July 2015 UBFP Column

6 Jul

NOTE: I will be away camping this week, so I won’t be able to answer comments, until I get back (unless there is internet connection in the campground) ;) . Have a nice week!

I write for the UBFP Newspaper!I wanted to share the article I wrote for the Upper Bucks Free Press (the newspaper I write for) for the July 2015 issue! The street and online version were just published. To see the online version of the newspaper, click HERE or you can read the whole story below! I am especially happy about this article because my special interviewee is SUSANNA LEONARD HILL!!!
I hope you like the article!

So You Want To Be A Picture Book Author?

by Erik Weibel


Have you ever seen something so wonderfully simple you thought to yourself, “I can do that!”?  If you’ve ever read a 300+ paged novel, you probably have thought about how hard it must be to write one, right? All those words, plots, subplots, that would be impossible to tackle. And then you look at a 30-paged picture book and think, ‘boy, this book must be easy to write! It’s 30 pages, and mostly pictures!’

I was stunned to learn how incredibly difficult it is to write an effective picture book. To learn more about this grueling writing process,  picture book author, and creator of Making Picture Book Magic, an online teaching course about writing picture books, Susanna Leonard Hill, has thankfully agreed to answer a few questions of mine!

Erik: What do you think is the most difficult part in writing a picture book as opposed to a novel?

SLH: I think the most difficult part of writing a picture book is the distillation.  Novels are difficult in their own way – longer, more complicated, with multiple layers and subplots – but a novel writer has a little more leeway, a little more room to maneuver.  In picture books literally every word counts because the word count is so limited.  A picture book writer must tell an entertaining, compelling, emotionally rich story… in under 500 words.  And that’s not easy!

Erik: No, it most definitely is not! In your opinion, what are some of the best picture books out there (well, besides yours, of course!)?

SLH: (Aw shucks, aren’t you nice?! :) )  I like that you asked “in my opinion”, because writing is so subjective!  “Best” for one person isn’t always best for another.  But some of the recent books I love (as opposed to many older titles…!) are Z Is For Moose by Kelly Bingham, Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zeitlow Miller, Extraordinary Jane by Hannah E. Harrison, and I Am Cow Hear Me MOO by Jill Esbaum.

Erik: I LOVED Sophie’s Squash! You developed a course that teaches people how to write a picture book, called Making Picture Book Magic. Is there a certain writing formula you teach to your students or is it more of a process?

SLH: Writing is definitely a process.  There is no formula that I know of.  If there were a formula, chances are that anyone who followed it would produce a story that was… well… formulaic. :) I try to teach my students about all the important elements of a story – character, conflict, emotion, etc. – and offer them different ways to think about how those elements might work together to make an enjoyable, satisfying story.  There is a lot of writing and revising, going back and forth as ideas develop and the writer experiments with the best way to tell their particular story, work-in-progress until the story is finally told in a way that the writer is happy with.

Erik: That was really well put. In a word (or not!), how important is word choice in picture books?

SLH: In a word? Crucial!  A picture book writer has so few words to work with.  Every single one must carry its weight.  Today’s marketplace supports picture books that are 500 words or fewer.  Preferably fewer.  (Although there are always exceptions.)  Writing a picture book is a bit like managing a budget.  A writer has only so much to work with, and once it’s spent, it’s gone.  In addition, in picture books, the illustrations are meant to tell half the story, so the writer must choose the words that convey the story while simultaneously bringing to life the elements that the illustrator can’t show, such as sound, touch, taste, and smell.

Erik: I’ve never thought of the word count like a budget. That’s a great analogy. What is your best advice to someone who wants to write a picture book?

SLH: Read picture books – lots and lots of current picture books – so you get a feel for what makes a picture book work today.  The picture books we read growing up had a different feel, longer word counts, and in many cases the illustrations supported the story but were less critical in terms of telling half the story.  So it’s very important to familiarize yourself with what works currently.

          Educate yourself.  Learn as much as you can about the craft of writing picture books.  Read books.  Take classes online or in person.

          Immerse yourself in the writing community.  Picture book authors and illustrators are among the most genuine and generous people out there.  They are always willing to lend a hand, share what they know, help others along the road to success.



Write some more.

There is no substitute for practice.

Thank you for being an interviewee, Ms. Hill!

Susanna Leonard Hill is the award winning author of nearly a dozen books for children, including Punxsutawney Phyllis (A Book List Children’s Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice),No Sword Fighting In The House (a Junior Library Guild selection), Can’t Sleep Without Sheep (a Children’s Book of The Month), and Not Yet, Rose (a Gold Mom’s Choice Award Winner.)  Her books have been translated into French, Dutch, German, and Japanese, with one hopefully forthcoming in Korean.  Her newest book, Alphabedtime!, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, in Summer 2016.  She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs. Find her on the web at Susannahill.com

Review! Nightborn by Lou Anders and GIVEAWAY WINNER!!!

3 Jul

The winners of The Princess and The Pony Giveaway are:

Sue Morris!!!



Princess and the Pony FINAL TEXT.pdf

I will be emailing you to get the address you want your prize sent to! Congratulations! :D


Book 2 Thrones and Bones Series

By Lou Anders

368 pages – ages 8+

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers on July 14, 2015

Synopsis- Karn Korlundsson was quite happy learning to manage his family’s huge farm. So Karn didn’t understand why a wyvern (a small dragon-type thing) had to come out of the sky and kidnapped him from a local trading market. When he gets to the home of Orm, a giant linnorm (a type of dragon), Karn finds out that Thianna Frostborn, his half-giant friend, while on a mission for Orm, got captured by an enemy force. Orm says that she was looking for another Horn of Osius for him. The Horn can control reptiles, like wyverns and lizards, and Orm wanted to destroy them (for the safety of such reptiles listed). Orm now wants Karn to look for it too, but all Karn wants to look for is Thianna. Unfortunately, Karn soon finds out that finding Thianna and the horn isn’t his only problem.

