“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Friday, November 15, 2013

FARTY MARTY ▪ Picture book

by B.J. Ward ▪ illustrated by Steven Kellogg
Available now  ▪ Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing/Paula Wiseman Books ▪ Preschool - Grade 3
What do you do with a musical cat who becomes a national sensation? Find out in this humorous read-aloud picture book debut illustrated by beloved artist Steven Kellogg.
Story: Mary Jane Lemon knows that her cat is special—and she finds out exactly how special when one day, after mistakenly eating a bag of French cheese, unusual tweets and toots come out of—not his mouth—but you know where! It turns out that, depending on what he eats, Marty’s rump spews music of all kinds, and his compositions prove amazingly popular. He is catapulted to fame and a world tour soon follows from London to Shanghai, and before long Marty’s tunes top the bestseller charts!
Story behind the story: Here's some behind-the-scenes info from the author and illustrator: "We are two old friends, B.J. Ward (an opera singer, comedienne and the voice of Velma on Scooby-Doo), and Steven Kellogg (a children’s book illustrator and author), who had combined our love of kids, cats, and music in a book entitled FARTY MARTY.  As the story opens Marty is in deep trouble, and his devoted young mistress Mary Jane is in despair.  It seems that the sounds of Marty’s odd-smelling output have created chaos during a show-and-tell session and it takes Mary Jane’s voice tutor to discover that Marty’s audio output can be re-programmed to produce an extraordinary range of spectacular music.
At the gale pet show, Marty found his true self as an entertainer, opening the show with fireworks, thrilling the crowd, and becoming an overnight success.  Soon he is thrilling audiences around the world and, it is our hope, dear reader, that he will thrill you, too, and motivate you to develop your own unrecognized or suppressed talents.
“So the next time you’re watching TV with your pet, and detect smells and noises…please…don’t be upset!  Be delighted if you hear a gurgle or tweet. You might have a gold mine asleep at your feet.”
Enjoy! B. J. and Steven"
"Cat lovers finally have a counterpart to Walter the Farting Dog....the cheeky premise and the abundant silliness in Kellogg’s over-the-top caricatures will keep kids laughing." – PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

Order your reviewer's copy now.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Dagger Quick ▪ Chapter book

The Dagger Quick
by Brian Eames
Trade paperback  November 12, 2013   Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing/Paula Wiseman Books   Grades 3 - 7
It’s the pirate’s life for Kitto in this “exciting and richly detailed historical swashbuckler” (Publishers Weekly).
Story: Twelve-year-old Christopher, aka Kitto, is seemingly doomed to follow in the footsteps of his father as a barrel-maker in seventeenth-century England, especially because of his clubfoot. Yet Kitto longs for more. And after his father is murdered and his stepmother and brother are kidnapped, he has no choice but to set off on a dangerous seafaring voyage with bounty hunters on his trail and his sole ally an uncle he hardly knows; an uncle who is an infamous pirate and the only man ever crazy enough to steal from the equally infamous Governor of Jamaica…

A lively narrative School Library Journal calls “fast-paced, well-developed, and historically accurate…this coming-of-age quest is perfect for landlubbers and pirate aficionados alike.” 

Story behind the story:  Author Brian Eames tells us how the book came to be:  "It’s the spring of 2005, and I am giddily sucking down fresh air and lounging in the beach chair I keep stowed in the back of my truck for this purpose. It is my lunch break, which lasts an impossibly short forty-five minutes, and the back side of the windowless warehouse that houses my current employment is my nearest and only companion. I left teaching elementary school four years earlier to join a family business I thought I would take over when my father-in-law retired, but over time I have decided that I desperately need to get back to teaching. I just miss it all too much: the kids, the curiosity, the creative chaos and humor of a classroom. 

My brown bag lunch lies in my lap. One hand digs inside, but the other? It’s clutching a book, of course, one I had plucked from the shelves of the public library: Close to the Wind, by Pete Goss. I have been reading lots of books lately featuring ships and sailing, a little odd given that I have hardly set foot aboard a wind-powered vessel since cruising a local lake in my Sunfish as a kid. But not odd too. My work is not particularly onerous, but unlike teaching, it leaves me feeling deadened, and during my brief midday break I need to be utterly transported—far, far away. 

