Interview with Julie Falatko and Snappsy

Yesterday I shared the humorous SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK). Today I am excited to share with you my interview with debut author Julie Falatko and her sidekick Snappsy!

Julie_02Can you tell us a little about your writing journey? Ups/Down/Anything in Between
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve loved books and writing my whole life. The problem was that I didn’t realize that “writer” is an actual real job that people still do. I loved writing, but it didn’t occur to me that living humans could be writers. So I got an English degree, and very briefly tried teaching, and got a library degree, and worked as a technical writer and a copywriter. Those are the only types of writers I thought I could be: writers who wrote bank brochures. I was in my mid-30s when it suddenly dawned on me that the people writing the books that came out every year were a) alive and b) human.

What aspects of childhood do you like to capture in your writing?
So much of being a kid is being an intrepid explorer of a new and wondrous world. Kids go out and find giant flowers and blimps and sweaters with dolman sleeves and it’s all like, “WHAT IS THIS STUFF?” and the grownups are cynical and tired and shrug and say, “You know. Stuff.” I like to capture that thread of the world being a magical, cool place.

Who are your creative influences – in books, art, or any other media?
For picture books: William Steig, Russell Hoban, Arnold Lobel, James Marshall, Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, Bob Shea. Gosh, that’s so many dudes. That’s embarrassing, but those guys are absolutely huge influences on my writing.

For creative living (how to navigate a creative life with humor and grace and hopefully not starve in the process): Carter Higgins, Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, Melissa Guion, Jen Corace, Lucy Ruth Cummins, Tim Miller, Greg Pizzoli, Ame Dyckman, Jory John, Russ Cox, Tina Kugler, Dasha Tolstikova, Sage Blackwood, Zachariah OHora, Diandra Mae, Josh Nash, Dev Petty, Lauren Eldridge, Isabel Roxas, Anne Ursu. They are my friends but more than that I feel like the internet has allowed me to create a happy little biosphere that I can populate with this magical room full of amazing, hilarious, creative, wonderpeople. If I make a stack of their books on the floor, it practically glows at me in encouragement. They are the people I look to when I’m feeling unmoored or uninspired, and they inspire me with their view of the world.

I listen to podcasts a lot and sometimes the process of hearing someone else tell a kind of story out loud helps to shake my story loose. At the top of the list are Can I Pet Your Dog, One Bad Mother, Let’s Get Busy, Mystery Show, Dear Sugar, and The Yarn.

The book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert has become a constant touchstone for creative inspiration.

Also Paul Simon’s eponymous first album is jam-packed with story songs, and I put that on while I’m making dinner and sing along loudly and it’s a quick reminder of how story structure works.

Can you share your writing process with us? Panster/plotter, paper/pen. Specific habits or tips that have served you well?
For picture books I’m always a pantser. I may have some idea of where the story is going to go, but usually not. I’ve written stories where I write one sentence and walk away for a while – hours or a day – until I figure out what the next sentence is going to be.

For longer books (chapter books, MG, YA) I do come up with some sort of outline. I don’t do anything formal. I make chapters or scenes in Scrivener to get a sense of the structure. I tend to write those books out of order, so it’s helpful to know where to put the random scene I wrote that day.

I write a lot in pencil in notebooks. I keep notebooks all over the place. I love the sensory aspects (and the lack of distraction) when writing something out in pencil. Then I revise it as I type it in. And then I usually have to print it out again at some point and write more on it in pencil to figure out where it’s going.

The habit that has served me well came about by accident – I had to wake up early to write because that’s the only time my house was quiet. But now it’s a habit and I love waking up and getting started on writing first thing.

Snappsy and “the Narrator” are so cleverly written. I love both their voices. Anything in particular that helped to bring their distinctive personalities out?
It helped to come up with exaggerated versions of the characters when I was thinking about how they might react to any situation. The narrator might be Marty Stouffer or David Attenborough. He likes hearing himself talk, and he likes narrating. Once I described Snappsy as John McClane (from “Die Hard”) because he’s this regular guy that got thrust into a crazy situation. Although Snappsy doesn’t know how to shoot a gun, and instead of a dirty tank top, he wears a tie. Snappsy is also sort of like Ron Swanson. He wants to be alone, in his house, doing his things. He wants everyone to mind their own beeswax.

Would you like to tell us a little about your upcoming titles?
The Society for Underrepresented Animals is about a bunch of offbeat animals who start a support group because they’re not in any of the picture books. They’re thinking of writing their own book. Then a bunny shows up, and they’re all offended because of course the bunny has been in so many books. That one is going to be illustrated by Charles Santoso. I’m so excited to work with Charles! He’s amazing.

