Monday, February 5

Five Tips for Aspiring Fantasy Writers (by Kamilla Benko)

Welcome to today's blog tour stop for Kamilla Benko's debut middle-grade read: The Unicorn Quest. Not only am I excited to share this book, but also share her expertise on writing a good piece of fantasy. As a children's book editor and now author, she's got some fantastic advice. But first! The book itself...

About the Book

The Unicorn Quest
Kamilla Benko

Bloomsbury (January 30, 2018)

Claire Martinson still worries about her older sister Sophie, who battled a mysterious illness last year. But things are back to normal as they move into Windermere Manor . . . until the sisters climb a strange ladder in a fireplace and enter the magical land of Arden.

There, they find a world in turmoil. The four guilds of magic no longer trust each other, the beloved unicorns have disappeared, and terrible wraiths roam freely. Scared, the girls return home. But when Sophie vanishes in the night, it will take all of Claire's courage to climb back up the ladder, find her sister, and uncover the unicorns' greatest secret.
Five Tips for Aspiring Fantasy Writers
By Kamilla Benko

When people ask me who are my favorite literary characters, I sometimes reply, “Hogwarts!” Or Pern, or Tortall, or Ketterdam, or Red London, depending on my mood. Hey, these are worlds, not characters, you might say. And you’d be absolutely right.  But I don’t see the difference. Worlds are what I fall in love with.

As an editor who has worked on several fantasy novels at the Big Five Houses and as the author of The Unicorn Quest, I’ve spent a lot of time creating and shaping new worlds, and I have five helpful steps to take as you begin to build your own.

Wednesday, January 24

How To Find Inspiration To Write Your Picture Book (by Lindsay Ward)

Hello all! I've got quite the pleasure of introducing this guest post's author, Lindsay Ward, who recently published her newest picture book, Don't Forget Dexter!, the first in her new Dexter T. Rexter series (which earned a starred review from Kirkus!). She is also the author and illustrator of Brobarians (which I reviewed back here), Henry Finds His Word, and When Blue Met Egg. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. And today, she's sharing with us her techniques for finding the inspirations for her books...

About the Book

Don't Forget Dexter!
(Dexter T. Rexter #1)
Lindsay Ward

Two Lions (December 1, 2017)

"Introducing Dexter T. Rexter, the toughest, coolest dinosaur ever. At least he likes to think so.

When his best friend, Jack, leaves him behind at the doctor’s office, Dexter T. Rexter panics. First he tries to find Jack. Then he sings their special song. Then he sings their special song even louder. But when Jack still doesn’t appear, Dexter starts to wonder. What if he’s being replaced by another toy? It can’t be—after all, he can STOMP, RAWR, and CHOMP! Right? Right?!

This hilariously neurotic dinosaur will do whatever it takes to get his friend back—even asking the reader’s advice—in this first book of a brand-new series."

How To Find Inspiration For Your Picture Book
By Lindsay Ward

Every single book I’ve ever written has come from a personal experience. As cliché as it sounds, there is something to be said for writing what you know. I’ve always found it to work for me.

Usually I come up with a concept first, then I flesh out the manuscript. I tend to revise over and over again until it feels just right when I read the story aloud. I like to think of it as a very Goldilocks approach to writing.

Once I’ve settled on the manuscript, then I begin to draw. I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters. What are their likes and dislikes? How would they sound? What makes them happy? And so forth. The more I know them, the better I can write and draw them. They feel real to me because they all derived from an experience I had at some point in my life:

Don’t Forget Dexter!—I was pregnant with my first child when my husband had to get a shot prior to our son’s birth. While waiting to get the shot, my husband texted me a photo of a toy dinosaur that had been abandoned beneath a chair. Following the photo he texted “well, they left me here.” Dexter’s voice immediately popped into my head and I sat down to write his story.

Brobarians—Movie night with my husband watching Conan the Barbarian. Seriously. You never know when John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger will influence you to write a children’s book...

The Importance of Being 3—Graduate school application prompt: tell a story using the number 3.

Rosco vs. the Baby—I used to live next door to a dog named Rosco who never stopped barking. Oddly enough the couple who owned Rosco ended up having twins after I wrote the ending of the book. True story.

Henry Finds His Word—I had lunch with a good friend of mine and her son when he was just starting to talk.

Please Bring Balloons—A combination of being an only child, my love for the magic of snow, and the fact that my parents used to paint carousels for a living.

When Blue Met Egg—My love letter to New York, after living there briefly during college.