I am just looking to drift off, then, but what I am getting from the book in my hands is about to turn into much more. Goss tells the story of his ultimate dream: the desire to compete in the Vendee Globe, a single-handed round-the-world yacht race. Setback after setback besiege him: money pressures, family pressures, problems with the design of his vessel, qualifying race deadlines nearly missed. Just when it seems the world is dead set against him, his luck turns—but not simple luck that befalls those who may not have earned it, but good fortune won by sheer dint of effort. Goss stays positive and focused and utterly determined, and while I am reading, I experience his triumph as his dream becomes real. 

I am hypnotized. Dumbfounded. My heart is hammering in my chest, and the half-eaten peanut butter sandwich balanced on one knee is attracting flies I don’t bother to brush away. I look up from the book; the brick edifice stares back at me. 

What’s my Vendee Globe? I ask myself. What item tops my Bucket List? What is the one distant and unlikely goal that—if I succeeded in achieving it—I could hold up for the rest of my life like a trophy to my existence? What’s the desire I hardly dare whisper to myself out of fear that I might never be able to get it? 

And right away I know what it is. I turn the book over on top of the sandwich, and my imagination starts reeling. I see ships and wind and a boy with an unlikely dream. And right there, The Dagger Quick is born. 

"Pirates! Bullies! Murder and mayhem! Family secrets! Seventeenth-century England to Cape Verde and the Caribbean! … Kitto, 12 years old, clubfooted, about to discover that his last name is different from what he thought, that his deceased mother had a dark and complicated past and that his uncle is a pirate. Kitto’s father, a cooper, is murdered, and Kitto kills his attacker, then is off to sail with his uncle after his stepmother and adored little brother are kidnapped." – Kirkus Reviews

"Readers will undoubtedly identify strongly with the scrappy Kitto, and this will heighten the tension built around his inevitable struggles and ultimate hard-won successes. The story is accurate enough to grab historical fiction fans and sharp and quick enough to keep adventure fans enthralled."  Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"The adventures are non-stop, page-turning fun. With an ending that begs for a sequel, there’s no doubt this book will become a new hit. " – Library Media Connection

"Readers will undoubtedly identify strongly with the scrappy Kitto, and this will heighten the tension built around his inevitable struggles and ultimate hard-won successes. The story is accurate enough to grab historical fiction fans and sharp and quick enough to keep adventure fans enthralled.... they’ll enjoy imagining how the subsequent events might play out in Kitto’s able hands." – Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Order your reviewer's copy now.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Franklin the Turtle books ▪ Picture books, early readers

Franklin the Turtle books
by Paulette Bourgeois  illustrated by Brenda Clark  
Available now  Kids Can Press  Ages 3- 7  
Everyone's favorite turtle returns for a new generation of readers!
Story: With over 65 million copies sold worldwide in over 30 languages,  Franklin the Turtle is every young child’s friend. Children instantly connect with the big-hearted turtle’s sense of adventure and enjoy watching him work through familiar problems and solving them in his own way and making everyone feel good. Many of the Franklin books help children identify their own feelings, fears, and anxieties (whether real or imagined) as featured in stories about going to school, dealing with bossy friends, hospital stays, class trips, having a bad day and many more common childhood experiences and milestones.  
Story behind the storyPaulette Bourgeois, a former journalist and occupational therapist, had wanted to write children's books but was waiting for that idea. Well, it came from the TV show
M*A*S*H, she said in an interview. "Alan Alda's character, Hawkeye, tells Hot Lips that he can't go into a cave for protection from heavy bombing because is he so claustrophobic that if he were a turtle he'd be afraid of his own shell.  The next morning, I wrote the story of Franklin, a turtle afraid of crawling into his shell because of 'creepy, crawly things.'"  And the rest, after working with publisher Kids Can Press and illustrator Brenda Clark, is history.

