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1. "Christmas Stories from the Heart" with Author Trinka Hakes Noble

Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for sharing what you were thankful for this Thanksgiving time. Your thankful hearts warmed my heart! I know you've been waiting for this announcement, so without further fanfare, the winner of Pat Brisson's book, Before We Eat: from farm to table chosen by random.org is:   

Donna Volkenannt. ** Congratulations, Donna! **  
(Donna, please e-mail me: claragillowclark(at)gmail(dot)com with your mailing address and how you'd like the book personalized.)

This week's featured guest, Author Trinka Hakes Noble, is generously donating one copy each of her two beautiful Christmas Books for the comment contest that she will autograph and personalize for the winners. All you have to do for a chance to win is leave a comment about the post or share a Christmas memory of your own. The winners will be announced on December 6th.

And now, please welcome my dear sweet friend, Trinka!

Christmas Stories from the Heart by Trinka Hakes Noble

Every Holiday Season, bookstores cram their shelves and displays with Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa books for children. These books run the gamut from crassly commercial to deeply heart felt. Many holiday books are given to children as gifts each year, and many adults collect Christmas books. For many families, Christmas books are keepsakes they cherish year after year. So, children’s book publishers make sure they offer new holiday titles on their lists each year. 

Having published two Christmas books and one Thanksgiving Day story, forthcoming in 2017, I feel writing these holiday books comes with a certain responsibility, not only to your young readers and the adults who purchase them as gifts, but to the holiday itself. 

You can’t just hang a story, any old story, on a holiday like an ornament on a Christmas tree. To my way of thinking, the story must be interwoven in an organic way with the holiday, and yet, not totally dependent on it either. I feel that the story must be strong enough that it might be able to stand on its own without the holiday. At least almost. In other words, the story is so captivating and transporting that you might forget that you are reading a Christmas story.

And yet, the magic and wonder of Christmas must somehow be sprinkled into the story like soft snowflakes landing on your tongue.

Trinka's drawing board made by her dad
I like to think that Apple Tree Christmas, which I wrote and Illustrated, is that kind of Christmas story. Not only is it written from my heart, but from my real life as well. I loved to draw as a kid, and one Christmas my father made me the most beautiful, real, professional drawing board I’d ever seen. Right then I knew nothing was going to stop me and I would grow up to be an artist.  

But that Christmas long ago, there were two little words I never said. I never said “thank you” to my Dad for the best gift I’ve ever received.  So, when I did grow up to be an artist and a writer, I decided to say thank you to my Dad in a very special way. I wrote and illustrated Apple Tree Christmas just for him. If you read the dedication, you’ll understand. 

Every illustration in Apple Tree Christmas I drew on that same drawing board my father made for me. It is sitting in my studio today. I probably wouldn’t be writing these words to you right now if my father hadn’t made me that beautiful drawing board so long ago.

Illustration from Apple Tree Christmas
 Ever since its first publication in 1984, Apple Tree Christmas has touched thousands of readers young and old with its simple heartfelt message. Now in a handsome, classic edition, published by Sleeping Bear Press, Trinka Hakes Noble’s holiday remembrance reminds us once again of the strength of family ties and the boundless roots of love. 

Vine swing in the old apple tree

          “So much of Apple Tree Christmas – the vine swing, the old apple tree, Mrs. Wooly, the drawing board, and the little girl who dreams of becoming an artist – is from my cherished Michigan childhood.”

Junior Literary Guild Selection
CBC Book of the Year
Featured in Cricket Magazine
Included in The Golden Books Treasury of Christmas

Christmas Spider’s Miracle was inspired by an old Ukrainian tale that touched my heart. My publisher at Sleeping Bear Press handed me a very short blurb describing this Old World tale and asked, “Are you interested?” Well, I was more than interested! My storyteller’s heart was captivated.  

From this short blurb I wrote an original story of two mothers on a bitterly cold Christmas Eve. One was a poor peasant woman who struggled to provide for her children, and the other was a mother spider that also worked hard to care for her little spiderlings. Although different as night and day, these two poor mothers had much in common. 

Mother Spider caring for her Spiderlings

On Christmas Eve, that magical night of nights, they came together in a most heartwarming way with the kindness, compassion and grace that embodies the true spirit of Christmas.
Illustration from A Christmas Spider's Miracle
The illustrator of A Christmas Spider’s Miracle, Stephen Costanza, captured the long ago Old World charm with his beautifully lush artwork.      
Ukrainian Village from A Christmas Spider's Miracle

Reviews for A Christmas Spider's Miracle: 
“The story unfolds smoothly...with lyrical, dramatic text. An appealing story with a magical aura spun by the shimmering illustrations and memorable story.” – Kirkus Review, 2011

“Enchantingly told, the story is enriched by the visual magic of textured compositions.  An excellent choice for lap-sit reading or group sharing.” – School Library Journal, 2011

 A new book coming in 2017, titled Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade, is a Thanksgiving Day story about an immigrant girl who lives in the tenements on New York’s Lower East Side in 1918. Her name is Loretta, but everyone calls her Rettie. In 1918, American was in the grip of The Great Influenza Epidemic and World War I, colossal events way beyond a young girl’s control. In these hard times, Rettie struggles to keep her family together. The only thing that keeps her going is the hope that the Ragamuffin Parade won’t be canceled on Thanksgiving morning. 

Sketch for Rettie and the Ragmuffin Parade
Long ago, the children of New York would dress up like hobos and beggars and parade though the streets of New York with their hands out asking “Have you anythin’ for Thanksgiving?” Then people would give them a penny. Rettie, along with all the tenement children, loved the Ragamuffin Parade because they badly needed those pennies.

History tells us that when Halloween became popular with children dressing up, parading and trick-or-treating for candy, the Ragamuffin Parade fell out of favor. Many of the immigrant children who loved the Ragamuffin Parade grew up to be employed at a large department store called Macy’s in Midtown Manhattan. Some historians believe that these employees asked Mr. Macy if he would put on a parade for the children of New York on Thanksgiving morning. And so, in 1924, the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade took place, and has continued to this day.

Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade, coming in 2017, will be part of The Tales of Young Americans Series, published by Sleeping Bear Press. It is presently under illustration by David Gardner. 

In closing, my wish this Holiday Season is that a Christmas story touches the hearts of the children in your life, and the child within you. 

A Blessed Christmas to you all,
Trinka Hakes Noble

Trinka Hakes Noble is the award-winning author of over thirty picture books including: The Scarlet Stockings Spy (IRA Teachers’ Choice 2005), The Last Brother, The Legend of the Cape May Diamond, The Legend of the Jersey Devil and Apple Tree Christmas, which she wrote and illustrated. Other titles include: The Orange Shoes (IRA Teachers’ Choice 2008), The New Jersey Reader, Little New Jersey, The People of Twelve Thousand Winters and The Christmas Spider’s Miracle. Ms. Noble also wrote the ever-popular Jimmy’s Boa series, illustrated by Steven Kellogg, and Meanwhile Back at the Ranch, both featured on PBS’s Reading Rainbow. Her many awards include ALA Notable Children’s Book, Booklist Children’s Editors’ Choice, IRA-CBC Children’s Choice, Learning: The Year’s Ten Best, plus several state reading awards and Junior Literary Guild selections. Her latest titles are Lizzie and the Last Day of School (March 2015), and The Legend of Sea Glass (February 2016).
Coming in the fall of 2017 will be a story set on the Lower East Side in 1918, about a young immigrant girl named Loretta, whom everyone called Rettie. The title is Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade: A Thanksgiving Story, and will be part of the Tales of Young Americans series by Sleeping Bear Press.

A graduate of Michigan State University, Ms. Noble went on to study children’s book writing and illustrating in New York City at Parsons School of Design, the New School University, Caldecott medalist Uri Shulevitz’s Greenwich Village Workshop, and at New York University. She is on the board of The New Jersey Center for the Book and a member of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature. In 2002 she was awarded Outstanding Woman in Arts and Letters in the state of New Jersey for her lifetime work in children’s books, along with letters of commendation from the US Senate, the US House of Representatives and the US Congress. She is also the recipient of the Author and Illustrator of the Year Award, 2016, from the New Jersey Association of School Librarians. Ms. Noble currently lives in northern New Jersey. Learn more at her Web site www.trinkahakesnoble.com.

Thank you so much, Trinka, for sharing "Christmas Stories from the Heart" and your beautiful books, Apple Tree Christmas and A Christmas Spider's Miracle. I know we all hope you'll come back next year to share about your Thanksgiving book, Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade. 

