Aug 112017

I am a big fan of what I call “Busy Books.” This name should not be confused with “busy work,” which is generally considered a waste of time. Busy Books are good things. Excellent things!

Busy Books are meaty books with lots of different (related) nuggets of information or pictures or ideas, like Richard Scarry books and Where’s Waldo? Kids who may not love reading are often captivated by the busy-ness of such books, and text nuggets are easier to consume than the walls of text in other books.

Well, there’s a new Busy Book on the block, and I love it: 50 Cities of the U.S.A., written by Gabrielle Balkan and illustrated by Sol Linero.

50 Cities of the U.S.A, by Gabrielle Balkan and Sol Linero

50 Cities of the U.S.A, by Gabrielle Balkan and Sol Linero

The title says it all: 50 cities are examined in detail, giving us a wide variety of fun facts and illustrations, including famous people, events, places, and so much more.

This is the Anchorage spread:

50 Cities of the U.S.A., Anchorage, AK

50 Cities of the U.S.A., Anchorage, AK

Busy, no?

Let’s zoom in:

50 Cities of the U.S.A., Anchorage spread

50 Cities of the U.S.A., Anchorage detail

These are some of the fun facts included:

  • ALASKA WILD BERRY PRODUCTS 3,000 pounds of chocolate (from the seeds of the cacao fruit) go into the world’s largest chocolate waterfall here.
  • EARTHQUAKE PARK commemorates the tragic 1964 4-minute quake where an entire neighborhood slid into the ocean.
  • MANY MOOSE As many as 1,000 roam Anchorage in the winter. Their antlers grow about an inch a week.
  • NO SALES TAX Anchorage is in one of the only five U.S. cities that does not have a sales tax.
  • OSCAR ANDERSON HOUSE MUSEUM Oscar is said to be the 18th non-native person to arrive in town, and build this, the first wood home, in 1915.
  • RED KING CRABS These shellfish are “king” of the local fishing industry, can live up to 30 years…and taste great with lemon and butter!
  • THE 20 STATE LANGUAGES include Inupiaq, Siberian Yupik, Alutiiq, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian…and English.
  • THE ANCHORAGE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT is one of the world’s busiest airport for cargo traffic.
  • TURNAGAIN ARM This narrow inlet sees bore tides that can climb 10 feet tall and read speeds of 15 mph—some of the highest in the world.
  • THE FUR RENDEZVOUS FESTIVAL includes an ice carving competition and a Mr. Fur Face Contest, which gives awards for impressive and unusual beards.

This book can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere, but it strikes me as the ultimate Road Trip book. I received a copy of this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for a review. While I often give away the books I receive for review after I’ve read them, I won’t be giving this one away. I will save it to share with young visitors who come to Alaska. It’s just the thing for the long drives in this largest of states.

Dec 302016

Remember the Stitching for Literacy Book Club? I miss it. I loved reading books that my friends suggested, especially books that were outside my normal reading zone. I’d never have picked up Ender’s Game if Kat hadn’t chosen it for the Group.

And I loved discussing the books.

This year, I’m embracing the 2017 Popsugar Ultimate Reading Challenge, which is a collection of 40 prompts for which you select books to read. The idea is to expand your reading choices. There’s a Goodreads group—more than one, really—if you want to undertake the challenge with a community, and then there’s the option of joining me or forming your own Group.

I will attempt to meet the challenge by all my methods of reading: solo reading, joint reading with Mike (he’s on board), and audio book listening as I do dishes, work in the garden, pick berries, walk dogs, etc. There is an audio book prompt, but I’m allowing the other prompts to be audio books, too.

Here is my reading list so far. Naturally, I reserve the right to change my mind about any prompt and switch books around at any time to meet the challenge. I’m looking for suggestions for books that meet the prompts, so please see where your favorite books might fit, and let me know.

Heads up! Links are affiliate links. That means if you click on one and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. Thanks!

