Monday, March 23, 2020

Dear Moms

An open letter to all moms everywhere.

Dear Moms,

These past couple of weeks have brought change that would bring a piggy bank to its knees. I've been scrambling, along with every other mom I know, to figure out not only a new schedule for myself, but for my kids, too.

I've seen amazingly helpful posts like THIS ONE by Patricia Bailey. I've seen lists of great activities to keep kids reading like THIS ONE put together by Kate Messner. And wow, there have been so many people jump in to offer advice and schedules. And basically, people are good and helpful. I've loved seeing all the helpers jumping in.

But moms, just a little reminder that we are only human. If you are plowing through, and feeling great about how it's going, that's wonderful! But if you are struggling, and ready to tear your hair out, and on the verge of tears . . . you know what? You are not alone.

My kids and I had some really great moments this last week, but we also had some really bad ones. In between the laughs, and the hikes, and the movie nights, we had raised voices. We had tears. We had breakdowns.

Please, cut yourselves a little slack. Remember that we are going through a global crisis that no one could have forseen (well, except those dystopian authors. They saw it all). If watching TV and eating cookies is what works for you, do it! If letting your kids play Minecraft for a few hours is what you need to maintain your sanity, do it! So what if Karen is plowing through her color-coded chart? Karen is not you. That is Karen's way of coping. You do you.

These are tough times. But know I'm rooting for you! I'm rooting for us all. We will get through this, and we will be stronger.

All the air hugs to you and yours. And remember . . . you're doing great!

