Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Familiars (well the authors) visit San Rafael School

On Monday, September 26th, 150 third to fifth graders at my school had a special treat. Andrew Jacobson and Adam Jay Epstein, co-authors of The Familiars series, came to visit.  They shared some fun videos they had created to promote their books and told about how they created the series.

The Familiars 2 is now available for sale.
There was some impromptu acting going on.

Some questions and answers.

And even books being signed and many happy fans.

Thank you Andrew and Adam for sharing with my students and getting them all excited about reading. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Skyping with Author Laurel Snyder

To celebrate the release of her new book Bigger Than a Bread Box, author Laurel Snyder is skyping with classes all across the United States.  Today, she skyped with Ms. Debbie's 4th graders at my school.  The students in the class are currently reading the book and were very excited to get to virtually meet Laurel.  She shared with students about how she started writing and what brought her to write for middle grade students.  And she also read a little from her new book.  Students reported later that they loved hearing her read from the book.
While we were visiting with Laurel, we even got to meet her cat and dog who both had cameo appearances as themselves.

Students had an opportunity to ask lots of questions which Laurel so graciously and patiently answered.  If I had let them, I am certain that they would have asked her questions for hours.  They were very impressed that it took 50 submissions before her first book was finally published.  I reminded them that the next time their teacher asked them to revise a report they should think about all the revision Laurel had to make.

Bigger Than a Bread Box, Vroman's Bookstore

So from the students in Ms. Debbie's 4th grade class in Pasadena, CA - we would like to thank Laurel Snyder for visiting with us and we wish her a very happy book birthday!!!!  If you live in Pasadena, stop by Vroman's and pick up your own copy of Bigger Than a Bread Box.  If you are not in the area, look for Laurel Snyder's new book at your school or public library.  And remember, when possible - shop at your local independent bookstore.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Super Tuesday - Book Releases to Celebrate

In the world of publishing, books are commonly released on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Every week there are some great books released into the world.  However, today seems to be Super Tuesday Release Day.  Here is what I'll be picking up this week.  What will you be taking home with you?

Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson - Balzer & Bray

Flint Heart by Katherine Paterson, John Paterson; Illustrated by John Rocco - Candlewick

Bigger Than A Bread Box by Laurel Snyder - Random House

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu - Walden Pond Press

Babymouse #15: A Very Babymouse Christmas by Jennifer L. Holm, Matt Holm - Random House

Squish #2: Brave New Pond by Jennifer L. Holm, Matt Holm - Random House

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen - Candlewick

Death of Yorik Mortwell by Stephen Messer, Illustrated by Gris Grimly - Random House

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness - Candlewick (US Release)


Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Lani Taylor - Little Brown

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, Simon and Schuster

Saturday, September 24, 2011

LIESL & PO Booktrailer

I just recently received a press release for LIESL & PO by Lauren Oliver.  I don't know about you but this is one of the fall titles that I have been excitedly anticipating.  It will be released on October 4, 2011.  If you like what you see, please consider checking it out at your school or public library.  And remember, whenever possible, please support your local independent bookstores.

Harper Collins is excited to announce that LIESL & PO, the middle-grade debut by New York Times and international bestselling author Lauren Oliver will be available everywhere on Tuesday October 4th. Lauren Oliver captivated readers with her groundbreaking first novel, BEFORE I FALL and her followup DELIRIUM was made an instant bestseller by teens the world over. Filled with intricate and beautiful illustrations from rising star Kei Acedera, LIESL & PO is an unforgettable Dickensian tale of ghosts and magic, friendship and homecoming.

Synopsis: Liesl’s cruel stepmother, Augusta, keeps her locked in her attic bedroom. Lonely and grieving for her recently deceased father, Liesl is surprised one evening by Po, a ghost who suddenly materializes in her room. The two become fast friends, and it is because of Po that Liesl is able to escape from her attic room and embark on a journey to bury her father’s ashes beside those of her mother. However, because of a mix-up at the undertaker’s, the box that Liesl carries does not contain her father’s ashes. Instead, it contains the most powerful magic in the world. And the alchemist who created that magic desperately wants it back.