Jen’s 2017 Popsugar Reading List

1. A book recommended by a librarian – Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, recommended by Taylor Kenkel
2. A book that’s been on your TBR list for way too long
3. A book of letters
4. An audiobook
5. A book by a person of color – Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson, recommended by Taylor Kenkel, but it was already on my bookshelf. Credit to Taylor for making it a priority this year.
6. A book with one of the four seasons in the title
7. A book that is a story within a story
8. A book with multiple authors – SOS: The Story Behind the Army Expedition to Borneo’s “Death Valley,” by Lt. Col. Robert Neill and Major Ron Foster, because we know someone involved in the rescue
9. An espionage thriller
10. A book with a cat on the cover
11. A book by an author who uses a pseudonym
12. A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read –
13. A book by or about a person who has a disability
14. A book involving travel – The Odyssey, Homer, translated by Robert Fagles
15. A book with a subtitle – The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, Andrea Wulf, recommended by Mike Maier
16. A book that’s published in 2017
17. A book involving a mythical creature
18. A book you’ve read before that never fails to make you smile
19. A book about food – 97 Orchard: An Edible History of 5 Immigrant Families, Jane Ziegelman; or The Food of a Younger Land, Mark Kurlansk, both recommended by Donna.
20. A book with career advice
21. A book from a nonhuman perspective
22. A steampunk novel
23. A book with a red spine
24. A book set in the wilderness – Wilderness Essays, by John Muir
25. A book you loved as a child
26. A book by an author from a country you’ve never visited – Happiness, Like Water, Chinelo Okparanta, born in Nigeria, recommended by Taylor Kenkel
27. A book with a title that’s a character’s name
28. A novel set during wartime – Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly, recommended by Rebecca Downey Thomas
29. A book with an unreliable narrator
30. A book with pictures – graphic novel: Lumberjanes, by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, recommended by Taylor Kenkel
31. A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
32. A book about an interesting woman – Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search for Adventure, Amanda Adams or maybe Born to Rebel: the Life of Harriet Boyd Hawes, Mary Allsebrook, if I can get my hands on a reasonably priced copy.
33. A book set in two different time periods
34. A book with a month or day of the week in the title
35. A book set in a hotel
36. A book written by someone you admire – The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey, she’s almost a neighbor
37. A book that’s becoming a movie in 2017
38. A book set around a holiday other than Christmas
39. The first book in a series you haven’t read before – The Marcus Didius Falco Series, The Silver Pigs, by Lindsey Davis, recommended by Barb, in part because it’s set in Rome
40. A book you bought on a trip

So who’s game to give this a go with me?

And what suggestions do you have for the different prompts?

Oct 302015

Times’s up! Pencils down . . . er, fingers off the keyboard.

Last week we chatted with Jackie Morris and Ivy about Jackie’s new book, The Wild Swans, and about the writing life, painting, knitting, modeling, and more. If you missed it, you should check it out: It was awesome!

Jackie’s publisher, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, offered to send one of our readers a copy of The Wild Swans, so we held a contest, and today I consulted the Random Number Generator to select a winner.

And the winner is . . .


Jeannette Wiggins

Congratulations, Jeannette! I’ll be in touch via email to get your mailing addy.

Thanks to everyone who came and read, and special thanks to everyone who left a comment to participate in the giveaway.

Queen of the Sky, by Jackie Morris

Queen of the Sky

I recently read Jackie’s book, Queen of the Sky. It’s a true story about Ffion Rees, a friend of Jackie’s, who rescues and rehabilitates a peregrine falcon. What a fascinating and heartwarming story! And what a beautiful book, too, chock-full of color photographs and Jackie’s paintings. Put this on your holiday gift list for natural history enthusiasts of any age. It would be a great family read-aloud.

Some of Jackie’s Books

Note: Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post might provide me a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

he Sun, West of tEast of the Moon, by Jackie Morris

East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Fireside Books

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Oct 232015

Jackie Morris: Author/Illustrator of The Wild Swans

Format: Hardback, 176 Pages
ISBN: 9781847805362
Age Range: 8 to 12
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Published: Oct. 1, 2015

Jackie Morris, Author and Artist

Meet Jackie Morris

Jackie Morris is an artist and writer, living in a small house by the sea in Wales where she writes, paints, walks and watches, and dreams of bears and whales. She is the author and illustrator of many gorgeous and lyrical books. This month, we celebrate the arrival of The Wild Swans, the much anticipated companion to East of the sun, West of the Moon.

The Wild Swans is an expansion and retelling of the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson.

I had the honor of interviewing Jackie, and she was so gracious as to indulge more than the usual number of questions! Today, you can enjoy the following treats:

Grab a cuppa, and enjoy!

Q & A with Jackie Morris

Why did you choose to write this story as opposed to a different one?

There was something about this story that called to me for a long time. I have always been fascinated by silence, which is so hard to find in our modern world. Many people are made uncomfortable by silence. There is also much to learn and understand about communication. Even when we speak to each other sometimes we fail to understand each other and this is often when conflict arises.

This and the love of the idea of transformation. Eliza’s brothers are turned to swans. The stepmother, who isn’t really wicked, just misunderstood, perhaps, can turn herself into a wild white hare.