On December 6th, my final guest for the year, Author Michaela McColl, will share about the writing of Secrets in the Snow, a YA novel of intrigue and romance featuring Jane Austen!

Merry Christmas!  ~Clara

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2. Writing from the Inside Out. . . Author Trinka Hakes Noble shares about Legends

Dear Friends,

Many years ago, Trinka Hakes Noble and I met at a conference--maybe it was The Hodge Podge Book Conference or it might have been Keystone Reading, but wherever or whenever we met doesn't matter. We were instantly friends. I'm so pleased to share with you my dear friend, Trinka Noble, who shares with you about turning legends into picture books for children. She's also generously giving away two of her picture books for the comment contest. See more about that and Trinka's amazing bio at the end of the post!

 A Legend: Writing the Unwritten by Trinka Hakes Noble

When Sleeping Bear Press, renowned for publishing legends, asked me to write the legend of Michigan, I eagerly accepted. At the time, I was visiting their offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan; but once I was driving back home to New Jersey through the beautiful mountains of Pennsylvania, I was struck by this thought: How does one write something that was never intended to be written, ever, but only spoken? How does one write the unwritten? 

A legend, passed down through eons of time, generation after generation, was told and retold. Furthermore, as far as I knew, there wasn’t a legend of Michigan! I was born and raised in Michigan. My family roots run deep, way back to when Michigan was a wilderness territory, and my Native American roots go back even further. So, why wasn’t I told this legend when I was a kid?

Needless to say, it was a long, fretful drive across I-80. And yet, by the time I reached the Delaware Water Gap, I was determined to find a way to write the unwritten!

I’d written numerous picture books, which often have a read-out-loud quality, so I knew how to start. But a legend seemed to need something more. I’d do historical research, of course, but a legend needed something beyond history, something venerable, something timeless, something for the ages. And so I turned to the masters. I read out loud, and at times actually recited, The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and found what was needed--a cadence. Picture books have a rhythm, but a cadence is stronger and more pronounced, like the beat of a tribal drum. The strong beat of a tribal drum, which is believed to be the heartbeat of the earth, spoke to my Native American ancestry and to what I wanted to write for The Legend of Michigan. This was the breakthrough I needed to find a way to write what is traditionally spoken and not written. So I tuned my writing ear to the beat of a tribal drum, the heartbeat of the earth.

                Interior Illustration from The Legend of Michigan
If I were going to use something as ancient as the beat of a drum, then I would have to go back to a time and space before the legend could appear. A legend often tells how and why something came to be. I would have to reach far back in time before the story of the legend started, and set the stage so the legend could happen. In The Legend of Michigan I journeyed back to the last Ice Age to find the story of how Michigan was created and came to be the unique shape of a mitten. 

And even though I was writing a legend, I was also, and most definitely, writing a story. I wanted the feeling of sitting around a campfire on a still evening, watching the wood smoke drift up into the starry night, listening to elders tell this long ago story, their voices softly rising and falling through eons of time. So I put myself in both places. I had to become the storyteller, the elder and the young listener all at the same time in order for the written page to captivate and transport the young reader back in time. This was another breakthrough that I needed in order to write a legend.

And yet, I still had to somehow connect the legend to the present, to ‘now’ so young readers could relate, so it would have some meaning, some connection to the modern world of today.

Lastly, a legend needed a mythical element, something beyond logic and reason, something that could only happen in the realm of timelessness. Only then could a legend come to life on the written page.

Somehow, all these things came together in the mysterious and unexplainable process we call the creative process. Through the creative process, I was able to write in picture book form a legend, a spoken story in the written word.

Interior Illustration from Legend of Michigan
Long long ago, the ancient peoples of the forest gathered around their warm bright fires and told the tale of a time long past, when the land of Michigane was covered with thick heavy ice. They called it the Long Night of the North Wind.

The Legend of Michigan -- Finalist for the Great Lakes Book Award, 2006

After writing The Legend of Michigan, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen, I went on to write three more legends for Sleeping Bear Press 

The Legend of the Cape May Diamond, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, came next. It begins in a time long past, when the Delaware River was called the Wehittck and flowed through an ancient land called Lenapehoking, the ancestral homeland of the Lenape people.

"Eye candy tome to dress up any coffee table, and serve as pirate's treasure for generations of beachcombers.  Ahoy!" - Philadelphia Magazine
Keystone to Reading Book Award List
Delaware Diamond State Award Nominee

Next came The Legend of the Jersey Devil, illustrated by Gerald Kelley.  It begins in a wild and mysterious place in New Jersey that has kept its ancient ways, called The Pine Barrens. Lurking in its black swamps and murky bogs are hidden secrets and evil stories that can only be told on the darkest of nights. 

"A delightfully spooky picture book rendering of the famed Jersey Devil legend.  Suspenseful, with captivating illustrations."  Kirkus Review, June 2013

The fourth legend, and my latest book, is The Legend of Sea Glass, illustrated by Doris Ettlinger. It begins long ago when people believed the world was flat. No one dared sail beyond the horizon, for surely you would fall off the edge of the earth and be devoured by sea monsters.
Summary: Long, long ago there was a time when mankind did not venture into the deep ocean waters. It was believed that the world was flat and to sail beyond the horizon meant falling off the edge of the earth. So even though they were drawn to and fascinated by the ocean, people feared it.

But as people lived their lives above the water, far beyond their view and in the ocean's deepest depths lived mysterious and magical sea creatures, half girl and half fish. These shy, gentle creatures were called mermaids and were much loved by the ocean. And when people finally overcame their fear and ventured out to sea, risking disaster and even death, it was the mermaids who came to their rescue. This imaginative legend explains the origin of sea glass, that treasured, collectible gift from the sea.

I learned a great deal from writing these four legends, and I believe they have helped me with my other writing as well. For me, this venture into an unfamiliar genre of writing the unwritten has helped me to stretch and grow as a writer and storyteller.  

Biography: Trinka Hakes Noble

Trinka Hakes Noble is the award-winning author of over thirty picture books including The Scarlet Stockings Spy (IRA Teachers’ Choice 2005), The Last Brother, The Legend of the Cape May Diamond, The Legend of Michigan and Apple Tree Christmas, which she wrote and illustrated. Other titles include The Orange Shoes (IRA Teachers’ Choice 2008), The Pennsylvania Reader, The New Jersey Reader, Little New Jersey, Little Pennsylvania and The People of Twelve Thousand Winters.   Ms. Noble also wrote the ever-popular Jimmy’s Boa series and Meanwhile Back at the Ranch, both featured on PBS’s Reading Rainbow. Her many awards include ALA Notable Children’s Book, Booklist Children’s Editors’ Choice, IRA-CBC Children’s Choice, Learning: The Year’s Ten Best, plus several state reading awards and Junior Literary Guild selections.

Her latest titles are The Legend of the Jersey Devil, and Lizzie and the Last Day of School (March 2015).  Forth coming in 2016 is The Legend of Sea Glass and in 2017 The Ragamuffin Parade, part of the Tales of Young Americans series by Sleeping Bear Press.   

Ms. Noble has studied children’s book writing and illustrating in New York City at Parsons School of Design, the New School University, Caldecott medalist Uri Shulevitz’s Greenwich Village Workshop, and at New York University. She is on the board of The New Jersey Center for the Book and a member of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature. In 2002 she was awarded Outstanding Woman in Arts and Letters in the state of New Jersey for her lifetime work in children’s books, along with letters of commendation from the US Senate, the US House of Representatives and the US Congress. Ms. Noble currently lives in northern New Jersey.

Learn more about Trinka Hakes Noble on her Website: www.trinkahakesnoble.com.
Follow Trinka on FB: Trinka Hakes Noble, Author-Illustrator Or click on the FB symbol on her website homepage. Thanks!

Trinka has generously donated a copy of her featured book, The Legend of Michigan, and her newest title just released on February 15th, The Legend of Sea Glass.

                       ****** HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY, Trinka!******

For a chance to win one of these two titles, simply leave a comment for us and your name will be entered. We appreciate your comments, dear readers! If you have a moment to spare, please tweet using the handy icon below the post. The winners, picked by random.org, will be announced in one week!

Thank you so much, Trinka, for sharing your writing from the inside out and for your generous spirit!

