Kid Lit Book Review and Author Interview – Berkley: A Nose Tail by David Hillman

“It’s ok to be different, and to be able to take what some might see as a disadvantage, and turn it into an asset.”

In the words of David Hillman, author of Berkley: A Nose Tail, that is the message of his first book.  David was kind enough to conduct an author interview with me along with allowing me to review his book on the blog.  Enjoy.

In reading your mini author bio in Berkley, it seems that you were an artist first and then wrote a children’s book. Is that pretty accurate? What are some things you’ve done artistically before Berkley?

Yes. I’ve been a commercial illustrator for some time, and became a writer out of necessity. I have a lot of stories inside me that I want to tell through my illustrations, but in order to do that I knew I had to learn how to write as well.

Do you enjoy writing in general aside from children’s books? Could you ever picture yourself writing a novel?

As I continue to write I’m starting to enjoy the process more than I used to. While I don’t think I have a novel in me, I do have an idea for an ongoing series of chapter books for middle grade readers, but that’s still far down the road.

Can you take us through your journey a little bit on your way to becoming an author/illustrator? What were some important steps and moments throughout that process?

Illustrating children’s books has been something I’ve wanted to do for some time. I’ve spent the better part of my career drawing comic books and storyboards, as well as general illustration and I’ve enjoyed doing that. Now I’ve reached a point in my career where I want to leave behind something, something that readers will enjoy for years to come.

The most important step in the process is asking myself if the idea I have is a fun one, will it make me smile? If it’s fun and funny then I’m on the right track.

Berkley is your first book. Do you have any more in the works right now?

I’m currently working on the next Berkley story and I also have a few ideas for other stories. I’m also working on offering my skills to illustrate books for other authors.

Who/what was the inspiration for Berkley?

Berkley has been sniffing around in my head for some years. Just the image of a dog with a HUGE nose seemed pretty funny to me. It’s been only recently I started to wrap a story around him.

Has everyone in your family always supported you being an artist/author as a vocation?

Absolutely! My entire family has been very supportive throughout my career, but most especially my wife. She’s been incredibly supportive, and tolerant of my insanity, how she’s been able to put up with it is beyond me.

Who in your life has been your biggest mentor?

I’d have to say it’s been my father, a writer of children’s books himself, He used to give me some of his yellow writing pads for me to draw on, and I’ve been doodling ever since.

Sadly, he’s no longer with us, but when I’m having a problem with a story I’m working on I look at his picture and think to myself, “What would dad do?”

If you could summarize the message of Berkley into one statement for children, what is it?

That it’s ok to be different, and to be able to take what some might see as a disadvantage, and turn it into an asset.

What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring children’s book author like me?

Practice your craft because you love it, not because someone tells you should do it. Also, do the kind of work you feel inspired to, be true to your own style. Early in my career I had someone suggest that I should create illustrations of a certain type, and it just didn’t work for me. The work was stiff, flat, and I got bored with it very soon. Find what you really are interested in, and practice it every chance you get. Make the next story, or the next project better than the last, and the next, and the next…

My thanks to David for taking the time to do the interview with me and for allowing me to review his book, which I loved.

Overview

Berkley: A Nose Tail is a story about a dog who is born with a HUGE nose.  His nose is constantly getting him into trouble as he loves to stick it in places where it doesn’t necessarily belong.  However, when his owner’s friend is unable to find her cat, Berkley’s nose is the only thing that is able to help.

Outstanding Points

As I’ve done more and more book reviews, the diversity of illustrations and the obvious talent behind all of them irregardless of style is amazing.  The Illustrations in Berkley are fantastic.  The detail and intricacy of them are truly remarkable.  As you can see even from the front cover, just very excellent overall.  Mr Hillman, as you can read in the interview, began his career in visual arts and illustrating, and that fact is very apparent.

I love the message behind the book.  I enjoy books with messages but also enjoy that this one isn’t blatantly stated either.  I also love this particular message as it deals with an actual physical characteristic.  In the social media driven society that over-analyzes and scrutinizes every photo, a message of self-acceptance and self-appreciation is very appropriate and relevant.

There is another message, although much more subtle, that I also love.  Warning, I’m about to preach a bit.  One of the main characters is an African-American girl.  In the book, her father is a police officer.  I love that, although it is subtly ingrained, a person of color is painted (literally) in such a positive light.

The story itself is compelling and engaging.  I enjoyed reading it.  Although for an adult, the outcome is predictable, a child would definitely be locked in waiting to see how it will turn out.

From start to finish, the story and setup of the book is consistent.  There are about the same amount of words on each page appropriate to the age level the book targets.  The storyline is coherent and complete.

