Story Monsters Ink - April 2019

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April 2019


Joanna gaines Her Family Project Blossoms into a Children’s Book

Chris Van Dusen Brings Beloved Picture Book Characters to Life

Juana Martinez-Neal and How She Got Her Caldecott

David Cole Makes Math Fun in New Chapter Book Series

Diane Magras Adds Girl Power to Middle Grade Adventure Series

The Literary Resource for Teachers, Librarians, and Parents

Q&A with

Bob Shea Joseph Goodrich

Wins Story Monsters Approved Book of the Year

ones to Watch:

Bianca and Chiara D’Ambrosio

One to Read:

Sherrie Todd-Beshore

Judy Newman


James Patterson

Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader

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Linda F. Radke


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Visit our website at to download free classroom question sheets to aid in learning comprehension and encourage your students to discuss what they’ve read in each issue!

Cristy Bertini

Melissa Fales, Nick Spake, Olivia Amiri, Julianne Black, Larissa Juliano

Special ContributorS Judy Newman James Patterson


Subscribe online or through digital subscription services for schools and libraries.

Jeff Yesh

Science & Nature Editor Conrad J. Storad


Web Management Patti Crane


Linda F. Radke Cristy Bertini

Book Reviewers Darleen Wohlfeil, Diana Perry, Jessica Reino, Sherry Hoffman, Diana Fisher, Dawn Menge, Denise Bloomfield

Cover photo by Mike Davello Story Monsters Ink magazine and are trademarks of Story Monsters, LLC. Copyright ©2019 Story Monsters LLC, ISSN 2374-4413, All rights reserved. Contents may not be published in whole or in part without the express written consent of the bylined author and publisher. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the individual writers and are not necessarily those of Story Monsters Ink or its advertisers. Story Monsters Ink is published by Story Monsters LLC Postal mail may be sent to Story Monsters Ink 4696 W. Tyson St., Chandler, AZ 85226 Phone: 480-940-8182


Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 |

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Honor Roll Gold Award Recipient, Mom’s Choice Awards. 2018 Irwin Award winner for “Best Magazine Writer of the Year.” 2016 Irwin Award winner for “Best Publisher of a Literary Magazine” and “Best Editorial Director.”

APRIL 2019

in this issue ... Features

Columns 16 James Patterson

30 Diane Magras

Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader

Adds Girl Power to Middle Grade Adventure Series

46 Judy Newman Mailbox

34 Joseph Goodrich Wins Story Monsters Approved Book of the Year

04 Joanna Gaines Her Family Project Blossoms into a Children’s Book

10 Chris Van Dusen Brings Beloved Picture Book Characters to Life

18 Juana Martinez-Neal

38 Ones to Watch: Bianca and Chiara D’Ambrosio 42 One to Read: Sherrie Todd-Beshore 66 Q&A with Bob Shea


A Surprise on Every Page

56 Monsters at the Movies Captain Marvel

58 Liv on Life Speak Up!

Resources 52 SPRING Reading LIST 60 Book Reviews

and How She Got Her Caldecott

26 David Cole Makes Math Fun in New Chapter Book Series

Want to read even more? Check out our Book Briefs page at to keep up with the latest news, interviews, and happenings at Story Monsters!

Tell us what you think of this issue! Email your comments to | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink


Joanna Gaines Her Family Project Blossoms into a Children’s Book by Melissa Fales photo by Amy Neunsinger


Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 |


JOanna gaines

TV personality, interior designer, and lifestyle guru Joanna Gaines is celebrating National Gardening Month with her first children’s book, We Are the Gardeners (Thomas Nelson). Gaines is best known for her remodeling work on HGTV’s Fixer Upper with her husband, Chip. Devotees flock to Magnolia Market, which includes her décor store, and Magnolia Table, her restaurant, both located in Waco, Texas. Gaines reveals yet another talent in this book about her experiences gardening with her five children: a green thumb.

“From the first little garden patch we built on the side of our house to the larger one we’re growing at the farm today, the garden has always been a place where I get to connect with my kids and with nature,” she says. “When we built our first garden bed, it was a lot of trial and error before any of us really got the hang of things. We wrote this book together to share the journey of growing our own family garden. The kids and I have learned time and again that there are so many lessons to be learned, and we hope We Are the Gardeners will inspire meaningful moments outdoors for other families.” Gaines’ childhood memories include watching her father tend to his own large garden. “I remember he’d be out there picking weeds at night, and to me it looked like a lot of hard work after he’d already worked all day, but I’ve come to realize that the time he spent in our garden was his way of unwinding at the end of the day,” she says. “I’ve always joked that I got my love for plants, both indoor and out, from him. Because of my dad, gardening has always been on my radar, but it wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I started to appreciate gardening as a way to retreat the same way that my dad did. And of course, any time my kids join me out in the garden is always an added bonus.”

When Gaines decided to start a garden, she went into it seeking an experience rather than perfection. “When I first started, I think I assumed that because I could keep most of my house plants alive, that also meant that I had a good enough green thumb to grow a garden successfully,” she says. “Obviously, that’s not quite how it works. So at first, I made a lot of the basic mistakes, things like direct sunlight versus indirect sunlight as well as water intake and frequency. In the first few seasons that I gardened, only half of the stuff I planted actually grew properly. And that was fine with me. All of the work I’d put in still felt worth it, and that’s when I knew that I really loved the whole process. The goal for me was really never to become an expert … I just always wanted to stay curious and eager to learn something new.” | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink



JOanna gaines

In We Are the Gardeners, Gaines conveys to her readers that philosophy of valuing the process as much as, if not more, than the end results. The book, written with the help of her children, includes a story as well as some Gaines-tested and approved tips and tricks to help readers with growing their own gardens. Gaines has written a number of home and lifestyle books, including The Magnolia Story, Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave, and Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering and admits she wasn’t sure what to expect the first time she sat down to write a book for children. “I loved getting to work on

this project with my kids,” she says. “Listening to their thoughts and understanding their perspectives was so helpful. I wanted to make sure this book kept children engaged and interested. I also knew I wanted to create something that would simply help parents connect creatively with their kids. I really do feel like this is a book that both kids and parents will enjoy!” We Are the Gardeners features charming watercolor illustrations of the whole Gaines family tending their plants by Julianna Swaney. “Julianna is so talented, and she was really fun to work with,” says Gaines. “Her illustrations feel so whimsical and light and I love how

“From the first little garden patch we built on the side of our house to the larger one we’re growing at the farm today, the garden has always been a place where I get to connect with my kids and with nature.”


Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 |

Joanna gaines

the personalities of our kids came through in a really sweet way.” For Gaines, teaching her children how to garden provides an opportunity to introduce them to bigger truths about the world at large. “I make it a point to have them help me with every stage—the planting, tending, and the gathering, so that they can experience the gratification that comes from hard work and seeing something through,” she says. “There’s an underlying message in the book that goes beyond gardening and hints at certain life lessons that gardening can help children learn. I think like many important things in life, my kids have experienced that a garden is hard work and that it requires a ton of patience. Sometimes we do get to see something through from start to finish, like when a tiny seed becomes a whole head of lettuce, but equally often, something won’t grow quite right and we have to be okay with starting over.” When the plants thrive and the garden is in full bloom, Gaines enjoys strolling through it with her kids. “It’s so rewarding,” she says. “It’s like a beautiful symphony and everything seems to come together at just the right time. It makes all the hard work worth it.” Her favorite


plants in her garden are her roses, which offer her a bittersweet glimpse into the future. “They are so tough and hearty and truly the most beautiful and fragrant flower to me,” she says. “I love to think about how one day, long from now and likely after the kids are all grown, many of the same rose bushes we have now will still be growing in our garden.” Readers who aren’t experienced growers will appreciate how relatable the Gaines family is in We Are the Gardeners. The book reveals their cultivation hits as well as their misses. “There’s a story we share in the book about the time our first garden at the farm got wiped out by our chickens and goats,” Gaines says. “We had to completely start all over from scratch, but there was a good lesson in all of it, not only about how important it is to protect what we’re growing, but that there’s always something to learn, even in failure, and that we don’t have to be afraid or too frustrated to try something again.” The family has come a long way from the time Chip and the kids gifted Joanna with a fern, then killed it by overwatering. We Are the Gardeners shows just how much the Gaines family has grown together, literally and figuratively, and how they’ve come to harvest much more from their garden than what they’ve planted. “For me, it’s always been deeper than just growing flowers and veggies,” says Gaines. “The fern story is symbolic of the constant trial and error in the garden. It’s all a part of the learning experience. We’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years and there were a lot of times where we got frustrated and could’ve thrown in the towel and chosen other hobbies, but for some reason, the garden kept calling us back. And we still have a lot to learn from it.” For more information about Joanna Gaines and We Are the Gardeners, visit | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




Chris Van Dusen Brings Beloved Picture Book Characters to Life by Melissa Fales

The symbiotic duo of Chris Van Dusen and Kate DiCamillo are at it again. The illustrator/author team behind the widely popular Mercy Watson books has collaborated on a new porcine picture book, A Piglet Named Mercy (Candlewick Press), available in April. Nearly 15 years after the debut of Mercy Watson to the Rescue, readers will finally learn how the whole saga began. “It’s the backstory of how Mercy the piglet came to live with the Watsons,” says Van Dusen. “There has never been any explanation as to how this middle-aged couple came to have a pet pig and treat it like their daughter.”



A PIGLET NAMED MERCY. Text copyright © 2019 by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Chris Van Dusen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.



situation and asked if I needed an agent in order to get my manuscript on the desk of a legitimate publisher.” In reply, McPhail graciously wrote down his own agent’s contact information and urged Van Dusen to contact her. “I was shocked,” says Van Dusen. “What a lucky break!” The agent liked his book and a few tweaks later, Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee was published in 2000.

Long before he had ever heard of a little pig named Mercy or released any of the books he’s written and illustrated himself, Van Dusen was working as a magazine illustrator. “I had jobs for many kinds of magazines, but I noticed the illustrations I enjoyed doing the most were for the kids’ magazines,” he says. “I naturally gravitated towards those.” When Van Dusen noticed many of his peers were illustrating kids’ books, he decided to give it a try. “I came up with an idea for a story and I starting writing and illustrating it in my spare time,” he says. “It took several years before I thought I might have a chance of getting it published and even then, I still wasn’t sure.” Inexperienced but optimistic, Van Dusen placed calls to three of the top children’s publishers in the country about his book. “I decided I was going to go right to the top,” he says. “I talked to a few editors, sent my story in, and was instantly rejected by all three.” Van Dusen’s career might have stalled out right then and there had he not brought his sons to his local bookstore for a booksigning with children’s author David McPhail. “Luckily, I had the chance to talk with him,” says Van Dusen. “I told him my 12

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The Mr. Magee character has become a favorite for Van Dusen and his readers. “I think he works in a picture book because he’s basically a little kid in an adult body,” says Van Dusen. “He goes off and gets in trouble but he always ends up at home safe and sound. I like the character so much that I put him somewhere in each of the books I write and illustrate as an Easter egg.” Van Dusen intends to have a Mr. Magee book for each of the four seasons, which already includes A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee, published in 2003, and Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee, published in 2010. “I’m thinking about a fall story right now,” Van Dusen says.


