An Interview with Richard Blanco and Dav Pilkey on Their Picture Book, One Today

At President Obama’s second Inauguration in 2013, Richard Blanco debuted his poem “One Today,” a tribute to America which examines the beauty and heartbreak that are a universal part of the human experience. Around the same time, author and illustrator Dav Pilkey was working on new books for his Captain Underpants and Ricky Ricotta series. In what may seem at first like an unlikely collaboration, the two have crafted a beautiful picture book version of this unforgettable poem. The combination of Blanco’s poignant language with the touching visual world that Pilkey’s illustrations have created, make One Today a book that belongs on every child’s shelf. After reading it with my daughter, I just had to know more about the story behind how these two artists came to collaborate, what each hopes readers will take away from the book, and what we might see from them in the future.

How did you two end up working together? It is quite a unique pairing, a poet and a children’s author and illustrator.

Dav Pilkey: It was all our editor, Susan Rich’s idea. She loved Richard’s poem, and believed I would be a good fit as an illustrator. Susan and I had both worked together at Orchard Books in the early 1990’s when we were both starting our careers, and she remembered the painterly picture books I did back then (ie. The PaperboyGod Bless the Gargoyles, When Cats Dream).

Richard Blanco: Susan Rich shared The Paperboy with me and I immediately fell in love with Dav’s work—so rich, lush, evocative. I knew in an instant he was the right artist for the poem.

I was lucky enough to be among the million people standing on the National Mall to hear the poem’s debut, and it was a truly amazing day. Can you tell us how this went from a poem to a picture book?

DP: Susan acquired the poem from Richard, and approached my agent, Amy Berkower. Amy agreed that Richard’s words and my paintings seemed like a good fit.

I was a huge fan of this poem, but initially I felt I might not be the right person to illustrate these words which were so deeply personal to Richard.  I felt like my background (basically a “Brady Bunch” kid from the Midwest) was too different from Richard’s background, and that my vision might not mesh well with Richard’s vision.

 I spent several weeks reading and re-reading Richard’s other poetry, and it was when I came across a poem he wrote about his grandmother that I began to believe that, perhaps Richard and I might be a good match after all. Even though our childhoods were very different, I think we both grew up feeling like misfits. And for some reason, this seemed like the key to creating images for this poem: America is filled with multitudes of people who may seem very different from one another, but there are still things that make us all the same. That idea made me want to paint this book.

RB: In the poem that Dav mentions about my grandmother, she ridicules me for loving my cat because that wasn’t manly. And so, I love that Dav “gave me” a cat that follows me throughout the entire book! Indeed, Dav and I share a strong connection as “misfits” who turned to the arts as a way of making our way through life and the navigating our worlds. The longing to belong is apparent in our respective work, including the illustrations and the poem, “One Today,” which at its heart is about inviting all of us—the whole nation—to have a place at the table—to understand that each of us is an important part of the collective that is our country.

What was it like to try to bring a visual element to the poem, especially one that was initially read on such a large scale?

DP: I felt both intimidated and unnecessary. Intimidated because of the historical significance of the poem, and unnecessary because Richard’s poem was perfect just the way it was. It didn’t need illustrations, and I knew that adding my paintings to Richard’s words would make his poem into something different than he had intended. Fortunately, Richard was OK with that. It is my hope that the picture book One Today, even though it has become something new, still embodies the same message of hope and humanity that it did when it was first read in 2013.

RB: Dav was very respectful of the poem, but I was more than “OK” with his illustrations—I was ecstatic! They added dimensions to the poem that my words could not do on their own.  The poem came alive in a different way. And that’s truly what collaboration is all about:  creating something that stands stronger together.

While the text speaks of everyone, of the universal elements of life, the illustrations appear to follow a few people in the course of their day. What do you hope kids and their parents are able to take away from the book?

DP: I hope that children will see the larger picture Richard has painted with his words. One Today isn’t just about America—it’s about humanity.

RB: Indeed, although the poem was written in celebration of our nation, I think it also reaches beyond the occasion. That’s the power of poetry—and all the arts, really, which connects us to our common shared humanity—no matter the color of our skin, what language we speak, what gender we are, or what culture we are rooted in.

You both have been open about the challenges you’ve faced. What would you like to say to those kids who maybe feel like they don’t fit in?

DP: I always tell kids what my mom used to say to me when I was a kid—especially on days when my challenges seemed overwhelming. She used to say, “everything happens for a reason.  Maybe something GOOD will come out of all of this”. I think her constant reminders to look for the good in ALL situations helped to shape the life I have today.

 RB: I would say to try and look at it as blessing. If you don’t fit in, that usually means there’s something truly unique, different, special about you. Just be patient…it will blossom in time and everything will make sense. What makes you odd today will someday be exactly what makes you great.

