What I’ve Been Reading (September 2014)

Here are the children’s books that have been in my library bag and on my nightstand in September (well, at least the ones I’d recommend). Thank you to our fabulous school librarian, Mrs. Rosen, for some great book ideas! 

Preschool (ages 3-5 years) and Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years):


Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years):


Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years) and Middle Grades (ages 8-12 years):


Middle Grades (ages 8-12 years):


Young Adult (12+ years):


Putting my Kids to Work Last Summer

We are well into the school year here and summer seems like a distant memory. Looking back, our summer was busy and eventful with trips to the beach, a trip to Chicago and a trip to the emergency room! Oh my! We also had loads of time to relax and the “B” word (BORED!) was heard from time to time. I would direct them to our BORED sign on the fridge, which seemed to give them ideas. I would often find them later playing a newly invented game, getting crafty at our work table, running around outside or (yea!) reading a book.

The teacher in me couldn’t help giving them organized tasks to complete when they were bored (although I called them “challenges” or “missions” to make them sound more exciting. Hee hee!). One thing I wanted to accomplish this summer was organizing my “What I’ve Been Reading” posts into age group categorizes. I felt these monthly posts could be a more effective resource for parents and teachers with that added information. But did I really want to look up that information on all my past posts? Not really. Enter three bored kids…

Kids: We’re bored!!!
Me: Wonderful! I have a challenge for you! All three of you have to work together to research the age and grade ranges for all my past book recommendations on my blog! One person is in charge of calling out the book name, one person is in charge of looking up the information on the computer and one person is in charge of writing down the results on this clipboard. Go!
Kids: Um, Mom? That doesn’t sound very fun.photo

They grumbled at first, but once they got into it, they worked well together and completed my busywork…I mean, “the challenge”. :)

So, now I am happy to say that all my monthly book recommendations are broken up into the following categories:

Babies and Toddlers: 0-2 years
Preschool: 3-5 years
Early Elementary: 5-8 years
Middle Grades: 8-12 years
Young Adult: 12+ years

These categories and where the books fall are subjective and based loosely on my research on other sites, such as amazon. Often a book will fall into more than one category, such as pre-school and early elementary. Also, you may have a 10 year old who still enjoys reading early elementary picture books or a 7 year old who’s reading middle grade novels. It’s all good. These are just intended to be a general guideline when looking for books for your children or students.

Happy reading!

Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Blimey! Ahoy there, matey! Better ready ye sea legs. And no hornswaggling or ye walk the plank, ye scallywag! Aargh!  

Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day! Get in the mood by reading some of these great children’s books about pirates.




National Read a Book Day

September 6th is National Read a Book Day!


Make sure you carve out some time today to curl up in a quiet spot with a good book.

I plan to read some of my current book The Book Thief, as well as a stack of library picture books with my 6-year-old and Darth Paper Strikes Back with my 9-year-old.  


What book did you read today?

What I’ve Been Reading (August 2014)

Here are the children’s books that have been in my library bag and on my nightstand in August (well, at least the ones I’d recommend). Go check them out!

Preschool (ages 3-5 years):


Preschool (ages 3-5 years) and Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years):

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Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years):


Middle Grades (ages 8-12 years):


Young Adult (ages 12+ years):



Nicole Groeneweg and Hazel Mitchell: Interview with the Author and Illustrator of One Word Pearl

One Word Pearl Cover - Hazel Mitchell
One Word Pearl
is the story of a girl who LOVES words and collects them in her special word chest. When all but a handful of words are blown away, she decides to use only one word at a time. Soon her chest is empty, making her “No Word Pearl” and she must find a way to get back all her precious words.

I recently interviewed the lovely and talented duo that created One Word Pearl. Author Nicole Groeneweg and illustrator Hazel Mitchell.10565218_424740581002319_8409934408101540652_n


Nicole, tell us a little bit about your history. What got you interested in writing children’s books?

Nicole: For the past thirty years, I’ve been reading picture books to my first and second grade students every day.  I use our favorite books as mentor text to teach writing.  I write alongside my students and one day I realized I loved writing as much as teaching! I’ve written three teacher resource books and numerous nonfiction articles for children’s magazines. One Word Pearl is my first picture book and like Pearl, I love words!

One Word PearlHazel, please share your history. What got you interested in illustrating children’s books?

