Titan Gabrielse is Recruiting Heroes for a Special Club


by Melissa Fales
photos by Crystal Kneeland Photography
Story Monsters Ink, August 2019 issue

Titan 1 (use as header) photo credit Crystal Kneeland Photography.jpg

Titan Gabrielse may be a little boy, but he has big plans. Recently diagnosed with dyslexia, this 7-year-old has taken his struggles with reading and writing, the extra school work he needs to do, and the weekly private tutoring he requires all in stride. One day, Titan casually told his mother, Tiffanie about an idea he had. “He said, ‘I want to create an army of friends with dyslexia so we can beat up dyslexia together,’” says Tiffanie, who came up with the idea of turning that army into an afterschool club. Thus, the idea for Read with the Titans was born. Now Titan and his family are working to make his vision a reality. “With any luck, Read with the Titans will be functioning by the next new school year,” Tiffanie says. 

Titan will be entering second grade at Swansboro Elementary School in North Carolina. Tiffanie recalls the anguish she felt last year watching him struggle to read. “You could tell it was painful for him,” she says. Tiffanie says she was confused but not surprised when she got called into his classroom to talk to the teacher about his below-grade level reading skills.

Fortunately, Titan was diagnosed with dyslexia early. Too often, says Tiffanie, dyslexia is not diagnosed until third grade. “By then, you’re so far behind,” she says. Titan is currently reading at a Kindergarten level, but he’s also participating in an extended school year so he won’t lose any of his progress over the summer. Every week, Titan travels over an hour each way for his lesson with a private tutor who specializes in dyslexia. “He gets motion sickness,” says Tiffanie. “But he doesn’t complain.” 

Once the Gabrielse family had the word, “dyslexia,” to describe why Titan was having such a hard time with reading and writing, they started using it often. “I wanted him to own it,” Tiffanie says. “I have dwarfism. I own that. I’m small. The grass is green. The sky is blue. By owning it, you take the shame away from it.” The fact that dyslexia is an invisible learning disability made it a little harder for Titan to understand. “My son doesn’t have a physical disability like I do,” says Tiffanie. “Wrapping your head around something when you can’t see it is hard.” 

In stories, titans are strong. They have superpowers and they help people. They are heroes. They have to work hard to be a hero just like other kids like me with dyslexia have to work hard to read and write.

Titan is already compiling a list of things he’d like to do with his “army” after school, including playing word games and practicing reading and writing through activities such as sending letters to pen pals. Titan has also recently started talking about having his Read with the Titans club create graphic novels since the image-heavy genre helps give the words context for dyslexic readers.

A key component of Read with the Titans will be to encourage self-acceptance among these young people. Dyslexia is hereditary, and Titan’s father, Marine Ssgt. Eric Gabrielse, endured it without ever knowing that there was a word for the issues he was experiencing. "I struggled with my own dyslexia for years as a child,” he says. “I still struggle with it. It's not just the reading and writing, but the thoughts that there's something wrong with you. I saw everyone else read and write easily and I figured I was just stupid.”

Perhaps most importantly, says Tiffanie, she and Titan hope Read with the Titans will spread the word about dyslexia. “October is dyslexia awareness month,” Tiffanie says. “That seems like a good place for us to start.” She believes that even a simple, inexpensive campaign can be effective. “Things like wearing t-shirts,” she says. “Wristbands. Talking about it. Confronting it. Embracing it. You can't have an army if you don't have recruits.”

Titan has expressed concern about dyslexic kids who don’t have the type of loving, supportive family and friends that he has been blessed with. “He said, ‘I don’t want them to be alone and dyslexic,” says Tiffanie. “He is the most sensitive, loving little boy. He’s come so far and he’s worked so hard.”

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Titan didn’t choose the name “Read with the Titans” for his club because it’s his name, but because of what it means. “In stories, titans are strong. They have superpowers and they help people,” Titan says. “They are heroes. They have to work hard to be a hero just like other kids like me with dyslexia have to work hard to read and write.” 

Tiffanie is beyond proud of her son and all he has gone through. “I think I named Ty correctly,” she says. “He is a true titan because of his ability to persevere … I’m not shocked he wants to help others. It’s who he is. That’s why I want to help his idea come to life any way I can. Especially if that means by doing so, he'll see being dyslexic is nothing to be ashamed of. It's nothing to be embarrassed over. Everyone has something. And dyslexia is certainly nothing that will ever hold him back.”

For more information about Read with the Titans, contact titanreads@hotmail.com, and follow on Instagram @titanreads or Facebook at Titan Reads.

Riding Horses at the Deuker Ranch

by Marie A. Fasano

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The Deuker Ranch Equine Assisted Adaptive Riding program is located in Star Valley, Arizona, about 10 minutes from Payson. They teach riding and horsemanship skills with a focus on participants who are challenged physically, cognitively, or socially. Their instructors and volunteers work with youngsters to safely develop independent skills and confidence from horses.­

“I’m really riding!” beamed Charley as she sat astride Autumn, the 850-pound Halfinger. This was her first time riding around the paddock. Dennis, the owner and instructor, walked beside them, quietly giving Charley directions. Prior to this, the little, 9-year-old was petrified to go near a horse. Autumn stands over six feet tall at the shoulders. Her strong, sturdy build provides a safe and stable ride for the children.

“Charley, you are doing so well, tomorrow you can ride big Rex,” Dennis said. He is a Belgian draft horse who weighs in at over 2,000 pounds and over six feet tall at the shoulders, but a gentle as they come.

Although there are several Equine Assisted programs in Arizona, the rural Dueker Ranch, run by husband and wife team, Dennis and Kathy Dueker never charge a fee. It is a 501c3 charitable organization. The ranch began in 2015 after Dennis experienced the power of horses changing lives. Kathy has spent a lifetime around horses, even having worked at Disneyland in California taking care of the draft horses that pull the street cars on Main Street, USA.

2.Becky mounting Autumn with with the help of Dennis and Kathy.jpg

I remember the first time we went to Deuker Ranch and how my niece, Charley cowered as we got near the horses. Kathy gently took her hand and said, “Charley, I have to feed all the horses and I need help, want to come with me?” By the end of the afternoon, Charley was feeding the horses out of her hand. Kathy is as gentle with the horses as she was with Charley.

This is what happens every week at Deuker Ranch with Kathy and Dennis and their volunteers. This Equine Therapeutic riding program is a treatment strategy that in­cludes equine activities or an equine environment. Through the miracles of horses, riders can overcome barriers through the unique power of love and friend­ship with the gentle giants or miniature horses. Their trained volunteers do several tasks. They can be sidewalker/coaches, horse leaders, barn hands, facility maintenance workers, or complete grooming and tacking. They enjoy being around horses.

Research, and the Deukers’ own experience, shows the benefits of therapeutic riding for the participant may include increased strength, flexibility, improved balance and coordination, improved coping and social skills (reduced stress and hyperactivity) and increased quality and quantity of communication.

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The equine movement engages the sensory, neuromotor, language and cognitive systems that support functional daily living skills. Each participant needs a medical release before they are able to ride. The rider always has a volunteer walker next to them while they are on the horse for support, encouragement, and safety.

“I have seen children that were nonverbal speak their first words while sitting on a horse. I have helped children in wheelchairs feel freedom for the first time on the back of a horse. I have taught autistic children to focus and follow directions while riding.” said Dennis.

I spent an afternoon at the Deuker Ranch observing Dennis and Kathy following PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) guidelines working with three teens diagnosed as developmentally challenged, on horseback, each with a volunteer at their side. Adriana, Becky, and Jacqueline come for their riding lessons on Thursdays and call themselves “The Girls Club.”

“I’ll do anything to be around horses,” Adriana said. “It’s stress free, no drama.” Smiling as she mounted Merrigold, a pony breed, 14 hands with stout muscles and strong bones.

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Becky had a big smile when Mat, the volunteer walking by the side of her horse said, “You’re directing Autumn really well today.”

“The horses make the girls feel alive,” says Susan, Becky’s mother. “She is shy, but around the horses she talks more.

When the girls were asked if they have a special horse, Jacqueline quickly responded, “We like them all. We mix it up and ride different ones.”

Jacqueline agreed to write a poem about her experiences at Deuker ranch.

      

Riding Horses

Riding a horse makes me relax.
Riding horses makes me brave and strong.
Riding is fun to do.
Riding is fast sometimes.

 

The in-depth following of directions has helped Jacqueline achieve gold medals in Special Olympic events. “I see more confidence and assertiveness in her, since she began riding here,” says her mom, Lucy.

Today Jacqueline is riding Ruby, who is over 1,800 pounds. These are work horses. Ruby and Rex, two Belgian Draft horses worked side by side pulling a tourist wagon around Yosemite National Park.

“They like to work,” says Kathy. “The Drafts are not so excitable. They are people friendly.” Kathy is the one at the Deuker Ranch who makes sure the horses are trained. 

The classes progress each week from getting up on a horse, handling the reins, balance, and various exercises.

The exercise on this day was balancing on the horse while drawing. Dennis asked each rider to pick a fun drawing that is on a clipboard. The teens are laughing a lot and look again and again at the papers trying to decide. Once they make their decision they move around the paddock directing the horses around the large round drums. They are very good at riding the horses around the drums as they have done it many times.

As they are riding, they get to pick crayons of their color choice that are on the drums. This takes thinking about choices. The volunteer working with each girl hands them their chosen crayons. Once they have gone around all the drums and selected their colors, they must stop the horse, and balance while drawing.

After stopping the horse with a “Whoa,” then holding the horse quietly, the girls start coloring. It’s a lesson in balancing and keeping the stopped horses in control so they can color.

Once they have completed the task, they continue riding. It was a pleasure to observe the teens exercising with the horses, practicing balance and having fun at the same time.

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What about the horses? Children and adults alike fall in love with the herd. At the Deuker Ranch there are three miniature horses, Willow, her daughter Gracie and Kenny. Their small size makes them the perfect horse to meet with small children and those in wheelchairs.

Dennis and Kathy bring the miniature horses to programs and events so children can experience being around horses. One day, at the Payson Community Kids program, the children learn about being around horses by gently brushing them while a volunteer holds the reins. You can sense their calmness while they complete this repetitive task.

Recently, the Ranch acquired Hamish, a Clydesdale colt, its newest addition. Hamish, like their other draft horses, “has an instinct that they want to work and they want to help.” said Dennis. The other “gentle Clydesdale giants” at the Deuker Ranch are the ambassadors often  and used for the Veterans program.

“What makes us different is that our services are free! That’s how important we feel therapeutic riding is,” said Dennis. 

Dueker ranch is a nonprofit Corporation and a 501(c3) Arizona-qualified dollar for dollar tax credit charity.

 

For more information, contact the Deukers at 928-978-7039, DuekerRanch@gmail.com, or visit duekerranchhorsetherapy.com.





2019 Purple Dragonfly Book Award Winners

 Grand Prize Winner:

Always Anjali by Sheetal Sheth, Jessica Blank

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$100 Drawing Winner:

Maria's Marvelous Bones by Dr. Carrie Kollias, Gill Guile

Maria's Marvelous Bones.jpg

 

 Activity Books

1st Place (tie): BigFoot Visits the Big Cities of the World: A Spectacular Seek and Find Challenge for All Ages! by D.L. Miller

1st Place (tie): BigFoot Goes On Vacation: A Spectacular Seek and Find Challenge for All Ages! by D.L. Miller

1st Place (tie): How to Draw for Kids: Favorite Animals by Diana Fisher

2nd Place: If a Caterpillar Can Fly, Why Can't I? by Deedee Cummings, Erika Busse

Honorable Mention:

Journey to Cloud City by Eliot Kersgaard                                             

Nissa's *Mom and Me* Activity Book by BB Walsh, Mike Quinones                      

Charlie The Caterpillar: What Can I Be Today? by Andy Gutman


Animals/Pets

1st Place (tie): Cloud the Horse: Cloud and Patty Chicken by Elizabeth Goodman Hardwick, Lindsey Rowland

1st Place (tie): Oscar Goes to School by Meaghan Fisher and Emma Rose Fisher-Rowe, Timothy Rowe

1st Place (tie): Penny the Pink Nose Poodle: A Day with Zoey by Dana DiSante

1st Place (tie): Hickory Doc's Tales: The Pack: First Generation by Linda Harkey

1st Place (tie): The Moonlight Dancer by Lisa Calhoun-Owen & Matthew Scott Reilly, Jordan Wray

1st Place (tie): My Name is Curly by Andi C. Kryszak, G.C. Schlea

2nd Place (tie): Mom Shelley's Eggs by Linda S. Smith

2nd Place (tie): The Gift of Haley by Terri Bene and Rosemary Lyn, Marty Petersen

Honorable Mention:

The Puppy who Loved to Cuddle by Geordie Sabbagh, Yoshiko Harada                 

Little Cat Lost by Judy Bergman Hochberg                         

Quincy the Quail and the Mysterious Egg by Barbara Renner, Amanda Wells   

Unforgettable Neighbours by Anna Wing-bo Tso, Joanne Wai-nam Lo

Bubba the Purple Cat by Angelica Y. Rodriguez, Luis Perez        

D-Pug in New York by Janie Nugent                      

The Adventures of Samba Rat and Friends in Sherman the Last Dragon by Steven and Mary Munsie                   

Most Wanted! The Sock Thief by Nancy Binger                               

Oink and Gobble and the 'No One Can Ever Know Secret' by Norman Whaler, Mohammad Shayan     


Arts/Music 

1st Place: Anna at the Art Museum by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert, Lillian Ruth Crump

2nd Place: Adventures in Boogieland by A.R. Bey

Honorable Mention:

Charlie The Caterpillar: What Can I Be Today? by Andy Gutman                             

Shy Little Monster by Stephanie Leavell, Sarah Pilar Echeverria              

Tevye the Magical Theater Cat: An Introduction to Community Theater by Peggy Sullivan        

Even by Andy Gutman 


Best Cover Design

1st Place (tie): The Mystery of the Lost Map by Jim Rhoden and Mickey Goodman

1st Place (tie): Ellie and Her Emotional Dragons by Joseph Goodrich, Traci Van Wagoner

2nd Place: The Secrets of Shannon-Berry Kingdom by Caroline H. Eklund, Karen L. Haynes

Honorable Mention:

The Tiny Tree by Norman Whaler, Polina Hrytskova      

Fortune Cookie Surprise! by Jacqueline Prata                   

Lion & Mouse, Aries the Sheep and other Fairy Tales by Oleg Kush, Vladimir Kush        

Moonlight and Molly by Maureen Harris                            

The Great Grace Escape by Pam Saxelby, Anne Saxelby              

Uncle Allan's Stinky Leg by Jennifer Somervell, Margery Fern

 

Best Illustrations

1st Place (tie): Mr. Mouthful Learns His Lesson by Joseph Kimble, Kerry Bell

1st Place (tie): Spring! Time to Build a Nest, A Story about Trumpeter Swans by Barbara Renner, Rita Goldner

1st Place (tie): Ellie and Her Emotional Dragons by Joseph Goodrich, Traci Van Wagoner

1st Place (tie): Lion & Mouse, Aries the Sheep and other Fairy Tales by Oleg Kush, Vladimir Kush

2nd Place (tie): Songbird's Friendship Scale by Marianne Savage

2nd Place (tie): Willoughby and the Terribly Itchy Itch by Pam Halter, Kim Sponaugle

2nd Place (tie): The Gold Egg by Ule B. Wise, Jaimee Lee

2nd Place (tie): Where Does the Man In The Moon Go During the Day? by Jared Jackson

Honorable Mention:

Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars by Ellie Smith, Eyen Johnson             

The Puppy who Loved to Cuddle by Geordie Sabbagh, Yoshiko Harada               

Uncle Allan's Stinky Leg by Jennifer Somervell, Margery Fern  

Mirth Meets Earth: Discover the Continents with a Most Curious Space Pup by Michelle Glasser, Jaclyn Stein                

Wilhelmina's Wish by Lisa Reinicke, Analise Black          

The Bat Cave by Jonathan Walker, Rosaria Costa            

Scoop the Ice Cream Truck by Patricia Keeler                   

Big Cat, Little Fox by Cheryl Stephani, Margarita Sikorskaia       

forgiven. by Alison Smallwood                 

Jet & Scoot: A Story About Us by Stephanie Smith-Kenny, Lauren Looney         

The Great Grace Escape by Pam Saxelby, Anne Saxelby              

The Adventures of Samba Rat and Friends in Sherman the Last Dragon by Steven and Mary Munsie                   

The News about Jesus and How He Saved the World by Benjamin Morse                          

One Little Bella by Georgina Schroeder, Sam Balling     

My best friend, Dylan! by Angelica Rodriguez, Krystel Ivannie 

Petite Ga-Tor and The Musical Grande Bois by David Bertrand                

The Secrets of Shannon-Berry Kingdom by Caroline H. Eklund, Karen L. Haynes             

 

Best Interior Design

1st Place (tie): Lion & Mouse, Aries the Sheep and other Fairy Tales by Oleg Kush, Vladimir Kush

1st Place (tie): Uncle Allan's Stinky Leg by Jennifer Somervell, Margery Fern

2nd Place: Mr. Mouthful Learns His Lesson by Joseph Kimble, Kerry Bell

Honorable Mention:

The Legend of the Fairy Stones by Kelly Anne White                     

Big Cat, Little Fox by Cheryl Stephani, Margarita Sikorskaia       

forgiven. by Alison Smallwood                 

The Great Grace Escape by Pam Saxelby, Anne Saxelby              

 

