Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports Legends by David Stabler



Nonfiction Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book).
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

kid athlete

Kid Athletes: True Tales of Childhood from Sports Legends
Author: David Stabler
Illustator: Doogie Horner
Published November 17th, 2015 by Quirk Books

Goodreads Summary: Forget the gold medals, the championships, and the undefeated seasons. When all-star athletes were growing up, they had regular-kid problems just like you. Baseball legend Babe Ruth was such a troublemaker, his family sent him to reform school. Race car champion Danica Patrick fended off bullies who told her “girls can’t drive.” And football superstar Peyton Manning was forced to dance the tango in his school play. Kid Athletestells all of their stories and more with full-color cartoon illustrations on every page. Other subjects include Billie Jean King, Jackie Robinson, Yao Ming, Gabby Douglas, Tiger Woods, Julie Krone, Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali, Bobby Orr, Lionel Messi, and more!

My Review: I really enjoyed this book of short stories about sports legends as children. I think the author did a great job sucking the reader in by starting with something about each athlete’s career then tying their childhood obstacles into their successes. I was impressed by how each story did have a lesson, but they did not feel didactical, and the author also made the stories ones that kids are going to connect with. This allow with fun illustrations will definitely keep readers entertained!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’m in a theme unit in my class right now and as I was reading each story, I automatically grasped the theme the author was trying to get across for each short story. Some are quite explicit while others are inferred which makes it a perfect book as you scaffold students determining theme independently. The author also uses primary sources throughout the text would be a good way to discuss primary vs. secondary sources. It could even lead into students writing their own biographical story of a historical person using primary and secondary sources. Finally, I would love to discuss the illustrations with students! They all are a bit quirky and funny though tie into the story in different ways. It would be interesting to see if kids grasp the subtle humor.

Discussion Questions: What obstacle did ______ overcome?; What character traits did _____ show while overcoming ____?; What is the theme of ______ ? How did the author support the theme throughout?; How are the stories within each section similar? Different?

We Flagged: “In 1962, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Historians have praised him for refusing to fight back in the face of racial discrimination. But Jackie did fight back, in his won way, by being the best person he could be, instead of following the bad examples of his enemies. That was a lesson he had learned from his days as the tiny terror of the Pepper Street Gang.” (p. 38)


Read This If You Loved: Picture book biographies of athletes, Sports biographies

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Quirk Books for providing a copy for review!**

Author Guest Post!: “What’s in a Name?” by Royce Leville, Author of The Book of Names


“What’s in a Name?”

A pseudonym is much more than a writer taking a different name, or even a writer hiding behind a different name. It requires a process of creating a whole new writing style.

Like hitting a tennis ball, making a quilt or playing an instrument, writing is a skill.1 As a skill, it can be trained, honed and improved. Talent is useful, but most writers agree that talent only takes you so far, especially when it comes to writing fiction.2

There are many ways to work on the skill of writing and to hone the craft.3 A favorite is the “write as someone else” exercise. In fact, writing as someone else was such a boon, it allowed for the creation of me, Royce Leville.

Okay, before we give birth to a pseudonym,4 let’s take a few steps back. Why write as someone else? Good question. If you’re working towards writing fiction, especially novel-length, then you need to accept that there’s a lot of preparation and work involved before you even get to chapter one. Part of that is writing character descriptions.5 And the character really comes to life when he or she is given a voice; that is, when you attempt to write “in character.”6

Here’s a good sample exercise for writing as someone else:

  • Step 1: Write down some details of a character, including age, gender, profession, nationality, brief back story
  • Step 2: Move on to personal interests (past and present), taste in music, sports, books, etc
  • Step 3: Give the character some applicable (or even contrary) attributes, based on what’s already been listed in steps 1 and 2
  • Step 4: Start to populate the character’s world: car, house, furniture, clothing, accessories. Maybe make a list of the items found in the character’s fridge or wallet
  • Step 5: Now comes the Frankenstein moment. Can you bring the character to life on the page? Write in the first person, trying to use this character’s voice. Start with very simple things, such as making a cup of coffee or getting ready for work. See if you can write “in character”
  • Step 6: Now place the character in situations with other people. Think about dialogue and how this character speaks, and how this character behaves and reacts

