A Series KickStarted: An Interview with Andrew Peterson

I’m excited to have an accomplished music artist and author on our column this month. Many of you may already listen to his music, or at least heard his name mentioned in last month’s article titled; KickStarting a Book to Life. So even if you’re sitting in a public place like a coffee shop while reading this, go ahead and give a warm clapping welcome to Andrew Peterson.

Brock: So Andrew we know you first as a music artist. What made you want to write the Wingfeather Saga and how did the idea come about?

Andrew: I’ve loved these kinds of stories since I was a kid. My reading interests are pretty broad—which is to say that I don’t necessarily love fantasy as a genre, but I love good books, good stories, whatever genre they happen to be. That said, fantasy has a certain kind of power that drew me in when I was young, and I still get butterflies in my stomach whenever I walk through the young adult or fantasy/sci-fi section of a bookstore. So when I finally decided to stop talking about someday writing a book and to actually write one, there was never any doubt that I wanted to try and tell a big, sweeping adventure story.

Brock: That you did, with four books and a creaturepedia in the series, you’ve created and immersive world with wonderfully engaging characters. Who are the main characters in the series and what makes them unique?

Andrew: The three main characters are siblings named Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli. Janner (12) is the eldest, he’s a bookworm, and he wants more than anything else to be at peace in the world along with his family. His little brother Kalmar (11) is the artist, and he has a tendency to get into trouble because he’s impulsive. Leeli (9) is the musician. She walks with a crutch because of an injury to her foot when she was a baby, but that doesn’t keep her from being fiercely independent.

Brock: Might you give us one fact about each of the characters that no one else knows, even your most avid fans?

Andrew: Facts that no one knows: Janner likes apples, but he likes cheese more. Kalmar once stole a berry bun from the Dragon Day festival and felt so bad about it the next day that he bought three berry buns from another stand and slipped them onto the platter of the first baker. Then he decided three buns was too much penance and ate one. Leeli always thought Faddy, the elder of the Blaggus boys, was very handsome, and before she met Thorn O’Sally (of the Green Hollows), she assumed she would marry him, even though she hated the idea of her name being Leeli Blaggus.

Brock: Ha, ha, you put a grand smile on my face. And this is the sort of wit and humor I’ve come to expect and enjoyed while reading the series. In three sentences what is Warden and the Wolf King about?

Andrew: Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli Wingfeather—Throne Warden, High King, and Song Maiden of the Shining Isle—are children, but find themselves nonetheless at the center of a great battle for the freedom of the world from a monster named Gnag. While Leeli, using her music as a weapon, leads the warriors of the Green Hollows in the battle against the Fangs of Dang, Janner and Kalmar attempt to sneak through Gnag’s dungeons to face him alone. Ultimately, though, the story is about Janner’s struggle to learn what it means to be a hero.

Brock: That’s a theme we can all relate to in our own lives in our own situations. What does it take to be a hero in the plan God has for us? Though you have said the series has come to a conclusion, any chance of more books? Your fans really got behind you on KickStarter, I am sure they would again.

Andrew: Yes! I can’t wait to write my next story. I’ve started one, but music is a big part of what I do so I have to focus on the next album right now. We’re putting together a collection from the last 15 years of music, called After All These Years, then I’ll start writing songs for a new record next year. After that I’ll be able to dedicate more time to a book. I don’t know exactly what it will be yet, but I’m sure there will be plenty of danger, adventure, and strangeness. I can’t wait.

Brock: And neither can I. Did you outline the entire series, or do you write as you go and let the characters take control of the story?

Andrew: There was a sort of outline, but it was mostly in my head. I had a general sense of where the story was going, and when I got stuck I would write quick chapter synopses in order to get the thing moving again. But that thing you hear about, where the characters start doing their own thing? That totally happened, weird as it sounds. More than just the characters, though, the story seemed to suggest itself to me. Unless you’ve written something like this it’s hard to understand, but there’s this real sense that the story “wants” to be told in a certain way, that it’s better at times than the author could have planned.

Brock: That I understand 100%. I’ve often tried to explain this to students when I speak, or in interviews. It’s truly amazing how one’s characters can lead you down a path and create a story that comes so alive. I’m a card carrying, “You might think I’m nuts, but my characters speak to me,” author myself. You noted on your website that you had to combine a planned book 4 and 5 together. Was that hard? Did you leave anything out, or is it just a thicker book?

Andrew: No, I didn’t really combine two books. Back in the day, after I finished book one, I planned out the story as well as I could, and it divided neatly into five books. But halfway through book two I realized that things were happening faster than I intended, and four books made more sense. The reason this one is twice as long as the others is because there were so many loose ends to be tied up. Remember at the end of The Lord of the Rings when the ring of power is finally destroyed and there’s still two hundred pages left? The first time I read it I wondered what on earth still had to happen. But it turns out, those last two hundred pages are my favorite in the whole book. Even once the bad guy is defeated, there’s this massive mess to be cleaned up, I realized, and the story just couldn’t end there. Not only that, there were lots of questions and characters that I wrote into the story early on and kind of forgot about. Then I’d get emails from readers saying, “I can’t wait till you bring So-and-so back!” Oops. So I had to make sure and bring the whole saga’s story arc to a finish—not just the fourth book’s. It was much more difficult than with the other books.

Brock: You and I need to exchange notes more often. I’m in the edits for book 4 in The Quest for Truth right now, and my editors biggest concern was the dissapearance of some characters that readers have come to love. Alas it makes editing a 100k word manuscript very interesting when you have to integrate new storylines in to the book after it’s written. And now the fourth book Warden and the Wolf King has been out for a little while,what has been the reaction to the final installment from your readers?

Andrew: To be honest, the reaction has been overwhelming. After ten years of work, I desperately hoped the readers would resonate with the ending. I’ve gotten several emails that were so gratifying I actually cried while reading them. More than just the thrill of knowing that I’d written a book (which is a thrill that fades in about five seconds), I wanted to tell a story that would really get into peoples’ hearts. I hoped that they would close the final book and really feel something. It’s not like everyone is going to have that reaction, but I’ve gotten enough feedback to know that at least a few people have, and I thank God for that. I really wanted the story to still be alive and kicking in the readers’ hearts long after they finished the story, which is why it ends with a question mark.