Help Wanted: One Rooster is about a cow who has to interview rooster candidates because the farm’s rooster ran off. Everyone she interviews is worse than the last. Some of them aren’t even roosters.

Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Writing and getting published are such a slow process, and that’s fine. It’s what makes for better books. Don’t let yourself feel rushed. The process is going to be slow no matter what, so you might as well embrace it and take the time to make the best book you can, and to write more books and better books all the time.

************************************************
Now some rapid fire questions for Snappsy.

Who is your best friend?
My what? Oh. Uh. Huh. I guess it’s this chicken who keeps bringing cheese plates to my house.

What is your snack of choice?
Pretzels dipped in peanut butter.

What is your favorite vacation spot?
My own comfy chair.

If you weren’t an alligator what animal would you like to be?
A bear. That hibernation thing sounds fun.

What’s it like working with Ms. Falatko?
She followed me around a lot. She’s nice and all, but she’s almost as pesky as that chicken.

Where can we follow you and Ms. Falatko?
Julie’s website is juliefalatko.com, and she’s on Twitter @JulieFalatko and on Facebook at JulieFalatkoAuthor.

Thank you Julie and Snappsy for stopping by today and sharing a bit about yourself. Wishing you many future successes (and Chicken too).

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book)

I am thrilled to bring you today’s book review. I first ‘met’ Julie Falatko over the Internet back in 2012. She had just started doing book reviews on the Brain Burps podcast when I recommended Mathew Cordell’s ANOTHER BROTHER to her, hoping she would love it. I am so excited to see her witty, quirky humor getting out into the world.

My fun-filled interview with Julie Falatko and Snappsy.

Title: Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book)Snappsy
Author:
 Julie Falatko (awesome interview of Julie, Tim, and Joanna at 7’Imp)

Illustrator: Tim Miller
Publisher: Viking Books, 2016
Editor: Joanna Cardenas
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 4-8
Themes: Friendship

Opening:
Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.
His feet felt draggy.
His skin felt baggy.
His tail wouldn’t swish this way and that.
And, worst of all, his big jaw wouldn’t SNAP.
“This is terrible! I’m just hungry! Why is this rude narrator trying to make it seem like I need a nap?”

Synopsis (from Amazon’s website):
Snappsy the alligator is having a normal day when a pesky narrator steps in to spice up the story. Is Snappsy reading a book … or is he making CRAFTY plans? Is Snappsy on his way to the grocery store … or is he PROWLING the forest for defenseless birds and fuzzy bunnies? Is Snappsy innocently shopping for a party … or is he OBSESSED with snack foods that start with the letter P? What’s the truth?

Activities:

Why I Like This Book:
A fusion of meta-fiction and unreliable narrator with a dose of heart. A book that can be simply enjoyed for the witty humor or dissected in classroms for its clever storytelling.

Right away from the book cover you know something is awry with the first part of the title in bold maroon letters, and the second part in a Snappsy dialogue bubble. This is the basic jist of the story, overbearing narrator vs humble Snappsy. I love the interplay between what the narrator says about Snappsy versus what Snappsy is actually doing – Snappsy hunting for animals to eat (false) vs Snappsy on his way to the grocery store (truth). I think Kirkus Review said it best by likening the narrator to Rita Skeeter. No wonder Snappsy is snappy. But he does humor the narrator by throwing a party to spice up the book. The reveal of the narrator was an unexpected pleasant surprise.

I love the narrator’s authoritative voice. (Come back tomorrow to find out the author’s influences on this.) I also really enjoyed Snappy’s dialogue when retorting back. Who actually says “You are really cheesing me off.” So original. It is sophisticated storytelling to pull-off essentially two characterizations of a single character, and in a picture book format.

Ms. Falatko provided the skeleton and framework which Mr. Miller filled out with his unique artistic vision. A perfect marriage of text and art.

The retro-cartoony art are simple drawings but full of charm and depth. I loved all the little tidbits that the illustrator added to Snappsy’s character such as the tie and fez. I also enjoyed the interpretive license. Text says “forest” but the art shows a bamboo forest. Snappsy visits a grocery store but it’s actually and ABC Grocery store where the aisles are letters not numbers. The art enrichs the story taking it to another level.

This is a fun read and one I can see kids going back too for more. For a special Snappsy treat take of the dust jacket.

Check-out this awesome book trailer. Enjoy!

Find Snappsy the Alligator at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 0451469453
ISBN-13: 978-0451469458Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

Celebrating 2015 and Looking Forward

happy-new-year-resolutions-2016

Hope you all had a relaxing holiday break. Many wishes for you in 2016.