Van Dusen was content writing and illustrating his own books when he was offered the opportunity to illustrate a children’s book by author Kate DiCamillo. “In some ways it’s a little easier for me to illustrate someone else’s book because the story is all set and I can just focus on the illustrations,” he says. “But in some ways it’s more challenging because you feel such a responsibility to get it right, especially for someone who writes as beautifully as Kate does. She’s such a rock star.” DiCamillo’s six Mercy Watson chapter books, the first of which debuted in 2005, feature full-color illustrations by Van Dusen. “The idea of having illustrations in full color as opposed to black and white was sort of groundbreaking at the time,” he says. “No one was doing that. It really stood out. I did roughly 50 illustrations per book. It makes for a smoother transition for kids who are ready to move on from picture books. I remember when I was a kid and I found going from picture books to chapter books was a real letdown.” Van Dusen also successfully collaborated


with DiCamillo on the four-book series, Tales from Deckawoo Drive, a spin-off of the Mercy Watson readers for a slightly older audience. The chance to work with DiCamillo again, and this time on a picture book, was a thrill for Van Dusen. “Kate has written a tender, emotionally-charged story about this couple looking for something to fulfill their lives,” he says. “It relies heavily on the illustrations.” When illustrating A Piglet Named Mercy, Van Dusen stayed true to the images from the original series. “Mercy, of course, looks very different,” he says. “She’s a roly-poly piglet with a head almost as big as her body. I really pumped up the cuteness factor here … and once I realized that the human characters needed to look younger, too, I had so much fun trying to capture their personalities as younger people.” In addition to his Mr. Magee books, Van Dusen has a number of others he’s written and illustrated, such as Hattie & Hudson and King Hugo’s Huge Ego. However, Van Dusen says The Circus Ship has been the most | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




well-received. “I’ve had so many kids tell me it’s their favorite book,” he says. It may sound like an unlikely premise for a children’s book, but The Circus Ship is very loosely based on a real-life tragedy that took place in 1836, just off the Maine coast, where a real circus steamship, The Royal Tar, was making its rounds. “It wasn’t a circus as we know them today with clowns and acrobats,” Van Dusen says. “It was mostly a menagerie of animals brought from place to place and put on display. People could come and gawk at the lions and tigers and elephants.” Horrifically, The Royal Tar had a boiler issue and caught fire. “There were lots of crazy stories circulating about how a tiger survived and somehow made it to land where it scared a woman on her way to church,” says Van Dusen. “One tale was about a farmer who went out to his barn one morning and found an

“In some ways it’s a little easier for me to illustrate someone else’s book because the story is all set and I can just focus on the illustrations. But in some ways it’s more challenging because you feel such a responsibility to get it right, especially for someone who writes as beautifully as Kate does. She’s such a rock star.”


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elephant in there. The reality is that the animals were being transported below deck in cages so it’s unlikely any of them survived.” In The Circus Ship, Van Dusen imagines what might happen if a ship transporting exotic animals ran aground. “All of these unusual creatures are showing up on an island and the people there don’t know where they are coming from,” he says. “At first the townspeople are annoyed by these animal intruders and get fed up with them eating their flowers. But the climax of the book is when the circus boss shows up and tries to round up the animals to put them back to work. The townspeople join together and come to the animals’ aid, disguising them so he can’t find them.”


Van Dusen devotes one of the book’s spreads to the comical scene of the unsympathetic circus boss scanning the village, scratching his head in disbelief that his animals have seemingly disappeared. “They’re all there, hiding in plain sight,” says Van Dusen. “Kids love that part. The circus boss can’t see them but the readers can. There’s a gorilla dressed as a man walking by. There’s a tiger blending in with a striped sheet on a clothesline. A bear, trained to ride a bike is pedaling by, dressed as a man. It’s a just a sweet story about friendship and a community coming together.” For more information about Chris Van Dusen and his books, visit | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader Most people know me as James Patterson, bestselling author. It’s a fair assessment—that’s certainly first and foremost how I got my reputation as a writer of adult thrillers and mysteries. But a lot less people think of me as a book publisher. In May of 2015, I launched my own children’s book imprint, JIMMY Patterson Books. I first had the idea many years ago, when my wife, Sue, and I were teaching my son, Jack, how to read. He had trouble connecting with the books he was reading, and it took some time for me to realize that he didn’t enjoy reading because he wasn’t reading books he enjoyed. That’s when I started writing my own children’s books. I started out with Maximum Ride, a bestselling, much beloved series about a girl with wings and her misfit gang of friends. People fell in love with Max Ride. In the events I’ve done over the years since the first book was released, countless young adults have come to me and expressed thanks for that series, because it turned them into readers. I firmly believe that there’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books. I continued to write books that I thought kids would enjoy, with the aim to turn reluctant readers into lifelong readers. My Middle School series has 11 books and counting—they’re funny, illustrated, and have a lot of heart. A lot of my middle grade books follow this model, because over the years, I’ve learned that this 16

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is what kids love. Kids will flock to these types of books over and over again, because they always deliver. Kids devour these books— whether they’re the books in my series, or similar successes, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, and Dogman. So when I launched my imprint, JIMMY Patterson Books, I knew that our goal would be to put books in the hands of kids who otherwise wouldn’t be seeking them. I wanted to instill a lifelong habit of reading in young children by creating books that would entertain them and educate them, however subtly. We want every kid who finishes a JIMMY book to say, “Please give me another book.” Because kids who read grow into informed adults—adults who are open to empathy, who like to learn, who care about their planet. In addition to writing books for my imprint, I also act as the publisher. People think it’s “simple” enough to write a book: you write the manuscript, get an agent, and the agent sells it to an editor at a publishing


house. But no one thinks about all the work, and the gigantic teams, time commitment, and resources that go into actually creating a physical book. There are editors, copyeditors, book cover designers, book interior designers, publicists, marketing experts, advertising gurus, sales directors, booksellers, production crews. Most of these people never get to experience the spotlight—they work behind the scenes to make people’s dreams come true. A lot of my job as publisher is to make decisions about every aspect of the publishing process. It’s up to me to decide what books we publish on our list. And after that, I give editorial notes, input on covers, copy, publicity and marketing plans, advertisements, sales figures. It’s up to me to make sure we publish great books and publish them well. I want every one of our JIMMY Books to be a bestseller. Yes, I have high expectations! But that’s because I know the greater the book is—the more page turning, exhilarating, pacey, entertaining it is—the more kids will want to read it. Everyone likes when something lives up to the hype. And I want to make sure that JIMMY books are delivering on our promise to

inspire kids to keep reading. As you can imagine, it’s no easy feat to run a company, a whole publishing imprint, and write books at the same time. It takes a lot of self-discipline. I spend my mornings writing, and save most of the decisionmaking for the afternoons. And I have a great team working for me—a team that understands my vision and believes in our mission. I think that with every child we turn into a lifelong reader, we’re succeeding. That’s why I started writing kids’ books to begin with, and that’s why I decided to become a publisher. I believe in making a difference in the world. That’s also why I have a thriving college scholarship program, and I frequently donate books to schools and to soldiers. I am proud every single day for what I do to support literacy in our country. And though I was technically an author first, being a publisher is one of my greatest achievements.

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author and most trusted storyteller with one unwavering goal: to turn kids into lifelong readers.

The world’s #1 bestselling author has teamed up with the world’s most famous genius to entertain, educate, and inspire a generation of kids with the first and only kids’ book series officially approved by the Albert Einstein Archives. | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




Juana Martinez-Neal and How She Got Her Caldecott by Melissa Fales

Juana Martinez-Neal recently received the Caldecott Honor and the Ezra Jack Keats Award Honor for the first book she wrote and illustrated, Alma and How She Got Her Name (Candlewick Press). Next, look for her illustrations in the soon-to-be-released Babymoon, written by Hayley Barrett. Both books feature Martinez-Neal’s award-winning, distinctive style and place her talent for working with textured paper on full display.


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ALMA AND HOW SHE GOT HER NAME. Copyright © 2018 by Juana Martinez-Neal. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.



“I don’t work directly on the surface of the paper,” she says. “I create layers. If you use too much texture, it gets heavy and distracts from the illustration. Too little defeats the whole purpose of using a texture. It took a lot of experimenting and guessing at first to get it right. There’s still a lot of playing involved and I never know exactly what’s going to happen.” Martinez-Neal was born in Peru to an artistic family. Her great-grandfather was a musician and music teacher. Her grandfather was a trailblazing oil painter. “He and a group of artists in Peru started a school of art there, and their main subject matter was the indigenous people of Peru,” she says. “This was very uncommon back then, in the 1920s and 1930s.” Martinez-Neal’s father was also a painter and often painted watercolors of native Peruvians. “It was always fascinating to me that they had completely different ways of approaching the same subject matter,” she says. As a teenager, Martinez-Neal helped her father with his freelance advertising practice. She recalls being tasked with creating drawings of young children to be printed on toy packaging for an important new account. “They were just commercial illustrations of children playing, but the toy company liked them,” she says. “That gave me some confidence in my artistic ability.” She planned to follow in her family’s footsteps and become a painter, too. She studied painting in school until she was blindsided by a teacher who flatly dismissed her work. “The teacher told me, ‘We like your colors and your brush strokes, but you are not a fine arts painter.’” Martinez-Neal says the teacher told her she wasn’t a painter but an illustrator and went on to suggest

that perhaps she could find work creating backdrops for theater companies. “I knew I didn’t want to do that,” she says. Dejected, Martinez-Neal was unsure of what to do next. “It was a huge problem to me,” she says. “In Peru in the early 1990s, there was no such thing as being an illustrator. Maybe there were some people doing cartoons for newspapers, but other than that there really was no such career. I needed to take a break and figure out what I was going to do.” She decided to take a year off from school and do some soul searching. Her parents suggested that she spend some time in Los

“The idea behind Alma is that inside, we each carry all of the people in our families who came before us and at the same time, each of us is our own unique person. I love that idea.” | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




Angeles with her uncle. “They wanted me to see what it was like to be an adult, not living with my parents,” she says. “They wanted me to go to L.A. and grow up, to see what it was like to have to do things on my own.” In 1995, Martinez-Neal moved to Los Angeles. “I knew my life wasn’t in Peru anymore,” she says. She spent 10 years getting adjusted to her new country and in the meantime, got married to an illustrator and had two children. When her husband found some of MartinezNeal’s drawings, he told her he thought she should pursue a career in illustrating children’s books. “They were just pen and ink on whatever yellow pad I had around the house,” she says. At first, Martinez-Neal dismissed his suggestions but after her second son was born, she started thinking that maybe he was right. Martinez-Neal started off by looking up “children’s book illustration” on the Internet. “The first hit I got was the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI),” she says. “I found out that there were all of these people working on making children’s books. I had no idea. I was totally clueless that this whole world existed.” Martinez-Neal joined the group and attended her first regional conference within a month.


