Monday, February 28, 2011

Race to the Top or the Bottom of the Ladder?

February is the month when parents and caregivers start to lay the groundwork for the next academic school year. Conversations about schools crop up everywhere as people try and figure out where they are going to send their child for the next year or what the school their child is at now can do better. Register for kindergarten. Public or private? Does the school go to the eighth grade or are you shopping around for middle schools in another few years? What middle school is the right fit?  What makes the best school for your child?   
We have all heard the grim statistics of how far behind the rest of the world the United States is in terms of children’s academics and education. Our current ranking lands us at 15th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math out of 65 countries according to an international study. The top earners are, not surprisingly, places known for their reverence to the pursuit of academic conquests. 
China, and the rest of Asia, are at the top of the list and nourish cultures that hold teachers and educators in high regard. The most admired student in the classrooms of these countries is the student who is the winner at the science fair, captain of the math team and a consistent top performing student. 
The respect for the academics in these countries must certainly bolster the success of these students being in the top tier of educational standards. In the United State’s efforts to lift lackluster student performances on test scores, compared to other countries around the world, all sorts of programs are created to help improve the education system.    
 In looking at the impressive results of test scores in a country like China, we are perhaps making a mistake in trying to figure out how these high performing schools are creating the student scores that they have been able to achieve. In the past twenty years, China has closed the gap between the country’s most successful schools in comparison to the schools in what are considered to be in the rural, peasant areas. This has created a global imbalance that now places a school in the poorest area in China a full grade ahead in math compared to children enrolled in one of the better schools in the New York area. You have to start at the bottom before you can even dream of being at the top.
Be well, 
Alice Knisley Matthias
SFC Education Writer

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review: Taconi & Claude - Double Trouble

Taconi & Claude- Double Trouble                

M. E. Finke

ISBN: 9781616331306

January 2011

Guardian Angel Publishing

Mid Grade- Chapters

Ages 10-13

I have the privilege of reviewing the newest book by award winning children's author, Margot Finke. Her new book titled Taconi & Claude, Double Trouble is a book I couldn't put down.

The theme is a coming of age book for a boy from a tribe in the 1950's era of the Australian outback. Taconi leaves the hills to come with his father to serve an afluent family at a time when he is also to enter the manhood of his Tribe.

His best friend is a mouthy old bird named Claude. Claude shows remarkable wisdom throughout the story as Taconi searches for the power he thinks he needs to survive. Together they search for the blue kingfisher feather believing it has magical power for courage and survival. Through many predicaments and all kinds of trouble, Taconi discovers the power he is looking for comes from within. Through the trials and adventures, Tacoui helps his father keep his job as a cookie and makes his father proud of the young man he has become.

This story weaves Aussie language and vivid details of the 1950's folk tales of Medicine men and primitive tribal living with an adventure that readers will not be able to put down. This story will interest both boys and girls with it's humor, adventure, and the actions of one awesome bird named Claude.

Ms Finke includes a glossary of Aussie terms adding to the overall feel of an adventure in the Australian outback. Wonderful coming of age story with spirit and adventure that no child should miss. I would definitely recommend this for students, teachers, and librarians as a great book.

READ a sample page:

WIN a free copy:

Available from:

Guardian Angel Publishing -

Barnes and Noble -

Powell’s Books –

It will also be on Amazon + available as an eBook and soon on Kindle. I am still waiting for it to show up on Amazon. They seem to take forever!!

Autographed copies from my website.

Margot’s Magic Carpet

All my books on one page

My Website –

Manuscript Critiques, Writing Help, My Books, Trailers, Reviews.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book Review: Second Chance by Sandra J. Gerencher

Book Review: Second Chance: How Adoption Saved a Boy with Autism & His Shelter Dog

Author: Sandra J. Gerencher

ISBN: 9780981461922

Pages: 28

Tribute Books- 2008

I had a chance to review Second Chance: How Adoption Saved a Boy with Autism & His Shelter Dog. The book was a heartfelt story of how the boy blossomed and the dog found a loving home. It depicts the influences having a pet can have on a child and does so in an honest and loving way.

