling. And even then, some books pick up steam over time vs. having breakthrough sales out of the gate.

The question made me ponder the small miracle of getting a book published—one picture book's path to publication. Books have hurdles (many!) before they reach store and library shelves. First, you, author-person, must get an inspired idea. That idea then needs to morph to paper in first draft form. You re-read it, revise it, put it aside and re-read and revise again (multiple times). Perhaps at this point, you share it with your critique group. You absorb their feedback and revise again.

Then, if you have an agent and feel it's in good shape to share, you send it along. (You wait, wait, wait.) Your agent likes it! (Huzzah!) She sends it to a handful of editors. (You wait, wait, wait some more.) The editor likes it! (Huzzah, again!) But hold on, the editor must take into an editorial meeting.

And here's where it really gets perilous.

Your little manuscript is read aloud and discussed at a roundtable of editors, editorial assistants, art directors, marketing and sales. (Eeeps!) If the group doesn't like it, or it's too similar to something they've already acquired, it gets passed over.

(Insert more waiting, here.) They like it! Eureka!

Think your story is home free? Not necessarily. It then goes to an acquisitions meeting (yet more waiting) where the final vote is made to acquire your book and offer you a contract. (Shoo.)

The good news is, books surmount these hurdles every day at publishing houses all over the world. But it's still a miraculous moment when someone offers to publish your story.

Think of all the hard work your little book did to get here!

That's what I've been doing as I approach the launch of Baking Day At Grandma's. It's like a baby—my book baby—and I want to give it the very best chance to thrive in the marketplace, and all the love and support it deserves.

So, is it worth it?

Definitely.

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17. Review of the Day: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

AbsolutelyAlmost Review of the Day: Absolutely Almost by Lisa GraffAbsolutely Almost
By Lisa Graff
Philomel (an imprint of Penguin)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-399-16405-7
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

In the stage musical of Matilda, lyricist Tim Minchin begins the show with the following lines about the state of children today: “Specialness is de rigueur. / Above average is average. Go fig-ueur! / Is it some modern miracle of calculus / That such frequent miracles don’t render each one un-miraculous?” This song ran on a bit of a loop through my cranium as I read Lisa Graff latest middle grade novel Absolutely Almost. For parents, how well your child does reflects right back on you. Your child is a genius? Congratulations! You must be a genius for raising a genius. Your child is above average? Kudos to you. Wait, your child is average? Uh-oh. For some parents nothing in the world could be more embarrassing. We all want our kids to do well in school, but where do you distinguish between their happiness and how hard you’re allowed to push them to do their best? Do you take kindness into account when you’re adding up all their other sterling qualities? Maybe the wonder of Absolutely Almost is that it’s willing to give us an almost unheard of hero. Albie is not extraordinary in any possible way and he would like you to be okay with that. The question then is whether or not child readers will let him.

Things aren’t easy for Albie. He’s not what you’d call much of a natural at anything. Reading and writing is tough. Math’s a headache. He’s not the world’s greatest artist and he’s not going to win any awards for his wit. That said, Albie’s a great kid. If you want someone kind and compassionate, he’s your man. When he finds himself with a new babysitter, a girl named Calista who loves art, he’s initially skeptical. She soon wins him over, though, and good thing too since there are a lot of confusing things going on in his life. One day he’s popular and another he’s not. He’s been kicked out of his old school thanks to his grades. Then there’s the fact that his best friend is part of a reality show . . . well, things aren’t easy for Albie. But sometimes, when you’re not the best at anything, you can make it up to people by simply being the best kind of person.