No matter a child's age, reading level or interests, there's a Franklin story for all types of readers:
Bring Franklin to your school, library, or book festival!  Submit your request for the Franklin costumed character.

Download activity sheets including coloring pages, word searches, matching games and how to learn Franklin's secret handshake.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Trick-or-Treat Safety Tips from Scaredy Squirrel ▪ Public Service Announcement

He's been called "one of my all-time favorite children's book characters"*. Everyone understands and loves (more than 1.6 million books sold) Scaredy Squirrel, Melanie Watt's nutty worrywart.  Well, leave it to Scaredy to come up with his Top Three Safety Tips for Trick-or-Treating Public Service Announcement video.  

It takes just a minute to learn about safe costumes and candy consumption.  

More can be found in the book SCAREDY SQUIRREL PREPARES FOR HALLOWEEN: A Safety Guide for Scaredies from Kids Can Press

Watt certainly has hit on a formula that provides readers with a familiar but guaranteed-to-be-hilarious experience.” — Kirkus Reviews, August 2013
The timid and brave alike will laugh their way through this holiday addition to Watt’s series.— Publishers Weekly - Starred Review, July 2013
Here's to a fun-filled, safe Halloween.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Elephant's Story ▪ Picture book

written and illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson
October 22, 2013   Margaret Ferguson Books / FSG   Ages  4-8
A book about letters and words forming a friendship you will never forget.
Story:  The day Gracie loses her favorite book, Elephant finds it. He sniffs the words ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS and--oops--they go up his trunk, where they wiggle and jiggle and make him sneeze.  The letters fly through the air helter skelter, and when Elephant tries to put them back together, he can't figure out how to make the right words that fit.  He asks his friends for help, but they just choose some of the letters to make up their own words--Aligator wants to CHEW them, Seal SPINs them, Monkey THROWS them, and Bear just SNOREs.  Lucky for Elephant, Grace comes looking for her books.  She makes the letters into the right words and then adds some of her own.  
Children ages 3-7 will love following befuddled Elephant as he works to right the book; they'll enjoy finding letters throughout, reading the words of his friend, and clap when Gracie comes to the rescue.  Plus young readers might just be inspired to create a few words of their own along the way.  
Story behind the story:  With over 35 books for children and countless awards from Parenting magazine, Parents’ Choice, Time magazine and starred reviews from top literary magazines and more, there’s no doubt that author-illustrator Tracey Campbell Pearson gets kids. She understands what it takes to get a child to say, “Read it again, please.” With both carefully chosen words and chock-full-of-energy illustrations, Pearson tells her stories with a pace and rhythm that has kids anxious to turn the page to see what’s next – and she throws in a bit of humor to keep them laughing along the way. So, where did ELEPHANT'S STORY come from?

Ideas come from the strangest places; here, it all started with a phone message from a librarian who called Pearson to see if she’d create a logo for a literary program featuring an elephant. With elephants, letters, and words on the brain (and perhaps a memory of carrying around a favorite book when she was a child), Pearson turned the logo request into a new book. 

DOWNLOAD an activity kit filled with a word scramble, maze, Elephant and Gracie finger puppets, color Elephant letter sheet and more.  

Want to meet the author-illustrator? Tracey's on the road this fall, drawing Elephant and Gracie everywhere she goes.  Maybe she's coming to your area?  See this schedule.

Look!  Elephant has been selected by booksellers nationwide to grace the cover of their annual BEST BOOKS FOR CHILDREN catalog!


"A sweet, funny story—though not without its awkward moments—with a metafictive theme that should entertain." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Pearson’s humorous illustrations are drawn with a loose flowing line. An overlay of light watercolors brings to life Elephant’s expressive face. Endpapers show him making the letters of the alphabet with this body. A lighthearted picture book for storytimes about friendship, cooperation, or books." -- School Library Journal


Monday, August 19, 2013

Texting the Underworld ▪ Middle-grade fiction

August 15, 2013   Dial   Ages 10 and up
This totally fresh take on the afterlife combines the kid next door appeal of Percy Jackson with the snark of Artemis Fowl and the heart of a true middle grade classic.
Story:  Perpetual scaredy-cat Conor O'Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee girl named Ashling shows up in his bedroom. Ashling is--as all banshees are--a harbinger of death, but she's new at this banshee business, and first she insists on going to middle school. As Conor attempts to hide her identity from his teachers, he realizes he's going to have to pay a visit to the underworld if he wants to keep his family safe.

