Category Archives: Reviews & Interviews

Book Review: Dear Santasaurus – by Stacy McAnulty

 

 

 

 

 

Book: Dear Santasaurus
Author: Stacy McAnulty
Illustrator: Jef Kaminsky
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press 
Date: October 1, 2013
Genre: children's picture book; age 5-7; K-3
Pages: 32
Price: $15.37
My rating: a fun and funny read

Dear Santasaurus by Stacy McAnulty is unlike any dinosaur book – or santa book – you’re likely to read.

Dear Santasaurus is a funny story about Ernest B. Spinosaurus, a young dinosaur who starts early in the year writing letters to Santasaurus. In fact, January 1 his first note is a thank you for his Christmas present – even though he already broke it. Every month he writes to Santasaurus, sometimes twice, and more in December just so he can try to be on the nice list.

 The notes also serve as his wish list which changes and grows throughout the year. In March, what starts out as a scooter, by April has increased to a Jurassic Turbo Scooter x9. In May is it a sea serpent blue Jurassic Turbo Scooter x9 and a raging raptor action figure. In June, it is now a Jurassic Turbo Scooter x9 with a working headlight, and never mind the raging raptor action figure – he now wants tar pit goo. Amusingly for the reader, Ernest B. Spinosaurus’s request gets more elaborate almost every month, and the bold creative illustrations by Jef Kaminsky add to the humour.

On Christmas Eve Ernest leaves a note for Santasaurus, just to remind him of the long list of features he wants his scooter to have. The description is so detailed (and changed) it’s quite funny.

The illustrations by Jef Kaminsky are very well-suited to the story, as Ernest B. Spinosaurus tries to do more nice things than naughty ones – a hard task for a mischievous young dinosaur to accomplish. Children will love the antics Ernest gets up to, and his attempts to convince Santasaurus he had good reasons for everything.

Children are sure to enjoy Dear Santasaurus by Stacy McAnulty. It’s a fun story for adults to read to them, too.

You can find Dear Santasaurus by Stacy McAnulty on my BUY THE BOOK page. I also post my reviews on Goodreads, and when available on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Chapters.Indigo.

Your comments are greatly appreciated by authors, illustrators, and this blogger.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

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Book Review: When a Dragon Moves in – by Jodi Moore

 

 

 

 

 

Book: When a Dragon Moves In
Author: Jodi Moore
Illustrator: Howard McWilliam
Publisher: Flashlight Press 
Date: May 1, 2011
Genre: children's picture book; age 5-7; K-2
Pages: 32
Price: $16.95
My rating: a delightful story of imaginative play

When a Dragon Moves In is the first book of two – the second being When a Dragon Moves in Again which I reviewed HERE. The author, Jodi Moore, came up with the cutest personalities and storyline for children (and adults) to enjoy.

With his parents and older sister, a little boy spends an enjoyable day at the beach. He builds a perfect sand castle that turns out to be just right for a dragon to move into – and so begins a very imaginative day at the beach.

The dragon becomes his playmate – toasting his marshmallows, being his raft in the water, playing in the sand, scaring away bullies (when actually the reason they run is because his father is standing behind him). The boy is careful to hide his dragon for a while, but then decides it’s time to let his family know. Of course, they don’t believe him and have reasonable explanations for all his clues of the dragon’s existence.

Soon, to prove he’s real, “his dragon” starts doing things that get the little boy into trouble. His dad says it’s got to stop. The boy realizes he has a decision to make.

Children will understand the boy’s quandary, and will be amused with the wonderful ending of the story.

When a Dragon Moves In is such a delightful story. The illustrations by Howard McWilliam are absolutely fabulous. When a Dragon Moves In and When a Dragon Moves In Again are two books that are ‘must reads’ for your young readers – and the whole family.

You can find When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore on my BUY THE BOOK page. I also post my reviews on Goodreads, and when available on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Chapters.Indigo.

Your comments are greatly appreciated by authors, illustrators, and this blogger.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

 

Book Review: 7 Ate 9: The Untold Story – by Tara Lazar

 

 

 

 

 

Book: 7 Ate 9: The Untold Story
Author: Tara Lazar
Illustrator: Ross MacDonald
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date: May 16, 2017
Genre: children's picture book; humour
Pages: 32
Price: $18.99
My rating: Entertaining story filled with puns and humour

7 Ate 9: The Untold Story is a very entertaining story. And how can it not be, having been written by Tara Lazar?

Private I is asked by the number 6 to help him. He has heard that 7 Ate 9, and he is scared 7 would soon be after him. Private I pointed out that 7 is always after him – as in 5, 6, 7. That fact doesn’t console 6 and he fears his days are numbered as both 7 and 9 seem to be missing!

