Wednesday, June 29, 2016

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado by Janice Dean


Get ready for a whirlwind of adventure with Freddy the Frogcaster when a famous storm chaser visits Lilypad!

In her fourth book, well-known meteorologist Janice Dean tackles some scary weather. Freddy the Frogcaster is faced with one of the most ferocious and devastating kinds of weather: the tornado.

Young readers will learn all about how big storms occur and produce some of nature's most destructive weather. Chock-full of storm science lessons in the back, children and adults alike will learn valuable life-saving information.

As Freddy reminds us, please be prepared and know what to do and where to go when the next bad storm comes your way!


Freddy helps his town get ready more nasty weather by working with the local weather station.  This time around it looks like some oncoming thunderstorms could produce a tornado or two. But this time, he might get to see the storm up close, when Tad the stormchaser shows up to take a look.  One of the things that I really like about the Freddy books is that not only is their a fun story, but lots of background information is included at the back for those young readers who want to know more.  These books also make a great introduction for talking about emergency weather preparations.  Cox's illustrations are fun and add greatly to the fun of this series.


Known as "Janice Dean the Weather Machine," Dean serves as the lead meteorologist on Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network.  Throughout her 12 years with Fox, she has covered many extreme weather events, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and the EF-5 tornado that struct Joplin, Missouri, in 2011.  Dean enjoys sharing her extensive scientific knowledge, and the inspiration that led to her passion for weather, with kids and adults alike.

INTERVIEW with Janice Dean

*What led you to start writing for children?

The idea for the Freddy the Frogcaster series came from friends and family members who were looking for recommendations for children’s weather books.  After doing some research, I felt like there was a need for more of them, so I jumped in!  I was so fortunate to find Russ Cox my illustrator who is one of the best in the business.  I could never have imagined how beautifully he captures Freddy’s world of weather.  It took me a long time from the idea of writing a book to actually getting one published.  I had to go through many drafts and several publishers to find the right fit who really believed in what I was doing.

I have 4 books out now, and I’ve just written the fifth draft for the next one coming out in 2017.  I’ve developed a Freddy the Frogcaster weather APP and there’s interest in making Freddy into an animation of some form.  I’m also proud and honored that Freddy the Frogcaster is an ambassador for NOAA’s Weather Ready Nation program.  

*What have you enjoyed the most about writing the Freddy books?

I think just tapping into the excitement children have about weather and the world around us.   Writing these books and reaching out to kids is truly the most important work I’ve ever done.   I figure if we can tap into some of that excitement, and teach them about why things happen and how to prepare in advance, that can help take the scare out of a potentially serious weather event.  When I was out on the tornado alley tour with the book (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri) I loved talking to children about their experiences with severe storms.  Over the years covering extreme weather events, I am always struck by how communities come together and help each other.   I truly believe we can help save lives by talking about what to do and how to prepare in advance.  And I have parents that tell me after they read the books, many times the children are the ones that take the initiative to get an emergency preparedness kit together which is wonderful.

*What do you like about meteorology? What exactly does your job entail?

I love that weather changes every single day.    I love the seasons, and all different types of weather.  It is the one thing that brings us all together.  We all experience weather.

My job really depends on the weather, and how big that story is. If there’s a major storm barreling up the East Coast, I’m on twice an hour with Fox and Fox Business Channel, along with doing reports for Fox News Radio.   A lot of people think I read a teleprompter. But it’s not scripted. I have a producer, Brandon, who helps with creating my maps but I do all my own research. But even while I’m working on research I have to be camera ready. One tornado warning in a big city, or if we get live flash flooding pictures into our news desk, they’ll call me to get on air ASAP.

*What is the writing process like for you?

I love writing.  I do it everyday.  I feel it’s very therapeutic .  In terms of the Freddy books,  I’m always thinking about new situations for Freddy and his friends at the Frog News Network to experience.  I just wrote the first draft to the next book.  I’ve been working on the story line in my head for a few weeks, and I just sat down and wrote the whole think in a few hours.  I usually have my husband look it over, and then I’ll edit it.  I also imagine some of the illustrations that would go on the page with my words.

*What is something about you that most people don't know?

Ha!  I have to say, viewers that have watched me on Fox News probably know a lot more than they thought they ever would.  I’ve been here for 13 years.  They’ve seen me get engaged, get married, have kids and go through triumphs and challenges on and off air.     I don’t really have any deep dark secrets…I'm not a very good cook – but I always say it’s not that I can’t cook – it’s that I choose not to.  Thankfully my husband makes up for my lack of culinary skills.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

READ & PLAY PUPPET THEATER: Princess Tales & Wolf Tales


The Read & Play Puppet Theater series invites you to read and play along with your favorite fairy tales.

What better way to encourage creativity than through theater and play? Read & Play Puppet Theater invites you to read and play along with your favorite fairy tales. The illustrated box doubles as a theater stage and travel case for puppets, backdrops, and a book of three fairy tales - Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. The stories are written to capture the attention of even the youngest children. Each tale includes a shortened script, giving children the opportunity to play the roles of director and actor. Just set up the pieces, get the puppets ready, and let the performance begin!


