August 17 – Get Ready for Preschool

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About the Holiday

Not only are kindergarteners and “seasoned” elementary-school kids getting ready to go to school—or already back in the classroom—the youngest students are beginning their school career with preschool. Some children eagerly look forward to this new adventure, while others are more hesitant about the transition from home to school. Books like today’s warm and funny story that shows how teachers welcome and care for their students and the fun that’s waiting with new friends in a new, exciting environment.

Thanks to Tundra Books for sharing a copy of What Does Little Crocodile Say? with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

What Does Little Crocodile Say?

By Eva Montanari

 

It’s that time! “The alarm clock goes Ring Ring.” Big Crocodile comes into Little Crocodile’s room and tickles their child awake. A quick splash in the tub, a zip of the overalls, and a messy breakfast later, the pair are out the door. Zipping along the street, “the car goes vroom vroom.” When they get where they’re going, Big Crocodile locks the car, rings the bell, and—at her little one’s urging—carries them up the stairs to where “the Elephant says Good Morning!”

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Copyright Eva Montanari, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Hugging Mom tight, the little crocodile looks around the room full of toys and other kids. The piglet, kitten, bird, frog, and wolf all say hello in their own way. “And what does little crocodile say” as Mom puts them down? “WWWWAAH WWWWAAH.” But Elephant is there to soothe the tears and read a story. The teacher helps Little Crocodile beat the drum. By the time the kids ting the triangle, Little Crocodile is feeling comfortable, and when they have a trumpet parade, the little crocodile is first in line.

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Copyright Eva Montanari, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

At lunch time, “the food goes nom nom nom” and “the milk goes glug glug glug” and Little Crocodile is right at the table with the other kids. They nap, play with bubbles, and then… “the door goes knock knock. Big Crocodile says Peekaboo!” Little Crocodile is surprised. There are kisses and kisses “muah muah muah muah muah” for Big Crocodile and a wave and “See you tomorrow!” for the new friends.

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Copyright Eva Montanari, 2021, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Eva Montanari’s delightful step-by-step story envelops little ones in the experience of preschool through the sounds—from the morning ring of the alarm clock to the cheerful farewell at the end of the day—and the sights of home and preschool classrooms. In Montanari’s enchanting pencil and pastel illustrations, a messy bath and messy breakfast lead with gentle humor to the suspenseful page turn in which readers see that the handoff from Big Crocodile to Elephant is a bit messy too.

Little Crocodile’s meltdown, however, lets little ones who may also be unsure about this transition in their life see how their teacher will care for them and all the friends and fun activities that await. The correlating page spread in which Little Crocodile jumps back into Big Crocodile’s arms with kisses instead of tears is comfort at its best and is sure to inspire plenty of “Muahs” all around. Adults will love sharing this read aloud over and over and kids will have a giggly blast chiming in on all of the sounds. What will little ones say to this book? “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Captivating and interactive, What Does Little Crocodile Say? transends its concept book roots to reassure little ones just beginning their school journey and celebrate all the love and new friends they’ll find along the way. The book is a must for home, classroom, and library bookshelves.

Ages 2 – 5

Tundra Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0735268135

Discover more about Eva Montanari and her books on her website.

Get Ready for Preschool Activity

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Crocodiles on the Loose! Matching Puzzle

 

These crocodiles have gotten separated from their twins. Can you help them find each other again in this printable puzzle?

Crocodiles on the Loose! Matching Puzzle

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You can find What Does Little Crocodile Say? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

August 16 – Celebrating Back-to-School Month with Tammi Sauer

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Tammi Sauer, a former teacher and library media specialist, is the full-time author of many popular picture books, including Quiet Wyatt, illustrated by Arthur Howard, and Nugget and Fang and Nugget and Fang Go to School, both illustrated by Michael Slack. Getting kids excited about reading and writing is her passion. Her other passion is tropical tea. Tammi and her family live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish.

You can connect with Tammi on her website | Facebook | Twitter

Hi Tammi! I’m really happy you could help me celebrate kids going back to school with your best-of-friends, Nugget and Fang! This minnow and shark don’t seem like they’d be natural friends, but they make really supportive besties. Many of your books explore friendships and themes of being out of your comfort zone – and always with a liberal sprinkling of humor that really appeals to kids. How has a previous job or jobs influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write?

