Picture Book: Friends for Freedom by Suzanne Slade, Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

Friends for Freedom by Suzanne Slade, Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

(For those of you budding artists out there: last week on the blog, the illustrator shared some of her early sketches for this book, so be sure to check out that post.)

Friends for Freedom is non-fiction picture book about the little known friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. The text is simple and clear, with issues like human rights and slavery explained in accessible, but still engaging language. Soft, inviting watercolor illustrations elegantly capture fiery expressions as these two civil rights leaders passionately discuss their respective causes. (And side note–I just really love Tadgell’s illustrations of Douglass’s kids. They are so sweet and exude innocence and personality.)

The recommended age group for this book is 6-9 according to the publisher’s website, and that feels about right.  As a grown up reader (and writer), I especially appreciated the author and illustrator notes at the back explaining the research that went into this, and some may find the bibliography useful as well.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a free copy I received from the illustrator.

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Guest Post: Nicole Tadgell, Illustrator of FRIENDS FOR FREEDOM

Friends for Freedom: The Story of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass

by Suzanne Slade, Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

This week on the blog, I am excited to have my very first illustrator guest post from the award-winning and prolific illustrator Nicole Tadgell. Her latest book is Friends for Freedom,  a non-fiction picture book which centers on the friendship between civil rights activists Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass (my review to be posted soon).

As part of the guest post, Nicole sent me a few early sketches as well as some of her final artwork. Enjoy!




Illustrating famous historical figures for children’s books is a big project! Fortunately, I enjoy the research, I love pretending I’m in different times. Sometimes I worry that kids might not find the lives of famous historical figures to be interesting, but I am constantly reassured when I visit schools, libraries and book fairs and see kids looking at and reading my books with great interest.










The artwork for Friends for Freedom is done in watercolor, with gold and purple as key colors. I love the way those colors go together. I found a photo in my research that showed Miss Anthony in a plaid dress with purple and brown colors, which she described in detail in a letter to her mother.










Friendship is a universal bond, and kids today can certainly appreciate the value of friendship. This book gives readers more insight into the lives of Frederick Dougalss and Susan B. Anthony, making them more relatable just because of their friendship.


Suzanne Slade’s research uncovered a major fight between the two, which was recorded because it was a live debate reported in newspapers at the time. All friendships go through rough spots – most not as public as this argument. Yet like all true friendships, they did not let their disagreement overcome their bond.



On a personal note, I have been lucky enough to also have a lifelong friend. Lara and I met in first grade (see Communion photo below). We’ve been like sisters for many years, yet lost close touch for the last 10. Working on the art for Friends for Freedom really made me want to reconnect with my lifelong friend. Just this past weekend we saw each other in person, and it’s like no time has passed at all!



Thanks for sharing all these wonderful images, Nicole! 


About the Illustrator:


Suzanne Slade (left) and Nicole Tadgell (right)

Nicole Tadgell is the award-winning illustrator of In the Garden with Dr. Carver and First Peas to the Table. She enjoys bringing life to historical books with her loose pencil and watercolor illustrations.

Website: http://www.nicoletadgell.blogspot.com

Blog: http://www.nicoletadgell.tumblr.com

Twitter: @nicoletadgell

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3 Questions for Donna Gephart, Sydney Taylor Honor Winner for DEATH BY TOILET PAPER

Death by Toilet Paper

Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart

This week on the blog, I am honored to take part in the 2015 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour. As part of this blog tour, I had the opportunity to interview Donna Gephart, Sydney Taylor Silver Medal winner in the Older Readers category for her novel, Death by Toilet Paper.

(BTW–I LOVE this cover! The author also emailed me the super cute cover for the German version of her book, and I included it below. Adorable, right?)

More about the Sydney Taylor Book Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries website: “The Sydney Taylor Book Award is presented annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience. Presented by the Association of Jewish Libraries since 1968, the award encourages the publication and widespread use of quality Judaic literature. Gold medals are presented in three categories: Younger Readers, Older Readers, and Teen Readers. Honor Books are awarded silver medals, and Notable Books are named in each category.”