Dav, the style in One Today seems to deviate from your other popular books, namely Captain Underpants; was it tough for you to step out of that mind set? Do you see more books like this, or The Paperboy,  in your future?

DP: I never intended to stop doing picture books. I hope there will be many more painterly picture books in my future. I’m so grateful to Richard and Susan Rich for giving me this opportunity, not just to paint again, but to be reminded of what I loved so much about this genre.

In the ideal world, who else would you want to collaborate with? Any dream books you want to illustrate? Or visual artists you want to see interpret your writing? 

DP: In the “ideal world” and if we could turn back time, I would love to collaborate with Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman.

Do either of you have something new in the works that we can look forward to?

DP: Next year, I have a new graphic novel series debuting. It’s called Dog Man, about a police officer who has the head of a dog and the body of a human. He’s got all the raw materials to be a great cop, but he must constantly fight against his canine nature in order to be a better man.

RB: I’m working on another collaboration with a photographer on the theme of borders—physical, imaginary, cultural, psychological, virtual borders. Or—looking at it another way—pulling about the narratives and fictions about borders and thinking about how the world is becoming borderless.

When you are not writing, doing readings, or illustrating, what do you read just for fun? 

DP: I enjoy reading graphic novels, children’s books and autobiographies. I just finished Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, and Richard Blanco’s autobiography, The Prince of Los Cocuyos. Both books are fantastic, beautiful, and inspiring.  If you’re looking for something hilarious, I highly recommend Kirk Scrogg’s new series, Snoop Troop.

RB: I love taking long walks with my dog, Joey. Or lounging around with my cat, Sammy! But I love reading, too, especially books about science and psychology.  I find they inspire my poetry in unique ways.

One Today is on bookshelves now.

Originally published at on January 5, 2016.

Mike Lupica’s Newest Novel Goes The Extra Yard

The second book in Mike Lupica’s Home Town Series, The Extra Yard, is a fantastic follow up to The Only Game. The first book follows Jack Callahan as he overcomes a family tragedy and leads his Little League team to the World Series. This new book focuses on Teddy Madden, the team’s catcher from the first book, while he tries to make his dream team — the local competitive football squad!

For the first time in his life Teddy is super physically fit, has a great crew of friends, and he is excited to be starting junior high. He has gone from the kid who was constantly picked on at lunch, to the one who stands to be the first player picked for the team. The only hang up to what could be a banner year in Teddy’s life is the return of his dad, who moved away eight years ago. With the help of his friends, Teddy tries to make his football dreams come true and build a relationship with the dad he has never really known. It will be a year fraught with drama, on and off the field.

What makes the Home Team series, especially The Extra Yard, stand out from other sports middle grade novels is the rich, interesting characters and the meaningful family relationships. Not only do you get tons of football facts, games, and play calls, you also get to spend time with characters that you care about. Beyond the main characters Teddy, Jack, and Teddy’s family, you will also find yourself loving Cassie, the softball star who knows more about sports than nearly anyone (and who can probably play them better too), kind-hearted Gus, and Gregg, the owner of a surprising talent. Middle grade readers will surely see themselves in these characters, or at the very least they will find someone they want to be friends with.

For the football fanatic, Lupica does include loads of references to famous games, impossible to forget throws, and modern controversies (Deflatgate, anyone?). Though I’m a football novice, I found myself excited to learn about the art of the slant, the importance of knowing when to hold the ball and when to take a chance, and the family atmosphere that is built within a team. Given Lupica’s career at ESPN, and his many books for readers of all ages, it isn’t surprising that he knows how to craft a detailed sports novel that is also tons of fun to read. You don’t have to be a sports fanatic to love this one.

Readers can come up to the line of scrimmage expecting just a football novel, but Lupica has thrown a welcome audible and presented a fast, fun, meaningful read that everyone can enjoy. Tackle the first two books in this series, and hang on for a long run, since I am sure we will be hearing plenty more from The Home Team.

What sports novels do your middle grade readers sprint through?

Originally published at on January 19, 2016.

Review: The Children of Darkness

the-children-of-darkness-coverThe Children of Darkness, the first book in The Seekers trilogy, is an interesting addition to the YA dystopian movement. Published in May of 2015, with the sequel The Stuff of Stars following quickly in November of 2015, there is a lot of to be impressed with in this first venture. Author David Litwack, who has also published the novels Along the Watchtower and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, does a capable job of building a grounded world and introducing three layered main characters.

The first book follows the characters Orah, Nathaniel and Thomas as they begin to realize that not only is there something wrong with the organization that controls their lives (the Temple), but also that they may be the ones who have to do something about it. Like so many books in the genre each character is tested in unique way, must learn about their inner strengths, and follow along a lonely and dangerous quest. The first in the series has a little bit of everything a reader could want in a piece of YA fiction.