Hazel: I can never remember a time when I WASN’T interested in children’s books. I lived at my local library. I started reading books for older age groups pretty early and was into adult novels fast. So I have a sketchy impression of picture books that I read … Dr Seuss for sure and many Enid Blyton books (I am English after all!). I was always drawing or creating something, so it was inevitable that’s where my career would lead me … to something creative. I held out for a while as I was determined to work with horses. Then I attended art college in England. After that I didn’t know what to do – so I joined the Royal Navy and luckily ended up working in graphic studios! I learned a lot and worked on a wide range of projects. I also learned to use computer drawing software there too.  When I left the Navy I set up a print and design business in the UK and that’s what I did till I moved to the USA in 2000. I still loved books and often thought about children’s illustration. I worked in commercial illustration when the internet got going and finally found my way to the SCBWI in about 2007. But I didn’t attend a conference until 2010. By then I’d done some self publishing books for people, but had no idea how to go about contacting trade publishers and putting together a portfolio for children’s illustration. Luckily the SCBWI put me straight. I got my first book in Fall 2010 and have been lucky to work solidly since then. I am now writing and working on my on projects and recently signed with children’s representative Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, NYC. Mine has been a long and circuitous journey. But, we all have our own paths and mine has given me a lot of experience in different fields and I think that helps me approach books in a variety of ways.

What was your favorite book as a kid? What are some of your favorite children’s books now?

Nicole: Peter Rabbit was and continues to be one DSC_0018of my favorite books.  I think I identified with Peter, I was a bit mischievous myself and often learned the ‘hard way.’  One day I would love to visit the author Beatrix Potter’s home in the Lake District in England. Now, I love picture books of all kinds.  I love reading books by Gail Gibbons, Kevin Henkes, Melissa Sweet, and so many other authors to my 1st and 2nd grade students.  Right now my favorite book is The Scraps Book by Lois Ehlert.  I display it in my ‘studio’ to inspire me when I write. 

Hazel: The first book I remember as a child is ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. I adored all Beatrix Potter and Winnie the Pooh (including the illustrations of course). Because I was horse crazy, I read every pony book I could lay my hands on. I also loved Enid Blyton, Alan Garner, CS Lewis, and later Tolkein. But my reading was wide. Now I have so many hero’s in children’s illustration and writing it’s hard to say. I love the drawings of Quentin Blake, Edward Ardizzone, EH Shepherd, Marla Frazee, David Weisner, Eric Rohmann,  Barbara McClintock, Jim Kay, Levi Penfold, Kelly Murphy, David Small, Peter Reynolds. I’ll stop there.

Nicole, this book came out of winning a contest. Share with us the background of how One Word Pearl came to be?

Nicole: The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Foundation and Charlesbridge Publishing created the Children’s Book of the Year Contest in 2011 to promote good literature for young children and offer opportunities to authors who want to break into the publishing world. There are two winners each year, one in the picture book category and one chapter book.  My principal forwarded the contest to me saying, “This is right up your alley,” and I decided to give it a shot. I tried the first year and placed in the top 25. In 2012 One Word Pearl won!

Pink Lemonade

Hazel, the words and illustrations so perfectly compliment each other in this book. Describe your process of deciding how to draw the character Pearl?

Hazel: Thank you! I always saw Pearl One Word Pearl 4as of Asian descent. So that’s kind of where the black, bobbed hair came from. I like her in spectacles, because she is always reading and it gave her a studious look. And it’s great to have a child with glasses front and center. I wanted to give her quirky, creative clothes and I love her big shoes! I lot of people asked me if I modeled her on my friend Debbie Ohi, and I didn’t realize the resemblance till after I finished the book!

Early bird, middle of the day, night owl or catching quick moments? When do you do your best work? 

Nicole: I am a teacher and tutor, so my days full.  I sneak in a minute here and there to write. Once in a while I get an idea and can’t stop writing—I get a lot done at those moments. Right now it’s summer and I find myself writing on the patio in the cool mornings.

Hazel: I am an early bird. However, when you’re under deadline it’s all times of day.

I’m fascinated by creative workspaces and what you see while you work. Tell us about yours. 

