Currently viewing the category: "Illustrated Novel"

Bad Hair Day
Author and Illustrator: Jim Benton
Published July 23rd, 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Franny K. Stein isn’t a fan of glamour. She doesn’t style her hair, the thought of wearing makeup makes her want to gag, and she couldn’t care less about wearing dressy dresses when she’d much prefer her lab coat.

But sometimes Franny wonders if her mom wishes she were different. Which gives Franny an idea…for an experiment! What if she can turn the beauty products her mom loves into something more exciting?

Every experiment has its experimental error, and when Franny’s hair takes on a life of its own, Franny must save the day (and her hair).

About the Author: Jim Benton is the New York Times bestselling writer of the Dear Dumb Diary series and a cartoonist whose unique brand of humor has been seen on toys, television, T-shirts, greeting cards, and even underwear. Franny K. Stein is the first character he’s created especially for young children. A husband and father of two, he lives in Michigan, where he works in a studio that really and truly does have creepy stuff in it.

Review: Franny K. Stein is not worried about all those other things other people worry about–she just wants to do experiments and other mad scientists things. And you know what, I love that!!! And I definitely saw what Benton was trying to do with this book when it comes to glamour and such, but I, as a parent, just didn’t like to see Franny’s mom put a bit of passive aggressive pressure on Franny to be anything other than her amazing self. I mean, she makes creatures and fights them–what does a little messy hair matter?! But in the end, Franny’s mom and the reader are reminded of this, so once again Franny can go on being herself.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Simon and Schuster have a wonderful curriculum guide to use with this series: CLICK HERE.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Franny’s mom is supportive of Franny, but she also questions her. How did you feel about how Franny’s mom in this book?
  • I like to describe Franny as awesome, as in I am awe-struck by her. What traits does Franny have that would lead me to describe her this way?
  • Why did Franny’s pig tails act differently than her ponytails?
  • How was Franny’s mom wrong about Igor?
  • Would Franny be successful in her monster fighting without Igor? Why or why not?


The Stein family lived in the pretty pink house with the lovely purple shutters down at the end of Daffodil Street. Everything about the house was bright and cheery.

But, of course, the outside of a house is never as interesting as what’s going on inside it.

And inside this house, behind the little round upstairs window, something interesting was always going on, because this was the bedroom and laboratory of Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist.

Last week, for example, Franny developed a giant sea horse, and the day before that she worked on a way to fly based on how bats flap their wings.

Those projects became pretty expensive, so Franny needed to get a piggy bank to save her money in.

Of course, being a mad scientist, she created her piggy bank from a real live pig, which meant that she had to learn all she could about pigs.

This got pretty messy, but she didn’t mind getting messy, because that’s just what happens when you’re doing mad science.

Read This If You Love: Dear Dumb Diary series, Frank Einstein series, Zita the Spacegirl series

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Weird Little Robots
Author: Carolyn Crimi
Illustrator: Corinna Luyken
Published October 1st, 2019 by Candlewick

Summary: When two science-savvy girls create an entire robot world, they don’t expect the robots to come alive. But life may be a bit more magical than they thought.

Nine-year-old Penny Rose has just moved to a new town, and so far the robots she builds herself are her only company. But with just a bit of magic, everything changes: she becomes best friends with Lark, has the chance to join a secret science club, and discovers that her robots are alive. Penny Rose hardly remembers how lonely she used to feel. But then a fateful misstep forces her to choose between the best friend she’s always hoped for and the club she’s always dreamed of, and in the end it may be her beloved little robots that pay the price.

Praise: [A]uthor Crimi infuses this unassuming transitional novel with compassion, humor, and a refreshing storyline in which girls organically weave a love for science into their everyday lives. Illustrations by Luyken add to the guileless sensibility. A contemplation on the magic of friendship told with sweetness, simplicity, and science.—Kirkus Reviews

**BEA Middle Grade Book Buzz Book

About the Author: Carolyn Crimi enjoys snacking, pugs, Halloween, and writing, although not necessarily in that order. Over the years she has published 15 funny books for children, including Don’t Need Friends, Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, Where’s My Mummy?, There Might Be Lobsters, and I Am The Boss of This Chair. Weird Little Robots is her first novel.

For more information, and to download a free classroom guide for Weird Little Robots, visit her website. and Twitter @crims10.

