Review: The Wise Animal Handbook

The Wise Animal Handbook by Kate B. Jerome


If Old McDonald’s Farm, The Chicken Soup books and the motivational poster people all got together to make a book, it would turn out like this! Adorable short clips of advise on everything from eating healthy, to how to treat friends, to adjusting perspective – The Wise Animal Handbook uses vivid animal photography to impart wisdom on young animal lovers. It makes a great storytime book on a particularly chaotic schooldays as the subject matter, rhythmic text, and beautiful images give off a refocus vibe that settles and calms.

Attempt new skills from time to time.

Just try to think them through.

And if you find you’re left behind…

Then change your point of view.

This volume is a slight departure from the series based on states by Kate B. Jerome, because it covers all animals instead of animals of a specific geographic location. The result is a wonderful overview to the Earth’s expansive critter variety while providing human insight, sans any preachy tone. Friendly and uplifting reminders on important philosophies alongside the cute, cuddly and strange animal world this book has a wonderful feel-good finish to it, the picture book equivalent to a warm cup of tea.


Review: Sea Monkey & Bob

Sea Monkey & Bob
by Aaron Reynolds (Author), Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Illustrator)

Review: Sea Monkey & Bob

When two aquatic friends – a sea monkey and a puffer fish – suddenly become fearful that one might sink to the bottom and the other might float to the surface, a very (not so) serious drama unfolds among the creatures of the ocean. Aaron Reynolds nails the geeky neurosis of each friends through goofy dialog while Debbie Ridpath Ohi illustrates the mega (not) drama the pair’s experience with keeping it together and joining forces to overcome their terrifying (unlikely) dilemma.

The part I loved most about this book were the expressions on the faces of the other sea creatures listening to their conversation about sinking and floating. Adorable, sarcastic and silly, each fish catching the commotion interpreted it differently and gives the book a baseline for how absurd Sea Monkey and Bob’s fears are. When reading it as a bedtime book, my daughter’s favorite part was giving the peripheral fish their own voices based on the face they were making –  “Mama, this fish is like ‘you guys are crazy!’”. Having a reason to jump into an outside perspective on irrational fears will make a nice teaching tool for kids suffering from heightened levels of anxiety.

Great read, and fun to share, Sea Monkey & Bob makes for a giggle-tactic addition to any child’s library! [Get yours here]


Review: Sparkle Boy

Sparkle Boy arrived direct form the publisher Lee & Low Books in a distinctly non-sparkly drab brown media mailer. I knew what the package contained. I had been checking my PO box like a rabid rubber ball for the past week. It was here. I tore open the envelope and was greeted with my very own copy and a nice note from the staff intern Santiago. It. Was. mine.

I “met” Lesléa Newman via email only a few days ago. An unassuming email popped into my web site’s inbox asking if I would review her book her new book Sparkle Boy. Of course I would, I love to do reviews knowing how hard it is first hand to get the word out on your own published work. If I can share some love – sure! Then I started reading about Sparkle Boy. Then I started digging into Lesléa. I consumed her web site, stalked her through past interviews with press. I read each and every book review on her previous picture book releases. This was someone I wanted to support. This is someone I could get behind. This was the reason I was doing reviews.

Sparkle Boy sat unopened on my coffee table until I picked up MiniMe from camp that afternoon. At four (AND A HALF!) years old, she is already a force of nature. I needed to experience this with her first. She picked up the book immediately. The cover has a gorgeous spot-varnish of sparkles that makes it stand out against the other volumes currently stacked up beneath it. She handed it to me to read. Perfect. We settled in and made it through cover to cover without comment. I asked her if she liked it. “No”. Was all I got back. Then she immediately asked me to read it again.

I read it again. She was still quiet this time, but felt compelled to point out the little dog when he showed up throughout the book. I asked her again if she liked it. “No.” She replied again. “Why not?” I asked hoping I would get some feedback. “Boys don’t wear sparkles.” Hmmmmm “Don’t you think everyone should wear whatever they want?” “No” I got again. “Boys wear boy clothes and girls wear girl clothes.” Huh. No wiggle room so far to talk about this, so I mentioned that “jeans and t-shirts are boy clothes, but you wear them, yes?” No answer. “And some boys wear bright colors and some boys always wear dark colors?” No answer. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could all wear whatever made us happy and smiling?” She looked up at me, arms still crossed but the scrunch lines across her forehead were gone.