Here is the synopsis provided by Tribute books:

Second Chance: How Adoption Saved a Boy with Autism & His Shelter Dog

by Sandra J. Gerencher

The timeless tale of a boy (with autism) and his (shelter) dog. Over the past 10 years, author Sandra Gerencher has been on a mission to save dogs from high-kill animal shelters. Her first rescue was P.J., the black and white Pomeranian in the story. She also adopted the orange Pomeranians Shelby and Lil Rascal, and of course, Chance, the big black Rottweiler/German Shepherd mix. All characters in the story are based on Sandra's real life family. The book is filled with softly blended watercolor photos of her loved ones. Her most significant adoption was her son, Terry. He was considered a special needs child because he was born with a genetic disorder known as Fragile X Syndrome. The disorder can cause many cognitive disorders, such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, mental retardation and depression.

My opinions:

I think the story would be difficult as a read alone book for those children under the age of 8 but it would be a treasure to read aloud together with your child. Older children will find the story a good read and will long for a dog of their own, but some may miss the deep rooted message the author intended. All in all, a heartwarming honest and loving book about both animals and children who need to find a place called home. It will act as a spring board for discussions with children about adoption, special needs, and making one feel loved. I do recommend the book to include in your library.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Book Review: Lemony Snicket-13 Words

Lemony Snicket  13 Words

Maira Kalman

Harper Collins Publishing 2010

ISBN 978-0-06-166465-6

13 Words is absolutely delightful. Teaching children about words can be boring if you do not engage the child in the story. Maira Kalman is a master at engaging the reader. She cleverly leads the reader on an eccentric adventure connected by the 13 words she chose. From the despondent bird to the trip in a convertible to panache, the reader is on an exciting ride with words. Kalman is able to engage the reader from the first page with the amusing story for children, but adults will be turning the page too just to find out how in the world one word led to another.

Those who want to write for children would do themselves a favor by studying how Kalman plots the story line and connects the dots relating the 13 words into a fantasy of fun. It takes a good writer to do this and to make it work. This book will be read over and over and enjoyed for years to come. I give the book an A+.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Coloring Outside Autism's Lines- Book Review.

Book Review: Coloring Outside Autism’s Lines

Author: Susan Walton

Paperback- 202 pages

Publisher: Sourcebooks

ISBN 13:978-1-4022-4120-8

Coloring Outside Autism’s Lines is just what the subtitle suggests, 50+ plus activities, adventures, and celebrations for families with children with Autism. Wow, what a hopeful and refreshing look at Autism.

And isn’t that what every parent dreams for their own child who has Autism? They want normal and if not normal, hopeful. Parents can look at life as an adventure and  can now include activities that a child with Autism can actually participate in and enjoy.  That  alone  is well worth the price of the book.

As a nurse who has cared for children with Autism, I found the book a hopeful representation of what can be accomplished within the family. The book was positive and direct giving the reader tangible actions and insight to help include their child. The tools parents need to make a day at the park or a trip to the zoo more enjoyable for a child with Autism can be as simple as preparing ahead for the meal or snack, finding out if the facility has special needs accommodations, or helping to let go of the guilt when your Autistic child has a melt down in public. Ms. Walton addresses everything a parent goes through when doing normal daily motions with an Autistic child.

Ms Walton gives concrete suggestions for things like Halloween costumes, family celebrations, and finding clothing that your child will not be upset to where. She discusses preparing an emergency kit for the car to include extra clothing, how to form or participate in a community support group, and how to prepare for family or out of town visits with relatives.

The book is overall a useful resource for the simple things that most parents take for granted but that become huge issues for a child with Autism. And she does it with a relaxed conversational tone that is encouraging and positive. The over all message I picked up on was this. Enjoy and love your Autistic child because he or she is a gift. It really can be that simple.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Review Frederico, the Mouse Violinist


Frederico, the Mouse Violinist
Author: Mayra Calvani
Illustrator: K.C. Snider
Publisher: Guardian Angel Publishing Inc., 2010
ISBN-13: 978-1-61633-113-9 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-1-61633-114-6 (Paperback)
ISBN 13: 978-1-61633-125-2 (eBook)

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Frederico, the Mouse Violinist (published in 2010 by Guardian Angel Publishing Inc., 12430 Tesson Ferry Road #186, Saint Louis, Missouri 63128).  Do you know where some of the best known and most expensive violins in the world were made?  Frederico is a little mouse who lives at Cremona, Italy, in the workshop of a famous violin maker, or luthier, named Antonio Stradivari.  Day after day he watches Stradivari work on violins and learns everything there is to know about them.  Night after night he practices playing on Stradivari’s violins, but they are too big for him.  One night Stradivari notices Frederico playing a violin and soon begins working on a mysterious small device.  It looks just about the size of something for Frederico, but what could it be?