Take care,

Me

Monday, March 16, 2020

Author Interview: Wendy McLeod MacKnight

I've had this blog post scheduled for a while. Long before the chaos of COVID-19 hit. I debated if we should hold off, but after talking to Wendy, we both feel the world needs some non-COVID-19 things to talk about and enjoy. Wendy is so fun, and I hope you enjoy this fabulous interview!

~~~
Today is going to be awesome! I'm so excited to have Wendy McLeod MacKnight here on my blog! 

Wendy is the author of THREE amazing Middle Grade novels: It's a Mystery, Pig Face! (Sky Pony Press, 2017), The Frame-Up (Greenwillow Books, 2018), and her most recent release The Copycat (Greenwillow Books, 2020), which came out last week!

Wendy and I met as middle grade authors through the debut group the Sweet Sixteens, and bonded over kindred-spirit characters. When I was on the hunt for a new agent, a happy twist of fate landed me with Wendy's, and I'm just thrilled to have an excuse to ask all the questions and to get to know her, and her latest book, even better!

I'm just going to jump right in, but as always, I'll be in green bold.

I am fascinated by the concept of THE COPYCAT. So clever! Will you tell everyone what it's about?

Thanks Janet! I’m going to try and explain the concept without any spoilers! THE COPYCAT tells the story of Ali Sloane, whose family has moved WAY too many times during her short twelve years. To survive all these new schools, Ali has learned to adapt; whatever the popular kids are doing, so is she. When she and her parents move to Saint John to live with her great-grandmother, Ali hopes that she can finally set down roots and make real friends. But it isn’t easy to be yourself when you’re not sure who yourself really is. Throw in a family feud and a mysterious fog and things get way more complicated for Ali!

A family feud and mysterious fog are sure-fire ways to complicate anyone's life! I love it! So what inspired you to write THE COPYCAT?

My own life! I moved five times before I was sixteen, twice between the time I was fourteen and sixteen years old. The last two moves were incredibly hard, and I struggled. I was so lonely, and to make friends, I would try hard to be like them instead of myself. It was painful, and I definitely wanted to write about how hard it can be to be your authentic self when you’re just trying to survive socially.

I knew the book had to be set in Saint John, New Brunswick because a) the fog is really something; b) it’s such a cool port city; and c) the character of Gigi is (very) loosely based on my grandmother, Huia Ryder, who was a force of nature, and from who I inherited my love of all things gaudy and sparkly!

I think you nailed how painful it is when you're trying to be just like everyone else, and it just isn't you. This idea of being true to yourself is a major theme in your book. Did you ever struggle with fitting in as a kid? 

Um, see above! Honestly? I am a total goofball and people pleaser, so it was hard to find my people sometimes. But I’m also totally lucky: my best friends from grade one are still my friends, and the group of friends I acquired after our last move are still my friends. But I have no idea where any of the kids are that I befriended when I was fourteen, so that kind of tells you that they were never real friends, and the first batch of friends I made in Fredericton didn’t totally stick either.

I'm a people-pleaser, too. I totally get that. (And the goofball bit is probably why we get along so well!). Not all childhood friends stick, but I'm always amazed that the best ones keep coming back, even after years of separation.

So now that you have all kinds of wisdom and hind-sight, what advice would your adult self give to your past self?

Advice? I was a sensitive, drama-prone romantic who felt awkward a lot of the time. I’d love to tell younger me to hang in there and be true to herself, but I don’t think she’d believe me. I’d also tell her to keep believing in magic. That I think she’d believe.

Haha! Yeah, I didn't believe the adults much either, but they were right. And amen about the magic! 

Taking a little turn here . . . one of the things I loved about your book were all of the side notes, like "Ali's List of Schools (So Far)." I am a BIG fan of lists. Did you include these with the original manuscript? How did these become a thing? (Which I'm so glad they did!)

I love lists, too! Those lists were always there, though I think my agent, Lauren Galit, really encouraged me to go for them!

She's a wise one!

The lists were a shorthand way to impart information, but they were also a way to give the reader a sense of how much Ali tries to control things in a world in which she has very little control. She loves her parents, but the moves are painful for Ali, and they’ve caused a huge amount of bitterness. I didn’t want to shy away from that; when we moved, I was furious with my dad for months. I basically left the Pig Face neighborhood and had no friends for months and it was awful. Later, I got that my dad had no choice, but when you’re a kid, you don’t think of your parents as sometimes being helpless.

So true! And then it's a shock when you become an adult and realize the truth, that we're all just doing our best. But I love that you let Ali express her bitterness, because it's HARD being a kid, and having to deal with the consequences of choices we didn't make.

So let's talk characters! I know this is a cruel question, but do you have a favorite character from your book? I'm kind of partial to Alfie with his cool British accent, and mysterious life. And I love how important family is to him. I think we would have been friends.

I love Alfie. I’m kind of partial to Gigi, who is (very) loosely based on my grandmother. In the end though, I think I love Digger best, because he really is trying, despite all of his pain!

Putting bits from people we love into our characters is one of the best parts of being an author! And isn't it interesting how we love the characters who hurt the worst? I feel the same way about my own characters. 

Okay, you know I have to ask. If you were a Copycat, what would be your favorite thing to turn into?

In no particular order: A goldfinch, Batgirl, Amal Clooney, and Adele.

Gah! I really want to know why on all of these . . . okay, except Adele, because she's AMAZING . . . but that might be a long detour, so I'm letting you off the hook. But fascinating answers!

Okay, I would love to learn more about you! Being an author is a second career for you. Can you tell us about your past life, and also, why you decided to become an author (and particularly a middle grade one!)?

In my past life, I worked for the Government of New Brunswick, and ended my career in charge of the Department of Education. All of my positions in government were about supporting children or vulnerable people, and it was so rewarding.

I decided to become an author when I was eight or nine years old, and that desire never wavered. Finally, I got up the courage to try! I only ever wanted to write middle grade fiction, because the books I read when I was that age are the books that have stuck with me for my entire life. They’re the books I read over and over. It’s such a magical time of life for reading and it’s a privilege to write for middle grade readers!

Amen, my friend! It is a huge privilege. Anything else you want to share? Random facts, things that are important to know about you . . .

Other things about me: Sapphire is my favourite colour, I’d walk for hours for a piece of chocolate cake with seven-minute frosting, I feed every kind of critter (although raccoons are my favourite), I adore science fiction TV series and movies, consider Jaws the perfect movie, am petitioning to adopt Baby Yoda, and never turn down cheese.

You Canadians are so cute the way you spell 'favorite'! I love it! (haha!) And this is a wild coincidence, but when I went to Canada last year, I came face to face with a raccoon. I think it wanted me to feed it. Maybe it was one of yours! But oy, on Jaws. I saw it when I was super young in the theaters, and that movie still gives me nightmares. I'm a total wimp.

Are you ready for this next bit? Speed round!

Cadbury vs. Hershey's?

Cadbury! Canada is a Commonwealth Country!

Hogwart's house?

Ravenclaw!!!!

PB&J vs. mac & cheese?

I’m allergic to nuts, so mac ‘n cheese all the way!

Winnie-the-pooh character?

Christopher Robin. He always suspects he’s going to grow up and he sucks the marrow out of his time in the hundred-acre wood. Fortunately for me, I haven’t grown up yet!

Campfire & S'mores vs. Symphony & Crème Brûlée?

Definitely campfire and s’mores. But if I can eat Crème Brûlée at a café in Paris, I’m there!

What?! I had Crème Brûlée at a café in Paris just last week, and you totally weren't there. I now feel cheated. And that is bad news on the nuts! But when you come visit, I will forgo my usual PB&J and whip you up some mac'n' cheese. 😊
.
Okay, final question. License Plates. I always have to ask. What would Ali's personalized license plate be if she were old enough to drive? You have 8 letters, and GO! (P.S. do you have personalized plated in Canada?)

We sure do have personalized license plates in Canada!

Hmmm, I think Ali would go with FAMILY. Corny, but true!

I don't mind corny! I mean, aren't all personalized license plates just a little bit corny? As they should be. Thank you so much for indulging all my questions and visiting us here on the blog! And wishing all the best for you and THE COPYCAT!

Thank you so much for asking me to visit your blog, Janet! I am a huge Janet Sumner Johnson fan!

Awww, get on with you. 😌💓

As for the rest of you, thanks so much for stopping in and reading! You can find all the links for following Wendy on social media below, as well as links for where you can get your own copy of THE COPYCAT! 

~~~
Wendy McLeod MacKnight grew up in a small town with a library card as her most prized possession. She is the author of three middle grade novels: It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! (Sky Pony Press), The Frame-Up (a fantasy that asks “What if every original piece of art is actually alive?”) and The Copycat (both from Greenwillow Books). In her spare time, she gardens, hangs with her family and friends, and feeds raccoons.

You can follow her on TwitterGoodreadsFacebook, and Instagram.

THE COPYCAT is available now through AmazonB&N, and wherever books are sold.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Inspiring Women

Happy International Women's Day! I wanted to mention three women who have inspired me over the years. Today I'm focusing on public historical figures, because otherwise I would just post pictures of my mom, grandmother, sisters, aunts, well . . . you get the idea. So here we go!