Hopefully, through such a process, the character moves from being a blur of features to a sharply drawn and detailed person, one you might find yourself having conversations with inside your head.7

The more work you do in fleshing out the character, the more complex and believable the character becomes. In fact, the character may become so complete, he or she might even become the writer, with a unique style and a specific genre. And you’ve got yourself a pseudonym.8

Once there, the trick is how to get in character. Royce Leville has a black hat. With this hat on, Royce is writing.

This Jekyll and Hyde act might sound weird, but it can open some very interesting creative doors.



  1. This is the best thing to understand about writing, as it will help you with all forms of writing, whether it’s a birthday card for grandma, an important report at work, or a speech of some kind. If you work at writing, you can get better at it.
  2. There are plenty of writers out there low on talent who churn out successful books.
  3. Solitary writing endeavors result in little progress. Attend workshops, take creative writing classes, join a writing group. Book clubs are also good. Take the time to master the tenses and understand things like point-of-view, narrator knowledge and character consistency.
  4. Royce has written before about the benefits of writing under a pseudonym:
  5. Who hasn’t read a book with characters that seemed more like lazy sketches on napkins rather than intricately detailed and artistically drawn portraits? Or where a character said something that the character was completely unlikely to say?
  6. Have no illusions. This is much more difficult than it sounds.
  7. Not necessarily a bad thing.
  8. And you’ve possibly opened up a little can of crazy, because you’ll be writing as a character you’ve created, who then starts writing as characters he or she creates. Neat, huh?


There’s a benevolent locksmith with keys to every lock in town, a serial-killing vet who harvests his victims’ organs, a group of men locked inside a container and stranded at a harbor somewhere, and a performance artist who can open a bottle of champagne in an extraordinary way

Strange situations, unsolvable problems, secret lives, redemption and revenge. At times THE BOOK OF NAMES invokes the spirit of The Twilight Zone, yielding tales of morality, sexuality, and power.

Book of Names



Campbell is a prolific author, journalist and advertising writer who has published three books under his own name and two as Royce Leville.  He has won four independent publishing awards and received three prestigious writing residencies.  Campbell, born in Australia and residing in Germany, took second place in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for his first Leville book, A Little Leg Work.  His articles have featured in numerous magazines and newspapers, while his short stories have appeared in Australian Reader, Spotlight Magazine, Italy from a Backpack and the Fellowship of Australian Writers (WA) compilation, Lines in the Sand.

Find more information at:

Thank you to Royce for this fascinating look at pseudonyms and building characterization within writing!

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Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers


Once Upon an Alphabet

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for all the Letters
Author: Oliver Jeffers
Published October 14th, 2014 by Philomel

Goodreads Summary: If words make up the stories and letters make up the words, then stories are made up of letters. In this menagerie we have stories made of words, made FOR all the letters.

The most inventive and irresistible book of the year spans a mere 26 letters (don’t they all!) and 112 pages. From an Astronaut who’s afraid of heights, to a Bridge that ends up burned between friends, to a Cup stuck in a cupboard and longing for freedom, Once Upon an Alphabet is a creative tour de force from A through Z. Slyly funny in a way kids can’t resist, and gorgeously illustrated in a way readers of all ages will pour over, this series of interconnected stories and characters explores the alphabet in a way that will forever raise the bar.

In Once Upon an Alphabet, #1 New York Times bestseller Oliver Jeffers has created a stunning collection of words and artwork that is a story book, alphabet book, and gorgeously designed art book all in one.

Kellee’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Oliver Jeffers is just brilliant. Everything he does is unique, and he actually keeps surprising me with each new book. And he makes me laugh out loud, which is always such a treat. This book has 26 quirky short stories, each corresponding with a letter. Each story has characters, plot, theme, and conflict, and each is quite clever and funny. It is just so well done!

