Thursday, February 28, 2013

CONTEST: Enter to win a copy of The Fiction Writer's Handbook!

Enter to win a copy of The Fiction Writer's Handbook, by Shelly Lowenkopf!

I recently reviewed this book (you can read my review here) and I loved it (thank goodness too, because I'd already agreed to be part of the blog tour and if I'd hated it I would have had to say so, which would have been awkward). Now the publisher has been kind enough to give me an additional copy (print or digital) to give away to a lucky reader! You can enter the giveaway below and then scroll down for an interview with author Shelly Lowenkopf!

The Fiction Writer's Handbook is perfect for any writer, student, editor, enthusiastic reader OR BOOK REVIEWER. Honestly, it's already changed how I write reviews (sorry writers!).

To enter: Use the Rafflecopter widget on Cozy Little Book Journal (or on CLBJ's Facebook page).

For residents of Canada and U.S.: If you win, you will be given a choice of one print (paperback) copy OR one digital (ebook) copy of the book, sent to you directly from the publisher. You'll need to provide an email and/or mailing address accordingly.

For residents outside of Canada/U.S.: If you win, you will be sent one digital (ebook) copy ONLY of the book, sent to you from the publisher. You'll be asked to provide a valid email address.

Contest runs from Thursday, February 28, 2013, until Sunday, March 17, 2013 (at midnight, Atlantic Standard Time). Winners will be announced no later than Monday, March 18, 2013. Good luck!

BONUS: Exclusive Interview with Shelly Lowenkopf!
author photo from Google plus
Head over to Cozy Little Book Journal for an exclusive Q&A with author Shelly Lowenkopf (I hope he thinks my questions were well-written...)

author photo from publisher's website

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Fiction Writer's Handbook: The definitive guide to McGuffins, red herrings, shaggy dogs, and other literary revelations from a master, by Shelly Lowenkopf (introduction by Christopher Moore)

The Fiction Writer's Handbook:
The definitive guide to McGuffins, red herrings, shaggy dogs, and other literary revelations from a master 
Author: Shelly Lowenkopf 
(Foreword by: Christopher Moore) 
Publisher: White Whisker Books 
Publication Date: October 16, 2012 
Buy Now on paperback kindle 
Buy Now on paperback kindle 

The Fiction Writer's Handbook is probably not what you would expect from the title. It is not arranged into chapters with titles like "How to Begin" or "How to Get Published." In fact it's not arranged into chapters at all, but rather an alphabetical "list of entries" with terms like "antagonist," "flash fiction" and "verb tenses." Some entries, like "first-draft strategy" (where the author suggests you start) and "revision" (where the author suggests you go next) are longer articles filled with ideas to improve your writing, while others are merely brief definitions of literary terms. Every entry contains words in small caps indicating terms that can be found elsewhere in the book (in the e-book edition these are hyperlinks that allow the reader to go directly to the entry locations).

If this format seems like it would be difficult to read cover-to-cover, that's because it is. It's not meant to be read cover-to-cover, nor is it meant to be read in one sitting. The idea is to skip around, read the entries that interest you, and use them to improve your writing or at least your editing. I almost think of it as a book of editing prompts.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Twas the Night Before Christmas: Edited by Santa Claus for the benefit of children of the 21st century, by Clement C. Moore (illustrated by Elena Almazova and Vitaly Shvarov)

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Edited by Santa Claus for the benefit of children of the 21st century
Author: Clement C. Moore 
Illustrators: Elena Almazova and Vitaly Shvarov 
Editor: Pamela McColl 
Publisher: Grafton and Scratch Publishers 
Publication Date: September 4, 2012 
Buy Now on (Hardcover)

It's not often that I get to write a review for a children's book that's so controversial it gets featured on The Colbert Report's "Blitzkrieg On Grinchitude" segment. Though to be fair, Stephen Colbert doesn't feature many children's books at all, other than I Am a Pole (And So Can You!). But the new edition of Clement C. Moore's classic Christmas tale, Twas the Night Before Christmas, edited by Canadian anti-smoking advocate and book publisher Pamela McColl, has been making headlines all over the place. The controversy stems from the fact that she has edited out the lines about Santa's smoking:
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teethAnd the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath
Pamela McColl has long been an advocate for smoking cessation, and has worked with Allen Carr of Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking. Her reasoning is that it's probably a good thing to limit the amount of positive reinforcement of smoking that children are exposed to, so maybe it was time for Santa to give up the pipe. This has, apparently, blown people's minds. The backlash has been huge! 

