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

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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.

 

 

Story Monsters Approved Books Announced


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

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Cultural Diversity

My Community by Raven Howell, illustrated by Yeng Yang
All Creation Represented: A Child's Guide to the Medicine Wheel by Joyce Perreault, illustrated by Terra Mar

 

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Early Reader (Ages 5-9)

Flight of the Mite by Grayson Smith, illustrated by Alana Kyle

 

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Family Matters

Too Many Kisses by Nancy Duarte, illustrated by Harriet Rodis
I Was Born Precious and Sacred
by Debora Abood                           
I Know I Am Precious and Sacred by Debora Abood                        


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First Chapter Books (Ages 6–10)

The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman the Worm by Sam Baker and Sally Baker, illustrated by Ann Hess   

 

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First-time Author

Creativity: Finding your Art by Christian Gomez, illustrated by Adua Hernandez               
Pearl and the Golden Comb by Greta Cleary, illustrated by Laura Cleary
Bye Bye Plane by Bethany Cooke                             
Eyelash Wishes by Bethany Cooke          

 

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Making a Difference

One Too Many by Linda Grace Smith, illustrated by Emmi Ojala
The Thumb Book of Kindness
by Tevin Hansen                  

 

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Middle-Grade Books (Ages 8–12)

The Amber Giant by Giulietta M. Spudich
Dilby R. Dixon's The Time Dreamer by Tony J. Perri

 

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Picture Books (Ages 3–8)

Kamyla Chung and the Classroom Bully by Ellwyn Autumn, illustrated by Danh Tran   
Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars
by Ellie Smith, illustrated by Eyen Johnson    
Eyelash Wishes by Bethany Cooke                          
Cassie Pup Takes the Cake?? by Sheri Poe-Pape, illustrated by Sudipta Dasgupta            
Uncle Alan's Stinky Leg by Jennifer Somervell, illustrated by Margery Fern         
The Bridge Monster by Michael J. DiPinto, illustrated by Sue Lynn Cotton            
The Adventures of Connor the Courageous Cutter: Mystery of the Baffling Blackout by Scott McBride & Rod Thompson, illustrated by Brian Martin

 

School Life

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Eyelash Wishes by Bethany Cooke                          
There's A Norseman In The Classroom! by Grayson Smith, illustrated by Timothy Banks

 

Tween Novels (Ages 10-14)

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Finding Tate by Ann Anthony

 

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













2018 Royal Dragonfly Book Award Winners Announced

 

 

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2018 Royal Dragonfly Book Award Winners

 

Grand Prize Winner: Kayla Wayman, Junior Time Traveler: Lost In The Stream (A Story Sprouts Collaborative Novel) by Alana Garrigues and Nutschell Anne Windsor with Cassie Gustafson, Tiffani Barth, Angie Flores, Lucy Ravitch, Peleise Smith, V.V. Cadieux, Bryan Caldwell, Inna Chon, Audrey A. Criss, Abi Estrin Cunningham, Scott Cunningham, Cacy Duncan, J.J. Gow, Glenn Jason Hanna, Caitlin Hernandez, Michelle Marchand, Donna Marie Robb, Judy Rubin, Mollie Silver, Amy Terranova, Bernadette Windsor

$100 Drawing Winner: Little Diva on Wheels ... Growing up Differently-abled by Jennifer Kuhns

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Activity Book

1st Place: Enchanting Mandala Mazes: Puzzles to Ponder and Solve by Elizabeth Carpenter
2nd Place: Play Ball, Have Fun: Read, Imagine, Draw by Sandy Hill            
Honorable Mentions:
Dinosaurs Living in My Hair!2 Coloring Book by Jayne Rose-Vallee, illustrated by Anni Matsick and Chris Schechner
Nothando's Journey by Jill Apperson Manly, illustrated by Alyssa Casey


Aging/Senior Living

1st Place: What's Funny About Dementia? Laugh to Keep From Crying by Jataun J. Rollins, LCSW               

 

Animals/Pets

1st Place: More Tales from the Enchanted Wood by Jonathan Schork
2nd Place: Bacon's Big Smooching Adventure by Olivia Johnson
Honorable Mention:
The Dark Mister Snark by Lori R. Lopez

 

Best Cover Design

1st Place: The Curse of the Bailey Women by Zenora Knight
2nd Place: Dinosaurs Living in My Hair!2 by Jayne Rose-Vallee, illustrated by Anni Matsick

              

 Best Illustrations

1st Place: Dinosaurs Living in My Hair!2 by Jayne Rose-Vallee, illustrated by Anni Matsick
2nd Place: Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars by Ellie Smith, illustrated by Eyen Johnson
Honorable Mention:
The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman The Worm by Sam Baker & Sally Baker, illustrated by Ann Hess


Best Interior Design

 1st Place: An Ill Wind Blows by Lori R. Lopez

  

Biography/Autobiography/Memoir

1st Place: Little Diva on Wheels ... Growing up Differently-abled by Jennifer Kuhns
2nd Place (tie): Shackled: A Journey from Political Imprisonment to Freedom by Adam Siddiq
2nd Place (tie): You Can't Buy Love Like That: Growing Up Gay in the Sixties by Carol E. Anderson
Honorable Mentions:
Mother of Souls by Adena Astrowsky                    
Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 by B. Lynn Goodwin                           
Walk Until Sunrise by J.J. Maze 


Book Series

1st Place: Dinosaurs Living in My Hair series by Jayne Rose-Vallee, illustrated by Anni Matsick  
2nd Place: Moonlight and Molly series by Maureen Harris
Honorable Mention:
Friends at the Pond series by Susan Wolff, illustrated by Justin Currie  

 

Book Trailer

1st Place: The Jaguar's Story by Kosa Ely, illustrated by Radhe Gendron
2nd Place: Moonlight and Molly by Maureen Harris

 

Children’s Chapter Books

1st Place: The Silly Adventures of Petunia and Herman The Worm by Sam Baker & Sally Baker, illustrated by Ann Hess
2nd Place: Code 7: Cracking the Code to an Epic Life by Bryan R. Johnson
Honorable Mentions:   
Hare 'n' There by Jenny Morris, illustrated by Sarah Hardy           
Lindie Lou Adventure Series: Flying High by Jeanne Bender, illustrated by Kate Willows
To Dance with Angels by Arthur C. Morton, illustrated by Lisa Maria Green

 