Brock: Probably the most humbling and honoring thing of writing, is finding that someone reading it has been truly impacted. How does your music complement your writing?

Andrew:  It gives me something else to do while I’m working on a story. I have a songwriter friend who took up painting a few years ago, and he says it’s been a tremendous help—not just to his songwriting, but to his soul. There’s a mysterious connection between one artistic discipline (like painting) and another (like songwriting), in which one improves the other. Back when I first started the Wingfeather Saga I drew a toothy cow (the most horrifying of creatures in Skree!) and was surprised that my drawing was better than it had been in high school when I was building a portfolio for art college (which I never applied for). For some reason, ten years as a songwriter had made me better at drawing, though I hadn’t practiced my technique a bit. So even though I can’t explain it, I suspect studying songwriting may help my storytelling, and storytelling may help my drawing, and drawing may help my gardening, or whatever. So even though I’m sometimes frustrated that I’m supposed to be writing a book when I really want to be working on music, or that I’m working on an album when I wish I could dig into another story, if I was only working on one or the other I’d likely be bored out of my skull.

Brock: With that said, has any of your writing (brainstorming) influenced new song ideas, or song writing?

Andrew: Nothing specific comes to mind, but there’s a common theme that seems to run through both the books and the music—an ache for home, a hope that our dissatisfaction with life and the brokenness of things points to a day when there will be justice and peace and ultimate healing.

Brock: How did you balance your music touring with writing the novel?

Andrew: This may sound like a trite answer, but it’s true: day by day. My family and I are used to flying by the seat of our pants, making it up as we go, and then looking back at the end of the year without knowing how we pulled it off. I just tried to write whenever I could, and I toured whenever I had to. Meanwhile, Jamie and the kids are the most encouraging, kindhearted people I know.

Brock: It’s so key to have a supportive and loving family. I’m blessed by my wife and three girls. What do you hope kids take away from Wingfeather Saga?

Andrew: First, I hope they simply love the story. As I was writing the book I was thinking, “What needs to happen that will make the reader want to turn the page and keep reading?” That’s the first thing. Beyond that, I hope they’re able to believe that even though the world is at times a terribly dark place, there’s a power and a light that dwarfs the darkness. The bad guys are scary but the good guys win. I hope they feel some kind of longing. I hope they’re ultimately comforted and reminded that they’re not alone. That’s what my favorite books did for me when I was young.

Brock: Was that when you realized you wanted to write a novel?

Andrew: When I was in the eighth grade and I read my first Dragonlance book. I tried writing a lot back then, before music took over.

Brock: Well many of our thankful for your music, and we’re glad you got to put your hand to writing as well. In what ways does your faith impact how you approach writing?

Andrew: My faith informs every aspect of the creative process. It’s no exaggeration to say that before I turned whatever gifts I had over to Christ, I had nothing to write about. Every song was a lame girlfriend song, every story attempt was hollow. But once I began to truly believe that the stories I grew up reading in church were true stories—true in both senses of the word—the world seemed to be brimming with beauty and story and song. If I believe that God is the source of everything good and true and beautiful, then I should pay close attention to the way He tells stories. I should pay attention to the motifs and symbols and metaphors He uses. I should approach the writing of a song or a story with a sense of humility and wonder, because every creative act is possible only because of the Creator. That’s what Tolkien was doing with The Lord of the Rings—he was telling a eucatastrophe story (which is the opposite of a catastrophe) because he recognized that kind of storytelling being employed by God in all of creation and even the Incarnation itself.

Brock: I often get excited when I think about how we (Christian Artists/Authors/Creatives) have a real advantage over non-Christians, we’ve got a direct link to the Creator of everything. And if we truly seek His will and follow His lead, amazing things can happen. We’re simply the vessel to deliver his message! What was your favorite book as a teen?

Andrew: I keep bringing it up, but nothing really comes close: The Lord of the Rings. I didn’t read it until I was about 18, and up to then I’d read a lot of Poe, C. S. Lewis, Arthur Conan Doyle, along with a bunch of terribly written but terribly enjoyable fantasy novels. I loved the Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander (which are enjoyable and well-written).

Brock: Now some fun questions, less related to the writing and music. What’s your favorite place to vacation?

Andrew: Castlerock, Northern Ireland. We went as a family on a tour/sabbatical last year, and fell in love. If I ever disappear, that should be the first place the authorities look.

Brock: Do you have a favorite Bible verse?

Andrew: I love the beginning of Colossians, about the preeminence of Christ: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,” and it goes on to describe Jesus as the center of everything. I read it at the end of every Christmas concert, and it always gives me chills—especially in light of having just sung about him being a little infant.

Brock: Do you listen to music while you write? If so what are some examples?

Andrew: I usually write in a public place, whether Starbucks or a library or outside in a park. I like the feeling of being present in an active place but slightly detached from it, observing from a corner. Then I put on headphones and listen to movie soundtracks. For the first book it was Thomas Newman’s amazing score for A Series of Unfortunate Events. With this last book I mainly listened to Michael Giacchino’s Super 8. It’s creepy and intense at times, but when it’s tender and beautiful it evokes a lot of my childhood feeling of adventure—or the potential of it. I even made playlists for “Creepy” scenes, “Tense” scenes, and “Warm” scenes, and put them on repeat until the chapter was finished. Any music with words gets me thinking about lyrics, so it has to be instrumental.

Brock: Again we must exchange notes sometime. I do the same thing with certain playlists to invoke the mood of the scene or action sequence, and for me as well lyrics find their way into the text of my book if I am not careful. Lastly, Coke or Pepsi?

Andrew: Neither. It’s either coffee or water for me these days.

Brock: Thanks Andrew so much for the glimpse into your writing of both books and music. We look forward to reading great new books from you in the future.



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Four Slurpy Stories to Enjoy: Frog and Fly by Jeff Mack

Frog and Fly



Frog and Fly by Jeff Mack is a silly book that will have your kids ROTFL (Rolling on the floor laughing) or at the very least make them LOL (if you don’t know that one then…) Frog and Fly’s. A set of simple comics between Fly and Frog that end with Fly getting slurped, however kids will not be sad for fly because he returns in each story. I especially enjoyed Story 3 of the book.