Best Photography

1st Place (tie): Common Backyard Birds by Doris Dumrauf         

1st Place (tie): F is for Feminist, An A to Z Guide for Feminists of All Ages by Kim Collins, Jeff Bartee

2nd Place: Growing up in Alaska: A Baby Arctic Tern by Constance Taylor, Ben O'Brien

  

Chapter Books

1st Place (tie): Artemis and the Violin by Vanessa Chase, Jo Gershman

1st Place (tie): The Rabbit Princess: The Path by R. Chen, Ed Chen

1st Place (tie): Word Dragon by Tevin Hansen

2nd Place: The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection: Return to Coney Island by Melissa Stoller, Callie Metler-Smith

Honorable Mention:

The Adventures of Phatty and Payaso: Central Park by Marie Unanue, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriquez    

Hickory Doc's Tales: The Pack: First Generation by Linda Harkey

Finn Mouseson by Melody Gersonde-Mickelson                            

Digital Girl and the Greenish Ghosts by Pat Hall, Emmeline Hall Forrestal          

The Mystery of the Lost Map by Jim Rhoden and Mickey Goodman                     

Adventures Of Iyani: The Voyage West by Aunty Marcella, Stephanie Wilbanks              

Corallai by Michelle Path                            

The Secrets of Shannon-Berry Kingdom by Caroline H. Eklund, Karen L. Haynes             

The Determined Sofa by Caroline Leland            

  

Charity/Making a Difference

1st Place: Andre the Five-Star Cat by Alma Hammond, Carla Klosowski

2nd Place: Journey to Cloud City by Eliot Kersgaard

Honorable Mention:

One Too Many by Linda Grace Smith, Emmi Ojala          

The Sheep Who Could Not Leap by Chirine Alameddine, Andy Kefford

The Bully Who Learned to Love by Claudia Villarreal, Michael Koch      

My Name is Curly by Andi C. Kryszak, G.C. Schlea           

Squire With Fire: A Happy Dragon Tale by Joseph Cassis                             

No Head Fred Said Help Others by Stephanie Keegan                  

You Can Call Me Katelyn by Keri T. Collins, Marcia Adams Ho   

Another Tuesday at Popcorn Elementary: Teamwork by Meeka Wojo, Ivan Wojo         

Another Tuesday at Popcorn Elementary: No Bullies by Meeka Wojo, Ivan Wojo

  

Children’s Nonfiction

1st Place: F is for Feminist, An A to Z Guide for Feminists of All Ages by Kim Collins, Jeff Bartee

2nd Place: You Call Everybody George by Kathleen Cummings, Colleen Jaeb

Honorable Mention:

The Knock...a collection of childhood memories by Carolyn Watkins, Lindsey Erickson                 

Tom Max in the Wild West by Tomás Maximiliano Benavídez, Luciano Martinez                            

H is for Hummingbirds by Merry Bradshaw, David Boyarski                      

Not A Purse by Stephanie Dreyer, Jack Veda                    

The Summer of 1997 by Anna Wing-bo Tso, Joanne Wai-nam Lo                           

Coral Reef Animals Book 1: Invertebrates by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock                                         

Snowballs For Severance: The Terrifically True Story of Dane Best and the Snowball Ban by Richie Frieman     

The News about Jesus and How He Saved the World     by Benjamin Morse                       

A Promise by Rosa M. Campbell, Jun Junica

  

Cultural Diversity

1st Place (tie): Always Anjali by Sheetal Sheth, Jessica Blank     

1st Place (tie): The Bully Who Learned to Love by Claudia Villarreal, Michael Koch

1st Place (tie): The Tiny Tree by Norman Whaler, Polina Hrytskova

1st Place (tie): This is the Earth by Deedee Cummings, Charlene Mosley

2nd Place (tie): Just Like You by Keosha Sath, Yasushi Matsuoka

2nd Place (tie): Spencer's Adventure: An Unexpected Friend by Jacquelyn Francis, Nicoleta Stavarache

Honorable Mention:

Super Satya Saves the Day by Raakhee Mirchandani, Tim Palin               

The Adventures of Little Miss Crazy Hair: The Girl with Curl by Christopher and Alejandro Garcia-Halenar, Sophia Jin

Ahmed's Journey: A Story of Self-Discovery by Jill Apperson Manly         

Indi-Alphabet by Shobha Srinivasan, Christy McCreery

Amazing Africa: A to Z by Dr. Artika Tyner and Monica Habia, Reyhana Ismail 

Taming Babel by Anna Wing-bo Tso, Joanne Wai-nam Lo           

Dorje the Yak by Caryn Hartman, Lexi Vay         

Little Hope Big Hope by Anita Kissi                        

Mommy Do My Hair by Yesenia Hernandez, LeVar J. Reese      

Tom Max in the Wild West by Tomás Maximiliano Benavídez, Luciano Martinez            

Bubba the Purple Cat by Angelica Y. Rodriguez, Luis Perez        

Through the Eyes of Om: Exploring Malaysia by Sonny Tannan, Agus Prajogo  

Mirth Meets Earth: Discover the Continents with a Most Curious Space Pup by Michelle Glasser, Jaclyn Stein
  

Educational

1st Place: F is for Feminist, An A to Z Guide for Feminists of All Ages by Kim Collins, Jeff Bartee

2nd Place (tie): Jimmy, the Nature SMART Ninja: A book about Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Mary R. Massey, Ed.D., April Bensch

2nd Place (tie): Meet the Pops by Belinda Barbieri

2nd Place (tie): My Adventures in Alphabetland by Nathaniel P. Jensen

Honorable Mention:

Writing to Respond to Text and Tests by Martha Joseph Watts, Ed.D                   

The Alphabet Thief Who Stole The Vowels by Claudia Villarreal, Michael Koch

Meet the Pops: Flag Day Every Day by Belinda Barbieri                               

Little Katie Explores the Coral Reefs by Carmela Dutra                

Dirty Birds by Madge H. Gressley

               
Family Matters

1st Place (tie): Happy Tears & Rainbow Babies by Natasha Melissa Carlow, Keevyn Mohammed and Kyle Stephen

1st Place (tie): Tillie & Clementine & Mikey by Dan Killeen

2nd Place (tie): Feel Better, Mommy by Risa Kirschner, Anna Kubaszewska

2nd Place (tie): I Didn't Ask To Be Creative by Dontavious Pittman, Max Rambaldi

Honorable Mention:

The Great Grace Escape by Pam Saxelby, Anne Saxelby                              

The Knock...a collection of childhood memories by Carolyn Watkins, Lindsey Erickson 

Even by Andy Gutman

 

 Fiction: Collection of Short Stories

Honorable Mention: Kevin & Colin's Tales of Mischief & Mayhem by Robert Prior-Wandesforde

  

Food Related

1st Place: What am I? Fruits by John Benzee

2nd Place: Culinary Charades by Anna Wing-bo Tso, Joanne Wai-nam Lo

  

General

1st Place (tie): Puffy Gets Angry by Rich Pfeiffer, PhD and Susie Post Roberts   

1st Place (tie): The Gold Egg by Ule B. Wise, Jaimee Lee

2nd Place: Mr. Mouthful Learns His Lesson by Joseph Kimble, Kerry Bell

Honorable Mention:

JACK by Norman Whaler, Nina Mkhoiani                            

Princess Monroe & Her Happily Ever After by Jody Vallee Smith, Glynise Martin                            

Meet the Pops by Belinda Barbieri                                         

Meet the Pops: Flag Day Every Day by Belinda Barbieri                                               

What Do You Do in Winter? by Jennifer Baxter, Sarah McGinnis                             

The Amazing Adventures of Cheechako-Fette by Kelsey McDaniel, David Riley                               

Terence the Space Tomato by Jennifer Baxter and Thomas O'Brien, Mercedes Buckingham     

No Head Fred Said Stay Safe by Stephanie Keegan                        

  

Green Books/Environmental

1st Place: Taking Flight (The Nature Club) by Rachel Mazur       

2nd Place: Little Katie Explores the Coral Reefs by Carmela Dutra

Honorable Mention:

Where's Winter? by Erin Rounds                            

Flash and Fancy -  More Otter Adventures on the Waccamaw River Book Three: A Dolphin Rescue by Christine Thomas Doran, Nancy Van Buren           

The Butterfly Trap by Lee-Ann Matthews, Katerin Juretic           

  

Growing Pains

1st Place: Scoop the Ice Cream Truck by Patricia Keeler               

2nd Place: One Little Bella by Georgina Schroeder, Sam Balling

  

Health

1st Place (tie): Maria's Marvelous Bones by Dr. Carrie Kollias, Gill Guile

1st Place (tie): The Sofa Sloths by Miriam Kay, Jenny Dang

2nd Place: Sam Finds the Sugar Gram by Diane Lash Decker, MS, Doina Paraschiv

Honorable Mention:

No Head Fred Said Get Healthy by Stephanie Keegan                  

Like Rainwater by Deedee Cummings, Charlene Mosley                      

Your Incredible Liver by Edwin Lee, M.D. and Jim Huth, Lauren Coney

 

Historical Fiction

1st Place: The Oregon Trail: Ollie's Great Adventure by Melanie Richardson Dundy

2nd Place: Meet the Pops: Flag Day Every Day by Belinda Barbieri

Honorable Mention:

Petite Ga-Tor and The Musical Grande Bois by David Bertrand                

Uncle Allan's Stinky Leg by Jennifer Somervell, Margery Fern

  

Holiday

1st Place: The Secret of Santa's Naughty-Nice List by Pat Hall, Tamara Campeau

2nd Place: Meet the Pops: Flag Day Every Day by Belinda Barbieri          

Honorable Mention:

Festeva's Holiday Cheer by Molly McCluskey-Shipman                

The Legend of Dragonfly Pond: Book Four by Alene Adele Roy                

Elves on the Naughty List by David Smith, Marilyn Jacobson    

A Christmas Carol by Norman Whaler, Bianca Milacic   

  

Humor

1st Place (tie): Hooray, I Farted! by Shana Chartier, Karissa Hunter

1st Place (tie): Uncle Allan's Stinky Leg by Jennifer Somervell, Margery Fern

2nd Place: Mr. Mouthful Learns His Lesson by Joseph Kimble, Kerry Bell

Honorable Mention:

Silly Animal Rhymes and Stories A to Z by Anil, Kalpart

Bubble Trouble by Marianne Savage

  

LGBT

1st Place: The Butterfly Trap by Lee-Ann Matthews, Katerin Juretic

2nd Place: Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones       

  

Middle Grade Fiction

1st Place (tie): Britfield and the Lost Crown by C.R. Stewart

1st Place (tie): The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron

1st Place (tie): The Crow Child by Sherrie Todd-Beshore

2nd Place: Bubba and Squirt's Big Dig to China by Sherry Ellis

Honorable Mention:

Terror in Boring Town: A Sam and Rex Adventure by Hoot N. Holler                                     

The Rabbit Princess: The Path by R. Chen, Ed Chen                       

The Crowns of Croswald: The Girl With The Whispering Shadow by D.E. Night                                

Curse of the Komodo by M.C. Berkhousen                                        

90% Human by M.C. Berkhousen                                           

Squire With Fire: A Happy Dragon Tale by Joseph Cassis                                             

Greg's Fourth Adventure in Time by C.M. Huddleston                                  

The Legend of Dragonfly Pond: Book Four by Alene Adele Roy                                

Thumperino Superbunny and the Laser of Doom by Amber L. Spradlin, Ron Borresen

                                 

Mystery

1st Place: Terror in Boring Town: A Sam and Rex Adventure by Hoot N. Holler

2nd Place: Who Ate the Moon? by Darlinda Jacobs, Tara Salar

  

New Author: Fiction

1st Place: What's Your Favorite Color? by Amber L. Lassiter

  

Picture Books 5 & Younger

1st Place (tie): My Daddy is Always There by Charles Trimble, Meghan Fox

1st Place (tie): Ellie and Her Emotional Dragons by Joseph Goodrich, Traci Van Wagoner           

2nd Place (tie): Starfish Gazing  by Patricia Gleichauf

2nd Place (tie): The Puppy who Loved to Cuddle by Geordie Sabbagh, Yoshiko Harada

Honorable Mention:

Anna at the Art Museum by Hazel Hutchins & Gail Herbert, Lillian Ruth Crump              

Bradley and the Magic Carpet by Julian Hilton, Jacqueline East               

Skyla and the Snowflake Fairy by Reina Bonici-Mompalao-Lee, Sarah-Leigh Wills           

The Good Mood Book by John Arvai                     

The Real Farmer in the Dell by Sandra Sutter, Chantell and Burgen Thorne       

Garden Party: A Counting Adventure Book by Tania Guarino, Emma Allen        

Be Happy to Be You! by Diane Hull, Jan Dolby  

What Wonderful Things in the Darkness Creep by Vjolca Capri                               

Willoughby and the Terribly Itchy Itch by Pam Halter, Kim Sponaugle  

Gracie Jane by Janet Squires                     

Little Cat Lost  by Judy Bergman Hochberg                       

The Gold Egg by Ule B. Wise, Jaimee Lee             

Wilhelmina's Wish by Lisa Reinicke, Analise Black          

Even by Andy Gutman                 

Pixie Problems: A Nissa the Woodland Fairy Book by BB Walsh and Kyle Ann Robertson, Mike Quinones                          

The Adventures of The Floating Baby Cloud by G.V. Conners, Ed Olson               

The Great Grace Escape by Pam Saxelby, Anne Saxelby              

Lion & Mouse, Aries the Sheep and other Fairy Tales by Oleg Kush, Vladimir Kush        

Charlie The Caterpillar: What Can I Be Today? by Andy Gutman                             

Jitterflies by Joanna Rosner, Mariia Andrieieva

Shand the First Sailor by B. Boscacci                      

D-Pug in New York by Janie Nugent                      

Fortune Cookie Surprise! by Jacqueline Prata                   

Piccadilly and the Jolly Raindrops by Lisa Anne Novelline, Nicola Hwang            

Sarah Buttons, Master Doll Maker by Joe Moore, Mary Moore               

French Fries in the Park by JM Sheridan, Jamie Forgetta             

Scoop the Ice Cream Truck by Patricia Keeler                   

The Sheep Who Could Not Leap by Chirine Alameddine, Andy Kefford

In the Land of Ireland by Lynda Suwala, Claudio Icuva 

Growing up in Alaska: A Baby Arctic Tern by Constance Taylor, Ben O'Brien     

I Am Worthy by Cachet Allen                    

Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars by Ellie Smith, Eyen Johnson             

What's Your Favorite Color? by Amber L. Lassiter          

  

Picture Books 6 & Older

1st Place (tie): Always Anjali by Sheetal Sheth, Jessica Blank

1st Place (tie): Dorje the Yak by Caryn Hartman, Lexi Vay

1st Place (tie): I Am Worthy by Cachet Allen

1st Place (tie): I Used to be a Fairy...a True Story by Granny by Cynthia Kern OBrien, Rosemarie Gillen

1st Place (tie): I'll Always Clap for You by T. Lynn, Marty Petersen

1st Place (tie): Most Wanted! The Sock Thief by Nancy Binger

1st Place (tie): Mr. Mouthful Learns His Lesson by Joseph Kimble, Kerry Bell

1st Place (tie): Percy: The Racehorse Who Didn't Like to Run by M.J. Evans, Gaspar Sabater

1st Place (tie): Super Satya Saves the Day by Raakhee Mirchandani, Tim Palin

1st Place (tie): Tied In by Anthony Tucker, Charlene Mosley

1st Place (tie): When I Fly With Papa by Claudia May, Jena Holliday

2nd Place (tie): It's Just a Bunnypalooza by Brenda Faatz and Peter Trimarco

2nd Place (tie): Andre the Five-Star Cat by Alma Hammond, Carla Klosowski

2nd Place (tie): Birdham Dream Bear by Lynne Healy, Sarah-Leigh Wills

2nd Place (tie): Freddy Follows by Melanie Quinn, Andrew McIntosh

Honorable Mention:

John's Johns by Eytan Nicholson, Spike Stone  

forgiven. by Alison Smallwood                 

Angel's Forever Home by Rita Gigante, Bobbie Sterchele-Gigante and Donna McDine, Renie De Mase                               

Ellie and Her Emotional Dragons by Joseph Goodrich, Traci Van Wagoner                         

Ready, Set, GOrilla! by Melissa Stoller, Sandy Steen Bartholomew                        

Why Should I Walk? I Can Fly! by Ann Ingalls, Rebecca Evans                   

Wilhelmina's Wish by Lisa Reinicke, Analise Black                          

Even by Andy Gutman                                 

Lion & Mouse, Aries the Sheep and other Fairy Tales by Oleg Kush, Vladimir Kush                        

Charlie The Caterpillar: What Can I Be Today? by Andy Gutman                                             

The Adventures of Connor the Courageous Cutter: Mystery of the Baffling Blackout by Scott McBride & Rod Thompson, Brian Martin             

The Real Farmer in the Dell by Sandra Sutter, Chantell and Burgen Thorne                       

Meet the Pops by Belinda Barbieri                                         

Sam Finds the Sugar Gram by Diane Lash Decker, MS, Doina Paraschiv                               

Uncle Allan's Stinky Leg by Jennifer Somervell, Margery Fern                  

Willoughby and the Terribly Itchy Itch by Pam Halter, Kim Sponaugle                  

Team Natural by Crystal Chante, Marco Bernard                            

Think of it Like This! by Deedee Cummings, Erika Busse                         

Tom Max in the Wild West by Tomás Maximiliano Benavídez, Luciano Martinez                            

What's Your Favorite Color? by Amber L. Lassiter                          

Coral Reef Animals Book 1: Invertebrates by Eve Heidi Bine-Stock                                                                       

Pixie Problems: A Nissa the Woodland Fairy Book by BB Walsh and Kyle Ann Robertson, Mike Quinones                          