Children’s Picture Books 5 & Younger

1st Place (tie): Davy's Ride Down by Michele Gibeau Cronin, illustrated by Ben F. Taylor               
1st Place (tie): I Am Worthy by Cachet Allen       
2nd Place (tie): The Fly with One Eye by R.M. Halterman
2nd Place (tie): Read, Read, and Read by Elizabeth Gorcey & Liv, illustrated by Kajiah Jacobs
Honorable Mentions:   
Dinosaurs Living in My Hair!2 by Jayne Rose-Vallee, illustrated by Anni Matsick               
Eva Meets Dr Mac by Tracy Hughes                        
Where I Live by Rick Grant, illustrated by Galih Sakti       
Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars by Ellie Smith, illustrated by Eyen Johnson    
Ollie and the Missing Hoos by Susan Wolff, illustrated by Justin Currie  
Bacon's Big Smooching Adventure by Olivia Johnson


Children’s Picture Books 6 & Older

1st Place (tie): I Am Worthy by Cachet Allen
1st Place (tie): The Jaguar's Story by Kosa Ely, illustrated by Radhe Gendron
2nd Place: Grandparents' Day by Pamela Traynor, illustrated by Tanja Russita
Honorable Mentions:
The Big Bad Whaaaat???? by Eileen R. Malora, illustrated by Alycia Pace            
Freddy Follows by Melanie Quinn, illustrated by Andrew McIntosh           
Animal Mash-Up by Jean Kingston, illustrated by Benjamin Schipper       
Thiago the Tiger and the Light Within by Vanessa Caraveo                           
Unwind. Up, Up, and Away! by Christopher Gates, illustrated by Javier Ratti    
How Christmas Got Its Colors by Jim Melko, illustrated by Sammi Davis
Mirror, Mirror by Barbara J. Freeman, illustrated by Ruth Araceli Rodriguez       
Odonata: The Flying Jewel of Maiden Grass Pond by Barbara Gervais Ciancimino, illustrated by Steve McGinnis               
How Do You Catch A Horned Mangru? by Michael Tenniswood                
Buckets, Dippers, and Lids: Secrets to Your Happiness by Carol McCloud, illustrated by Glenn Zimmer
Dinosaurs Living in My Hair!2 by Jayne Rose-Vallee, illustrated by Anni Matsick               
Amber's Seeing Heart by Joseph Drumheller, illustrated by Nataly Simmons      
Play Ball, Have Fun by Sandy Hill, illustrated by Charity Russell
The THING on Mount Spring by Jenny Morris, illustrated by Sara Hayat 
Being a Good Friend by Miselle Goffman, illustrated by Paul Yanque     
Hare 'n' There by Jenny Morris, illustrated by Sarah Hardy           
Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars by Ellie Smith, illustrated by Eyen Johnson

 

Children’s Poetry

1st Place: Dinosaurs Living in My Hair!2 by Jayne Rose-Vallee, illustrated by Anni Matsick
2nd Place: Emmojean's Tale by Margaret Rose MacLellan, illustrated by Margaret MacLellan and Jessica Schaaf

 

Coffee Table/Gift Books

1st Place: Finding Hope in the Darkness of Grief by Diamante Lavendar
2nd Place: Dancing Dragon Magic: Dialogues in Clay by Susan Smith James

 

Cultural Diversity

1st Place: Nothando's Journey by Jill Apperson Manly, illustrated by Alyssa Casey

 

Education

1st Place: The International Family Guide to US University Admissions by Jennifer Ann Aquino   
2nd Place: Eva Meets Dr Mac by Tracy Hughes

 

Fiction – Collection of Short Stories

Honorable Mention: Woman, Running Late, in a Dress by Dallas Woodburn

 

Fiction – Novel

1st Place: Healer by Susan Miura
2nd Place: Man with the Sand Dollar Face by Sharon CassanoLochman
Honorable Mentions:   
The Season of Silver Linings by Christine Nolfi                   
Running to Graceland by John Slayton                  
An Ill Wind Blows by Lori R. Lopez                            
Kitchen Canary by Joanne C. Parsons                          
The Curse of the Bailey Women by Zenora Knight

 

Fine Art/Photography

Honorable Mention: From Behind by David Jerome

 

Green Books/Environmental

Honorable Mention: The Adventures of Camellia N. The Rainforest by Debra L. Wideroe, illustrated by Daniela Frongia

 

Historical Fiction

1st Place: Kitchen Canary by Joanne C. Parsons                       
2nd Place: Wordwings by Sydelle Pearl
Honorable Mention:
Brother Daniel's Good News Revival by Bruce Brittain    

 

Holiday

1st Place: Tinsel in a Tangle by Laurie Germaine
2nd Place: Elves on the Naughty List by David Smith, illustrated by Marilyn Jacobson, Kaylee Smith
Honorable Mention:
Rosie and Mr. Spooks by Alexa Tuttle, illustrated by Carlie Tuttle

How-To

1st Place: The Work at Home Training Program by Bethany Mooradian  

 

Humor

1st Place: The Strange Tail Of Oddzilla by Lori R. Lopez
2nd Place: Space Zombies! by Regan W. H. Macaulay

 

LGBT

1st Place: You Can't Buy Love Like That: Growing Up Gay in the Sixties by Carol E. Anderson

 

Middle Grade Fiction

1st Place: Kayla Wayman, Junior Time Traveler: Lost In The Stream (A Story Sprouts Collaborative Novel) by Alana Garrigues and Nutschell Anne Windsor with Cassie Gustafson, Tiffani Barth, Angie Flores, Lucy Ravitch, Peleise Smith, V.V. Cadieux, Bryan Caldwell, Inna Chon, Audrey A. Criss, Abi Estrin Cunningham, Scott Cunningham, Cacy Duncan, J.J. Gow, Glenn Jason Hanna, Caitlin Hernandez, Michelle Marchand, Donna Marie Robb, Judy Rubin, Mollie Silver, Amy Terranova, Bernadette Windsor
2nd Place: Dark Curses, Faerie Dreams by Tom Xavier      
Honorable Mentions:
Forcing Change by Judy Lindquist                           
Stranded on Thin Ice by Sharon CassanoLochman                            
The Tukor's Journey by Jeannine Kellogg, illustrated by Jim Madsen      
Making a Mystery with Annie Tillery: The Madonna Ghost by Linda Maria Frank, illustrated by Marianne Savage              
The Crystilleries of Echoland by Dew Pellucid     