You never know where an idea will come from. Usually it’s when you least expect it, which has certainly been my experience. I try to be observant, enjoy the world around me, and keep a notebook handy...just in case.

Lindsay Ward was inspired to write this book after her husband texted her a photo of a toy dinosaur abandoned at a doctor’s office. The caption read: “Well, they left me here.” Lindsay thought it was so funny that she sat down to write Dexter’s story immediately. Most days you can find Lindsay writing and sketching at her home in Peninsula, Ohio, where she lives with her family. Learn more about her online at or on Twitter: @lindsaymward.

Thursday, January 4

And Now, Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming...Sort Of

Sometimes, life is like...

and then it just...

and you feel like...

and so you take a short break from the blog.

Okay, okay, so life wasn't that dramatic. But I have added quite a bit to my to-do list with two kids to raise and an elementary school library to run. So there will be some changes coming to the blog. First and foremost, you can see my new review policy here. Basically, I won't be posting as many reviews here, just my top choices each month. I'll still be welcoming guest posts, however, and posting the occasional helpful tidbit I've learned on the job (including displays, lesson-helps, and such).

Also, look forward to a new advertising policy page coming your way and the creation of a newsletter.'s still going to be Literary Hoots, just with a tad fewer hoots... cool? Cool.

Monday, November 13

Aliens Get the Sniffles Too! (Review and Giveaway Entry!)

Having stayed up just last night to help my poor toddler feel better from Croup, this book seems especially appropriate today! Check out my review of Aliens Get the Sniffles Too! and see below to enter a giveaway for a pretty awesome prize...

Aliens Get the Sniffles Too!
Written by Katy S. Duffield, illustrated by K. G. Campbell

My rating: ★★

ISBN: 978-0763665029
Publisher: Candlewick
Date of publication: November 7, 2017
Age: 4 - 8 years
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: extraterrestrials, sick/ill, cold treatments, pets, family relationships

"Little Alien is sick. And sick is extra-terrestrial bad when you have two scratchy throats, five ears that hurt, and three runny noses. Splatch! Sputter! Spurt! Luckily Mama and Daddy Alien have an arsenal of lunar decongestants and meteor showers on hand to make him feel a little better (not to mention a Milky Way milkshake to help the medicine go down). Even so, the family's alien pooch, Mars Rover, can't stand to see his little buddy feeling out of sorts. Can a loyal pup's funny tricks finally coax a smile?"

Oh, the joys of a sick child! This loving alien mom and dad do all sorts of things to help their poor child, as loving parents would. In the end, though, it seems as though the dog will be getting the credit. Maybe my recent late night makes me a tad more bitter about this than I should be—the parents did all they could! Despite my own bias, I'm sure kids will love the story. It's got a dash of humor, plenty of relatable woes (oh the sniffles and sore throat!), and a very lovable dog. The illustrations are soft, with Campbell's colored-penciled settings and characters, making it feel cozy. It seems a good read when you've got an under-the-weather child. Check it out! Or enter the giveaway below for a chance at your own copy.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Katy Duffield is the award-winning author of more than twenty-five books for children. She lives in Florida with her husband. To learn more, and to download classroom resources, visit Twitter: @KatyDuffield. Check out Katy on Pinterest!

K. G. Campbell is the illustrator of Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo and the author-illustrator of Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters. He was born in Kenya, raised in Scotland, and now lives in southern California.

TWO giveaway opportunities!!
1. One grand-prize winner will receive an out-of-this-world alien backpack with a signed copy of Aliens Get the Sniffles Too! along with tissue packs, toy mini aliens, and space pencils.
2. Ten lucky runners-up will receive a copy of Aliens Get the Sniffles Too!

To enter, click here

Tuesday, November 7

How To Turn Your Favorite Video Game into a Book (By Danica Davidson)

Hello all and welcome to today's blog tour stop and book birthday celebration for Danica Davidson's newest Minecraft adventure story, Adventure Against the Endermen. Ms. Davidson was nice enough to provide some valuable insight into her writing process with a guest post today. Check it out!

About the Book

Adventure Against the Endermen
(Unofficial Overworld Heroes Adventure #1)
Written by Danica Davidson

Sky Pony Press (November 7, 2017)

"The Overworld is in danger once again, this time from vicious Endermen! Mayor Alexandra summons Stevie, Alex, Maison, Yancy, and Destiny to try and stop the attacks. When the friends investigate, they quickly realize that the Endermen are looking for something. Could it be Stevie’s Ender crystal?