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Invigorated, Martinez-Neal started seriously drawing again. “It was purely colored pencils in the beginning,” she says. “I had two little boys and I was afraid if I used oil paints, my sons would eat them.” She went on to illustrate two books written by author Susan M. Elya— La Madre Goose and La Princesa and the Pea—released in 2016 and 2017, respectively. La Princesa and the Pea was awarded the 2018 Pura Belpré Medal. In 2018, Martinez-Neal released Alma and How She Got Her Name, after she had carried around the idea for the book in her head for many years. “I got stuck so many times,” she says. “The story changed so many times. It was a challenge for me. My agent really encouraged me to finish it and I’m so grateful to her for that.” The soon-to-be-released Babymoon pairs MartinezNeal’s artwork with Hayley Barrett’s sweet story about the sacred days a family spends welcoming home a newborn baby and building a bond that will last a lifetime. Martinez-Neal says she’s extremely proud of her Peruvian heritage and was delighted to release the Spanish version of Alma and How She Got Her Name on the same day as the English version.



“Sometimes, a non-English version of a book is done by a translator, but in this case, I wrote both editions,” she says, adding that while there are more and more simultaneous releases of English and non-English book versions happening today, it’s still not the norm. Alma is about a little girl whose parents gave her six names in honor of various family members. Over the course of the book, Alma learns about each of her namesakes. “The idea behind Alma is that inside, we each carry all of the people in our families who came before us and at the same time, each of us is our own unique person,” says MartinezNeal. “I love that idea.” Martinez-Neal closes the book with two openended questions for families to discuss. “The most important thing about the book to me isn’t the story, but what happens after you read it,” she says. “Alma is just the door. It’s a way to start the conversation about identity for parents, grandparents, teachers, whoever is reading the book with a child. It’s an invitation for people to tell their own stories.” For more information about Juana Martinez-Neal and her books, visit

photo by Jade Beall

BABYMOON. Text copyright © 2019 by Hayley Barrett. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Juana Martinez-Neal. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA. | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink



Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 | | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




David Cole Makes Math Fun in New Chapter Book Series by Melissa Fales

David Cole is a numbers guy. He has taught collegelevel math, ran a math-themed summer camp, and regularly coaches competitive, elementary school math teams. He recently added a children’s book to his long list of math-related achievements when the first title in his new series, The Math Kids: The PrimeTime Burglars (Common Deer Press), was released in December 2018. His next book, The Math Kids: A Sequence of Events, will be released in May. “The idea is just to get kids reading,” says Cole. “These books can be enjoyed by all kids. Even those who don’t exactly love math will still enjoy the story. I don’t beat the readers over the head with the math. I don’t want these books to be textbooks. My goals in writing exciting mysteries are for kids to have fun and to learn a little math at the same time, in that order.” 26

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Cole has always been interested in mathematics, and he’s often dabbled in writing and is an accomplished playwright who’s had a number of his plays performed. “As much as I’ve always enjoyed anything relating to math or computer science or mechanical engineering, I’ve always had a creative side as well,” says Cole. “I like to exercise both sides of my head.” During the several years he led a math-themed summer camp, Cole came to the realization that he had a knack for getting kids to look at math differently, and an uncanny gift for converting reluctant math students into math fans. “On the first day of camp that first year, we asked the kids for a show of hands of how many were there because their parents made them go,” says Cole. “And 100 percent of the hands went up.” The next year, Cole posed the same question to a camper



population that was comprised of roughly 60 percent of returning students. Only the new students raised their hands. “By the third year, we had to turn people away because we had so many kids who wanted to come to the camp,” Cole says. One of the tactics Cole used to get his campers interested in math was writing stories that weren’t about math, but included math. “I made up a story about kids who use prime numbers to solve a mystery,” says Cole. “The Math Kids: The Prime-Time Burglars is an expanded version of a story I had used at the camp.” The Prime-Time Burglars follows advanced-math students, Jordan, Justin, and Stephanie, who form a club based on their shared talent for and interest in math. Soon it becomes clear that their club will be solving more than math problems as they work together using their knowledge of prime numbers to discover the culprits of the mysterious burglaries that have been plaguing their neighborhood. In May, Cole’s second book in the series will be released. The Math Kids: A Sequence of Events, is about the Fibonacci Sequence. “The Fibonacci Sequence is a very cool pattern found in nature,” says Cole. “Nature uses this pattern to build things, such as the petals on a flower and the seed pods on a pinecone. Again, the

story serves as a way of getting kids to look at math differently rather than just a bunch of numbers.” A Sequence of Events introduces a new character, Catherine. “My daughter had chastised me for having two boys and only one girl as main characters in the | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




“These books can be enjoyed by all kids. Even those who don’t exactly love math will still enjoy the story. I don’t beat the readers over the head with the math. I don’t want these books to be textbooks. My goals in writing exciting mysteries are for kids to have fun and to learn a little math at the same time, in that order.”

first book,” explains Cole. “Catherine plays an integral role in the story. Her father, a math professor, is kidnapped and the clue he leaves behind uses the Fibonacci Sequence. The Math Kids have to work together in order to rescue him.” The third book in the series, The Math Kids: An Unusual Pattern, is due out in October. “This one is about the 28

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concept of Pi,” says Cole. “And of course Pi is unusual in that it does not have a pattern.” There are more Math Kids books in the pipeline for Cole, each designed to teach a different math concept. He says he has plenty of ideas, and the math students he coaches are eager to provide their feedback and suggestions for future books. “Almost all of the kids



I coach have read The Math Kids: The Prime-Time Burglars,” says Cole. “They want more stories, so I guess that means I’ve hit the mark. “Each book also includes an appendix in the back for kids who want to learn more about the concepts addressed in the book. “In that way, The Math Kids books are customizable,” says Cole. “Kids can choose how much math they want to read about. They can just read the story, or they can explore the topics further by using the appendix.” Cole’s books are complemented with discussion guides to assist teachers with using The Math Kids in their classrooms. Not surprisingly, reception from teachers for this series’ ability to get students thinking about math in a whole new way has been overwhelmingly positive. “I think it’s great that teachers like my books, but the kids’ response to the books has been far more exciting to me,” Cole says. He was particularly flattered when he heard from some children who started a math club at their school after reading The Part-Time Burglars. “They asked me if it was ok if they called their club, The Math Kids,” he says. “What a compliment.” For more information about David Cole and his books, visit

Giveaway Celebrate Math Month and enter to win a copy of The Math Kids: The Prime-Time Burglars! Email and be sure to put “giveaway” in the subject line. Include your name and mailing address. One entry per person. Three (3) winners will be notified by email on April 15. (U.S. residents only). Sponsored by Common Deer Press. | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




Diane Magras Adds Girl Power to Middle Grade Adventure Series by Melissa Fales

Diane Magras’s book The Mad Wolf ’s Daughter follows an irresistibly irrepressible lass on a journey through medieval Scotland to save her family. Magras says she intentionally created 12-year-old Drest as the antithesis of the vapid girls usually portrayed in the adventure stories she read growing up, which typically showcased a young, male hero. “She’s the kid I needed to read about when I was 12,” says Magras.


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“I grew up feeling frustrated with being a girl and seeing the way girls were portrayed in the books I read, utterly weak and only there to be rescued. I wanted to be powerful. Drest is powerful.” Drest returns in Magras’s newest book, The Hunt for the Mad Wolf ’s Daughter (Kathy Dawson Books). Magras began writing books at a young age. “I wrote my first novel at 14 in response to a challenge from my seventh-grade teacher,” says Magras. Years later, she was surprised and inspired by the middle grade books her son was reading. “When I started looking at them, I was hooked,” she says. “I thought they were so much fun. I was surprised at the depth they had. I realized I wanted to write something for that age group.” The result was The Mad Wolf ’s Daughter, a New York Times Editors’ Choice book. It follows young Drest, whose life is changed forever when her village is invaded and her father and five brothers are captured. It’s up to this young warrior to rescue her family from a heavily-guarded castle where they’re being kept, awaiting execution. Magras describes The Hunt for the Mad Wolf ’s Daughter as a companion to The Mad Wolf ’s Daughter. “It’s meant to be a standalone and can be read independently, but follows the story from the first book very closely,” she says. “It begins literally two hours after the last book ended.” In it, Drest learns that there’s a price upon her head for all she’s done in her efforts to save her family from certain death. When she finished writing The Hunt for the Mad Wolf ’s Daughter, Magras found herself with even more respect for Drest and her accomplishments. “I didn’t quite appreciate some things about my own character when I was writing her,” she says. “She’s like a Marine. She has incredible physical endurance, especially in one scene where she’s climbing a cliff. I did some research in rock climbing to make sure the things she does in the book are humanly possible.” Magras also realized that Drest has a high inner moral code. “She rushes into danger again and again to do what’s right,” she says. “She takes incredible risks based on what she thinks she should do in that situation. Her intentions are always good.”

Writing about Drest was effortless for Magras. “Her voice was always so clear in my mind,” she says. “I’m a cautious person, so I certainly took some pleasure in writing a character that does everything with confidence, utterly sure she will succeed.” Magras thinks readers will enjoy watching Drest approach any challenge with such self-assurance. “Confidence is a big problem for so many kids these days, especially within the age group for this book,” she says. “I hope it’s inspiring to them to have a model of someone their age with such unbounded confidence, who, when she fails, gets back up again and again until she succeeds.” Magras believes she’s found her niche. “I love writing for this age group,” she says. “It’s so fulfilling. It gives me the chance to think about the 12-year-old I once was. I liked medieval stuff when I was 12, but it was mostly about royals. Today, I’m really into discovering the voices of people whose stories aren’t told. The rural people. The woman. Those are the ones that really interest me now.” In The Hunt for the Mad Wolf ’s Daughter, Magras further explores what life was like in medieval Europe through two resilient female characters and their interactions with men. “Drest has evolved into this girl with a sword and this uber-masculine, medieval family who utterly supports her and believes in her,” says Magras. “The Mad Wolf and his war band are ferocious | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




to outsiders but loving and kind to each other. When they have moments of doubt about Drest, it’s only due to her youth, never her gender.” Magras says one of her favorite characters in The Hunt for the Mad Wolf ’s Daughter is Lady de Moys, the noblewoman Drest seeks out for help. “She’s the most powerful character in this book,” says Magras. “She commands two immense armies. She’s not someone you’d mess with. It was fun to write that character and it was really important for me to show a strong, medieval woman.” Magras says it’s crucial for her that the medieval world she’s depicting is historically accurate. “I like having

It’s important to me that my characters are wearing the right clothes and eating the right things.” Magras says her books have numerous themes and conversation points that make them a natural addition to a middle grade classroom unit. However, she acknowledges that kids aren’t necessarily always looking for something thought-provoking. “What I want readers to know about these stories about Drest is that you can go in deep, or you can read them quickly,” she says. “I think there’s equal value there. I love the idea of kids wanting to explore the different topics within the books, but I know that for a lot of kids, after a tough day

“She’s the kid I needed to read about when I was 12. I grew up feeling frustrated with being a girl and seeing the way girls were portrayed in the books I read, utterly weak and only there to be rescued. I wanted to be powerful. Drest is powerful.” an excuse to do a lot of research,” she says, research that includes trips to Scotland to see for herself where Drest’s journey takes place. “I’ve had a lot of teachers tell me that The Mad Wolf ’s Daughter feels like fantasy,” Magras says. “I’m happy to hear that. I build my worlds in the same way that fantasy writers build theirs, except mine are based on historical fact.