"Got your cell?"
"Yeah . . . . Don't see what good it'll do me."
"I'll text you if anything happens that you should know."
"Text me? Javier, we'll be in the afterlife."
"You never know. Maybe they get a signal."

Discover why Kirkus has called Booraem's work "utterly original American fantasy . . . frequently hysterical." 

The story behind the story:  Author Ellen Booraem explains:  "I was researching another book idea, leafing through Abbey Lubbers, Banshees & Boggarts by folklorist Katharine Briggs, when a picture of a banshee caught my eye. It was a relatively young woman, hovering overhead and weeping. I was shocked—thanks to Walt Disney and a deeply fearful childhood, I’d always thought banshees were hideous shrieking specters. To the contrary, Briggs contended that they often were maidens who died too young, and who then spent their afterlives warning of impending deaths in their families.
Sounded like a book to me.

Each of my stories so far combines a human with a supernatural sidekick. It’s always the supernatural character who pops into my head first. I thought it would be fun to have a young banshee show up in an Irish-American household and see what happened. Obviously she’d be there because someone was about to die, so the most interesting protagonist would be a kid for whom that was going to be a big, big deal.

The result was Conor O’Neill, a twelve-year-old whose favorite person on earth is his grandfather. To up the ante, I gave Conor a potent set of fears (borrowed from his author): spiders, snakes, heights, closed-in spaces.

When the book starts, Conor is trying to get up the courage to squish a spider on his ceiling. Things go downhill (and underground) from there.


“Booraem applies a light touch to her heavy subject . . . . But she doesn’t avoid staring death in the face, saddling her likably unlikely hero with an agonizing decision that, though framed in fantasy, is all too gut-punchingly real. Like Conor, readers will emerge from this adventure a little bit better equipped for heroism.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Complex characters, a moving story line centered on family and courage, and plenty of exciting moments make this an appealing read for those fans of tales mixing traditional folklore with contemporary life.” –The Horn Book

Learn more about the author via her website or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.  

And visit with Ellen on her blog tour tomorrow at The Modpodge Bookshelf. She's written a guest post on Being a Girl in Fifth Century Ireland. 


Friday, June 7, 2013

If The World Were A Village: A Book About the World's People ▪ Non-fiction picture book

by David J. Smith    illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong
Available now   Citizen Kid /  Kids Can Press    Ages 8-12
The best-selling book which has sold over 400,000 copies in 17 languages – updated with new content and insights about the world's people. A Common Core Curriculum ELA Exemplar Title

“This book is about ‘world-mindedness,’ which is an attitude, an approach to life,” writes Smith. “It is the sense that our planet is actually a village, and we share this small, precious village with our neighbors. Knowing who our neighbors are, where they live, and how they live, will help us live in peace.”  -- author David J. Smith

Story: First published to wide acclaim in 2002, this eye-opening book has since become a classic, promoting "world-mindedness" by imagining the world's population – all 6.8 billion of us – as a village of just 100 people.  Now, If the World Were a Village has been newly revised with updated statistics, several new activities and completely new material on food security, energy and health. By exploring the lives of the 100 villagers, children will discover that life in other nations is often very different from their own.  If the World Were a Village is part of CitizenKid: A collection of books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens.

David J. Smith, a teacher with more than 25 years of experience in the classroom, is the creator of the award-winning curriculum “Mapping the World by Heart” and the author of two other Kids Can Press books —
If America Were a Village: A Book about the People of the United States and This Child, Every Child: A Book about the World’s Children. He is now a full-time educational consultant. 

Shelagh Armstrong has been illustrating since 1987. Her work can be found on product packaging around the world, on coins and stamps in Canada and in many books and magazines. She has also illustrated If America Were a Village and This Child, Every Child. 