Discussion Points and Teaching Ideas

Becky, one of the characters in the story, automatically assumes the worst in the story.  I think it would be good a discussion about negative self-talk and imagining the worst possible scenario.  Talk about how many times we think the worst possible thing has happened when really it wasn’t anything like that at all.  Allow students to share stories from their lives.

Jeremy, Berkley’s owner, knew about how amazing Berkley’s nose was, even when most other people viewed it as a detriment.  So, when Becky needed his help, Jeremy jumped at the chance for Berkley to prove himself.  How can we be that way as friends, classmates, or siblings?

Is it easier to see the potential in others or in ourselves?  How do you think that this should affect how we treat each other?

Allow students to create an animal that has something crazy like Berkley’s huge nose?  Have them brainstorm how that animal might use whatever it has.

What should Berkley’s next story be?  How else might he be able to use his nose to help people?

Well, that’s all.  Overall, I really liked this book and was really impressed with the art in it.  You can find Berkley: A Nose Tail in several places.

You can go to Amazon at this link Here

It is also available from Barnes and Noble Here

Or you can go to the official Berkley web page Here

You can also follow David Hillman on Instagram at @dnahillman

I really do hope you will go check it out for yourself.  You will certainly  not be disappointed.  As always, thank you for reading.  I hope you enjoyed it.  If you want to follow the blog to receive email updated whenever I post something new, simply click on the link in the lower right hand corner of your screen.  Thanks again.

Baking on a Saturday – No Sugar Added Apple Butter Banana Bread

One thing that annoys me with many food/recipe blogs is that there is usually at least a 5,000 word story to scroll through before you get to the actual recipe you were looking for in the first place.  That being said, the idea for this recipe kind of does have a story behind it but I’ll keep it quick.

Through a series of events, we came into possession of about a hundred apples and only used about thirty-five of them.  Never the one to throw extra food away, I decided to try my hand at home made apple butter.  The apple butter actually turned out really really good.  However, after about two weeks, we still had a good bit left and I was sick of seeing it in our fridge.  It was also a Saturday when I was home alone with the kids.  I love passing on my passion for cooking and baking to my kids, so we went into the lab together and created apple butter banana bread.

If you’ve read my recipe blogs before, you know that I am a huge fan of not loading foods, especially ones with fruits (i.e. sugar) already in them.  It’s not necessarily that I’m an insanely healthy eater.  I’m not.  I just don’t like that some recipes have as much sugar as flour.  In essence, I would rather my banana bread taste more like bananas than sugar.  So you’ll notice that this recipe has absolutely no extra sugar added.  When I made the original apple butter, I added about a quarter cup of brown sugar but this recipe only uses a small amount of the total apple butter.  So all in all, there is probably about a tablespoon of brown sugar from the apple butter actually in the bread.

So, after complaining about blogs that take forever to get to the actual recipe, I used three hundred to introduce this one.  I apologize. Here’s the recipe.

Ingredients

2 ripe bananas

1 cup apple butter

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs (if you want a vegan recipe, substitute 1/4 cup applesauce)

2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

Step One

Preheat the oven to 350*

Step Two

Mash the bananas in a medium bowl.  I find that it is easiest to just use a fork for this.  Then add the apple butter, vegetable oil, vanilla, and eggs/applesauce.  Mix it all together until it is relatively smooth.  Set the wet mix aside. 20190112_085846.jpg

Step Three

In a separate bowl, add the dry ingredients; the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.  Mix them together until they are well blended.20190112_085357.jpg

Step Four

Add the wet mix into the dry mix.  Mix it together until the entire mixture is relatively smooth.  Use a rubber spatula to make sure that all the dry mix is off the edges of the bowl or when you go to pour the batter, you’ll all of a sudden have a spot of dry flour in your bread that never got mixed in.20190112_124550.jpg

Step Five

Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and pour/spoon the batter into the pan.  Bake for 50 minutes or until you can insert a fork into the middle of the loaf and it comes out clean.  Try your best to eat it while it is still warm out the oven.  If not, this bread should hold pretty well for a couple of days.  It pairs really well with coffee but what doesn’t? Am I right?  Also, don’t judge me that the kids are all still in their pajamas, it’s a Saturday ok.

 

Well, as always, thanks for taking time to read the blog.  I hope you enjoyed it and that you try this recipe and love it too.  Our family liked it a lot even though it’s not super sweet.  If you want to follow the blog to receive email updates whenever I post something new, please click on the link in the lower right hand corner of your screen.  Thanks again.

 

Kidlit Book Review – Folkland Fables: Scottish Fairy Creatures by Jenni Gudgeon

“Hidden deep in the heart of Folkland Wood there lies a doorway into Faerie. It
only opens when the moon grins mischievously in the sky, and even then, it’s not
open long.”

“Fairy-sighted humans view two worlds at once…”

Welcome back to the blog everyone and thank you for reading.  I took somewhat of a hiatus from writing over the holiday season but have a lot of book reviews pending and one author interview on tap as well.

This week, I had the pleasure of reading  Folkland Fables: Scottish Fairy Creatures, the book from which the opening quotes to this post comes.  I must say, that it is by far the most interesting of all the books that I’ve reviewed up until now.

Overview

The book is written by Scottish author Jenni Gudgeons as a sort of traveler’s guide to the fairy creatures that live in the woods by her house in Scotland.  So, it’s different in that there is not really any sort of plot to follow.  Just descriptions, backgrounds, and behavioral patterns of the creatures.  However, not having a plot does not mean that it is not engaging.  I found it to be very much so and truly enjoyed it.  It is longer than most of the books that I review and much more suited for upper elementary level students and the illustrations belie that.  I will describe them more in detail later as they are definitely noteworthy.

Excellent Points

  • Illustrations for sure.  I fell in love with them.  They are done on two page spreads.  The bases for the illustrations are actual pictures of the woods and things in them such as trees, flowers, moss, etc.  However, superimposed over the photographs, are fanciful illustrations of the creatures described.  They are done in classical fairy tale style in which realistic portrayal is thrown to the wind and creature merges with vegetation and vegetation merges with geography.  It’s really hard to describe.  Think Where the Wild Things Are mixed with original portrayals of the Billy Goats Gruff only more fanciful and whimsical.  The colors of the creatures are all done in black, white, yellow/gold and orange, which gives it even more a rare aura.  Again.  It’s hard to describe without actually seeing them.
  • The descriptive language in the book is very good as well.  Gudgeon uses many very precise adjectives to create word pictures to accompany her illustrations.  The backgrounds and behaviors of the creatures are all very precise and developed as well.  It’s almost Tolkien-esque.
  • The book is very unique in its portrayal of several common creatures such as unicorns.  While in most books and stories, unicorns are revered and sacred, Gudgeon describes them as more vain, arrogant, petty, and annoying.
  • The book includes several creatures not common in fairy stories such as a washerwoman, wood brownies, will-o’-the-wisps, and more.  As a traveler’s guide, Folkland Fables not only describes them but also gives advice on how to best interact with them.  It’s really very neat.

Teaching and Discussion Points

  • Folkland Fables would be a great book to read and compare with similar stories involving fairy creatures such as unicorns, trolls, pucks, etc.  Use Venn diagrams to show similarities and differences in both appearance and behavior.
  • Although some of the creatures are portrayed with negative characteristics, Gudgeon doesn’t vilify them.  She simply describes them honestly and tells how to interact with them in the best way.  Discuss how this is how we can approach some people too.  Everyone brings something different to a classroom environment and everyone has a different set of life experiences that causes them to be who they are.  This is important to realize and take into account as humans and as fairy creatures.

Teaching Ideas

  • It’s almost a good thing that there is no plot from a teaching perspective as this leaves room for students to create their own stories based on the creatures’ characteristics.  Creative writing is such an important skill for development.  This is a great opportunity for it.
  • Another great creative opportunity is for students to create their own fairy creatures.  Don’t put any caveats or limitations on it.  Allow them to be as wild and fanciful as the students can dream.  This is a great time when their creativity does not need to be reined in at all.  Now play a game to test the students’ descriptive writing.  Have the students exchange papers and illustrate their partner’s creature based on the description.  Assess how well each person was able to do it and have them add more description as necessary.
  • Summarizing is also an essential skill.  Have the students break into groups of four or five and compile a bullet-point style traveler’s guide to the forest with each creature being an entry.  Have each entry include a physical description category, a behavioral characteristics category, and a traveler’s advice category.  Have them research similar guides for other areas like the Sahara, rainforest, or arctic tundra.

 

 

All in all, Folkland Fables was a very interesting read.  I don’t think that I would recommend it for younger children.  However, if you are looking for an engaging and fanciful read with fantastic illustrations, this is a good place to find it.  You can find Folkland Fables on Amazon at this link.  It costs 25.99 for a hardback and 13.99 for paperback.  The Kindle version is only 6.99.

As always, thank you for reading.  Special thanks to Jenni Gudgeon for allowing me to review her book.  I really hope that there are more to come with actual stories involving the creatures of Folkland Woods.  To follow the blog and receive and email update when I post something new, please click on the link in the lower right hand corner of the screen.  Happy New Year everyone.