Average people are tough. They don’t naturally lend themselves to great works of literature generally unless they’re a villain or the butt of a joke. Lots of heroes are billed as “average heroes” but how average are they really? Put another way, would they ever miscalculate a tip? Our fantasy books are full to overflowing of average kids finding out that they’re extraordinary (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Meg Murry, etc.). Now imagine that the book kept them ordinary. Where do you go from there? Credit where credit is due to Lisa Graff then. The literary challenge of retaining a protagonist’s everyday humdrum status is intimidating. Graff wrestles with the idea and works it to her advantage. For example, the big momentous moment in this book is when it turns out that Albie doesn’t have dyslexia and just isn’t good at reading. I’ve never seen that in a book for kids before, and it was welcome. It made it clear what kind of book we’re dealing with.

As a librarian who has read a LOT of children’s books starring “average” kids, I kept waiting for that moment when Albie discovered he had a ridiculously strong talent for, say, ukulele or poker or something. It never came. It never came and I was left realizing that it was possible that it never would. Kids are told all the time that someday they’ll find that thing that’ll make them unique. Well what if they don’t? What happens then? Absolutely Almost is willing to tell them the truth. There’s a wonderful passage where Calista and Albie are discussing the fact that he may never find something he’s good at. Calista advises, “Find something you’d want to keep doing forever… even if you stink at it. And then, if you’re lucky, with lots of practice, then one day you won’t stink so much.” Albie points out, correctly, that he might still stink at it and what then? Says Calista, “Then won’t you be glad you found something you love?”

Mind you, average heroes run a big risk. Absolutely Almost places the reader in a difficult position. More than one kid is going to find themselves angry with Albie for being dense. But the whole point of the book is that he’s just not the sharpest pencil in the box. Does that make the reader sympathetic then to his plight or a bully by proxy? It’s the age-old problem of handing the reader the same information as the hero but allowing them to understand more than that hero. If you’re smarter than the person you’re reading about, does that make you angry or understanding? I suppose it depends on the reader and the extent to which they can relate to Albie’s problem. Still, I would love to sit in on a kid book discussion group as they talked about Albie. Seems to me there will be a couple children who find their frustration with his averageness infuriating. The phrase “Choose Kind” has been used to encourage kids not to bully kids that look different than you. I’d be interested in a campaign that gave as much credence to encouraging kids not to bully those other children that aren’t as smart as they are.

I’ve followed the literary career of Lisa Graff for years and have always enjoyed her books. But with Absolutely Almost I really feel like she’s done her best work. The book does an excellent job of showing without telling. For example, Albie discusses at one point how good he is at noticing things then relates a teacher’s comment that, “if you had any skill at language, you might’ve made a very fine writer.” Graff then simply has Albie follow up that statement with a simple “That’s what she said.” You’re left wondering if he picked up on the inherent insult (or was it just a truth?) in that. Almost in direct contrast, in a rare moment of insight, his dad says something about Albie that’s surprising in its accuracy. “I think the hard thing for you, Albie… is not going to be getting what you want in life, but figuring out what that is.” I love a book that has the wherewithal to present these different sides of a single person. Such writing belies the idea that what Graff is doing here is simple.

Reading the book as a parent, I could see how my experience with Absolutely Almost was different from that of a kid reader. Take the character of Calista, for example. She’s a very sympathetic babysitter for Albie who does a lot of good for him, offering support when no one else understands. Yet she’s also just a college kid with a poorly defined sense of when to make the right and wrong choice. Spoiler Alert on the rest of this paragraph. When Albie’s suffering terribly she takes him out of school to go to the zoo and then fails to tell his parents about this executive decision on her part. A couple chapters later Albie’s mom finds out about the outing and Calista’s gone from their lives. The mom concludes that she can’t have a babysitter who lies to her and that is 100% correct. A kid reader is going to be angry with the mom, but parents, teachers, and librarians are going to be aware that this is one of those unpopular but necessary moves a parent has to face all the time. It’s part of being an adult. Sorry, kids. Calista was great, but she was also way too close to being a manic pixie dream babysitter. And trust me when I say you don’t want to have a manic pixie dream babysitter watching your children.