What a wonderful set!  Not only does this kit include a book with all three fairy tales (Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty), but the box turns into a small puppet theater.  In addition to the book and the box theater, the kit includes three double-sided backdrops, and the puppets to tell all three tales.  I also loved the fact that after each tale is told, instructions are given for which backdrops and puppets to use for each scene in telling the tale.  And of course children are bound to create their own stories using the different pieces which does indeed encourage creativity.  This is a fabulously interactive way to share stories with children.  I even had a blast playing with the materials.  While this doesn't really work for a library, it's a great addition to any home library.


Read & Play Puppet Theater allows you to not only read your favorite fairy tales, but also act them out on stage!

Read & Play Puppet Theater allows you to not only read your favorite fairy tales, but also act them out on stage. The box can be used as a stage and contains puppets, set pieces, and a book of three fairy tales: Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf and the Young Kids, and The Three Little Pigs. Each tale includes a shortened script and will capture the attention of event he youngest children. Just set up the pieces, get the puppets ready, and let the performance begin! The boxed set contains: a foldout puppet theatre, a book of three fairy tales with shortened scripts and prompts, 5 colorful set backdrops, and 9 double-sided paper puppets.


Wolf Tales is a fun collection of materials that allows young readers to become storytellers.  This kit includes not only a board book with the three stories in it (Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf and the Young Kids, and The Three Little Pigs), but a box that turns into a stage, and backdrops (3 double-sided) and puppets.  I played with this with my four-year-old nephew and he loved it.  Naturally he wasn't so concerned with sticking to the original stories, but he had a great time with the puppets, backdrops and sets. He even asked for it again the next time I saw him. So I would say the kit is definitely a winner.  In addition to being a whole lot of fun to play with (the book gives instructions for retelling the stories, scene by scene), it would be great in the classroom for helping students learn to tell stories.  A great product that I can heartily recommend. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

MMGM: What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein


Abandoned in the jungle of the Nepalese Borderlands, two-year-old Nandu is found living under the protective watch of a pack of wild dogs. From his mysterious beginnings, fate delivers him to the King's elephant stable, where he is raised by unlikely parents-the wise head of the stable, Subba-sahib, and Devi Kali, a fierce and affectionate female elephant.

When the king's government threatens to close the stable, Nandu, now twelve, searches for a way to save his family and community. A plan to reinvent the elephant stable could be the answer. But to succeed, they'll need a great tusker. Their future is in Nandu's hands as he sets out to find a bull elephant and bring him back to the Borderlands.

In simple poetic prose, author Eric Dinerstein brings to life Nepal's breathtaking jungle wildlife and rural culture, as seen through the eyes of a young outcast, struggling to find his place in the world.


I was intrigued by the premise of this book.  And because I have a great love of children's books set in other places, I knew I needed to read this one.  And I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Dinerstein has done a fabulous job of creating not only the setting, but the characters and plot.  The setting is so beautifully described that I would have guessed that the author had actually been there even if I hadn't already known that he had.  The author's love for the land of Nepal shines through.  I loved reading about the jungle and the elephant stable that Nandu loves so much.  Like Mowgli in Kipling's The Jungle Book, Nandu was found by the local dhole (wild dogs) and protected until the stable master found and adopted him.  So, while Nandu was welcomed by the Subba-sahib and treated as his son, he looks different than those around him, and he feels like he doesn't fully belong.  The feeling grows stronger when he goes off to boarding school.  Not only do the Hindu boys not welcome him, but he is homesick for his father, home, and mother elephant, Devi  Kali.  But he does develop a connection to one of his teachers, Father Audry, who teaches Nandu about being a naturalist.  But when the elephant stable is to be closed, Nandu must work with his adopted father and his new friends to save it before he loses what he prizes most.

Dinerstein has done a fabulous job of creating a book that opened my eyes to what life is like on the other side of the world.  Nandu is a character that I immediately felt kinship to as he struggles to find his destiny.  And while the fate of the elephant stable provides the major plot point, there are several other subplots that all come together beautifully by the end.  I also greatly appreciated the respect that Dinerstein pays to the different religions in this book and the care he took to get it right, going so far as to have some of his Nepalese acquaintances check the content for accuracy.  I enjoyed reading about Dinerstein's own adventures in Nepal in the author's note and acknowledgements.  In addition to the characterization, plotting, and setting, the writing is fabulous as well.  Dinerstein has created a great book that I heartily recommend to those who want to catch a glimpse of a different way of life.  One of my favorite books of the year.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

SERIES THURSDAY: The Great Mouse Detective series by Eve Titus


Named one of “13 Detective Book Series You Obsessed over as a Kid” by and the inspiration for a hit Disney film, the masterful Great Mouse Detective series is now available to a whole new generation of readers!

Basil—the famous sleuth of mousedom—lives in the cellar of Sherlock Holmes’s house. A devoted admirer of the great detective, he has learned his craft by listening at the feet of Holmes himself. But will it be enough to help Basil solve his most baffling mystery yet?

