Monthly Archives: August 2012

Good Read! Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead


I’m on a roll here, reading really good books! I just finished Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead.Random House/2012

When 7th grader Georges has to move from a house to an apartment because his dad got laid off, he tries hard to adjust. He hardly ever sees his mother because she has to work double shifts as a nurse at the hospital – they end up communicating by Scrabble tiles. He joins The Spy Club at the building – it’s just him and a boy named Safer who doesn’t go to school and has bohemian parents. Safer tutors him on spying as they try to unravel a mystery of Mr. X in the building.

This story is SO much more than that – but I would give away too much. The story feels genuine – and has great moments of middle grade humor. I’m don’t typically pick up middle grade books, particularly with boy main characters, but too many friends have raved about this one – and I loved Rebecca’s other two books (First Light and When You Reach Me) that I had to read this one. I’m so glad I did!

Now, what do I read next….? 🙂

Happy reading!

Good Read! 52 Reasons To Hate My Father by Jessica Brody


If I were more clever I’d post 52 reasons why I so enjoy Jessica Brody’s books, but alas, I’m not so clever. 😉

I recently read this book:

52 Reasons To Hate My Father by Jessica Brody (Farrar Straus Giroux/2012)

Lexington Larrabee is the stereotypical spoiled rich daughter of a multimillionaire media mogul and expects to receive her $25 million trust fund when she turns 18, just as her four older brothers had. After she crashes her new Mercedes into a convenience store, drunk, her entire world changes. Her father withholds her trust and to earn it she must successfully complete 52 menial jobs (one a week for a year) and report to his college intern lackey, Luke. Lexi is mortified and the jobs are HARD, especially when she’s never had to do a thing for herself her entire life.

Jessica Brody takes a character who would be easy to hate, and makes her sympathetic to the readers by making it very clear from the outset that all Lexi wants is the love and attention of her too-distant too-busy father.  I loved the scenes involving Lexi and a new job – and I laughed out loud when she had to Google how to turn on a vacuum cleaner at her first job as a maid. The story is filled with humor and emotion, and I was rooting for Lexi the entire time! Great, fast-paced, fun read!

I read Jessica’s previous novel, My Life Undecided, and thoroughly enjoyed that one, too. Jessica does a fun thing and plants “Easter eggs” in her stories – I caught the reference to My Life Undecided while reading 52 Reasons.

What are you reading that you’re enjoying these days?

And The Winner Is….


Thank you to everyone who stopped by to check out my spotlight on Jim Averbeck and his newest picture book, Oh No Little Dragon! And now to find out who the lucky winner of a signed copy of Oh No Little Dragon is!

I wrote the names of the entrants on paper, crumpled them up, and put them in a container.

Why do I crumple the paper? Because a certain rat terrier just loves crumpled paper!

Trixie was on hand, as always, to help pick the winner!

On my signal, she dashed to the container to choose one piece of paper.

Here she is with the winning name…

Congratulations, Kelly Forrest! Please contact me at just kid ink at yahoo dot com (no spaces) with your mailing address and I’ll get Little Dragon in the mail to you, ASAP!

Come back soon for more chances to win books! Happy reading!

Welcome To The Spotlight – Jim Averbeck and Little Dragon!


As promised, I’m spending time in good company by putting the spotlight on some great picture books and picture book authors/illustrators! I’m thrilled to start this week off by interviewing Jim Averbeck. Today is the release day of his newest picture book OH NO, Little Dragon!  (Atheneum Books) Stayed tuned for a chance to win a signed copy of this book (see below)!

Little Dragon loves Phooshing fire while playing at home, until during dreaded bath time he swallows water and Poof, his flame goes out! What will he do? And what if Mama won’t love him anymore? Adorable story! I absolutely love the artwork with bright blue (and oh so cute) dragon playing among a gray-tone background of his castle snorting a realistic flame from his snout. Brilliant and fun!

Spotlight on Jim Averbeck:

What was the initial spark (ha ha) behind OH NO Little Dragon?