What does set the book apart is how the style of the writing really does match the world created within the book. The characters are presented with a limited education from either their parents, or a group of men called the vicars. In both cases thing are formal, often stilted and focused on doing what is necessary. Children learn trades, like weaving and farming, and they talk as such. It cam make reading initially a bit more work, but the pay off is worth it. As the characters grow and develop (and uncover some nasty secrete the vicars want to keep hidden) the world-and the way the characters speak- blossoms. These really are teenagers who want to learn, who grow and change, and who strive to find away to change the world.

9780545596275_p0_v5_s192x300Another point that stands out, at least in the first book, is that the main characters often work to find non-violent ways to rebel. Unlike The Hunger Games, the Divergent Series, or even Harry Potter, Orah, Nathaniel, and Thomas initially work to use language, art, science, and technology to lead their society into a rebellion, not fighting and killing. It was pretty refreshing to find dystopian YA that had such a twist to it. Of course, all stories evolve, so you’ll need to read the sequels to see how things turn out!

All and all there were places that felt a bit choppy in the narrative, at least to an adult reader. Having said that, their characters are admirable, they change over the course of the novel, and world is well developed with plenty of room to grow. Teens or adults who are looking for something familiar, but still unique, will surely enjoy these latest offerings to the YA field.

Personally I am intrigued and am looking forward to reading the next two installments. If you want to know more about David Litwack check out this interview too.

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This review was brought to you by the BookBear book tour. Check them out, they’re kind of rad.

Interview with David Litwack

Author David Litwack has published Along the Watchtower in June, 2013 and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky in May, 2014. The Children of Darkness, the first of the Seekers series, a dystopian trilogy, was published in June, 2015. It’s sequel, The Stuff of Stars, came out in November, 2015.


Tell me a little about your book…
The seed of an idea is a curious thing. I went for a walk along one of my favorite places on Cape Cod. On one side was Vineyard Sound, with Martha’s Vineyard rising from the fog, and on the other a series of inlets of increasing size. The first  is called Little Pond and the next Great Pond. For some reason, I imagined young people growing up in Little Pond and envying those of Great Pond, wanting to find more from life than they had in their small village. From there, the story expanded. What if their limitation was not their small village, but a repressive authority that limited their potential to think and grow?

At the same time as I was developing this plot, the real world was changing. Increasingly, I saw on the news stories of oppression and rigid limits placed on freedom of thought: modifying school curriculum to restrict the sciences; rewriting history; destroying evidence from the past; restrictions on dress and diet; banning music and the arts; and severe punishments like stoning for daring to think differently.

Over time (several years), all these thoughts evolved in the Seekers dystopian trilogy.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

The urge to write first struck me at age sixteen when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the wild night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by the northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. The next day, I had a column published under my byline, and I was hooked.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Of course, everything I write has some basis in my own life. But fiction is less about recording reality than stitching together bits and pieces of things you’ve experienced and combining them with your craft to make a story—one that will hopefully let the reader add their own life experiences to it and be moved in some way. I’m not one to think a writer must only write about what they know (how else do you get alternate worlds?). But you have to write about things you’ve felt.

Out of all the characters in your book, who is your favorite to write? 

I used to say that my favorite was Kailani from The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. She’s so mysterious, but at the same time wise, naïve and vulnerable. Now that I’m nearly done with the Seekers series, I think I’d say Orah. She smart and passionate in her beliefs, and a natural leader, yet she always doubts herself and questions her decisions—a trait that would be a good thing in some of our real world leaders.

Is your book part of a series, and if so, how many will there be?

The Children of Darkness is Book one of the Seekers dystopian trilogy. The second book, The Stuff of Stars, has just published.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the finale of the Seekers series, to be titled The Light of Reason. If all goes as planned, it will come out in November 2016.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Writing a novel may be one of the hardest things you can do, so it’s all challenging. But nothing is harder than writing the first draft. I don’t yet know the characters that well and, while I have a general sense of where the story is heading, I can take a wrong turn at any point and have to redo months of work. When I hit that point where I’m terrified the story has gone off the rails, I take a break for a few days. Almost always, it’s not as bad as I feared, and I can fix the problem with a modest bit of work.

Once I’m beyond the first draft, the rest becomes just hard work. I do lots of revisions, but I find it easier to fix the story than to write it from scratch.

There’s a reason why Hemingway once said: “Write drunk, edit sober!”

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

To each and every reader, we’re partners in the story. I use my craft, and you use your imagination to flesh out your own unique version of the story. If I’ve caused you to re-experience some of the most intense moments of your life, then I’ve succeeded as an author.

To quote Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Do you plot your books completely before hand or do you let your imagination flow whilst in the writing process?