I’d love to see this book used as a read aloud for 26 days. Each day as a different letter. With every letter, teachers could focus on different things: the letter, illustrations, voice, characterization, plot arc, conflict, theme, mood, figurative language, etc. It would be a great opener to the day and would also be a lot of fun to ask students to write their own stories for the letters. This pushes an alphabet book to a whole different level!

Ricki’s Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I agree with Kellee. Decades from now, children will still be enjoying Jeffers’ books. For me, he is comparable to the greats in children’s literature. My favorite part about this book was the way he connected the letters. It made me excited when he returned to some of the previous short stories.

This book begs for students to write. The short stories teach literary skills in an engaging way. Kellee’s idea was similar to my own. I would love to see a classroom book of these letters. Each student could be assigned a letter or two. With some funding, perhaps the students could bring a bound version home. It would be much more fun for students to practice letters when they can read their classmate’s stories! The way Jeffers flexes his creative muscles would also be inspiring to high school students.

Discussion Questions: Which letter’s story was your favorite? Why?; In what ways was Oliver Jeffers creative in his storytelling?; Can you think of other stories for each letter?

We Flagged: 


Read This If You Loved: Any books by Oliver Jeffers, Eric Carle, or Dr. Seuss

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Penguin Young Readers Group for providing copies for review!**

Amulet Books Graphic Novel Teaching Guide



In January, I was contacted by a publicity and marketing associate from Abrams Books/Amulet Books out of the blue. In this email, I was asked to work on a teaching guide about their graphic novels: The Misadventures of Salem Hyde, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, Hereville, and the Explorer series.




I was beyond honored! And, of course, I said that I would definitely love to do it as I had read all of the graphic novels, and I am a huge fan of them.

First, they asked me to write an introduction about graphic novels and their importance in the classroom. I am a huge advocate for using graphic novels in schools, so I immediately began researching and writing. Here is the introduction:

What are graphic novels? The easiest way to describe graphic novels is to say that they are book-length comic books. However, a more complex definition that educators and librarians use is “book-length narratives told using a combination of words and sequential art, often presented in comic book style” (Fletcher-Spear, 37). Graphic novels are not written in just one genre; they can be in any genre, since graphic novels are a format/medium. Graphic novels are much like novels, but they’re told through words and visuals. They have all narrative elements, including characters, a complete plot, a conflict, etc.

Middle grade and young adult graphic novels cover a wide spectrum of themes and topics. Some common themes found in graphic novels for this age include the hero’s journey; overcoming hardship; and finding one’s identity. For example, in Hereville, we meet Mirka, an everyday girl who learns to use her brains and brawn to overcome her foes. In The Misadventures of Salem Hyde, Salem is working on finding out just who she is (both as a witch and as a person) with the help of her friend Whammy. Graphic novels can cross curricular lines. One example is the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series—comical nonfiction that takes historical events and presents them in interesting ways, using graphics and humor that will make students want to learn even more about the historical time periods. In the Explorer series, stories include topics such as animal adaptation, volcanic eruptions, and the fate of humanity. Like novels, graphic novels offer opportunities in all subject areas to extend students’ thinking.

Over the past few years, graphic novels have become a hot topic, growing in popularity with both children and educators. While many teachers are beginning to include them in the classroom, there are still teachers, administrators, and librarians who struggle with including this format in their schools. So, why should you use them in your classroom and have them available for students?