In setting my goals for 2016, I am first following Julie Hedlund’s anti-resolution revolution and writing down my successes. In the past, I didn’t even make resolutions. Seemed pointless since they came from a place of what wasn’t achieved, a place of negativity. With Julie’s approach, you celebrate successes from the previous year and use it as a base to build upon. I did this last year and faired better in making forward progress. My next thing is to figure out what happens at mid-year when the plan starts to unravel. It’s possible I should make only 6-month goals in order to remain flexible with my changing needs. Without further adieu, here is my recap of my successes big and small for 2015.

  • Rejoined my in-person picture book critique group. Love being back with my peeps.
  • Got an accountability partner. Just sort of happened and it’s been great.
  • Three month picture book mentorship with Kathi Appelt.
  • Winner of the 12×12 Diversity Scholarship!!
  • Attended three SCBWI conferences (Asilomar, Spring Spirit, and Oakland) and Kidlit Summer School.
  • Took an excellent on-line class on Character Building in Picture Books.
  • Grew in my picture book writing skills.
    • Realized I love writing with lyrical language.
    • Started using storyboarding during the revision process and loving it. Really helps with pacing and being able “to see” the full story.  (Got the idea after seeing this terrific post.)
  • Volunteer PB application reader for We Need Diverse Books
  • Positive feedback on my stories from a few agents.
  • I read 212 books! Checkout my post where I break down the numbers and list some favorite titles (Adult thru PB)
  • Seeing myself continuing to grow as a writer. Taking joy in the process without getting too consumed by the agent search.

This past year turned out to be a year of “revision”, due to my three-month picture book mentorship, professional critiques, and an R&R (request and resubmit) I received from an agent. As a result, I only wrote 1 new PB draft. So my word for 2016 is CREATE. My over-arching goal is to create new material. Whether they be drafts of new picture books stories, or background material/character sketches/free-writes for my YA novel idea.
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Goals for 2016

  • Finish latest round of revisions for prospective agents.
  • Take Nonfiction Archaelogy and start a new PB story which will be a NF Biography. (So excited to be finally taking this class.)
  • Attend 1-2 writing conferences. (maybe NJ-SCBWI ??)
  • Finish reading Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole – excellent craft book.
  • Write 12 new sh***y first draft PB stories.  (This will be my biggest challenge. I dread first & second drafts. I have a strong internal editor. Thanks to Julie Hedlund’s 12 Days of Christmas group I’m gonna shoot for the stars!)
  • Read/listen to 25 novels. (I love audiobooks! No way I would be able to get through this many novels without it.)
  • Restart research efforts for my novel.
  • Add two more polished stories to my portfolio.
  • Blog at least once a month. (I do miss conversing with all of you. 🙂 )
  • Write/think about stories/Study Craft EVERYDAY – even if only for 5 minutes. (Up till now I work in spurts which is okay, but when I fall off the bandwagon I lose momentum.)
  • BELIEVE

Wishing you the very best. What are some of your goals for 2016? 

My Book Reading Report for 2015

It’s that time of the year to tally up. Here are my stats according to GoodReads.

TOTAL BOOKS READ IN 2015 = 212
4 Adult; 9 YA; 5 MG; 1 CB/ER; 1 Graphic Novel; 192 PB

Listed below are my favorite reads from this year. This list contains titles published in 2015 and past years.
2015 Reads
ADULT: Year of Wonders (Geraldine Brooks)

YA: I’ll Give You the Sun (Jandy Nelson), An Ember in the Ashes (Sabaa Tahir), The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)

MG: The War that Saved My Life (Kimberly Bradley)

PB:

  • Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats (Alicia Potter & Birgitta Sif)
  • The Iridescense of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse (Patricia MacLachlan & Hadley Hooper)
  • Snoozefest (Samantha Berger & Kristyna Litten)
  • Last Stop on Market Street (Matt de la Pena & Christian Robinson)
  • Water is Water (Miranda Paul & Jason Chin)
  • Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt (Kate Messner & Christopher Neal)
  • What do You Do With an Idea(Kobi Yamada & Mae Besom)
  • Miss Brooks Loves Books! (Barbara Bottner & Ed Emberley)
  • Seven Blind Mice (Ed Young)
  • The Princess and the Pony (Kate Beaton)
  • Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match (Monica Brown & Sara Palacios)
  • Peek-a-Who? (Nina Laden)

What were some of your favorite reads? Always looking for excellent titles for my 2016 to-read list.