Story behind the story:  "I taught Grade 7 and the book originated with one of my students," says author David J. Smith.  The student needed to decide which language to take and asked his teacher which one was most important.  The student asked "Suppose our classroom represented the world, how many of us would speak English, how many French, how many Spanish..."  This one question provided the idea for the book.  "If the world were a village, what could we learn?"  You can hear David telling his story via this Meet-the-Author Book Reading at TeachingBooks.net.

"This highly informative book will get kids thinking and asking questions." -- Booklist

"These days, the world seems to be getting smaller.  This timely, unique book enhances that sentiment.  It is useful for a current understanding of the world's population." -- School Library Journal

"Thought-provoking and highly effective, this world-in-miniature will open eyes to a wider view of our planet and its human inhabitants." -- Horn Book

★ "An eye-opener and a source of action." -- Library Talk, starred review

Association of Booksellers for Children Choices 
International Reading Association Children's Book Award
Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
Parents' Guide Choice

IF THE WORLD WERE A VILLAGE is a perfect choice when discussing global community and awareness, multiculturalism, and human geography.  You can "Make it Real," "Become World-Minded," and "Make a Math Connection" with this downloadable activity kit.

IF THE WORLD WERE A VILLAGE has been embraced by classroom teachers of all grades, elementary through college level.  If you've shared the book with your students, colleagues, we'd love to hear your thoughts and HOW you used it in the classroom.  Please share your experience with it in the COMMENTS field. 


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Doll Bones ▪ Middle-grade fiction

DOLL BONES by Holly Black, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
May 2013   Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster   Ages 5 - 9
A doll that may be haunted leads three friends on a thrilling adventure in this delightfully creepy novel from the New York Times bestselling cocreator of the Spiderwick Chronicles.
Story: Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And for almost as long, they’ve been playing one continuous, ever-changing game of pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over all is the Great Queen, a bone-china doll cursing those who displease her.

But they are in middle school now. Zach’s father pushes him to give up make-believe, and Zach quits the game. Their friendship might be over, until Poppy declares she’s been having dreams about the Queen—and the ghost of a girl who will not rest until the bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave.

Zach and Alice and Poppy set off on one last adventure to lay the Queen’s ghost to rest. But nothing goes according to plan, and as their adventure turns into an epic journey, creepy things begin to happen. Is the doll just a doll or something more sinister? And if there really is a ghost, will it let them go now that it has them in its clutches?

BEHIND THE BOOK: Holly Black shares this behind-the-scenes info (really interesting story -- worth the read!):  "DOLL BONES is the book that I’ve been trying to write for a long time. It’s about a lot of things that are really personal to me—and it’s also about a lot of things that creep me out. I did two kinds of research for this book. The first kind of research was trying to get back at my own life when I was twelve. I was the kid who played dolls for way too long and didn’t want to give them up, even after my two best friends got more into music and boys. What I remember most viscerally is grieving over the lost dolls, the ones my friends played with who would never visit again. I still had my friends — and we had lots of new adventures ahead of us — but those people that they pretended to be would never come back. In talking about this book, I’ve been surprised at how many people have a story like mine, a story about being a kid who loved storytelling with friends and who hadn’t wanted to stop. About the moment we were shamed into quitting the game and dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood. A lot of those people grew up to be writers. 

