October 10, 2015

Interview with Jack and Holman Wang


Today I am have an awesome interview lined up with the duo team, Jack and Holman Wang, that are the creators behind the Star Wars Epic Yarn books and Cozy Classics series. Checkout my review of the Epic Yarn series and a chance to win the books! Enjoy!

1) Prior to creating the Star Wars Epic Yarns books, you created a series of board books called Cozy Classics which abridged adult classics such as Les Miserables, Oliver Twist, and Emma. What was the driving force behind bringing these stories to young children?

J: I came up with the concept for Cozy Classics after my older daughter was born. I was reading a lot of word books about things like colors, shapes and animals, which got a little stale. That’s when I started thinking about how to make board books more fun and original for kids and adults. I came up with the idea with abridging classics in twelve words, and organizing word books around the concept of narrative. Then Holman came up with the idea of needle-felted illustrations. That’s when Cozy Classics was born.

H: We wanted our books to appeal to any one of any age, serving as true word primers for wee ones, storytelling vehicles for older kids, and fun, ironic abridgements for adults. Hopefully, we’ve achieved that goal.


2) Who are your creative influences – in books, art, or any other media?

H: One of our literary heroes is Maurice Sendak. He once talked about a great misconception regarding children’s books: that they should always be healthy, funny, clever and upbeat. But Sendak wanted to show “the little tattered edges of what life is like.” So in Where the Wild Things Are, Max yells at his mom (unheard of for a children’s book at the time). In the Night Kitchen features full frontal nudity of a little boy, while Outside Over There depicts a fantastical baby kidnapping by goblins! So we agree with Sendak’s attitude that children’s books don’t need to be hyper-sanitized.


3) Where you always into crafts? How did you come upon needle felting and why did you choose it as your medium versus other 3D art styles?

Jack and Holman Wang - Halloween CostumesJ: I wouldn’t say we were always into “crafts.” We made a lot of stuff when we were kids, like our own Halloween costumes out of cardboard, without any help from our parents. We didn’t think of it as “crafting.” We were just doing stuff as kids and having fun.

H: As an adult, I never thought of myself as a “crafter” until I taught myself to needle felt, expressly for the purpose of illustrating Cozy Classics. Needle felting is actually a fairly new crafting technique that is still growing in popularity, but it seemed old-fashioned in a way that we thought resonated perfectly with the classics.


4) Is it truly amazing that you are able to boil down the essence of each movie into 12 words. Can you share your process for determining which scenes and which words to choose?

J: When you only have twelve words to work with, you have to focus on the main narrative arc. You can’t just pick the twelve coolest or most iconic scenes from each book or movie, because you have to make sure there’s at least some sense of narrative continuity for the uninitiated. Then you need to ensure that each image conveys in a direct way a child-friendly word or concept. So a lot goes into determining each page.

H: For example, Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope begins with the words “princess” and “trouble,” because that’s the essence of the story: a princess is in trouble and needs to be rescued. The next two words are “boy” and “learn”—Luke needs to learn to use the Force and become a Jedi. So on one level, our books just pair simple words with simple images, but on another level we’re trying to help parents and kids find the story arc for each character.


5) Did illustrating Star Wars seem daunting since it is so iconic and universally recognizable? What steps did you take to make the art as authentic as possible to the movies?

H: Absolutely, it was daunting! When abridging classic novels, there’s always room for interpretation, because the original text is written. But with Star Wars, the original “text” is filmic, so we knew that readers would have a very clearly idea of what they wanted to see. So it was less about interpretation and more about homage. We ensured authenticity by watching the movies again and again, and studying film stills, and then recreating sets and doing location photography as slavishly as we could.

J: We even flew down to the Imperial Sand Dunes in California—where George Lucas filmed parts of Return of the Jedi—for the desert scenes on Tatooine. It doesn’t get more authentic than that!


6) Any new books we should be on the look out for?

J: Yes! Our Cozy Classics series is moving over to Chronicle Books starting next spring. Chronicle will be re-issuing backlist titles, as well as three new titles: Great Expectations (spring 2015), The Nutcracker (fall 2015) and The Wizard of Oz (spring 2016).


7) Where can readers find you on the Internet?

H: Our website is jackandholman.com and our Twitter handle is @jackandholman. You can find all of our additional social media pages from there!


Check out this video to get a Behind the Scenes look at the making of the Star Wars Epic Yarn books!

October 9, 2015

Star Wars Epic Yarns – plus Giveaway

People throughout the galaxy will be celebrating reading this Saturday, October 10th for the 4th annual Star Wars Reads Day. So grab your young padawans and experience together the power of reading.

If you are a Star Wars geek like me, then check-out the Star Wars Epic Yarn books from Chronicle. They’re not your average board books.

Star Wars series

These 12-paged books are word primers. Each spread contains a single word paired with an iconic scene from the movie, helping the adult reader narrate the story to the child. The scenes are amazing from the meticulous handcrafted felt characters to the onsite shooting. It may even trigger reader a (re-)watching of the movies.