Related websites: (author), (illustrator), (publisher)

Book Review Humberto, The Bookworm Hamster

Humberto, The Bookworm Hamster
By Mayra Calvani
Guardian Angels Press
eBook ISBN 13: 978-1-935137-93-1
Ages 4-8
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by: Irene S. Roth

Synopsis:  Humberto is a ferocious reader. He never stops reading and he devours all kinds of books. For a long time, he pretty well lived a solitary life. His neighbors, the squirrel, rabbit, skunk, hedgehog, and beaver were all trying to befriend him, one at a time. But all he wanted to do was read, until one day disaster struck. The rains came for days and flooded everything around him, including his books.  He finds himself at a crossroads because he must choose between saving his books or helping his neighbors.

Overall thoughts:  Mayra Calvani does a great job of creating a cute and thought provoking book for kids.  There are a lot of lessons that kids can learn after reading the book. One of the real lessons of the book is whether it is good to be too solitary. Perhaps reading is a great preoccupation, but it must be balanced with social activities that enrich the lives of others as well as ourselves.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Help 911

It is so important for everyone in your home to know how to dial 911. It is also important to know WHEN to call 911. Here is a clear explanation for the use of the 911 service in your community.

9-1-1 is a phone number provided for easy access to emergency services. The following guidelines will help in using 9-1-1 correctly.

When is it appropriate to call 9-1-1?

9-1-1 should be used to report emergency situations

that require an immediate police, fire or medical

response to.....
1) save a life;
2) report a fire;
3) stop a  crime or apprehend a suspect. This includes any crime that is in progress or where the suspect is still on scene or has just left the scene or if life or property is in imminent danger.

When is it appropriate to call the non-emergency

dispatch number: 840-4000?

To help keep 9-1-1 lines available for reporting

emergencies, you should call 840-4000 for situations

that do not meet the above criteria or to request general


Why would I be put on “hold” immediately when I call 9-1-1?

Sometimes calls are put into a queue to be handled by the next available call-taker. On occasion, all of the

call-takers may be busy assisting other callers.

What should I do if my call is put into the queue?

Please do not hang up. If you hang up, the remnant of your call remains in the queue and is considered a

9-1-1 hang up. A call-taker must call back to try to establish if there is a true emergency and in some cases an officer may even be dispatched to your address to check on you. Other callers will also be affected due to the increased call volume created by the hang up calls.

What should I do if I dial 9-1-1 accidentally?

Again, do not hang up. Stay on the line to verify that you simply miss-dialed and that you do not have an

emergency. If you don’t stay on the line, it is a 9-1-1 hang up and the call must be handled as indicated in the section above.

Understanding these easy tips will make calling 9-1-1 in an emergency an easier process.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: SpellQuizzer

SpellQuizzer Spelling Software
By:   TedCo Software, LLC
Price:   $29.95
Ages: preschool – high school
Rating:  4 stars
Reviewed by:  Kris Quinn Christopherson

Synopsis:  SpellQuizzer software helps students learn their spelling lists more quickly than traditional manual practice. Children love playing with computers, and SpellQuizzer makes spelling practice fun! Enter the child's weekly spelling list and record the words in the list. The software then quizzes the child, playing each word back to him one at a time, checking his spelling as he types in the words. SpellQuizzer corrects him when he types in a word incorrectly, and re-quizzes him on any words he missed once the first pass is completed. Spending just five to ten minutes a day with SpellQuizzer has helped many students improve grades dramatically!

Overall thoughts:  My son does not enjoy studying for spelling tests.  He prefers to simply write his words a few times each night leading up to the test instead of my quizzing him.  So, I was excited to try this program.  This software does the traditional quizzing, but it isn’t from mom, which would make the testing more agreeable to my son.  There are no games or graphics, but rather it is a straightforward testing program that allows students to study spelling in a clear and clever manner.  Being computer-based, SpellQuizzer does not permit students to practice their penmanship (something my son needs), however, it is a good tool for students to take responsibility for their spelling words; a fine resource to enhance study skills providing immediate results.  

