Author Spotlight: Zachary Astrowsky


At the age of 14, Zachary Astrowsky is a high school honors student, an actor, a literacy leader, a public speaker, and the award-winning author of the science fiction adventure, The Uncontrolled.

Where did you grow up?
I’m still growing up in Scottsdale, AZ.

Have you always loved to read?
Yes. My first book series was the Harry Potter series, which I flew through in first grade. Since then, I’ve read many Sci-Fi, dystopian books.

What are some of your favorite books/authors?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is my favorite book. I got the chance to meet him on Oct. 22nd and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. I also like the I am Number 4 book series by Pittacus Lore, and the Maze Runner series by James Dashner.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I am a full-time high school student, and I am currently working as a teacher’s assistant in a 7th grade Sunday School class. I have also worked as an actor in two professional musical theatre shows, Carousel and A Christmas Story. Finally, from time to time, I am hired through my talent agent for acting jobs. Being paid to do what I love is amazing.

What are your career goals?
Someday I hope to be an astrophysicist and a writer.

How did you get started writing?  
I had a lot of cool ideas when I was younger so I started jotting them down. Later, I began joining those ideas which ended in the creation and completion of my novel.

What do you like best about writing?
Writing can be so emotional and meaningful; I like that it can change someone’s perspective on life which I find to be an amazing thing. Writing also encompasses so many genres, which is why I am always encouraging the students I speak to at school events to read more and to write more.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
The time it takes to edit is the most challenging part of writing. However, I have learned the importance of being flexible. For example, I had to change many paragraphs, and even plot lines, when writing my book but of course, it’s worth it in the end when the story is well written and it holds the reader’s attention.

What do you think makes a good story?
One that can keep a reader interested and turning each page of the book.

Where do you get your inspiration?
In the beginning, my friends and family provided me a lot of inspiration. Lately, it has been my readers and the kids I speak to at my speaking events that have been inspiring me to write more.

What is your favorite reading/writing snack?
Cheez-Its, Goldfish crackers, and pudding.

What writing advice do you have for young, aspiring authors?
Keep working your hardest at writing as it can influence someone’s life and the end goal of having a completed novel is worth the effort.

If you could spend a day in any imaginary world from a book you’ve read, where would it be and why?
All of my favorite books are dystopian-themed, so I would spend a day on any crazy adventure if given the opportunity.


Tell us about your latest book/project.
I am currently working on a sequel to The Uncontrolled. With my busy school and sports schedule, it has been difficult finding the time needed, but I hope that will change soon.

In The Uncontrolled, the robotic way people smile is John's first clue that things are not quite as they seem. His parents are forced to tell him about a plot so abominable that it upends his world. At age 14, everyone is brainwashed with a tracking device by a hidden society called Tracker for Globe or T.F.G. John and his friends learn about the organization when it is their turn to be implanted with the device. Over time, plot twists come into play and John starts seeing visions of the future. He also finds out about a second secret group, the Renegades, who work together with John to take on the T.F.G. in an exciting and unexpected battle.

Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like people to know about you and/or your books?
I am very appreciative of all the support I have received from my family, friends, and readers. I also feel very fortunate that Reading is Fundamental has partnered with me so together, we can motivate more children to read. When I am not playing soccer or the drums, I really do enjoy speaking to children about the importance of reading, writing, and finding a passion in something that inspires them.

For more information about Zachary Astrowsky and his books, visit theuncontrolled.wixsite.com/website.

November Book Reviews


Check out our newest book reviews!

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What If Dinosaurs Were Pink?
by Jarrett Whitlow, Daniela Dogliani (Warren Publishing) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Many great discoveries may have started with those small, but powerful words, “What if?” They are words that provoke thought, stir imagination, and often push us to greatness. Or, maybe just provide us with moments to giggle and wonder. What If Dinosaurs Were Pink? opens possibilities, and encourages us to go beyond the common and wonder. (Ages 2-8)

Made For Me
by Zack Bush, Gregorio De Lauretis (Familius) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This tremendously sweet book will fill every empty space it finds. Love and a sense of belonging flow on every rhythmic word like a cool brook satisfies on a warm summer day. Illustrations by De Lauretis bring this loving father’s heart into full vivid view. It’s simply delightful. The stamp on the inside cover is a very special touch. (Ages 3-5)

