Interview with Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Authors of And Tango Makes Three


I am happy to start Pride Month with this interview as books with representations of all families need to be shared with all students as “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” (Sims-Bishop, 1990). As an educator in Florida, we are being challenged as are the books we love and students need. Sharing diverse representation, of race, culture, sexual & gender identity, and more, will only lead to empathy and a safer more happy world.

And Tango Makes Three
Authors: Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell
Illustrator: Henry Cole
Published: June 1st, 2005 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: In the zoo there are all kinds of animal families. But Tango’s family is not like any of the others. This illustrated children’s book fictionalizes the true story of two male penguins who became partners and raised a penguin chick in the Central Park Zoo.

Introduction from Simon & Schuster: Florida’s new law, to take effect in July, prohibits classroom “discussion” and “instruction” about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in grades K-3, as well as any discussion or instruction about these topics that would be considered not age appropriate in the eyes of the State in grades 4-12. And Tango Makes Three, a multiple award-winning picture book, tells the simple and true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who pair-bonded, built a nest, and with the help of a kind zoo-keeper, together hatched an egg.

The book is written for children ages 4 to 8, but the new Florida law may prevent their teachers from sharing or discussing it with them. Teachers use And Tango Makes Three and books like it to help children with same-sex parents feel welcome in their school and to help their classmates understand the different family structure of their classmates. Lessons like these are invaluable to children of same-sex parents. Censorship of facts about gay families and lives, like that required by the new law, threatens the mental health of children with same-sex parents as well as that of LGBTQIA+ children themselves.

Since its initial publication, And Tango Makes Three has been challenged and banned countless times. The American Library Association has reported that it was the most frequently challenged book between 2006-2010, and the second most frequently challenged in 2009. It was also the fourth-most banned book between 2000 and 2009, and the sixth-most banned book between 2010 and 2019.


Kellee: How did you first learn about Tango and her family? And why did you choose to tell their story? 

Peter Parnell & Justin Richardson: We first read about the penguins over breakfast one Saturday in a New York Times article by Dinitia Smith entitled “Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name.”  Justin said, “Peter, you have to listen to this,” and there was just something about hearing the story read aloud that made us think of a children’s book.

As prospective parents ourselves, we knew that there was an unmet need among the children of gay parents for stories involving families like ours.  And we knew that while many parents who are not gay might wish to introduce their children to the subject of gay families, many felt unsure as to how to approach the topic, what language to use, how specific to get, and so on.  This story seemed to us a perfect way for them to open a discussion of about queer families with the confidence of knowing that they were doing it in an age-appropriate way.

K: What was your hope in sharing Tango’s story?

PP & JR: Like any author, we hoped the book would find an audience. We wanted kids to be moved by the story, and to expand their understanding and awareness of different kinds of families. We are most gratified when we hear the book has been a part of a child’s bedtime routine or a family’s life for years.

K: When you first heard about And Tango Makes Three being challenged, what were your first emotions? Reaction? 

PP & JR: We did anticipate that there would be some resistance to the book when we wrote it. But we could never have imagined then the extent of the challenges it would face or the strength of the support it would get around the world.

I think you never forget the first challenge. For us, that was in Missouri, when a library director who had received complaints moved our book from the fiction to the (less browsed) nonfiction section in order not to ‘blindside’ parents. The story got picked up by the AP (much thanks to a local news reporter who read library’s log looking for stories). We heard about it on a Saturday night, and were like, “Okay, this is happening…”  The story literally travelled around the world. Stephen Colbert held up the book on “The Colbert Report,” and proclaimed it the Number Two Threat to the American Way of Life (the number one threat was people who are not blond).

We have a coffee mug at home that we stumbled across in a toy store with our daughter a few years ago. On it are displayed a dozen or so banned book titles. There’s Animal Farm, 1984, and The Origin of Species. And our title is snuggled in there amongst the rest of them. We thought the juxtaposition of our book with these great works was kind of hilarioius. But we’d by lying if we said we weren’t also proud. In the years that we read TANGO aloud at the ALA’s Banned Books Week Readout in Chicago, we did so alongside folks like Steven Chbosky, Robie Harris, and Judy Blume. It’s an honor to be in such great company. But in truth, being banned is painful and infuriating. Any pleasure one can squeeze out of it is worth holding onto, if it softens the blow.

