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: Anne Mason

As an explorer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and author, Anne Mason’s life reads like an extraordinary adventure book. Her journey began as a young girl traveling and studying throughout Europe, where she developed her love of teddy bears. In the following years, she took to exploring new heights, literally, as she scaled the frigid ascent to Mt. Everest’s Base Camp (17,600 ft). Today, she continues to write the Mr. Biddle book series and has formed a nonprofit, Biddle’s Scholarly Explorers. 

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Where did you grow up? 
I grew up in the Birmingham-Bloomfield area of Southeastern Michigan.

Did you read a lot as a child? 
I loved to read as a child, especially at night before going to bed.

What were some of your favorite authors and books? 
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White; Swallows and the Amazons by Arthur Ransome and The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene. 

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
I always had aspirations to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
After graduating from Sweet Briar College in Virginia, I commenced work in Boston in the investment industry, primarily composing interoffice brochures and correspondence. In the ensuing years, I travelled back to my home state of Michigan and worked for Automatic Data Processing, where I successfully developed, proofread, and edited training manuals for online databases. Still in Michigan, I developed marketing materials for a related automobile business.

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How did you get started writing? 
One of the fondest memories of my childhood was spending time with my parents and reading classic picture books together. Sharing stories with your children is a valuable way to get them on the path to loving books. This concept is what inspires me to write—creating engaging and edifying stories that families can enjoy reading amongst one another and re-telling throughout the years.  

Why do you write books? 
I enjoy sharing my imagination, creativity and positive expressions. These elements allow me to write naturally and unhindered.

What do you like best about writing? 
The best thing about writing is when a story catches fire and comes to life on the page. Suddenly, it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and what the characters are saying and doing—you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is instantaneously both obvious and surprising ... it’s magical and wonderful. When I sit down to write, I have the opportunity to revisit the many fond memories of my childhood. 

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
The most difficult thing I find about writing is refining an idea into only a few potent words to say the most important and entertaining things.

What do you think makes a good children’s story?
Children want to be challenged, made to think and reconsider; they want to learn and grow and become wiser. Young readers will always like a book with a wonderful story. However, they will only love a book that makes them see the world in a new way. 

Where do you get your inspiration?
I find my inspiration by observing the everyday interactions of wildlife in various settings. With a notepad in hand, I jot down my observations and ponder where these interplays could lead and where they could go. I think of a story. 

Tell us about your latest book.
I have recently completed a new Mr. Biddle book entitled,  A Very Good Christmas Indeed. This is a delightful English story about the spirit of the holiday season and the subtle importance of hope, love, and charity. 

What’s next for you?
I will always continue to pen the Mr. Biddle series of books. In addition, I have formed a nonprofit, Biddle’s Scholarly Explorers. This organization strives to promote literacy and environmental stewardship on a global level through access to reading materials, environmental guides and activities and compassionate educational services. 

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Is there anything that we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you or your books? 
My current book, Mr. Biddle and the Squirrel’s Tale may be purchased on Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, and mrbiddle.com.

A cinematic book trailer may be viewed in Nigel’s Nook on mrbiddle.com.

Spotlight Book: Penny the Pink Nose Poodle

 

The things that make us different are the things that make us wonderful... 

           ISBN: 978-1-68401-257-2

Penny the Pink Nose Poodle is a children’s book based on the real life story of Penny, who was rescued from an animal shelter by Norina, who later introduced the poodle to the rest of her family. 

The story follows Penny on her journey from the New Castle Pound to find her perfect forever home. Penny the Pink Nose Poodle is a reminder of the importance of showing kindness to others in need. 

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2nd Place winner, Animals/Pets category, 2018 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards

Five star review: "I love this book. I read it to my grandkids and they were not only delighted, but my 5-year-old granddaughter told her parents, "being different makes you more loveable and hugable." - CDNon, Amazon Reviewer

 

Available for purchase at Amazon, BarnesandNoble, and Mascot Books 

ISBN: 978-1-68401-257-2

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Clash of the Pronouns: Colossal Battles in a Book of Dinosaur Riddles

 

 

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by Noelle Sterne, Ph.D.

Writing a children’s book of riddles about dinosaurs may not seem an obvious arena for a clash over sexism. But during the final manuscript editing of my Tyrannosaurus Wrecks: A Book of Dinosaur Riddles (HarperCollins), with shock and frustration, I fought the battle of the dinosaur pronouns.