Here are some interior spreads.

SW Epic Yarns_A New Hope_10_Swing spread © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.

SW Epic Yarns_Empire Strikes Back_4_Force spread © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.SW Epic Yarns_Return of the Jedi_Team spread © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.

A perfect gift for any Star Wars fan.


You are in luck. I have an extra set of books to GIVEAWAY, courtesy of Chronicle Books. Leave a comment below telling us your favorite character and why (anyone from Episodes 1-6, but picking Jar Jar Binks is automatic disqualification, j/k :-) ). Deadline to enter is Thursday, October 15th. May the force be with you!

Read my interview with the creators Jack and Holman Wang and learn about their creative process.


Find the Star Wars Epic Yarns series at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads

Disclosure: I received my copies of this series from the publisher Chronicle Books. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

September 25, 2015

The Perfect Percival Priggs – plus Giveaway!

percivalTitle: The Perfect Percival Priggs
Author & Illustrator: Julie-Anne Graham

Publisher: Running Press Kids, 2015
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 4-7
Themes: Unconditional love, Individuality

Opening Lines:

Percival Priggs was perfect.
His parents were perfect.
His grandparents were perfect.
Even his pets were perfect.


Synopsis (from Amazon website):

Percival Priggs wants to be the perfect child in order to please his seemingly perfect parents.
But even when Percy gets his family into a mess of a situation, his parents’ love for him remains absolute perfection.



  • Activity Guide – discussion questions, coloring sheets, games, and more.


Why I Like This Book:

A delightful book with a quirky cast of characters in a sweet story about pursuing the things you love and not having to be perfect at it with a dollop of unconditional family love. Perfect story for kids who too often notice the trophy/prize someone has won without realizing the hard work and failures that came prior.

The art shines brightly in this book. Check-out the trophy shelf below. Unfortunately, Percival doesn’t enjoy most of his activities they are b-o-r-i-n-g, which most young readers will likely agree with.


One day Percival comes up with an ingenious plan to finish his to-do list faster. Unfortunately, his plan literally blows up and creates havoc in the household. This is where the unconditional loves comes in, but wait this isn’t the end of the story. Now we find out all about the parents’ past failures. It’s a real treat, sorry no hints.


Since the charm of the book is in the detailed art, probably not a good book for story time but definitely one to keep in a home or classroom library.



For a chance to win this book, let us know your quirky talent in the comments below. (my quirky talent is i can catch spiders) Deadline to enter is Thursday, October 1st at 9pm PST. Contest is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada.


Find The Perfect Percival Priggs at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 0762455063
ISBN-13: 978-0762455065

This review is part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book series. Visit her site to see the other books recommended.

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher Running Press Kids. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.


September 21, 2015

Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco

barrioTitle: Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco
Author: Judith Robbins Rose
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2015
Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary, Multicultural
Themes: Immigrant Experience, Mentorship
Ages: 10 and up

Synopsis (Amazon website):

“Miss, will you be my Amiga?”
Amiga means “friend” in Spanish, but at the youth center, it meant a lady to take you places.
I never asked myself if two people as different as Miss and me could ever really be amigas.

When Jacinta Juarez is paired with a rich, famous mentor, she is swept away from the diapers and dishes of her own daily life into a world of new experiences. But crossing la linea into Miss’s world is scary. Half of Jacinta aches for the comfort of Mamá and the familiar safety of the barrio, while the other half longs to embrace a future that offers more than cleaning stuff for white people. When her family is torn apart, Jacinta needs to bring the two halves of herself together to win back everything she’s lost. Can she channel the power she’s gained from her mentor and the strength she’s inherited from Mamá to save her shattered home life?

Why I Like This Book:

A richly detailed story giving readers a glimpse of life in the barrio. The plot centers around 12-yr old Jacinta who has one foot in barrio world and one foot in Miss’s (mentor) world which offers new experiences likes gymnastics, swimming pools and French classes. The reader sees Jacinta being torn between doing the things she wants to do with Miss and her responsibilities to the family. The author has done a wonderful job of showing the raw, honest truth about the views of the people and the trials they face. I did enjoy the misconceptions that Jacinta had about Miss, they did add to lighten the story. While their mentorship-mentee relationship was filled with ups and downs, it was a richer experience in the end.

Not just a multi-cultural book but one about socio-economic diversity as well. The book moves along at a good clip with obstacles and conflict around every corner, though at times it did seem a bit much. I enjoyed this book serving as a window into another cultural society however I would’ve liked a little bit more something to help me understand the decisions the parents made for their family. Why did they choose to live in America if it meant living in fear of the police and barely making ends meet? At times the existence of Jacinta’s family seemed so dismal and bleak, I just wanted to see the warmness of the familial bonds instead of what just appeared to be obligations. There is a very nice line near the end of the story which did give me some closure on this aspect.

It’s what families do. And it’s not because we have to. It’s because we choose to do.

The author does a nice job in tying up the story and giving the reader hope that Jacinta has gotten strong from having one foot in each world and is better because of it.