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3. Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky (2014)

Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky. Sandra Dallas. 2014. Sleeping Bear Press. 216 pages. [Source: Library]

Tomi Itano is the heroine of Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky. Her family is relocated during the war, the spring after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Her father was taken away--imprisoned--before the family was relocated. For Tomi who has always loved, loved, loved being American, this comes as a shock and disappointment. How could anyone not see how patriotic her family is? She adjusts as the whole family is forced to adjust. (The family, I believe, is relocated twice.) Readers meet Tomi, her older brother, her younger brother, and her mother. Readers get a glimpse of what life might have been like day-to-day for these families. The book is about how they all are effected personally and as a family. (It does change the family dynamics in many ways, especially once the father joins them again. For example, he comes home angry and bitter and stubborn. He does not like the fact that the experience has changed his wife, how she works now, how she teaches quilting, how she has a life outside the home.) I liked the book well enough. Part of me wishes, however, that the focus had been on the older brother Roy, or, equally on the older brother. I liked that he had a band. He ended up joining the army, and, his story would have been worth reading too, in my opinion.

Is Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky my *favorite* book on the subject of the Japanese internment (relocation) camps? Probably not. I really love, love, love, Kathryn Fitzmaurice's A Diamond in the Desert. But even though I wouldn't rate it "a" favorite or "the" favorite, doesn't mean it's not worth reading. While both books could appeal to the same reader, that wouldn't always be the case. For example, Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky features quilts.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Review of the Day: S is for Sea Glass by Richard Michelson

SforSeaGlass1 300x246 Review of the Day: S is for Sea Glass by Richard MichelsonS is for Sea Glass
By Richard Michelson
Illustrated by Doris Ettlinger
Sleeping Bear Press
ISBN: 978-1585368624
Ages 3-8
On shelves now

Every small publisher needs a staple. Something to keep them going through hard times. Years ago Sleeping Bear Press hit on the notion of writing books with the [letter] is for [word] format and they’ve kept up this abecedarian staple ever since. These are books that are fairly easy to dismiss, sight unseen. You assume you know what to expect. Never mind that they’ve a range of different subjects, authors, and illustrators. For the picture book snob, one glance at the title and you’re immediately dismissive. You think you know what to expect. And of course by “you” I really mean “me”. It was the fact that S is for Sea Glass was written by Richard Michelson that gave me pause. No fly-by-night poet he, I sat down with the book and was happy to find that my expectations weren’t just met but greatly exceeded. Chalk that up to my own personal prejudices then. In this book Michelson and artist Doris Ettlinger gracefully sit back and present to us a most thoughtful, meditative picture book on summer and sea and the relationship between the two. Absolutely lovely and original, this is a summer book of poetry worth remembering and revisiting year after year after year.

“A is for Angel” begins the book. Open it and here you’ll see a girl on her back in the sand. She swings her arms and legs up and down “Like I’m opening and closing a fairy-tale gate” creating sand angels behind her. Welcome to summer. To beaches and tides and those elements of the season a kid can’t wait to experience. Through poetry, Richard Michelson brings to life the little details that make a summer come alive. From doomed sand castles to morally superior seagulls to the child that dreams of someday living in a lighthouse so they’d never have to leave, Michelson places a good, firm finger on the pulse of the warmer months. Artist Doris Ettlinger accompanies him and brings to life not just the obvious moments of summertime but some of the softer more esoteric feelings conjured up by Michelson’s words. The result is a book that will almost smell to you of brine and surf, even in the coldest, frozen depths of the winter.

SforSeaGlass2 300x121 Review of the Day: S is for Sea Glass by Richard MichelsonWhat is the moment when a book flips that switch in your brain from “like” to “love”? It’s different for everyone. For some it might be a word or a phrase. For others a haunting image or illustration that conjures up a personal memory. In the case of S is for Sea Glass it was the poem “H is for Horizon”. It’s not out-and-out saying you need to contemplate the nature of infinity but it might well be suggesting it. After all, is there any point on the beach so wrought with possibility and promise? As Michelson writes, “If I travel the world or stay here on this beach, / The horizon will always be just beyond reach. / But it’s real as my dreams and it’s always nearby – / That magical line where the sea meets the sky.” Inculcating a kid in poetry that’s fun because the language is fun is as easy as the next Shel Silverstein poem. Inculcating a kid in poetry that’s fun because it expands your horizons (pun intended) and lets your mind wander free is much harder. Michelson manages it here.

The nice thing about the poems is that they aren’t the usual beach fare. Sure you’ll find the standard “O is for Ocean” or “W is for Wave” but Michelson has an impish quality to his selections. “E is for Empty Shells” isn’t just about the shells you find on the beach but also the fact that their innards have been consumed by YOU much of the time. “I is for Ice” isn’t about the cubes in a glass on a hot day but rather the strange and startling beauty of a beach in the blustery depths of winter. Some of the poems will take some practice to read aloud, so parents be ready. “B is for Boardwalk” for example eschews the regular ABAB rhyme scheme for something a little more visually exciting. “D is for Dog” in contrast contains both hard and soft rhymes. There are poems with AABB rhymes and even haikus like the one in “P is for Pail”. Michelson doesn’t distinguish or label the different types of poetry found here, so in terms of curricular ties that feels like a lost opportunity.

It’s always interesting to watch what a kid latches onto in a book like this. My 3-year-old has recently been on a beach books kick. We’d already exhausted Splash, Anna Hibiscus, Ladybug Girl at the Beach, Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach and many others when we came across S is for Sea Glass. My daughter enjoyed the poems, treating each one with equal interest, but the poem she kept going back to and appeared to be haunted by was “Q is for Quiet”. I suspect this may have a lot to do with the image in that book which also appears on the back cover. In it, a girl sleeps, half her hair dark, the other silver white in the moonlight. As she dreams a shoal of fish swim about her across the star strewn sky. Many’s the time we’ve read the book and just come to a dead stop at Q. No need to go further. She gets everything she needs out of this poem alone.

SforSeaGlass3 300x130 Review of the Day: S is for Sea Glass by Richard MichelsonCredit where credit is due to artist Doris Ettlinger then. I was aware of Ms. Ettlinger’s work thanks to books like The Orange Shoes (it tends to come up when patrons want picture books on class distinctions) and other books in the Sleeping Bear Press series. The sea appears to be particularly inspirational to Ms. Ettlinger, though. A strictly representational illustrator most of the time, here her watercolors find much to enjoy in the roaring pounding surf, the ice choked chill of a wintertime beach jaunt, the infinity of the deepest ocean, and that gray/brown gloomy beauty of a rained out beach. The “R is for Rain” sequence in particular is one of her loveliest. Credit too to “Y is for Year-Rounders” where seaside locals celebrate a town empty of tourists in the fall. In her version, Ettlinger conjures up a small town beach resort street at the end of the day, four family members and their dog just tiny black silhouettes against the blazing yellow of a setting sun.

When the weather warms and the leaves reappear on the trees, then it will be the time for families to pluck S is for Sea Glass from the topmost shelves of their bookcases for multiple reads by the seashore. We all do that, right? Keep our seasonal books apart from one another so that when the right time of year appears we’ve books ah-plenty to refer to? Well, if you haven’t before I recommend you start now with this one. Parents buy summery beach titles for their kids regardless of the quality. All the more reason the care and attention paid to “S is for Sea Glass” impresses. There are books a parent does not wish to read 100 times over to their offspring and there are books they wish they could read even more. This book falls into the latter category. A treat for eye and ear alike.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy given by author for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Misc: A discussion with Michelson about the book on MassLive.

Videos: A peek inside.

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5. Summertime Fun

Spot art from Bear and Bird.

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6. Blueberries!

A little Bear and Bird art to remind me that summer will be here. Someday.

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7. More Bear and Bird. Also, Cookies.

I feel like I've been hibernating for much of the winter. Why go out when it's icy cold and snowy? Especially when it's nice and cozy in the studio, and I can do what I love best– write and make art.

But, oh yeah– we DO have this thing about making cookies every time it snows. And it has snowed a LOT this winter! (I am capable of eating more cookies than a bear. Heh!)

Here is a wonderful and very thoughtful blogger's review of Bear and Bird. Enjoy!

Art from Bear and Bird, written by James Skofield, Sleeping Bear Press, March 2014.

(Below: Oatmeal-Butterscotch cookies. OH yeah!)

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8. Illustrator Saturday – Denise Ortakales

denisepictureThis week we have Denise Ortakales who is a gifted paper sculpture illustrator. Here is Denise:

I was always artistically inclined as a child and loved to cut and paste. After high school I went to college and earned an Associate degree in Graphic Design. I married soon after, working in a variety of jobs, everything BUT graphic design. Why? Who knows, but different crafts and hobbies kept my artistic fires burning for years.

