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.

Story Monsters Ink September Book Reviews


Check out our newest book reviews!

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Bear Moves
by Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyuz (Candlewick Entertainment) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Well, put on the music and move over, cause Bear’s got some moves and he doesn’t mind sharing them. This is a fun, feel-good read. Bear introduces the reader to music and dance, and the illustrations are sure to add laughter to the beat. (Ages 2-5)

Stick
by Irene Dickson (Nosy Crow) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
The simplest of things can often bring the greatest rewards. Following all the joys a boy and his dog can share with a simple stick. You can throw it, balance with it, float it down a stream, and draw pictures in the sand. And we agree, building friendships is the very best of all. (Ages 2-5)

Try a Little Kindness
by Henry Cole (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
The sweet, rhythmic flow of the text, and soft, easy appeal of the illustrations make this a great feel-good reading experience that can linger for a lifetime. Each page features a different way to be a good person, like using proper manners, telling someone they are special, or sharing a treat! The opening page will catch the heart and quickly become a childhood mantra. (Ages 3-5)

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Mae’s First Day Of School
by Kate Berube (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
I bet we all remember our first day of school. Oh, we may not remember the details, but that cold clammy feeling that stirs every time we face a new venture, reminds us. Life is never as hard when we encounter it with a friend. Mae is afraid to go to school. Riddled by the monstrous “what if” thoughts, she hides and determines not to go. But, lucky for Mae, she meets others who are just as frightened as she is. And together, they are able to overcome. A great reminder for all of us. Let’s grab a hand and do all those wonderful things we wish we could do! The illustrations are simple and sweet, and capture the heart. (Ages 3-7)

Storm
by Sam Usher (Templar) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
Wind and thunderstorms can be cozy, exciting, and evoke lots of adventures—inside and outside of the house! A little boy and his grandpa go searching for a kite to fly on a windy, stormy day and throughout their search, reminisce about other experiences they had together as they bump into special mementos. A beautiful story that will inspire children to look for adventures in nooks and crannies, and most importantly, with their families. (Ages 3-7)

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I Am Actually a Penguin
by Sean Taylor, Kasia Matyjaszek (Templar) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
Playing dress-up is a childhood experience that will never get old and this is a funny, sweet, and
completely relatable story about a little girl who loves this pastime. Her imagination, creativity, and perseverance is adorable (and admirable) as she really embraces becoming her costume—in this case, a penguin. The illustrations are vibrant, fun, and different with the use of mixed media and multiple picture and plot points on each page. Readers will enjoy reading this delightful story and then quickly running to their own dress-up box. (Ages 3-7)

Duck Gets a Job
by Sonny Ross (Templar) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
This is a story about being yourself and not a carbon copy of the vast majority. Sonny Ross creates a combo of creative words and illustrations to entertain young readers with his tale. Children will delight in the silliness of Duck as he takes readers through the steps of getting a job in a big city. Duck soon discovers that spreadsheets are not his cup of tea, so he opts for a job that fits his special gifts and passion. A perfect read-aloud for discussing sequencing and introducing job skills and goals, this picture book really fits the bill! (Ages 3-7)

Little Robot Alone
by Patricia MacLachlan, Emily MacLachlan Charest, Matt Phelan (HMH Books for Young Readers)
Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
Little Robot Alone is a story about a robot curing boredom by using his imagination, technical skills, and some elbow grease. The authors and illustrator have created a story that showcases the importance of friendship. The occasional rhyming text intermixed with the imagery produced from the descriptive wording allows readers to purely enjoy the robot’s surroundings and appreciate the soft, dreamlike illustrations. What a wonderful text to use with young children to bring up the topic of befriending others and discussing what it feels like to be alone. This profound story is more than the superficial idea of a robot creating a friend; digging deeper, teachers and parents can easily help readers have text connections by incorporating this story into lessons about having positive character traits and finding them in others. (Ages 3-7)

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Rock What Ya Got
by Samantha Berger, Kerascoet (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
I love the opening of this story! It opens wide the imagination and excitement rushes in. Carrying a powerful message, each page delights with its endearing illustrations. For anyone who has ever whispered, or shouted, “If only....” Happiness comes when we own who we are, and success follows when you can rock what ya got. This is a fun presentation for kids who are finding, and claiming their own unique spot in this iffy world. (Ages 4-7)

Snail Mail
by Samantha Berger, Julia Patton (Running Press Kids) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
We’ve all heard and used the term “snail mail” for ages now, but Samantha Berger and Julia Patton have adorably and brilliantly put pictures and a story to this cute term. Snails actually delivering mail! Berger captures our heart from the beginning with a little girl mailing a letter across the country, and the long and exhausting trek the determined snails must make to get it to her recipient. The story also takes the reader on a journey through special landmarks of America with sunsets and rainbows in every backdrop. Snail Mail will teach many, and remind more, of how exciting it feels to run to the mailbox and have a special delivery waiting inside. (Ages 4-8)

Energy: Physical Science for Kids
by Andi Diehn, Hui Li (Nomad Press) Reviewer: Dr. Dawn Menge
Energy, energy everywhere! This is an educational book to help young readers learn about the many forms of energy. The illustrations bring to life the concepts to engage visual learning and processing. The author has also included STEM activities to help further solidify the concepts. Energy races through your feet and is fueled by food and rest. What happens when your energy runs out? Do you get cranky, tired, or thrash about? Have a snack! Take a snooze! Keep your energy up and you’ll never lose! Energy is everywhere, you just need to look. One thing for sure, you’ll find it in this book. (Ages 4-8) 

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Matter: Physical Science for Kids
by Andi Diehn, Hui Li (Nomad Press) Reviewer: Dr. Dawn Menge
Let’s begin to learn about matter in this science educational book. ”Birds in the sky and rocks on the ground. Things made of matter are all around! Solids and liquids and gasses, too. Make up the world including you. Matter is everything, everywhere you look. Does matter, matter? Learn how important matter is as you read through this book. The illustrations are vibrant and will keep your child’s attention as they take their first steps into science experiments. Be sure to try the STEM activities included to reinforce the learning of the science concepts. (Ages 4-8)

Ted the Friendly Frog and the Tale of the Diamond
by Scott Mcall (Brown Books Kids) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Learning can be tough, and some lessons can last a lifetime. We have much to learn growing up, and our parental guidance far outlasts that of the animal kingdom, but both share the wisdom of the aged and the benefit of a listening heart. Ted the frog learns the importance of obedience the hard way. And we the readers learn, the choice is always ours. (Ages 5-6)

