Archive of ‘Mrs. McGriff’ category

Smokey Bear and the Campfire Kids

smokey-bear-coverMy husband is a forester, and he even goes out West to fight forest fires each summer. That means Smokey Bear (no “the” for his middle name, please!) has long had a presence in our house. i was delighted to receive a code from HelpsGood to download the new Smokey Bear storybook app with the first story: Smokey Bear and the Campfire Kids.

June and Harold head to the forest with their father for a camping trip. After an afternoon of hiking, they all lie down to rest. When June and Harold get tired of looking for shapes in the clouds, they notice that Dad has fallen asleep. They decide to surprise Dad by getting the campfire ready while he sleeps. Harold gets a little too carried away, but June saves the day before he can light the fire. Together they rebuild the fire in a safer location. Of course, Smokey shows up to praise their attention to fire safety.

I enjoyed the story (hey, I love camping!), and it does share fire safety tips in a way kids can grasp. I haven’t read many stories in digital format like this (other than text on the screen of my Kindle app). If most digital storybooks are like this one, I will look for more.

The app gives the reader the choice to “Read Myself” or “Read to Me.” Actors bring the story aloud during the “Read to Me” and each word changes color as it is spoken. I liked the quiet birdsong that played in the background of both options. Vivid colors fill the illustrations. Each page (or screen) has an animation that is activated by touching anywhere on the screen. There’s not enough to be distracting, but I found myself wanting to see what happened on the next page.

The app is available for both Apple and Droid products as well as Kindle Fire at http://www.smokeybearapps.com.  This first book was released in time for Smokey’s 70th birthday, and three more books are in the works.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.  Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist.  It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next.  Join up with us and discover what good books other people  are reading.

I jumped around quite a bit in my reading this week. I didn’t finish much, but I’ve enjoyed dipping into and out of quite a few good books.

I finished…

Smokey Bear and the Campfire Kids – I received a code to download this app to review (coming later this week). My first impression is I like that the app is focused on reading the story. The animations are cute but not distracting.

I’m currently reading…

Poliser_SummerLettingGo_jkt_website_207_1The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner – We’re still reading this a few nights a week. I had hoped we would have more time during fall break, but somehow the days still filled up. The good news is the girl is still asking for us to read a chapter together as Frankie “Beans” puzzles out the mystery that Frankie Sky presents.

again calls the owlAgain Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven – I didn’t read too much this week, but I did dip into I Heard the Owl Call My Name. I definitely want to go back and reread it again, too. I did enjoy reading how Craven got her start with writing in what was then very much a man’s world.

les-miserablesLes Miserables by Victor Hugo – I actually made good progress this week and read quite a bit. I’m up to 82%!  I might even make my goal of finishing it by Christmas. The action is picking up behind the barricade. Marius saved the day and then sent Gavroche on an errand to get him out of the way. (He came back anyway.) Jean Valjean has also showed up behind the barricade, and they are waiting for the next attack.

this dark endeavorThis Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel – I was looking for something spooky to get me in the mood for Halloween. This story of the young Frankenstein definitely fits the bill. Victor sows the seeds of evil quite young, even if he is motivated by love (and jealousy of) for his brother.

cryptic crinolineThe Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer – I’m listening to this one and I’m quite captivated by the young Miss Enola Holmes. She has quite a mystery with the disappearance of her landlady who lived a most surprising past during the Crimean War. And the mystery involves the Lady of the Lamp–Florence Nightengale.

Secrets of Writing High-Performance Business-to-Business Copy(AWAI) – We are back to class this week after taking last week off.

Coming up…

I think I had better finish some of the books I’m in the middle of right now.

What good books have you read this week?