Mystery

1st Place: Making a Mystery with Annie Tillery: The Madonna Ghost by Linda Maria Frank, illustrated by Marianne Savage               
2nd Place: Aldo by Betty Jean Craige

 

New Author (Fiction)

1st Place (tie): Bronson has a Toothache by Cynthia Ng
1st Place (tie): Hair In My Brush by LaTesha Young and Taylor Ellis, illustrated by Swabe Design Studio
2nd Place: Bacon's Big Smooching Adventure by Olivia Johnson                 
Honorable Mentions:
Eva Meets Dr Mac by Tracy Hughes                        
Tex the Explorer: Journey to Mars by Ellie Smith, illustrated by Eyen Johnson    
Mike and Patty's Adventure by Ania Zaroda, illustrated by Katerina Zagore        
Mystery Horse at Oak Lane Stable by Kerri Lukasavitz                    
Saint John Lennon by Daniel Hartwell and Roseanne Bottone                   
The Last Odinian by Alec Arbogast                          
Cryptocurrencies, Self-Driving Cars & Murder! by Gene Hill                         
In the Briar by Cynthia Morrison

 

New Author (Nonfiction)

1st Place: An Adolescent's Guide to ME/CFS by Vidhima Shetty
2nd Place: Walk Until Sunrise by J.J. Maze                                             
Honorable Mentions:
The Doctor Next Door by Elaine Holt, M.D.

 

Other Nonfiction

1st Place: Katie the Elephant by Anna Grob          
2nd Place:
Immigration Essays by Sybil Baker

 

Poetry

1st Place: Elephantasy by Eva Palatova        
2nd Place: The Language Of Life by Rafael Lopez
Honorable Mentions:
A Penny for Your Thoughts by Sherrill S. Cannon, illustrated by Kalpart           
Quiet Insurrections by Daniel Klawitter                
Finding Hope in the Darkness of Grief by Diamante Lavendar

              

Psychology

1st Place: Celia and the Little Boy by Irene Applebaum Buchine

 

Relationships

Honorable Mentions: Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62 by B. Lynn Goodwin              

 

Religion/Spirituality

Honorable Mentions: Finding Hope in the Darkness of Grief by Diamante Lavendar

 

Romance

1st Place: How to Rate a Soulmate: A Romantic Comedy by D.L. Fisher

 

Science Fiction/Fantasy

1st Place: Wired by Caytlyn Brooke
2nd Place (tie): The Last Odinian by Alec Arbogast
2nd Place (tie): Aldo by Betty Jean Craige
Honorable Mention:
Dark Flowers by Caytlyn Brooke                               
Dancing Dragon Magic: Dialogues in Clay by Susan Smith James                              
The Haunting of Dylan Klaypool: Whispers in Black Willow by James Alan Ross

 

Self-Help/Inspirational

1st Place: A Journey from Sadness to Hope by Robert H. Smith
2nd Place: Buckets, Dippers, and Lids: Secrets to Your Happiness by Carol McCloud, illustrated by Glenn Zimmer


Westerns

Honorable Mention: Armed Men and Armadillos by John Sharp               

 

Women’s Interests

Honorable Mention: Trauma: A Collection of Short Stories by Elizabeth Jaikaran

 

Young Adult Fiction

1st Place: The Strange Tail of Oddzilla by Lori R. Lopez    
2nd Place: Lost on the Water: A Ghost Story by D.G. Driver            
Honorable Mentions:   
The Great & the Small by A.T. Balsara                     
Curses of Scale by S.D. Reeves                  
Healer by Susan Miura                  
Crossing the Line by Ellen Wolfson Valladares                   
The Hard Way by Selma P. Verde                            
Remeon's Destiny by J.W. Garrett

 

Youth Author Fiction

1st Place: Draco: The Assemblage of the Stars by Eily Quinn
2nd Place: The Uncontrolled by Zachary Astrowsky

 

Youth Author Nonfiction

 1st Place: An Adolescent's Guide to ME/CFS by Vidhima Shetty

  

* E-Book Award Winners *

 

Animals/Pets

Honorable Mentions:
Picture! Picture! by Jackie Ferrell, illustrated by Scott Ferrell                     
Birdie! Birdie! by Jackie Ferrell, illustrated by Scott Ferrell

 

Audiobooks

1st Place: Spirit of Prophecy by J.J. Hughes
2nd Place: Shackled: A Journey from Political Imprisonment to Freedom by Adam Siddiq

 

Children’s Poetry

1st Place: The Gad Nail by Anthony Spaeth, illustrated by Oly R.

 

Cultural Diversity

1st Place: Vivir el Dream by Allison Garcia

 

Education

1st Place: Felix is Curious About His Body by Dr. Nicole Audet, illustrated by Mylène Villeneuve
2nd Place: My First High School Musical: From Auditions to Opening Night and Everything in Between by Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz
Honorable Mention: The Universe a Work of Art by Eva and Line Newermann

 

Fiction: Novel

1st Place: A Different Kind of Lovely: A Novel by Petra March
2nd Place: Achieving Superpersonhood: Three East African Lives by William Peace
Honorable Mentions:
Grimseeker 1 - book three of the dead path chronicles by Richard A. Valicek                        
You Can't Force Love by Marie Drake

 

Health

1st Place: Special Food for Sam by Dr. Nicole Audet, illustrated by Mylène Villeneuve

 

Mystery

1st Place: Fountain of Revenge by Richard Dodge Davidson

 

New Author (Fiction)

1st Place: Pigeon by Daniel Zadow           
2nd Place:
Theo and the Forbidden Language by Melanie Ansley

 

New Author (Nonfiction)

1st Place: Recounting the Anthrax Attacks: Terror, the Amerithrax Task Force, and the Evolution of Forensics in the FBI by R. Scott Decker

 

Performing Arts

1st Place: My First High School Musical: From Auditions to Opening Night and Everything in Between by Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz

 

Picture Books 5 & Younger

1st Place: Cassie's Marvelous Music Lessons by Sheri Poe-Pape
2nd Place: Picture! Picture! by Jackie Ferrell, illustrated by Scott Ferrell



Picture Books 6 & Older

1st Place: Theseus by Simon Spence        
2nd Place:
The Universe a Work of Art by Eva and Line Newermann          

 

Romance

1st Place : Love Over Lattes by Diana A. Hicks


Science & Technology

1st Place (tie): Physician: How Science Transformed the Art of Medicine by Rajeev Kurapati, M.D.             
1st Place (tie):
Recounting the Anthrax Attacks: Terror, the Amerithrax Task Force, and the Evolution of Forensics in the FBI by R. Scott Decker