  • Graphic novels can make a difficult subject interesting and relatable. (Cohen)
  • Students are visual learners, and today’s students have a much wider visual vocabulary than students in the past. (Karp)
  • Graphic novels can help foster complex reading skills by building a bridge from what students know to what they still have to learn. (NCTE)
  • Graphic novels can help with scaffolding when trying to teach higher-order thinking skills or other complex ideas.
  • For students who struggle to visualize while they read, graphic novels provide visuals that shows what good readers do. (NCTE)
  • Many graphic novels rely on symbol, allusion, satire, parody, irony, and characters/plot and can be used to teach these, and other, literary devices. (Miller; NCTE)
  • Often, in between panels (called the gutter), the reader must make inferences to understand how the events in one panel lead to the events in the next. (McCloud)
  • Graphic novels can make differentiating easier. (Miller)
  • Graphic novels can help ELL (English Language Learners) and reluctant and struggling readers since they divide the text into manageable chunks, use images (which help students understand unknown vocabulary), and are far less daunting than prose. (Haines)
  • Graphic novels do not reduce the vocabulary demand; instead, they provide picture support, quick and appealing story lines, and less text, which allow the reader to understand the vocabulary more easily. (Haines)
  • Research shows that comic books are linguistically appropriate reading material, bearing no negative impact on school achievement or language acquisition. (Krashen)
  • Students love them.

Although you can find graphic novel readers at all reading levels, graphic novels can truly be a gateway to the joys of reading for reluctant and struggling readers. Reluctant readers often find reading to be less fun than video games, movies, and other media, but many will gravitate toward graphic novels because of the visuals and the fast pace. Struggling readers will pick up graphic novels for these reasons as well but also because the graphic novel includes accommodations directly in the book: images, less text, etc.

All in all, graphic novels can interest your most reluctant and struggling readers and also extend all of your readers, including your most gifted.  


  • Cohen, Lisa S. “But This Book Has Pictures! The Case for Graphic Novels in an AP Classroom.” AP Central. CollegeBoard.
  • Fletcher-Spear, Kristin, Merideth Jenson-Benjamin, and Teresa Copeland. “The Truth About Graphic Novels: A Format, Not a Genre.” The ALAN Review Winter (2005): 37­–44.
  • Haines, Jennifer. “Why Use Comics in The Classroom?” Comic Book Daily. N.p., 20 Mar. 2012.
  • Karp, Jesse. “The Case for Graphic Novels in Education.” American Libraries. N.p., 1 Aug. 2011.
  • Krashen, Stephen. The Power of Reading. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc. 1993.
  • McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. Northampton, Mass.: Kitchen Sink, 1993. 
  • Miller, Andrew. “Using Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom.” Edutopia. N.p., 11 Jan. 2012.
  • NCTE, comp. “Using Comics and Graphic Novels in the Classroom.” The Council Chronicle September (2005)

 I then began reading and rereading the graphic novels and planning activities and discussion questions that could go along with each book. I was asked to come up with activities for all subjects, so this pushed me out of my comfort zone a bit; however, I loved trying to figure out how these amazing books could be used throughout all classes.  Some examples:

  • Salem Hyde [Science]: At the end of Spelling Trouble, Salem and Whammy have to rescue a whale, but it is done in a very unconventional way. How would real scientists rescue a whale in distress?
  • Hazardous Tales [Language Arts/History]: The Provost (a British soldier) and Nathan Hale disagree about the cause of the Revolutionary War. Based on One Dead Spy, what events caused the Americans to revolt? Do you agree with the Provost or with Nathan Hale about the causes of the war? (This could also be used as a debate question in class.)
  • Hereville [Math]: On pages 31–32 [of Hereville 1], Mirka is given a math problem: Three people are splitting a cake, so they cut it into thirds. But then a fourth person shows up. How can they cut the cake so that each person gets an equalamount of cake? (Mirka comes up with a solution, but are there others?) What if two more people had shown up? Three more? Four more? 
  • Explorer [History]: On page 84 [of The Mystery Boxes], in The Soldier’s Daughter, the man says, “War is a dark power.” Where in history have we seen war consume someone? Have there been wars that did not need to be fought? Research past wars and determine if a war was started because of the need for power or if there was a legitimate reason for it. 

These are just some examples.