What people are saying about LIESL & PO:

"With nods to Dahl, Dickens, the Grimms, and even Burnett, the author has made something truly original." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Classic fairy tale elements weave throughout this spirited, old-fashioned adventure. [Liesl & Po] testifies to the power of friendship and generosity to conquer greed and depression." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"With her third book, Lauren Oliver (Before I Fall; Delirium) creates another highly original world, this one for middle-grade readers." Shelf Awareness

Check out the official LIESL & PO animated trailer, featuring the original song "A Train with Wings"at YouTube: 



Friday, September 23, 2011

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop

"Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment." - American Library Association  

To kick off, Banned Books Week, I am participating in a Giveaway Hop.  Thanks to Jen from I Read Banned Books and Kathy from I am a Reader. Not A Writer for hosting a Banned Books Giveaway Hop. The hop runs from Saturday, September 24th to Saturday, October 1st.

Though I recognize that in the United States, we do not usually have banned books, many amazing books are challenged or restricted on a regular basis.  What also shocks me is that books are frequently challenged by individuals or groups based on what they have heard about the book.  Some committees have even elected to remove a book from a school's librarian when they haven't even read the book in question.  In situations like that, I am always glad that there are librarians, teachers, parents and individuals who speak out on behalf of books.  Often times, loudly, and very passionately. 

Recently, I was in the situation where I was giving a group of people some examples of books that would fit in certain categories.  As I held up a book (Coraline, The Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman), a woman in the audience exclaimed that the book I was holding was not for children.  I was a bit taken a back and tried to move on by stating that maybe it wasn't for very young children but that it was considered a Middle Grade novel.  The woman in the audience became more adamant that this was not a book for children and automatically assumed that I would agree with her.  While this exchange was happening, I could see several of the children's librarians in the room nearly jump out of their seats to defend this book. I was so proud of those librarians.

I bring this real life situation up because it is one example where an individual, if given the power, would have sought to take away from others their right to determine what book is appropriate for themselves or for their children.  This is really the key for me with Banned Books Week.  No one individual or group of individuals should take away the rights of many to have access to a book or a story just because they feel it has questionable material or a controversial topic.

I do; however, support parents' rights to decide which books their child is ready for or not ready for.  I would hope that even with more than one child at home that the criteria would reflect the individual personality differences of each child (one child at 9 might be ready for a book and another child at 9 is not ready).  Additionally, I would hope that parents respect their child as a reader and talk with their child about different books and decisions to read a book or not read a book at a particular time. 

Finally here are two resources for how you may learn more about Banned Books Week and even see how many challenged books you have already read. 
American Library Association

Banned Books Week

To kick off Banned Books Week, you have a chance to enter to win a Banned or Challenged book of your choice from Amazon - $15 or less. 

Rules for the Contest:

1. Please do not enter any personal information in the comments section (including your email, website, etc.), you must complete the Entry Form to officially enter the contest.
2.  The Contest runs from 12:00 a.m. Pacific Time on September 24, 2011 to 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on October 1st.
3.  You do not need to be a follower of this blog to enter, but if you like what you see, feel free to subscribe.
4.  You must be 13 or older to participate in this contest.
5.  Comments are not required but always welcome.
6.  If you are selected as a winner, I will notify you by e-mail.  If you do not respond within 48 hours, I will select a new winner.
7.  International participants are welcome to enter the contest.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Happy Book Birthday to Pseudonymous Bosch

For fans of Pseudonymous Bosch's Secret Series, the wait for the final book is over.  Happy Book Birthday to the real Pseudonymous Bosch - whoever he is.  Look for YOU HAVE TO STOP THIS at your local independent bookstore, or local library.

For those in the Pasadena, CA area come by Vroman's today (9/20) at 4 p.m. to celebrate.

And enjoy this video released last year - Pseudonymous Bosch Revealed?