 

Science Fiction/Fantasy

1st Place: Purgatorium by J.H. Carnathan              
2nd Place: Theo and the Forbidden Language by Melanie Ansley
Honorable Mention:
Grimseeker 1 - book three of the dead path chronicles by Richard A. Valicek

 

Self-Help/Inspirational

1st Place: Achieving Superpersonhood: Three East African Lives by William Peace

 

Unpublished Manuscript

Honorable Mention: Rumpelstiltskin: the Untold Story by Michael Brandt

 

Young Adult Fiction

1st Place: Breaking Free by Caleb Monroe
2nd Place: The Dreaming Tree: Imagination Dragon by Lindsay McBride

 

Young Adult Nonfiction

1st Place: My First High School Musical: From Auditions to Opening Night and Everything in Between by Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz

 

 

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

Sponsored by Story Monsters LLC

 

2019 Ezra Jack Keats Mini-Grant Program Call for Proposals


Nearly $1,000,000 Given Directly to Educators at
Public Schools and Libraries Across the Country since 1987

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The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, dedicated to supporting arts and literacy programs in public schools and libraries across the country, is putting out its annual call for proposals from educators nationwide.

Approximately 70 grants, up to $500 each, will be awarded to teachers and librarians in public schools and libraries whose proposals reflect imagination and a desire to make learning fun. Applications are being accepted now, and the deadline for submissions is March 31, 2019. Decisions will be emailed to all applicants in May, allowing educators to plan for the next academic year.

“For over three decades, it has been our privilege to support the vision of the most innovative teachers and librarians, who inspire students to read joyfully, think creatively and support one another with generosity,” says Deborah Pope, Executive Director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. “I encourage all educators who want to put their creativity and new ideas into action to go online and apply for an EJK Mini-Grant now.”

Since 1987, the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation has provided nearly $1,000,000 in support of EJK Mini-Grant programs spanning the 50 states and U.S commonwealths. To learn more about EJK Mini-Grants, and to see the criteria for application, visit Ezra Jack Keats Mini-Grants.

The Foundation welcomes Mini-Grant proposals focusing on any subject.


About the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation
Founded by Ezra Jack Keats, one of America’s greatest children’s book authors and illustrators, the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation fosters children’s love of reading and creative expression by supporting arts and literacy programs in public schools and libraries through the EJK Bookmaking Competition and MIni-Grant program; cultivates new writers and illustrators of exceptional picture books that reflect the experience of childhood in our diverse culture through the Ezra Jack Keats Award; and protects and promotes the work of Keats, whose book The Snowy Day broke the color barrier in children’s publishing.

The Snowy Day was adapted by Amazon as a holiday special, which earned two Daytime Emmys®, including Outstanding Preschool Children’s Animated Program; and was used as the subject of a set of Forever stamps issued by and still available from the United States Postal Service. To learn more about the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, visit ezra-jack-keats.org.

Keats. Imagination. Diversity.



Young Eagles: The Story of a First Flight


by Marie A. Fasano, EAA 635640
photos by eaa.org

Launched in 1992, the Young Eagles program has dedicated more than 25 years to giving youth ages 8–17 their first free ride in an airplane. It’s the only program of its kind, with the sole mission to introduce and inspire kids in the world of aviation.

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I open my eyes and turn in bed to look out the window. I can see it’s a crisp, fall morning with a clear, bright blue sky—perfect flying weather. I learned this is the best time to fly … early morning just after sunrise when the weather still has the cool feel of nighttime. The air remains smooth with fewer bumps. I hurry to get dressed and run to the kitchen to eat my breakfast.

After eating, I jump up from the table and yell, “Mom, let’s go to the airport, I want to fly.”

At the airport, I leap out of the car and run to the hangar. I’m so excited. I’m finally going to take my first airplane ride in a small plane. I see the planes lined up. I later learn they are a Cessna, Piper, Cirrus, home built and more, ready to go. They each can hold from one to three passengers. I grab my mom’s hand as we see the volunteers setting up the desk and registration forms for the parents to sign.

Mom says to a volunteer, “I have two important questions. What does it cost for Danny to fly and is it safe.”

The volunteer answers. “It’s free. The EAA, Experimental Aircraft Association has been flying kids since 1992. So far, over 2 million young people from ages 8 to 17 have had airplane rides for free all over the United States. The pilots donate their time and their planes. It’s the only program of its kind, with the sole mission to introduce and inspire kids in the world of aviation. Each pilot is licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and all aircraft are likewise licensed by the government. The flights are conducted according to federal regulations.”

After mom registers and gives her permission, a volunteer pilot, Paul, says, “Come on over for the pre-flight, the walk around. You’ll learn what the pilot must do to be sure everything on the airplane works OK. The pilot does this check before every flight. Let’s take a look at how the airplane flies. You can get in the cockpit, the area where the pilot sits.”

I climb up and settle in the pilot’s seat in the airplane.

Paul tells me, “The wheel or stick inside the airplane moves to turn the airplane in the air.”

As I turn the wheel, he says “Look outside the plane at the wing and see the ailerons, the small part of the wing. It goes up and down whenever the wheel turns right or left. This is how the airplane turns in the air. Now push the wheel forward and back. As you do this, look at the tail of the plane, with the elevator and see it go up and down. This is how the plane goes up and down in the sky. Next, look at the rudder pedals on the floor. They look like gas pedals in a car. Push one at a time and look out the back of the plane to see the rudder on the tail move. The rudder helps to turn the plane on the ground and in the air. See that lever in the center of the panel in front of you? Push it down to let the flaps on the wings of the airplane go down. Here the pilot checks to be sure there are no obstructions that would interfere with the flap movement.”

“Wow, I see them moving down.” I say.

He helps me out of the plane and says, “Let’s go outside and we’ll do the final check. I’ll drain the fuel from a small opening under the plane to be sure we find no water or dirt in the fuel.”

All my questions are answered from how the fuel pump provides gas, to how the pilot talks on the radio. After the pre-flight, I am eager to fly.

Paul walks me to the airplane to be sure I don’t walk into the spinner and propeller, “A big deal when being around an airplane is safety first,” he says. “Don’t go near the propeller blades because if there is a problem, they may turn without warning and you can easily get hurt.”