Private I goes to the café for a slice of pi.  (No, I didn’t mean to type pie.) The waitress, whose name is B, has the scoop. She’d heard that 7 ate 9, and she drops a scoop of ice-cream onto Private I’s pie that’s shaped like the number π – which is the mathematical pi.

As you can easily figure out from what little I have said – not wanting to give away the whole story – there are many puns and word plays in this funny picture book 7 Ate 9: The Untold Story. The bold, creative illustrations by Ross MacDonald (a Canadian now living in the US) are perfectly suited to the story and visually add to the puns. The reader must pay attention to the illustrations to not miss the added humour.

In a surprising and funny conclusion, Private I cleverly solves the mystery of missing 9 and 7, reminding the adult reader a little of Sherlock Holmes.  🙂

Tara Lazar has cleverly written a book for children that is full of puns, plays on words, and humour. Young readers are sure to enjoy 7 Ate 9: The Untold Story.

You can find 7 Ate 9: The Untold Story by Tara Lazar on my BUY THE BOOK pageI also post my reviews on Goodreads, and when available on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Chapters.Indigo.

Your comments are greatly appreciated by authors, illustrators, and this blogger.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

Book Review: I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard – by Jennifer K. Mann

 

 

 

 

 

Book: I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson's Blackboard
Author/illustrator: Jennifer K. Mann
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Date: June 9, 2015
Genre: children's picture book; age 5-8; gr. K-3
Pages: 40
Price: $16.99
My rating: Such a delightful story!

I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard, written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann, is a sweet story.

Schoolteacher Mrs. Benson gives stars on the blackboard for spelling and math and right answers and neatness. Rose just KNOWS she’ll NEVER get a star because she can’t seem to give the right answers on anything. She likes to doodle, and her desk is always messy, too. Mrs. Benson doesn’t give stars for that.

One day, Mr. Sullivan comes to visit the class and he talks about being an artist. After his visit Rose thinks a lot about what he said, so much that she’s distracted and spills the class snack on Mrs. Benson! How can she ever get a star that way!

When Mrs. Benson announces she’s going to do a desk check for neatness, Rose’s heart sinks, but the next morning she cleans it the best she can. When her teacher gets each student to make a thank-you card for Mr. Sullivan, Rose’s artistic flair is released. What a mess, even worse than before! In fact, Mrs. Benson laughs because not only is Rose’s desk a mess, so is Rose! She is very impressed with the little girl’s artwork, though, and says that Rose is a true artist like Mr. Sullivan.

At the end of the day, Mrs. Benson calls Rose up to the blackboard. The little girl is worried, but then something wonderful happens.

Jennifer K. Mann‘s illustrations are fabulous in I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard. I wish I could share a couple of my favourites here for you, but since I can’t you’ll have to read this delightful book for yourself to see them. Jennifer pulls the reader right in with her combination of words and visuals. Her illustrations are uncomplicated and expressive – very enjoyable.

You can find I Will Never Get a Star on Mrs. Benson’s Blackboard by Jennifer K. Mann on my BUY THE BOOK page. I also post my reviews on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Goodreads, and on Chapters.Indigo if available there.

Your comments for authors and illustrators are greatly appreciated.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

Book Review: I Love Sharks, Too! – by Leanne Shirtliffe

 

 

 

 

 

Book: I Love Sharks, Too!
Author: Leanne Shirtliffe
Illustrator: Lorenzo Montatore
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Date: June 6, 2017
Genre: children's picture book: age 3-6; Pre-school-K
Pages: 32
Price: $16.99 
My rating: educational and fun at the same time 

I Love Sharks, Too!, by Canadian author Leanne Shirtliffe, is a book to experience and enjoy. If you ever wonder about sharks but you don’t want to get into heavy science facts, or get too close to them in person, this would be an enjoyable read for you. Written for children it’s safe and fun. 🙂

Stevie is a little boy who loves sharks. He loves them so much he wishes he were one himself. He thinks about them a lot! And why not? Sharks are amazing creatures!