I am a former pre-k teacher and library media specialist. Both of those positions exposed me to hundreds of picture books. How lovely is it that the more you read, the better you write? Plus, being in the classroom and the library helped me to see what books really resonated with kids.

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My role as Mom has also been a big benefit to me as a writer. I used to read stacks and stacks of picture books to my kids. My son, Mason, was a tough audience—especially when he was four. After every book I read, he would either give it a double thumbs up or say, “Wow, that’s a dud.” I always keep four-year-old Mason in mind as I write. I want to create something that little Mason would have readily endorsed.

How great is it for a picture book writer to have a seasoned and discerning critic in residence?! Thanks so much, Tammi for sharing your experience with readers—and for all of your double-thumbs-up books!

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Nugget & Fang Go to School

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

When most fish and sea creature saw Fang, they swam or scuttled off in fear. But the mini minnows knew Fang was just a softie – and a vegetarian – because he once had saved them and his best friend Nugget from a fisherman’s net. In fact the mini minnows liked Fang so much, they thought he should go to school with them at Mini Minnows Elementary School. Nugget thought this was a great idea too.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Fang was excited until the first day of school arrived. He felt seasick and thought his skin was turning blue. “‘Your skin is always blue,’ said Nugget. ‘You’ll be fine.'” When the first bell rang, Nugget had to drag Fang in by the fin as Fang rattled off questions: “‘What if I lose a tooth? Or two? Or twenty? What if I sit on a jellyfish?'” He was afraid of swallowing someone while yawning, and getting swallowed by a whale himself. As the teacher, a hermit crab, introduced herself, Fang still worried. “‘She looks crabby,’ whispered Fang.'”

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Nugget tried to reassure his friend. “‘You’ll be fine,'” he said, but things did not go well in reading, math, or science. Music, art and The Brief History of Minnows were also disasters. Fang thought the day couldn’t get any worse, but it did. At the end of the day, the teacher invited each student to the front of the class to share something special. After the horrible day he’d had, Fang did not want to do it. After students had shared their hobbies, talents, or special things from home, it was Fang’s turn. He stood in front of the class nervously trying to think of something to share. Then he noticed Nugget, who was smiling, nodding, and holding the lunchbox the mini minnows had given him that read “Fang, Our Hero!”

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Suddenly, Fang did feel fine. And he knew just what to say. With a big toothy grin, Fang announced, “‘I have the best friend in the whole underwater world!'” Everyone was so impressed that the teacher even gave Fang a gold star. Now Fang didn’t want to leave school, but Nugget grabbed him by the fin and led him home anyway.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Tammi Sauer dives deep into the ways true friends help and support each other in her story that takes on first-day-of-school jitters and shows that even awkward days turn out fine with a bit of encouragement. Little readers will appreciate Sauer’s straightforward storytelling that focuses on children’s common fears when beginning school or any new extracurricular activity with a light touch and plenty of punny humor to get them giggling. To calm those fears, Sauer shows that reassurance and kindness come from many places, including best friends, new friends, and teachers. 

Fans of Nugget and Fang will be happy to reunite with Michael Slack’s rainbow-hued minnows and blue Fang. As Nugget and Fang approach the school, Fang’s fears swirl around him, replicating the way thoughts whirl through a worried mind. Slack’s uncluttered illustrations make it easy for kids to understand Fang’s predicaments as well as the comical touches. Slack uses the ocean environment for plenty of clever interpretations of a classroom setting. The science food chain poster in Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever—or Snack Time? gets a history update in this version, adding to Fang’s embarrassment. Just as in the first book of this series, readers will cheer on Fang and Nugget’s unusual but strong friendship. 

Nugget & Fang Go To School will quickly become a favorite for kids just beginning their school journey, starting a new grade, or going back to in-person learning after a virtual year. The book would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Clarion Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1328548269

To learn more about Tammi Sauer and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of work by Michael Slack on his website!

You can find Nugget & Fang: Go to School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever—Or Snack Time?

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

Deep in the ocean two friends do everything together and life is almost perfect as they swim over ship wrecks, under reefs, and all around. Nugget and Fang are as close as two friend can be—there’s just one thing: Nugget is a minnow while Fang is a shark. Neither of them consider their friendship unusual—until Nugget goes to school. There during Reading, Nugget hears the story of The Three Little Minnows and the Big, Bad Shark. “‘Ha!’” says Nugget. “‘Impossible!’”

