Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast in The Great Caper Caper - a review 11.16.22

The Great Caper Caper by Josh Funk
Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast:
The Great Caper Caper
written by Josh Funk
illustrated by Brendan Kearney
published by Union Square Kids

There is a mystery in the refrigerator again, but this time our heroes, Sir French Toast and Lady Pancake, are in the dark!  No, literally, they are!  The Great Light above is missing, yet, there seems to be just one area that's all aglow.  As our heroes arrive at the one shining light in the fridge, they find a large, and familiar-to-readers sign welcoming them to "Las Veggies"!  It's here in this large tower that all of the light is to be found, yet the owner of the area, Count Caper, is not about to back down!  While Count Caper admits to nothing, he relies on his "food popularity" to make everyone doubt the probability that he actually took the light.  And here's where the caper takes off.  Sir French Toast and Lady Pancake gather their allies and in Ocean's 11 style, come up with a heist to solve the problem!  And just like in the movies, there are twists and turns that will shock the readers :)  Or at least make it very entertaining!  

Filled with new characters and a new plot line, this addition remains true to the series yet gives us many new reasons to come back to it!  I loved the addition of the Animal Crackers characters - those are still some of my favorite snacks (sorry, Animal Crackers).  I had a feeling many young readers would not know what a caper is so before reading the book to readers I would suggest doing an image search and give readers a little background about the delicacy.  Young readers will be able to infer about them, but this gives youngsters a little heads up!  And of course I can't talk about the ending, but *the ending*!!  I really loved it and think kids will carry the message in their hearts!

Earlier this year, our reading team introduced the Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast series to our kindergarten classes.  They loved the mysteries and the characters.  I enjoy reading the rolling rhymes to young readers - there's something about the rhythm that keeps readers following along!  After sharing the newest installment, I asked the kindergartners some questions:

* What is your favorite part about the series? *
  • "Friends solving the mystery with friends!"
  • "When they figure out the villain in the books."
  • "Baron von Waffle!  I love everything about him!"
  • "I like that the mysteries are in the refrigerator"!

* Why should teachers and librarians read these books to kids? *
  • "The mysteries are so exciting!"
  • "Because these books are funny-awesome!"
  • "Because kids like them and they are funny."

* What should happen in the next Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast book? *
  • "Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast find something in the refrigerator that doesn't belong, like a toy!"
  • "They celebrate holidays in the refrigerator!"
  • "Sir French Toast has gone missing and they have to go out of the fridge to find him." 

Love these answers!  Mr. Funk, in case you have any writer's block, these kids have you covered!  And you heard it from the kids, these books are "funny-awesome", so if you don't have every copy of this series, go find them!

Of course, if the advice of 5 and 6 year-olds isn't enough, this book was also selected as an Indies Kids Next Pick!  Here's what the reviewer says:
“The fifth installment in the Lady Pancake series features a madcap caper that kids will love. Parents can look forward to some humor that is, undoubtedly, aimed at them. Definitely a book the whole family will want to read over and over!” — Audrey Beatty, River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury, CT

Celebrating its book birthday this week, be sure and find a copy of The Great Caper Caper for your library!

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

A roundup of new chapter books - 11.15.22

One of my favorite type of books to find are chapter books.  These are books that are a necessary bridge for readers who are going up the reading ladder from picture books and early chapter books (think Henry and Mudge and Frog and Toad) and before they continue up the ladder to middle grade novels.  Here are some newer books and series you may want to check out!

   The New Friend Fix   Off-Key
Catalina Incognito series
written by Jennifer Torres
illustrated by Gladys Jose
This magical realism series is so fun!  Meet Catalina, she's a perfectionist and always has some ideas in her head.  For her eighth birthday, she receives an old sewing kit from her tia abuela.  She had been hoping for something else, but when she finds out it's a magical sewing kit, Catalina gets some great new ideas!   

Witches of Peculiar series
 written by Luna Graves
Meet twins Bella and Dee.  These sixth graders have finally come into their witch powers over the summer, and now they're thrilled to be invited to YIKESSS (Yvette I. Koffin's Exceptional School for Supernatural Students).  They'll finally fit in, but when their magical proves to be a little difficult to control, will they be able to stay at the school?  Will the other students accept them?  Not scary, but perfect for readers who are ready for all things Halloween!

