You Have A Voice. Use It

Hey Everyone,

So, first of all.  I realize it has been a very long time since I last wrote a piece on my own blog.  There are several reasons for this.  First, I’ve been struggling through some issues in my life dealing with anxiety and depression and just the all around manic pace at which my life happens.  Seconds, I’ve begun doing some freelance writing for other blogs.  It’s been super challenging but fun and interesting at the same time.  Last, I’ve actually been doing something that has been exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.  I’ve been working on self-publishing my own book.

I can proudly say that as of about a week ago.  My book is live on Amazon.com to purchase.  Shameless plug, you can get it for 9.99.  Head to Amazon.com and either search for my name, Erik Steidl, or for the book, The First Ostrich to Fly.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might have read a poem I wrote a while ago called What is No One Ever Told the Ostrich.  If you want to go back to read the poem again, the link is here . The book that I wrote is based on that poem.

So, you might wonder how publishing a book can be terrifying.  I mean, all in all it’s kind of simple.  You write it, edit it, add illustrations (if it is a picture book), and upload it to Amazon.  Then people can buy it.  However, it truly is terrifying for someone like me.  Publishing a book is putting yourself out there.  A lot of emotion and feeling goes into a book and by publishing it, you’re exposing those emotions and feelings to the world.  For an introverted person, that is a very daunting thing to do.

However, I want this post to be an encouragement to you out there if you are like me and you like to keep things close to the vest and safe.  If you have something, an idea, a book, a poem, etc. in your head that you feel would benefit people, then put it out there.  You have a voice and you’ve been given that voice for a reason.  Someone out there needs to hear what you have to say.

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and books by an author named Rob Bell recently.  He is a Christian author and one of the things that he says a lot is that “God is constantly looking for people to join Him in the ongoing creation of the world.”  That is something that I have taken to heart.  Bell talks about how the world is still being created, that we have an opportunity to help shape this ever evolving world into how we want it to look and feel.  We all have voices and we all have passions.  If you see something in the world that you think needs changing, voice that.  If you just want to add positivity into the world, do it!

Like I said, I realize that this can be frightening.  For me, it was terrifying.  I constantly second guessed myself as I went through the process of self-publishing.  Thoughts kept jumping into my head telling me that my book was stupid, that I was dumb for thinking that it was actually something people would want to read.  However, after about a week of having my book out there, the response has been so positive.  The number of people who have reached out to me telling me how much they loved the book has been truly overwhelming.  I think that the same will be true for you as well.  People need to hear what you have to say.  Your words, thoughts, and voice have worth and value.  You have a voice.  Use it.

 

Kid Lit Book Review – Tina Says Opportunity by GL Wolfgang

Teachers and parents especially, the latest book that I had the pleasure of reviewing is tailor made for you.  Tina Says Opportunity, by GL Wolfgang, illustrated by Lillian Kirk, is a book that is chock full of second tier vocabulary, higher order thinking questions, and character building stories.

Overview

Tina Says Opportunity is the title of the entire book, but a book that is really a collection of five shorter stories.  Each of the stories focuses on a specific word.  Those words are opportunity, implement, Persevere, Sagacious, and Gratification.  Each of these focus words has a short, 10ish page story that teaches what that word means.  The stories are based on real life children in real life situations.  The children are guided by a female mentor type character named Tina who explains each word she uses throughout the situation the children are in.

Outstanding Points

As a teacher and parent, I love this book.  Each of the focus words is a second or third tier vocabulary word. (I mean, who has ever heard the word sagacious before?…I would have thought it was a species of tree or something).  That word, throughout the story, is clearly defined with a real life usage of that word played out with the characters.  I appreciate that the stories themselves are usually only about ten pages long.  It sets up very nicely for a discussion or free writing time afterwards.

