Search This Blog

Google+ Badge

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Owl Summer: A true story, mostly... Warning, tooting my own horn!

Publication Date: September 25, 2013

Danger!   The swamp is burning!  The fire is spreading!  
The animal kingdom, led by Woodpecker, is preparing for the arrival of birds and animals escaping a raging swamp fire. This has happened before and the animal kingdom knows it must be ready to help those animals forced from their homes. Woodpecker leads the effort, and soon all the animals in the region are spreading the word...."The swamp is burning. Get ready to help."

Woodpecker has another worry: Will the human family living in the house nearby know that their help is needed also? Soon he learns that he should not worry on their part for remembering the past, the humans know and will be ready. 
As they prepare for the animals they know will come, they tell their grandson, AJ, about the last time the swamp burned and they were the rescue area for the Owl family. The grandparents fell in love with the Owls that summer and they, along with AJ, hope they will return this time. Will they? Will the Owls return? Read and find out.

This is a story about humans and nature working together to help in time of emergency. It is about habitat destruction and rescue. It is about caring and sharing. 
It is also a book about animals. One third of the book gives photos and facts about the animals found in the book. There is even a quiz!!! How much do you and your youngsters know about animals?

Based upon our own Owl Summer of several years ago when the Okefenokee Swamp was burning and the wildlife escaping, the book is illustrated with animal and nature photos. The cover was created by a graphic artist who is also a bird lover.

Animal lovers will love the book. It is a longer book, 66 pages including the end factual material. not just a children's picture book, but a story book. The reading level tests at fifth grade, but our 3rd grade grandson will have no trouble with it. It tests at the higher level for the sentences are compound and complex rather than simple declarative sentences found in lower reading levels. The words are easily elementary grade words. 

  Now available at Amazon ;


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Too cute to pass up.... Shelve under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats.

Here is a book for all my cat loving know who you are. The Kindle version as been available for a while, but the bound version is newly releasesd. The Kindle version is free today, so take advanatage of it.

Brenda Dockery and Terry LaSalle, you should open a used bookstore and call it Used Cats and Books....don't they just go together. On Amazon. Check it out...
The kitten on the cover completely captured my attention and I am not a cat lover.... I just bought it, the free version and will be reviewing it soon on this blog. Here's info on the book: Shelve under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Caterpillar and the Stone by Erec Stebbins: I love this book!!! Read it!

What an unusual book. Billed as a fairy's tale and a love storybook for not-quite grown-ups, I wasn't sure what to expect. Never did I expect to fall so completely in love with this little book.

It looks like a children's book, almost.
It reads like a children's book, almost.
But it is an ageless story of love and loss, of opposites attracting, of cultural differences, of lifestyle choices, and of simply growing apart. It helps us see that while life may not always be fair, we can survive.

Caterpillar and Stone love each other. Both of their cultures are aghast. "It won't work," they both hear from family and friends. It does work, for a time. Then his need to do the work he was meant to do and her inborn need to change pulls them apart. She no longer needs his security and his warmth for she learns to spread her wings and fly to freedom. He cannot, for he is after all, only a stone.

The book is written and illustrated as if it were a children's book. At least, that is what one thinks at first glance. Then one will notice that the illustrations are not light and happy, not the type that pleases most young readers. They seem to be photographs taken mostly at or near the ground, caterpillar and stone's points of view. They look to be manipulated with a wonderful photo editor.

Upon reading the book one will see that the language is full of imagery and beautiful phrases, beyond those found in most children's books. Also, one will see the beautiful script or calligraphy in which the book is written...definitely not the easy font of children's books.

The author is first and foremost, a scientist with a degree in physics from Oberlin College and a PhD in biochemistry from Cornell. Today he is a scientist and professor in biomedical research studying the atomic structures of bacterial toxins that cause disease...Whee, no wonder his mind sometimes must wander into the fantasy fairly tale world.

There is only one thing I can say about this book....I loved it. Absolutely. Thank you Erec.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A good wine, a good book....hmmmm. Great combo.

    I recently read Gracianna by Trini Amador.  Trini Amador is co-founder of Gracianna Winery in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, CA. The winery and wine was named to honor his Grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga, the Gracianna of the title.

When the author was 4 years old he found a loaded German luger in his Grandma’s house in South California. Years later, he was able to delve into his family history to find out why his Grandmother would have a loaded German gun. He used her story to write Gracianna; combining fact with fiction.

At the age of eighteen, in the early 1940s, believing drunken comments from American vacationers who said they would employ her in America, Gracianna was determined to make the journey. On her way to American from the French-Basque region of France, she had to pass through Paris. Once there, she was caught up in the Nazi Occupation of Paris and in the French Resistance Movement. Her sister was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Gracicanna then began a determined effort to free her sister. With Nazi headquarters in her backyard, she finds a job working in a bar cafe and sharpens her instincts for survival in occupied Paris. In time she is recruited into the French Resistance. As Gracianna works to free her sister, the story continues and takes us into the horrors of the concentration camps while giving us an insight to the persecution of the Jewish people in France.