Here are my 3 questions for Donna Gephart:

Death by Toilet Paper German Cover1) In the book, your main character, Benjamin Epstein, enters a contest to come up with a slogan for his favorite brand of toilet paper.  Why toilet paper?

Donna Gephart: In this book, and sometimes in life, toilet paper represents money or a lack there of.  For example, Benjamin Epstein knew things were getting tough financially when his mom had to switch to the cheap, scratchy, recycled toilet paper, so unlike the “good” toilet paper they used to be able to afford.  Toilet paper has other, ahem, creative uses in the book, too, like being the material used for a zombie’s bridal gown.  Look, when a book starts out with a kid’s letter to a toilet paper company, you know it’s going to be a little, um, unusual . . . in a fun way.

2) Are you Jewish? If so, was there ever a time in your life when you wished you weren’t Jewish? If you are not Jewish, was there ever a time in your life where you wished you were?

DG: I am Jewish.  I grew up just like Benjamin did in the book.  And I never had experiences which made me wish I weren’t Jewish, unlike my parents.  When my mom was a kid, other kids threw stones at her after school and called her, “Dirty Jew.”  And when my parents were on their honeymoon, they found discrimination when trying to book a hotel room.  I’m glad, though, that my mom worked at a Jewish library when I was a kid because she brought home a lot of books about the Holocaust, and I learned early about prejudice and man’s inhumanity to man and the power and importance of kindness and empathy to counteract such insidious beliefs.

3) Your bio on Amazon says that you entered every contest you could find as a kid. What was the weirdest contest you ever entered?

DG: On a MUCH lighter note, since we grew up without much money, my sister, Ellen, and I sought out contests and sweepstakes to enter.  She won things like concert tickets, and I won a trip to Great Adventure Amusement Park when I was a kid, but the oddest thing I won was a check for $1.98 from a Gong-Show type contest on the radio.  I played the theme song from “All in the Family” on my toy organ and during the performance, the phone fell and crashed onto the keys, making a horrible bellowing sound — hence the silly amount of the check.  Since then, I’ve won a couple amazing trips through skilled contest entries.  But my sister, Ellen, to whom Death by Toilet Paper is dedicated, is the Queen of Contests and the Sultan of Sweepstakes.  Her most recent win?  A new car from The Price is Right game show.  Yeah, she’s amazing like that, my sister.

Donna Gephart 3

Donna Gephart’s new novel, Death by Toilet Paper, combines humor, heartbreak and more toilet paper facts than you can shake a plunger at.  Her other titles include:  Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, How to Survive Middle School and As If Being 12-3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President!, which won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award.  She lives in Florida with her family and speaks at schools, book festivals and libraries across the country.  For free reading/activity guides, writing resources and more, visit www.donnagephart.com.

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YA Book to Look Out For: MATERIAL GIRLS by Elaine Dimopoulos

Material Girls

by Elaine Dimopoulos

Hi all! This week I wanted to plug a book by one of my very good friends, Elaine Dimopoulos. Elaine and I are writing buddies, which means once a week, every week we sit at a cafe together and write (except for, you know, if one of us has a baby or something). We’ve both had our shares of ups and downs in our writing lives and our personal lives, so we take some time to talk about it and encourage each other, but mostly we sit together and write. If you are a writer, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have someone to just sit there with you and tell you to keep going even when you don’t feel like writing.

Anyway, Elaine’s book is finally coming out this spring! Material Girls is Project Runway meets Nashville meets intelligent YA dystopia. There are so many incredible characters and meaty themes in this, and I absolutely love Elaine’s lush writing and satisfying world-building.

Here’s the premise (from the publisher’s website):

In Marla Klein and Ivy Wilde’s world, teens are the gatekeepers of culture. A top fashion label employs sixteen-year-old Marla to dictate hot new clothing trends, while Ivy, a teen pop star, popularizes the garments that Marla approves. Both girls are pawns in a calculated but seductive system of corporate control, and both begin to question their world’s aggressive levels of consumption. Will their new “eco-chic” trend subversively resist and overturn the industry that controls every part of their lives?

Smart, provocative, and entertaining, this thrilling page-turner for teens questions the cult like mentality of fame and fashion. Are you in or are you out?

