The Baby Tree Review & Giveaway

by Sophie Blackall
Nancy Paulsen (May 1, 2014)
Interest Level: K-3

Description from the Publisher:
Cleverly revealing the basics of reproduction in an age-appropriate way, award-winning Sophie Blackall has created a beautiful picture book full of playful details to amuse and engage readers.

Sooner or later, every child will ask, Where do babies come from? Answering this question has never been this easy or entertaining! Join a curious little boy who asks everyone from his babysitter to the mailman, getting all sorts of funny answers along the way, before his parents gently set him straight.

My thoughts on the book:
Where do babies come from? A common question from young children especially when parents announce that there will be a new baby on the way. So, how do you answer it.  In Sophie Blackall's new book The Baby Tree, the narrator asks several adults in his life.  The responses are at times based in partial truth, and nearly always funny.

From his babysitter, the main character learns that "You plant a seed and it grows into a Baby Tree."  Hospitals, storks, and even from eggs are some of the responses. And this curious little boy finds himself to be "very confused". 

 Finally, his parents provide the information that he needs in a clear, age-appropriate manner.

Blackall's illustrations bring the story to life and add to the humor of the book.  She also includes some additional questions and answers at the end of the book to help parents with more specific questions that children may have. A nice addition to a library collection on explaining babies/pregnancy/sex to young children. 

Other Reviews: Kirkus | Publisher's Weekly | Hornbook

Watch the Official Trailer:

About the Author/Illustrator:
SOPHIE BLACKALL is the illustrator of several award-winning books, including Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, Meet Wild Boars by Meg Rosoff, Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, and the Ivy and Bean books by Annie Barrows. Her artwork has also appeared in various magazines and exhibitions. Previously she lived in Sydney, Australia, and has had jobs in a shoe shop and a robot factory.

Where to find Sophie Blackall:   blog | facebook | twitter

Other articles of interest: Seven Impossible Things | The Horn Book - Five Questions for Sophie Blackall

Have fun with Penguin Young Readers book bundle Giveaway!

One (1) winner receives The Baby Tree, Maple by Lori Nichols and Corduroy by Don Freeman Prizing & samples courtesy of Penguin Books USA 
Giveaway open to US addresses only 

You must be 13 years old or older and have a US mailing address to enter the Giveaway.  To submit and official entry, please enter the rafflecopter below.

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The Meaning of Maggie Blog Tour with Interview & Giveaway

Thank you to Chronicle Books and Megan Jean Sovern for inviting me to be a part of this Blog Tour for The Meaning of Maggie.  

So, first can I say where was this book when I was a couple of years older than Maggie and my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis? 

If THE MEANING OF MAGGIE had existed way, way back then, it would have been my favorite book and you would have been my favorite author. (I still think you are really cool. =>) I really felt that no one understood especially since my mother's MS wasn't as visible in those early years but it still significantly impacted my family and me.

It’s just so curious because I really struggled with whether or not it should ever be revealed that Maggie’s dad has MS. I just didn’t think enough people would be able to relate to it. I was always the only kid with a parent who had it. And to be honest, I never felt a real connection to the illness. I heard those two letters a lot around my house but I never really knew what they meant. My dad could have had a really prolonged case of the chickenpox for all I knew.

But in the end it seemed most right to share that he had MS. We didn’t want to keep readers in the dark especially when we were asking so much of them. This story is a big emotional investment. That’s why I advise reading it with chocolate in close proximity.

As you were writing the story, were you thinking about the story that you wanted to tell or did you also think about how it might resonate with other readers who had their own experiences with a family member with MS?  I know that everyone's story/experience is different but when I meet someone who had a parent with MS I feel a certain connection with them. 

When I started writing I didn’t consider the reader as much as I considered the story. And how this story about these people being challenged by this disease was one worth telling. I didn’t think as much readers because I didn’t know if there would ever be any readers. It was just a Word Document for such a long time. One that I kept coming back to not knowing if I would ever let it see the light of day.

This story was in my bones because I lived it in many ways and because I just couldn’t walk away from it. No matter how hard I tried.

But now that it is out in the world, I’m so happy people with similar stories feel connected to it.

You chose to set the book in 1988 (not sure if that makes it historical fiction or not?!), but was there a reason to tell the story in that time period vs. the present day? From reading some things on-line and in the acknowledgements, it seems that the story is very autobiographical and I was wondering if that played a part in the decision for the time period? 

I mostly set the book in 1988 because I didn’t want Maggie to be able to Google every single thing. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding her life that could be easily solved with the Internet. I also set it in 1988 because that’s when Spaceballs came out on VHS and it was really important to me that Maggie like Spaceballs.

