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children’s books

    children's books, giveaways, holiday books

    Christmas in September with Santa Bruce + A Giveaway!

    Disclaimer: We’re thrilled to partner with Disney Book Group for this festive giveaway in time for the holiday season!  Enter for your chance to win a copy of ALL FOUR Bruce books, Santa Bruce ornament & hat, and a box of Santa Bruce holiday candies.Santa Bruce
    By Ryan T. Higgins
    In Stores September 4th, 2018
    Published by Disney Book Group
    Recommended for ages 3+

    Bruce is a lot of things. He is a bear. He is a grump. He is a pretty decent cook. And he is a mother. One thing Bruce is not? Santa Claus. But that doesn’t stop the whole forest from lining up to give him their Christmas wishes when he becomes the victim of mistaken identity—again. Kids will howl with laughter as award-winning author-illustrator Ryan T. Higgins delivers another hilarious story about this bear who just can’t catch a break.

    We’ve read all four of the Bruce books and they never fail to make me and the kids laugh out loud!  This time, Mother Bruce is a victim of mistaken identity, yet again!  One day while outside shoveling snow in his red “Santa like” gear, he is mistaken to be Santa Claus.  Santa Bruce is a cheerful and delightful story that is so fun to read aloud with kids during story time.

    The illustrations capture the story so well too which makes it even funnier.  The facial expressions that Bruce and the other animals make are so spot on and really help to bring the story to life.

    Ready to find out how you can enter to win the giveaway?  Read on.  Good Luck!

    Ryan T. Higgins ( is an author and illustrator who likes the outdoors and cheese sandwiches. He is NOT a grumpy old black bear, but he DOES like making books about one—starting with the best-selling Mother Bruce, which received the E. B. White Read-Aloud Award and the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor. He lives in Maine with his wife and kids… and too many pets.


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    One (1) US-based winner will receive:

    • Full set of all four Bruce books
    • Branded ornament and Santa hat
    • Plus a Santa Bruce box of holiday candies!


    Christmas in September with Santa Bruce Giveaway

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    children's books, family fun, literary road trip series

    Literary Road Trip Series: A Night with Author Jacqueline Woodson at the Mark Twain House

    I recently had the honor of listening to Jacqueline Woodson, the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature speak at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, CT.  The event was sponsored by RJ Julia Booksellers and The Mark Twain House and was the first stop on Woodson’s current book tour to promote her latest books.

    Woodson received the 2018 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and 2018 Children’s Literature Legacy Award. She is the 2014 National Book Award Winner for her New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which was also a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor, the NAACP Image Award and a Sibert Honor.  Woodson’s new picture book, created along with two-time Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner Rafael López, is The Day You Begin, a poignant, yet heartening book about finding courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.  Her new chapter book is entitled Harbor Me which celebrates the healing that can occur when a group of students share their stories.

    The night started off with Woodson reading passages from her popular middle grade book Brown Girl Dreaming.  As she read, she told us different things that were going on during her life that inspired her to write the passage.  She also talked about parts of her childhood and how she migrated from the South before eventually ending up in New York City.

    Next, she read aloud the book The Day You Begin followed by reading a few pages from Harbor Me.  You could hear a pin drop as she read in a “sing songy” type of tone which was completely captivating.  After she finished reading, audience members had the opportunity to ask questions before heading out to get our books personalized and signed.

    A few things I loved most about the event:

    • Jacqueline was everything I thought she’d be and more!  I loved her added bits of humor and the amount of thought/detail she put into answering each question from the audience.
    • She challenged educators and parents in the room to have classrooms/home libraries that reflect “windows”, “mirrors” and “sliding doors” in order for all children to be able to see themselves, understand others and slide into different experiences.
    • Learning more about the inspiration behind writing her books.  Fun fact: The picture book The Other Side was intended to be a story about a present day experience in Jacqueline’s life, not an experience from the past.  It was the illustrator who set the book in the past (1950’s), not her.  Since authors and illustrators aren’t allowed to have any contact with each other during the book writing process, she had no idea what the illustrations would look like until they were completed.

    Overall, it was an amazing event and I’m so thrilled to have had the opportunity to meet her in person, shake her hand and receive a signed copy of her book.  Thanks to RJ Julia Bookstore and The Mark Twain House for putting on such a fantastic event.  Now I need to take my kids on a literary road trip to visit the Mark Twain House so we can explore the entire museum.  It looks like an incredible place!