An Interview with Jeff Mack:

Brock: Jeff thanks again for joining us for an interview about your books. How many Frog and Fly comics are there?

Jeff: There are six stories. I originally wrote them as two books with three comics in each. Then I combined them to make a single hardcover book with six chapters. Later, when Frog and Fly was re-published as a shorter board book, two of the stories had to be edited out.

Brock: Is the Fly the same fly each time?

Jeff: Yes. Frog and Fly live in a parallel cartoon universe where animals speak and instantly recover from any nasty injuries. It’s like the old Road Runner cartoons where the coyote falls off a cliff over and over again. It’s totally impossible. I guess that’s one of the reasons I find those cartoons so funny.

Brock: That’s what I was imagining. What is your favorite Frog and Fly story?
Jeff: My personal favorite is the one where Frog and Fly have a contest to see who is faster. Frog keeps losing and crashing into stuff. Then he tricks Fly into saying that he’s yummier. Fly wins again. And, at the same time, he loses. It has a nice logic to it, but it’s still totally absurd.
I also like the final story in the hardcover version. It features a bear, and it has a very twisted ending.
Brock: What advice would you give to a kid who wants to create short comics?
Jeff: While you’re writing the comics, don’t worry about making them short.  Just write what you love. Make the story as long as you want. Then put it away in a drawer, and do something else for a few days. Later, when you read it again, you’ll have an easier time identifying which parts make the comic fun and interesting and which parts just make it long. Then you can cut out the less interesting parts and make it shorter.
Also, with comics, it helps to figure out if you are someone who naturally thinks about the words first or someone who thinks about the pictures. When I write a story, I usually have ideas for the pictures before I know what the words will be. So I start my comics by sketching the characters in different scenes. Then I go back and write the dialogue afterward. For other people, their ideas may take the form of words, so they write lines of speech first. Then they draw pictures to illustrate the dialogue. There are many ways to make comics. My advice is to experiment and discover which way works most naturally for you.

Brock: Thanks Jeff for taking the time to gives us more insight into Frog and Fly.

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From the Publisher:

Silly comic-strip style stories and two comical combatants make for one laugh-out-loud board book!

Frog and Fly are constant companions. There is only one problem . . . Frog thinks Fly is delicious! This leads to a never-ending battle of wits with laugh-out- loud consequences. Told in short comic-strip style chapters, Frog and Fly will delight kids and leave them begging for yet another slurpy story.

Praise for Frog and Fly:
“Mack’s winning combination of simple text, uncluttered multimedia art, and comic-book-style panels make for a great beginning-reader format as well as a good choice for. . . read-alouds. Many children are going to find this hilarious; it’s reminiscent of both joke books and old Saturday-morning cartoons, when coyotes fell off cliffs and bounced right back, and it never, ever got old.” —Booklist

“This expressive and personable duo provides a spot-on brand of joke book-style humor that children will find plenty entertaining.” —Publishers Weekly

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KickStarting a Book to Life: The reader and the author win together

Sages of Darkness - Kickstarter Header

Publishing is a growing and ever changing industry. As recently stated in an Amazon letter to its authors, paperbacks revolutionized the book industry many moons ago, and then came the eBook revolution, and most recently the self-publishing craze. I believe the rise of crowdfunded publishing is the latest improvement to the industry.

“What in the world is crowdfunding?” you ask. The quick oversimplified answer is, “You make it happen.” You choose a project you like and you help fund it. The result; exciting new projects that might never see the light of day otherwise, come to life and provide big payoffs to those who support the project. Crowdfunding brings you the reader and the author into a team like never before.

There are many websites that can be used to raise money for causes, events, organizations, and products. But one in particular has gained a lot of attention in recent years, its called KickStarter, and to me it stands above the rest. Creators post projects with numerous support levels that are directly related to a reward. For example in my KickStarter someone can fund $35 and receive eBooks of all three titles in Sages of Darkness, cool digital art from the series, and they become immortalized with their name in the acknowledgements of each book. Or they can fund $4000 (Yes that says 4 with three zeros) and I’ll write a book about them as the main character (Plus they get a whole lot of other cool stuff.) You see in crowdfunding, the author or artist, needs to motivate you the reader to fund the project, so we dangle all sorts of ‘once in a lifetime exclusive opportunities’ in front of you, as well as the simple ‘just get the product’ rewards. The key is to have something for everyone and to dazzle those who want to get something very unique in return.

What crowdfunding is doing, is allowing projects to release that might otherwise get rejected by a publisher or label because they are too costly or the audience isn’t large enough. But when an author goes right to their fans and their friends, amazing things can happen quickly. For example Andrew Peterson launched a KickStarter to finish his Wingfeather Saga last year after WaterBrook ended the series after just two of the five books were released. Andrew set his goal at $14,000 to finish a fourth and final book and ended up raising $118,188. He blew everyone, including his own expectations away, and set a record on KickStarter.

I asked Andrew why he chose KickStarter as the platform to fund the book and he said, “When it came to publishing this last book I thought it would be a fun opportunity to raise some extra funds in order to go out with a bang. That meant a fancy hardback edition, tons of illustrations, a fold-out map, an audiobook, that sort of thing.” And ‘out with a bang’ they went, with nearly $120,000 raised, they were able to add a whole lot of awesome stretch goals (more on those later.)

Andrew agrees, KickStarter is about the reader and the author co-creating the project. “This Kickstarter thing gave the readers a chance to express their encouragement and to interact with me as the author. It was wonderful,” adds Andrew. And Andrew has worked hard to show his gratitude and fulfill his commitment to the backers. He explains, “One of the perks for backers was a signed set of all four books; that meant I had to sign about 6,000 books in two weeks.” Still he’ll tell you it was well worth it, “I’ve cried quite a few happy tears in the last month.”

Another KickStarter just successfully concluded for Enclave Publishing (Formerly Marcher Lord Press) by Steve Laube. Enclave turned to KickStarter with very specific goals in mind, “We needed a way to allow our readers to pre-order the new books since, at the time, the online outlets did not provide that service. Ironically the last day of the campaign a major online retailer announced they are now offering a pre-order service! In addition we were looking for a way to announce the new books and create anticipation. Kickstarter seemed to be a good method for that type of marketing.” I myself backed this project to see what it was all about and for $20 landed ebooks of their five latest releases, plus helped get more Christian fiction into the marketplace. Crowdfunding brings on the euphoric, “We did it!” feeling and that’s something most of us can appreciate, like the end of an awesome book.