Sounds great right?

You can pre-order on Amazon or at your local independent bookseller. Pre-ordering is great for authors because when a book gets a lot of pre-orders, it makes people sit up and take notice.

The book doesn’t come out until May, so expect another reminder blog/facebook/twitter post a little closer to the release date.

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day Blog Post and Book Review

I am excited to take part in this year’s Multicultural Children’s Book Day! The MCCBD team have asked me to include a ton of great information in this blog post (including info about a book drive with First Book) so (deep breath) here goes.

Book Review: She Doesn’t Want the Worms

As part of this book day, I received a free multicultural picture book directly from the author to review.

She Doesn’t Want the Worms

by Karl Beckstrand, illustrated by David Hollenbach

She Doesn’t Want the Worms is a bilingual picture book about a girl who is offered a bunch of creepy, crawly insects and for some reason she refuses to eat them! The text is in both English and Spanish, and the book also includes a pronunciation guide.

Preschooler Monkey really enjoyed this book. She loved counting the critters and talking about how yucky they were. (Toddler Monkey listened, but I don’t think she was quite ready for this one.)

For me, the highlight of this book was the incredible, fascinatingly grotesque collage illustrations that are at once intense and playful. These images are just so unique, I couldn’t stop looking at them. Really, it almost felt like an art book.

The text, however, didn’t quite match up to the quality of the illustrations. I think the story was meant to be a mystery in the vein of the classic children’s book The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear, but instead, the story just felt incomplete rather than mysterious, leaving a fun-to-read, but somewhat clumsy rhyming poem. (And in Spanish it does not seem to rhyme or flow as well as it does in English, but bear in mind that I am not fluent in Spanish.)

She Doesn’t Want the Worms Activity

There is so much you can do with this book–but to me the most natural thing to do is to go outside and find some bugs.

If you live in a warmer part of the world, all you need is a shovel or even just a plastic cup to use as a shovel. Go outside, dig into the dirt with your shovel, and see what you can see! If it’s a nice day, you can spend quite a bit of time out there, and maybe even take a crayon and paper to draw your findings (hint: worms are pretty easy to draw even for toddlers…). What words would you use to describe the bugs you found?

Unfortunately, here in Boston it is currently winter and most days, it is wicked cold and usually not ideal weather for bug hunting (I can usually find at least one inside my house though…). You might want to check out a local science museum. For example, the Museum of Science in Boston has a ton of bugs to look at and even an indoor butterfly exhibit. If this is a little too far or too expensive for you, an alternative suggestion is to choose one bug from the story and simply talk about it. What color is it? How many legs does it have? Do a little research and find out how many varieties the bug comes in and how they are different. Which one is your favorite? Have you read other books about the book you chose? Can you sculpt it out of play dough?

More about Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Multicultural Children’s Book Day was created by Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom and Valarie Budayr from Jump Into a Book/Audrey Press.

Their Mission: 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, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

More info from them: “MCCBD team hopes to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.”

MCCBD’s Sponsors

MCCBD’s  2015 Sponsors include Platinum Sponsors: Wisdom Tales Press, Daybreak Press Global Bookshop, Gold SponsorsSatya House,  MulticulturalKids.com,   Author Stephen Hodges and the Magic Poof, Silver Sponsors: Junior Library GuildCapstone Publishing, Lee and Low Books,  The Omnibus Publishing. Bronze Sponsors:Double Dutch Dolls, Bliss Group Books, Snuggle with Picture Books Publishing,  Rainbow Books,   Author FeliciaCapers,   Chronicle Books   Muslim Writers Publishing, East West Discovery Press.

Virtual Book Drive with First Book

MCCBD is also partnering with First Book to offer a Virtual Book Drive that will help donate multicultural children’s books through their channels during the week of the event. The Virtual Book Drive is LIVE and can be found HERE.

Children’s Book Council

MCCBD is collaborating with the Children’s Book Council to highlight wonderful diversity books and authors on an ongoing basis all year.


MCCBD Collage

The following list is a select group of bloggers who will assist in extending the reach and spreading the word of Multicultural Children’s Book Day.