The Mystery of the Missing Twins is one of the strangest cases in Basil’s career. With only a few crumbs of clues with which to find answers, how is he ever going to figure out where Angela and Agatha are being kept—and, of course, who mouse-napped them! Will Basil’s mouse sleuthing skills be up to the task of finding the twins before it’s too late?


As a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, I'm always intrigued when I hear about a new take on the most famous fictional detective of all time. And having seen the Disney animated version of The Great Mouse Detective, I was curious to see what this series was like.  And I quite enjoyed this first book in the series where the reader is first introduced to Basil, the mouse who lives in the cellar of Sherlock Holmes house on Baker Street, number 221B.  In this story, Basil and his associate Dr. Dawson set off to find a pair of mouse twins who have been kidnapped.  The story is simple enough to be easy to follow for those just being introduced to mysteries with enough details to demonstrate some of the skills for which Sherlock Holmes and by extension the deductive skills he is so famous for.  The story is short enough to be a quick read.  Dawson is a fun narrator whose own abilities help highlight his famous companion.  Basil of Baker Street makes for a enjoyable introduction to the mystery genre and a prelude to the more famous mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.


Named one of “13 Detective Book Series You Obsessed over as a Kid” by and the inspiration for a hit Disney film, the masterful Great Mouse Detective series is now available to a whole new generation of readers!

Basil the mouse detective sets off on a journey to solve one of the greatest mysteries of mousedom: Do miniature cats exist? Leading mouse scientists aren’t certain, but they believe that answers can be found in India.

As Basil sets sail for the Far East—and the lost island of Kataarh—danger stalks him at every turn. Will Basil successfully unravel the mystery of these mini-cats and their mouse king?


While I enjoyed this book and it's premise, sort of a children's version of Sherlock Holmes, I have some concerns about some of the content.  Maybe because it was published in the 1950s the content is seen as acceptable, but to me it rings a bit like the attitudes so prevalent during the colonial era, when powerful outside countries moved into smaller, supposedly less civilized countries and saved the so-called 'heathens'. This book unfortunately and probably inadvertently rings of some of that sort of attitude.  Part of the story focuses on archaeology which is fine in and of itself, but when Basil and his cohorts arrive at the island of Kataarh and start digging they discover the remains of a mouse city and somehow dig most of it out in a matter of days/weeks? But do they give the artifacts to the miniature cats to whom they belong? Nope, they load them up on their ship to take with them, despite the fact that Basil can speak the native language.  And the others, including Dawson take it on themselves to create a map of the island, naming features as they see fit because the cats seem 'dull-witted'and 'primitive' and immediately think Basil should be their king.

And the coincidences were a little hard for me to accept. For example, at one point in the story Basil and Dawson end up in the dungeon of a palace, which just happens to have an escape tunnel attached to it that leads them to their friend the Maharajah that they are there to rescue.  And Basil on board the ship Rosetta after leaving Bengistan somehow doesn't recognize his arch-enemy Ratigan in disguise?

In addition, everyone on the island ends up having to flee because of the erupting volcano, and Basil takes upon himself the job of 'king' to persuade the cats to leave with them, and then back in London, the mice decide how and where the cats are to live and the cats are simply 'content' with it all.  While the intentions of the book are good, I can't say that I can recommend this particular volume in the series.  This book contains too much that is reminiscent of colonial imperialism.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Books about great dads!


A funny father-son romp for fans of Don’t Push the Button! and Mustache Baby.

A young boy longs for a beard like Dad’s, and when he discovers a hair-growth product called Beard in a Box, he must have it! He rips open the package, plants the beard seeds, and waits . . .

And waits . . .

And waits.

Hilarious art and a feel-good ending make this the perfect Father’s Day gift for bearded and clean-shaven readers alike!


In this delightfully funny look at what makes dad so awesome, a young boy figures it's his father's beard that makes him so cool.  So he searches for a way to become awesome like his dad.  When he sees a commercial on TV for a beard in a box, he is ecstatic and orders one right away (after several misadventures, one involving shaving the cat).  But things don't work quite the way he expected and his frustration boils over, until awesome dad steps in to save the day.  Not only a fun look at a sweet relationship between father and son, but also a commentary on how misleading commercials can sometimes be.  A laugh-out-loud book that is bound to be a favorite of young readers.

Note: This book would also be great for a teacher/librarian to use in introducing the topic of media literacy/advertising.


Show Dad how much you care with this warm story of parent appreciation from the creators of The Perfect Hug and The Biggest Kiss, which School Library Journal called “a wonderful cuddle-up-and-read choice.”

When the clock ticks around to a bright new day, I know today will be filled with fun things to do with dad.

From his stubbly kisses to his sky-high piggyback rides to his bedtime stories, no one is quite like dad. This charming picture book is a celebration of fathers everywhere!