For me, it's kind of a non-issue. I have multiple copies of the book in my house, I've enjoyed it since I was a small child and I now read it with my daughter. But if I'm being honest, I've been editing that line for Magda the last two years. She's not old enough to read it herself yet, so I can absolutely understand why parents would be interested in getting the "smoke free" version for their kids to have for years to come, particularly if the kids are reading it themselves. I'm not so "horrified" or "incensed" or whatever some of the other reviewers are saying about the edit. 

I'd also like to point out that classic literature gets edited, abridged, reinterpreted and re-worked ALL THE TIME. Just this month I've reviewed "baby versions" of Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick and Alice in Wonderland, to name a few. It's not that controversial! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Candy Experiments, by Loralee Leavitt

Wow! This book is so exciting as I was reading it I wasn't even thinking, "Oh my daughter would like this" or "The kids in my class will like this" as much as I was thinking, "OMG CANDY! I WANT CANDY! I want to melt it and blow it up and separate the dyes and OMG CANDY!!"

Did you know that if dissolve Pixy Stix in water the water will get colder, but if you dissolve crushed Jolly Ranchers in water it will get warmer? Did you know you can make Peeps Hearts appear to beat? Did you know you can reshape candy canes into fun shapes by heating them? 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Joe the Monkey Learns to Share: A Story of Giving, by John Lanza (illustrated by John Lanza and Patrick Rooney)

Joe the Monkey Learns to Share:
A Story of Giving
(A Money Mammals Share-Save-Spend Smart Book)
Author: John Lanza
Illustrators: John Lanza and Patrick Rooney
Editor: Marilyn Walton
Publisher: Snizzlezoo Books
Publication Date: December 3, 2012
There are a number of books on the market that talk about the "three jars" concept of money saving--encouraging children to divide their money into jars for saving, for spending and for giving--but I like this one in particular because it is aimed at children directly in the form of a storybook, and because it's not religious-based. I'm not  saying there's anything wrong with religious books about saving, it's just that they're not for everyone. This one, part of the Money Mammals series, is more universal. 

Based on the story and illustrations I would say that Joe the Monkey Learns to Share is aimed at elementary school aged children, but my three-year-old daughter Magda loved it as well. She sat and listened to the whole thing then asked to hear it again, this time asking questions and offering commentary. When Joe the Monkey eventually picks a charity at the end of the book--buying vines for underprivileged monkeys--Magda decided that she too would like a share jar and that she would use it to buy backpacks for kids who didn't have them. I'd been thinking of ways to introduce her to the concept of charity and this book did just that. Come back-to-school time, Magda and I can use her share money to donate school supplies to families in need. I'd say the book was a success!

Keep reading for images from inside the book, Magda's take and more...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Wonderland Alphabet: Alice's Adventures Through the ABCs and What She Found There, by Alethea Kontis (illustrated by Janet K. Lee)

The Wonderland Alphabet

Alice's Adventures Through the ABCs and What She Found There
Author: Alethea Kontis
Illustrator: Janet K. Lee
Based on the books by Lewis Carroll (Charles Ludwidge Dodgson)
Publisher: Archaia Entertainment 
Publication Date: June 30, 2012
Oh why couldn't this book have been published 30 years ago so I could have read it and owned it and loved it and re-read it as a child? I would have adored this book! It's inspired by Alice in Wonderland (which, of course, is infinitely inspirational as it has sparked the imagination of children and artists alike for generations) but it's an alphabet book that can be shared with even very young children. The illustrations are lush and gorgeous and remind me of books that would have been popular a hundred years ago (or so I imagine) with flower details and elegant colours. I love it so much!

It's also perfect for my daughter, Magda, who is fascinated with the story and the character of Alice but is, at three, a little young for the book (we read chapter books to her, but Alice in Wonderland is a bit long and complicated and doesn't have as many pictures as other books we've read her). I've been looking for a preschool book inspired by Lewis Carroll (besides the Disney version) and it's been harder than I thought. But this ABC book is quite a hit! Sure, it's not a story book, but it is intriguing and rich nonetheless.