What I Thought- This was a great sequel to Frostborn. I like that it still has the great adventurous feel of Book 1. Sometimes you don’t get that in a series – but this carries it off very well. The message in the story about friendship is awesome, and subtle enough so that you don’t realize that you are learning a lesson. Karn is a great character that you really connect with. His friend was kidnapped, and he wants to rescue her – nothing will stop him. But throw in a giant dragon, and a promise too, and you have an adventure! Thianna was a good character, but you would think that her traveling the world would make her more street-wise, and less newbie-like when it comes to things. Her character was still awesome. The story had a lot of twists and turns. It was fun to read. I think that this is an amazing series!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!fivebooks

Review! Alistair Grim’s Odditorium by Gregory Funaro AND GIVEAWAY WINNER!!!

29 Jun

The winner of the Vanishing Island Giveaway is:



Congratulations! I will be emailing you to get your info to send you the book!

odditoriumAlistair Grim’s Odditorium
By Gregory Funaro
432 pages – ages 9+
Published by Disney-Hyperion on January 6, 2015

Synopsis- Grubb (spelled like the insect, but with an extra ‘B’, and no last name) is an orphan. He was taken in as a babe by the kindly but elderly Mrs. Smears. Sadly, Mrs. Smears dies when he was just six. Mr. Smears, angry and in grief, turns out to be a not-so-nice man. When Grubb runs away to get rid of bullies (and Mr. Smears), he accidentally hitches a ride with a mysterious “Mr. G”. It turns out that Alistair Grim (Mr. G) is a collector of magical items (he collects them in the Odditorium), and he needs help that Grubb can give. Grubb becomes Mr. G’s apprentice and soon finds himself in a life and death battle to keep the magic out of evil hands.

What I Thought- This was a really good book! Grubb is a great character! You really feel for him, and hope that his life turns out for the better. Alistair Grim is also a cool character. He seems like that interesting, distant uncle that everyone likes. The Odditorium is a fascinating building that I would love to check out. The Odditoria of the Odditorium is also awesome. If you don’t know what I mean, read the book! You’ll love it! I really like Mr. Funaro’s writing style. There is a ton of description, without it ever bogging the story down. It really made me feel like I was in London during the 1800’s. At 432 pages it is a story that a reader can really sink into and enjoy. The non-stop action will keep readers interested in the story and the characters keep you wanting to learn more.

I give this book 5 out of 5 bookworms!fivebooks

Aftermath of a Blogger’s Illness Part 2 – Reviews Galore!

28 Jun

Hello blogging world. I feel like I haven’t seen you in a while. Sadly I’ve been sick for as long as I’ve been out of school. At first I thought I was getting better but then – nope. It turns out I had pneumonia and the doctor I was seeing “missed” it (my mom took me to a different doctor because she knew something was not right with me… well besides the usual). I am happy to say that after 14 days of 101+ fevers, I was fever free yesterday! WOO!  I am sad to say, I’ve not been able to keep up with commenting and posting and reading everyone’s wonderful blogs like I usually do (I got around a little, but not much), but things should be back to normal now. :) I have one more multi-post that I will do to catch up on all the things I got behind on! Here we go –

The winner of the Guardian Herd: LANDFALL by Jennifer Alvarez Swag Pack is:

GuardianHerd_3_final cover

Front of Tote

Front of Tote

Maureen Verone!!!!

Congratulations! I will be emailing you to get the address of where to send you your goodies!


shiversShivers! The Pirate Who’s Afraid of Everything

Written by

Illustrated by

192 pages – ages 8+

Published by HarperCollins on February 24, 2015

Synopsis- Shivers is a pirate. His mom is a pirate, his dad is a pirate, and his big brother is a pirate. It runs in the family. So why is Shivers afraid of everything that can do anything on this world? And if that’s not bad enough, why did his entire family have to be captured while sailing the high seas, leaving only Shivers and his pet fish, Albee, to rescue them. But then Margo comes along. Her dad is chief police officer, and she’s almost as good as him! Will Margo be enough to whip Shivers into shape?

What I Thought- This was a hilarious early chapter book! I read it while I was stuck in bed because I was sick, and I read it in an afternoon. It really cheered my spirits up. Shivers is a great character, and he’ll make you laugh! The book has random chapters missing, or blotted out, but all with a purpose, and they add humor (for example, the last page of Chapter 5 is blotted with “squid ink” because they were being attacked by an angry squid). I like how Margo, Shivers’ best friend, helps him on his adventures, taking control of a “frightening” situation. It’s a nice touch that she’s a girl. The book is wacky and slightly unbelievable, and kids will learn a little about the Statue of Liberty. Story-book pirates still exist in modern-day New Jersey and New York City, and they sail around looking for the treasure in the Statue of Liberty’s torch. This is a really funny book!

I give this five out of five bookworms!fivebooks


The Bewundering World of Bewilderbeests coverThe Bewundering World of Bewilderbeests

By Bailey Fort

ebook  (picture book) – ages 5+

Published by Fortify Books on March 23, 2015

Synopsis- In the East, over the high seas, lays a land you’ve never seen before. It hosts marvelous creatures that normally only exist in your imagination. Discover wild beasts that make you laugh, like the Two-Headed Mugwump, and others that you just think are cool, like the Millipus. Journey to the bewundering world of the bewilderbeests in this picture book!