I Love Dad is a homage to the sweet relationship between this father dinosaur and his little one. Highlighting all the ways that this father provides for his son, it's clear that these two love each other.  The bright, colorful illustrations add the perfect touch to this adorable book about the fun a father and son can have together.  This book is a truly worthy tribute to those father's who sacrifice so much to spend time with their children.  Fathers like mine.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Malala Yousafzai & Lonnie Johnson picture book biographies

Malala Yousafzai's Story
by Rebecca Langston-George, illustrated by Janna Bock
Capstone Young Readers, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-62370-426-1
Picture Book Nonfiction
Ages 8-12
Source: purchased
All opinions expressed are solely my own.


She grew up in a world where women were supposed to be quiet. But Malala Yousafzai refused to be silent. She defied the Taliban's rules, spoke out for education for every girl, and was almost killed for her beliefs. This powerful true story of how one brave girl named Malala changed the world proves that one person really can make a difference.


Malala Yousafzai is this kind of role model that the world needs more of, the kind that leaves a most definite mark on the world.  In a culture that tried to keep her down and silent, Malala chose not to be silent.  But her courage nearly cost her her life when the Taliban attempted to kill her.  After recovering, Malala continued her fight for girl's right to an education.  Her efforts led to her being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But sadly, her fight is far from over.  Not only does this book give a glimpse into the life of an amazing young woman in an appropriate way for older elementary students (the book is too long and might be frightening for younger students), but it clearly demonstrates a culture very different than most American children are familiar with.  The book also shows the challenges inherent in trying to modify/change a culture's deep-seeded beliefs.  But thanks to her own courage, and the support of her family and friends, Malala has already made a difference.  The illustrations are touching and add a gorgeous side note to a powerful story.  Those big brown eyes of Malala's are compelling to say the least.


A cool idea with a big splash   You know the Super Soaker. It's one of top twenty toys of all time. And it was invented entirely by accident. Trying to create a new cooling system for rockets, impressive inventor Lonnie Johnson instead created the mechanics for the iconic toy.   A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson's life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults.


With a growing focus in education on encouraging students to develop interest in the sciences, books like this are so important.   And to have the book address briefly the importance of persistence, creativity, and hard work add greatly to the power of the book.  I also loved the fact that Lonnie's family  supported him despite the lack of room for a 'workshop' for him.  The let him collect 'junk' and rocket kits and other things that he used to invent.  Johnson's accomplishments at a science fair with a hand built robot and with NASA are highlighted as well.  The part of the book I found most interesting though was the section on when he quit his job to focus on his inventing only to have all his plans fall through.  Many people might quit under such discouraging circumstances.  By this time, Johnson had created a prototype of what would become the Super Soaker, but couldn't find a toy company willing to take a chance on in.  But he kept looking until he found one willing to take the chance.  And the rest is history.  But despite making his fortune, the man continues to create to this day.  An inspiring example for young and old alike, Lonnie Johnson proves the value of persistence and using one's skills to make a difference.  Tate's illustrations are unsurprisingly gorgeous and complement the text beautifully.  My favorite picture though shows Johnson demonstrating his water gun was a delightful 'WHOOSH'!  An inspiring picture biography that belongs in most collections.

Friday, June 17, 2016

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: The Scrivener's Bones by Brandon Sanderson


In this second Alcatraz adventure, Alcatraz finds himself on a mission to meet Grandpa Smedry when he gets swept up by a flying glass dragon filled with his unusual and mouthy Smedry cohorts.

Their mission? A dangerous, library-filled one, of course!

They are on their way to the ancient and mysterious Library of Alexandria (which some silly people think was long ago destroyed!) where they must find Grandpa Smedry, look for clues leading to Alcatraz's potentially undead dead father, and battle the creepy, dangerous soul-sucking curators who await them.


In this second volume of the five book series, Alcatraz and his cohorts are once again in trouble.  Hardly surprising, the Smedry's seem to attract trouble like flies to honey.  This time, Alcatraz gets picked up in an absolutely awesome flying glass dragon after he gets attacked at the airport.  He meets his uncle Kaz and realizes that his Grandpa Smedry has once again set off on an impossibly dangerous mission, this time to the hidden Library of Alexandria.  Unfortunately, this library is maintained by creepy, red-eyed, soul-taking curators, among whom his father seems to have vanished years ago.  Being a Smedry (which tends to mean lacking in common sense), Alcatraz and his companions set off to find his grandfather and possibly his father.  But a dangerous scrivener's bones hunter (part human, part Alivened machine) is on their trail and may catch them before they complete their mission.

Full of Alcatraz's rather unorthodox descriptions and side notes, The Scrivener's Bones, takes the reader on a rather amusing, yet surprisingly instructive tour of a world that no one would suspect exists.  Using his own rather unusual talent for breaking things, along with his uncle Kaz's talent for getting lost, along with the assistance of Bastille, a former Knight of Crystallia, and her mother, a current Knight of Crystallia, along with his cousin, Australia, Alcatraz sets off to find his grandfather.  I can safely say that this book is not only full of excitement and plenty of difficulties and challenges for the characters, but plenty of sarcasm trickery from the narrator, which can be somewhat baffling, but never boring.  This is a great series for young and old alike who enjoy a rather unusual tale, told by a rather unusual narrator, who keeps saying things that hint at what is to come.  The foreshadowing is rather brilliantly done, with references to people and events that kept me turning the pages.  And I'm definitely going to have to read the rest of the books in the series to fully understand everything.  A clever tactic on the part of the author (Sanderson or Alcatraz?).