    This amazing Mark Twain Lego statue greets you at the door as soon as you walk in the Mark Twain House Museum.

    Your turn: Are you planning to attend one of Jacqueline Woodson’s upcoming book tour events?  Which one of her books is your favorite?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    book reviews, children's books, diverse books

    Turning Pages: My Life Story (A Book Review)

    Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

    Turning Pages: My Life Story by by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre

    Publisher: Philomel Books
    Format: Hardcover
    Pages: 40
    Age Range: 4 – 8
    Grade Level: Preschool – 3

    As the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor has inspired young people around the world to reach for their dreams. But what inspired her? For young Sonia, the answer was books! They were her mirrors, her maps, her friends, and her teachers. They helped her to connect with her family in New York and in Puerto Rico, to deal with her diabetes diagnosis, to cope with her father’s death, to uncover the secrets of the world, and to dream of a future for herself in which anything was possible.

    In Turning Pages, Justice Sotomayor shares that love of books with a new generation of readers, and inspires them to read and puzzle and dream for themselves.

    From the very first sentence right to the very end, this story captured my full attention.  Not only did I learn so much about Justice Sonia Sotomayor and her background, but I also read some of the most poetic and beautiful phrases about books and reading.  It was such a treat to learn how much books played such an important part in her life.

    My story is a story about books – of poems and comics, of law and mystery, of science and science fiction.

    Reading was like lighting candles, each book a flame that lit up the world around me.

    Written words, I discovered, were electrical currents that jolted feelings to life.

    Books, it seemed, were magic potions that could fuel me with the bravery of superheroes.

    Books were my loyal friends.  They made it so I never felt lonely.

    Books were mirrors of my very own universe.

    Throughout Sonia’s life, books brought her comfort in the darkest periods. She talks about being diagnosed with diabetes when she was seven years old and how she found courage by reading comic books.  The illustrations showing her injecting herself with needles are powerful.  Instead of insulin, she imagines injecting herself with a “magic potion” and being a brave superhero.  When she was nine years old her father passed away.  At the time, Sonia found comfort and escape at the nearby Parkchester Library.  Books helped her escape her reality and allowed her precious opportunities to experience wonder.

    Almost every illustration in the book features books or reading in some way.  Sonia is seen reading at home, at the library and in college.  The back matter has a timeline of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s life and there are actual photographs in the end papers.  The thing I love most about this book is that Sonia wrote it on her own and she’s still alive to tell her own story – her own truth.  A delightful and informative book that is sure to inspire a new generation of readers, leaders, aspiring lawyers and social justice activists.

    Your turn: Which book(s) from your childhood played an important part in your life?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    children's books, diverse books

    The Ultimate List of African-American Baby Boy Names Inspired by Children’s Books from Alfonso to Ziggy

    There are so many wonderful picture books that feature strong, Black males as the main protagonist. Little boys (or girls) can read about heroes from the past and present who have emerged as role models for all children. They can explore nonfiction books about famous male inventors who have contributed to society. Or they can enjoy stories about everyday kids just being kids. Whatever they’re in the mood to read, either on their own or with a grown-up assisting, the one thing I can bet is they’ll be able to find a book to fit!

    Below I’ve rounded up a list of picture books that feature African-American boy protagonists with first names from A to Z.  Some are popular names that you see often and others are unique like my name.  Is your name or your son’s name listed here?  What other books would you add to this list?  Feel free to share in the comments.

    To see the ultimate list of girl names click HERE!






    Cornelius Charles





































    book reviews, children's books

    Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse: Book Review

    Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken

    Adrian Simcox tells anyone who will listen that he has a horse–the best and most beautiful horse anywhere.  But Chloe does NOT believe him. Adrian Simcox lives in a tiny house. Where would he keep a horse? He has holes in his shoes. How would he pay for a horse?

    The more Adrian talks about his horse, the angrier Chloe gets. But when she calls him out at school and even complains about him to her mom, Chloe doesn’t get the vindication she craves. She gets something far more important.

    Written with tenderness and poignancy and gorgeously illustrated, this book will show readers that kindness is always rewarding, understanding is sweeter than judgment, and friendship is the best gift one can give.

    At first glance, one might think this is just a book about a boy and his horse.  But once you open it up and start reading, you are introduced to so much more!