The Best Mother
by C. M. Surrisi, Diane Goode (Harry N. Abrams) Reviewer: Julianne Black
Maxine is convinced that the problem is with her mother. The answer is, of course, to find a new mom—one who doesn’t bother her with hair brushing and would let her wear her slippers in the snow. But as she interviews other moms for the position, a funny thing starts to happen … she realizes that her mom just might be the best one after all. Loveable read for all ages. (Ages 3-7)

Nanna’s Button Tin
by Dianne Wolfer, Heather Potter (Candlewick) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Life is captured in moments and held in stories. And who better than Grandma to rehearse them through time? Nanna’s special button tin holds treasures from that past that just may hold the answer to today’s problem. The illustrations of Heather Potter are as heartwarming as the tale of this child and her grandma, sorting through memories and tokens past to refresh childhood treasures of the present. Bonding at its best! (Ages 4-6)

Hello, Monster!
by Clémentine Beauvais, Maisie Paradise Shearring (Thames & Hudson) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is a great exercise of imagination! Its creativity and delightful rambling are sure to be a winner. It also carries a humorous and enlightening perspective of child vs. adult playground meetings. It’s quite an entertaining tale. (Ages 4-7)

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Thank You, Omu!
by Oge Mora (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
A giving heart is never left lacking. Omu’s stew smells so good! As it cooks, the wonderful aroma fills the air and brings many in search of a taste. Omu’s preparation for her own dinner brings much pleasure to a parade of visitors, leaving her big pot empty at dinnertime. However, as she sits at her table, another knock comes, and all her guests return bearing ample treats to share. A heartwarming story of sharing and community. (Ages 4-7)

Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant Of Surprise
by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This story is sure to delight ALL its readers! Especially those who have held such wonderfully unforgettable conversations with a child. Chicken has misunderstood her teacher’s comment, “Every good story has an element of surprise,” and she searches for him with pure joy as Papa reads. The illustrations are fun and lively. Whatever stage of life we may occupy, this book is sure to delight! (Ages 4-8)

Lester, The Scared Little Leaf
by Nina Gardner (Certa Publishing) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
Letting go and fear of the unknown can have crippling effects. Fall has arrived with all its beauty and changes. Chuckles of splendor can be heard in the air as leaves let go of their tree and soar in the breeze. But, Lester clings tighter to his branch with a fear of falling. What if he doesn’t like it on the ground? His friends assure him of the joy that’s ahead of him as he watches them sail with laughter filling the air. Can Lester let go of the life he knows so well? Can he find the excitement of change? This is a great confidence-builder as we follow this tender leaf into the exhilaration of newness. (Ages 4-8)

Super Manny Stands Up!
by Kelly DiPucchio, Stephanie Graegin (Atheneum Books) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
Author Kelly DiPucchio and illustrator Stephanie Graegin unveil their brilliant picture book with a super-sized lesson, showing a raccoon that remembers he is strong, brave, and powerful at just the right moment. Super Manny Stands Up! is written to let all readers know that they have their own superpower within themselves. Rather than being a bystander when seeing injustice, they can don their invisible cape like Manny the raccoon and remind themselves that their voice can make a huge difference in a difficult situation. This story is a reminder that one person can make a world of difference in the lives of others. (Ages 4-8)

I Love Kisses
by Sheryl McFarlane, Brenna Vaughan (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) Reviewer: Sherry L. Hoffman
Sheryl McFarlane and Brenna Vaughan shower readers with affection with their story I Love Kisses. This adorable picture book is a sweet story to read with a little one. Kisses from our pets included, youngsters will hear about lots of different kinds of kisses from the ones who love them. Children can gift this book to a parent or grandparent as a reminder that they appreciate having them in their lives. (Ages 4-8)

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My Grandfather’s War
by Glyn Harper, Jenny Cooper (EK Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This story bridges the chasm that separates young and old, and reminds us of the precious sacrifices that secure our freedom, and the aftermath of war. As a young girl innocently seeks answers to her grandfather’s grief, she unknowingly opens old wounds and discovers his sadness is a legacy of the Vietnam War and his experiences there. This is a sensitive exploration of the lingering cost of war and of the PTSD so many returned servicemen experience. (Ages 4-8)