Thursday, June 16, 2016

BLOG TOUR w/ GIVEAWAY: Beyond the Rising Tide by Sarah Beard


Kai was seventeen when he died saving Avery’s life, though he didn’t really have much to live for. After spending half his life being shipped around to different families, the only place he felt at home was on a street corner with his guitar. Now, it’s been six months since his death. Six months adapting to a new kind of existence where instead of making music, he uses his new healing powers to save lives. But in his off hours, he watches helplessly as Avery’s life is unraveled by his death.

Avery doesn’t know that it was Kai who saved her life in the ocean, because her rescuer’s body was never found. Wracked with guilt, the ocean she once loved is now her tormentor. As her surfboards collect dust in the garage, the weight of her grief destroys her relationships and stretches her to a breaking point.

Always willing to break rules for those he loves, Kai steals a ring that temporarily gives his body substance. With limited time, he does all he can to restore her life to the way it was before his tragic death, but Kai’s half-baked plans rarely turn out the way he thinks they will.

Praise for the Book:

“Vividly imagined, this novel is the perfect mix of modern love story and literary fiction. One brimming with genuine emotion that had me re-reading passages simply because they were too beautifully written to experience just once.” --Julie N. Ford, author of With No Regrets

“This book is not only an engaging and satisfying supernatural romance, but also a beautiful story about life, death, and the gray places in between.” --E.B. Wheeler, author of The Haunting of Springett Hall

"This is one of those stories that stays with you long after the closing scene. It was beautifully imagined and vividly written and I absolutely loved it!” --Teresa Richards, author of Emerald Bound


Sarah Beard is the author of YA novels Porcelain Keys and Beyond the Rising Tide. She earned a degree in communications from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MFA in writing from VCFA. When she's not writing, she referees wrestling matches between her three boys and listens to audiobooks while folding self-replicating piles of laundry. She is a breast cancer survivor, a baker of sweets, a seeker of good love stories, a composer of melancholy music, and a traveler who wishes her travel budget was much bigger. She lives with her husband and children in the shadow of the beautiful Wasatch Mountains.

Social Media/Websites:
Twitter: @authorsarahb



After reading Sarah Beard's previous book, Porcelain Keys, I suspected that this book would be just as good.  And I was not disappointed.  In fact, I was rather intrigued by the premise, a young man breaking 'afterlife' rules to help the young woman whose life he died to save.  Beard does such an amazing job of creating characters and situations that are chock full of emotional intensity.  I fell in love with Kai and Avery immediately.  Kai, who finds himself helping to heal people in the afterlife, but unable to help Avery as she struggles with his death, not even knowing who he was.  And Avery who has an enormous case of survivor's guilt that keeps her away from the ocean she loves because of the horrible memories she now associates with it.  And unfortunately for Avery, her friends are rather clueless.  Her friend Paige, tells her to just go back to being herself.  And her ex-boyfriend broke up with her because he couldn't deal with it anymore, but is willing to get back with her when she's 'fixed'.  Talk about fair weather friends.  So Kai decides to break some rules to try to help her come to terms with his death.  Falling in love wasn't really in the plans, but happens nonetheless.  Beard has created a fascinating, beautifully told tale of love and healing, and finding one's way through the heartbreaks of life with the help of those who really love you, through the bad times, and not just the good times.  A tender romance with a fascinating premise that I can wholeheartedly recommend for those who enjoy a great story.



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EXCERPT 1 (Avery's point-of-view):

My mind retraces the past few months, all the conversations Tyler and I have had, the words we’ve said and haven’t said, all stemming from one incident, one day. And then I’m thrown back to that afternoon, back into the ocean and the cold, roiling waves. I feel them around me, tossing me this way and that, pounding over my head like a stampede of wild horses. I feel the salt stinging my eyes and see the abyss below me in the moment I dove under to find the boy. I saw him there, motionless and suspended in the deep, just out of reach.
            Just out of reach.
            My face feels hot, and I can’t breathe. But I keep my panic cloaked beneath my skin. A violent earthquake rattles my insides, but I tense my muscles, holding it in, restraining it, refusing to let it show. I dig my nails into my arm, anchoring them there, anchoring me into stillness, and I focus all my attention on the present physical pain in my arm.
            Kai’s hand reaches for mine. His touch stills my insides, draws out the tremors as though they’re water and he’s a sponge.