What I Thought- This was a creative book. Ms. Fort has made a nice picture book. The creatures are whimsical and the illustrations are bright and marvelous. Kids will really like them. They capture the spirit of the book. The book is available as an ebook and the illustrations come out pretty well digitally. The repetitive rhyme in the poems are fun to read. They get your imagination going.

I give this four out of five bookworms.fourbooks


Solve-A-CrimeYOU DO THE MATH: Solve A Crime

Written by Hilary Koll and Steve Mills

Illustrated by Vladimir Aleksic


  • Series: You Do the Math


32 pages – ages 6+

Published by QEB Publishing on April 1, 2015

Synopsis- When a crime is reported, you are called upon to do the math to find out who broke into the safe in an apartment. You then learn about fingerprinting, DNA, alibis, video footage, etc. In math skills you learn about pie charts, fractions, timelines, area, etc. You learn many more skills of both types. Can YOU solve the crime?

What I Thought- This was a really cool book! This series shows you how you will have to use math to do a job well. The job in this book is a police officer/detective. I like how it goes through the crime, and gives you math problems related to what is going on in the case. You learn a lot about crime solving, and just plain old math problems. This book is appropriate for young advanced readers, but does mention blood (but no murder is committed (it mentions it in a statistic)), and using it for a DNA test. There are answers in the back of the book, including a glossary and index too. All in all, it’s a really cool book!

I give this book five out of five bookworms!fivebooks

hospitalThe Berenstain Bears: Hospital Friends

By Mike Berenstain

23 pages – ages 5+

Published by HarperCollins on April 21, 2015

Synopsis- When the Bear family goes to pay their well-wishes to a young family member at a hospital, they get curious about what really goes on in a hospital. Luckily, the family doctor is willing to give a tour of the hospital, explaining how they worked.

What I Thought- This is a nice book. It gives a tour of the average hospital, with operating rooms, x-ray rooms, kid (or “cub”) playrooms, etc. I like that this book helps with the fact that some kids might be afraid of hospitals, but they are actually nice places. The illustrations have that timeless Berenstain feel. It is really cool how the newer stories keep all of the elements we like about the original books. I really liked this book. I think, if anything, that hospitals should all carry a copy of this book, at least in their kids’ section.

BONUS – from the publisher – “All of the author’s royalties are being contributed to the Stan & Jan Berenstain Healthy Kids Foundation, a charitable organization devoted to children’s health issues.”

I give this book five out of five bookworms!fivebooks

Review and Giveaway! The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton #PonyTime

25 Jun


Princess and the Pony FINAL TEXT.pdfThe Princess and the Pony

By Kate Beaton

40 pages – ages 4+

Will be published by Arthur A. Levine Books on June 30, 2015

Synopsis- From the Publisher: “Princess Pinecone knows exactly what she wants for her birthday this year. A BIG horse. A STRONG horse. A horse fit for a WARRIOR PRINCESS! But when the day arrives, she doesn’t quite get the horse of her dreams…


From the artist behind the comic phenomenon Hark! A Vagrant, The Princess and the Pony is a laugh-out-loud story of brave warriors, big surprises, and falling in love with one unforgettable little pony.

What I Thought- This was a cute picture book set in viking times. Princess Pinecone is a young princess whose parents don’t seem to understand that she’s a warrior princess. They give her cozy sweaters instead of armor and warrior stuff.


I like how this book is about being yourself, and not what society says you are. It also shows that you can make the best out of any situation… and it has farting ponies ha ha ha. The illustrations have just the right amount of detail and they add to the humor in the story. The story isn’t about girls not being able to be warriors – there are plenty pictures in the illustrations. It’s just that Princess Pinecone’s seems to have been labeled more princess than warrior. The twist in the story (at the battle scene) was unexpected, and made me laugh. The book reminds me of one of those fractured fairy tale cartoons. Overall very cute story with a nice message.


I give this book five out of five bookworms.fivebooks

About the Author

Photo credit: Notker Mahr.

Photo credit: Notker Mahr.

Kate Beaton is the author of Hark! A Vagrant, her #1 New York Times bestselling collection of comics which began as a webcomic in 2007. The Princess and the Pony is her first picture book. She is the recipient of multiple Harvey awards, andher work has been featured in the New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Best American Comics Anthology. Kate lives in Toronto,and you can find her online at www.beatontown.com and on Twitter as @beatonna.


Learn more at Scholastic.com

Visit the author at BeatonTown.com

Follow Kate Beaton on Twitter

NOT YOUR AVERAGE PRINCESS prize pack!!!!!!! Thanks to the great people at Scholastic, I get to give away TWO copies of THE PRINCESS AND THE PONY !!!

Giveaway open to US addresses only. Prizing provided by Scholastic.

All you have to do is comment and next week on July second, I will pick two winners out of all the comments – pretty easy peasy huh? :) Good Luck!

BLOG TOUR AND GIVEAWAY! Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton

22 Jun

vanishing island preview tour banner updated

I am very excited to share this book with you. It is the beginning to a very promising series and even better – one of you will get to win a signed ARC of the book! Details of the giveaway are at the bottom of the post. :)


Vanishing Island
By Barry Wolverton
Book 1 of the Chronicles of the Black Tulip
352 pages – ages 8+
Will be published by Walden Pond Press on September 1, 2015


Publisher’s Summary- Does  the Vanishing Island really exist? And if so, what treasure—or terrible secret—was hidden by its disappearance?

