Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Grades 3-5’ Category

Ever wonder why cats have nine lives? Catatlantis by Anna Starobinets offers one explanation. Good and bad guys dot the landscape of this fun fantasy hailing from Russia. Friendship and romance also mark its chapters. Highly imaginative, Catatlantis is a madcap adventure that kept me enthralled from start to finish.

At first glance, our hero Baguette seems like just another ordinary housecat. He’s well-fed and loved by his human owners. His most outstanding concern is exactly how safe that window ledge on the twelfth floor is. Oh, and whether the slender and striped female neighborhood cat loves him. The family’s dog didn’t understand the allure. Nonetheless, out of respect for the friendship that existed between him and Baguette, the family’s dog agreed to act as a messenger between Baguette and his love. Soon he becomes witness to a marriage proposal, counteracted by a rival suitor, and a challenge. Baguette’s life quickly becomes anything but ordinary, when he travels back in time to find the flowers that once used to allow cats to live nine lives.

The good and bad guys aren’t necessarily whom you’d expect. Yes, the fate of Purriana’s great-great-grandmother lays in Baguette’s paws. But without the help of a spotted cat princess that he encounters in France during his time travels, Baguette might not have discovered the real reason no one can recall what the magical flowers from Catatlantis look like. Just as important to Baguette finding his way back home is a French baker. True, Baguette’s rival suitor is villainous enough to care more about the magical flowers than Purriana. But Baguette finds more than more one bad guy in his jaunts during time such as Trash Man, a sickly yellow-toothed man raised from the dump to defeat Baguette. Just as disturbing are the greedy and arrogant cats that Baguette encounters on the magic island of Catatlantis itself.

At times, Catatlantis is outlandish and even illogical. To travel back in time, Baguette simply stared at a clock and willed time to stop. If time travel were that simple, why hadn’t any other cat performed this trick? On the other hand, Baguette is a descendant of the magic Catlanteans who lived long ago in peace and happiness on the island of Catlantis.  Perhaps this ancestry endowed him with unusual capabilities. Over all, Catatlantis is delightfully weird. Case in point, Purriana’s great-great-grandmother life is not the only one at stake. Should she die in the middle of spring, the whole line of striped cats will die with her.

Author Anna Starobinets is a Russian novelist. Catatlantis is her first children’s book to be translated into English. Referred to as a European classic, Catatlantis should find a home here in America too in the hearts of all lovers of animal stories, folklore, and fantasy.

Stinkwaves Magazine is the brainchild of Tevin and Nicole Hanson.  Tevin is the author of numerous books and short stories. He enjoys skateboarding, reading half a dozen books simultaneously, and chasing his two small children around the house while singing horrendous versions of children’s songs. Nichole is a full-time mom of two children and an avid reader of young adult books. Thanks to Nicole for taking time for this interview, and for sending me a free sample copy of Stinkwaves Magazine.

ALLISON: Why did you start Handersen Publishing?

NICOLE: Handersen Publishing actually started as silly handmade books for friends and family featuring Tevin’s quirky story ideas and art. Then, after reading a few literary magazines, we thought, “Why not start a literary magazine for middle grade and young adult readers?” and Stinkwaves was born. All this time Tevin was trying to go the traditional route for publishing his middle grade books. We finally decided to give self-publishing a try. We started with Hole in the Wall, Mr. Boggarty, and An Evening of Temptation and The Ultimate Sacrifice. When it was time to take on new authors, we immediately started with past Stinkwaves Contributors and became a full-fledged publishing house!

We want Handersen Publishing to be a place where reluctant readers can find a book to connect with, and established readers can find something new to challenge themselves. Each project that we take on has some type of twist to the traditional books in that genre. Some of our books have been labeled bizarro fiction, and we kind of like that title.

ALLISON: How has this venture changed your life?

NICOLE: We are now running Handersen Publishing full time, which is both amazing and exhausting. It’s amazing to be able to work from home and be doing what you love, but it takes a lot of time and energy. Seriously, though, how can you complain when you make books for a living, and get to work with great kids making slime and thumb theatres?

ALLISON: Why both books and a magazine?

NICOLE: It just kind of worked out that way for us, and I’m glad it did. We have met some amazing talent through Stinkwaves. And each of our authors was originally published there.

ALLISON: What skills—business or otherwise–does each bring to Handersen Publishing?

NICOLE: Books are where we have found the most success. Unfortunately, Stinkwaves has had a hard time finding readers, it’s a great little magazine, and we’ve been lucky to get some great submissions, but we’re finding that a lot of readers aren’t super familiar with what a literary magazine is, especially when it is for a middle grade and young adult audience. Anytime we get it into kids’ hands, though, they really like it and seem to connect with the stories and poetry.