This book has sparked my curiosity about the immigrant experience. Here are some other titles in this genre:
Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
La Línea by Ann Jaramillo
Star in the Forest by Laura Resau
For additional books checkout the wonderful list at Pragmatic Mom website.

Find Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 0763672351
ISBN-13: 978-0763672355

Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher Candlewick Press. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

September 12, 2015

Interview with Laurie Wallmark

Laurie WallmarkI am delighted to bring you today’s interview with Laurie Wallmark, author of the beautiful non-fiction story Ada Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. Check out my book review.

1) Writing for children is not your first career. Tell us about your background and how you came to write picture books.

Writing is my third (out of four) careers. After graduating from college with a degree in biochemistry, career #1 was as a scientific programmer in the pharmaceutical industry. While working there, I received a masters degree in Information Systems. For career #2, I left Corporate America and opened a mail order company specializing in books about adoption and infertility. I had a bookstore on the web before Amazon! One day I had an idea for a middle-grade novel, so here came career #3. I didn’t try picture books until several years later, because I knew how hard they were to write. Coming full circle back to computers, I now teach computer science at the college level, both on campus and in prison. I’m also in my last semester in the MFA program, Writing for Children and Young Adults, at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Wow that is impressive that you’ve had such a variety of careers with a continuous connection to science.


2) What was your inspiration for writing about Ada Byron Lovelace?

I’m drawn to writing about strong, underappreciated women in STEM. I feel it’s important for all children, not just girls, to realize the contributions of women in science, technology, engineering, and math. People often ask me how I heard about Ada, since she’s such an unknown (until now) person. My reply is, “Do you remember when you first heard about <insert famous person’s name here>.” I know when I learned about George Washington, because I went to Washington Elementary School, and his picture was in every classroom. But what about all the other familiar names from history? I certainly don’t remember how I heard about them. My guess is I first came across Ada in one of the many books about mathematics and mathematicians I read as a child.

I only learned of Ada Lovelace a few years ago because of a Google Doodle.


3) Can you tell us about your writing process? (research, writing, finding the story)

Writing biographies starts and ends with research, research, and more research. Whenever possible, you want to use primary sources so you don’t receive information filtered through someone else’s impressions. As I do the research, I keep a list of events from the person’s life I think might make a good picture book scene. Then I let the project sit for a while to allow time for my subconscious to come up with an approach to sharing that person’s accomplishments with the world. Even though a biography is nonfiction, it still needs to contain a story arc. It’s up to me as the writer to find that story. Finally, it’s time to sit down and write. And rewrite. And rewrite. And…, well you get the idea.


4) What advice would you give to someone who wants to write nonfiction?

Writing nonfiction is rewarding and a great deal of fun, but only if you enjoy doing the research. Yes, you want a fun and engaging story, but it’s important your facts are correct. After all, your book might be a child’s only source of information about your subject matter. When you do your research, you often find conflicting “facts.” It’s your job to dig deep and discover the truth.


5) What projects are you working on now?

I’m working on a picture book biography about Grace Hopper, another strong woman in STEM. Like Ada, she’s an important person in the history of computing. Grace was the first person to use words in her programs instead of only “1”s and “0”s.

Yeah another STEM book about women in technology!


Some rapid fire questions.

Fact that most people don’t know about you?
I have prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness. My college students have to sit in assigned seats. Otherwise, even at the end of the semester, I still can’t tell them apart. I tell them if they say “hi” to me in the hallway, I’ll always say “hi” back. This is because I’m a polite person, not because I recognize them. This is why any events I help organize always include name tags.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
Read children’s books, of course.

Favorite pick me up snack/drink?
I only drink water—about a gallon a day.

Where can readers find you on the Internet?
Website: http://lauriewallmark.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauriewallmarkauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/lauriewallmark


Laurie Wallmark writes exclusively for children. She can’t imagine having to restrict herself to only one type of book, so she writes picture books, middle-grade novels, poetry, and nonfiction. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing or studying, Laurie teaches computer science at a local community college, both on campus and in prison. The picture book biography, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, October 2015), is Laurie’s first book.

Be sure to checkout other stops on the blog tour:

9/15/2015 – Frog on a Blog (STEM and Trade Picture Books)
9/22/2015 – Writing and Fishing (Interview)
9/28/2015 – My Brain on Books (About Writing Ada)
10/2/2015 – Still a Dreamer (Interview)
10/6/2015 – Robin Newman Books (Writing About Strong Women)
10/9/2015 – Yvonne Ventresca’s Blog (Five Detours on the Road to Publication)
10/13/2015 – Writing and Illustrating (Writing Firsts)
10/15/2015 – Geek Mom (Acrostic Poem)
10/18/2015 – The Children’s Book Review (Interview)
10/20/2015 – Kaleidoscope (Using Ada in the Classroom)
10/26/2015 – Gold from the Dust (Interview)
11/6/2015 – Picture Books Help Kids Soar (Five Favorite STEM Women in History)
11/6/2015 – VCFA Launch Pad (Interview)


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