It’s 1599, the Age of Discovery in Europe. But for Bren Owen, growing up in the small town of Map on the coast of Britannia has meant anything but adventure. Enticed by the tales sailors have brought through Map’s port, and inspired by the arcane maps his father creates as a cartographer for the cruel and charismatic map mogul named Rand McNally, Bren is convinced that fame and fortune await him elsewhere. That is, until his repeated attempts to run away land him a punishment worse than death—cleaning up the town vomitorium.

It is there that Bren meets a dying sailor, who gives him a strange gift that hides a hidden message. Cracking the code could lead Bren to a fabled lost treasure that could change his life forever, and that of his widowed father. But to get there he will have to tie his fate to a mysterious Dutch admiral obsessed with a Chinese legend about an island that long ago disappeared from any map.

Before long, Bren is in greater danger than he ever imagined, and will need the help of an unusual friend named Mouse to survive. Barry Wolverton’s thrilling adventure spans oceans and cultures, brings together the folklore of East and West, and proves that fortune is always a double-edged sword.

What I Thought- This was an amazing book! It had adventure, comedy, excitement, mystery – pretty much anything you could want in a book! Bren is a character you would like to meet in real life. He has dreams, and he’s clever in how he gets them achieved. Mouse is a cool character too. I really like how Mr. Wolverton doesn’t hide that sea isn’t always exciting – at times Bren is just sitting around at sea. There is death throughout the story, but it is not graphic/gory. There are some illustrations that will be put in the final version of the book, but not in the ARC that I read (they weren’t in yet), and they play a role in the story, so that was sad for me. Guess I’ll have to get the completed version! This is a solid start to a new series. :)


Barry Wolverton Author Photo

Barry Wolverton is the author of Neversink. He has more than fifteen years’ experience creating books, documentary television scripts, and website content for international networks and publishers, including National Geographic, Scholastic.com, the Library of Congress, and the Discovery Networks. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee. You can visit him online at www.barrywolverton.com.

Links for Barry Wolverton: 

Website: http://www.barrywolverton.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/wolvertonhill

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bwolverton

Instagram: https://instagram.com/wolvertonhill/

Check out all the stops on this awesome tour!

Blog Tour Schedule: 

6/15 Blue Stocking Thinking:  bluestockingthinking.blogspot.com
6/16 The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia:  hauntedorchid.blogspot.com
6/17 Small Review:  smallreview.blogspot.com
6/18 Maria’s Melange:  www.mariaselke.com/
6/19 Unleashing Readers:  unleashingreaders.com
6/19 The Hiding Spot:  thehidingspot.blogspot.com
6/22 This Kid Reviews Books:  thiskidreviewsbooks.com
6/23 Mundie Kids:  http://mundiekids.blogspot.com/
6/24 Page in Training:  https://pageintraining.wordpress.com
6/25 Novel Novice:  novelnovice.com


Connect to Walden Pond –
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ WaldenPondPress
Facebook: https://www. facebook.com/WaldenPondPress

Website/Blog: http://www. walden.com/books/

Pinterest: https://www. pinterest.com/waldenpondpress/


All you have to do is comment in the comment section below telling me you want to WIN! (well you can comment somewhere else, but I won’t see it) and on June 29th I will pick one name out of a hat of all the entrants. US residents only please. Good Luck!



Deployed dads deliver #FathersDay message w/ @UTR4Military & #GuessHowMuchILoveYou

21 Jun

Happy Father’s Day to the best dad around – my dad (of course I am bias) :)


I am lucky that I get to spend father’s day with my dad. There are many kids out there who aren’t so lucky. Their dad’s are far away serving our country. I was invited to share this special dad’s day post and am happy to do it because I think it is awesome.


Bestselling storybook Guess How Much I Love You and nonprofit United Through Reading help deployed military dads deliver a special message to their kids, perfect for Father’s Day

While millions of children will be celebrating Father’s Day with their dads on June 21, for many children whose fathers are serving in the military, dad won’t be at home. But thanks to nonprofit United Through Reading and a very special storybook, there’s a way for every dad to tell his kids he loves them this Father’s Day – however far away he might be.

U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jennifer Kleve, left, a medic with Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah, helps set up a camera for U.S. Army Capt. Jacob Estrada, right, security force commander for the PRT, prior to his participation in a United Through Reading Read-a-thon on FOB Farah, Jan. 18.  Participants in the program were encouraged to read to children in their families or to students at Birch Elementary in Idaho, to promote childhood literacy.  United Through Reading is a non-profit organization that enables deployed service members to share their love and support with their children by reading books aloud on DVD.  PRT Farah's mission is to train, advise, and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district, and provincial levels in Farah province Afghanistan.  Their civil military team is comprised of members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup/released)

U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jennifer Kleve, left, a medic with Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah, helps set up a camera for U.S. Army Capt. Jacob Estrada, right, security force commander for the PRT, prior to his participation in a United Through Reading Read-a-thon on FOB Farah, Jan. 18. Participants in the program were encouraged to read to children in their families or to students at Birch Elementary in Idaho, to promote childhood literacy. United Through Reading is a non-profit organization that enables deployed service members to share their love and support with their children by reading books aloud on DVD. PRT Farah’s mission is to train, advise, and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district, and provincial levels in Farah province Afghanistan. Their civil military team is comprised of members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup/released)

Nonprofit United Through Reading keeps military families connected by offering service members the opportunity to be video-recorded reading storybooks to their children at home from locations worldwide. Although the story may be recorded in a tent in Afghanistan, the child sitting at home watching it can feel like daddy’s home for a few moments before they go to sleep, or whenever they need him. Guess How Much I Love You celebrates the unique bond between father and child, and has struck a chord with many military families. The story serves as a reminder to children that no matter how far away they may be from their parent, their love remains strong enough to bridge even the greatest distances.