Reading to Babies plus book recommendations

Recently I received the following question from a friend and thought I would share my response as it might be helpful to other new parents.

anjbook2

Q: My daughter is five months old and I haven’t been able read her much except book that you gifted. Can you help me with what kind of book should I read to her now?  Also I am not good at storytelling to such a small baby. So any pointers would be very helpful.
First I am so happy to hear that you are reading to your daughter that is wonderful. Just the act of your baby hearing your voice for periods of time will help with her development. An NPR article about early childhood reading states:

“Early exposure to language, whether through reading, talking or even singing, has a profound influence on children’s learning through life, research has found. Hearing language from a TV isn’t the same, studies have found. For young children, the words have to come from a real live human.”

So don’t worry about whether you are good at storytelling or not. You are doing just fine. If you do want to make reading more entertaining consider speaking in funny, exaggerated voices. Or take on the deep voice of a hearty pirate or a high-pitched fairy voice. Your baby will love you reading with any voice you take on. Another way of making the reading more interactive is to have the child find things on the page. Ask “Where is the cow?” or “Where is the mouse?” while reading the book and her point to it. (I can’t remember at what age I did this with them. You might have to wait until they are a little older.)

There is no mandatory amount of time that you need to read. Some babies will sit still and get through three books others may start squirming after half a book. It’s okay. It’s more important to make it a part of your daily routine. When my kids were babies I would read a few books right before nap time and then again at bedtime. I would also keep a basket of board books near their toys in the family room and upstairs in their bedroom, that way they could reach them once they were mobile. My oldest loved books so much that I would place her favorite book away from her to encourage crawling and later walking.

As for what type of books to get, I would recommend board books because babies find many uses for books with the most popular being a chewing toy. Babies also love lift-the-flap books, books with textures, and books with photographs of other babies and young kids. Here is a Pinterest search link for finding the best board books for babies.

Here is a list of our favorites:

Baby Faces Board Book (Smile, Sleep, Eat, Hugs & Kisses)
Bear on Bike, Bear at Home – Stella Blackstone
One Moose, Twenty Mice – Clare Beaton
Goodnight MoonThe Big Red Barn – Margaret Wise Brown
B is for Bear – Roger Priddy
What Makes a Rainbow – Betty Ann Schwartz and Dona Turner
Pajama Time – Sandra Boynton (actually any Sandra Boynton book)
Where is Baby’s Bellybutton – Karen Katz
Peekaboo Zoo: Lift the Flap Book – Susan Hood
Brown Bear, Brown Bear – Eric Carle
Tails – Matthew Van Fleet
A Children’s Treasury of Songs – Illustrations by Linda Beck
Violet’s House – Julie Aigner-Clark
Peek-a-Who? – Nina Laden
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site – Sherri Rinker
Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell
We’re Going On a Bear Hunt – Helen Oxenbury
Little Blue Truck – Alice Shertle
Tons of Trucks – Sue Fliess

If you have a favorite board book let us know by leaving a comment. Thanks!

Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle

Hope your summer has been relaxing and enjoyable. Can’t believe kids’ school starts in less than three weeks. In light of that I will be reviewing fiction and non-fiction books this month that can be used in classrooms. Enjoy!

water_is_water Title: Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle
Author: Miranda Paul (interview)
Illustrator: Jason Chin (interview)
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2015
Book Type: Non-Fiction
Ages: 4-8
Themes: Water Cycle, Seasons, Weather

Opening Lines:
Drip. Sip.
Pour me a cup.
Water is water unless…
it heats up.
Whirl. Swirl.
Watch it curl by.
Steam is steam unless…
it cools high.

Synopsis (from Amazon’s website):
This spare, poetic picture book follows a group of kids as they move through all the different phases of the water cycle. From rain to fog to snow to mist, talented author Miranda Paul and the always remarkable Jason Chin (Redwoods, Coral Reefs, Island, Gravity) combine to create a beautiful and informative journey in this innovative nonfiction picture book that will leave you thirsty for more.

Activities:

  • The Classroom Bookshelf – Lessons on written responses, visual narratives, finding rhymes, the hydrologic cycle, drama, and more are available for grades PreK-5.
  • Sally’s Bookshelf – Questions and Water Mapping activity for kids / STEM Friday

Why I Like It:
I love this book for oh so many reasons. This is a MUST HAVE for any home or school library. I predict this book will become a mainstay. Here are my reasons why.

  • It’s creative non-fiction book about the water cycle!!
  • And it’s in rhyme with great page-turns. Picture book writers pay attention, the “unless …” is a great cliff-hanger to get the reader to turn the page.
  • The watercolor and gouche illustrations are gorgeous and beautifully capture the wholesome and simplicity of kids playing outdoors. (see more inside pages here) The art reminds me of growing up in rural Pennsylvania. I can almost smell the fresh air of spring or the icy chill of winter as I look at the illustrations.
  • Aurally pleasing rhyme with kid engaging visuals – a perfect combination to enrapture young minds.
  • Extensive backmatter to complement lesson plans on the water cycle.