Nouns were natural for most of the 146 riddles—mother or father scenes, fairy tale characters. For the 35 riddles requiring a pronoun, in the earliest drafts I used the masculine form. But my (female) editor and I agreed that in the final version the feminine should get equal representation. A simple matter, we thought. We couldn’t have been more immensely wrong! Our painful conversation lasted a good hour. Despite women’s great strides, I saw how subtly sexual stereotypes still influence our language. 

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks is a just-for-fun children’s book. The riddles are punny, groany, and giggly, with no hidden agendas for gender-biased propaganda. Yet my editor and I were besieged by plaguing pronoun questions: What would support or offend various viewpoints? What would truly express our own convictions? What would aid or damage sales? And how much should a book mainly for entertainment defer to issues of social change?

Priorities kept changing and sometimes bashed head-on. The hostilities, and final truces, fell into three main camps:

1. Entrenched Male Stereotypes—Almost impenetrable stereotypical male occupations or activities forced us to keep the male pronoun.
2. Damaging Female Stereotypes—When the female pronoun would fortify stereotypes, we capitulated to the male.
3. Breaking Through the Stereotypes—We stormed the pronominal bastions with either pronoun, neutralizing stereotypes of both genders and illustrating positive role or behavior changes.

Entrenched Male Stereotypes
The Entrenched Male Stereotypes glared out at me, and one of the most glaring was cowboys. Only two cowgirls spring to mind—Annie Oakley and Dale Evans, and they weren’t exactly typical ranchhands. The male had this area tightly roped off:

Why was the Pentaceratops a good cattle rancher?
Because he had a lot of longhorns.

To bring us current, there’s the executive. This one really hurt, especially since so many women today are successful (and with their own Dino’s Club cards). But there were no women CEOS in the Fortune 500 companies at the time the book was published. In the latest update in 2017, only 6.4% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies were women. So, despite a few eminent exceptions, most women climbing to the glass ceiling succeed only in windexing it. Again the male pronoun was firmly wedged: 

Where does the dinosaur company president sit?
At his Tyrannosaurus desk.

Damaging Female Stereotypes
The second pronoun problem involved the largest number of riddles. Damaging Female Stereotypes kept surfacing in an insidious array of common, apparently harmless situations. We felt forced to keep the male pronoun to blunt female stereotypes of foolishness, ineptitude, or weakness. For example, that women are bad drivers:

Why is a dinosaur dangerous at the wheel of a car?
He’s a back-feet driver.

The clincher, though, for the male in several riddles was that little word “weight.” We women wrestle incessantly with the “right” body image that dominates our culture and wastes our energies. The male pronoun had to be used with blatant excess pounds: 

Why did the dinosaur go on a diet?
He weighed too much for his scales.

But the most damaging female stereotype was the ancient stamp of woman as sex object, which insinuated itself into many riddles. In protest against antediluvian sexism, we kept the male pronoun.

Why did the Stegosaurus go to the car repair shop?
So they could fix his broken tail spike.

What instrument does a dinosaur fossil play?
His trom-bone.

We kept the male pronoun because a bawdily graphic picture surfaces with her broken tail spike, which could attract a little too much attention. And what about that instrument? If she were playing, could she be accused of barely disguised piccolo envy?

Breaking Through the Stereotypes
I’m very glad to say, though, that with several riddles we really could break through the stereotypes. Some riddles reversed women’s traditional roles and others enlarged the possibilities for either sex in previously exclusive domains. In one riddle, we countered woman as the perpetual sole food supplier:

What did the dinosaur say as he lugged home the groceries?
“Oh, my aching Brachio-saurus!”

Woman’s driving cruised with no sexist implications and the added bonus that she can, and does, pay her own way:

What does a dinosaur pay when she drives over a bridge?
A reptoll.

At least one occupation broke through entrenched activities for both men and women. With children’s piano teachers stereotypically female, the male pronoun here was especially gratifying.

    What did the dinosaur piano teacher tell his students?
    “Be sure and practice your scales.”

The final two examples also gladdened my heart. In the first, woman is more than a body:

    What did the dinosaur say when she bought a new book?
    “I can really sink my teeth into this.”

A lifelong reader and writer, I could identify. And my blood surged at her biting intelligence. In the other riddle, a traditional role is reversed as a fine female speaks her mind:

    What does the dinosaur say to her sweetheart on Valentine’s Day?
    “I’m mud about you!”