#1: Marie Curie

Image result for images marie curie

The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person ever to win a second Nobel Prize, and the ONLY person to have won two Nobel Prizes in two different sciences (Linus Pauling won one for Chemistry and one for Peace). She is one of the very few women I remember learning about in school. She knew what she loved, and she worked tirelessly to make the world a better place through her work. I could go on for quite a while about her accomplishments, because they are many, but you can read more about here HERE. Marie Curie told me that a woman could do anything they put their mind to.

#2: Mother Teresa

Image result for mother teresa

Her life was so filled with love for others, that you can't help but be inspired to work harder to be a little better. If you look up quotes by Mother Teresa, you will find a plethora of inspiring words. Here is just one that I love: "If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one." The reminder that if we all did the little that we were able to do, the world would be a better place.

 #3: Harriet Tubman

Image result for Harriet Tubman Images

Harriet Tubman is one of the other few women I remember learning about in grade school. What impresses me most about Harriet Tubman is that she didn't hesitate to brave danger after danger--knowing what it could mean for herself if she were caught--to help other slaves experience the freedom that she had gotten. If only we were all so fearless, and so concerned about others.

So many inspiring women have helped change this world for the better, and it was tough to only highlight three. I think of Pocahontas, Amelia Earhart, Clara Barton, Florence Nightengale, Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Jane Austen, Ada Lovelace, and that is just to name a very few (and not even considering those who are still alive!). I thank them all for standing strong in their beliefs. For working hard in the face of doubt. For changing the world for the better.

Which women are you honoring today?

Monday, March 2, 2020

HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS Release Day!!

Woo hoo!! This day has been a long time coming, but it's here! My first picture book, HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson) is out in the world! Because it's such an exciting day, I didn't want to post just any blog post. Today, you get a Vlog!!

You can read about how this story was born over on Dawn Prochovnic's blog. So today, I wanted to give you Girlie and Mr. Daddy's version of what happened that night! So sit back, relax, and listen to this most interesting interview.


Hope you enjoyed it! And I hope you enjoy reading HELP WANTED MUST LOVE BOOKS!!

Before I end, a big congratulations to Melanie Mortensen who won the giveaway of a copy of my book, and one book of her choice from one of my fellow Debut Crew members!

~~~
You can purchase HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS on bookshop.org, which helps support local indie bookstores. Or if you don't have a local indie, you can always find it on Amazon or B&N.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Lost Resume #5

Welcome to the final day of my special series of Lost Resumes!

To celebrate the release of my picture book, HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson), on Monday, March 2nd (just 3 days from now!),  I'm sharing 5 Lost Resumes from characters who applied for the job of bedtime storyteller, but who didn't make it into the story.

I hope you enjoyed the other Lost Resumes. But if you missed, I've included a link to all of the resumes at the bottom, so be sure to check them out.

Drum roll, please, for the final addition! Today, I present you Lost Resume #5: Rumpelstiltskin



I confess, this one makes me giggle-laugh so hard. I know! I totally crack me up. It is so different than all the other resumes, but Rumpelstiltskin is quite the character, and he likes to do things his own way. This is the only version of his that made sense. And secret? Underneath that big black rectangle is his actual name. Yep. I wanted it to be authentic.

Another secret? I had to give Shailey a last name when I created this resume. She didn't have one before that. I know, I know, characterization and all that. But it was a corner I felt okay with cutting.

The only hard part about this particular resume, was not using the Shrek version of Rumpelstiltskin (either of them . . . you know he's featured twice, right? Feel free to watch them all again. In fact, I just might do that myself).

Once again, while I don't know why my publisher didn't choose this resume, I have my guesses. Rumpelstiltskin is right up there with Grandma Sweets. It's a bit dark to be thinking about a goblin stealing away a newborn baby, and since HELP WANTED is a book for young children, they probably don't even want to be thinking about their future children at all! I get that. I do.

But in the mean time, I'm just over here chuckling away.

Now, there are two final notes I need to make:

First, I dressed up these Lost Resumes for this series, but when I sent them to my publisher, they were nothing more than words in a Word document. Just in case you were wondering. 😊

Second, there is the little matter of the replaced characters. For those who have been dying to find out all week, here you go:

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves replaced the Farmer in the Dell. He was my absolute favorite, and I'm so sad he didn't make the cut. But let's just say that the stinky old cheese was a big problem for Shailey.

Captain Hook replaced the Pied Piper. Since the Pied Piper stems from a true story, he was deemed too creepy. But he made things a little too lively for Shailey's liking, anyway. 😳

I hope you enjoyed this series! If you want to see more resumes, you can find FOUR more as the backmatter in HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS. The perfect ones to match the rest of the book.

Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of my book, and a copy of a book by one of my fellow Debut Crew members! You have until Saturday, February 28th, at midnight EST.

And if you want to check out the other resumes, follow the links:

Lost Resume #1
Lost Resume #2
Lost Resume #3
Lost Resume #4

Have a great day!

~~~
You can purchase HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS on bookshop.org, which helps support local indie bookstores. Or if you don't have a local indie, you can always find it on Amazon or B&N.


Thursday, February 27, 2020

Lost Resume #4

Welcome back to my special series of Lost Resumes!

To celebrate the release of my picture book, HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson), on Monday, March 2nd (next week!),  I'm sharing 5 Lost Resumes from characters who applied for the job of bedtime storyteller, but who didn't make it into the story (mostly).

I hope you enjoyed the first three Lost Resumes. But if you missed, I've included a link to all of the resumes at the bottom, so be sure to check them out.