In one review on-line, someone mentioned that it felt odd that Maggie's family would have kept her in the dark about her father's condition. Since my mother tried to keep her diagnosis hidden for a while, I could relate to Maggie and also to her discovery of what MS is. Do you feel that families are more open to talking about these kinds of issues or concerns with children today than they were 20+ years ago? 

I don’t know if families are more open about sharing big issues today because they want to. I think it may be out of necessity. Again, kids just have access to so much information and I think you want them to be informed in an educated and responsible way. The Internet is a scary place for everybody. Except for cats. I feel like cats have a really safe and cozy home on the Internet.

I noticed that Chronicle has included the soundtrack ( ) for the book? How did you select the music?  

Every book should have a soundtrack. We should really try to get this signed into law. The music we chose is pulled from the pages of Maggie. Her dad is such a dedicated hippie fan of rock n’ roll and the scenes they share over music are some of my favorites. I also listened to so much of it while I was writing. The Rolling Stones have some mellower melodies that are perfect for writing. Just put on Wild Horses and heat up a muffin and you have a perfect day of revising ahead of you.

To shift directions some, do you have other stories that you plan on sharing with readers? Any projects that you are working on that you can share with us? 

Oh gosh, I do have another story I am working on but it’s in the very early Post-It note and scrap paper stages. But I have high hopes it will take shape. Other than that I am doing my best to share Maggie with the world. I am also trying to keep three tomato plants alive. I don’t have such high hopes for them.

Finally, were there any questions that you wish I had asked? If so, what was it and what would be your answer? 

I wish you would have asked me my favorite thing about cinnamon rolls. And I would have said I love EVERYTHING about cinnamon rolls.

By the way, I truly appreciate your choice and the choice of Chronicle Books to donate a portion of the sales of the book to the National MS Society. 

I think I cried more buckets when Chronicle Books told me about this generous donation than when they actually bought Maggie. It just means the world. They are good people. Yes, indeed.

Side note: The nature of this book just hit me on a much more personal level then most books do that my questions were of a much more personal nature and I appreciate Megan's willingness to answer them. Here was her final comment...

I just can’t believe there are others out there like us! I really hope you felt at home in this story. It has been such a nice thing for me to come back to whenever I need to revisit all those many moons ago. MS is a terrible, horrible thing. But it does offer a few beautiful moments. Watching my dad give it his all shaped my whole entire life. I’m sure you feel the same way about your mom. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

by Megan Jean Sovern
Chronicle Books (May 6, 2014)
Audience: Ages 8-12

About the book:
As befits a future President of the United States of America, Maggie Mayfield has decided to write a memoir of the past year of her life. And what a banner year it’s been! During this period she’s Student of the Month on a regular basis, an official shareholder of Coca-Cola stock, and defending Science Fair champion. Most importantly, though, this is the year Maggie has to pull up her bootstraps (the family motto) and finally learn why her cool-dude dad is in a wheelchair, no matter how scary that is. Author Megan Jean Sovern, herself the daughter of a dad with multiple sclerosis, writes with the funny grace and assured prose of a new literary star.

A portion of the proceeds of the sale of this book will be donated to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Read a chapter here:

Meaning of Maggie by ChronicleBooks

Watch the Official Book Trailer:

Additional resources: Discussion Guide
click on image to go to PDF

About the author:

Megan Jean Sovern is a purveyor of fine teas, old time-y music and hugs. Recently she was in a bad break-up with muffins and her life hasn’t been the same since. She’s often mistaken for a seventh grader but don’t be fooled, she is very grown-up. A grown-up who watches television past ten o’clock and everything.

Before her first leap into fiction, she was an advertising copywriter for many moons where she worked with top-notch talent mostly named Matt or Karen.

She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Ted and his near complete collection of Transformers. He doesn’t like it when she says, “Zoinks.”

Her website: 

Additional Blog Tour Stops:

5/13/2014          Chronicle  
5/14/2014          VVB32 reads   
5/15/2014          Mother Daughter Book Club    
5/16/2014          Actin' Up with Books   
5/17/2014          The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia       
5/18/2014          Kid Lit Frenzy 
5/19/2014          The Children's Book Review    
5/20/2014          Let's Get Busy podcast

Thank you to Chronicle Books, one lucky reader will be selected to receive a copy of The Meaning of Maggie plus a set of Maggie buttons.  You must be 13 years or older and have a US or Canadian mailing address.  Please enter the giveaway by filling out the Rafflecopter below.