A Tuba Christmas
by Helen L. Wilbur, Mary Reaves Uhles (Sleeping Bear Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
There is so much goodness packed in these pages. My delight doesn’t know which one to address. The empowerment of Ava’s self-declaration, the hardships she must overcome to achieve it, the pure joy of success, or the history of a tuba concert and the fun and amazing facts about the tuba itself? There is just so much to enjoy in the story. And the illustrations are just as fun and lively as the content they express. (Ages 5-7)

Hannah’s Tall Order: An A to Z Sandwich
by Linda Vander Heyden, Kayla Harren (Sleeping Bear Press) Reviewer: Julianne Black
Hannah’s Tall Order is delicious fun for parents and children alike! Adorable illustrations pull you through the sing-song storytelling at a comfortable pace while your audience is entranced by its goofy details. The mess, the wear and tear on poor Mr. McDougal, and the craziness of the food combinations are wonderfully amusing. This is among my top picks for read-aloud books this school year! (Ages 5-7)

The Things That I Love about Trees
by Chris Butterworth, Charlotte Voake (Candlewick) Reviewer: Julianne Black
Teachers rejoice! Here is a beautiful, fun, and factual book about trees that will be a treasured addition to an art or science room. From spring to winter, The Things I Love about Trees places quiet little tree factoids along the storyline for an information double dose, cleverly wrapped in soft illustration. This showcase of buds to bark makes a wonderful gift for nature lovers of any age. (Ages 5-8)

The Lying King
by Alex Beard (Greenleaf Book Group Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This is a quality book all the way around. Its large size, bright color, and solid binding gives an assurance it will be around for a while. And its timeless tale we’ll never outgrow. Foundation blocks that build successful lives are often found in childhood stories. This simple, well-rounded story gives full view to the multilayered effects and outcomes of liars, bullies, and those who would misuse privilege and authority, while enforcing the strength of unity sufficient to overthrow it. (Ages 6-9)

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The Boy Who Sprouted Antlers
by John Yeoman, Quentin Blake (Thames & Hudson) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This extravagantly fanciful tale brings two conflicting thoughts to mind with great hilarity. Anything is possible if you set your mind to it, but at the same time, be careful what you wish for! Great story for an encouraging good laugh! (Ages 6-9)

EZ and the Intangibles
by Bob Katz (Fitzroy Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Ethan “EZ” Zanay loves the sport of basketball and it’s really unfortunate he’s so darn bad at it. When he makes an embarrassing mistake in front of his teammates, EZ finally decides to call it quits. But he still clings to the fantasy that somehow, he might yet turn into that unheralded player who surprises everyone by coming through in the clutch. His best shot at a comeback is to specialize in those subtle moves and unseen maneuvers that don’t show up in the standard stat sheets. This story will inspire kids like Ethan, who don’t excel at sports and yet want to make their parents proud. I really love how Ethan found a great solution to make himself an important part of the team. (Ages 7-12)

Through the Barbed Wire (A Wild at Heart Mystery)
by Isabella Allen, Cynthia Meadows (Brown Books Kids) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil
This new mystery series will be rubbing elbows with some pretty elite writers in this genre. The author’s fresh approach to the story’s wild child heroine brings a fascinating appeal. We are welcomed in to explore the vastness of a sprawling land, and the heart of a young girl who loves it. She knows every inch of it, and every critter and creature she shares it with. It’s there where she feels most alive. And someone wants to take it from her. Can she find out whom? Can she save her land and preserve the beauty of her wildness? It’s worth the read to find out! (Ages 8-12)

The House with Chicken Legs
by Sophie Anderson (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Macaulay Smith, age 7
The House with Chicken Legs is one of the most creative books I have ever read! I can relate to the main character Marinka, even though she is 12 and I am only 7. Like me, Marinka is an only child so she does not have other kids at home to play with. Unlike me, her house has chicken legs that take her all over the world at a moment’s notice, which makes it pretty tough to make friends. In my family, we move every three years; Marinka sometimes moves three times a year! But when Marinka does finally get the chance to make a real-life friend, that is when the book really gets interesting! She must go on a mysterious journey into the afterlife to try and save her grandma, and she will need all the friends she has if she is going to succeed. If you like to use your imagination, then this is the book for you. (Ages 8-12)