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2013, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2013. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

During Math class the students solve a word problem: “What if there were ten minnows and a shark came along and ate four of them? How many minnows are left?” Nugget is scandalized. “‘A shark would never do that!’” he says. During Science period when Nugget learns the facts of the Marine Food Chain, he protests that sharks aren’t scary and announces that his best friend is a shark. “Have you lost your gills?” one classmate asks as another snarks, “Hello—sharks eat minnows!” Nugget can’t believe it.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Back home Nugget gives Fang the bad news. “‘Sounds fishy to me,’” says Fang. Nugget assures him it’s true before swimming far away. “Fang’s heart sank.” As Nugget stayed away, Fang determined to get his best friend back. He tried dressing like a mermaid, inviting Nugget for dinner, and even performing a song and dance routine, but nothing could sway Nugget. Fang was so upset that he didn’t didn’t notice when a fishing net floated toward the sea floor, capturing Nugget and the other minnows.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2013, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2013. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

When Fang realizes what has happened, he doesn’t know what to do. Then he has an idea. With his big sharp teeth he chomps and chews and tears the net to pieces, allowing Nugget and the minnows to swim to safety. They all stare at Fang wide-eyed. He knows just what they’re going to say. But Nugget has a new math problem for him: “‘There were ten minnows, and a very special shark came along. How many friends are there altogether?’” Now eleven friends live happily deep in the ocean, and everyone—especially Fang—are all smiles.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2013, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2013. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Tammi Sauer’s tribute to true friendship reveals the danger when “facts” take precedence over what you know in your heart to be true. Her reminder to listen to your inner voice is approached with humor and the honest types of doubts that can niggle and cloud judgement. Throughout the story, her language is accessible and kid-conversational, including puns that will elicit laughs. Sauer’s use of a math word problem to both highlight contrary thinking and provide a solution underscores the value of education as well as making new—and keeping old—friendships.

In Michael Slack’s vibrant illustrations, tiny Nugget and imposing Fang make a happy, nonchalant pair. They play together through vivid reefs unaware of marine animal stereotypes. When Nugget gets “schooled,” his astounded expressions and those of his classmates humorously depict their conundrum. The ocean setting gives Slack an opportunity for lots of visual jokes and innovation. Kids will laugh at Fang’s attempts at reconciliation with Nugget, and cheer when he becomes a hero.

Ages 4 – 9

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013 ISBN 978-0544481718 | Lap Board Book, 2018 ISBN 978-1328768391

To learn more about Tammi Sauer and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of work by Michael Slack on his website!

You can find Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever – Or Snack Time? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Back to School Month Activity

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Shark Organizer Jar

 

Are some of your favorite school supplies scattered here and there? Would you like to be able to get a good chomp on them? Then here’s a craft you can really sink your teeth into! This shark organizer jar is easy and fun to make and a fin-tastic way to keep your stuff tidy!

Supplies

  • Wide-mouth plastic jar, like a peanut-butter jar
  • Gray craft paint
  • White craft paint
  • Black craft paint
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Find a point in the middle of the jar on opposite sides of the jar
  2. Mid-way between these points on the other sides of the jar, find a point about 1 1/2 inches above the first points
  3. From the first point draw an angled line up to the higher point and down again to the lower point to make the shark’s upper jaw
  4. Repeat Direction Number 3 to make the shark’s lower jaw
  5. With the gray paint fill in the jar below these lines to make the shark’s head
  6. Along the jawline, paint jagged teeth with the white paint
  7. Add black dots for eyes on either side of the shark’s head
  8. Let dry

Picture Book Review

August 5 – Back to School Month Blog Tour Stop for Turkey Goes to School

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About the Holiday

Although we may not know what going back to school will look like this year, we can be sure that the excitement kids feel for seeing their friends and teachers, celebrating special themes and occasions, and reading new books together will be as strong as ever. Sharing today’s featured book – the latest in a favorite series – will make sure kids can look forward to a farm-tastic first day. 