I went to China to see a total eclipse of the sun whose path would pass close to Shanghai.  Naturally I planned a lot more travel there to see more of the country at the same time.  We had a guide in Beijing who told us his name was Frank. It’s common practice for the guides to take on a “nom de tour” from the country of the people they are guiding. I asked him what his real name was and he told me Xiao Long, which he translated as “Little Dragon.”  It sounded like the name of a picture book character to me and so I started thinking about what the story for “Little Dragon” might be.  I bought a notebook made from brown paper and started scribbling ideas and sketches.  While taking a shower in a slow draining bathtub there, I realized that bath time would be even more disliked by a dragon child, who, after all, would be most proud of his fiery super-power.  That was the origin of the story.  After I got back from China, I realized that Chinese dragons aren’t fire breathers, so I revised with Little Dragon now being of a more Nordic ancestry.

Little Dragon is playful and imaginative. Is he based on anyone you know?

I think writers base most characters on some aspect of themselves. Little Dragon is no exception. When I was a kid, I was a full tilt boy, tearing through the house and yard. In fact, one year I broke my arm three times.  The police investigated my mom to make sure she wasn’t abusing me!  When I was in fifth grade… Well… I shouldn’t really tell the story because it sets a bad example, but let’s just say a hook and ladder truck was involved and I spent an uncomfortable afternoon in the hands of the local authorities.  My parents are unquestionably saints and would no doubt recognize Little Dragon’s more impulsive tendencies.  On the milder side, I also loved to draw like Little Dragon does.

I love the artwork! How did you make decisions for the illustrations for this book, like the gray tone background, the colors for dragon and his mother, and particularly, his flame. How did you create Little Dragon’s flame?

Since it is a story about a dragon, it all started with the fire.  I knew I wanted the fire to pop off the page. In early sketches, the fire was more cartoonish.  It didn’t look like real fire and I felt that it made the whole book kind of flat and un-special.  So I decided to try a more realistic look for the fire, and to juxtapose it against the flatter, stylized images of Mama and Little Dragon.  Since I wanted a high contrast between the hot fire and everything else in the book, I decided pretty much only the fire would be portrayed with warm colors (red, orange,yellow.) That left blues, greens and purples for the characters of Mama, Papa (who appears in LD’s drawings) and Little Dragon himself.  The Dragons were made using Chinese mulberry paper to give them a slight texture. I just went through dozens of shades until I found the papers I liked.

The backgrounds were originally a mix of deep purple and grey. I wanted to portray a dark castle, where the Dragons live.  The dark background also helped the flame pop.  But my editor and art director, in a carefully worded, diplomatic letter said, essentially, “Yuck!”  This was after I had turned in final art.  So it was back to the drawing board.  I was in a panic trying to figure out what to do. I had another project due and no buffer time.  I was showing my critique group various possibilities for background colors on my TV (I had hooked up my computer to do so.)  None of them seemed right.  As I flipped through the art, I came to a spread that was unfinished.  There was no background color (thus it was white) and the line work for the stones was grey, as it had always been. My friend Maria van Lieshout, who is an excellent designer, pointed out how cool that looked and how it brought the focus onto Little Dragon and his antics. The flame still didn’t “pop” against the white. After a while I realized where there is fire, there is smoke, and I added the sooty black smoke behind the flame to emphasize its brightness.  It also made more sense to have a smoky flame, since it is the soot that requires Little Dragon to bathe in the first place.

The flame and smoke were made in Photoshop. I created several brushes that were puffy for the smoke and flame-y for the fire. Then I built the smoky fire layer by layer, using different settings for transparency and different blending options for each layer.  One weird thing about the process is that one of the fire layers is green.  But when it sits on top of the layer below it, with the selected layer blending options, it appears bright orange.  Then I added all these sparks and embers and used special layer options to make them glow. Each bit of flame is probably a minimum of fifty layers in Photoshop.

WOW! That’s amazing!

Little Dragon doesn’t like bath time. What is your least favorite time/thing to do?

Paperwork.  I wish I could breathe fire and make it all go away.

What are you working on now?

I just finished my first middle grade novel, tentatively titled A HITCH AT THE FAIRMONT.  My agent will be looking for an editor for it soon.
I also just finished a sequel to OH NO , LITTLE DRAGON!
I am starting a YA novel.
Can you tell I really like writing?