The Third Mushroom
by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 11
The Third Mushroom is a playful book that also teaches important life lessons. Ellie has a passion for science and convinces her grandpa Melvin (a famous scientist in a 14-year-old boy’s body) to do science experiments with her at the county fair. I really liked that the book includes Mellie’s Gallery of Scientists that gives you facts about notable scientists, what they achieved, invented, a little about their childhood as well as a quote. (Ages 8-12)

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Baking Class: 50 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Bake!
by Deanna F. Cook (Storey Publishing) Reviewers: Sherry and Jocelyn Hoffman
Baking Class is a complete compilation of over 50 child-friendly recipes equipped with stickers, stencils, and gift tags to encourage creativity. Step-by-step instruction with pictures and descriptions make this recipe book user-friendly, especially for beginners and visual learners. The setup is so welcoming, and the helpful advice incorporated throughout seems to elicit a feeling as if a good friend is right there walking the reader through each recipe. Deanna F. Cook has stirred up another delicious recipe of fun with this book. (Ages 8-12)

The Lotterys More or Less
by Emma Donoghue, Caroline Hadilaksono (Arthur A. Levine Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Sumac Lottery is the keeper of her family’s traditions—from Pow Wow to Holi, Carnival to Hogmanay, Sumac’s on guard to make sure that no Lottery celebration gets forgotten. But this winter all Sumac’s seasonal plans go awry when a Brazilian visitor overstays his welcome. A terrible ice storm grounds all flights, so one of her dads and her favorite brother can’t make it home from India. Can Sumac hang on to the spirit of the season, even if nothing is going like a Lottery holiday should? This is a great lesson that shows sometimes you must try many ideas before you finally find the one that solves your problem. Kids will love this story. (Ages 8-12)

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Short & Skinny
by Mark Tatulli (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) Reviewer: Diana Perry
As a middle schooler, Mark finds himself on the smaller side of the physical spectrum and it has really wreaked havoc on his confidence. So to end his bullying woes and get the girl—or at least the confidence to talk to the girl—he starts to explore bulking up by way of the miracle cures in the backs of his comic books. But his obsession with beefing up is soon derailed by a new obsession: Star Wars, the hottest thing to hit the summer of 1977. As he explores his creative outlets as well as his cures to body image woes, Mark sets out to make his own stamp on the film that he loves. This is a wonderful book to inspire kids who feel left out and long to fit in and feel special. It teaches that the answer to this dilemma is closer than you think. (Ages 9-12)

Freedom for Me: A Chinese Yankee
by Stacie Haas (Melody Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry
As the Civil War rages, 15-year-old Thomas Beck longs to fight for his country. He’s underage, but his brother claims there’s another reason he can’t fight: There’s no such thing as a Chinese Yankee. Assumed a slave because of his odd appearance—including his traditional Chinese queue (long braid), Thomas soon discovers that giving battle with his regiment isn’t enough to shed the Chinese label from his Yankee status. It’s not until Thomas befriends a runaway slave and the war moves toward a pivotal moment in Gettysburg that he begins to understand the true meaning of freedom in America. Young readers need to know this story and how our country, once divided, became the strong nation it is today. (Ages 10+)

The Reckless Club
by Beth Vrabel (Running Kids Press) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 11
The Reckless Club is a book about five middle schoolers who spend their last day of summer before school starts volunteering at Northbrook Retirement Village as a punishment from their principal. This very diverse group includes Jason (the nobody), Lilith (the drama queen), Wes (the flirt), Ally (the athlete), and Rex (the rebel), who come together and learn a lot about compassion, the meaning of friendship, the aging process and how to get along. I really loved the letter from the principal in the front of the book as well as the letter from the five kids at the end. The Reckless Club is filled with heart and humor. (Ages 10-14)