"Soon the group of friends—now an Overworld task force—are caught up in a battle larger than any they could have imagined. Can they protect the world of Minecraft from Endermen—and the larger threat of the crystal?"

How To Turn Your Favorite Video Game into a Book
By Danica Davidson

How do you turn your favorite video game into a book? The most important thing is to find the story.

Monday, October 30

Top Nonfiction to Scare Your Pants Off This Halloween

Happy Halloween! I couldn't help but share a special edition of my favorites of the month: the scary, suspenseful, and yetalso true! Behold, top nonfiction to scare your pants off...

Don't Read This Book Before Bed: Thrills, Chills, and Hauntingly True Stories
Anna Claybourne

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1426328411
Publisher: National Geographic
Date of publication: August 1, 2017
Age: Grades 5 and up
Genre: Nonfiction, Horror
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: paranormal, unexplained events, haunted places, curiousities

"Love to tell scary stories around the camp fire? Like to solve mysteries? Brave enough to hear the truth about some pretty freaky phenomena? Then cuddle up with this spooky spine-tingler, filled with delightfully frightful true stories of real-life monsters, doomed domains, menacing mysteries, strange disappearances, and so much more.

"Meet ghosts, ghouls, and zombies. Go inside haunted houses, hidden graveyards, and deadly secret passages. The Fright-o-meter rates each story for its level of scariness. Full of thrills and chills, this book will have you sleeping with a nightlight for sure. Read if you dare, but don't say we didn't warn you!"

Few times are there books that, when shipped to me, do I immediately start reading (ignoring the other half-read books on my desk). Of course, I do have a penchant for scary stories, so this particular book already had a leg-up in that regard. But still: true stories and reports of some of the scariest places and things on earth? All bundled up into one handy reference book? Yeah, this one was a big winner. Each page highlights a new a disturbing story in its spread. Its "Fright-o-meter" does indeed prepare readers for the amount of creepiness about to be shared (although, as it admits, it is pretty arbitrary—I, for one, find the Island of Dolls much more disturbing than sinkholes, but that's just me...). Altogether, this book does indeed promise thrills, chills, and plenty of goosebumps. Read with care!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World's Scariest Creatures 
(The World of Weird Animals)
Jess Keating, illustrations by David DeGrand

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0553512304
Publisher: Knopf Books
Date of publication: August 8, 2017
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: library book

Themes: animals, dangerous creatures, predators

"Some people think monsters are the stuff of nightmares—the stuff of scary movies and Halloween. But monsters can also be found right in your backyard. Animals like aye-ayes, goblin sharks and vampire bats may look scary, but they pose no threat to humans. Others, such as the prairie dog, seem innocent—cute, even—yet their behavior could give you goose bumps. What makes a monster? Read this book to find out, if you dare..."

Keating shares some of the coolest animal facts around, no joke. She has done impressive amounts of research to create this book (and the others in The World of Weird Animals series, including Pink is for Blobfish and the upcoming Cute as an Axolotl). Yet, it's still accessible enough to be enjoyed by young, early readers. A delicate balance indeed!

This monster book is also particularly thought-provoking. While it's easy to be creeped out by some of the animals spotlighted herein, it's the last animal Keating highlights that really brings it all together and makes one, indeed, ponder, "What makes a monster?" I'll not spoil it for you, but just encourage you to read it. Highly recommended, and I know kids will love it. (Heads up, though: there are some disturbing and frightening creature habits discussed that could be rather scary for the younglings. Maybe give it a full perusal before sharing it with your kids?)

Find it at your library or on Amazon

This Book Isn't Safe
Colin Furze

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0451478764
Publisher: Razorbill
Date of publication: September 12, 2017
Age: Grades 4 - 8
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: engineering, crazy inventions,

"Colin Furze's bonkers and brilliant inventions such as a homemade hoverbike, DIY Wolverine Claws, an alarm clock ejector bed, and Hoover shoes have earned him more than 5 million YouTube subscribers and more than 450 million video views. Now Colin is on a mission to inspire a new generation of budding inventors with This Book Isn't Safe! Included are instructions on how to make ten brand new inventions with a basic at-home toolkit, alongside behind-the-scenes stories about some of Colin's greatest inventions and top secret tips and tricks straight from his invention bunker (aka a shed in his backyard in Stamford Lincolnshire)."