One day, every time his mother spoke to him about something, he replied with a shark fact that fit the topic. When his mother said to stop squirming, he told her that whale sharks can’t stop moving or they’ll die. When she told him to use his manners at dinner, he said bull sharks tear their food apart with their fifty rows of teeth! When she warned him about trying to scare her, he had a fact about hammerhead sharks’ eyes.

They really weren’t communicating very well all day. Even when she told him to turn out his light at bedtime he replied with the fact that lantern sharks glow in the dark. Imagine what that must be like.

Lorenzo Montatore’s illustrations in I Love Sharks, Too! are full of energy and will make young readers – and grown-up ones – giggle. His art for this story is bold and crazy – which suits the story well. It’s enjoyable and educational at the same time.

I Love Sharks, Too! has a surprise ending, a satisfying one. The actual story is followed by eight pages of very interesting shark facts humorously illustrated. 

You can find I Love Sharks, Too! by Leanne Shirtliffe on my BUY THE BOOK page. I also post my reviews on Goodreads, and when available on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Chapters.Indigo.

Your comments are greatly appreciated.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

Truck snacks from Susanna Leonard Hill for when your little road builder gets the munchies

While we wait a few more days to know who of you wins a copy of The Road That Trucks Built by Susanna Leonard Hill, Susanna came up with a little trio of “recipes” to go with the TRUCK book. 🙂  Enjoy!

From Susanna …

If you’ve got a little road builder at your house, what could be better than a traffic light snack? 😊

Here are three options with varying degrees of preschool do-it-yourself and grown-up actually-having-to-cook involvement 😊

Easy Healthy Graham Cracker Traffic Lights

You will need graham crackers, strawberries, bananas, green grapes, and some kind of nut butter.

Divide graham crackers in half along the lines provided so you have rectangles instead of squares.

Slice circular pieces of strawberries, bananas, and green grapes.

Spread the graham cracker rectangles with a little peanut butter (or other nut butter to taste or if there are allergies).

Place a strawberry round on top for the red light, a banana round in the middle for the yellow light, and a green grape round on the bottom for the green light.

Voila!  Easy, healthy traffic light snack for your little driver!


Rice Krispie Treat Traffic Lights

You will need Rice Krispies, a bag of marshmallows, and about 1/2 a stick of butter, (or ready-made Rice Krispie Treats), and red, yellow and green m&ms.

Make a batch of Rice Krispie Treats as per the directions on the cereal box  or, if you’re short on time or prefer not to tangle with melted marshmallow 😊  do it the easy way and buy ready-made Rice Krispie Treats.

If you make them yourself, cut the treats into rectangles and, while still a little warm and soft, press red, yellow and green m&ms on for traffic lights.

If you use the ready-made ones they are precut to the correct dimensions but since they’re cold you’ll just need to use a tiny bit of nut butter, icing, or softened marshmallow to stick the m&ms onto them.

Voila!  Easy, still pretty healthy traffic light snack for your little construction worker!


Cookie Pop Traffic Lights

You will need a batch of your favorite sugar cookie recipe, or a Betty Crocker or similar mix with 1/3 cup butter, 1 egg, and a tablespoon of flour, or a roll of refrigerated sugar cookie dough, plus some popsicle sticks (flat craft sticks with rounded ends) and red, yellow, and green m&ms.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Prepare a batch of your favorite sugar cookie recipe (or do it the easy way and use Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix or refrigerated rolled sugar cookie dough)

Roll the dough on a floured surface about 1/4 inch thick and cut into 3 X 1 inch rectangles.

Place about an inch of a popsicle stick into a 1 inch side of each cookie.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet 2 inches apart.

Bake 7-9 minutes or until edges are light brown.

Immediately press red, yellow, and green m&ms into each cookie.

Cool 2 minutes, then remove from baking sheet and finish cooling on cooking racks for about 30 minutes or until completely cool.

Makes about 30 cookie traffic lights for your little road builder!

These all look so fun to make! And you can still enter the July 29 draw to win a copy of The Road That Trucks Built by commenting on my July 20 post

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂

 

Interview with illustrator Erica Sirotich; & a book giveaway!

I’m delighted today to welcome you to my second illustrator interview! Erica Sirotich, illustrator of The Road That Trucks Built – written by Susanna Leonard Hill – accepted my invitation to answer some questions here for us.

