Pandemic PB reviews (with no particular theme)…

Stopped by my local Barnes & Noble today to see my book “in the wild”! It is as thrilling as I had dreamed it would be– now I just hope people will buy it!

Between the pandemic and the chaos of being a teacher right now, I don’t get out to explore new books as often as I used to, but when I do, it sure is amazing to see how many fun and creative new picture books are out there. I wanted to focus on books published since the start of the pandemic, since they are most likely to need some “extra love,” but a couple just jumped out at me and begged to be read, so I couldn’t refuse!


Title: Sweety
Author/Illustrator
: Andrea Zuill
Publisher/Date: 
Schwartz & Wade; Illustrated edition (March 26, 2019)
The “gist”:  Sweety’s aunt calls her a “square peg,” since she just doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, but does that mean she should change?
My favorite part:
 I loved that of all creatures, Sweety was a naked mole rat– and there was a sweet note about how the illustrator was thankful they liked clothing so there was no worry about drawing “embarrassing” parts!
My response as a reader: 
Sweety’s story resonated with me greatly, because I never had many friends growing up. My social skills weren’t great, and I preferred the company of adults much of the time. My dad once told me he was proud I didn’t have friends because it meant I had not sacrificed who I was and tried to be like the popular kids. But life without friends can be lonely and painful. It wasn’t until I got to college that I met “kindred spirits.” I hope that kids reading Sweety will realize they don’t have to change and things WILL get better.
My “take-away” as a writer: 
Who knew that all this time I could have written about my lonely childhood? Then again, childhood trauma is what makes a good writer, right?

Title: How to Meet a Mermaid
Author
: Sue Fliess
Illustrator:  Simona Sanfilippo
Publisher/Date: Sky Pony (June 16, 2020)
The “gist”: The title says it all: this book takes you through the steps of where to find mermaids, how to make a crown to entice them, etc.
My favorite part:
I love that the children basically have a magical moment of turning into mermaids and then when it is over, they are kids again! How fun!
My response as a reader: 
Who doesn’t love mermaids, right? Not only are they super fun, but they are really popular right now, so I bet kids would love this! (I did!).
My “take-away” as a writer: 
This book is part of a whole series of “Magical Creatures and Crafts” which includes books about Unicorns, Christmas Elves, etc. all of which pair a story with some crafts families can make– genius idea!!

Title: This is NOT that kind of Book
Author
: Christopher Healey
Illustrator:  Ben Mantle
Publisher/Date: Random House BYR (October 15, 2019)
The “gist”: In this very “meta” kind of book, the characters are all confused about just what kind of book they find themselves in.
My favorite part:
I love the apple! Similar to “Groot,” he pops in repeatedly with “I am an apple!” and is simply adorable!
My response as a reader: 
This is the best picture book I have read in while— I am a sucker for books that break the fourth wall or play with the concept of picture books (Julie Falatko’s Snappsy is another big favorite!)
My “take-away” as a writer: 
While the characters in this book are essentially “stock” characters, they do not seem one dimensional and they all fit really well with the plot, ultimately working really naturally together to create a plot.

Title: The Same, but Different, Too
Author: Karl Newson
Illustrator:  Kate Hindley
Publisher/Date: Nosy Crow; (March 19, 2020)
The “gist”: Told in sparse and simple rhyming text, this book highlights what unites us even though we may look different or have different talents.
My favorite part:
The illustrations have a great “Richard Scarry” quality which makes them seem really timeless. (Just googled their two names, by the way, and Hindley lists Scarry as an inspiration– she can feel proud, because she nailed him!)
My response as a reader: 
This would make a splendid board book for very young readers– the text is reminiscent of Dr. Seuss (without the outlandish made-up words) and has a similar “feel good” moral.
My “take-away” as a writer:
Simplify, simplify! I didn’t count, but I would be surprised if this text topped 300 words, but it doesn’t need more than that. What can I cut in my own writing? 