I usually conceive of a new book as a series of images and scenes, daydreaming about them while I finish work on the prior novel. I maintain a notes file for the new novel and do a rough draft of these scenes—a  very rough draft, what some people call “scaffolding” or “riff writing” like improvisation in jazz. The file can get pretty chaotic. Every now and then I make a feeble attempt to organize it (when I’m finishing up a novel, I try to avoid distractions and stay focused on getting it out to the publisher). By the time I’m ready to start the new novel, I usually have about 20,000 words of loosely connected prose—20-25% of the eventual novel but probably 80% of its essence. I take a couple of months to read, edit and organize that file into a dense plot outline. Then I start a new file from scratch, cutting and pasting prose as appropriate.

It’s a messy process in the early going, but unlike those who start with a more organized outline, I need that amount of writing to get to know the characters and live in the story.

How long did it take to get from the ideas stage of the Seekers series, to the publication of all three books?

The Seeker series started out as a standalone novel called There Comes a Prophet. The initial idea came to me about eight years ago, and it was published in 2011. After producing two other novels, I decided at the urging of readers to go back and turn this standalone dystopian story into a trilogy. Prophet became The Children of Darkness(with a changed title, cover and publisher) and I’ve just published the second book, The Stuff of Stars. I’m hard at work on the third and final offering, to be called The Light of Reason.

Did you suffer from writer’s block at any stage? How did you overcome it?

I sometimes think writer’s block is just another way of saying that writing a novel is really hard. I try to keep writing, even if I think it’s going poorly. Then I see how it looks the next day. I remind myself that I can always revise or just throw it away. Nothing’s worse than staring at a blank page.

Long walks are another good way to get the creative juices going. Whatever the case, I try to avoid just sitting there and staring at the screen. Write, read or go for a walk.

How did you come up with the name(s) for your lead character(s)?

Names matter, especially for a SciFi/Fantasy writer building new worlds. The names need to be consistent and reflect that culture. For the Seekers trilogy, where the people have been forcibly returned to something like our 15th century, I found the passenger manifest for the Mayflower, and borrowed names, mixing up first and last names to get ones like Nathaniel Rush or Thomas Bradford. All except for Orah. I wanted her to be different, a rebellious throwback to an earlier time. So rather than picking from the Anglo-Saxon, I chose a name with Hebrew roots. As an added subtlety, the name Orah means light.


More Essential Books that Almost Never Saw the Light of Day

The best, most beloved books often have one thing in common: a struggle to be published. Some of our most important stories, from Anne Frank’s unforgettable diary, to the wanderlust classic On the Road, and even early books by childhood idol Dr. Seuss, were passed over by multiple agents and publishers. Yet sometimes it’s those books that break rules, the ones labeled “too different” for a mainstream audience, that become the ones we really needed. Check out some of the books below, (or some from our earlier poston books that almost never were), and fall in love with something a little “different.”

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
Plath, the Pulitzer Prize-winning idol of many poets and readers in search of a coming of age story, had to publish her novel The Bell Jar under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The novel faced rejection because the publishing house saw it as “disappointing, juvenile and overwrought.” Now it’s compared to The Catcher in the Rye, (another frequently rejected title, ahem).

Animal Farm, by George Orwell
When T.S. Eliot was the editing director of Faber & Faber, he rejected Animal Farm because he “did not want to upset the Soviets in those fraught years of World War II.” There was no mention of a problem with Orwell’s writing, and he was already a household name with five other books in print. In this case, in contrast to other rejected writers, politics — not style — almost stopped this required reading staple from ever hitting bookshelves.

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Anne Frank’s dairy faced unusual hurdles on the road to publication. After her hiding place was discovered, the remnants of her notebooks left behind by the Nazis were kept hidden for years. Eventually her father reclaimed them and worked to bring her voice to light. Under his watchful eye, though, many of the teenage struggles he thought might offend more conservative readers were edited out of the book. A text with fewer edits was later released, giving readers more insight into this vibrant, inspirational young girl.


On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
The jewel in the Beat generation’s literary crown, One the Road was initially said to be too provocative and nontraditional. In one very harsh rejection letter Kerouac was told, “this is a badly misdirected talent and…this huge sprawling and inconclusive novel would probably have small sales and sardonic indignant reviews from every side.” The passionate fanbase that exists to this day might disagree with that sentiment.


East Wind: West Wind, by Pearl S. Buck
Pearl S. Buck struggled to find an American publishing house for her debut. As one of the few Americans living in China, and one who had close relationships with Chinese writers, Buck was positioned better than anyone to bring China to America with her epic, cross-cultural coming of age story. She was told in a rejection letter that American readers “aren’t interested in China,” but clearly this proved to be untrue. Buck became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature.


And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, by Dr. Seuss
Pretty much everything Dr. Seuss wrote in his early career faced rejection. His first book was passed over 27 times before finally finding a home. Rumor is, he was told his books were “too different” to be published. The Cat in the Hat, Horton, and the Grinch may have never been, just for being different, though ultimately that’s what made them great. Considering the way Dr. Seuss has become a cornerstone of early literacy, a world without him in it would be one with fewer people whose passion for reading began with his giddy, rhyming tales.