ALLISON: How involved is your family with Henderson Publishing? *Who is in your family?

NICOLE: We are definitely a family business. Our two kids Elinore (6) and Gordon (4) are the inspiration for most everything we do. They encourage us to stay young and think young. They are also great helpers when it comes to creating art or setting up for an event. Our daughter Elinore is also great to have in an audience. She has a fabulous laugh that inspires other kids to get involved with the show and have fun!

ALLISON: What other activities do you and your family enjoy besides Handersen Publishing?

NICOLE: Right now, it seems like our lives revolve around books, but it’s what we all love. Whether it’s finding the perfect book (or twenty) together at the library, snuggle time reading, or watching a movie that was based on a book, book time is the best time! We also have a lot of fun with art, jumping on the trampoline, or spending time together at the park.

ALLISON: Share one success story.

NICOLE: We recently booked our first paid gig for a reading event. We’ve done a lot of donated time events, but it was very exciting that an organization found value in what we do, and invited us to come and work with their kids. It was also a TON of fun!

ALLISON: Share a major challenge and how you overcame it.

NICOLE: The publishing industry, itself, is a major challenge. Navigating libraries, bookstores, online marketing, websites, social media . . . the list goes on and on. We overcome this one step at a time. We currently have four authors from the UK and Ireland, and it’s a challenge learning another regions rules and processes, but we are working on it, one step at a time.

ALLISON: What are your future dreams—for Handersen Publishing or personal?

NICOLE: We want Handersen to be successful so that we can share literacy and the importance of books and reading. There are a lot of communities that struggle to have the necessary resources to encourage kids to read. If we can succeed we will have more resources to share, whether it’s actual books or events that connect kids with books and authors.

ALLISON: Where can those who live in the area find you?

NICOLE: Our books are for sale online both through our website (free shipping) and on Amazon (they even qualify for FREE PRIME shipping). We are also season vendors at the Haymarket and the Fallbrook Farmers Markets in Lincoln, Nebraska, and you can find us at craft fairs and other events throughout the year. Also, Indigo Bridge (Lincoln, NE), Francie and Finch (Lincoln, NE), Chapters Books and Gifts (Seward, NE), and The Bookworm (Omaha, NE) all carry Handersen Publishing titles.

Gabby Duran is a name you’ll remember. She’s the world-renowned babysitter in a hilarious science fiction series by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners for middle schoolers. What makes Gabby so famous? The fact that she’s sought by leaders and celebrities all over the world for the most impossible babysitting jobs. What classifies the books as science fiction? The fact that the Association Linking Intergalactics and Earthlings as Neighbors hires Gabby as babysitter of aliens. To date, the series has three titles. All are fast-paced, action-packed, and will have high appeal to reluctant and avid reader alike.

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables introduces Gabby’s family, friends, and enemies. Her mom is single and believes her husband lost in a war. Gabby has a younger sister who, although she lacks social skills and interprets every speech as literal, is super smart and handles all the family’s finances and schedules. Best friend Zee is a mad scientist stuck in an adolescent body who would like nothing more than to analyze the aliens that Gabby meets. In contrast her musician friend Satchel remains blissfully ignorant even when Gabby’s life is in danger. At the same time, Gabby’s sworn enemy is zealously determined to get to the bottom of Gabby’s secrets and to outplay Gabby in the school band. This initial title also introduces Edwina, Gabby’s contact with alien parents. Edwina is uptight, primly-dressed, and no-nonsense. She’s also totally confident of Gabby’s abilities and deeply concerned about the safety of her alien charges. These charges come with some tall orders. For example, Gabby’s first job is to care for a girl who is no larger than a garden gnome and who can transform herself into anything she wishes. Oh, and she’s also in line for the throne for one of the plants, and so key to intergalactic peace.

The subsequent two titles introduce equally unusual babysitting charges. In Gabby Duran and Troll Control, Gabby encounters the first family to truly dislike her. The mother wrinkles her nose upon meeting Gabby, describes her as “uneasy on the eyes,” and throws around the word unpleasant. The father attempts to act polite, but can’t resist a sneer or cleansing his hands with sanitizer after Gabby and he shake. And who is Gabby’s charge? A frizzy-haired, mole-covered troll with a habit of stealing and showing off. Gabby also encounters the first true setback of her new job. Prior to now, she’s successfully remained secretive about her job and handled babysitting at odd hours. With this newest charge, she inadvertently allows him to get kidnapped. In Gabby Duran and Multiple Mayhem, Gabby has not only redeemed herself in the eyes of Edwina, but received the dubious honor of babysitting One. It’s her first experience with a real baby; all her other charges have been toddlers or preschoolers. Gabby soon discovers that One isn’t all he seems to be. In one short evening, One has replicated into not just two, three, four babies but thirteen! Despite it being against agency orders, out of desperation, Gabby calls her friends to help. To make matters worse, a classmate discovers Gabby’s secret and her mother might be dating a bad guy.