Africa to America

All Done Monkey

The Educators’ Spin on It

Growing Book by Book

InCultural Parent

Kid World Citizen

Mama Smiles

Multicultural Kid Blogs

Sprout’s Bookshelf


Phew! I hope that’s everything! If I’ve forgotten something, I may update this page occasionally. As a grand finale I’m going to include their little graphic with information on how you can participate too:


ways to celebrate

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Guest Post and Giveaway: The Gossip File by Anna Staniszewski


Happy 2015 from Monkey Poop!

For my very first blog post this year, I’m excited to have a Q&A guest post from Anna Staniszewski, author of the The Gossip File (Book 3 in the super fun Dirt Diary series). This post is part of a whole virtual book tour, and the publisher is offering a giveaway of the entire series (see the Rafflecopter widget at the bottom of this post). Without further ado, here’s the question for the author.

Q: In The Gossip File Rachel is pretending to be someone she’s not to hang out with the cool kids. What’s your advice to kids and teens about finding a group to hang out with?

Anna Staniszewski: When I was Rachel’s age, I tried on various personas and interests in an attempt to figure out where I fit. Was I was one of those girls who spent her life at the mall? Was I into moody music and all-black outfits? Or was I a runner who hung out with the cross country team? I wound up testing out each of these versions of me, seeing which one felt the best.

The truth was, I could feel comfortable in different groups—I loved hanging out with the cross country team and sometimes a trip to the mall was fun—but I eventually realized I was at my happiest when I was doing theater and music. Those were the interests that I’d had for most of my life, and it was when I found other people who were as into them as I was that I finally accepted the fact that they were the biggest part of me.

But I’m glad I tried out those different versions of me because it helped show that I wasn’t just one thing, and it helped me to get to know different kinds of people. But I’m also glad that I eventually was honest with myself about what mattered most. I could have spent my teenage years shopping instead of writing plays and making music, but I think that time would have wound up feeling a little empty because I wouldn’t have been doing what I really loved.

I suppose that’s my advice: It’s great to try out different groups and interests, especially if you’re not sure where you fit best, but you also want to make sure the things you wind up doing and the people you end up hanging out with are ones that make you feel the most like you. If you spend all your time pretending to be someone else, it can be fun at first, but (as Rachel discovers) it can also be exhausting. Ultimately, you want to make sure you don’t lose the things about you that make you who you are.

Book synopsis from the publisher:

The Gossip File:

•Chandra lets little kids pee in the pool.

•Melody stole $ from the café register.

•Ava isn’t who she says she is…

Ava is cool. Ava is confident. Ava is really Rachel Lee who is lying her butt off.

Rachel is visiting her dad at a resort in sunny Florida and is ready for two weeks of relaxing poolside, trips to Disney World – and NOT scrubbing toilets. Until her dad’s new girlfriend, Ellie, begs Rachel to help out at her short-staffed café. That’s when Rachel kinda sorta adopts a new identity to impress the cool, older girls who work there. Ava is everything Rachel wishes she could be. But when the girls ask “Ava” to help add juicy resort gossip to their file, Rachel’s not sure what to do…especially when one of the entries is a secret about Ellie.

About the Author:

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and eating far too much chocolate. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series, the Dirt Diary series, and the forthcoming Switched at First Kiss series, all published by Sourcebooks. Visit her at www.annastan.com.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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The Best Books I Read This Year (2014 edition)

This has been a great year for kid’s books and as usual I was completely conflicted about which books to choose! I’m at the point in my writing career where I’ve met some very spectacular published authors, soon-to-be authors, as well as aspiring authors. Knowing so many great people makes it tough to maintain a professional distance in writing my reactions to the book, so I’ve decided to include a few more categories.

Now all of these books are books I either read this year or came out this year, so these are not necessarily newly published. I’m ashamed to admit there were some books by friends that I wasn’t able to read this year (So sorry guys! Maybe next year?), and unfortunately I’m sure this will continue to happen. Each list is in alphabetical order by the author’s last name.