I can't wait to buy the text version. I'm imagining it smells like flowers (don't hold me to that).

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more illustrations from this book!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fairies at Bedtime: Tales of Inspiration and Delight for You to Read with Your Child – To Enchant, Comfort and Enlighten, by Karen Wallace and Lou Kuenzler

Fairies at Bedtime:

Tales of Inspiration and Delight for You to Read with Your Child – 

To Enchant, Comfort and Enlighten

Authors: Karen Wallace and Lou Kuenzler 

Publisher: Watkins Publishing 
Publication Date: November 8, 2012
I think this type of book would have likely appealed to me as a child: a richly illustrated collection of stories about fairies, leprechauns and other wee folk. I think I would have really liked the stories of magic and make believe that appear only to children who pay close attention. And yet, having read Fairies at Bedtime, I am hesitant to read it to my own daughter. The stories are less about magic and make believe and more about teaching life lessons to children based on encounters with fairies. There are even "affirmations" at the end of each chapter, encouraging children to reflect on the lessons they've learned from each story. There are also sections on helping your child to meditate on various nature spirits, which is, well, I'm not sure exactly who the audience is for that. It seems like it would offend Christian parents and confuse atheist parents (I realize those are not the only choices obviously). But it seems to be aimed at families who have a deep religious affinity for leprechauns. All in all, it takes itself entirely too seriously for my taste.

Hit the jump for Magda's Take and more...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language, by Natalie Goldberg

The True Secret of Writing:
Connecting Life with Language
Author: Natalie Goldberg 
Publisher: Atria Books 
Publication Date: March 19, 2013 

Imagine having a teacher whom you very much admire--say, a theatre instructor or an art history professor--and you have nothing but fond memories of her. But then you go back to your old school years later only to realize that she's a blithering old hippy dippy whose great insights are all about "vibes" and "vapors."

That's how I felt reading Natalie Goldberg's latest book.

Oh, Natalie Goldberg. It's so hard for me to criticize her, since I spent much of my twenties valuing her insights on writing and applying them in my own writing and in various writing workshops I ran. Well, sort of. I liked her books but I may have overestimated my admiration for her because I was constantly confusing her with Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, author of my hands-down favourite book of writing instruction of all time, poemcrazy. Still, I thought of Natalie Goldberg warmly, as one who wrote fairly helpful books about writing (if not many books about anything else).

And then I read The True Secret of Writing. Sigh.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Wild Rose's Weaving, by Ginger Churchill (illustrated by Nicole Wong)

Wild Rose's Weaving
Author: Ginger Churchill 
Illustrator: Nicole Wong 
Publisher: Tanglewood 
Publication Date: October 14, 2011 
Wild Rose's grandmother wants to teach her to weave on a loom but Wild Rose keeps finding things to do that are more fun than weaving. She runs through the meadows, watches the sheep and enjoys the beautiful day. When she finally comes in, she sees that her grandmother has created a beautiful rug that shows the meadows and the sun and sky that Wild Rose has been enjoying all day. Rose is moved by the art of the quilt but confused how her grandmother could capture all the colours of nature when she was sitting inside all day, weaving. She asks if she can learn to weave too, but her grandmother tells her she has something "better to do than weaving" just now and goes out to enjoy a rainbow. Only after that does she teach Wild Rose the art of weaving.

I loved this book. I loved the balance between going outside and enjoying nature and staying inside and creating art. I loved the "Little Red Hen" theme of the grandmother asking her granddaughter to help with each stage of the project only to have her refuse, but then be amazed by the end result. And I especially loved the depiction of the weaving itself, an art that is almost lost but certainly not forgotten.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Invasion: A C.H.A.O.S. Novel, by Jon S. Lewis

I admit it. I did not read the description of this book that carefully before I ordered it from Booksneeze. I was so excited that there was actually a fiction title available for review (usually I’m not fast enough to order those!) that I quickly ordered it and waited for it to arrive. When it did, I realized that the book is a YA (young adult literature) science fiction novel about a boy who has to save the world from aliens, and that it is the first in a trilogy. To be fair, that is precisely what the description claims it to be, had I only read it, but it’s not a genre I typically read. Nonetheless, I had agreed to read and review the book.