   The Lurking Lima Bean   The Not-So-Itsy-Bitsy Spider   
Night Frights series
written by Joe McGee
illustrated by Ted Skaffa
In the town of Wolver Holler, there's always something just a little spooky and strange happening.  Each book in the series focuses on a different child living in the town and the spooky event that happens to them.  These stories definitely have a little bit of a scare to them compared to the Witches of Peculiar books.  I know there will be some readers that are happy to get a good scare in!

Alley and Rex 
written by Joel Ross
illustrated by Nicole Miles
Meet Alley.  He's really good at extreme schooling - meaning all of the rules of a traditional school are a bit of a challenge.  Meet Rex.  He's pretty much the opposite of Alley.  Unlikely friends, yes.  Good partners, possibly!  I like this series because the kids are in sixth grade, which means it's a very short read (135 pgs) for those older readers who are looking for something short.

Elf Academy series
written by Alan Katz
illustrated by Sernur Isik
Meet Andy, an elf in Santa's Workshop.  To me, he's a cross between Buddy the Elf and Hermie the Elf (you know, the misfit elf from Rudolph).  He has a heart of gold but always wants to do something a little different!

Life in the Doghouse series
written by Crystal Velasquez
illustrated by Laura Catrinella
Inspired by Danny Robertshaw's and Ron Danta's real life rescue (and subject of the documentary Life in the Doghouse, each book focuses on a different dog that is at the rescue home.  The stories follow the dogs as they try and fit in with their adopted families.  The stories are narrated by the dog so the readers know the dogs' thoughts and feelings.  Perfect for all of our dog lovers!

   Super Spinach   
Adventures in Fosterland series
written by Hannah Shaw
illustrated by Bev Johnson
Another foster story, this one features cats, kittens, and other animals!  A perfect companion to the dog-loving series above!

The Astronomically Grand Plan      Hydroponic Hijinks
Astrid the Astronaut series
written by Rie Neal
illustrated by Talitha Shipman
A STEM series with a female lead, yay!  Astrid loves all things to do with space and can't wait for her chance to learn and explore more.  But first she has to put her hearing aids in to help her hear better throughout her day.  Love that hearing aids are a part of the story, and not the focus.  Astrid is part of the Shooting Stars club at school and gets the opportunity to learn more about all things space.  Each book has a storyline with that but also focuses on friendship and getting along with others.

Audrey L and Audrey W series
written by Carter Higgins
illustrated by Jennifer K Mann
A series about friendship, identity, and last name initials!  Audrey has always figured out a way to notice things and notice what is great about everyone.  She knows she's the best Audrey in her class... until another Audrey moves in.  Now she's Audrey L, someone who needs an initial to stand out.  Surely she won't be friends with this new Audrey?

J.D.  series
written by J. Dillard
illustrated by Akeem S. Roberts
I love this series about all things hair!  Celebrating all things Black hair, this series is sure to give some new styling ideas, and maybe inspire a new entrepreneur!  

Miles Lewis series
written by Kelly Starling Lyons
illustrated by Wayne Spencer
I hope by now you are familiar with author Kelly Starling Lyons' Jada Jones series.  Now she gives us Jada's friend (so yes, we do see more of Jada), Miles Lewis.  Miles goes to the same school as Jada and his thing is science (probably why they are friends).  So whenever something comes up where he gets to put his science brain to the test, Miles is there.  Whether it's ice skating (physics) or the science fair, Miles is ready for a little competition.  With his family and friends always there to help him, or pick him up when things haven't gone his way, Miles is a friend all readers will want to meet.  Love seeing a young, Black boy represented in this chapter book series!

Are you making lists for books you hope to receive?  Make sure these series make the list - your readers will thank you!

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

It's Not The Three Little Pigs - a review 11.02.22

Every year the second grade team does a unit on fairy tales and they always include It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk.  And every year, after they read that book, all of my Josh Funk titles are wiped from the shelf.  Luckily, I stock extra copies.  This year I'll have a new title for the series.

It's Not The Three Little Pigs
written by Josh Funk
illustrated by Edwardian Taylor
published by Two Lions

There are parts of the story that will feel very familiar: straw and stick houses, a wolf.  I always enjoy the detailed illustrations by Edwardian Taylor in each book of the series.  Wait until you see the blueprints for each house!  Just pouring over those took a lot of time!  And parts that will feel familiar to this particular series: a narrator who is interrupted a lot, colored talk bubbles for the characters, and a story that doesn't go quite as the traditional story goes.
For example, there is a fourth pig in the story.  Her name is Alison and she in particular enjoys interrupting the narrator!