Find WATER IS WATER at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 159643984X
ISBN-13: 978-1609055301

Disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher Roaring Brook Press. This review nevertheless reflects my own honest opinion about the book.

Blog Tour: I’M MY OWN DOG by David Ezra Stein

dogblogtour
Last week I reviewed the hilarious new book I’M MY OWN DOG. Checkout the review and don’t forget to enter the giveaway! Today I am excited to share my interview with David Ezra Stein. The first book we read in our house by him was INTERRUPTING CHICKEN which was a constant request by my toddlers at that time. A few years ago I feel in love with his book BECAUSE AMELIA SMILED. I am constantly amazed my Mr. Stein’s talent in crafting engaging pictures books which are beautiful inside and out.

Q1) What aspects of childhood do you like to capture in your art and writing?
Hi Darshana! That is a lovely question. I guess I like to capture the storm of emotions that a kid feels every day. Frustration, elation, sadness. They all run so close to the surface for a child. Humor seems to come from these strong feelings. If you portray them in earnest, they can be hilarious. But that is not to say that they should be the butt of a joke, but rather, an example of a life lived to the fullest degree of passion. I like to create characters that CARE about something very much. It could be something that is not a big deal in the grownup world. But then, the grownup world has its fair share of trivia that one can get worked up about.

Q2) Who are your creative influences – in books, art, or any other media?
Oh, this is such a hard question. It’s kind of like: List the many, many foods that have ever nourished you. Anything that is strong, and funny, and touching, and colorful. So this includes textiles, Matisse, TV commercials, funny ‘80s movies, P.G. Wodehouse novels, Calvin & Hobbes comics, Tintin comics, Klaes Oldenburg sculptures, East African sculpture, Robert McCloskey, Uri Shulevitz, Sondheim, Gilbert & Sullivan—the list is different each time I write it!

Q3) As a beginning writer, I often hear write the story that drives you and not to worry about market trends. What advice do you have for beginning writers in finding that balance between what resonates with the writer and what is marketable?
Try to do something you’re fascinated by, or think is hilarious, or very scary, or whatever you are trying to evoke in the reader; try to come from that place yourself. What’s marketable is something people really want to read. And I think people want to see familiar things in a new way, and laugh. That’s what I try to do in my own work.

Q4) Your story “I’m My Own Dog” is so clever and witty. I love his personality. Can you tell us what inspired this independent character?
Thanks! He occurred to me as a voice in my head, speaking about himself. This is often how characters come to me. He told me the first few lines of the story: I’m my own dog. No one owns me, I own myself…. I was as attentive to this as possible, and tried to get it all down on paper as it was happening. Then I began the work of expanding him and his world. Anyway, I think he came from a desire to really master myself and my career. And to choose the way I respond to the challenges of life. That is true mastery, to me.

Q5) How is the dog handling his celebrity status? Is he begging for more stories?
Ha, ha! I have been knocking around a story where the man gets a cat as well. So far so good, but we’ll have to see if this book does quite well enough to warrant a sequel. It’s sort of up to the publisher.

David Ezra Stein is the creator of many award-winning picture books, including Interrupting Chicken, which was awarded a Caldecott Honor, Because Amelia Smiled, and Dinosaur Kisses. He lives with his family in Kew Gardens, New York. You can learn more about him at his website, or keep up with him on Facebook.  

Be sure to checkout other stops on the blog tour:
11/3/2014 Smart Books for Smart Kid
11/4/2014 Read Now, Sleep Late
11/5/2014 Cracking the Cover
11/6/2014 Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog
11/7/2014 The Fourth Musketeer
11/8/2014 Picture Book Palooza
11/9/2014 Randomly Reading
11/10/2014 Children’s Corner
11/11/2014 Flowering Minds
11/12/2014 Teach Mentor Texts
11/13/2014 KidLit Frenzy
11/14/2014 Literacy Toolbox

I’m My Own Dog plus a Giveaway

owndog
Title: I’m My Own Dog
Author & Illustrator: David Ezra Stein
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2014
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 4-8
Themes: Friendship, Humor

Opening Lines:
“I’m my own dog.
Nobody owns me.
I own myself.
I work like a dog all day.
When I get home, I fetch my own slippers.”

Synopsis:
Many dogs have human owners. Not this dog. He fetches his own slippers, curls up at his own feet, and gives himself a good scratch. But there is one spot, in the middle of his back, that he just can’t reach. So one day, he lets a human scratch it. And the poor little fella follows him home. What can the dog do but get a leash to lead the guy around with? Dog lovers of all ages will revel in the humorous role-reversal as this dog teaches his human all the skills he needs to be a faithful companion.