A boy listens to a reading recorded by his grandfather, U.S. Coast Guard Chaplain Gregory N. Todd

A boy listens to a reading recorded by his grandfather, U.S. Coast Guard Chaplain Gregory N. Todd

This heartfelt video was created especially for Father’s Day and features military parents reading Guess How Much I Love You to their children back home in a United Through Reading recording. Watch the video here: http://youtu.be/-PvcCmSkfZE

Or Right below!

This program is making a difference in people’s lives.

Here are some quotes from families who have taken part in the United Through Reading program.

​ “The one thing that the kids wanted more than anything — time with their daddy — I could not give them but United Through Reading did.  I cannot thank UTR enough for what they do.  It is truly an amazing gift that they have given to our family and words will never be enough to express our gratitude! Rex recorded Guess How Much I Love You with United Through Reading. We love it and it is one of our favorites!
Veronica Boblett, Navy Spouse 


Pearl was only 5 weeks old when her Daddy left on a 9 month deployment with the USS George H.W. Bush. It was a tough time for us all. We were understandably worried that she might not remember him by the time he got back….We really believe that the videos Austin recorded with United Through Reading helped Pearl to bond with her Daddy the most.”

Emma Kolar, Navy Spouse


GHMILY Anniversary Edition Cover ArtGuess How Much I Love You is celebrating its 20thanniversary in 2015. Now available in a deluxe anniversary edition, Guess How Much I Love You is one of the most successful children’s books of all time, selling 28 million copies and published in 53 languages. Published by Candlewick Press, Sam McBratney’s timeless, endearing story of Big and Little Nutbrown Hare, beautifully rendered in Anita Jeram’s watercolours, has charmed people of all ages. It has become one of the world’s best-loved picture books, and the phrase ‘I love you right up to the moon and back’ has come to signify a way of saying ‘I love you’ to someone special. You can find out more about this extraordinary book here http://www.guesshowmuchiloveyou.com/us.



United Through Reading is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) public benefit organization that has been around for more than 25 years; it’s mission is to unite military families facing physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together.  United Through Reading offers service members the opportunity to be video-recorded reading storybooks to children at home which eases the stress of separation, maintains positive emotional connections, and cultivates a love of reading and early childhood literacy.  At nearly 200 recording locations worldwide, service members can read to the children who are special to them from units on ships, in tents in Afghanistan, on bases around the world, and at more than 40 USO centers worldwide.  Since its inception, nearly 2 million military parents, spouses and children have benefited from the program. Find United for reading online at www.unitedthroughreading.org


Candlewick Press is an independent publisher based in Somerville, Massachusetts. For over twenty years, Candlewick has published outstanding children’s books for readers of all ages, including books by award-winning authors and illustrators such as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Kate DiCamillo, M. T. Anderson, Jon Klassen, and Laura Amy Schlitz; the widely acclaimed Judy Moody, Mercy Watson, and ’Ology series; and favorites such as Guess How Much I Love You, Where’s Waldo?, and Maisy. Candlewick is part of the Walker Books Group, together with Walker Books UK in London and Walker Books Australia. The Walker Books Group has a unique ownership structure that includes all of its employees worldwide. Visit Candlewick online at www.candlewick.com

Review! Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan

20 Jun

mahalaMahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens

Written by Nina Nolan

Illustrated by John Holyfield

32 pages – ages 4+

Published by Amistad on January 27, 2015

Synopsis- Mahalia Jackson was a young girl with a ginormous voice. Even while life was tough for her, she still sang what she loved, and she loved gospel. She always sang, and she realized her voice had power. Even though she had to overcome a lot of hardships in her life, she got to sing on TV shows, at Carnegie Hall, and many places she could only dream of! She became and is still know as the Queen of gospel music.

Check out the video below – you’ll know why she got the title!

What I Thought- This is a really motivational picture book that will have you feeling positive. The story of Mahalia Jackson, from cleaning-maid to Queen of Gospel, is truly inspiring. The story stresses perseverance, and working towards a goal. Mahalia, no matter where she was, or how her life was, always sang. The illustrations are gorgeous and make you really smile inside. They capture the spirit of a girl with a goal perfectly and using the talents you are given. The book has a short timeline and more ways to learn about Mahalia at the end of the book. The publisher has the age range as 4+ – this is a great book as an introduction to this fabulous lady and perfect for a younger kid. The resources at the back of the book are a great add-on for older kids.

I give this five out of five bookworms!fivebooks

Now excuse me I am going to go download some Mahalia Jackson from iTunes. ;)

Review-o-Rama! or The Aftermath of a Blogger’s Illness

18 Jun


So I have been sick since Sunday which is weird because I pretty much never get sick. I’ve had a 104 fever until Wednesday. Today it’s down to like just over 100 but I feel a bunch better… and I’m pretty hungry and a shower after laying on the couch 24/7 for four days felt pretty good – so I think I’ll live.

“Why are you telling me this Erik?” you ask.