The great news is, if you go to fund a project, but they don’t reach their goal, no money exchanges hands. You keep your funds, and the author goes on to find another way. But when a project meets its goal, and begins to exceed those goals, the creator usually starts to add stretch goals. These promise more perks for the supporters when they reach higher funding levels. For example, though my goal is just $6,000, I have a stretch goal at $20,000 that says, “I will give a digital download of the audiobook for HowlSage at no extra cost.” Andrew had a stretch goal to write an original song for the series at $110,000 which his supporters reached, and he did indeed write.

I myself faced a similar situation as Andrew with a trilogy I was writing. The first book HowlSage was released, but the publisher ended their fiction imprint and the second and third book never saw the light of day. Yet I get emails, comments on my website, and am always asked at book signings, “Where is BlizzardSage.” After hearing of Andrew Peterson’s success as well as a $55,000 Potato Salad KickStarter, I decided to give it a try.

The awesome news is that the Sages of Darkness KickStarter was successfully funded at $5,120 and so all three books; HowlSage, BlizzardSage, and CrimsonSage will be released. I’m honored and delighted to finally be able to complete the original trilogy. I also look forward to launching another KickStarter in the near future.

EYES Graphic for Sages of Darkness


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Elephants and the Moon: A Review of Meet Me at the Moon by Gianna Marino

Meet Me at the Moon

Meet me at the Moon by Gianna Marino is full of beautiful and captivating illustrations. The scenes of the animals on the African savvanah will steal your child’s imagination and get them dreaming of traveling there one day. My girls enjoyed reading this book and looking at the colorful illustrations of animals. There might be a few moments where your children are concerned for Little One while his MaMa is gone, but be assured that they are reunited under the moon as promised. Wrap your own arm (like an elephant’s trunk) around your child in an elephant hug as MaMa and Little One reunite.

From the Publisher:

A heartwarming love story between mother and child. When Mama Elephant must leave Little One to ask the skies for rain, the young elephant is worried. Who will care for Little One? Who will sing Mama’s special songs? When will she return? Mama is very reassuring – Little One will hear her song on the wind and feel her love in the warmth of the sun, and, after the rains come, they will meet where the moon sets. Exquisitely illustrated and supremely comforting, Meet Me at the Moon is a mother and child love story to be enjoyed again and again.

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“Marino’s breathtaking panoramas make an already powerful story sing.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“The textured mixed-media art paired with the flowing text elevates this title above most missing-mama fare … Radiating warmth and comfort, this distinguished title strikes home.” —Kirkus, starred review

“Heartfelt and sincere, yet never cloying, this will work well one on one or in story hours.” —Booklist

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Quick and Slick: A Review of Smick by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Juana Medina


A quick easy read with rhyming like Dr. Suess. Doreen Cronin and Juana Medina’s Smick will make your kids smile as they flip the pages and memorize the easy text of this picture book. “Smick is a quick slick read.”

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From the Publisher:

Smick is a BIG dog.

Sit, Smick.

Chick is a little chick.

Stay, Smick!

So what happens when they see a stick?

Written by New York Times bestselling author Doreen Cronin and ingeniously illustrated by newcomer Juana Medina, Smick is a story of unlikely friendship, a sense of adventure, and a lot of wonderful wordplay.


“Maximum fun.” —Booklist, starred review

“Less is definitely more in this fetching, fun-filled mix of dog, chick and stick, guaranteed to tickle all.” —Kirkus Reviews


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Across the Ocean They Sailed: A Review of Three Bears in a Boat by David Soman

Three Bears in a Boat


One of the most wonderfully illustrated books I’ve read to my kids. Three Bears in a Boat is a fantastic story with a great message set amid the gorgeous backdrop of the sea. The story and images will capture your kids’ attention and imaginations as you read to them. They’ll want to explore the island and rise along the boat with Dash, Theo, and Charlie. When the three bears break their mom’s favorite blue sea shell they try to cover their tracks, but at the end of their journey, though they find a shell, the bears decide to tell their mama the truth. The forgiveness of their mama brings the story to a wonderful ending, but adds the simplest of consequences when the three bears get no desert. This consequence though is one many children will understand.


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From the publisher:

From the co-creator of the New York Times bestselling Ladybug Girl series comes a high seas adventure inspired by the classic picture books Little Bear and Where the Wild Things Are. Three bear siblings break their mother’s favorite blue seashell, and rather than tell her, they decide to set out in their sailboat to find her a new one. On their quest they encounter salty sailors, strange new islands, huge whales, and vast seas but no blue seashells. When a treacherous storm suddenly blows in, the three bears find themselves tossed about in their little boat, far from Mama. What will become of their search, and what will it take to bring them safely home?This read aloud shares its best qualities with classic picture books: breath-taking illustrations, epic adventure, and a subtle message about taking responsibility for your actions.

Praise for Three Bears in a Boat:

* “Gorgeous . . . A first purchase for all.”—School Library Journal (starred review)* “Humorous and intelligent—and with watercolor seascapes so luminous that readers will want to jump in—this is a book to be treasured for years to come.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)* “Breathtaking . . . Beautiful . . . Gentle”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A beautiful journey you’ll want to return to repeatedly. . . . If you’re looking for a gift book, a bedtime book, or just something uniquely attractive to the eye, seek ye just three little bears. Charm incarnate.”—Elizabeth Bird, A Fuse 8 Production, School Library Journal

A School Library Journal Best Book of 2014
A Kirkus Best Book of 2014

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Perfect for a Spring Day: A Review of When the Wind Blows and interview with Linda Booth Sweeney and Jana Christy.

When the Wind Blows

An adventure that rhymes along the way. The style and free flow of the wispy illustrations match the rhyming flowing poem of this book perfectly. A fun and beautifully illustrated edition to anyone’s library for their kids, When the Wind Blows by Linda Booth Sweeney and Jana Christy will take you to a seaside village on an early spring day. The adventure of the little boy and his grandma, reminded me of my childhood outings with my Grandma Swigart and while we did not live by the sea, we did find ourselves at the lake feeding ducks and flying kites in our hometown park.

