The Musings, Notes & Book/App reviews of a Children's Writer

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In The Spotlight… Author Aliona L. Gibson

I’ve recently discovered a book that brought back memories of my homeland in Jamaica, titled Justice pon di Road. It is wonderfully written with great cultural lessons and introductions for children.  Meet Aliona L. Gibson, the writer and aspiring globe trekker.

bookCover

JUSTICE PON DI ROAD Children’s picture book.

Book trailer 

Q: Hello Aliona, tell us about yourself and your career as a writer?

A: First, thanks for interviewing me and helping me spread the word about our book! I am a single mom living in Oakland, California. I took a trip to East Africa as a high school graduate many years ago and it sparked a desire to travel and see the world. A desire that I have yet to shake! After college I lived in New York where I first experienced Jamaican food. It would be many years later that I would make it to the island. I went for the first time in 2008…to Port Antonio and it was an amazing experience. I am now focused on being the best mom I can be to Justice and trying to figure out how I can write more. I published a memoir about issue of self -image and identity many years ago and a “how to” book which explained how I landed a publishing deal with no prior published writing. Justice pon di Road is my first book for children. I don’t write as much as I would like to…not enough hours in the day!

Q: Tell us about your picture book. What is your favorite feature and what would you like to convey to the reader?

A: I was inspired to write Justice pon di Road when Justice called his scrambled eggs ackee after one of our trips. I was surprised that he remembered ackee and that he made the connection! It made me think about all of our trips and how much love he got while in Jamaica. I am always so amazed at how much attention he gets from total strangers when we are in Jamaica. I didn’t expect it and it was a pleasant surprise. I had no idea how much Jamaicans love babies and kids until I went there as a mother. I love the story but my favorite feature of the book has to be the back matter. I love all the factual information about the island and the patois glossary and the list of notables. I love that the first Grandmaster of chess is in it and a Scripps National Spelling Bee champion and the youngest person to fly solo around the world. I love the photos and the way they are laid out with the text. My favorite page is the Fact About Jamaica page with the currency, Prime Minister and Reach Falls. Oh and that the cloud on the cover image is the shape of the island…my illustrators idea.

Q: What makes this picture book unique?

A: I don’t think there are many books that show a travel experience from the perspective of a child. There are so few books which feature children of color and even fewer which feature a boy as the main character, particularly an African-American boy! I would like to do another one on a different country. It’s a book about real people and the kindness of strangers. A place with a strong sense of community and where, apparently, children are held in high regard.

Q: What age range would this book appeal to?

A: I say the book is for ages three and up. I saw 3 & Up on a book we love which I thought was a pretty sophisticated book with a complex story and was sort of long so I decided to use it. It’s broad. Can be read by an older child but mostly to be read by an adult to children. The back matter makes it more appealing to older readers.

Q: What sort of feedback have you received so far?

A: So far the reviews have been great. I am always very flattered when a Jamaican likes it. That means I got it right! People love it and most of my supporters have been people who have ties to the island. The response up to now has been great.

Q: Have you considered offering ‘Justice pon di Road’ in other formats such as an app or an eBook?

A: I would LOVE to offer the book as an ebook and an app. I will…in time. I am feeling like I need to sell more books before I can take on anything else. I do want to offer both and I plan to…not sure when but it’s in the back of my mind.

Q: What has been the most difficult part of publishing a book? Promoting the book has been really hard.

A: It’s an ongoing process and in my mind, a never ending one. Getting people to do stories or review it has been a bit of a challenge. Also, I need to work on doing more book events. Direct sales have been slow. Distribution…I would like the book to be available in other cities.

Q: Once your book was published, was there any unexpected surprises during the marketing process?

A: I have people whom I sent the book to MONTHS ago who have yet to review it. That is frustrating. I have been sending reminder emails for months…sometimes they go unanswered. Even local organizations have been unresponsive. Justice’s school didn’t respond. If I were the principal of an elementary school where a parent wrote a book for children I would do everything in my power to share the book with the students and help get the word out. I think JpdR is important because I hope it encourages kids to be curious about the world we live in. What educator would not want that?

Q: Any words of advice for aspiring writers?