Remember the picture book Leo the Late Bloomer where a little tiger cub is no good at anything and then one day, somewhat magically, he’s good at EVERYTHING? Absolutely Almost is the anti-Leo the Late Bloomer. In a sense, the point of Graff’s novel is that oftentimes kindness outweighs intelligence. I remember a friend of mine in college once commenting that he would much rather that people be kind than witty. At the time this struck me as an incredible idea. I’d always gravitated towards people with a quick wit, so the idea of preferring kindness seemed revolutionary. I’m older now, but the idea hasn’t gone away. Nor is it unique to adulthood. Albie’s journey doesn’t reach some neat and tidy little conclusion by this story’s end, but it does reach a satisfying finish. Life is not going to be easy for Albie, but thanks to the lessons learned here, you’re confident that he’s gonna make it through. Let’s hope other average kids out there at least take heart from that. A hard book to write. An easy book to read.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Other Reviews: BookPage

Interviews:

  • Lisa speaks with BookPage about the creation of the book.

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18. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory Turns 50

Roald Dahl‘s classic children’s book Charlie & The Chocolate Factory turns 50 this year. To commemorate the occasion, Penguin Young Readers has released a new paperback edition of the novel and is running its own golden ticket sweepstakes.

Five young readers will win a trip to New York City and a VIP experience at Dylan’s Candy Bar. In addition, winners will get a year’s supply of chocolate, a library of Dahl books and tickets to see Matilda the Musical. Follow this link to enter the contest. Penguin Young Readers will donate money and a book to the nonprofit First Book for every entry they receive.

To help build up enthusiasm, the publisher  hosted a party at Dylan’s Candy Bar in New York back in April. The springtime fete brought out the likes of Roald Dahl’s grandson Luke Kelly, Vogue editor Anna Wintour and  Joseph Schindelman, the original illustrator of the book.

 

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19. Samples: Cutesy Animals

Something on the drawing board. It’s fun to take a pic and distort it!

h5-leaping-2geth1 fl1

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20. Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

Maybe it’s Common Core.  Maybe not.  I’m not always quite certain how far to place the blame in these cases.  However you look at it, children’s nonfiction bios are getting weird these days.  In some ways it’s quite remarkable.  I’m the first one to say that nonfiction for kids is better now than it has ever been.  I mean, when I was a young ‘un the only nonfiction I ever enjoyed was the Childhood of Famous Americans series.  Not that it was actually nonfiction.  I mean, it made these interesting suppositions about the youth of various famous people, complete with fake dialogue (I am the strictest anti-fake dialogue person you’ll ever meet).  I enjoyed them the way I enjoyed fiction because, for the most part, they were fiction.  Boy, you just couldn’t get away with that kind of thing today, right?

Right?

Meet three new “nonfiction” series of varying degrees of fictionalization and authenticity that caught my eye recently.  I can’t exactly call them a trend.  Rather, they’re simply interesting examples of how publishers are struggling to figure out how to tackle the notion of “nonfiction” and “high-interest” for kids.  And it’s now our job to determine how successful they’ve become.

First up, let’s go back old Childhood of Famous Americans.  They remain beloved, but they’re problematic.  So what do you do when you have a product that slots into that category?  You rebrand, baby!

Introducing History’s All-Stars from Aladdin (an imprint of Simon & Schuster).  Observe the following covers:

Sacagawea Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

JackieRobinson Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

Look vaguely familiar?  Pick up the book and you may find the words “Childhood of Famous American” in there individually, but never strung together in that particular order. The publication page only mentions that the books were previously published as far back as the 1950s (little wonder I’m worried about that Sacagawea title, yes).  Yet the design, as you can see, isn’t far off so we had to wonder.  Is it just the same series?  A side-by-side comparison:

BetsyRoss2 Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?BetsyRoss Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

The publisher description calls this “a narrative biography” which is technically the accepted term for this kind of book.  But there is no way you could use this for a report.  They’re fiction, baby.  A kind of fiction that doesn’t really have a designated place in a library collection at this time, though that could change.  Which brings us to . . .