Brock: And now an interview with Linda Booth Sweeney. How did you come up with the idea for the poem When the Wind Blows?

Linda: When my oldest son Jack was two (he’s now 16!), we went out to run an errand. It was bright and sunny when we left, but as we headed back home, a storm came in and the wind blew, and blew.  His stroller was literally blown off the side walk!  Jack loved the whole thing and kept pointing out to me what he saw — the sign shaking so hard it looked like it would fall off the post, the awnings billowing and snapping, the puddles shimmering…I had my head down trying to get him home safely but his excitement was contagious!  I joined him in his wide-eyed awe of the wind and found myself laughing and skipping home, and loving every minute of it. That’s how the first draft was born. I just wrote down all the things we noticed. And then from there, I began to fill it out and develop the rhyme.
I wrote the book, in part, invite children outside, to keenly observe the wind, or the rain and snow for that matter!  My guide here is the poet Mary Oliver. Here are her ““Instructions for living a life”:
“Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
What happens when the winds blows?  The snows flurry?  The rains falls?  I want kids to get out there and get there noses in it, and be amazed and tell about it.
Brock: What a great motivation to create this tale. Is spring time your favorite season?
Linda: It is definitely one of my favorites. Spring is all about renewal and rejuvenation. It’s about faith too.  Faith that the purplish asparagus crowns will find their way through still icy April earth, and those little green daffodil shoots will once again appear. We had six major snow storms here in New England so it definitely tested our faith that Spring would finally come. Even this week (the first week of April), my iPhone showed snow flakes for this week’s weather forecast!
Brock: I’m in Colorado, so I know all about the constant sometimes unpredictable changes in the weather. What is your connection to the ocean?
Linda: I do love the ocean and would spend time every summer in Truro, Massachusetts with my family in a tiny, one-room cottage. I have to say though, the beauty of the ocean connection in this book is really Jana’s inspiration. You’ll have to ask her!
Brock:  What advice would you give to a future poet?
Linda: Quiet down. Be fully present wherever you are. On the soccer field, in the woods, even in the grocery store. See what words emerge and then go home and write them down. Start with four lines and see how it feels. Then, if you get hooked, become a student of poetry. Read as much as you can. My favorite guidebook is by Mary Oliver’s “A Poetry Handbook”. And then read other’s poetry. Two of my favorite poetry picture books right now are “The Forest Has a Song” by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and “A Rock Can Be” by Laura Purdie Salas.
Brock: Thanks Linda for the wonderful answers!

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From the Publisher:

Spring weather can be exciting!

When wind chimes start singing and clouds race across the sky, one little guy knows just what to do—grab his kite!

But as the kite soars, the wind picks up even more, and soon he and his grandma are chasing the runaway kite into town. As they pass swirling leaves, bobbing boats, and flapping scarves, breezes become gusts and the sky darkens. Rain is on the way! Can they squeeze in one more adventure before the downpour?

Scenes rich with springtime details for little eyes to follow and lyrical verse that captures the changeable mood of the weather make this perfect for spring story times.

Praise for When the Wind Blows:

*“Electric colors evoke the kinetic energy that crackles before a storm and the irrepressible excitement a good squall brings out in young and old. …   The book’s exhilarating verse [is] metronomic and as succinct as the heartbeat throbbing in the cold ears of a child racing back to his dry house… Gale-force gusts of invigorating artwork and imagery will leave readers breathless in windswept wonder.”–Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The rhythm of the book seems to mimic the steady blow of the wind on each page. Young readers will enjoy following the story in the supporting gorgeous watercolor images as they watch the winds pick up speed.”–School Library Journal

“The rhymes are fresh and unpredictable, and the narrative maintains a crisp rhythm throughout. Christy’s illustrations align closely with the text, effectively capturing swirling winds, swinging signs, and swaying tree branches.”–Booklist

Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Growing Goldstone Wood: An Interview with Anne Elisabeth Stengl


Anne Elisabeth Stengl has been working on her series Tales of Goldstone Wood since 2010 and now has 6 titles in the series. I sat down with her to ask about the newest release, Golden Daughter.

Brock: Anne, for readers who may not be aware of Tales of Goldstone Wood, give us a high level overview of the stories you have written?

Anne: The Tales of Goldstone Wood is a series of adventure novels set in the Near World of Mortals, the Far World of Faeries, and the Wood Between (also known as Goldstone Wood). The novels touch on various periods of history and visit many different kingdoms in the world, but the events of each story have profound effects on all of the others.

Primarily, the series tells the saga of the Song Giver’s love for mortals and immortals alike, and the Dragon’s efforts to destroy both worlds by refashioning the hearts of men and women in his own dark image. Much classical imagery is present in the spinning of these tales, enhanced by vibrant humor, fairytale magic, and a large cast of endearing characters.

Brock: You’ve envisioned such a magnificent sweeping world, full of many characters and places readers want to learn about. How have you mapped out this world of yours?

Anne: I have been in the process of creating the world of Goldstone Wood since I was fifteen. I began by writing down simple paragraph summaries of various storylines spanning the history of this world (or worlds, rather). I still have many of the old notebooks in which I wrote down early versions of the tales I am now actively writing.

Because I have been developing this world for so long, it’s easier than you might think to keep all of these storylines together. I know how the events of 1600 years ago shaped the events of now. I can write a story set in one time period, remaining fully aware of the history leading up to these events. Thus there is always a sense of Bigger Story in each Goldstone Wood novel—a sense that there is more to the picture yet to be revealed.

Brock: This proves true when you read the series. You are left with this sense of a greater story unfolding. Tell us what drove you to write the latest tale, Golden Daughter? What about Masayi Sairu’s story compelled you to tell it before the many other stories you have in those notebooks?

Anne: Part of the decision to write Golden Daughter was pure chronological sequencing. The events depicted in Golden Daughter were referenced very specifically in my third book, Moonblood. After writing Moonblood, I jumped back 1600 years in the history of my world and began writing the books in chronological sequence leading back up to the first three novels. Thus I came to the time period of Golden Daughter and realized I needed to tell the story which had been referenced in Moonblood.