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of school, they just want to read something enjoyable. Sometimes kids just want to get lost in a good book. That’s what I hope they find in these stories about Drest. I believe in the value of escape.” For more information about Diane Magras and her books, visit | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




Joseph Goodrich Wins Story Monsters Approved Book of the Year by Melissa Fales


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k o f t h e Ye


of study,” he says. “Once I tapped into that potential, there was nothing stopping me. I fell in love with academia. I basically went to college for almost 19 years straight.” Goodrich enjoyed being a student so much, he recently earned his doctoral degree in Education from Northeastern University. At Northeastern, Goodrich first learned about emotional intelligence and mindfulness. Researching for his dissertation, he discovered an undeniable link between emotional intelligence in children and their future success. “Individual performance, no matter if child or adult, is profoundly affected by the individual’s level of emotional intelligence and their ability to deal with their emotions in various situations,” he says. Goodrich discovered a dearth of literature for children about emotional intelligence. “There are many books steered towards parents,” he says. “There are books for adults to read about teaching kids about emotional intelligence, but I couldn’t find anything that teaches this subject directly to children.”

Joseph Goodrich’s debut book helps children understand the different feelings we all experience and offers them effective, age-appropriate strategies to manage their emotions. Recently named the Story Monsters Approved Book of the Year, Ellie’s Emotional Dragons has received accolades and positive reviews since its November 2018 release by Wisdom House Books. Goodrich says he never dreamed Ellie’s Emotional Dragons would receive this much attention. “I literally wrote this book for my two kids,” he says. “It was not meant for the masses. I didn’t set out to write it for the public, but I’m so glad and so grateful that it’s been so well-received.” Goodrich says he’s always wanted to write a book, no matter how unlikely that might have seemed when he was younger. “I wasn’t the greatest student in high school,” he admits. “I had a ton of potential, but I didn’t know how to tap into it and I was bored. I lacked direction.” Immediately after graduation, Goodrich enlisted in the Marine Corps. “I knew that I needed to get some discipline in my life and I definitely received it,” he says. During his second year as a Marine, Goodrich started taking college classes. “I was finally ready for that level

Over the course of his 20 years in military service, Goodrich has seen what can happen when adults are unable to manage their emotions. “As Marines, we deal with tough issues like suicide, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and spousal abuse, due to the high stress nature of the job,” he says. Goodrich says military families in particular are affected by frequent moves and long separations due to deployment that can bring up many complex emotions. He believes that teaching children how to control their feelings at a young age will better prepare them to face whatever challenges they’ll face later on in life. Goodrich was on the road for his job as a Marine Corps pilot, sleeping in a hotel when an idea came to him in the middle of the night. “I have OCD, so I couldn’t go back to sleep until I got up and wrote it all down,” he says. “I just kept writing and writing. Between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. I wrote about 90 percent of Ellie’s Emotional Dragons.” The book follows Ellie, a young elephant, whose family has just moved to a new home. Not surprisingly, she has mixed feelings about having to adjust to a new place and sometimes she feels sad, mad, scared, and happy. “As she goes through her day, the dragons come to help her get through the difficult moments,” says Goodrich. “Each dragon is a different color and represents a | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




Goodrich admits he was surprised by the steep learning curve for writing a children’s book. “I think a lot of people don’t understand that when you self-publish, it’s a huge commitment, both time-wise and financially,” he says. “If people are going to get into writing children’s books, I suggest that they definitely do their research. Talk to lots of people. Join the SCWBI. Read Story Monsters Ink. Learn as much as you can about the business. You can spend a lot of time and money and get nowhere if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“For my own kids to like it, that was the test. But to have other kids saying how much they like the book, that’s just the best feeling in the world.”

specific feeling. They give her advice and help her manage how she’s feeling. There are even some tips on mindfulness meditation to get kids starting to think about steps they can take to help control how they feel.” Initially, Goodrich saw the story he drafted during those predawn hours as a book he would write for his two sons. He began working on the project, keeping it a secret from his family. “I wanted to surprise my wife and kids with the finished product,” he says. Goodrich started researching how to publish a kids’ book. “Finding the right illustrator for Ellie’s Emotional Dragons was the key,” says Goodrich. “I wanted something very colorful that would flow across the pages.” Through the website for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Goodrich connected with Traci Van Wagoner. “I was almost in tears the first time I saw her illustrations for the book because she nailed it,” he says. 36

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Already, Goodrich has been bombarded with requests for a second book about Ellie, which he is currently working on. “It’s going to be a series,” he says. “The next book is about Ellie going to school and being bullied.” Goodrich also has another series planned designed to help kids learn emotional intelligence skills. “It’s a totally different type of book,” he says. Goodrich says he’s still almost in disbelief when parents send him photos of their kids reading Ellie’s Emotional Dragons, or tell him that the book is their son or daughter’s favorite. “Sometimes I just think, Wow, Traci and I did that,” he says. “For my own kids to like it, that was the test. But to have other kids saying how much they like the book, that’s just the best feeling in the world.” For more information about Joseph Goodrich and Ellie’s Emotional Dragons, visit


FEATURE | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




Ones to Watch:

Bianca and Chiara D’Ambrosio by Melissa Fales photo by Ricky Middlesworth

Talented 13-year-old twins Bianca and Chiara D’Ambrosio got their start in show business when they were just toddlers. Now they’re accomplished actresses, models, and musicians with fans eager to follow their every move. Thanks to the twins’ Young Entertainer Award-nominated YouTube series A Day in the Life, they can.

“A Day in the Life is a weekly vlog where we take our viewers behind the scenes on sets, on travels, award shows, and our crazy, fun life,” says Chiara. “It gives our followers a personal look at our endeavors and adventures,” adds Bianca. Born into an extended family that currently boasts six sets of twins, the D’Ambrosios grew up in Los Angeles. Their first big break came when they landed the role of Summer Newman on the longtime soap The Young and the Restless, and took turns playing the part. “I had so much fun on the set and fell in love with acting and kept pursuing it after that,” says Bianca. The experience was also positive for Chiara. “The first time I was on set and in front of a camera, I fell in love with it and haven’t turned back since,” she says. Over the decade that’s elapsed since they made their acting debut, the D’Ambrosio twins have appeared in 38

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commercials and in several rock videos like Famer’s Daughter by Crystal Bowersox and What Do You Got by Bon Jovi. You’ve also seen one or both of them on hit shows such as Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn, The Closer, Criminal Minds, and Parks and Recreation. The twins have joined the YouTube channel Squared where they post videos every Thursday. After watching Miley Cyrus performing as Hannah Montana, the two developed an interest in music. “We used to listen to Hannah Montana and aspired to be like her,” says Bianca. “That’s when we started taking guitar, piano, drum, and singing lessons,” says Chiara. All of those lessons paid off, with the twins having released numerous musical tracks. They also have an album called Got You Covered which is comprised entirely of cover songs. The album includes songs by a wide variety of artists including The Clash, Twenty One Pilots, The Ramones, Bay





City Rollers, and Weezer, giving the sisters a chance to show off their substantial guitar and drum prowess. Their most recently released tune was Young and Free, written by Marko DeSantis of the rock band Sugarcult. Although the girls have recently stepped away from music in order to focus on their acting careers, they’re hoping to be in the recording studio this summer and able to offer their fans some new music soon. Bianca and Chiara have starring roles in the new TigerBeat original TV series Sage Alexander: The Dark Realm. It’s a dark story about a teen who must fight the seven princes of hell in order to save mankind. “When we filmed, we had a blast with Brooke Butler (Leah) and Hayden Summerall (Sage Alexander),” says Bianca. “We can’t wait to film with them again soon.” Chiara said working on set was like a friendly reunion. “It was super fun because I knew Hayden and Brooke from previous events and I also got to work with some cool new actors as well.” Keep your eyes out for the D’Ambrosio twins to appear on the big screen soon. They recently finished filming a movie and have another one set to start filming this spring. More than just two identically pretty faces, the D’Ambrosios make charity work a priority and find time in their busy schedules to give back through

“Chiara and I try to set a good example on social media. We like being positive role models for our followers.” community service. They proudly serve as youth ambassadors for the Boo2Bullying Organization and even created a song and music video about standing up to bullying, called Let Your Light Shine. In 2013, it won a Gracie Allen Award for Outstanding Viral Video. Bullying is a topic that hits close to home for the twins. “We faced bullies when we were younger and wanted to help out other kids,” says Bianca. “We wanted to let kids who are being bullied know that there is always someone to help and it always gets better,” adds Chiara. The twins urge their fans to let an adult know if someone is bullying them. “When I was bullied, I always told an adult or talked to my friends about it,” says Bianca. “I try to let the person being bullied know that they can always find help and don’t be afraid to tell an adult,” says Chiara. “In real life and online, Bianca and I always try to spread positivity to our family, friends, and viewers.”


