Happy Valen”tiny’s” Day


Susanna Leonard Hill is a picture book author who loves to invite other writers out to play. She also loves holidays. (Check out her darling Groundhog Day themed book, Punxatawney Phyllis!) To celebrate Valentine’s Day, Susanna is hosting a Valentiny writing contest (“Valen-tiny because the stories are not very long and are written for little people ūüôā.”)

The Contest: write a Valentines story appropriate for children (ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words (get it? 2/14?) in which someone is confused!

I love opportunities like this, because sometimes it’s fun to let go of the ‘work’ of writing and remember what fun there is in the ‘play.’ Here’s my entry!


Operator? (213 words)


Psst. Jax is giving Pax some candy fish for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jax is giving Pax a sandy fish for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jack is giving Pax a squishy fish for Valentine’s Day? Pass it on.

Jack is giving Max a fishy squish for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jack and Max are going to fish and twitch on Balancing Day? Pass it on.

Jetpacks are going to switch and mix on Ballet Dance Day. Pass it on.

Jet and Pax are doing a special trick for Valley Trance Day. Pass it on.

 Jester Flax is giving a species talk for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jack is giving Max several purple socks for Valentine’s Day? Pass it on.

 Jax is giving Pax seven people’s snacks for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jax is giving Pax some peculiar facts for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jax is giving Pax some spectacular flips for Valentine’s Day. Pass it on.

Jax is giving Pax some cinder block fish for Valentine’s Day. Now, what did you hear?

I heard: Jax is giving Pax some squished black fish for Valentine‚Äôs Day. Huh…interesting choice. If I were Jax, I‚Äôd give Pax some candy fish. Those are his favorite!


Happy Valentine’s Day, whatever you get!













Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Hello! Hola! Bonjour!¬†šĹ†Ś•Ĺ!¬†„Āď„āď„Āę„Ā°„ĀĮ!¬†žó¨Ž≥īžĄłžöĒ!


I was thrilled to be asked to share a review of the Broccoli Bilingual Kids Book Series as part of the fantastic celebration that is Multicultural Children’s Book Day (January 27th; more info below!).


Broccoli Multicultural Kids Books is a company that started in Boston as a student run start-up. Now in New York City, they focus on sharing cultures by collecting stories from across the world and publishing them digitally. The stories are available in six languages: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. It also provides audio! What a great learning tool.


“We believe that understanding each other is the first step to uniting diverse people into one community.” – Broccoli Multicultural Kids Books

Broccoli shared with me two stories from their collection, both presented in French and English

1) Les Deux Freres/Two Brothers has the beautiful feel of a classic folktale.


The illustrations in this tale of sibling rivalry taken to extremes were charming. The storyline of the grumpy and mean brother being impatient and greedy felt very “du jour.”

2) La Petit Grenouille qui n’√©coute pas/Little Frog Doesn’t Listen¬†reminded me of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales, where events¬†are not sugar coated. I would proceed with caution with sensitive little ones as things escalate quickly (there is a death) and the little frog who doesn’t listen ends up living with a lifetime of regret.


This picture of the depressed Frog Mom was my favorite illustration from this story. It made me laugh but also tugged at my heart. What parent hasn’t at some point thought¬†“what am I going to do about you?”



Type in [Explore – Broccoli Book Series] on the Google Play Store or Apple App Store to read more!

fullsizerender-3Join me in celebrating stories that highlight how beautifully unique we all are, yet how similar at our core. Read on for more Information About Multicultural Children’s Book Day/ #ReadYourWorld:


Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s 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. 

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that. 