A: I say keep writing and reading. Do not be discouraged or let criticism and negativity stop you from telling your story. Be prepared to self-promote. Even if you go with a traditional publisher you have to go above and beyond to get the word out about your book. There are lots and lots of books on the market and getting the word out is probably more involved than actually writing the book. Take the job of promoting and marketing seriously and be creative in ways to get the word out. I left book marks for our book at pediatric clinic waiting rooms and pediatric dental offices. Know your target audience and figure out creative ways to reach them. But more importantly write, write, write, and write some more to develop your craft (I am talking to myself on this one!) I need to research writing workshops and groups to join to help.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: I used Kickstarter to raise the money to print the book. I was reluctant but SO happy I did it. I raised over 8K in thirty days. Use crowd funding to support your projects! I didn’t think I could do it! Kickstarter is only one, Indigogo and Go Fund Me… and there are many others.

Aliona L. Gibson

Aliona L. Gibson

 

View the Book trailer 

Connect with Aliona L. Gibson and learn more about her books @ website

Social Media links:

Facebook

Twitter: @AlionaGibson

 

 

You just never know

As the year comes to a close I reflect on the friendships and relationships made this past year. The writing and teaching field has the most supportive people I’ve ever met and I’ve met a lot of people. They’re always willing to share information, opportunities and advice which is always valuable.

I recently met Monica Babaian in a twitter chat Story app chat that meets on Sundays at 8pm central. She’s a Tech savvy Librarian and i’m a Digital Author/aspiring Art Teacher. We even live in the same state but our paths might never have crossed had it not been for this chat. Her site is a great resource for parents and teachers which I plan on visiting often. The result of our meeting was an amazing app review with educational tie-ins and resources. It’s a great way to end the year and  as I look forward to the New Year, my resolution is to keep looking forward because you just never know where the next friend, opportunity or great idea will come from.

The review below was re-blogged from: http://innovativelibrarianship.blogspot.com/2013/12/storybook-app-grendels-great-escape-by.html

Storybook App: Grendel’s Great Escape by Michelle Anaya

Grendel’s Great Escape is a storybook app for both iPad and Android by children’s author and creator of Blue Sandpiper Imprints, Michelle Anaya (@bluesandpiper).

Grendel’s Great Escape is about a boy named Martin, who takes his pet ferret, Grendel, to school for show and tell. But when it’s Martin’s turn to present for show and tell, Grendel is missing! The entire school turns into a chaotic mess as Martin and his friends try to find Grendel while avoiding the wrath of the school’s principal, Mr. B.

What I really like about this storybook app is that it includes a long list of ferret facts at the end of the story. The storybook app also has its own curriculum for helping students develop reading strategies, which teachers and school librarians will find handy. For those teachers and school librarians who are allowed to have animals in their classrooms and libraries, a pet ferret would be a great way to make text-to-self connections with Grendel’s Great Escape.

Grendel’s Great Escape includes two screens of ferret facts!

Another possible way to use Grendel’s Great Escape in the classroom or library is to extend the storybook and reading strategies lesson into a science unit from Discovery Education (@DiscoveryEd), which has a couple of videos on ferrets and animal habitats. Yet another way – let students use online databases and encyclopedias to create their own list of ferret facts. Activities like these help students create text-to-world connections.

The storybook integrates interactive features throughout the book, including one page in which the reader can squirt ketchup or mustard all over the screen — something kids will surely enjoy. Readers have the option to turn the narration and music on or off. Blue Sandpiper Imprints recommends this storybook app for ages 4 and up. The Android version of Grendel’s Great Escape is $2.99, and the iPad version is $3.99.

For more information about Grendel’s Great Escape and other fun storybook apps from Blue Sandpiper, please visit their website.

 

December Picture book of the month

This post is a little late this month but life happens. It’s been hectic to say the least with work, family and getting ready for the holidays etc.

Author Visit with 1st gradersIt’s always a nice surprise to stumble across a really good Christmas story. A few days ago I walked into an elementary school library for a story-time visit with a group of the cutest first graders. There it was laying precariously on the top of a stack of returns, just waiting to be discovered.