Activities:

  •  Check-out the Story-Hour Kit from Candlewick. Contains discussion questions, drawing exercise, and a connect the dots page. Pages 4,9, and 10.
  • Dog related crafts.
  • Checkout this list of great kids books about dogs from Pragmatic Mom.

Why I Like This Book:
This is one HILARIOUS book about an overly independent dog getting a human for a pet. The two things that stole my heart about this book were the great hook and the amazing voice of the dog. This is a wonderful book to study how the text and art work for irony and humorous effect. One of my favorite spreads reads “And you always have to clean up after them”, while the art shows the dog licking up the spilled ice-cream on the ground. Priceless. In the scenes below, we see how the dog is training the human.
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The dog’s attitude of “I can do it myself” will appeal to young kids, who long to control the happenings of their day and make their own decisions.
The artwork was created using a mix of watercolor, pen, and a hint of crayon. The looseness of watercolor is perfect for mimicking how kids paint – neither filling the space completely of running over the lines. I like how the shirt sleeve isn’t colored in all the way or the colors bleed over the outline.
Good book for preschoolers, story-time, and dog lovers.

Checkout my interview with the author, David Ezra Stein.

Giveaway: 
For a chance to win this book, leave a comment stating what name you would give the dog. Deadline to enter is Thursday, November 13th at 9pm PST.

This review is part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book series. Visit her site to see the other books recommended.

I’M MY OWN DOG. Copyright © 2014 by David Ezra Stein. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher Candlewick Press. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

Planet Kindergarten and other Books for New Kindergarteners

Can’t believe summer is already over. Where did the time go? Maybe I can find a rift in the space-time continuum, to blast us back to the start of summer. Until I can find that anomaly, I have a new kindergarten book which I think you will love. I have also included my Top Ten Books for New Kindergarteners that I first posted last summer. Enjoy!

Planet Kindergarten
Title: Planet Kindergarten
Author: Sue Ganz-Schmitt
Illustrator: Shane Prigmore
Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2014
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 4-8
Themes: School, Space

Synopsis (from Amazon):
This clever picture book will prepare young explorers to boldly go where they have never gone before: Planet Kindergarten. Suit up for a daring adventure as our hero navigates the unknown reaches and alien inhabitants of this strange new world. Hilarious and confidence-boosting, this exciting story will have new kindergarteners ready for liftoff!

Why I Like This Book:
I had not planned to fall in love with this book. I mean come on another “first day at kindergarten” book. Just stop by your favorite bookstore or library and the display shelves are filled with classic and modern back to school titles. Boy was I wrong.

This is a clever, fun, adventurous book for anyone of any age that loves outer space. So maybe that is the key for me, I loved outer space as a kid and still do. Kids will love the funny storytelling and the bright, bold pictures. Older readers and adults will love the hilarious wordplay and how the text plays off the art.

There are also some subtle jokes in there which I loved.

Take a look at how the author has described a bunch of high-energy kids not being able to sit still with a reference to gravity working differently here. Brilliant!

“I try to get used to the new atmosphere, but it’s not like home. For one thing, gravity works differently here. We have to try hard to stay in our seats. And our hands go up a lot.”

classroom

Some of my other favorite lines:

“We arrive at the base camp, then orbit while we look for a place to dock.” – What fun way to describe looking for a parking spot.

“We’re aliens from many galaxies on Planet Kindergarten.” — What an excellent way to describe diversity!

Aside from the clever wordplay which I could go on and on about, the book does cover the basic concerns of all new kindergarteners – saying good-bye to your parents, new classroom, experiences on the playground, return home, and of course excitement for the next day.

This is a far-out book, one which any space-loving cadet will have a blast with.

———————————-
TOP 10 Books for New Kindergarteners
Below are a list of books that address many of the first-day concerns that both kids and adults might have. Some are funny, some are heartfelt, some have a bit of both. Enjoy!

Kindergartener List

Kindergarten Diary by Antoinette Portis
Follow Annabelle’s ups and downs of the first month of Kindergarten. Vibrant artwork and humorous text are sure to get any child excited.
Excerpt – Me and Zoe played at recess today. Zoe likes socks. She always wears something pink. She let me use her extra jump rope. It’s pink.

Kindergarten Diary

Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten by Audrey Vernick and Daniel Jennewein

A funny, engaging, clever take on the do’s and dont’s of kindergarten. Loved the immersion of the buffalo in the story from hoove-painting to no grazing at recess, layered with the messages of sharing, friendship, and respect.