In this Young Eagles program, the pilots enjoy introducing youngsters to the joys of flying as much as the kids do. It may be a man or woman, someone who flies for fun, uses the plane for their business, or someone who has spent his life as a commercial, professional pilot flying for the major airlines or the military. Diane, the pilot who is flying me today says, “Most kids want to sit up front with the pilot to be the co-pilot.”

As Diane helps me into the right seat of the plane, I see there are pillows on the seats, so I can reach the wheel and see out the plane.

“I’ll show you how to strap in with the seat belt just as you do in a car,” says Diane. “Then we’ll make sure the doors are shut tight.”

She gets in the plane and helps me put on a headset. “OK, all set, can you hear me OK? We are ready to taxi to the runway.”

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“I can hear you, I’m ready, let’s go,” I answer. The plane moves forward and we are on our way to the runway.

Before we take off, Diane stops at the end of the runway. “I’ll do a pre-check pushing the power up to make sure the engine is running OK,” she says. We’ll use the radio to make a call on the microphone, so other pilots know we are leaving. Pilots use a special alphabet called the phonetic alphabet. “November Five Niner Mike Juliet is ready for takeoff, runway two four.” Diane looks to the sky to be sure no one else is coming in to land. All is OK and she turns to the runway, pushes in the power and I feel the airplane racing down the runway.

In a moment the plane lifts off. “I can see everything on the ground get smaller and smaller,” I say. For the next 20 minutes we’re in the air flying over our town. “There’s my school and Green Valley Park. I think I see my house!” I yell excitedly.

“Do you want to take the wheel and fly for awhile,” says Diane. I grab the wheel. “Gently, she says, it doesn’t take much to control the airplane. I’m here to back you up.”

As I lighten up on the wheel, I say, “Like this?”

“Great job she says,” You’re a natural pilot.”

“How about you make a radio call to let the other pilots know where you are?” “Repeat after me, “Five Niner Mike Juliet on left downwind runway two four at sixty-two hundred feet.”

I call on the radio and think, “I can’t believe she let me do that, just like a real pilot.”

Too soon we are on final to the runway and ready to land. I look down and see my mom waiting. Once we’re on the ground and out of the airplane, I say “Bye, Diane. That was awesome. I want to be a pilot, too.”

“Here’s your certificate and Young Eagles logbook with a personal code to activate your free EAA Student Membership and Sporty’s Learn to Fly ground school course,” says Diane, “You are now a Young Eagle.”

I run to my mom with a wide grin. “That was super.”

EAA will send the new Young Eagle follow-up information about their free online ground school course, details regarding other youth aviation programs, and EAA scholarships. So, take a free flight and become a Young Eagle. Check the website to find an EAA Chapter in your town.


Marie A. Fasano RN, MN, MA, commercial, instrument pilot with multi-engine and seaplane ratings. Marie’s flying, an important part of her life, entailed coordinating for the EAA Chapter #810 Young Eagles for about five years, flying the kids in her Cessna 182 59MJ; taking rural patients to medical appointments with Angel Flight West; and flying medical personnel to Baja, California to dirt strips for clinics for indigent peoples. Marie also spends her time teaching nursing, nutrition, and helping clients with long term care health insurance. On the side, her photojournalism has appeared in nursing and aviation journals and general newspapers.

December Book Reviews


Check out our newest book reviews!

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Decked Out for Christmas
by Ethan Long (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Dr. Dawn Menge
It’s Christmas time and Santa’s little mice helpers are packing his sleigh. This brightly illustrated book will keep the young readers engaged. Each page is a new item that they are packing into Santa’s sleigh. They make candy cane skis and the star is made of cheese. Don’t forget the snacks, sunglasses, and a winter favorite of hot chocolate. Christmas time is always an exciting time for little children and this beautiful story will only add to the excitement of that special day. (board book)

My Little Gifts: A Book of Sharing
by Jo Witek, Christine Roussey (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Dr. Dawn Menge
This holiday book is dedicated to the concepts of sharing from the heart. It begins with opening presents and the issue of sharing a new gift. The girls are soon comforted by their father and given permission to share their new gift. What is the sweetest gift to share? Friendship! The best gifts of all are those that are handmade. Knowledge and imagination are also precious gifts that are shared. It doesn’t matter if a gift is big or small, fancy or plain, only that it comes from the heart. I highly recommend this book to teach the importance of giving to others. (board book)

Crash! Boom! A Math Tale
by Robie H. Harris, Chris Chatterton (Candlewick) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
Little blue elephants? Adorable. Building blocks that have endless possibilities for counting and
constructing? A must-have for inquiring minds. Problem-solving and persevering when things don’t go the way you want them too? A life lesson for all of us. This story embraces all of these things as a little elephant tries to build a tower (as the reader counts along) only to keep crashing into it. He keeps going though and soon realizes that determination and a positive attitude can yield great results! (Ages 2-5)

Pip and Posy: The Christmas Tree
by Axel Scheffler (Nosy Crow) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Holidays are a great time of caring and friendship. Pip and Posy are no different. Together they enjoy bringing home a Christmas tree, and bake up delightful goodies to decorate it. But in the process, Pip forgets the meaning of it all and takes everything for himself. Posy finds all their efforts gone, and Pip is left with a bellyache. Can Posy’s kindness save the holiday, and can Pip recoup from his lapse of selfishness and once again enjoy the holiday together? It’s easy to get caught up in all the good stuff and forget the real purpose of sharing. I’m glad our friends Pip and Posy gave us a timely reminder. (Ages 2-5)

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Luna and the Moon Rabbit
by Camille Whitcher (Scribblers) Reviewer: Julianne Black
Hauntingly beautiful and powerfully quiet, Luna and the Moon Rabbit will take your breath away. Floating through Luna’s personal dreams and imagination, we escape to a world of
warm evening breezes and sparkling, star-filled skies. Grounded in the natural world and traditional Asian folklore, we are carried by the possibilities of giant ghostly rabbits and magical woodland scenery. Another bedtime must-have in my household. (Ages 3+)

Cuddly Critters for Little Geniuses
by Susan Patterson, James Patterson, Hsinping Pan (Jimmy Patterson) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
An amazing story and resource that will enrapture inquisitive minds and scintillate reading fingertips as they soak up information on fascinating, lesser-known animals of our beloved planet. Packed with illustrations that are bright and eye-catching, plus awesome facts and information about these rarities, readers will be enthralled with all of the unusual and exotic creatures that are described by dream team Susan and James Patterson. A must have for animal lovers of all ages. (Ages 3-6)