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Booksand Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include:¬†Karen Leggett Abouraya,¬†Veronica Appleton,¬†Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw,¬†Maria Dismondy,¬†D.G. Driver,¬†Geoff Griffin,¬†¬†Savannah Hendricks,¬†Stephen Hodges,¬†Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani,¬†Gwen Jackson,¬†¬†Hena, Kahn,¬†David Kelly,¬†Mariana Llanos,¬†Natasha Moulton-Levy,¬†Teddy O‚ÄôMalley,¬†Stacy McAnulty,¬†¬†Cerece Murphy,¬†Miranda Paul,¬†Annette Pimentel,¬†Greg Ransom,¬†Sandra Richards,¬†Elsa Takaoka,¬†Graciela Tiscare√Īo-Sato, ¬†Sarah Stevenson,¬†Monica Mathis-Stowe¬†SmartChoiceNation,¬†Andrea Y. Wang

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 work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

Some sites to learn more about #ReadYourWorld

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers 

Free Kindness Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators

Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents

WILL’S WORDS: Interview with children’s author Jane Sutcliffe

Welcome today to author Jane Sutcliffe, who,¬†as luck would have it, graciously agreed to answer some questions about writing for children. Jane has written over two dozen non-fiction books for young readers, and is an experienced presenter. Her school visit … Continue reading

The Book Aunt’s Gift-Giving Guide 2014

If you’re casting about for gift ideas for your friends and family, I suggest you consider giving¬†BOOKS! You might not steal the show at the holiday gathering, but later, when you have tired kids who want to curl up with the original hand-held escape, the glory will be yours. When the mid-winter relatives have cabin fever, and the book you gave is their salvation, you will be thanked. (If you’re worried about giving books as gifts in case they’ve already been read, just be sure to¬†include a gift receipt!)

There are SO MANY great choices out there. This is a small sampling of some I’ve come across in 2014. In each case, I suggest a “pair with” gift and a profile of who the book may be best suited for. Happy shopping!

Picture Books (ages 0-5+)


FLORA AND THE PENGUIN by Molly Idle. This is a seriously adorable wordless winter tale of a friendship on ice. Young kids will enjoying “reading”¬†it themselves, over and over. Great for kids who like interactive (lift-the-flap) books, ice-skating, and/or penguins. Pair with a stuffed penguin or a coupon to take the recipient ice skating.


THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak. On the flip side to Ms. Idles wordless book, this book is pictureless. Perfect for the “little devil” on your list, the book goads the adult reader into saying silly sounds and words because “Everything the words say, the person reading the book¬†has to say.” Pair with a whoopie cushion.

Middle Grade novels (ages 8-13ish)



THE DIRT DIARY by Anna Staniszewski. The first in a series, this book introduces us to Rachel, whose imperfections make her perfectly lovable. Rachel is a girl who loves to bake, but to help out her mom, must clean toilets instead. Great for the kid who always seems to have good intentions that lead to bad results! Pair with a cookie sheet and baking mix.


HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson. Another first in a series, this is perfect for Little House on the Prairie type fans. Hattie is a 16-year-old who¬†leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. Pair with¬†a pair of warm socks and/or a cat.


DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, THE LONG HAUL by Jeff Kinney. ¬†Kids simply can’t get enough of this series! A natural choice for reluctant readers, text and pictures intertwine to tell the latest adventure of Greg Heffley and his family as they set out on a road trip. Pair with one of¬†the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID book journals – a combination of blank pages and journalling suggestions – to get kids writing as well.

Young adult novels (ages 12 +)


THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey. This book is perfect for your older sci-fi loving kid. In brief, it’s a classic “alien’s attack and take over the world” scenario, with fantastic pacing and lots of layers. I read it because I was vetting it for my own kid, and was surprised how much I liked it. There is a smattering of profanity, but it is used as needed, not gratuitously. Pair with an air-soft gun.


ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME by Julie Berry. I thought this was going to be another sci-fi story, due to the setting being a town¬†called¬†Roswell Station. But this haunting book is actually historical fiction. The main character, Judith,¬†is unable to speak, yet you will never forget her voice. Perfect for older kids who will understand the nuance of mentally imbalanced adults, and the importance of sometimes sharing secrets. Pair with tickets to a local colonial village.

Fiction and Non-Fiction for the grown-up set


UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand. This is the incredible story of olympian-turned WWII Lieutenant Louis Zamperini. Recently made into a movie, this book will appeal to the avid runner and/or history buff on your list. Pair with a WWII documentary, or movie tickets to see Unbroken when it opens.