Free downloadable spelling lists (
Video demonstrations of SpellQuizzer (
SpellQuizzer community site (

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Book Review: Samuel Learns to Yell and Tell

Samuel Learns to Yell and Tell: A Warning for Children Against Sexual Predators
By: Debi Pearl
Published by:   No Greater Joy Ministries Inc., 2010
ISBN: 978-1-61644-016-9
Price: $9.95
Ages: 4-10
Rating:  5 stars
Reviewed by: Wayne S. Walker
How can a parent help his children recognize the danger of child predators without at the same time making them paranoid?  Samuel Learns to Yell and Tell is a much-needed resource that provides some beneficial suggestions.  In rhyming, metrical text that will appeal to youngsters, author Debi Pearl tells how Samuel’s mother asks him what he should do if someone asks to see his privates, or if a family friend “touches you down there,” or if a person shows him an evil book with dirty pictures, or if a big, scary boy pulls his pants down and threatens to hurt him if Samuel doesn’t do what he says.  Will Samuel keep these things a secret as the potential predators want, or will he learn to yell and tell it like it is?
Sexual predators of children are a serious problem in our society.  Based upon the principle that a child predator loses his power when he loses his cover, Mrs. Pearl explains, in a frank but age-appropriate way, both what children can do to avoid becoming victims and what parents can do to prepare their children for this prospect.  Before a predator can develop an “us and them” relationship with a child, the parents need to establish an “us and them” team with their child first so that he or she will feel comfortable telling them everything that happens.  There are three pages in the back of advice to mom and dad on how to accomplish this goal.  Did you know that ninety percent of all child sexual predators are close friends to the family or family members themselves?  This book can assist families in making sure that their children will keep from being sexually exploited.  Children and parents need to know that “Those prepared are usually spared.”
Links: (author), (publisher)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Author Stacey Laura Lloyd Talks about Hospital Critterz

First, let me say how much I enjoyed speaking with author Stacey Laura Lloyd. She is fun, passionate, and full of excitement for her book Hospital Critterz, The Prairie Pet. The basis of The Hospital Critterz series is to provide kids with fun and entertainment as a diversion from the scary world of healthcare. The books are about characters who are hospitalized but who have these adventures inside the hospital setting.

The story line, although imaginary, parallels what some children experience as a patient but the story takes the reader further into a world filled with excitement and riddles.

1. How did you come up with the idea for this series Stacey?

The idea for the "Hospital Critterz" series was to create an adventure series with riddles, excitement, magic, and fun that would be enjoyable and meaningful to all children, particularly children in hospitals. While most hospital-based books are tutorials, "Hospital Critterz" is unique in that it's an adventure series that emanates from a hospital setting.

2. Those readers who also dream of writing for children follow our blog for ideas and for tips for reaching this audience. What tips do you offer those who want to write for children and who need to find a publisher?

My first tip would be to read, read, read! Find the genre that interests you the most(i.e.early reader, middle grade, YA) and read all of the books that you can in that age range. From there, my next tip would be to find a subject/topic/character that you are passionate about and start writing. Have friends and children you know read your work and give you feedback. In terms of finding a publisher, the web is a great resource to see which publishers and book agents will accept unsolicited manuscripts in your genre. When you feel your work is ready, craft a pitch letter, and go for it.

3. As a nurse I can relate to how difficult a hospitalization is for the child and also for the siblings. What books are you planning in the future and do any of those relate to siblings as well?

Hospitalization is difficult not only for the child, but for his or her family as well. We hope that "Hospital Critterz:The Prairie Pet" and all future books in the "Hospital Critterz" series will create an opportunity for the entire family, including parents, grandparents, and siblings, to engage with the hospitalized child in his or her reading and strengthen the connection, discourse, and bonding between them.

4. How can we help you to promote your series on a regular basis so kids will find you and learn about your book or any new books in the series?

Thank you so much for this offer. We have a very fun website at that has a maze, word scramble, downloadable graphics, and any information about the publisher and me. Also we have a blog at that is updated regularly to keep kids interested in the series. I hope kids and parents will check it out.
As you can see, this first book in the series will offer kids fun and adventure while offering the opportunity for dialog on a very delicate subject, hospitalized and sick kids. This book is just what the doctor ordered.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hospital Critterz- The Prairie Pet by Author Stacey Laura Lloyd

The nurse in me loves this book, and the parent in me thinks this is a magical adventure that kids will love to read. Look for more about this author tomorrow when I share with you some of our conversation about this book full of fun and action.