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All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah
by Emily Jenkins, Paul O. Zelinsky (Schwartz & Wade) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
Based on the classic books by Sydney Taylor, this is a perfect holiday story that highlights Hanukkah traditions shared by a full house of sisters and their parents. Readers will feel like they are welcomed guests as preparations for the first night are made. Equipped with a glossary of Yiddish terms, reference notes from both author and illustrator, and a link for additional information, this children’s story not only tells a special tale, but also serves as a handy reference as well. (Ages 3-7)

King Ben and Sir Rhino
by Eric Sailer (Two Lions) Reviewer: Julianne Black
Ben is King, and kings should be able to do as they please, right? Rhino is his most loyal subject, and subjects should obey the King, right? Maybe being King isn’t all about getting your way after all … a light story of friendship, sharing, and respect. (Ages 3-7)

Coming Home
by Michael Morpurgo, Kerry Hyndman (Candlewick) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This poetic tale leads us on an amazing journey. Tradition, imprinted instinct, habit or pattern, whatever it is that drives a heart on to its desired end, is powerful! It pushes, pulls, and encourages in the face of defeat. It whispers and inspires uplifting his wings. This little bird cannot rest until he is home again. (Ages 3-7)

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If You Ever Want to Bring a Pirate to Meet Santa, DON’T!
by Elise Parsley (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This New York Times bestselling series brings us a holiday heads-up! Just in case it has ever run across your mind that it might be fun to take a pirate to see Santa this holiday, Magnolia says DON’T. After all, they are on the Naughty List. This fun-loving hilarity is multiplied by its great illustrations. Sure to bring some Christmas cheer! (Ages 4-7)

Merry Myrrh, the Christmas Bat
by Regan W.H. Macaulay, Alex Zgud (Guardian Angel Publishing) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Christmas joy fills the air with a life all its own. Every year it arrives with promises of wonder, whispers of hope, and a sense of well-being for any who are open to it, whether man, or beast, or even a family of little brown barn bats. Animals develop habits and patterns in their lives much like we do. Well, certainly this sweet little family of bats does! They close every year with the enchantment of Christmas lights, smells, and happy feelings, to keep them warm through
their winter hibernation. The author and illustrator bring delightful animation, and a new awareness to these charming barn bats and their plight. More can be learned, and even help offered in preserving these little creatures. (Ages 4-7)

My Storee
by Paul Russell, Aska (EK Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is a great book for adults and children alike! Creativity doesn’t seem to fall in neatly metered out portions, but dips and pours into any and all open receptacles. It stirs, tumbling into our thoughts, tickling our emotions, until it bursts boldly into our ideas, and there finds rest in our hands. Sometimes, that’s right where it ends. The young boy in our story has found himself in this very place. Can he press past perfection, ignore the snorts of limitation, and soar free with imagination? This is truly a voice of encouragement, and a reminder to those who lead. (Ages 4-7)

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It’s Not Hansel and Gretel
by Josh Funk, Edwardian Taylor (Two Lions) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is not your average, run-of-the mill fairy tale. And, even though the narrator has hilariously lost control of his story, this snicker and giggle tale is sure to delight. It’s time for these wacky siblings to take their fairy tale into their own hands. So sit back and enjoy the gingerbread! (Ages 4-8)

The Boy and the Giant
by David Litchfield (Abrams Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
There is a secret giant in Gableview who has hands the size of tabletops, legs as long as drainpipes, and feet as big as rowing boats. But little Billy thinks the Giant is just a tall tale that his granddad likes to tell. This is a delightful book all the way around. Its construction is appealing, its color scheme is inviting, and its message of acceptance is warm and much needed today. A truly great gift choice for the coming holidays. (Ages 4-8)

The Broken Ornament
by Tony DiTerlizzi (Simon & Schuster) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
The Broken Ornament is a heartwarming children’s book about finding the magic of Christmas and the spirit of giving. What will become of Jack’s wish for the best Christmas ever? Read along as award-winning author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi unveils a tale of holiday enchantment. This story is sure to be a treasured favorite for years to come. (Ages 4-8)

Reindolphins: A Christmas Tale
by Kevin Brougher, Lisa Santa Cruz (Missing Piece Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
The beautiful artwork in this book creates a warm feeling of an old-time Christmas, with a very modern storyline. With all the world waiting in excited expectation for Santa’s arrival, what ever would he do if his reindeer came up too sick for their historic flight? With only three days till Christmas, can he find an adequate replacement? Filled with cuteness and giggles we watch as all the beasts and critters apply. This is a great story of flexibility, and how change and disappointment can often set us up for new opportunities we never imagined. (Ages 4-12)

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Hanukkah Hamster
by Michelle Markel, André Ceolin (Sleeping Bear Press) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
The holiday was so lonely for Edgar the cabdriver until a lost hamster appears in his cab. Author Michelle Markel tells the story of Hanukkah Hamster through this circumstantial pairing as illustrator André Ceolin portrays the warmth of Edgar’s heart and the willingness he has to care for this lost pet. Readers will delight in this holiday tale of celebrating Hanukkah with a special friend who becomes like family. (Ages 5-7)

Reggie, The Burrowing Owl
by Thomas J. Wood, Derrick J. Wood (Primedia eLaunch LLC) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is a fun narrative of a family’s wonderful experience in discovering a lost little Burrowing Owl. This amazing little creature drew this large family’s heart into one united beat, and captures the reader’s as well. A fun family read! (Ages 5-12)

A Flicker of Hope
by Julia Cook, MacKenzie Haley (National Center for Youth Issues) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is a much-needed book! We are taught, either by silence or action, that to admit lack or need is a weakness. Sometimes the dark clouds overhead seem too heavy and you feel like giving up. Little candle knows all about this. Bad grades, blasted on social media, worried about making the team, and wondering who her real friends are make things hard to deal with. The author and illustrator beautifully remind us of our humanity, and the need for connection to shine. (Ages 5-12)

Miranda and Maude: The Princess and the Absolutely Not a Princess
by Emma Wunsch, Jessika von Innerebner (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 11
This is a story about how people can come from completely different worlds, perspectives, and values, but still become friends once they accept their differences and have a basic understanding of each other. Miranda is a snobbish, snooty princess and Maude is a tomboy and extroverted activist who likes chickens and hard-boiled eggs. They start out as enemies, but find common ground and become friends. (Ages 7-10)