CASTING OFF by Nicole R. Dickson. This book tells the story of Rebecca Moray, who¬†comes to an island off the coast of Ireland to research a book on Irish knitting, and how she and her daughter interact with the people there. Perfect for the knitter on your list. If they’re Irish, extra points. Pair with knitting needles/yarn.

I’m sure you know of several more books in each category that you’ve loved and could give as gifts! This year, I encourage you to do just that. Happy holidays, and happy reading!

Halloweensie: Snip, Snap, Crack

Halloweensie pic

It’s time for¬†Susanna Leonard Hill‚Äôs¬†annual Halloweensie contest!

Rules:  write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words pumpkin, broomstick, and creak in any form.  

Here’s my entry:




In a deep dark corner, an old lady sits.

She cackles, and snarls, and frantically knits.


Click clack go her needles.

Snip snap go her bones,

As she rocks and she creaks

and her kitty cat moans.


She conjures up spiders, and pumpkins, and ghosts

All spun from her yarn –

‚ÄúI‚Äôm so wicked!‚ÄĚ she boasts.


Don’t dare approach her,

She’s all trick and no treat.

What are you doing??

Come hither, my sweet.


Get away from that broomstick! Skedaddle! Shoo!

You’re tiptoeing closer??






Please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog, because there will be tons of fun and scary weensie short stories for Halloween. Or play along and add your own!


THE PRANK LIST; Interview with children’s author Anna Staniszewski

Welcome Anna Stanizewski,¬†whose latest novel,¬†THE PRANK LIST¬†(Sourebooks) will be released July 1, 2014! Anna is the author of many books for children and young adults, including: THE UNFAIRY TALE LIFE SERIES THE DIRT DIARY SERIES ..and two¬†upcoming picture books from … Continue reading

Snowflakes Fall

Last weekend was a difficult one for all of us. ¬†The one year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary brought up emotions and memories that painfully juxtaposed against the normally joyful holiday bustle. ¬† Images of angelic faces … Continue reading

George Clooney and First Book

I think about George Clooney a lot, but it’s not what you’re thinking. ¬†Well, sometimes it probably is what you’re thinking. ¬†Because, really. But honestly, most of the time it is because of his philanthropy work, and specifically something he said in an interview a few years ago.

Really, I'm only in it for the philanthropy!

Really, I’m only in it for the philanthropy!

The reporter asked him how giving back came to be such a large part of his life. And George (I’m assuming he’d want me to call him that) said that from a young age, his father always took the kids with him whenever he was volunteering for something. ¬†When the reporter asked if he’d enjoyed this, George answered honestly and said something like, “No, he dragged me kicking and screaming.” But he admitted that those early experiences helped influence how much he commits to philanthropic endeavors as a grown up.

I think of this every time I drag my own kids on do-gooder adventures. ¬†It would be SO much easier to leave them home. ¬†And it might even be more productive for whatever group I’m trying to help if they weren’t there. ¬†But little by little, I see them moving into the asset column, and being less of the kicking-and-screaming liabilities they once were. ¬†And always, I hear George whispering in my ear, “this is going to pay off later.”¬† (No, he doesn’t whisper other things…get your mind out of the gutter!)
Recently we had the opportunity to help out an organization based in our town called hawkwing. From their website: “hawkwing is a Native American Federal non-profit 501(c)3 organization created to offer cross-cultural education while assisting the people of the Lakota (Sioux) Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota meet their basic human needs. ¬†Each year, we conduct a major collection drive in order to bring basic need items to some 3,000 children and 500 Elders on the Cheyenne River.”
The scale of this effort and the way it is organized is astounding.  We showed up at a warehouse that was packed with supplies and well-trained volunteers, and were greeted by hawkwing founder and president, Rochelle Ripley.  Each year in the late fall, Rochelle oversees the organizing of supplies and packing of a large truck, which then makes its way out to South Dakota for distribution.
Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

As volunteers, we were given a sheet of paper which detailed the needs of a specific family group.  We then took an empty box and worked our way through the warehouse, picking out personal care items, toys, clothing, and sometimes shoes for specific people.
New toothbrushes went in every box

New toothbrushes went in every box

My kids had a lot of fun in the toy section, being directed to pick out “a toy for a 5 year old boy,” or “something for a 12-year-old girl who likes to draw.” ¬†This made the idea of who we were helping very tangible for them.