Today we are moving on to Lost Resume #4: King Midas!



I had to do a bit of research for this one. I mean, who didn't grow up hearing the story of King Midas? But turns out, I was pretty clueless. I'm certain I must have learned his story came from the Greek Myths at some point. But adult me had completely forgotten that tidbit.

When I mentioned this at the dinner table, my kids (ages 16, 13, and 10) went off on a deep discussion of a plethora of minor gods, comparing the Roman versions to the Greek, and I clearly need to start reading more Rick Riordan. My husband and I just sat there with mouths hanging open. Okay, not really, because we were eating dinner, but mentally, our mouths were definitely hanging open.

As I keep saying, I don't actually know why my publisher did or didn't choose each resume. But I feel fairly confident that King Midas didn't make it in because he is from the Greek Myths, and not from the fairy and folk tales they were going for. And I suppose it's also possible that this resume isn't as funny as the others. Maybe. But I'll let you be the judge of that.

Be sure to come back tomorrow when I share Lost Resume #5! The final one. In the meantime, don't forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of my book, and a copy of a book by one of my fellow Debut Crew members! And if you want to check out the other resumes, follow the links:

Lost Resume #1
Lost Resume #2
Lost Resume #3
Lost Resume #5

Have a great day!

~~~
You can purchase HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS on bookshop.org, which helps support local indie bookstores. Or if you don't have a local indie, you can always find it on Amazon or B&N.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Lost Resume #3

Good morning! This week I'm gearing up to celebrate the release of my picture book, HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson), on Monday, March 2nd!

For those who were here Monday and Tuesday, welcome back to my special series of Lost Resumes!
As a reminder, I'm sharing 5 Lost Resumes from characters who applied for the job of bedtime storyteller, but who didn't make it into the story.

I hope you enjoyed Captain Hook's and Snow White's Lost Resumes! I've included a link to all of the resumes at the bottom, so if you missed them, be sure to check them out.

Today we are moving on to Lost Resume #3: Grandma Sweets!

Wait. You don't know who she is? No, no, no. Of course you do. She is none other than the witch from Hansel and Gretel! Though really I should have made you guess based on the resume itself. Ahem. But here we are:


This one was a lot of fun to write. I mean, it's Grimm, but there we are. A lot of fairy tale characters are a bit Grimm. (I know, I know, I'm so punny!) Maybe I shouldn't admit this part, but it was really fun to put myself in the witch's shoes and think about what she might do to get the job. We already know she's pretty cunning just based on the fact that she lives in a consumable house.

Like I mentioned yesterday, I don't actually know why my publisher did or didn't choose each resume, but I'm guessing there were a couple of reasons for this one. First, the witch has no real name to speak of. I tried to look it up. But even if I had found something, no one would have known it. "Call me 'Grandma Sweets'" was the best I could do.

Second, the Grimm factor. Maybe they worried parents don't want to read a resume to small children about someone who wants to eat them. I don't know. Just a theory.

Be sure to come back tomorrow when I share Lost Resume #4! In the meantime, don't forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of my book, and a copy of a book by one of my fellow Debut Crew members! And if you want to check out the other resumes, follow the links:

Lost Resume #1
Lost Resume #2
Lost Resume #4
Lost Resume #5

Have a great day!

~~~
You can purchase HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS on bookshop.org, which helps support local indie bookstores. Or if you don't have a local indie, you can always find it on Amazon or B&N.


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Lost Resume #2

Hello, friends! I know it is a Tuesday, and I am not normally here on the blog, but this week is special, being the lead-up to the release of my upcoming picture book, HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson).

In HELP WANTED, Shailey interviews characters from her favorite stories for the job of Bedtime Storyteller. This week I'm sharing 5 Lost Resumes from characters who applied for the job of bedtime storyteller, but who didn't make it into the book. I hope you enjoyed Snow White's Lost Resume from yesterday. If not, you can find it HERE.

Today we are moving on to Lost Resume #2: Captain Hook!


I really liked this resume. The tricky part on this one was that I needed to be careful not to confuse the Captain Hook character from J.M. Barrie's book, with the one from the Disney movie. As such, I was forced into the extra work of reading the original PETER PAN (sometimes an author's job is tough,* but as a professional, one carries on).

The reason this resume was not included,** is because after I sent in the eight resumes for consideration, I was asked to replace another character in the book. They felt the original character was too controversial for schools.

Can you guess who that character might be? I'll give you a hint. It involved hygiene, and it was a male character. (I'm going to be honest here, I don't think you'll guess who it was! 😂) Anyway, Captain Hook became the replacement. Since we wanted resumes from characters who were not already in the book, the resume fell out of the running.

Yesterday, I said I might tell you who Snow White (and the 7 Dwarves) replaced, but since no one parried a guess, I will hold off until the end of the week. I gave no hint yesterday, but I'll give one today. She replaced someone who also brought along a group, and who was in a nursery rhyme instead of a fairy tale. (My hints don't make it easy, do they? 😂)

If you want to check out the other resumes, here they are:

Lost Resume #1
Lost Resume #2
Lost Resume #4
Lost Resume #5

Have a wonderful week! And be sure to come back tomorrow when I share Lost Resume #3! In the meantime, don't forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of my book, and a copy of a book by one of my fellow Debut Crew members!

If you don't want to wait, and just want to pre-order a copy of my book (I can hardly blame you for that!), you can find it on bookshop.org, which helps support local indie bookstores. Or if you don't have a local indie, you can always find it on Amazon or B&N.