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The Castle in the Mist
by Amy Ephron (Philomel Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Tess and her brother, Max, are sent for the summer to their aunt’s sleepy village in the English countryside, where excitement is as rare as a good wi-fi signal. So when Tess stumbles upon an old brass key that unlocks an ornately carved gate, attached to a strangely invisible wall, she jumps at the chance for adventure. And the world beyond the gate doesn’t disappoint. This story book has it all—magic, danger, and many mysteries to solve. Middle-grade readers won’t be able to put it down. (Ages 8-12)

Carnival Magic
by Amy Ephron (Philomel Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Amy Ephron returns with a companion novel to The Castle in the Mist and creates a magical tale filled with adventure, mystery, fantasy, and fun as Tess and Max are back in England for another summer with their Aunt Evie—and they’re incredibly excited about the travelling carnival that’s come to town. This story hits the ground running from the first page and doesn’t slow down until the end. A treasure with surprises at every turn! (Ages 8-12)

Wrath of the Dragon King (Dragonwatch)
by Brandon Mull (Shadow Mountain Publishing). Reviewer: Macaulay Smith, age 7
Wrath of the Dragon King is an awesome book! Wyrmroost is in trouble! Celebrant, king of dragons, and his new evil ally, Ronodin, the dark unicorn, are out to get the Dominion Stone—a powerful relic. Kendra and Seth set out on an adventure to find brave creatures in Wyrmroost to help protect the world from Celebrant and his evil ways. I liked this book because of all of the dragons and adventure! If you like books about mythical creatures, adventure, friendship, and war, too, then this is the book for you! (Ages 8-12)

You Go First
by Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard and 11-year-old Ben Boxer are separated by more than a 1,000 miles. On the surface, their lives seem vastly different—but the two have more in common than they think. They’re both highly gifted. They’re both experiencing family turmoil. And they both sit alone at lunch. Over the course of a week, Charlotte and Ben—online friends connected only by a Scrabble game—will intersect in unexpected ways, as they struggle to navigate the turmoil of middle school. This book will help any young reader who is having a rough time in their life as it encourages them to talk it out with a friend and it shows that bad things can happen—it’s how you get through it that counts. (Ages 8-12)

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Speechless
by Adam P. Schmitt (Candlewick) Reviewer: Diana Perry
As if being stuffed into last year’s dress pants at his cousin’s wake weren’t uncomfortable enough, 13-year-old Jimmy has just learned that he has to say a few words at the funeral the next day. What could he possibly say about his cousin, who ruined everything they did? As Jimmy attempts to navigate the odd social norms of the wake, he draws on humor, heartfelt concern, and a good deal of angst while racking his brain and his memory for a decent and meaningful memory to share. But it’s not until faced with a microphone that the realization finally hits him: it’s not the words that are spoken that matter the most, but those that are truly heard. A must-read for kids and adults. (Ages 9-12)

Bluecrowne: A Greenglass House Story
by Kate Milford (Clarion Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Lucy Bluecrowne is beginning a new life ashore with her stepmother and half brother, though she’s certain the only place she’ll ever belong is with her father on a ship of war as part of the crew. She doesn’t care that living in a house is safer and the proper place for a 12-year-old girl; it’s boring. But then two nefarious strangers identify her little brother as the pyrotechnical prodigy they need to enact an evil plan, and it will take all Lucy’s fighting instincts to keep her family together. What a fun and adventurous book! Young readers will thrill with every discovery as they turn the pages. There are many twists and turns to this magnificent story plot. (Ages 10-12)

Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist
by Sylvia Acevedo (Clarion Books) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 11
This is an inspiring book for kids, especially girls, women, and all people. What I loved about the book was that regardless of Sylvia Acevedo’s problems, she always was fiercely determined to improve herself. She didn’t give herself an excuse for not doing something because she grew up in a traditional Mexican-American family not speaking English, she instead learned English. She wasn’t great at making friends, but with the help of what she learned at Girl Scouts, she applied to her life and she succeeded and excelled, from girl scout to Stanford University to becoming a rocket scientist. (Ages 10-12)

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Game Changer
by Tommy Greenwald (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Thirteen-year-old Teddy Youngblood is in a coma fighting for his life after an unspecified football injury at training camp. His family and friends flock to his bedside to support his recovery—and to discuss the events leading up to the tragic accident. Was this an inevitable result of playing a violent sport, or was something more sinister happening on the field that day? A must-read for any parent, coach, or young football player. (Ages 10-14)

 

 

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

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Author Spotlight: Carole P. Roman and J. Robin Albertson-Wren


Homework horrors, chores, and not-so-friendly friends … that’s enough to stress out any child. The secret to staying cool is easy: it’s called mindfulness―and authors Carole P. Roman and J. Robin Albertson-Wren have written a #1 bestseller that gives kids fun activities to practice it on their own.

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Where did you grow up?

Carol: I was born in Brooklyn, New York, but moved to Rosedale, Queens when I was three years old.

Robin: New England – in Concord Massachusetts, outside of Boston.

Did you read a lot as a child?

Carol: I read a lot as a child. I began reading Nancy Drew with my best friend when I was six. We used to go to Woolworths and buy different books in the series, then trade them when we were finished reading. I soon began reading books my mother left around the house and ended up discussing them with my mother and grandmother. I read anything that was on the Times Bestseller List, I suppose. She only bought popular fiction.

Robin: As much as possible. I used to love reading up in trees near our home.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?

Carol: I remember loving Exodus, by Leon Uris, The Godfather by Mario Puzo, but as I got older my genres would change. When I was in my late teens I read only espionage books, Ian Fleming being my favorite. That kicked off a British year when I read everything by Orwell. I gravitated to science fiction by the end of my teens and read a lot of Asimov, Blish, and other science-fiction authors.

Robin: I loved the Bill Peet books, especially The Wump World and The Little House on the Prairie series, especially when Laura Ingalls was especially rascally.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Carol: I wanted to be an actress, but knew that was unlikely. I put all my energies into being a teacher.

Robin: An architect – I loved building forts and tree houses when I was little.

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

Carol: I worked in various retail stores that included jewelry, hardware, paint, clothing, and electronics. I babysat. I tutored other kids in my high school. I now run a global transportation company with my family.

Robin: I’ve been an elementary school teacher for over 25 years, and a mindfulness instructor for the past 5 years. When I was younger, I loved working as a camp counselor and lifeguard in the summer.

How did you get started writing?

Carol: My kids asked me to bring in a story for a family competition and then helped me publish it.

Robin: I had a marvelous teacher in 2nd grade who encouraged us to write books of poetry. That is when I first started. As an adult, I wrote my first manuscript when my daughter was an infant and I was a stay-at-home mom for 5 years.

Why do you write books?

Carol: When I completed my first book, I realized it wouldn’t sell without creating a brand. I then built my brand by trying different genres ranging from picture books, to fiction and nonfiction, as well as early reader chapter books and adult fiction under another pen name. Mindfulness for Kids is the first book I was actually asked to write.

Robin: I love sharing ideas and stories!

What do you like best about writing?

Carol: I love every aspect of writing, from creation to watching the reviews come in. It is emotionally satisfying and as exciting as having a new baby come home. I love it so much, I wrote a book on how to get published that ended up spawning three different blog radio shows and a magazine called Indie Author’s Monthly.

Robin: I love the freedom to get my thoughts and ideas created into the written word.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?

Carol: Making sure the books go out as mistake-free as possible. I do at least three edits, but pesky errors come up every now and then.

Robin: Finding the time to write, uninterrupted.

What do you think makes a good story?

Carol: Good stories are different for everyone. I think the most important element is making it universal enough that people can identify with the characters and feel what they are going through.

Robin: When people write about something they are passionate about, something that involves a variety of perspectives, emotions, and deep thought, it often makes for a good story.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Carol: I got the inspiration for The Treasure at Snake Island from a beautiful sunrise I witnessed on my way to the office. I wrote Oh Susannah based on a busy blogger’s response in a note. My kids and grandchildren always inspire me.

Robin: From my students (ages 3 to 21), and my own children.

Tell us about your latest book/project.

Carol: We collaborated to create Mindfulness for Kids. We had a wonderful time creating relatable situations for children to identify when they are having an issue, and then supplying them with tools to help themselves. I think it’s a wonderful book and I am thrilled with it.

Robin: It’s a collection of short stories, in which children experience a variety of emotions. Each story is followed by two mindfulness activities that could help in handling stress, managing anger, building resiliency…etc. I was thrilled to be the mindfulness expert on this project and work closely with Carol to create this engaging, fun, and useful book!

What’s next for you?

Carol: I think I want to try my hand at something YA.

Robin: I will continue to teach mindfulness techniques to people of all ages, and would love to create Mindfulness for Teens next!


For more information about Carol P. Roman and her books, visit caroleproman.com.

For more information about J. Robin Albertson-Wren or to join her online mindfulness course for elementary school students, visit mind-awake.com.

To learn more about Mindfulness for Kids or to purchase, visit Amazon.com.

Monsters at the Movies: Ralph Breaks the Internet


Grade: A-

by Nick Spake

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While Disney has a vast library of straight-to-video follow-ups, they’ve rarely delved into sequel territory on the big screen. Wreck-It Ralph paved the way for so many fun ideas and inventive characters, however, that its wonderful world couldn’t be contained to a single outing. Speaking with Story Monsters, Disney animator Michelle Robinson discussed the passion directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore had going into this sequel. “We describe ourselves as a director-driven studio,” she stated, “and they really wanted to do it.” In the same vein as Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet takes the foundation its predecessor laid down and builds upon it in a marvelous way. What we’re left with is a cornucopia of imagination with brilliant attention to detail packed into every frame. 

Where the original film was a love letter to video games, this sequel is a love letter to the whole digital world. John C. Reilly once again voices the lovable, not-so-bad guy, who is content with his day-to-day life as the villain of “Fix-It Felix Jr.” Meanwhile, Ralph’s BFF Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) feels as if she’s going in circles as a “Sugar Rush” racer. Vanellope is stopped in her tracks when her game is unplugged, but Ralph believes the solution awaits in a brave new realm known as the Internet. Once the Wi-Fi is up and running, Ralph and Vanellope boldly venture where no arcade character has gone before. Along the way, they cross paths with a trendy algorithm named Yesss (Taraji P. Henson) and several shady figures with ties to the Dark Web. 

If you thought the OASIS in Ready Player One was an Easter egg haven, just wait until you feast your eyes on this film’s interpretation of the Internet. The animators have literally created a worldwide web where eBay is an auction house, viral videos put citizens on the fast-track to big bucks, and a search engine called KnowsMore (Alan Tudyk) can get users to their desired destination in no time. This is a film where you could pause the action at any moment and find a new visual gag. As such, this movie demands to be revisited at home after watching it once in the theater. While the Internet’s main hub is like a virtual version of Times Square, it’s just one of several vivid environments the filmmakers take us to. 

Vanellope finds a kindred spirit in a fellow racer named Shank (Gal Gadot), who lives a fast and furious lifestyle as the head honcho of “Slaughter Race,” a game that’s like a cartoony version of Mad Max: Fury Road. Our pint-sized heroine also makes an unlikely connection with several animated princesses upon venturing to Oh My Disney, which makes an actual Disney theme park look like a small-town carnival. Seeing all the Disney princesses together onscreen is perhaps the most astounding crossover since the Avengers first assembled. What’s even more astounding, though, is seeing Disney poke fun at some of their most recognizable mascots. 

Granted, Disney previously parodied their princess formula in Enchanted, but who thought we’d ever see Cinderella use her glass slipper as a weapon? While the sequence is wonderfully self-aware, it’s also clear that the writers have sincere affection for Disney’s legacy. It’s a clever spin on classic characters, demonstrating just how far the company has come in recent years. Apparently, it wasn’t hard convincing Disney to take a contemporary and satirical approach to Snow White, Ariel, and others. According to Robinson, “We had pitched this idea in the story screening and the executives saw it and they loved it.”

If there’s a downside to Ralph Breaks the Internet, it’s that there aren’t many new video game characters added to the mix. The film more than compensates, however, with characters from Star Wars, Marvel, and other properties under the Disney umbrella. For all the cameos it works in, the movie never loses sight of its heart or moral, leading to a poignant ending that isn’t conventionally happy, but sees genuine growth from our protagonists. In regards to the ending, Robinson says, “It needed to be a little bittersweet in order to honor both characters’ journeys.” One can only hope that Elsa and Anna experience a similar evolution in Frozen 2.  

 

Nick Spake has been working as a film critic for ten years, reviewing movies each month in Story Monsters Ink magazine and on his website.