 

 

 

 

 

Snowmen at Christmas by Carolyn Buehner is happy little tale that’s cleverly told in rhyme and asks an interesting question. How do snowmen celebrate? I had to find out, so I read it to the children and satisfied my curiosity and theirs. This book is a real treat and I highly recommend adding it to your holiday reading list.

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Excerpt: One Christmas eve, I made a snowman, very fat and jolly. I dressed him up in red and green and trimmed his hat with holly. I saw his arms trembling as if he couldn’t wait. It made me start to wonder, how do snowmen celebrate?.

These snowmen really do Christmas in a big way. You’ll find out just how much while enjoying a great holiday read with your family.

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October’s Picture book of the Month

october_breast_cancer_month_flyer-r7f4e4afc60784273aa0410a4b9688885_vgvyf_8byvr_512October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and most of us know someone who’s been affected by this disease.  It impacts the entire family as many of the women battling this disease also have children who are  coping and fighting alongside them.

The Goodbye Cancer Garden by Janna Matthies and illustrated by Kristi Valiant brooches this subject that is often difficult to discuss with young children.

 

 

cancer garden front

This picture book is sensitively and lovingly written by an Author who is also a cancer survivor.

The beautiful illustrations shines a light and an air of positivity that  is uplifting in what could have been a sad book.

“Things don’t always go as expected” is the theme throughout the story. It walks us through the announcement of a mother with cancer, the stages of her treatment, the emotions involved and the way in which her family handles it.

As an avid gardener, I loved the co-relation between the various stages of cancer and the seasons of their garden. This book is more realistic and uplifting than sad, it’s about a family doing something positive together while in the midst of a tough situation.

Reading this will help children understand more about cancer but can also help children of families facing other devastating illnesses as well. I was cheering the family on from start to finish, and without giving it away I can say that I was thrilled to discover that there was indeed a happy ending.

cancer garden back

 Summary 

One winter day, Mom and Dad tell Janie and Jeffrey that Mom has cancer. Soon the whole family goes to the doctor to ask questions.

“Is Mom better yet?” Jeffrey asks.”Not yet,” the doctor says. “Not yet,” the doctor says, “But we’re working very hard to make her better – probably by pumpkin time.”

That gives Janie an idea: to plant a vegetable garden.

As the garden grows, Moms treatment progresses, and when it’s all done, there are healthy pumpkins and a recovering mom!

Back to school with book apps

By now the children are all back to school across the country.

back-to-school

They’re getting settled in their new classes with new teachers, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. There will be new challenges as they overcome the summer brain drain and start filling their minds with exciting new lessons.

A fun way of re-enforcing their newly acquired reading skills on the week-ends are digital book apps. The multi sensory experience brings the reader into the story and soon they’ll be begging for more. This is music to any parent’s ears because let’s face it, they’re so many distractions these days that reading isn’t always their first choice.

I had this experience with my reluctant reader and it inspired me to dive into the magical world of digital book apps.

kids-reading

The app store and Google play is flooded with apps so it’s sometimes difficult for parents to know where to start and what to download.

Digital Storytime is a renowned and trusted source in both the literary and app world and they have recently released their top 25 list of book apps. They shine a light on educational apps that can become hidden in the app store so that’s where I would start. In fact I read their app reviews when researching for my sons apps and when writing for kids. I was more than thrilled when Grendel’s Great Escape was listed in their top 25 best stories for 2013. It is an honor for it to be noticed and placed alongside these other amazing books.

It’s also perfect timing because September is ADHD awareness month and the main character was inspired by a child with ADHD. He’s messy, disorganized, adventurous and a whole lot of fun.

Martin's mess

Martin tackles the laundry monster

Download it and let me know what your kids think.

Digital Storytime’s Top 25 Best story books

Grendel’s Great Escape adventure story for iPad  Android

Sept book of the month: The survival guide for kids with ADD or ADHD

School’s back in session and my volunteer duties at the school have resumed. Now that I’m back in the library it’s the perfect time to resume the book of the month posts.

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It’s ADHD awareness month so it’s only fitting that September’s book of the month is “Drumroll please”

The survival guide for kids with ADD or ADHD by John F. Taylor, Ph.D.