Hospital Critterz – The Prairie Pet

Author- Stacey Laura Lloyd

Illustrator- Steve Loizos

Publisher- Strategic Media Group

ISBN- 978-0-9824157-0-2

Pages- 84

Ages 7-12

I recently had a phone conversation about Hospital Critterz-The Prairie Pet with author Stacey Laura Lloyd. What an inspiration. Stacey has such passion for kids and for helping them through the scary parts of life (like a hospitalization) that this story is going to touch kids without a doubt.

I connected to the author from a nursing standpoint because I have long seen a need for more fiction books that help kids deal with the real life situations that parents and adults don’t like to talk about. It is difficult to verbalize to your child the diseases, the pain of treatments, and the turmoil of diagnostic testing that some children must go through.

Hospital Critterz is fun and adventure all wrapped up in a great book for kids to read and enjoy. The content also makes the hospital setting less scary because it is part of the storyline with fun and quirky characters along with an interesting plot. The characters are realistic and the reader will relate to the feelings and actions of each and every character from the nurse with the wink to the Max who is mad and scared. The reader will fall in love with Lily, and following her on her journey to make things better for Max while she is a patient is heartwarming. And the magic adventure where the characters forget about their pain and help someone else is just short of , well... magic.

The nurse in me loved this book for the honesty, adventure, and fantasy and fun the author and illustrator put into the characters and the story. The parent in me loved the book as a way to open communication with children about hospitals, illness, pain, fear and anxiety. The story is really magical and fun. Kids and parents alike will enjoy it.

Check out the website for the books at

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Interview with Bree Ogden

If you are new to writing for children or are an aspiring author feverishly working away, there comes a time when you finally finish that manuscript and will start the overwhelming search for what I like to call “the guardian of the gateway” that can help you take the next step in your journey. I am very fortunate to have such a guardian by my side. Her name is Bree Ogden, and she is my savvy, fearless, and talented literary agent with Martin Literary Management. I asked Bree if she would have a few moments to talk about some topics that I hear popping up a lot at conferences, on blogs, in tweets, and around writer circles. This is what she had to say.

In the past year, what have you learned about being an agent?

Oh dear. I have learned so much about everything in the past year. The truth is, an agent is an anthropologist of sorts. The more I learn about people—their likes and dislikes—the more I learn about being an agent. The more I understand reading habits and burgeoning habits, the more I learn about being an agent. An agent needs to have an eye for these things. Every day I get a better idea of what needs to be on bookstore shelves and what needs to be pulled.

What is the biggest misconception hopeful-authors-to-be have about agents?

A lot of writers get the impression that when an agent passes on a query or manuscript that it means we didn’t like it or that is “wasn’t good material.” I have had to pass on so many manuscripts that I really enjoyed because there were other factors playing a role in my ultimate decision. Sometimes a manuscript might compete with one of my previously signed clients. It might have one too many naughty words for my taste. Or sometimes, I might really enjoy reading it, but my instincts simply say “no.” These are not things that say: YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS TERRIBLE! These are things that say: it wasn’t for me, but someone else will love it. So to answer your question more directly: I think writers misconceive just how subjective an agent’s job is.

You get a lot of submissions. Some from self-published authors. Can you talk to us about the pros and cons of self-publishing from an agent perspective?

There are rules and general ideas about self-publishing—of course these rules have exceptions and the general ideas are changing every day.

But as it stands right now, the cold hard truth is: if you self-publish and you only sell a few hundred copies of your book, all that the publishers will see is that your book did not sell. If you think that self-publishing is a gateway to traditional publishing, you have to understand that’s an exception to the rule.

However, I’m not going to say that the model isn’t shifting.,, and eReaders have made it incredibly appealing for an author to self-publish. It’s quick and painless. Whereas trudging through all the steps of traditional publishing is a much harder and slower process.

You simply have to evaluate what you want out of your publishing experience. Are you willing to put in the work to self-publish and sell thousands of copies of your book? Can you do your own PR and marketing? Can you shell out the money up front? Do you want more say in the editing and design of your final product? Is this book just for your family and friends? These are all things to think about when considering the self-publishing option.