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The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw Blog Tour: Character Introduction & Giveaway

Thank you Walden Pond Press and Christopher Healy for allowing to once again be a part of The Hero's Guide Blog Tour.  I am frequently placing this book series in the hands of teachers and students, and hand-selling it at my local indie bookstore.  So, of course, when I was asked to participate I had to say "yes".

by Christopher Healy
Audience: 9 to 13 year olds
Fiction * Fantasy * Adventure
Walden Pond Press
April 29, 2014

About the book:
Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You think you know those guys pretty well by now, don’t you? Well, think again. The Princes Charming, along with Ella, Snow, Rapunzel, and Princess Lila are caught and arrested for the murder of Briar Rose. The heroes are simultaneously shocked and sad to hear of this news. But a series of suspicious events leads them to believe that not only is Briar still alive, but some unseen evil is working its way into the throne rooms of all thirteen kingdoms. It’s up to the League to break out of prison, find Briar, and uncover the nefarious plot before the entire country is destroyed.

This year I am introducing:

7. Erik the Mauve

Occupation: Bounty Hunter
Affiliation: Gang Greenfang
Kingdom of Origin: Jangleheim
Current Residence: A mongoose farm on the shores of Lake Stoutness
Father: Erik the Beast-Master (stage name)
Known Partners: Greenfang, Periwinkle Pete, Orangebeard, Corin Silversword, Norin Black-Ax
Longtime Rival: Dorcus the Red, the bounty hunter who took the name-color Erik was hoping to use
Likes: Bullwhips; trivia night at the Skewered Seahorse; giant mongeese
Dislikes: Fleas; bugbears; people who say “mongooses”
Signature Move: The Growl-and-Pounce Giant Mongoose
Attack Quote: “Oh, I ain’t gonna hurt you. The mongeese, though? Well, I can’t speak for them.”
Little Known Fact: Erik’s father was once a mongoose trainer for the Flimsham Brothers Circus. He was fired after an unfortunate incident that resulted in the final performance of Flimsham’s resident snake charmer.

Check out the book trailer:

About the author:
Christopher Healy is the author of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, which the New York Times selected as one of its best books of the year, calling it “charming—a quest that recalls at moments the Musketeers and at others the Marxes”; as well as its sequel, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, which Publishers Weekly hailed as “uproariously funny” in a starred review. He is also a reviewer of children’s media. Chris lives with his wife and two children in New Jersey. You can find him online at

Check out the Hero's Guide to Being a Blog Tour 

5/1 - The Book Rat
5/5 – Icey Books
5/8 - The Book Rat
5/16 - KidLit Frenzy
5/19 - Mundie Kids
5/23 - Novel Novice
5/26 - Mundie Kids
5/28 - Small Review
5/30 - The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia


Don't forget to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw (The League of Princes #3). Thank you Walden Pond Press for sponsoring the giveaway.

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Mouseheart Review & Giveaway

by Lisa Fiedler; Illustrated by Vivienne To
Audience: Ages 8 to 12 years
Fiction * Adventure * Animal Fantasy
Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster
May 20, 2014

Hopper is just an ordinary pet-shop mouse—until he escapes. Soon he finds himself below the bustling streets of Brooklyn, deep within the untamed tangles of transit tunnels, and in Atlantia, a glorious utopian rat civilization. 

But all is not as it seems. Hopper misses Pinkie and Pup, the siblings he lost in the escape attempt. Atlantia is constantly threatened by roving rebels who wish to bring the city to its knees. And there are cats everywhere, cats who would normally eat a rodent in a second, but leave the rats unharmed . . . and no one can seem to answer why. 

Soon Hopper is caught in the crosshairs of an epic battle, one that spans generations and species. As the clashes rage, Hopper learns terrible, extraordinary secrets. Deadly secrets about Atlantia. Painful secrets about his friends. 

And one powerful secret about himself.

When I first heard about Mouseheart, there was a comparison to the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques.  Surprisingly, for someone who does not typically like animal stories, I loved the Redwall Series. It was fantasy at it's finest and a great cast of animals, with epic stories and battles and journeys.  As a result, I was curious to read this book.

Whereas, Redwall is completely set in some medieval time period, Mouseheart begins in a pet shop in of all places Brooklyn, New York.  Soon though, readers follow Hopper as he escapes with his siblings and ends up in a medieval setting under Brooklyn. Atlantia of course has rats and mice and  felines.  There are those that are friends and those to be leery of, and Hopper has to decide who is friend and who is foe.