Are you looking for a brick house?  A big, bad wolf?  Well, the story has some changes in store for those traditional parts.  I won't give anything away, but I will tell you I laughed through the entire book.

Some teaching ideas:
  • these are must-have books for any fairy tale unit.  Have students search for the traditional elements of the fairy tale vs. what has been changed.
  • do you teach quotations?  Take a portion of the story and rewrite it using proper punctuation for quotations.
  • the blueprints for each house are perfect for some makerspace engineering ideas!
  • check out the plot elements!  With the changes in the story, how does that change the plot?
  • time to work on some fluency!  Thinking about each character's traits, how do you think the character would sound?  Act it out using expression!
This is a series that works perfectly for ELA, math, and science elements!  I'm excited to have this next installment for our library.

But don't take just my word for it!  Additional praise.....

“Those who love to make up their own stories will be inspired, and readers who march to the beats of their own drums will be delighted. Will leave readers as happy as a pig in mud.” ―Kirkus Reviews

More about author Josh Funk:

Like the characters in his books, Josh Funk doesn’t like being told how stories should go―so he writes his own. He is the author of a bunch of picture books, including My Pet Feet, illustrated by Billy Yong; the popular Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, illustrated by Brendan Kearney; How to Code a Sandcastle, illustrated by Sara Palacios; and Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience & Fortitude, illustrated by Stevie Lewis. He lives in New England with his wife and children. Learn more about him at and follow him on social media:

Facebook:  Josh Funk Books

Instagram: @joshfunkbooks

Twitter: @joshfunkbooks

More about illustrator Edwardian Taylor:

Edwardian Taylor is the illustrator of multiple children’s books, including Hey, You’re Not Santa!, written by Ethan T. Berlin; Goldibooks and the Wee Bear, written by Troy Wilson; the Toy Academy chapter books, written by Brian Lynch; and the It’s Not a Fairy Tale books, written by Josh Funk, among other titles. He lives in Texas with his partner and their three dogs. Learn more about him at and follow him on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter @edwardiantaylor.

More about Two Lions publishing:

Instagram: @amazonpublishing

Twitter: @AmazonPub

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy!

Instagram: @blue_slip_media

Facebook: Blue Slip Media

Who wants a copy of this book?  Two Lions is offering a giveaway of TWO titles from Josh Funk’s It’s Not a Fairytale series:  It’s Not the Three Little Pigs and It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood  (U.S. and Canada addresses).  Winner will be selected on Wednesday, November 9th!

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

New Kids and Underdogs - a review 11.01.22

"We all need each other.  Because we are all sort of one, but also sort of not one.  Basically, we are a pack...of roots." 
                    - New Kids and Underdogs by Margaret Finnegan pg. 212

New Kids and Underdogs by Margaret Finnegan
New Kids and Underdogs
by Margaret Finnegan
published by Atheneum Books

Are you looking for a book that will grip your readers?  Look no further!  This heartprint story and the unforgettable characters will keep readers turning the page and leave feeling a little smarter and like they've made another friend.

Fifth-grader Robyn is the perpetual new kid.   In fact, she's gone through being new at so many schools, she's now made up some rules for herself.  Rules that will perhaps help her avoid previous mistakes and help her succeed at her new school in California.  Robyn wants so badly to succeed because this school, finally, is supposed to be the school that she is going to stay at.  Being new and fitting in could be the book all alone.  But, every plot needs to have foils.

Foil #1:  Dogs.  Robyn has two Jack Russell terrier mixed rescue dogs: Fudge and Sundae.  The love and friendship between the dogs and Robyn is a beautiful thing.  The dogs are so loving, and are a wonderful unit between them and Robyn.  Each dog has their own challenges.  They were both rescued from a place that created trauma and an environment that did not allow either dog to thrive.  Fudge is deaf and partially blind.  He relies on Sundae, especially when in an unfamiliar environment.  Sundae suffers from anxiety and being with Fudge helps calm that fear.  Both challenges bring up the subject of living - and thriving - with a disability.  Robyn understands her dogs challenges, but also comes to learn more about the range of disabilities and challenges of her peers.  The subject of disabilities is well done and author Margaret Finnegan brings up great viewpoints.  She helps readers understand, through the characters, that they are more than their disability.  It's part of who they are, but there are many other parts that make up the person/animal.