Donated clothing items and outerwear were brand new, and each area had a trained volunteer that helped make sure we were picking out the correct sizes and items.


Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

And then we came to MY toy area, the books!  It was just so thrilling to pick out books for the children, especially after learning that some areas of the reservation do not have libraries. 

Look at all the books!

Look at all the books!

The “book corner” volunteer had everything sorted according to age and reading level, and gave advice with the wisdom of a librarian (she probably was one!). ¬†I saw many new books that I’d have loved to have gotten my hands on myself.

Middle grade/YA books

Middle grade/YA books

Picture books

Picture books

Knowing what kind of shape my children’s books are in when they get around to being donated, I asked where so many pristine, new books had come from. ¬†The answer was that several of the books were purchased, at drastically reduced rates, from the organization First Book.

From their website: “First Book provides access to new books for children in need. To date, First Book has distributed more than¬†100 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education by making new, high-quality books available on an ongoing basis.”

And while I’m tooting First Book’s horn, as many of you know there are other equally great programs that are working to get new books into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have access to them. ¬†Some of my favorites are:¬†Book Train, which works to “[help] foster children discover great books – and keep them!” and Reading is Fundamental.

Rochelle pointed out that it is especially helpful when people donate money to hawkwing, because she can use that money to get so many more books through First Book than she can if the same donor bought books from a traditional retailer.

There are so many organizations and people using their powers for good in this world.  Pick one and get involved! Donate or volunteer!  You might just meet George Clooney!*

Also, if you are interested in current Native American culture, ¬†I encourage you to check out Sherman Alexie’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. ¬†It’s a fantastic and eye-opening read.

*This is probably not going to happen. Sorry.


The month of November is a great one for showing gratitude. ¬†I love the trend I’m seeing on social media sites where people share one thing each day they are grateful for. ¬†And of course there is good old Thanksgiving, a whole holiday based on the idea of saying, “Hey, Thanks, I’ve got a lot of great stuff in my life.”

We all know the story of Thanksgiving as it relates to the Pilgrims and the Indians, but that was just one meal. ¬†Would you like to know where the idea for making Thanksgiving a national holiday came from? ¬†You would? ¬†GOOD! ¬†Because today I’m happy to introduce you to ¬†friendly author Mike Allegra, and his wonderful picture book that answers that question.

Sarah Gives Thanks Cover

SARAH GIVES THANKS¬†is the story of Sarah Josephine Hale, a trailblazing writer and magazine editor, who felt that every American should celebrate Thanksgiving. ¬†Starting with President Zachary Taylor in 1849, she wrote to the president (whomever it was) every year asking for Thanksgiving to be made a national holiday. ¬†Finally, it was President Abraham Lincoln who granted her request. ¬†It took her¬†thirty-six years¬†to get the response she was looking for, but she never gave up. ¬†That’s some serious perseverance. ¬†However, from the very first pages of the book, where illustrator David Gardner beautifully shows Sarah giving thanks even though she has just buried her husband, you know that this woman is not the type to give up easily.


I had never heard of Sarah Josephine Hale or of her role in Thanksgiving before reading SARAH GIVES THANKS. ¬†She was a groundbreaking feminist in so many ways, and I’m happy to have had this opportunity to learn about her and her life’s work. ¬†This is the best kind of non-fiction picture book, one that reads as a narrative, is gorgeously illustrated, ¬†and can speak to both adults and children.

Author Mike Allegra was kind enough to take the time to answer some of my questions about his writing career and how this particular picture book came to be:

Me and my office

Nancy: How long was the time from your first inkling of the idea for SARAH GIVES THANKS until you were holding the actual book?

