Tag Archives: guest post

Don’t Push the Button

26 Oct

Today’s book review is for Don’t Push the Button, by Bill Cotter, published by Sourcebooks. It is scheduled for release on Friday, November 1, 2013. I received an electronic advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. I am also pleased to announce that I was invited to participate in the blog tour for this book. So, keep reading after the review for a special guest post from Bill Cotter!

Don't Push the Button book cover

Don’t Push the Button is an interactive picture book for pre-school to kindergarten aged children. It features an adorable monster named Larry who has only one rule–do not push the button. Of course, the audience is tempted into pushing the button, and fun ensues.

The thing that struck me immediately about this book is how it encourages kids to interact with the book on a physical level. They are asked to touch and shake and move the book–not because there are flashy gimmicks, pull tabs, or textures to engage with, but because books themselves are objects that can be moved and manipulated. It’s a great way to draw in young children and keep them interested.

The writing is great. It can be hard to follow along with complicated clauses in a read-aloud situation and Cotter understands this. He uses simple sentences, which are perfect for his target audience. His word choices are natural and relaxed. They sound like the sort of language that pre-schoolers might use themselves.

I also enjoyed the illustrations. They’re fairly simple–but that doesn’t mean dull. They’ve got a lot of spunk, with fun colors and patterns. He leaves a lot of white space on the page, which gives the whole book a clean, professional feel. Too much detail can overwhelm younger children–they get distracted easily. So, once again, Cotter demonstrates an understanding of his target audience.

It’s a great book and sure to please kids. I’m giving it 5 out of 5 stars for being visually appealing, fun to read, and wonderfully targeted. It’s nice to see a new author-illustrator who really “gets” his audience.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.

I asked Bill Cotter if he could share about how his experiences with teaching and working with young children influenced his writing. The following is a guest post he wrote in response


by Bill Cotter Bill Cotter Headshot

How I came into teaching was somewhat by chance. I graduated from art school, and with no prospects and barely any money, I moved from Baltimore up to New York City. Upon arrival the stock market IMMEDIATELY crashed. Let’s just say it was a frank introduction to the real world. I couldn’t even get a job at Target! Most of the time my roommates and I were cold and broke, but I know I’ll remember those years as being some of my happiest. I was on an excellent adventure with two of my best friends.

I had managed to land an internship in the art department of Rolling Stone, but it was unpaid so I still didn’t have any income. That’s when I came to know that there are a few recession-proof professions, and one of those is babysitting. Yes, it doesn’t matter how bad the economy got, people would always pay top dollar to get away from their kids for a night.

I’ll admit that babysitting had its pride-swallowing moments, but I really tried to look at it as a situation where I could learn about my target audience. At the time I knew a lot about how to make art, but I knew nothing about the people I intended to make it for. Besides for the fact that most of the job is getting paid to watch tv, I also got a glimpse into the lives of the New York elite; the decorating choices of a famous graphic designer, the book collection of a MoMA artist. And getting paid in cold hard cash wasn’t too bad either.

While I was making money as a “manny”, my roommate was working in the office of a school in Tribeca called the Church Street School of Music & Art. He let me know that an art teacher position was opening up, and with a combination of an art background and child-care experience I was offered the job. I was ecstatic to have a job where I could still get to know my audience while working in a super-creative environment.

This place isn’t your normal school. Church Street School is a local institution. For over 20 years, it has served as lower Manhattan’s non-profit arts center that offers a wide array of classes. The school hosts anything from mommy and toddler fingerpainting classes in the morning to figure drawing at night. They’re known for an amazing Pre-K class, a huge afterschool program as well as Carnegie Hall level performers teaching piano lessons to celebrities’ kids somewhere in between. It is truly an amazing place and was my second home from most of my time in New York.

The class I liked to be a part of most was Pre-K. Depending on the day, the class consisted of 2-3 year olds or 3-4 year olds. I think this age is so much fun to be around. All the students are just coming into their personalities, learning to talk, learning to socialize. They are so young that we teachers could always see an amazing amount of growth in just one semester.

My favorite part about teaching this class was that at any free moment we were reading a picture book to them. If we needed something for them to concentrate on during snack time, when they were waiting for others to finish washing hands after art, if a parent or sitter was late picking them up. I found myself reading several books on a daily basis. It was extremely beneficial to be able to sit down with kids and observe first hand how they reacted to different kinds of stories, characters, colors, textures, you name it. “Don’t Push the Button” came from me taking in this information and trying to come up with a book that I thought would be the most fun to read with my students.