Luckily, Juan, a shepherd from her village a strong, dependable young man has loved Gracianna for years. He followed her to Paris and due to his hard work and adaptability, was able to support himself and Gracianna through the very troubled times of World War II.  
This is a tale of love, family, suspense and survival. It is not an easy read, due to both the subject matter and the style of writing. Do I recommend it? I’m not sure. Readers will either love it or hate it.

The Luger found by the young author….well, grab a glass of wine and settle in to read the book to find out why that was important to Grandmother Gracianna.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Last Sunday was International Literacy Day....did you read?

I read. I wrote. I reviewed. You know the old saying, "some many books, so little time." So Right.
If you haven't checked mine out, you can find them easily. In honor of International Literacy Day and our blog hop, check out all of your favorite authors. Let them know you appreciate them.

A sweetheart of a flamingo, a mysterious woman talking about a Snow Angel, watermelons hidden under the bed, strange animals in the backyard, a little boy growing up to be president....all subject matter for some of my books. Owls fleeing disaster to join this group very soon.  Check them out at
Also, would love some followers as we discuss literature, reading, writing, reviewing at ,,,right here.  I'll reciprocate any following. Let's unite and entertain and educate the world!

Just finished Gracianna...reviewing soon.

Blog hop addressHop on over to the middle school blog hop:

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Tommy" is hopping like a frog from link to lilnk in this MG blog hop. Join us.

I wrote this as part of a blog hop, but procrastinated posting to the hop and missed the deadline. I'm posting it here anyway. Maybe someone will see it.  This is the second edition. I had a ball with the first edition.

Tommy: The Civil War Childhood of a President
A Childhood Biography of President Thomas Woodrow Wilson

My offering is quite different from the others on our hop. Mine is a biography...something that might come in handy in history, English, or reading class this year but that might not be at the top of a MG reader's book list. From experience I have seen wonderful "biography book reports' that have been required by teachers completed for "Tommy". I am available for internet interviews and phone interviews as needed for book reports. There is a special email address in the book that readers may use. There is a Wilson family photo album, small bios of his friends as adults, and a wonderful copy of Tommy's own doodles....he really was not an attentive student when in school.

So, here is  Tommy: The Civil War Childhood of a  President

"Tommy" is a MG/YA/OF (Old Folks) biography of a young boy growing up during the American Civil War. Originally written for MG reading/English and history classrooms, the book became an immediate favorite with the older readers in historical societies, book clubs, and library associations. The story is a new one to most people, a bit of history almost lost. As an adult we know him as President of the United States, Thomas Woodrow Wilson. As a young boy in Augusta, GA during those turbulent prewar, war, and postwar years he was simply, Tommy. 

The Wilson family lived in Augusta from the time young Tommy was 18 months old until he was 13. During four of those formative years of his life, the Civil War was raging and affecting his town daily. This is the story of all those formative years, as Tommy learned to read (at age 9), went to school for the first time, played with his friends (many became influential men in business and government), and was paddled by his schoolmaster for running away to join the circus rather than study.

Each chapter is a dialogue scene of an event. After the dialogue scene comes factual background of the scene. I chose to put the factual information with the scene rather than as footnotes or endnotes at the end of the chapter or the book for I know from years of teaching MG that MG students do not like to read footnotes or anything written after 'the end".

Readers will get to know Tommy through his family and friends, through his leisure moments, and even through his stubbornness and his caring for others. Each chapter provides insight into the youngster who became 28th president of the United States. The reader will see Tommy learn from his faith and family, and from the history lived. These lessons learned were later evident as President Thomas Woodrow Wilson guided his country through another war, World War I.

In "Tommy" we get a glimpse of everyday life in a southern town not directly in the line of fire in a bloody civil war. An important strand in the book is found in the many parades, all verified, that took place in Augusta during that time. At the beginning of the war the parades were glorious. By the middle and end of the war the tempo of the parades was changing. The following except describes one memorable parade.

  An excerpt from Tommy: The Civil War Childhood of a President.

     The future President of the United States stood on the edge of the field fascinated by the parade passing in front of him.  He had seen many parades since the war started two years ago, but this one was different.  There were no brass bands playing, no freshly uniformed infantry units stepping high and no prancing cavalry horses.  No one was marching, and no one was cheering.

     This was not a parade of clean, smartly dressed military men.  This was a parade of ragged men in tattered uniforms.  Their sabers and sashes were replaced by blood and bandages. And dirt. 