When should a writer self-publish?

There is no objective answer to this question. I can’t say that a writer should never self-publish and I can’t say that a writer should self-publish. It’s a personal decision that should be very carefully examined, weighing the pros and cons in relation to each specific author. I will definitely say that a lot of research should be done prior to self-publishing. Once it is done, it cannot be undone and it could adversely affect the future of your publishing career.

However, as I briefly mentioned above, an extremely appropriate instance of self-publishing is when a book is for posterity’s sake. Many people will self-publish histories, journals, memoirs, etc., for their family members.

You represent several graphic novels. What should writer/artists know about submitting these type of books and how is the market receiving them?

From what I can tell, there is no model to selling a graphic novel. Some editors want to see five sample panels up front, some want 10 sample panels. Some editors want to choose the artist, some want you to bring them an artist. Some editors want a finished project (art and script), others will buy off concept alone.

But what I DO know is that most editors are looking for really unusual, unique artwork right now (think Koko Be Good). Also, graphic novel scripts must be scripted out in proper format (many books can help teach you this.)

Me personally, I like it when artwork is submitted with the script. I recently learned that finding the perfect artist for a graphic novel script is like finding a Taylor Swift fan that likes Kanye West. That’s not to say I won’t look at just scripts. There is a benefit to scripts without art attached…they give the editor more room to make the project perfect for them.

The market is receiving them really well. I mean, of course you’ve got DC, Marvel, Image, IDW, Dark Horse, etc., that are always going to do great because they are the home to our beloved superheroes (Team DC!!). Outside of those houses, it’s a bit harder to successfully pull off a graphic novel, but once it is successfully pulled off, most of them do really well. The types that do the best are the quirky ones (Ghostopolis), politically motivated ones (Persepolis), memoir graphic novels (Fun Home, Maus), adaptations (Howl: A Graphic Novel), and hybrids (Wimpy Kid).

What are some of the coming and going trends in publishing right now for children's books?

Coming trends? Thrillers. Everyone wants The Scare. Dark, scary, suspenseful books. People may disagree with me, but I feel like this is blowing up or will blow up very soon. This doesn’t necessarily mean paranormal. We are seeing John Grisham and Orson Scott Card writing thrillers for YA and middle grade…this isn’t going away, it’s growing: thrillers for kids. Another trend is science fiction, space opera types.

Going? Paranormal for YA. That’s a no brainer. Yes, they will always stock the shelves, but they are losing steam. Notice I emphasize “for YA.” I don’t think paranormal is going anywhere in the middle grade genre, at least not for a while. But there is too much YA paranormal and editors are becoming increasingly pickier about what they buy.

Are you currently open or closed to submissions right now? If open, what are you looking for?

Yes, sir. I am open to submissions. My wish list includes but is not limited to: a serious middle grade/YA zombie manuscript, a Dexter-ish type YA black comedy, a manuscript written in the era of Mad Men with panache and style, a faux memoir (YA/MG/graphic novel). I’m looking for boy-centric chapter books for early readers (5-8 years old). I would LOVE a good hybrid. In YA, I love science fiction, think Battlestar Galactica. Light on the romance! Not a huge fan of overwhelming or unrealistic romantic storylines. I love horror, gritty chicks, witty dialogue, and something that makes me think long after I put it down. Who doesn’t want that?

I want to thank Bree so much for her generosity and taking a break from being her usual awesome self to stop by the blog and talk with us. To read and learn more about Bree you can go to:

Or read her very informative blog – This Literary Life

Or find her on Twitter @breeogden

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

News From Stanley and Tyke

February is the month dedicated to celebrating heart health, African American history and friendship. There is a plethora of learning opportunities and learning resources. Tyke and I love to search the internet to find useful and entertaining ways to learn and grow. If you’d like to spend some family time learning about African American history, check out the following links:

African American History for Kids

Black History Month

Reading Rockets: Black History Month

For many students and children, Valentine’s Day is the highlight of the month. Everyone loves to make and receive a Valentine. Valentines are given as a sign of friendship. What does it mean to be a friend? Discuss with your child the true meaning of friendship. How can they be a good friend? Additionally, what does it mean to be a bad friend?