Foil #2:  Agility training for dogs.  Right away, Robyn comes across an agility class being held nearby for dogs.  Both her and Sundae are entranced by what they see.  Robyn looks into it, but the instructor does not think her dogs can do it based on one thing: their disabilities.  But it's the instructor's grandson, Nestor - Robyn's classmate - who sees more than the dogs' disabilities.  Nestor starts training the dogs himself and instead of it being called agility class, it's ability class.  I love the twist that makes all the difference for the dogs and Robyn.  It's through these new classes that Robyn learns more about herself and makes her go back through those new kid rules she had established.  One of my favorite quotes, "Dog training wasn't a way to impose a person's will upon a dog.  It was about learning to communicate with another species and learning to listen as that species communicated with you." - pg. 234.

All of these things come together to make a wonderful story.  I loved so many lines that made me pause and think about them.  Lots of great social-emotional lessons and things to talk about when thinking about people - the parts you see on the outside and what you don't see on the inside.  This book makes a great read aloud and is easy to book talk.  No doubt it will be a favorite among readers!  Be sure to send readers to Margaret Finnegan's website, she has lots of resources and linked below are tips to train dogs!

More praise for New Kids and Underdogs:

A thoughtful story about learning to look beneath the surface and be a better friend.” —Kirkus

A Junior Library Guild Selection

Margaret Finnegan is the author of We Could Be Heroes and Susie B. Won’t Back Down, both Junior Library Guild Selections. Her other works have appeared in FamilyFun Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Salon, and other publications. She lives in South Pasadena, California, where she enjoys spending time with her family, walking her dog, and baking really good chocolate cakes. To learn more, and to download free discussion guides, visit

Twitter: @FinneganBegin

Instagram: @finneganbegin

Just like the kids in New Kids & Underdogs, you can ability train your dog! Check out the fun tips here!

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy.

Instagram: @blue_slip_media

Facebook: Blue Slip Media

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

A Beginner's Guide to Being Human - a review 10.19.22

I'm just going to start with this - EVERYONE needs this book.  ALL libraries, ALL classrooms, ALL humans.  Because, honestly.... it seems like many of us have forgotten what humanity is.  Or what is should be.

A Beginner's Guide to Being Human by Matt Forrest Esenwine
A Beginner's Guide to Being Human
written by Matt Forrest Esenwine
illustrated by André Geolin
published by Beaming Books

Author Matt Esenwine reminds us of what humanity should be.  It's families.  Of all shapes and sizes and colors and numbers.  I love that he even says that you don't have to be related to be considered family.

Esenwine goes over empathy, compassion, and most importantly, kindness.  Through the text and illustrations, readers see both the good and not-so-good examples of humans showing these things.  Because, after all, as Esenwine says, humans do make mistakes too.  

Follow along with the pro-tips of how a little bit of kindness or compassion or empathy can go a long way!  And while these tips may seem to be something we all know, it's a good reminder for all readers to practice them in the future!

And at the end, what's really important is the love we can have for one another.  What a perfect reminder.

I was fortunate to be able to ask author Matt Esenwine a couple of questions:

Q:  How did the idea of this one come about?

A:  It was a really challenging book to write, not because it was difficult but because it was wasn't even my idea, ha! It's actually the first time I’ve ever written and published a book specifically requested by an editor. I had submitted a completely different manuscript with a similar title to Naomi Krueger at Beaming Books, my editor for ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME and although she didn't feel it was a good fit for her list, she really liked it and told me about an idea she’d had for a different book, written in the same sort of style but focusing on emotions and feelings. She said we could title it A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO BEING HUMAN and asked if I'd be interested in writing it, knowing there was no guarantee she’d accept the new manuscript. Fortunately, she liked it!

Q:  You talk about this book being creative nonfiction.  Tell us more about that!

A:  Creative nonfiction is a really cool genre that has been gaining popularity the past few years. It presents elements of nonfiction - facts, information, etc. - by using creative devices like narrative, dialogue, lyricism/poetry, etc. Examples of creative nonfiction are Lita Judge's WISDOM OF TREES, Joyce Sidman's DARK EMPEROR, and Melissa Stewart's FEATHERS NOT JUST FOR FLYING. 

Thanks, Matt!

This book should be shared at the beginning of the year, and probably at the middle and end, as well!  The simple text doesn't preach, doesn't feel like a lesson, but gives us a little check of how we should be taking life day-by-day.  The gorgeous illustrations by  are authentic and diverse.  