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ebook App Review: Cinderella

Title: Cinderella
App Developer: Nosy Crow,
Version: 1.0.2 - September 14, 2011
Price: $5.99
Age Level: 3 years old and up
Available on iTunes
Compatible with iPhone, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.2 or later.
Features Read and Play * Read to Me * Read by Myself

I have been keeping an eye out for recommended book apps for children and when I saw this come up on a few lists, I had to check it out.  This is a common version of the Cinderella story with no unexpected twists and turns. 

I haven't had a chance to test this one out with a child, but I do look forward to sharing it with a few small friends.

Children have 3 options with this ebook app.

Read to Me-
The read feature provides both a visual and auditory reading experience.  The words are read aloud by the children narrators.  The pages turn automatically.  Children can use the blue arrow to move the story along or pull on a tab which allows them to select a scene.

Read and Play -
By clicking on this choice, the narrators read the story, but children have several places where they may click or interact with the pages.  A blue dot shows up on the center of a character and when you touch this the character has dialogue that s/he speaks.

Read by Myself -
When selecting this option, readers are given one of three choices - short, medium, or long - to indicate how long the text should appear.  However, even in short mode, it was present for a significant amount of time.  Additionally, the little blue dot that appears when a character has words to say is active in this mode. 

What I liked about this ebook app:
Illustrations - The illustrations were fun, bright, and entertaining.

Narrators - The story is narrated by children narrators which I really enjoyed.

Ease of use - Overall, the app was easy to use and figure out.

What I wish I could change about the ebook app:
Highlight text - For younger children having highlighted text is a benefit.  It provides them with a visual as to when the section has been read and can help them from turning the pages too quickly.

Delay at the beginning - There is a long delay from when you click on the app to when the book's main page appears.  During that time, the screen is completely black.  At first, I wasn't sure if it was frozen and I turned it off and then back on.  Since then I realized that I just need to be patient and it will eventually start.

Lack of consistent blue dots - Throughout the story a small blue dot will appear on a character.  If the reader touches it, the character will say a line of dialogue.  However, I found that often there is more dialogue than the blue dots would indicate.  If the blue dot is to be there, then it needs to be consistently present for every dialogue selection.  Also, touching the blue dot could make a character spin around or say a line of dialogue which seemed odd. 

Hints - Though there is a "help" button at the beginning, which gives tips for how to interact with the pages, there wasn't a hint button that directed readers to things that they might have missed.

Would I recommend it:
After playing with this app, I would recommend it.  Children who are already fans of Cinderella will love it.  

Here is the trailer for Cinderella:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ebook Review: Pat the Bunny

Title: Pat the Bunny
Author: Dorothy Kunhardt
App Developer: Random House Digital, Inc.
Version: 1.1 - April 21, 2011
Price: $3.99
Age Level: Toddler, Pre-kindergarten
Available on iTunes
Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.
Features Read * Paint
Settings: Music - On/Off Button; Narrator - On/Off Button; Record My Voice

When I first heard that Pat The Bunny had an ebook app, I wasn't sure how to react.  Hasn't everyone played with the actual book sometime as a toddler?  How can you take that sensory experience and turn it into an ebook app?  Would it lose something in the move to digital formatting? 

Though the original tactile features of touch are lost with this version, I will give credit to the app developers for maintaining the essence of the story and creating alternate pages that really work. Also, if you remember the original "mirror" in the book, you will love the ebook version.  Definitely one of my favorite pages in this version.

I haven't had a chance to test this one out with a toddler, but I do look forward to sharing it with a few small friends.  I will say that my 10 year old niece discovered this app during a recent car ride, and though she is not the targeted audience for the book, I noticed that she appeared to be enjoying the app. 

Children have 2 options with this ebook app.

Read - The read feature provides both a visual and auditory reading experience.  The words are highlighted as the narrator reads the text.  The written text prompts the reader to interact with the page. 

Paint - By clicking on the paint palette, the reader is taken to a black-line drawing of each page of the story and by just rubbing a figure across the picture, the color appears.  The reader is praised for "coloring the page". 

What I liked about this ebook app:
Simiplicity - Just the right amount of interactive items on each page.

Highlighted Words - Words go from a brown color to aqua color.