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Bully
by Jennifer Sattler (Sleeping Bear Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Bully’s middle name might just be Greedy. He thinks the pond and its beautiful lilies are all for his own private enjoyment. Running off all those who pass by to share in the pond’s beauty, Bully finds himself quite content all alone. Can anyone stop Bully and his bullying ways? Using humor and whimsy, authorillustrator Jennifer Sattler masterfully shows young readers that standing up together can make all the difference in the world. (Ages 5-7)

Dino
by Diego Vaisberg (Templar) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is a cute lighthearted story about a mysterious find. A large egg appears in the backyard. Is it a giant canary? A large lizard? A huge turtle? Life changes when the egg hatches. It’s sure to bring giggles to little readers and maybe even secret hopes that they, too, might find such wondrous things in their own backyard. (Ages 5-8)

Squiffy and the Vine Street Boys in Shiver Me Timbers
by Steve Stinson (Muddy Boots) Reviewer: Denise A. Bloomfield
This is a really fun story about Squiffy, who builds a pirate ship on a tree and invites the Vine Street boys to come aboard. The boys learn “Pirate talk” with a hilarious and predictable ending. I loved the characters, creativity, and imagination of this story. The illustrations bring the story to life. This is a fun and laugh-out-loud type of story. (Ages 5-8)

Howl Like a Wolf!
by Kathleen Yale, Kaley McKean (Storey Publishing) Reviewer: Denise A. Bloomfield
This book has so many educational and fun activities for young children! They can learn to howl like a wolf, see like a bat, and even dance like a honey bee! You didn’t know that a honey bee can dance? Well, you better get reading! This is a wonderful book for children and they will have lots of fun while learning. Also includes a link to download animal masks. A must-read! (Ages 6-9)

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Big Foot and Little Foot
by Ellen Potter, Felicita Sala (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 11
Big Foot and Little Foot is a fun, adventurous book about seeing each other’s differences and overcoming fear to become friends. Hugo, the main character, is a young curious Sasquatch who wants to adventure in the Big Wide World, but that’s off limits. The most important Sasquatch rule is to never be seen by a human. But Hugo breaks that rule when he meets a human and they become pen pals. (Ages 6-9)

Love for Logan
by Lori DeMonia, Monique Turchan (Halo Publishing) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
These two darling sisters return with another story of love and inspiration. Logan’s older sister has trouble processing sensory signals, and that can make life challenging. When one member of a family struggles, it affects them all. Leah’s family supports her with understanding and awareness and learning, but most of all with a love that can overcome those difficult obstacles most of us will never face. This story of love and compassion will inspire us all to become aware of the struggles of others, and be a positive influence with understanding. (Ages 6-12)

Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System
by Bethany Ehlmann, Jennifer Swanson (National Geographic Children’s Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This one is sure to thrill any kid with their head in the clouds, and beyond! Packed with amazing facts, awesome photographs and diagrams, famous scientists, and so much more, it is sure to please. Whether just-for-fun reading, information for reports or projects, it will fill many interests. Science is fun! (Ages 8+)

My First Book Of Quantum Physics
by Kaid-Sala Ferrón Sheddad, Eduard Altarriba (Button Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
When I hear terms like elementary particles, my mind runs to the massive crumbs left in the middle school lunchroom. Or quantum entanglements fills my mind with visions of playground altercations needing attention. But, what if the concepts of quantum physics were introduced in an easier and more entertaining way? These authors have lifted the gray haze, and brought the quantum world to our fingertips. Children (and adults) will enjoy pushing the boundaries of what we call reality, and stepping into the quantum world! (Ages 8+)

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24 Hours in Nowhere
by Dusti Bowling (Sterling Children’s Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Welcome to Nowhere, Arizona, the least livable town in the United States. For Gus, a bright 13-year-old with dreams of getting out and going to college, life there is made even worse by Bo Taylor, Nowhere’s biggest, baddest bully. When Bo tries to force Gus to eat a dangerously spiny cactus, Rossi Scott comes to his rescue by giving Bo her prized dirt bike. Determined to buy it back, Gus and his friends decide to go searching for gold in Dead Frenchman Mine. As they hunt for treasure, narrowly surviving one disaster after another, they realize this adventure just might lead them somewhere. A great, actionpacked story. (Ages 8-12)

A Long Line of Cakes
by Deborah Wiles (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Emma Lane Cake has five brothers, four dogs, and a family that can’t stay put. The Cake family travels from place to place, setting up bakeries in communities that need them. Then, just when Emma feels settled in with new friends … they move again. Now the Cakes have come to Aurora County, and Emma has vowed that this time she is NOT going to get attached to anyone. Why bother, if her father’s only going to uproot her again? But fate has different plans. And so does Ruby Lavender, who is going to show Emma a thing or two about making friendships last. This is a perfect story for young readers with a very sweet ending. (Ages 8-12)

Daring Dreamers Club: Milla Takes Charge
by Erin Soderberg, Anoosha Syed (RH/Disney) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Milla loves nothing more than imagining grand adventures in the great wide somewhere, just like Belle. She dreams of traveling the world and writing about her incredible discoveries. Unfortunately, there is nothing pretend about the fifth-grade overnight and Milla’s fear that her moms won’t let her go. Enter Piper, Mariana, Zahra, and Ruby. Together with Milla, they form the Daring Dreamers Club and become best friends. But can they help Milla believe she’s ready for this real grand adventure? Kids will particularly love how the book ideally ends, then leads into a sample of the next book. I found this to be a perfect fifth grade story. (Ages 8-12)

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Kid Scientists: True Tales of Childhood from Science Superstars
by David Stabler, Anoosha Syed (Quirk Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
What a delightful way for young readers to take more of an interest in science—by learning about our famous scientists’ childhoods. Did you know that there is one famous scientist who also invented the first pair of swim fins? Another scientist was also a genius mathematician whose calculations helped astronaut Neil Armstrong to be able to walk on the moon. Who are these people? You’ll have to read the book to find out. This is a brilliant book that will inspire and enlighten our budding future scientists. It proves to young readers that they, too, should dare to reach for the stars. (Ages 9-12)

Everything I Know About You
by Barbara Dee (Aladdin) Reviewer: Diana Perry
During a class trip to DC, 12-year-old Tally and her best friends, Sonnet and Caleb are less than thrilled when they are assigned roommates and are paired with kids who are essentially their sworn enemies. For Tally, rooming with “clonegirl” Ava Seely feels like punishment, rather than potential for fun, but Tally soon discovers several surprising things about her roommate—including the possibility of an eating disorder. This is a must-read for parents and teachers and a perfect lesson on bullying and another less-talked-about problem facing young girls today. (Ages 9-13)

The De La Cruz Diaries: Oops-A-Daisy
by Melody Delgado (Clean Reads) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 11
The De La Cruz Diaries: Oops-A-Daisy is a fun and captivating book. Daisy De La Cruz is a 12-year-old girl with dreams of becoming a famous singer. I liked that the book dealt with real issues including family issues, bullies, and how hard you have to work to accomplish something. This is a good book for anyone facing these life challenges. (Ages 12+)