What can I say? On the one hand, it fulfilled just about every stereotype I had in mind about YA fantasy fiction: the main character is an “everyday kid” whose parents are tragically killed who then discovers he is “special” and it is up to him to save the world (and uncover the truth behind his parents’ death) with the help of his two friends. It’s a race against time, etc., etc.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Tale of Two Daddies, by Vanita Oelschlager (illustrated by Kristin Blackwood and Mike Blanc)

A Tale of Two Daddies
Author: Vanita Oelschlager
Illustrators: Kristin Blackwood and Mike Blanc
Publisher: VanitaBooks
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
This is a simple story about a little girl with two daddies: Daddy and Poppa. When a boy on the playground asks her what it's like having two dads, he wants to know things like "Who tucks you in at night? Which one helps with homework? Which one braids your hair?" The little girl happily explains which of her day-to-day activities are best performed by Daddy, Poppa or both (or, in the case of staying up late or helping her match her socks, neither). The little girl's life is happy, secure and, of course, completely normal. 

I particularly liked that the illustrations were very reminiscent of primers from the 1950's. Normally I'm not a fan of children's book illustrations that look too dated, but in this case I think it's good for the story. It references an idealistic vision of Americana with nuclear families and houses in the suburbs (both children look like they could have stepped right out of Family Circus or Dick and Jane) and subtly reinforces the message that families with same-sex parents fit in perfectly well with this ideal, thank-you very much. I also liked that it wasn't focusing on her not having a mommy, but on how great it was to have two parents who loved her and were each good at different things.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Swarm: Book # 2 in The Paranormal Poke Chronicles, by Dalya Moon

It's cute (LOVE the cover art) and it's quirky and sort of funny, but it's definitely meant for a young adult audience and just doesn't translate well to adults (which is fine--it doesn't have to, it's a YA novel). This time Zan is trying to solve a murder mystery using the power of his secret-finding navel, which fails to explain the mysterious bees and other oddities he's been seeing. If only the bees could poke him in his belly button...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Poke: Book #1 in The Paranormal Poke Chronicles, by Dalya Moon

The Paranormal Poke Chronicles. Yep, I just read that. The first story, Poke, follows a teenaged boy, Zan, whose "secret power" is that he can read any girl's secrets if she "pokes him" by sticking her finger in his belly button. Apparently it's going to be a whole series. No word yet if Zan ever gets to poke the girls back. Heh heh.

The novel is about 50,000 words, which made me wonder if it was a NaNoWriMo book, but turns out it was actually written (or at least started) as one of those three-day writing frenzy contests. So well done, Dayla Moon, for rising to the challenge AND for following up by turning the original script into a short novel.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Differentiation That Really Works: Math (Grades 6-12): Strategies from Real Teachers for Real Classrooms, by Cheryll M. Adams, Ph.D. and Rebecca L. Pierce, Ph.D.

Differentiation That Really Works: Math (Grades 6-12) 

Strategies from Real Teachers for Real Classrooms
Authors: Cheryll M. Adams, Ph.D. and Rebecca L. Pierce, Ph.D.
Publisher: Prufrock Press

Publication Date: May 1, 2012

For this review I defer to the professional opinion of my partner Mike, who is a substitute teacher for grades 6-12 and often has to take over classrooms with students of vastly different skill levels, usually with very little notice.

Mike: This book is really written with teachers in mind. I recognize a lot of strategies as being applicable to the Maine Learning Results (where I did my degree) but also easily adapted to the Nova Scotia Provincial Outcomes (where I teach now). The contract with the student, in particular, could be used to reflect whatever academic goals were required.

One idea from the book that I'll definitely try is the tic-tac-toe choice board. The goal is to get students to complete three math problems out of a possible nine so that their choices form a straight line on the board. Not only does this give students a feeling of control (everyone prefers to have choices) it would also give me a sense of which problems each student felt were the easiest and which ones they avoided.

Overall this book is practical, flexible and helpful.

Thanks, Mike, for the input!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Onomatopoeia: The Music Video!