Speaking of discussion (no pun intended…well that’s not true…kind of pun intended) each story comes with a page that has higher order thinking questions included.  the questions are divided into three categories; Applying, Analyzing, and Abstracting.  Applying is the lowest order thinking, Analyzing the next, and Abstracting the highest.  I absolutely love this part of the book.  Maybe it’s the former teacher in me, but I think that this part of it is just great.  I included the question page from the first book, based on the word, “opportunity.”20190522_213152.jpg I really liked the illustrations in the book.  They were not extremely life like but I did not feel that detracted from the book at all.  I don’t think they were intended to be perfectly life like and realistic.  When children read books, they don’t really care if the pictures look exactly like the real thing.  If they did, authors like Eric Carle would not be successful.  The point is that the pictures engage the children and fit the manuscript.  I believe that these illustrations, by Lillian Kirk, do both of those things very well. They are done in a sort of pastel medium that I found to be perfect for the book.  I included two pages from the books as examples. 20190522_213129.jpg

Another thing I really liked about the books was that they were all done completely in dialogue.  There is no narration of the story, simply illustrations and dialogue.  It is a very unique approach to story telling that I really enjoyed.

Teaching and Discussion Points

Obviously, this book is set up for teaching and discussion.  It literally has teaching/discussion questions included in the book.  I would add a couple ideas if I was teaching and using this book in my classroom.  First, as I said earlier, each book is focused on a specific second or third tier vocabulary word.  If I was teaching, I would make a sort of word web of each word with synonyms and antonyms.  Then, I would use that to discuss subtle differences in both the denotation, and connotation of each word.  For example, sagacious, wise, smart, discerning, and intelligent are all relatively synonymous.  However, each are somewhat different as well.  How is being intelligent different from being wise?  Are there different ways to be intelligent or smart?  Questions like those take the vocabulary introduced in these books to an entirely new level.  After all, vocabulary is one of the five components of literacy.

 

As I said before, I absolutely love this book.  It is especially good for teachers and parents of young children.

 

Mr. Wolfgang was also kind enough to participate in an author interview to accompany the book.  Please keep reading to hear what he has to say about his own book and some other things.

ES – Hi! First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to do this.  I really enjoy the author interview portion of my blog. Each other I’ve worked with has just been so unique and extraordinary in his or her own way.  Each one has a different motivation for writing in general and for specifically writing the book(s) that he or she has written.

ES – So let’s start with that.  As a former teacher, I absolutely love the Tina Says Opportunity series because first it is incorporating second and third tier vocabulary for younger readers and then also incorporating deeper level thinking questions into the books themselves.  What is your motivation/inspiration for writing? Are you coming at it from a teaching perspective?

GLW – Unfortunately for me I did not  have a discerning guidance as a child, and as I learn and understand I am driven to share. This is why I started with “Opportunity”. I want to instill the recognition of all the possibilities we have, and understand how to accomplish and experience the gratification of success. I did this as a  children’s book series because I want to instill this at a young age to create a fulfilling life and not have missed opportunities.

I always share, I feel I missed my calling to become a teacher. I knew this upon graduating high school, yet I did not pursue this awareness (missed opportunity). This feeling has never left me.

My illustrator is a teacher and her influence have enhanced this project with a teaching  perspective.

ES – I went to your website, endlessendeavorllc.com and love it.  Can you simply tell me what it’s all about? Why the name endless endeavor?

GLW – Our endeavor is to share and create opportunity, this will never end; thus the company name Endless Endeavor.

ES – When I was a teacher, I actually had several students named Imani?  Are Imani, Leon, and Tina based on real people from your own life?

GLW – Yes, in an accumulated sense. Each character has multiple influences.

ES – The writing style of the book is very interesting and unique as it is completely done in dialogue between the characters.  Why did you choose to do the book like that?

GLW – I believe our greatest asset is our ability to communicate, words are the essence of communication. Leaving the rest up to the imagination allows our audience to be creative.

ES – Can you tell me a little bit more about your writing process?  What does it look like for you? How long does the manuscript take you from first draft to final copy ready for illustration and publication?