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The girls acknowledge that they’re lucky to have each other when times get tough. “I love having a person to always talk to and having a forever best friend,” says Bianca. “My sister is my best friend and I am happy to have someone always by my side,” says Chiara. The D’Ambrosios are aware that many impressionable young women are looking up to them and they take their status as role models seriously. “Chiara and I try to set a good example on social media,” says Bianca. “We like being positive role models for our followers.” Their message to their fans is simple, yet heartfelt: “Keep pursuing your dreams even if you think they’re far out of reach,” says Bianca. “Always dream big,” says Chiara. Find Bianca on IG @therealbiancad and follow Chiara @therealchiarad! Follow both girls on Instagram and YouTube @dambrosiotwins and visit their website | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink



Sherrie Todd-Beshore

One to Read:

Sherrie Todd-Beshore by Melissa Fales

Sherrie Todd-Beshore is an author who doesn’t believe in limiting herself to just one genre or reading audience. From her start in journalism to the mystery-thrillers she writes for adults to the fantasy world she creates in The Crow Child to her popular middle grade Mosquito Creek Detective Club series (Patchwork Publishing), her work deftly glides between different types of writing. Generating ideas has never been a problem for Todd-Beshore, whose many interests provide enough inspiration to keep her in a state of constant creativity. “I’m very fortunate in that I get ideas just going about my daily life,” she says. “I almost always have some plot idea in my head. I have trouble writing fast enough. I must be tuning into some sort of radio waves.” 42

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Todd-Beshore got her start in writing as the editor of her high school newspaper. She went on to pursue a career in journalism that spanned 20 years, including magazines, newspapers, and freelance work. In 2003, she released her first book, Blended Not Shaken: Life in Our Stepfamilies: Issues and Resolutions, an offshoot of a series of columns Todd-Beshore wrote for the Denver Post. The columns were about the ups and downs of the blended family of five children she and her husband created when they married in 1990. “People liked the columns because they were humorous and because they were real,” says Todd-Beshore. “There were a lot of people who could relate to the things that happened in our family.” People started writing in to the newspaper

Sherrie Todd-Beshore


“I like to merge fact with my fiction. All of my books require some level of research, some more than others.”

asking if Todd-Beshore had a book and if so, where they could purchase a copy. Years later, in 2015, ToddBeshore would release an updated version of the book, called Another-Blended Not Shaken: Remarriage, After Divorce, With Children. In 2006, Todd-Beshore gave up her thriving freelance career to focus on writing fiction. Devoting herself to her craft gave her the time needed to do the intensive research she prides herself on, allowing her to pepper her prose with historical elements. “I like to merge fact with my fiction,” she says. “All of my books require some level of research, some more than others.” Todd-Beshore’s adult mysteries include 24 Sussex Drive, Behind the Sun, and The Count of Baldpate, which is a good example of her knack for gleaning clever story ideas from the things that happen in her everyday life. “I was in my car listening to an NPR program about the educational options of girls in Africa,” says ToddBeshore. “It got me thinking, Why is half of the world’s population still being kept off to one side?” The Count of Baldpate starts with a murder, and the clues that are uncovered regarding a motive and a suspect tie into the women’s suffrage movement and a time way back in history when a culture of women ruled the world. Todd-Beshore explores a different kind of culture in The Crow Child trilogy. The story is about Elijah, an orphaned Native American boy just days away from his 13th birthday. “His grandfather knows about an ancient Native American legend about The Crow Child and he starts watching his grandson for signs that this legend is coming true in him,” says Todd-Beshore. “Elijah has

Cystic Fibrosis and struggles with health issues, but as he evolves into The Crow Child, he discovers his unique powers and uses them to help others.” Due to popular demand, Todd-Beshore expanded the story of The Crow Child. “It was supposed to be one little book, and then I wrote two others,” she says. “It’s a trilogy in one book. I only intended to write the one, but people kept asking if there were more. It’s exactly what happened with the Mosquito Creek Detective Club books. There were going to be only four, but now there are seven.” The Mosquito Creek Detective Club series started off as a story for adults. “It was based on a friend of mine who became a rural school teacher and all of her funny classroom escapades,” Todd-Beshore says. “But when I started working on the first book, Mosquito Creek Inn, somehow the teacher just faded away into the shadows and the ensemble of kids took over.” The Mosquito Creek Detective Club takes place in a small Montana town. The club is comprised of three girls and four boys from different walks of life and different cultures who use their wits to solve mysteries. As the series progresses, the children grow before the readers’ eyes as the stories unfold over the course of four years. “Life isn’t static,” says Todd-Beshore. “It’s always moving. I wanted to portray that. It was great fun for me to imagine how they would grow and change.” Todd-Beshore chose the characters’ nationalities based on those who settled in Montana historically. “So, readers learn about that as part of the plot,” she says. “These books have a little history, a little math, a | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink



Sherrie Todd-Beshore

little science, and other elements that come into play. Readers will learn something, but they won’t be hit over the head with it.” One of the regulars appearing in The Mosquito Creek Detective Club is a character with Down syndrome. “I grew up in a town where there was a school for people with Down syndrome,” she says. “They lived at the school and they were truly a part of our town. They worked everywhere—in the stores and dry cleaners and barber shop. I always found them so loving and insightful in ways you wouldn’t expect. I just didn’t see them being represented in other books for kids and I’m a sucker for marginalized folks. So when I created the character of Philip Peters, I made sure he was portrayed as just a natural part of the town.” One thing noticeably missing from the kids’ lives in the Mosquito Creek Detective Club books are the smartphones and other modern gadgets ubiquitous


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in today’s society. “Technology is so overwhelming,” Todd-Beshore says. “I deliberately set the books in a time before the Internet became standard. These kids use other ways to do their sleuthing and solve these mysteries. Readers will find them riding horses, building go-carts, and going canoeing.” Todd-Beshore says she’s been delighted to hear from readers that her Mosquito Creek Detective Club series is bringing families together. “I’ve even heard that the books have sparked some competition between parents and kids as to who can guess the answer to the mystery first,” she says. “Parents tell me they’re using my books to initiate dialogue with their children. They’re the type of stories the whole family can enjoy and they’re using them as a bridge to talk with their kids. It makes me so glad that I wrote them.” For more information about Sherrie Todd-Beshore and her books, visit | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink




Mailbox Most of the physical mail waiting for me on my kitchen counter when I get home from work is pretty boring stuff: bills which I haven’t yet converted to digital payment options; colorful airbag recall notices from Ford or Subaru; coupon booklets offering discounts at local businesses; and weekly copies of The Montclair Times and Montclair Local newspapers. But at work, my “snail mail” (which I am convinced got its name from Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Are Friends—see the story called “The Letter”) is much more interesting. Just this week, I got a packet of letters from a first grade class in California who read Meet the Bobs and Tweets, written by my pseudonymous alter ego, Pepper Springfield. These letters were beautifully written, well-thought-out, and many were even illustrated. The students explain in their letters why they are messy like a Bob or more fastidious like a Tweet (or some of both).

Sometimes the letters I get at work are less glowing but equally important. Seven-year-old Charlie Theimer was working hard on a Fly Guy workbook he purchased from Scholastic Book Clubs and came across an error in the printed book. He ignored the adults in his life who told him to stop making excuses and insisted his dad pay close attention. Sure enough, Charlie was right: the error was ours. We created a special edition of the Fly Guy workbook to demonstrate to Charlie how grateful we are to him for finding this error so we could correct it for future readers. My good friend, bestselling author Jerry Pallotta, is on the road 100 days a year, visiting schools and inspiring and entertaining kids (and teachers) with his Who Would Win? series. Who Would Win? has more than 11 million copies in print and each year, Jerry gets hundreds of requests to visit schools in small towns and larger cities all across the country.

Well-written and beautifully crafted letters. Special thanks to Nancy Osterkamp’s first grade class!


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Jerry sends me inspiring and entertaining postcards from everywhere he travels. He is also inspired by the thousands of printed snail mail fan letters he gets from kids. He sends me copies of some of them as well. Recently, he started reading these letters WATCH out loud on his YouTube channel in a series VIDEO called Fan Mail Sundays. I understand we live in a digital world and most of the time, I live there, too. But it is still pretty lovely—and very inspiring—to receive hard copy letters from kids (or postcards from kid-like authors!) who take the time and creative energy to express themselves on paper and give me something I can read and reread and hang up in my office with pride. Because I know these letters come from the heart.

Judy Newman is President and Reader-in-Chief of Scholastic Book Clubs. For more information, visit The special edition reads: “Edited by Charlie Theimer.”

Some postcards from Jerry’s travels.


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Teaching Toolbox:

A Surprise on Every Page by Larissa Juliano

Reading books is already a wonderful, interactive, and sensory-igniting experience—visualizing what the author is writing, noticing and touching the illustrations, wondering and questioning parts of a story, making inferences, and simply giggling over funny and special parts. No matter how old you are, reading is the one of the most wonderful pleasures in life, and for many of our youngest readers, it begins with board books, lift-the-flap books, and books that sing and sparkle. I have recently discovered some exceptional interactive books that children will surely love. The lift-the-flap experience is something that authors and publishers have been doing for years. There is a reason that Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell is one of the highest-selling children’s books over the past 30+ years! Anything with animals or babies are always surefire hits, and Karen Katz also continues to dazzle readers with her adorable rhyming books that have become favorites in my household. What makes a flap so fun is the surprise and anticipation, for both the reader and the sweet little one being read to. I recently re-discovered the lift-the-flap books with the beloved dog, Spot, and my 2- and 4-year-olds were enthralled. Plus, the decodable text is also perfect


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for my kindergartener who is starting to blend her sounds and read words. Even better! I’ve also been enjoying the wide range of lift-theflap books by Clever Publishing and was inspired by some of their titles for ideas in my own classroom. They have a series called Clever Questions and these sturdy board books are sprinkled with flaps across richly colored illustrations/fact boxes about different science-themed topics—nature, transportation, geography, animals, and more! We learned so much new information about things like polar circles, tropics, and subtropics, but in an easy-to-understand text and a wonderfully interactive way. These beautiful books by seasoned and new authors completely inspired me to have my students create some of their own lift-the-flap books! With some scissors and tape, we have made our own ‘peek-a-boo’ word stories using their sight words, animals, rhyming words, and emphasizing character dialogue, to name a few. You can use paper to cover these secret words or pictures, or even small pieces of felt. It is also a wonderful tool to get readers to make predictions about what the flap will reveal! This animal likes to “moo” and then peek-a-boo! A cow is revealed underneath.


My students just delight in making these fun word and picture-packed stories. A simple Internet search will give you dozens of ideas on how to make these fun, engaging, and special keepsakes for your readers. They have truly been one of my more favorite projects and my students feel a deep sense of pride as they tape the flaps over their pictures/ words and think about sharing these special treasures with their families.

What are some of your favorite lift-the-flap books? Share some of them with us at Story Monsters Ink! Email them or tweet about them using the #teachingtoolbox. Have fun reading and creating!


Larissa Juliano is an elementary school teacher, reading specialist, and children’s book author. Follow her on Twitter @larissasjuliano or visit | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink



LIST I Think I Can

by Karen S. Robbins Designed to be read with a buddy, this dialogue between an aardvark and a mouse contains only kindergarten or first-grade words, making it a unique beginner’s book. Sentences are short, with lots of repetition for reinforcement and to build reading confidence. This story encourages beginning readers to believe in themselves. They will want to read it over and over again, and will be proud to say “I can read!”

Meet Odie (A Paw Smart Book)

by D.S. Provance Do your children know why dogs sniff, bees buzz, or lizards shed skin? Narrated by a dog, Paw Smart books by D.S. Provance provide fascinating facts about dogs, other animals, and plants. In Meet Odie, Odie helps children understand dogs. In Odie Explores, he shares his joy of exploring. Both lighthearted books contain photographs and a glossary that a reviewer said “will put a smile on your face and help your child expand their vocabulary.”