Excerpt – Okay, maybe your buffalo can’t cut – yet! But maybe most kids aren’t the state animal of Oklahoma. Or pictured on old nickels. Everyone’s special in his or her own way. That’s the kind of thing you learn in kindergarten.

Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten

The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten  by Maureen Fergus and Mike Lowery

A laugh out loud sure to please any child in this role-reversal story where the patient understanding daughter guides her mom through a day of Kindergarten.

Excerpt – She was so excited that she completely forgot her manners and tried to BARGE in at the front of the line. “I’m sorry, Mom, but you need to go to the back of the line,” I said. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t be fair to the rest of us.”

The Day My Mom Came To Kindergarten
 
Kindergarten Rocks! by Katie Davis

Dexter is ready for kindergarten and not scared at all, thanks to his big sister Jessie. But Dexter’s stuffed dog Rufus has about a bazillion worries. Dexter and Rufus both soon realize that kindergarten rocks.

Excerpt – When Jes went to kindergarten, she wasn’t big like she is now. “I was a shrimp like you. (Jessie)”  She wrote like me. And she drew like me, too. Only not as good.

Kindergarten Rocks

Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten by Hyewon Yum

Witness the topsy-turvey emotions for parents and children about the first day of kindergarten. Changes in the art color and size help convey the emotions being felt by mother and son. A confidence builder for all who read it that everything will be a-okay.

Excerpt – Mom doesn’t look happy. “We don’t know anyone here. I miss your old teachers and your friends.(mom)” “I like to make new friends, Mom, and you’ll make new friends, too, in no time.(son)”

mommyfirstday

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg and Judy Love

Kids will relate to Sarah’s nervousness about the first day at a new school, and they will love the surprise ending and in knowing that everyone gets the jitters.

Excerpt – “No, I’m not. I don’t want to start over again. I hate my new school,” Sarah said. She tunneled down to the end of her bed.

First-Day-Jitters

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, Ruth E. harper, and Nancy M. Leak

A classic heartwarming story about separation anxiety and the power of magical kisses.

Excerpt – Mrs. Raccoon took Chester by the hand and nuzzled him on the ear. “Sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do,” she told him gently. “Even if they seem strange and scary at first. But you will love school once you start.”

Kissing Hand

First Day of School by Anne Rockwell and Lizzy Rockwell

Follow along as a group of friends recap how they’ve grown and get ready for the first day of school. A fun book for all kids, great way to start a discussion about your family’s back-to-school rituals.

Excerpt – Michiko jumped down when she saw us. “I’ve got new bouncy shoes!” Michiko said. “My shoes were too small. Now I can wiggle my toes.”

First Day of School

The Best Thing About Kindergarten by Jennifer Lloyd and Qin Leng

On kindergarten graduation day, Mrs. Appleby has one last final question “What is the best thing about kindergarten?”  Her students have different answers ranging from calendar time, imagination time, to recess. But readers will keep flipping the pages to find Mrs. Appleby’s secret special answer.

Excerpt – “It’s calendar time!” cried Tabitha. “You are so good at saying the days of the week,” replied Mrs. Appleby, “but calendar time is not the best thing about kindergarten.”

The Best Thing About Kindergarten

Kindergarten, Here I Come by D.J. Steinberg and Mark Chambers

Through rhyming verses, experience kindergarten milestones such as first day jitters, field trips, friendships, show-n-tell and much more. Kids will enjoy the silly verses and lively illustrations.

Excerpt – Crisscross Applesauce – Crisscross applesauce, that’s the way we sit. Not feet-out sauerkraut. Not cottage cheese on your knees. Not bottoms-up coffee cup. Not blueberry jelly on your belly. But crisscross applesauce, that’s the way we sit.

Kindergarten, Here I Come

Interview with Salina Yoon and Penguin

Salina.Yoon.photo2Yesterday I reviewed the heart-warming Penguin series. Today I am so excited to share my interview with Salina Yoon. I met Salina through the Verla Kay Blueboards (now SCBWI boards) where she is an active member. She has a generous, caring spirit which comes shining through in her Penguin books. She is a “prolific” author/illustrator and has published over 200 books!! She has 6 new books coming out in the next two years. She got her start in novelty/board books and has recently branched out into character-drive picture books with great success.

What aspects of childhood do you like to capture in your art and writing?
I like to capture the innocence of childhood, when anything and everything can be your friend. A child has an innate love for things and a need to connect, even if they are inanimate. Children see the preciousness of things we grown-ups sometimes overlook… and I bring this character to life through Penguin.