Ordinary People Change the World – A series by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

AmeliaEarhart Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

AbrahamLincoln Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

It’s the series bound to wreck havoc with catalogers everywhere!  They look like Charles Schulz characters.  They read like nonfiction . . . sorta?  Kinda?  Kirkus said of I Am Rosa Parks that it was, “A barely serviceable introduction with far more child appeal than substance.”  Yet they’re bestsellers and visually incredibly appealing.  Published by Dial (a Penguin imprint), the books were a risk that appears to have paid off in terms of dollars.  In terms of sparking interest in these historical figures it’s also a success.  But is it factual?  Is it accurate?  Does it stand up to scrutiny?  Does it matter?  Why shouldn’t it matter?  You see the conundrum.

Finally, there’s a series coming out from Scholastic that looks like it might be along similar lines to these, but that I haven’t seen firsthand quite yet:

BenjaminFranklin Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

SallyRide Historical Kids: What the HECK is Going On With Nonfiction Bios These Days?

Called the When I Grow Up series, again we’re seeing historical figures as children.  But maybe these are entirely accurate in their retellings?  They’re Scholastic Readers, made to meet the needs of early readers.  It’s the title “When I Grow Up” that raises the red flag for me.  Because, you see, they’re written in the first person.  And as a librarian who has had to field reference questions from first graders asking for “autobiographies”, this is problematic.  If a book is entirely accurate but seems to come from the lips of its biographical subject, what is it worth in the pantheon of nonfiction?

People will always say that worrying along these lines is ridiculous.  If the books are good and spark an interest, isn’t that enough?  Why do you have to require strict accuracy at all times?  My argument would be that when biographies are written for adults, people are meticulous (hopefully) about maintaining authenticity.  Why should we hold our kids to different standards?

It’s a debate.  These books just crack it open wide.

Along the same lines (WARNING: Shameless plug looming on the horizon!) I’ve gotten out the jumper cables and restarted the old Children’s Literary Salon at NYPL.  Babies have been born and it is time to get back in the swing of things.  On that note, on Saturday, September 6th I’ll be hosting one of children’s nonfiction all-stars in a conversation that might very well touch on this topic.  Behold!

Personal Passions and Changes in Nonfiction for Children and Teens: A Conversation with Marc Aronson

Author, professor, speaker, editor and publisher by turns, Marc Aronson’s love of nonfiction and his conviction that young people can read carefully, examine evidence, and engage with new and challenging ideas informs everything he does.  Join us for a conversation about the changing role of nonfiction for youth, and the special challenges and advantages of this one-of-a-kind genre.

See you there, yes?

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21. Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

DoryFantasmagory1 362x500 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonDory Fantasmagory
By Abby Hanlon
Dial (an imprint of Penguin)
$14.99
ISBN: 978-0-8037-4088-4
Ages 6-8
On shelves October 9th

Which of the following types of children’s books are, in your opinion, the most difficult to write: Board books, picture books, easy books (for emerging readers), early chapter books, or middle grade fiction (older chapter books)? The question is, by its very definition, unfair. They are all incredibly hard to do well. Now me, I have always felt that easy books must be the hardest to write. You have to take into account not just the controlled vocabulary but also the fact that the story is likely not going to exactly be War and Peace (The Cat in the Hat is considered exceptional for a reason, people). And right on the heels of easy books and their level of difficulty is the early chapter book. You have a bit more freedom with that format, but not by much. For a really good one there should be plenty of fun art alongside a story that strikes the reader as one-of-a-kind. It has to talk about something near and dear to the heart of the kid turning the pages, and if you manage to work in a bit of a metaphor along the way? Then you, my dear, have done the near impossible. The last book I saw work this well was the extraordinary Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett, a book that to this day I consider a successor to Where the Wild Things Are. I didn’t expect to see another book tread the same path for a while. After all, these kinds of stories are enormously difficult to write (or did I mention that already?). Enter Dory Fantasmagory. Oh. My. Goodness. Pick up my jaw from the floor and lob it my way because this book is AMAZING! Perfection of tone, plot, pacing, art, you name it. Author Abby Hanlon has taken a universal childhood desire (the wish of the younger sibling for the older ones to play with them) and turned it into a magnificent epic fantasy complete with sharp-toothed robbers, bearded fairy godmothers, and what may be the most realistic 6-year-old you’ll ever meet on a page. In a word, fantastico.