    First, little readers are introduced to Adrian Simcox sitting all by himself (probably daydreaming again) at the lunch table in the school cafeteria.  Off to the side you see a crowd of other diverse kids all sitting together having their own group conversations.  Right off the bat, you can tell Adrian is a loner who probably doesn’t have many friends.

    Next, you find out Adrian has a horse that he loves dearly and will tell just about anyone who will listen how beautiful his horse is.  “It has a white coat and golden mane and the biggest, brownest eyes of any horse, anywhere…”

    Everyone at school is convinced Adrian has a horse EXCEPT for Chloe.  She’s not buying Adrian’s story for one minute.  She know’s her friend Kelsey’s cousin has a horse and that horses are super expensive to take care of.  Besides, Adrian lives in small house, he gets free lunch at school and he has holes in his shoes so there’s NO WAY he could possibly have a horse, right?

    After being sick and tired of hearing Adrian brag about his horse, Chloe can’t take it anymore.  One day at recess she yells out loud so everyone can hear, “He’s lying! Adrian Simcox does NOT have a horse!”

    Shortly after, little readers meet the real star of this book, Chloe’s mother.  It’s through her subtle, yet powerful action of showing her daughter Chloe to stop being so judgmental that finally makes Chloe start to see Adrian in a different light.  Chloe’s mothers’ simple action at the end of the book tie in beautifully with a quote from Chloe’s teacher mentioned earlier in the book:

    We must try to be understanding.  We have to be patient.

    I love this book for so many reasons:

    • The gorgeous illustrations by illustrator Corinna Luyken will take your breath away!  (Look closely so you won’t miss the sightings of Adrian’s horse!)
    • The contrasts between Chloe and Adrian (Adrian’s messy desk, his run down neighborhood, holey shoes)
    • It has some wonderful messages of kindness, empathy, feelings, and friendship woven into it
    • It teaches children not to judge others based on things they have or don’t have
    • Adrian’s vivid imagination and his creative ability to see things in a different way
    • The way Chloe’s mom subtly shows her daughter about true kindness, respect and acceptance without saying a word.  It’s so beautiful to see how Chloe figured everything out on her own and realized her mistakes.

    I think this is such a great book to read during the back to school season (or anytime of the year).  Messages of kindness ring out loud and clear.  Don’t miss this one!

    About the Author

    Marcy Campbell lives in Ohio with her family and menagerie of rescued pets. Her writing for adults has been published widely in journals and magazines, including Salon. She grew up on a farm filled with cows, chickens, cats, and dogs, but she never had a horse. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse is her debut picture book. You can visit her at

    About the Illustrator
    Corinna Luyken grew up in different cities along the West Coast, and after studying at Middlebury College, she settled in Washington State, where she draws inspiration from nature, her family, and the human form. Her debut picture book, The Book of Mistakes, received four starred reviews and has been praised by Entertainment WeeklyThe Wall Street Journal, Nerdy Book Club, and more.

    book reviews, children's books, giveaways

    Fiona the Hippo Review+ A Giveaway!

    Disclaimer: We’re thrilled to partner with Zonderkidz for this adorable giveaway based on the true life story of internet sensation Fiona the Hippo from the Cincinnati Zoo!  Enter for your chance to win a copy of the picture book Fiona the Hippo, a Team Fiona plush and sippy cup.

    About Fiona the Hippo
    Fiona the Hippo, by New York Times bestselling artist Richard Cowdrey of Bad Dog, Marley fame, tells the story of Fiona, the adorable internet sensation from the Cincinnati Zoo who captured hearts around the world with her inspiring story and plucky personality.

    Born prematurely, at 29 pounds, Fiona was not expected to live. But her spunk and determination helped her thrive and become a happy, healthy hippopotamus. With every challenge she faced, Fiona let out a snort, wiggled her ears, and said “I’ve \got this.” And she did! In this delightful story, inspired by the real adventure of this heroic hippo, join Fiona and her lovable animal friends at the zoo as she is introduced to the world in this whimsical and inspiring tale of perseverance and friendship.

    I remember hearing about Fiona the Hippo last year and seeing her photo all over the Internet.  She’s the lovable little hippo who made her grand entrance to the world at the Cincinnati Zoo.  Born prematurely, and cared for with the assistance of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Fiona is the first Nile hippo born at the zoo in 75 years!  No wonder why she’s so irresistible to people of all ages.