Well maybe you didn’t but let’s pretend you did. I am telling you so you’ll know why I am posting a bunch of reviews at once – I missed posting on a few days (except Wednesday because that one was written a while ago and I had a guest) – hey if you didn’t read it click on over – click HERE – plus that post has the honor of being my 1000th post of my blogging “career.” ;)


nerd12_2Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind

Nerdy Dozen Book #2

By Jeff Miller

272 pages – ages 8+

Published by HarperCollins; Reprint edition on March 10, 2015

Synopsis- Neil Andertol is an expert video-gamer. He’s in the top twelve in the US. And he’s only a kid. He and the other top players (also kids) were recruited by the US Air Force, in order to stop an evil plot (thought out by a wayward genius kid). Now they are joining NASA to recover a top-of-the-line space shuttle that was stolen. It doesn’t help that another giant asteroid (like the one that may have killed the dinosaurs) is supposed to hit Earth in about two weeks…

What I Thought- This was an amazing book! I honestly don’t know how I missed book one! This book brings you up to speed, so reading book one isn’t necessary, but it would make some minor points clearer. Neil is a great character, who, while not perfect, is extremely realistic. The other nerds in the book are people you would probably like to meet in real life. I know I would! It’s pretty cool how all the kids are expert video-gamers, and because of it, they are government secret mission pilots. That would be neat if it would ever happen (or maybe it did, but it’s a secret). Mr. Miller’s writing style has a good mixture of humor, adventure, vivid descriptions, wit, and great characters for an overall enjoyable experience.

I give this book five out five bookworms!fivebooks

zariaZaria Fierce

By Kiera Gillett

224 pages – ages 9+

Published by Keira Gillett on March 6, 2015

Synopsis- Zaria Fierce was not fierce. Or so she thought, that is, until a river troll kidnaps her best friend. Then she, pitted together with his other friends (one of whom is actually a changeling (a creature swapped for a look-alike human)), goes on an adventure up the river, into a world mixed with the modern world and the ancient myths of Scandinavia.

What I Thought- This was a really good book with a great setting and cool plot line. I really liked how it didn’t hide that Zaria was adopted and she knew it . I also liked how her adoptive parents were nice. You don’t see that often in books (as an adopted kid, I like it when adoption is portrayed well). The characters and mythology are realistic, and the mythology was well explained, too. I like how Zaria tries her best to make do in a world she knew nothing about. There are some instances of d*** throughout the second half of the book that some parents may have issues with for younger kids. This was a good book and I will be looking for book 2.

I give this four out of five bookworms.fourbooks



My Creative Kid guest is JOSIE my little sister. ;)

Today Josie is doing a guest review.

peridotThe Peridot Pendant

By Emma Homes

75 pages – ages 9+
Published by Spark Street Communications Pty Ltd on April 17, 2015


Summary (from Amazon) Fabrina is devastated when her mother suddenly vanishes. When she stumbles across her mother’s necklace, Fabrina sets out to untangle the mystery of her disappearance. With feisty best friend Vicky, bookish boy-next-door Harry, and her enigmatic cat Mr Whiskers, Fabrina begins to unlock the secrets of her mother’s magical green pendant.

A fast-paced fantasy where stories from long ago are entwined with present, ‘The Peridot Pendant’ is an imaginative tale that will appeal to children nine years and older.

What Josie Thought – This story was cool. I thought it was going to be a mystery but it had fairies in it and the people traveled to another world. I liked Fabrina. She is smart and brave. I liked Vivky and Harry too. They were all goo characters. The Red Cap guy was creepy (the evil fairy that kept her mom). I liked that there was magic in the story and how Fabrina could travel to different worlds. The book wasn’t too long for me, some of the words were kind of hard but I used my kindle dictionary to help me. I liked how well all the characters are described and all about the fairy world. It was a good book to read.

I give it five bookworms fivebooks


The Guardian Herd Book 3: Landfall by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez COVER REVEAL BLOG TOUR!!!!! AND GIVEAWAY!!!!!

17 Jun

Have I got a bunch of goodies for YOU! Literally! (more on that later) But FIRST- the COVER REVEAL of the new Guardian Herd book – Landfall!!!!

GuardianHerd_3_final coverPretty awesome cover right?

Synopsis- From the cover: “It has been many moons since Star received his starfire power. He has gone from being born a dud—unable to fly and shunned by the five herds of Anok, including his own—to becoming a strong yearling, ready to lead his own herd as an over-stallion. But now he will face his toughest challenge yet. Nightwing the Destroyer, Star’s eternal rival, is amassing an army to destroy him and all of Anok. The only way for Star to defeat him is to learn how to fight like a warrior—without using his starfire. For if he uses his power, even to heal, Nightwing will know where to find him. 

As the threat of war looms over Star’s head, he can’t help but wonder if the current peace among the united pegasi is strong enough to defeat the powerful Destroyer once and for all.

With increasingly difficult challenges and brand-new areas of Anok to explore, Jennifer Lynn Alvarez will thrill readers with this epic and exhilarating third installment of the Guardian Herd series.

Release Date: 02/02/2016 – but you can pre-order it HERE!


Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, the author of the Guardian Herd series

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, the author of the Guardian Herd series

You asked – “Where do i find out more about Ms. Alvarez Erik?!?”

Author website: http://www.jenniferlynnalvarez.com

Series website: http://www.theguardianherd.com

HarperChildrens book links,

STARFIRE: http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062286062/the-guardian-herd-starfire

STORMBOUND: http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062286093/the-guardian-herd-stormbound

BUT WAIT!!!!! There’s MORE!