Mike: A long, long time, actually. I began writing Sarah‚Äôs story in September 2009. I was asked for a rewrite in February 2010, which I completed that April, I think. The book was accepted in late summer with plans for a fall 2011 pub date. But then my editor left Albert Whitman and Company and the illustrator backed out. So the project was delayed a year ‚Äď which turned out to be a huge blessing because my next editor, Kristen Ostby, was all kinds of patient and wonderful. Also SARAH GIVES THANKS‚Äô new illustrator, David Gardner, is as nice as he is talented ‚Äď which is to say, very.

Nancy: I once heard Henry Winkler say that when he his work in print for the first time, he “rubbed the book all over himself.” Did you have a similar, or any other, over-the-top reaction?

Mike: Tsk tsk. That was very un-Fonz-like of him.

I used up almost all of my over-the-top joy and giddiness when I first heard that my book was accepted. By the time SARAH GIVES THANKS was printed ‚Äď about two years later ‚Äď my primary emotion was relief. I just remember hearing the words, ‚ÄúI did it,‚ÄĚ over and over in my head. There was no exclamation point at the end of that statement, either. My ‚ÄúI did it,‚ÄĚ was an exhausted, non-demonstrative declarative sentence.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I was happy, very happy, but my happiness was so low key, my family didn’t know what to think of me. I think my reaction disappointed them a little.

(Nancy: ¬†I wonder if that’s how Sarah felt when Lincoln finally said ‘yes’, after 36 years…).

Nancy: How much research did you need to do on Sarah Hale? Did you get any good trips out of it?

Mike: Hm. Would you call a trip to Philadelphia ‚Äúgood?‚ÄĚ I spent most of my time in The City of Brotherly Love in an archive huddled over 160-year-old magazines taking notes until my fingers cramped up into a monkey‚Äôs paw. When I wasn‚Äôt taking notes, I was getting yelled at by officious old ladies who caught me taking notes with a pen ‚Äď which, I‚Äôm told, is a very bad thing to do. I suppose archivists live in constant fear of vandals doodling on historic manuscripts in ink. So I was issued a sharpened pencil and told to behave myself.

I did a lot of research, partly for the book and partly because I found Sarah Josepha Hale’s life story to be so fascinating. Not only did Sarah lead the effort to turn Thanksgiving into a national holiday, but she also was a celebrated author and editor. In fact, the magazine she helmed, Lady’s Book, was the most widely read periodical in America. She wrote the very first anti-slavery novel (about 25-years before Uncle Tom’s Cabin). She was a huge proponent of education for women. She led charities, raised funds for historic landmarks, and increased public awareness on a whole host of social issues. And she did it all while raising five children by herself (her husband had died of pneumonia years before).

In short, Sarah Josepha Hale is amazing. It was hard for me not to get a little geeked out.

(Nancy: ¬†Yes, she¬†had me at ‘raising five children by herself.’)

Nancy: The illustrations in SARAH GIVES THANKS are wonderful. How much interaction did you have with illustrator David Gardner during the process?

Mike: They are wonderful, aren’t they?

David and I weren’t in direct contact during the process. In fact, there were three degrees of separation. My only contact was with my editor, who relayed any comments I had about the illustrations to the art director, who then relayed them to David. This process makes sense when you think about it; the people at Albert Whitman were taking all the financial risks with SARAH so they need to be in control of the communication process.

After the book was done, however, David and I quickly got in touch. Even though we live on opposite ends of the country, he and I chat regularly. I’m proud to call him a friend.

Nancy: What are the top five things you are thankful for in your life?

  1. Family, of course
  2. My ability to make a living as a writer
  3. Good health
  4. Books
  5. Waffles

Nancy: And most importantly…What is your favorite kind of pie?

Mike:  Believe it or not, it’s pumpkin.

Nancy:  I think Sarah would approve.  Thanks, Mike, for sharing your insights on the process of creating a picture book, and for sharing this important story and amazing woman with all of us.

I think SARAH GIVES THANKS  would make an excellent addition to any elementary school classroom or library.  To order, click here!

Look for more Mike Allegra on his blog:¬†¬†http://mikeallegra.com/¬†and Facebook page! ¬†Mike makes my November gratitude list under the heading “people who make me laugh,” ¬†and for that I’m very grateful.

Writing's hard work