Nicole: I call my space my ‘studio’.  It’s crowded with objects that inspire me—picture books, kids’ art, craft supplies…  I also love to be on my patio surrounded by flowers, herbs, and birds.DSC_0020
Hazel: I work on the 2nd floor of our little house in an L-shaped studio. One side is the computer area, the other a drawing board etc. I have a wood stove, a futon and a wing backed chair to collapse in. I am pretty tidy (naval training!). Usually I have a tidy up when I finish a book and stuff goes up and down on my wall. Usually there is a dog (Toby) and cat (Sleep) to be found hanging around. I do try and work in different parts of the house at times (dining table, sofa, deck) to give myself a change of space or go out to a coffee shop or the library.Studio2 2014

Studio 2014

Working on layout and characters
Nicole, how do you prefer to work? Writing by hand, typing on a computer or both?

Nicole: I scribble in my writer’s notebook, but I use the computer to draft and revise my stories.

Hazel, what art media did you use for this book?

Hazel: It’s hybrid …. the line work is graphite, the colouring digital and I scanned and used different textures, like rice paper, water colour washes and odd things that I then assembled in photoshop.
ThumbsPearlCutting Out WordsTechnique
What projects are you working on now?

Nicole: I have so many ideas floating around my head.  At the moment I’m revising a biography on Buffalo Jones, a man who helped save the American Bison from extinction and researching for a picture book about a girl who loves broccoli, but can’t buy it near her house in the city.

Hazel: I have 3 books under contract, ‘Animally’ for Kane Miller, ‘Where do Fairies go in Winter?’ for Down East Books and ‘Kenya’s Art’ for Charlesbridge. I also have a picture book I have written on submission and working to get the 1st draft of an adventure middle grade set in England finished!

Nicole, what advice would you give aspiring authors?

Nicole: Read, read, read and then write, write, write!  I read books similar to the ones I want to write.  Authors’ writings can be our mentor text.  I also think a good critique group can make an author!  I’m glad Susanne’s in mine!

Hazel, what advice would you give aspiring illustrators?


And some quick, fun questions to end the interview: 

Favorite color? 

Nicole: Blue, all shades.

Hazel: Blue.

Favorite food and drink?

Nicole: Chocolate and herbal iced tea.

Hazel: Seafood and cider.

Do you have any pets?

Nicole: No, but the birds and squirrels that come to my feeders are almost tame and I feel that they’re my pets (I spend a lot of money feeding them, but no vet bills).

Hazel: Toby – poodle – Sleep – black cat Toby and Sleep- Beau and Lady – horses.

Last book you read?

Nicole: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliette

Hazel: The Night Gardener

Thank you ladies! What a treat to have you both be my first ever blog interview!

Hazel can be found at: 
http://www.facebook.com/HazelMitchellBooks and

One Word Pearl 2

What I’ve Been Reading (July 2014)

Here are the children’s books that have been in my library bag and on my nightstand in July (well, at least the ones I’d recommend). Go check them out! (I was on a bit of a Jane Yolen kick this month…love her!)

Preschool (ages 3-5 years) and Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years):



Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years):


Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years) and Middle Grades (ages 9-12 years):


Golden Kite Winners 2014

This weekend, the Golden Kite awards will be presented at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Los Angeles, CA. They are the only awards for children’s literature voted on by a jury of peers (I voted!). Each year, there are over 1,000 entries. The categories are: Picture Book Text, Picture Book Illustration, Fiction and Nonfiction. The Sid Fleishman Humor Award is also given out at the same time. Here are the winners!

Picture Book Text 




Winner: “Sophie’s Squash” by Pat Zietlow Miller








Honor: “Forest Has a Song” by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater




Picture Book Illustration





Winner: “Mr. Tiger Goes Wild” by Peter Brown







Honor: “Niño Wrestles the World” by Yuyi Morales 








Winner: “Better Nate Than Ever” by Tim Federle






Honor: “Rose Under Fire” by Elizabeth Wein









Winner: “Call of the Klondike” by David Meissner







Honor: “The Dolphins of Shark Bay” by Pamela Turner




Sid Fleischman Humor Award





Winner: “Openly Straight” by Bill Konigsberg




Here’s the commemorative poster made for this year’s books. Pirates, treasure, mermaids and reading? Love it!



Congratulations to all the winners!