I pulled out my phone and started flipping through all the images my friends had posted from the St Pete Pride Parade. Anything went. She was excited by the tutus, the glitter, the funny shoes, the bright colors and all the rainbows. No more mention of who was wearing what. Then she was up off the couch and gone. She came back with two tutus, two sparkly bracelets, two sparkly rings. She said “I’ll be the big sister, and you be the little brother and ask me to wear my skirt.”….ok, I’ll play along…. “I love your skirt, can I wear a sparkly skirt, too?” She put her hands on her hips “Most boys don’t wear tutus, but some do! Sure!” We reenacted the book a few times about selecting items that boys don’t traditionally wear and let her decide that it was ok with her that I could wear them.

This book opened a dialog that I really didn’t know needed to be had. At four (AND A HALF) she had already built the foundations for some very steep walls around what was acceptable and not from her daily input of classmates, television, teachers… She had clearly questioned, tested and concluded at some point that boy and girls had certain lines they did not cross. As a mom, I feel like we need to crack into more of these topics before any real damage is done. I feel like I need to ask her about sports, about science, about everything. Kids pick up so much so fast. We talk about how they just absorb learning material “like little sponges”, but that is not all they absorb. We can’t pick what they filter in to become part of their mindset as they form their personalities, but we can challenge it – IF we know it needs to be challenged. Sparkle Boy has become a ‘gateway drug’ to opening both our minds, and I look forward to sharing it far and wide.

Check out the video below of the eventual ‘takeaway’ from our discussion….

I also had the amazing opportunity to interview Lesléa Newman! Did I mention she is the author of Heather Has Two Mommies? Come on, you remember Heather Has Two Mommies – it was the second most controversial topic of the 90’s. Falls in right after the O.J. car chase fiasco.

Read my upcoming interview with Lesléa Newman in the fall issue of Story Monsters Ink Magazine!

Lesléa Newman is the author of seventy books for readers of all ages. She has received many literary accolades, including poetry fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and has served as Poet Laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts, from 2008 to 2010. In addition to creating her own books, Newman teaches writing for children and young adults at Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program. She wrote this book to celebrate all the “sparkle boys” she knows. Newman lives in western  Massachusetts, with her spouse, Mary Vazquez. www.leslé

Julianne Black has written and illustrated several books,  including “Sleep Sweet” the multi-award winning Augmented Reality picture book.  She is an internationally recognized graphic artist, fine artist and freelance contributor to Story Monsters Ink Magazine. She can be reached at

Review: There Might Be Lobsters

There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi (Author), Laurel Molk (Illustrator)

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Review: There Might Be Lobsters


Sukie and Chunka Monka just weren’t sure about the beach. After all, there was a lot to be afraid of! Stairs! Beach balls! Waves! And… Lobsters!

An adorable day at the shore becomes a wonderful story about getting over fears as a dog, the dog’s stuffed monkey and their fearless leader Eleanor take to the sea for a side-step outside Sukie’s comfort zone.  The time explaining the thought behind Sukie’s fears is exceptional. Perfectly relatable for kids to absorb but not so long and drawn out to lose their attention. The illustrations are wonderfully paired to the story, the sunny and carefree whimsy of the art confirms the storyline without making Sukie’s apprehension seem unjustified.

This is a great book for the over-cautious kid in all of us. The three adventurers play out the struggle between living a life open to new experiences and when we give ourselves too many limits, especially those limits that are maybe a little overboard.

Carolyn Crimi (author) and Laurel Molk (illustrator) are a great combination, I will hopefully look forward to more titles by the duo! {Get it here}


Review: The Dreaming Giant: A Children’s Book Inspired by Wassily Kandinsky

The Dreaming Giant: A Children’s Book Inspired by Wassily Kandinsky by Véronique Massenot (Author), Peggy Nille (Illustrator)

Wow! What an exciting way to explore Kandinsky’s world! This book walks through the color and shapes of Wassily Kandinsky’s oil painting Sky Blue – but to get there we travel through the Giant’s body (a representation of the artist) as tiny explorers. We travel through Kandinsky’s artist evolution in abstract states of color and expression. Much like the physical body echoes the artist’s body of work, we ebb and flow through the artist’s style until reaching the brain. The brain serves as the doorway to the dream state where Blue Sky exists as an actual  physical space in which the elements of the painting are alive. Woah.