Okay, so this one isn't really scary, so to speak (unless you're the mother of a kid who wants to follow in Furze's footsteps). I will admit straight up that I hadn't actually heard of Colin Furze until this book was sent to me in the mail. So of course I end up watching 2 or 3 (or 10) of his YouTube videos and have come to this conclusion: this book is his videos in paper form. That is to say, it's loud, crazy, overwhelming, and completely awesome. This book will easily satiate his fans with his continued crazed inventing (because who wouldn't want concrete crushing shoes?).

Yes, there's a lot in this book. A lot of graphics, thought bubbles, exclamation points, photos, asides, colors, fonts—you name it. I was a bit overwhelmed (but like I said, it's an accurate representation of his videos and millions of people like those, so...). I wish that the actual inventions and instructions were a bit more obvious (organized, that is to say) amidst the other pages of bios, behind-the-scenes reports, and engineering tips (which are actually super helpful and a really awesome asset). Still, overall, a great book to add to your STEM collection. Kids will love it. Their mothers might be a bit more hesitant (haha).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

The Magician and the Spirits: Harry Houdini and the Curious Pastime of Communicating with the Dead
Deborah Noyes

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0803740181
Publisher: Viking Books
Date of publication: August 22, 2017
Age: Grades 6 and up
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: library book

Themes: spiritualism, Harry Houdini, death, debunking

"A century ago, the curious idea that spirits not only survive death but can be contacted on the 'other side' was widespread. Psychic mediums led countless séances, claiming to connect the grieving with their lost relations through everything from frenzied trance writing to sticky expulsions of ectoplasm.

"The craze caught Harry Houdini’s attention. Well-known by then as most renowned magician and escape artist, he began to investigate these spiritual phenomena. Are ghosts real? Can we communicate with them? Catch them in photographs? Or are all mediums “flim-flammers,” employing tricks and illusions like Houdini himself? Peopled with odd and fascinating characters, Houdini’s gripping quest will excite readers’ universal wonderment with life, death, and the possibility of the Beyond."

I was fascinated by Harry Houdini as a kid, and even read a biography or two. So I got pretty excited about reading this when I saw it at the library. Imagine how disappointing it was, though, to read but two pages of the introduction and already know it (spiritualism) was all a total sham. I think it could've been a bit more exciting had Noyes let the reader take the journey of discovery with Houdini. With every new medium introduced, Noyes conveys their impressive array of paranormal abilities followed quickly by the crushing truth: tricks of the trade meant to dupe the public. Perhaps, because of the Halloween season, I was looking more for a scare or dose of creepy than a history report.

But! That was a lot of harsh words for what really is a thoroughly researched and well presented topic. I mean, seriously: Noyes has journal entries, interviews, quotes, photos, and all sorts of primary sources that really delve into Houdini and his work debunking these mediums. The thoroughness of it all makes it easy for the reader to feel transported back in time. Truly, it's pretty impressive. Overall, the scholarliness makes a better read for older kids—a great recommendation for middle and high school history lovers.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, October 26

Five Tips OF WHAT NOT TO DO for Aspiring Picture Book Writers (By Stacy McAnulty)

Hello folks! Welcome to this blog tour stop celebrating the newest picture book from Stacy McAnulty: Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years (illustrated by David Litchfield). After the opportunity to interview her here on the blog for Mr. Fuzzbuster, Ms. McAnulty was nice enough to write a guest post this time around. With at least seven picture books published (and another on the way!), Stacy is sharing some valuable insight into the picture-book-writing process with this post. But first! About her newest...

About the Book

Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years
Written by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by David Litchfield

Henry Holt & Co (October 24, 2017)
ISBN: 978-1250108081

"'Hi, I’m Earth! But you can call me Planet Awesome.'

"Prepare to learn all about Earth from the point-of-view of Earth herself! In this funny yet informative book, filled to the brim with kid-friendly facts, readers will discover key moments in Earth’s life, from her childhood more than four billion years ago all the way up to present day. Beloved children's book author Stacy McAnulty helps Earth tell her story, and award-winning illustrator David Litchfield brings the words to life. The book includes back matter with even more interesting tidbits."

Five Tips of WHAT NOT TO DO for Aspiring Picture Book Writers
By Stacy McAnulty

As a parent, my rules tend to lean toward what not to do. No name-calling. Don’t hit. No iPad until your homework is done. Don’t eat candy for breakfast unless it’s a holiday. Etc. So it feels more natural for me to create a list of no-no’s for aspiring writers rather than a list of tips.
Here goes.

Tuesday, October 24

School Library Decor: Where Will Reading Take You? (with a free printable!)