Review: Thank goodness books like this exist out in the world. I cannot wait to see what this new generation of kids are like as adults now that they all have these amazing stories of smart girls to read. Even the characters who fit a certain stereotype for Penny Rose ended up proving her wrong. This book shows that there is more to everything than anyone can imagine: more to science, more to friendship, more to imagination… What a fantastic world that Penny and Lark’s story can be told!

And the story itself is one that is fun to read. Not only do you get to read about robots, engineering, ornithology, and even decorating, but the book includes a story that many kids will connect with: do you abandon one to join the others even if the one is your best friend and the others is giving an opportunity that is hard to refuse. That is something that everyone faces more than once in their life. And told in a lyrical and a bit quirky narrative, the story is just fun to read.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: A Classroom Guide for Weird Little Robots can be found on Carolyn Crimi’s website!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What do Penny Rose and Lark have in common?
  • Why do you think Penny Rose made the decision she did about the secret society? Did she regret it in the end? How could she have dealt with it differently?
  • If you were going to build a little robot RIGHT NOW, what items are in your backpack that you could use? Use these items and sketch out a plan.
  • How could Penny Rose have helped her other robots communicate with her?
  • Why do you think the robots waited to communicate?
  • What did the different members of the secret society show Penny Rose, and the reader, about judging others?
  • Create your own conversation starters. Then, in class, group with 2 other people and use the conversation starters to chat. Rotate.
  • What did Penny Rose’s one decision the turned her back on Lark cause?
  • Penny Rose finds her way through the woods just by listening. As a class create an obstacle course that has different sounds throughout it and see if students can navigate through using only their hearing.

Flagged Passages: “First though, Penny Rose would need a detailed plan. She went up to her bedroom, sat on her bed, and turned on the lamp she had made last year from an olive oil can. A stack of notebooks sat on her nightstand: her New Inventions notebook, her Robot Drawings and Descriptions notebook, and her To-Do List notebook. Her most secret notebook, Conversation Starters, was at the bottom of the pile.

She picked it up, found a clean page, and wrote a quick list of Possible Conversation Starters:

  1. “I think binoculars are fun.” (Lark seems to like binoculars.)
  2. “The sun seems strong today.” (Lark often wears sun goop. First determine if the sun does, indeed, seem strong.)
  3. “Sunglasses are very wise.” (Lark wears sunglasses.)
  4. “Do you like robots?” (It is unknown whether or not Lark likes robots, but it is probable that she does since most people do.)
  5. “Yesterday was my birthday. Would you like some leftover cake?” (This seems like a good bet, unless she has allergies or is gluten-free or vegan or something.)
  6. “What is in that metal box?” (This might be too nosy, although if you’re going to carry something so mysterious, you should be prepared for questions.)

Penny Rose looked over her list. She considered what her father said about Lark not hearing before. She decided she would speak loudly.

Penny Rose tore out the page and tucked it into the tool belt she wore in case she happened upon interesting items for her robots.” (Chapter One)

Read This If You Love: Ellie Engineer by Jackson Pearce, Ada Twist by Andrea Beaty, Marty McGuire by Kate Messner, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, The Last Panther by Todd Mitchell, Frank Einstein by Jon Scieszka

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review!**

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Charlie & Mouse Even Better
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Emily Hughes
Published: April 2nd, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: It is Mom’s birthday, and Charlie and Mouse and their Dad want everything to be perfect–so when the cake gets burnt the boys have to come up with a new plan, pronto.

View my post about Charlie & Mouse and Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy to learn about the first two books in the series.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Charlie & Mouse series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Charlie and Mouse on Chronicle Book’s Charlie & Mouse Even Better page.

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Barkus: Dog Dreams
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator: Marc Boutavant
Published: August 7th, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Barkus is back! With new tricks. New friends. And lots more fun.

The lovable Barkus and his lucky young owner romp through the pages of this delightful series from Newbery Medal–winning author Patricia MacLachlan. The simple text told in short chapters is just right for children ready to take their first steps toward reading on their own.

View my post about Barkus to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Barkus series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Barkus on Chronicle Book’s Barkus Book 2 page.

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Polly Diamond and the Super Stunning Spectacular School Fair
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published: May 7th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Polly and her magic book, Spell, have all kinds of adventures together because whatever Polly writes in Spell comes true! But when Polly and Spell join forces to make the school fair super spectacular, they quickly discover that what you write and what you mean are not always the same. Filled with the familiar details of home and school, but with a sprinkling of magic, this book is just right for fans of Ivy + Bean, Judy Moody, and Dory Fantasmagory, as well for aspiring writers, who, just like Polly, know the magic of stories.