What books do you love that were once overlooked by publishers?

Originally published at on December 9, 2015.

6 Books to Help Your Toddler Say Goodbye to the Pacifier

Toddlerhood is a time of big and amazing transitions. Parents get that first sentence, the first public tantrum, the joys of potty training and eventually the grand farewell to the pacifier (not the Vin Diesel kind). Part of making the transition as easy as possible is to have the right supplies, and to stock with house with books that show kids that life without the binky is a beautiful thing.

Bye-Bye Binky: Big Kid Powerby Maria van Lieshout All little kids want to be big, to go on big adventures, and do what the big kids do. With that in mind, the Big Kid series is designed to help tackle the hard stuff that little kids have to go through. Show your little one, in a super positive way, that as they get bigger they do have to say good-bye to the binky. Being a big kid does come with its advantages though, and highlighting that might just be incentive enough for some.

Chupie: The Binky That Returned Homeby Thalia and Ana Martin Larranga With this witty, slightly quirky bedtime story, you can encourage your kids to send their binky off to a special Binkies-Only Land. Told from the point of view of a binky who just wants to go live with the rest of his friends in a place designed just for him, this story might encourage little kids who love the pacifier to set it free. This book is unique among binky books, in that it also helps promote a bit of empathy. As an added bonus, you can pick it up in Spanish as well.

Binkyby Leslie Patricelli One of many by the ever-popular and prolific Leslie PatricelliBinky helps kids deal with their emotions about losing their favorite nap time pal. As adults we can underestimate how important a pacifier is to little ones, but parents and kids can get through the difficult times by reading together. Patricelli’s art is also bright, welcoming, and always attractive to even the youngest readers. This might be the best first step in easing that binky out of your babe’s life.

No More Pacifier for Piggy!, by Bernette Ford and Sam Williams Instead of utilizing peer pressure, which is a common tactic in putting the paci aside, No More Pacifier for Piggy helps to show little kids that sometimes the pacifier just gets in their way. How can you yell, chat, or play hide and seek with a mouth full of pacifier? What is more important — and more fun: walking around with a pacifier, or having a great play date? Use Piggy’s tale to help encourage kids to make the decision themselves to move on from the binky lifestyle.

The Paci Fairy, by Melissa Burnett and Chrisann Zaubi The Paci Fairy, and the similar book, The Paci Pixieboth play with the Tooth Fairy model of moving on. The Paci Fairy helps kids prepare emotionally for the day that their beloved friend will be picked up by the fairy and replaced by a gift. The Pixie helps teach older kids (would be a great choice for older siblings) to pass their paci on to someone younger. Both books have sweet drawings and positive messages that add some magic to what could be a really tough time. Plus, everything is better with a little glitter.

Pacifiers Are Not Foreverby Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen Instead of focusing on not having a pacifier, the characters in this Best Behaviors Series book help kids see all the positives associated with moving on. The pictures are gentle and the words are kind and understanding. Toddlers, who often struggle with expressing themselves, will like the tone that validates their feelings and the pictures that show great paci-free activities. Another perk? This series can follow kids through other milestones, becoming a familiar voice as they grow up.

What books have helped your little one kick the paci habit?

Originally published at on December 1, 2015.

Seven Superstar Sports Chapter Books Fit For Every Reader

Fall is the perfect time for sports, hands down. With baseball playoffs, Monday Night Football, and hockey in full swing, it is a veritable feast of athletic endeavors. Going for a jog in the changing leaves and cheering from the soccer sidelines might fill your weekends, but these series with sports superstars will occupy your young readers’ evenings.

Nancy Clancy, Soccer Mania (Fancy Nancy Series: Nancy Clancy #6)by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser In the popular Fancy Nancy Series, Nancy typically doesn’t like to follow the crowd, but a team effort can turn anyone into fan of groups. Nancy is a pro at painting her nails, cheering, and wanting to be good at soccer, but she is not quite there yet. This book is really great for that young soccer player who loves the sport but just isn’t ready for the all-star team.

Kickoff!by Tiki Barber and Ronde Barber Ok, this is super cool — a football chapter book series, written by football superstars. Based on the real life stories of its authors, the book features two boys, Tiki and Ronde, who are getting ready to start junior high with a new team, new rules, and new challenges. Hard work and perseverance will become their best friends as they navigate this unknown world on their paths to NFL glory. Your gridiron fanatic will want this book with them on the sidelines.

Diary of a Basketball Hero by Shamini Flint and Sally Heinrich Fans of basketball and the Wimpy Kid series will find their new hero in Marcus, a math whiz with zero sports prowess. At his dad’s encouragement, Marcus is thrust on the path of basketball superstardom, or at least on his way to dribbling without falling. Kids who are torn between the court and the bookshelf might be swayed to sit down for just a bit longer with this witty story, which is filled with engaging art.