GLW – I start with ideas, many of them coming from my journaling. Words are very important to me. As I write, I use the thesaurus to search to find the right word to convey the thought or feeling that I am trying to share, sometimes it is a slow process, sometimes it will flows quickly.

With this particular series, the concept came to me about five years ago, with having to maintain my present occupation progress was challenging. We have five more series planned. I expect we should be able to complete this in less time.

ES – Who is your illustrator and how did you two connect

GLW – Lillian Kirk is my illustrator and orgatrator, her husband is a friend of a friend of my sons. She is a wonderful addition to this endeavor. She is now my partner in the Company.

This is one of my locutions:

“I will not say I cannot do this without you, I will say with you I can”

Lilly has been the fruition of these stories.

ES – How can people get ahold of your books and/or follow you on twitter, facebook, instagram, etc.?

GLW – We do have accounts on these all mediums as well as our website. http://www.endlessendeavorllc.com

 

 

As always, thank you so much for reading.  If you enjoyed this and would like to receive an email notification whenever I post something new, simply click on the link in the lower right hand corner of the screen to follow the blog.

 

 

Kid Lit Book Review – Paw Elementary: Roxy’s Adventure to the School Dentist by Katie Melko

Ever been scared to do something for the first time…especially if that thing is going to the dentist?  Heck, some adults (myself included) still get nervous going to the dentist.  That fear, and overcoming that fear, is the theme of the book, Paw Elementary: Roxy’s Adventure to the School Dentist by Katie Melko.

Overview

This book is a fun and fanciful read about a dog, Roxy, who is afraid to go to the dentist.  Her brother, Mason, does not help matters by teasing her about how awful it will be.  After worrying about it all week and trying to find excuses to skip out on the dentist, the day finally comes and Roxy finds out that there was never really anything to be afraid of in the first place.

Outstanding Points

The first thing that I noticed was that all the characters in the book had traditional “pet” names.  There was names like Roxy, Mason, Jasmine, and Harley. (No offense intended for any humans who happen to also have those names).  I thought that those names helped bridge the gap of making personification truly believable.

The illustrations were also very well done.  The book is visually pleasing with the illustrations being full and engaging without looking cluttered.  The characters are believable and expressive.

The plot is just long enough to fill the book without feeling likes it’s banal and overbearing.  I think that children will relate to each situation that Roxy is in and in turn engage with the book and story.

Discussion and Teaching Points

This book is perfect for all sorts of discussion and teaching points.

First, the message that is so obvious to adults is something that makes for good conversation points with children.  Parents/guardians who may be sending their children to school for the first time can talk about how Roxy was scared but there was really no reason to be afraid at all.  Parents/guardians who are encouraging their children to try something new can talk about how new things can be really positive if you can overcome the initial fear of things.

From a teaching standpoint, there are so many fun cross curricular  connections you can make.

In social studies, you could incorporate this book into something like Ruby Bridges.  Talk about how if we’re scared, like Roxy, of doing small things like going to the dentist, imagine how much more courage it took for her to do what she did.  Have students talk about some times in life when they’ve been scared to try something new and how those things turned out when they finally tried them.

TEETH! Lots of things have teeth!  My mind is literally exploding with all the science lessons you could teach on different animal teeth.  Talk about how each animal’s teeth coincide with their diet.  Incorporate the key words herbivore, carnivore, and omnivore.  After studying several examples, you could show just the animals’ teeth and have them first guess the animals’ diets, and then try to guess which animal each set of teeth belongs to.

Overall, I found this book to be really delightful.  I enjoyed it from start to finish.  It’S a great book for children from probably 3 until 7.

The author, Katie Melko, was kind enough to take the time to do an interview with me about her book.  Please keep reading.

Hi Katie!  First, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview as part of the book review process.  I think that it adds so much to the book to be able to hear some of the things that the author has to say about his/her own book.  