Thanks to Two Lions and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Turkey Goes to School for review consideration. I’m eggs-cited to be teaming with them in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Turkey Goes to School

Written by Wendi Silvano | Illustrated by Lee Harper

 

Max and Millie were excited about the first day of school. “So were the animals on Farmer Jake’s farm—especially since the first week’s theme was ‘Farm Days.’” Could an invitation to visit the school be far behind? Turkey imagined all the fun they would have. To make sure everything went smoothly, Turkey engaged the other animals in extensive practice of all the skills he thought they’d need. They read, wrote, counted, and even played recess games.

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Image copyright Lee Harper, 2021, text copyright Wendi Silvano, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

But when the bus pulled up in front of the farm gate, Millie delivered the bad news: “‘Critters aren’t allowed at school.’” Turkey just couldn’t take “no” for an answer, so he gathered up his friends and hitched a ride in the back of a passing pickup truck. When they got to school, the animals decided Turkey should sneak in to class. Turkey had an idea that just might work. Strapped onto Pig’s back in a makeshift backpack, Turkey was ready to go, but Max spied something amiss and told them to go home. But Turkey couldn’t take “no” for an answer. Peeking in the window, Turkey saw that story time had begun, and thought of another great disguise. This time he was able to “‘book it inside,’” but when a little girl pointed him out, the teacher said, “‘I’m page-ing the principal.’”

Back outside, Turkey had another brainstorm. Recess was coming up, so Turkey crossed his wings, folded down his feathers, pulled in his head and feet, and with some help from his friends landed in the middle of the playground. “‘Cool—jumbo soccer!’ cried a boy.” Too bad for Turkey, Millie was the referee. “‘I call a fowl!’” she cried.

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Image copyright Lee Harper, 2021, text copyright Wendi Silvano, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

The other animals were getting into the spirit of Turkey’s subterfuge, and Cow came up with a plan for Turkey to masquerade as a “‘lunch lady in the calf-eteria.’” Side-by-side with the real lunch lady, Turkey was fitting right in, until… he wasn’t. Outside once more, Turkey huddled with the other animals next to a scarecrow advertising Farm Days. Rooster just couldn’t understand why they weren’t “front and center” during Farm Days. That gave Turkey another idea. This time, Turkey put on a disguise that just could not miss. He even got help from the principal.

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Image copyright Lee Harper, 2021, text copyright Wendi Silvano, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

With her endorsement, what could the teacher say but “yes.” Millie and Max cheered as their animals trooped in with instruments, ready to sing a song with the class. And what better song to sing than Old MacDonald… I mean “‘Farmer Jake, he had a farm. E-I-E-I-O.’” (And you can guess which animal came first!) At the end of the song, Millie asked the teacher if they could sing some more. The teacher thought about it, and since it was Farm Days, after all, they were allowed to stay for a “Farm-tastic first—and last—day at school.”

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Image copyright Lee Harper, 2021, text copyright Wendi Silvano, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Turkey is back in Wendi Silvano and Lee Harper’s fifth adventure featuring the animals from Farmer Jake’s farm. All Turkey wants is a chance to go to school with Max and Millie, and he’ll go to any length to make it happen. As Silvano sets up funny obstacles that Turkey continues to overcome by taking advantage of opportunities and through clever school-based disguises, kids will find plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to celebrate Turkey’s ingenious initiative. Stuffed with witty puns that readers will be repeating throughout a school day, Silvano’s storytelling is fresh and dialogue-rich. Each animal gets a chance to shine in this smart and inventive celebration of teamwork.

Laying on lots of slapstick and exaggerated imagery, Lee Harper brings the beloved gang from Farmer Jake’s farm back for another madcap romp. In Harper’s hands, the animals are nothing less than high-spirited kids in sheep’s (Pig’s, Horse’s, Cow’s, Chicken’s and, of course, Turkey’s) clothing. Readers will love poring over the bright, action-packed pages to pick up all of the comical details, visual puns, and allusions to the trappings of school. Kids will cheer along with Turkey’s ultimate triumph and the rockin’ sing-along that makes this a school day for the books.

Whether your kids are already fans of the Turkey Trouble series—which includes Turkey Trouble, Turkey Clause, Turkey Trick-or-Treat, and Turkey’s Eggcellent Easter—or meeting these friends for the first time, Turkey Goes to School will captivate them and make them laugh. A perfect book to share for the first day of school and all the others along the way, Turkey Goes to School is sure to be a much-asked-for favorite and must addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542023641

Discover more about Wendi Silvano and her books on her website.