After my two children were born, I took some evening courses to update my graphic design skills. One of my teachers helped me realize that I what I really wanted to be was an illustrator. I had been buying beautifully illustrated children’s picture books for years, for the children I thought. I wasn’t fooling any one but myself.

In 1997, I went back to school. I have my family to thank for their support (and babysitting) throughout the next two years. Within one month, I had my first assignment and I’ve been busy ever since. In 1999 I graduated from the Art Institute of Boston with a BFA in Illustration. Soon after I received a contract for my first children’s book to illustrate.

Fast forward to today. I am still doing a variety of projects for various adult and children’s magazines (Consumer Reports, Utne Reader, Ladybug, Spider) and children’s books. I’ve also taught at the Art Institute of Boston, Chester College, and McIntosh College.

Here is Denise explaining her process:


First I start with a sketch…

denise2-large sketch

Next I enlarge the sketch and trace it onto tracing paper.

denise3-colored papers

I assemble my papers. Sometimes I paint my papers ahead of time. Sometimes I use a toothbrush, sponge, airbrush or anything to get the different textures I like.


Each shape is transferred to the colored paper . . .


. . . then cut out. I use an X-acto knife and many blades.


For the clouds I decided to paint them after they were cut. That way I could place the sponge painting exactly where I wanted it.


I glue spacers behind each piece. The thickness depends on how high I want it to stick above the background and other pieces. Typically I use foam core but you could use any type of cardboard or foam meat trays. Here I used thick blocks of Styrofoam. I usually use a white glue to glue the piece to the background. Aleene’s Tacky glue works best. Here I’ve used a repositionable glue which is why it looks yellow.


Here I’ve painted the background with a variegated swirly pattern.


At this point I lay my tracing paper sketch over the background. It’s a guide for placement of the other pieces.


Gently I lift the tracing paper and place the piece underneath it, not letting it touch the background until its fairly close to where it belongs. I’m usually able to fine tune the placement once its laid down. I continue this way until its done.


Here’s the finished piece. After it’s dry, it can be photographed.

Below are the covers of Denise’s books.

Sex & Babies: First Facts cover

How did you end up going to the Art Institute of Boston?

I was looking for a small school with an illustration program. NH didn’t have one at the time. A substantial scholarship sealed the deal. I thought for sure traveling 100 miles each way, three times a week would get old fast. But it didn’t. I learned to love my commute—no children whining, I could listen to MY music, I could reflect on my day—I kind of miss it!

deniseCarrot Cover

What types of classes did you take that really helped you to develop as an illustrator?

Illustration I & II, Children’s Book Illustration, Advertising Illustration, Buses, Billboards & CDs, 3D Illustration, Promotional Illustration, Illustration Survey. I made the mistake of taking five studio courses one semester. I did approximately 25 illustrations within those 15 weeks. Brutal, but I now know how to meet a deadline.

deniseGarden Cover

What did you do after you graduated?

6 months later I had my first book contract. I also did some editorial illustration.

Planets: All Aboard Reading Cover

Did the Art Institute help connect you to companies that could give you work?

Not directly, but I got my first job from an alumnus who looked for other AIB grads.

The Legend of the Old Man of the Mountain

Did you start out right from the start doing paper sculpture?

Yes. Once I discovered my affinity for paper sculpture, then I decided to become an illustrator and go to school.

How Does Your Salad Grow?

What was the first thing you did that you got paid to do?

It was a cover and two-page spread for a computer magazine. I had only been in school for one month. Gulp! After the phone call, I ran to my teachers and said, “What do I do now?” I think they were skeptical that I could pull it off.


How long have you been illustrating?

That first job was in 1997.


How many children’s books have you illustrated?


denisegarden2What was the first book that you illustrated?

Planets by Jennifer Dussling, published by Grosset and Dunlap in 2000. I was mortified that they published 6 spreads upside down in that first edition (well, they were round planets!)


How did that book contract come your way?

Probably from sending samples or postcards.


I see you have published with Grosset and Dunlap. How did you connect with them?

Good Morning, Garden was published by Cooper Square Publishing. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

It was published by Northword Press which was bought out by Cooper Square. Working for Northword was great. Sadly their gone.

denise apples

How many children’s magazines have you done work for?

Ladybug, Click, Spider, ASK, Babybug, and Cobblestone.

Was The Legend of the Old Man of the Mountain (Myths, Legends, Fairy and Folktales) the first book you wrote?

It was the first one I wrote that sold. I have a few picture book dummies I’ve been working on.

Undersea 123

How did that come together with Sleeping Bear Press?

The Legend of the Old Man of the Mountain was based on a beloved rock formation here in New Hampshire. While at AIB, I took a Writing for Children course. One of the assignments was to rewrite a folk tale or legend and make it your own, so I rewrote one about the Old Man. When the rock formation collapsed in 2003 and made the news, I knew it was time to dust it off. I revised the story and sent it out immediately. Sleeping Bear called within a month.

Carrot in my Pocket was published by Moon Mountain Publishing. Could you tell us a little bit about them and how you got the job to illustrate?

They were a new company. Since several friends also worked on some of their early books, I suspect they looked at local illustrators through the New England chapter of SCBWI. Unfortunately, they have since closed.

I notice you have illustrated a couple of books with other illustrators. How did that work?


Do you ever touch up the photographs with Photoshop?

Yes. Mostly dust or lint that shows up on the photographs.


What types of things do you do to get your work seen by publishing professionals?

Attend conferences, sign up for critiques, portfolio displays, website, BLOG, mail postcards.


Do you have an agent? If so, who and how long have the represented you?  If not, would you like one?

No agent. I’d be open to open to one though.


Have you seen your style change since you first started illustrating?

Well . . . I’ve actually been considering a change . . . to 2D. I am a little envious of 2D artists that don’t have to worry about photographing their artwork, or storing bulky pieces. A stack of spreads for a picturebook can be 20 x 30 x 4 feet tall! I’ll never give up on 3D but I’ve been working on an acrylic style to give clients options. It’s also good to mix things up once in a while. Keeps things fresh.


Have you gotten any work through networking?

We’ll see. I just attended a conference and rubbed lots of elbows.

Life of the Bee

Do you do any art exhibits to help get noticed?

No but I probably should.


Are you open to doing illustrations for self-published picture book authors?

No. I prefer working with established publishers. They understand art and artists, and allow you the freedom you need to create the best book possible. The fact that they can pay a decent fee doesn’t hurt either.

Crane Bakes - Pages 20-21

Do you own a graphic tablet? If so, how do you use it?

I have Wacom Intuos 3 that is a few years old now. I only use it for sketching.

Going Bananas

How much time do you spend working on your art?

Not as much as I should because I have a day job, or rather, a morning job. If you’re asking how long it takes to create my art, a typical spread takes 2-4 days after the sketch has been approved by the publisher or client.

Watch Frog

Any books on the horizon?

Nothing currently in the publishing pipeline.

Klimt Kitty

What are your career goals?

I suppose the holy grail is a picture book that I’ve written AND illustrated. But really I would be happy with a few dozen more books, illustrated or written.

Carrot in My Pocket—pages 6-7

Why did you choose Paper Sculpture instead of drawing and painting like other illustrators?

I like to say that paper sculpture chose me instead of me choosing it. But in reality I remember seeing it as a child and wondering how they did that. When I was considering illustration as a career, I found a book on the paper sculpture and I knew that I had to try it. It was one of those Aha! moments that you shouldn’t ignore.

Good Morning, Garden—Pages 14-15

What kind of paper and glue do you use?

I use charcoal and pastel papers which are about the same thickness or a little thicker than construction paper. I prefer the papers that are colored in the pulp rather than printed color but will use anything if it’s the perfect color or texture. My favorite glue is Aleene’s Tacky Glue which is a thick white glue available at most craft stores. Really, any white glue will work, the key is to put it on VERY thinly.

Costa Rica

What do you use to make your images 3-dimensional?

I use scrap pieces of foam core and mat board glued behind each piece of paper. If you’re trying this at home, try several layers of corrugated cardboard or foam meat trays work well too.

Icarus 2

How did you learn to do Paper Sculpture? Did you have to go to school?

I really taught myself. I went to art school twice but I didn’t learn to do paper sculpture there. There are some books on the topic but the best way to learn is just to try it. Here are some of my favorite books:

Paper Sculpture : A Step-By-Step Guide by Kathleen Ziegler and Nick Greco.
More Paper Sculpture by Kathleen Ziegler and Nick Greco.