She’s six-years-old and the youngest of three. Born Dory, nicknamed Rascal, our heroine enjoys a rich fantasy life that involves seeing monsters everywhere and playing with her best imaginary friend Mary. She has to, you see, because her older siblings Luke and Violet refuse to play with her. One day, incensed by her incessant youth, Violet tells Rascal that if she keeps acting like a baby (her words) she’ll be snatched up by the sharp-toothed robber Mrs. Gobble Gracker (a cousin of Viola Swamp if the pictures are anything to go by). Rather than the intended effect of maturing their youngest sibling, this information causes Rascal to go on the warpath to defeat this new enemy. In the course of her playacting she pretends to be a dog (to escape Mrs. Gobble Gracker’s attention, naturally) and guess what? Luke, her older brother, has always wanted a dog! Suddenly he’s playing with her and Rascal is so ebullient with the attention that she refuses to change back. Now her mom’s upset, her siblings are as distant as ever, Mrs. Gobble Gracker may or may not be real, and things look bad for our hero. Fortunately, one uniquely disgusting act is all it will take to save the day and make things right again.

DoryFantasmagory2 300x192 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonThis is what I like about the world of children’s books: You never know what amazingly talented book is going to come from an author next. Take Abby Hanlon. A former teacher, Ms. Hanlon wrote the totally respectable picture book Ralph Tells a Story. It published with Amazon and got nice reviews. I read it and liked it but I don’t think anyone having seen it would have predicted its follow up to be Dory here. It’s not just the art that swept me away, though it is delightful. The tiny bio that comes with this book says that its creator “taught herself to draw” after she was inspired by her students’ storytelling. Man oh geez, I wish I could teach myself to draw and end up with something half as good as what Hanlon has here. But while I liked the art, the book resonates as beautifully as it does because it hits on these weird little kid truths that adults forget as they grow older. For example, how does Rascal prove herself to her siblings in the end? By being the only one willing to stick her hand in a toilet for a bouncy ball. THAT feels realistic. And I love Rascal’s incessant ridiculous questions. “What is the opposite of a sandwich?” Lewis Carroll and Gollum ain’t got nuthin’ on this girl riddle-wise.

For me, another part of what Dory Fantasmagory does so well is get the emotional beats of this story dead to rights. First off, the premise itself. Rascal’s desperation to play with her older siblings is incredibly realistic. It’s the kind of need that could easily compel a child to act like a dog for whole days at a time if only it meant garnering the attention of her brother. When Rascal’s mother insists that she act like a girl, Rascal’s loyalties are divided. On the one hand, she’ll get in trouble with her mom if she doesn’t act like a kid. On the other hand, she has FINALLY gotten her brother’s attention!! What’s more, Rascal’s the kind of kid who’ll get so wrapped up in imaginings that she’ll misbehave without intending to, really. Parents reading this book will identify so closely to Rascal’s parents that they’ll be surprised how much they still manage to like the kid when all is said and done (there are no truer lines in the world than when her mom says to her dad, “It’s been a looooooooong day”). But even as they roll their eyes and groan and sigh at their youngest’s antics, please note that Rascal’s mom and dad do leave at least two empty chairs at the table for her imaginary companions. That ain’t small potatoes.

