We Interrupt This Blog For This Special Announcement

If you have a child in your life who adores animals and loves reading then this child is going to be over the moon over author Pop Jamison’s Skwerdlock series. Skwerdlock is a whimsical character who delights and encourages young readers. The latest book in the Skwerdlock series is Never Take a Skwerdlock to the Doctor.

“The Skwerdlock is always fun to be with, and is always curious and excited to try new things. The Skerdlock watches everything you do and then likes to try it all. Because of that, the Skwerdlock is a great friend to have around.

The Skwerdlock would never do anything to hurt anyone or to cause any problems. But sometimes, just being a Skwerdlock means that strange things can happen when a Skwerdlock is nearby. This little story is a friendly reminder of what can happen when a Skwerdlock is around.

But, mostly, the Skwerdlock is just an excuse to curl up in the recliner or sofa with your favorite early reader or listener and smile together.

And, if the illustrations seem a bit “amateurish”, that’s something Pops and the Skwerdlock have done intentionally. They both love really nice illustrations, but they also want to remind your young storytellers they don’t have to be “perfect” to create a really good story.

Just remember, ‘Never Take A Skwerdlock to the Doctor!'”

Pops Jamison’s first name is John and he’s been writing for children for nearly sixty years, much of it inspired by his daughter Tricia.

As a writer, Pop’s goals include making kids laugh, love reading and tell “just good stories.” Ultimately, Skwerdlock is a true blue friend to everyone he meets.

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Ellen Whitfield-Publicist

JKS Communications – Literary Publicity

ellen@jkscommunications.com

Retro Review: The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

When I look back at the books I loved as a child I think of the books by Judy Blume, Dr. Seuss, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the poetry of Shel Silverstein. I think of the classics and think of getting lost in a world of fairy tales, myths, legends, and folklore.

And then there is the Newberry Medal Winner The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.

Even as a little girl I was a bit of a fashionista. I played dress up and adored my Barbies. I even made clothes for my paper dolls.

The Hundred Dresses is about two classmates and besties, Maddie and Peggy. Wanda Petronski is their classmate.

Wanda has a funny last name, lives in a scary place called Boggins Heights, and her family is very poor, not exactly a recipe for popularity.

Wanda also wears the same raggedy dresseveryday, which her leads her classmates to tease her, including Maddie and Peggy.

Wanda tells her classmates she has a hundred dresses at home. She has to be lying. If this is true why does she wear she wear the same dress? The girls continue to tease Wanda. They are total bullies.

Then one day Wanda isn’t in class. It turns out she won’t be back. The Petronski family are moving.

Soon after the class learns about Wanda’s hundred dresses, conveyed by her creative and artistic talents.

Though released in 1944, The Hundred Dresses is very important book. Bullying still exists and people deemed as different are still demonized.

But on a positive note, The Hundred Dresses is an inspirational tale of how art and creative expression can be an act of healing and human connection.

I loved this book as a child, truly appreciate it as an adult. Estes’s writing is warm and heartfelt. And Louis Slobodkin’s impressionistic illustrations are lovely.

The Hundred Dresses is a tale that endures.

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Book Review: Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

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Even my cat, Pokey Jones, liked this book!

Once upon a time, in land called the south side of Chicago, lived a girl named Michelle Robinson. Instead of living in a huge castle, she lived in a modest house on a street called Euclid Avenue. And instead of having to deal with an evil stepmother, she had two loving parents and a protective older brother. Like a lot of girls, Michelle Robinson dreamed of adventures that would take her beyond her humble roots and finding her own Prince Charming. She did that and so much more, thus becoming the history-making first lady Michelle Obama, not only the first black first lady (not to mention one of the most educated and admired, and if I may dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, one of the most stylish first ladies, in the history of the United States).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are so “unwoke” you might as well be in a coma, you are fully aware of Michelle Obama’s years of living in the White House – her “Let’s Move” campaign to alleviate childhood obesity, her work with second lady Dr. Jill Biden on veterans’ issues, her loving marriage to President Barack Obama, and her challenges of raising two children in the White House under the glare of the media. This is a very compelling part of Becoming, and Mrs. Obama is fully honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly she dealt with during the White House years.

However, most of Becoming focuses on Mrs. Obama’s life before her time as First Lady, and it is both extraordinary and ordinary, which I’m sure a lot of readers with relate to.

Mrs. Obama describes these years in rich detail that had me riveted. Her family was firm and loving, inspiring her to be a striver and excel in whatever she pursued. She writes about teachers who supported her from grade school through law school. She lovingly mentions the girlfriends who inspired her, and are still with her today (even if one standout friend is only with her in spirit). Mrs. Obama discusses the various mentors she was blessed with while navigating the difficulties in the workplace. And she’s brutally honest about these privileges and her gratitude seems truly sincere.