Ease of use - There was never a question as to what to do on each page or even how to turn the page.

Pacing and Prompts - As the child moves to to the next page, the line is read with a prompt as to what to do.  If the child does nothing, there is a verbal prompt as to what to do.  The page does not turn automatically allowing for children to go at their own pace.

Settings Buttons - There is an on/off switch for music and the narrator.  An additional feature allows you to record the story in your own voice.

What I wish I could change about the ebook app:
I really don't have much that I would want to change on this one.  The only possible suggestion - and I'm not sure I am convinced that I would want this - is having a paint palette to use for the paint section.  Given the age range of child for this ebook, the current format may just be right.

Would I recommend it:
Most definitely. This one makes my current top 5 list for Toddlers and Preschoolers.

Here is the trailer for Pat the Bunny:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Interview with Adam Jay Epstein & Andrew Jacobson, authors of The Familiars

In celebration of the release of The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown, authors Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson answer a few of questions by big fan, Zoe - age 9. 

What gave you the idea for writing The Familiars 1 & 2? 

Back in 2008, when we hatched the idea for The Familiars, it all started with Adam asking Andrew, “Do you know what a familiar is?” Andrew said he didn’t. Adam explained, “A familiar is the animal companion to a witch or wizard, like Hedwig in ‘Harry Potter.’” Andrew immediately took to the idea. We loved that familiars were always in the background, doing very little. What if we told a story where the familiars were front and center? And they were the ones going on the adventure. And Adam’s simple question quickly led to the creation of Vastia and all the magical animals inhabiting it. Our three main characters are an orphan alley cat named Aldwyn who is mistaken for being a young boy wizard’s familiar; Skylar, a know-it-all blue jay with the ability to cast magical illusions; and Gilbert, a bumbling tree frog who can see visions of the past, present, and future in puddles of water… sometimes. We didn’t have to look very far for our inspiration for Aldwyn. In fact, he was right in Adam’s backyard. There was a stray black-and-white alley cat named Ben, missing a chunk of his left ear, who visited there every day. The rest seemed to just flow effortlessly. The Familiars and The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown are targeted at middle readers, ages 8-12, but we really believe it will appeal to anyone who loves animals, magic, or fantasy. They take inspiration from “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” and hopefully put their own unique spin on the classic hero’s journey.

How do you guys communicate (when writing together)?

One of the unique things about The Familiars and its sequel is that we co-authored them. The two of us literally sat in the same room for months and months (we pretty much put in banker’s hours, 9-5 Monday through Friday) writing every word, sentence, and paragraph together. Andrew is the typist (because he’s frankly a much faster typer), while Adam sits beside him, or across from him in a nice, comfy chair, or sometimes paces around. After our initial conversation about the idea, we loosely outlined the first few chapters and just dove in. Then after writing about 45 pages, we meticulously plotted out the rest of the story. Of course we discovered many details along the way, but we had a basic sense of the major plot points and where the books would end. Neither one of us were English majors in college or had any book writing experience previously, but we’ve both read a lot, watched a lot, and lived inside our imaginations since we were little kids.

Where do you come up with all the names and mythical creatures?

Honestly we just make them up! We chose Aldwyn because it had an English flavor and we always imagined him as a little bit of an Artful Dodger/Oliver Twist type character. Skylar took inspiration from the prefix Sky which is of course what birds do. And Gilbert has the word Gil in his name, which frogs have! This is one of the most fun parts of our job. Especially all the fantastical creatures and places.

Did you always want to be authors?

Adam actually thought he might become a video game developer. He absolutely loves video games. Andrew's dad was a lawyer so he thought he'd be good at that. But he was also writing stories as early as in the second grade.

Which are your favorite characters?

Adam would say Gilbert because he has such a fun voice to write. Something unexpected always seems to come out of his mouth, even for us while writing it. Andrew loves Grimslade and his villainous ways!

How did you meet each other?

Adam grew up in Great Neck, New York, while Andrew spent his childhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but we actually met in a parking garage out in Los Angeles.  True story.