Scarlet's Magic Paintbrush by Melissa Stoller, Sandie Sonke                     

The Bat Cave by Jonathan Walker, Rosaria Costa                            

The Gold Egg by Ule B. Wise, Jaimee Lee                             

The Legend of Dragonfly Pond: Book Four by Alene Adele Roy                                

Come with Me by Tracy Ahrens                              

Meet the Pops: Flag Day Every Day by Belinda Barbieri                                               

Indi-Alphabet by Shobha Srinivasan, Christy McCreery                

Gracie Jane by Janet Squires                                     

Piccadilly and the Jolly Raindrops by Lisa Anne Novelline, Nicola Hwang                            

What If Mercury Had Marshmallows? by Jarrett Whitlow, Daniela Dogliani                      

Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars by Ellie Smith, Eyen Johnson                             

Big Cat, Little Fox by Cheryl Stephani, Margarita Sikorskaia                       

The Adventures of Mimi and Lulu: The Fallen Star and the River Mystery by Hayde Romero, Lauren Curtis                      

Ahmed's Journey: A Story of Self-Discovery by Jill Apperson Manly                        

My Name is Curly by Andi C. Kryszak, G.C. Schlea           

Oink and Gobble and the Men in Black by Norman Whaler, Mohammad Shayan                           

The Cows Go Moo! by Jim Petipas                                         

The News about Jesus and How He Saved the World by Benjamin Morse                                          

Jet & Scoot: A Story About Us by Stephanie Smith-Kenny, Lauren Looney                         

The Sofa Sloths by Miriam Kay, Jenny Dang

  

Poetry

1st Place: Designed to SHINE! Read Aloud Rhymes for Any Size Heart by Joy Resor, Lauren Connell

2nd Place: I Am Worthy by Cachet Allen

Honorable Mention:    

Take a Hike by Brett Fleishman, David Harston

  
School Issues

1st Place (tie): Ally Alone by L.S.V. Baker, M.E.B. Stottmann

1st Place (tie): Quigley the Quiet Hedgehog by Claudine Norden, Bonnie Wiegand

1st Place (tie): Sideways Fred by L.S.V. Baker, M.E.B. Stottmann

1st Place (tie): The Bully Who Learned to Love by Claudia Villarreal, Michael Koch

1st Place (tie): The UGLY Bug Club by Gail Abbitt, Rosie Venner

1st Place (tie): There's A Norseman in the Classroom! by Grayson Smith, Timothy Banks

2nd Place: Songbird's Friendship Scale by Marianne Savage

Honorable Mention:

Ellema Sneezes by L.S.V. Baker, M.E.B. Stottmann         

What A Tree It Will Be! by L.S.V. Baker, M.E.B. Stottmann         

Leonardo the Lion: A Leap of Faith by Jessica Sinatra                    

Clod Makes a Friend by David Pedersen                             

Am I Black or Am I White? by Norman Whaler, Jasmine Mills   

Gerome Sticks His Neck Out, L.S.V. Baker, M.E.B. Stottmann    

Thiago the Tiger and the Light Within by Vanessa Caraveo                        

It's Just a Bunnypalooza by Brenda Faatz and Peter Trimarco                   

Oakley in Knots by L.S.V. Baker , M.E.B. Stottmann        

Demetrio Says "No" by Linda Griffin, Jill Dubin

This Is Who I Am by Jessica Herndon                    

Being Small (Isn't So Bad After All) by Lori Orlinsky, Vanessa Alexandre              

The Knock...a collection of childhood memories by Carolyn Watkins, Lindsey Erickson 

You Can Call Me Katelyn by Keri T. Collins, Marcia Adams Ho   

Flabby Abby Beach Ball by George Neeb                            

It's Perfect Being Me by Robert O. Martichenko, Blueberry Illustrations             

Jitterflies by Joanna Rosner, Mariia Andrieieva

Myrtle the Purple Turtle by Cynthia Reyes, Jo Robinson

 

Science Fiction/Fantasy

1st Place: The Crowns of Croswald: The Girl with the Whispering Shadow by D.E. Night

2nd Place: Clod Makes a Friend by David Pedersen

Honorable Mention:

The Bee Maker by Mobi Warren                                             

The Lights of Time by Paul Ian Cross                                     

The Rabbit Princess: The Path by R. Chen, Ed Chen

  

Special Needs/Disability Awareness

1st Place (tie): Let's Go by Brenda E. Koch          

1st Place (tie): Let's Play by Brenda E. Koch       

2nd Place: Oswald the Onion Finds a Friend by Michael Lackey

Honorable Mention:

The Adventures of Team Super Tubie by Kristin Meyer, Kevin Cannon                

Matthew Rides Into "Space" by Erika Rutley, Basil Millevolte                   

A Song for Birdie: A Child's Journey with Autism by Cindy Shirley, Cleoward L. Sy

  

Spiritual/Religious

1st Place (tie): Abigail's Search for God by Kelly Coulson, Julie Sneeden

1st Place (tie): Happy Tears & Rainbow Babies by Natasha Melissa Carlow, Keevyn Mohammed and Kyle Stephen

2nd Place: Tiny Tim and The Ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge: The sequel to A Christmas Carol by Norman Whaler

Honorable Mention:

The Little House Who Didn't Lose Hope by Nita Brady                 

How Do I Know God Loves Me? by Melanie Richardson Dundy               

When I Fly With Papa by Claudia May, Jena Holliday     

The News about Jesus and How He Saved the World by Benjamin Morse                          

forgiven. by Alison Smallwood                 

The Light of Hope by Basma El-Khatib                  

Annabelle & Aiden: What Happens When We Die? by J.R. Becker, Max Rambaldi          

I'll Always Clap for You by T. Lynn, Marty Petersen       

                 

Sports

1st Place: Go-Cart Gertie by Cindy Shirley, Cleoward L. Sy

2nd Place: I Love To Watch You Play by Beanie Hazelton, Tara J. Hannon            

  

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)

1st Place (tie): Just Like You by Keosha Sath, Yasushi Matsuoka

1st Place (tie): Maria's Marvelous Bones by Dr. Carrie Kollias, Gill Guile

1st Place (tie): The Curious Little Snail by Ashley M. Young

2nd Place: Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist by Mike Allegra, Elizabeth Zechel

Honorable Mention:

Where Does the Man In The Moon Go During the Day? by Jared Jackson                                          

Little Katie Explores the Coral Reefs by Carmela Dutra                                

Dr. Brainchild & Radar: A Popcorn Discovery by Cole Williams, Laura Acosta

  

Unpublished Manuscript

Honorable Mention:

Mr. Mouthful Has Mighty Big Trouble by Joseph Kimble

  

Young Adult Fiction

1st Place (tie): The Chronicles of Henry Roach-Dairier: The Inception of the Combined Colonies by Deborah K. Frontiera

1st Place (tie): The Rabbit Princess: The Path by R. Chen, Ed Chen

2nd Place: Remeon's Destiny by J.W. Garrett

Honorable Mention:

Sophia's Journal by Najiyah Diana Maxfield                      

The House of One Thousand Eyes by Michelle Barker 

Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones            

  

Youth Author Fiction

1st Place: Fortune Cookie Surprise! by Jacqueline Prata

2nd Place: The Elephant Dentist by Elizabeth-Jade Beattie, Amanda J. Beattie

  

Youth Author Nonfiction

1st Place: Paloma's Dream by Paloma Rambana and Hillary Ring

 

 
* E-Book Award Winners *

  

Animals/Pets

1st Place: Quincy Freckle Paws Sings in the Forest by Gloria Hartmann, Al Margolis

Honorable Mention: Pirate Bear by Sonya Annita Song, Javier Giménez Ratti      

  

Arts/Music

1st Place: The Lemunion Tree by Cynthia Morrison

  

Book Trailer

Honorable Mention:

Shand the First Sailor by B. Boscacci

The Great Grace Escape by Pam Saxelby, Anne Saxelby

  

Best Illustrations

1st Place: Persephone by Simon Spence, Colm Lawton

  

Chapter Books

Honorable Mention:

Carmilla by Fiza Pathan                                                               

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Fiza Pathan                                                    

Through the Looking-Glass: And What Alice Found There by Fiza Pathan                           

  

Historical Fiction

1st Place: The Other Side of Freedom by Cynthia Toney

   

Memoir/Autobiography

Honorable Mention:

The Reclusive Writer & Reader of Bandra: Essays by Fiza Pathan                            

 

Outdoor Recreation

1st Place: The Fishing Lure by Greer Bacon         

  

Picture Books 5 & Younger

1st Place: The Traveling Javelinas by Laura Bullock, Rondi Kutz

2nd Place: The Present is a Gift by Elchanan Ogorek

Honorable Mention:

Never Take the Skwerdlock to the Doctor! by John Jamison

                 

Picture Books 6 & Older

1st Place: My Teacher Dad by Sonya Annita Song, Kate Fallahee

2nd Place: Persephone by Simon Spence, Colm Lawton

Honorable Mention:

Pirate Bear by Sonya Annita Song, Javier Giménez Ratti      

               

Science Fiction/Fantasy

Honorable Mention:

Mylee in the Mirror by Ellie Collins        

  

Young Adult Fiction

Honorable Mention:

Mylee in the Mirror by Ellie Collins

  

Youth Author Fiction

1st Place: The Infinity Pendant by Poem Schway


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To enter the Story Monsters Approved or Dragonfly Book Awards programs,
visit dragonflybookawards.com.

Sponsored by Story Monsters LLC

Alzheimer’s Disease: The Importance of Minimizing Change


by Patricia M. McClure-Chessier

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June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month—a time for people of all ages to get involved to fight against the disease. It doesn’t matter if you’re 5 or 95. One of the important facts that should be highlighted this month for anyone that is impacted by this disease is how change can have a tremendous impact on a person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia. The more prepared the family/caregiver is, the better.

The main underlying cause of memory loss and confusion is the progressive damage to brain cells caused by the disease. Sometimes your loved one may remember an important date about one person and not the other. Sometimes they may remember something significant about someone who they aren’t close to, but can’t remember something significant about the caregiver. There is no rhyme or reason in most cases. The human brain is very complicated, and the condition presents other challenges that scientists still cannot fully answer.

Your loved one may even lash out at the person taking care of them for no apparent reason, and the caregiver may not understand the precipitating factors. The person may get upset easily, use bad language, scream, or hurl insults. Your loved one might even throw things, or resist your care by pushing and/or hitting you. This behavior could be a symptom of the disease, or just a response to them feeling confused. Aggressive behaviors can be verbal or physical, occur suddenly, and could be the result of anxiety and/or confusion. While aggression can be very difficult to cope with, it’s important for you as the caregiver to understand that your loved one is not behaving this way on purpose. Behavior is a form of communication. Aggression can be caused by many factors, including physical discomfort, environmental factors, and poor communication.

Environmental factors play a huge role, but are often overlooked. Caregivers have to be careful with making changes in the environment. For example, modernizing a home could create some significant challenges for the person with Alzheimer’s. Changing from a rotary phone to a touch-tone phone could deter the person from using the phone. We have to give a lot of thought to upgrading microwaves, stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers, etc. Changes could have a negative impact on the person’s independence and quality of life. The more they can continue to do for themselves, the better. As caregivers, please consider the impact the change could have on your loved one. Even simple changes can complicate their world, and cause them to regress. So be careful and minimize change!

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Award-winning author/speaker Patricia M. McClure-Chessier, (MBA, MPA) is the author of Losing a Hero to Alzheimer’s The Story of Pearl and A Caregiver’s Guide for Alzheimer’s & Dementia Nine Key Principles. She has worked in the healthcare industry for 25 years and is available for presentations. For more information, visit www.patriciammcclure.com or contact Patricia at pmcclurechessier@yahoo.com or www.authorbookings.com/members/patricia-m-mcclure

A Special Classroom: Visits


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by Dr. Dawn Menge

“Help Queen Vernita with our days of the week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.” I encouraged the preschool students with Autism as I read to nine different preschool classes. Each class has a population with ages ranging from 3-6 year old and the students’ abilities range from non-verbal to verbal communicatively. “During the Sundays in January, Queen Vernita and her friend Debbie stayed home and read three books. Do you like to read? “Yes,” chimed in several of the students while others nodded their head or attempted to grab the book.

“In February, Queen Vernita and her friend Tommie had a huge snowball fight and made beautiful snow angels.” It has been a highly unusual winter in Southern California with rain and snow for weeks. “Did you get to make a snowman or have a snowball fight?” I asked the little ones, as I imitated throwing a snowball in the air. “The class of nine preschoolers all attempted to throw their own imaginary snowballs through the air. “On Sundays, they lay by the fireplace and took long naps, snoring loudly! Do you guys snore when you sleep?” The room was filled with nine little children snoring loudly and laughing.

“In July, Ashlie and Queen Vernita spent 31 glorious days at the beach. What is she doing in the picture? “Several of the students got up out of their chairs and pointed to the illustration of Queen Vernita and Ashlie building a sandcastle while the verbal students excitedly started reliving their experiences at the beach. “I played in the ocean, but I didn’t like the feel of the sand.” A little boy told me as he rubbed his hands together. Many students with Autism have sensory needs, as textures bother them. This little boy was sensitive to the feel of sand, while others are more sensitive to smells or visuals such as the lights in a classroom. Many of our students cannot tolerate loud or noisy areas and wear sound reduction head phones to limit the input coming to them from outside their worlds. “Queen Vernita ate fried fish tacos on Fridays. Who likes fish tacos?” Most of the students wrinkled their noses but a very verbal little boy informed me, “I go to Hawaii every summer and play in the waves and make sandcastles, but we do not eat fish tacos. That is yucky!” as he turned his head back and forth in an obvious sign of distaste.

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“Then came August and Hannah came to visit. It is a very hot time in the land of Oceaneers. Queen Vernita and Hannah spent all 31 days camping in the mountains. On Wednesdays, they slept outside of their tents so they could count all the stars. Can you help me count the stars?” A little girl jumped onto my lap and grabbed my hand as I pointed and began to count the stars. Those little ones that could count joined in on star counting, fading away as we reached past the number ten. “How many frogs are there? One, two…,” as I held up each finger the students followed along. “Saturday nights they made a campfire and cooked S’mores. They were so gooey and yummy, made of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate. “Have you ever had a S’more?” I asked as I rubbed my stomach, “I like the melted marshmallows, and I like the chocolate.”

“As the season of summer left, fall came. Along with the changing of the leaves colors, came Virginia. September is apple picking time. Do you like apples?” Apples, repeated a little girl that had been silent up to this point. Echolalic speech is frequent with people who have autism. They will repeat specific words or phrases. The more verbal students who are echolalic come to school and repeat phrases they’ve heard on movies or TV. They also repeat out of context, prior conversations they have had at home or in the community. Their speech is halted short, sometimes limited to a word or two to convey their message to the listener.

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“Tyler Ann stayed until the end of the year. I’m so glad that I have 12 such great friends to come and visit me on each of the 12 months of the year. Thank you so much for allowing me to come and read Queen Vernita’s Visitors to each and every one of you.” I thanked my last group and headed back to my classroom of high school and transition students who are have moderate to severe disabilities. It is always such fun to read to the little ones at the educational center in which the preschoolers who have Autism attend school. Their teachers all refer to them as their friends, creating a warm and friendly environment for children who have high anxiety in social situations. But, after reading to 90 friends in nine different classrooms, my voice is tired and I’m ready to rest until the next year.


Dawn Menge, PhD has won 29 national awards as the author of the Queen Vernita's Educational Series. As an educator, she holds a Master's and a Clear Credential in moderate/severe disabilities and a Bachelor's in human development. Dr. Menge has been teaching severely handicapped students for 16 years.