Couldn’t you get the same look on the computer?

Yes, you could get a very similar look. But I enjoy the creating of the actual piece, getting sticky fingers and paper cuts. I’ve always enjoyed a variety of crafts and creating art on the computer doesn’t hold the same fascination for me. Besides, I’m already on the computer too much surfing the internet, reading email and updating my websites.

Snow Day

What does someone need to consider if they want to try creating paper sculpture?

Transferring the 3-dimensional image to a 2-dimensional page is by far the biggest headache. Unless you are a professional photographer, you need to hire one to insure that your work will look it’s very best. At first, when you are just creating samples, it is a VERY expensive cost to cover. Be prepared for clients that have never used 3-dimensional artwork to balk at the photography expense. It’s your job to educate them.

The other problem is storing these darn things. Make friends with a framer who will give you good deals, otherwise they start to pile up and take over closets.

KOSS Snowflakes

Are there any schools that teach Paper Sculpture?

Not to my knowledge, and I think that’s part of the fun of it, that a million other people aren’t out there doing the same thing. So buy yourself a good book (see above) and dig in. It’s not that difficult. You probably did something similar as a kid.


How do you handle the photographing of your artwork?

Because my work is 3-dimensional and difficult to ship, I have it professionally photographed locally. The photographer and I work together to create depth using lighting and shadows. I can then supply clients with digital files for publishing purposes.

Night Owl

Do you need to go to art school to become an illustrator?

Art School is absolutely not necessary to become an illustrator. No art director has ever asked to see my degree. It will, however, bring you up to speed quicker and perhaps save you from learning your lessons the hard way. I am a firm believer in the merits of art school but it may not be for everyone. Some of the benefits that you may not have thought of are:

Learning to talk intelligently about your work which you’ll need to be able to do with an Art Director.

Learn to be objectively critical of your own work.

Form a circle of peers that you can call on for advice and comradery when you are out on your own.

If you can meet assignment deadlines in art school, you’ll have no problems meeting deadlines in real life.

A Tiny Drama

What are you working on now?

Um . . . a YA historical fiction novel? Yes, I’ve written it. 70,000 words, thank you very much. I have tried desperately to write picture books but could never get them below 2,000 words! So I embraced my wordyness and went in the other direction. It is such a rush finishing a first draft of a novel. I love it! It engages a completely different part of my brain. But that also makes is hard to illustrate and write novels at the same time.

Last summer I was appointed Illustration Coordinator for Northern New England SCBWI, so I am also busy working on conferences, Illustrator’s Day, and other activities for our illustrators.


Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

Yes, listen to your inner voice. Not the one that whispers how bad you are at drawing, or telling you you’re a poser. You’re probably already listening to that one. Stop! Listen closer to the one that tells you something in your image is not working, or needs fixing. Have you ever had someone critique your work, and you thought, “yeah, I kinda knew that?” It’s because you ignored that little voice (I speak from experience.) Listen and your work will improve.


Thank you Denise for sharing you wonderful artwork, process, journey, and expertise. Please make sure you continue to share you successes with us. We looking forward to following your career.

If you would like to visit Denise and see more of her work, you can find her at: www.sculptedpaper.com.

Taking a minute to leave Denise a comment is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Talk soon,


Filed under: authors and illustrators, Illustrator's Saturday, inspiration, Interview, picture books, Process, Uncategorized Tagged: Art Institute of Boston, Denise Ortakales, Grosset and Dunlap, Illustrator process, Paper Sculpture, Sleeping Bear Press

9 Comments on Illustrator Saturday – Denise Ortakales, last added: 5/16/2013
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9. Doris Ettlinger – Book Launch Invitation

Welcome to America, Champ!


If you visit this blog on a regular basis, you know that I am a big fan of Doris and her art.  I have every book she has illustrated and I haven’t held this one in my hand, yet, but I already know I have to add this new book to my collection. I hope Doris will be attending the New Jersey SCBWI Conference in June, so I can get it signed.  (Doris, are you attending?)

Doris says, “The story begins with a wedding in an English village during WWII. While illustrating Champ! my father’s army uniform hung in my studio for reference and inspiration.” Written by Catherine Stier, this book is part of the Tales of the World series published by Sleeping Bear Press.

Clinton Book Shop – 21 East Main St., Clinton, NJ – on Saturday April 6.
If you live nearby, please join us. Doris will be signing books from 11 am – 1 pm.



The luxurious Queen Mary ocean liner once sailed with diapers drying on clotheslines suspended over the ship’s emptied swimming pool. Why? This was part of an unusual cargo transported by luxury liners in 1946: tens of thousands of “soldier brides” and their children who immigrated at the end of WWII to reunite with the U.S. servicemen they had married overseas. This entry into the Tales of the World series shines a vivid light on war’s upheavals by focusing on fictional Thomas, a nine-year-old boy who faces leaving home, friends, grandparents, and his beloved cricket for the U.S., a new father, a new school, and the strange sport of baseball. A wedding cake made by friends’ saving up sugar and powdered eggs for weeks and a view from the train into London of the Blitz’s devastation bring home war’s everyday hardship and trauma. At the same time, Thomas is moving into a hopeful future. Heartfelt watercolor illustrations bring to life the anxiety and tentative joys of this unique historical situation. — Connie Fletcher

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Book Stores, Picture Book, success Tagged: Author, Catherine Stier, Clinton Book Shop, Doris Ettlinger, Sleeping Bear Press, Tales of the World, Welcome to America - Champ!

7 Comments on Doris Ettlinger – Book Launch Invitation, last added: 4/1/2013
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10. Kudos and Publishing Industry News

I am happy to announce that Katia Raina sold her Historical Young Adult novel titled, Castle of Concrete to namelos - pub. date TBA.  This was the first book she wrote and is her debut novel. I remember reading this manuscript at one of our New Jersey Writing Retreats.  It is set in the collapsing Soviet Union and is about a shy Jewish teen who falls for a boy whose political convictions make her question her own identity.  I am sure you will all join me with congratulating Katia.  Just goes to show if you don’t give up and you work hard, it will happen!  Wishing Katia more published books to come.

Harper Announces Paperback Mystery Line, Bourbon Street

Harper Collins will launch Bourbon Street Books to publish “all types of mysteries,” featuring paperback originals, reprints, backlist titles, and reissued classics. The line starts with fall with two paperback originals: British author Oliver Harris’s debut THE HOLLOW MAN and Lynda La Plante’s seventh book in the Anna Travis series, BLOOD LINE, both publishing on October 23. Also in October they will bring back into print Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey with Harriet Vane series and in winter they will reissue four Mary Kay Andrews novels — Happy Never After, Homemade Sin, To Live and Die in Dixie, Every Crooked Nanny ― all originally written and published under her real name, Kathy Hogan Trocheck.

As part of the Harper Paperbacks imprint (it has a logo and a list, but it’s not an imprint–just a “line”), Bourbon Street will draw resources from the Perennial staff and any Harper Collins editor will be able to acquire for the line. It falls under the direction of Jonathan Burnham and Cal Morgan.

Former Harper UK executive John Bond and former Harper Press senior editor Annabel Wright have formed Whitefox Publishing Services. They “deliver bespoke, cost-effective and flexible creative excellence to help publishers, agents and writers to solve every publishing challenge.”

Eric Winbolt has been promoted to the newly created role of digital creative director at Harper UK, reporting to group publisher Belinda Budge.

Alice Rahaeuser has joined Random House Children’s as production associate, reporting to Timothy Terhune. Most recently she worked at Neuwirth and Associates, managing book production for customers including Tor, The Experiment and Pegasus Books.

At Harlequin, Emily Rodmell has been promoted to editor at the Love Inspired imprint.

Annie Stone has joined Harlequin Teen as associate editor. Previously she was an assistant editor at Harper.

Laura Hopper has joined Hyperion as editorial director of franchise publishing, based on the West Coast, focusing on identifying, developing, and editing new print and digital projects within the Disney/ABC Television Group for Hyperion. Hopper was vp of the motion picture department for Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, and most recently she represented writer and director clients on various film and television projects.

Victoria Comella has joined HarperCollins 360 as publicity manager. Previously she was a publicist at Putnam.

Jeanette Shaw has been promoted to editor at Perigee Books/Prentice Hall Press.

Cengage’s Gale has sold Sleeping Bear Press to Minnesota-based Cherry Lake Publishing. Sleeping Bear and their staff of 10 will remain in their Ann Arbor, MI offices.