Parenting Tip:

While the topic of friendship is one that is and should be discussed often at a variety of ages, the idea of bullying is often ignored. Define and discuss the topic of friendship and bullying. How are they different? I’ve included a list of books you may enjoy reading with your child as you explore the topic of bullying.

Lucy and the Bully by Clair Alexander

The Bully Blockers Club by Teresa Bateman

Bully B.E.A.N.S. by Julia Cook

Jungle Bullies by Steven Kroll

The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neil

Don’t Laugh At Me by Steve Seskin


Hyperlink Addresses:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Meet Author Mayra Calvani and Learn More About this Award Winning Author

Welcome, Mayra. We are so glad you are here.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I started writing when I was about twelve years old and since then my life has been surrounded by books. During my teens I wrote short stories, school plays, and even tried my hand at
a novel. Later, I majored in Creative Writing in college. So yes, writing has
always been a part of my life. I’ve also had the fortune of living in various
countries, something that has influenced my writing. I’ve done teaching in the
past but now I write fulltime, except for when I do replacement teaching once
in a while. I live in Belgium with my husband, two kids and a loveable golden
retriever, Amigo. 

Describe your desk/workspace.

I have a little office all to myself, with a big desk and bookshelves all around. I like my desk to stay tidy. I love office supplies and make sure I always have a surplus supply of them. I sit on a leather swivel chair. I keep an exercise mat nearby and sometimes take breaks to do situps or
stretching exercises. My neck and shoulders tend to get very stiff when I write.

Do you have a favorite quote?

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful
illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on
by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” --George Orwell

What are you currently reading?

How My Journal Became a Bestseller, by Julia DeVillers.

What is the best advice you've ever received?

“Leap, and the net will appear.”

If you could have coffee with anyone (living or dead, real or fictional), who
would it be and why?

Fun question! I think that would have to be either Sherlock Holmes or Lestat, both fascinating characters in their own way.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I feel like eating every time I face the blank page.

Do you write full-time or part-time?

I’m a fulltime writer.

What are your current marketing strategies for Frederico,the Mouse Violinist?

Besides doing this virtual book tour, doing interviews and requesting reviews from mom and kidlit bloggers, I’ve also contacted music/violin magazines and catalogs. One of my plans is to
go on another VBT later this year where all hosts will be violinists and music teachers. You have to target your niche market, right?

What would be the best way for readers to contact you?

Readers may contact me at

Where can people find your book, Frederico, the Mouse Violinist?

The book is available on Amazon, B&N, and Guardian Angel Publishing.

You can also order the book from any brick and mortar bookstore.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I'd like to invite readers to visit my website and blogs at:

Thanks for sharing so much with us. Best of luck with your books.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Red in the Flower Bed- Book Review

Red in the Flower Bed

Andrea Nepa

This is a cute book and is available as a download to Kindle as well as a hardback/ e-book. Very cute illustrations too. Read my brief review. I love reviewing books for this site and my professional blogs because it is so important to keep books alive for our children. There is always a story to tell.

This is a simple book with a grown up and inspirational message that I was both surprised and impressed. It follows the journey of a poppy seed through many places where it would not bloom to the unlikely yet perfect place for it to be planted. Just like in interracial adoptions, a child might feel transplanted into a different culture, yet it becomes the perfect place for that child to bloom.

Andrea Nepa wrote the book for her adopted Vietnamese daughter, Leah. Her little girl made the long journey first to the United States and into a new family. Then later, her journey led her down a medical pathway when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Now in remission, Leah blooms.

The story is easy to read with simple words yet resonates an emotionally impacted message for adults ands children about belonging. Read it over and over, and in the words of Mary Englebright- "Bloom where you are planted." The lesson for adults as well as the children.

I never receive compensation for book reviews and if a hard copy is sent for review, it is donated to local libraries, the elementary school, or the pediatric unit of the hospital where I work. The opinions in the review are my own.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Book Review: Stone Wall Secrets

Stone Wall Secrets
By: Kristine and Robert Thorson and Gustav Moore
Published by:  Tilbury House Publishers, 1998
ISBN: 978-0-88448-229-1
Price: $7.95
Ages 8-12
Rating:  4 stars
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

Of what possible use could a bunch of old stone walls on a farm be to a young person today?  Adam’s grandfather lives on a New England farm with many old stone walls.  A mason wants to buy all the stones for buildings in the city, and Grandpa wonders what Adam thinks about it.  At first, Adam suggests that Grandpa should just get rid of them and make some money.  But Grandpa says that it’s not so simple.  As the two walk along the walls, Grandpa tells Adam how the stone began as sediment from an ancient ocean, then was thrust up as mountains when continents collided, and was scraped and carried by scouring glaciers.