Is there anything I don’t like? Okay, the characters are mostly one-dimensional. But that’s often the case with light-hearted books. Besides, over time, idiosyncrasies are revealed such as the fact Gabby blushes, sweats, and speaks in a high-pitched voice when telling a lie. True, the plots are simplistic. But again, that’s often the case with easy-to-read series. And, eventually, subplots are developed such as the mystery of what happened to Gabby’s dad. The most serious criticism I have is that the overblown “good versus bad guy action” is so outrageous that I gave up trying to understand it.

Over all the series has a lot of creativity and heart. It reminds me of the Scary School series by Derek the Ghost. Those titles entertained me for a few hours and turned one of my reluctant readers into a fan of books. I’m enthused to own the first three titles of Gabby Duran and equally eager for the next book to be published.

Audrey Penn takes her one-woman educational program, the Writing Penn, into schools, libraries, and children’s hospitals where she shapes and refines her story ideas in partnership with kids. She is also highly sought after as a conference keynote speaker by groups of teachers and other professionals who work with children.Audrey is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Kissing Hand (and other books in the Kissing Hand series). She lives in Durham, North Carolina.

ALLISON: Share a favorite (or not so favorite) childhood moment with siblings.

AUDREY: One day my older brother said that he intended to stay at the fraternity house overnight. I was then allowed to use the double beds in his room for a sleepover with my girlfriend. About midnight when my friend and I were asleep, my brother came home. He tiptoed upstairs not to disturb anyone in the family and literally dove into bed. He was midair when my girlfriend opened her eyes and let out a scream. My brother landed next to my friend who was now curled up in bed shrieking. I reached over and turned on the light and burst out laughing. In my book Chester the Brave, Chester jumps onto his brother while sleeping. The idea and illustration came from that night with my girlfriend and brother.

ALLISON: You’ve had quite the career! What was it like to dance professionally? What was it like to serve as a choreographer for the US Figure Skating Team? How did you land those careers?

AUDREY: I was very lucky and attended extremely good ballet schools that flowed over into companies. The feeling of being on my toes and responding to music and story line was absolutely joyous. Jazz dancing was a totally freeing experience. The hard work it took to dance was ninety percent of the job. While dancing, I had a teacher from Russia who taught alignment. I began seeing things in athletes that could be improved by alignment study. Somehow the experiences snowballed into a brilliant second career.

ALLISON: What inspired you to write your first book?

AUDREY: My first book, Happy Apple Told Me, came out of a fairytale I wrote as a Christmas gift for friends I had in theater. I took things from my childhood journals, and my experiences in the theater, and developed a story with a serious theme told in a fanciful way. A year later I received a call from a publisher telling me that they wanted to publish my book. I asked them “What book?” They said, “Happy Apple Told Me.” I have never found out who submitted it for publication.

ALLISON: Your favorite thing about writing is getting to work with kids. What is a discouraging part and how do you handle it?

AUDREY: Getting stuck. It’s not as much writer’s block as it is resolving some problem in the storyline. My most effective means of dealing with it to date has been to go take a shower. I am amazed at the clarity I get standing under hot water.

ALLISON: You’ve always enjoyed writing and have learned lessons along the way about what it takes to be an author. What advice would you give to teachers of writing?

AUDREY: Every teacher comes with his or her own experiences in writing and story telling. The hard part for most people is getting started. Some students can’t wait for that blank piece of paper to fill with their imagination or special interest. Other children are terrified of that blank sheet of paper. If they are having a really hard time, I have them draw a picture and then describe the picture.

It took many years to develop my writing program, The Writers Curve, for the younger children. One of the first lessons I teach is to know your ending. They wouldn’t leave their house before knowing where they were going; they wouldn’t call a friend without knowing what friend was at the opposite end of the phone. An arrow needs a target. A story needs an ending.

I want teachers to teach awareness. Tell the student to see, hear, smell, taste, touch life in order to tell about it in a story.

Teach the students to keep a journal recording the things they learn each day.

It is important to first just get the story down, then come back to it and add the details during the rewriting process. Do not interrupt the creative time for corrections in grammar, etc – it stops the process in its tracks. These corrections come LAST.

And no ‘wenting.’ He went, they went, I went. I can’t see anyone went. I can’t draw anyone wenting. Make writing visual and tactile.