Curse of the Komodo
by M. C. Berkhousen (Progressive Rising Phoenix Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Luke and Austin Brockway can’t seem to stop arguing. Luke says he’d rather have a grizzly bear for a brother and Austin would prefer a Komodo dragon. While on a school trip to the zoo, a violent storm creates chaos in the atmosphere and their wishes are granted! Luke can’t eat the frozen rats he gets for supper, and Austin is scared of his 700-pound roommates. A mean guard with a temper and a cattle prod adds to their misery. They soon learn that they are victims of an old family curse that can’t be undone until the next violent storm. Until then, they must help each other survive. This is the ultimate field trip nightmare ... and young readers will be most entertained. (Ages 10-14)

Intrigue in Istanbul: An Agnes Kelly Mystery Adventure
by Christine Keleny (CKBooks Publishing) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Set in 1961, during a time of the Cold War and space race. But that isn’t on 12-year-old Agnes’ radar. Her dad has died and during a trip with her grandmother to Istanbul, she accidentally finds out it was under “suspicious” circumstances, but that’s just the beginning. I really enjoyed the letter from Agnes that teaches readers definitions of many of the words and phrases used in the book. True to its title, this book was very intriguing. A great bedtime read. (Ages 10-14)

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Nate Expectations
by Tim Federle (Simon & Schuster) Reviewer: Diana Perry
When the news hits that E.T.: The Musical wasn’t nominated for a single Tony Award, the show closes, leaving Nate both out of luck and out of a job. And while Nate’s castmates are eager to move on, Nate knows it’s back to square one, also known as Jankburg, Pennsylvania. Where horror—aka high school—awaits. Desperate to turn his life from flop to fabulous, Nate takes on a huge freshman English project: He’s going to make a musical out of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. But he soon realizes the only thing harder than being on Broadway is being a freshman—especially when you’ve got a secret you’re desperate to sing out about. This story teaches young readers how to be problem solvers and to utilize their talents. A very entertaining book. (Ages 10-14)

Guinevere: At the Dawn of Legend
by Cheryl Carpinello (Beyond Today Educator) Reviewer: Diana Perry
Guinevere and Cedwyn find themselves embroiled in a life-or-death struggle. Not only are they in danger, but so are the kids of Cadbury Castle. Renegades—foiled in their attempt to kidnap the princess—steal the children of Cadbury Castle to sell as slaves. Guinevere and Cedwyn vow to rescue the children, but a miscalculation puts them all in more danger. Will their courage be strong enough to survive, or will one make the ultimate sacrifice? This story has everything a young reader wants: action, adventure, tests of bravery and friendship, magic, and so many twists and turns. It is quite an adventure! (Ages 10-14)

 

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

Story Monsters Ink Announces New Column from Judy Newman, President of Scholastic Book Clubs

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Each month, Scholastic Book Clubs distributes fliers to more than 800,000 teachers with images of colorful, promising books for their students, who enthusiastically select which ones they want to order and read. According to Judy Newman, President and Reader-in-Chief of Scholastic Book Clubs, a division of Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education, and media company, teachers do the most important work on the planet: educating children and inspiring them to see themselves as readers. “At Scholastic Book Clubs, teachers are our partners in our efforts to get more books into all kids’ hands,” Newman says. “Our model is all about choice. And we know from the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report, when kids choose their books, they read more. It’s about making books and reading fun and accessible to all.”

To continue that effort, Newman has begun a monthly column in Story Monsters Ink magazine. She will share stories of her own and resources for educators to encourage a joy and love of reading in all children. Her first column will appear in the November, 2018 issue of the magazine.

The column, entitled “Life of a Reader,” similar to Newman’s own weekly Scholastic Book Clubs blog, is one more way people can connect with Scholastic Book Clubs and Story Monsters Ink magazine and learn about books they might want to read or authors they want to know more about—and get behind the scenes glimpses into the world of children’s literacy. “I am so honored that Judy will be writing a monthly column in Story Monsters Ink,” says Linda F. Radke, a former special education teacher, president of Story Monsters LLC and publisher of Story Monsters Ink. “She is a champion of children’s literacy and we share the same goal: to encourage and inspire a love of reading in young minds.”

Story Monsters Ink® is an award-winning magazine that offers the latest news on children's books and products, celebrity and independent author profiles, book reviews, activities, reading guides, special featured columns, and more! It’s a monster of a magazine, filled with great reads for growing minds! To learn more, visit www.StoryMonsters.com. To learn more about Judy Newman and Scholastic Book Clubs, visit www.judynewmanatscholastic.com.