*I'm kidding, this part of the job is not tough at all. I LOVE when I'm forced to read a good book. 😉

**Well, one major reason, anyway . . . I don't actually know all the reasons my publisher chose the four they did. I can only guess.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Countdown to Release Day (plus a giveaway!)

I don't know how this happened, but my picture book, HELP WANTED, MUST LOVE BOOKS (illustrated by Courtney Dawson), officially releases in exactly one week from today! (Aaaaaahhh!!) With the countdown to release day in full-swing, I wanted to share a little behind-the-scenes fun (and then host a giveaway!).

The first time I chatted with my editor at Capstone, my editor asked me what I thought about possibly including some back matter in the book. She couldn't have known, but I am a BIG FAN of all things back matter in fiction picture books. I leapt at the chance!

Ideas came swimming into my head immediately. I told her I had a lot of characters who didn't make the cut in the book. Since HELP WANTED is about story characters who apply for the job of bedtime storyteller, what if we did some character resumes for those lost characters?

She loved the idea, and so I got right to work, and sent her a sample later that week. That sample---a resume for Pinocchio---is now published in the final pages of my book. In fact, there are FOUR character resumes at the end of my book. I hope you'll love them! (Here's the tiniest sneak peeks.)

But guess what? I wrote way more than that. Yep. I wasn't sure what Capstone would like, so I sent them 8 to choose from. But I wrote even more resumes than that . . . because I only sent them the 8 best ones. So over the course of this week, I'm going to be sharing FIVE of those lost resumes! Eventually, they will be available for download on my website, but for now, here is LOST RESUME #1 for your viewing pleasure. May I present SNOW WHITE!



Snow White did not make the cut because I didn't think this resume was quite as amusing as the others. Thus, I never sent this one to my editor. In the end, it was just as well because Snow White, who hadn't been featured in my book at the time of that initial phone call, went on to replace a different character. Oh, the intrigue in the fairy tale world!

Who got replaced you ask? Take your best guess in the comments! I'd love to hear. And maybe I'll answer that question when I share the next Lost Resume! I'll add the links here as they're available:

Lost Resume #2
Lost Resume #3
Lost Resume #4
Lost Resume #5

But now, on to more fun stuff. With my release date being so close, I must, of course, celebrate with a giveaway!

So, to one lucky winner, I am giving not only a copy of my book, but a copy of a picture book written by a member of the 2020 Debut Crew (one book of your choice!)!! You can find a list of the authors and their books HERE. If the book you choose is not yet released, I will pre-order a copy of their book for you.

Entries close on Saturday, February 28th at midnight EST.

For all you international blog followers, this giveaway is open to every country where Book Depository delivers.  If you aren't certain about your country, check it out HERE.

For any U.S. followers, I will gladly send a signed copy of my book upon request. If you win, just let me know!

Just use the handy dandy Rafflecopter link below to enter. Good luck, my friends!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Monday, February 17, 2020

Author Interview: Elisavet Arkolaki


I'm so excited to welcome Elisavet Arkolaki on my blog today! She is the author of picture book WHERE AM I FROM? which is illustrated by Platon, a graffiti artist.

I met Elisavet through our debut group, and it's been fascinating to watch the process of her book. I was so fortunate to get to read her book in advance. Without further ado, let's get talking! (As always, I'm in the bolded, green text.)

Hi Elisavet, Welcome to my blog! Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to write children's books?

Hi Janet, thank you for inviting me here. I was born and raised in Greece, my husband in Norway, our first kid was born in Malta and our second in Norway. We speak three languages at home. I also lived in France and Spain prior to becoming a mum, and most European winters with the kids have been spent in Thailand. I grew up in a monolingual and rather monocultural society, where other languages were taught as 'foreign languages', thus the way I experienced the world during my formative years was very different from our children's. Thus, it's very high on my list to better understand their world view and offer them adequate support on their journey. My favorite medium to explore emotions, concepts, and ideas has always been writing thus it was only natural that I've now turned to write children's stories. I also curated a complimentary guide titled 'How to Raise Confident Multicultural Children' as a resource for parents, caregivers, and teachers which they can download by subscribing to my newsletter list HERE.

Wow! That is an impressive mix of countries, languages, and cultures. So I have to ask . . . I'm guessing you speak Greek, Norwegian, and English in your home. Is that right?

Yes. My husband speaks Norwegian with the kids, I speak Greek with the kids, and the common family language is English. 

So amazing. Well, I love that your kids are at the heart of your writing. Can you tell us about your book?

Through stunning murals by artist Platon, ‘Where am I from?’ will take our young ones on a quest in search of common origins. It's a fun story, crafted for preschoolers and early readers. It portrays children with different racial and ethnic backgrounds, living in countries from all six inhabited continents. The children gather together and try to find a universal answer to the question 'Where am I from?', an answer which isn't true just for them but true for everyone.

I feel that this book helps promote the idea that, in the end, when it comes to the very basics, we're all connected. It's during early childhood that many of our attitudes and beliefs towards others are shaped, and we form a perception of the world around us. It is therefore at this young age we should start introducing these ideas if we want our kids to grow up and create a better world than we have done so far.  

I wholeheartedly agree. We all have so much in common no matter where we happen to live. What inspired you to write WHERE AM I FROM?