The Crow Child
by Sherrie Todd-Beshore (CreateSpace) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Twelve-year-old Elijah Day Clearwater is not your average child. Since the death of his parents when he was three years old, he has been living with his paternal grandfather. He struggles every day with Cystic Fibrosis. What sets Elijah apart from everyone else is something … magical. Thirteen days before his 13th birthday, Elijah begins to have vivid dreams. Perhaps the dreams are just an outlet from the stress of a bully at school, or maybe they hint at a destiny that was foretold prior to his birth under the firesign. This story teaches young readers how their very lives today were formed by others who came before them. It is easy to bond with the well-developed characters. A great read. (Ages 12+)
 

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

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Announcing our Newest Story Monsters Approved Books

 

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

Picture Books (Ages 3-8)

Eden and Her Happy   Tracy Schlepphorst, Charlie Martin

Eden and Her Happy
Tracy Schlepphorst

One day Eden wakes up and thinks her Happy is gone. Her emotions take over as she searches in all of the wrong places for her Happy. You will never guess where she finally finds it!

 

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Oogie's Rainy Day Adventure
Michael Weinbergrer, Steve Bonham

Children's Picture/Story Book about a little bear that doesn't give up on achieving his goals.

 

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Greenbeard the Pirate Pig
A.T. Balsara

Sail into adventure with Greenbeard the guinea pig pirate as Snug Rumkin, Greenbeard's ratty first mate, tries to teach him how to be a "proper" pirate!

 

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Tummy Turner    
Kimberly Puckett, Izabela Ciesinska

By the end of the book the reader has not only enjoyed getting to know an adorable monster, but also learns the secret behind the monster.

 

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Growing Up Tobey: The First Year
Caroline Barthen, Blueberry Illustrations

In this short story, Tobey shares with his readers some of his greatest adventures that happened in his first year of life.

 

First Chapter Books (Ages 6–10)

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Charlie Sparrow and the Secret of Flight
D.F. Anderson, Daniel McCloskey    

Charlie Sparrow has no idea he can fly. It's no wonder—in Tree City, none of the birds do. When Charlie seeks out the secret behind his feathers, Doctor Nightingale claims he has a dangerous childhood disease, the cure for which is feather plucking...

 

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Charlie Sparrow and the Book of Flight    
D.F. Anderson, Daniel McCloskey    

Charlie Sparrow is the only bird in Tree City who can fly, but Mayor Peck insists he's faking it. When Charlie learns of a book proving the truth about flight, he leaves Tree City to find it, facing a sharp-beaked thug and a den of mythical bird-eating creatures with claws and whiskers.

 

Tween Novels (Ages 10-14)

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The Maker    
D.F. Anderson

When a mysterious drawing binder appears on thirteen-year-old Nate Smith’s windowsill, he starts having visions—and drawing them. Strange creatures come for his work, launching him on a space adventure to learn the alien art of making.

 

School Life

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Henry and His Manners    
Tracy Schlepphorst, Charlie Martin

Henry learns the importance of manners when he wakes up one morning without them. Follow Henry as he goes through his day and watch his manners try to catch him.

 

Green Living/Environmental Issues

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The Engirlneers Protect the Ground Water
Shannon DeVivo and Heather DeVivo-Winz    

During a long morning of sledding, Chloe's younger brother encounters a gasoline spill near the school. Chloe enlists Gillian and Elan to evaluate the spill and help clean it up before it endangers their friends and neighbors. Can the engirlneers combine their different skills to clean up the spill before it's too late?

 

Spirituality/Religion

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Eden and Her Joy    
Tracy Schlepphorst, Charlie Martin

Follow Eden through the untimely loss of her dad. Watch her emotions and the emotions of those she loves. Experience the return of her happy as she realizes that the love of her dad is a forever love.

 

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LuLu Faces Fear    
Gail Trauco, Mahfuja Selim

This magical children’s story can be read as a simple tale of a beautiful young unicorn in an enchanted wood. She has a rainbow-colored horn like a freshly made ice cream cone and a soft white coat. When she loses her precious mama, she has to find a way to overcome her fears.

 

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LuLu's Denial    
Gail Trauco, Mahfuja Selim

This charming book for youngsters can be read on two levels. It is a simple story about a young unicorn who has lost her mama and is trying to find her. On another level, this book can be used as a tool to help children who have been affected by the loss of a loved one.

 

Education/Reference

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Sixty-Minute Shakespeare Series
Cass Foster

To make the works of Shakespeare accessible to all ages and levels of education, Cass Foster combines his experience as a professor emeritus of theatre, fight choreographer, and stage director to provide the Sixty-Minute Shakespeare series. Foster’s renditions of the timeless tales are not adaptations, but rather judiciously condensed versions of the Bard's classics.

 

Is your book Story Monsters Approved? Enter today!

A Story Monsters Seal of Approval on your book tells
teachers, librarians, and parents they are giving children the very best.

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Author Spotlight: Tara McCarton

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Today's author spotlight is Tara McCarton, who has written a heartwarming book about kindness and inclusion, inspired by her daughter's Christmas wish that one day, her sister would be able to speak to her.

Where did you grow up?
Brooklyn, NY

Did you read a lot as a child?
I did, and even today, once I get into a book, I could stay up all night reading it.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?
When I was younger, I loved all the Nancy Drew mystery books and now my favorite author is Nelson DeMille, and Plum Island is my favorite book.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was good in math, so I went into finance, but everyone always told me I should write a book. Sometimes things in your life take you down a different path and you do what you were meant to do and find a different passion.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
I was a lifeguard in high school and college then went into finance and worked at some of the biggest investment banks in the world. I also became an ongoing service coordinator for the Early Intervention program here in NY.

How did you get started writing?
I was inspired by my 3-year-old’s Christmas wish for her nonverbal sister to talk. I thought it was the sweetest wish and inspired me to write a book about having a disability but from a child's point of view in a lighthearted way.

Why do you write books?
I want to inspire children to be kind and include others that may be different than they are, and to know you can do anything you put your mind to, just like the illustrator of my book, who has autism.

What do you like best about writing?
Sending a positive message into the world and seeing the reactions of the kids when they read my book. It sparks a conversation that they may not have started before.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
Finding the time to organize all my ideas in my head and getting them out on paper.

What makes a good story?
A good story is something that inspires you and teaches a message.

Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration for this book is from my daughters. Having a daughter with special needs teaches you to slow down and appreciate all the little things around you. When I watch my daughters interact, and seeing how typical kids act around Audrey inspired me to teach the world about finding the “ability” in disability.