To learn more about Lee Harper, his books, and his art, visit his website.

A Quick Chat with Wendi Silvano

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Wendi Silvano was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has lived in Oregon, Colorado, and Peru. The author of the Turkey Trouble series, she has a BA in early childhood education and taught preschool and elementary school for eleven years. She is the mother of five children and the owner of an assortment of odd pets that are not nearly as clever as Turkey. She now writes from her home in Colorado, where she enjoys hiking, reading, and playing the piano. Visit her online at www.wendisilvano.com.

Hi Wendy! It’s so wonderful to see Turkey and his friends back… off the farm, I suppose we can say! They’re eager to make school-time memories, but we still have a little bit of summer left, so I was wondering, Do you have a favorite summer memory?

One summer, my kids and I were camping with some family friends. My son David and his friend Sean (who were about 7) were exploring near our campsite. They were hanging out under a very tall pine tree and goofing off a bit. They must have worried some chipmunks who were up in the tree. All of sudden, the chipmunks started bombing them with pinecones from the tree! We were all watching and laughing our heads off.

Of course, being boys, they didn’t just move to another spot to calm the chipmunks, but rather started trying to throw the pinecones back up at the chipmunks. They didn’t get them anywhere near high enough and the chipmunks won the battle in the end. As a children’s writer, my imagination immediately pictured that pair of chipmunks up high in the tree catching sight of the intruders,  planning their attack, carrying it out and eventually celebrating their victory. (Come to think of it… maybe I should write a story about that!).

I’d say readers will be pining for that picture book! What a hilarious experience! Animals truly are incredible. Thanks so much for sharing that story with us!

Back to School Month Activity

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Smile! It’s a Back to School Fun Word Search Puzzle

 

There are twenty school-related words in this happy word search puzzle. Can you find them all?

Back to School Fun! Word Search PuzzleBack to School Fun! Word Search Solution

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You can find Turkey Goes to School at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 14 – Isabel and Her Colores Go to School Blog Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

Today I’m happy to be joining the blog tour for Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, a beautiful picture book about starting a new school year, making friends, and finding a way to share what’s in your heart – even when it’s difficult. I also had a chance to talk briefly with Alexandra and Courtney!

Thanks to Sleeping Bear Press for sharing a digital copy of Isabel and Her Colores Go to School with me for this review. All opinions on the book are my own.

Isabel and Her Colores Go to School

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Courtney Dawson

 

It’s the night before Isabel’s first day of school, and she’s sitting “cross-legged on her bed, coloreando with her favorite crayons: rojo, verde, azul, rosado, morado, violeta.” Isabel was ready for the next day, but there was something that worried her. She “didn’t speak much inglés. English sounded wrong, like stormy blues and blizzard whites. Isabel preferred the pinks and yellows and purples of español.”

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the morning, Isabel didn’t want to go to school, but Mami drove her there anyway. At the door, she kissed Isabel on the head and reminded her: “‘Al mal tiempo, buena cara. To bad times, a good face.’” But Isabel’s face showed sadness and worry. As class started, Isabel followed along, unsure of what it all meant. During stretching time, the kids counted “‘One, two, three.’” Instinctively, Isabel repeated “‘Uno, dos, tres.’” The colors of their voices “[crashed] against each other.” All the kids stared at Isabel, and she could feel her face getting hot.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When it was story time, all the kids took their regular spots on the rug, which left no room for Isabel. Then a girl told her she could sit “‘here’” next to her. Isabel understood the word “here” and sat down. “‘I’m Sarah,’” the girl said. “‘Me llamo Isabel,’” Isabel told her. Then Sarah asked Isabel if she’d like to be friends. The harsh words filled her brain and she shook her head to clear them. She blushed again. “‘No entiendo,’” she said. Misunderstanding herself, Sarah looked as if she might cry. Isabel felt that way too.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When lunchtime came, Isabel sat alone and tried to make herself feel better by coloring on her napkin, but tears came anyway. Back in the classroom, Isabel’s teacher announced that it was “coloring time.” Isabel looked up. “Coloring sounded very much like colorear.” When she got a blank sheet of paper and crayons, “Isabel knew she had understood.” As she worked on her picture, she used all of her favorite colors and she remembered Mami’s advice.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When she was finished, she showed Sarah. She had drawn herself and Sarah holding hands and surrounded by hearts and stars. “‘Amigas,’” Isabel said, pointing from girl to girl. Sarah understood. “‘Friends,’” she said. When their teacher showed Isabel’s picture to the other kids, all of her classmates were impressed. Their smiles and compliments softened the stormy colors of English “to a brilliant aguamarina—just like home,” and Isabel thought school might be okay after all.