More about author Matt Esenwine:

Matt Forrest Esenwine spent a good part of his life writing and publishing poetry for various national journals and anthologies like the Donald Hall tribute, Except for Love (Encircle, 2019). Then his debut picture book, Flashlight Night (Astra Young Readers, 2017), received a Kirkus starred review and was included in Encyclopedia Brittanica’s list of “11 Children’s Books That Inspire Imagination!”

Matt now has nearly a dozen books to his credit including Once Upon Another Time (Beaming Books, 2021), co-authored with Charles “Father Goose” Ghigna, and I Am Today (POW! Kids Bokos, 2022). His children’s poetry can be found in anthologies like The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015) and Construction People (Wordsong, 2020). Connect with Matt and order personally-signed books here.

I know you'll be wanting to get your hands on a copy of this book!  Author Matt Esenwine and publisher Beaming Books have donated a copy for a blog reader!  Winner will be selected on Wednesday, October 26th.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Ice Cycles - a review 10.12.22

My least favorite season is coming - winter.  For many others, they are celebrating all that comes with winter - the cold temps, snow, and the outdoor activities that involve snow.  Snow looks pretty in a picture.  And the ice that accompanies it can have beautiful designs and swirls.  Have you ever thought about that ice you see in the winter?  What about the ice that forms in bodies of water?  Maria Gianferrari helps us dig into ice a little further in her new book....

Ice Cycle by Maria Gianferrari
Ice Cycle: Poems About the Life of Ice
written by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Jieting Chen
published by Millbrook Press

I love that Maria helps us think about ice in a lyrical and alive way.  She talks about the way ice moves, forms, and makes noises.  She digs into how ice changes and that it doesn't stay the same.  And all along, we feel the sense of movement and change with her lyrical poems.  While young readers are learning about the ice in their world, they are doing so through poems that make the words dance and stretch and move through Maria's beautiful writing.

I am a big fan of Maria's writing.  Whether through poems or prose, she brings nonfiction to life.  I asked Maria about this, and I think her response is something to share with young readers to make them think more about their own writing and writing processes.  I'll let Maria take over now!


Tips for Translating STEM Topics into Poetic Texts

I’m delighted to be back here at Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook, a favorite and go-to blog for book recommendations. Thanks for having me, Michele!

Today I’ll be talking about translating STEM and scientific research into lyrical writing. For me, science and poetry go hand-in-hand and are complementary. I love how poetry can distill and encapsulate images and how scientific language and vocabulary can also be quite poetic in nature.

Research & Pre-writing

During my research process, which often includes some kind of field research, like walking in the woods, taking photos of things that I observe, or noting other sensory details like smells and sounds and textures, I take notes to collect my thoughts and impressions by hand in a notebook. Writing by hand is slower, and it makes me feel more of a connection to the material that I’m working with, which helps me to reflect. Then I type up and print my notes, highlighting interesting vocabulary, images and phrases to see what patterns emerge. Next, I focus freewrite to explore my thoughts on the topic including voice, structure and theme.

Sensory Lists: 

Make lists that include your sensory observations. What interesting visuals emerge, and how can you describe them in a fresh and fun way? I try to paint a picture in words. ICE CYCLE is dedicated to my editor at Lerner, Carol Hinz, whose gorgeous photos of feathery frost like this one on Instagram first inspired the idea for the book. 

I was wowed by this photo and the visually stunning fern-like and feathery frost crystal formations, and highlighted those shapes in my poems about frost.

photo credit, Carol Hinz

And this intricate needle ice I found in my yard.

photo credit me

Seek out sounds. I was amazed to discover that ice has many evocative and poetic-sounding names. As I mentioned above, I think poetry and science are complementary, and that scientific vocabulary is often poetic in and of itself. I loved the sounds of these sea ice names: hummocks and bummocks and shuga.

It doesn’t get more magical and evocative than pancake ice and dragon-scale ice, does it? 

photo credit Guy Williams

Have you heard of a brinicle? I hadn’t, before researching for this book. What does that evoke for you? I loved the sound of it, and watching videos of them pluming and blooming as they spread underwater. 

Watch a brinicle form here:

What other senses can you incorporate into your manuscript. Taste? Texture? Scent? Is there a unique way to bring your lists together?