Jim Averbeck is the author of the Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, In a Blue Room (Harcourt, 2008), the illustrator of Newbery-winner Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water (Breakfast Serials, 2010), and the author and illustrator of except if (Atheneum, 2011),  Oh No, Little Dragon (Atheneum, 2012) and The Market Bowl (Charlesbridge, 2013.)  He studied writing and illustrating for children at UC Berkeley. He was the Regional Advisor for the San Francisco chapter of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is a member of the Revisionaries, a dynamic group of San Francisco children’s book creators.

You can win a signed copy!!!

Jim has generously donated a signed copy of Oh No, Little Dragon to one lucky and randomly chosen winner from this blog! Just follow the rules and you could have Little Dragon Phooshing in your house!

1. Comment on this post, and for fun, let me know what chore or task you would like to eliminate by breathing fire on it. My answer is: Filing!

2. Leave your comment by midnight EST Friday, August 17th. Winner will be announced on this blog and will be contacted by email on Tuesday, August 21st. Late entries will not be included in the drawing (sorry).

3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.

Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

Seeking Your Input – Picture Books


Recently, I spent a week hanging out with my sister and her family. My adorable, energetic 4 year old niece loves books. YAY! I am enjoying sending her books, and then getting to read them to her when I visit. While there. she brought me other books for me to read. Books I haven’t heard of by authors I’ve never heard of. That wasn’t too surprising because I don’t really keep up with picture books. But, I have to admit, I was a little appalled by what I ended up reading to her. One book used the word “stupid” in a name-calling way. I’m no prude, and I have no issues with 4-letter words in YA novels, but when reading to a very young child, I don’t want to introduce name-calling, mean words. (She already knew the word, as most 4yos do, but still!) Another book talked about robbers. My niece looked up at me and asked, “What’s a robber?” She already has issues with being scared of things so I didn’t know how to answer. She basically answered it herself and said, “Probably like a monster.” I didn’t say anything else except to tell her that she didn’t have to worry about them. Ugh. And then there were a couple more books that were just so poorly written that I wanted to fling them across the room.

In the next couple of months, I’ll be featuring some great picture books. Ones I love and wouldn’t hesitate to share with my niece. I’d love to hear your recommendations for pictures books, outside of the classics we all know and love. If you would be so kind, please tell me one or two pictures books you love and buy/recommend for youngsters and why. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems – Okay, I realize that most everyone knows about this book, but I do love it. I love the artistry and I love the sweet story of a child losing beloved stuffed animal, and then being reunited. A happy ending!

2. Except If by Jim Averbeck – I’m a sucker for cute and the dino in this story is more than cute! The story is clever and simple, following an egg that could hatch into a baby bird, except if it becomes a baby snake….and so on! Kids will have fun guessing the “except if” part and being surprised.

3. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen – I love this book about a bear searching for his hat and the animals who respond. I love the fun ending. I think for picture books, I love simple and humorous with great illustrations.

4. Backseat A-B-See by Maria van Lieshout – I featured this book and author here. I’ll bet this book would keep a child entertained on long drives! 😉

Other types of picture books I love are “story” picture books – the kind I don’t see a lot of these days. Multicultural books like those by Allen Say and Peacebound Trains by Haemi Balgassi.

And I love food-related pictures books, like Dumping Soup by Jama Rattigan

and Bee-Bim Bop by Linda Sue Park!

So, you see, there are so many wonderful pictures books out there to enjoy, to share, to buy! This is not my complete list of picture books I love/buy.  I suspect that many adults buy books by celebrity name or maybe it sounds like a good book, or maybe the story seems fine. I’d love to compile a big list of picture books that are worth the read, worth the time, worth the money – and I’d love your help! Thanks!

Come back soon for interviews with picture book authors!

What’s On My Pile of Books-To-Read


I was torn after I finished reading Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder – do I dive right into the other book of hers I recently purchased (The Magician’s Assistant) or get back to reading MG/YA? It was a tough decision, but ultimately I had to get back to reading MG/YA – not only because I thoroughly enjoy it, but also because otherwise I wouldn’t have much to blog about here.

Here’s what I’m most excited to read this month:

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour

I am, in fact, about a quarter of the way into reading this book and am so far enjoying it! Recommended to me (well, not to ME personally) via Lucy’s blog, The Reading Date

Small Damages by Beth Kephart

I’m really looking forward to this one as many friends with whom I share reading tastes have raved about it. It’s being called a cross between Juno and Under The Tuscan Sun. That grabs me for sure!