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Tell us about your latest book.
My book, The Wish, is a sweet story about two fairies—one who speaks and one who doesn't. The younger fairy's wish is for her friend to talk. It teaches love and kindness and to slow down and appreciate the differences in all of us.

What’s next for you?
I hope to write a second book. I already have some suggestions from my nephews and classes I have spoken to. I would love for this book to be in schools around the world and read to children at night.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about you and your books?
Yes, my illustrator has Autism. She is from the church we go to and when I attended her birthday party, I saw pictures of fairies on her wall. I asked her if she drew them and she did. I thought they reflected the ideas in my head perfectly of what the fairies would look like in my book. I wanted to give her a chance, too and show that even if you have a disability, you can do anything you set your mind to. When I read in schools, the children are fascinated that the pictures look like they are drawn with markers and they said they knew they could make a book, too! It is so great to see these kids drawing pictures and making books in the classroom. That is what inspires me as well!

For more information on Tara McCarton and her book, visit www.audreymccarton.com.

Story Monsters Ink June Book Reviews

 

Check out our newest book reviews!

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Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact
by Jennifer Swanson (National Geographic Kids) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is a fascinating book for those with hungry minds. It’s filled with amazing facts and fun experiments, along with the cool realization that exploring the heights of outer space and the depths of the dark blue sea have a lot in common. The photography heightens the interest level and encourages learning.

Lindie Lou Adventure Series
by Jeanne Bender, Kate Willows (Pina Publishing) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This cute series follows a sweet little puppy named Lindie Lou through her adventures. Starting out in the happy home where she was born, we see the puppies grow and get ready for their new forever homes. Each book is a new adventure, whether it’s a door left open, a fast ride in a truck, or flying high on an airplane, and each includes valuable lessons Lindie Lou must learn. This adorable puppy will have children eager to follow her in each new setting. Great introduction for young readers into chapter books and the concept of a series.

A Werewolf Named Oliver James
by Nicholas John Frith (Alison Green Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is a cute story of self-actualization and belonging. No matter what perceptions or rejections may come from the outside, home is a place of understanding. When Oliver suddenly comes into the fullness of his identity as a werewolf, it is met with startling reactions from those around him. As he heads home wondering how he will ever explain his abrupt transformation, he arrives to find no explanation is needed. Home is a place of acceptance and inclusion.

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I Am the Rain
by John Paterson (Dawn Publications) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Captivating! From the onset, its words compel. An unseen force pushing you forward with an irresistible effect. A voice leading deeper into its identity, until you feel a living connection in its cycle. What a great way to enjoy science, and learn the amazing cycle of water!

Eraser
by Anna Kang, Christopher Weyant (Two Lions) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is truly a delightfully creative way to learn respect, and a clever way to find the importance of each individual to the corporate whole. School supplies each provide a unique quality to a task, and Eraser begins to doubt her contribution. Everyone can add to the project, but her job is only to remove things. This cute story reminds us that everyone has value, whether it’s completing a school project, or rounding out the joys of family life.

The Big Umbrella
by Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates (S&S/Paula Wiseman Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Rainy days bring warm and snuggly thoughts. And what better way to describe an umbrella. It waits quietly at the door until it’s needed, then opens wide and gathers you in. This sweet depiction of kindness falls upon us as gently as the rain.

Marigold & Daisy
by Andrea Zuill (Sterling Children’s Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Sibling rivalry goes back to the second child ever born in time. We can never exhaust its content. There is a story to tell in the voice of every second, and third, and fourth, and so on and so on. Every family will store such tales upon its bookshelves. Zuill’s adorable graphics will enliven the reading experience of every non-firstborn. Simple and delightful!

Rosie the Tarantula: A True Adventure in Chicago’s Field Museum
by Katie Macnamara, Peggy Macnamara (Northwestern University Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago was founded in 1893, and is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world. Along with millions of artifacts and preserved specimens, it also houses many live creatures as well. Rosie is numbered among these live creatures. In 2011, Rosie snuck off the third floor where she lived, and took a fascinating tour of the museum. Her discoveries lasted a year, and upon her return, inspired this story. Its soft, almost poetic flow, narrates her amazing adventure.

A Home For Leo
by Vin Vogel (Two Lions) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Leo finds himself caught between two really different worlds, and two loving families. Loving both, Leo also feels a bit lonely in both. Is there a remedy, a true joy for all? Today, in a world of diversity, many find themselves in such a place—multiple cultures, diverse languages, extended families. We love it all, but sometimes it can press on our emotions. Sometimes, we may find ourselves wondering where we truly belong. There are many helpful ways to find our own personal wholeness in such diversified settings, and Leo finds his.

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Friends Stick Together
by Hannah E. Harrison (Dial Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
The artwork alone makes this a truly enjoyable reading experience, but the storyline’s added depth of heart, and practical wisdom makes the purchase well worth the money. I think we all have run across those larger-than-life folks who press hard on the annoyance button, and at the same time, our world would truly be off kilter without them.

Sticks ‘n Stones ‘n Dinosaur Bones
by Ted Enik, G.F. Newland (Schiffer) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is truly history made fun. The whimsical rhyme turns man’s folly to laughable learning. Greed and misguided ambition are sneaky culprits that can disrupt the best of times. Competition between Edward Drinker Cope of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and O. Charles Marsh of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale stirred quite a Bone War! Each paleontologist used less than ethical means to outdo the other, yet brought to the public the wonder of dinosaurs. The illustrations by G.F. Newland complement the great text so wonderfully, that it is a most entertaining lesson in (pre)historical events!

Visiting You
by Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg, Andrea Edmonds (EK Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Though there is a sweet sadness that flows lightly through this book, it brings us to a gentle reality that we all share heartache and loss. Though we may all look different, come from many different places, and seem less than engaging, once we dare to reach, to touch and be touched, a common thread can tie such sweet bonds. This is a sweet reminder to not judge harshly. To take a moment and engage that troublesome person. We might find they are carrying a burden we understand quite well, and sharing it may lighten both our loads.

Sky’s Amazing Dream
by Mark Stevens, Carol Stevens (CreateSpace) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Who says imagination is only for kids? Sky, a beautiful Golden Retriever, has some pretty big dreams of his own. Mark Stevens is a bestselling author and the very proud daddy to Sky, and he enjoys sharing his wonderful adventures. Though Sky’s dreams lead him to great success, he finds being home with those he loves best, and helping others, is the greatest adventure of all.