However, she also had to deal with the thorny issues of both racism and sexism, and plenty of naysayers who claimed she’d never make it. For instance, one person tried to convince Mrs. Obama that she wasn’t Ivy League material. Ha, she showed this person, didn’t she?

And yes, Mrs. Obama also dishes on a certain fellow named Barack Obama, from her initial meeting when she was his mentor to her twenty-five plus years of their marriage.

But just as Mrs. Obama is grateful for her blessings, she is also honest about the trials and tribulations she faced personally. Prince Charming was sometimes a bit of a challenge and often their marriage was less than ideal. Mrs. Obama also faced issues with having children, finally reverting to using fertility treatments and later giving birth to her cherished daughters Malia and Sasha. In other words, her life is at turn both typical and atypical, one that inspires and one that a lot of us can relate to.

Now, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. However, as a book reviewer I realize I must be truthful of my assessment of Becoming. Not to be gross, but you can’t crap on a cone and expect me to call it ice cream. Thank goodness, Becoming is a sundae of a read and truly exceeded my expectation. It’s both down to earth and out of this world, one that takes a treasured place on my book shelf. I can’t recommend it enough.

Book Review: Popular-Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Care Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships by Mitch Prinstein

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“Popular!
You’re gonna be popular!
I’ll teach you the proper ploys
When you talk to boys
Little ways to flirt and flounce
I’ll show you what shoes to wear
How to fix your hair
Everything that really countsTo be popular
I’ll help you be popular!
You’ll hang with the right cohorts
You’ll be good at sports
Know the slang you’ve got to know
So let’s start
‘Cause you’ve got an awfully long way to go”

-Popular from the musical Wicked

The word popular, one that must send shivers down most of our tailbones. It’s one of those words that take us back to our teen years when popularity was everything. And whether you were part of the “in-crowd,” a rejected outsider or somewhere in-between, the concept of popularity probably still affects you even though high school is now in the review mirror of life.

And that’s why Mitch Prinstein’s take on popularity is such an interesting and informative read with his book Popular-Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Care Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships.

According to Prinstein we are most likely familiar with two types of popular. On type of popularity is based mostly on wealth, status and fame. Back in high school the most popular kids were the athletes and the cheerleaders. Today this type of popularity is best portrayed by people like President Trump and reality stars like the Kardashians or world famous celebrities like Taylor Swift or Kanye West. This popularity is considered controversial because even though these people have their admirers, they  often quite detested and often, deservedly so.

And then there is another kind of popularity based on actual likability, wealth, status and fame notwithstanding. To me, these include people like the Pope, President and Mrs. Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and so on. Sure, these people have their share of “haters,” but for the most part, these people are admired for their contributions to society. Wealth, status and fame are a by-product.

Of course, looking back at high school a lot of the athletes and cheerleaders were completely likable. And I don’t hate the Kardashians as individuals, I’m just not fond of them as a concept…but I digress.

In the book Popular Prinstein goes to great lengths to explain how popularity affects us personally and professionally, especially in the age of social media, where far too many of us are too dependent of followers, likes, retweets and so on to assess our worthiness.

To get us past the digital high school halls of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat, Prinstein offers compassionate ideas on how to be genuinely likable that will bring us true happiness and gratification and will affect society in a positive way.

Prinstein also doesn’t shy away on how not being popular in both childhood and adulthood can leave scars and how people can heal, whether they have experienced moments of neglect or rejection during those unpopular moments.

In Popular, Prinstein uses studies, interviews and other assorted methods of research to write about popularity in an audience-friendly way. He also asks readers carefully chosen questions on how on how popularity affects one’s sense of self. Popular has its academic moments, but is never dry and boring. It took me only a couple of days to read Popular and it’s still food for thought, especially when I get hung up on how many followers I have on Twitter.

I especially recommend Popular to parents and teachers.

 

Book Review: Shrill-Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West

I’ve been a fan of writer Lindy West since her Jezebel.com days. Whether she was writing about pop culture or social issues, I found her writing voice to witty and wise,  a welcome relief from tiresome clickbait and lazy listicles.

So it was a thrill to read West’s memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud woman.

Growing up,  West was nerdy, shy and fat, not exactly a recipe for success. Yet, she was able to find success, both professionally and personally, once she became an adult and found her voice.

And though her voice brought her admirers it also brought her haters,  mostly obnoxious trolls.

You see West is a woman with an opinion. She’s also fat. How dare she!

Through her feature articles and opinion pieces, West expressed her disdain for rape jokes and the struggles with body shaming. In response, she often faced horrific comments telling her she should be raped and ripped her apart for not being a tiny size two.

West fully describes in Shrill what it was like to be caught up in hail storm of hatred. It was a time of loneliness and tears,  vulnerability and anger, but it was also a time where West found support, decency, empathy and a the will to go on as a writer and just person trying to live her life

But in the end West triumphed. She triumphed so much a troll even reached out to her to apologize.