View my post about Polly Diamond and the Magic Book to learn about book one.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Polly Diamond series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Polly Diamond on Chronicle Book’s Polly Diamond Book 2 page.

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Nixie Ness, Cooking Star
Author: Claudia Mills
Illustrator: Grace Zong
Publishication Date: June 4th, 2019 by Margaret Ferguson Books

Summary: Best friends Nixie and Grace spend every afternoon together . . . until Nixie’s mom gets a new job and Nixie must attend the after-school program, without Grace.

Third graders Nixie Ness and Grace Kenny have been best friends since they were two-years-old. They have always spent every afternoon after school at Nixie’s house until Nixie’s mom announces that she has a job, which means she won’t be there to watch the girls after school, which means Nixie will have to go to the after-school program and Grace will be spending her afternoons at their classmate, Elyse’s, house.

Nixie begrudgingly starts the after-school program, joining the cooking camp. And it turns out that the other children at cooking camp are nice, and the recipes they make are delicious. But Nixie can’t really enjoy being an after-school superstar until she finds a way to overcome her jealousy about Grace and Elyse’s budding friendship.

Perfect for fans of Judy Moody, Ivy and Bean, and Clementine, this new chapter book series features recurring characters, and each book will highlight one activity they do at their after-school program. The books are illustrated in black and white and include a bonus activity that corresponds to the book’s plot. Nixie Ness: Cooking Star features a recipe for morning glory muffins. The next book in the After-School Superstars series, Vera Vance: Comics Star, is scheduled for release in Spring 2020.

About the Author: Claudia Mills is the author of almost 60 books for young readers, including most recently the Franklin School Friends series from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and her new After-School Superstars series from Holiday House.  In addition to writing books, she has been a college professor in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder and in the graduate programs in children’s literature at Hollins University in Roanoke. Visit Claudia at

Message from the Author: My newest book, Nixie Ness, Cooking Star, is the first in a new chapter-book series – After-School Superstars – set in an after-school program featuring a different themed camp each month. After a long career of writing school stories, I decided it was time to branch out to the fascinating world of after-school programs, which offer kids so many fun activities that don’t fit easily into the already crowded elementary-school curriculum. Other planned books in the series will take place in a comic-book camp (Vera Vance, Comics Star) and a computer-coding camp (Lucy Lopez, Coding Star). I haven’t yet decided on the topic for the fourth camp yet. Suggestions welcome!

This first book is a celebration of the joy of cooking, but it’s also a friendship story. Nixie has to face some painful changes when her mom gets a new job and Nixie now needs to attend an after-school program, while her best friend (who had previously spent every afternoon with Nixie at Nixie’s house) goes to another friend’s house after school instead. Will Nixie lose Grace to “best-friend stealer” Elyse? Or will cooking camp help Nixie find a way to save her friendship with Grace while making new friends, too?

Exclusive Excerpt:

“Oh, those are adorable, girls!” Nixie’s mother pulled out her phone to snap some pictures of the girls standing next to their cupcakes. Nixie and Grace made normal smiles for the first photo and then hung out their tongues and held up begging puppy paws for the others until they both dissolved in a fit of giggles.

As Nixie’s mom returned the phone to the pocket of her jeans, her mouth twitched the way it did when she was about to say something she wasn’t sure Nixie was going to like.

“Why don’t you take a little decorating break,” she said. “I have some news. It affects both of you, so Grace’s mother said it was all right if I told you together.”

Nixie’s chest tightened, as she and Grace plopped down into chairs at the cupcake-covered table.

“You know how I’ve been talking about finding a new job?”

Nixie relaxed. Her mother had been talking about getting a go-off-to-work job ever since Nixie started kindergarten. First she was planning to look for a job at the public library because she loved books so much. Then she was going to apply for a job at Nixie’s school because she loved kids so much. Nothing ever happened.

“Well, I got a phone call this morning that I got the job I applied for a month ago, back in August,” her mother said. “They want me to start right away, on Monday.”

Nixie and Grace exchanged stunned glances.

“What kind of job?” Grace asked.

“A wonderful job. Working in a bookstore. And not just any bookstore. The new children’s bookstore downtown.”

It did sound like the perfect job for a person who loved books and kids. Her mother looked so happy that Nixie wanted to be happy for her, too. But if this was really such a terrific thing, why had her mother’s mouth been so twitchy? And what was going to happen after school?