Graphic Arts Books has acquired the trade titles and publishing rights of Pruett Publishing Company in order to build and expand its imprint, WestWinds Press. Pruett, based in Boulder, CO, was founded in 1954 and , specializes in western regional publishing.

Filed under: publishers, Publishing Industry, success Tagged: Harlequin Teen, Harper Collins, Hyperion, Katia Raina, Namelos, Random House, Sleeping Bear Press

5 Comments on Kudos and Publishing Industry News, last added: 9/10/2012
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11. Review: The Voyage of the Sea Wolf by Eve Bunting


Title: Voyage of the Sea Wolf

Author:  Eve Bunting

Publisher:  Sleeping Bear Press

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

At the end of The Pirate Captain’s Daughter, Catherine and cabin boy William are marooned on Pox Island by the murderous crew of the pirate ship Reprisal. The young lovers see no hope of escape.

In Voyage of the Sea Wolf, the continuing saga of Catherine’s sea adventures, she and William are rescued from their island prison by the Sea Wolf, a pirate ship pursuing the Reprisal. Catherine worries that these new pirates will send her back to the island once they discover she’s a girl. But then, she meets the captain of the Sea Wolf. A woman! Surely, Catherine thinks, the bloodshed and brutality she and William experienced aboard the Reprisal can’t happen again, especially under the leadership of a female captain.

But just as things seem to be going their way, the captain takes a liking to William. Catherine is forbidden to see him.

If Catherine and William want to stay together, they must find a way to now escape from the Sea Wolf.


After enjoying The Pirate Captain’s Daughter so much, I was hyped to start reading The Voyage of the Sea Wolf.  Ultimately I was disappointed, as the characters all displayed a shocking lack of common sense, especially Catherine, who was so resourceful in the last book.  I guess watching your father murdered and then being dumped on a deserted island would be cause to completely lose your marbles, but I was really hoping for better from our plucky heroine.  Her near death experience left her incapable of making one commendable decision until the very end of the book.  The ending is another disappointment.  Without giving out too many spoilers, William and Catherine are left in pretty much the same situation as the prior book. Ugh!

When the young lovers are rescued, saved from the brink of death, they have new challenges to face.  They’ve been rescued by another pirate ship, this one captained by a fierce woman who imagines herself to be like her namesake,  Medb, the daughter of the High King of Ireland and a brutally calculating warrior who took what she wanted, when she wanted it.  Like her namesake, Medb is cold and cruel, and when she sees William, she wants him.  I found this storyline wearying.  She is significantly older than William, yet for Medb, it is lust at first sight.  She will have him, because he reminds her of her lost love.  She will possess him, for no other reason than this uncanny resemblance to a man she drove away years before.  This made no sense to me, regardless of how handsome William was.  He was but a boy to her, and the attraction creeped me out.  Considering that Medb is a bloodthirsty, possibly psychotic  pirate, this shouldn’t have turned me off like it did, but I couldn’t get beyond how gross is was to me.

To egg her on, William is disrespectful and defiant.  Medb, her heart lost to William, took all of her anger out on Catherine.  This is another plot point that drove me nuts.  Catherine knew that Medb was just looking for any excuse to get rid of her so she could have William all to herself, yet she purposefully  does stupid things to piss the pirate captain off.  Let’s stop for just one second and think about

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12. Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble - Star Twig Ornament Craft

If I were to write up a list of my very favorite Christmas picture books, Trinka Hakes Noble's Apple Tree Christmas would appear near the top. I found her picture book quite by accident at the library last week while searching for books with a "holiday" sticker, though I'm beginning to think that it was rather not by circumstance but by providence.

As each year passes I desire more and more for my family to escape the commercialism surrounding Christmas and focus on family, traditions and meaningful gifts including the true gift of Christmas, Jesus. While Apple Tree Christmas is not a religious book, it is a work of historical fiction that harkens back to simpler times, modest gifts from the heart and family togetherness.

Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble. Dial Books for Young Readers (October 1984); ISBN 0803701020; 32 pages
Book Source: Copy from our public library

Noble's story is set in the late 1800's. The Ansterburgs, a close-knit family, reside in one side of an old barn and live a simple, rural life. They cherish their beloved apple tree -- the tree provides a bountiful crop of apples every fall, and the family uses the apples to make applesauce, cider, apple butter and Christmas tree decorations. The tree also serves a special play space for the two Ansterburg kids, Katrina and Josie.

"Now that all the apples were picked, Katrina and Josie could climb the tree as much as they wanted. The snowy weather didn't stop them. Every day after school they would play in its branches.

On one side Papa had pulled a thick vine down low enough to make a swing for Josie.

The other side of the tree belonged to Katrina. One limb made the perfect drawing board."
Unfortunately, a blizzard comes in with a vengeance and a terrible ice storm knocks down the apple tree. The whole family feels awful about losing the tree. Katrina especially morns the loss of her favorite tree and her drawing perch. Christmas day arrives, but to Katrina "it just didn't feel like Christmas." However, her parents have a surprise in store. The apple tree, though in different form, continues to spread warmth and joy in a new way.

The lovely watercolor paintings in Noble's book provide children with a glimpse into a rural 1880s life, and this emotion-filled family story is similar to those found in Laura Ingalls Wilder's much-loved books. The story also provides a great example of how to craft thoughtful, handmade gifts with determined resourcefulness and shows how to make

8 Comments on Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble - Star Twig Ornament Craft, last added: 12/9/2011
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13. Giveaway & Review: Little Sports Series from Sleeping Bear Press

Why do some kids (and their favorite adults) love various sports and others not so much? Part of it has to do with exposure. Many kids grow up with an ingrained love of certain sports passed down generation after generation. Same goes when choosing favorite sports teams. My kids root for the Packers, the Brewers, and the Badgers, as does our entire extended family.

With exposure comes familiarity. If a kid is familiar with a sport, he or she will also likely feel more confident participating. I started playing t-ball when I was around six years old. I went on to enjoy athletics in school and played on many different team sports throughout my school career. While I don't participate in any organized sports now, I do enjoy watching and sharing my love of sports with my family.

Sleeping Bear Press has published a series of board books that focus on the basics of several different types of sports. The Little Sports Series books turn learning about the various sports into a guessing game for young kids. All the books feature the same design. Each book consists of ten rhyming riddles with picture teasers, one per page. After listening to a rhyming riddle and viewing the corresponding picture teaser, kids use the clues to guess each fundamental of the game.

Little Baseball (Little Sports) by Brad Herzog, illustrated by Doug Bowles. Sleeping Bear Press (February 2011); ISBN 9781585365470; board book

Sample riddle: "Hit the ball? / You surely could / with a mighty swing / of this piece of wood."

Baseball terms covered: Bat, Pitcher, Home Plate, Baseball, Umpire, Baseball Glove, Scoreboard, Hot Dog, Baseball Cap, Bench

Little Football (Little Sports) by Brad Herzog, illustrated by Doug Bowles. Sleeping Bear Press (February 2011); ISBN 9781585365463; board book

Sample riddle: "It's full of air /

13 Comments on Giveaway & Review: Little Sports Series from Sleeping Bear Press, last added: 10/31/2011
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14. Picture Book Review–Memoirs of a Goldfish by Devin Scillian and Tim Bowers



Title: Memoirs of a Goldfish

Author: Devin Scillian

Illustrator: Tim Bowers

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

ISBN: 978-1585365074


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Day One
I swam around my bowl.

Day Two
I swam around my bowl. Twice.

And so it goes in this tell-all tale from a goldfish.

With his bowl to himself and his simple routine, Goldfish loves his life until one day.

When assorted intruders including a hyperactive bubbler, a grime-eating snail, a pair of amorous guppies, and a really crabby crab invade his personal space and bowl, Goldfish is put out, to say the least. He wants none of it, preferring his former peace and quiet and solitude.

But time away from his new companions gives him a chance to rethink the pros and cons of a solitary life. And discover what he’s been missing.


Aw, this is a very cute book!  I loved it!  The art is fantastic, and the narrative had me laughing out loud.  Goldfish goes from being the sole occupant of his bowl, to feeling a bit squeezed in his home when one new addition after another is introduced into his space.  Some of his new neighbors aren’t very friendly, either!  Goldfish is stressed with the overcrowding, and all he wants is some privacy.  But during a moment of quiet reflection, he realizes that being all alone in his bowl isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

The story is light and humorous, and the art is a perfect fit.  Facial expressions make the book – poor Goldfish goes from content but bored to unhappy and even angry as his swimming area is reduced with every new arrival.  After he learns the importance of friends, and gets some bigger digs, he is one happy fish again.  The vivid illustrations pop off of the pages, and I can’t imagine anybody being able to resist Goldfish or his memoirs.  I was happy to see that both creators have an extensive backlist, which I will be exploring.  Soon!