While stacking books in the library, this book caught my eye. It’s red binding literally pops out amongst the other books and boy was it a great find.

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This survival guide is a must read for kids, it’s interesting and written in a way that will make sense to any age group. I borrowed it from the library to gain insight into my sons world and to coax him to reading it. It’s full of great advice including being upfront and descriptive with your doctor when asked if a particular course of treatment is effective or not.

How to take responsibility and dealing with the ramifications of your actions. Learning how to compromise with the other family members and positive ways of dealing with situations. It teaches without preaching and has too many AHA moments to count.

This gem not only benefits the child with ADHD but it helps bring the other siblings and adults in the household into their world as well. Understanding is half the battle so if you have or know someone with ADHD, then this book is the one to read.

My other post at Midlife mum on Living with my ADHD child is worth the read.

The Grendel’s Great Escape children’s digital story is an adventure for all kids inspired by an ADHD child.

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A visit with the Author Jonathan Ayre

Welcome to the first of the Interview Series where I’ll be picking the brains of some of the most creative people in the KidLit world.

I’ve recently discovered the Hatty the Tiger brand which has two amazing picture books and a book app. The stories are beautifully told with great messages such as good eating habits, strength of character and being different.

I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to chat with Jonathan Ayre.  Jonathan is the writer, illustrator and creator of this unique brand. The theme song “The Hatty Rap” is catchy and my son and  I absolutely love it. I’m sure your kids will love to see the  Hatty Rap video.

THE TIGER WHO WASN'T! COVER

HATTY & THE HARD BEANS! coverThe Tiger That Wasn't

App Store link   Android version on GOOGLE Play

Here’s what Jonathan had to share…..

Q: Tell us about yourself and the Hatty brand?

Jonathan: I’ve been a writer for most of my life through short stories, songs, screenplays and magazine articles, and my books about Hatty the tiger, grew out of stories I made up for my own young children. They’re six years-old now, and although as a family we are not vegetarians, they’ve grown up enjoying lots of different fruits and vegetables and I realize how lucky we are with this. Hatty became a vegetarian tiger because  in a world where ‘junk food’ is advertised so much, I hoped that if my children knew why fruit and veg were ‘cool’ and good to eat, it would help them to make better choices on their own. Being vegetarian, was also a way to make Hatty a more gentle tiger and take him away from the usually ferocious stereotype. Among a feast of wonderful books that are out there, I like to believe the Hatty stories have helped my own children to think ‘outside the (junk) box’!.

Q: What makes this brand unique?

Jonathan: Well, because Hatty is a vegetarian tiger it throws up a lot of other issues apart from just diet. There’s peer-pressure, fear and isolation involved, as well as important character issues like conviction, persistence, kindness and individuality. Hatty is not a ‘goody-goody’, and his behavior and ideas aren’t always the best, but he tries hard and has a lot of fun on the way to learning his lessons, and I’d say that this is the essence of the ‘brand’: A fun and unexpected way of educating children about  issues of diet, cooking and character.

Q: What age range would this brand appeal to?

Jonathan: 3-8 years-old would be the main age group to read the Hatty books, ‘The Tiger Who Wasn’t!’ and the sequel, ‘Hatty And The Hard Beans!’ Though I teach children up to 14 in writing and illustration workshops based on the books, I always read the books to the younger ones. Having said that, everyone likes to be read to, and because the books are written in fun, rhyming couplets, I often get requests on school visits to read to classes up to 10 years old.

Q: What sort of feedback have you received so far?

Jonathan: Quite honestly, the reviews for both books have been terrific – and the app which has only been out for a few weeks is just now starting to receive reviews. The direct feedback I get from parents and teachers on my school tours has been really positive and I get lots of letters from the children after my visits, with ideas for new Hatty adventures  or telling me their favorite parts of the books. Hatty really seems to resonate with many of them and I feel inspired by the discussions and the issues his character raises.

Q: What lead to the decision to create “The Tiger Who Wasn’t” into an app as opposed to an eBook? 