I am happy to share the entire teaching guide with you. It can be found at along with other teaching guides. The direct link to the PDF is

I hope you find it useful as I am very proud of it,


Christmas Classics: Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and The Shoemaker and the Elves by The Brothers Grimm



The Gift of the Magi
Author: O. Henry
Published 1906

Goodreads Summary: In a shabby New York flat, Della sobs as she counts the few coins she has saved to buy a Christmas present for her husband, Jim. A gift worthy of her devotion will require a great sacrifice: selling her long, beautiful hair. Jim, meanwhile, has made a sacrifice for Della that is no less difficult. As they exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, the discovery of what each has done fills them with despair, until they realize that the true gifts of Christmas can be found more readily in their humble apartment than in any fine store. O. Henry paints a masterly portrait of unfaltering love, a haven from the harsh world outside.

My Review: O. Henry has put so much emotion in a bit over 2,000 words. It is a beautiful story that left me tearing up and truly embodies the meaning of Christmas: the holiday spirit and true love.  You, too, can read this great story thanks to Project Gutenberg-

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This story would be a great one to discuss theme and morals as well as a fabulous introduction to O. Henry and classic short stories.
(Also, The Gift of the Magi is the story alluded to in the 2nd Salem Hyde book by Frank Cammuso.)

We Flagged: “One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.”

Discussion Questions: Della wants to get her husband the best gift possible for him, so she was willing to sacrifice her most precious belonging- have you ever sacrificed a precious item to help you get something for someone else? If not, would you? For whom? What is your most precious belonging? 


The Shoemaker and the Elves
Authors: The Brothers Grimm
Published 1806

Goodreads Summary: The beloved story of a poor shoemaker, kindhearted elves, and the giving spirit of Christmas.

My Review: This classic is one that is worth revisiting if you haven’t read it recently. There are many different versions, but The Brothers Grimm’s version has an ending that will just warm your heart. Once again available thanks to Project Gutenberg)-

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: This story also would be a great discussion starter for morals and theme (like most Grimm tales). Another great way to use this story in the classroom is to look at all of the different versions and discuss how the original story has been changed.

We Flagged: “In the morning, after he had said his prayers, and was just going to sit down to work, the two shoes stood quite finished on his table. He was astounded, and knew not what to say to it. He took the shoes in his hands to observe them closer, and they were so neatly made that there was not one bad stitch in them, just as if they were intended as a masterpiece.”

Discussion Questions: Think about a time when someone has helped you even when there was nothing in it for them and share.

Both Recommended For: 


I hope you all have a fabulous holiday!

Explorer: The Lost Islands edited by Kazu Kibuishi



Explorer: The Lost Islands
Edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Published October 15th, 2013 by Harry N. Abrams

Goodreads Summary: The highly anticipated second volume to the critically acclaimed Explorer series, The Lost Islands is a collection of seven all-new stories written and illustrated by an award-winning roster of comics artists, with each story centered around the theme of hidden places. Edited by the New York Times bestselling comics creator Kazu Kibuishi, this graphic anthology includes well-written, beautifully illustrated stories by Kazu (the Amulet series), Jason Caffoe (the Flight series), Raina Telgemeier (Drama and Smile), Dave Roman (the Astronaut Academy series), Jake Parker (the Missile Mouse series), Michel Gagné (The Saga of Rex), Katie and Steven Shanahan (the Flight series), and up-and-coming new artist Chrystin Garland.

My Review and Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I am a huge fan of Kazu Kibuishi. His artwork and his stories are so beautiful, so I know when he pulls together an anthology it is going to be phenomenal and this one does not disappoint. Each story revolves around an island although every story is very different. And I’ll be honest for a second, most of the time when I read short story anthologies, there is at least one story that is just “EH” for me, but I really liked each of these and they all fit a different purpose: Rabbit Island by Jake Parker was fun but had a great message, Loah by Michel Gagne was an artistic masterpiece, Radio Adrift by Katie and Steven Shanahan is so different from the others, etc.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: What I love about anthologies is that each story is different and can be used to discuss different narrative aspects. For example, Kazu Kibuishi’s story can be compared to Moby Dick and can also be used for cause and effect, Raina Telgemeier’s story would be great to use for inferencing and Carapace by Jason Caffoe can be compared to other fantasy stories (and these are just what I thought of off the top of my head). And, of course, on top of all of this, it will be read and loved by kids.