Simultaneous translations of the English story are presented in colorful boxes on each page. A Spanish-to-English translation glossary of words typeset in bold throughout the book is found at the end of the story.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Alexandra Alessandri’s emotionally resonant story shines with her unique invitation to readers to understand how language barriers feel from the perspective of a native Spanish-speaking child as well as her English-speaking classmate who wants to be friends. Children’s fondness for drawing and favorite colors gives Alessandri the perfect palette to present initial feelings of worry, disappointment, and frustration as well as a meaningful way for children to bridge differences and discover hope, encouragement, and common ground. Alessandri’s dialogue and interactions between Isabel and Mami as well as between Isabel and Sarah ring true with honesty and the types of small moments that can lead to unintentional misunderstandings and others that unite. Isabel’s love for and descriptions of the rhythms and beauty of her native language are a highlight and can give teachers, parents, and other adults an excellent way to talk to their children about languages, diversity, and communication.

Courtney Dawson’s vibrant illustrations enliven the pages as swoops of color swirl around Isabel and through the classroom, depicting her feelings from moment to moment as well as how English sounds to her and how English and Spanish together clash in her ears. Readers will recognize the colorful elements of a classroom and the routines of a day. Dawson clearly depicts the characters’ emotions as well as how excitement and confidence can change to embarrassment and uncertainty with a word or in a moment—and, happily, vice versa.

Lovely, poignant, and with a unique perspective on themes of language, fitting in, and friendship that will resonate with all kids, Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is a must for home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534110632

A Chat with Alexandra and Courtney

Hi Alexandra and Courtney! I’m thrilled to be part of your blog tour for your gorgeous book! Thanks so much for stopping by for a quick chat!

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Alexandra Peñaloza Alessandri is a Colombian American poet, children’s author, and Associate Professor of English at Broward College. She received her BA and MA degrees in English from Florida International University, as well as a Certificate of Fiction from UCLA Extension. Her poetry has appeared in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, YARN, and Atlanta Review, where her poem “Inheritance” was a Finalist in the 2017 International Poetry Competition. She is the author of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!(Albert Whitman, Oct. 2020) and Isabel and Her Colores Go to School(Sleeping Bear Press, 2021). 

You can connect with Alexandra Alessandri on her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

What is a favorite summer memory from your childhood?

My favorite summer memories are from the years I went to Colombia in the summer. We didn’t go every year because we couldn’t afford it, but the years we did go were always spent seeing family and cousins across several cities—Medellín, Manizales, Cali, Bogotá—and farms. Several family members had farms in different towns. Of those, one of my favorite memories is from the year my parents sent me to Colombia on my own to stay with family and close friends. I was nine.

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Alexandra in Colombia visiting family when she was nine years old.

 

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Alexandra riding horses in Colombia when she was nine years old.

There were many adventures that summer, but my favorite consisted of riding in the back of a jeep to my tío’s farm near Manizales, playing with cousins, riding horses to the edge of a forest, hiking down to a creek, and following that to a wonderful lagoon and waterfall. It was such a wonderful time!

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to have and why?

If I wasn’t a writer (or a teacher!), I would be a librarian. I still remember playing librarian as a kid with my dad’s old pencil mic. I would take my library books and “scan” the barcode with the mic, stacking them up and handing them off to my invisible guests. Libraries held a special place in my heart, as I spent many days there with my mom, looking through books, finding nooks in which to read, and participating in library events. Now, I love connecting readers with books and helping them find the right book to foster that same excitement I remember feeling as a child. Being a librarian would be a natural extension of this!

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Courtney Dawson is an illustrator with a great love for drawing, reading, and most kinds of ice cream. She lives with her family in Ventura, California. Picture books she has recently illustrated include Help Wanted, Must Love Books (Capstone, 2020), A Vote is a Powerful Thing (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020), and The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space (Philomel Books, 2021).

You can connect with Courtney Dawson on her website | Instagram

What’s your favorite non-book summer activity?