Jonathan: Actually, I did make an eBook of, ‘The Tiger Who Wasn’t!’ while I was making the app. The whole business is so relatively new that I wanted to see how each part works and the eBook was a small expense since I did the work myself. However, making an app is THE way to go – and I was never in any doubt that I would do it. From the first time I saw my children ‘playing’ with a book app and enjoying the feedback and interaction (with a great story of course) I realized that the future of electronic picture books would never be a straightforward eBook..

Q: Tell us about your app!  What is your favorite feature and what would you like to convey to the end-user? 

Jonathan: It was a lot of fun making the story come to life – literally – with tap animations, original music and sound fx. I’ve seen a lot of storybook apps where I’ve been impressed with the technical side of their presentation, but the essence of them, a good story, has been lost in a lot of bells and whistles. I would like to think that the solid heart of ‘The Tiger Who Wasn’t!’ is a really fun and touching story that young children can actively get involved with and learn from. It still makes me smile to see the joy and laughter that children get when they make the animals move or the skunk fart!! Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great games and activities included with the app also, like the Coloring Pages, Hatty’s Hide & Seek’, or ‘Hatty’s Avocado Roll (all 20 skill levels of it), but I like to think that these are unexpected and enjoyable features that complement the story. For me, the story remains the star part of the app and includes 3 different  ‘reading’ versions and text highlighting, together with the original music and fx.

Q: What’s been the most difficult part of creating an app? 

Jonathan: Raising the money to make it, was pretty tough! Thankfully, the books were very well received by the local school in Cyprus where I live, and having written, illustrated and published them myself, the children, teachers and parents here were fantastic. I had many sales through recommendations and word of mouth and, Ruth, the owner of a local bookstore, ‘The Moufflon Bookshop’, was incredibly helpful and supportive in helping me get the word out across the island. Apart from that, having raised the money, it was a question of how to get the most value for the consumer out of the ideas we had. The developers I finally chose, Dragonpencil of Savannah, Georgia, were brilliant here; guiding me through the process with their expertise and experience, and opening my eyes to new possibilities.

Q: Now that your app is published, were there any unexpected surprises during the process? 

Jonathan: It took 6 months to make the app from the day I signed my contract with Dragonpencil, the developers. There were many surprises which came from going through that process of drawing, animating, making the sound fx and seeing it all come to life. During the process I was wracking my brains as to how I would publicize it, and probably the biggest surprise is that this turned out to be a music video, ‘The Hatty Rap!’ The first person I sent this to, having posted it on my website and YouTube, was Karen Robertson(The Empress of App!). Her positive and immediate response was a big and wonderful surprise. Feedback from those who have earned your respect is a great feeling.

Q: Any words of advice for other writers who are thinking about creating apps? 

Jonathan: Trust your dreams, buy an iPad, research as much as possible before you start – and NEVER underestimate the intelligence of children! Apart from that, it’s vital you choose your developer carefully: A good one will help you realize your dream, while a bad one will cramp it or kill it. Generally – to be happy – work for the heights, but expect the lows! That way you’ll always be pleasantly surprised and never disappointed

Q: Between the book & the book app? Which has had better sales results & is that what you expected. 

Jonathan: The app has only just come out and is doing well so far, whereas my books have been out for a year. Apart from selling the books on Amazon etc, I also offer personally signed copies with free worldwide mailing direct from my website. It’s all PayPal, so customers know they are protected and they seem to like the signed copies. It’s more time investment for me and expense with mailing and packing, but in the end the revenue is the same for me as selling on Amazon, and it’s a more personal touch for customers. Dollar-wise my book revenue is still ahead because the app is brand new, but because sales are totally dependent on marketing and lucky breaks, every single sale  – whether it be a book or an app – means that someone else is enjoying my work and there’s no dollar figure for that feeling!

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Jonathan: Have fun. Making an app is a journey and giving it a deadline can be your best friend. It can rarely be perfect in your eyes, because you’re learning all the time. The important thing is to enjoy the process and give as much as you can. The smile on a child’s face when they first get their hands on your app is a thrill that never fades!

The Tiger That Wasn't

App: The Tiger Who Wasn’t

App Store link

Android version on GOOGLE Play

Music video (Gotta watch!)http://youtu.be/cgUOiJO5ywU

Hatty Books

website: www.hattybooks.com

Social Media links: FB: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hatty-the-Tiger/216463078458985

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