Then Grandpa reminds Adam how PaleoIndians used the stones for hunting mammoths, how the settlers dug them out of the ground to build the walls, and finally how he himself and his sister played on them when they were children.  Co-author Robert Thorson is a professor of geology at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.   Along with Adam, the reader learns how fascinating geology can be, but in addition this charming story also shows a positive family dynamic between different generations.  Also, it is said that Adam was adopted, and as the father of two adopted sons I always appreciate books for young people that portray adopted children in typical family relationships.  It was quite an enjoyable read.  An accompanying teacher’s guide by Ruth Deike is also available and can be used to explore geology in the classroom.

Links: (publisher)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Book Review of the NEW Hickory Dickory Dock

Review By David Broughton

Title:                       Hickory Dickory Dock
Author:                   Dr. Mike Lockett
Illustrator:               Lulu Yang
ISBN:                      978-986-6483-42-4
Retail                      $19.95
Publisher                B. I. G. \ Heritage Schoolhouse
Amazon Rating      Three to five stars (see *)

At first blush, the idea of a rewrite of the old Mother Goose rhyme didn't sit well with me. Why mess with a classic? However, when I received the book written by Dr. Mike Lockett, it was better than I thought possible. The rhyme is good, the story is told from a different point of view reasonably well. It's not the best children's book I've seen, but it's certainly not the worst, not by a long shot. Acceptable and adequate were first to mind for the poem portion. Having to base the work on the Mother Goose rhyme, without doing the original an injustice must have been extremely difficult to do. The new Hickory Dickory Dock pays respect to the original acceptably well, and will introduce a new generation to the world of Mother Goose rhymes.

The artwork by Lulu Yang is quite interesting; real materials were scanned and used to make mosaic-like pictures. If that were the end of it, I would rate this book about three and a half stars: it's well made, as well written as possible, and the artwork is fresh and different. *There are a couple of extra things that push this particular book to the five-star level. It's also written in Chinese, by turning the book over and upside down, it becomes a Chinese language book. Okay, if you don't happen to read Chinese, that's not a big deal, but I did find it interesting. The topper, as far as I'm concerned, is the CD that comes with the book. The author tells the story in a most unique and interesting way. His vocal telling of the story makes it easy for children to learn to read the words on the page. A second CD was provided by the author that fully demonstrated a unique talent for emulating accents, voices, dialects and other attributes of speakers from all parts of the world. Truth be told, Dr. Lockett is a storyteller of the best sort. That's what he does; he visits schools, fairs, expos and the like to tell his various stories with the various voices he can do. A professional educator for many years, Dr. Lockett demonstrates a unique ability to relate to children. Hickory Dickory Dock was written to provide teachers of early childhood students with a fanciful look at the mouse that has been running up and down that clock ever since someone elected to call herself Mother Goose and put the original poem to pen. The story does justice to the original Mother Goose and adds a cute story line to go with the original poem.

To put it more succinctly, though well constructed and beautifully illustrated in an unusual style that can be called a photo collage, the story itself is simple and not spectacular.  What moves it into the realm where it deserves to be talked about is the fact that it is two books in one - a story told in English AND in Chinese.  More importantly, the book comes with an audio CD by Dr. Mike Lockett, a storyteller of quite some note.  His recorded voice makes the audio read-aloud feature of the book come alive.

The author, Dr. Mike Lockett, told me "One thing that makes the book a hit for families is that the story is easy and fun for parents to read to their children.  The children love the rhymes and rhythm.  Parents can do just as good of a job sharing the story as any teacher in the country.  That is so important."  Lockett reminds parents, "You are the child's first and most important teacher." When parents read Hickory Dickory Dock or listen to the story with their children and Dr. Lockett's CD, a good time is had by all.

Available from Amazon, or order direct from or


*Stories for Children Publishing, LLC. (SFC) and its divisions do not receive any compensation for product reviews beyond a sample and/or limited access to a paid website. SFC donates all books sent for review to a charitable organization. SFC may do a contest or giveaway of samples we receive.