And at the end of the day I write to try and make sense of the world, to learn, to try to understand.

Eleven Swans, by Jackie Morris

Eleven Swans, by Jackie Morris

The Wild Swans is a retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. Why do you think some stories are retold, and what’s the significance of a retelling?

I think there are stories that have lived for centuries because they speak to the soul, ask questions of each time. Stories like Beowulf. When I first heard this story I felt as if I was listening with my blood and my bones as well as my ears. And because times change stories do too. And a story heard when a child can mean something different if heard or read again as an adult.

What is the hardest part about retelling a fairy tale?

Always the hardest part of any story is being true to the story and to oneself.

In the forest maze, by Jackie Morris

In the forest maze, by Jackie Morris

Did you imagine yourself or your friends or family as any of the characters?

I would love to have a pair of fur slippers to tuck under my bed that would transform me into a wild white hare. I would love to fly like Cygfa and feel myself held up in the air on white wings.

When I painted the hound, Shadow, the dog that began as Eliza’s mother’s hound and then became Eliza’s Shadow, she came out of the book and into my life and now sits beside me, silently watching the world while I knit.

I know an illustrator who painted a character to look like his mother. Have you ever painted or written yourself or your friends into a character?

I wrote a book about my friend, Ffion, who rescued a wild peregrine falcon from a watery grave, Queen of the Sky, published by Graffeg.

And yes, I have written familiar characters into my books, but I am not saying who, or where. Everything a writer does works its way in there eventually.

Most, if not all, of your books include animals. Why is that?

Because I love animals; the shape of them, their company.

Please share one of your favorite personal experiences with an animal.

I walk with my cats, write with them beside me on the high hill top above my house. I love their quiet company. On some days it is so quiet here you can hear the air pass through a bird’s wings as it flies, and the soft paw pad of a cat as it steps on the earth.

What animal have you not yet written about that you would like to write about? Can we expect to see something along this line anytime soon?

So many, too many to name. I am working on a book about a small arctic fox, a true story I found in Seattle. I would love to write more about cats and I hope to do a book about the Days of the Grey Dog and the White Cat.

I’m a needleworker, so I’m always keen to see handwork featured in a story. Do you knit or do any other fiber art?

I knit, yes. I love the time spent making, quiet, stitch after stitch.

If so, how did you learn, and what do you do with the skill now?

I used to watch my aunty. I loved her so. She would knit beautiful Aran sweaters with twisting patterns, with seeming ease. And she tried to teach me but I just couldn’t learn. Then one day I saw a Fair Isle cardigan knitting pattern. And I wanted that cardigan. So I taught myself.

I used to knit for a shop in Bath when I first left college and learned why it was referred to as ‘pin money’ because for the hours you put in you get little money back. But I loved the making of things.

Have you ever considered including fiber art in illustrations?

If you look I am always painting textiles. I was told when I was at college that I should do textiles, but I have always loved paper, making marks on paper. But there are textiles woven everywhere in my work.

Eliza and Shadow, by Jackie Morris

Eliza and Shadow, by Jackie Morris

Have you ever had any writing or illustrating disasters? If so, spill, please! How did you recover or fix the problem?

Many. There is a whole book I failed to illustrate, but will come back to. Sometimes I work pieces 2 or 3 times. Sometimes there’s only a little wrong with a piece, but sometimes it’s a real disaster.

What do you like to read? Where do you read? When do you read?

I love fantasy. I love good writing. Recent reads are Thomas The Rhymer by Ellen Kushner, The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane, Into the Fire by Manda Scott, The Museum of Extraordinary Things and The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman. I love Robin Hobb’s books and have the great good fortune to work on the jacket art in the UK for all her books.

I try to read for half and hour before I get up and again before I sleep. Bookending my days. But sometimes I just read any minute I can. I even take a book with me when I go out to see friends, incase there is a lull in the conversation.

Were you a reader as a kid? If so, what did you like to read then? If not, what did you do instead?

I did read as a child. But I was slow to learn. I used to read the pictures. I loved Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London. Later The Once and Future King by T. H. White. Tarka the Otter, The Bellstone Fox, Watership Down by Richard Adams. I also loved My Friend Flicka, The Green Grass of Wyoming and Thunderhead.

You are no longer allowed to be an author/illustrator. What will you do instead?

No. Just no. When I left college I did part time jobs to make a living, but for 27 years, since I have been 27 this is all I have done. Drawing to me is like breathing. I can’t stop, until I die.

But maybe. Yes. A sculptor.