Two Kids by Richard Levine: A Review and an Interview

Author Richard Levine sent me a copy of his first book, Two Kids, for me to review. He also graciously agreed to answer my off-the-wall questions after reading the book.  I hope you enjoy reading about Two Kids and learning more from Richard Levine.
two kidsTwo Kids (Firedrake Books, 2014) is about, well, two kids.  DC is tall and gawky–except when on a tennis court or softball field. She moves to Westwood with her family and becomes frieds with Rob, who is shy and awkward–except when he’s making up headlines for his life.  The two friends share a wacky sense of humor and a vivid imagination that allows them to see more than just the world around them.
Two Kids is a quiet book, and more episodic, that tells the story of a friendship. Most of their adventures revolve around friends and family. How do you deal with a dad who is so strange he must be from another planet? How about a little sister who must be channeling the devil itself with her mischief? Some of my favorite scenes include their explorations of the Overhill property and their visit to Swinburn Island (beware of the birds!) There’s an unforgettable ride in a small airplane and a fishing trip where some of them end up all wet. Not all goes smoothly, though. Each of them faces a heartbreaking tragedy during the course of the year, but through it all DC and Rob hang together.
Before you read Two Kids for yourself, enjoy hearing from Richard Levine!
1. Fishing and flying play a part in several key scenes. What adventures have you had fishing or flying?
I’m not really a fan of fishing, as I find the idea of hooking fish for fun troubling – for food, of course, is a different matter.  I have, however, been out on party boats; in fact, once when my two daughters were young, like the kids in the book, we went out fluke fishing on the Long Island Sound.  Also on the boat was my mom’s second husband, who was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s at the time, and, I suppose, provided the inspiration for the old man in the book who goes overboard.

 I don’t have any experience flying in small planes, but years ago a friend of ours did learn to pilot small planes and once flew his whole family out to visit us in northwest New Jersey, landing his rented plane in a small air field.  When they took off to go home later that day, it was windy, and the plane wobbled on take-off, seeming to just barely make it over the tree line.  Watching that plane take off was pretty scary – as was, I later learned, being inside the plane! 

2. DC is tall and gawky (except on the softball field, of course) and frequently stumbles into embarrassing situations. What gawky scenes have you fallen into?
I’m of average height, and growing up pretty much always was – so I was never gawky or gangly, and always had good control of my limbs.  D.C., however, of course, is another story – gawkiness was just one of those attributes I could give her (there’s so much freedom in writing fiction!) that would contribute to her uniqueness or singularity, and that I could have some fun with in writing the story.
3. Rob likes to create headlines for the events in his life. What headline would you write for something in your life right now?
Hmm.  How about:  Retired Doc Wows with Debut Novel.  That would be a nice headline, daydreamy like Rob’s headline about winning the New York City marathon:  The Kid Wins!  Kenyan Second.
4. One of my favorite places in Two Kids is the Overhill property. It reminds me of all the hours I explored the woods and pond of fields surrounding my grandma’s house as a kid. Where is your favorite place to explore?
I suppose my favorite natural place right now is a local rail trail that’s been reclaimed as a park; it’s a trail that runs alongside a stream that feeds into a lake on which water lilies float and swans glide effortlessly.  I go jogging on the trail regularly and, while doing so, have come across all sorts of additional wildlife – deer, squiggly snakes, egg-laying snapping turtles, and once even a slowly moseying bear (yes, we have black bear in northwest New Jersey!).   Another time, while jogging there, a grey heron flew directly over my head, schooling me on how big those birds really are — truly pterydactylish!  Although not quite like the book’s more secluded and expansive Overhill property, it’s still a beautiful place to jog, walk, or roam.
5. What is your favorite kind of frog?
Definitely the dart poison frogs, because they’re so cute and colorful — but because they’re so toxic, they remain my favorites just so long as the terrarium glass that separates them from me is thick enough.
6. What was your journey with this book–from writing to publishing?
The journey was long, as I’m afraid the answer to this question will be.  I got the idea for the novel several years ago, but my first draft was way too brief – a fact brought home to me when one of my daughters read it in an hour.  The novel then ballooned to 400 pages, way too long.  When friends, family, and others who read it suggested ways to improve it, my first reactions were always defensive — but in the end, I would generally come around.  Motivated by the incorrect belief that the novel was “close,” I revised it no fewer than umpteen times (often a section that I had once thought well-written would make me cringe upon re-reading it later).  If I had been smart enough early on to recognize how far from “close” it really was, I might well have just given up.  But I was blind to that and kept on revising, with the notion of trying to make every word chosen, every sentence and paragraph crafted, just right.  When I thought I had finally gotten it right (again, mistakenly), I self-published it with the title, Island Eyes, Island Skies, but months later, revised it some more, and re-published.  It received some nice reviews, and was even listed with just four other books under the heading, Children’s Fiction, on a book list in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month compiled by the Cuyahoga County Public Library (Cleveland region) in conjunction with the Maltz Museum.  Late last year, Nikki Bennett, an author and blogger who had given it a nice review, founded a new publishing company, Firedrake Books, and agreed to publish my book.  She had some thoughtful suggestions about improving it, some of which I, of course, initially resisted.  Ultimately, I came around and made the changes she suggested as well as some additional ones, including the new title.  Firedrake published Two Kids this summer, and after all the work and many revisions, I believe it’s finally the book I set out to write several years ago.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.  Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist.  It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next.  Join up with us and discover what good books other people  are reading.