Neema’s Reason to Smile
by Patricia Newman, Mehrdokht Amini (Lightswitch Learning) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
Brightly-colored illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini beautifully highlight the poignant story found within Neema’s Reason to Smile. While following the pages of this Kenyan tale, readers will transcend to young Neema’s journey through her life and witness her desire to attend a local school near her village. Saving each coin earned through peddling fruit, young Neema defines the perfect example of hard work and determination. Everyone should own a dream basket like Neema, and thanks to the useful appendix included with this empowering tale, teachers, parents, and students alike can follow the directions to create their own. Equipped with Depth of Knowledge questions, a handy glossary, and real-life dreams of Kenyan students, Patricia Newman inspires readers to dream and reach goals while emphasizing the necessity of education as a key to unlocking a world of opportunities.

Albert’s Tree
by Jenni Desmond (Walker Books Ltd) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
Albert’s Tree is a soft, fuzzy tale that young readers will be sure to love. Spring awakens Albert the bear from his slumber, making him want to seek out his favorite tree. As he settles into his favorite comfortable spot on the branches, a surprise startles the huggable, lovable bear. Continuing through the playful story are adorable forest animals helping to solve the mystery in question. Illustrations mesh perfectly to add both humor and sweetness to the tale. Easily destined to be a new favorite, readers will learn how the beauty of friendship can evolve in the most surprising ways.

Hazel and Twig: The Birthday Fortune
by Brenna Burns Yu (Candlewick) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
Hazel and Twig: The Birthday Fortune is a delightful tale which incorporates Korean words and delicately illustrated characters to introduce first birthday customs for the Korean culture. Family bonds between young siblings play an important role in birthday preparations for young Twig. Along with reading for the pure enjoyment of taking in a beautiful story, this book serves as a helpful tool in discussing family and cultural traditions. Author and illustrator Brenna Burns Yu has many reasons to celebrate; this delightful birthday tale is both beautifully written and illustrated and will surely leave a lasting impact on readers.

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What’s on Your Plate? Exploring the World of Food
by Whitney Stewart, Christiane Engel (Sterling Children’s Books) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
A picture, geography, and cookbook all in one, I love everything about it. Starting with the sneak peek pictures of the world map and children enjoying dishes all across the seven continents, we are then transported to special countries, including Morocco, Brazil, Italy, Spain and more. Each page gives the reader a synopsis of the food and general culture of that country. The recipes look delicious and easy to prepare. I’m sure that after reading this beautiful book, parents and children will quickly travel to the kitchen.

Better Together: A Book of Family
by Barbara Joosse, Anneke Lisberg, Jared Schorr (Abrams Appleseed) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
Family and friends fulfill our lives in so many ways and this sweet story celebrates these special
relationships between animals. Better Together appeals to kinesthetic animal lovers who will appreciate the sturdy open-the-flap pages that, when peeled back, reveal the family coming together in various scenarios (feeling lonely, scared, hungry). I like the inclusion of animals that are not your typical animal characters in books—zebras, meerkats, bats, and crows. A nice discussion for some older readers as to why the author included those families, and also a fun extension project would be to research other animals that have a tight family bond! The focus throughout this colorful and lovely illustrated story was clearly how much we are all better when we’re together.

This Zoo is Not for You
by Ross Collins (Nosy Crow) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano
This sentimental story (sprinkled with some silly) starts off with a little platypus approaching the zoo gates, only to be shunned by some snooty flamingoes, entitled chameleons, dismissive pandas, and rude elephants. It’s hard not to feel sad for the platypus, but the author keeps the rhyming text fresh and readers will quickly catch on to the repetitive phrase “this zoo is not for you.” Fortunately, the animals quickly realize how rude they were and then discover an envelope the platypus left behind! Forgiveness and fun are at the heart of the story along with the powerful message … kindness matters more than anything and everyone deserves a chance at friendship.

Remy Sneakers and the Lost Treasure
by Kevin Sherry (Scholastic) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 11
Remy Sneakers and the Lost Treasure is a fast-paced, fun cartoon book. Remy’s house gets broken into and his grandma’s journal gets stolen. That was his most important family heirloom, the journal of the Raccoon family. Remy and his critter crew set out to find the thief. Will they find the journal? Read the book to find out!

Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol: The Haunted House Next Door
by Andres Miedoso, Victor Rivas (Little Simon) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 11
This is an entertaining, adventurous book series. If you’re a kid or an adult, you can relate to this book because everyone has a friend who’s afraid of everything. The big difference is that the other friend, Desmond Cole, is a fearless 8-year-old who patrol’s Kersville for ghosts, monsters, and spirits. And Andres Miedoso, his new best friend is determined to go everywhere with Desmond, but he’s afraid of everything. By the way, Andres Miedoso is also the author of this book series. You might want to read up on him to see if he actually is afraid of everything!

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Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School
by Julie Falatko, Colin Jack (Scholastic) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Sassy and Waldo are happy dogs who belong to their young master, Stewart, but when Stewart leaves for school, they fear that he may be heading to danger. Sassy climbs onto Waldo’s shoulders as they disguise themselves as a human by wearing a trench coat, then sneak into the school where they pass as the new kid. They’ve practiced speaking “human” and everyone but Stewart believes they are. It is up to Stewart to convince his beloved pets that he is safe and happy in school. I found the illustrations most comedic and entertaining. Younger readers will just love the escapades of these two loyal pooches. A fun read for any child.

The Disappearing Spoon
by Sam Kean (Back Bay Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
This science-based book makes learning about the Periodic Table actually fun. The author takes the huge task of learning about elements and what’s not an element and breaks it all down into manageable, understandable bits. A complete lesson, he informs readers on how the Greeks named the elements and includes the Periodic Table of Elements, an exciting glossary, and a helpful Index. This book was fun to read and I believe it will present this subject in a way that readers will enjoy learning. I also see it igniting the spark of science in future chemists, physicists, and other scientists.

My Year in the Middle
by Lila Quintero Weaver (Candlewick) Reviewer: Diana Perry
In a racially-polarized sixth-grade classroom in 1970 Alabama, Lu’s talent for running track makes her a new best friend—and tests her mettle as she navigates the school’s social cliques. Some say blacks and whites shouldn’t mix and others say we’re all the same race: human. Having just moved from Argentina, Lu feels stuck in the middle and wishes to remain invisible but she realizes she must make her stand. Teenage life is hard enough as it is, but Lu has more than most in this coming of age story. Kids will relate to her and root for her.

Rock Collecting for Kids: An Introduction to Geology
by Dan R. Lynch (Adventure Publications) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Being an avid rock collector myself, I can attest that Mr. Lynch knows his subject matter. This book includes great examples of rocks and minerals, complete instructions to teach young collectors what to take, how to be safe, where to look, and even how rocks and minerals are formed. A really fun read and a great guidebook for children to use when rock collecting. The glossary includes all kinds of terminology that will leave any reader feeling like a junior geologist.