    

Story Monsters Ink March Book Reviews

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Peppa Pig and the Career Day
by Candlewick Press Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
It’s Career Day with Miss Gazelle and her students! Peppa and her curious friends are privy to special classroom visitors sharing their careers and how they help people. Lovers of the television show will recognize all the characters and love that Miss Rabbit is in charge of several jobs and keeps making Peppa and her friends smile with her numerous class presentations. The illustrations are delightful and fresh, the text is easy to follow with the perfect Peppa Pig charm that we love, and lots of giggles in between. A must-read for early elementary parents and teachers as they teach our littlest ones about helping hands in the community. (Ages 2-5)

I’m in Charge!
by Jeanne Willis, Jarvis (Nosy Crow) Reviewer: Julianne Black
Winning pair Willis and Jarvis give us a fun lesson on what it means to be in charge! Little rhino is ready to be his own master. He’s not going to share, he’s not going to listen, and he’s not going to take orders from anyone … that is, until he has an afternoon that changes his perspective completely! Great tale for kiddos who know it all, or are testing those boundaries. Beautiful illustrations cap the feeling tone of the African landscape and the adventure from little rhino’s point of view. (Ages 2-5)

Good Night, Forest
by Denise Brennan-Nelson, Marco Bucci (Sleeping Bear Press) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
Beautifully illustrated in watercolor, Good Night, Forest is going to be a staple on every sleepy reader’s bookshelf or night table. The story takes readers on a day-long adventure in a beautiful forest, filled with critter friends and majestic trees. Halfway through the book, illustrator Marco Bucci creates a beautiful sunset and we start bidding each animal and element of nature, goodnight. The rhyming in this story is simple, with a sing-song quality, and readers will feel a sense of peace (and hopefully sleepiness) as the creatures curl up for slumber. (Ages 2-7)

Little Owl’s Snow
by Divya Srinivasan (Viking) Reviewer: Julianne Black
As the forest creatures all bed down to sleep through the cold, Little Owl feels like the forest is empty. But when the snow falls and the winter animals come out to play, Owl discovers a winter wonderland! Excellent fall to winter expression for a child’s understanding about what happens in nature when the temperature drops, but beyond the lesson on hibernation, there is something about Srinivasan’s illustrations that make these books magical. The colors and distilled imagery really land the feeling of a silent forest as well as lively playtime in a fresh snowfall. Little Owl’s Snow is a wonderful follow-up to Little Owl’s Night and Little Owl’s Day. (Ages 3-5)

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star: Classic Folk Sing-Along Songs
by Sin and Swoon, Sophie Casson (The Secret Mountain) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
I’ve often heard it said that there is a story behind every action. The reading of this little book, of a well-known nursery rhyme, reveals such a story. Beyond the visual interpretation of the lyrics lies interesting facts and details of the evolvement of this sweet song. (Ages 3-5)

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Misunderstood Shark: Friends Don’t Eat Friends
by Ame Dyckman, Scott Magoon (Orchard Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
Friendship rests on a tender balance of not giving or taking offense. Shark and Bob still seem to be at odds over an incident where Shark ATE Bob! Bob feels wounded in the friendship due to Shark’s lack of self-control, and obvious lack of respect for him, while Shark feels terribly misunderstood. Can they ever resolve the hurt feelings their friendship has stumbled upon? Lots of shark fun facts to be learned while the waters bubble with emotions. (Ages 3-5)

Dreamland 
by Noah Klocek (Candlewick) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
This darling book takes us on that magical journey when sometimes we’re caught awake while searching for sleep. The illustrations are as sweet and tender as Amelie, as she forges the night until she stumbles upon slumber and finds her favorite dream. (Ages 3-7)

Ten Days Till My Summer Vacation
by Carine Roch, Jeff Gomez (Ten Days Till Series) Reviewer: Julianne Black
Super fun countdown book designed to teach time, counting, memory, and color through repetition. The growing list of vacation items are relevant and adorable to the age group Carine Roch is targeting. There is an excellent summary at the end of the lesson where the viewer is able to color in the blocks and main character to cement the string of memorizations. Definitely a series to read! (Ages 3-7)

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The Boy Who Went to Mars
by Simon James (Candlewick) Reviewer: Julianne Black  
Stanley was replaced by a Martian when his mom left for a work trip. Thankfully, it was just an overnight trip, because the Martian did not do well with Earth’s rules and customs. He wouldn’t wash up at night. He complained about dinner. He even got in trouble at school. It was a great relief because once mom got home, the Martian went back to Mars and Stanley came back—just in time for hugs. Handling change in his own special way, Stanley is relatable to the kid in us all. Sweet, unusual, and full of love, The Boy Who Went to Mars is a beautiful read. (Ages 3-7)

Owls Are Good at Keeping Secrets: An Unusual Alphabet
by Sara O’Leary, Jacob Grant (Random House) Reviewer: Diana Fisher
This unique alphabet book is so enchanting and sweet, I actually teared up a few times reading it. The whimsical illustrations are a perfect foil for the endearing alphabet animals and their little stories—all mirroring concerns or aspects of life as a small child. Charming, imaginative, silly, funny, and relatable—it’s a delightfully fresh look at a much-done subject. It’s so engaging and cute, your child may even forget it’s about the alphabet … while reinforcing it nonetheless. (Ages 3-7)

Princess Puffybottom … and Darryl
by Susin Nielsen, Olivia Chin Mueller (Tundra Books) Reviewer: Diana Fisher
In this delightful book, a pet cat—Princess Puffybottom—has the “purrfect” life until it’s turned upside-down by the addition of a second pet—a dog named Darryl. Princess Puffybottom schemes to get rid of Darryl, while Darryl just wants to be friends. The story is adorable, and a humorous allegory for children who have siblings on the way, or to simply address getting along with others. The illustrations are really cute—especially Princess Puffybottom, whose expressions are priceless. (Ages 3-7) 

Designed to Shine! Read Aloud Rhymes for Any Size Heart
by Joy Resor, Lauren Connell (Joy on Your Shoulders) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
Children love to rhyme! Whether singing or reciting, it’s so much fun when it rhymes. Poetry is lively and captivating, and the sooner we introduce it, the more joy it brings. The topics skip through laughter and fun, to awaken and discover new things. Illustrations by Connell are whimsical and delightful. (Ages 3-12)

Dandy
by Ame Dyckman, Charles Santoso (Little, Brown) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Truly a tribute to dads! A dad and his lawn have a special relationship. That is, until a little girl wins hands down in the great war on Dandelions! The illustrations bring a lively visual aid to the story that every family can relate to with giggles and chuckles! (Ages 4-7)

Chicks Rule!
by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Renée Kruilla (Abrams) Reviewer: Diana Fisher
Don’t give up, work together, and you can accomplish anything, is what all sorts of different chicks do when they learn there are “no chicks allowed” in the Rocket Club. Left out but not deterred from participating on their own terms, the chicks succeed fabulously as a team, with each one contributing something important. The illustrations are cute and colorful, and the story is set to rhyme, making it a fun and inspirational read. (Ages 4-8)

Franklin and Luna Go to the Moon
by Jen Campbell, Katie Harnett (Thames & Hudson) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
Time and circumstances can broaden the distances between family and friends. Luna and her best friend Franklin the dragon set out on a great adventure to find Franklin’s family. It’s been a very long time since he has been home, and he’s forgotten the way. Together they soar the skies until at last Franklin is reunited, and great fun is had by all. (Ages 4-8)

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No Peacocks! A Feathered Tale of Three Mischievous Foodies
by Robin Newman, Chris Ewald (Sky Pony) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
Tired of the daily sunflower seeds they are fed from the staff at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Phil, Jim, and Harry decide they want to try something new, so they make a break for it in search of pizza or Chinese takeout. But everywhere they go, they’re told “No peacocks!” With some stolen disguises and help from students, they devise a plan to sneak into a school cafeteria to try some mac and cheese! These silly peacocks are penned after the real celebrity birds of St. John’s. A truly fun story. Includes a comprehensive curriculum guide. (Ages 4-8)

Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog
by Lisa Papp (Peachtree Publishing) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
This is truly a heartfelt story that will linger far beyond its reading. The illustrations capture every delightful word, and tucks it ever so lovingly into the heart. Sweet little Madeline Finn will win you over with her sincere efforts to love and comfort the many waiting animals that fill our shelters. A tender seed worth planting into every child’s fresh soil. A kindness expressed, and multiplied. (Ages 4-8)

Good Egg and Bad Apple
by Henry Herz, Luke Graber (Schiffer Publishing) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
It’s fun to learn quips and sayings. Those clever plays on words that always seem to bring a chuckle or two. They lighten up this heavy subject of bullying, while still giving helpful insight on a very relatable subject. While giggling through vegetables humor, Good Egg shows us there are positive ways to turn an enemy into a friend. Herz also provides fun notes that explain the familiar idioms and puns he uses. (Ages 5-8)

H is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z
by Sydell Rosenberg, Sawsan Chalabi (Penny Candy Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
This warmhearted memorial to Sydell Rosenberg brings us to a very important message with Haiku. It’s a sweet remembrance to stop, draw in the wide angle, and focus in on the small points. Poetry is a language of imagery. It creatively flows through the emotions, bringing form and thought to the beauty it finds there. Haiku is a form of poetry originating in Japan, that seeks to draw the attention away from the whole to capture the smaller parts that could be overlooked. Drawing the reader to a keener awareness of the small joys and wonders of life that may contribute to the whole. (Ages 5-11)

Astrid the Unstoppable
by Maria Parr (Candlewick) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 12
Astrid the Unstoppable is a heartwarming story about family and friendship. Astrid, whose nickname is “The Little Thunderbolt,” is the only child living in the village of Glimmerdal. Her best friend is her godfather, Gunnvald, a grumpy 74-year-old man. But soon Astrid’s world is turned upside down by two startling arrivals to Glimmerdal: first a new family, then a mysterious, towering woman who everyone seems to know but Astrid. It turns out that Gunnvald has been keeping a big secret from his goddaughter. (Ages 7-10)

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WeirDo
by Anh Do (Scholastic) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Weir Do is the new kid in school. With an unforgettable name, a crazy family, and some seriously weird habits, fitting in won’t be easy … but it will be funny! Young readers will surely relate to Weir. Everybody has something they feel is weird about themselves. This book is a funny lesson to teach kids to learn more about each other—they will surely find that they have surprising things in common. (Ages 7-10)

Middle School Misadventures
by Jason Platt (Middle School Misadventures) Reviewer: Diana Perry
In Jason Platt’s debut graphic novel, Ferris Bueller meets Calvin and Hobbes in this hilarious and embarrassing middle school caper that asks the important questions—like how long can one kid vamp before he embarrasses himself in front of his whole school? The illustrations perfectly capture the action and the emotions of each character. Except for a few, most kids find Middle School terrifying on a daily basis and will really enjoy seeing how Newell handles his disasters. A great read. (Ages 8-11)

A Drop of Hope
by Keith Calabrese (Scholastic) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Times are tough, jobs are scarce, and miracles are in short supply. But something strange is happening in If Only, Ohio. An old well has suddenly, impossibly, begun to grant wishes. And three sixth graders are the only ones who know why. Ernest, Ryan, and Lizzy know they can’t fix the world. But in their own little corner of it, they can give everyone a little hope ... one wish at a time. I see this wonderful book as a teaching tool for young readers to put themselves into the shoes of others. Each child’s life story weaves together to one great ending in this heartwarming book. (Ages 8-12)

Wicked Nix
by Lena Coakley, Jaime Zollars (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 12
Wicked Nix is a story filled with imagination, tricks, and mischievous behavior by Nix, a fairy. Nix doesn’t like humans, especially since he was put in charge of protecting the forest. Nix tries to chase a human man out of the forest by threatening him with his curses and spells, but the man fights back. (Ages 8-12)

The Adventures Of Keeno and Ernest: The Banana Tree
by Maggie van Galen, Joanna Lundeen (Outskirts Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
Rules can feel restricting, and sometimes just don’t make sense. But Keeno learns a very important lesson, the hard way! His parents made their rules with great consideration, and concern for his safety. Sometimes, when our desires outweigh common sense, it’s a good thing to have a faithful friend like Ernest close by. This story is a great opportunity to open discussions on why rules and structure play such an important part in our lives, and how obedience is often necessary for our survival. (Ages 8-12)

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The Potter’s Boy
by Tony Mitton (David Fickling Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Ryo was born the son of a potter, a fate that he is unsure of once a mysterious wanderer and trained fighter comes to his small village and protects them from a band of thieves. Inspired by the events, Ryo embarks on both a hero’s quest and a quest to be a hero. Through his adventures, Ryo trains in the art of both fighting and mindfulness under the elusive Hermit of Cold Mountain. But when tragedy strikes, Ryo knows he must use what he’s learned to do what is right for himself and his future. This book serves as advice to each of us that we must find our own path in life and that sometimes you must go far away from home to find your way back again. (Ages 8-12)

Super Sons: The PolarShield Project
by Ridley Pearson, Ile Gonzalez (DC Zoom) Reviewer: Diana Perry
In this graphic novel book, Superman’s son Jon and Batman’s son Ian want to be just like their dads. Jon Kent and Damian “Ian” Wayne are opposite in every way except one—they are the sons of the World’s Greatest Heroes! To uncover a global conspiracy, this unlikely dynamic duo will need to learn to trust each other and work together to save the Earth. But who is the mysterious Candace, and what secrets does she hold that could be the key to everything? This book has it all: action, adventure, mystery, and plenty of obstacles for our next generation superheroes to overcome. (Ages 8-12)

Seed Savers: Treasure
by Sandra Smith (Seed Savers) Reviewer: Diana Perry
It’s 2077. There’s no apocalypse, but some things are different. Things like the weather, the Internet, and food. In 12-year-old Clare’s world, blueberry is just a flavor and apples are found only in fairy tales. Then one day Clare meets a woman who teaches her about seeds and real food. With Ana’s guidance, Clare and her friends learn about gardening. When the authorities discover the children’s forbidden tomato plant and arrest their mother, Clare and her brother begin a lonely cross-country journey that tests them both physically and spiritually. Can they help change the world? What a fun-to-read series that teaches the importance of growing our own food. It leaves young readers excited to read the next one. (Ages 9-12)

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Catch Me When I Fall
by Bonnie Graves (Regal House Publishing) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
This is truly an interesting tale. Readers will find a friendly gentle pace that keeps the pages turning. So many feel the push of quest, and stumble at the mystery of identity. Emma Monroe’s heart was tangled in just such a journey. Trying to solve the mystery of her absent father, she is lead into the amazing world of circus life. Will she find what she’s looking for? And will it be worth the cost? Truly an engaging story! (Ages 9-12)


To submit your book for review, email cristy@storymonsters.com for submission guidelines.

Subscribe to Story Monsters Ink magazine! Get the best news in books for just $5 a year! 

Author Spotlight: Tim Vasquez


Tim S. Vasquez’s casual, easy-to-read writing style has collided with his vast life experiences to create his long-awaited first book, The Taco Stand. Growing up in the kitchen of his parents’ Mexican restaurant in Tempe, Arizona, has provided him the impetus for the book. Tim is the owner and operator of his family’s restaurants, Someburros and Isabel’s Amor, where he strives each and every day to honor the legacy of his Nana Isabel and Tata Poncho.

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Where did you grow up?
Tempe, AZ.

Did you read a lot as a child?
I loved children’s books but I enjoyed writing more than reading.

What were some of your favorite books/authors?
I enjoyed Shel Silverstein and A Light in the Attic as a child. As a high school student I loved The Count of Monte Cristo.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a professional baseball player.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
I worked in my parents’ restaurant, Someburros, growing up and now I own the business and that is my full-time job.

How did you get started writing?
My grandma Betty was a good writer and so was my mom, Mary. They always made writing fun and something enjoyable to do. My mom still loves writing poetry and she has had a huge influence on my writing.

What do you like best about writing?

I love the storytelling aspect of writing. I enjoy using words that paint a picture in the reader’s mind so they actually feel like they are a part of the story.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
Finding the time to actually do it.

What do you think makes a good story?
I think the best stories are ones that the reader can relate to and totally picture in their mind.

Where do you get your inspiration?
I love getting a cup pf coffee and “people watching.” I try to think about who they are, what they are doing, and how they got there. Every person has a story and if I think about what it might be, sometimes it inspires me to write.

What is your favorite reading/writing snack?
Coffee.

Do you have any quirky writing habits?
I write best right after exercising outdoors. It seems to get my creative juices flowing.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
There are no rules and there is no right or wrong with writing. Be creative. Be yourself. Write what’s on your mind.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?
I’d love to be adventuring in Where the Wild Things Are.

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Tell us about your latest book/project.
My book, The Taco Stand, tells the story of my Nana Isabel and her passion for cooking and making tacos for her boys to sell on the street corner. One day, she is approached by a man in a black suit and he presents his greedy plan to expand her business while taking time away from her family. Isabel is faced with the decision between fortune or time spent with family.


For more information about Tim Vasquez and his book, visit www.thetacostandbook.com.

Cartoonist Across America Creates Art Ability in the Classroom


by Dr. Dawn Menge

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Phil Yeh founded Cartoonists Across America in 1985 to increase literacy across the country. He has painted more than 1,800 murals in 49 U.S. States and more than a dozen countries. Phil’s goal is to create and encourage literacy through the Arts. "I am pleased that the Cartoonists Across America Tour has been formed, because I agree that literacy has become a problem in our country. Humor itself is always a valuable tool in providing incentive for reading.” - Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts.

The recent snow storms in Southern California postponed our much-anticipated visit from Phil Yeh. He was going to bring his talents to our classroom to create a mural with the students who have severe cognitive delays in our classes. Finally, he was able to brave the weather and he and his wife Linda came to spend the day with our students.

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Paint, brushes, and comic books were all unpacked and Phil soon began to freehand the mural for us to paint. Right before our eyes he created mountains, the sun, Joshua Trees, and many animal characters for our students to paint in. Highlighted across he wrote, “Building a World of Readers, Artists and Dreamers.” The first of the students came to choose their colors to paint. Their varied cognitive and physical delays were pushed aside and soon forgotten as they excitedly picked up their paint brushes and paint and began to fill in the mural. Each student took their turn in adding their personal touches to our mural. Soon, there was a bright yellow sun with deep red lips painted by our beautiful young student who despite being deaf, uses her assertive nature to command and direct others. Our young man with Cerebral Palsy in his electric wheelchair spent an hour painting the Joshua Trees. He was so intent on getting it right and staying within the lines, carefully dipping his paint brush in the green and then raising his arm to apply the color.  

The hours passed quickly as more than 30 students whose abilities included Autism, Down syndrome, visual and hearing Impairments, and intellectual disabilities, took turns adding their loving touch to the mural. The occupational therapists, speech therapists, education specialists and educational assistants all joined in to add color and flare to the community board. The students used their creative imaginations and formed a river flowing at the bottom of the mountains. Animals were given varying color schemes, none looking the same as different students tackled different areas. Birds flying across the mountains sported colors in yellow, red, blue, and brown. The mountains were orange, yellow, and blue. A young man in an electric wheelchair painted the rabbit with a red face and a purple suit.

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Phil Yeh spent the morning helping and encouraging the students and explained his philosophies and experiences about using the Arts to expand and increase the use of combining art and literacy to build stronger communities. “Our belief is that without the presence of creative expression, the ability of students and adults to learn and pursue any subject becomes stifled, uninspired and robotic,” he says.