EXCERPT 2: (Kai’s point of view)

I’m not sure if I have a heart, but something in my ribcage swells at the sight of Avery. Her hair shimmers like spun gold in the sunlight, falling over her shoulder and hiding her face. She’s sitting on a sheet of black rock, head bent, and the flowery skirt of her sundress ripples in the breeze.
If she turns around, she’ll see me. If I speak, she’ll hear my voice. I open my mouth to do that, but it’s parched, hit with an unexpected drought of words.
I’ve been walking for hours, and I still don’t have a solid plan. I have an end goal, but it’s like looking up at the peak of a mountain when I’m still in the valley. I want Avery to find happiness again, but I have no idea how to get her there.
Luckily, improvising is what I’m best at. Writing songs on the fly, talking myself out of trouble, and ad-libbing life in general. When I had a life, I was dropped into a new environment every few months with no time for planning. Survival depended on my ability to improvise, because it was the only way to keep my head above water.
As I inch toward Avery, I turn phrases over in my mind, trying to choose the best way to introduce myself. I hate to think how she’ll react if she recognizes me, but I doubt she will. I saw her run across my picture on a missing persons report once, and she scanned right past it. Besides, I saw my reflection in the shop window this morning, and although my face is the same, I don’t exactly look like myself with my new Jack Frost hair.
Over her shoulder, I see she’s holding a fishing net in her lap. Her fingers are working with it like she’s trying to free something. A crab. Her hands tremble as she tries to unravel it, so she’s not really getting anywhere.
Without thinking, I fish the pocketknife from my shorts, unfold the blade, and lower it in front of her in offering. She flinches and whips around to look at me, eyes wide.
So much for improvising.
I nod toward the tangled mess in her lap. “For the crab.” Yes. Those are the words I’ve waited six months to speak to her. If Charles comes in the next moment to take back his ring, at least I can live in eternal peace knowing I was able to utter those three words.
Her brows pinch together, then she shakes her head and turns back to the crab. “I’m trying to free him, not eat him.”
For a few breaths, I’m speechless. In awe that she just talked to me. She can see me. And hear me. If I reach out and touch her shoulder, she’ll feel my fingertips on her skin. I don’t, of course. I’ve scared her enough for one day.
“I know,” I say, trying to keep my voice soft and non-threatening. I crouch down and offer the knife again, this time handle first. “It’s for the net.”
Her hands go still, and then she smiles sheepishly. “Oh. Right.”
She takes the knife and goes to work, biting her lower lip as she concentrates on plucking away strands of netting. I wonder why she’s going to so much trouble to free a half-dead crab, but I say nothing because for some reason it seems really important to her.
The knife makes her task easier, but when the crab is free, she frowns at the water, swallowing hard. Seeing the reluctance in her face, I stand and open my hand. “Here. I’ll throw it in.”
She deposits the crab in my palm, and I carry the newly liberated creature to where the waves are pitching against the rock. I toss it back home, and it disappears beneath the marbled surface.
When I turn back, Avery is standing with her arms twined around her waist. As I stroll toward her, the wind kicks up and sends golden strands of hair flying around her. With the way she’s standing there on the rocks, she looks like some kind of mythical siren. I feel just as scared as if she were one, just as bewitched. The haunting song in her eyes lures me in until I’m standing right in front of her. She gazes up at me a long moment, searching my face as if she’s hunting for familiarity. For a minute I worry she recognizes me. But then she folds the knife and hands it back.

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: The Great White Shark Scientist by Sy Montgomery


Dr. Greg Skomal, biologist and head of the Massachusetts Shark Research Program, is investigating a controversial possibility: Might Cape Cod’s waters serve as a breeding ground for the great white shark, the largest and most feared predatory fish on Earth?  Sy Montgomery and Keith Ellenbogen report on this thrilling turning point in marine research and travel to Guadeloupe, Mexico, to get up close and personal with the sharks. This daring expedition into the realm of great whites shows readers that in order to save the planet and its creatures, we must embrace our humanity and face our greatest fears.


One of the things that I always enjoy about the Scientists in the Field series is a glimpse into the work that these scientists do to help the rest of us to better understand the world we live in.  And a topic as popular as sharks will make this book popular as well. Montgomery and Ellenbogen join Dr. Greg Skomal as he works to gather as much information as he can about the white sharks that visit Cape Cod's waters each year.  The gorgeous photographs join beautifully with the readable text to give the reader a look at the tremendous amount of work involved in just trying to find sharks and keep up with them long enough to film them and/or tag them when possible.  The information being gathered though gives the scientists and by extension, the reader, a glimpse into some of the habits of these amazing animals.  This is a series that I highly recommend for young readers who love animals and may want to study or work with them one day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: The power of stories and storytelling


Surf's up! Not yet, Dude! Books are boring! Not this one! Bro and Dude have very different ideas about how to spend the day at the beach. But as Bro continues to gasp and cheer as he reads his book (Moby Dick), Dude can't help but get curious. Before you can shout 'Surf's up!' both frogs are sharing the same adventure, that is, until they get to the beach. Newbery Medal Winner, Kwame Alexander, and Daniel Miyares have joined forces to give little listeners a wild ride.


Alexander has created a fun homage to the power of the written word.  As a young frog seeks his brother's company at the beach, he gets pulled into the book his brother is reading.  His imagination gets the better of him and they crash, but the youngster's enthusiasm can be felt throughout the book and the older brother gives in at the end wanting to know the whole story of Moby Dick.  The language of this book makes it a great read-a-loud and an enthusiastic reinforcement of the power of a good book. Miyares illustrations are fun and bright and very appealing.  The illustrations pull both the older brother frog and the reader right into the story of the big white whale.  A fun story to share with young readers.