It was a quiet reading week, but I enjoyed meeting lots of interesting people that I interviewed this week. Now I have lots of writing to do!

I finished…

forgive me leonard peacockForgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick – Once I neared the end, I couldn’t stop listening. This is one of the most powerful books I have read in some time. Leonard will stay with me as well the questions this book raised. We never know how much the people we come in contact with every day might be hurting or how much our words and actions can impact them. I know I will be treating the people around me with more kindness and paying more attention.

chinese cinderellaChinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah – My heart ached for the rejection and cruelty that Adeline experenced within her family. As I read I marveled at her strength and courage and resilience. How did she do it? So many children would have withered under the acts of cruelty she lived with daily. She found strength in her Aunt Baba and grandfather as well as in her success at school.

I’m currently reading…

Poliser_SummerLettingGo_jkt_website_207_1The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner – We didn’t read much last week with all the work assigned before break and the last games of the soccer season. Now that my daughter is on fall break, I’m hoping we can get back to reading every night.

les-miserablesLes Miserables by Victor Hugo – It’s still slow progress, but I’m still reading some every week. The rebels are regrouping in the barricade, preparing for the next wave of attack from the army.

again calls the owlAgain Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven – I just barely got started with this one, but I can tell I will enjoy it. Craven’s prose brings to life such a different time in the world.

Secrets of Writing High-Performance Business-to-Business Copy(AWAI) – Another couple of chapters read this week and another class down. I am learning that I enjoy this type of business copywriting more than I thought I would.

Coming up…

We have lots of catching up to do over fall break–all those projects that kept getting pushed back until we have more time. There’s shopping for winter clothes and a college visit. I hope to make progress on the books I’m reading.

What have you read this week?

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.  Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist.  It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next.  Join up with us and discover what good books other people  are reading.

image

I didn’t read–or at least didn’t finish–as much this week, but I had an exciting week with writing. Last Wednesday I had my first story published with a byline. You can check out my profile of the Southeastern Purdue Agricultural Center in the October issue of Farm Indiana! I also submitted my second story and had three more assigned, so it looks like I will keep busy writing this month, too. There’s still time to read goo books, especially as the temperature drops and the sun sets earlier. I also published a review of In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke on my blog last week. Here’s to this week’s reading adventures!

I finished…

two kidsTwo Kids by Richard Levine – I enjoyed this story of a year in the life of two friends. Stay tuned for an upcoming review and interview with the author!

I’m currently reading…

Poliser_SummerLettingGo_jkt_website_207_1The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner – I’m still reading it aloud to my daughter. We both are enjoying the time together for a few minutes each evening (when homework and soccer schedules allow). I’m trying really hard just to read and not point out all the things I love about this book.

forgive me leonard peacockForgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick – My heart was racing when I listened to the chapters this morning. Let me just say without giving away too much that I love Herr Silverman and my heart aches for Leonard Peacock. I have no idea where the story will go next, but I’m pulling for Leonard.

les-miserablesLes Miserables by Victor Hugo – The action is heating up along the barricade, and Marius even had a chance to use his two pistols. I’ve made it to 77% of the way through the story. I am enjoying the book, but I think I prefer the musical.

chinese cinderellaChinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah – I started this memoir this week, and so far am impressed with the intelligence and courage the author shows. As a small child, she was unloved and unwanted by almost everyone in her household. Her older siblings blamed her for their mother’s death. Her stepmother resented all the stepchildren, but especially Adeline. Even her father ignores her except to praise her academic success.

Secrets of Writing High-Performance Business-to-Business Copy(AWAI) – Another couple of chapters read this week and another class down. I am learning that I enjoy this type of business copywriting more than I thought I would. This past week we brainstormed headlines–a very important hook.

Coming up…

I have two interviews scheduled this week, so I have lots of writing coming up. I also want to start the book a friend at church gave me yesterday, Again Calls the Owl by Margaret Craven. It’s the companion to I Heard the Owl Call My Name. I still have my grandmother’s copy of it, but haven’t reread it since I was a teen. I may have to go back to it again, too.

What has been your reading adventure this week?

In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke

in my handsI have always been drawn to read literature from the Holocaust, both fiction and nonfiction, but especially memoirs of people who lived through it. I sometimes wonder at my fascination. Why do I enjoy reading about such a dark period of history? I think reading these stories forces me to ask the question, “What would I do?” Would I have been able to cling to the best of my humanity–hope and kindness and love–as did many survivors of the ghettos and concentration camps? Would I have had the courage to help my neighbors by hiding them or sharing food? I like to think that I would, but I honestly don’t know since I have never been confronted with such choices.

