Friday, January 31, 2020

A New Challenge for 2020

What's new with you? I have a whole new adventure awaiting me, earning a Masters in Teaching. Yep, that's right. I hope to go back to school.

These are excerpts from my entrance essay: My desire to become a teacher began over twenty-five years ago when I attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. While taking Humanities and History classes, I became filled with the joy of learning about other cultures and time periods. I decided I wanted to share that joy with others and the best way I could do that would be to teach students and open their eyes to cultures and places beyond their own.

I graduated with a BA in Humanities with special emphasis in Art History, French and Secondary Education; however, I never did my year of student teaching to receive my certification. Life went on and I married and had six beautiful children. I’ve enjoyed my time at home with them and even spent several years homeschooling. As I had more children, I decided to place them in public school and support their learning from home.

My passion for teaching about culture then took a different direction. I decided that to reach children and youth, I would write books that not only included adventure, but also history and culture. In 2012, my first middle-grade book, The Emerald Ring, was published by Cedar Fort Books. It was the first in a series about youth living in different areas of the globe who end up working together to defeat a common enemy. The books took readers to Egypt, New Orleans, France, and Great Britain. It engaged their senses while they learned about the art, architecture, and beliefs of those areas. I love writing and plan to continue writing books for youth so they can visit destinations around the world.

So what do you guys think? Teaching and writing, heck yes! 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy 2020!

Welcome to 2020! I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but I wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

I've been spending my time reading, just not children's books. I made the happy mistake of buying a Kindle Unlimited subscription and now tons of adult books are free! It's been years since I made the time to read thrillers, suspense, and action novels, so I'm catching up.

Netflix put out The Witcher series, so I decided I needed to read those books before the show started. Then, I got back to reading a series I had started, but never finished, the Sigma Force books, by James Rollins.

Kindle Unlimited has me reading a bunch of romance and independent books, and I'm having a lot of fun listening to Audible.

So, my challenge to everyone this New Year is to do something you haven't done in a while or choose a new experience. You'll be glad you did. If you have the time, tell me about it in a comment below.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Author Interview with Jennifer Voight Kaplan, author of the MG novel Crushing the Red Flowers

Welcome to Middle-Grade Monday! Today I have an author interview with Jennifer Voight Kaplan about her book Crushing the Red Flowers.

The Book-
Emil Rosen and Friedrich Weber couldn’t have less in common, but in the summer of 1938, they must both deal with the changes steamrolling through Germany. Friedrich struggles with an uncle in jail and a cruel Hitler Youth leader, while Emil does his best to avoid the blistering anti-Semitism that’s threatening his family. As the rules of yesterday no longer make sense, both boys find comfort at a private spot along the Leine River. Then in the late hours of November 9th, their world explodes, and the two boys are forced together in a race against time that requires Friedrich to risk his life in order to save Emil and his family. You'll hold your breath through the heart-pounding ending!

The Author- 

Jennifer Voigt Kaplan is an award-winning author of children’s fiction. Her debut children’s novel set in 1938 Germany, Crushing the Red Flowers, was praised by James Patterson and recognized in six literary contests before its publication, including earning a Letter of Merit for the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant and winning the middle-grade category of the BookLife Prize for Fiction (Publishers Weekly).

Jennifer was born in Germany, raised in Philadelphia, and now resides in the New York City area. Since her father was German and mother a German Jew, she grew up with a multilayered understanding of the challenges that Jews and Germans faced during WWII. She holds degrees from the Wharton School of Business in marketing and from the London School of Economics in social psychology.

The Interview-
1. Please tell us about the book in your own words.
Crushing the Red Flowers is the story of how two ordinary boys cope under extraordinary circumstances during the pogrom we call Kristallnacht. The novel alternates perspectives between two twelve-year-olds, Emil, a German Jewish boy, and Friedrich, a boy in Hitler’s Jungvolk. The two boys find themselves scrambling to keep up with the striking changes of 1938. Friedrich struggles with a cruel, new Jungvolk leader and a jailed uncle, while Emil tries to escape the anti-Semitic fog that’s seeped into every cranny of his life. Then on November 9th, the world unravels and nightmares leak onto the streets. They each must push past the person they thought they were because neither is certain they’ll survive what comes next.
Crushing red flowers (poppies) symbolizes the end of the distinct political, social, and economic culture that was present in Germany between the world wars. The Jewish characters explore patriotic loyalty, emigration, newly clouded German Jewish identity, and the optimist/ pessimist dichotomy that was present in the German Jewish community before Kristallnacht. The non-Jewish characters highlight the debate about how much Germans challenged Adolf Hitler and delve into the nuanced experience of German resistance to Nazism.