“One day. . . I went to school. I came home. The end,” says our storyteller—a girl with a busy imagination and a thirst for adventure. The art tells a fuller tale of calamity on the way to school and an unpredictably happy ending. The genius of this picture book is that each illustration captures multiple, unexpected, and funny storylines as the narrator tells her shorter-than-ever stories, ending with “One day. . . I wanted to write a book.” An original and incredibly deep combination of text and art invites readers to make up stories of their own.


One of the things I love the most about picture books is the way they blend the words and the pictures.  But sometimes it's hard to help children see how each contributes to the enjoyment of the story.  One Day, The End demonstrates so delightfully, just how powerful the pictures are in a picture book.  Each of the 'short' stories in this book is literally just two short sentences, which would seem rather dull and boring if it wasn't for the delightfully amusing illustrations.  I had a fun time reading this book with first graders and talking about how the illustrations took the basic information in the text and truly turned it into a story.  This book is not only a fun read-a-loud but a great way to encourage children to write and illustrate their own stories.

Monday, June 13, 2016

NONFICTION MONDAY: Anything But Ordinary Addie/Ada's Violin


Be astonished and dazzled by the true story of Adelaide Herrmann, the Queen of Magic!

Some girls are perfectly happy never doing anything out of the ordinary. But Addie was anything but ordinary. She longed for thrills and excitement! At a time when a young lady appearing onstage was considered most unusual, Addie defied convention and became a dancer. And when she married the world-famous magician Herrmann the Great, she knew she had to be part of his show. Addie wanted to shock and dazzle! She would do anything to draw the crowds, even agree to be shot out of a cannon. But when Herrmann the Great died, Addie couldn’t disappoint her loyal fans — the show had to go on. What could she do? She would perform the show all by herself! From the creators of Mesmerized, this rollicking romp tells the true story of one fearless magician’s rise to glory, featuring exquisitely lavish illustrations by Iacopo Bruno. Extensive back matter, including instructions for performing one of Addie’s original tricks, makes this a dazzling celebration of one of the first female conjurers in show business.


I've developed a great admiration for authors and illustrators who take on biographies in the picture book format.  Decisions about what to include and what not to in a format that does not encourage long-windedness.  Creating an accurate picture of of a real person is such a short amount of space makes for a real balancing act.  But this one, by Mara Rockliff and Iacopo Bruno was absolutely delightful.  Not only is the woman an interesting one but the presentation makes for a fun read-a-loud and I adored the gorgeous illustrations.

Addie proved herself an adventurous woman from the time she was a young child.  She wanted to "astonish, shock, and dazzle." And she spent her life doing exactly that.  Even before she married a world famous magician, Addie loved to put on a show whether it was dancing, riding a bike or anything else she could come up with.  She loved doing magic with her husband, except for that dangerous bullet-catching trick. But when her husband unexpectedly dies, Addie steps forward to help the troupe survive.  But who would come see a woman magician?  Unless that woman magician were to perform the bullet-catching trick.

Bruno's gorgeous illustrations are as luminous as the woman he depicts.  Her fiery nature shows in her red hair and lively face.  The secondary characters are outlined in white creating the feeling of being on a stage. The bright colors and exciting word choices make this book a great example of a picture book biography that shines.


From award-winning author Susan Hood and illustrator Sally Wern Comport comes the extraordinary true tale of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, an orchestra made up of children playing instruments built from recycled trash.

Ada Ríos grew up in Cateura, a small town in Paraguay built on a landfill. She dreamed of playing the violin, but with little money for anything but the bare essentials, it was never an option...until a music teacher named Favio Chávez arrived. He wanted to give the children of Cateura something special, so he made them instruments out of materials found in the trash. It was a crazy idea, but one that would leave Ada—and her town—forever changed. Now, the Recycled Orchestra plays venues around the world, spreading their message of hope and innovation.


I love stories like that told in Ada's Violin. While the story begins in a shantytown built around a garbage dump and seems like it will be depressing, that quickly changes when Favio Chavez arrives to teach the local children to play musical instruments.  The problem is that none of these children's families can afford a music instrument, especially since they are all struggling just to survive.  So, what do they do?  They create instruments out of garbage.  The ingenuity expressed in the creation of these instruments is truly inspiring. And Comport's beautiful illustrations show this wonderfully.  The amount of work the children and their teacher undergo to develop their musical ability in the midst of hardship and heat and the smell of garbage. Amazingly enough, this seemingly simple idea changed not only their town, but the world beyond.  I love stories like this one because they remind me that no matter how ugly the world can get, there is still hope. A beautifully told, truly inspiring true story about the impact that one person or small group of people can have on the world around them.

Thursday, June 9, 2016



Enter the contest for your chance to win a trip to the San Diego Zoo to celebrate their 100th anniversary!

The San Diego Zoo has an extra special year of fun planned and we want YOU to be a part of it! With displays on Centennial Plaza, new film experiences, new shows and more, this year will be one of the most exciting at the San Diego Zoo!