Irene Gut Opdyke (with Jennifer Armstrong) shares her journey of becoming a resistance fighter and smuggler of Jews in her memoir In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer (Laurel Leaf Books 1999). She didn’t start out to become a hero, but she is a hero. I don’t know how I could have survived the horrors that she experienced as Germany and Russia invaded her homeland of Poland. It didn’t matter which side of the border she was on, the conquering armies made life miserable for all of Poland, but she still found the compassion and courage to protect those who were being hunted down.

As I read, I kept coming back to Irene’s words: “You must understand that I did not become a resistance fighter, a smuggler of Jews, a defier of the SS and the Nazis, all at once. One’s first steps are always small: I had begun by hiding food under a fence” (143). Irene did not stop with hiding food under the fence. She listened as she served Nazi and SS officers their dinner and passed along news of raids to her friends in the ghetto. She transported Jews in a horse and buggy to hiding places in the deep forest. She hid a dozen Jewish men and women in the basement of a German officer’s house. Not bad work for someone who was “only a girl.” While the Germans may have underestimated her, the Russians considered her a dangerous Partisan resistance fighter–and she was.

I may not be faced with life or death decisions this week, but every day I am given the choice to act with kindness and love–or not. It is in making those small decisions that I can develop the habits and character that would lead to the courage to do the right thing in more desperate circumstances. I hope that I will one day show the courage that Irene did.

September Books Read

My reading took many unexpected turns this month, but I enjoyed each surprise.  My favorites are Song of the Quarkbeast and In My Hands.

113) The Federal Election Commission Campaign Guide - This was an eye-opening read!

114) The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde – Wrap up quirky humor, eccentric magicians, fantastical creatures and you have a rollicking good read!

115) Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw

116) Mud Pie Annie by Sue Buchanan and Dana Shafer, illustrated by Joy Allen

117) You Are Special by Max Lucado, illustrated by Sergio Martinez

118) Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James Ransome

119) The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

120) The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story by Rebecca Hickox, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand

121) Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China retold by Ai-Ling Louie, illustrated by Ed Young

122) The Egyptian Cindrella by Shirley Climo, illustrated by Ruth Heller

123) The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin,illustrated by David Shannon

124) Confessions of a Murder Suspect by James Patterson – I’m not sure what I think of this audio book

125) Pucker Up by Rhonda Stapleton – This third Stupid Cupid novel is full of love and mishaps

126) The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold D. Underdown – packed with practical information

127) In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Strange – A beautiful, haunting, powerful addition to Holocaust literature, this time from the perspective of a Polish girl who risked her life to save her Jewish friends and fight the Germans.

128) Look Again by Lisa Scottoline – Another fast-paced adventure with a mom determined to learn the truth, no matter the cost.

129) Two Kids by Richard Levine – A friendship between two imaginatve, wise-cracking kids

What have been your favorite reads from September?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Is a meme sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.  Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Menor Texts gave the meme a kidlit twist.  It’s a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and reviewed the last week and plan what you want to read next.  Join up with us and discover what good books other people  are reading.

image

It’s been a good writing week. I posted two reviews this week of Pucker Up and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books. I’m finishing up the profile of a gourd farm and starting on a another profile for a different publication. I do enjoy the opportunity to meet interesting people and write a bit of their story.

I finished…

in my handsIn My Hands:Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Strange – This haunting, beautiful memoir is a powerful addition to Holocaust literature.  Even though she was “just a girl,” Irene saved the lives of many Jewish friends by passing along information and hiding a dozen people in the home of a German officer. I am still thinking about this quote: “You must understand that I did not become a resistance fighter, a smuggler of Jews, a fefier of the SS and the Nazis all at once. One’s first steps are always small: I had begun by hiding food under a fence.”

look againLook Again by Lisa Scottoline – Another fast-paced adventure with a strong mom determined to uncover the truth, no matter the cost. In this case, Ellen Gleeson, a reporter, glances at a “Missing Children” flyer and is stunned by her son’s resemblance to one of the pictures. Even though everyone advises her against it, she is determined to learn the true identiy of her adoptive son. Along the way she uncovers murder and kidnapping and puts herself and her son in danger. The plot may push the bounds of belief, but I kept turning pages late into the night to learn what happens.