The basic premise of the book came long before the plot and characters. But the story didn’t come alive until I discovered the character of Sairu, who serves as this adventure’s primary protagonist. Originally I had intended  to make a different character in the story the primary heroine—the mysterious Lady Hariawan. But she was too cold and distant and, honestly, too powerful. I found her difficult to relate to, difficult to bond with.

So I rethought the story, wondering what it might look like if told from the point-of-view of Lady Hariawan’s handmaiden. And, after all, a woman of such prominence and sacred importance to the empire would certainly have a very special girl as her handmaiden, right?

So the mythology of the Golden Daughters came to be—these intelligent, dangerous, talented young woman trained to look like sweet and innocent flowers but who, in reality, are dangerous and devoted bodyguards. It was such a fun concept to explore, particularly in context with the cosmic stakes of this particular novel. Ultimately it’s a story I couldn’t resist writing!

Brock: Describe to us what is at the heart of this book?

Anne: This story is about a sacred Dream Walker of the Temple of Hulan, a woman named Lady Hariawan. She has the ability to travel outside of her body into the realm of dreams, where she searches for a gate to the gardens of the moon goddess, Hulan. She is very powerful, and many different factions and nations want to either capture or kill her.

Thus, to protect this sacred woman, the High Priest of Hulan hires a bodyguard—the titular Golden Daughter, Masayi Sairu. And Sairu finds herself in over her head as she battles forces she cannot begin to comprehend in her efforts to protect her new mistress!

But Lady Hariawan has an agenda of her own. And the Dragon is at work in the hearts of men, motivating them to desperate, wicked deeds.

The story culminates in a cosmic clash of false gods and monsters that deals with the painful question: Where is God in times of suffering? Why does He apparently allow such evil to reign in the world?

This story is an epic like nothing I have ever before written, and I am thrilled to present it now to my readers.

Brock: Who is Masayi Sairu?

Anne: Sairu is the heroine of this adventure, a brave and bold bodyguard masquerading as a demure little handmaiden. She is pitted against phantoms, dragons, and assassins in her efforts to protect her mistress, the sacred Dream Walker.

Brock: How do you think your readers will connect with her story?

Anne: Sairu is an apparently strong young woman who hides deep wounds behind her smile. She is a damaged character, but the extent and nature of that damage is not readily apparent. As readers dig more deeply into her story and motivations, they begin to uncover the truth of what has been done to her over the years, and they realize how truly vulnerable she is. In this vulnerability, she is very relatable.

She is possibly the most complex and interesting heroine to yet feature in the Tales of Goldstone Wood, and I have no doubt readers will enjoy her story.

Brock: You’ve mentioned several villains. Can you explain who they are and their motivations?

Anne: Well, there are many villains featured through the epic that is Golden Daughter! There are the Crouching Shadows, a legendary band of assassins bent on protecting their goddess at all costs. There are the barbarian Chhayan warriors, angry at the loss of their land and desperate for revenge against the emperor whom they see as a usurper. There is the tragic character of Sunan, a half-breed Chhayan who longs to leaves his barbaric heritage behind, but who is forced into an evil role and ultimately pursues his own destruction.

But at the core of this story is the Dragon himself, also called the Death-in-Life. He longs for nothing so much as to see himself as the dark god of all worlds, to see mortals and immortals alike formed in his own image. He is a terrible creature of malice and destruction, and quite a formidable foe!

Brock: The Dragon is indeed a terrifying villain. The threat he puts upon Goldstone Wood, parallels the dangers in our own. How does this villain differ from other villains in your series?

Anne: The Dragon has featured many times throughout the series, either as the primary villain or as an agent of evil behind the scenes, so to speak. Sunan, however, is a particularly interesting villain in that he has had small features in previous stories. He makes a short appearance in Veiled Rose, my second novel, when he helps the hero of that story on his journey to the Far East. In my novella Goddess Tithe, Sunan plays the heroic lead. His history is hinted at in both of those tales, but Golden Daughter begins to reveal the truth of his story . . . a story which is continued in my upcoming autumn 2015 release, Poison Crown.

Brock: The latest release was not released by Bethany House, but instead Rooglewood Press. Can you tell us why you made that decision and tell us about Rooglewood Press?

Anne: Rooglewood Press is my own independent brand. That’s right! After six books, four Christy Award nominations, and three wins, I am moving indie. And I am very excited about this new direction my series and my career have taken. My goal is to continue producing books of the same quality and caliber as my readers have come to expect, but now I get to make more creative decisions about series direction, length of the books, thematic elements, etc.

Brock: What sort of advantages have you found in indie publishing? What sort of disadvantages?

Anne: I absolutely love the creative control afforded by indie publishing. I used to labor long and hard to fit my epic storylines into the short word counts my publisher gave me. Now I get to determine the length of the book—and while I still try to write each story as short as it can be (tight writing is strong writing!), I can tackle much bigger ideas and premises than I ever dared try before. It’s a wonderful feeling, and Golden Daughter is easily the book I am proudest to have written.

The disadvantages of self-publishing go hand in hand with the advantages. Assuming creative control also means assuming much more labor than I ever had to deal with when publishing traditionally. I am now in charge of managing my own editing, formatting, cover imaging, typesetting, marketing, etc. Whether I’m hiring freelance artists and editors or learning new skills and putting in the work myself, it’s all time- and labor-intensive. But the rewards are tremendous, and I’ve never been afraid of extra work.

Brock: What sort of advice would you give to aspiring novelists?

Anne: My advice to aspiring novelists is always the same: Write, write, write, and read, read, read.

The more you write, the better you’ll get. Like any other art, writing must be practiced to be perfected. Don’t expect yourself to write literary brilliance right away! And certainly don’t rush into publication. Develop your voice, your style, your technique. Develop your confidence by putting in those long hours of practice.

And, of course, the more you read and the more broadly you read, the more you’ll know what is possible for good writing! Spend time on the classics, discover those authors who have lasted through the ages. Spend time on modern voices who are succeeding in the current market, and learn what they know. You can never read too much if you want to be a novelist!