Phil’s graphic novel, Dinosaurs Across America, teaches U.S. Geography while entertaining students and adults with the vividly illustrated pages. As Phil painted over the black lines on the mural the paint brushes were washed, and the paint put away. The mural will be showcased in a local art show to appreciate artwork developed by individuals with disabilities. A fitting end, to a unique and amazing opportunity given to our students, on this rainy, wintery day. We are all responsible and influence Phil’s dream to create literacy through the arts and to help him accomplish his goal of “Building a World of Readers, Artists and Dreamers” in homes, classrooms, libraries, and community centers throughout the country.

Author Spotlight: Rita Gigante, Bobbie Sterchele-Gigante, Donna McDine, and Renie De Mase

Meet the authors/illustrator team behind Angel’s Forever Home (Mascot Books), a true story about a dog who was rescued from a Chilean earthquake, and searches for his forever home. Facing his fear of rejection for not being like other dogs, he embarks on a journey that teaches him the importance of patience, courage, and the willingness to open his heart to others.

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Where did you grow up?

Rita: Old Tappan, NJ.
Bobbie: Northvale, NJ.
Donna: I am a lifelong resident of Rockland County, NY and have resided in Tappan, NY for the last 21 years.
Renie: I grew up In Airmont, NY (Suffern).

Did you read a lot as a child?

Rita: No, I didn’t have an interest in reading till senior year in high school.
Bobbie: Yes. Pre-teen.
Donna: I was an avid reader as a child. I especially enjoyed the Nancy Drew mysteries. I still have the collection to this day.
Renie: Yes, all the time.

What were some of your favorite books/authors/artists?

Rita: There are so many and very diverse. Some are The Great Gatsby, The Eden Book series, Outlander, The Biology of Belief, Becoming Supernatural, The Glass House, etc.
Bobbie: The Godfather’s Daughter, An Unlikely Story of Love Healing and Redemption, Judy Blume books, astrology and healing books.
Donna: Judy Blume was my favorite author and I read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret so many times the book was torn and worn out.
Renie: Renoir and Monet, I don’t really have a favorite artist.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Rita: I always knew I would help people but just allowed it to unfold to where I am today.
Bobbie: A nurse.
Donna: I had dreamed of becoming a reporter and enjoyed watching the Lou Grant show with my dad. It always intrigued me how the reporter would put their story together.
Renie: A mom and an artist. I considered interior decorating or art therapy as well.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer/illustrator.

Rita: I am a psychic, medium, healer, health coach, massage therapist and exercise physiologist.
Bobbie: Nurse, hairdresser.
Donna: In high school I worked in the bakery department of a local supermarket and eventually fell into the work as an administrative assistant. While I continue to write, I continue to work as an administrative assistant to keep the steady income flowing. Which is imperative with college tuition for our daughter.
Renie: As a teenager I worked in a bakery, a florist, and a clothing store. Later I worked as a realtor while trying to build up my art career.

How did you get started writing/illustrating?

Rita: I started writing my memoir 15 years before it came out in 2012.
Bobbie: When I started college I wrote lots of poems from my life.
Donna: Back in 2007 I came across the Institute of Children’s Literature aptitude test and my long-shelved desire to write was re-sparked. I eagerly completed the test and mailed it back. Yes, back then we used snail mail…LOL. And I now have six children’s books to my credit along with many print and online magazine articles.
Renie: I sketched and painted all the time growing up. I took every class available in high school. I studied art in NYC then continued with art lessons. I painted murals in both schools and private residences. I had the opportunity to teach children in an art/craft studio. I am now commissioned for custom artwork, painting pet portraits and house rendering and that is how I was asked to illustrate this book, I originally painted a pet portrait for the author.

What do you like best about writing/drawing?

Rita: For me it is very cathartic and healing. I also love to bring stories to life, make people laugh, and help others in their healing process.
Bobbie: Bringing a true story to life.
Donna: Once I have a story idea in place and I have conducted my research whether it be for historical fiction or internal character interviews, I move forward with the story. Even though I am the creator of the story, it often amazes me the twists and turns a story takes from my original plan.
Renie: Just the feeling of creating something, I find it to be a combination of fun, exciting, rewarding, and relaxing all at the same time.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?

Rita: Getting started.
Bobbie: Having the time to do it.
Donna: When conducting my research for my historical fiction books, The Golden Pathway and Powder Monkey I needed to remind myself when to stop the research and get down to the writing.

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What do you think makes a good story?

Rita: A character that speaks to me. Good descriptions of people, places and events. A story should make you want to read more even when you get to the end. Anything that I can learn from.
Bobbie: The truth and experiences of someone’s life.
Donna: From my perspective it’s important not to be preaching to the reader by a lesson. To create a true world where a child can relate to his/her life will keep them interested rather than trying to get a lesson across.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Rita: Meditation, exercise, and discussion with other authors.
Bobbie: Inspiration comes from within and experiencing life with new people every day.
Donna: My inspiration comes from many facets. From jotting down conversations my children have had with their friends over the years while playing, newspaper articles, or even an overhead conversation or action while out and about.
Renie: Sometimes from my feelings whether I’m going through a good or even difficult time, which will affect my work. The beautiful colors outside also inspire me.

What is your favorite reading/writing/drawing snack?

Rita: Popcorn.
Bobbie: Cheese doodles.
Donna: French vanilla tea with bite-sized cold chocolate chip cookies. Yum.
Renie: I don’t eat when I am painting, however starting early in the morning with a good cup of coffee is always nice. Although I’ve gotten so into my project that I’ve dipped my brush into my coffee instead of the water…

Do you have any quirky writing/illustrating habits?

Rita: Not really. Just need a quiet place and sometimes exercise will give me motivation and great ideas.
Bobbie: I doodle while I write.
Donna: My research, character interview, outlines, and first drafts are always written long-hand with my favorite writing pen. A Graf von Faber-Castell pen gifted to me by my husband and daughters when my first children’s book, The Golden Pathway was published in 2010.
Renie: Not really quirky, but I have an old eraser I should toss but I love using it, even though I have newer ones, I always use that one. Also I like blending colors with dirty water for shadowing.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors and illustrators? 

Rita: Push through. Know that whatever you have to say is worthy and can help others. Trust the process.
Bobbie: Write from your heart.
Donna: Participate in writer’s workshops, conferences, and critique groups. Read, read, and read some more in the genre you find the most inspiring to write for.
Renie: Just create, don’t overthink, especially wondering if it’s “right “or “wrong,” because it’s not either, it is your creation, just let it flow out…. When drawing a person or an animal, always use absolute black and absolute white in the eyes. A teacher taught me that when I was younger and I always think of that, just a simple fact.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?

Rita: Outlander. Love the culture, land, time period, etc.
Bobbie: I would be in the afterlife and experience what it would be like and then come back to Earth and share my experiences.
Donna: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It is absolutely fascinating how the characters go from one world to another.
Renie: I would spend the day in a mystical garden; I like the woodland/garden watercolor scenes with fairies and angels all around.

 

For more information about Rita Gigante and Bobbie Sterchele-Gigante, visit www.spaceofgracehealing.com

For more information about Donna McDine, visit www.donnamcdine.com.

For more information about Renie De Mase, follow her on instagram.com/renies_art/

 

 

New Story Monster Approved Books Announced


Kid-tested, Story Monsters Approved! 
Congratulations to our newest approved authors!

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Picture books (Ages 3–8)

The Cows Go Moo!
by Jim Petipas


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Picture books (Ages 3–8)
Family Matters
Youth Author Fiction

Fortune Cookie Surprise!
by Jacqueline Prata


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Picture books (Ages 3–8)

Gracie Jane
by Janet Squires


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Picture books (Ages 3–8)
Early Readers (Ages 5–9) – Nonfiction

Sam Finds the Sugar Gram
by Diane Lash Decker, MS, illustrated by Doina Paraschiv

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Education/Reference

Summer the Firefly
by Vikki Lynn Smith, illustrated by Marcela Werkema


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Picture books (Ages 3–8)

The Amazing Adventures of Little Right Sock
by Brintha Gardner


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First-Time Author (all ages)
Making a Difference
Middle Grade Books (Ages 8-12)

With the Courage of a Mouse, The Superhero School series, Book one
by Donna Sager Cowan, illustrated by Diane Reid

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Early Readers (Ages 5–9) – Fiction

Aunt Lanta's Magic Spells
by Leah Fricano



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Is your book Story Monsters Approved?
Enter today at www.DragonflyBookAwards.com!

Dr. Dawn Menge Makes Book Reviews a Classroom Project

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“I want to go to the 13th floor!” Mariah exclaimed as we began reading, There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor. My students listened intently as I read the children’s book that was sent to me by Story Monsters Ink magazine to review. “The man was sleepy. He slept in a big room with a dinosaur,” Ryder answered as he wrote his book report. “The dinosaur did not like Mr. Snores on the 13th floor.”

Several years ago I began writing reviews for Story Monster Ink. This is a great opportunity for me as I am able to branch out on my author journey to see the other side of the publishing world. I am the author of an educational series titled, Queen Vernita’s Visitors. My series has won 31 awards; including seven Purple Dragonfly and seven Story Monsters Approved awards. I have a PH.D in Curriculum and Instruction and use many forms of literacy in my classroom that educates students with moderate to severe disabilities ages 12 to 22. During my over 20 years as an educator for students with disabilities, we have provided many forms of academic opportunities including functional reading and recreational reading.

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“Eww, something is dripping on his head!” Jesse notes, “What do you think it is?” I asked, “An ocean or an aquarium?” As an educator, it is heartwarming to hear the animated responses I receive from my students as we read the various books we are given by Story Monsters to review.

As a direct result of these opportunities, I and those around me have been exposed to many quality children’s books that we might not otherwise have had the opportunity to read. “It’s great to participate in reviewing the books, so that we can recommend them to others or buy for gifts.

I am also an active member of the United States Board on Books for Young People (USSBBY). I sit on the committee that creates the International List for the Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities. These books are written either for or about people with disabilities. I have been able to recommend several of the books I have reviewed for recommendation for this list.

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The books presented to me by Story Monsters vary in publishing formats from self-published to traditionally published. Allowing a wide range of exposure to gauge the many components required to judge the quality of the literature. Having been connected to Story Monsters throughout many years, I have been able to watch it grow and expand to an amazing publication that now includes bestselling author James Patterson and Judy Newman, president of Scholastic Book Clubs, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

  

 To submit your book for review, email cristy@storymonsters.com for submission guidelines.

Subscribe to Story Monsters Ink magazine! Get the best news in books for just $5 a year!

 

 



Conrad's Classroom: The Skin We're In

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I’ve conducted hundreds of writing workshops over the years with students and adults of all ages. Young or older, students all have questions about the writing process. One of the first questions asked in every session is: Where do you get your ideas?

My answer is always the same. Ideas are everywhere. You just need to open your eyes and look around; open your ears and listen. It works for me.

My annual visit to the dermatologist was the spark for this month’s column. Sitting in the exam room got me thinking about just how amazing human skin is as a protective covering. It’s tough, yet flexible. It keeps harmful irritants out, but is porous enough to let off excess body heat and moisture in the form of sweat.

If cut or scraped or roughed up, skin has the ability to heal quickly, often in just a matter of days. These facts I knew already. But with curiosity piqued, I asked some questions to learn more.

Skin is actually the largest organ of the human body. Most people know a bit about human organs. The heart pumps blood through a miles-long network of arteries, veins, and capillaries. With every breath, our lungs take in oxygen from the air and expel carbon dioxide and water as waste products. Our liver and kidneys rid the body of harmful toxins.

All of those organs are connected inside our body. On the outside, our skin is the perfect covering for everything. That includes all of our organs, muscles, bones, nerves and brain.

An average-sized person has between 16 and 22 square feet of skin. Spread across a flat surface, that is enough to cover a single bed. Or, consider that a standard doorway opening is about 21 square feet. All of that skin weighs between 9 and 11 pounds. Skin accounts for about for 15 percent of our total body weight.

Our skin is the body’s protective barrier against the outside world. It’s not as tough as a turtle’s shell or a suit of armor. Still, it protects our bones, muscles, and internal organs from disease. Our skin is filled with nerve endings, the sensors that allow us to feel and touch and react to heat and cold.

Human skin is made of three separate layers and each layer has a specific purpose. The outside layer is called the epidermis. It is thickest on the palms of our hands and soles of our feet. It is thinnest on our eyelids. The epidermis also contains the pigments that give our skin its color.

The middle layer is called dermis. It contains billions of nerve endings and is home to blood vessels and the roots of every bit of hair.

The subcutaneous layer is the deepest layer of our skin. It contains fat cells. It serves as a shock absorber to help protect our internal organs.

According to scientists, our skin is constantly changing and produces new skin cells as dead cells are shed. We shed between 30,000 and 40,000 dead skin cells every minute!

Our skin totally renews itself about once every 28 to 35 days. Consider it this way: By the time you reach age 20, you’ve already cycled through a new covering of skin almost 200 times.

We need to be aware of and take care of our skin each and every day. It’s our perfect covering.

 

Facts to get under your skin:

  • Your skin is home to billions of bacteria. More than a 1,000 different kinds.

  • Much of the dust in your home is actually made of dead skin cells.

  • Damaged skin heals itself by forming a scar. Scar tissue does not have hair follicles or sweat glands.

  • Tough, thick skin often forms over an area that experiences repeated pressure or friction. This tough, thick patch of skin is called a callus.


Resources to learn more:

Books:

My Amazing Skin Can Heal: A Book about Boo-Boos, Bandages and Band Aids by A. D. Largie

Skin: The Largest Organ in the Body by Baby Professor


Websites:

Science Kids – Human Body Facts

How Stuff Works – How Your Skin Works

KidsHealth – Your Skin

YouTube – How Your Skin Works


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The award-winning author and editor of more than 50 science and nature books for children and young adults, Conrad J. Storad expertly draws young readers into his imaginative and entertaining “classroom” to help them better understand and appreciate the natural world. (photo by Linda F. Radke)

Story Monsters February Book Reviews


Check out our newest book reviews!

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Bigger! Bigger!
by Leslie Patricelli (Candlewick) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
Stories with bold colors and blocks on the cover immediately catch my interest and this action-packed building adventure will become a fast favorite for our littlest story monsters. We have a strong little constructor building a masterpiece, with one word (sometimes two words) of text on each page. The book gets better! better! as you turn each page and readers will also love the sweet (and surprise) ending when a sibling gets hands on little builders’ blocks. Leslie Patricelli definitely deserves a spot in an author study rotation for elementary students! (Ages 2-5)

Hide and Seek
by Anthony Browne (Candlewick) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This simple story gives a young sister and brother a childhood peek into the fear and joy of being lost and found! The illustrations are amazing, and provide for multiple visits to the pages in a  challenging search of hidden objects. (Ages 3-7)

I Do Not Like Books Anymore!
by Daisy Hirst (Candlewick) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
The adorable monster siblings, Natalie and Alphonse are back with great expectations for the fun that awaits them when Natalie learns to read. But, see what happens when it is not as easy as Natalie thought it would be. The struggles of learning to read are real, and sometimes the words can look like birds’ feet across the page. Oh, but the window of wonder that opens when those little birds fly free! (Ages 3-7)

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The Littlest Things Give the Loveliest Hugs
by Mark Sperring, Maddie Frost (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This soft and cozy read will bring a loving close to every day. A great bedtime, or anytime reminder that little ones are just perfect when they give their very best hug! (Ages 3-6)

Mirabel’s Missing Valentines
by Janet Lawler, Olivia Chin Mueller (Sterling Children’s Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This sweet story is so full of encouragement. What a great comfort it is to know that even in our smallest, shyest moments, we can bring joy to others! Mirabel is so shy that a simple act of exchanging Valentines with her class causes her great concern. But, in her faithfulness to meet the situation, she discovers her simple act not only brings happiness unexpectedly, but carries a joyous reciprocity as well. The illustrations by Olivia Chin Mueller are as sweet and enjoyable as the story itself. (Ages 3-7)

Angry Cookie
by Laura Dockrill, Maria Karipidou (Walker Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Cookie is mad, and he just wants everyone to go away so he can sulk. When we keep turning the pages and Cookie realizes we are not leaving, he begins to tell us what has him in such a mood. It seems that all he really needed was for someone to listen to him. To be able to voice his feelings, and as he hears his own voice, he begins to realize it’s not really that bad after all. Sometimes we just need a friend to listen, and to care about our feelings. An insightful tool for a caring look into those troublesome, grumpy encounters. (Ages 3-7)

Superhero Mom
by Timothy Knapman, Joe Berger (Nosy Crow) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
A tribute to moms everywhere! Playmate, friend, protector, and keeper, she is the most  underrated superhero on the scene. She doesn’t wear a cape or fly around, but she runs for the bus so fast it feels like flying; uses her super strength to carry her daughter’s boots, coat, bag, and scooter; and can make bumps and bruises better with just a kiss. A great reminder for all the loving help she brings. (Ages 3-7)

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Grumpy Duck
by Joyce Dunbar, Petr Horacek (Candlewick) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Have you ever had that little black cloud hover over your head? Somehow, nothing can lift it till it spreads so big it’s covering everyone with you. The pond is dry, and it seems Duck is not happy about it. She doesn’t want to roll in the mud with Pig, sing with Rooster, doze with Tortoise, eat laundry with Goat, or join any of the other animals in their pastimes. What will make Duck happy again? (Ages 3-7)

Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine
by Jonathan London, Andrew Joyner (Two Lions) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Duck and Hippo are back! This unlikely pair shows the true power and magic of friendship. The sincerity of their actions continually brings their small community closer, and Valentine’s Day is no different. Duck understands the heart of love and the excitement of having a secret admirer, so he plans a surprise for them all. Duck, Hippo, and their friends are good examples of sharing, caring and belonging. They may be odd matches on the outside, but on the inside, they are what friendship is all about. (Ages 3-7)

Even Superheroes Make Mistakes
by Shelly Baker, Eda Kaban (Sterling Children’s Books) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
This super sweet rhyming story takes us through various mistakes that a superhero might make—and how they remedy it! Waking up late for superhero camp? Make a new alarm clock! Mess up the choir? Work together and sing better and higher! The story goes back and forth between excuses we could provide and ways we can learn from them. Problem-solving theme packed with colorful, modern, and fresh illustrations will remind students of lovable superhero characters they have seen in the movies. A fun story with a great message for readers of all ages. (Ages 3-9)

Little Fox in the Snow
by Jonathan London, Daniel Miyares (Candlewick) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
An early peek into the circle of life. Little Fox sets out for adventure. He feels the thrill of the hunt and the quickening of breath in being the hunted. All in a day of the wild, he carries the knowledge of both. Once again safe in his hole, he contemplates better things. The tender tone of the story accompanies the soft illustrations perfectly, making this an enjoyable read. (Ages 4-8)

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The Dress and the Girl
by Camille Andros, Julie Morstad (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
An extraordinary story about the power of association with items we hold dear to us. Strong memories can be elicited from those special objects that were with us during special times in our lives. In this story, a mother gifts a handmade dress to her daughter. The dress stays with the daughter during her childhood until she parts ways with it as she enters a new chapter of her life, moving from Greece to America. Though the dress and the girl part ways, the story is weaved together beautifully as the dress is reunited with the girl during her adult years. A sweet reminder that our lives are filled with unexpected adventures. (Ages 4-8)

There’s A Dinosaur on the 13th Floor
by Wade Bradford, Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick) Reviewer: Dr. Dawn Menge
Poor Mr. Snore needs to sleep and he can’t find any peace. The room on the first floor is too noisy. The room on the second floor is too crowded. The room on the third floor is too damp. Mr. Snore finally makes it to the 13th floor. He finds a giant, empty bed that looks very inviting, so he curls up and tucks himself in and begins to snore. The bellhop soon receives a call from the 13th floor. “Someone is in my bed and I can’t go to sleep.” This delightfully illustrated book will keep your child entertained as Mr. Snore tries very hard to find a room to catch up on his sleep. (Ages 4-8)

The Bossy Pirate
by John Steven Gurney (Schiffer) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Fun and friendship have a lot in common. They both require a lot of give and take. Jack and his friends share in imaginary play, and his bedroom quickly becomes an amazing pirate’s ship. All are having fun, until Jack takes his part as Captain a little too seriously, and barks out orders till there is mutiny on the high seas. So you see, in order for friendships and fun to really be, it can’t become all about me. (Ages 5-6)

The Infamous Ratsos: Project Fluffy
by Kara LaReau, Matt Myers (Candlewick) Reviewer: Macaulay Smith, age 7
Ralphie Ratso’s brother Louie Ratso is shocked when the most popular kid in school, Chuck Wood, asks him for help to win over the heart of his crush, Fluffy. Unfortunately, she’s only interested in one thing: Her garden. Meanwhile, Ralphie feels left out and sad that his brother Louie isn’t spending time with him, when they’re supposed to be working together on a poem for the poetry contest! While Louie and Chuck work on Project Fluffy, Ralphie tries to tell Louie how much he misses him. This is a good book, with some great lessons in it! (Ages 5-8)

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Did Dinosaurs Have Dentists?
by Patrick O’Donnell, Erik Mehlen (Schiffer) Reviewer: Julianne Black
This adorable sing-song project has just enough dinosaurs to make it fun and just enough dentistry to calm a worried young mind. With this bright, lighthearted, and fast-paced book, O’Donnell and Mehlen accomplish exactly what they set out to do: create a connection that softens the stress of a first dentist visit. Plus, they get extra points for taking the time to add a comprehensive educational list/overview of the dinosaurs mentioned and the dentistry terms touched upon. (Ages 5-8)

Baxter’s Corner series
by L.S.V. Baker, M.E.B Stottmann (Baxter’s Corner) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is a great series for early childhood character building. Each adorable animal becomes relatable, and offers solutions and means to equip us to make good choices. Covering such topics as Respect for Others, Compassion, Resilience and Cooperation, plus so much more. Each story encourages us to accept ourselves, and to be the best we can be. Every book provides fun facts about the main animal characterized in the story. Along with helpful hints on how to maximize the stories learning potential, and make it personal to each reading audience. (Ages 5-9)

Soof
by Sarah Weeks (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry
All her life, Aurora has heard stories about Heidi and all the good luck she brought Aurora’s family. Aurora, though, doesn’t feel very lucky. The kids at school think she’s weird. And she’s starting to think her mom thinks she’s weird, too. Especially compared to Heidi. On the eve of a visit from Heidi, more bad luck hits Aurora’s family. There’s a fire in their attic, destroying a good part of their house. And, even worse, Aurora’s beloved dog goes missing. Young readers will bond with Aurora and parents may find this book a valuable teachable tool. A wonderful bedtime reading book. (Ages 8-12)

Class Pets: Fuzzy’s Great Escape
by Bruce Hale (Scholastic) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Fuzzy is the ambitious and unfortunately named guinea pig of class 5B. He has big plans for this year—namely, to be president of the Class Pets Club. Then the cutest, most charming new  bunny shows up and spins Fuzzy’s plan like a hamster wheel. There’s only one way to topple the adorable new club president: Fuzzy is taking the pets on a field trip! This is a great book for young readers. Full of adventure and fun. (Ages 8-12)

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We Were Made For Each Other!
by Jiu Er, Julie Nesrallah (The Secret Mountain) Reviewer: Julianne Black
Sweet and gentle moments of illustrated mindfulness. With friendship, gratitude, kindness, and patience … the characters Little Sun, Miss Rabbit, and Little Mouse have a timeless Winnie the Pooh feel. Partnered with beautiful, heartfelt pictures by author and artist Jiu Er, this work is a lovely presentation. (Ages 7-9)

Dog Diaries: A Middle School Story
by James Patterson, Richard Watson, Steven Butler (jimmy patterson) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 12
Dog Diaries: A Middle School Story is a fun book told from the point of view of Junior, Rafe’s dog. Rafe rescued Junior from a dog shelter. Junior tells us what his life as a dog is like and what it’s like being Rafe’s dog. Unfortunately, Junior is misbehaving and has to go to dog obedience school. Will he be the Best Trained Dog? Read the book to find out! (Ages 7-11)

The Light Jar
by Lisa Thompson (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Nate and his mother are running away. Fleeing from an emotionally abusive situation, they hide out in an abandoned cottage in the middle of a forest. Though it’s old and run-down, at least it’s a place of their own. Then Nate’s mother heads off for groceries and doesn’t return. Has she run into trouble, or simply abandoned him? He is left alone and afraid, but comfort can come from the most unexpected places, like a strange girl trying to solve the mystery of a treasure hunt, and the reappearance of a friend from his past. Young readers will enjoy trying to solve the two mysteries—finding out what happened to Nate’s mom, and following the clues to find Kitty’s treasure. (Ages 8-12)

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Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of Ghosts
by Katie and Kevin Tsang (Sterling Children’s Books). Reviewer: Macaulay Smith, age 7
Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of Ghosts is a really great book. I loved it! The main character, Sam Wu is taunted by the school bully Ralph Philip Zinkerman the Third. Ralph says that Sam is a scaredy-cat and calls him ‘Sam Wuzer,’ and laughs that he can rhyme Sam’s name with loser. After a trip to the space museum and a dare that went embarrassingly wrong, Sam Wu channels his favorite TV show characters, and tries to prove that he is brave and definitely not afraid of ghosts … even though he actually is! I couldn’t put this book down, and I also liked how fun all of the pages in the book are! There’s so much to like about this book! I highly recommend it! (Ages 7-12)

A Promise Stitched in Time
by Colleen Rowan Kosinski (Schiffer) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Promises can be hard to keep, but Maggie McConnell is determined to keep the promise she made to her father before he died. She must win a scholarship to a prestigious art program, but her grief gets in the way as she struggles to find her artistic vision. When Maggie purchases an old tweed coat as inspiration, she never guesses this special coat will forever change the way she views life and her place in it. There is a mystery to this tale that connects the coat to someone dear to Maggie’s heart. With a brilliant plot, readers will love how all the different parts weave together to become one complete story. (Ages 8-12)

The Witching Hours: The Vampire Knife
by Jack Henseleit (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) Reviewer: Macaulay Smith, age 7
This book is spooky! Siblings Anna and Max love scary stories, but things get too real while staying at a hotel in Transylvania. Both kids catch a mysterious white-eyed figure looking at them, who turns out to be a vampire! When Anna wakes up from an awful nightmare, she finds that Max was replaced with a bear, and the vampire had taken him. Anna has to enlist the help of the innkeeper’s daughter Isabella to help rescue Max. If you like books like Goosebumps, you’ll love this book! (Ages 9-12)

Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind
by Darlene Foster (Central Avenue Publishing) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Join Amanda, Cleo and their funny friend, Caleb on a field trip as they visit an ancient landscape where a traditional hacienda, an ancient pueblo, and a haunted hotel all hold secrets to a wild and violent past. Does Cleo really see ghosts? Can Amanda escape the eerie wind that follows her everywhere? Perhaps the Day of the Dead will reveal the mysteries of Taos in this latest  adventure of Amanda’s travels. This was a fun book to read. I think young readers will enjoy the discussion questions at the end. Fun and educational! (Ages 9-12)

90% Human
by M.C. Berkhousen (Progressive Rising Phoenix Press, LLC) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Luke Brockway has a secret. As a result of an old family curse, he has tiny eagle feathers under his arms. No one knows, not even his brother, Austin. Now Luke and Austin are at camp, and it’s a challenge to keep the feathers hidden. As the days go by, Luke, Austin, and their friend Megan face even greater perils. When disaster looms, Luke must choose between saving his friends and facing life as an eagle. Will he find a way to become 100% human again? I found much excitement, adventure, danger and several delightful mysteries to solve in this book. Young readers will love how the mysteries unravel, and parents will find this book a great way to get their kids to read more. I couldn’t put it down. (Ages 10-14)

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The Unspeakable Unknown
by Eliot Sappingfield (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) Reviewer: Diana Perry
In this sequel to A ProblematicParadox, Nikola Kross has battled aliens and won. But her father, who was kidnapped by evil extraterrestrials, is still missing, and now it’s up to Nikola and her friends to find and rescue him before it’s too late. I believe that kids will find this book thrilling with its use of technology. Young readers will love trying to figure out how to help Nikola. I loved the surprise ending. (Ages 10+)

 

To submit your book for review, email cristy@storymonsters.com for submission guidelines.

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New Story Monsters Approved Books Announced

Kid-tested, Story Monsters Approved! 
Congratulations to our newest approved authors!

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Family Matters

Ellie and Her Emotional Dragons
by Joseph Goodrich, illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner

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Picture Books (Ages 3–8)

Green Snakes on the Ceiling
by Sandy Richards, illustrated by Ella Rose Picture books

Ellie and Her Emotional Dragons
by Joseph Goodrich, illustrated by Traci Van Wagoner

Along for the Ride
by Michael DiPinto, illustrated by Sue Lynn Cotton

The Adventures of Connor the Courageous Cutter: Saving Sarah
by Scott McBride & Rod Thompson, illustrated by Brian Martin

The Adventures of Connor the Courageous Cutter: Caution at Calamity Canal
by Scott McBride & Rod Thompson, illustrated by Brian Martin

Eli's Magic Moment
by Kevin Poplawski, illustrated by Michael Rausch

What's Going Down in Prairie Dog Town?
by Alan J. Bartels, illustrated by Hannah Segura

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Early Readers (Ages 5–9) – Nonfiction

On Safari to See the Animals and the Birds
by Sandy Hill, illustrated by Gene and Sandy Hill

School Life

How the Peacock Got Its Feathers
by Clayton Francis & Cherylann Francis, illustrated by Ryan Trautmann

Young Adult Novel (Ages 13 and up)

Voiceless Whispers
by Jane Frances Ruby, illustrations by Dean Silvia

Is your book Story Monsters Approved?
Enter today at www.DragonflyBookAwards.com!

Raising Me (To Become a Good Dad)

by Paul Alan Ruben

As a child, I didn’t want to be like my father. I wanted to be him. As a son, I idealized and idolized him. His interests, beliefs, and feelings about the world defined my father. And me.

Evidently, I wasn’t alone. In his book, Under Saturn’s Shadow: the wounding and healing of men, noted Jungian psychologist, James Hollis, PhD, writes, “Every man carries a deep longing for his father.” Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, J.M. Coetzee, observes in his novel, Slow Man, “Those into whose lives you are born do not pass away.” These sentiments reflect my experience as a son. I’ve not met a man in my life who doesn’t feel similarly.

Unfortunately, my father wasn’t the ideal role model, to say the least. Growing up, I discovered early on that my father did not seem interested in me. I do not recall, for example, being praised, spending alone-time with him, doing whatever fathers and sons do that enhances their bond. Shocking as it may seem, I do not recall being told, “I love you,” ever. And his fiery temper left me as unsure of myself as I was of him.

Fast-forward to my becoming a father. The moment I looked down at my newborn son after my wife handed him to me, I vowed that I would be the parent and father I never had. For the first 12 years, if I do say so myself, parenting was a snap. I was an emotionally available dad, raising an effusive, loving, bright child. Hugs, kisses, praise, and “I love you” were my parenting staples. And when discipline was required, my actions and words informed my son that the object of my dismay was his behavior, not him. What I hid, however, was my lingering fear that eventually he would discover the truth—that I was not a good father, and that he would no longer love me. 

At 13 years old, my son’s attitude took a turn that was as stunning as it was inconceivable: this wonderful dad’s wonderful little boy I thought I knew, had transformed into an adolescent whose middling grades no longer matched his super intellect, verified by every standardized test and his previous teachers’ report cards. But what most rattled me was my teenager’s dismissiveness, and his willful expressions of independence. He may not have meant it personally, but quite frankly, I took it that way. I regarded these behaviors as a rejection of me, as a referendum on just how ineffectual a father I was. Finally, the truth. I was a fraudulent dad! I did not deserve his love! 

For the next few years, I found myself, more often than I care to recall, angrily responding to his adolescent sass the way that I had responded to my father’s rage: I withdrew emotionally, cloaking myself in silence, as if he didn’t exist. I shut down emotionally, vanished, and when he asked me if I was angry, I declared softly, flatly, “Me? No, why?” I could see that he was confused and hurt, but I was also hurt—too hurt to speak to him, too hurt and afraid to confront his various misbehaviors for fear he would withdraw his love for me. In short, I felt more like a wounded combatant than a dad.

Throughout my son’s adolescence and well into his twenties—especially when he lived at home with my wife and me while in graduate school—I often wondered, will my angry silences alienate my son, just as my father’s overt rage had alienated me? I feared this inner dialogue that replayed itself whenever any interaction created emotional dissonance between us—Why would he love me? I don’t—would create the outcome I most feared: father and son as intimate enemies. 

I had to do something. I sought and benefited from various insights—garnered from reading about parenting, periodic counseling, and relentless introspection about what being a dad actually meant. Over time, I discovered that I could hoist myself up from my excuses-mat (it’s all my tough childhood’s fault) and become an adult dad and grown-up human being that both my son and I could be proud of.

Over the past decades, raising me has been a challenging process. That said, I have discovered various raising-me pillars that continue to validate my journey to becoming that father I aspired to when my son was born. 

Be responsible for your behavior! The responsibility for how you treat your son isn’t your father’s, your difficult childhood’s, or your troubles at work. The responsibility for how a father treats his son is 100 percent the father’s, 0 percent the son’s, period. This parenting-responsibility principle is a process that commits you to acting as an adult dad and grown-up human being, and to taking responsibility for your parenting beliefs and behaviors, when they work and when they don’t.

Your feelings are your feelings, not the truth. Fathers are humans and all feel, at times, uncertain, inadequate, frightened, angry, even unloved. While these feelings are valid, because they emerge from within, they are feelings only! They do not reflect who you are: a good dad, a loving dad, who has always wanted the best for his son.

Be proud of YOU. Not because you are perfect or have all the answers. Rather, because you count. To yourself and your son. Think of it this way, how can a son be proud of his father, if a father is not proud of himself?

Reflect, Aspire, Actualize: It is unrealistic to imagine responsible parenting as a bar that, once grasped, means, Woo-hoo, I did it! Becoming a responsible dad and parent is a lifelong, three-pronged process: Reflection, Aspiration, Actualization. Consider your behavior, and in so doing, continue to refine the kind of dad you aspire to become. Then, difficult as it sometimes may be, make every effort to be that dad and human being.

See your son as his own person. In his seminal work, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran speaks of our children: “They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” Your son is deserving of and entitled to a father who sees and values him for who he is. This means reinforcing your son’s sense of self-respect, self-possession, and self-love.

Let your son know that he matters. When in your presence, your actions and words must first and foremost tell your son: I see you. I hear you. I acknowledge you. I encourage you. I can disagree with you, critique you, punish you, while always respecting you. You are emotionally safe with me. I love you without condition.

In his book, Living an Examined Life, Dr. Hollis writes that successful parenting is located “…in the child who understands that he or she is seen and valued for who they are … It sounds so simple, yet proves so rare.” Today, my greatest raising-me challenge remains becoming the adult dad and grown-up human being I aspire to be. Rome isn’t built in a day. Nor a lifetime. I am, however, proudly building Rome.