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So, this is the saga of my dinosaur pronoun battle. Maybe it reopened some old wounds and left a few scars, but after the mud settled, the women held their own. Yet, I await the day when our language finally fashions a third set of pronouns that serves both sexes with equal rightness. On that day, with a book of dinosaur riddles or any other subject, male and female pronouns will provoke no fighting words (especially pronouns), even from the most fossilized among us.

Noelle Sterne, Ph.D. is a published author, editor, and writing coach. Visit her at www.trustyourlifenow.com.

Author Spotlight: Mark Stevens

Bestselling author Mark Stevens loves to tell stories. Ever since his Golden Retriever "Sky" was a puppy, Mark would put him to bed every night by reading a story to him. Now he has written a very special book about his very special dog to bring smiles to little readers all over the world.

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Where did you grow up? 
On the streets of New York. And literally on the mean, lower middle-class streets. 
 
Did you read a lot as a child? 
Voraciously for an interesting reason. Somehow, I was attracted to the famous men of the Old West – Kit Carson, Daniel Boone, General Custer – and read all of their biographies. It was as if I was transporting myself to a time and place I never lived in but somehow knew. 
 
What were some of your favorite authors and books? 
The book that had the biggest impact on my life to this day, is Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast. He was right. “If you are lucky enough to live in Paris as a young man, it will stay with you the rest of your life because Paris is truly a moveable feast.”
 
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I came from a broken family, wildly dysfunctional, violent, and nearly psychotic, and the last thing I had was the ability to plan what I wanted to do with my life. Except to survive. 
 
Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
On the surface, every job you could have – porter in a children’s hospital, bus boy, magazine subscription sales in the inner city – but paradoxically, they proved to be the greatest training ground and the most rewarding experiences a person who goes to prep school at Harvard could only dream of. 
 
How did you get started writing? 
I was always a storyteller. And the stories turned somehow to plays. And I became the Neil Simon of my elementary school, writing the now world-acclaimed “The Case of Safety Sam and the Rocking Chair.” I was a playwright first and then I took on the school newspaper. But my proudest coup was getting published in Poetry Magazine: The Lobby of the St. Agnes Hotel. 
 
Why do you write books? 
To continue the storytelling tradition and equally important, to educate myself. 
 
What do you like best about writing? 
The experience of discovery. What I mean by that is I don’t write with a plan or an outline and I am always amazed at what materializes before my eyes. This is particularly true for my first novel Evidence of Love. Each time I sat down to write (which I only do on my iPhone), I didn’t think I was creating characters’ tales, I believed I was joining them in action. Like they had lives of their own. And of course, my beloved dog Sky is the son who stayed home, who hikes with me every morning, who gives his life to my happiness, who I thank God for every day. So who wouldn’t want to write about such a beautiful creature who has magical powers? 
 
What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
Nothing. 
 
What do you think makes a good story? 
One that opens your eyes and your mind to something that you never knew, absorbed, experienced, or understood before. 
 
Where do you get your inspiration? 
The eternally mystifying, gorgeous, perplexing and exhilarating interaction between men and women. 
 
Tell us about your latest book.
I hike every single morning with my Golden Retriever, Sky, in rain, sleet, snow and sun. And I talk to him as if he’s a wonderful human being. Which, in part, I think he is. One morning on one of our hikes, a woman approached us, embraced Sky and said almost as if to the heavens, “You don’t have a mean bone in your body.” That day, I wrote a story about my boy, printed it and forgot about it. About a year later, my wife Carol found what I had written, as Sky’s loving mother, recognized it for the book it could be, arranged a photo shoot for Sky, and the rest is history. 

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Sky’s Amazing Dream is the story about a real Golden Retriever named Sky. He has a phantasmagorical dream: he can turn rocks into gold, he takes poor and sick children to happy times in a hot air balloon and he makes amusement parks appear. Sky goes to Hollywood to make movies, but only if they are free for children, including the popcorn! Word travels fast and the president of the United States visits Sky and names him “King Sky!” But Sky starts to get homesick for the big white house and his mommy and daddy so the president gives him a ride home on Air Force One. 
 
What’s next for you? 
I don’t plan. 
 
Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books? 
How I’ve managed to stay so devastatingly handsome. I wrote 25 books which have been translated into many languages around the world including the bestseller, Your Marketing Sucks, I am also the sole biographer of Carl Icahn, King Icahn: The Biography of a Renegade Capitalist and I also became a successful entrepreneur who built and sold a successful marketing firm.