Contest Open: May 16 – July 8

To Enter: Adults 18+ can fill out the form on the contest page to enter.

For EXTRA entries: Download the free coloring pages on the contest page and share a photo of your child’s drawing on their coloring page with the hashtag #ColorAndExplore on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook! You can also upload the drawing to the photo gallery on the contest page.

*Social media posts must be public for them to be counted as an extra entry.

1 GRAND PRIZE WINNER will receive:
  • Family vacation to San Diego!
    • 4-days/3-nights for a family of 4! Includes flights and hotel accommodations and 4 tickets to the San Diego Zoo
  • National Geographic Little Kids Book of Animals and National Geographic Little Kids Book of Dinosaurs personalized books

2 RUNNER-UP WINNERS will receive:
  • National Geographic Little Kids Book of Animals and National Geographic Little Kids Book of Dinosaurs personalized books
  • 1-year subscriptions to National Geographic Kids magazine and National Geographic magazine


National Geographic Little Kids Book of Animals

Explore the rain forest, the ocean, and the icecaps with this personalized guide for your animal-lover! National Geographic Little Kids Book of Animals is a colorful introduction to some of the world’s coolest creatures. From blue morpho butterflies and red-eyed tree frogs to tigers and polar bears, this personalized guide is sure to indulge your junior explorer.

Each page features beautiful photos of the animal alongside quick facts about its size, diet, and habitat. Questions like “How fast can you run?” are woven throughout to keep your little one’s interest. 

Personalize this book with your child’s name, photo, and an encouraging dedication message to create a memorable keepsake. For a special surprise, check out the final pages, where your child can mark their favorite animal characteristics, then draw themselves as their favorite animal!


PUT ME IN THE STORY kindly provided a personalized copy of the Little Kids Book of Animals for me to review.  Like every National Geographic book I've ever read, the photographs are amazingly gorgeous. Each animal is briefly described in a couple of paragraphs as well as important facts listed in sidebars.  As in all Put Me in the Story books, there is a place at the front of the book for a dedication and photograph for the child.  In addition, the child's name is included in the title (see above).  I also loved the inclusion of specific animal related questions on each spread that include the child's name.  This adds a great interactive element to the book.  And at the end, there is a space for the child to draw a picture of him/herself as an animal including characteristics from the animals in the book.  The map at the end shows where each animal can be found in the world.  A wonderful, engaging book for young animal lovers, the book is worth every penny.

National Geographic Little Kids Book of Dinosaurs

Take a trip back in time with this personalized guide through the prehistoric world! With full-color illustrations, quick facts, and pronunciation guides, National Geographic Little Kids Book of Dinosaurs has plenty of information to captivate your paleontologist-in-training.

This kid-friendly reference book includes dinosaurs of all kinds: big and small, scaled and feathered, meat-eating and plant-eating. Your kiddo will learn fun facts about each dinosaur and answer questions like, “How many plates do you see on the Stegosaurus?” 

Personalized with your child’s name, photo, and special dedication message, National Geographic Little Kids Book of Dinosaurs will become a favorite read. On the final pages, your child can mark the dinosaur qualities they like best, then draw themselves as a dinosaur!


I was delighted to review a copy of Put Me in the Story's newest personalized book, National Geographic Little Kids Book of Dinosaurs.  Young readers who are fascinated by dinosaurs are bound to love this book. The book includes places for the child's name as well as a dedication from the giver.  This information is included on both the cover and the first spread of the book (where a photograph is included).  The rest of the book shares information about a variety of different kinds of dinosaurs including: Stegosaurus, Heterodontosaurus, Oviraptor, and Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Each page includes a brief description of the animal, a gorgeous illustration, and two sidebars with extra information.  I loved the inclusion of a pronunciation guide for each dinosaur.  Each spread also has a question directed to the child about the information in the book (such as, Can you think of another animal that is a fierce hunter, Tyler?).  A space at the end gives the child a space to create a picture of him/herself as a dinosaur using characteristics described in the book. A fun book that is bound to be a favorite for many years to come.


About National Geographic Kids
National Geographic Kids inspires young adventurers to explore the world through award-winning magazines, books, apps, games, toys, videos, events and a website, and is the only kids brand with a world-class scientific organization at its core. National Geographic Kids magazine (10 issues per year) and National Geographic Little Kids magazine (six issues per year) are photo-driven publications available on newsstands or by subscription in print and on tablets. National Geographic Kids Books is the leading nonfiction publisher for kids with more than 100 titles each year, including The New York Times best-seller “Kids Almanac.”

About San Diego Zoo Global
Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

About Put Me In The Story
Put Me In The Story, the #1 personalized books site in the U.S., creates personalized versions of bestselling books and books where you star alongside your favorite characters. Our gifts capture moments that matter and memories that last. With each touching picture and special dedication message, our readers have become our most dynamic characters.

Put Me In The Story inspires a love for reading, across all ages and generations, through the experience of shared, personalized stories.

Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Story Time kit by Kristin Aagard