I finally (finally) got my school library's decorations up. Hey, and it's only October. Woo! Anyway, I wanted to share the ideas here, point out some cool resources, and even share a free printable travel poster.

Travel poster? Travel poster. Here, you can see what I'm talking about. Check out this library...

Thursday, October 19

Series Highlight: The BabyLit Primer Board Books

I'm so excited to highlight some favorite board books in our house. I'll admit straight up's more my favorite than my daughter's. But I'm also a firm believer that adults should enjoy reading to their kids with books they themselves love. Right? Right. Which is where the BabyLit books come in.

BabyLit books are retellings of classic literature in a way that not only pays homage to the original storyline, but also educates the reader on a certain specific subject. For instance, Les Miserables is a French Language Primer, Sense & Sensibility is an Opposites Primer, and The Secret Garden is a Flowers Primer. Really, the whole series is a pretty simple concept beautifully executed.

The three newest BabyLit classic novel retellings include some of my favorite favorite and are perfect for sharing with my own little girl. I mean, just check these out...

A Little Princess: A Friendship Primer
Written by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1423645955
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
Date of publication: March 21, 2017
Age: 3 years and up
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: friendship, courage

In this BabyLit book, each page introduces Sara’s friends with text from the original novel, A Little Princess. The Friendship Primer shows the reader that the best of friends can be found in some surprising places. Turns out that this little board book is pretty true to the original story with little snippets about each of Sara's beloved friends--Emily, Ermengarde, Ram Dass, and more. It's even true to the original order of characters as they're introduced. And Oliver's illustrations are as adorable as ever. With the original classic being a personal favorite of mine, I love sharing this little book with my own daughter.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Anne of Green Gables: A Places Primer
Written by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1423647829
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
Date of publication: August 22, 2017
Age: 3 years and up
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: places, nature, Prince Edward Island

In this introduction to beloved redheaded orphan Anne Shirley, readers explore Prince Edward Island and the places that Anne loves. With words and bright illustrations, discover Anne’s home and her favorite pond, wood, field, garden, and the avenue to Avonlea. Again, Oliver's illustrations are sweet and colorful. The text chosen from the original novel adds the perfect amount of whimsy to this nature-filled book. It's less concerned with the storyline, but Anne's flowery language quoted here is a sure introduction to a beloved classic character.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

The Nutcracker: A Dancing Primer
Written by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1423647485
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
Date of Publication: September 12, 2017
Age: 3 years and up
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: dancing, ballet, toys, Christmas

This colorfully illustrated board book version of the classic Christmas-time ballet is sure to be a new holiday favorite. With soldiers marching, mice prancing, snowflakes swirling, dolls bending, and buffoons skipping, readers will be introduced basic movement terms and a classic story. For turning a ballet into a book, this is simply and wonderfully done. Oliver's illustrations are full of movement and emotion--perfect for this tale. Adams manages to tell the (very basic) tale on ornaments displayed on every other page. Overall, one that we'll be having fun with this Christmas as my little girl leaps, twirls, and shows off her favorite dancing moves.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Saturday, October 14

Top Picture Books in October

There were a lot of picture books that I enjoyed this month. Interestingly, there was definitely a self-improvement theme going through most of them. So if you're looking to help your kids be better people, check out some of these titles. And then, of course, I tacked on some creepy underwear because Halloween obviously. And my fascination with underwear books. That too.

I Am Not a Chair
Written and illustrated by Ross Burach

My rating: ★½

ISBN: 978-0062360168
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date of publication: February 14, 2017
Age: 4 - 8 years
Format: library book

Themes: giraffes, identity, jungle animals, courage, humor

Could there be anything worse for Giraffe? Maybe being sat on by a skunk or smooshed by two hapless hippos, or worst of all—cornered by a hungry lion? No one seems to notice that Giraffe is not standing around just to be sat upon. Will he be able to find his voice and make his friends realize who he really is?

I really don't think this book is getting enough credit. Sure, it's pretty silly and the whole concept is a tad absurd, but that all just emphasizes the point of the book even further: to be true to yourself and those around you. Standing up to peer pressure and all that. So a good lesson and it's totally hilarious? Yeah, I'd say that's a winner! I laughed more with this book than I have in a while. The ending, especially, was a perfect touch. The illustrations are, of course, what make this book (because, really, a giraffe would not look like a chair otherwise). Overall, I really enjoyed it and am eager to share it with some kids.

Find it at your library or on Amazon