And have fun.

ALLISON: Why do you like to write about raccoons?

AUDREY: I was in a park with my four-year-old son and we took a ride on a small train that took us through the forest. We were midway through the ride when the train stopped and the engineer left to get a park ranger. We all thought there was a deer lying across the tracks. I told my son to stay in the train while I got out for a better look. I was completely surprised to see it was a mother raccoon and her tiny cub. While I watched, the mother took the cub’s hand and nuzzled his tiny palm. The cub then put his palm on his cheek. The Kissing Hand is that story.

ALLISON: You have two dogs. What has been your greatest adventure with them?

AUDREY: Sadly, we lost our boxer, Charlie, last year. And our lab-mix, Koko, just had the dog equivalent of a double “knee replacement” last year. She is doing very well for an old dog. Koko never leaves my side. She is my constant shadow. She sleeps in our bed and wakes us when she’s having a dream that she’s protecting the house from those pesky deer. She runs in her sleep kicking me in the shins usually then falls blissfully back to sleep while I’m wide awake. Koko is my rock and helps me type by walking on my computer keys.

ALLISON: What book is next?

AUDREY: I am finishing up the fourth book in my YA mystery series, which began with Mystery at Blackbeard’s Cove. I should have this one, Blackbeard’s Legacy: Shared/Time, out by the 300-year anniversary of Blackbeard’s death, November 22, 2018. I am always developing several other stories at the same time, but it’s too soon to talk about anything else as yet.

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Marie Letourneau is a full-time illustrator and graphic artist, with a BA in Fine Arts from Hofstra University’s New College on Long Island. She has done design work for (and appeared on) The Nate Berkus Show, and The Revolution with fashion icon Tim Gunn. In 2014, Marie was a finalist in the Martha Stewart American Made Awards for her stationery shop Le French Circus, on Etsy. She loves animals, beets, and roller skating. Marie is the author and illustrator for Argyle Fox. She and her family live on Long Island, New York.

ALLISON: Your bio indicates that you made books as a child. Do you still have one, and if so, why, and please describe? Or do you remember one that you gave as a gift, and if so, why, and please describe?

MARIE: I think only one of my childhood books exist. My aunt has a book I made for her when I was about 11 or 12. I think it was about a forest-dwelling creature called a “Blump” (sort of a cross between a gnome and a hobbit) I don’t remember the storyline, but it was based off of a stuffed toy I won at an amusement park.

ALLISON: What other interests did you have a child?

MARIE:Art in general was my main interest. But I also loved roller skating (which served me later in life when I joined women’s roller derby!)

ALLISON: Share an unforgettable memory from adolescence.

MARIE: I was 13 and my sister, Michelle and I were at the beach. Suddenly a baby whale appeared and we swam out past the breakers to meet it. We went back every day for a week to ‘play’ with it.

ALLISON: Is there someone who helped you become an artist that you can tell us about, and how they influenced you?

MARIE: My parents and family always encouraged me to pursue art. I also had some great teachers in school – namely, Celeste Topazio (elementary school) and Don Bartsch (jr & sr high). I am so grateful to them both.

ALLISON: When did you also become an author, and why?

MARIE: I always liked to write stories. As a kid I was constantly creating comic strips, writing plays and making my own books. It wasn’t until 2002 that I seriously started thinking about submitting my work and pursuing a career as an illustrator.

ALLISON: What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

MARIE: Practice as much as you can. Work on developing a style, but be patient with yourself. These things take time.

ALLISON: You have two dogs and a cat. What has been your most fun adventure with them? Or what has been one of their fun solo adventures?

MARIE: Every day is an adventure. They are constantly getting into mischief of one kind or another. Like the time I found one of my dogs standing on our piano. I didn’t even know she played.

ALLISON: Please tell us more about your love of beach glass.

MARIE: There’s something about the colors and shapes that fascinate me–like little jewels. Knowing they have been in the ocean long enough to be shaped and smoothed, then suddenly ending up in my hand is extremely cool. I’m very particular about which pieces I take home. They need to have been well-worn by the ocean.

ALLISON: What’s something quirky about yourself?

MARIE: I like to collect old things. Old film projectors, dial-up telephones, typewriters, trunks, etc. I have a lot of my grandparents stuff, including a very heavy, metal (iron, I think) Art Deco table fan. It still works. My grandfather kept all of his things in immaculate working order.

ALLISON: What’s your next book and/or creative project?

MARIE: I’m in the process of brainstorming this one. I have a couple of ideas. I can’t really say exactly what it will be, but it may just involve an adventure at sea.

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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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Cat Writers’ Association
Artists Helping Animals

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