Rapid-fire Round (Don’t think too hard about these):

You must illustrate your next book with just two colors. What colors do you use?

Black and white

You’ve won transportation to a place you’ve never been so that you can illustrate it. Where do you go?

Faeryland, through a hill, for seven years.

You can have any animal in the world as a pet. What do you choose?

I don’t think of my animals as pets, more as companions. So, if I could live with another? Perhaps a horse. Or an owl.

You are granted one super power. What is it?

Easy. Time travel.

Can I have another one? The power to help people realise that watching tv can be such a waste of time.

You’re making a float for a parade based on one of your books. What do you do?

Panic because I am rubbish at that kind of thing.

Eliza Under a Spell, by Jackie Morris

Eliza Under a Spell, by Jackie Morris

There is no more paint in the world. How do you illustrate your next book?

I use stone, and earth, and make pigment from plants, etc.

A celebrity will read and tout your book publicly, and as a result you’ll become rich and famous (not to mention brilliant, beautiful, and the best human ever) overnight. Who is the celebrity doing the reading?

I’m not a fan of celebrity, so, I’ll just stay obscure and remote in my house by the sea.

Your next book features a dessert. Yes, that after-dinner yummy thing. What is the dessert?

Fruit, lots of it. And honey. Peaches, toasted nuts.

Can you hold your breath for a really long time? No.
Do you parachute out of planes on the weekend? Never.
Name one skill that we might be surprised to discover you have. I make very, very good bread.

Swan Shirt in the making, by Jackie Morris

Swan shirt in progress, by Jackie Morris.

Swan Shirt Knitting Pattern

In The Wild Swans, to break the spell that transforms her eleven brothers into swans, Eliza must spin yarn from nettles and knit a shirt for each—a swan shirt—and she must do so in silence. To understand what this would entail, Jackie spent time exploring nettles (ouch!) and knitting in silence.

Jackie really is a knitter, and she really did knit a swan shirt! It’s a versatile pattern, so if you’re not a swan, you can wear it as a scarf. She provides the pattern so we can all knit our own swan shirts (or scarves).

Ivy Watching Over the Knitting, with Jackie Morris

Ivy Watching Over the Knitting

Interview With Ivy

In The Wild Swans, Eliza enjoys the companionship of a faithful hound, Shadow. Ivy was the model for Shadow. She came into Jackie’s life just as Jackie was writing this story. I asked if Ivy would be willing to answer a few questions, and she agreed—anything to support Jackie.

How do you prepare for modeling a story character, and what’s the hardest part of the job?

It’s hard work being an artist’s muse. I prepare for it by sleeping a lot. It’s the only way to keep my wonderful good looks. I am indeed exquisite.

What character from literature would you jump at the chance to portray?

I would like to play the wolf dog in White Fang because at heart I am a wild thing.

How else do you help Jackie with her work?

I mostly help Her with Her work because I need to go out for a walk every day, and that helps to keep her fit but also gives Her time to think, about ideas for paintings and stories. And it also gives Her time to rest her head.

Royal Ivy, by Jackie Morris

Royal Ivy, by Jackie Morris

Jackie Reading from The Wild Swans

Enjoy a sample of the book from the author/illustrator herself. The video is just over 5 minutes long.

If this viewer gives you problems, you can watch the video on YouTube.

What’s Next for Jackie?

When Jackie learned that Oxford University Press was eliminating a slew of nature words (including acorn, fern, heron, and otter) in favor of tech words (including blog, chatroom, and MP3 player) from it’s Oxford Junior Dictionary, her response was to start a new book with Robert MacFarlane, commemorating these words and what they really mean.

Watch Jackie Paint

Drawing and painting are not in my arsenal of skills, and I wish they were—though not enough to make them so, apparently. I’m curious about and dazzled by an artist’s process, and Jackie indulges this curiosity by filming herself as she creates her art. Then she speeds up the film so that what takes her hours over several days can be enjoyed by us in minutes. Grab the kids and take a look. It’s fascinating!

Hare's Egg, by Jackie Morris

Here are four videos filmed this year that allow to watch Jackie paint “Hare’s Egg,” from start to finish. It’s fascinating—and impressive!
Hare’s Egg, part 1
Hare’s Egg, part 2
Hare’s Egg, part 3
Hare’s Egg, part 4


Jackie’s publisher has generously offered to give away a copy of The Wild Swans to one of our readers in the US or Canada. If you’re my friend, and you live in, say, Norway or Australia or anywhere else on Earth, enter the contest anyway. If you win, I’ll have the publisher send the book to me, and I’ll send it to you from here. Enter to win by simply leaving a comment telling me what segment of this post you like best:

  • Q&A with Jackie
  • Interview with Ivy
  • Knitting pattern
  • Jackie reading an excerpt from the book
  • Watching Jackie paint
  • What’s next for Jackie

Comments must be made by 11:59 p.m. Alaska Time on Thursday, October 29th. We’ll consult the Random Number Generator and post a winner on Friday, October 30th.