Adventure stories are also journey stories and for our very unlikley hero, Hopper, he must find the strength and courage to overcome his fears, and discover who he really is.  As a warning, Mouseheart is the first book in a series and does leave readers with some unanswered questions, and a desire to read the second book. 

The artwork in the Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) was not complete, so, it will be interesting to see the final artwork.  I know from speaking with my ARC Group (several students who gather to read ARCs and book talk to other students), though the cover art is stunning, it did scare away some of my more timid readers. It is true that there is some suspense and definitely some worrisome parts, but I have certainly read scarier books geared for the Middle Grade audience.  Consequently, it may be helpful to read bits and portions from the book, in order to draw in readers who love fantasy adventure but may be concerned that the book is too scary for them.

The bottom-line: Students who love animal fantasy and adventure stories will thoroughly enjoy Mouseheart.

Professional Reviews: Kirkus | Publisher's Weekly

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Lisa Fiedler is the author of several novels for children and young adults. She divides her time between Connecticut and the Rhode Island seashore, where she lives happily with her very patient husband, her brilliant and beloved daughter, and their two incredibly spoiled golden retrievers. 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Vivienne To has illustrated several books, including The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins and the Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective series by Octavia Spencer. As a child, she had two pet mice escape. She currently lives in Sydney, Australia, with her partner and her ginger cat. Visit her at

Check out the official website here.

About the Giveaway:

One lucky reader has a chance of winning a special prize pack, which includes a copy of MOUSEHEART, THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA, and BELLY UP.

Prizing & samples courtesy of Simon & Schuster.  You must be 13 years old or older and have a US mailing address to enter the Giveaway.  To submit and official entry, please enter the rafflecopter below.

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The Secret Hum of a Daisy Blog Tour & Giveaway

Thank you Tracy Holczer for including me in your blog tour for The Secret Hum of a Daisy.

The Secret Hum of a Daisy
by Tracy Holczer
Putnam Juvenile (May 1, 2014)

Description from GoodReads:
Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. Just when she thinks she's found it her mother says it's time to move again. Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels and will always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

After her mother's sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she's never met. She can't imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true home.

Lyrical, poignant and fresh, The Secret Hum of a Daisy is a beautifully told middle grade tale with a great deal of heart.


Tracy took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her new book, writing, her personal book journey and more. Thank you Tracy for visiting with me and for writing such a wonderful book.

This is your debut novel and I know that you have been working on it for awhile, how does it feel to finally see it out in the wild and also to see that is was a SLJ starred review & top pick, and a starred review from PW, and though not a starred review an excellent review from Kirkus

When I sat down to write a novel, my wildest dream was to be published. But what fuelled that dream, was the idea that someone, somewhere would read my story and feel a personal connection to it. To have people personally connecting and enjoying the story enough to give it their best praise is more than a little surreal. Ultimately, I’m thrilled about the great reviews because I’m hopeful it will get into the hands of more kids.

The Secret Hum of a Daisy (SHoaD) has been well received by teachers, librarians, and other adults. I know the book hasn't been out for long, but have you received any emails or letters from middle grade readers yet? 

All three of my kids went to the same elementary school and two of them had the same sixth grade teacher (Hi, Mrs. Hall!). She has been a wonderful support and advocate for the book so when it came out in galley form, I gave a copy to her and she read it aloud to her class. I was nervous about this as HUM has such a prominent emotional journey. But Mrs. Hall assured me the class was enjoying the treasure hunt elements and the family mystery as well. When she was finished, I visited with the class and was overwhelmed by the response. A few wrote letters, some made art, others folded cranes. They had such wonderful and astute questions about Grace and her journey. I got many hugs and one proposal of marriage. So I’d say that was a win!

One of the things that struck me about SHoaD when I started was the lovely writing voice. There was a lyrical or poetic feel about the book, which always makes me stop to savor the richness of the language, and also to admire the skill of the writer. Were you influenced by poetry or particular writers as you were developing your craft? 

When I first started writing, I went to a workshop where I had my first experience with professional critiques. The agent told me she had no idea what I was trying to do with my story, and the group critique was equally dismal. They told me I had no voice. I’m not sure there is a worse criticism of one’s writing than being told you have no voice. Interestingly, I didn’t get my feelings hurt, though. I just figured I had a ways to go. Boy did I. It wasn’t until I was mentored years later by Patti Gauch in Chautauqua—a program put on by the Highlights Foundation—that I even understood what “voice” was. Patti pointed out the sentences that actually carried my voice and once I recognized myself, I was able to stay true. Sounds strange, but I was so caught up in thinking my “voice” was weird, that I resisted it for a long time.