STEM Strands: 

Part of the process of translating the stuff of STEM into lyrical poetic writing includes weaving in scientific facts, processes and vocabulary. For example, in HAWK RISING, I described the red-tailed hawk’s flight as “kiting.” Without even seeing Brian’s gorgeous art, one can easily visualize what’s happening as the hawk hovers in place. It’s scientifically accurate as well as poetic. 

In WHOO-KU HAIKU, the Great horned owl mother, “mantles.” Can you picture a cloak or a cape? “Mantling” is the act of a bird spreading out its wings when feeling threatened to appear bigger, or to protect something (in the book’s case, her eggs). What about “pipping?” Doesn’t it sound like chipping, delicate and lovely? It’s onomatopoeic—and the sound and act of a hatchling chipping out of its shell with its egg tooth. Using these kinds of scientific vocabulary help make a text feel authentic.

Vivid Verbs:  

Vivid verbs are a writer’s best friend for all kinds of writing! They paint pictures, evoke emotions, store sounds, and the sound of those verbs is crucial when writing lyrically. There is nothing that’s quite so effective and evocative as a verb that can create an image as well as a feeling through its flowing and sonorous syllables. 

I love the sounds and images and movement in the frost section of ICE CYCLE, and had fun morphing nouns into verbs. It begins, “Frost ferns,” which evokes shape and flow with the repetition of the fricative “f” and liquid “r” sounds. 

As that poem continues, I tried to evoke the visual pattern as well as movement incorporated into the shapes and textures of frost using assonance and rhyme: frost fronds “curling” and “unfurling” as well as “binding” and “unwinding” feathery spines.  Verbs such as fanning, forking and flowering flow with alliterative “f” sounds, and also evoke both shape and energy and dynamism because they are “ing,” in process.

There is also rhythm and flow in the various ways ice moves: floes flow, riding, gliding, drifting, shifting, because ice is in flux, depending upon the weather conditions.

Be Playful:

In the “Ice Plays” section of ICE CYCLE, I used vivid and active verbs and sound to highlight the unusual visuals, beautifully depicted in Jieting’s fabulous art: Cat ice whorls/Swirl and twirl. Pancake ice stacks/Smack and crack, etc. 

Word play is fun! This spread ends with an ice tongue that licks and ice foot that kicks. 

I also literally played around with sound and used vivid, loud and onomatopoeic sounding verbs in “Ice Speaks,” as well as alliteration, assonance and consonance to emphasize the aural nature of ice.

Voice and Structure: 

How do you find the right voice and structure for your project? Will it be narrative in nature, or more expository? Sometimes I know from the beginning what the structure will be, as in the case of WHOO-KU HAIKU. It’s one of the rare cases when I knew the title first. It evolved as a series of lyrical vignettes and narrative haiku poems within the general seasonal Great horned owl life cycle from nesting, to egg laying; from hatching to fledging. 

Time and seasons prove to be logical, circular and grounding structures for translating STEM into lyrical language. As I mentioned above, WHOO-KU HAIKU as well as BOBCAT PROWLING have a winter to fall/spring life cycle seasonal structure, while both COYOTE MOON and HAWK RISING have circular nocturnal/diurnal structures. 

The subtitle of ICE CYCLE, POEMS ABOUT THE LIFE OF ICE reveals its circular structure: ice is born, or formed due to dropping temperatures, and dies when temperatures rise. But it’s again re-born as temperatures plummet again—the ice cycle-life cycle. I used headings for each section and played with the verbs there as a hint of what’s to come in the poems. Ice grows, flows (and floes) goes, plays, speaks, sprouts and ages.

One of the best ways to figure out structure is to read and study a variety of mentor texts to see how other kidlit creators organized their material. Be sure to check out Sibert-honor winning author and science writer Melissa Stewart’s blog, “Celebrate Nonfiction,” where you can learn about all kinds of narrative and expository approaches, text structures and features, voice, and more.

Read Aloud:

If you write picture books, reading your manuscript aloud is key. You can hear where the language is awkward, or faltering. As you revise, pay attention to your words. Are you being as economical as possible? Get out your poetry toolbox and explore image, word choice, figurative language, line breaks, rhythm and rhyme. You might want to re-examine your lists—how can you make your words sing?

Poetry’s imagistic nature helps to distill language to its most essential elements, which is perfect for both STEM topics and picture books.


As with science, translating STEM content into lyrical writing (and all writing) involves experimentation, and play, trust and letting go—not being wedded to our original drafts so that we can literally re-envision what we’re writing. Failure and rejection are part of the discovery process. 