DoryFantasmagory3 219x300 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonIt would have been simple for Hanlon to go the usual route with this book and make everything real to Abby without a single moment where she doubts her own imaginings. Lots of children’s books make use of that imaginative blurring between fact and fiction. What really caught by eye about Dory Fantasmagory, however, was the moment when Rascal realizes that in the midst of her storytelling she has lost her sister’s doll. She thinks, “Oh! Where did I put Cherry? I gave her to Mrs. Gobble Gracker, of course. But what did I REALLY ACTUALLY do with her?” This is the moment when the cracks in Rascal’s storytelling become apparent. She has to face facts and just for once see the world for what it is. And why? Because her older sister is upset. Rascal, you now see, would do absolutely anything for her siblings. She’d even destroy her own fantasy world if it meant making them happy.

Beyond the silliness and the jokes (of which there are plenty), Hanlon’s real talent here is how she can balance ridiculousness alongside honest-to-goodness heartwarming moments. If you look at the final picture in this book and don’t feel a wave of happy contentment then you, sir, have no soul. The book is a pure pleasure and bound to be just as amusing to kids as it is to adults. Like older works for children like Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Dory Fantasmagory manages to make a personality type that many kids would find annoying in real life (in this case, a younger sibling) into someone not only understandable but likeable and sympathetic. If it encourages only one big brother or sister to play with their younger sibs then it will have justified its existence in the universe. And I think it shall, folks. I think it shall. A true blue winner.

On shelves October 9th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

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22. Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers to Create a Sequel For ‘The Day The Crayons Quit’

The Day The Crayons QuitChildren’s books creators Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers will reunite to collaborate on a sequel to The Day The Crayons Quit.

Publisher Michael Green negotiated the deal with Steven Malk of Writers House and Paul Moreton of Bell, Lomax, Moreton Agency. Philomel Books, an imprint at Penguin Young Readers Group, will publish the new picture book in August 2015.

Green had this statement in the press release: “It’s gratifying to see the Crayons finally getting their due, yet many revealing tales remain untold. I have a feeling every child, crayon, and crayon activist will be inspired by this latest tale of artistic heroism.”

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23. More about the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

It is commendable that recent Prime Ministers have continued the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards even though, as with some other literary prizes, its future has often seemed under threat. It is a prestigious national award amongst the also-important state and other literary prizes. And it is lucrative, with winners receiving $80 000 and shortlisted authors […]

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24. The Highlights of a Professional Life: An Interview With Ursula Dubosarsky

Ursula Dubosarsky has written over 40 books for children and young adults. Some of which include The Terrible Plop, Too Many Elephants in This House, Tim and Ed (Tim and Ed Review), The Carousel, The Word Spy series, and The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta series. She is a multi-award winner of many […]

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25. The North Pole Penguin by Christopher Payne

The North Pole Penguin

Title: The North Pole Penguin

Author: Christopher Payne

Illustrator: Lorena Soriano

Publisher/Year: CreateSpace/2014

Now that Halloween is over, my thoughts have turned to Christmas. It’s less than two months away after all. I’m already thinking about the decorating, shopping, and visiting that make up part of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. You may be too. But are you also thinking about Christmas books? If not, I have the perfect one to get you started: The North Pole Penguin. 

This book has the potential to be a Christmastime classic. With its clever rhyme and bright, put-you-in-the-spirit illustrations, The North Pole Penguin begs to be read over and over again. The story is about Parker Preston, a penguin from the South Pole, who loves Christmas and longs to thank Santa Claus in person for stopping at his igloo every year. So he sets off for the North Pole with a gift for Santa and meets new animal friends along the way who also want to give gifts to Santa. Some even accompany him on his journey. Here’s a sample from the book:

Upon some thinking long and hard, he knew his Christmas cause

To cross the globe and go and see the man called Santa Claus.

He’d bring him gifts and change the roles before the winter’s thaws

To give back to the special man whose kindness had no flaws.

If you’re searching for a sweet Christmas story with amazing illustrations and the strong possibility of becoming a holiday tradition, The North Pole Penguin is a perfect choice.


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