Living an international life, I find it hard to answer 'Where are you from?' even if I grew up in one country. Almost half of my life has been lived abroad, my husband is from another country, we communicate and have formed our relationship and so many friendships in 'foreign' languages. 'Where are you from?' is truly a difficult question for so many people, and it implies you're not local.

If you had asked me "where are you from?", for instance, the first time I moved abroad, I would have answered from Greece. I would have probably done the same the second time I moved to a foreign country. Since then, things have gotten blurry. I still answer from Greece, but only for the sake of simplicity. In my case, it's not a question that makes me feel uncomfortable, I just don't know how to answer any more in a way that won't sound like an essay. Being pointed out as a foreigner is not an issue for me but if I find it confusing, how would a child feel? How will my children feel when they are asked this question? Children are vulnerable. They need to blend in, be part of the group and they need to feel local.

Once questions starting popping up at the dinner table about our countries of origin, the places we've lived, where our families and friends live, our travels, and the countries of the world, I felt I needed to be proactive and prepare them for the future. Soon other people would ask them questions. So I came up with the story Where am I from?.

However, the actual thread that began this story is found on a backpacking trip in Australia back in 2009 while I was riding a bus and listening to a local radio station. A journalist was asking tourists "Where do you come from?" I heard all sorts of cities and countries until he approached a mum and her young boy. He asked the boy ‘So, where do you come from?’ The boy replied the obvious, ‘I come from my mum’s belly’. I never forgot that phrase. It was genius in its simplicity. So this is from where I started developing this story: from the very end of it.
😊

That answer is genius. We are all connected, and sometimes it takes a child to see it. Speaking of children, I love how the children in your book have come from all over the world. Are any of them inspired by children you know?

When I was writing the story I chose countries from all 6 inhabited continents. The choice was made based on countries that are dear to me like Malta and Norway where my children have been born. I chose countries where friends of mine have been born or live like Venezuela and Nigeria. Others are from countries like China where I would love to visit one day, plus I felt the words would flow nicely within the story. Australia, as mentioned, is where the seed for this story got planted.

Then, in order to check whether there was indeed a market for such a book that would be illustrated entirely with spray paint graffiti murals, I ran a Kickstarter campaign. It would be a very time consuming, costly, and difficult project so we needed to make sure people would be interested in it, and that it was worth the effort. Because of that, all the kids that you see in the book are based on real kids. Their parents commissioned the art, and all characters except one are based on people of mixed cultural heritage; even the mum and the baby characters. 

That is so cool! What a gift from those parents to their kids. So in conjunction with that, I love that they all travel by animals or mythical creatures. Why did you decide to do that, and how did you choose their animals?

This was actually the editor's idea while we were working on the structure of the story (developmental editing phase). Originally, I had included the lion, the troll and the kangaroo, but there weren't animals and other creatures in every scene. She suggested it would really fire up the imagination of the kids and would make the book more interesting both visually and from a narrative point of view, and I agreed. I wanted us to use characters and landmarks that were part of the fauna, the history, the culture and/or mythology of each land like the gorgeous Chinese dragon, the jaguar in Venezuela and the troll in Norway.



I love that! And thank you for the sneak peek for my readers! Good thing for editors, right? So what takeaway do you hope readers will get from your book?

My wish is that the children will grasp how beautiful, colorful and diverse our world is. I hope they will discover that we all have common origins that go far beyond arbitrary borders on a map, borders which often move. There is, indeed, a universal answer to the question 'Where am I from?' I would also love this book to initiate a dialogue between adults and children about art and the different mediums and tools people use to express themselves. Street art, in particular, is a very powerful medium to express ideas and reach out to the broader public. I love that most of the graffiti has been painted in schools and the kids will get to see gorgeous art every day. 

The art is brilliant, and those kids really are lucky! How did you come up with the idea of using graffiti art for the images? It's so beautiful and I really wish I could see the originals!

It feels like everything is connected. Early 2009 I wrote my very first commissioned magazine article as a correspondent from Barcelona, Spain. It was a piece about Miss Van, a street artist from France who has been residing for many years in Barcelona. I grew up in a big city, Athens (5,000,000 people), and I've been influenced by urban art. I've always loved graffiti in its pure art form. Fast forward to 2017: I was toying with the idea of having my first children's book illustrated with street art and discussing it with Platon, the husband of my oldest childhood friend, who's a very talented street artist.

From a creative standpoint, and to our knowledge, spray paint graffiti has not been used as a medium for illustrating a children's picture book in English. And I can totally see why. Not only does it require an enormous amount of time, but it's also very physically challenging to be out there painting so many walls, and not just for the obvious reasons like having to stand up for hours. Did you know for instance that spray paint attracts mosquitos? lol.

Umm, no. I did NOT know that. Yikes!

Also, having a background in marketing, I sensed that graffiti art would help us bring the message across in an effective, powerful way, that would also make the book newsworthy. As a side effect, it could challenge the belief shared by many that street art is just 'vandalism'. I remember an online 'argument' on Facebook with a guy who commented under a photo of one of our murals that 'this is not graffiti', and when I asked him why he said that, he replied, "cause this is art." There is still this misconception that graffiti is just ugly tags.





Clearly, graffiti can be beautiful, and your book is already changing minds! And I just love getting a glimpse of the real-life image as painted on the wall.

Okay, one last question. Here on my blog, I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think the children in your story might choose for a personalized license plate (even though they are definitely all too young to drive!)? (And do they have personalized license plates in Norway?)

That's a funny one :). My best guess would be 'Future Global Citizen'. I have no idea if they do personalized license plates in Norway. Is it a thing in the USA?