Paul Alan Ruben is a two-time Grammy winning audiobook producer and author of the short story collection, Terms of Engagement: stories of the father and son. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.



Author Spotlight: Nicole M. Stevenson


Nicole M. Stevenson is the author of Diamond's Kindergarten Madness, a story about a very anxious little girl who is about to start her first day of school!

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Where did you grow up? 
In Queens, NY. “Queens is Where Creativity is Born.” A mixture of cultures that got along.

Did you read a lot as a child?
Yes, I read. I didn’t read every day. When I did, I really would get into the story. Books would provide an essential escape for me, whether it was to get away from my brother or because there was reruns of my favorite shows. My mother was an avid reader.

What were some of your favorite books/authors?
Where the Wild Things Are. When I was teen, Nancy Drew. I enjoyed reading comics, especially Archie.

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
Believe it or not, I wanted to be a pediatrician. Later on when I entered college, I realized that biology and chemistry were a lot harder than I thought.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
Babysitting my godbrother was one of my first jobs. I worked for PAL summer youth—a whole bunch of children that were full of energy. I was an Usher at a theater in Queens, where I met Cool & the Gang, as well as a country singer. It was great experience getting paid to show folks to their seats and seeing free shows.

How did you get started writing?
Poetry was my introduction. In school I learned about poetry and fell in love with it. It is the words in the card you love, the lyrics to your favorite song.

What do you like best about writing? 
When I write and people enjoy what I’ve written, and I can evoke different emotion from the reader.

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
The biggest challenge I’ve had to face is when I’m on a writing streak and then there is a dry season. The point when it seems your writing is at a standstill and you are awaiting the downpour.

What do you think makes a good story? 
A story that can hold up to its genre in which it’s written and leave the reader wanting to read more. A story that makes readers ask if there is going to be a sequel or series.

Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration can come from anywhere. Diamond’s Kindergarten Madness started with my eldest girl, the main character is named after her. This is not her story, just something that I made up.

What is your favorite reading/writing snack?
My favorite snack are Oreos and ice cream. They make me happy.

Do you have any quirky writing habits?
I will write on anything from a napkin to toilet paper.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Write, write, read, rewrite and repeat.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?
Well, I would have said Where the Wild Things Are, but after careful thought it would be inside Diamond’s Kindergarten Madness. In her world, she lets her mind get the best of her and she envisions some of the silliest things that occur. It makes me laugh and I feel like a kid again.

Tell us about your latest book/project.
My latest project is about a prominent black figure. This time I’m going back to my roots—poetry, of course.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I’ve written four books thus far and aside from children manuscripts, I’m working on adult manuscripts as well. “I also host “On the Wall” live chat interviews on Facebook, I am the founder of Profile magazine fashion and entertainment, and I draw, paint, and write songs.

For more information about Nicole M. Stevenson, visit her on Facebook.

Time to Shine


by Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz                    

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During the next several months, high school students across the country will perform in their annual musicals. Auditions play a major role in high school musical productions, but they can be scary and intimidating. Students, here are some tips to help you survive your upcoming auditions, and yes, even have some fun.

The musical is announced. The audition dates are set. For months, you’ve been singing show tunes with your peeps. You secretly wonder what it would be like walking across that stage with the spotlight on you. Congratulations, the theater bug has bitten you. This is it. This is the year! You’re going to take part in your high school musical. Go for it!

I can’t tell you it will be easy. I can’t tell you that you won’t have to put a ton of work or hours into the production. I can tell you that you will be in for one of the best, and most fun rides ever, guaranteed. If you’re a theater newbie, there are a few tips that can make your first high school musical experience a little easier, and a lot less scary. Because after all, theater and performing is fun, but admittedly … sometimes a little scary.

I’ve learned, talking to students over the years, that the audition process is probably the scariest. But there is a way to get through that too, and make it fun. Yes, I did say fun.

Once the show‘s decided and audition dates set, your director will post a list of songs from the musical that you will be asked to perform at auditions—one for male leads and one for female leads. They will also provide a handout with a short dialogue from the musical, as well. This is to judge your acting ability.

Get the handouts as soon as possible when you sign up for auditions, and immediately get familiar with the music and the show. Let’s say, for instance, that your show is The Sound of Music. Watch the movie, or better yet, check the numerous high school productions posted on YouTube. Also, familiarize yourself with the show’s score.

Listen to the soundtrack. Always make sure it is the stage version, not the film. Film versions of musicals tend to be a little different, with different songs. Especially, get comfortable with the audition song or songs.

Occasionally, a director will have you sing a given selection from the show with no advanced warning what the song is. For instance, if your show is Mary Poppins, he may have everyone sing a few bars of “Chim Chim Cheree.” That’s why it’s important to know the show’s score, so you’ll be familiar with the songs.

I've worked in the sport of figure skating for over 20 years. One thing that always amazed me about our skaters is how they can easily skate a program on National, International, or Olympic ice and manage to pull it off ... most of the time. Nerves are there, but the skaters who have the best success are the ones who know their programs backwards, forwards, and upside down. Many will say they can pretty much see their performance from beginning to end, or can even "walk" through it off ice. So when they hit the ice, the muscle memory kicks in and they can skate a decent program.

The same is true for high school musical auditions. The better prepared you are, the more you know your song, your dialogue, and anything and everything you can about your upcoming musical and soundtrack, the better off you will be, and the better you will be to handle the nerves.

When you sign up for auditions, the director may ask you what part of parts you would like to audition. If you are a newbie, here is my first piece of advice: You can mention a particular role if you have one in mind, but also note that you would be open to playing other roles. I mention this because a lot of high school students limit themselves and think, if I don’t get that part I don’t want to be in it. Nothing is further from the truth and if you really want to enjoy and embrace your high school musical experience, you will take and embrace any role given to you, including ensemble. But for now, it’s ok to dream big and shoot for a lead or supporting lead.

Practice, practice, and practice that song leading up to auditions. If you study voice, have your teacher work with you on your number. If you are working through this on your own, you may want to have someone accompany you on the piano, as it gets closer to auditions day. A friend who plays, someone in your music department at school or local college students are often willing to work with you. I mention this because you will probably be singing with piano accompaniment at the audition.

You can also search online for musical theater piano accompaniments, used for audition purposes. YouTube is a good place to start. Some directors may have you sing a cappella (no accompaniment). Word to the wise, make sure you know the accompaniment the director will use so you will be as prepared as you possibly can.

For dialogue, you may or may not have to memorize your piece, but again, this is worth clarifying, too. I know of a couple directors who require memorization (this clues them in on to how well you would be able to handle pages of dialogue for the final show). Want to stand out in your audition? Memorize the scene. It shows you really want a role in this musical.

Study the character that you would like to play. Here again is where a movie or watching a stage production comes in handy. No doubt, you’re familiar with the musical, but if you’re not, you’ll want to learn a little more about it and the possible characters that speak to you.

Again, using The Sound of Music as an example, if you’re auditioning for Maria you want to understand her from beginning to end, a shy, postulant who had a zest for life at the beginning to a strong woman who put her family first at the very end. Understanding your character will help you deliver your best audition ever and it will show your director that this role is you, and that you can act.

Another acting tip, make sure to have someone listen to your dialogue and make sure you speak clearly and enunciate. No mumbling and please, please, no looking down. It’s a nerves thing but it will look awful, and when you are looking down and talking it’s hard to hear you.

Weeks before auditions, start taking care of yourself. Rest that voice. Do not get overtired or overdue the extracurricular activities. Eat well and go to bed early. You don’t need a cold, flu, or upper respiratory infection to trash your audition. Don’t chance it. The better you feel, the better you’ll perform. 

The big day is here…

Fast forward to audition day. You've been practicing for weeks. You know every monologue line, and everyone in your household including the family dog can sing your audition song. That's how many times you've been practicing. You are now ready to show your high school musical director what you've got. 

The day of auditions is usually after school or sometimes early on a school night. Make sure you’re on time and dress neatly and comfortably. Bring a pair of shoes or sneakers you can move in. Often, the choreographer is present and will put you through some small dance steps to see how well you move.

Don’t panic if you’re not the world’s best dancer. Again, directors take into account the entire package and you will learn dancing and moves along the way. Don’t believe me? I judged a high school production of 42nd Street a few years back and up until musical, none of these kids knew what a pair of character shoes looked like. They tap danced their hearts out and got a production number nomination.

When you arrive at auditions, fill out your paperwork and list all theater or performing experience. Even if it’s just piano or voice lessons, dance lessons, recitals or maybe you volunteered for a community theater production. Even if you’re a first timer, you can find things to list for theater experience.

You will also list the part or parts you’re auditioning. Your director may also ask what role or roles interest you. Go for the role you want, but be open. What may look like an obvious role to you may look differently to your director. They have been doing this a long time and may see something in you that thoroughly fits another character. Case in point, during my high school production of The Sound of Music, a friend wanted the part of Maria. She got the Mother Abbess. Why? She could hit an amazing high C. Think “Climb Every Mountain.” Always, always be open.

Act your heart out. Many of the dialogue snippets the director chooses are very emotional scenes. Take the scene and run with it. Also, I know this is hard, but look right at your director when you’re reciting. Again, many students memorize the dialogue so they can enhance their acting experience and impress the director that they can memorize lines.

Try not to be nervous. I know, easier said than done. If you are active in your high school music department through chorus or band, you probably already know your musical director or directors. It’s just Mr. Johnson. It’s just Mrs. Smith. A familiar face. During auditions you will come in, sing, and read for the director, music director, and choreographer.

Don’t get flustered when you see them sitting at a table, taking notes. Again, they are looking at you for several roles—not just the one you are reading for. Lots of writing doesn’t mean they hate you. I learned this during a community theater audition for Gypsy. I was in my mid 20s and looked 16. The director was writing tons of notes on my page. I thought for sure they hated me. When I finally saw my sheet, he wrote, “Wow, she could play any of the teen girls. Great face.” You never know.

I will also tell you that your director is glad to see you. They want you to do well. They want people involved in their shows each year and love when new people join the musical production because the high school musical career is a short one—four to six years if you begin in 7th grade. As seniors and last year’s leads graduate, there is always the need for new performers. So they will be rooting for you. You need to root for yourself.

My best audition advice? Know your director’s drill, the song or songs they want to hear, the dialogue and how they conduct auditions. The more prepared you are, the better. So, do your very best and show them what you’ve got.

 

Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz is a writer with U.S. Figure Skating and author of the Skating Forward book series, a collection of inspirational figure skating stories for young adults. She is also a current high school musical awards adjudicator and author of My First High School Musical: From Auditions to Opening Night and Everything in Between.

Photos of Oneida, NY students performing South Pacific and Madison, NY students performing State Fair
courtesy of Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz. 




A Letter to My Younger, Nervous Self


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Dear little Ben,

I heard that you’re taking a test in school this week and that you’re very worried about it. You’re worried that you’ll forget everything you memorized. You’re worried that you’ll end up with a bad grade. I also heard that you have to play in a piano recital and that you’re freaked out. You’re scared that you’ll play the wrong notes. You’re afraid that your parents and teacher will be disappointed and angry.

Everything’s so hard when you have to do something important and you get worried. Believe me, I know. I remember how I felt when I was your age. When I took a test my stomach hurt, and my head ached, and it was hard to come up with the right answers. And when I had to play the piano in front of an audience my hands shook and it was so hard to get my fingers on the right notes. I remember my piano teacher saying, “You play so beautifully, why are you so nervous?” I remember my parents telling me, “You’re smart, you shouldn’t worry. You’ll do fine on the test!” This made me very frustrated and angry. I felt like they just didn’t understand. And I know you feel that way, too. You’re suffering and no one understands you. You feel alone.

But I have news for you. You are not alone! Many kids your age feel these things. And no one’s really helping them, either. So here’s the really good news: I can show you how to feel calm when you take a test and you play the piano in a recital. You don’t have to be scared and nervous. You can feel calm and confident.

I can hear you asking, “How can I do that?” Well, right now you’re focusing on how nervous and scared you are. How about if you learned to focus on being calm instead? “Focus” means what you’re thinking about and where you’re putting your attention. In a basketball game, the players are focused on the net and getting the ball into it. Then they score points and win the game. Right now, when you take a test and play in a piano recital you are focused on how nervous and scared you are. Your attention is going to your tight stomach and your throbbing head. So of course you can’t “score.” Of course you feel like you are failing. Learning how to be calm is not hard. In fact, it’s easy. You just have to learn to focus on something else. Let me show you how.

Being calm takes two steps: 

Step 1: Breathing. Of course you’re breathing all the time, but there’s a special way to breathe that will help you calm down. To do this, first you place both hands on your belly. Next, when you breathe in, you feel your belly filling up with air. You don’t have to push your belly out. Just send the breath down to your belly and feel it gently expand. This is called deep breathing. Your body and brain enjoy this. They want to be calmed down.

Step 2: Grounding. This is also easy, and fun. To do it, put both feet flat on the floor. Now feel the floor under your feet. Next, feel the chair you’re sitting on against your legs and bottom and back. Once you’ve done that,  now feel the floor and chair supporting you. Feel them holding you up. And don’t forget to breathe!

When you breathe and ground, you are focusing on calming down, not on how nervous you are. In fact, breathing and grounding are the best ways to calm yourself down.

Let’s practice. Right now, close your eyes and imagine you are taking a test or playing in a recital. If you start to feel a little nervous, use the tools right away! Breathe and ground. Do it again. And do it one more time. You’ll feel better and better.

And remember ... just keep doing it. I did, and now, when I have to take a test or play the piano, I remember to breathe and ground, I don’t get all upset and scared. I stay calm. You can do it, too. I know.

Your bigger self,
Ben (but now people call me “Dr. B”!) 

Ben Bernstein, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and performance psychologist. Trained as a teacher in inner city schools in New York and London, he was a prominent figure in the progressive education movement in the early 70s, and has since gone on to teach at every level of the educational system.

Over the last 50 years he has coached thousands of clients, from high school students to business executives to Pulitzer Prize, Tony and Academy Award winners. He has received numerous awards and grants from the U.S. and Canadian governments, and has been a speaker at national and international conferences. He was the first director of improvisation at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute in Utah.


For more information, visit drbperformancecoach.com.

Story Monsters Ink January Book Reviews


Check out our newest book reviews!


Sleep, My Bunny
by Rosemary Wells (Candlewick Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
Patterns and habits fill our lives. Silently, they lead and guide. Whether morning rituals as we begin our day, or evening activities to end it. In this little story, nature follows along as little bunny winds down. Children learn by repetition, and these wonderful stories help to reinforce their own special habits and patterns. (Ages 2-5)

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A Piglet Named Mercy
by Kate DiCamillo, Chris Van Dusen (Candlewick Press) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
The superbly talented Kate DiCamillo has taken her middle grade series about a precocious pig named Mercy Watson and brought it into the laps of younger readers in Mercy’s picture book debut! Mr. and Mrs. Watson are very low-key “predictable” people who start to wonder if there might be something more exciting out in the world. Lo and behold, a tiny, pink (and very unpredictable) pig finds her way to the Watsons’ doorstep and captures their hearts from their first snuggle in her piggie blanket. (Ages 2-5)

Oliver Elephant 
by Lou Peacock, Helen Stephens (Nosy Crow) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
This sweet-toned rhyme gathers together all the heartwarming feelings of the holiday. Loving regards, planning, and sharing. Gift giving is a joy on both sides, and regaining treasures thought lost is such a happy time. The book is delightful, and the illustrations by Stephens are truly a treat. (Ages 2-5)

Go Away, Big Green Monster!
by Ed Emberley (Little, Brown and Company) Reviewer: Dr. Dawn Menge
This is a die-cut book which creates a monster as you turn the pages. It is an excellent way to teach young readers about facing their fears in the dark. First you see his yellow eyes, then his big green nose and sharp white teeth. When the scary monster reaches completion, the reader then turns the pages and each piece of the monster disappears. This groundbreaking book about mastering fear and emotion through play and imagination has been a bestselling favorite for decades and feels as fresh and innovative today as it did 25 years ago. (Ages 2-5)

Peep and Ducky: It’s Snowing!
by David Martin, David Walker (Candlewick Press) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
Peep and Ducky: It’s Snowing! is a rhyming story that will appeal to younger readers. David Martin chooses predictable rhyming to entice the reader while telling a story about the simplicity and joys of playing in the snow with a friend. David Walker’s use of color and mixed media brings the story to life on each page. Children will be sure to enjoy this delightful story about friendship. Find a comfy chair and some warm cocoa—this book is perfect for reading and snuggling with your little one as the snow begins to fall. (Ages 3+)

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We Are (Not) Friends
by Anna Kang, Christopher Weyant  (Two Lions) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
Navigating friendships can sometimes make for a tricky ride. Just when you think you got things figured out, something or (someone) comes along and forces change. These adorable friends show us it really is possible to work out those awkward and uncomfortable bumps along the way. (Ages 3-7)

Great Dog
by Davide Cali, Miguel Tanco (Tundra Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
Some of us may be thrust into situations beyond our control, and totally contrary to anything we know. Whether adoption into a new family, or a whole new cultural relocation, the new side has opened itself widely to you. In this story, a loving father shares the family lineage. In response to questions of doubt, he repeatedly assures his little one he will be a perfect fit, as all of those before him were. (Ages 3-7)