As far as influences go, I have always loved Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson and Maya Angelou. I haven’t read poetry widely as most of it feels a bit esoteric to me. But I have loved those three because they are accessible. I don’t consider myself to be all that poetic, really. I do far too much galumphing for that. Both metaphorically and literally. But I also steeped myself in middle grade books by Sharon Creech, Katherine Paterson and Cynthia Rylant to name just a few. So their influence has definitely leaked in.

Sometimes the most obvious things are right in front of us, but we have trouble seeing it. Maybe we are too close to the situation or just not ready to see what others can clearly see. Grace seems to struggle a lot with that issue in this book? Was that intentional on your part as the writer or did Grace resist what you were trying to show her? 

Yes and no as to my intention. No because Grace’s circumstances dictated her story. As a writer who starts with character first, I had to follow her lead. She was a very stubborn girl, who was street smart and had grown a hard shell to protect herself. Grace did what any kid would have done in her situation, I believe. She desperately wanted what was right in front of her, but had to battle deep feelings of disloyalty, grief and confusion. Also, to a certain degree, she’s punishing herself.

And yes, it was intention on my part because this is a snapshot of a dysfunctional family. Not to an extreme degree, but dysfunctional none-the-less. In dysfunctional families there tends to be an alternate reality of How Things Work. Unravelling that is hard. This was a really important element of the story for me.

What was your own book journey like as a child and teen or did you find books later? Do you have particular books that acted as the back drop to your life as a child and teen? 

I had a strange book journey. I have no memory of enjoying reading until I was eleven and read Little Women. That book completely changed the way I looked at reading. Not long after, my parents didn’t want me reading, afraid it was fanning the flames of my introversion. But then fate intervened, and we moved into a house across the street from the Cupertino Public Library when I was twelve. I snuck over there every weekend and those librarians fed me books. But mostly, they left me alone to read what I wanted. No matter which shelves I pulled from. I remember reading a biography of Marilyn Monroe, Flowers in the Attic, some Stephen King along with The Hobbit, and some Agatha Christie mysteries. My taste was eclectic and still is.

What is in your TBR pile currently?

Right now, my TBR pile is empty. I can’t read when I’m writing. The stories don’t stick with me and I find myself reading the same page over and over again. And I don’t make a pile because there are already too many of those in my house. So here is a picture of all my Already Read Books.

What is/are your favorite indie bookstores and why? 

Oh how I love Once Upon a Time in Montrose, California. They are my local indie and I have been buying books there since we first moved into the area and my kids were tiny. My middle girl and I stood in line at midnight for the Deathly Hallows dressed up like we lived at Hogwarts, and made wands out of sticks that the store provided (I still have hers), and we’ve been to countless author visits and book signings. Maureen Palacio and Kris Vreeland are very dear to my heart and have cheered me on for all the years I was writing. Plus they have always been great at recommending books for my whole family.

If you could do a book tour with another author (living or dead) who would it be and why? 

Definitely Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is my very favorite novel in all the world. Plus there is so much mystery surrounding why she never wrote another story and why she is so reclusive. I couldn’t resist.

What is the view from where you write?

There are many views from where I write since I am mostly in coffee shops all around La Crescenta. But when I’m home, I plop in the middle of my sofa. The view isn’t the greatest (especially now since my husband’s truck is in the way) because it’s a view of a wall. We live down an easement which means our front neighbor’s back yard wall is in our front yard. However, it does make me feel cozy and tucked in. And there is the bonus of no street traffic to distract me from my made up worlds.

Bio - Tracy Holczer lives in Southern California with her husband, three daughters, and two rather fluffy dogs named Buster and Molly. She has a deep love for the mountains where she grew up so she writes them into her stories. A 2014 ABA *Indies Introduce*New Voices pick, her debut middle grade, The *Secret Hum of a Daisy*, was written in praise of both nature and family, and all that can be found if you're willing to hunt for treasure. It will be also be published by Konigskinder/Carlsen in Germany, fall 2015.  
Where to find out more about Tracy Holczer: website | facebook | twitter |

For a signed copy of The Secret Hum of a Daisy, you can contact Once Upon a Time. (Note: Make sure and note it in the comments of the purchase that you would like an authographed copy, or they won't know about the autograph.)

Check out all of the links in the Blog Tour:

May 7: Leandra Wallace 
May 8: Heidi Schulz 
May 9: AuthorOf 
May 11: Kidlit Frenzy 
May 12: Literary Rambles 

To enter to win a copy of The Secret Hum of a Daisy, please enter using the Rafflecopter below:

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