K: The “Don’t Say Gay” bill does not allow any sexual orientation or gender identity instruction in grades K-3. I would argue that And Tango Makes Three is not INSTRUCTION of either listed things; do you agree?

PP & JR: The law is purposely written to be vague, leaving terms like “instruction” and “sexual orientation” undefined. We recently lampooned that aspect of the law in the Washington Post, showing that banning discussion or instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity means there can be no talk about men and women marrying or indeed any book that depicts characters as having a gender.

We wouldn’t recommend going down the rabbit hole of arguing what does or doesn’t qualify as instruction. The law should be attacked for its discriminatory intent, it’s manipulation of parent fears to stoke the political careers of its authors, and the damage it will do to children and families in Florida.

K: If someone tried to state that And Tango Makes Three is not age appropriate for K-3, what would your counterargument be? 

PP & JR: The book actually grew out of Justin’s experience as co-author of a book about the very real challenges parents face when trying to address sexual topics with their children–Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids To Know about Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask). It’s hard to imagine that anyone who actually read Tango could consider it as not age appropriate; however, we would place the burden on anyone who made such a claim to explain it. Parents who hold negative views about gay families may object to the book, because it presents one such family in a positive light. But that’s quite a different matter than describing it as inappropriate for all children based on their age. Explaining that sometimes two people of the same sex form a couple and make a family is appropriate at any age.

Kellee Signature

Author Q&A with Lynn Brunelle, Author of Turn This Book Into a Beehive!


Turn This Book Into a Beehive! And 19 Other Experiments and Activities That Explore the Amazing World of Bees
Author: Lynn Brunelle
Illustrator: Anna-Maria Jung
Published April 3rd, 2018 by Workman Publishing

Summary: What a promise! Actually, promises. First, here’s a book that teaches kids all about the fascinating world of bees. Second, fun exercises, activities, and illustrations engage the imagination and offer a deeper understanding of bee life and bee behavior. Third, by following a few simple steps including removing the book’s cover and taping it together, readers can transform the book into an actual living home for backyard bees. Fourth, added all together,Turn This Book Into a Beehive! lets kids make a difference in the world—building a home where bees can thrive is one small but critical step in reversing the alarming trend of dwindling bee populations.

Turn This Book Into a Beehive!introduces kids to the amazing mason bee, a non-aggressive, non-stinging super-pollinator that does the work of over 100 honeybees. Mason bees usually live in hollow reeds or holes in wood, but here’s how to make a home just for them: Tear out the perforated paper—each illustrated as a different room in a house—roll the sheets into tubes, enclose the tubes using the book’s cover, and hang the structure outside. The bees will arrive, pack mud into the tubes, and begin pollinating all the plants in your backyard.

Twenty experiments and activities reveal even more about bees—how to smell like a bee, understand the role of flowers and pollen, learn how bees communicate with each other through “dance,” and more. It’s the real buzz on bees, delivered in the most ingenious and interactive way.

About the Author: Lynn Brunelle is a four-time Emmy Award–winning writer for Bill Nye the Science Guy and author of over 45 books, including the bestselling Pop Bottle Science and Camp Out! She is a regular contributor to KING-TV’s New Day Northwest as a family science guru and NPR’s Science Friday.

Q&A with Author, Lynn Brunelle:

Unleashing Readers: How did you research and learn more about the mason bee?

Lynn Brunelle: First I went to garden stores and asked around about bees.

I learned that honeybees and social bees were only 2% of the bees on the world. 98% of the bees are solitary wild bees that do amazing work as pollinators. I saw some of the houses these garden centers were selling to attract these bees. Then I went online and did some digging. All honeybees are domesticated and were brought here by colonists. In fact honeybees have been domesticated for a loooooooong time! There are images of beekeepers carved into caves, chiseled into Egyptian art, painted on Greek pottery and minted into Roman coins.