For more information about The Familiars Books 1 & 2, check out their website:

You can follow them on twitter: @the_familiars

Or on facebook:

Here is a video that the authors made to prepare you for book 2:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Review (Well sort of) - Zombie in Love

Author:  Kelly DiPucchio
Illustrator: Scott Campbell
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster (August 23, 2011)
Audience: Ages 4 to 8 (Adults will love this too)
Source: Personal Copy (though I did see an Advance Copy)

Description from GoodReads:
Mortimer is looking for love. And he’s looking everywhere! He’s worked out at the gym (if only his arm wouldn’t keep falling off). He’s tried ballroom dancing lessons (but the ladies found him to be a bit stiff). He’s even been on How’s a guy supposed to find a ghoul? When it seems all hope has died, could the girl of Mortimer’s dreams be just one horrifying shriek away?

I have a confession to make.  I think I have a penchant for macabre romance.  Not since Boris and Bella by Carolyn Crimi & Gris Grimly, though, have I become so enamored with a picture book love story.  When I saw an Advance Copy of this book, I knew I had to have it.    

"Mortimer was lonely."  What's a zombie looking for a date to Cupid's Ball suppose to do?  DiPucchio tells us just how to go about finding your perfect undead soulmate.

I have read a variety of picture books by Kelly DiPucchio but I think this one might be my favorite of hers from this year.  Zombie in Love is a good example of what happens when you take a great concept, add in some witty text including a nod to the Rupert Holmes' Pina Colada song, and top it all off with the perfect illustrations.  DiPucchio and Campbell have a hit with this book. Not only will it be a great read aloud to children at Halloween or well even Valentine's Day, but this will also appeal to adults (which is always helpful when you might be reading it a dozen times).

Recently, I had a chance to visit Nucleus Gallery in Alhambra, California for the Book Release and Art Exhibit of Zombie in Love.  Nucleus hosted a special party complete with a Zombie Prom Theme.  Scott Campbell, Illustrator, chatted with the audience (many whom were dressed up in Zombie Prom outfits), drew pictures of characters in the book, and signed lots of copies of Zombies in Love.  To check out the event, click here

Mortimer and Mildred made an appearance.
It was great hearing Scott talk about how Kelly's notes provided him with the direction for several of his illustrations.  And based on the questions from the audience, it sounds like many would like to know more about Mildred's back story.  There was some serious concern about whether Mildred had any friends, especially since Mortimer has a zombie dog and his worm buddies.

A few of Scott's illustrations from the book.
If you haven't picked up a copy of Zombies in Love, I encourage you to purchase one from your local indie bookstore or check it out from your friendly neighborhood library.  Or check out Nucleus Gallery's website for a limited edition print from Zombie in Love or a cool sticker sheet

For more information about author, Kelly DiPucchio, check out her blog:

You can follow her on twitter: @kellydipucchio

For more information about illustrator, Scott Campbell, check out his website:

You can follow him on twitter: @scottlava 

An interview with Scott Campbell on the Simon & Schuster page, click here to read it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review - My Dog, My Cat

Author/Illustrator:  Ashlee Fletcher
Publisher: Tanglewood Publishing, Inc. (August 1, 2011)
Audience: Preschool
Source: Copy for Review
Animals * Differences 

Description from GoodReads:
In this bright new picture book, the author describes all the differences between her dog and cat, who don't always get along. Her dog barks; her cat meows. Her dog likes steak; her cat likes tuna. Her dog's tongue is wet; her cat's tongue is rough. But the story ends on a delightfully sweet note when the author also tells us what her dog and cat have in common - a love of pizza and a love of their owner. The strong lines and fresh colors will make this book an appealing read as children learn about normal behaviors for the two most popular pets, and that even the most different of creatures can find things in common.

Sometimes simple is best. Simple was what drew me into Ashlee Fletcher's debut picture book My Dog, My Cat.  The text was bold and straight-forward.  Perfect for preschoolers or early readers.  The illustrations matched the style of the text.  Bold colors, fun design, and complimentary to the words.  When I read a picture book that seems to "get it", I find myself smiling.  And this one gave me that "she got it" feeling as I read it.  For that, I want to give debut picture book author/illustrator Fletcher a "high-five". 