Saying Goodbye to a Pet

When difficult events happen in our children’s lives – whether it’s going off to kindergarten, moving to a new town, going through a divorce or experiencing loss – comfort and a sense of understanding can often be found in the simple words of a picture book. I use children’s books to explain things to my kids in a way that I can’t always articulate. Books can give us the right words weaved into a beautiful story that children can relate to. When kids are upset or confused, they want to feel like they are not the only ones in their situation. Reading a story about what they are experiencing can alleviate fears, answer questions and be a great starting point for a conversation.

It has been a little over two weeks since we had to say goodbye to our sweet dog, Bailey. DSC_0989 He was twelve and my first “baby”. Bailey was there with the scan0022arrival of each child, growing up right along side them. There is such an empty space in our family now. Not just from the lonely corner in the dining room where his dog bed used to be, but also in the little moments each day that he filled-up. It’s eating the last bite of a banana because he’s not there to catch it in the air. It’s using the ice maker and not having him appear from nowhere to beg for a cube. It’s starting the mornings without him trotting down the driveway to retrieve our newspaper scan0003(and sometimes the neighbors newspaper!). It’s returning home and not finding him there to greet us with some random thing in his mouth. Did I mention he was a labrador retriever? He loved to eat and loved to bring us things! What a good boy he was. The entire family is missing him.

0385746385.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_The book that has been comforting for my children (and myself) is “Up in Heaven” by Emma Chichester Clark. Arthur and his dog, Daisy, have a special bond. But Daisy is getting older and has a difficult time keeping up with him. One night she goes to sleep and wakes up in heaven. The book portrays heaven as a beautiful place where dogs don’t feel old anymore and can run around with lots of friends. Daisy is happy, but she watches over her boy Arthur and sees that he is missing her. Arthur asks questions that kids might typically have like, “Why did she die?” Daisy learns that she can send Arthur dreams to comfort him. The text is simple, but perfect and the illustrations are beautiful and bright. “Up in Heaven” makes you feel that the special bond with your pet continues even though they are gone from Earth.

Here are some other good books that deal with the loss of a pet:
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Are there any other children’s books that you’ve found helpful in dealing with saying goodbye to a pet?





My New Vacation “Must Do”

My husband and I have had a joke since our dating years that we can’t go anywhere on vacation without him catching a baseball game and visiting a brewery or sampling the local beers. “Ball game and a brew pub!” has been a catch phrase for us through the years. One that I say while rolling my eyes. He always acts surprised when the local team where we are staying just happens to be playing against his beloved Phillies. Sure buddy, like you didn’t totally plan it that way! We recently went on a family trip to Chicago and of course hit up a Cubs game and tried some local beers. “Ball game and a brew pub” are his vacation “must do’s”.

When we checked into the hotel, one of the brochures IMG_7503in the lobby had a feature on all the
local bookstores: “Book Browsing at it’s Best – Lose a Few Hours in Some of the Best Independent Bookstores Chicago has to Offer”. Well, alright then! That got my attention! There was one called After-Words Bookstore just two minutes from our hotel. It sold new and used books, had a big selection of used fiction books and a signed books section. So I decided then and there that my “must do” on our vacation trips was going to be visiting and supporting a local bookstore.

After a day spent exploring the awesome Field Museum,
my family walked over to After-Words Bookstore for a little downtime. What we found was a huge, two-floor store with funky details you don’t usually see in the big name bookstores. There were rustic wooden beams running across all the ceilings, stone and brick walls peeking out from the bookshelves in the basement and street lamps with signs inside the store.


My favorite part was the pillars throughout the main
floor that had been painted a tan color and then had different quotes written on them in black.

The children’s section was small, but big enough to suck me and my kids in for awhile.  They each got to pick-out a book. Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, Eragon by Christopher Paolini, and Olive My Love by Vivian Walsh. My choice? A used copy of BFG by Roald Dahl. One of Dahl’s books I hadn’t read as a kid. Perfect plane reading material, if you ask me.

All in all, a success. And I think I’ve convinced my husband that all future vacation trips need to include a visit to a local bookstore.

We’ll have to change our catch phrase to “Ball game, brew pub AND a bookstore”.

Do you have a vacation “must do”? If you don’t, maybe it should be supporting a local bookstore and bringing home some good books.