UPDATE: Cover release for the new Novel Draven’s Light

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Anchor Deep Into Dreamtreaders: An Interview with Wayne Thomas Batson

I recall the first time I saw a Wayne Thomas Batson book, I was in a Borders (I miss those stores and their apple cider) in Peoria, Illinois. There on a table in the teen section sat Isle of Swords, I couldn’t help but pick it up and read the back cover. At the time I had just finished college, and hadn’t yet been immersed in the world of publishing. Still I was drawn in by the story and quickly made the purchase. Well I’m proud to say that 7 years later and almost as many books, Batson is still delivering exciting fiction. Without another word, check out my interview with him about his new series.

Brock: How did you come up with the idea for Dreamtreaders?

Wayne Thomas Batson: I found an article online about the science of dreams. It blew me away. I mean, dreams have always been a curiosity. Sometimes they leave us with such a feeling of “I’ve been somewhere new” or “That was so real.” But to discover that there is actually a field of science devoted to dreaming, that was news to me. After a little more research, I realized that dreams may be worth exploring in fiction.

Brock: That sounds cool. I know I’ve woken up in the middle night, thinking wow that was just weird. Tell us about the main characters?

Wayne: Archer Keaton has the same issues as any other high school freshman: fitting in, standing out, bullies, crushes, etc. But he’s got one additional issue: he’s a Dreamtreader, one of three people chosen each generation to protect humanity in the realm of dreams. Rigby Thames is another freshman, but he’s arrived halfway through the school year and carrying a suitcase of mysteries, including a Mad Uncle who might have been guilty of murder. Kara Windchil is a young lady with plans. Also just a freshman, Kara knows what she wants in life and how she’s going to get there. She’s always seen something special in Archer, but when Rigby arrives, she becomes distracted. Her ambitions change and a secret hobby threatens to lead her into uncharted territories.Honestly, the plot of the story came first. But once I had the general storyline, all these people leaped into my mind to carry out the story.

Brock: If I had a nickel for every character that came out of the woodwork during my writing. It’s amazing how characters come to life. In three sentences what is this book about?

Wayne: What if Dreams were much more than we ever imagined? What if a threat loomed within the realm of dreams, a threat to everything and everyone we hold dear? And finally, what would happen if people gained the power to control their dreams?

Brock: Intriguing! What is the biblical background or basis for the series?

Wayne: Dreams play a pretty significant role in the Bible. Just do a search, and you’ll see that some very important events occurred due to dreams. So, the general topic (dreaming) is of Biblical importance. But as the story developed, a new theme began to dominate: the idea of having anchors of truth. When people have God and the Bible as their anchors, they can withstand any storm. But when we lose sight of those anchors, we invite disaster.

Brock: That’s so true. How many books are planned for this series?

Wayne: Three books. Book 1 will be out May 6th. Book 2, later in the year.

Brock: That sounds like an aggressive schedule, but your fans and I thank you! Did you outline the entire series, or do you write as you go and let the characters take control of the story?

Wayne: I outlined all three books. I need the structure, and having the major plot points worked out ahead of time reduces the number of rewrites I have to do. But my outlines aren’t carved in stone. There’s enough flexibility in them that, if an epic idea shows up later, I can always change the outline. And keep in mind, the characters really don’t take control of the story. Even in seat-of-the-pants writing, the author is still in control. But no matter how you write, you want your characters to have real personalities and make decisions that are true to their identity and situation.

Brock: Any certain research required for the book, or is it all straight from your imagination?

Wayne: I had to do a bit of research on the fields of Sleep Science, Sleep Physiology, and Lucid Dreaming. This wasn’t too taxing, however, because it’s all very cool stuff.

Brock: What do you hope kids take away from the series?

Wayne: Back to the “Anchor” theme. No generation in the history of the world has ever seen its moral compass destroyed then this generation’s has been. Politics, news media, entertainment, music, social media, peers, and even ill-informed parents are sending mixed messages (at best) or false messages to our children. And we dress up those messages with lacey labels like “tolerance” or “fairness” or even “loving,” but it’s really societal poison. If kids don’t have anchors, the solid truths they will stand on no matter what, then they will get washed out to sea and drown in sin.

Brock: Is it difficult to be accurate to Biblical perspective/facts when writing fiction fantasy?

Wayne: It’s not difficult to write fantasy fiction from a Biblical perspective. Not hard at all. What’s difficult is having to break through walls of “well intentioned” Christians who object to just about anything on the ground that it’s not Biblical because they wouldn’t do it that way. Drives me crazy how some Christians go after other Christians—why? Just because they are uncomfortable with the means by which the Gospel of Jesus is being spread. Can’t Heavy Metal Music spread the Gospel? Is God so powerless that He cannot touch a child’s heart through a story with unicorns or wizards? The apostle Paul would want to slam his head against a wall if he saw the picky attitudes of some Christians today. He was the one who immersed himself in a variety of cultures just so that, by any means, he might save a few. There is freedom in Christ, remember? And that freedom extends to creative expression.

Brock: What are some of the strongest influences on your writing?

Wayne: I’m an author’s mutt. I mean, I’ve read so many authors in so many genres that I really have no idea whose style I most emulate. I suppose Tolkien’s sense of the grand adventure is something I really want to capture. But I like the pacing of modern authors better. And I like to include a lot of poetic technique in my writing. In poetry, one thing you learn very quick is not to waste words. That’s really handy for writing novels too.

Brock: How do you write? What’s a normal writing day like for you?

Wayne: There’s no such thing as a normal writing day for me. I’m a full time English teacher at a public middle school in Maryland. I have four teenaged kids, a wonderful wife, and a handful of very close friends. But, as a result of these blessings, the one thing I do not and cannot possibly have is a regular time to write. It just isn’t there. Therefore, I write whenever I can. An hour here, two hours there, fifteen minutes too. It all counts.

Brock: Wayne thanks so much for the interview. And I totally understand the fifteen minutes here, an hour there.

Wayne: One last thing for readers to remember: Anchor first. Anchor deep.