Welcome to my interview corner, Erica! I’m happy to invite you as only the second illustrator I’ve ever interviewed. I’m learning wonderful things about creating. 🙂 By way of introduction, could you tell us a little about yourself?

 

Hi there! I am a freelance and children’s book illustrator living in St Pete, Florida. I’ve been working on picture books for about four years, and illustrating professionally for eight. I am the illustrator of Susanna Hill’s adorable The Road That Trucks Built, but I must mention that my author-illustrator debut, Found Dogs, just came out too (July 18)! It’s a picture book for young children about adopting dogs from the local shelter; it’s published by Dial (Penguin) and can be found wherever books are sold!
Other than drawing, I love my dog Russell Redfur (all dogs really); I enjoy lots of coffee and talk radio and podcasts while I work; and I’m a big collector. I collect picture books and art books, stamps, rocks from my travels, Japanese wooden kokeshi dolls, and most recently, plants.

Congratulations on your author-illustrator debut! That’s exciting! When did you first know you wanted to be an illustrator? Who or what inspired you, and what keeps you motivated?
Well, I’ve been drawing my entire life. My little brother and I grew up drawing together, and we’re both working illustrators now. As kids, we inspired and challenged each other all the time, and taught each other drawing techniques and tricks. He still inspires me (www.nicksirotich.com), and so do hundreds of other illustrators, whose work I follow online, on Instagram, and whose books I obsessively collect.

It’s wonderful you have someone close to you with that same interest. Can you tell us a little about your technique and choice of medium?
I sketch everything first in pencil, of course, and when sketches are approved by my art director, I refine them and move on to ink. Depending on the project, I either use brush pens and fine tip pens to create crisp line art (as in Trucks), or brushes and ink to create a slightly looser, softer look (as in Found Dogs). When the ink drawings are complete, I scan those in and collage the pieces together in Photoshop, and color the images digitally. My finished pieces are hybrids of traditional and digital illustration processes.

It all sounds very interesting. How do you decide on how the characters will look?
I just sketch and sketch and sketch and the characters’ personalities emerge gradually and organically from this process. For Trucks, I first had to study all of the vehicles that appear in the book to try to understand how they move and work. (I had never even heard of a scraper before!) So I gathered dozens of reference photos of the trucks and tacked them on my cork wall in front of my desk. Some of them reminded me of certain animals; for instance, the bulldozer reminded me of a little crab, and since we wanted the trucks to be characters in their own right, I embraced that comparison and drew her that way—as a crabby dozer. (She’s not crabby, actually; she’s cheery, and carries a purple flower in her exhaust pipe.)

Yes, she looks quite happy doing her work. 🙂 How much is your own idea when illustrating a book, and how much direction is decided for you? In other words, how much freedom are you given? Do you do any brainstorming with the author?
Usually when I’m working on initial sketches for a book the art director has provided a couple sentences describing what should appear on each page or spread. I’m given a lot of freedom to determine how to execute that, but once the entire book is sketched out, the art director often makes more recommendations to improve consistency across spreads, to fix tricky areas, to remove unnecessary elements or add necessary ones, and so on.
Recommendations in the Trucks illustration process included things like: let’s change the perspective on this page, or zoom out to see a wider view; let’s show each truck from the previous spread in the current spread; let’s show more rocks and sticks in the dirt; let’s add more confetti to the road opening celebration; things like that.
When illustrating a book, I work exclusively with the art director, not the author. That’s just the standard process in publishing. I do believe the art director/editor shows the author the sketches once they’re complete, and then the finished pieces at the end.
The author is consulted in part to make sure nothing has been misinterpreted or
misunderstood, and to make sure she likes how it’s materializing. But I don’t
communicate with the author directly; the art director calls most of the shots.

Your illustrations for Susanna’s book, The Road That Trucks Built, are very well-suited to children. How did you land this assignment? Approximately how long did it take you to complete this book?

Thank you! Well, I have an agent, Jenn Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary, so my projects mostly come straight through her. For Trucks, the art director saw my work and contacted Jenn to see if I’d be interested in illustrating it. I thought the manuscript was so cute and clever, and though animals are my favorite things to illustrate, I loved that in Trucks the vehicles had to be depicted as characters in their own right. So, of course, I jumped at the opportunity.
I believe the process for illustrating Trucks spanned about six months, but I was actively illustrating for about four. For a short period of time, I was hopping between illustrations for Trucks and Found Dogs.