The solitary bees like mason bees are native bees and they’re amazing pollinators. I found experts as well. I contacted the USDA mason bee lab in Utah and spoke with bee people from around the country. It was so interesting and really exciting to learn so much.

Then I made my prototype of a book-turned-hive and stuck it out in my garden. Mason bees came! It worked; my garden has never been so productive!!

UR: How did you generate the activities within the book?

LB: My favorite thing is to make big concepts accessible to people of all ages, especially kids. And I think using laughter and hands-on fun is a great way for kids to really understand a concept. So when I was writing all of the amazing things about bees, I was always keeping in mind what kind of hands-on activity I could share for kids to really absorb the content. The fact that bees are positively charged and flowers are negatively charged and that makes pollen leap to a bee is FANTASTIC! And you can show that with a balloon and confetti. The fact that bees are amazing smellers is a perfect lead-in for getting kids to tune into their own sense of smell.

UR: Which activity is your favorite?

LB: It’s the actual making of the mason bee home that I love. Turning the book into a hive and watching as things unfold in the garden.

With mason bees, every girl’s a queen—like a single mom she finds the house—usually a hollow reed or stem or any tube—even paper ones in an inside out book cover!!! She gathers food, makes a pile of food, lays an egg on top of the food pile and then gathers mud to spackle a wall. In a good hollow tube, she can make 6-10 little rooms with an egg and a food supply in each one.

UR: What’s something else we might learn about you, either as a writer or as a person?

LB: I love my job! I get to learn about new things and share them every day. I love the outdoors. My family and I love hiking through the woods with the dogs, kayaking on the water and paddle boarding in the summer. We enjoy camping and exploring. I have a happy garden, I make jewelry and fused glass and am learning how to weld. My sons and I play the ukulele. They are teaching me to tell the difference between rap artists and I play the trombone. I make a great hummus and am getting better at rolling sushi with the help of my patient husband.

We Flagged: 

Thank you to Lynn Brunelle and Workman Press for this interview!


Interview with Kim Harrington, Author of the Gamer Squad Series


Thank you, Kim, for telling us about your new series!

 Tell us about the GAMER SQUAD series.

GAMER SQUAD is three-book series about a group of gamer kids who have to save their town from mobile game related disasters. The books have humor and heart, encourage girls in STEM, and focus on a love for community. I had so much fun writing them!

Your main character, Bex, is a gamer girl and wants to be a programmer when she grows up. Do you have any of this in your background?

Yes! I’ve been playing computer games since I got my first TI-99 and Commodore 64 (really dating myself here-ha!). At Bex’s age, I enjoyed playing around with some light programming at home in BASIC. Like Bex, I was self-taught. In high school, I took Pascal. And my first job out of college was programming for the IBM AS/400. But I have no idea how to program apps, which is Bex’s interest. So I had to get some help with that when it became a plot point in the second book.

In addition to the gaming and action, are there any themes you touch upon in the books?

Middle school can be a rough time for a lot of kids (it was for me), and I include a lot of these issues across the three books—from first crushes to bullying, losing and gaining friendships. It’s also a time where kids are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. Due to some changes in Charlie’s life, a big theme of the second book is that you don’t have to put yourself in a box and be one thing. And this stems from me growing up with vastly different interests. I was a huge reader and writer but also loved gaming and programming. It seemed unusual at that age to be in both Creative Writing and Programming for Pascal, but you don’t have to commit to one interest or label yourself.

What was your favorite part of researching for the series?

The obvious answer would be playing games! But it’s actually something else. In book two, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE NERD KIND, the kids go on a field trip to an observatory. When they play their mobile game too close to a radio telescope, they accidentally summon real aliens to town. I knew I wanted the observatory scenes to be as realistic as possible so I actually toured an observatory. It was a blast! Their telescope was amazing, and we got to see a star, a nebula, and incredible details of the moon.

What’s happening next in the series?