Spectacular Books by Author Friends


Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne

The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi

Something Real by Heather Demetrios

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

Top 3 Books for Young Adults

Willow by Tonya Cherie Hegamin

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner


I also really loved Cinder by Marissa Meyer but have since been informed by a friend that many Asian Americans find this book offensive or at the least, just not a good enough representation of Asians in children’s literature due to its mixing of Asian cultures without many actual Asians in the storyline. I personally really loved this book, but I respect this opinion and can definitely see why they have said this. Still worth checking out if you love scifi and fairytales retellings!

Top 3 Middle Grade Books


A Hitch at the Fairmont by Jim Averbeck – while there were also some Asian American stereotypes portrayed in this one, I felt this was appropriate for the time period and for the main character’s POV.

Dumpling Days by Grace Lin

The Interrupted Tale (The Incorrigible Children Book V) by Maryrose Wood


Best Graphic Novels (Young Adult and Middle grade)


Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew


If none of the above appeal to you, you might find some more goodies in this more complete list.

The Best Books I Read This Year

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Why Writing is So Important (Grammarly Infographic)

One of the most popular blog posts on my blog was kind of a throwaway post: 10 Reasons Why Books are Better than TV. I don’t think people are responding to this post because my reasons are so startlingly unique and hilarious, but because people genuinely want to know why reading is so important, and why reading is better than TV. While this is a fascinating area of research, to be honest I’m not interested in doing the work required for an exhaustive research article on the topic (especially not just to be published on my fabulous but not research-oriented blab-filled blog). Instead, here are links to a few articles I’ve found interesting:

Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Read Fiction

Maths advantage for pupils who read for pleasure

Making Good Decisions: Television, Learning, and the Cognitive Development of Young Children

(You may also note that sitting and reading burns more calories than sitting and watching TV.)

Now I don’t have the research to prove this, but it seems like common sense that the more you read, the better you become at writing. But why is writing so important?

I was approached by Grammarly.com to include their new infographic on my blog (in exchange for a $20 donation to Reading Is Fundamental) about a study they did of Elance profiles. They proofread 400+ freelancer profiles for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors and selected freelances with high quality of work ratings and looked at the correlation between their earnings and the number of mistakes they found on the profiles.

As someone who is horrible at catching my own typos, I’m not sure that correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation necessarily equals good writing, but still, I think this might be an interesting study and at the very least it’s a snazzy looking infographic :)


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Minorities in Publishing podcast

Minorities in Publishing is a brand new podcast featuring interviews with publishing professionals. I’m making it sound formal and boring, but it’s wonderful and inspiring and funny and I really, really love it so far. I particularly loved their interview this week with Preeti Chhibber. A *must* listen for you fellow writers and publishing people out there.


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Willow by Tonya Cherie Hegamin

Willow by Tonya Cherie Hegamin

Fifteen-year-old Willow is a resourceful, intelligent young girl who spends her days reading, writing, and taking care of her horse Mayapple. But unfortunately, Willow lives in 1848 Maryland. And Willow is a slave. Though Willow’s life is relatively easy compared to the lives of other slaves in her community, she yearns to go to school and learn to write. Meanwhile, Cato, a headstrong teenager lives a free, but still oppressed life, in Haven, Pennsylvania. Against his father’s wishes, Cato gets involved with smuggling slaves to freedom, and on his first naive attempt, he gets into more trouble than he expected. When Willow and Cato finally meet, their lives and everything they thought they believed about freedom and prejudice are completely changed forever.

With this unique novel Tonya Cherie Hegamin explores life as a slave on a plantation with a “kind” owner–the hypocrisy, the lies, and the secrets that remain hidden. She explores what it means to be not only a slave, but a female slave. What do family obligations mean when you know you are related to your master? What does “home” mean when your  family helped build the plantation where you live enslaved? What does “escape” even mean when there is nothing and no one to escape to?

Even while bringing up all these fascinating questions, Hegamin’s writing is lyrical and poignant, but most importantly it’s incredibly compelling. I connected with Willow from the very first few pages and did not want to put this book down.

Though Cato’s voice is not as strong as Willow’s and the romance between the two characters–though wonderful and believable–often felt besides the point, this novel is heartfelt, thought-provoking, and so, so good.

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