What is it about illustrating children’s books that appeals to you?
I just love children’s books and I’m over the moon that I have had the opportunity to work on several thus far. I think some of the most compelling and innovative work in illustration these days is being done in picture books. There’s so many incredibly talented people out there making them, I’m just humbled and honored to play a tiny part in that world.
Also, I love that working on books is kind of a hybrid between being a freelancer and having a “real job.” When illustrating a book, you know you’ll be busy for several months at a time and can budget your time (and expenses) accordingly. Being self-employed can be a roller coaster of busy—not busy—busy and also making money—not making money—making money. Longer projects help build some stability in an otherwise unpredictable career.

I understand about your love for picture books, and when you help create them it must be thrilling! Writers have critique groups, editors, agents, how does that work for you as an illustrator?
I have a wonderful agent. It’s been her connections and enthusiasm for my work that’s led to all of my major projects over the last four years. For illustration-only projects, like Trucks, I work with art directors rather than editors. I don’t know of anything along the lines of an illustration critique group, but I have a lot of illustrator friends, as well as my brother, who weigh in if I get stuck or need advice. And I post a lot of work and process shots on Instagram, which has a very large illustration and picture book community. It’s nice to get feedback from folks there, and feel connected to a creative community that’s dispersed across the globe.

Obviously, it’s important to have those connections. Is being an illustrator all you had hoped or thought it would be?
Haha! Well, in some ways, yes. First and foremost, I get to draw (almost) every day, so in that way, I’m living the dream. Being self-employed can be difficult, though. I’m lucky to have some regular clients in addition to my book illustration projects, including Highlights Magazine, and that helps me fill in the gaps.
There’s that saying out there: If you do what you love, you won’t work a day in your life. That’s not true, ha! I usually work 6-7 days a week, nights included, and I work very hard. (Yes, sometimes I’m sitting on my couch in the living room while I work, but there’s always more to do and I don’t like to procrastinate.)
All that said, the work is a privilege and joy. The fact that, in the end, it lands in the hands of children makes it even more special and even kind of surreal. I just love it.

How wonderful that you have been able to turn what you love to do into something you … love to do for a  job! Do you have any advice for hopefuls?
There’s no substitute for dedication, persistence, work, and study. If you want to work on picture books (or on any particular book genre), read and study as many recently published picture books as you can (last five years, preferably). Use your favorites as mentor texts and try to really understand how those works are put together and why they are successful. Join SCBWI, study their website and resources, and do your best to attend at least one regional or international conference. Soak up the collective wisdom of that group. Hone your style and present your work professionally online, in a clean, standalone website. In your portfolio, show fewer strong pieces, rather than more mediocre ones. Follow agents on social media and, when you’re ready to submit your work to them, follow their guidelines and only submit your best. Maintain a professional persona online; don’t post things that you wouldn’t want a potential client
to see. And don’t quit your day job too soon. Getting consistent work in illustration and publishing can take years and years. Try not to be discouraged. The process is slow but the rewards are worth it. Good luck!

Thanks, Erica, for a very interesting interview and for giving us a glimpse into your world. 🙂 Congratulations, again, on your own book debut this week! I wish you continued success.

WHERE YOU CAN FIND ERICA:

Website
Twitter: @cuddlefishpress 
Instagram: @ericasirotichon 
FaceBook 

And now …

Susanna Leonard Hill, and her publisher, Little Simon, are offering to one of you a copy of The Road That Trucks Built

 

 

 

The rules are simple. Leave a comment on this post telling us which type of ‘truck’ in the road crew you would like to drive, and your name will be entered into the draw – not to actually drive one of them, though. (Sorry)  🙂  You have the ones in the story from which to choose: the bulldozer, the scraper, the grader, the paver, the roller, the paint marker. (If you read my interview with Susanna you know which one she is likely to choose. 🙂 )You have until Saturday, July 29, at 9:00 PM EST to enter. Using the “random name picker” I will select one name, and the next morning – Sunday, July 30 – I will announce the winner of a copy of The Road That Trucks Built. Be sure to check your email Saturday night because I will be contacting the winner for a mailing address.

Don’t delay, comment today! And please pass the news on to your friends; post on Twitter, FaceBook, or what ever way you communicate with the world. We thank you.

To catch up on the exciting things that have been happening here all month read about it. (You have until July 22 to enter the previous draw, too.)

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!