Love, Penelope
by Joanne Rocklin, Lucy Knisley (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Diana Perry
This is the most charming example of a perfect big sister—Penelope. The book is filled with heartwarming daily letters from Penelope to her unborn sibling. She shares the trials and tribulations of being a fifth-grader and asks little questions about her sibling’s development, which leads to big questions about the world around her (like if and when her moms are ever going to get married “for real”). I was touched and found myself smiling through each page. The perfect book for any child who either is or will soon be a big brother or sister.

The Boy Who Went Magic
by A. P. Winter (Chicken House) Reviewer: Diana Perry
The mages of Ferenor were outlawed and destroyed by the royal family centuries ago for performing incredible feats and powering wondrous machines with their magic, and the world is a much duller place. Bert is a young boy who’s lived in an orphanage longer than he can remember, with no friends and a most ordinary life. He’s told that magic is just a myth. But then a chain of strange and inexplicable mishaps causes Bert’s life to spiral out of control. This book is indeed a magical adventure with many mysteries. Young readers will be caught up in all the action and suspense of this page-turner.

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Front Desk
by Kelly Yang (Arthur A. Levine Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Ten-year-old Mia Tang lives in the motel where her parents work. They clean the rooms and she works the front desk. The owner is a horrible man who cheats them constantly. Mia makes a new friend, Lupe, and through their daily lives, they reveal to young readers how America can be the best and the worst place for a poor immigrant to be. Mia comes up with an idea that will not only help immigrants understand English phrases, but pulls many together in a plan to get them all out of poverty. A must-read.

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

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One to Read: Wé McDonald

by Melissa Fales

photo by Kimeth McClellan

photo by Kimeth McClellan

In 2016, an unforgettable 17-year-old singer took NBC’s The Voice by storm, unleashing her powerful sound and sharing her poignant journey from childhood bullying victim to rising star and anti-bullying advocate. In an effort to bring her inspiring story to more young people, Wé McDonald has recently released a children’s book. In The Little Girl with the Big Voice, McDonald writes about enduring and ultimately overcoming the vicious taunting she suffered. “My book touches on bullying, but it ends with me on stage, being triumphant and realizing that I don’t have to change who I am for people to like me,” says McDonald. “I think that’s a very important message for kids today. It’s something more kids need to hear.”

Growing up in Harlem surrounded by her family of talented musicians, McDonald thought being able to sing was a universal trait. She didn’t realize she had a special gift until she was 12 years old. “I liked to sing, but I didn’t know I was good at it,” she says. “I thought everyone could sing until I found out that being tone deaf was a thing.”

McDonald’s naturally high-pitched speaking voice, a stark contrast from the deep singing voice her fans enjoy, combined with her need to wear thick eyeglasses, made her a target for bullies in her school. At home, she sought comfort from her family and especially from music. “I’d turn on the radio and write in my Barbie diary,” says McDonald. “Listening to music always made me feel better.”

Being bullied drove McDonald to want to sing even more. “Singing was the best way I knew how to express myself,” she says. “I thought I couldn’t be the only person feeling like this.” And since music had always soothed her when she was feeling down, McDonald decided to pursue a career in music where she could use its ability to heal to help others. “I wanted to give that same comfort to others,” she says. “I wanted to give reassurance to anyone who was struggling that things were going to be alright.”

When McDonald was in eighth grade, she started taking vocal lessons through an afterschool program at Harlem School of the Arts. “At first I was horrified,” says McDonald. “I figured it would be a new place and new people to make fun of me. But it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me.” As she grew, so did her voice, her polish, and her professionalism. She went on to perform at major venues including the renowned Apollo Theater, Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall. She is currently studying jazz vocals at William Patterson University.

McDonald will be releasing an EP soon. The lyrics to her recently-released new single, “Head Up High,” are featured on the back of The Little Girl with the Big Voice. She says she enjoyed her turn at being an author, but she plans to release more music before she writes another book. “I don’t approach singing and writing in the same way, but I do approach both of those things with the same heart and passion,” she says.

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Viewers of The Voice witnessed that heart and passion throughout McDonald’s appearance on the show. It all started when her father surprised her with a ticket to the Philadelphia auditions. There, McDonald and her father were hauled into a huge center with a few thousand other people. “It was really early in the morning, too, but the mood was electric,” she recalls. One of the most memorable points in the process was waiting to hear if McDonald made it to the blind audition round. “We were in our hotel room and we got a call that they were having a meeting and they wanted us there,” she says, adding that she went into a full-blown instant panic. “I thought that we were late for something, that we didn’t look at the schedule correctly, or that we had messed up,” says McDonald. When she arrived at the meeting, there were only a few other contestants there. When the announcement came that they’d made it to the blind auditions, McDonald was floored. “It was so surreal,” she says. “It was an unbelievable feeling.”

During her blind audition, McDonald belted out a rendition of “Feeling Good” that compelled all four judges to turn their chairs around, indicating an interest in having her on their team. Honestly, I only remember some of it,” McDonald says. “It was so overwhelming.” Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, and Blake Shelton had all turned around when McDonald closed her eyes briefly during the tune. “When I opened my eyes, Adam (Levine) had turned around,” says McDonald. “I couldn’t help it. I freaked out a little. I had a moment.”

McDonald, who ultimately placed third overall, chose to work with Keys as her mentor, but says she gleaned valuable advice from all four of the show’s star coaches. “When you have musicians like this sharing what they’ve learned throughout their experience in life with you and helping you, it’s priceless,” says McDonald. “With my book, I feel like it’s my turn to share what I’ve learned from my experiences. I hope I can help others who were in my situation.”

In The Little Girl with the Big Voice, McDonald offers a very personal look into her own transformation. “This book is really about my journey,” she says. “It shows how I used to try to change who I was just to make people like me, but it ends with happiness. When kids read it, I want them to take away that confidence is beautiful in people no matter what they look like. You can have a small beginning, but if you work hard, you can end up on top. You have the right to fight for that.” •

Read more stories like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink! The literary resource for teachers, librarians, and parents.

 

ESPN Host Mike Greenberg Pens a Loveable Tale about a Furry MVP

by Melissa Fales

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Popular ESPN television personality Mike Greenberg is not only a trusted sports authority, a member of the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and a New York Times bestselling author, he’s also a passionate opponent of cancer. He and his wife, Stacy Steponate Greenberg recently co-wrote a children’s book, MVP: Most Valuable Puppy (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster), and they are donating all of their proceeds from it to help fight pediatric cancer.

“Everything we ever make from this book will go towards cancer research, until there is a cure,” says Greenberg. “It’s very gratifying for us to be able to do something that can make a difference in this world.”

