“'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

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.