Who are your creative influences – in books, art, or any other media?
Eric Carle, Gyo Fujikawa, and Dr. Seuss were my earliest creative influences even though I don’t illustrate like any of them! Each are completely unique: Carle’s is graphic and minimalistic, Fujikawa’s is soft and rendered, and Dr. Seuss is wild and imaginative! It made me realize that a story can be delivered in many ways. I love to play around with art style from one book to the next (unless it’s a series). I could name dozens more books that are completely unique—and collectively, they are my influence, and remind me that each book can have its own character, style, and delivery. But specifically, Hervé Tullet inspired my own Tap to Play, the art of Charley Harper influenced the artwork in Kaleidoscope and Pinwheel. I also LOVE the art of Jon Klassen, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, and Antoinette Portis. Groundbreakers—these talented people!

 

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(Note: Pinwheel is unavailable currently, but is scheduled to be reprinted, and will be available again later this year/2014 due to early sell-out in 2013)

For Penguin’s art, though, it came internally from my childhood self. I wanted to draw Penguin in a way a child would. But at the time, I was illustrating all of my books with a mouse. This made it difficult to draw organically. So I purchased a Wacom tablet to allow myself to draw with a pen tool. Since I wasn’t familiar how to draw with this tool and tablet, my drawings were somewhat child-like. I decided to keep that “style” and it worked for Penguin.

What advice would you give to beginning authors and illustrators?
Make it your goal to CREATE, write, and grow, . . . and not to publish. Keep your eye on the ball… and that ball is to write or illustrate,… and publishing will follow!

Initially you were focused on novelty books and jumped into character-driven picture books with the Penguin series (which I love). Do you have any writing/illustrating goals that you would still like to accomplish?
Thank you (for loving Penguin!) I’ve enjoyed creating each and every one of my novelty books, but when I wrote Penguin, I was ready for a new challenge, and JUMP, I did! Since Penguin’s first book in 2012, I will have 9 character-driven picture books published by 2016 (so far)! There’s so many more I’d like to do, but I also aspire to write and illustrate for the early reader or even possibly the early chapter book market!

What were the seeds of inspiration for Penguin and Pinecone?
My first son was always very curious. As a toddler, he’d examine things very closely– like a fallen leaf on the ground. When he turned 4 or 5, he loved to collect things—like rocks, leaves, shells, and pine cones. He was very particular about the things he collected, and from his collections, there was always one that stood out. He’d take it, place it in a box, and ask for me to make it a blanket. A piece of fleece or napkin was enough. He didn’t ask for goggly eyes to attach to it or change it in any way. The way it was was simply enough. He’d name it… usually the name of the object, plus a “y” at the end. A rock became “Rocky,” a shell became “Shelly,” and so on. This sweet, nurturing spirit inspired Penguin’s character, though I didn’t know it at the time. It stayed with me, and when Penguin was born, I realized later that my son had inspired him!

What future adventures are in-store for Penguin?
Penguin is seeking to experience one of our favorite seasons—FALL—in his next adventure. And this time, he’s not traveling alone! Look for Penguin’s fourth book, Penguin and Pumpkin, in July 2014! This one focuses on the relationship of siblings. If you have a child with a younger sibling, this might be a sweet book to share.

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Now some rapid fire questions for Penguin.

Who is your best friend?
I have made many best friends through my adventures! But among them, I have to say that Pinecone, Crab, and Bootsy are my very best of friends! (Learn how this happened in PENGUIN AND PINECONE, PENGUIN ON VACATION, and PENGUIN IN LOVE)

What is your snack of choice?
Fishies from the ocean, and marshmallows.

What is your favorite vacation spot?
The beach—where I met Crab.
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If you weren’t a penguin what animal would you like to be?
It would be fun to be a boy dressed up in a wolf suit so I could cause mischief! That counts as an animal, right? I never cause mischief in real life.

wolf_small

Is Ms. Yoon a penguin-driver or laid back? 
She works very hard, but I get to do whatever I want… like bake.

baking_small

Can you share with us your favorite selfie?

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I like this picture because I am holding my own book!

Where can we can we follow you and Ms. Yoon?
You can follow me on my blog: www.penguinandpinecone.com
or my FB page: https://www.facebook.com/penguinandpinecone
and you can follow my Mama, Salina Yoon, on her FB page: https://www.facebook.com/salina.yoon.7
or learn more about her on her website: www.salinayoon.com

Be sure to check-out Salina’s upcoming books.
FOUND (Walker Books for Young Readers), April 1, 2014
Penguin and Pumpkin (Walker Books for Young Readers), July 29, 2014
Tap to Play, (HarperCollins), Oct 7, 2014
Forthcoming in 2015-2016

Two additional Bear picture books, and one more Penguin book (untitled) with Walker Books for Young Readers

SY PB strip 2
I also recommend checking out these other fabulous interviews with Salina.