After the Gamer Squad saves the town from not-so-virtual monsters in book one and aliens in book two, they find themselves up against the biggest challenge of all. In book three, APP OF THE LIVING DEAD (coming October 3rd), the kids must save their town from zombies and the game development company that has been causing all this trouble.

Author Bio

Kim Harrington is the author of Clarity, Perception, The Dead and Buried, and Forget Me for teens and the Sleuth or Dare and Gamer Squad series for kids. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son. When not writing, she’s most likely reading, watching one of her favorite TV shows, or fantasizing about her next vacation. She can be found on Twitter (@Kim_Harrington), Instagram (@KimHarringtonAuthor) and on her website:

Book Summaries

Sterling Children’s Books, August 1, 2017

What happens when your cool virtual-reality game . . . becomes REAL?

Pokémon GO meets The Goonies in this action-packed middle-grade series.

Monsters Unleashed—where you catch virtual-reality monsters on your cellphone—is one of the hottest mobile games around, and Bex and Charlie just can’t stop playing. They even check out an old map in Charlie’s grandfather’s attic in hopes of discovering some forgotten places in town where the rarest monsters might hide. But they find a strange machine up there too, and after Charlie switches it on, the WiFi goes down . . . and Bex’s entire catalog of monsters vanishes! And that’s not the worst of it: all the creatures she’s collected on her phone escape into the real world. Can the friends nab the beasts before they become monster lunch?

Sterling Children’s Books, August 1, 2017

First they took on monsters. Now they have to face ALIENS.

Come join Bex and Charlie on their second thrilling adventure in the GAMER SQUAD series!

After their scary adventure, Bex and Charlie have sworn never to play Monsters Unleashed again. Then Veratrum Games Corp releases a new augmented reality game featuring aliens instead of monsters, and the best friends just can’t resist. After all, everyone loves it, even their science teacher, because it includes real star charts. But when they go to an observatory on a class trip, and open the game near a radio telescope, they get more than they bargained for: REAL aliens. One is sweet and kind; the other . . . not so much. Can Bex and Charlie capture the bad ET before it destroys their town?

Thank you, Kim, for stopping by Unleashing Readers! 

Everyone, make sure to check back on August 30th for Kellee’s review of the Gamer Squad’s first book!


“Getting Students to ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ Their Writing” by K.W. Penndorf, Author of Freya and the Dragon Egg


“Getting Students to ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ Their Writing”

I love books that read like a ‘movie in my mind’ with words capable of producing visions and feelings and experiences; basically, a world in which I could step into. So when I learned good authors write what they like, I knew immediately FREYA AND THE DRAGON EGG should read like a movie in my readers’ minds.

Unfortunately just because I sat down to pen and paper didn’t mean that movie was coming to life. If anything, the words I was writing were flat, stale, boring, and matter-of-factly.

Luckily, I found an editor who explained my problem: the words in my book didn’t play out like a movie in my mind because they were written in a way that told and didn’t show. “Show, don’t tell,” she said. Again and again and again. Show, don’t tell. Show, don’t tell. Show, don’t tell.

But how? How do I go about converting what I had already written in ‘telling’ words to ‘showing’ words?

Simple: close your eyes.

And so I did and still do. I visualize the scene, the action, the interaction, the transitions, the lull points, the fast-paced points, you name it, I visualize it. Then I write it.

In speaking with teachers, students, and writers, I find the irony about learning how to show don’t tell is precisely that: show the lesson, don’t tell the lesson.

Step 1

I open my workshops and school visits be doing a sort of warm up activity. Using two paragraphs I found on Scholastic’s website ( I ask everyone to decide which paragraph created a movie in their mind when they read it. It’s amazing how many are spot on. I let them know that their correct choice is an example of “showing” whereas the other paragraph depicts “telling.”

Step 2

I hand out a worksheet of several ‘telling’ sentences. The number of sentences is dependent upon age range of the audience and amount of time for the event/lesson. Typically I have 6-8 sentences for a 45 minute block of time. Example sentences can include: He sat; She opened the door; He coughed; The dog barked. Feel free to create your own sentences, yet keep in mind the sentences need to be pantomimed.

