The 12 Days of Christmas, by Greg Pizzoli

The 12 Days of Christmas, by Greg Pizzoli, I adore Christmas books!  And this one is even more fun because I love singing songs/books to my children! The text for this book is familiar to everyone since it's the traditional 12 Days of Christmas Song. 

But the pictures make this story unique. Mama elephant's reaction to the baby elephant's gifts are hilarious and tell a great story about materialism and how too much stuff can clutter your life. The illustrations are filled with expression, color, and surprises on every page. 

This is a delightful whimsical Christmas book that I will continue to sing to my children every year!

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Groundhug Day, by Anne Marie Pace and Christopher Denise

Groundhug Day is a delightful story of friendship. Moose wants to have a Valentine's Day party, but he knows his friend, groundhog will not be able to attend if he sees his shadow. The animals work together to come up with a solution. They first think of ways to keep groundhog from seeing his shadow. When they discover that shadows frighten Groundhog, they work together to show him all the ways that shadows are fun. Kids will love all the animal's activities and may want to try shadow puppets and drawing silhouettes at home! 

The story touches on 4 holidays; Groundhog Day, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Easter so it's great for classrooms discussions on holidays. The lovely illustrations and heartwarming text make it a great read aloud. 

But my favorite part of this book is the emphasis on working together. The difference between bickering and working together is an important and essential part of this story; one I think every person can benefit from. I love that the friends discover the benefits of cooperating and thinking about how their friends feel. This story will evoke discussion about what it means to be a friend, and how to discover solutions together.

*I received a copy of this book from Disney Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.  

Cookiesaurus Rex, a book sprinkled with humor!

T Rex's and cookies will never be the same for me! This creative story combines them both in an engaging story that takes the reader and the cookie decorator by surprise. Told from the point of view of a T-Rex cookie who is reacting to his cookie decorator, this story is sure to elicit laughs and discussion. The first person, all dialogue text is a unique metafiction format for picture books. The main character (t-rex dinosaur cookie) demands different decorations. His lack of control and his jealousy for the other cookies is hilariously shown when he is decorated like a baby and then acts like a baby: 

"No! No! No! No! I want sprinkles! I want gumdrops! I want chocolate chips!" 

The illustration on the next page gives him chocolate chips in a way that most kids will find hilarious! Sprinkled with word play and engaging and emotional illustrations, this story is beautifully crafted and fun to read aloud. 

I received a review copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.

The Adventurer's Guild, By Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos

The Adventurers Guild
by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos

“A dazzling adventure sure to become a classic, if not a movie.”
Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

"It wasn't that Brock had no faith in the fox charm. But there was the luck you got, and the luck you made, and a smart man bet only on the latter."  

Filled with dwarfs, elves, witches and warlocks, and people with fantastical abilities, this story is magical in every way possible. The writing is impeccable and brings the readers along in a fast paced adventure where the stakes are high and the characters are engaging. I found the story compelling and immersive. Each character brings unique and complex authenticity to the story. Reading from the unique perspective of Zed and Brock showed their motives and values in a way that made made me want to turn the page. I can't wait to see how they evolve and change as the series progresses. I highly recommend this book to fans of Artemis Fowl, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Septimus Heap.

*I received a copy of this book from Disney Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.

Interview of Gifted Artist Brittany Soucy + an Art Class GIVEAWAY!

When Brittany Soucy and I first met, we realized that we had the same due date for our now 16 year old boys. Brittany's authentic and inspired art make her a remarkable friend and teacher. I'm thrilled to feature her here and learn more about her creative process!

Kirsti Call: What inspires you to create?

Brittany Soucy: That’s hard to answer because for as long as I can remember, the desire to create has just been an intrinsic part of me.  I’ve never questioned it. I just move through life with that need.   I love to surround myself with beauty and search for beauty in the natural world.  I find the search for beauty and light so inspiring.  It can be the way the light moves through the leaves on trees or an expression on someone’s face when they look at a loved one.  I don’t always express that desire in the form of paint or pencils, but also with food and song and words or whatever is available in that moment!

KC: When did you decide to become a professional artist?

BS:I think I may have come with that desire; I can’t remember a time when I didn’t tell people that when I grew up I was going to be an artist.  I spent hours drawing as a child.  However, after studying fine art in school, I felt less like an artist than at any other time in my life.  For the first time, I questioned that desire and whether I was good enough.  I became a mother and wanted to spend my time and energy on my children. Soon, though, the desire to paint was overwhelming.  I started creating in any way I could, and before I  knew it, my children were introducing me to their friends as an artist.  It was my children who gave me the confidence to claim the title and I knew that as they grew and became more independent, I would pick up where I left off.

KC: What’s your favorite part of making art for a living?

BS: I’m not one to pick favorites—I have too many!  I love that my job is to search for beauty and do my best to express that beauty.  I love that I feel divinely guided and that I can nurture that connection in my career.  I love that I get to walk barefoot to my studio and when I open the doors, the smell of art supplies makes me happy.  It’s such a great feeling when I get into the flow and time stands still.  I feel lucky and blessed that my career is meditative and fills me with peace.

KC: What’s your least favorite part of making art for a living?

BS: The business and marketing aspect does not come naturally to me at all and causes much anguish!  I wish I could just spend all my time creating and not have to worry about the rest, but I guess that’s what makes it “work.”

KC: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

BS: Be true to yourself.  I think we get the message that we should aspire to be like This Artist or That Artist, but the world doesn’t need more of the same--the world needs us each to be our best and truest selves.  Another important piece of advice is to stay curious and take workshops and classes with people who you admire.  It has helped me grow so much to learn from other artists and see their process of creativity.  I plan on always continuing my education in whatever field sparks my curiosity.

Thanks Brittany!  Brittany is teaching an on-line art journaling course.  For you chance to win the course for FREE,  comment below.  If you share on twitter or FB you will get another entry.  Early registration ends soon! To learn more click here!

Brittany lives on the seacoast of New Hampshire. (Yes, that exists and it’s beautiful.)  She's grateful that all she has to do is walk across the yard to go to work in her 200 year old barn-studio.   It’s like the dream of her childhood and the wish of her heart have come true.

She makes art because it has always felt like a natural way to process her world.  She finds herself searching for beauty and craving to find interesting and nourishing ways to express it.  She is captivated by light and how its warmth, healing and truth illuminate everything it touches.

She believes that setting aside time for making and appreciating art is an act of self care.  She now understands that the process of art making is an important balm that propels us toward healing.  When she was younger she worried that being creative and artistic was a useless talent to have, but now she considers it both a pleasure and a sacred responsibility. 

Bruce's Big Move, by Ryan T. Higgins!

I have a special place in my heart for Mother Bruce, by Ryan T. Higgins.  This summer one of my chickens was determined to become a mother.   We couldn't coax her to leave her eggs for weeks. Our lack of a rooster and the impossibility of those eggs actually hatching didn't concern her.  

Finally, we bought two chicks, and snuck them underneath her at night.  In the morning, she awoke to the babies she had been waiting for!  She has happily adopted, protected, and mothered them ever since. In Mother Bruce, a curmudgeonly bear adopts four goslings in a similarly endearing way.  

The second in the seriesHotel Bruce, shows how just when things can't get any worse, they do! Not only must Bruce raise goslings, but a fox, a possum and three mice also move in! Grumpy Bruce doesn't like this one bit!  The chaos is funny and makes us relate to and love Bruce despite his surliness. 

Bruce's Big Move, is the perfect third installment of the series. Bruce shows what he's willing to do for some peace and quiet alone with his four goslings! But three mice live with them and no matter what he does, they won't leave. In fact, they always mistake the words: "GET OUT!" for a friendly suggestion that they play outside! When Bruce moves to a new house, the goslings are unhappy. Bruce does everything he can to cheer them up--but only the return of the mice can do that! 

Bruce's gruff exterior hides a soft heart and the fact that the mice understand who he really is, makes this book charming and re-readable. The bright and expressive illustrations create compelling page turns. The humor makes kids and adults laugh and discuss issues of younger siblings, messes, and what it means to be a family. I highly recommend this book for readers of all ages!

*I received a copy of this book from Disney Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.

Review of Twelve Days in May; Freedom Ride 1961 by Larry Dane Brimmner

I just watched the documentary, I'M NOT YOUR NEGRO and this book was the perfect companion to that powerful movie about racial discrimination. 

Twelve Days in May; Freedom Ride 1961, by Larry Dane Brimner, beautifully describes the events of the 1961 Freedom ride. Filled with real pictures and real facts, the story is interspersed with words that are larger and emphasized. 


This book has shorter chapters to keep middle graders interested and engaged. I learned so much about the Freedom Ride. This is an important book for readers of all ages. 

7 Reasons Why You Should Read CLICK'D by Tamara Ireland Stone

1. Tamara Ireland Stone writes beautifully. Her book, Every Last Word, is one of my all time favorites. Brimming with poetry and honest emotion and insight into the mind of a teen who suffers from anxiety, Every Last Word proves the hurting and healing power of every last word.  Today, I'm thrilled to wish Click'd  a happy book birthday

2. Click'd's premise is incredibly fun. Allie's 7th grade year starts out with a bang when everyone loves the ap she programmed, and it goes viral.  When a glitch threatens to ruin her friendships and her ability to compete in the upcoming Games for Good competition, the stakes are high. And Allie may have to find help from her nemesis in order to compete and fix the problem with her code. 

3. This book empowers and encourages girls to pursue computer science and coding.  Allie is a strong, smart girl who excels at coding.  The book includes backmatter on educational resources for  

4. Click'd is fast paced, compelling and heart-warming. Tamara manages to combine the angst and insecurities of middle school with an intriguing plot and buckets of hope. 

5.  The characters in this book are engaging and relatable. Allie's interactions with her parents are spot-on; she doesn't want to tell them when things go wrong. Her interactions with her teacher are realistic and the peer relationships feel authentic. I especially love how Allie matures and realizes what's really important by the end of the story. 

6. Click'd explores the importance of friendship and forgiveness.  

7.  This book evokes discussion about how and when we use social media in our lives. Click'd helps us realize the powerful impact of social media.  It gets us thinking about the positive and negative affects of using screens vs. real in person interactions. 

Click'd defintiely clicked with me.  This is a story you won't want to miss.  

Happy Book Birthday! The Teacher's Pet and Fall is for School!

As the school year comes to an end for us in New England, it's time to start thinking about next year! The Teacher's Pet, by Anica Mrose Rissi, and Zachariah Ohora and Fall is for School by Robert Neubecker are both incredible back to school books.  

The Teacher's Pet will evoke discussion about science experiments gone awry, and what really happens in the classroom.  The idea of an inappropriate classroom pet is hilarious. This book is filled with surprises in the text and the colorful illustrations enhance the fun of the story. The title is a clever word play that makes perfect sense, yet will make parents chuckle. I especially love the diverse cast of children, animals, and of course, the oblivious adult. I love how the kids are the characters in the book that understand the truth of the situation and know how to deal with it, whereas the teacher is absolutley clueless. People of every age will love this rollicking read aloud.

Fall is for School does a great job of showing a conversation between a sister who is excited about school, and a brother who is not! Periodically, the rhyming text is appropriately interrupted by the brother which adds to the humor of the story. For example: 

Recess is for playing games:
We'll run and jump and climb!
Let's go right now and join the fun.
You really must not whine!

The illustrations are darling, using a fall palette that helps us get excited for the upcoming school year.   The endpapers feature a tree at different seasons, and different colored texts show us who is talking.  As the sister eventually gets her brother excited about school, the illustrations show the kids' imaginations coming to life.  

This story will resonate with all types of children and learners and may even help the un-enthusiastic kids laugh about their trepidation, and process how they're feeling.   

Each of these stories is a great way to get excited about and prepared for a new school year!

What are you favorite back to school books?

Interview of Author Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan Elizabeth's books are compelling and creative. I'm excited to share her thoughts!

Kirsti Call: I've read many of your YA books. Your characters are authentic and engaging. Cogling is one of my favorites.  What was your inspiration?  

Jordan Elizabeth: At the time, I belonged to the Utica Writers Club, a local group.  I was a member, vice president, and then president.  Another member, Aaron Siddall, is a professional illustrator.  We met up at a local cafe and brainstormed a steampunk project where I wrote and he illustrated.  Unfortunately, his illustrations weren't included.  However, we have another steampunk collaboration coming out sometime this year from Oloris. The tentative title is FANYA IN THE UNDERWORLD.  

KC: I can't wait to read that one! You infuse a lot of humor in your books as you tackle difficult subjects. As you write the story, how do you gauge when to be serious, and when to infuse humor?  

JE: Honestly, I just write.  I don't even realize something is funny until I'm rereading and chuckle.  I get an idea and just start writing.  I go for walks a lot, and that's how I flesh out my plots.

KC: What is your favorite book that you've written?

JE: Each book means a lot to me, but in a different way.  There is a book I've written that I love, but it hasn't found a publishing home yet.  Other than that book, it would have to be TREASURE DARKLY.  I laughed so hard while rereading the parts about Amethyst.  

KC: What new projects are you working on?  

JE: I'm working on a kid's story for my baby about a boy growing up in the 1960s.  So far I'm only on chapter 3.  I have to keep rereading to make sure it is appropriate for beginning readers.

KC: What advice would you give to aspiring kidlit authors?  

JE: Keep going.  I queried so many agents and publishers.  It can be daunting.  So many people told me to just give up.  Eventually you become numb to the rejections and it just makes an acceptance letter that much sweeter.

KC: Thank you Jordan! I'll be looking for your young reader story for my children!

Jordan Elizabeth, formally Jordan Elizabeth Mierek, writes down her nightmares in order to live her dreams. When she’s not creating art or searching for lost history in the woods, she’s updating her blog. Jordan roams Central New York, but she loves to travel. 

Jordan is a young adult fantasy author represented by the Belcastro Agency. 

Interview of Frank Cottrell Boyce, author of Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth

I've always been a fan of award-winning author Frank Cottrell Boyce's books.  

In Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth, Cottrell Boyce seamlessly weaves humor into a story about a boy named Prez who hasn't spoken since his grandfather was dragged away. This book masterfully covers the issues of select mutism, Alzheimer's, grief, loss, foster-care, and the power of the the choices we make. Prez is an endearing and imperfect protagonist who longs to find his grandfather and live with him again. He meets up with an alien and together they try to find grandfather and save the world. Their adventures provide endless fun and laughs for the reader and also help us understand how remarkable our lives really are. This book made me think about my childhood, my relationships and how grateful I am to be on this earth. 

I'm thrilled to interview Frank!

Kirsti Call:  I love Spunik's Guide to Life on Earth.  What was your inspiration?

Frank Cottrell Boyce: Thank you! I honestly think the inspiration was Sputnik himself. I was driving my daughter to her Saturday-morning sports club. I stopped at the traffic lights and the idea seem to just step - uninvited - into the car.  I turned to my daughter - Heloise - and said “How about a lonely kid meets a little loud mouthed person in a kilt.  Everyone else sees this person as a dog.”  She said,  “That’ll work.” I went home and started writing. It’s the only time that’s ever happened to me. I’ve driven up and down that road a hundred times since.  I’ve even lingered at the traffic lights,  hoping it would happen again. But it hasn’t, sadly.The setting of the book - South West Scotland - is just a place that I really really love.  Hardly anyone goes there.   But we spend a lot of time there as a family.  The Cow Palace is a real thing and it really does look like Hogwarts for cows. Here it is …

KC: You do a wonderful job of infusing humor into your books as you tackle difficult subjects.  How do you decide when to be serious, and when to be silly as you're writing your books?

FCB: Oh Gosh.  That’s a tough question to answer in life as well as in art!  My father suffers from dementia - like Prez’s grandad - and he’s living with me at the moment. In some ways it’s incredibly painful - he gets confused about everything - but it’s also often very very funny. Like when he insists that I chase the monkeys out of his bedroom and I have to pretend to be chasing monkeys. The very worst things are often funny if you see them from a different angle.  And seeing things from a different angle is what art is all about.

KC: What is your favorite book that you've written?

FCB: Well it’s always the next one really.  I have very fond memories of Millions because it was my first and it was written quickly and easily.   Of Framed because I’m just really proud of it.  But in the end I guess it’s Cosmic because it’s set in space and anyone of my age is - whatever else they’ve achieved - a disappointed astronaut.  I was alive when Man walked on the Moon!  No one told me it was only going to be just a handful of men and not all of us. I fully expected to be astronaut by now.  Writing Cosmic was my chance to imagine that.

KC: What new projects are you working on?

FCB: Happily I’m working on the movie of Cosmic.  And on a new book of course.

KC: What advice would you give to aspiring children’s book authors?

FCB: I would give the same advice to aspiring children’s book authors as I would to aspiring chefs,  or engineers, or astronauts,  or parents, or mathematicians or brain surgeons or carpenters or plumbers -  read a lot!  Anything you do you will do better if you read a lot. Obviously that’s extra true of writing.

Thanks Frank!  I'm completely agree that reading improves everything!

Frank Cottrell Boyce is the author of Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth, The Astounding Broccoli Boy, Cosmic, Framed, and Millions, the last of which was a New York Times bestseller and was made into a movie by Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle. His books have won or been nominated for numerous awards, including the Carnegie Medal, the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, and the Whitbread Children's Book Award. Frank is also a screenwriter, having penned the scripts for a number of feature films as well as the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. He lives in Liverpool with his family.

York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby plus GIVEAWAY!

I recently attended a writing conference where I learned from the best and the brightest in the kidlit writing industry.  One of the panels included New York children's librarian, Betsy Bird. When asked to recommend just one book, she enthusiastically suggested York, by Laura Ruby.   

The first lines of York drew me in immediately: "The true story of any city is never a single tale; it's a vast collection of stories with many different heroes. But most storytellers believe that theirs is the only true story and that they are the only true heroes. They are surprised to find out they are wrong."   

These lines held the promise of mystery and adventure. I was so captivated that I read the entire 430 page book in one sitting. Granted, I was sequestered on a flight across the country, but I had plenty of distractions (mainly my five children and husband!) This book is filled with adventure, mystery and intrigue. The characters are engaging, the plot fascinating, and the interweaving of past and present is magical. And did I mention the puzzles? It is a tribute to the beauty and intrigue of New York City and the secrets it holds. 
It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher — a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.

Tess and Theo Biedermann, a brilliant set of twins, live in a Morningstarr apartment house with their friend Jaime Cruz— until a real estate developer announces his plans to buy the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. If Tess, Theo, and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real and solve it before the buildings are destroyed. 

What the critics are saying:

“In this smart, immersive series starter, Ruby expertly juggles stunning plot choreography, realistic stakes in a captivating fantasy setting, well-wrought characters, and flashes of sharp cultural commentary.” — Booklist (starred review)

“This first volume opens up an ever expanding sense of magic, culminating in a bittersweet ending that promises bigger things to come. The past informs the present as the review informs readers: don’t let this one go.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Ruby’s latest is a high-stakes mystery novel filled with intriguing puzzles, solid world-building, and diverse characters. An engaging series opener that will leave readers eagerly awaiting future installments.” — School Library Journal (starred review)

*Win a signed copy of the book!

To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through May 6th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, please mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter and this giveaway is U.S. only. 

Laura Ruby is the author of books for adults, teens, and children, including Bone Gap, a National Book Award finalist and Michael L. Printz Award winner, among dozens of other accolades. Her other books include the Edgar-nominated mystery Lily’s Ghosts, the Book Sense Pick Good Girls, and the acclaimed novels Play Me and Bad Apple. She is on the faculty of Hamline University’s MFA in writing for children and young adults program and lives in the Chicago area. You can visit her online at

Top 3 Things I Learned at NESCBWI

*This was originally posted on Writer's Rumpus, here.
melissa sweet
Melissa Sweet
1. Get started!  Incredible author/illustrator, Melissa Sweet said: “We don’t have to know what we’re going to make, we just have to get started.”  How many times do I stare at a blank page, unsure of what to do next?  How many times have I failed before I even began because I failed to start? Jane Yolen echoed Melissa’s sentiment when she said: “If you show up, the muse will listen.”  Both Jane and Melissa helped me remember that when I sit down to write, the words come.  All I need to do is get started.  
Black and White JY, Heidi, Susannah
Me, Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple, Susannah Richards
2. Take advantage of your great ideas! This may seem obvious.  As creatives, of course we use our great ideas, don’t we?  The venerable Jane Yolen said: “If you are blessed with a great idea, don’t debase that coinage. Make it sing, and keep the change.” Great ideas don’t sing without hard work and revision.   Jane’s words motivated me to take a look at some of my stories, find the flaws, and make them sing!
elly swartz
Elly Swartz
3. Write with heart!  In a fantastic workshop on infusing emotion into our work, Elly Swartz challenged us to write from the heart during a 2 minute class exercise.  I imagined my character and wrote:
I sit on my bed,
my heart a stone in my chest.
Its weight catapults me backwards.
I will never meet my father.
My tenuous string of hope stretches thin
and breaks,
Its remains wobble in my mind,
a tangled nest of sorrow and regret.
Writing from the heart helped me understand my character’s feelings in a way that I hadn’t before.  
lynda mullaly hunt
Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Talented Lynda Mullaly Hunt‘s words resonated with me: “If you are willing to put your vulnerabilities on the page, you will change lives.”  Is there anything better than that?
THANK YOU to NESCBWI conference organizers Josh Funk and Sera Rivers for creating an environment conducive to learning and filled with creative energy!
What did you learn at your last writer’s conference?