Muffin’s Shadow: A Muffin “Tail”

by Laura W. Eckroat When Dad pulled into the parking lot, Muffin became a little nervous, because this was somewhere new. The place was big, like a giant maze, and her eyes hadn’t adjusted to the bright lights. Then suddenly, she saw it, for the very first time ... her SHADOW! It seemed to follow her everywhere. She kept moving, but the shadow chased her! What was the shadow, and will Muffin get free of it? Just right for ages 5-8, the book is wonderful for classroom and humane education, too.


Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 |

Bobby and the Monsters

by Marie Blaire One evening Bobby confessed that he is afraid to sleep alone in his room. Bobby’s mom treats with an understanding of his feelings and peculiarly calms him. She makes up a story that makes her son smile and ready to sleep. Bobby and the Monsters is a fun and charming book with rich rhymes and delightful illustrations. It will have your little ones giggling and leave them ready for peaceful dreams.

Spencer’s Adventure: An Unexpected Friend

by Jacquelyn K. Francis Spencer is going to his first day of school and thinks all the little boys and girls are just like him. However, he is in for a surprise when he realizes that each and every person is an individual and special in his or her own way. A book that explores ethnicities and cultural backgrounds in a fun and wholesome way. Sure to be fun for the whole family.

Gracie Lou

by Larissa Juliano Gracie Lou is bored. And lonely. What is a little girl to do when there’s nowhere to go and no one to play with? Wish upon a star! As Gracie Lou travels through the starry sky to magical lands, she experiences exciting and whimsical adventures that ignite all her five senses. Readers will delight in the vivacity of Gracie Lou’s imagination (or is it?) as they anticipate where the curly-haired cutie will head to next.


I See the Sun series

by Satya House Explore the world! Life in different countries seen from a child’s point of view. Each bilingual picture book in this award-winning series focuses on one country and one day in the life of one child with a story told from the child’s perspective. Learn about different cultures, family life, and language in a way that is sensitive to each culture. Age-appropriate (5+) country facts and a glossary for extended learning are included in each book. NEW in 2019: I See the Sun in India. Other titles are I See the Sun in. . .USA, Mexico, China, Nepal, Afghanistan, Russia, Turkey, and Myanmar (Burma).

The Magical Journey of Bob Crane

by Karen Nicksich The Magical Journey of Bob Crane is a story about the annual migration of Sandhill Cranes that fly through Washington State in early March. Bob is a member of the B.B.A., better known as the Best Bird Academy. His mission is to find a way to thank the birds that live in the wetland for sharing their environment. Join Bob on a magical journey of how he helps the birds and brings magic into his life.

Earth Angels: A Documentary about Specially-abled Children

by Karen Nicksich Earth Angels is a story about the love between specially-abled children and their families. The book contains nine narratives of families that share their journey with children with above-average needs. This book is intended for any college student going into education, social work, or counseling. The reader will learn how special these children are. It is dedicated to my daughter Rachel who was born with Ecto Dermal Dysplasia.

Oliver’s Adventure: A First Visit to the Eye Doctor

by Karen Nicksich This is the story of Oliver, a cheerful and curious little bluebird. Oliver is looking forward to starting school in two weeks.He will be attending the Bird Life Academy. Oliver receives a letter from his new teacher and he has trouble reading the letters. Let’s join Oliver and his mother on their first adventure to the eye doctor before school begins!

Adventures in Boogieland

How Do I Know God Loves Me?

by Melanie Richardson Dundy A wonderful introduction to spirituality. This book, which received a two-page positive review in the International Journal of Children’s Spirituality, is a tool for busy parents striving to raise happy kids who love and respect God, themselves, and the world in which they live. It delivers an uplifting and powerful message to young readers by speaking directly to them, assuring them God is always with them providing love and support. Includes a chapter devoted to dealing with bullies.

by A.R. Bey Arcadia seemed to be an ordinary town for Simon X, who wanted nothing more than to become the best trumpeter ever. After auditioning for the prestigious Bartholomew Performing Arts Academy, he and his classmates Lulu DeBarge, the harpist, Krupa Patel, the violinist, and Maxwell Winehouse, the saxophonist, find themselves in Boogieland. Led by the eccentric Madame Charisma Divine and the wonder of her ways, will the children overcome their fears to unleash the music within? | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink



Addie Slaughter: The Girl Who Met Geronimo

by Susan L. Krueger, ED.D, Reba Wells Grandrud Ph.D. This adventurous, sometimes heartbreaking story tells of Addie Slaughter’s trek across the Wild West from Texas to Arizona to Oregon, eventually settling on the Slaughter Ranch near the Arizona-Mexico border. Along the way, her mother dies, she narrowly escapes a stagecoach robbery, her grandfather is rescued when their adobe ranch buildings collapse in an earthquake, her father’s earlobe is shot off, and Addie meets Geronimo.

Rusty and the Circus of Doubt

by G. Russell Reynolds With a message for all ages, Rusty is a must read! This beautifully written and illustrated, awardwinning book focuses on Rusty, a young elephant and his journey of self-discovery and empowerment through the Circus of Doubt. Life Coach and author G. Russell Reynolds wrote Rusty as a personal development book in disguise to help us all escape our own Circus of Doubt. Addressing critical issues for children like antibullying, feeling different, self-worth and following your heart. This book will help anyone shift from struggling to soaring!

A Promise

by Rosa M. Campbell I promise to respect myself and others. I promise to share and be kind. I promise to be patient. Come and search for the children that are keeping their promises! Written by an early childhood education professional, A Promise is a wonderful resource that introduces important social skills and promotes healthy conversations in homes and schools.


Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 |

Summer the Firefly

by Vikki Lynn Smith Summer the Firefly is a delightful story that shares the excitement surrounding the arrival of the first firefly of summer. King Deer, Sequoia, and Little Squirrelin join with the animals of the woods as they learn the importance of the little glow bug, and what it means to have her shine her light for all to see. This science-based tale is full of whimsical dialogue and stunning illustrations that will capture the minds of its readers.

The Forever Kid

by Elizabeth Mary Cummings When a child dies, a family is forever changed. The sense of grief and loss are now part of their daily life. Every family event, particularly birthdays and anniversaries, are painful. Times of celebration are touched with sadness. Can there be any comfort for families in this time of grief? This narrative told through the voice of a sibling looks at how a family carries on while still remembering and connecting with their departed “forever” child.

Cavekid Birthday

by Cathy Breisacher For Caveboy and Cavegirl, gift giving rocks! After all, they are best friends and they share the same birthday. As their big day approaches, Cavegirl trades her beloved collection for a special gift for Caveboy. Meanwhile Caveboy trades his treasured collection for a special gift for Cavegirl. When it’s time to exchange presents, these cavekids are in for one mammoth surprise. Find out what happens in this prehistoric twist on The Gift of the Magi.


No Head Fred Said: Help Others

by Stephanie Keegan No Head Fred says to help others. Help parents, older people, and animals against bullies and those who seem different. No Head Fred is an interactive book that parents and teachers can read with children. It enables children to choose the correct action with helpful illustrations. It promotes and reinforces kindness and compassion. It teaches values that will last a lifetime. All four books are available on Amazon. com,, and

The Heath Cousins and the Kingsgate Bridge

by Eileen Hobbs Addie B. and her cousins are back in the second book of the Heath Cousins series! In The Heath Cousins and the Kingsgate Bridge, Addie B. receives a mysterious note from a girl in China named Mai Li. Gemma, the kind woman from the Garden of Choice, is in trouble, and she needs Addie and her cousins to come back to her world to help. Will they be able to find their way back and help Gemma before it’s too late?

Click on the book cover to purchase any of the above titles. To advertise your book in our Reading list, contact Cristy Bertini at for rate information.

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Satya House Publications | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink



Captain Marvel reviewed by Nick Spake • grade: B+

Captain Marvel is the 21st film in the MCU, but it’s also a first for Marvel Studios. From Black Widow to Agent Carter to Valkyrie, Marvel has given us no shortage of compelling heroines. The Wasp even got upgraded to a co-lead in the sequel to Ant-Man. Up until now, however, a female heroine has yet to take center stage in this cinematic universe. That alone makes Captain Marvel a significant milestone, but in order to truly break the glass ceiling, it’s not enough to simply give a female superhero her own movie. The filmmakers need a fully fleshed-out character at the forefront of a story that balances action, humor, and heart. Fortunately, Captain Marvel does exactly that. Oscar-winner Brie Larson is dazzling as Carol Danvers, a soldier living amongst an alien race known as the Kree. As a member of the military unit Starforce, Carol finds herself in a war against the Skrull, another alien race that can take on any form. In the midst of this intergalactic conflict, Carol winds up on Earth, which seems oddly familiar to her. Soon enough, she begins to have memories of a past life as an Air Force pilot. Searching for answers, Carol enlists the help of a young S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Nick Fury, who’s naturally played by Samuel L. Jackson. Captain Marvel easily could’ve been a Thor retread with Carol being a run-of-the-mill fish out of water. Even when she is unfamiliar with earthen concept, though, she’s cool under pressure and can adapt with little trouble. The comedy stems less from how Carol reacts to her environment and more from the environment itself. Since the film is set in 1995, the story is able to weave in a lot of hilarious retro throwbacks, from Blockbuster Video, to RadioShack, to AOL. There’s even an ingenious reference to the Kevin Smith comedy Mallrats. The wonderful chemistry between the cast is also a great source of humor. 56

Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 |

The dynamic between Carol and Fury is reminiscent of a classic buddy cop movie, almost making you forget that one of them can blast beams of energy from her hands. It’s especially refreshing that a romantic relationship never blossoms between them, making for one of the MCU’s best friendships. The de-aging effects used to make Jackson look 20 years younger are quite impressive, although Jackson already looks pretty good for somebody who just turned 70. In


addition to Fury, Carol shares strong dynamics with an old Air Force buddy (Lashana Lynch), her Starforce mentor (Jude Law), and a crafty Skrull leader (Ben Mendelsohn), not to mention a cat named Goose, who completely steals the show. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have made an exhilarating entertainment that’s one-half Wonder Woman and one-half Top Gun. It’s also probably the closest we’ll ever get to a good Green Lantern movie. The film admittedly doesn’t deviate far from the standard Marvel formula and there’s a twist concerning the villain that’s beyond predictable. Even at its most familiar, however, Captain Marvel stands out primarily thanks to its titular character. Carol Danvers has the wit of Tony Stark, the nobility of Steve Rogers, and the strength of Thor, but at the same time is a completely unique individual. She’s an empowering figure for females everywhere who touches upon the hardships women have faced and puts an even stronger emphasis on how they’ve

overcome those obstacles. What’s more, she may be the only hero who can put Thanos in his place with Avengers: Endgame just around the corner.