Invisible Jerry
by Adam Wallace, Giuseppe Poli (EK Books) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
Beautiful, soft, and poignant illustrations showcase a story that will be imprinted on children’s hearts long after the story has been shared. Invisible Jerry reminds readers of all ages what it feels like to be powerless, invisible, and irrelevant. Sweet Jerry wasn’t targeted or picked on, he was just ignored every single day of his school age life. Until Molly came along. So many discussion points for children to ask/answer questions about themselves and their own friendships. A thought-provoking tale that will surely inspire readers. (Ages 4-7)

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Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters
by Michael Mahin, Evan Turk (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
As the story goes, Muddy was never one to follow directions, whether it was when his grandma told him to stay out of the mud or when he played his own music despite requests from a record producer. Muddy listened to the beat in his own heart and shared his love and talent for a powerful jazzy sound created with his gift of guitar playing and singing about life with authenticity, vivid words, and emotion. Looking for a book to inspire others to be themselves and strive to reach their lifelong goals? This one is ready to change the world, one reader at a time. (Ages 4-8) 

Everything is Connected 
by Jason Gruhl, Ignasi Font (Bala Kids) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
This powerful and healing concept that everything is interconnected is written by an accomplished educator and family psychologist. Gruhl believes in children, and desires that every child who has felt isolated or different discovers the unexpected and delightful ways we are all connected, so they never feel alone. (Ages 4-8)

The 5 O’Clock Band
by Troy Andrews, Bryan Collier (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
Shorty lives in New Orleans, where the streets breathe with life, and magic fills the air with music. The culture captures his heart, and the music fills his soul. Finding an old discarded trombone, his life begins to take shape. Forming a band with his friends teaches him commitment, and falling short of that commitment teaches him the importance of faithfulness to it. The wonderful streets of his lively hometown once again lead his heart to understand the value of a man, and what it takes for him to be a leader. The story is lively and full of heart, and holds the magic of childhood in the streets of New Orleans. (Ages 4-8)

If You Give the Puffin a Muffin
by Timothy Young (Schiffer) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
This is a hilarious and surprising story about a moody little puffin who encounters a lot of unpleasant and irritating situations in “his” book. Yes, he realizes we are reading about him and he is not happy about it! Puffin wishes we would just focus our attention on penguins and stop asking him to eat silly things just because they rhyme with his name. This would be a fun fiction and non-fiction book lesson and who knows, maybe this little Puffin wouldn’t mind that pairing! (Ages 5-6)

Four Seasons of Fun: Egg Hunts! Fireworks! Pumpkins! Reindeer!
by Pamela Duncan Edwards, Sylvie Daigneault (Sleeping Bear Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
This is truly a lovely book. The illustrations are as warm and engaging as the soft rhythm of poetry, as it floats through the joys of childhood and the wonder of nature that plays alongside us. Whether a gentle read before bedtime, or a snuggle read on the porch swing, this book is sure to be a favorite. (Ages 5-7)

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Imagine
by Juan Felipe Herrara, Lauren Castillo (Candlewick Press) Reviewer: Dr. Dawn Menge
What is it that you dream about? Imagine what you could do. This young son of a migrant family learned how hard it was to pick up and move each year. His childhood began in the fields, helping his mama pick flowers and feed the chickens. In school, he learned to spell words in English by pronouncing them in Spanish. His words became songs and poems … and he became the Poet Laureate of the United States of America and stood at the podium at the Library of Congress in front of his proud family and friends. This is a story about building your dreams, working hard, and reaching for the stars. (Ages 5-9)

Fergus and Zeke at the Science Fair
by Kate Messner, Heather Ross (Candlewick Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
These adorable mice take their place as class pets very seriously. Always observing and participating in classroom activities, they become very excited about the school’s science fair. Zeke quickly becomes very disappointed when he learns he IS the experiment. But these two incredible mice not only find a way to enter, but to win! A fun early chapter book that will encourage young readers. I loved it! (Ages 6-9)

Eddie Motion and the Tangible Magik 
by Suzanne de Malplaquet (Think Success Ltd) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
What a great adventure of empowerment! Everyone can glean from this amazing journey. These two insightful kids are led on a path of discovery by creative creatures and newfound friends, bringing light, balance, and harmony to their lives. Self helps and formulas are provided, along with depths of insight that can help any of us on our own personal journey. (Ages 6-12)

Winnie’s Great War
by Lindsay Mattick, Josh Greenhut, Sophie Blackall (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Here is a heartwarming imagining of the real journey undertaken by the extraordinary bear who inspired Winnie the Pooh. From her early days with her mama in the Canadian forest, to her remarkable travels with the Veterinary Corps across the country and overseas, and all the way to the London Zoo where she met Christopher Robin Milne and inspired the creation of the world’s most famous bear. Any child who loves Winnie the Pooh will enjoy learning about the real bear that inspired all the books. I bonded with Winnie as, through all her terrible ordeals, she holds onto hope and finds the courage within her to face the next adventure. (Ages 8-11)

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Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around The World
by Vashti Harrison (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
This is truly an inspiring book. To single out any one achievement would be an injustice to the remaining, for each one is amazing in her own right. These women pressed beyond being viewed as odd, impractical, or idealistic, and dared to dream! They saw their world differently, and asked questions no one else was asking. They were trailblazers, innovators, and visionaries who not only made astounding discoveries in their day, but many that impact the world as we know it. (Ages 8-12)

Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls’ Rights 
by Malala Yousafzai, Sarah J. Robbins (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 11
Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls’ Rights is a book about courage, standing up for what we believe, and the power of the human spirit.  Malala Yousafzai is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a true role model for all human beings. When a terrorist took over the region in Pakistan where Malala lived and declared that girls could no longer go to school, Malala challenged that and went to school anyhow at the risk of her life. She feels a girl should have as much right as a boy to go to school and I agree. She is an hero and an inspiration. Thank you, Malala for leading the way! (Ages 8-12)

Beauty and Bernice
by Nancy Viau, Timothy Young (Schiffer) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 11
Beauty and Bernice is a fun story about middle schoolers fitting in and finding their place and who they are. There’s Bernice, who loves skateboarding, and there’s Odelia, the pink “princess” who lives across the street. An unlikely pairing, however, they both learn and grow from each other once they let go of their obvious differences. (Ages 8-12)

Bah! Humbug!
by Michael Rosen, Tony Ross (Walker Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
An unforgettable retelling of Charles Dickens’ beloved holiday classic. Harry Gruber plays the role of Scrooge in his school’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” and he is extra nervous about the evening’s performance because his father is in the audience — not away for business, as usual. Will the story’s message of Christmas cheer and the redemptive power of love reach his father’s distracted Scrooge heart? A wonderful story with a heartfelt message. (Ages 8-12)

Strays Like Us
by Cecilia Galante (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry
From the moment Fred (never Winifred!) spots a scruffy little mutt with sad eyes, she knows she’s in big trouble. Toby’s in bad shape, and Fred longs to rescue him from the old man with the mile-long mean streak who lives next door. But Margery—the straight-talking woman who is fostering Fred—says going over to their house is against the rules. This story opens the world of addiction and dementia for young readers and proves that a young teen can find the courage to overcome every obstacle in her way to happiness. (Ages 8-12)

The Spirit of Cattail County
by Victoria Piontek (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Sparrow doesn’t have many friends. Some kids believe her house near the swamp is haunted. Others think there’s something “unusual” about her. But Sparrow’s not lonely—she has a best friend who’s always with her. He sits with Sparrow on her porch swing. He makes her smile by playing pranks in church. Yet Sparrow is the only one who can see him ... because the boy is a ghost. This is a magical tale that weaves like a magic spell in and out of reality. There are so many twists and turns and surprises. A great bedtime book! (Ages 8-12)

The Hotel Between 
by Sean Easley (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil 
This is a great novel and the writing is fabulous! It carries a soft tone that quickly feels familiar, and leads safely through the uncertainty of mystery and magic. Cameron, driven by images of a lost past, fears his present and is blinded to the future, hopelessly wishing and yearning for what once was. In Cameron’s desperate search to find answers, he tries to uncover the past and comes face to face with the true power within himself. This story has heart, adventure, and wonder! (Ages 9-12)

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Everything Else in the Universe
by Tracy Holczer (Puffin Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
When her dad is sent to Vietnam to serve as an Army doctor, Lucy and her mother are forced to move to San Jose, California, to be near their gregarious, quirky Rossi relatives. Then her father is injured, and Lucy’s mother has her move in with the Rossis to give her father some space to adjust and heal. Lucy feels pushed aside and left out of everything. Until a curious boy named Milo—whose own father is still in Vietnam—along with a mysterious packet of photographs and an eye-opening mission make Lucy see there’s more to life, and helps to heal her broken family. Young readers will learn the point of view and mindset of returning vets and will become engrossed in following the clues to solve the mystery. A feel-good book if ever there was one. (Ages 10+)

One Chance
by Sarah Frank (Bealu Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Being an orphan is tough and not knowing why makes it that much harder for Sandy. But now she’s being sent to a new orphanage and middle school and needs to look forward, not back. Before moving, Sandy meets Brian at school, and he reveals the existence of the magical Stone of Discedo that allows whoever has it to time travel. Maybe this is her one chance to go back in time and find out what happened to her parents. However, the stone has its own history and its own rules. Readers won’t be able to put this one down until the last page. (Ages 10-12) 

The Turnaway Girls
by Hayley Chewins (Candlewick Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry
On the strange, stormy island of Blightsend, 12-year-old Delphernia Undersea has spent her whole life in the cloister of turnaway girls, hidden from sea and sky by a dome of stone and the laws of the island. Outside, the Masters play their music. Inside, the turnaway girls silently make that music into gold. But she would rather sing than stay silent. When a Master who doesn’t act like a Master comes to the skydoor, it’s a chance for Delphernia to leave the cloister. Freedom—to sing, to change, to live—is precisely what’s at stake. Brilliantly written! Every page seems to reveal a secret. I hope to read another book about Delphernia and all the unforgettable characters in this wonderful book. (Ages 10-14)

Zora and Me: The Cursed Ground
by T.R. Simon (Candlewick Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry
When Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie Brown, discover that the town mute can speak after all, they think they’ve uncovered a big secret. But Mr. Polk’s silence is just one piece of a larger puzzle that stretches back half a century to the tragic story of an enslaved girl named Lucia. As Zora’s curiosity leads a reluctant Carrie deeper into the mystery, the story unfolds through alternating narratives. In this riveting coming-of-age tale, award-winning author T.R. Simon champions the strength of a people to stand up for justice. (Ages 10-14)

 

To submit your book for review, email cristy@storymonsters.com for submission guidelines.

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Author Spotlight: Becky Benishek


Becky Benishek loves to create stories that help children believe in themselves and find the magic in ordinary things ... and she likes Legos, Renaissance Faires, and the Commodore 64.

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Where did you grow up?

In a one-story house with a giant elm in the front yard, in a town surrounded by farmland and forests, between two cities. My mom still lives there. I love it.

Did you read a lot as a child?

Constantly. I can’t remember learning how to read. I remember my parents reading to me, and the house was full of books. I also remember reading to my kindergarten class and later, taking books out to the playground at recess to read on top of the jungle gym!

What were some of your favorite books/authors?

Miss Suzy by Miriam Young, illustrated by Arnold Lobel; A Hole is to Dig, by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Maurice Sendak; Willow Wind Farm: Betsy’s Story, by Anne Pellowski; How Spider Saved Christmas, and other Spider books, by Robert Kraus; The Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Whenever things bothered me or I was going through something when I was younger, I would tell myself, “Laura had to do this and put up with that and it was a lot tougher,” and that helped me get through it. The 1939 set of Book of Knowledge encyclopedias because they were truly wonderful marvels designed for children. Each volume had poetry, things to make and do, stories, and answered questions in addition to providing rich history and contemporary knowledge.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A steam locomotive engineer. (I still do.) But I also always wanted to be a writer, which to me was synonymous with “author.” How little did I know!

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.

I’ve worked in a variety of IT and marketing jobs, including my present job. It’s wonderful, a real feel-good place where we train people who care for kids and adults with special needs and mental health issues. Very empathetic and caring all around. I manage an online community full of these customers, who seem like heroes to me and to all of our staff. Through my work with this company and this platform (Yammer), I’ve also received the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award since 2016, which lets me meet even more heroes.

How did you get started writing?

I’ve always written stories and poems; I still have most of the ones from way back, sheets stapled together and a cover done up in crayon or marker. I used to include “reviews” from The Horn Book and such, to make them seem authentic. Naturally, all were glowing! I’d submitted poems and such to various small-press publications through the years, but it was only in the last few years that I finally stopped thinking about getting my actual stories out there, and started doing it. My first two books are self-published (What’s At the End of Your Nose? and Dr. Guinea Pig George), and my third (and fourth-to-come) were picked up by MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing. In addition, I’ve been writing songs, with an eye toward collaborating with a local musician.

What do you like best about writing?

The way inspiration really does come like a thunderbolt, transfixing, illuminating. How you know you’d better drop everything and get that pen, tablet, or keyboard in hand or risk losing it all. Even at 3 a.m. Even when you’re brushing your teeth. How you feel yourself being a conduit for something that feels so wonderful and could, just possibly, be wonderful for someone else, too. And how, with the finished piece in front of your eyeballs, you don’t feel hollow or bereft because it’s out of you. Instead, you feel complete.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?

Sitting myself down and doing it. Allowing myself to sit down and do it. There’s always something else going on, and that something else can seem so much glossier and more vibrant than the mechanics of writing.  

What do you think makes a good story?

I like the expected done up in unexpected ways. A little quirkiness or surrealism, surprising elements, shots of humor; these draw me in. If it’s true that there are only seven plots in the world, then we’re already following a formula from the start. So what makes your story particularly you, that no one else could have written? That’s what I look for and enjoy.

Where do you get your inspiration?

In the course of a conversation, or a snippet of a thought or an overheard word, or looking at something that really resonates with me. Sometimes you’re aware of it when it develops and sometimes it comes like a thunderbolt.

What is your favorite reading/writing snack?

I’ve found it can be very motivating to write when hungry. I seem to get hungry every couple of hours, so that’s not too big of a stretch, but there are degrees. Otherwise, I love crispy, sweet and tart apples with or without creamy peanut butter, soft Camembert or smoked Gouda on rosemary crackers, hot chocolate with peppermint or vanilla, and chunky guacamole with just enough kick in it, with carrots to dip in or warmed tortilla chips. I’ve also gotten into loose-leaf tea and have quite a variety now. I think I’m still talking about eating while writing or reading, not just eating. Hmm! (Hungry now.)

Do you have any quirky writing habits?

This may not be quirky so much as elbows-out and snarly, but when I’m writing, do not disturb me lest a horror happen: My train of thought derailing. If I had a Jo March (“Is genius burning?”) garret, I’d retreat there, but I have established a corner of a room where my computer lives. I may also have occasionally commandeered the immediate area I’m in when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, for the sake of household peace, I just need to get the initial train of thought down and then everyone can talk to me again.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Don’t stop writing. Do find a good editor. And even if your dream is to be accepted by a publishing house, don’t hesitate to self-publish in the meantime. You’ll learn so much about the industry and meet so many amazing people.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?

Pern (Anne McCaffrey)! I always wanted to be a dragonrider.

Tell us about your latest book/project.

The Squeezor is Coming! (MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing) is my newest release. What’s a Squeezor? He’s a friendly monster who just wants to give hugs with his great, big, wrap-around-you-twice, squeezy arms, but he looks so scary, even other monsters run away! This makes the Squeezor very sad. How can he get them to look past his appearance? Then he gets an idea: It isn't about what he wants, but what the other monsters need. Originally, my story was much shorter. My marvelous editor, Quata, whom I found on Fiverr, thought that if I expanded on it, it could really make it into something big. I had to think about it, but saw that she was right, and I’m so happy I listened to her. When I received the contract from MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing, I was frozen in spot just staring at it for at least a minute! Then the hunt was on for an illustrator, and fortunately, I happened to work with one. Matt Fiss is a co-worker who does graphic design. I loved what I’d seen of his portfolio and some pieces he did for our company, and knew he’d be perfect to bring the Squeezor to life. To my delight, he agreed. Then, early in 2019, Hush, Mouse! (Maclaren-Cochrane Publishing) is coming out. Mouse is a tiny kitten who meows so much that she's always being told to hush. Little Liz is the only person in the house who appreciates Mouse, because she’s short for her age and is often overlooked and unheard. Together, the two prevent a crime and prove that even though they’re small, they're worth being listened to. For Mouse, I found a wonderful illustrator through Instagram, named Alicia Young. I loved how she drew both animals and children. I also decided to show diversity in Little Liz’s household. Growing up, most of the books I read had a boy as the main character. Even now, I have to consciously think not to default to “he” as a generic. This kind of thing really does have a long-term impact, and that’s why I wanted to help more kids see themselves in books. I’ve got more stories waiting for their turn to shine.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?

What I really hope to show in my books is a different way of looking at things that can also lead to compassion and empathy—for ourselves as well as for others. Everyone has unique differences, and we don’t always recognize that we’re all part of the same family. I also think it’s harder to find meaningful and nurturing things in the mass of not-so-great stuff that comes at us. We may not know what we’re missing, but we know it’s something. It’s no wonder we’re experiencing so much drifting and disconnection. We can feel alone, misunderstood, picked on. We can’t always communicate our needs, either. So I want to give someone or something a voice in our world that they don’t ordinarily have.

That’s why I’ve got a snail who decides to give his boring old town of Slipperyville one last chance, a guinea pig who thinks he’s a doctor, a big-hearted monster who learns how to look past his own needs, and a tiny kitten and little girl who believe they really can save the day—and do. Thank you so much for giving me a voice, too, in this wonderful interview.

 

For more information about Becky Benishek and her books, visit beckybenishek.com.