My English-teacher partner has recently taught our three-year-old about onomatopoeia. It's not only her new favourite word, she goes around the house proclaiming, "CRASH! That's onomatopoeia!" So, not surprisingly, this is Magda's favourite video of late:
It's a music video about onomatopoeia! It's pretty good, actually. I believe the singer's name is Mindy Bauer.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Until the Cows Come Home and Other Expressions About Animals, by Sandy Donovan

Yay! Now this is what an entertaining, informative book for kids should be like! Beautifully illustrated, this book gives the meanings of various expressions about animals (hence the title) and, more importantly, their origins. Well done!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked, by Mary Miley Theobald (with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

I've been reading so many historical fact books for kids lately that I suppose it was inevitable that some of them would contradict each other. Did early American settlers avoid eating tomatoes because they thought they were poison? Was petticoat-related death common among seventeenth century American women? The author of this book says no on both counts (although both of those facts/myths are ones I've read recently in other books). Although one thing this book has that the others don't: it was written by a member of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, so I'm going to assume she knows what she's talking about.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Warriors and Wailers: One Hundred Ancient Chinese Jobs You Might Have Relished or Reviled (Jobs in History Series), by Sarah Tsiang

Things I leaned from this book: there was no shortage of jobs in ancient China, though an individual's options would be severely limited by his or her gender, family and station in life; as with most cultures throughout the history of the world, most of the best jobs in ancient China went to men; no matter how bad your life was, it could always get worse; and if I had my druthers, I would be a professional wailer (paid to look sad and cry? Fun!).

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The World in Your Lunch Box: The Wacky History and Weird Science of Everyday Foods, by Claire Eamer


What a clever way of teaching kids a little more about the history of their food! It's set up like a week-long food journal, with each day exploring the history of a few lunch time ingredients. I hope they make ten sequels to this book to cover more food facts! (The World on Your Dinner Plate, The World in Your Picnic Basket, etc.)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Uncle John's KID-TOPIA Bathroom Reader For Kids Only!, Bathroom Reader Institute

I admit I learned a lot from this fun book of facts for kids. I would NOT recommend it as an e-book, however. First of all, is it sanitary to bring your e-reader in to the bathroom? Mine has a touch screen, so I'm guessing no. Secondly, those mazes and pencil games just aren't the same unless you've go the print edition in front of you!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Who Peed on My Yoga Mat? More Stories From a Perfectly Imperfect Life, by Lela Davidson

Who Peed on My Yoga Mat? 
More Stories From a Perfectly Imperfect Life
Author: Lela Davidson
Publisher: Jupiter Press
Publication Date: December 4, 2012
I don't know how many times I actually laughed out loud while reading this book (lots, by the looks my partner was giving me while he was trying to do work) but I remember thinking, "If I'm going to include quotes for my review, I don't know which ones to choose!" Would it be the letter at the beginning explaining to the PTA why she shouldn't be expected to volunteer for anything involving other people's kids ("Kids never believe my 'I'll smack you in the face' threats until it's too late. No one wants that lawsuit.")? Would it be the horror she experienced when her nearly-teen daughter started listening to awful music (Enya! Her father gave her his old Enya CDs!)? Or would it be the time when she was irritated with her shaggy-haired and goateed husband after a long trip only to discover that the flight attendant was taken with him, and she realized she should see him as others do ("a handsome goat")? Too many to decide really.

I loved this book. I figured from the title that it would be funny--and it was--but I was also surprised by how sincere and even poignant it was at times. Lela Davidson writes honestly. She's just a lot funnier when she's being honest than most people are. 

And she doesn't shy away from sharing experiences that might not be universal. Not everyone can relate to "gated private public schools" and sending their kids to cotillion (a cotillion? the cotillion? cotillion classes? I don't even quite know how to write it...the thing with dancing and fancy gloves...I think) but most moms can relate to her scrimping on groceries and "not buying name brand cereal." (Actually, now that I think about it, I do buy name brand cereal and I could never afford private school tuition...maybe there's a correlation? Note to self: No more fancy cereals!)

It's not an easy thing to be funny and sincere at the same time. Well, I mean, unless you're Lela Davidson obviously.