Nick Spake has been working as a film critic for ten years reviewing movies on his website: | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink


Livon Life

Speak Up!

It’s always important to express yourself and use your own voice! Speaking up is essential to do, especially if you see someone being unkind to someone. Say something or tell someone who can say something if you don’t want the confrontation. There is a difference between telling someone when it’s necessary, or saying something just to get someone in trouble or to create drama. Another way of using your voice is if you are in a group and you’re creating a project and someone is doing everything themself and you want to be included. You speak up. You tell them, “I would love to help.” or “I have an idea.” They probably didn’t realize or even know you wanted to help because you didn’t say anything. If you tell that person that you want to help and then they continue to ignore you, then that’s a completely different problem. Ask to change groups if this person continues this behavior.


Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 |

by Olivia Amiri

We are all given a voice. And it’s everyone’s right to use their voice. Our authentic voices are essential to our spirits and our individuality. It’s not always easy to keep your own voice with all the chatter of parents, teachers, and peer groups telling us what we should or shouldn’t do and who we should or shouldn’t be. Sometimes we lose our authentic voice, but speaking up helps. Going inside and feeling what is good to you and your heart often helps keep us unique.

Olivia Amiri 12-year-old Olivia Amiri is a little girl with big advice! Sharing insights and observations on the world around us, her message is clear: kids are still the best teachers to remind grown-ups of the simple joys in life. | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink



Where’s Buddha

by Marisa Aragón Ware (Bala Kids) Reviewer: Diana Fisher Where’s Buddha is a wonderful picture book for families seeking to introduce their children to Buddhism. The beautiful illustrations perfectly complement the simple—yet deeply meaningful—prose. Each page of the story shows that Buddha is everywhere, while also imparting aspects of awareness, such as oneness with the natural world, cultural diversity, and unity. (Ages 1-3)

The Mouse Who Wasn’t Scared

by Petr Horacek (Candlewick Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil Fear can be a very natural and common response to an intimidating situation for everybody. But, what actually intimidates someone is more personal and unique to each person. What scares me may never scare you. Bunny warns Little Mouse to stay out of the woods and away from the big, scary animals, but Mouse isn’t afraid. Until, she encounters a cute, fluffy kitten…. (Ages 2-5)

A Green Place To Be: The Creation Of Central Park

by Ashley Benham Yazdani (Candlewick) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil I love history! All the mysteries and wonders that connect then to now, and there to here. We walk about our surroundings with barely a thought of the hows and whys and whos that brought about how we live. In 1858, two men created a monumental landscape that still thrives today, New York’s famed Central Park. An interesting story and delightful awakening to its efforts, structure, and beauty. (Ages 2-5)


Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 |

Thunder Pug

by Kim Norman, Keika Yamaguchi (Sterling Children’s Books) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil This is a delightful tale of friendship. The little pug and pig have a life of many great times together. But, when success and praise comes to pig, her life takes on a new dimension and Pug begins to feel left out. Sometimes, it’s hard to be happy when our friends find success. They suddenly may be pulled in new directions with new interests, and even new friends. Pug tries to fill his empty time with a cause of his own, only to discover that what makes any venture truly successful is who we share it with! This sweet story gives us much to consider. (Ages 3+)

The Purple Frog

by Angela Jeffreys, Mike Motz (OC Publishing) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil This cute story carries a full load of wisdom. Hubert is a smart purple frog. And though he is smart, he’s not happy. You see, he doesn’t fit in, because all the other frogs are green and he is different. He is picked on at school and harassed by his siblings at home. This adorable story takes us on Hubert’s journey of self-discovery and shares the joys of being who we are truly meant to be. (Ages 3-7)

Noah Builds an Ark

by Kate Banks, John Rocco (Candlewick Press) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil The wonder of an old tale is shared in the experience of a young boy. A storm is coming! Noah watches his father preparing his family for safety, and decides he, too, needs to protect his creature friends of the garden. Following the love and wisdom of his parents, he knows just what to do. Noah builds his modern-day ark to house and protect his little friends. A delightful way to strengthen lasting truths. Fabulous artwork. (Ages 3-7)


Diamond’s Kindergarten Madness

Ninja Camp

by Sue Fliess, Jen Taylor (Running Kids Press) Reviewer: Diana Fisher For children interested in martial arts, Ninja Camp is the entertaining adventure of multicultural ninja students training, learning the ninja creed, and testing their abilities by retrieving—ninja style—the stolen “shadow blade.” This rhyming story reads well and the stylized illustrations are colorful and fun. (Ages 4-8)

by Nicole M. Stevenson (CreateSpace) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil This is a cheery approach to those first day of school jitters. As Diamond’s apprehension gets away from her, she imagines all sorts of scary things that await her. How relieved she is when she arrives! The illustrations are as sweet as Diamond herself. The author has included a helpful list of ways to prevent those first day jitters. (Ages 5-6)

Change the World Before Bedtime (2nd Edition)

Born to Ride: A Story About Bicycle Face

by Larissa Theule, Kelsey GarrityRiley (Abrams Books) Reviewer: Diana Fisher Set in the year 1896 when girls were not allowed to wear pants or ride bicycles, Louisa Belinda decides she can do anything she sets her mind to. She dons pants and tries to ride her brother’s bicycle (with his help), despite scary warnings about developing “bicycle face,” and after some difficulty, joyously succeeds. In addition to the delightfully written story and whimsical illustrations, a brief history of the 1890s bicycle craze and women’s suffrage movement are included. (Ages 4-8)

Tyler the Fish Visits the Lorain Lighthouse

by Meaghan Fisher, Tim Rowe (Gypsy Publications) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil Our favorite little bass from Lake Erie is back to share with us another great adventure! Tyler and his friends are going on a field trip to the Lorain Lighthouse. They will learn many new and interesting facts about the wonderful things they share with the sea. Tyler also learns that knowing the history around us makes us appreciate our connection to it all the more. (Ages 4-9)

by Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, Karen Hillard Good (Schiffer) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano The cover of this beautiful book engages you before you even start reading. Rhyming text, delightful and unique illustrations, speech bubbles, and cute animal characters—little ones will love reading about kind and caring deeds we can do every day. As a mom and teacher, I simply love the wonderful and heartfelt message this book delivers to our most precious readers. The illustrations are adorable with pen and paper cut outs and other interesting media. Bonus: Special pages in the back of the book to write your own good deeds or acts of kindness and additional examples of helping out from the writing and drawing team. (Ages 5-8)

The Real Boat

by Marina Aromshtam, Victoria Semykina (Templar) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil A little paper boat floats happily in the safe confines of a little pond, unaware of the wild journey that lies ahead of him. Much like life, we all stir from our peaceful surroundings eager to find what lies ahead. Many experiences lead us along our way, some hard, some dangerous, and some strong and defining. Little boat discovers there are many different boats beyond his small bond, and comes to find his own personal identity. (Ages 5-8) | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink



We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Let’s Discover Birds

by Candlewick Entertainment Reviewer: Diana Fisher This jam-packed book is a kid’s guide to exploring the world of birds with activities, stickers, crafts, facts, and tips for recognizing different kinds of feathered friends. It covers safety guidelines—for both the exploring child and birds and their habitats—and how to find different species. The illustrations are attractive and the information is well presented. (Ages 5-8)

Clackety Track: Poems About Trains

by Skila Brown, Jamey Christoph (Candlewick) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil Rows of grooves, cables, and bars. Graffiti rockin’ out the cars. A badge of rust. A proud oil stain. There’s nothin’ plain about a train. This fun rhythm carries a mounting excitement as you experience the vast line of trains throughout the book. It’s fun. It’s memorable, and it’s educational, too! (Ages 5-8)

Mommy Do My Hair

by Yesenia Hernandez, Levar J. Reese (Warren Publishing) Reviewer: Diana Fisher Styling hair can be a special, loving, and fun activity, as illustrated in Mommy Do My Hair. This joyful story skips along happily through different situations where hairstyle possibilities are endless—especially for girls with curly hair—encouraging originality and confidence, while highlighting the bond between mothers and daughters. (Ages 5-9)

Rusty and the Circus of Doubt

by G. Russell Reynolds, Sherrie Molitor (Vegas Publisher, LLC) Reviewer: Diana Fisher Rusty is a circus elephant with big dreams, who feels bullied and trapped. He discovers what is holding him back with the help of a wise—and funny— circus monkey. This inspirational story is suspenseful enough to keep the reader engaged to the end. It’s amusing, sometimes a little sad, and imparts wisdom about believing in one’s self and compassion for others. (Ages 6-9)

A Stone for Sascha

by Aaron Becker (Candlewick) Reviewer: Larissa Juliano Author and illustrator Aaron Becker truly is one-of-a-kind in the children’s book industry and readers of all ages will relish this incredibly unique and special wordless picture book. Becker’s stories always encompass a journey and A Stone for Sasha is no exception. The story begins with a little girl mourning the loss of her beloved pet dog. When the family goes on a vacation, the little girl notices another child playing with a dog. Naturally, this evokes emotions in the girl and she decides to throw a stone very far in the water. What happens next can be interpreted differently by each reader. Truly fascinating. As soon as the majestically illustrated story finishes, readers will flip right back to the beginning to revel in this stone’s journey again. (Ages 5-9)


Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 |

Mr. Wolf’s Class: Mystery Club

by Aron Nels Steinke (Scholastic) Reviewer: Diana Perry Another well-plotted graphic novel about Mr. Wolf’s class. Randy, Aziza, and Margot have too many mysteries to solve in this middle-grade novel. Their teacher from last year, Mr. Green, has not returned to teach this year—it’s like he just disappeared. Aziza’s frisbee has also disappeared, along with many footballs, baseballs, and other sports items. To answer these questions, the three friends start a mystery club! What could be more fun? Young readers will relate to the events that these three students try to deal with. It’s never boring in Mr. Wolf’s classroom! (Ages 7-10)


President of Poplar Lane

by Margaret Mincks (Viking Books) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 12 President of Poplar Lane is a smart book with lots of lessons dealing with middle school kids. The presidential election for 7th grade is coming up and Mike Strange and Clover O’Reilly are competing. This is a book not only about competition, but about lessons in ethics, honesty, and politics, much like in our world today. Sometimes winning by all costs doesn’t pay off. Read the book and find out who wins the election! (Ages 8-12)

Oscar Goes to School

by Meaghan Fisher, Emma Rose Fisher-Rowe (Gypsy Publications) Reviewer: Darleen Wohlfeil This cute story of a very smart and curious kitty who wants to go to school is the product of 7-year-old Emma Rose. Capturing on paper the details of a dream she had of her much loved orange tabby cat, Emma wanted to make it into a book for others to enjoy. Her desire moves beyond entertaining us with her kitty’s silly antics—a sweet story that proves no matter how old you are, you can be an author! (Ages 8-12)