For more information about Mark Stevens and his books, visit www.skysamazingdream.com

Author Spotlight: Susan Count

Susan Count writes at an antique secretary desk which belonged to the same grandmother who introduced her to horse books as a child. Today, she shares her love of horses through the pages of her award-winning Dream Horse Adventures series. 

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Where did you grow up? 
I’m proud to say I am the daughter of a career Army officer. We moved every nine months except for one assignment in Hawaii. Transferring schools in the middle of terms meant being constantly disoriented and translated to only having superficial friendships of convenience. But the lifestyle galvanized me with tremendous strength and confidence to take on unknown challenges. I think the experience gives depth to my stories.

Did you read a lot as a child? 
My father was twice deployed to a war zone and left us with my mother’s parents in Falls Village, Connecticut. His mother, Charlotte Dann Count worked as a librarian in the same town. She recognized in me a love for horses and supplied me with the classic horse books. It wasn’t that I loved to read as much as I wanted to experience a life with a horse and the only way that could happen was in a book. 

What were some of your favorite authors and books? 
Anything horse. Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, Misty. And Saturday morning television fed my equine addiction with Fury, Flicka, The Lone Ranger, and Roy Rogers. Back in the day, all heroes rode horses.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I knew at an early age that my gifting was in composition. While I had a natural aptitude for vocabulary, punctuation skills evaded mastery. I used what literary skills I had in my everyday life, but had no career aspirations. When my children were born, I was completely, exclusively devoted to their well-being and education.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
My first job was at a finance company where I learned that it is imperative to be responsible with credit. I loved being a secretary and organizing a work environment. Later, I earned an Associates Degree in applied science and worked as an x-ray technician. I never felt that it suited me and didn’t return to work after I was blessed with children. 

How did you get started writing? 
I’m always surprised to hear myself say, “I’m an author,” because I wrote a book by accident. In fact, if anyone had told me to write a book, I would have scoffed at the notion. Now there are three novels in the Dream Horse Adventures series. I started writing in a season of grief. Some days I wrote 100 words and others 800. The pain of my loss lifted and was replaced with sweet joy. I realized I was finally doing what I was born to do. I loved writing and I loved the story that seemed to magically flower on the page. It took me only three months to write my first book – Selah’s Sweet Dream. Then it took nearly two years to take it chapter by chapter to a critique group to shape it into an award-winning novel.

Why do you write books? 
I write because God has blessed me with gifts and abilities that He expects me to use for His glory. In the process, He gives me a great joy, a sense of a job well done, and a certainty that I have pleased my heavenly Father.

The real Selah and her painted dream.

The real Selah and her painted dream.

What do you like best about writing? 
Three things: First, my heart is completely blessed to get to read my stories to my grandchildren. Second, it’s a sweet satisfaction when a child runs to my book table and expresses delight in discovering a new horse book. Third, I’m greatly humbled and appreciative when readers take the time to leave a review on Amazon to tell me how much they loved the book. All these things give me great joy and bring a smile that cannot be suppressed. They encourage me to write on.

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
Meeting the expectations of people and conforming to the rules of publication. I was told by traditional publishing houses the market for horse books was saturated. 

What makes a good story? 
Experiencing the struggles of life through a character and seeing how the struggles change them. The relationship between Selah, her horse, and her grandfather is special, tender, and endearing. It is my calling to write wholesome books that take readers on a wild ride.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
The beauty of old age is the wealth of life experiences that enable me to layer nuance into a story so that it connects with readers of all ages. My grandchildren and my equine treasures keep the stories real. Horses have a strangle hold on my heart. I’m not sure if I was born with a love of horses or if I fell in love at first sight. I can’t imagine my life without my pasture ornaments and I hope to be able to ride them on the forest trails all the days of my life.

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Tell me about your latest book. 
My new release is Selah’s Painted Dream. It was a great delight to write and I’m excited to share it with you. I stalked the artist, who lives in Moscow, to obtain the rights to the cover. Thirteen-year-old Selah’s life is about as perfect as it gets. She has horse friends at school, and on weekends, she rides her black mare on Grandpa’s farm. Training the horse to do upper-level liberty work is what makes her heart beat. But one word can ruin a perfect life—moving. A move would separate her from her horse, so she plots to get her name on the farm mailbox instead. She’s sure she could persuade Grandpa—except he’s overly distracted by a sheep-loving neighbor. Determined not to let Grandpa's new sweetheart take her place in his heart, Selah puts her hope in a painted dream horse from Grandpa’s past. When she snugs up the girth and buckles on her spurs, Selah rides to win.