The second kind of research I did was about the creepy part—about bone china manufacturing. I knew that I wanted the doll that the three kids have, the one that might be haunted, the one that they have to bury, to be made from bone china. I wanted that because bone china is made with ground-up bones— in the case of this doll, human bones. (Note: the bone char in actual bone china is cow. I am almost entirely sure that no one ever made bone china plates or bowls or coffee pots with human bone char.) There are only a couple of places in the US that ever manufactured true bone china. Which is how I wound up going on an adventure to East Liverpool, Ohio, a town famous for its pottery and about which I knew absolutely nothing else. I had one weekend, so I headed down to New Jersey, picked up my critique partner, Steve Berman, and we drove through the night to make it to a small hotel across the border in West Virginia. It was about four in the morning when we turned off the highway. Mist was rising off the woodlands around us as we drove through a series of wildly curving roads. We spotted a fence that appeared to be from the zombie apocalypse—too high to be keeping out only cattle, rusted, and ripped unsettlingly. At that moment, we turned a sharp corner in the road and saw the remains of an old building spray-painted with graffiti of dripping red symbols. This was the first time Steve turned to me and said, “turn this car around immediately.” It would not be the last. Now, look. I know what you’re thinking: that’s not so scary. Well, imagine the scene without a single streetlight, illuminated entirely by the headlights of my car, and with no houses for miles. It was pretty scary to us. So scary that Steve and I stopped talking entirely and just stared out the windows, waiting for a ghostly hitchhiker or headless horseman. 

We did finally make it to the hotel, which was brightly lit and perfectly ordinary. We checked into our rooms, laughed at ourselves for being scared, and slept until our alarms woke us. Then it was Saturday and time to go into town. I set my trusty GPS to the address for the Museum of Ceramics. As we crossed over the tiny, skinny bridge into East Liverpool, I realized I had no idea what to expect. The Museum turned out to be near the center of town, across the street from a gorgeous library, on a wide street full of shops and restaurants. There was only one problem— despite it being a beautiful Saturday morning in the Spring, almost every shop was closed. A small café stood open on one end of the road and several blocks over, a place called Pants Unlimited was having a going-out-of-business sale. (And yes, Pants Unlimited made it into the book—how could I have left a detail like that out?) A few cars were parked on the street, but there were no people anywhere. Ignoring that, we headed straight for our goal, The Museum of Ceramics. And lo, it was awesome! Within were beautiful examples of pottery crafted in East Liverpool from 1840 to 1930 and explanations of the processes, as well as the rise and decline of the pottery industry. We watched a short film and I took lots of notes. There was even another person there — or at least sometimes there were footsteps, and once I thought I heard someone’s voice. So, another person, or a haunted museum. On our way out, the nice woman at the desk asked us why we’d come to East Liverpool. “Oh,” said Steve, “to visit this museum.” 

Unfortunately, that was the wrong answer. She stared at us as though we were dangerous lunatics. There were several spots I wanted to visit: the kids, carrying their creepy bone doll, try to make the journey by bus (it does not go well) and must attempt to bury the doll in a cemetery (surprisingly, the cemetery goes better than the bus stop). I thought visiting a few local spots would be a simple process, but alas, we were led astray. No, I mean we were literally led astray. The GPS kept malfunctioning, trying to take us off cliffs and into bogs. ‘Turn this car around, Holly!’ Steve kept chanting. It became our musical accompaniment, varied with different lyrics: ‘‘Do you think the car is possessed and trying to kill us, Holly?’’ and “Didn’t we almost go over this very cliff ten minutes ago, Holly?” (Now that he mentioned it, that cliff did look familiar.) Eventually we made it to the place where the bus stop was supposed to be. I had the street names, and the exact intersection. We got out of the car and walked around and around. The Internet had sworn to me there was a bus stop there. Surely the Internet wouldn’t lie to me. “Let’s go into this bar,” Steve said. “Oh, good idea, let’s ask for directions,” I said. “Sure . . . that’s what I meant,” said Steve. Raucous laughter spilled out of the bar. Several people who lived nearby seemed deeply amused by the thought that there might be, or ever have been, public transportation available nearby. They seemed to feel that I was making a hilarious joke. I couldn’t believe that my twelve-year-old characters turned out to actually be better at bus travel than I was. At least they were able to locate a bus stop. We did actually make it to the cemetery. It existed. It was a perfectly ordinary cemetery, which at this point I found soothing—until we were leaving, when I noticed there were spigots that came out of the ground. They were drive-up spigots, as in we could literally drive up and serve ourselves a cup of water from one. I did not do this, because I (a) don’t travel with a water bottle to fill, (b) never drink water, even though I know I should, (c) thought that grave water might possess the bad kind of magic that turns you into a zombie, and (d) because Steve told me not to. In no way do I mean to imply that East Liverpool was anything but a great place. There was a lot of driving involved for me: I was delirious pretty much throughout. Everybody was lovely to me, possibly because I looked like an escaped lunatic who had somehow got hold of a notebook. 