Discussion Questions: Which story out of the anthology is your favorite and why?; Which island out of the anthology would you like to live on? Which would you avoid?; How is the captain in Kazu Kibuishi’s story similar to Captain Ahab?; In Carapace, the boy lands on a fantastical island. What fantastical island does it remind you of?

We Flagged: 

(Desert Island Playlist by Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier, p. 58)
Shared by Raina Telegemeier on Goodreads:

Read This If You Loved: Flight series edited by Kazu Kibuishi, Explorer: The Mystery Boxes edited by Kazu Kibuishi, Teen Boat! by Dave Roman, Smile and Drama by Raina Telgemeier, Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi

Recommended For: 

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Guys Read: Other Worlds edited by Jon Scieszka


Guys Read: Other Worlds
Edited by Jon Scieszka
Illustrated by Greg Ruth
Published September 17th, 2013 by Walden Pond Press

Goodreads Summary: Other Worlds, the fourth volume in Jon Scieszka’s Guys Read anthology series for tween boys, features ten thrilling new tales of science fiction and fantasy from some of the biggest names in children’s literature.

Prepare yourself for ten trips into the unknown, as ten of your favorite writers—Rick Riordan, who has written an all-new and exclusive Percy Jackson tale, Tom Angleberger of Origami Yoda fame, Newbery medalist Rebecca Stead, Shannon Hale, D. J. MacHale, Eric Nylund, Kenneth Oppel, Neal Shusterman, Shaun Tan, and none other than the late Ray Bradbury—spin tales of fantasy and science fiction the likes of which you have never imagined.

Compiled by National Ambassador for Children’s Literature (and Secret Ambassador for the Intergalactic Alliance) Jon Scieszka, Guys Read: Other Worlds is sure to boldly take you where no reader has gone before.

My Review: This was such an amazing short story anthology. Usually when you read a collection of short stories there are a few winners and a bunch of losers, but with this one there are a tone of winners and a couple runners-up.

Let’s talk about how awesome it is to read a new Ray Bradbury story and a phenomenal story at that. It is an amazing story about survival, life, and love. It is such an interesting concept (a world where you only live 8 days) and is executed so well (you wouldn’t expect any less from Bradbury). And it is just one of the amazing stories. The amazing list of authors in this book would impress anyone: Rick Riordan, Shannon Hale, DJ Machale, Tom Angleberger, Neal Shusterman, Rebecca Stead, Shaun Tan, Kenneth Oppel, Eric Nylund, and Ray Bradbury. I also love the variety of stories. There are fantasy and science fiction stories – Percy Jackson right next to a story about aliens – and there are serious and funny stories – Tom Angleberger’s hilarious Rise of the Roboshoes alongside The Klack Bros. Museum by Kenneth Oppel.

Even though I don’t want to pick favorites, I would say if you are going to pick and choose go with the stories by Hale, Angleberger, Shusterman, Tan, Oppel, and Bradbury.

Teacher’s Tools For Navigation: I think this book would be the best as a read aloud or in the classroom library. They are just great stories and need to be shared.

Discussion Questions: After reading ___[story title]___, why do you think it was chosen to be included in Other Worlds?; What do you think is the theme of The Dirt on our Shoes by Neal Shusterman?; Which of the stories were your favorite?; In Rise of the RoboShoes what could beat the Roboshoes?; Using the illustrations and story from A Day in the Life write a narrative about the boy.

We Flagged: “All fiction and storytelling is answering that “what if…” questions. But science fiction and fantasy go a step further: They bend the rules of reality. They get to imagine the “What if” in completely other worlds.

And that is why good science fiction and fantasy stories can be so mind-expandingly fun.” (from Scieszka’s intro, p. vii-viii)

Read This If You Loved: Any of the authors who contributed or Fantasy/Science Fiction in general

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Walden Pond Press for providing a copy for review!**