Greenberg’s inspiration to raise money for cancer research traces back to 2009 when Stacy’s friend, Heidi Armitage, was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It had spread to her bones by the time it was discovered and she died that same year,” he says. “She was dealt cards you don’t come back from and that was just the most unjust thing I had ever seen.”

Wild emotions raced through Greenberg’s head during Armitage’s memorial service. “She was outdoorsy, she didn’t smoke, she was a healthy eater,” he says. “I remember staring at the backs of her children’s heads—they were both under 10 years old at the time—and I was sad, but more than sad. I was angry. It wasn’t fair. I was livid because this was such an injustice.”

Greenberg transformed his anger into action and in 2013, he and Stacy created Heidi’s Angels, a foundation to raise money for cancer research. That same year, Greenberg released his debut novel, All You Could Ask For, about women trying to keep their everyday lives and friendships intact while battling cancer. He’s donated all of his proceeds from the novel to Heidi’s Angels to fund anti-cancer efforts.

Greenberg, who has been with ESPN since 1996, is most well-known for Mike and Mike, the long-running show with Mike Golic, and now the new morning show, Get Up. However, Greenberg says he’s always wanted to be a writer, something he traces back to his childhood spent browsing through the bookstore his parents owned and operated. “I got into broadcasting as a way to pay the bills while trying to write the great American novel,” he says. His first book, Why My Wife Thinks I’m an Idiot: The Life and Times of a Sportscaster Dad was released in 2006 and became a New York Times bestseller. His novel My Father’s Wives was released in 2015.

Most recently, says Greenberg, thanks to the photos he and Stacy have posted on social media, he’s gained clout not for his broadcasting or his writing, but for his dog, Phoebe, an Australian Labradoodle with a pink tail (it was originally dyed pink when Heidi passed away as a subtle tribute to her battle with breast cancer). “We had been thinking about a new project to raise more money for Heidi’s Angels,” says Greenberg. “It was Stacy who came up with the idea to create a kids’ book, starring Phoebe.”

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MVP: Most Valuable Puppy is a charming tale about a girl and her dog. “It’s about a little girl who likes sports and learns how to play from her dog,” Greenberg says. “There are a lot of sports books about little boys, but this one is different. And we don’t make a big deal of the fact that it’s about a girl. She’s just a girl out there playing with the other kids and having a blast.” There’s nothing morose about the story. “This isn’t a book about cancer,” Greenberg says. “In fact, there’s no mention of cancer in the book. It’s a classic children’s story. You can read it to a 2- or 3-year-old and an older child might be able to read it themselves. It has a nice message for kids to take away.”

Greenberg says illustrator Bonnie Pang’s depiction of Phoebe is spot-on. “She brought our dog to life,” he says. “She did a sensational job not only of creating a dog that looks just like Phoebe, but conveying her when she’s animated. There’s almost a magical quality in how she jumps off the page.” Greenberg, unabashedly smitten with Phoebe, unapologetically calls her “the world’s cutest dog” and says kids who read the book will grow to adore her, too.

Interestingly, Greenberg’s experiences with Phoebe are his first as a dog owner. “I never had a dog growing up,” says Greenberg. “In fact, I was afraid of dogs my whole life.” His fear stems back to an incident when he was just 6 years old and visiting a friend’s house. “We were wrestling as little boys do, but his little dog thought I was attacking him,” recalls Greenberg. “He came racing over and bit me. That was it. I was terrified of dogs ever since.”

Years later, Greenberg found himself at odds with his wife and kids, all of whom wanted a dog. “I was the lone holdout,” he says. “That experience as a 6-yearold really stuck with me.” Finally, he was talked into it. “You know, I never understood why people loved dogs so much,” he says. “But now I have Phoebe.”

Earlier this year, ESPN legend Dick Vitale asked Greenberg to be an honoree at his V Foundation for Cancer Research Gala in May, recognizing Greenberg for his work with Heidi’s Angels. “I was extremely moved and touched by it,” says Greenberg. With MVP: Most Valuable Puppy set to be released just days before the gala, the Greenbergs decided to acknowledge Vitale’s personal crusade to combat pediatric cancer by donating their proceeds from the book to fund pediatric cancer research. “Stacy and I talked about it, and thought it was appropriate, especially since it’s a children’s book,” says Greenberg. “We knew that Heidi would have loved the idea.” •

Find more stories like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink! The literary resource for teachers, librarians, and parents.

Astronaut Clayton Anderson Launches Little Readers on an A to Z Mission

by Melissa Fales

photo courtesy of NASA

photo courtesy of NASA

As Nebraska’s first and only astronaut, Clayton Anderson holds the sole privilege of representing the Cornhusker State in space. Being selected by NASA in 1998 was a lifelong dream come true for Anderson, as evidenced by the faded newspaper clipping he has of a photo taken of him at the Ashland Summer Carnival in the mid-1960s.

In it, he’s 6 years old and dressed for the children’s parade in a handmade astronaut costume, complete with a helmet made out of a hat box and a lot of aluminum foil. “My mother always said that when I was a little boy, I often told her I was going to become an astronaut one day,” he says. Since retiring from space travel, Anderson has been busy writing books, including his first, The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut, released in 2015, and his first children’s book, A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet, released in March.

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Writing a book for kids wasn’t even on Anderson’s radar until a friend who manages a bookstore told him about the numerous titles in the Sleeping Bear Press Alphabet series. “They don’t have a space one yet,” she hinted. The result is an A to Z journey filled with space words, a poem for each letter, and fascinating facts about NASA. “I wrote down the alphabet and picked a word for each letter,” he says. “I had multiple choices for a few of them. I finished the poems in less than a week. I thought that was the really fun part.”

Anderson praised the book’s illustrations by Scott Brundage. “They’re very visually impactful,” he says. Anderson also wrote the sidebar information on each page which gives children a deeper glimpse into what it’s like to be an astronaut. “It’s a book that can really grow with the kids,” he says. “Small children might only be able to read the letters on their own. As they get older, they’ll be able to read the poems. And as their reading skills improve, they’ll be able to learn something about space.”

Anderson hopes A is for Astronaut will spur a curiosity about space among his young readers, similar to the way he was indelibly affected on Christmas Eve 1968 by watching the Apollo 8 mission orbit the moon on TV. “Listening to the communication between ground control and that command module 239,000 miles into space was incredible,” he says. “I remember that tension and that drama and that excitement when they re-established contact after a long period of static. That was a huge Wow! for me. That really planted a seed in my head.”

Of the 30 years Anderson spent with NASA beginning in 1983, the first 15 were as an aerospace engineer. For the last two years before he was selected as an astronaut, he was the manager of the Emergency Operations Center at Johnson Space Center in Houston. “I knew little to nothing about managing emergencies, but NASA had taught me a lot about planning, training, and flying,” he says. “I was able to take the plan, train, and execute methodology from space flight and apply it to emergency response.”