2. Tell us what inspired you to write about this difficult period of history?

While Crushing the Red Flowers is fictional, it is based on true family experiences. My heritage is half German and half German Jew. I grew up with a multilayered understanding of the challenges that Jewish and non-Jewish residents of Germany faced during WWII. The stories I heard from both sides of my family were filled with love and devotion, as well as pain and loss, so I think it’s important for young people to have access to historical fiction with diverse perspectives. 1938 is a turning point in history. That critical year offers a unique vantage point to examine what came before, during and after, but unfortunately, I sometimes find it overlooked in school curricula.

3. Was the research challenging?
Writers of history strive to genuinely portray events, but since writing fiction is by nature a subjective representation, some degree of distortion is inevitable. To minimize misrepresentation, I tried to conduct extensive research. To start, I interviewed family members who lived through the period, read everything I could find about Kristallnacht and the Jungvolk/ Hitler Youth, and worked with experts like Myrna Goldenberg, professor emerita of Holocaust history at Montgomery College, and Dr. Patricia Heberer-Rice from the Holocaust Memorial Museum. But that wasn’t enough. I still had many historical questions. What was the exact weather in Hannover on certain dates? In what month did wild poppies begin to wilt? What foods were difficult to attain in 1938? As a result, I ramped up the research with additional sources. For example, I wanted to mention wallpaper, but couldn’t find much about wall coverings used during that time in my existing sources. So, I hopped on the train and spent the day at the New York Public Library Picture Collection. I browsed through image after image until I gained a solid sense of German interiors in the 1930s.

4. What would you like readers to take away from your novel?
Many people today do not understand the Holocaust and I believe the more access young people have to historically accurate information, the more it informs their ethics and decisions. The novel explores the still relevant themes of kindness and bullying and provides a narrative explanation of how Jewish and non-Jewish residents of Germany proceeded during this era. Ultimately, I hope to help children develop their awareness of morality, realize how their decisions can impact others, and identify bullying in our modern day.

5. Tell us about your path to publication.
Crushing the Red Flowers took five years to write and then an additional four to launch. I began plotting in 2010, but didn’t know how to proceed. I had been writing short stories and picture books for enjoyment for a few years, but never a novel. There was plenty of trial and error. I’d sometimes write numerous paragraphs, sleep on it, and then do a complete re-write the next day. And in that way, during the limited amount of time I was able to afford myself to create the book, I taught myself to write. I squeezed in writing workshops, watched YouTube videos on craft, read tons of how-to books, and attended conferences. My reading time doubled as learning time. I twice-read books, first for pleasure and second for study. I deconstructed them, highlighted stunning prose and flagged memorable dialog. 
By the end of 2015, the novel was finished. I began submitting to literary agents, then editors, and all the while to writing contests. By the time it was selected from the slush pile by Ig Publishing, a wonderful award-winning independent press, Crushing the Red Flowers had been recognized in six writing contests, including earning a Letter of Merit in the 2012 SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant and winning the Middle-Grade Category in the 2016 Publishers Weekly BookLife Prize for Fiction.

6. Any advice for aspiring writers?
Remain focused on day-to-day joy. The journey to publish Crushing the Red Flowers was lengthy, even by the monstrously slow standards of the publishing industry. But as I look back, I treasure all the varied moments that were necessary to create it — collaborating with my family, teaching myself the craft of novel writing, establishing relationships with fellow writers, and learning all about the publishing business. So, yes, it was a long journey, but also an affecting, vital, wondrous journey that I am honored to have had.

Thank you Jennifer!

Book Info

by Jennifer Voigt Kaplan – Debut Author
Ig Publishing ( / Distributed by Consortium Book Sales & Distribution
On sale November 19, 2019 / Ages 10-14 / 304 pages
Hardcover: 978-1632460943 / $18.95
Paperback: 978-1632460950 / $12.95

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Picture Book Round-Up- Bea's Bees by Katherine Pryor

Welcome to Picture Book Round-Up. Today I am looking at a new release, Bea's Bees, written by Katherine Pryor and illustrated by Ellie Peterson.