Today, West is having the last laugh. Shrill is gaining lots of praise, including praise from two of my faves, Caitlin Moran and Samantha Irby. Now based in Seattle West now writes for GQ,  The Guardian,, and other assorted highly respected publications. She founded the advice blog for teenagers called I Believe You/It’s Not Your Fault. West is also blessed with a loving family and a happy marriage. Hmm, maybe being shrill isn’t such a bad thing.

Though Shrill is West’s story, it’s also the story of every woman with an opinion and  one who doesn’t fit into our society’s slender notion on how to behave…and look like. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: How to Fall in Love With a Man Who Lives in Bush a by Emmy Abrahamson (Translated by Nichola Smalley)

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I know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But let’s face it – an intriguing title can really make you think to yourself…

“I must read this!”

This leads me to my latest book review How to Fall in Love With a Man Who Lives in a Bush written by Swedish author Emmy Abrahamson. With a title like that I know I had to read this novel.

How to Fall in Love With a Man Who Lives in a Bush is a fictionalized account of Abrahamson’s early days with her now husband, and it is one hell of a love story, and chick lit for those usually not a fan of standard chick lit.

Meet Julia, a Swedish woman on the verge of turning 30. She’s currently living in Austria teaching a Berlitz course in English as a second language, dealing with a lot of students who challenge her patience with every lesson.

In her free time, she “Netflixes and chills” and comes up with ideas for novels she’d love to write. Unfortunately, these novels have already been written, like The Shining by Stephen King and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte to name a couple.

With a near non-existent love life, Julia also spends time with her friends at local pubs and restaurants, including an obnoxious frenemy named Leonore.

It isn’t long before Julia hits a moment of serendipity. While sitting on a park bench, Julia meets a homeless man, Ben. At first Julia is a bit disgusted by her new acquaintance. He’s barefoot, stinks and well, yes, is HOMELESS!

But despite all this Julia is drawn to Ben and they begin “dating” – well, whatever you want to call dating when man literally lives in a bush.

Has Julia met her Prince Charming? Or has she met her Prince Alarming?

Not one to reveal too much of the plot of this charming romance because I want it to be a delicious surprise to my faithful readers, I’ll just hope that they trust me and pick up a copy of their own.

One thing How to Fall in Love With a Man Who Lives in a Bush is love doesn’t always move in straight lines. Often is moves in squiggles and resembles a turned over plate of pasta.

While reading this book I wanted to smack both Julia and Ben and I also wanted to cheer them on. But no matter what, these two lovebirds kept me interested. And the ending made me gasp with shock and surprise but it also left me hoping for a sequel.

Most known for her young adult novels, How To Fall In Love With a Man Who Lives in a Bush is Abrahamson’s first novel for adults. I don’t just feel I discovered a talented new writer; I feel like a met a new friend.

Bonjour! Let’s Learn French-Visit New Places and Make New Friends by Judy Martialay

I usually don’t review children’s books, so I was a bit surprised when writer, illustrator and educator Judy Martialay sought me out to review her book Bonjour! Let’s Learn French. But being a bit of a Francophile and having a niece and nephew who are currently attending a French immersion school, Martialay’s request piqued my interest so I accepted her offer

Bonjour! Let’s Learn French follows the adventures of world traveler Pete the Pilot. Wherever he travels Pete learns the country’s language, so he can better communicate with a country’s citizens and make new friends. In this book Pete finds himself on a French beach where he meets several children and a certain snail named Louis l’escargot. This story is written in English with several key words within the story translated to French, including words like sand, beach, castle, children, which are in bold type. Though the story is quite short it packs in a lot of basic French translations children can recite as a parent reads to them or the child can read him or herself.

But Bonjour! Let’s Learn French offers a great deal more than a short story with English to French translations. It also offers quite a few activities that also help children learn French words and phrases. They include a skit which parents can play out with their children or can be done as a classroom activity. Another activity asks children to look at various people and objects within the book, their home and neighborhoods and translate them to French.

The musically inclined will enjoy a French song in the book and the artsy set will discover their inner Monet or Renoir have fun making their own impressionistic painting, both activities fully explained in the book.

And for convenience sake, Martialay provides a glossary of French to English translations at the end of the book just in case.

Interspersed throughout! Let’s Learn French are Martialay’s cute illustrations and various photographs of people, places and things one might find during a French holiday, including the buildings, art work, the French flag, cafes, and one of my personal favorites, French cuisine, including French onion soup and various French pastries like croissants.

Bonjour! Let’s Learn is for children ages six through 12. Though I think some older children might consider this book to be a bit babyish if they’ve been studying French since they were very little like my niece and nephew. However, I think it’s an ideal book for children learning French for the first time and it’s a way to bond with their parents, too. And, no parents, you don’t have to be fluent in French.

As for school teachers, I think a lot of them will welcome a book like Bonjour! Let’s Learn French in their classrooms, whether the French language is a part of their curriculum or not. We live in a very global world and a book that not only teaches children a foreign language but also about a foreign culture can only be an asset to their learning.