ES – So first, let’s just talk about your book.  Tell us the story behind the story. Where, when, and how did you get the idea/inspiration for a story about a dog who is scared to go to the dentist for the first time?  I assume it probably has something to do with your profession as a dental hygienist?

KM –  Yes, so I’ve worked in public health as an RDH for 10 years, treating children in schools, churchs, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. The inspiration for the story came from those children that I treated and seeing how scared they were. I wrote this book almost three years ago now and put it away and didn’t take it back out until September of 2017, when my dog Roxy passed away. It was then that I decided to honor her life forever by keeping her alive in pages of children’s books for all to share.

ES – How long was the writing/editing process for you?  From the day you finished the first draft to the day the book launched officially, how long?

KM – Well, from the time I took it back out after it sat for over a year. I took a little over a year from that moment to getting the first print in my hand. I had to really push myself to believe in the journey and step out of my comfort zone to do this project.

ES – What does the writing process look like for you?  Do you bring in other people in the editing process or just step away from the book for a couple days then come back and reread it with fresh eyes to see what needs tweaked?

KM – So I write the story, let it sit for a week or so, reread it and tweak. Then repeat probably two more times before sending it to an editor.

ES – One thing that I loved was that all the characters in the book had names that would be considered good “pet names.”  Roxy, Harley, Jasmine, Luna, etc. Where did those come from/

KM – All of the pet names in the book, are actual pets in my life. Roxy, Noel and Mason are my dogs. Luna is my brothers. Jasmine was my family dog growing up. Harley was my aunts dog. Astoria is my cousins cat. They all have a meaning in my real life.

ES – So, your bio says that you also founded a publishing company, 12 Paws Publishing.  Can you tell me more about that?

KM –  I started 12 Paws Publishing, LLC in December of 2018. I wanted to build a business for my self published work. The name came from my three dogs (12 paws) and the logo looks like a yellow labrador (just like my rescue pups).

ES – Can you tell me a little about the process of finding your illustrator.  Who is she? How did you find her?

KM – Roksana Oslizio is my illustrator and see lives in England! I found her on a facebook group for children’s authors and illustrators and fell in LOVE with her work!

ES – Has it been difficult working with someone who lives on a different continent?  How have you been able to work through those obstacles?

KM – It has honestly been very easy, she is super quick with responding, we communicate via facebook messenger and dropbox! She is an absolutely pleasure to work with and love her work!

ES –  From the outside, it seems as if you have about a hundred different things you do in life right now? Does that ever get exhausting/

KM – I’m very busy, yes! But I love it, and by doing so many different things, I have finally found my passion which is public health dental and creative writing!

ES – Do you ever picture yourself stepping away from the dental hygiene profession and being a full-time author?

KM – This is my big dream, I would love to do this in the future! The main reason I work so hard, I also started writing romance novels! My first one will be out soon hopefully!

ES – Your website says that there is a second book in the works.  Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

KM – Yes! Paw Elementary: Roxy’s Adventure to the Hair Salon

The book walks you through Roxy’s fear of getting her hair trimmed for the first time. She talks to her friends and family about getting her hair trimmed at Honey Bear’s birthday party and why she is just so scared!

ES – Where can people find you, your books, etc.?  Do you have a Twitter, IG, or FB page?

KM – People can purchase my book on my website www.12pawspub.com/shop and follow me on IG, Twitter, FaceBook, and Pinterest @12pawspubllc

The kindle or e-book version is also available on https://www.amazon.com/Paw-Elementary-Adventure-School-Dentist-ebook/dp/B07NFC7C43/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1_sspa?crid=2Z2LNA3TYXAXL&keywords=paw+elementary+roxy+adventure&qid=1557931790&s=gateway&sprefix=paw+elementary+rox%2Caps%2C127&sr=8-1-fkmrnull-spons&psc=1

Kid Lit Book Review – A Prince, a Giant Peacock and the Gold Ring by E.K. Bowhall

In the words of the author, A Prince, a Giant Peacock and the Gold Ring “is a story that tells how important family is, and how different we all are. To be royal not by blood, but in our hearts, is a beauty that can go beyond what we can see in each other and ourselves. How one so true can break any spell and overcome any obstacle in one’s life.”