Alice the Tennis Fairy (Rainbow Magic: Sports Fairies Series #6) by Daisy Meadows Even Fairies can get downright competitive, especially when it comes to the Fairy Olympics. In a series of seven books, fairies Rachel and Kirsty have to help each athlete get their equipment back from the evil Jack Frost and his horde of goblins. This time around the girls have to help Alice reclaim her tennis gear before she is due on the court. Part sports chapter book, part mystery, all adventure, parents of fairy loving readers and athletes will really hit a magical home run with this series.

Willie & Me by Dan Gutman One of many in the Baseball Card Adventure Series, main character Joe Stoshack travels back in time to investigate the “Shot Heard Around the World.” Will he accidentally mess up the career of Willie Mays in the process? Can the other players he has met in his travels help him avoid disaster? Time traveling with baseball cards and famous players has never been so much fun. Superfans will especially love the black and white photos and the player stats that are included in each book.

Izzy Barr, Running Star by Claudia Mills and Rob Shepperson Each student of the Franklin School Friends series is a stand out at something, and Izzy Barr is the best runner around. Unfortunately for her, her brother is also a great athlete and possibly the apple of their father’s eye. Will things turn around for Izzy when the big 10k comes to town? For the budding track athlete or distance runner in the family — or for the kid who wants a fun way to pass the time while mom and dad run, pick up Izzy Barr!

Face-Off by Jake Maddox and Sean Tiffany With jealous teammates, including his own brother, Kyle Parker has to balance becoming a hockeypowerhouse while keeping his family — and teammates — on his side. This book is a great choice for anyone who is hesitant to read, loves hockey, or needs a slim fun book to pop into their stick bag. If you are new to hockey there is also a glossary of terms in the back to get the whole family up to speed.

What do your young athletes like to read when they aren’t at practice?

Originally published at on November 30, 2015.

6 Must Read Books for Fall TV Lovers

Fall isn’t just changing leaves and pumpkin spice everything, it’s also a chance to get neck deep in some new TV shows. And the excitement that comes with a new show doesn’t have to end when the credits roll. There are plenty of fantastic books out there that dovetail nicely with your favorite new superhero tale, police drama, or Muppet singalong. Check out a few of our suggestions, and stock up that bookshelf for the cold months to come.


If you’re loving Narcos, try Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw, by Mark Bowden
Netflix’s newest series, Narcos, follows the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, one of the most famous drug kingpins. For fans of the show who want an even more in-depth, no-holds-barred look at the life of this infamous criminal, Killing Pablo is a must read. True crime fans and students who’ve studied the situation all turn to Mark Bowden for his unparalleled account. Sylvia Longmire’s book, Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars, will also help readers get a better sense of where the cartels started, and how they affect us today.

If you’re digging Supergirl, try Wildflower, by Drew Barrymore
CBS debuted Supergirl this fall, joyously satisfying our need for smart women in capes. The show’s star is charming, grounded, but determined to prove herself and protect those she loves—while also balancing a nine to five job with a hard-nosed boss. Drew Barrymore’s newest memoir hits quite a few of those same notes, minus the cape. Moving from homelessness and near illiteracy to a champion of women and women’s roles, Barrymore can be pretty super. And if Hollywood isn’t your thing, then look no farther than Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala, by an author who deserves her own superhero label along with that Nobel Peace Prize.

Fans of Blindspot will enjoy City on Fire, by Garth Risk Hallberg
Fans ans are talking about NBC’s Blindspot, the amnesia-driven whodunit that mixes personal drama with over-the-top crimes. Jane Doe struggles with her tattoos, her ties to horrible crimes, and her identity. Garth Risk Hallberg’s stunning debut, City on Fire, features the same air of personal drama, seemingly unsolvable crime, and a search for identity. Set in NYC in the 1970s and filled with gritty realism and tons of music, this one will be hard to put down. Or if the memory gaps and unreliable narration are the real draw of Blindspot, than grab The Girl on the Train for a mystery fix.


Watching The Muppets? Check out Jim Henson: The Biography, by Brian Jay Jones
ABC has brought The Muppets back to TV for the first time since the 70s, and with them an enthusiasm for all things puppet. This renewed love for these iconic characters will hit a high this May with the publication of a new biography of Jim Henson, the ultimate puppet master. Written with the help of hundreds of hours of interviews, and with cooperation from his family, this could rival the Steve Jobs biography. If waiting until May is a stretch, then find comfort in It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider while you wait to see what happens on Up Late with Miss Piggy.