Grade: A

Review copy obtained from my local library

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15. Review: The Pirate Captain’s Daughter by Eve Bunting


Title: The Pirate Captain’s Daughter

Author: Eve Bunting

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

ISBN: 978-1585365258


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

At age fifteen, Catherine’s life is about to change. Her mother has just died and Catherine can’t stand the thought of being sent to live with her aunt in Boston. She longs for a life of adventure.

After she discovers her father’s secret life as captain of the pirate ship Reprisal, her only thoughts are to join him on the high seas. Catherine imagines a life of sailing the blue waters of the Caribbean, the wind whipping at her back. She’s heard tales of bloodshed and brutality but her father’s ship would never be like that.

Catherine convinces her father to let her join him, disguised as a boy. But once the  Reprisal sets sail, she finds life aboard a pirate ship is not for the faint of heart. If her secret is uncovered, punishment will be swift and brutal.


Wow.  The Pirate Captain’s Daughter was a surprise.  This book tells it like it is – it doesn’t romanticize pirates, and there is no Jack Sparrow to be found anywhere in these pages.  A pirate’s life was not glamorous, and it certainly wasn’t a bunch of fun and games.  Pillaging other ships was dangerous work, and Catherine has to avoid cannon balls and bullets while her father’s crew was attacking another ship.  Cleanliness is a thing of the past, and the food – let’s just say the less said about the weevil infested bread, the better.  Don’t forget about the giant rats hiding below-decks, and the fleas and the cockroaches.  Yeah, this is not my idea of a fun time.

Catherine convinces her father to let her join his pirate crew after her mother dies.  Her father is reluctant, because the other pirates are superstitious and believe that women bring nothing but bad luck out at sea.  If her identity is discovered, both of their lives will be in danger.  He finally relents, and Catherine is introduced to a world far different than anything she had ever imagined.  There is no privacy, some of her crew-mates are less than friendly, and her father seems like a completely different person.  

A quick but very intense read, The Pirate Captain’s Daughter held me spellbound.  I couldn’t put it down, and stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it.  Though I thought Catherine was foolish for getting herself into such a precarious situation, I liked her and I liked her voice.  She tells it like it is, and she doesn’t hold much back.  There is conflict on the ship, with two pirates in particular, and they both bring disaster to her life.  They terrify her, but she knows that if she shows them how intimidated they make her feel they will bully her mercilessly the entire voyage. 

For a nitty-gritty taste of a pirate’s life, give this book a chance.  It’s a quick read with plenty of danger, action, and suspense.  There is even a tiny touch of romance thrown in for good measure.  I am hoping for a sequel, because I want to see what’s next for Catherine.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

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16. Arbor Day Square / Who Will Plant a Tree? - Book Review and stART

When we first moved into our home, we enjoyed the shade of a large white oak tree in our front yard. The double-trunked tree added much interest to our lot, but the same year we moved, a strong storm with high winds hit our neighborhood. One part of the tree twisted and fell over, crashing within a foot of our home. We heard the bang as we huddled in our basement. The tree stood in the city right-away and the officials, concerned with the health of the remaining trunk, removed the other half of the tree a few years after the first half fell. The next spring after the removal, an amazing thing happened. Little oak trees sprouted up all over our front yard! It was almost if the tree had sensed its destiny and decided to ensure its survival through propagation. We have been nurturing a few of the seedlings and hope they survive, growing into strong and healthy native oaks. While we'll likely never see the grown trees, we hope other generations will enjoy the shade.

The last Friday of April, many states celebrate Arbor Day. Nebraska holds claim to the first Arbor Day, held on April 10, 1872. J. Sterling Morton initiated the tree planting and, according to the Arbor Day Foundation website, more than one million trees were planted on that first Arbor Day. This year we are celebrating by reading a few newly published books about trees.

"Year after year they gather in the Square for another Arbor Day, a tree planting day, a holiday. Carrying shovels, rakes, and hoes, Katie and Papa help plant trees throughout the town." - Arbor Day Square by Kathryn O. Galbraith, illustrated by Cyd Moore

Arbor Day Square takes readers back to frontier days on the prairie. While the pioneers like living in their new town, they decide something essential is missing -- trees. They take up a collection and order a large number of trees to be shipped by train. When the trees arrive, a little girl named Katie plants small sapling trees in the new town square along with her father and other townsfolk and farmers. Katie is concerned about the small size of the trees but her father assures her they will grow. Together they plant one very special tree in the corner of the square in memory of Katie's mother. Year after year they continue to plant trees in the town, for future generations to enjoy. The author's note in the back explains the origins and history behind Arbor Day.

This is a wonderful and quaintly illustrated picture book to share with children, and it is especially useful for teaching about Arbor Day. Arbor Day Square really captures the essence of what Arbor Day is about, kids and adults planting trees together for future generations to enjoy. My daughter was already familiar with the pioneer days through reading Little House on the Prairie books, and she q

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17. Lily's Victory Garden by Helen L. Wilbur - Book Review & stART

Yesterday we took a break from technology and celebrated the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in our own way by visiting with my grandparents. While it is wonderful that Earth Day encourages everyone to stop and reflect on ways to live in a more earth conscious way, being a friend of the environment isn't just a one day deal. It is a way of life, day in and day out. My grandparents have practiced sustainable living their entire life. They grew up during the Great Depression and lived through WWII, helping out on the home front by keeping the family farms running. They continue to live frugally in their small home, waste very little, compost, reuse what they can and tend a large garden.

Gardening is once again becoming a popular pastime. The focus on earth friendly living has sparked an increased interest in home gardening as many try to reduce their carbon footprint and eat organically. Also, several community garden projects have taken off. The community gardens bring people together, help families save money and teach individuals how to become more self-sufficient. During WWII, the U.S. government promoted a similar campaign for self-sufficiency through gardening by asking individuals on the home front to plant "Victory Gardens" as a way to address food scarcity and supplement food rations. Sleeping Bear Press just recently published a new book in their Tales of Young Americans Series that helps kids learn about the Victory Gardens from the World War II time period.

In Lily's Victory Garden, a young girl named Lily learns about a new way to help out the war effort by growing vegetables. Even though she lives in an apartment, she dreams of having her own huge garden. She tries to apply for her own plot with the local Garden Club, but learns she is too young to qualify. Undeterred by this obstacle, she decides to ask the Bishop family for permission to garden on their expansive property. Mr. and Mrs. Bishop's son recently died fighting in the war, and despite his grief, Mr. Bishop agrees to allow Lily to start her garden as long as she doesn't disturb Mrs. Bishop. Ultimately, Lily learns that her Victory Garden isn't only about growing plants and supporting a cause -- friendships can also blossom and hearts can mend when people work together in a garden.

This book not only offers children a snap shot of a period in history, it also shows them the power of friendship and gives a wonderful example of how a children can help out in their communities. Before reading Lily's Victory Garden, I wasn't familiar with the Victory Gardens of WWII. According to the informational section in the back of the book, "More than 20 million Americans answered the call in 1941 through 1943, producing nearly 50% of all the vegetables, fruit, and herbs for civilian consumption in the United States." The author, Helen Wilbur was actually inspired by her own mother, Edith, who kept her own Victory Garden during WWII. Because they lived on farms, both my grandparents already assisted with large gardens before the war so they didn't plant Victory Gardens, though they do reme

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18. Books at Bedtime: Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers

Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene (Sleeping Bear Press, 2008) is the story of a young girl from seventeenth century Japan who travels with her family in a palanquin to the imperial palace of Edo.  Little Yuki’s father is a samurai, and as such, must make the ritual visit to the shogun to pay his respects.  Yuki, however, is not excited by the prospect of this long  journey that will require the ‘thousand carriers’ to bear them and all their gifts and goods to the capital.   Yuki’s teacher suggest she write haikus on her journey about the things she experiences.

Yuki’s first haiku is wistful about her departure, but eventually she goes on to observe exciting things that keep her attention away from her homesickness like the trail of the thousand carriers and the appearance of blossoms in the rain and fishermen at sea.  The illustrations by Yan Nascimbene illustrate in a very Hiroshige-esque way the many sights Yuki witnesses.  One of the other illustrated delights of the book are the colorful kimono Yuki wears.