As an artist myself and a huge Kandinsky fan, this was my Yellow Submarine. While the book and the painting are both 2D, The Dreaming Giant used movement and color to bring the painting to life with the awesome collaborative efforts of Véronique Massenot and Peggy Nille. A wonderful addition to any school’s library or in the hands of fans (or fans-to-be) of Wassily Kandinsky. {{Pick it up here}}


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The Dreaming Giant: A Children’s Book Inspired by Wassily Kandinsky

Review: The Very Very Very Long Dog

The Very Very Very Long Dog  by Julia Patton 



Oh, Bartelby! What a mess you’ve made this time!

This is a sweet tale of a kind and happy dog living in a bookstore and playing with his family…Except, he is so long from head to tail, he has no idea the trouble his bottom is causing! We follow Bartelby on his daily walk and watch what kind of chaos is store for a dog who is so long that he has no idea what his back half is up to! It’s up to his family to come up with a solution – and quick – because Bartelby has vowed never to leave the bookstore again.

Julia Patton does a wonderful job taking you on Bartelby’s walks, and the illustrations are a wonderful mix of minimalistic watercolor-sketch, but yet so full of story. Each page’s illustrations take the story well beyond the narration, making it a joy to linger and absorb poor Bartelby’s surroundings and unfortunate predicaments.

Gentle text, soft illustrations, and excellent overall story length make The Very Very Very Long Dog a great bedtime book for any age, but geared toward Preschool – 4. Hardcover to be released in December of 2017.

Review: Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code

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Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code  by Laurie Wallmark (Author), Katy Wu (Illustrator)

Ever wonder why we use the word “bug” when discussing a computer problem? That would be a term first coined by the amazing Grace Hopper, Queen of Computer Code! Written by Laurie Hallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu, this book is a delightful biography on one of the world’s most accomplished mathematicians and the mother of computer code as we know it today.

An insightful and entertaining mix of inspirational quotes, educational firsts and fun pictures, Grace Hopper makes a powerful yet friendly statement about following your dreams and not letting stumbles or delays hold you back from moving forward with all of your dreams.

“Humans are allergic to change. They say ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ I try to fight that.”

The only thing that could have made this book better – a section in the back with tear-out posters of the illustrated quotes to hang above the desks and in the classrooms of all the young Grace Hoppers of the world.  “If you’ve got a good idea, and you know it’s going to work, go ahead and do it.”  Now get back to work!


Interview: Journal Sparks author Emily K. Neuburger


​​#bookturnip Interview with Journal Sparks author Emily K. Neuburger

It’s when I get to talk to other creatives that my own creativity gets really bubbling. Had the amazing opportunity to interview Emily K Neuburger, the author of Journal Sparks, and she is amazing! I especially love what she had to say about creating idea systems and how she captures them when they come. Enjoy!

Psssttttttt – this interview has been hidden because…….

It is going to be in Story Monsters Ink Magazine this summer!

Watch for it here!


I’ll repost this content after it goes to print 🙂



Review: 13 Art Materials Children Should Know

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13 Art Materials Children Should Know by Narcisa Marchioro

Stone, gold, paper, glass…

This book celebrates art through history with an introductory on each material and where it fits into the progression human expression has made through time. From 2,000,000 BC forward, artists have collected, reused, reshaped and combined to bring their own visions to life. This book provides a map of accomplishments alongside a timeline of human history to compare the ancient with the modern and how it fit into the daily lives of those experiencing major events in culture.

An indispensable addition to any humanities or art history classroom, the visual progression and easy to follow format make it truly flip-worthy as a resource or simply a source of inspiration. Author Narcisa Marchioro does an exceptional job illustrating a wealth of facts for even the most visual learner. Geared for ages nine and up.