What’s next for you? 
While I have another horse adventure book in the back of my mind, it has not made it to paper yet. My grandboys are clamoring for stories about them and have given me some hilarious moments to paint into their adventure story. The Firefly Warriors is in the process of being submitted to traditional publishing. Saddle up and ride along! 


For more information about Susan Count and her books, visit www.susancount.com.
 

Author Spotlight: Shanalee Sharboneau

When Shanalee Sharboneau's son was born, he had severe reflux. She spent countless hours of the day and night rocking him and humming nursery tunes to calm him. None of them worked, until she began to hum a melody which later became an illustrated book series about the everlasting love between a parent and child.

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Where did you grow up? 
My childhood was spent in Texas, out in the country of Round Rock.

Did you read a lot as a child?
Of course I did read, yet not as much as the child you saw on the playground with a book in their hand. It was imagining mythical creatures and lands that I loved doing the most as a child. Books added to my ability to create and invent.    

What did you want to be when you grew up?
An archaeologist, studying Egyptian ruins and dinosaur bones. You will see these influences in my books.  

What are some of your favorite books/authors?
Anything SciFi. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo 

Tell me about some of the jobs you had before you became a writer. 
Surprisingly, it was never my intention of becoming a writer. I obtained a degree in Mathematics/Statistics from the University of Houston and went into the medical device field. I made it all the way to vice president of Physician Sales and Services.

How did you get started writing? 
My son, Braydon, was very sick with severe reflux when he was born. My husband and I almost lost him twice. In my desperation to keep Braydon calm and alive, I started singing to him. What was created was a song that expressed all of the things I would do with him if he promised to fight his reflux and live. The words in my picture books are the actual song I sang to him in my darkest hours.    

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Why do you write books? 
When the first book came out, My Mama Loves Me: I'm Her Little Boy, I never would have foreseen the impact of the book. Many moms receiving the book for the first time would start to tear when they would get to page 3 or 4.  It was such a surprise to me and still touches my heart when I see this happen.  

What do you like best about writing? 
When moms and dads write to me explaining their child will not put down the book for months. I had one mom ask me to "not take this the wrong way," but she hides the book from her daughter on a nightly basis. Somehow, the daughter finds the book and asks her mom to read it to her one more time. It just doesn't get any better than that.  

What do you find the most challenging about writing? 
In the books, for me it was critical to capture the relationship between a parent and child. For example, in the first book, My Mama Loves Me: I'm Her Little Boy, since it was about my son and I, working with the illustrator Israel Dilean to capture the beauty in our relationship was fun. When I was asked to do the second book, My Mama Loves Me: I'm Her Little Girl, it was a challenge because I did not have a daughter. For this, I asked friends who had daughters and referred to my own mother multiple times. When I went onto the Dad books, this was one interview after another starting with my father. And studying fathers and their daughters or sons out in public.  

What makes a good story? 
Krakens, Loch Ness monsters, exotic animals and mythical fairies ... of course! Truly, what makes a good story is one that touches people, whether it be by words or pictures.  

Where do you get your inspiration?
In the beautiful relationships between a parent and a child. It's amazing to watch and this is where I capture moments for my next books. Many parents and grandparents never know why I'm staring at them when at the coffee shop, or restaurant, or in church.  

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Tell me about your latest book. 
Coming out on Father's Day this year, is My Daddy Loves Me: I'm His Little Boy. It was really enjoyable producing this book. It is made of the journeys that my husband, Perry, and our son, Braydon would like to take in the future. They both had strong influences over the book.  

What’s next for you? 
My illustrator and I are working on the Grandparents series. When working on the scenes, I do start laughing at times. Grandparents are an influential part of a child's life. I have so many great memories of my own grandparents, and my son is just as attached to his grandparents. We call his grandma the love of his life and his grandpa his partner in crime. I believe most grandmas are the inspiration of our lives and grandpas are best to get in trouble with when your parents aren't looking. Hopefully these great relationships show themselves in the next books.   
  
Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books? 
Life is such an adventure, made to be lived. Learning about the world and other cultures is the definition of true happiness and awareness. My wish would be that this is felt by every child and parent reading my books, and inspires them to go see what is outside their front door.  

For more information about Shanalee Sharboneau and her books, visit myfamilylovesme.org.
 

Fathers Incorporated Partners with Little Free Library

by Melissa Fales

Real Dads Read Barbershop partner Freddie Johnson, III reading with Kenneth Braswell Jr. at Anytime Cutz in Atlanta.