Overview

One of my goals when I review books is to simply connect readers with books.  That means matching the right books with the right readers.  The last book I reviewed, I May Fly was a book geared for very young readers.  A Prince, a Giant Peacock and the Gold Ring is almost exactly the opposite.  It is geared for an middle to older elementary age, say 2nd-4th grade.  Whereas I May Fly was a very short book both in title and in word count, A Prince, a Giant Peacock and the Gold Ring is a much longer book both in title and in word count.  I didn’t take the time to count them, but I estimate it to be roughly 2,000-2,500 words.  It is told as a classic fairy tale with the plot occurring over several years and involving quests, enchantments, sorceresses, true love, and magical creatures.  There are many motifs of the classic fairy tale incorporated into both the plot and the illustrations, done by Valeria Leonova.

Outstanding Points

With a book as long as this one, it can be difficult to keep the overall tone of the wording and dialogue consistent.  However, I would say that Bowhall definitely keeps a consistent voice throughout the entire book.  I also truly enjoyed that overall the book is stylistically consistent.  Leonova did an excellent job with the fairy tale motif.  The pages are all ornately decorated with hand drawn roses as borders and the pages themselves are made to look as if they are aged and yellowed/browned paper.  The illustrations are vibrant and full with a “Legend of Zelda” feel.  Even the font of the writing is consistent with the fairy tale motif.

The plot itself is compelling if it is a little slow developing.  There are several plot twists toward the end of the story that, although are probably a predictable for adults reading it, are fun and exciting for children. I found as I read it to my children that they stayed relatively engaged in the story.  The younger two probably more so for the illustrations but the older one with the story itself.

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Discussion and Teaching Points

One great discussion point that I saw is with the topic/theme of love.  I think that this topic is very important for children, especially in the later elementary years as they are about to get those hormones and start pursuing relationships.  I really liked that in this fairy tale, it wasn’t love at first sight, or the damsel in distress running off with her rescuer that she just met. (As a matter of fact, Alexandra rescues the prince the first time they meet).  Prince Thomas and Alexandra develop their friendship and relationship over a long time before they realize that they are in love.  I also really like that her family is involved in their friendship from the very beginning.  I think that discussing how important it is to build true friendships and not just jump into romantic relationships is important for older children about to proceed into adolescence.  Call me crazy if you want.

Another important discussion is about the values that both of them see in each other and what the King valued in the Queen.  In neither relationship is physical beauty seen as the most important factor.  Throughout the story, character qualities such as kindness, honesty, and goodness are portrayed as much more important than appearance.

As far as teaching goes, obviously this book fits into any unit on fairy tales.  A great lesson idea would be comparing this modern fairy tale with one writing a long time ago.  What themes are consistent?  What are different?  Use Venn diagrams, etc.

Elizabeth was kind enough with her time to do an author interview with me.  This is one of my favorite parts of the whole book review process as I get to hear from different authors.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

ES – So, let’s start with your book.  Say you’re in a conversation with someone and you mention that you’re a published children’s book author and she replies, “Oh wow! What is your book about?”  How would you answer her?

EB – I try to tell them as much as I can without giving the story away. It’s about a young prince whose father, the king, sets out on a quest. While his father is away, the prince meets a giant peacock who talks and wears this gold ring. As years goes by, he becomes good friends with the giant peacock but his father, the king, does not return. I tell them this is a fairy tale with a little mystery.

ES – Is” A Prince, A Giant Peacock, and Gold Ring your first children’s book?

EB – Yes, but I have another in the works.

ES – I find that every author has a different story behind the inspiration for his or her story.  What is the inspiration behind yours? When and how did you think of it?