I went to this place hoping to find stories, and I did: the last piece of my story was born there in the mist, the quiet museum of bones, the apparently imaginary bus stop, and, most of all, in the experience of trying to navigate unfamiliar (and sometimes scary) place with a friend. I found what I needed for DOLL BONES and, also, unlimited pants. I’m glad I went to East Liverpool. And, Steve, thanks for coming with me." 


"A little bit scary and full of heart, this story grabbed me and wouldn't let go."

- Rebecca Stead, Newbery Award winning author of WHEN YOU REACH ME

"Doll Bones positions itself to look like a simple ghost tale about a creepy doll, then sneaks in an engaging, thoughtful look at the ramifications of adolescence and storytelling. Consider this the thinking child’s horror novel. A devilishly clever read from an author too long gone from the children’s book genre."

-- Elizabeth Bird, A Fuse #8 Production, SLJ blog


Wednesday, April 24, 2013


by Elizabeth Norris
April 23, 2013   Balzer + Bray  Ages 14 - 18
In this heart-pounding sequel to Unraveling, author Elizabeth Norris explores the sacrifices we make to save the people we love and the worlds we'll travel to find them.
Story:  Four months after Ben disappeared through the portal to his home universe, Janelle believes she'll never see him again. Her world is still devastated, but civilization is slowly rebuilding, and life is starting to resume some kind of normalcy—until Interverse Agent Taylor Barclay shows up, asking for Janelle's help. Somebody from an alternate universe is running a human-trafficking ring—kidnapping people and selling them on different Earths. And Ben, with his unique abilities, is the prime suspect. Now his family has been imprisoned and will be executed if Ben doesn't turn himself over within five days. When Janelle learns that someone she cares about—someone from her own world—has become one of the missing, she knows that she has to help Barclay, regardless of the danger.

Now Janelle has five days to track down the real culprit. Five days to locate the missing people before they're lost forever. Five days to reunite with the boy who stole her heart. But as the clues begin to add up, Janelle realizes that she's in way over her head—and that she may not have known Ben as well as she thought. Can she uncover the truth before everyone she cares about is killed?
Story behind the story:  Author Elizabeth Norris gives us this bit of behind-the-scenes scoop:  "When I was teaching, I had a lot of students who said things like, “I hate reading” or “I haven’t read anything since Goosebumps in third grade.” (I taught high school English classes, so presumably anyone who had managed to get into Honors American Literature should have read something since Goosebumps.)

As a result I always prided myself on finding just the right book that changed their minds. Which means I know first hand how important it is for librarians and teachers to have books—and how much money it can cost (sometimes out of your own pocket) in order to maintain that.  So I’m giving away 100 FREE copies of Unraveling to teachers, librarians, or coordinators or programs that promote literacy. Enclosed with the book will be a hard copy of the discussion guide, and I’ll be happy to personalize the book for anyone who wants it personalized. (Signed books and anything by Jodi Picoult were the most commonly stolen books from my classroom library, so I won’t take offense if you don’t want my signature.)"  Since The Picnic Basket blog is all about sharing books with teachers and librarians, we just had to feature this title as the author feels similarly!

“Abundant plot twists and betrayals to keep readers on the edge of their seats.” (ALA Booklist )

“This high-stakes thriller-complete with mind-bending sci-fi twist-will hook you and never let go.” (Pittacus Lore, #1 New York Times bestselling author of I Am Number Four - on UNRAVELING )

“Leav[es] the reader wanting more and begging for a sequel to this multilayered debut.” (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) - on UNRAVELING )

“Readers will enjoy the nonstop action and romance.” (School Library Journal - on UNRAVELING)

“If Veronica Mars snatched a case from Mulder and Scully, you’d get this fast-paced page-turner. With a heroine full of moxie, wicked surprises around every corner, and non-stop action, UNRAVELING is an irresistible thriller.” (Andrea Cremer, New York Times bestselling author of the Nightshade trilogy - on UNRAVELING)