I’m currently reading…

Poliser_SummerLettingGo_jkt_website_207_1Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner – It’s been a busy week with soccer games and late night homework, but my daughter still asks me to read every night we can. I suspect the only reason she hasn’t picked it up to finish it off is because she’s so swamped with school work. I’m glad to enjoy the story with her.

forgive me leonard peacockForgive Me, Leonard Peacock – When I started this audio book, I couldn’t remember anything about it except reading lots of positive reviews when it came out–and that it was an intense book. Let me say, that when I listened to the first chapter, I didn’t expect what I found–a teen plotting a murder-suicide at his school. I’m glad I’ve had lots of time to listen this week because the longer I’ve listened to Leonard tell his story, the more I am pulling for him.  I keep hoping someone will reach out and get through to him even though he pushes away every attempt thus far.

two kidsTwo Kids by Richard Levine – This came in the mail this week after the author sent me a review copy. So far I’m enjoying the two kids–gawky D.C. and bashful Rob–of the title though the story is slow to pick up.

les-miserablesLes Miserables by Victor Hugo – I’m plugging away. I may not reach my goal to finish by Christmas, but at least I’m back in the habit of reading some every week. The rebels are building the barricade, and Gavroche is in the middle of it all. He would be completely happy if only someone would give him a gun, too.

Secrets of Writing High-Performance Business-to-Business Copy(AWAI) – Another couple of chapters read this week and another class down. I am learning that I enjoy this type of business copywriting more than I thought I would.

Coming up…

I have lots of writing to finish up this week, so my reading plans are to finish what I’m in the middle of and make more progress with Les Mis. Of course, if something good comes my way (like the latest edition of Better Homes and Gardens) I’ll pick it up, too!

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, 3rd edition by Harold D. Underdown

complete idiot's guide to publishing children's booksHarold D. Underdown gives a complete peek behind the curtain of the children’s publishing industry in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, Third Edition (Penguin 2008). I have picked up much of the information over the years from following the blogs of some of my favorite writers, but I still learned much about the process, especially what happens once the writing and editing is done.

I found some of the most valuable parts of the books to be the references to additional resources, whether book titles or websites.  My copy of the book has a rainbow of sticky notes poking out the side, marking all the places I want to go back for reference or to save as bookmarks on my computer before I have to return it to the library.

Like other books in the Complete Idiot’s series, the information is organized for easy access and packed with information. Sidebars add even more information with definitions of industry terms, “Class Rules” that explain aspects of the publishing business and secret tips.  My favorite parts are the playground stories, which share anecdotes from working writers and illustrators. Through it all, Underdown emphasizes the need for writers and illustrators to be professionals and to take their careers seriously. It is difficult to make a career out of writing and illustrating for children, but it is possible with hard work and a little bit of luck.

Even though the book has been out for just six year, the rapid changes in technology have made some sections seem outdated already. Self-publishing–especially with ebooks–is still fraught with pitfalls, but it offers a different  landscape nearly every week. The section on author visits doesn’t mention Skype, which I used in my classroom to connect my students with authors.

Even so, this is a valuable reference for anyone interested in writing or illustrating for children.

Pucker Up by Rhonda Stapleton

pucker upWhat if Cupid was alive and well in today’s world?  What if Cupid’s business was booming so much that he had to hire assistants to keep up with all the matchmaking needed?  What if some of those assistants happened to be high school students in charge of matching up couples at their high school?  The resulting comedy comes to a hilarious conclusion in Rhonda Stapleton’s Pucker Up (Simon Pulse 2010).

I actually put off reading this last book for some time.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Stupid Cupid, but I never found the second book in the series.  I finally broke down and read the third one, and I’m glad I did.  I suspect I missed out on some love-gone-wrong in the second book, but I had no trouble following the action.

Fellicity should be walking on air. Her long-time crush Derek is now her boyfriend. Derek is even another Cupid employee. Her best friends Maya and Andy are happy in love as well. But not quite all is fair. Felicity’s brother continues to bring home one horrible girlfriend after another. Maya’s parents are headed for divorce. And worst of all, Felicity snoops among her boss’s papers at Cupid’s Hollow and learns that Cupid magic made Derek fall for her. Desperate to make their love last, Felicity will do whatever it takes to win Derek’s heart once the magic wears off. Needless to say, most of her plans lead to disaster.

If you are looking for a romantic comedy packed with misunderstandings, near misses, and outright hilarity (the Cupid spell can sometimes lead to surprising declarations of love), look no further. There may not be grand life lessons to take away, but Pucker Up will leave you with a finer appreciation of affairs of the heart.

1 2 3 107