Even for an experienced picture book author, it is not easy to get the text to work out just right.  Some books seem too sing-songy and others seem too complex for the targeted audience.  Fletcher's direct style; however, works.  Young children often love animals, especially common household pets such as cats and dogs.  Additionally, the concept of how things are different is one this age group is learning to master.   Pairing the two together is another part of the equations for what works here. 

Now comes the tricky do you get this into the hands of preschool teachers and parents of preschoolers?  Really.  The early childhood teacher in me wants a paperback version...kind of like the ones Scholastic does for their bookclubs...that I can take apart, laminate, re-staple and use with the kids despite sticky fingers and possible rips and tears.  A quick Google search shows that My Dog, My Cat is available on Barnes & Noble's website but even the on-line powerhouse Amazon only carries it through outside sellers.  I certainly hope Tanglewood is able to get this book some more attention.   

Well at least I know one lucky Speech Therapist at my school who will be the recipient of my review copy.   

For more information about Ashlee Fletcher, check out her website: 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ebook Picture Book Apps

Until recently, I hadn't even seriously considered downloading a Children's book app.  And the thought of reviewing one was even further from my mind.  However, as friends shared about picture book apps that they were looking at, I decided to take the plunge and download a few.  After playing with a variety of picture ebook apps, I decided to share what I found here on my blog.

First up, Harold and the Purple Crayon.  The classic story gets a high tech make-over that still maintains its timeless attraction.    

Title: Harold and the Purple Crayon
Author: Crockett Johnson
App Developer: Trilogy Studios
Version: 1.2 - August 30, 2011
Price: $6.99
Age Level: Pre-K to First
Available on iTunes
Designed for both iPhone, iPod Touch 4th generation & iPad

Features: Touch Tale * Read to Me * Read Alone * Tutorial

Children have 3 options with this ebook app.

Read AloneRead Alone allows the child to read the story just as you would a book but using an electronic devise.  Purple arrows allow a child to move forward or backwards through the story just as you would in a book.  The home icon is always available and allows a child to exit the story at any point.  In this mode, there is no music to accompany the story.

Read to Me: The Read to Me feature does exactly this.  It reads the story to the child.  A friendly narrator reads through the story while the text goes from black to purple as the words are being read aloud.  Music accompanies this reading and can not be turned on or off.  As with the Read Alone feature, the home icon is available when a child wants to exit the story.  At each time, in any feature, when exiting the story, a pop up question asks the reader if they want to "return to the main menu".

Touch Tale: The Touch Tale feature allows children to interact with the story.  Similar to the Read to Me feature, the Touch Tale reads the story; however, the next page arrow does not pop up until the child has "finished" interacting with the page.  Typically this includes changing gray lines to purple through touch.  If there is more to the page a small arrow will blink towards the hint button to indicate that the child should do something else (i.e., touch an image and the word pops up or move a finger across the page and stars shoot across the sky).

What I liked about this ebook app:
* Simplicity - The story does not get lost or cluttered up with a lot of fancy features.
* Highlighted words - The changing of the words from black to purple to black again does help children follow along as the story is being read.
* Easy to use - Even without going through the Tutorial, this one was simple to use.  My 5 year old niece tested out the story and loved it.  She recognized the story as being one that she had heard/seen before which drew her in.  With minimal prompting and support, she was able to navigate through the ebook.

What I wish I could change about the ebook:
* Possibly include an on-off switch for the music.  Though the music isn't offensive, I can imagine on the fifth play through, I might just want to turn it off.  However, it is easy enough to just turn down the sound, if it becomes too annoying.
*Cost - Considering how simple this ebook app is compared to some others, I was surprised at the price tag of $6.99.  Though not outrageous, it was one of the higher priced ebook apps that I looked at and purchased recently.

Would I recommend this? 
Yes, highly.  I have to say that this was really one of my favorites out of all that I tried recently.