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, [JLA] the awesome author of the Guardian Herd series, has generously provided an interview, where she interviews the actor that read the audiobook version of the Guardian Herd, Andrew Eiden! [AE]

Andrew Eiden

Andrew Eiden

Keep reading to the end- there is an AWESOME give away!

JLA: You have a background in theater, television, and movies—how did you also become a voice actor?

AE: It’s all in the family! My mom was my drama teacher in high school. My dad directed Whittier Junior Theatre where I grew up. My grandpa was involved in the community theater and my grandma did costumes and props for all the shows. My sister is an actress as well, and a very talented voice actor, she started doing audiobooks and told me I should get into it. She introduced me to Bob and Debra Deyan, big time Audiobook producers, and I’ve been doing it ever since!

JLA: When narrating a book, what do you do, if anything, to prepare your voice?

AE: I’m actually very bad at this. I rarely do anything to prepare my voice, and there is a LOT of talking involved. Sometimes I end up regretting it because after 6hrs in the booth my voice gets a little froggy. I will give you a little insider trick that I use quite often though. Sometimes during a session, your mouth gets really noisy, and nobody wants to hear gross mouth noises, smacking lips and such. I don’t know the science behind it, but for some reason eating green apples clears up your mouth so you can speak more clearly. It’s key because the mics they use to record us hear EVERYTHING.

JLA: Once you’ve agreed to narrate a particular book, do you read the novel in full before you begin?

AE: I once directed another actor narrating a book he hadn’t read first. There was this assassin character, mean, cold-hearted killer. We played with a few voices and decided on this great low growl. He sounded like boba fett from Star Wars. Anyway, in the last chapter of the book, after having been recording for 3 days, about 500 pages later, the main character finally meets this assassin we’ve been following face-to-face, and in the narrative, the character notices that the assassin has a high-pitched feminine voice with a slight lisp…..sooooo….we had to go back and re-record every piece of dialogue the assassin had said to match the author’s intent. I ALWAYS read the book before I start recording.

JLA: How is a voice performance different than a stage or screen performance? How is it the same?

AE: When I’m on stage or TV, there’s only so many parts I can play, or that an audience will believe me as. I did a show once where I played an old man, but it was a clown show and pretty far from reality. Ultimately, I’m going to play something closer to myself, a young man. However in Audiobooks, the sky is the limit. I’ve played young men, old men, teenage girls, mothers, and 6 year olds, heck I’ve played killer robots, romantic werewolves, nasty monsters, and of course heroic young pegasi! To add to it, I’ve played all the roles in a story, usually you just play one. That’s a very fun part of what I do.

JLA: When narrating, is there a director or a producer giving you notes on the characters or your performance? What types of input do you receive regarding playing the emotions of the characters?

AE: It always depends on who’s hired me. Sometimes, I record in a studio, and sometimes I record from my home. If I’m at home then I’m on my own, and I have to direct myself. It can be a little daunting because I don’t have anyone to watch my back and give me notes on how I’m doing. In the case of The Guardian Herd books, Harper hires Deyan Audio to record for them, so I get to go to a studio where there’s an engineer/director.

One of the guys there, Sebastian Zetin, is really great. On top of making sure I sound great, audio wise, he follows along with me as I read. He’ll catch me saying the wrong words, or check me when I get all mush mouthed, but he also is pretty great at helping with tone and emotion. He might stop me after some line and say something like, “It seems like this character is pretty upset, maybe we should do that last line again with a little more emotion behind it.” He’s also really good with helping jokes land. “Hey let’s do that again but put a little beat right before the last line, I think it will help the joke be funnier.” Having a director means you have someone in your corner, helping to make the production better.

JLA: How is the book’s text displayed for you? Do you read from the physical book, off a computer screen, or do you memorize the section you’re reading?

AE: I’ve heard horror stories of the old days when people used to read from physical pages. When they’d get to the end of a page they’d have to pause their reading, turn the page, and then continue like they hadn’t just had an awkward pause. But nowadays, we read from tablets. So scrolling on the page is silent so you can just keep going and going and going.

JLA: How many hours or minutes in a row can you narrate before your voice requires a break? What does a typical day of recording look like?

AE: For me, I usually don’t take breaks for my voice. The Late Great Bob Deyan once told me that as long as you narrate with your normal speaking voice, you’ll never have to worry about it giving out on you in the middle of a book. For me, the breaks are important because your mind needs a break. When you record, its usually for about 6hrs a day. But after a couple of hours, you start to go cross-eyed. You start reading words that aren’t even there, or you start misreading words. Like the sentence will say, “Let’s have a conversation,” but what comes out of your mouth is, “Let’s have a convention,” and you just keep going as if what you said made perfect sense. That’s usually when the director says, “Hey maybe after this chapter we should take a little break.” But again that’s just me, I know some narrators who can’t go an hour without stopping for a break, and there’s this one guy PJ Ochlan who’s famous amongst narrators for being able to sit down and record for hours and hours without making any mistakes or stopping for breaks.

JLA: What happens if you make a mistake? Do you have to go back and re-record the entire chapter?

AE: That would be so horrible. If we had to go back and record the whole chapter because I screwed up, I would still be working on the first book I recorded 5 years ago. I usually screw up at least 5 times per page. When that happens, I just stop the recording, go back to the start of the sentence, start recording again and punch in from there. I directed a quasi famous person recording a book they had written, and for famous people it’s usually what they call a roll record. You just hit record and let them go, if they screw up they just go back a bit and say it right. It’s much easier on the narrator doing it like that, but it makes it horrible for the editor. So punch in recording is pretty much the standard practice.