Step 3

I invite one student to come stand at the front of the room and I ask them to act out the sentence. So, for example, the student is assigned the sentence “He sat” in which he’s allowed no props nor allowed to make sounds or talk. I ask all remainder students to watch carefully, for when I count to three the actor will perform. He does. I then ask students to tell me what they saw. Perhaps one answers the boy pulled (an invisible) chair near to him before plopping his weight down, or the boy folded his legs as slowly lowered himself into the chair, or he collapsed upon the chair, or he used his hands to steady his descent. Whatever the response, it’s always interesting how many NEVER say “He sat.” For students who get hung up with the action of falling down into the chair, I will often prompt them to answer what they saw the boy do with his hands or his body or what his facial expression was.

Step 4

Once students have replied and responded to a few sentences as a whole group, I’ll have them watch the actor then write what they saw before discussing it. I always love hearing their new sentences probably because what they have learned in 45 minutes about “Show, Don’t Tell” took me years to learn! It’s really that simple.

Freya and the Dragon Egg cover

Freya and the Dragon Egg

About the Book: Freya’s family is wonderful. Just not to her. After all, her older sister loves to talk about “pulling a Freya” – a term for any mistake she makes, her younger sister publicly reads from her diary without ever getting reprimanded, and her parents hardly take notice of her. But that is all about to change when her father, Denmark’s renowned Viking archeologist, asks her to hide a precious artifact where no one will find it. Freya jumps at the chance to prove her worth and suddenly discovers herself transported to a magical forest where she comes face to face with not only a thorpe of real Vikings but with a clan of sprites and a Berserk as well. In search of a way home, Freya unearths a realm of adventure and a path to greatness she is sure her family will revere.

Book Excerpt: “You must hurry. The police are due here any moment to question what I know about the break-in. If they search my office and find this…No! I don’t even want to think about that. It must be hidden. Do you understand?”

She nodded yes, though she didn’t understand at all.

“Yggdrasil is the link between the nine Realms. That Yggdrasil, outside my window there, it’s growing stronger because someone, or something, has tampered with the Realms. Could you imagine if the Realms were open in the modern day? If all the creatures, along with their powers, were unleashed…here?”


author photo

About the Author: Story time had always been KW Penndorf’s favorite ‘subject’ in school. But when her second grade teacher opted to read from a tattered old diary, KW’s view on books changed forever. Books were now alive, with adventures, dilemmas, far away locations, heroes, villains, drama, and quite frankly, story. Everything was so real, well at least in her imagination at any rate. She wanted to live in those stories… and she has.

In her senior year of high school KW interned at CBS three days a week, making sure to keep her grades up or the gig would be off. By sheer nature of the job, stories surrounded her there. In college, she spent a semester abroad living with her sister and brother-in-law in Denmark – where, yes, one can only imagine the crazy stories two sisters conjured up! Then after college, she moved to Germany and at the age of 25 she opened her own company – a language school, full of (you guessed it) stories abound. At 29 she moved back to the States, bringing home with her the greatest story and souvenir ever – her husband.

On a train ride into NYC, a vision came to KW’s sleepy commuter mind: a girl finding a dragon egg in the middle of a Viking graveyard. Presto! The premise for her debut novel was born. A story, which KW hopes, will change a child’s view on books forever.

Thank you to K.W. for this wonderfully insightful post!

RickiSigandKellee Signature

Author Q&A with Kathy Cyr, Author of the Max Hamby series


unleashingreaders - maxhamby

Max Hamby and the Blood Diamond
Author: Kathy Cyr
Published September 18th, 2014 by Gaslight Press

Summary: The first book in the children’s fantasy series Max Hamby.

It’s the last week of school. With sunny days ahead and no more tests or bullies, life for Max Hamby is about to get a lot better…..until he crashes into an odd exhibit at the local museum.

Strange things begin to happen.