James Patterson Joins Story Monsters Ink as Monthly Columnist

 

James Patterson has a way with words. Best known for his suspenseful thrillers and middle grade book series, his titles have sold over 375 million copies and he holds the record for the most New York Times bestsellers. With a generosity as endless as his imagination, he has donated millions of dollars to school libraries over the years through his partnership with Scholastic with one simple goal: To get kids reading. From his vantage point as a literary lion, Patterson knows as well as anyone the power that words can wield.

photo by Stephanie Diani

photo by Stephanie Diani

Not only does Patterson write for kids, he will now be writing directly to them and their teachers and parents in a monthly column with Story Monsters Ink magazine. His column will debut in the October 2018 issue of the popular magazine. 

With content kids can relate to, Story Monsters Ink is the go-to literacy resource for K-12 teachers and librarians. Each issue offers the latest book news, reviews, author interviews, reading lists, and more. In their efforts to get more students reading and writing, the editors also work with teachers and parents to publish student-written articles and book reviews in each issue.

“There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading,” Patterson says. “There are kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books. If we can put the right book in their hands, the story will do the rest.”

To learn more about Story Monsters Ink, visit www.StoryMonsters.com, email info@storymonsters.com or call 480-940-8182.

Author Spotlight: Sherry L. Hoffman

A teacher, reading specialist, book reviewer, and author whose educational and inspiring books have earned the Story Monsters Seal of Approval, Eric Hoffer Award, Mom’s Choice Award, Royal Dragonfly Book Award, Purple Dragonfly Book Award, and most recently, Book of the Year for Creative Child Magazine, today’s author spotlight is Sherry L. Hoffman.

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Where did you grow up? 
I grew up on Forest St. in Franklin Township, which is part of Carbon County in Northeast PA. My parents’ ranch home was located directly across from my grandparents’ campground, providing endless summer memories of swimming, volleyball, campfires, riding golf carts, and playing cards with friends and family. Being nestled in the foothills of the Poconos near the borough of Lehighton allowed me to witness all four seasons in beautiful landscapes of mountains, valleys, fields, and lakes. Changing of the seasons always seemed to elicit a feeling of peacefulness, yet excitement of what was to come. There is something about the beauty of nature that inspires me to reflect and want to capture it in pictures or in words.

I still remain in Franklin Township, a few miles from my childhood home. I love that my children could enjoy the area where I grew up and even attend the same elementary school as I did years ago.    

Did you read a lot as a child? 
Reading was and still remains a huge part of my world. My mom was one of my first teachers. She knew how to capture my attention and teach new words by doing crafts like creating a picture book about my family. As a child I enjoyed pop-up books and books like Hop on Pop, Ten Apples Up on Top, Are You My Mother?, There is a Monster at the End of this Book, and Amelia Bedelia. Later on, trips to the grocery store typically yielded new additions to our library with Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books, as well as Bop! and Teen Beat! magazines. 

What are some of your favorite literary memories? 
Some of my favorite literary memories were snuggling next to my mom as she read picture books. She always showed an interest in my reading and learning. I loved when we would set up the Fisher Price record player to listen to books on records while reading along to the stories. The narrators and characters speaking in the stories grabbed my attention and made me want to continue reading more and more. 

What did you want to be when you grew up? 
Around the time I was 10 years old, my friends Dorinda, Alicia, and I formed the Gals’ Club, in which we were the sole creators, writers, and editors of our own neighborhood newspaper entitled Whippoorwill Lake Newspaper; the newspaper was named after my grandparents’ campground located directly across the street from my house. We used a typewriter and set up our shop in our clubhouse, the tent camper in my family’s backyard. We sold our newspapers for 10 cents each and delivered the papers via our bikes and sometimes by my friends’ little red Radio Flyer wagon. Our newspaper captured the attention of a reporter from the local newspaper. Our story was featured in the Times News, and we were invited to visit and tour the Times News building. Seeing the whole process of creating the local newspaper was fascinating. I began to think that one day I would love to be a writer or reporter, as well as being a teacher. 