Those watching Heroes Reborn will love Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
Set in the future, when a virtual world has all but superseded the real one, brilliant outsider Wade Watts struggles to solve a video-game puzzle that will reward him with unheard of riches and glory—if he can survive against a gang of ruthless competitors who will stop at nothing to win. In the same way the characters in the revamped series Heroes Reborn must decide who to trust, the isolated Wade struggles to find allies in a world where he doesn’t feel like he belongs. Fans of the show’s action, the weapons, the time travel, and the manga-inspired filmography might also love The Multiversity Deluxe Edition, a supersize graphic novel in which many DC and Justice League superstars show up.
If you’re enjoying Quantico, read Gangsterland: A Novel by Tod Goldberg
In the ABC series Quantico, new FBI recruits deal with interpersonal drama and a possible terrorist in their midst. Who’s dating who, and who’s trying to attack them from within? On the flipside, in Tod Goldberg’s newest novel, Chicago-based Sal Cupertine is a hit man targeting the FBI, who is now leading a double life as Rabbi David Cohen in Las Vegas. Intrigue, crime, and the Torah have never been so thrilling. Not into crime stories with two-faced agents? Pick up Enemies: A History of the FBI, by Tim Weiner, to get an inside look at the history of our preeminent investigation force.

Originally from Barnes and Noble Reads

10 Must-Gift DVD Boxed Sets

DVD boxed sets provide fans with exciting behind-the-scenes details, expanded binge-watching opportunities, and often even charming and collectible keepsakes, which make them the perfect holiday gift. And as luck would have it, we’re living in the golden age for DVD collections. Whether your loved one prefers to time-travel in a TARDIS, learn about time and space, or be immersed a period drama, there’s something for every kind of film and television viewer in the sets featured below.

Doctor Who Christmas Specials Gift Set
If you’re looking for a new holiday tradition, look no further than the Doctor Who Christmas Specials Gift Set, which features every single Doctor Who Christmas Special to date, all in one collection. How genius is that? And what could be merrier for a Whovian than watching the Doctor battle Santa Claus himself? There’s even a Twelfth Doctor Sonic Screwdriver included, so watch out, Daleks!

Outlander: Season One—The Ultimate Collection
Go beyond genre and explore the romance, science fiction, and history-spanning adventure of Outlander. What began as a beloved book series is now a must-watch TV phenomenon (which returns for its highly-anticipated second season in 2016). With this collection, old fans and new converts will enjoy not only all the drama and romance of season one, but an extended version of episode 9, “The Reckoning,” deleted scenes, and a gag reel, as well as an engraved flask, a collection of set photos, and the show’s exclusive soundtrack. All this, plus the special Outlander Yule Log bonus disc, which will add a little extra festive spirit to the season.

Back to the Future 30th Anniversary Trilogy
Great Scott! Johnny B. Goode! Save the clock tower! There is no better celebration of nostalgia, time travel, and Michael J. Fox’s undeniable charm than the 30thAnniversary boxed set of the Back to the Future trilogy. This collection contains all three movies, as well as the documentaries Outatime: Restoring the DeLorean and Looking Back to the Future, along with plenty of additional must-see footage. This will surely be on every fan’s Christmas list. Throw in the YAHTZEE: Back to the Future Collector’s Edition and you will be on the Nice List for the rest of time.

Star Wars: The Complete Saga
All six epic films are included this definitive collection. With hours of extra footage, interviews, and spoofs, even the most well-versed Star Wars aficionado will find something to love about this fantastic box set. Put a bow on a few extra books, especially Aftermath, in preparation for an all day viewing party before the next installment debuts, and the Force will surely be with you this holiday season.

The Godfather DVD Collection
Don’t be the Fredo of your family this holiday season; make sure the film buff in your life owns The Godfather DVD Collection. These films have withstood the test of time, and the director’s commentary and behind the scenes footage will immerse you in the Don’s world. Enjoy the pinnacle of mafia storytelling and the legendary cast in this classic collection of movies that have influenced every organized crime film since 1972.

Fast & Furious 1-7 Collection
“This time it ain’t just about being fast,” it’s about getting this action-packed DVD collection for your favorite family members. Vin Diesel is at his best in this series, and the nonstop pace of each movie is addicting. You don’t have to be a car fan to enjoy these either; anyone who loves a buddy movie, who likes a little romance, or wants a good heist will love these. Michelle Rodriguez is the ultimate tough girl, and The Rock makes a few great appearances, so this truly is a film franchise for everyone.

Abbott & Costello Meet The Monsters Collection
Take two comedy greats and pair them with the legendary monsters Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Mummy, and you have a guaranteed crowdpleaser. Actors Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney Jr. reprise their famous monster roles for unexpected laughs in this genre-bending collection. The Abbott and Costello fan will love the commentary tracks, the comedy junkie will appreciate the laughs, and that impossible-to-shop-for relative will enjoy this a lot more than the sweater you were planning on getting them.