EB – My inspiration came from when I was telling stories while trying to put a few kids to sleep for nap time at the daycare where I work. I asked the two kids to help me start the story. Once upon a time there was a prince, and he lived in a…. jokingly, I said, “cave” and the two laughed and said, “a castle.” I remember their faces. It was funny. Then as I added on I said, “One day the prince meet a fish?” as another joke and the one child laughed and said, “no a bird.” So I asked her what type of a bird and she said, “a Big Peacock.”  And well, the rest just came to me. When they fell asleep, I knew I had something. So I took notes, made a few changes, and when I got home, I wrote the story down. The two kids became characters in my story. 

ES – Your illustrator, Valeria Leonova, is Ukrainian.  How did you find her? What has it been like working with someone halfway across the world?  Where there any specific challenges associated with that? If so, how did you overcome them?

EB – I found Valeria on Facebook. It’s been great working with Valeria, a lot like having a pen pal. We have become great friends. With the help of Facebook and video chat we were able to work through any challenges.

ES – Your book reads as a classic fairy tale with magic, sorceresses, enchanted rings, etc.  Many times, there is a lot of symbolism with fairy tales. Is there any symbolism in your book?  What is it?

EB – Roses. The young girl Alexandra loves roses as did the queen. Alexandra is a big key to the story.

ES – What is life like as an author?  Have you done any book readings, book fairs, etc.?

EB – It’s exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. You get this feeling of “Wow I did it”, and at the same time “Is it good enough? Will people like it?”  

I had my book launch at Old Chatham Child Care, where I have worked for 7 years now. I have a few more book signings coming up later this summer.

ES – Do you have anything else in the works?  What’s coming next from the mind of Elizabeth Bowhall?

EB – Yes, I am working on another children’s story, a short chapter book, and a novel that I have been working on for a few years now. At first I had a case of writer’s block but writing my first children’s book has helped me unblock.

 

 

Again, thanks so much to Elizabeth for taking the time to do this.  She actually sent me a book in person and autographed it for my kids.  It was so kind of her.  If this book seems to be your cup of tea you can purchase it off of Amazon HERE

As always, thanks for reading.  I hope you enjoyed it.  If you would like to follow the blog and get email updates whenever I post a new book review, poem, or recipe, please click on the link in the lower right corner of the page.  Thanks again and happy reading.

Kid Lit Book Review – I May Fly by Brandon Baxter

My latest book review is a story called I May Fly by Brandon Baxter.  In the words of the author, it is a story about “teaching children the importance of being patient while you grow, letting life and its lessons take their due course.” Brandon was kind enough to do an author interview with me to share along with my review of his book, so keep reading after the review to hear what he has to say about the inspiration behind the story and some of the process of taking an idea and turning it into a published work.

Overview

This story is by far the shortest story that I’ve featured on the blog as of yet.  However, that does not diminish it at all, it’s simply written for a very young audience. I really enjoyed reading it and loved the illustrations.  The story is about a mayfly named May Fly who is very young and, as of yet, unable to fly.  As the book goes on, May Fly talks about having confidence in who she is and where she is in life right now and accepting that.  The story is based on a sort of play on words that is very clever.  The main character says, “I’m a fly” then “I May Fly.” So as you read it, the two sentences sound exactly the same.  The entire book is somewhat a clever play on words as it is a rhyming book.  As I read it, I pictured reading it to my own young children right before naps or bedtime.  It has a lullaby feel to it and the illustrations reinforce that aura.

Outstanding Points

The first thing that stuck out to me in this book is how consistent it is genre wise and thematically.  As I said, the book feels like a lullaby to read to a very young child as they go to sleep.  It is rhyming and whimsical.  Shannon Lloyd, the illustrator, did an outstanding job of keeping the illustrations consistent with the overall feel of the book.  They are done in a kind of hazy pastel style that is somewhat fantastical and dreamlike.  The colors are soft and soothing to create an entire ambience that is warm and relaxing.  I also really did enjoy the whole play on words that creates the book.  As a parent who is constantly forced to read the same 100-700 word books over and over and over again, it caught my interest and engaged me in the book right away.  I also like that the book was only 110 words.  I feel like it is the perfect length for what it is.  It’s not a huge story with a lot of plot twists.  It is a simple story for young children.  I think if the author had made it any longer, it would have been too much of the same thing in an effort to simply extend it.  However, as I said, I feel that the length of the book is perfect.