Ruff vs. Fluff (A Queenie and Arthur Novel)

by Spencer Quinn (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry Queenie the cat and Arthur the dog appear to have a lot in common. Both pets live in the charming Blackberry Hill Inn. They both love their humans, twins Harmony and Bro. They both have a fondness for sausage. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are mortal enemies. But when the twins’ beloved cousin is framed for murder, Queenie and Arthur must work together to clear his name … something Queenie finds even more distasteful than inexpensive caviar. This is the perfect early reader. Kids will love following the clues to solve the mystery. (Ages 8-12)

Game of Stars

by Sayantani DasGupta (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry When the Demon Queen shows up in her bedroom, smelling of acid and surrounded by evil-looking bees, 12-year-old Kiranmala is uninterested. After all, it’s been weeks since she last heard from her friends in the Kingdom Beyond, the alternate dimension where she was born as an Indian princess. But after a call to action over an interdimensional television station and a visit with some all-seeing birds, Kiran decides that she has to once again return to her homeland, where society is fraying, a terrible game show reigns supreme, and friends and foes alike are in danger. Kiran must once again solve riddles and battle her evil Serpent King father—all while discovering what it really means to be a hero. This is an engaging, action-adventure with riddles that young readers will have so much fun trying to solve. The ultimate bedtime story. (Ages 8-12)

Secondhand Wishes

by Anna Staniszewski (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry Lexi has to keep the universe in balance. If she does enough good things, like being on time, then the bad things, like her little brother needing more surgery, won’t happen. It doesn’t always work, but she has to keep trying. Just in case. On an extra bad day, Lexi finds a bag of four wishing stones in the antique shop in town, and wishes that her BFF Cassa and the new girl would stop talking to each other. That night, Cassa calls Lexi, crying over the end of her friendship with Marina. The wishes work ... sort of. Young readers will thrill over the many mysteries to solve in this book; they unravel one at a time like the petals opening on a rose. This story is a good moral lesson as Lexi learns how to find her true self. (Ages 8-12) | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink



George Washington Carver for Kids

by Peggy Thomas (Chicago Review Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry The inspiring story of a remarkable American. It includes a timeline, resources for further research, and 21 hands-on activities to help better appreciate Carver’s genius. This book should be in classrooms everywhere! I loved learning about his many important accomplishments. This is a fun-to-read historical book and kids will enjoy doing the activities over and over and learning more about how their grandparents and great-grandparents lived. (Ages 9+)

Tree of Dreams

by Laura Resau (Scholastic Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry This urgent, beautiful novel takes readers into the ugly realities that surround the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and its people. Acclaimed author Laura Resau shows us that love is more powerful than hatred, and that by working together, hope can be magically restored, root and branch. Young readers will feel like they are actually in the Amazon by the detailed descriptions and illustrations. (Ages 9-12)


by Laura Shovan (Wendy Lamb Books) Reviewer: Diana Perry Mikayla is a wrestler. When you grow up in a house full of brothers who wrestle, it’s inevitable. It’s also a way to stay connected to her oldest brother, Evan, who moved in with their dad. Some people object to having a girl on the team. But that’s not stopping Mikayla. She’s determined to work harder than ever, and win. This book brilliantly touches on a controversial subject and will surely start conversations with young readers and get them thinking. (Ages 9-12)

Where the Heart is

by Jo Knowles (Candlewick) Reviewer: Olivia Amiri, age 12 This is a book that dives into the crises that teenagers go through, such as confusion, change, family, friendships, and other issues. Thirteen-year-old Rachel is on summer break. Her summer is not exactly what she expected. Her new job is not so fun, her family is having financial problems, her parents are arguing, and she’s confused about her sexual orientation ... that’s a lot for a 13-year-old to process. It’s a good story with a lot of heart. (Ages 10-14)

Behind These Hands

by Linda Vigen Philips (Light Messages Publishing) Reviewer: Diana Fisher When her life is turned upsidedown from life-changing news that affects her entire family, high school music student Claire is thrust into a transformational journey dealing with difficult challenges. Behind These Hands is a beautifully written story about the power of love and friendship. It’s relatable, inspirational, and relevant for any teen. Uniquely told in verse, this compelling story will keep the reader turning pages. (Ages 12+)

The Girl with the Broken Heart

by Lurlene McDaniel (Delacorte Press) Reviewer: Diana Perry Kenzie Caine is enrolled at Vanderbilt University, with the goal of becoming a veterinarian. When she lands a summer job caring for and helping to rehabilitate abused horses at the Bellmeade Estate stables, she is over-the-moon happy. One place she does not want to be is at home with her parents. Since the tragic death of Kenzie’s younger sister, her mother has unraveled and her father has lost Kenzie’s trust. This book has young love, life’s tribulations to overcome, rediscovering one’s self, and gives an in-depth view of how horses are treated and mistreated. I’d love to read more books by this author. (Ages 12+)

To submit your book for review, email Cristy Bertini at for submission guidelines. 64

Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 | | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink



with bob shea

QA &

with Bob Shea by Julianne Black

I shop for books. A lot. I read reviews, check out the sales, pore through my daughter’s Scholastic order form, and quickly get lost in bookstores (please bring water when you look for me). With an attention span (or lack thereof) like mine, it’s always about the cover first, so when I came across the bold, bright, and energetic artwork of Bob Shea, I was a moth to a flame. Bob has done work for Comedy Central, PBS Kids, (you know that PBS Kids spot where the pig runs around and eats things that start with “p”? He did that!), Nick Jr., Noggin, Playhouse Disney, and Google. That kind of energy transfers directly to the pages of his picture books, so you can imagine that when I discovered Bob’s book, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great, it led me down a rabbit hole of insane characters, dancing baked goods, and wet pants. Sound crazy? Come take a walk with me through a mind that brought the world stunt creatures like Action Clam! Q: Your work has this bright, lens-flair, kind of kapow! thing going on. As a viewer scrolls through your work on, each cover is another fingerprint of that same wild Shea style ... until you get to Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads, which has this super cool vintage Western style to it. Published in 2014 by Roaring Brook


Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 |

Press, Kid Sheriff is a co-created project between you and illustrator Lane Smith. How did the decision come about to have someone else illustrate and what was it like separating yourself out of that part of production?

A: Lane Smith is a friend and we had wanted to do a book together. At the time my son was really into dinosaurs and Lane wanted to draw Old West buildings. So I wrote Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads to include both of those elements. It’s very easy to separate myself from the artwork when it’s being created by Lane. Have you seen his work? He’s gonna go far, that guy. I got to sit back and write a bunch of absurd stuff, then sit back and wait for samples to drool over. Q: You worked on another project with Lane Smith called Big Plans, published by Hyperion Books for Children in 2008 that you describe on your website as a “cult favorite.” Cult as in random-quirky or cult as in Lane is still tied up in your basement?

A: It’s my on-the-road-litmus-test. If I’m doing a signing and someone hands me a tattered copy of Big Plans and tells me it’s their favorite book, I give them a free glass of lemonade. Then we sit and talk and I ask them all kinds of questions about themselves. Really get to know them, you know? These are the special kind of smart, interesting people who you want to have in your

with bob shea

life. When you find one, you can’t let them get away. We end up best friends and take turns holding flashlights under our chins and telling spooky stories. One of the bookstore staff signs the books for the other people in line. It doesn’t matter. Q: It’s hugely considerate of you to have a video on how to draw Bob Shea on your website! I know I’ve tried and failed at that very thing hundreds of times. If you had to estimate, just how many awful attempts at your portrait do you receive a week? More people should know about this! Have you tried public service announcements on PBS?

A: I used to talk to PBS a lot. Then PBS sent me this really cool letter on fancy paper to remind me that the judge said to stop. It was from a lawyer. Lawyers are professional. Do you get letters from professionals? Famous authors like me probably get them all the time. They sit at a big, fancy, oak desk under the light of an old timey lamp with a green shade. I don’t have those things and I’ve sort of been disinvited from the local library, so mostly I read important letters like that in my 15-year-old car parked behind an abandoned strip mall. I like to pretend I’m a wealthy businessman coming to save the town by opening a new candy factory or it’s a year in the future and this is all that’s


left. Either way it ends in tears. What were we talking about? Oh, drawing Bob Shea. I get awesome drawings from kids trying to draw me. They’re fantastic. Q: Crash, Splash, or Moo! just came out last year and features America’s favorite stunt clam, Action Clam! Can you give us a glimpse into the mind of a man who writes a book about a stunt clam? How did this one come together from idea to page?

A: I actually came across the original sketches for that recently. I tried to think of the most unlikely action character that I could. I sketched out a stationary clam, lonely on the page. Then I wrote, ACTION CLAM over him with big, dramatic letters and a bunch of stars around him. Then I thought, well, you can throw him and shoot him out of stuff, what about a character to compete against that would just sit there. That’s when I drew cow. It’s a really fun book to read at school visits. The kids go nuts. Q: The baked goods obsession: dancing cakes, giant apple pies, cupcake rain … were you a past-life pastry chef? Confection groupie?

A: Baked goods are my biggest weakness. Besides falling victim to some super virus or the common cold. I love bakeries. When I travel, I go to the local bakeries first | April 2019 | Story Monsters Ink



with bob shea

thing. I eye all the treats but end up getting a chocolate chip cookie. That’s the gold standard of baked goods. I like to bake a lot, too. I mostly make cookies and cakes. Bread sometimes, too, but it takes so long. Oh, I’m also a pretty avid runner, so that my cookie habit is somewhat under control. Q: A little bird told me that Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great is about to have a sequel in 2019 and the working title is Unicorn, The Very Bloody Revenge. Do you confirm or deny this avian rumor? And does the goat survive?

A: That’s very close. The original title was, Unicorn Thinks He’s Inadequate. An insecure unicorn is holed up in his Citizen Kane-style mansion on an extended lost weekend. He’s in a filthy robe with bags under his eyes and is sporting a five o’clock shadow. Piles of half eaten cups of microwave glitter surround him as he relives the glory days of Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great. My editor said, “I love everything about this! Everything except for the story and the art.” So I rewrote it. It’s called Unicorn is Maybe Not So Great After All. It’s funny and much brighter.


Story Monsters Ink | April 2019 |

Q: Any other new projects on the near horizon we can be on the watch for?

A: YES! I’m so excited about a book I wrote called Who Wet My Pants? Sure, I could be excited because it’s hilarious and the world will finally realize my genius, but I’m not a complete narcissist. I’m excited because it’s funny and was illustrated by the wildly talented Zach Ohora. I’ve wanted to work with Zach forever and this project was perfect. Zach is a great guy and one of the best illustrators working today so I am thrilled.

Bob Shea is an incredibly famous author and you can learn more about him at You can even get him to come to your school or library! He’s on Instagram: @bobsheabooks and Twitter: @bobshea

Julianne DiBlasi Black has written and illustrated several books, including Sleep Sweet, the multiaward winning Augmented Reality picture book.

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