     There was no one to watch this parade by the railroad track in Augusta, Georgia, but seven-year-old Tommy and his young friends.  Playing in the fields near the tracks, they had heard the solemn ringing of the troop-train's bell and watched as it shuddered to stop beside the field.  Curious, the boys ran to the train and watched as slowly it emptied its cargo of Civil War wounded.

          A few of the injured limped unaided, but many more shuffled, supported on one or both sides by others who were themselves wounded.  Others hobbled on crutches.  One man, with a foot missing kept his head down and his eyes on the bandage at the end of his leg.  He seemed to be looking at the foot that wasn't there.                               
     After the walking wounded came men on litters.  Their bodies, their heads, their limbs wrapped in bloody, dirty bandages.  Some of the blood was old and caked; some new and oozing. 
    One man alone seemed to see the boys.  His large body was covered with a blood-soaked blanket on which several medals and many flies competed for space.  His head and face were covered with bloody, dirty bandages.
     A foul, wretched smell filled the air through which the litters moved.  It was not a smell like the barnyard or the cow pen.  It was not even a smell like hogs being slaughtered.  This smell was worse, much worse.  As it grew stronger, Tommy and his friends covered their mouths and noses as to protect themselves from this smell which instinctively they knew to be the smell of death.

     Finally, from the car nearest the engine came a different sight.  Men under guard.  Men whose arms and legs were bound together, making it hard for them to walk.  So they too shuffled.  And they too were covered with dirt and blood and bandages.

     One of Tommy's friends  finally broke their silence.  "Come on," he said.  "Let's get back to our game."

     Everyone turned to go but Tommy.  Tommy stood still, only his head moving to follow the hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers who were passing by.

     Finally, he turned and headed, not toward his friends, but back to his home and the security of his family.  He could play no more that day.  He wasn't sure he could ever play that game again.

      The boys had been playing war.

Tommy: The Civil War Childhood of a President
A Childhood Biography of President Thomas Woodrow Wilson
By Julia Faye Dockery Smith



From childhood to
 President of the United States

Thomas Woodrow Wilson

Saturday, September 7, 2013

"Shipwrecked" for oral discussion for reluctant readers

Shipwrecked by Alexandra Pratt:

This is an excellent book for oral reading by a teacher to a group of reluctant readers. It is a quick and easy read with a story that is easy to follow. Some of the reluctant readers could read it alone, but many would not. Used orally there could be great discussion for those readers would have many thoughts and opinions about the actions, and the non-actions, of these characters. I have found that reluctant readers like to impose themselves into the story and react with "I would have...." and then proceed to tell how they would have solved the problem or gotten out of the situation. This book gives them many opportunities to do that.

It's 1740, and a British warship is wrecked on a remote island in Patagonia. But that is only the first of Midshipman Isaac Morris's problems. When mutiny among the crew leads to murder, Isaac must survive starvation, slavery and imprisonment if he wants to see his home again.... Reading age: 8. Interest level: up to age 14. Written and edited for reluctant or struggling readers.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Add Crossing Jordan to your reading list, and share it with a middle schooler!

In the late afternoon a few days ago I sat down with a glass of wine and a book I had just purchased for my ten year old granddaughter and planned to read for 'awhile'. I did not get up until I had finished reading the book. It was that good, that engrossing, and that easy to read.

Crossing Jordan is a timeless story of a black family moving into the neighborhood. The scene is the South, but it could be anywhere. Most of us immediately think we know what will happen, and it does, but along with 'it' happening comes some wonderful moments and insights. This is a soft treatment of prejudice, nature, and friendship. There is no hitting you over the head with a message, it is just there, naturally.

The story opens with word going through the neighborhood that Mis Liz's old place has been sold to a black family. The white father next door immediately puts up a fence, recalling Robert Frost's "A good fence makes good neighbors," but we know that being a good neighbor is not what he has in mind. He wants nothing to do with and forbids his daughters to have anything to do with the black family moving in. When the black family arrives we learn that there is prejudice there also. The mother wants nothing to do with and forbids her daughter to have anything to do with the white family next door. "Stay away from that house, stay away from them"  is the message they both receive.

Ironically, that tall wooden fence offers them a way to get to know each other that they would not have had without it for they naturally communicate through the knothole and through the boards.They feel they can do this and follow their parents' instructions for they do not go into each other's yards.

The girls share many interests, but it is their love of running that truly brings them together. They practice in the early mornings, at the school track, and form a team. They even name their team....Chocolate Milk. Their light-hearted use of this familiar term for their friendship exemplifies the soft, sensitive approach Ms. Fogelin uses to portray her message against prejudice. There is nothing heavy-handed in this book.

Through time, a wise old grandma, a near tragedy, a dead woman, and Jane Eyre the families finally come together. As for Cass and Jemmie, who won their first major race ? They both did, but not in the manner the reader expects.