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer. 
I grew up helping with office work in my family’s fuel oil delivery business R.F. Ohl Fuel Oil located in Lehighton, PA. My older brother Brad delivered fuel oil with my dad, while my mom, big brother Steve, and I worked in the office. Seeing the business grow through the family’s hard work and perseverance was inspiring to me. I knew I would have to do the same to reach my life goals. 

I went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from Kutztown University and a master of education degree from East Stroudsburg University. I worked in my hometown school district for 17 years. I substituted grades K – 12 for two years until I was hired as a full-time classroom teacher at Lehighton Area Middle School in 2002. While a middle school teacher, I taught science and reading to 6th graders for 10 years, and I was a grade 5 to 8 reading specialist for three years. Later, I transferred within the district to Mahoning Elementary and Shull-David Elementary schools as a Title 1 reading specialist for grades 1 to 4. 

Recently, I joined my husband at our towing and repair business All-Points Towing, Recovery, and Service Center to work as the office manager, concentrate on my writing, and having a flexible schedule to raise our three children Megan, age 13, Jocelyn, age 10, and Sawyer, age 9. 
  
How did you get started writing? 
As soon as I could hold a crayon, I grew an interest in writing. I recall watching my parents write at the kitchen table as I tried to copy what they wrote in my best handwriting. Although others may have seen scribbles and swirls on my paper, I saw letters and words making up my name and stories. My parents entertained my ideas by listening and encouraging. 

As previously mentioned, my best friends and I had our own newspaper. Their parents and mine supported our endeavors, as well as our neighbors. One next-door neighbor in particular, Mary Miller, enjoyed writing letters to our column “Dear Gals.” She asked us questions about the baby deer that were spotted in the neighborhood, sent us recipes for our newspaper, and even requested answers for our crossword puzzles to be printed in our following newspaper. If we sold lemonade to raise funds for our paper or other endeavors, she was there as a solid customer and supporter. 

As I continued school, my teachers were influential in my writing. From Mrs. Snowberger and Miss Cox teaching how to write the ABCs, form my first words, and rhyme to Mrs. Sowden and Miss Mulligan teaching me how to write in my neatest cursive writing, teachers were some of my biggest supporters and influences along my literary journey. I can recall Mr. Gimble and Mr. Eisenhower teaching me about the classics and introducing me to literary greats in stories as well as building upon the fundamentals of writing, enabling an expansion of vocabulary and stretching my mind to new levels. 

Mr. Novey in high school provided opportunities for projects and life lessons as my friends Misty, Mike, Brett, and I learned the value of researching, preparing, creating, and presenting a project about the decade of the 1940s. Through this, we collectively learned that sometimes we can have the best laid plans fall through, and at times we just need to use our research and knowledge to “wing it” to get the desired results. That concept has been applied to my writing and in life on many occasions; sometimes the best pieces of writing happen when you take a different direction and let go of anything holding you back.

College professors like Professor Harkins at Lehigh Carbon Community College expressed with animated gestures that “Variety is the spice of life.” Dr. Chambers at Kutztown University opened my eyes to new literature by Patricia Polacco and her love of Harry Potter was contagious. I found myself immersed in children’s books during the summer of 2000 while studying to become an elementary school teacher. I wrote reviews to create a book log of 40 books as assigned, and she encouraged me to one day write children’s book reviews. Though I did not pursue that at the time due to a busy school schedule, I kept that positive remark in the back of my mind. Years later, I joined with Story Monsters Ink to do just that. Dr. McLaughlin, Dr. Ramano, and Dr. Moore from East Stroudsburg University challenged me to research, read, and reflect, all while finding creative ways to reach the different learning styles of my students. 

Dr. R and the Colonial Association of Reading Educators (CARE) championed my writing efforts by connecting opportunities to present at the Keystone State Reading Conference in State College, PA and educator receptions and book signings at Barnes and Noble stores. 

Together the teachers in my life taught me that writing can be fun, entertaining, and a learning tool. Because of that, I used my love of poetry and songwriting to create songs about character, science, and reading for my middle school students and later turned them into books for others to enjoy.