Foyle’s War: Complete Saga
This BBC staple is part mystery, part historical fiction, and part war drama all rolled into one. For the Downton Abbey fan who can hardly wait for the last season to air, or the Sherlock fan who needs more crimes to solve, the entire eight seasons of Foyle’s War will fit the bill. Satisfy your period drama needs with Foyle as he takes viewers from WWII to the Cold War, chasing down spies and solving international mysteries. This will quickly become the show you beg everyone in your family to watch with you.

Justified: Seasons 1-6
Over the course of six seasons, fans followed Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens as he dealt out cold hard justice. Now that the show is over, diehards can relive the experience with the 38 page Commemorative Book, the feature Leaving Raylan Alive: Making the Final Season, a gag real, and more than 24 hours of special features. Harlan, KY many be a place full of shady people, but you won’t get any shade from the person who receives this box set.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
Neil Degrasse Tyson isn’t just the guy who shares all those amazing science facts on social media; he is also the host of this much beloved National Geographic series that aired in 2014. Based on the book Cosmos, and a follow up to the 80s series of the same name, everyone who is even a tiny bit interested in space found themselves glued to their TVs whenever it was on. Relive all the graphics, the swirling planets, the time travel, and the jaw-dropping realism that surrounds our beautiful blue marble. This is a DVD set that is as eye-opening as it is thoughtful; a moon shot gift for sure.

7 Books that Let Kids Trek Germany From Home

Traveling is one of the best ways to experience everything life has to offer. It is also tough to pull off, especially with kids. Instead of juggling passports, time zones, and phrase books, introduce your kids to a bit of Germany with some books that are set in Germany, written by Germans, or feature important aspects of German culture.


Hansel and Gretel, by Rika Lesser, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
This Caldecott Award winner is the consummate German fairy tale. Kids trekking through the woods, aiming to eat up a witch’s house, only to find that the tables turn on them. This version sticks slightly closer to the original German tale though, with an evil mother and a devoted father thrown into the mix. This double sided story either teaches kids to use their wits to get out of a sticky situation, or to not eat houses that belong to the elderly. Either way, both are valuable lessons.

The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, by Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Josef Scharl
Want to get the full spectrum of German fairy tales? Pick up this collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, written by the famous Brothers Grimm. Many Disney movies, TV shows, cartoons, and books have been spun off of these classic tales, but these originals cut to the quick. Older kids will appreciate that some of the stories are kind of scary; little kids will love the rhymes and the pictures. With over 200 characters and gorgeous illustrations, this is bound to be a book that everyone in the family will love.


Germany in Pictures (Visual Geography Series), by Jeffrey Zuehlke
With 80 pages of images from Germany’s scenic country side, young readers through teenagers will be given a glimpse into a land that looks like a storybook. Germany is home to famous rivers, picturesque castles, and cobblestone roads. Readers will also get to see some important sights from Germany’s history, including the Berlin Wall. For readers who are curious about what the world has to hold for them, this entry in the Visual Geography Series is a welcome addition.


My First Bilingual Book-Sports (English-German), by Milet Publishing
The earlier you introduce a new language to a young reader the easier time they will have learning it. Whether you and your family are headed off to Deutschland or you just want to expose your toddler to the beauty of a new language, grab this board book. Unlike other board books that teach multiple languages, this one pulls double duty in helping kids learn the English and German words for various sports. If German isn’t your language, the My First Bilingual Book Series has tons of other topics and languages.


German Picture Word Book: Learn over 500 Commonly Used German Words through Pictures, by Hayward Cirker
Aimed at middle grade readers, this introduction to the German language doubles as a coloring book to give readers a hands on experience. It includes seventeen different scenes, each with the basic words for items in houses, at businesses, on farms and more, and a wide overview of nouns and verbs are also shown. Any kid who really wants to begin a bilingual path will be completely engaged with this book (especially since a phrase book might not be right for them just yet).


Beethoven for Kids: His Life and Music with 21 Activities, by Helen Bauer
Despite the fact that he was born in Austria, Ludwig von Beethoven is one of Germany’s most famous composers. It isn’t always easy to get kids into Classical music, but here readers get a glimpse of his life, the area that he lived, and some of the basics of his musical techniques. Instead of telling your reader, “Listen, this is great music!” kids can get to know Beethoven the person, in addition to the great music he composed. If you want to introduce an even younger kid to Beethoven, check out this Peg + Cat DVD that features an episode about the terrific 5th Symphony.


Soccer, by Hugh Hornby
If Classical music isn’t your thing, try teaching your kids a bit about the most popular sport in Germany, and well, pretty much the world. Germany has won the World Cup, is home to the largest league, the Bundesliga, and sees some of the biggest financial investment in the sport. If you go to Germany you should be ready to talk football, and not the NFL kind. Other sports that follow close behind soccer in Germany are hockey, basketball, handball, and auto racing. Brush up on your European sports and your family just might be mistaken for locals.

How do you help your kids learn about other countries?