Haha! Fair question. But it is definitely a thing in the USA. 😊

Thanks so much for stopping in. This was all fascinating! Wishing you and your book all the best! And to all my readers, please find Elisavet's social media links below, as well as links for where you can get your own copy of WHERE AM I FROM?

~~~
Elisavet Arkolaki is the author of the graffiti-illustrated children's picture book WHERE AM I FROM? (Faraxa Publishing, early 2020). The trickiest question you can ask Elisavet and her family is ‘Where are you from?’ because they are from everywhere! Passionate about travel and inspired by global learning, she raises her own children in between countries, cultures, and languages. She writes to build cultural understanding and sensitivity in young children while they are still eager to learn.

You can follow her on TwitterGoodreadsFacebook, Instagram, and her Website.

WHERE AM I FROM? is available through Amazon (Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle) and Faraxa Publishing 

Monday, February 10, 2020

Author Interview: Aya Khalil


I've always said that one of the best part about being an author is meeting other authors and getting to read their books and stories (sometimes a little early!). 

With my own picture book coming out in 2020, I was fortunate to meet several other debut picture book authors. One of them is Aya Khalil. Her book THE ARABIC QUILT: An Immigration Story, illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan, releases February 18th.

I got to read her book in advance, and am so excited to have her on my blog today. So please welcome Aya Khalil! (As always, I'll be in bolded green text.)

Hi Aya, Welcome to my blog!

Hi! Thanks for having me. 

I'd love to learn more about you. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Sure, I am a freelance journalist and educator with my debut picture book coming out in February. I live in Northwest Ohio with my three children and husband. 

Wow, three jobs (counting author)! That is not easy, especially with kids. And huge congratulations on your book. I'm so excited for it's release. Please tell us about it.

My book is about a beautiful girl named Kanzi who recently immigrated to the US from Egypt. She tries so hard to fit in but the teasing really gets to her. With the help of her teacher and mom, she learns to appreciate her language and culture. 


It's so hard to remember what's important when you're young . . . especially in the face of teasing. I loved that Kanzi had so many supportive adults in her life. Kids need that! I'd love to know what inspired you to write The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story.
  
My picture book is based on true stories growing up as an immigrant. I moved to the US when I was one with my parents and brother. We attended a mostly all-white school in a rural town in North Dakota. We had incredible teachers there and especially this one teacher who thought of this lesson one day. She asked me, with the help of my mom, to write down our classmates' names in Arabic. My classmates thought their names in Arabic were so cool! So they each copied their names on their own and the teacher hung them up as a quilt. This happened over 20 years ago and just comes to show how powerful teachers can be, especially to their minority students. 
 
What a lovely and inclusive lesson plan! Teachers have such an influence and can do so much good. And I love that you used your own life stories to inspire you. What advice would you give to beginning writers about finding ideas?

Write down ideas all the time! Whether it's a blog or even on your Notes app, write down encounters or situations. Maybe you will end up making it into a book some day.

Great advice! You never know what might inspire a story. 

Above you mentioned you do freelance journalism. Have you always wanted to write? And how did you get into writing picture books?

I read to my kids often and used to review picture books and I always thought it would be so neat to get my words out there to young children. With my background in journalism my published work was usually geared towards adults. 

Well, I'm so glad you took the plunge! The Arabic Quilt is a beautiful story that will no doubt resonate with a lot of kids! 

Thanks! 

As a new author what is the most surprising thing you've learned about being an author?

That it takes A LONG TIME! I was always so used to the fast-paced world of journalism and quick responses and quick edits and quick publishing times! Ha! That's not always the case in the picture book industry.

Haha! No, it is not. Such a stark contrast between the two industries. Patience is definitely needed for the book publishing world.
Okay, one last question. Here on my blog, I have a fascination for personalized license plates. What do you think Kanzi would put on her license plate (even though she's definitely too young to drive!)?

QuiltTheHate (Like quit the hate but with the word quilt instead)

How perfect! And I'm guessing that after your book releases, there will be a lot of classes making their own quilts, just like Kanzi's class.

Thank you again for stopping in and answering some questions!


Thank you so much for asking these great questions!

Best wishes for your book! And to all my readers, please find Aya's social media links below, as well as links for where you can get your own copy of THE ARABIC QUILT!

~~~
Aya Khalil is a freelance journalist and educator. She holds a master's degree in Education with a focus in Teaching English as a Second Language. THE ARABIC QUILT is based on true events growing up, when she moved to the US from EGYPT at the age of one. Her articles have been published in The Huffington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Post & Courier, Toledo Area Parent, and more. She's been featured in Yahoo!, Teen Vogue, Verona and more. www.ayakhalil.com

You can follow her on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and Instagram.

THE ARABIC QUILT: an immigration story is available for pre-order from your local indie book store (find it at IndieBound), from Amazon, B&N, and wherever books are sold.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Multicultural Children's Book Day Review: Dictionary for a Better World


I'm thrilled to be participating in Multicultural Children's Book Day this year! The second book I was gifted to review for the event is DICTIONARY FOR A BETTER WORLD, written by Irene Latham Charles Waters, and illustrated by Penny Weber. It is published by Lerner Books.

Description: 

How can we make the world a better place? This inspiring resource for middle-grade readers is organized as a dictionary; each entry presents a word related to creating a better world, such as ally, empathy, or respect. For each word, there is a poem, a quote from an inspiring person, a personal anecdote from the authors, and a "try it" prompt for an activity.