Order your reviewer's copy now.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

PTEROSAUR TROUBLE ▪ Non-fiction picture book

by Daniel Loxton    Kids Can Press   Ages 4-7
“Prehistoric creatures sport feathers, wrinkles, teeth and scales that are all rendered with hyper-realistic clarity and sharpness. … Dino devotees will devour this eye candy with relish.” –Kirkus
Story:  Follow the pterosaur, a majestic flying reptile, as he encounters a pack of tiny but vicious dinosaurs.  A unique blend of digital illustrations and landscape photography brings the ensuing battle to life.  PTEROSAUR TROUBLE is book two in the Tales of Prehistoric Lives series.  Dramatic stories + eye-popping visuals = a surefire hit with young dinosaur lovers.
Story behind the story: "The Tales of Prehistoric Life series," says author Daniel Loxton,"  strives to attain very high degree of photorealism — I want it to look like I just grabbed my camera and popped back to the Cretaceous in my time machine. To achieve that, I borrow a lot of tricks from Hollywood special effects and visual effects. But there's a big problem with that: Hollywood techniques tend to be very expensive, and work best with huge crews and huge movie industry budgets. We don't have any of that! 

The support and involvement of my own family helps to make that possible. My pregnant wife and young son and I spent days in a tent to capture the key Canadian location photography for Pterosaur Trouble. Those photographic plates get modified a great deal once I get them into my computer in the studio: I stitch them into massive panoramas; paint out the Coke cans and roads and human beings; replace the skies; add the creatures; and modify the landscapes as needed to serve the story. But the more I can capture in-camera on location, the easier and better the process is later. For example, the prehistoric animals in Pterosaur Trouble interact with the water of the river in the story, so it was very useful to capture a lot of splash elements on location. That way, the splashes of water accurately reflect the environment and lighting conditions of the location, so they look intuitively convincing when I add the dinosaurs. To generate those hundreds of splash elements, I drafted my son to spend hours playfully lobbing rocks into the water — nice work if you can get it!

The creatures I select for my stories are sculpted inside a computer as entirely virtual creatures by my collaborator Jim Smith. After expert feedback from our science consultant and a large number of revision cycles, I wrap realistic skin textures around them. That's a laborious, detail-oriented process. The skin texture maps have so much resolution that they're each equivalent to a 67 megapixel photograph! 

I hand paint much of that detail, but for realism it starts once again with photographic reference from nature: detailed photographs of modern living animals from zoos and preserved specimens in museum collections. Bats, pheasants, and herons were especially useful for Pterosaur Trouble.

Although these books are fiction for kids, they are nonetheless informed by the true scientific discoveries of paleontology. In fact, the basic conflict of Pterosaur Trouble was inspired by a specific fossil find from Alberta, Canada. Scientific accuracy is very important to me, to the extent that I actually went back into Ankylosaur Attack to make a correction AFTER it was published:  Throughout the process for Pterosaur Trouble and the third book (in production now), I've kept in close contact with our science consultant, palaeozoologist Darren Naish. He clears all of the basic plot points, reviews the creature designs, and checks the story for scientific accuracy.   See more here.

Reviews and praise: 

"Pterosaur Trouble is a terrific example of how to make a popular book on prehistoric animals both exciting and scientifically sound, an accolade that is all the more remarkable when you consider that a part of its targeted demographic is still learning to read....I get the feeling that real effort was made to render animals which would satisfy fully fledged palaeontologists as much as children. …  there are lots of little details to appreciate."
- Mark Winton, paleontologist, author of Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy (Princeton University Press, June 2013).

 “…the prehistoric creatures sport feathers, wrinkles, teeth and scales that are all rendered with hyper-realistic clarity and sharpness. … Dino devotees will devour this eye candy with relish.”

Read an interview with the author on Wired's GEEKMOM blog, and Scientific American.  Plus Daniel writes for Junior Skeptic, the 10-page critical thinking publication for kids bound inside Skeptic magazine.