    I was surprised at how valuable lessons of determination, grit, overcoming challenges and family came through in this book.  I was expecting to just read about Fiona’s background and journey, so the lessons sprinkled throughout the book was an added bonus!  It definitely helped me come up with a few discussion questions to talk to the kids about after the story ended which was great!


    About the Author

    Richard Cowdrey’s favorite things to draw and paint are the common things seen everywhere in nature. He especially enjoys capturing the expressions, eyes, and gestures of both humans and animals. Drawing and painting Fiona was challenging as the hippopotamus is a very unique yet beautiful creature! Richard’s bestselling children’s books include Legend of the Candy CaneBad DogMarley, and A Very Marley Christmas.

    The Giveaway!

    One (1) US-based resident (age 18 and over) winner will receive:

    Fiona the Hippo Prize Pack Sponsored by ZonderKidz

    children's books, giveaways

    3 Tips for Preparing Your Child for Reading In First Grade

    This post is sponsored by HarperCollins and the I Can Read! books.  Be sure to enter the book giveaway listed at the end of this post.

    It’s almost back-to-school time, and children nationwide will soon be getting ready to return to school or start for the first time.  Starting the school year off right is so important when building the foundation of a successful school year for both teachers and students.  It is a time to develop classroom community, set expectations for the year, and build relationships.

    This school year my daughter will be starting First Grade, which is so hard for me to believe!  Time, please slow down!

    Making the transition from Kindergarten to First Grade is a big one for parents and children.  As a parent or caregiver, one of the best things you can do to help your new first-grader prepare for the school year is to start having conversations at home early on about what they can expect.  From my own research, I’ve learned that in First Grade reading skills come into play, math becomes more complex and science and social studies expose children to new worlds.  Here are three tips to help prepare your child for reading in First Grade:

    1. Read, read, and read some more!

    First grade is a BIG reading year so it’s important to set aside regular time to read aloud with your children every day.  Many children begin the year sounding out basic consonant-vowel-consonant (cvc) three letter words such as “big” and “cat.”  However, more advanced readers may be given more challenging words.

    Spelling lists and weekly spelling tests are common in most first grade classrooms too. These spelling lists might focus on teaching word families and basic word patterns. By the end of the year, first graders are reading more complicated sentences such as “She jumps up and down.” without needing to sound out known words. Most first graders are also learning to answer questions about key story ideas, retell the story, describe the characters or maybe even asked to write short book reviews.

    One of my favorite series of early reader books for kids is the I Can Read! series.  I like them because they have great repetition and words that kids can sound out without too much help from an adult.  I know it can seem a bit overwhelming when trying to decide what early reader books to buy for your child because it can be confusing to figure out what book level to purchase.  I find the I Can Read! books to have appropriately labeled and color-coded levels for their books (Levels 1 – 4).  The My First: Shared Reading and Level 1: Beginning Readingbooks are perfect for incoming Kindergarten and First Grade students.

    They have over 400 titles to choose from like I Want to Be a Doctor and Pete the Cat: Too Cool for School.  If you want to learn more you can download their handy printable activities, teacher’s guide or review their list of 100 Tips for Beginning Readers.  They also have a helpful parent guide and YouTube Video.

    2. Look for reading problems early.

    Teachers do not always detect children’s reading problems until they’ve become more serious. If possible, find out early in the school year from your child’s teacher if they can sound out words, know sight words, use context to identify unknown words, and clearly understand what they read.  If any reading problems are identified, be sure to seek help.  The more likely problems are identified early, the more likely your child will become a good reader.

    3. Encourage a wide variety of reading activities.

    Make reading an integral part of your child’s life. Have them read menus, highway and road signs, game directions, weather reports, movie time listings, grocery lists and other practical everyday information. Also, make sure they always have something to read in their spare time when they could be waiting for appointments or riding in a car.  I like to keep a tote bag of a few books in the back seat that are within reach for my kids.

    Showing enthusiasm for your children’s reading is also important too.  Your reaction has a great influence on how hard they will try to become good readers.  The most important thing to remember is to let your child set his or her own pace and have fun at whatever they are doing.  The last thing you want to do is discourage them from reading or see it as a boring chore.


    The Giveaway!
    Our friends at HarperCollins were generous enough to sponsor this awesome prize pack for one lucky US resident winner.  One (1) winner will receive:

    5 I Can Read! Books Plus a State Bags Lunchbox!

    Your turn: What reading tips do you have for parents of rising First Graders?  Feel free to share in the comments.