Title: Gurple and Preen
Author: Linda Sue Park
Illustrator: Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Publisher/Date: 
Simon & Schuster BYR (August 25, 2020)
The “gist”: Gurple and Preen are robots whose spaceship has crashed. They use random objects which come out of the broken crayons to fix the spaceship.
My favorite part:
I adore Debbi Ohi and her art, and one of her taglines is “You never know what will come out of a broken crayon.” (I highly recommend her Flickr page for more brilliant examples!) So, I just loved seeing his concept turned into a whole book!
My response as a reader: 
I would love reading this with a little one and asking them to anticipate what you could do with each of the items that comes out of the crayons!
My “take-away” as a writer: 
This book made me even more respectful of the amazing partnership between author and illustrator. I have no idea if Linda Sue and Debbie worked together on the plot for this, but there is truly no separating the text from the pictures here and if I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn they had to come from one person! Bravo, Ladies!

Story of a Covid PB debut….

How do you celebrate a “book birthday” when your book baby is overdue?

Most writers dream of the debut of their book like some little girls plan for their wedding day: party, champagne, excitement…a time just for them. However, when you are celebrating a book release during COVID-19, some of those plans have to get dropped. Not to mention that as a high school teacher teaching in a hybrid model, my life has been a little overwhelming all by itself. I do “zoom” for teaching and department meetings– the thought of zooming a book release party just did not excite me.

As it happens, my book release has also suffered from one more disappointment: a shipping delay. Whether a combination of printing issues, warehouse issues or the slow-down in the post office I do not know, but I have still not received my author copies (which means I don’t have one of those fun “unboxing videos” to show my excitement at seeing the book for the first time). In fact, even on my “book birthday,” I didn’t have a copy, nor did any of the bookstores I know, including the one where I planned to do a pre-order signing on the 10th. Amazon was saying “ships in 1-2 MONTHS.” I was heartbroken! This is a book for the holiday market– what would it mean if it were not available until two months from now?

So, release day was subdued. I posted some things on social media, but it was a bit like a baby’s due date when the baby is overdue. All you can do is anticipate. And pray for the postal service. I shared the cover image with my students at school, promising I would not be promoting my book in every class from now until the holidays. We did take-out for supper, and in my evening zoom session with the Speech & Debate team I coach, I did a dramatic online reading (using my proofs for the illustrations). Their support was great. We all oohed over the awesome illustrations by the great Joe Kulka (there are LESSONS in illustrating there, people!)

As my “debut week” progressed, I checked in with the independent bookstore who was processing my pre-orders, a lovely shop in Bangor, Maine called “The Briar Patch.” It’s about 3 hours north of me, near where my mother lives, and I had planned to visit her for the long weekend, but what if the books weren’t there by then? He told me the had spoken with the publisher and they had been shipped. They WOULD be there by Saturday the 10th. By Thursday, they had arrived, and Gibran, the owner, sent me a photo to prove it!

Finally, my signing day had come! But, since this bookstore is not open to browsing, they set me up with a card table in the back of the store, surrounded by boxes instead of adoring fans. I could have done a table on the street, but happily almost all of the books he’d ordered were pre-sold, so I was ok communing with the pre–order sheets and smiling about all the friends who had ordered copies. I had carefully researched signing pens and purchased a whole box of them months ago, but of course I forgot them, so a quick trip to Target got me both black and metallic– I hadn’t seen the book in person so I wasn’t sure where I would sign or what would look best against the paper. I decided on basic black.

And since we were visiting my mother, my husband and I had her watch our boys so we could go out to lunch afterward. Downtown Bangor has gotten much more fun and quirky since I was a kid– and with lots of good socially distanced outdoor dining choices! We decided on Paddy Murphy’s Pub — great atmosphere! Since this IS Maine, I had fried clams & chips instead of just fish & chips…and yes, I kept the book on the table the whole time!

To cap off the day, we ordered pizza from my favorite local place, Pat’s Pizza (they now have many locations in the state, but Orono was the first!). And my mom made an apple pie (she makes the best in the world!) so we could toast with pink champagne (the small glasses are ginger ale with cherry juice for my boys)! Not a traditional book release, but we found a way to make it special. Can’t wait to see what the next couple months will bring– now if only the postal service will get my books to Amazon and Barnes & Noble!!!

Many thanks to Gibran Graham of The Briar Patch for helping me with a plan for pre-orders. Friends from across the country were able to order in advance and he will ship them off tomorrow! More thanks for the day go to a fellow Melanie, who sells awesome cookie masks in her Etsy shop which you can find at MadeByMelanieUS!