52 Reasons To Hate My Father by Jessica Brody

I’m not even sure what the book is about exactly, but I loved Jessica Brody’s My Life Undecided. Brody has a great sense of humor in her writing, but her story stays away form “light and fluffy” by really digging into her characters. Plus, what a great title!

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Another book I have no real idea what it’s about, but I read the author’s previous two books and especially loved When You Reach Me. When I fall in love with an author’s books, I will read the new release without even knowing anything else about it. I’m that loyal. 😉 Plus, I’ve been hearing raves about this one!

When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle

This book cover caught my eye while I was browsing in a bookstore. Star-crossed lovers story. I’m in!

And no doubt I’ll keep adding to this list as I get back into reading blogs. The only issue is keeping up with all the reading I want to do while continuing to focus on my own writing. Quite a balancing act! Happy reading! (And yes, please, do share your recommendations with me! I’m truly happy to add books to my reading list!)

I’m Baaaaack!!!


Wow! July went by in the blink of an eye! I missed you all! I tried to keep up with reading blogs, but didn’t do great with that. But, I’m back! I’ll be blogging regularly again and that means I’ll be reading blogs regularly again! Being away for a break felt good, but I also felt a little isolated, too!
So, what non-children’s books did I manage to read in July?

Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg

An amazing book about the practice of loving-kindness and Buddhist thought and spirituality. I’ve been reading a lot of books on mindfulness, meditation, and Zen over the last 6 months or so and this one is one of my favorites. Sharon Salzberg comes across as approachable and human, and the stories she shares makes integrating loving-kindness into my life feel do-able.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

A story involving a birthday party in a South American town for a Japanese businessman, a famous opera singer, terrorists and a hostage situation. AMAZING! Ann Patchett has made her way onto my all time favorite author list. Her writing is fluid and beautiful, and the story she paints captured my attention fully. I did not want this book to end! I now want to make my way through all her novels!

Nine Horses by Billy Collins

One of my favorite modern-day poets, Billy Collins, Poet Laureate, doesn’t disappoint in this collection of poetry. My favorite collection of his continues to be Sailing Alone Around A Room.

Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life by Sylvia Boorstein

A good read about mindfulness and meditation and happiness. Great follow up to Sharon Salzberg’s book! (I believe Sylvia was a student of Sharon Salzberg’s.) I hope to hear Sylvia Boorstein speak in person someday soon since I  live close to Spirit Rock.

Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story by Dame Daphne Sheldrick

I have a degree in zoology and worked for years as an education curator at a zoo. I also worked as a keeper’s aide during an internship and volunteered as a raptor rehabilitator in college. I also love elephants. So, when I saw this book reviewed in the New York Times, I went out and bought it the same day. The memoir of Daphne Sheldrick, a British citizen born in Kenya. She and her family were pioneers and her life was absolutely fascinating – the hardships and the joys, the love of her life, her family, and the many animals she and her husband and their staff raised and cared for! It was after reading this book that I decided I wanted to go on safari in Africa and also visit her elephant orphanage – some day. I’m hoping to foster an orphan later this year!

Paris My Sweet by Amy Thomas

I love New York, I love Paris, I love sweets! I came across Amy Thomas’ memoir at a bookstore and knew I had to read it when I saw what it was about. New Yorker, writer, sweets-lover, and ad exec Amy Thomas is offered an opportunity to leave her beloved New York for equally beloved Paris. What follows is her experience while adjusting to a foreign city (something I’ve had experience with as an expat in Mexico City and Shanghai) and her exploration of Parisian sweets, along with comparisons to New York sweets. This book made me drool!

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

I’m almost finished reading this fantastic book. It confirms to me that Ann Patchett definitely belongs on my favorite authors of all time list (which includes Barbara Kingsolver). Former doctor turned research scientist for a pharmaceutical company, Dr. Marina Singh, is sent from her comfortable lab and home in MN to the wilds of a Brazilian rainforest to follow up on research being done by her former mentor and teacher. Marina is the second person the company sends, the first being her colleague who died while in Brazil. Ann Patchett’s writing is superb, lush, and mesmerizing!

What have you been reading this summer?

Come back for more Buzz on great children’s and teen books. I have some fab authors lined up for interviews! And yes, more give-aways!