Anderson was fortunate in that although he was completely prepared, he never had to deal with a real emergency. “We simulated a ton of them, just like we do in space flight,” he says. “We simulate all the time so when the time comes, you’re ready.”

Spending 167 days in space took guts, determination, and especially perseverance, since Anderson submitted 15 applications to NASA before he was finally accepted as an astronaut. “That’s supposedly a record,” says Anderson. “Applying to become an astronaut is easy. Getting selected is hard. I just didn’t give up.”

The application, according to Anderson, is tedious, involving hours of work. “Once it’s done, it’s relatively simple to update it every year,” he says. So he did … again and again. After the 13th try, Anderson was called in for an interview. “At that point the flame was lit,” he says. It still took two more tries, but Anderson knew he was getting closer to his goal.

In all, Anderson had the opportunity to experience six space walks, spend five months on the International Space Station, and fly on two space shuttles: Atlantis and Discovery. In 2013, he retired from NASA and embarked on a writing career. In June, Anderson’s third book will be released. It’s a Question of Space: An Ordinary Astronaut’s Answers to Sometimes Extraordinary Questions is a collection of the often thoughtful and sometimes inane inquiries Anderson has received about space over the years.

The most perennial topic, according to Anderson, is food. “The food in space is pretty good, actually,” he shares. “I got to eat both Russian food and American food. The Russian food was preferable. I definitely did not starve.”

Anderson says he hopes It’s a Question of Space will encourage young adults to consider space exploration and other STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) fields when they think about their career choices. “It’s important that we get kids excited about STEAM,” he says. “It’s really important to the future of America that our children are focused on these kinds of disciplines. These are the people who are going to be the problem-solvers of the future.”

Looking ahead, Anderson says he plans to continue his schedule of speaking engagements and to keep writing. “My mantra is: I write to inspire, to entertain, and to educate,” he says. “I can’t get in front of audiences everywhere, but if people choose to look at my books, that gives me an additional avenue and a different way to inspire them.”

Read more stories like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink! The literary resource for teachers, librarians, and parents!

Debbie Wideroe Inspires Eco-Awareness with Children’s Book Series

by Melissa Fales

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Once, Debbie Wideroe awoke from an especially vivid dream and jotted down “The Adventures of Camellia N.” on the notepad she keeps next to her bed. It didn’t mean much to her at the time, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that those words had significance. “I couldn’t get rid of it,” says Wideroe. “Then, literally, one day it took over and I instantly knew what I wanted to do.” That’s how Wideroe’s popular The Adventures of Camellia N. series came to be.

Published by Notable Kids Publishing, she’s already released the first two books of a planned set of nine, drafted with the hope that reading about Camellia’s magical experiences all over the globe will help children develop a deeper appreciation for our planet.

Growing up, Wideroe was strongly influenced by her father, a fervent believer in sustainability before the term became widely used. “I grew up with the idea of reuse, recycle, repurpose,” she says. “I developed an innate sensibility of taking care of the earth without even thinking about it.” Wideroe started writing at age six and never stopped, compiling journals and poetry in addition to magazine columns and stories.

Her eco-conscious upbringing and way with words set the stage for her future as a children’s author of environmentally-themed books. However, children’s literature wasn’t the first step in her career. Instead, Wideroe did stints in children’s television, marketing, and teaching. “While I was at Harvard University for graduate school, I was lucky enough to study under Dr. Gerry Lesser, one of the creators of Sesame Street,” she says. She went on to be in charge of marketing for Warner Brothers’ Baby Looney Tunes and other animated properties. And although she didn’t set out to become a teacher, she’s taught advertising and marketing at Pepperdine University for nearly 20 years. “It just kind of happened,” she says.

All of these experiences combined to make Wideroe uniquely qualified to write The Adventures of Camellia N. series. In the books, little Camellia N. visits faraway places around the globe each night in her dreams, meeting different animals along the way. Wideroe says over the course of the nine books, Camellia will visit all seven continents as well as deep space and the deep sea. “I like the idea of introducing children to the magnificence of the earth at a young age,” she says. “I think the younger they are when you capture their interest, the better the chance that they are going to internalize those feelings of wonder and awe and want to care for the earth when they are older.”

Foremost in Wideroe’s mind when she writes Camellia’s adventures is an admonition from Lesser about keeping children’s books educationally accurate. “I always think about that,” she says. When she’s researching a new location for Camellia to visit, she consults with wildlife professionals for the latest information about the region and its creatures. “I go to the experts for this,” she says. “I’m not a scientist. They tell me which animals are endangered, some critically so, and I weave them into the stories. I try to highlight the coolest things about all of the creatures and show how incredible they are. If kids find these animals amazing, perhaps they’ll want to take care of them.”

Wideroe 4.PNG

The first two books in Wideroe’s series are The Arctic (the first-place winner of a Royal Dragonfly Book Award in the Green/Environmental category) and Under the Sea. The third book in the series, detailing Camellia’s trip to the Amazon rainforest, is due out this fall. “In 2020, when the Olympics happen in Asia, will be a perfect time to launch the book,” Wideroe says.

One thing that truly sets Wideroe and The Adventures of Camellia N. apart is the way her vision extends beyond her books and into other avenues where she can make a difference. “I see it as a book series, but it’s also a platform for change,” she says. For example, she started Camellia Kids Care, a global pen pal program that began with a match-up between a school in San Francisco and one in Norway. Her latest set of pen pals live in Calabasas, California and Zambia. “I want these kids to start to understand how interconnected Earth’s creatures and cultures are,” she says. “We’re already seeing that happen with the pen pal program. While they’re learning about a different culture, I hope they’re also learning that at the end of the day, we’re all the same. I hope they’re becoming global ambassadors. This is the next generation. These are the ones who are going to have the power to make big changes.”

Another one of Wideroe’s efforts is Camellia Cares, a partnership with Children’s Scholarship Fund that will allow her to teach low-income parents about fostering communication with their children. “Although this initiative is not tied to the environment, it is tied to literacy, which is another one of my passions,” says Wideroe. “I am a teacher, after all.”

Wideroe says her drive to complete the series has been buoyed by the many supporters of her books and her larger message, including people like Bill Richardson, former Governor of New Mexico, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., and former Energy Secretary. “I’m fortunate and grateful to have influential people supporting and cheering for me,” she says. However, Wideroe says nothing is quite as rewarding as going into schools with her books and visiting with students. “You really feel it at that level,” she says. “When your book is sitting on the shelf, you don’t feel it as much. But when you’re watching little children reading it, you can see you’re making a dent. That’s when you know you’re touching people’s lives.” •

Check out more stories like this in the June issue of Story Monsters Ink!

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