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Why do you write books? 
One of the most pivotal moments of my writing career happened in 2011 as my daughter Megan stepped off of the bus as a kindergartner. We chatted as we walked down the driveway to our house. I asked her about her day and she told me it was “Good.” I said, “What did you learn about?” and she said, “Buckets.” Intrigued by this comment, I had to learn more. It turned out that her principal at the time Gretchen Laviolette had just read Have You Filled a Bucket Today? to her class. My daughter continued to tell me all about how everyone has a bucket and if we do something nice we fill that person’s bucket and our own. If we don’t do something nice we dip into that person’s bucket. 

I thought it was such a great concept and couldn’t wait to find the book. I searched online and found the bucket books. I wrote many poems to teach this concept to my students and own kids, eventually sending the poems to the author, Carol McCloud. She encouraged me to write my own book of bucket filling poems. It took me a year to write my book, and then she said I could send it to her publisher. I did just that. Nine months later, I was holding my book with a new title from the publisher: A to Z Character Education for the Classroom

The publishing process was a learning experience and so much fun. It made me want to continue writing for my students and kids. I went on to write Be the Best Version of You: A Teacher’s Poem for Her Students, which was a letter I wrote to my middle school students for their last day of classes. Because two students excitedly asked me for a copy of the poem, I decided to turn it into a book for them. Later, I penned Can You Dig It? All About the Temperate Soil Profile because former students every year would come back and visit me in my classroom, asking for a copy of the “Soil Song.”  

Every book had a purpose, and Driver Dad: Towman to the Rescue came to be because my tow truck driver husband had a close call one night while towing a car alongside the highway. I wanted to spread the message about the “Slow Down, Move Over” law, hoping to make drivers aware of the need to slow down and move over when emergency vehicles are alongside the road. 

Elf Olaf, Santa’s Magical Gift was a promise that my longtime friend and pet photographer Dietra DeRose decided to create when we were in Mr. Miller’s Art class in seventh grade in 1990. We always talked about how one day we were going to create a book together. Our book showcases her love of pet photography and includes adorable ferrets and cocker spaniels in Christmas settings. Through her pictures, I pieced together a story about a magical ferret elf named Olaf who learns about the importance of giving and bringing smiles to others.

Forever Thankful, Good Night was the result of a long winter snowstorm and snow day vacations from school. It is a story about being thankful for the many reasons in our life. It led me to write my latest book Grateful for You, Good Night!

What do you like best about writing? 
Writing is therapeutic and helps me to relax, create, and reach goals. However, my favorite part is weaving words together that hopefully will help to put positive vibes into the world. I hope to make a difference and help others find their gifts through writing and inspiring. 

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
The most challenging part of writing is concentrating on one project at a time. I usually have many stories going at once. I pick the story I want to work on, depending on my mood. 

What makes a good story? 
A good story is like meeting a new friend. It has character, captivates, and inspires.

Tell us about your latest book. 
Grateful for You, Good Night! is a sweet, relaxing bedtime story, which develops a routine of responsibility, prayers, and gratefulness. This story has a poetic quality with soothing illustrations and design by Jacqueline Challiss Hill. It allows readers to take their own special journey of making memories with their families. Together, the poetic nature of the story and the illustrations reflect how saying good night and being thankful are two important parts of a loving bedtime routine.

Families play a vital role in building and supporting children’s sense of security and comfort. Through the sequencing of events, of which children can expect to follow every night, parents help to develop a feeling of relaxation, transitioning their children to a night of restful sleep. 

This is the second book Jacqueline has illustrated and designed for me; the first book was a character curriculum book as previously mentioned A to Z Character Education for the Classroom

What’s next for you? 
I am super excited for my next book, which has a working title of How the Farm Wakes Up. This children’s story will feature illustrations and design by my dear illustrator friend Jacqueline Challiss Hill. Young readers will enjoy reading a rhyming story about animals waking up in the morning on a farm.

Where do you get your inspiration? 
Inspiration for my stories comes from my children, teaching, and life experiences. I feel that words of encouragement can go a long way. From a principal reading a story, to my oldest daughter retelling the story, to a children’s author responding to my enthusiastic email, to students expressing interest in my songs and poems, to the support of my teachers, family, and friends, words matter. I am thankful for the people in my life and the words of encouragement offered along my literary journey. They made me feel empowered to continue to write and reach my dreams. 


For more information about Sherry L. Hoffman and her books, visit SherryLHoffman.com.
 

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!