Although this is a serious subject, the book is not serious and ponderous in its approach. It is fun reading, with very likable characters on both sides of the fence, and there are many scenes that accurately portray the lives of young people about to enter or in middle school.

I highly recommend this book and cannot wait to give it to my granddaughter. I think she will enjoy it and pass it to cousins and friends to read.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

From the fields of Iowa, to the halls of the Florida Supreme Court, to the aisles of children's literature. Phil's journey.

On this blog dated August 14, 2013,  I reviewed a children's book by an author new to the world of writing for children. His picture book, Feathers in a Flap, is a great favorite. (See my review of August 14). Today I thought you might like to get to know this author better and learn why he choose to enter the wonderful world of children's literature. So meet Phillip M. Pollock, a rural  Iowa  boy who now daily walks the halls of the Florida Supreme Court as Web Administrator for the Office of the State Courts Administrator. Writing is a large part of his daily routine, but not writing for children. He graciously granted me this interview.
Phillip, as a new author, it must have been very exciting to finally hold the published book in your hands. Can you tell us what that felt like?                                                                                                    Even thought I have been involved in published work before, it was only in bits and pieces. In Feathers in a Flap I wrote the story, designed the page layouts and did all of the illustrating. It was an extremely satisfying moment to see it for the first time.
For those who have not read your book, give us a one sentence summary.
This is a story of a relationship a man has with the birds in his back yard and how the relationship evolves from one of mistrust (based on a single misperception) to trust and cohabitation.

What was the inspiration for your book, or where did the idea originate?                                                   I’ve always been a great lover of birds, so the basic idea of writing a book about birds was easy. One of the key aspects of the story was based on a collection of bird feathers I have found over time. I have them all arranged beautifully in a frame with a green felt backing.
I understand the story was first written about 6 years ago. Why did it take you so long to publish it?
Yes, that’s about right. I have always been somewhat of an exacting watercolorist of birds, so the idea of making a bird drawing look, essentially, like a cartoon, for children, seemed very difficult to me. I had to really switch art gears to make them look simple and like they still had some personality.

What was the biggest challenge in creating your book?                                                                              Perhaps it was the above. But, in addition, it was getting rid of some "darlings", both in writing and the illustrations. Some text didn’t work with the art and vice versa. I hate to back-track, so I had to stop being wedded to everything I did and know that I was going to have to re-work some things if I was going to be truly happy with the finished book.
How did you come up with the title?
There is a bird in the story who is pretty agitated—he’s got has feathers in a flap. “Flap” is a somewhat dated synonym, but I liked the way it sounded.
When you started writing the story, did you know what the ending or outcome would be?
Yes! Once I came up with the idea of using the collection of feathers, I knew exactly how the story would play out.

Are you writing another children’s picture book?                                                                                             I think I will start another, similar sort of children’s story over the coming winter months.
Do you do other types of writing?                                                                                                                    I’ve always been a writer—it has been woven into almost all the professional work I’ve done. Years ago, I was assistant editor of a beautiful, full-color magazine called Florida Heritage (historical site-based) and then a year later held the same position for FSU Law Magazine. Go figure!
What were some of your favorite books as a child? Did your parents read to you often? When did you learn to read?
My parents did not read to me often. I grew up in Iowa, which boasted a very high literacy rate, so I learned to read and was a good reader early on, but I didn’t start to read for fun until later down the road—maybe ten or twelve years of age. I was a Hardy Boys fan, all the way. I loved the stories, but was even more taken by the colorful dust sleeves wrapped around the hard copy. That was adventure!
The illustrations are an important part of this story. When did you learn to paint and why did you choose watercolor as your medium?
I started painting in grade school. I won “fire prevention” and other poster contests all the time. I was a good letterer and a professional draftsman (I drew toy tractor models for a company). But, back to paints . . . I love the way colors flow with water as the conduit. You lay a pure water wash down on your paper, then fill a brush with paint, and with one smooth stroke, you see the color migrate from dark to light. It’s like magic.
Which illustration is your favorite?
I think I have two. One is where the bird knocks himself out by hitting the window and the second is the bird bath scene on the back cover. The latter was an afterthought, and necessary. but because it was so mentally spontaneous, I finished it in about 20 minutes.
Do you consider yourself an author first and then an illustrator or the other way around?
Neither. I feel lucky to have both skills. If I have written something that needs an illustration, well then . . . If it happens in the reverse, then I am a writer.
Tell us a little about yourself. What do you do to relax?
I swim. I can sometimes conceive ideas and write when I do that. I also read a lot, both to relax and to be a better writer. Ask Steven King about that. You can’t be a writer unless you’re a reader.
 Again, check out Phil's Feathers in a Flap  at

Thanks, Phil....