I am fascinated by mushrooms and fungi, and my original manuscript called MARVELOUS MUSHROOMS was a concept book that had lyrical moments, but things weren’t coming together on paper quite in the way I was envisioning it in my head. Luckily it still sparked the interest of editor extraordinaire Andrea Welch of Beach Lane who requested a revision. After a great conversation and many, many revisions, I took a new approach favoring vivid verbs to blend science and poetry and wonder and it evolved to be FUNGI GROW, with swirling and gorgeous art by Diana Sudyka! I wrote the book with Diana’s illustrations in mind, so I was thrilled when she signed on to illustrate! I can’t wait to share our book with the world next fall. 

What STEM things delight you and make you wonder? Let your curiosity and awe lead you along the road of research. And then write lists, find patterns, listen to your inner voice and experiment, mix and meld and blend to find the ways that fuse science and poetry into your own unique work of wonder.


Thank you so much, Maria, for stopping by and sharing your writing expertise with us!  

More about author Maria Gianferrari:
Maria Gianferrari thinks ice is nice. After seeing editor Carol Hinz’s feathery frost photos on Instagram, she was inspired to find out more. During her research, Maria was amazed by all the diverse kinds of ice that exist, and this book was born. Her favorite form is pancake ice. Maria lives in Massachusetts with her family, where winters usually bring ice and snow. You can learn more about Maria at her brand new website,

I bet after reading that you want your own copy of this gorgeous book!  Maria and publisher Millbrook Press, have generously donated a copy for a reader.  Winner will be selected on Wednesday, Oct. 19th!

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Annette Feels Free - a review 9.21.22

A woman who championed women's rights, who had a disability and said "I can do this anyway", and was a swimmer?  Annette Kellerman is definitely a woman I wanted to know more about!

Annette Feels Free:
The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class
Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid
by Katie Mazeika
published by Beach Lane Books

Annette was a fierce and joyful young girl, but after an illness, she suffered muscle loss in her legs and needed to wear braces for support.  Feeling constricted left Annette feeling quiet and sad and she wasn't the happy girl from before.  It was her father's idea to bring her into the water and see what she can do.  It was there that her freedom to move returned.  Annette could dance, kick, and move about in the water and it brought joy back into her life.  As she continued to grow, she found new ways to show her artistry in the water by putting on water dance shows, and ways to show her athleticism by swimming - and winning - in swim races across her homeland of Australia.  But there was one thing holding her back - what she had to wear in the water.  Annette was swimming during a time when women not only had to be covered in their attire, but it was also appropriate for their swim attire to be loose and flowy.  Hard to win when your material is causing a lot of drag!  Annette solved her own problem by creating her own swim attire, more similar to what a man would wear, but that was not ok with law enforcement!  Annette pleaded her case in court, and won!  Not only a pioneer for a women's right to wear appropriate swimwear, but also a pioneer of sport.  From competitive swimming to the sport now known as artistic swimming, Annette Kellerman lead the way!

Too often I hear people saying how "inspiring" people with disabilities are.  I've heard from many disabled athletes, including my own, who hate being described as that.  From what I understand, it makes them feel that their accomplishments are only looked at as inspiring because of their disability.  I think creator Katie Mazeika has done a wonderful job showcasing Annette's amazing accomplishments first, with a smaller note of how they came about.

I really love how Annette was described in the backmatter as, "a woman who pushed boundaries and advanced women's rights.  And we can all thank Annette for the freedom of wearing what we feel best in at the beach."  In a time when we question the rules, who makes them, who benefits from them, here is a great story of the person who helped women to the place we are now.

More accolades for Annette Feels Free:

A Junior Library  Guild Selection

Annette’s legacy in competitive, artistic, and recreational swimming is undeniable, and Mazeika’s text deftly balances her subject’s varied career. . . . Swim-pressive!”—Kirkus Reviews

“An enthralling introduction to a remarkable woman.”Booklist

About creator Katie Mazeika:

Katherine Mazeika is an author and illustrator with a BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design. When she isn’t in the studio, she likes to spend time at the theater, in her garden, or getting lost in a good book. She lives in Ohio with her husband, two kids (Lillian and Jack), and two dogs. To learn more, and download a free curriculum guide, visit her website at

Twitter: @kdmaz

Instagram: @kdmazart

Facebook: Katie Mazeika Illustration

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy.