Adam Zebediah Joseph’s Lillee Can Be delivers a sugary sweet children’s book with a punchy, poetic pace and solid sense of cohesion overall. The book focuses on the school and extracurricular lives of two young twins in an unspecified setting, making it an allegory of sorts. Specifically, the twins provide a totally relatable dynamic for any reader with a sibling, as the book directly confronts feelings of inferiority, unequal recognition, and other relevant issues that many children experience.
Likewise, the author is perfectly on trend with the wave of subtle social justice and advocacy messages within children’s and young adult literature currently. For example, Joseph boldly tackles sexism, gender identity, equal pay, and other concepts beyond merely familial themes, yet he does it with humility, honesty, and ease, without any preachy or condescending tones. Although the male character is unnamed, the female character (or mini SHE-RO!) offers an affirmative, fun, feisty, and feminist protagonist for readers to emulate. Lillee, the main character, demonstrates resilience and displays fearless fortitude as she faces gender boundaries and revolutions about our world, social norms, and cultural mores in this vibrant but also bold, bubbly book.
As far as the pros and cons, I love that the book perceptively resonates with girl power. I also applaud how his writing cleverly employs a rhythmical quality that makes you want to sing or rap each page aloud-of course with a fist pump, too! I further appreciate the teachable lessons in this book beyond character education and tolerance, since Adam Zebediah Joseph also cites many careers for young children to pursue. Occupational terms in this book and illustrations make it suitable for a teacher, counselor, parent, or family member and embed superb context clues for the definitions. However, I was a bit dismayed that the male twin character remained nameless throughout the entire piece. This anonymity seemed to counter the equity themes that this book so adamantly advocated. While I also liked the pictures, I wanted a bit more multicultural depictions to truly illuminate the themes that book defends: equality, respect, inclusion, etc.
In sum, this book provides a mirror for young readers to assess not only themselves and their personal relationships around them, but also a path for sociopolitical awareness. Read it yourself to see if a fairy godmother emerges or if other lessons enlighten these characters as they grow and mature. The author shows empathy and wisdom to tackle themes with such poise and poetic power!
Pages: 50 | ASIN: B07F7XCTLV
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The Contest and Other Stories is a collection of inspiring stories that got me to think and reflect. What was the inspiration behind this collection?
JD: I originally wanted to create a coffee table art book with all paintings connected to a framing story.
KR: Around 2007 or 2008, Joe started bringing these quirky short stories inspired by paintings to the critique group in Prescott, Arizona that we both belonged to.
In February 2011, he shared his draft and invited me to assist with the project as a co-author. We continued to work on polishing the stories and the connecting novella together. In our bios, we say that he has the vivid imagination and I have the word-whacking polish, but the truth is, we both contributed to the imaginative creation and to the nuts and bolts polishing and editing. We multiplied our mind-power by working together!
What were some themes you find yourself exploring in your short stories?
JD: The relationships artists have with drinking, higher consciousness, and insanity.
KR: As Joe says, some of the stories explore the artists’ lives directly in the genres of magical realism, dark fantasy, horror, the paranormal, and alternate history, or as a fabulous motif. The other stories were developed using a painting as a prompt, but have no relation to the artist or their work. Those stories explore life challenges and transitions such as birth, death, falling in love, relationships, family life, and work, also through the medium of various fantasy genres. The connecting novella explores the archetypal overbearing father who insists that his only son follow in his footsteps, while the son rebels to make his unique contribution to arts and literature.
What is the collaboration like between the two of you?
JD: Long distance.
KR: By the time Joe and I started working together on this project, he lived in Arizona and I had landed in California. So we shared thoughts and drafts for The Contest and Other Stories via email.
Will you be putting together another collection of short stories?
JD: We’ve been working on solo projects lately. I completed a connected short story collection in 2016 titled Story Time Karaoke @ The Chicagoua Cafe.
KR: I’ve been working on stories inspired by dreams and a novella created entirely from a series of dreams, with a working title of Loop: Life is But a Dream.
As for other joint projects, Joe and I just published a humorous dystopian sci-fi novelette, Space Race: Robot Rebellion in the Future Wild West (Tootie-Do Press, 2018). We also have a YA story, Thirteen, published in an anthology called 31 Nights of Halloween (Rainstorm Press, 2011). Neither of these stories fit the theme of The Contest, so we searched for other alternatives for publication.
Inspired by the works of international artists, this collection contains nineteen spellbinding Young Adult – New Adult magical realist, paranormal, slipstream, alternate history, and fabulist tales linked by a novella: Peter John Rizzo, a 1960 graduate of Yale University’s journalism program, inherits a floundering art magazine from his uncle, John Rizzo, with the provision that he must increase the circulation or forfeit all assets to creditors. Peter Rizzo, Pete’s father, is a banker who scorns careers in the Arts and Humanities, and is jealous of his late brother’s influence upon his wife and son. Classic Art Expose’s devoted but unorthodox editorial assistant, Jason, and two university interns, sisters Shirley and Evie, help Pete start a monthly short story contest with artwork prompts, hoping to expand and save the business. As the four friends publish the winning (and sometimes disturbing) stories over the following eighteen months, Pete battles his father’s attempts to ruin his business and his reputation, and in the process, discovers a sordid family secret. What else could possibly go astray?
Posted in Interviews
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It does not matter what your eyes see, just believe.
After the evil came to the woods and destroyed all that was beautiful and good, his hope was the only clue that Phoenix had when he went out for the unknown help to restore it.
That hope was the magical power of love and friendship, which made Phoenix find whom he was looking for, and although the solution seemed to be simple, the degree of conviction inside of him had the final word.
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Frolicking Friends by Karen Leis Welsh is the story of a little boy who goes on a search for all of his animal friends. All of the animals have disappeared and he can’t find them anywhere. He searches high and low for mostly creepy, crawly creatures. The book is simple and whimsical and best suited for early readers. This book reminded me of Dr. Seuss books with sentences that are short and sweet with a repetitive rhyming style accompanied by cartoonish illustrations.
This would be a great book for parents or teachers to read with children, pointing out things in the pictures as you read. This is a helpful teaching aid in matching words with pictures. All too often my students struggle with words and feel overwhelmed or discouraged. This book would be a relief from that, and would be a useful building block for harder stories. It would be a good base level to work from.
Kids will enjoy the somewhat exaggerated, adventurous style of the illustrations. I didn’t notice until I flipped back through the book a second time that there were some subtle hints in the pictures. The sky is gradually clouding up in the backgrounds of the pages. With minimal words, the illustrations play a big part. I like that the lines of the illustrations are a little rough around the edges. Crooked, imperfect lines add to the whimsical nature of the book.
I work in an elementary school, and can totally see it being a hit in our Pre-K and Kindergarten classes. Repetition and rhyming are good for building confidence in very young beginning readers. It’s sing-song style will have little readers reciting the entire book in no time.
Pages: 44 | ASIN: B0792XDRYJ
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Christmas with Snowman Paul is a heartwarming story showing empathy and helping others. What were some important themes you wanted to capture in this book?
I wanted my story to resonate with themes that address the true meaning of the holiday season such as friendship, inclusion, and family. The appeal of these values is in many ways near universal. My hope was that the story will raise questions such as: What does it mean to be a best friend? How does it feel to be excluded on a major holiday? Should we try harder to come up with imaginative solutions to problems of exclusion which seem, at first sight, insoluble? At the same time, I tried to address these themes with a fresh perspective and in a gentle, engaging and humorous way.
Ultimately, this is a simple story that encourages children of all ages to be sensitive to the needs of those who feel lonely and have no one to celebrate with.
The illustrations in this book are fantastic and serve to compliment the story. What was the art collaboration like with Joanna Pasek?
Collaborating with Joanna Pasek has been sheer joy from the very beginning. What I admire most in Joanna’s work is her unmatched ability to capture the emotional core of our key characters. The dog, for instance, is a key character that did not appear in my original text and was entirely Joanna’s creation. As an author, I always know that Joanna will find the best ways to match the narrative with compelling images which do not only illustrate the stories but also compliment them in new exciting ways. This holds true even in cases where text requires her to perform very difficult, and sometimes seemingly impossible, illustrations. Click this link http://bit.ly/2ARLuE7 to see Joanna’s magic in action.
The story is told in rhyme. Do you find kids learn language easier with rhymes?
Most definitely! Rhyme is one of the most effective ways to install the love of reading at an early age. It helps keep attention, enhance retention and enrich vocabularies. Children love rhymes because they are musical and amusing and because they help them anticipate what is coming next. The timeless appeal of nursery rhymes, for instance, can be explained by these attributes. The instinct to rhyme was with me from a very early age but, I think, it comes naturally to most children.
What is the next Snowman Paul story you have in the works?
First, I would like to encourage Snowman Paul friends to check out the other nine volumes already published in the Snowman Paul series (https://author.amazon.com/books). But there are many other new adventures in store for Snowman Paul some of which are already written and eagerly awaiting their turn to be published. In addition, Joanna and I are just about to come out with a new picture books series titled “Yara, the Jungle Girl”. If you like Snowman Paul, you are likely to fall in love with Yara!
Join Snowman Paul on this heart-warming and humorous Christmas Eve adventure!
What would you do if your beloved snowman told you that he feels sad about being left out in the cold while you and your entire family are celebrating a joyous Christmas Eve inside? Can Dan figure out a way to make Snowman Paul’s Christmas just as unique as his? Read this heartwarming and humorous Christmas story to find out
The Day that A Ran Away is an adorably witty story about the letters of the alphabet deciding not to show up. Do you write your stories with children in mind first, or parents and teachers?
I always write my stories to be enjoyed by children first. Even though the book has a primary purpose of teaching the alphabet to children, I wanted it to be fun – something they would enjoy reading.
This is a very cute idea, how did this idea develop and change as you were developing the story?
I really began the story with the idea of making a simple concept picture book into something more of an adventure. Thankfully the first few lines of the book came together quite quickly which made the presentation of the alphabet a bit more straightforward. Essentially, Jet is caught by his teacher without his homework – something that students are prone to do at some point of their school life. However Jet’s excuse is quite imaginative as he talks about each letter’s frustrating escape.
It may sound strange, but with the trajectory of the story in place, the story actually flowed quite well. In the end there weren’t any major changes required. I know – bit of a boring story!
The art, as always, is very good. What was the art direction you wanted in this book?
I think my biggest priority was having all the scenes linked together as Jet walks to school. So each page connects with the last and foreshadows the one to come. In addition, I wanted each character to be made up of a color that begins with its respective letter (ever heard of Xanadu Gray), and for there to be a number of objects in the illustration that begins with the same letter for children to find.
Overall, I described each scene to Lenny and she turned them into something spectacular. She even added a few of her own Easter eggs which was fantastic! I’m very lucky to have an illustrator that not only understands my thinking, but knows my entire approach.
I loved how each letter has its own look and feel. Was this something that you brainstormed with Lenny Wen or did you already have ideas for each letter?
I agree, the letters came out looking great! No, all credit belongs to Lenny for the look and personalities of each letter. The only direction I had in this respect was the color of each letter and the basic anthropomorphic requirement. Lenny came back with the idea of giving each letter a connection to something children could identify (i.e. ‘A’ being an astronaut), as well as an emotion (‘arrogant’).
Master Jet has forgotten to complete his homework… or has he? Jet’s teacher is surprised to find that instead of the alphabet, his page is completely blank. Jet tries to explain that it really isn’t his fault. After all, how can he help it, if none of his letters want to stay on the page!
Posted in Interviews
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Daisy, Bold & Beautiful follows young Daisy as she struggles to fit in at school and finds help from an unlikely friend. What was your inspiration for this story?
Well, Persephone is my favorite Greek goddess, so I knew I wanted a story featuring her. And, to me, Persephone’s story is all about standing up for yourself. I wanted the moral of my story to match the moral of Persephone’s story, so I came up with D.J. I didn’t want it to be mistaken for a book about bullying, though, so I wanted to put D.J. in a situation where she needed to stand up for herself, but not because she was going up against a “bad guy”.
There is a unique infusion of Greek mythology in this book. Why did you want to use that theme throughout the book?
Like I said, I knew I wanted to write books about the Greek gods, because…come on…they’re AWESOME! I didn’t want my books to feel like historical stories, though, so I came up with a way to bring up the stories of the Greek gods while actually writing about kids living today.
I liked Daisy’s character, and I felt she was relatable. Did you plan her character before writing or did she develop organically while writing?
So, the first thing I did was come up with a god to write about: Persephone. Then I wrote an outline to the story. THEN I wrote up character descriptions for all the characters. A lot of my characters share names with people I know in my real life. Some of the character personalities match those of the people they’re named after and some are different than the real people. D.J. wasn’t named after anybody I know; she’s just made up. I would say all the characters developed a little more as I wrote the story, but they all started off with pretty detailed character descriptions. That was actually the hardest part of writing the book – coming up with the back story and personalities for everyone. I tried to include at least one fact about each character that the readers never find out – just to try to make them really real, know what I mean?
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
Funny that you should ask that! The second book in the series is Mylee In The Mirror, and it’s available AS OF TODAY! This book is about Aphrodite. I’m really excited about this book because it has TWO main characters, Mylee and one of her best friends and teammates, Ty (Tyson). I was nervous about writing about older kids (the main characters are in the ninth grade, and I’ve obviously never been in the ninth grade before – it was easier with Daisy, Bold & Beautiful, because I was the same age as D.J. when I wrote it). I was also nervous about writing from the perspective of a guy, but writing about Ty was super fun and I might even make my next main character a guy!
D.J. and her dad moved far from the small town and only home she ever knew. Now she’s starting middle school in the city with kids she’s never met. She tries to make friends, but they all appear to be slaves to screen time. D.J. just likes to garden, nurturing plants, watching them grow and thrive. It seems she’ll never find a way to fit in, but then she awakens in a gorgeous garden where she meets Persephone, Goddess of Spring. She must be dreaming; her new friend can’t possibly be real—and what could she know about getting along with gamers? D.J. really needs some ideas, or she might never find her own place in a complicated world.
Daisy, Bold & Beautiful is the debut novel of middle-schooler Ellie Collins, daughter of award-winning author Stephanie Collins. Boys and girls alike will appreciate Ellie’s keen eye for the challenges of growing up that she and her friends must face. Discover the wonderful writing of Ellie now, then follow her to learn about her writing and more books to come.
Posted in Interviews
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All Paul wants is to enjoy Christmas with his friend. He watches from the window as his friend eats and plays and sings with his family all winter long. Paul is a snowman, so he can’t go inside, or he will melt. This doesn’t stop him from longing for the companionship of others though. Paul’s friend takes his unhappiness seriously and with the help of his family, they work to come up with a plan to help Paul out.
Yossi Lapid has written an endearing children’s book and Joanna Pasek’s illustrations bring the story to life in a way that will capture the hearts of kids young and old. Christmas with Snowman Paul takes the idea of a snowman coming to life and gives it a different twist from the traditional stories we are used to. While Paul he can play with the kids and family outside in the day, it is not enough for him. He feels lonely and left out. Paul’s friend acts right away to do something to make him feel included. This is a great lesson for kids of all ages. It teaches about people being different, having different needs, and being compassionate. Such a simple story with many great life lessons on how to be a good person.
This would be a great book to kick off the winter season, while it focuses on Christmas it is a good book that could apply to any of the winter holidays.
Pages: 26 | ASIN: B076BX4KNQ
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American River: Tributaries follows three immigrant families struggling to pursue their dreams during the turbulent 1960’s. What served as your inspiration while writing this book?
My love of Northern California, the place where I grew up, and the wonderful history of the area. I was also inspired by my love of art and music and my passion for social justice issues. Immigration and ethnic diversity are the cornerstones of the story.
This book has so many fascinating characters that are well developed. What were some themes you wanted to capture in your characters?
Basically, the story focuses on the creative search for meaning, knowledge, compassion and understanding in a tumultuous world filled with prejudice, obstacles, jealousy, and betrayal. As my characters encounter these obstacles, they discover their own strengths and weaknesses and grow beyond their self-centered ambitions.
I thoroughly enjoyed the historical backdrop to the story and how well researched it was. What historical milestones were important for you to highlight in this book?
The Gold Rush had a tremendous impact on the population and culture of California. Before the Gold Rush, the population consisted mainly of Native Californians and Californios (settlers and landowners of mixed Spanish, Native Californian, and African descent). But gold fever brought people to California from all over the country and the world. The Anglo Americans (of English, Irish, or Scots descent), other Europeans (including Italians, Russians, Greeks and East Europeans), Chinese, Japanese, African Americans, and many more who came and stayed. This changed the makeup of the state’s population making it one of the most ethnically diverse in the country. So, this cultural diversity sets the scene for later entanglements.
Most of the story takes place in the 1960s, that decade that Time Magazine recently termed “The decade that changed a generation.” So, I take the reader down memory lane as my characters encounter the major issues of the time: immigration, racial prejudice, migrant workers, gay rights, women’s rights and the Vietnam War.
This is book one in the American River Trilogy. What can readers expect in book two, American River: Currents?
In Book Two, American River: Currents, a cavalcade of disasters—both personal and public—threatens to overwhelm the scattered members of the McPhalan, Ashida, and Morales clans. Alliances fray, relationships dissolve, divisive secrets are revealed, and promises are broken as the members of three California families struggle to salvage their shattered dreams. The story follows the character’s journeys to places as distant as Cleveland, Ohio, Venice, Italy, and Kyoto, Japan. From the concert halls of Europe to the artist’s lofts of Manhattan, American River: Currents is filled with passionate and resolute characters who refuse to let go of their unique visions of success—even as life’s tumultuous currents threaten to sweep them all away.
Owen McPhalans Mockingbird Valley Ranch is still a thriving family business in 1959. But when his wife, Marian, leaves Mockingbird to follow her dream of becoming a successful artist, she ignites a firestorm that impacts the descendants of all three families. As artists, musicians, writers, and politicians inherit their immigrant parents hopes, they are torn apart by ambition, prejudice, and deception while struggling through the turbulent 1960s. From the concert halls of Europe to Kyotos ancient avenues, and Manhattans artists lofts to San Franciscos North Beach, they each learn the price they must pay in order to realize their dreams. But just as the river is drawn to the sea, they eventually find themselves pulled back to the place that forged the original link between their destiniesa place called Mockingbird.
American River: Tributaries follows three California families as the descendants of Irish, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants embark on unique journeys to pursue their dreams amid an unsettled 1960s world.
Posted in Interviews
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This collection of poetry will cause readers to relive their youths. Poisoned Touch by Monica V. McCormick is full of angst and youthful recollections of a time gone past. The graphics help portray the words of the poetry in a visual sense and add a delightful element to this collection. Poisoned Touch focuses on romantic ventures gone past and are broken into sections that relate the age of the author when she wrote the work. Beginning at the age of eighteen and carrying on until the age of twenty-two, readers will get an intimate view of McCormick’s adolescence within these pages.
Youth is a difficult passage we all must go through to reach adulthood. The path is treacherous as we try to navigate the world without the constant support of those who want the best for us. It’s not that their support isn’t offered, it’s that we are trying desperately to show that we can handle our own lives and make our own decisions. This message comes across in some of the pieces of this collection. The readers will be able to identify with the youth who is trying to discover herself and who is trying to understand what love is. Written as a helpful reminiscence on her youth, this collection attempts to provide support to those who may be struggling with the same difficulties. As long as you are over eighteen.
While the imagery of the poems are consistent with the idea that love is a poison, present in both words and graphics, this collection of poetry is raw and unrefined. There is no doubt that the poetry can evoke powerful feelings and shares a dark tale, but the meaningful pieces drip with angst and teenage folly. The constant changing type-face also posed a problem for me and was distracting.
The rhyming scheme found in most of the pieces paired with the cartoonish, yet very high quality, drawings make this collection reflective of high school nostalgia. There are several individual pieces in this collection that I found to be moving and raw.
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