She could hear her voice coming out squeaky. “Will you work all day? Will Grace and I go to the after-school program?”

She’d bet anything there would be no baking of puppy or kitten cupcakes there. And the after-school teachers, like every grownup they’d ever known, would tell her and Grace that it wasn’t nice to play by themselves so much. They’d talk on and on about “including others.” Nixie didn’t want to include others, unless the other was a dog.

“The after-school program is tons of fun,” Grace offered, her face brightening. “Really, it is.”

“Says who?” Nixie asked.

“Says everybody,” Grace replied.

Nixie had heard over morning announcements that Longwood Elementary School had a new program this year called After-School Super Stars, all camps, with a different camp each month for each grade. But she had barely listened to the details, knowing that she and Grace would never have to go there.

Grace kept on talking. “I forget what the first camp was, the one we already missed, but the next camp for our grade is – ta-dah! – a cooking camp! I think we’ll like it, Nixie.”

This was vastly worse than Grace’s saying she thought kitten cupcakes were cuter than puppy cupcakes or wanting to invite Elyse over to play. Tears stung the inside of Nixie’s eyes. She scrunched them shut before one could escape and trickle down her cheeks.

“Actually . . . .” Nixie’s mom said slowly.

“Actually, what?” Nixie tried to keep her voice from wobbling.

Her mother hesitated before replying.

“Nixie, you’re going to attend the after-school program. Grace’s mother is making other plans.”

Nixie remembered that the reason Grace had started spending afternoons at Nixie’s house in the first place was because all the after-school programs cost too much.

Nixie reached over for Grace’s hand the same way she had done on the first day of preschool.

Grace squeezed her hand tight.

They decorated the last six cupcakes in silence. What did anything matter if they’d never be together at Nixie’s house after school, just the two of them, ever again?

Nixie Recipes:

Two recipes Nixie makes at camp:

Morning Glory Muffins (Nixie’s favorite!)


2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
2 cups grated carrot
2 cup grated apple
½ cup coconut flakes
½ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup sunflower seeds
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup orange juice
1/3 cup honey
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup seedless raisins


Preheat oven to 375.

Combine dry ingredients in large mixing bowl (flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt).

Stir in carrots, apples, coconut, walnuts and seeds so they are coated with the flour mixture.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla, orange juicy, honey, and oil.

Fold in the raisins.

Spoon into lightly greased muffin pan (the recipe makes 18 muffins).

Bake for around 18 minutes (a bit less for darker pans).

Home-made dog biscuits (Alas, Nixie doesn’t have a dog!)


2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 cube beef or chicken bouillon
¾ cups boiling water
Additional treats to your dog’s taste: bacon bits, oats, shredded cheese


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Dissolve bouillon in boiling water; stir.

Add remaining ingredients.

Knead dough until it forms a ball.

Roll dough until ¼ inch thick.

Cut into bone shapes (or any shape of your choosing) with a cookie cutter.

Place shapes on lightly greased cookie sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Happy baking!!

Thank you, Claudia, for helping us celebrate your newest title!


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“The Writing Process” 

Over the course of a career in children’s book publishing, I’ve had the opportunity to hear many wonderful authors speak about their “process” – how they approach that intimidating blank page – whether a notebook, a sheet of paper in a typewriter, or the screen on a computer.  Where do you begin? And then what?

The clearest answer for me was a comment Walter Dean Myers made in a speech. “Writers write,” he said.  That is the literary version of “just do it!”  When you have an idea that’s taken hold of you, start writing.  What you write probably won’t make it into the final version of your project, but it will help you exercise your writing muscles and fire up the connection between your thoughts and your fingers. While doing that, some good sentences will emerge; characters will introduce themselves to you; plots will begin to take shape.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be thinking about all these elements, too – not just waiting for them to tap you on the shoulder.  Make notes.  Do research.  Ask questions of yourself and search for answers.  All of this becomes the soil your story needs to grow.  But keep writing through it all.  That’s the only way I know of to discover the voice that is right for this particular story – and voice is the hardest part to explain, or force, or fake.

For the three novels in my Raccoon River Kids series of chapter books, I started with a place – a small town where kids have lots more freedom than they do in cities – a place where they can hop on their bikes and go by themselves – even when they are as young as seven or eight — to a friend’s house or venture into the center of town with a park as its centerpiece, a community center, and an old town hall where the doors are always open.