Categories: Author Interviews, Authors | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Look at this Book: A Review of LOOK! by Jeff Mack


In the simplest way with the two words ‘Look’ and ‘Out’ Jeff Mack has created a fun story showing the challenge of getting kids away from the TV and into a book. LOOK! was delightful to read as I changed my voice for each character and tone for each emotion. Your kids will be entertained by this lovable Gorilla who tries desperately to steal the boy’s attention from the glowing screen. Your kids may start looking for a gorilla to come bouncing through their own door. Speaking of Gorillas, when I was just five my sister (three) woke me in the middle of the night claiming there was a gorilla in our living room. Thanks to our imaginations (fueled by lots of books read to us by our mom) I indeed found and scared off that gorilla. Another really fun touch of this book is the textural looking elements like the library due date and the crinkled and bent looking pages. Read LOOK! to your kids, you won’t be disappointed.

Kinley loves this book because she can read it on her own and because of the fun illustrations. Her favorite page is the very last with the mountain of books, the gorilla, and the little boy.

An Interview with Jeff Mack:

Brock: Jeff thanks for agreeing to answer some questions about Look. How did you come up with the idea for LOOK!?

Jeff: The idea for LOOK! came from real life. I visited a school where I saw a student try to show a teacher  a picture she had drawn. The teacher was busy with another student, but this girl was determined to get her attention. She tried everything she could think of: tugging on her sweater, standing on a chair, jumping up and down, yelling. The teacher was so patient!  In the end, when it was finally the girl’s turn, it took just a moment of recognition to satisfy her.

After that, I knew I wanted to write a story about a character who wants attention but feels ignored. I wrote dozens of versions, but none of them clicked for me until I added the tv set. That was something the ignoring character could look at instead of paying attention to his friend. It prevented them from making a meaningful connection. It also presented a problem many readers could relate to.Then I added the books as something else they could look at that would bring them together in the end. It also addressed the debate about books vs. screens in a constructive, upbeat way.
Finally, when I figured out how to tell the entire story using just two words, words with meanings that change depending on their context, I felt like I had invented something fun and interesting that both kids and their parents could identify with.
For me, LOOK! is primarily about who or what you pay attention to and the connections or missed connections that result. That’s the idea that started it all.Brock: I love how you indeed delivered such a meaningful message with just two words. And truly you hit on an  issue that exists everywhere. Sadly more often than not this problem occurs between parents and their children. Why did you choose a gorilla?

Jeff: First I tried a bear. Then a big shaggy dog. But the gorilla just seemed the cutest to me. He’s like a big baby. I liked the idea of an ape and a boy learning different things from each other.  And the sketches I made of them sitting together gave me such a positive feeling, I knew the ape was the right choice. Because of the gorilla, some people have read an evolutionary message into this book, but it wasn’t intended. It just had to do with sweetness.

Brock: Interesting that someone reading a children’s picture book would go to evolution. Animals are a relatively normal touch of children’s picture books. Why did you add the textural elements into LOOK!?
Jeff: Many of us spend so much time looking at screens these days, I wanted to remind readers that books are originally physical objects with a range of sizes, shapes, and textures. So I added textures of pages and covers from old books in the background. That way readers could read a real book about characters that live in a world made of virtual books.
Brock: I appreciated that extra addition to the book. There is something about physical books that technology hasn’t been able to completely replace, at least yet. I enjoyed the subtle message of books can be as exciting as television. What are your thoughts on Books versus TV?
Jeff: I enjoy watching TV now and then. It’s fun. But reading books is usually a richer experience for me. Movies and television do a good job of appealing to my emotions. Books do a better job of appealing to my thoughts. Since my emotions are fleeting, TV rarely makes a deep, long-lasting impression on me. On the other hand, there are books that have really stuck with me and changed the way I think about the world. I’m lucky to live in an age when we still have both.Brock: What technique/media did you use for Look?
Jeff: One of the themes of this story is a battle between new technology (screens) and old technology (books). I wanted the art to reflect that. So I used watercolor (an old technology) to render the boy and the ape, and I used digital collage (a new technology) to render all of the backgrounds. I also used crayons to draw the ape’s dialogue, and I cut letters from various magazines for the boy’s dialogue.
I started exploring collage techniques with a book called “The Things I Can Do“. In that book, a five-year-old narrator illustrates his own story with objects he finds around the house. Ironically, it took a lot of technology to make that book look convincingly hand-made. It was so much fun to do, I decided to push those techniques further with LOOK!.

Brock: Jeff thanks for your time and for answering my questions. I hope you had a good time and thanks for LOOK!.

Jeff:  These were really good questions! Fun and thought-provoking.

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From the Publisher:

This hilarious tale of a friendship that develops over a love of books is the perfect picture book for fans of IT’S A BOOK and OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA!Everyone needs a little attention from time to time. Just ask our gorilla who will stop at nothing to be noticed by the boy with his eyes glued to the TV set. But for the gorilla, it’s going to take more than a quiet nudge to steal away the boy’s attention. When his usual antics fail to catch the boy’s eye—LOOK OUT! The gorilla has some other tricks up his sleeve.Using only two words—LOOK and OUT—Jeff Mack relates an adorably hilarious story about an attention-loving gorilla, a television-loving boy, and a friendship that develops over books. Simple in construct yet richly creative, this interactive and colorful tale will leave children laughing and loving books for years to come.Perfect for fans of It’s a Book and Officer Buckle and Gloria. Praise for LOOK!:

* “The slapstick action unfolds on linen-textured backgrounds, battered vintage book covers, and the actual pages of a book—hat-tips to the physicality of books that hint at a happy ending for bibliophiles of all ages. Even if audiences miss these winks and nods to the tactile pleasures of reading, they’ll still love that gorilla: hulking, eager-to-please and almost palpably furry, he’ll be welcome in any room.”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“The personalities and emotions of the chunky, fluffy ape and the TV-entranced boy nearly vibrate off the page. Look, indeed! An energetic invitation to the joys of books.”—Kirkus Reviews

“This is a fun read-aloud that will have children wanting to look and look again.”—School Library Journal

“Mack’s gentle, cartoonish illustrations are cleverly drawn on old book covers and endpapers, a subtle detail that emphasizes the joy of reading, and with a playful two-word vocabulary, even the littlest readers will be able to get in on the fun.”—Booklist

Look! treads familiar metafictive ground in celebrating the pleasures of reading, but it manages to feel fresh nonetheless, with inventive use of controlled text, vibrant mixed-media art, and thoughtful design.”—Horn Book

Categories: Advice, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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