I enjoyed reading this book to my daughter.  In Japan, we traveled to sites like the castles, riverbanks and bridges that are depicted in the story.  We once even took a tour of an old inn, especially used for samurai lords and their entourages.  Reading Yuki and the One Thousand Carriers reminded us of that time.  My daughter also mentioned not understanding the word ‘palanquin’ until I explained to her how she had one as part of her Girls’ Day doll set.   Her eyes lit up in recognition when I mentioned it.   Little Yuki, of course, being a young female of the nobility, rode in the palanquin with her mother.

This is a good picture book to share with a young girl as a bedtime read.

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19. Share a Story-Shape a Future: Our Winners ...

Actually all of us are winners, don't you think? I will do a wrap-up post here in a little bit, but I want to first say


to everyone who hosted, wrote about, tweeted about, talked about, drew logos for, or sponsored a piece of our Share a Story - Shape a Future blog tour. It was a wonderful week, and I hope that you found encouragement, inspiration, or reassurance in your own reading journey and in helping children with theirs.

Over at There's a Book  Danielle announced the winners of the Itty-Bitty-Bookworm curriculum giveaways. Congratulations to the Summit County Integrated Preschool in Newberry, which one years one and two of the curriculum. If you didn't know, Tara was so touched by each of the stories offered by the applicants that she expanded her giveaway and is giving East Elementary and Fleming Island Elementary a full year of the Bo Curriculum, also.

We had three other giveaways, to.

Reading is Fundamental (RIF) donated two full sets (50 books each) of its Multicultural Book Collection. The RIF staff selected finalists from posts created in response to our Writing about Reading prompt series. Our winners are ...

Tess Alfonsin, the Reading Countess, who is donating her book set to Morton Ranch Elementary. From Tess: "This school struggles to put books in the hands of their readers. It is a Title 1 school, and as such, money for books is at the low end of priorities for many families whose children attend the school. The dedicated staff and instructional leaders are inspirations to not only me, but to their student population. The school's phrase is: "a school worthy of your children." I think that says it all."

Cuyahoga Falls Public Library. From Eric: "This library has given my family so much over the past 4 years. The staff works so hard to provide a variety of programs for the residents of our city. I was recently talking to the head librarian and she is so proud of the efforts of her staff. It would be awesome for them to receive this donation!"

Because we had more books to giveaway than entries for the 2 Comments on Share a Story-Shape a Future: Our Winners ..., last added: 3/15/2010
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20. It's Never Too Late to Read: Bedtime Books Giveaway

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that  Sleeping Bear Press donated three (3!) copies each of its Bear family bedtime stories: Say Daddy! and Goodnight Baby Bear. Well, imagine my surprise when those books were followed up with five (5!) copies each of R is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet and S is for Story: A Writer's Alphabet.

We are celebrating Reading for the Next Generation at Jen Robinson's Book Page today, so it only seems fitting to have bedtime, rhyming and story books as our last giveaway. Three winners will receive a full set of the four picture books, which offer fiction and nonfiction content! The set is for you and your family to enjoy.
  • Say Daddy by Michael Shoulders (Ill. Teri Weidner)
  • Goodnight Baby Bear by Michael Shoulders (Ill. Teri Weidner)
  • R is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet by Judy Young (Ill Victor Huhasz)
  • S is for Story: A Writer's Alphabet by Esther Hershenhorn (Ill. Zachary Pullen)
Two other winners will receive a set of the R is for Rhyme and S is for Story to be donated to their local library.
    1 Comments on It's Never Too Late to Read: Bedtime Books Giveaway, last added: 3/12/2010
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    21. Riding to Washington Book Review and a Black History Month Book Giveaway

    In honor of Black History Month, this past Tuesday evening President and Mrs. Obama hosted In Performance at the White House, “A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement.” Several top musicians performed including Yolanda Adams, Jennifer Hudson and others. We plan on watching the performance on television with the kids and introduce them to music that played a part in the quest for freedom and equality. The performance airs nationwide on PBS stations beginning tonight, Thursday, February 11th. (Check local listings)

    In the Wall Street Journal's coverage of the concert the president is quoted as saying, “Dr. King himself once acknowledged that he didn’t see ‘the real meaning of the movement’ until he saw young people singing in the face of hostility." There are many picture books that introduce children to Martin Luther King, Jr., the African-American civil rights movement leader. His most famous speech, "I Have a Dream," given in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is also the subject of many books.

    15 Comments on Riding to Washington Book Review and a Black History Month Book Giveaway, last added: 2/12/2010
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    22. America's White Table by Margot Theis Raven - Book Review and Giveaway

    "Then in the salt on the little white table... I traced in the grains of their families' tears what each man and woman who serves America is to me, a ... Hero." - America's White Table by Margot Theis Raven, illustrated by Mike Benny

    Staff Sgt. Amy Krueger, a Wisconsin soldier, had an American flag tattooed to her back with the following words, "All gave some. Some gave all. Sacrifice." She was one of 13 people killed in the shooting at Fort Hood last week. Veterans Day is a day to honor all those servicemen and women who give so much in order to protect our freedom. They indeed sacrifice much and deserve our deepest appreciation and respect.

    America's White Table is a powerful and moving picture book to share with children and help them understand the sacrifice involved in serving our nation. The book introduces a military tradition of setting a white table [also called POW/MIA Missing Man Table or remembrance table] as a way to remember and symbolize service members, especially those held captive or missing in action. Author Margot Theis Raven describes this touching and poignant ceremony by telling a story from the viewpoint of a little girl named Katie. While Katie helps set a little white table on Veterans Day, her mother explains the importance and meaning behind the tradition and also tells them about their Uncle John's act of heroism as a POW in Vietnam. In the end, Katie, in her own special way, pays tribute to and honors her uncle and all those soldiers who have sacrificed so much for her freedom.

    "We use a small table, girls," she explained first, "to show one soldier's lonely battle against many. We cover it with a white cloth to honor a soldier's pure heart when he answers his country's call to duty.

    We place a lemon slice and grains of salt on a plate to show a captive soldier's bitter fate and the tears of families waiting for loved ones to return," she continued.

    We push an empty chair to the table for the missing soldiers who are not here..."

    According to the author's note in the back of the book, the tradition of setting a white table originated during the time of the Vietnam War by a group of airman called the Red River Valley Pilots Association. The symbols on the table may vary depending on the ceremony.

    Benny's softly hued illustrations convey the variety emotions brought on by this solemn tribute. The words of "My County 'Tis of Thee" grace the background of the pages, bringing even more meaning to the text. The story and images brought tears to my eyes, and my family will certainly make reading this story an annual tradition. America's White Table is perfect to share at home, especially during Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Many schools have also used Raven's book in their Veteran's Day commemorations, with students setting their own white tables. The story could also be incorporated in teacher's lesson plans and used to supplement units about the Vietnam War and prisoners of war.

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    23. Happy Earth Day! A book review and book giveaway

    Happy Earth Day Everyone! In honor of this important day I have a review to share with you and some book giveaways. A few years ago I came across the Sleeping Bear Press alphabet books, and since then I have been a real fan of these terrific books. Last month I reviewed S is for Save the Planet: A How-to-be-Green Alphabet. Here is my review:

    S is for Save the Planet: A How-to-be Green Alphabet
    Brad Herzog
    Illustrated by Linda Holt Ayriss
    Ages 6 to 9
    Sleeping Bear Press, 2009, 1-58536-428-2
    Today, perhaps more than ever before, people around the world are growing to appreciate that “every little bit helps” when it comes to protecting the environment. There are many things that children and their families can do to make this world a cleaner, greener, and healthier place to live.
    To help children to see that there are so many things that they can do Sleeping Bear Press put together this clever alphabet book. For each letter of the alphabet, the author has found an environmental topic to explore. Many of the topics include suggestions that show children how they can make green choices every day. For example, on the C page we see a child riding to school so that fuel is conserved and so that less pollution ends up in the air. The L page talks about eating food that is grown locally. Eating food that is fresher and that does not have to travel many miles to get to us is a good strategy.
    For every letter of the alphabet, the author gives his readers a poem to enjoy. Younger children will like listening to or reading the two rhyming stanzas that compliment the artwork. In addition to the poems, the author has also written a longer piece of descriptive text. This explores the highlighted topic in more detail. This format allows children of a variety of ages to appreciate this valuable title.
    This is just one in a series of informative alphabet books published by Sleeping Bear Press.

    The people at Sleeping Bear Press have very kindly donated five copies of this book to offer as giveaways. If you would like a copy drop me a line.

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