Discussion and Teaching Points for Parents/Guardians and Teachers

The themes in this book are great for discussion points with young children, especially those with siblings.  One of the things that May Fly says is, “I may fly tomorrow, or today.”  I think it’s probably a great thing to discuss with children that some things may come more quickly to some kind than to others.  Just because you can do something or do it better than another child doesn’t mean that you are better and just because another child can do something or do it better doesn’t mean that you are worse.  Talking about how everyone has innate and inherent value simply based on being a living creature and not based on any kind of merit is a very important discussion.

May Fly also says “Some believe I won’t fly at all.  Perhaps it’s because they think I’m too small.”  This too is a very important discussion point for children.  I believe that many times, children don’t reach their full potential because of the limits that they allow other people to place on them.  Talking to them about overcoming obstacles in life despite what others may say is critical.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book.  It was also great to be able to work with an author from my own home town of Medina, Oh.  If this book piques your interest, click on this link to check it out on Amazon.  Now on to the author interview.

ES – Is I May Fly your first book?

BB – I May Fly is indeed my first book. I’ve had previous writing experience in the past, mainly writing news copy as a sports producer and contributing as a sports writer for a couple of blogs. But, writing a children’s book has been my first foray into actual published literature.

ES – What would you say the message or theme of the book is?

BB – Patience and perseverance. It’s geared toward teaching children the importance of being patient while you grow, letting life and its lessons take their due course.

ES – How long ago did you get the idea and how long from there to actually publishing your book?

BB – The idea came to me in June of 2018, shortly after uprooting and moving to a new city. As I left for work one morning, a wall of mayflies covered the door of my apartment building. After brushing them off of me and sliding into my car, the word mayfly began running through my mind. My entire drive into work that day was in complete silence as I played around with words in my head. It would be another month before finally putting pen to paper, then another three months before meeting my illustrator (Shannon Lloyd). The first publishing didn’t occur until late January 2019, when I decided to self-publish using Kindle.

ES – How/where did you find your illustrator? Was it a process finding someone whose style fit that of your manuscript?

BB – Honestly, I give credit to connections I‘ve made. I met Shannon through a former co-worker, someone who I was simply talking with about my book. This co-worker, Rebecca, mentioned to me that a friend of hers had illustrated a children’s book before. I asked if she’d be willing to introduce us. After having my initial conversation with Shannon, I asked her to look over my manuscript and create a character that children would find to be cute and endearing. To this day I still feel Shannon nailed it on the first try!

ES – What does it feel like to have an actual published book and to officially be an author?

BB – It’s kind of surreal, it’s something I never would have thought about or expected out of myself. Had you asked 30 year-old Brandon, it would have never crossed my mind. But age and life experiences can change a person, and sometimes you have to pay close attention to those changes and what information they bring. I can guarantee you that if certain instances had not occurred in my life, I would not be a published author at this specific point in time.

ES – Would you like to have a career exclusively as an author?

BB – I would love that! I feel I might possess quite a few unique stories to share with and tell the world.

ES – Do you have any more books/writing in the works?

BB – I haven’t yet begun writing in earnest, not another story at least. I do have some ideas of continuing May Fly tales, so we’ll see where her next adventure takes us.

ES – How and where can people get ahold of your book and/or follow you on Twitter and/or Instagram?

BB – “I May Fly” can currently be purchased as paperback on Amazon and digitally on Kindle. I encourage readers to like and share my Facebook page for all kind of information about my writings, it’s called Stories by: Brandon Baxter. You can also find me on Twitter, my handle is @bbaxter8

 

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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.

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.