Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Meet Natalie Rompella, Author of Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners ~ by Eileen Meyer

TAKE FIVE interview and Giveaway 

Natalie talks sled-dog racing, fresh-baked cookies, middle school and more!

Welcome to my first TAKE FIVE interview on the GROG Blog. I hope that you’ll take five minutes to meet the wonderful children’s author, Natalie Rompella, and learn more about her new MG novel, COOKIE CUTTERS AND SLED RUNNERS. If you post a comment in the next week, you’ll be entered in a drawing to receive a free copy of Natalie’s book (shipping limited to US postal addresses).

Eileen: What was the inspiration behind your new middle grade novel, COOKIE CUTTERS AND SLED RUNNERS?    
Natalie: My new love of sled dog racing. I had finished writing a book on sports that began in the U.S. and just learned about it. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. My character formed herself. I didn’t plan on writing about someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder—that organically happened. As for it taking place in middle school: this was one of my favorite times of my life. I loved sixth grade. I also adore teaching middle graders.

Eileen:  Tell us more about the recipes in the book. Where did they come from? Do you love to bake?
Natalie: I love baking. I started when I was young. My friend, Kate, and I would bake together. The first recipe in the book is based on the Sprinkle-Cake Cookies we came up with in grade school. And the Pad Thai Tuna recipe is one I used to make in high school -- a tuna and peanut butter sandwich. (Yes, it may sound awful, but it’s really good!) I still love baking and altering recipes. It’s fun to see what happens if you tweak something just so.

Eileen: How did you research two important, but very different themes in the novel – obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and sled dog racing?
Natalie: Call it cheating if you wish, but I had done research on both of these topics previously; so part of the research was done and already in my brain. However, writing fiction and non-fiction requires different research. I found this especially true with the sled dog racing. Because the sport was so foreign to me, I wasn’t familiar with the jargon. I joined a Facebook group and made friends with mushers. It was through mushers that I learned the sport vs. from books. 1. There aren’t that many books about the sport; 2. I wanted authentic dialogue from my character who raced and owned sled dogs. Oh, and I also attended sled dog races—both ones in the Midwest (as portrayed in the book) and the Iditarod in Alaska. With the OCD, I had already done research, but I also live with OCD, so many of the character’s thoughts came from what I’ve experienced.

Eileen: Share something surprising that people don’t know about you.
Natalie: I am an insect fanatic. I’ve had pet cicadas, katydids, hissing cockroaches, and praying mantids. Or, for those who already know about my insect obsession, you may not know I was absolutely petrified of insects growing up.

Eileen: Where can readers and fans find you on social media?
Natalie: Connect with me here --

Thank you, Natalie! We’ll announce one lucky winner who’ll receive a complimentary copy of her new book. Post a comment by following the Rafflecopter link below to be eligible for the drawing!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Multicultural Children's Book Day ~ by Christy Mihaly

The fifth annual Multicultural Children's Book Day is Saturday, January 27. MCBD aims to raise awareness of books for kids that celebrate diversity, and to get those books into more homes, classrooms and libraries. Hundreds of reviewers will be posting about hundreds of books. Wowza!

There's additional information at the end of this post about the MCBD Twitter party and other elements of the celebration. Why not join in the fun? And follow along on social media at: #ReadYourWorld.

This is my fourth year participating in MCBD, and I received FOUR exciting books to review. Big thanks to the MCBD sponsors! 

Picture Window Books, an imprint of Capstone Publishers, published the first two books on today's list. Pedro the Great, written by Fran Manushkin and illustrated by Tammy Lyon, is fun and engaging. This is the team that created the Katie Woo series, and the Pedro easy reader series follows the everyday adventures of the multicultural gang of buddies familiar to Katie Woo readers.  In Pedro the Great, you'll find humor and imagination, pirates, sharks, and ninjas. Pedro also displays some smart thinking to solve an engineering problem and build the tallest tower of cups. Highly recommended for readers K-2 (96 pages, paperback).

For the next level up (grades 2-4), Ailsa Wild has written a fast-paced family story in an urban setting, featuring a plucky heroine named Squishy (real name, Sita). Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters, with illustrations by Ben Wood, was first published in Australia. It takes place soon after Squishy's mother has moved away for a temporary but long-term work assignment, causing Squishy to move in with her father's new family. Squishy's relationship with her twin stepsisters at first involves the silent treatment and mean tricks, but soon an enigmatic young fugitive in their apartment building's garage brings the three girls together to solve a mystery. Squishy gets to know her stepsisters better and realizes the twins are, in fact, her "bonus sisters." This well-written book should keep young readers riveted. (128 pages; I reviewed the paperback edition.)

The next couple of selections are picture books. Dream A Rainbow, written by Carlotta Penn, PhD, and beautifully illustrated by Joelle Avelino, was published last month by Daydreamers Press, a multicultural education company. The young protagonist of the story follows a rainbow into a colorful, imaginative dream with friendly animals in the eye-catching landscape of Ethiopia. 
In a personal note, the author explains that her book was inspired by her experience as the mother of a "rainbow baby," a daughter born after an earlier miscarriage. This story, building on the rainbow metaphor about happiness after heartbreak, came to her during the pregnancy that resulted in her daughter's birth. Penn says she's a dedicated daydreamer who wants to encourage her child and others to dream big dreams. (28 pages, soft cover.)