Real Dads Read Barbershop partner Freddie Johnson, III reading with Kenneth Braswell Jr. at Anytime Cutz in Atlanta.

Having established 51 children’s libraries inside metro Atlanta barbershops through its Real Dads Read program, Fathers Incorporated is now joining forces with Little Free Library to get even more books into the hands of low-income children. This joint venture will result in an additional 50 Little Free Libraries installed at various Atlanta elementary schools, making books available to children even after school hours and on weekends.

“With this partnership, we’ll not only be increasing access to books for low-income children, we’ll also be increasing the engagement and involvement of fathers in their children’s education,” says Kenneth Braswell, executive director of Fathers Incorporated.

In 2004, Braswell founded the non-profit organization to encourage men to be more involved in their children’s lives. He says the move was in response to his experience growing up and his initial experience as a father himself. “I know personally what it means to not have a father in your life,” says Braswell, who regrets not being a more active participant in his eldest child’s life. “I was young and dumb,” he says. “I didn’t recognize the role I needed to play. When my second daughter was born, it crystallized for me the importance of my presence in my children’s lives.”

The Real Dads Read initiative that places children’s books in barbershops has been an overwhelming success for Fathers Incorporated. “Research shows that literacy in high-poverty areas isn’t due to a lack of interest in reading, it’s the lack of access to books,” says Braswell. Since children are allowed to take the books from the barbershop home and keep them, Real
Dads Read is constantly replenishing its stock, to the tune of roughly 250 books each month. “That’s exactly what we want,” says Braswell. “We want these kids to have books. We’re trying to reduce the number of book deserts, particularly in low-income communities where the majority of children do not have any books to read in their homes.”

The barbershop library project earned Real Dads Read a reputation for making a difference. Schools started calling Braswell for advice on how to get more fathers engaged in their classrooms. Last September, Braswell was at a school in Decatur when he had a big idea. “I thought that a Little Free Library would fit in perfectly with the outside of the school,” he
says.

Little Free Library is a non-profit organization that facilitates free book exchanges and sells
simple, attractive wooden boxes to house the books, or shares the blueprints to build one. Typically hung on a post, a Little Free Library often resembles a bird house and operates much like the “need a penny, take a penny” dish next to a cash register. “The idea is to let the library become part of the streetscape and part of the neighborhood,” says Braswell.

Braswell installed Little Free Libraries at three elementary schools in Decatur, posting photos of
the events on social media. When Little Free Library CEO Todd Bol happened to see them, he decided he wanted to learn more about Real Dads Read and contacted Braswell. “The rest is history,” Braswell says. “We’ve been pretty much joined at the hip ever since. Real Dads Read will be establishing reading clubs in each of the 50 schools that will receive a Little Free Library. “We want to engage fathers with some literary activities,” says Braswell. “We’re a father agency, not a literacy agency, but one thing we do know is that when fathers read with their children, good things happen.”

Little Free Library will also be partnering with Real Dads Read on a mobile unit project that places crates of children’s books in the back of specially-marked police cruisers. “The police car becomes a mobile library,” says Braswell. “The kids know that these officers have books. It helps to create a conversation between law enforcement and the children in their community. It builds connections.”

The project is set to start in Atlanta soon. In addition to its Real Dads Read efforts, Fathers Incorporated is launching a new campaign in June called Drive to Five. “With this program, we’re narrowing our focus to fathers who are raising children ages infant to 5 years old,” says Braswell. “We believe that this cohort is where we can make the largest impact on children.” According to Braswell, non-resident dads are far more likely to totally disconnect from their children by the time the children are age five than resident dads. “Forming lasting bonds during those first five years is absolutely crucial,” says Braswell. “I’ve seen the impact that
fatherlessness has on communities, especially low-income communities. It’s devastating. This work we do is to ensure that the dads we work with are as intimately connected as early as possible.”

One aspect of Drive to Five will be to provide educational materials about responsible parenting to new fathers and fathers-to-be. The branding for Drive to Five features a superhero cartoon character named Adam, and Braswell says he wants regular, everyday dads to learn to see themselves this way. “He’s not Super Dad,” says Braswell. “Yes, he’s standing there with a cape, but he can’t stop bullets in his teeth. He doesn’t have x-ray vision. What he does have is Daddy
power. When a father reads with his child, that’s a power. When he has a positive interaction with the mother of his child, that’s another power. I want every father to understand how much daddy power he has. Each father has to activate his own powers, but he has to be aware of them first. That’s where we come in.” •

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