When Max’s mother disappears, he’s left in the care of his eccentric neighbor where lawn gnomes come to life and a bird meows. Mrs. Pitt shows him that magic is real and not all like the fairy tales he once knew.

The discovery leads him to Merrihaven, where even stranger things await, including a dwarf, a troll and a couple of pixies.

He quickly finds himself at the center of a battle between good and evil.

Someone has resurrected the Shadowstone to free the evil imprisoned inside. Max must summon the courage to find seven magical stones to save his mother and stop the evil, before it’s too late.

About the Author: Kathy Cyr writes in an underground cave, but has her eye on a wizard’s castle.

On an average day, she’s usually surrounded by a dwarf with a curious addiction to coffee, a moody dragon and a pink pixie with a large sweet tooth.

When not writing books, she can be found daydreaming about faraway places, enjoying a cup of coffee with the dwarf, sharing a laugh with the moody dragon (when he’s in the mood) and sitting on a rainbow of treats with the pink pixie.

For more info visit

Author Q&A: 

What inspired you to write your first book?

The inspiration for the Max Hamby series came from my love of folklore, fairytales and fantasy. I have a love for all things magical.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I wanted to create something that would take my readers on a fantastic journey.  As the series progresses, there are moments where it’s important to believe in yourself and even in the scariest of times, you can find the strength to be brave.

Give us an insight into your main character.

In the beginning of the series, Max is reluctant, shy and tends to keep to himself. In a strange way, he finds comfort in being invisible. It all changes when he’s forced to be the leader in some dangerous situations.

What genre are your books?

Max Hamby is a middle grade series – ages 9-12. Because there’s such a wide array of characters, fantasy and human, the series is for anyone who enjoys a fun read with a lot of twists and turns.

What draws you to this genre?

I’m drawn to the middle grade genre, because it’s a time of wonder and excitement. It’s also a time when anything is possible.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved to write, but I didn’t get serious until I was an adult.

How long does it take you to write a book?

It takes me about two to six months to write and edit a book.

Do you write every day?

I usually write seven days a week. There are times when life takes over and I’ll miss a day or two, but it’s not hard to catch up.

Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?

I don’t have a set number of pages or words. I let the story take me where it wants to go. On average, I end up with five to eight pages per day.

Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?

I have to write longhand. It’s the only way I can connect with the story.

Where do your ideas come from?

Ideas come from anywhere. An idea can spark from a conversation, a news article, or a blog entry. The name, Max Hamby, jumped into my head first and stuck. It took longer for the story to fully form.

Do you work to an outline or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?

I do outline a little. I make lists of what’s going to happen and work them into the story as I go along.

When did you write your first book?

I started writing Max Hamby and the Blood Diamond in the spring of 2014 and finished mid-summer.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I’m always writing or updating my website and social media. I don’t really have an off button, though I enjoy spending time with my family, reading and occasionally, sculpting.

What book are you reading now?

I am currently reading the Secret Zoo series. It’s a great read with a unique plot.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

I have a few favorite authors. Their writing styles are exciting. There is so much detail in their work. It’s not hard for me to see the story in my mind and feel what the characters are feeling.

J.K. Rowling. I am and will always be a huge Harry Potter fan.

Jenny Nimmo. The Charlie Bone series is filled with magic and mysterious characters.

Lisa McMann.  The UnWanted series is amazing and keeps me wanting more.

Henry Neff. The Tapestry series is also amazing.

Toby Neighbors. The Five Kingdoms was the first series I purchased from an indie author and was hooked.

What was one of the most things you learned in creating your books?

I learned that is writing is hard, but I love it so much that it doesn’t feel like work.

How many books have you written?

Max Hamby is a seven book series. I’ve written four books and have recently started the fifth.

Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer?

Sit down and write. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you do it. It’s easy to find an excuse not to, but why wait? Follow your dream. You can make it happen.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

Sure. Chapter 1 is on my website as a free read.

Thank you to Kathy Cyr for taking part in our interview!

Kellee Signature andRickiSig

Website: Stories for My Little Sister


A couple of months ago, I was introduced to a wonderful website and today I wanted to share this site with you as I think it is a great resource and would be a lot of fun to use at home and in the classroom. 


At Stories for My Little Sister, two sisters, Samantha and Diana, share stories that Samantha writes that are illustrated by Diana. These stories are all so much fun! Each story includes a fun animal such as Pink Ethel the elephant and Moochie the turtle. David Goes Green, a story about a goldfish, is written in rhyme, My Friend Stinky, about a skunk, is about friendship. Each story has something that makes it special.

My favorite part of the site, though, is probably Harrison’s Blog. Harrison is a hamster and his blog is filled with his stories and opinions. As Harrison says, “The opinions I express on my blog are my own. I don’t want you to think that I represent hamsters in general. Well, I couldn’t, because I am totally and utterly unique and I could not possibly know what another hamster might be thinking. More importantly, I don’t represent gerbils at all. I could not, in any way, shape or form, even attempt to represent gerbils. That is because I am not a gerbil. I am a hamster!”  I love the idea of taking a character and having a blog for him/her is such a great activity for a classroom and Harrison’s Blog would be a wonderful mentor text for showing an example.

After being introduced to “Stories for My Sister,” I was so interested in learning more. Because of that, after being in touch with Samantha and Diana, came up with a Q&A to learn more about this site:

Unleashing Readers: I love that when you both were younger Samantha used to tell Diana her stories. What is Diana’s favorite story that Samantha used to tell her? What was Samantha’s favorite story to tell?

When we were little     Now we are grown up

Samantha: I’m not sure exactly how it came about, but a long time ago, I started telling Diana that she was an alien from a faraway planet.

Diana: And I loved it!

S: She really did.

D: I must’ve been about two years old…

S: Anyway, the story started from there, and it’s been growing ever since. Her real name is Hora, she’s from a cuboid planet called Horic (its edges kept perfect as all the inhabitants take turns to sand them), and you can fall off – that’s how she got here in the first place.

D: And you can get pushed!

S: I’ve told Diana a lot of stories over the years – I don’t think I could ever stop – but there is and always has been a comfort in visiting Horic every so often and remembering an old adventure or spinning a new one. We’d love to turn it into a book someday.

D: It’ll have to be a series! And I want to put some real science in there, too…

UR: Tell us more about your childhood. Did you both always know you were going to be an author and an artist?

S: No, not at all. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a doctor! Storytelling was just something that I always did. The themes of my stories tended to be a few steps removed from my real life, yet imbued with my day-to-day thoughts and feelings. I’ve always loved animals, so I guess that’s why they feature so heavily.

D: I had lot of dreams as I was growing up. I wanted to be a cartoonist – but I also wanted to be part of the crew on the Starship Enterprise! One of my earliest memories of school is of being given a sheet of paper and told to draw a picture. We could draw anything we wanted. I had a red crayon and I drew a page full of random red dots. I remember very clearly how much I enjoyed creating that picture and how pleased I was with it. I still get that feeling when one of my drawings or paintings works out the way I plan.

UR: Tell me a bit about your background as an author (Samantha) and artist (Diana).

S: I have to say that when people call me an author, I tend to turn around to see who’s standing behind me! I studied psychology at university, but somehow ended up in a series of admin-related jobs. My stories – their invention, revision, telling and retelling – have always been my escape, and ideas are constantly bubbling away in my head. Sometimes there’ll be a theme I want to explore; sometimes a character seems to materialize in my mind, fully formed; sometimes it all starts with a snatch of text that I know fits perfectly somewhere. Perhaps the term ‘storyteller’ is a better fit for me.

D: I have always loved creating art. When I was about twelve years old, my mother noticed what she thought was a little spark of talent and bought me a beginner’s set of oil paints. I just sort of experimented and taught myself, trying out new media as I went along. I don’t have a formal art education: I studied physics at university and worked on space missions for many years, but painting and drawing have always been a big part of my life. In the last few years, with encouragement from friends and family, I began selling my fine art and am now represented by a couple of galleries online.

UR: What made you two decide to combine your forces and make Stories for My Little Sister?

S: Well, having a website was very much Diana’s idea.

D: Yes, and I started work on setting it up on my own at first, but Samantha has a habit of nosing around to see what I’m up to (by the way, Samantha, that’s annoying!) and when she found out…

S: I was happy, but with tears in my eyes!

D: But then she washed her face, rolled up her sleeves and got to work with me to get our website online. I don’t think we ever really decided to join forces as such…

S: It was more something that grew naturally out of what we had always enjoyed doing. It would have been great if we’d had the Web when we were growing up…

D: We’re older than the World Wide Web!

UR: Tell me a bit about the mission behind Stories for my Little Sister.

S&D: We didn’t really have what you’d call a mission when we set out on this journey, building the website, just a love of writing and illustrating together that started in childhood and a spark of hope that maybe there were kids out there who might enjoy our stories.

At the end of our journey, if we were to find ourselves able to say that we’d left some stories in this world that made kids happy, that would be enough; if we were able to say that we’d created a website that made our enthusiasm for storytelling contagious, that would be amazing.

UR: I know it is hard to pick favorites, like picking a favorite child, but which story is your favorite on the website Samantha? Diana?

D: Cricket and Watson – they are a two little birds that want to fly, but they’re not big enough yet. I identify with Watson (sometimes Cricket, but mostly Watson). Cricket is constantly coming up with new schemes to launch them into flight, but she has a habit of trying her ideas out on her long-suffering brother, Watson. She is well intentioned, but she does get them (especially Watson) into a few scrapes. I love the action in the book – it was really fun to illustrate – and I love the message of never giving up.

S: Everybody has a Jar (Harrison’s Blog, Post No. 25) is the one that pops into my head. Just the way the whole situation escalates so rapidly as Harrison jumps from conclusion to conclusion makes me smile. Harrison does manage to get himself into a lot of muddles, but that one was pretty spectacular, even for him! And the pictures of Harrison and Kimster in their prison stripes crack me up every time.

Harrison Hamster I behind bars

May I also sneak in an honourable mention for Tuppence for Christmas? I think the illustrations Diana created for the book are very special. Just check out the vast frozen beauty of the South Pole and Tuppence’s wonderfully expressive face – especially that moment of wide-eyed panic when she’s flapping her wings and finds she can’t take off. Don’t we all have moments like that?

UR: Your website not only has stories, it has coloring, puzzles, and more. Are the two of you in charge of all aspects? Anything else you hope to add in the future?

S: Yes – we create everything on there. It’s exhausting, but we love it!

D: Luckily we come from different educational and work backgrounds, and so we bring complementary skills to the table.

S: We’ve already got plans for more puzzles – not least because we both enjoy designing them. The lovely details in Diana’s pictures lend themselves to ‘spot the difference’ puzzles, and we’ll definitely be creating some of those.

D: We have to make one featuring Harrison’s ugly clock! And we’re also working on a way to find a permanent home for the captioned pictures from Harrison’s ‘On my mind…’ feature.

S: Not to mention more books and blog posts – we’re all about the stories. Of course, the printables are important too, in terms of challenging and engaging kids – and, most especially, inviting them to use their own creativity. So you’ll be seeing every aspect of the website growing.

D: We should probably just ask you to ‘watch this space!’

UR: Anything else you want to add?

S&D: We both believe that reading changes everything – it wakes up your brain, opens your eyes and makes you see the possibilities, both in the world around you and in yourself. In the words of others you can find inspiration, new ideas, comfort, hope and whole new ways of thinking. Words from another place or time can resonate with you and help you navigate your life; they can make you laugh or cry; they can make you want to shout out in dissent, or nod your head in quiet agreement.

We are proud to have Stories for My Little Sister featured on a blog whose mission is to ‘unleash readers’: we believe that once a reader is unleashed and free to roam, their potential is limitless and there is no place they cannot reach. To play a small part of that process in anyone’s life is the greatest privilege we could possibly have.


Thank you so much to Samantha and Diana,
and I hope you all will check out Stories for My Little Sister.