And last but surely not least, Willie: Does it Matter? is the creation of Rhyme Timean enterprise founded by "three grandmothers." The rhyming text by Debora Emmert (a.k.a. Nonna Debora) explores which personal characteristics matter, and which don't. 

Willie begins asking diverse friends and neighbors whether his hair color, height, or other physical features matter to them, and they tell him: "No." But when he inquires about character traits such as honesty and loyalty, he gets a different answer. His friends agree that how you treat other people is important. The illustrations by Bonnie Murray bring a cheery whimsy to this story about what qualities we value in our friends. (24 pages, soft cover; e-book.) 

One of the great things about Multicultural Children's Book Day is that it helps the creators of diverse, nontraditionally published books to connect with new readers. If you're intrigued, visit their websites to find out more, and happy reading, all!

I received complimentary copies of these books for review from MCBD sponsors, and I'll be donating them to my local elementary school. And now, a word from (and about) the MCBD sponsors:
Multicultural Children’s Book Day was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. 

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.

2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors
BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

2018 Author Sponsors
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.  Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party!
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers:

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators:


Tuesday, January 16, 2018


FLASHLIGHT NIGHT: Rhyming picture book to take out to the tree house

by Matt Forrest Essenwine with artwork by Fred Koehler

Suppose that I want to write a friendship
picture book adventure.
It will come alive through three important elements.

 Let's say these are -

tree house

And to up the stakes for me as a writer,
let's say I'll pull it off in rhyme.
Beautiful rhyme. Not just rhyme for when you play word games at home.
You know what I mean. The beautiful quality of
the low percent of submitted rhymed manuscripts that can become traditionally published

I hope you'll sit down soon with the rhyming picture book, FLASHLIGHT NIGHT.
The text is by debut picture book author Matt Forrest Essenwine
& the art is from the well-known award-winning creator, Fred Koehler.

This is a poem story alive with the promise

of high adventure unfolding
in the sedate backyard tree house. The friends 
flash the light to discover that it:

Shines a path where waters rush
reveals a hole in the underbrush

Oh my gosh! What's next? Don't 'cha wanna know!!!

The illustrations by Fred Koehler are like a nocturne gallery. 
The nightshade from scene to scene heightens the child’s delight in overlooked 
but important clues. I went back to look at them up close, as soon as
I read this book about the adventures & friendship of a girl and two boys. 

To celebrate publication, the two creators agreed to tell me something about their childhoods.


“Hi, thank you for doing a post, Jan! I really appreciate that.”

                                   (The book deserves a lot of spotlight, Matt.- jga)

“Growing up in rural New Hampshire, I developed an appreciation for nature from a young age.
 We lived on 10 acres of mostly wooded property, and although I was not allowed to go 
deep into the woods, the woods were all around me and therefore afforded me a great 
opportunity to use my imagination.

"I never had a tree house as a child, but I did have something I called my “hideout,”
which was an area just off of our lawn that consisted of lots of large, flat stones, thick juniper bushes, 
and a couple of large, easily-climbed trees. Some days I would pretend I was a bad guy 
hiding from the law, while other days I was the good guy trying to track down the baddies.
My hideout was also my “secret” place to have lunch. Mom would give me my food 
and I would head out to one of the flat rocks there and eat underneath the tree. 
And even though this little area was right along the edge of the lawn and only 
15 feet or so away from the road, I felt like I was in my own little world!

"I suppose it is no wonder, then, that the natural world and my sense of family have
 played such crucial roles in my writing, both for adults as well as for children. 
I am fortunate that dad has not sold the place yet – at 82, he still lives on that same 
old dirt road surrounded by woods – but I know that a not-so-little piece of me 
will be lost the day he does.”

                      (This paints an evocative picture, Matt. And so great about your Dad. – jga)

I first encountered Matt’s work via the Poetry Friday crowd.
I anticipate Matt’s poems & stories to appear in many forthcoming picture  books. In fact,
his second picture book, which he co-authors, is due out in April.
Go visit him here.


“When I was a kid, our house backed up to an acre or two of Florida scrub. 
Through the woods, I had neighbors whose dad worked construction and 
brought home all the scraps of job site lumber. In those trees, we would build 
the most elaborate fort systems, with tight ropes lines between the trees, trap doors, 
and even underground bunkers. We had more fun than any other kids on the planet, 
and probably could fend off pirates better than the Swiss Family Robinson.”

             (I see the foundations of an artist’s mind in those constructions, Fred.
                                                      Thank you! – jga)

I first encountered Fred's talented work in the hilarious, minimalist-word story by 
poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich,  ONE DAY, THE END.  
This year I anticipate Fred’s Pacific garbage patch-set debut novel.

Also, travel along as KidLitTV reveals, via a talk with Rocco Staino, 

I ordered FLASHLIGHT NIGHT from my local indy, Midtown Reader.

My child days hideout memories include a tree seat my father nailed into one of our beautiful,
old dogwood trees, so I could read up there, undisturbed & also, the creek ravine woods that 
beckoned me not far from that tree. Earlier, at our first house, I loved the fresh-scented,
old pine fairy woods. It rose up dark green on damp dirt on the side of our house that was 
opposite from the neighbor's aromatic dairy farm. 

Readers of the Group Blog: good luck with all your rhymes, especially the picture book kind. - JG Annino