The interactive part of the book was very much inspired by the way they teach kids at the school. Being physically engaged with the activity is crucial for a child that young. Every song that they learn has accompanying hand gestures. The gestures help them learn the words and vice versa. In art class we are constantly making the student verbalize the different materials and textures they encounter. I feel like the experience is better solidified in the child’s mind if multiple senses are being engaged.

I definitely considered all these things when making the book. “Don’t Push the Button” is a combination of a few elements that I knew would engage a young kid: bright colors, a catch phrase, a character talking directly at them, and a way to physically interact with the story.

I feel like the best proof that this works is this video: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cuzamora/9459614238/

Thanks to the author and publisher for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour.


The Weird! Series

22 Oct

Today’s book review is for all three books in the Weird! series: Weird!, Dare!, and Tough!, written by Erin Frankel, illustrated by Paula Heaphy, published by Free Spirit Publishing. I received electronic copies of these books from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. I am also pleased to announce that I was invited to participate in the blog tour for this series, which was scheduled to coincide with Bullying Prevention Month. So, keep reading after the review for a special guest post from author Erin Frankel!

Weird! book coverDare! book coverTough! book cover

The Weird! series tells the story of bullying from three different perspectives: Luisa, the victim, narrates Weird!, Jayla, the bystander, in Dare!, and Sam, the bully, in Tough!. Each of the third grade girls struggles to understand her identity and how to express it. However, when they find a supportive and encouraging adult to help them, each girl is able to overcome her problems and grow into a better person.

Bullying has long been a problem in schools, which means it has also inspired a multitude of books on the subject. In that sea of literature, Frankel’s voice is a breath of fresh air. She is able to get inside the heads of each girl and narrates in voices that feel fresh, honest, and real. At the same time, she doesn’t sacrifice literary style–the language is thoughtful and has a natural, easy flow. I was also impressed that each of her main characters are cool and likable in their own way–there are no pathetic outcast whiners or giant ignorant oafs in these books, just three girls with vibrant personalities. And it was great to see that the girls were guided through their issues by competent adults. Too many books leave children to figure out problems on their own, but Frankel recognizes that bullying can be complicated, and sometimes kids need help solving big problems.

To make things even better, the series has gorgeous illustration. There’s no bland, generic stock illustration here. Instead, Heaphy’s pictures are graphic and hip. She has an excellent eye for design. She uses repeating patterns and motifs throughout each book to create a sense of mood and identity. I also loved the way that she applies color sparingly–being unafraid to leave most of the page in black and white. Her images bring the books to life and provide a sense of unity between the three stories.

At the end of each book there are a series of discussion points and activities to use with children in the classroom, or at home. They provide great opportunities for extension projects and are a great resource for busy teachers. For me, these final touches also reveal just how much thought went into crafting these books. While they are engaging stories on their own, they are also great teaching tools. For everything from design to thoughtful story telling, these books earn 5 out of 5 stars.

You can find more information about these books, including other reviews, at Goodreads.


Helping Kids Stop Bullying
Tips for Using the Weird Series in the Classroom

By Erin Frankel

When I wrote the Weird series, I knew it was important to bring the role of the caring adult into the spotlight. It is a role too often left out of picture books on bullying in which child characters are left to find solutions on their own. The reality is that most children will need help when it comes to putting an end to bullying, and they will turn to the adults in their lives to help guide and support them.

Each of the three books in the Weird series, Weird!, Dare!, and Tough!, shows main characters as well as peripheral characters interacting with adults who support and help them in finding solutions to bullying. Placing adults in the books was a leap of faith. I had to believe that if a child reading these books had the courage to reach out to adults about bullying, those adults would respond with compassion and commitment.

When it comes to bullying, teachers, parents, and other caregivers need to be willing and prepared to help. It is my hope that the additional discussion questions, activities, and suggestions outlined in our free leader’s guide (available online here) will help foster a caring community of learners in your classroom, school, and community.

The three books in the Weird series can be read in any order. You may choose to start with Weird!, told from the target’s perspective; Dare!, told from the bystander’s perspective; or Tough!, told from the perspective of the child initiating the bullying. Each book is packed with opportunities for discussion and reflection. I like to begin with Weird!, told from the target’s perspective, because it sets the stage for a powerful question: How did Luisa get back to being herself? No matter which book you choose to start with, I suggest taking your time with each, rather than trying to race through all three books in one reading. There are many ways to integrate the Weird series into your classroom schedule and curriculum. Some ideas include using the series:

  • at the beginning of the school year when working with students to define what will make your classroom a caring community.
  • as a lead-in to National Bullying Prevention Month, No Name-Calling Week, or other national or local anti-bullying initiatives.
  • during character education units on courage, compassion, empathy, kindness, truthfulness, fairness, confidence, self-respect, or tolerance (just to mention a few).
  • when specific instances of bullying have occurred in your classroom or school. Note: Take care not to name participants or single out students.
  • as a reminder throughout the year to choose kindness.