The Wild Swans and East of the Sun, West of the Moon, by Jackie Morris

The Wild Swans and East of the Sun, West of the Moon, by Jackie Morris


Visit Jackie Online

See more of Jackie’s art and books in these places:
Her website
The House of Golden Dreams page on Facebook

Tomorrow, Jackie will be visiting the Imagination Soup blog.

If you’d like to visit other stops on The Wild Swans blog tour, the entire list of Jackie’s stops is here.


Some of Jackie’s Books

Note: Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post might provide me a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

he Sun, West of tEast of the Moon, by Jackie Morris

East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Fireside Books

Oct 162015

The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A with 50 fact-filled maps!

Written by Gabrielle Balkan
Illustrated by Sol Linero
Wide Eyed Editions (Oct. 1, 2015)
ISBN: 978-1847807113
Ages: 7-10
Grades: 2-5
Pages: 112 Hardcover

The 50 States is what I call a “busy book,” like those by Richard Scarry, Graeme Base, and Stephen Biesty. It’s jam-packed with tidbits of info and illustrations. It will take hours of perusing to just see it all, and a bit longer to process the info and think through all the connections a kid is sure to make.

The 50 States Book, Alaska Spread

The 50 States Book, Alaska Spread

The facts assembled in the book focus on state symbols (state flower, postal code, etc.), geography (maps, du-uh!), history (timelines), and people (one-sentence bios). There are also some cool natural history tidbits in the mix.

Here’s a smattering of what the book has to say about Alaska:

CHANGUNAK ANTISARLOOK ANDREWUK: “SINROCK MARY,” 1870–1948, The Inupiat “Queen of Reindeer” turned a small herd of reindeer into the largest in the state, becoming one of Alaska’s richest women.

LEONHARD SEPPALA, 1877–1967, Norwegian-born Seppala’s ability to breed, train, and mush sled dogs made him an unbeatable dogsled racer.

AUGUST 19, 1923: Iñupiat Inuit Ada Blackjack is the sole survivor of a tragic Arctic expedition.

JULY 19, 1961: The first World Eskimo-Indian Olympics is held in Fairbanks; it now includes a muktuk (whale blubber) eating contest!

MARCH 24, 1989: After an oil spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker, 10,000 workers, 1,000 boats, and 100 airplanes and helicopters begin the cleanup.

THE ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE is home to all three species of North American bear: polar, black, and grizzly.

WHALE WATERS: Humpback whales travel 3,100 miles during their annual migration to Mexico.

YUKON RIVER: This nearly 2,000-mile- long river is the third longest in the U.S.

The 50 States, Alaska Close-up

Close-up of Alaska spread

Information was provided by the publisher; no product or monetary compensation was received. However, purchasing products through these links may provide a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

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Oct 102015

Stay tuned for the winner of the Alaska Book Week puzzle contest. While you wait, let’s have one last flash interview.

Barbara Lavallee

Meet Barbara Lavallee

Name: Barbara Lavallee

Location: Anchorage

Home on the Web:

You’re making a float based on one of your books for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. What do you do? I would do something based on Mama Do You Love Me, since it is the most widely known of all my books.

The main character for your next book is a dessert. Yes, the yummy after-dinner thing. What dessert is it? Baked Alaska


I’m working on a new book written by Dawn Weyiouanna called Winter Moon at Noon.

Note: Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post might provide me a modest commission through affiliate relationships.

This Place is Cold, by Barbara Lavallee

This Place is Cold

This Place is Wet, by Barbara Lavallee

This Place is Wet

This Place is High, by Barbara Lavallee

This Place is High

Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara Lavallee

Mama, Do You Love Me?

All You Need for a Snowman, Barbara Lavallee

All You Need for a Snowman

All You Need for a Beach, by Barbara Lavallee

All You Need for a Beach

Groucho's Eyebrows, by Barbara Lavallee

Groucho’s Eyebrows

Grandma Calls Me Beautiful, by Barbara Lavallee

Grandma Calls Me Beautiful

The Best of Barbara, by Barbara Lavallee

The Best of Barbara

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