My Review:

Dictionary for a Better World is a series of poems with titles that begin with "A" (such as "Acceptance"), and continue through all the letters of the alphabet with one or two poems for each letter. Some of the poems are written by Irene Latham, and some are written by Charles Waters, and some are written by both.

I loved so much about this book. I loved that there was an explanation of the poem type for every poem in the book. It really help me (a poetry novice) understand the what the author of each poem was trying to accomplish. And not only are the poems beautifully written, but they are perfectly accessible for kids.


I loved that the author of the poem would share something from their life (and usually their childhood) that inspired them to work on the attribute discussed in the poem. It was really fascinating to learn more about both authors as you moved through the book.

I loved that there was an action for each attribute . . . a way for the reader to get involved and to improve themselves by trying something new. There are so many good ideas for ways to improve ourselves in this book!

Finally, I loved the illustrations. So many different types of art are on display throughout the pages, and it is beautiful. I love how the page formatting works with the words and theme of the poem. Just beautifully put together as a whole.

This book is not the type of book you devour in one sitting (although you could). This book is meant to be savored. To make you think. It encourages its readers to consider not just the ideas that are presented, but to move and to act. As a reader, I wanted time to think and reflect, and so I read a poem or two before going to bed each night. It was so inspiring, and so lovely to fall asleep thinking about how I could make myself and the world, a better place.

~~~

Irene Latham is the author of more than a dozen current and forthcoming works of poetry, fiction, and picture books, including Charlotte Huck Honor Book Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship (co-written with Charles Waters). Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, she became obsessed with octopuses after reading The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. Just like Agnes, she enjoys sending—and receiving—postcards. Visit her at www.irenelatham.com.


Charles Waters is a children’s poet, actor, and co-author of Charlotte Huck Honor Book Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship. His poems have appeared in various anthologies including One Minute Till Bedtime and The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry. Charles performs his one-person show as well as conducts poetry performance and writing workshops for elementary and middle school audiences. He lives in New York City.


Mehrdokht Amini is an Iranian-British children’s book illustrator living in England. She graduated with a degree in Graphic Design from Tehran University and has worked as an illustrator for both educational and mainstream publishers ever since. She started her career in Iran while still studying at university, working on various projects for children’s magazines and books. After moving to England in 2004 she continued working with publishers all around the world. Mehrdokht loves working with publishers who are interested in cultural diversity because it gives her an excellent opportunity to undertake a close study of different cultures and communities, gain a better understanding of those cultures and appreciate people of different backgrounds to her own.
~~~
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2020 (1/31/20) is in its 7th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators. 


Seven years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues.

MCBD 2020  is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board


Super Platinum


Platinum


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Bronze


Author Sponsor Link Cloud

Jerry CraftA.R. Bey and Adventures in BoogielandEugina Chu & Brandon goes to BeijingKenneth Braswell & Fathers IncorporatedMaritza M. Mejia & Luz del mes_MejiaKathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry BlossomSISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. NorrgardJosh Funk and HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTERMaya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove,  Lauren RanalliThe Little Green Monster: Cancer Magic! By Dr. Sharon ChappellPhe Lang and Me On The PageAfsaneh Moradian and Jamie is JamieValerie Williams-Sanchez and Valorena PublishingTUMBLE CREEK PRESSNancy Tupper Ling, Author Gwen JacksonAngeliki Pedersen & The Secrets Hidden Beneath the Palm TreeAuthor Kimberly Gordon BiddleBEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 by Mia WenjenSusan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher (Founders of Inner Flower Child Books)Ann Morris & Do It Again!/¡Otra Vez!, Janet Balletta and Mermaids on a Mission to Save the OceanEvelyn Sanchez-Toledo & Bruna Bailando por el Mundo\ Dancing Around the WorldShoumi Sen & From The Toddler DiariesSarah Jamila StevensonTonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book SeriesTeresa Robeson  & The Queen of Physics, Nadishka Aloysius and Roo The Little Red TukTukGirlfriends Book Club Baltimore & Stories by the Girlfriends Book ClubFinding My Way Books, Diana Huang & IntrepidsFive Enchanted MermaidsElizabeth Godley and Ribbon’s Traveling CastleAnna Olswanger and GreenhornDanielle Wallace & My Big Brother Troy, Jocelyn Francisco and Little Yellow JeepneyMariana Llanos & Kutu, the Tiny Inca Princess/La Ñusta DiminutaSara Arnold & The Big Buna BashRoddie Simmons & Race 2 RioDuEwa Frazier & Alice’s Musical DebutVeronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series  Green Kids Club, Inc.

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

Co-Hosts and Global Co-Hosts

A Crafty ArabAfsaneh MoradianAgatha Rodi BooksAll Done MonkeyBarefoot MommyBethany Edward & Biracial BookwormsMichelle Goetzl & Books My Kids ReadCrafty Moms ShareColours of UsDiscovering the World Through My Son’s EyesEducators Spin on itShauna Hibbitts-creator of eNannylinkGrowing Book by BookHere Wee ReadJoel Leonidas & Descendant of Poseidon Reads {Philippines}Imagination SoupKid World CitizenKristi’s Book NookThe LogonautsMama SmilesMiss Panda ChineseMulticultural Kid BlogsSerge Smagarinsky {Australia}Shoumi SenJennifer Brunk & Spanish PlaygroundKatie Meadows and Youth Lit Reviews

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