However you use the books, consider revisiting the characters and their challenges throughout the school year to discuss the choices they made. If students have forgotten details, it is often nice to go back and read the books again.

For further ideas about how to use the Weird series in your classroom or community, follow us online at www.theweirdseries.com.

Erin Frankel is the author of Weird!, Dare!, and Tough!, an acclaimed picture book series on bullying from Free Spirit Publishing.

Adapted from A Leader’s Guide to the Weird Series by Erin Frankel, illustrated by Paula Heaphy, copyright © 2013. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved.

Many thanks to the author and publisher for allowing me to participate in this blog tour. Also, apologies for the late post–technical difficulties and an injury conspired against me, but I persevered.

The Snatchabook Blog Tour

14 Oct

Today’s review is for The Snatchabook, written by Helen Docherty, illustrated by Thomas Docherty, published by Sourcebooks. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. I am also pleased to announce that I was invited to participate in the blog tour for this book. So, keep reading after the review for a special guest post from Helen and Thomas Docherty!

The Snatchabook book cover

The Snatchabook is a whimsical new picture book by husband and wife duo, Helen and Thomas Docherty. Burrow Down is a peaceful forest neighborhood where children are tucked in to bed at night with stories. That is, until someone starts stealing all the books! One little girl, Eliza Brown, decides to get to the bottom of the mystery and discovers the Snatchabook. But by setting firm boundaries and practicing compassion, Eliza comes up with a solution where everyone wins.

This story, told in rhyming verse is a joy to read aloud. It could certainly become a bedtime favorite in many households. The language is playful–and the rhymes flow smoothly. Helen Docherty even manages to make the rhymes feel natural, avoiding the shoe-horned-in feeling so common in rhyming stories. Heroine Eliza Brown is a great character. I love her cleverness and persistence, her desire to solve the mystery, and her creative problem-solving. She’s a great role model for kids.

Thomas Docherty’s illustrations are lovely. They’re cute, but they are also lively. There is a luminous quality to many of them, and his technique creates the feeling that light sources in the images are actually glowing. His cutaway views of the burrows in Burrow Down are some of my favorite elements of the book–I love how they really create a sense of place and setting.

The Snatchabook is a beautifully designed and executed book. Pages are thoughtfully laid out to provide pacing to the text–two page spreads to make you linger, several smaller illustrations on a page to give a sense of frenzied activity. I also appreciate that there’s never too much text on any page. As always, I appreciate the attention paid to such details.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars for being an engaging new bedtime tale. The Docherty’s have done an excellent job of adding to the realm of fairy tale creatures with their invention of the Snatchabook. Children and their caregivers are sure to love the story and the message that sometimes the bad guy isn’t such a bad guy.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviws, at Goodreads.

Guest Post From Helen and Thomas Docherty
I invited Helen and Thomas to discuss how they came up with the idea for the Snatchabook as a creature. Where did he come from? What could they share about his background? The following is their response.

Helen: I have always been drawn to characters that transgress in some way – characters that are flawed, but not beyond redemption. Dr Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas has always been one of my favorite children’s books, and was definitely an influence in the creation of the Snatchabook (although they are, of course, very different characters). I am also interested in outsiders, and how their arrival impacts on a community (a theme also explored in our next book, Abracazebra).

The idea of a book thief who steals children’s bedtime stories popped into my head at the end of a long day of trying (and failing) to think up interesting storylines. A book cruncher? A book snatcher? No, a Snatchabook! Almost immediately, I saw the potential to develop the story as a mystery with plenty of suspense, a brave heroine and a twist in the tale – namely, that the Snatchabook is just a pitiful little creature, whose motivation for stealing all the books is simply that is he is desperate to be read to; to be included in the cozy bedtime world of Burrow Down. So really, the Snatchabook represents any child who has missed out on that experience, for whatever reason. And in a way, all the animals in the community of Burrow Down become his ‘parents’ when they include him in their story times at the end. (As to where he came from originally…that remains a mystery!)

Tom and I had a lot of fun developing the character of the Snatchabook visually. I had an image in my head of a sort of bush baby with long, delicate wings and a long tail, and Tom set to work drawing sketches. He interpreted it so brilliantly that it looked like a creature that already existed.

Here are his earliest sketches:

Several early sketches of the Snatchabook

(click the image to view full size)

Many thanks to the author and publisher for giving me the opportunity to participate in this tour.
You can learn more about Helen at her website: http://www.helendocherty.com/
and Thomas at his website: http://www.thomasdocherty.co.uk/