That was the beginning. My early writing was about the town itself, but as I described its geography and places, I began to envision the children who would be at the center of the novels: a third-grade boy and his best friend, a third-grade girl. There was a third boy. too. He stood outside of things and had only contrary remarks about the other children’s plans.  I didn’t know why at first, and I knew I would have to explain it – first to myself, then to my characters, and finally to my readers, of course.

As I developed Raccoon River and the characters in my early unstructured doodling, I also found the voice for these books.  At first I thought I would have the older sibling of one of the characters be the narrator, but it became complicated.  She couldn’t be everywhere the kids were. And, if she had to be involved in everything that they did, the children could never keep a secret from her. And secrets are important to children of this age – I didn’t want to take that option away from “my kids.”

I decided on an omniscient narrator who could get into everyone’s head; a teller who could be behind the scenes and in front of them simultaneously; a non-judgmental, trustworthy observer with a sympathetic view and faith in the characters.

With all these puzzle pieces to manipulate, I started to write. I always begin at the beginning. Opening chapters are important to me.  Wiser authors have told me that I should never get attached to the opening I write.  They universally agree that as the story progresses, beginnings often need to be changed, or moved elsewhere, or simply dropped.  I’m sure that’s true, but I can’t get going until I have at least my opening scene written.

Writers have also advised me not to polish any writing until the entire first draft is written. Again, I’m sure this is good advice.  But I find it impossible not to fix something that isn’t working – whether it’s an ugly phrase, a bad choice of a word, or an entire episode that is … well … wrong.  The first thing I do when I return to a work-in-progress is read what I wrote the last writing session.  And make changes, sometimes big ones, sometimes little tweaks.  That gets me back into the voice of the story.

I write mostly chronologically.  But not always.  If some later adventure has been working itself out as I take walks or make dinner or watch the news, I write it out of order. I figure it will fit in somewhere.  Mostly it does.

When I have a good portion of the whole written, I step away for several weeks.  I might jot down notes if any random ideas come to me, but I don’t put them into the manuscript.  I try to remove myself from the story for a while.  When I return to it, there’s a strange sense that it was written by someone else, which allows me to see things more clearly.

The result of this round is a new manuscript.  I can move chapters around, clarify motivations, polish language, deepen my characters, and strengthen the logic in the plot that will lead readers through the novel.

At the round three stage, I work on chapter endings and beginnings to be sure the story flows through smoothly.  I look for secondary themes to amplify. I examine the actions of the characters and how they speak for consistency. Similarly, I check for character traits or habits that help identify one from the next for readers. Because these are chapter books for relatively new readers, I make sure there’s not too much description but that there is enough so young readers can find themselves in Raccoon River and put themselves into the story.

And again, I step away from what I am now thinking of as “a book” for a while.  If it holds together when I return some weeks later, then it’s ready for some feedback.  And that’s when the process starts all over again.

About the Author: Lauren L. Wohl has had a long career in children’s book publishing. She has a degree in Library Science and has been an elementary school librarian. She served as Director of James Patterson’s ReadKiddoRead program, taught writing at the college level, and now consults with several publishers and literary agencies. Stories she’s been reading in newspapers and seeing on television news programs about children stepping up to make kind, generous, and important contributions to their communities inspired her chapter books about the Raccoon River Kids: Blueberry Bonanza and now Extravaganza at the Plaza. She is also the author of a picture book, A Teeny Tiny Halloween, illustrated by Henry Cole and Zooapalooza, coming August 2019. A native New Yorker, Lauren enjoys life in her new hometowns of Lenox, Massachusetts and Miami Beach, Florida.

About Extravaganza at the Plaza (Raccoon River Kids #2): “It isn’t fair that our town doesn’t have its own theater,” eight-year-old Hannah complains. 

A lot of thinking, planning, dreaming, and list-making, and Hannah–along with the kids of Raccoon River–are up to their ears in a brand new project: saving the town’s old abandoned Plaza Theater. But first, they have to get a look inside. And it’s spooky in there-spider webs and creaky floors, and one slowly-swaying curtain. Can Hannah and her friends save the plaza? 

Lauren L. Wohl tells a story of determination and hard work, cooperation and more than little bit of luck where the kids of a small town make a real difference in their community, the first sequel to BLUEBERRY BONANZA in the RACCOON RIVER KIDS ADVENTURES series. Mark Tuchman illustrates the action with characterful drawings that enrich the tale.

Thank you, Lauren, for your post–it was fascinating to learn about your process!

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