JLA: The Guardian Herd books include a lot of horse and fantasy terms. Did you study a word list before beginning? When you’re not sure how to pronounce a word, what resource do you use to verify it?

AE: That’s a good question. I actually ran into a little trouble with The Guardian Herd. Usually Deyan audio makes a word list for their narrators, that is a combination of particularly difficult words, difficult names, or fantasy words. They have a guy named Nate who’s kind of brilliant, he either looks up the words in the dictionary, researches names on the internet or reaches out to the author to get the proper pronunciation for the fantasy names. On day one recording Guardian Herd, there was no wordlist for me, so I had to sort of guess at the pronunciation of Anok. Turns out the wordlist was filed under “THE Guardian Herd” and so we found it about halfway through the session and realized I’d been pronouncing it all wrong. I was pronouncing it like Anne-ek, so we had to go back and rerecord every instance of it. It was lame, but at least we caught it early.

JLA: Do you ever get the giggles or have an emotional response to the text you’re reading?

AE: I have been known to find myself with tears and snot streaming down my face while reading a particularly good part of a particularly good book. I actually kind of like it, because it’s usually during a time when tears are called for in the story, and so rather than stopping the recording to compose myself, I let some of my real emotion eek into my voice. I find it makes for a more authentic, from the heart, reading. I’m not, like, sobbing while I read, but a little uncontrollable quiver in my voice slips past here and there.

It’s funny, as I get older, I start to notice weird things trigger an emotional reaction from me. In Guardian Herd, I never cried at the sad moments, maybe because the circumstances are so dire for Star and the rest of the herds that the sad parts seem to be the norm. But then there will be these moments when someone shows Star kindness, or a stranger from a strange herd shows mercy, or a helpless filly does something incredibly brave. Moments like those are what hit me the hardest and got me all weepy during Guardian Herd.

JLA: Through narrating the Guardian Herd series, you’ve become the voice for many characters. Did you study them before beginning? Do you have a favorite character?

AE: I don’t really plan voices out until it’s time for them to speak. But that’s another reason why reading the book first is so important. Beyond just to check to see if you, the author, has said specifically what their voice sounds like, or if they speak with an accent, it’s also important because you get an idea of who these characters are. Are they going to be brave? Are they betrayers? Do they die? How do they react in adversity? All of these things will influence how I portray their voice. Personally, I really liked Grasswing from book 1. I liked him a lot because not only was he this gruff, old military guy, a war stallion of legendary skill, he was also this kind soul, almost like a grandpa to Star. That’s a fun voice to play with, hard and soft at the same time.

JLA: You perform the Guardian Herd chapters with heartfelt sincerity and fans of the series have fallen in love with your performances! Since your voice brings these pegasus characters to life, I’m curious—do you have any experience with horses?

AE: I rode a horse once. That’s about the extent of my experiences with pegasi. I will say, my mother is a writer, and she used to tell me bedtime stories. Sometimes with me, my sister, and my cousin, she had this ongoing story she would tell when we were all together. I don’t remember what would happen, but I remember that in the story, the three of us had magic whistles and when we would get into trouble, we would blow our whistles and three Pegasi would come to our aid. We each had our own, and they had names and various colors and such. I don’t remember much because I was very young. So while I don’t have much experience with horses, clearly telling stories about pegasi runs in my blood!

JLA: How about acting tips? Any advice about how to get into character, or how to portray emotions?

AE: There are a lot of schools of thought on how best to approach a character. For me, it’s about asking questions of what do they do and why do they do it, what type of person would I have to be to do those things for those reasons. The answers you get will always be determined by the questions you ask.

JLA: What advice would you give to kids about becoming an actor? What are the rewards of an acting career?

AE: Acting is a very rewarding gig. You’re a storyteller. We tell stories for a lot of reasons, sometimes it’s just for entertainment, to give people some relief from their stress, sometimes it’s with purpose, to shed light on some part of humanity that needs attention. As an actor, you become the vessel for those stories, you take these words on a page that were written to make other people feel something, and bring it to life. It’s a very cool job. As far as advice goes, I have no idea how to get into it or get good at it. I say just do it! Audition for a local play. Take a class. Join an improve troupe. Anything to just get up and do it. Its fun!

And there is STILL MORE!!!!

Mrs. Alvarez is offering a SWAG PRIZE GIVEAWAY!!!

Just comment on this post and you are entered to WIN this amazing prize pack! I will randomly pick a winner from all the entries on June 24th! Good luck!

Front of Tote

Front of Tote

The fabulous swag prize pack includes:

Back of Tote

Back of Tote

  • A Guardian Herd tote bag
  • A series poster for Book #3, Landfall
  • A sheet of character trading cards
  • signed paperback of Book#1, Starfire




Critical Praise for the Guardian Herd Book Series:

  • “Chock-full of adventure and twists, making it difficult to put down. Readers will be clamoring for the next book in this adventure.” School Library Journal


  • “Alvarez’s world is lush with description and atmosphere, and her premise has much to offer. Fans of animal fantasies should find it enjoyable..” Publishers Weekly


  • “Filled with fantastical action, and rich with description. A well-paced and engrossing story. Alvarez has created a series that will be beloved by readers.” Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)


  • “The clever resolution will get kids psyched for more tales from the Guardian Herd.” Booklist


  • “This epic adventure is richly developed. Compelling.” Kirkus Reviews

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