The Story-
Beatrix finds a beehive in the tree at her local park and continues to visit it every day. She loves to watch the bees fly around, visit flowers, and bring back food for their hive. One day, the bees are gone! Bea decides to find out what she can do to bring them back to the park. She talks to her science teacher, reads tons of books, and even does a school project where she hands out flower seeds for friends to plant.

Her efforts pay off and soon the bees are buzzing.

My Thoughts-
This picture book is a really good example of how you can introduce science and nature to young readers. Bea's adventures allow readers to learn about solving problems. The last few pages of the book include facts about the importance of bees and how they are necessary for fruits and nuts that humans eat. There is also a colorful illustration of the types of flowers that bees like best so those young ones can do their part to help the low bee population.

Bea is very brave. I wouldn't be one to keep an eye on a beehive or even check out its honeycomb. Perhaps a word of caution about the danger of bees should be given, maybe even a look at honeybees versus bumble bees. However, the overall message of the book is needed and I love how Bea figures out a way to solve her own problem. Great illustrations and a good message. I'm giving this book 4 stars!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Picture Book Round-Up! Rowdy Randy by Casey Rislov

Welcome To Picture Book Round-Up! Today I am reviewing Rowdy Randy by Casey Rislov.

Rowdy Randy is a rough, tough cowgirl, oops! I'm mean horsefly. Randy is a horsefly who goes about getting in trouble and biting things. She spends her time in the desert riding lizards, talking to Buffalo and finally, causing a cattle stampede. It is during this stampede that Randy finally finds out if she has what it takes to be a true cowgirl. Though, the ending leaves a bit of a mystery for the reader.

The illustrations are excellent! I loved all the big, bold drawings, colors, and creatures. Any kid is going to love seeing Randy's adventures come to life. So much fun! I'm giving this book 5 stars!

Buy it now!- Amazon

Monday, October 28, 2019

Book Review- The Mystwick School of Musicraft By Jessica Khoury

Welcome To Middle-Grade Monday! Today I'm doing something different, I'm reviewing a book that I listened to on Audible. Sometimes I get headaches, and instead of laying in the dark, I've taken to listening to books on tape, so to speak. So, since I listened, I can't attest to any grammar errors. This review is on plot, story, and characters.

The Story-
Amelia Jones lives with her grandmother and there is nothing she wants more than to attend the Mystwick School of Musicraft just like her mom did. Amelia plays her flute all the time practicing for the upcoming auditions. When the day arrives, everything goes wrong, and Amelia feels sure she did not make it.

Imagine her surprise when the letter arrives letting her know she earned one of the four coveted spots for flute players. Then, everything falls apart again and Amelia is forced to show her gumption and skills to remain at the prestigious school. Only, that's not all she is dealing with. A mysterious ghost is haunting her, sabotaging all her projects, and her roommate hates her. There is also a mysterious storm raging and Amelia hears the teachers' worried whispers. It's up to Amelia to save the school and prove her worth.

My Thoughts-
This book rocked! And the audiobook was even better. They actually play the music in the background that Amelia is playing or hearing in the book. So cool. The story itself does not let the reader down.

Amelia's mom passed away when she was a baby and all she wants is to play the flute her mother left behind and go to the same music school. The thing is, Amelia is from a small farming area, and though she had a musicraft teacher, she soon discovers that it isn't even close to what other youth have had in their preparations. Amelia is forced to put everything she has into every assignment she is given. Her struggle is real, and whenever she seems to take a step forward, the ghost swats her back. The author does a great job with Amelia, her thoughts, reactions, and doubts are very believable.

There are several twists that keep popping up in the story, plot turns that add to the story in wonderful ways. When I finished listening to this book I immediately went to look for a sequel, but nothing is listed, as yet. I really hope something else comes out soon. I loved this story for its uniqueness, quirkiness, and depth. I'm giving it 5 stars!


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

When Dinosaurs Go to Bed by Josh Bluman

Picture Book Round-Up time! Today I am looking at When Dinosaurs Go to Bed by Josh Bluman, illustrated by Tetiama Kopytova.

The Story-
Even dinosaurs need to get ready for bed, and so the tale begins of how each dino does its own bedtime routine, just like children do.

My Thoughts-
Adorable. Kids love dinosaurs and most hate going to bed. This book shows them that their favorite creatures even have things they have to do before bed. My favorite, a Diplodocus who only gets to sleep after it gets its stinky socks off.

The illustrations are perfect for kids, big and bold, full of fun things to look at in a normal bedtime environment. I'm giving this book 4 stars!