Spending time with my two kids and my partner is my favorite summertime thing to do! We love riding bikes and having picnics at the park. My favorite alone time activity during the summer though, is drawing outdoors and listening to music.

Thanks, Alexandra and Courtney! I hope you both have a wonderful summer and I wish you all the best with Isabel and Her Colores Go to School!

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You can order signed copies of Isabel and Her Colores Go to School from Books and Books

 

You can find Isabel and Her Colores Go to School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 1 – New Year’s Day Book Birthday of First Day of Unicorn School

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About the Holiday

Starting a new year and discovering a new book make a perfect pair, so I’m happy to be celebrating the book birthday of First Day of Unicorn School by Jess Hernandez and Mariano Epelbaum. Sharing today’s book, which is full of the same kinds of dreams, new experiences, friendships, and even laughs that await kids over the next twelve months, with your kids is a terrific way to start 2021.

Thanks to Capstone Press for sending me a copy of First Day of Unicorn School for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

First Day of Unicorn School

Written by Jess Hernandez | Illustrated by Mariano Epelbaum

 

When the acceptance letter from Unicorn School finally arrived, Milly was thrilled. “Unicorn School taught only the best and the brightest unicorns.” Milly knew she was the “best” and the “brightest,” but Milly also knew that she wasn’t a unicorn—she was “a donkey in a party hat.” While the pictures of her wearing a cone-shaped hat had fooled the admissions counselors, Milly began to worry that the other students would notice something amiss. For a moment, Milly considered staying home. But then she remembered the school’s rainbows, “sparkling fountains…and dragon-taming class.”

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Image copyright Mariano Epelbaum, 2021, text copyright Jess Hernandez, 2021. Courtesy of Capstone Editions.

With her hat firmly in place, Milly confidently entered the gates of Unicorn School on her first day. As Milly looked around at her fellow classmates, she was taken with their sparkly hooves and shiny horns. Just then she bumped into “a big unicorn with a tall horn.” Milly apologized, but with an odd look and a cry of “‘Mooo-ve it!’” the big unicorn stomped away. Milly was so distracted that she ran into a wooly unicorn, collided with a three-horned unicorn, and just got too close to a lumpy unicorn who actually spat at her. They all warned her to stay away with the same unusual expression.

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Image copyright Mariano Epelbaum, 2021, text copyright Jess Hernandez, 2021. Courtesy of Capstone Editions.

Teary-eyed and with her hat slipping sideways, Milly decided to leave school. “She was a donkey. And that’s all she’d ever be.” Then Milly took one last glance back and was shocked to see that all of the unicorns’ “horns were crooked.” She had to know the answer to a very particular question and asked, “‘Are any of you real unicorns?’” The animals hemmed and hawed until one horse finally admitted that his horn was “‘an ice cream cone.’” Then the other animals revealed that they weren’t unicorns either and told how they’d each fashioned their glittery horns. They all had a good laugh together, and Milly realized she’d finally found where she belonged.

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Image copyright Mariano Epelbaum, 2021, text copyright Jess Hernandez, 2021. Courtesy of Capstone Editions.

In her silly and insightful story, Jess Hernandez reveals that readers don’t need to pretend to be something they aren’t in order to be their “best” and “brightest.” She also touches on the prevalent and distorting notion that  beauty is found only within a narrow spectrum or even a single ideal. As Milly comes close to exposing the other animals’ disguises and sets off their harsh rebukes, Hernandez demonstrates that transformations can extend past the physical to affect one’s personalities and the way they treat others. When the animals can be their true selves again, however, they’re able to become friends and create a happy community where all are welcome. For children facing a new experience or worried about fitting in, Hernandez’s story shows them that everyone has the same types of feelings at one time or another.

Mariano Epelbaum’s candy-colored illustrations are a unicorn-lover’s paradise. Milly luxuriates in a room as pink as cotton candy and filled with the fluff and glitz of glamour. Likewise, Unicorn School—with its rainbows, shining stars, manicured grounds, and dragon to be vanquished—has all the trappings of a child’s sweetest daydream. As Milly and the other students trot up the pathway to the school building, kids will love finding and guessing at the false horns on each animal’s head. Epelbaum’s clever variety of headgear will bring plenty of giggles and is sure to inspire kids to create their own horn from household items. The final page reminds readers that they fit in just the way they are, unadorned with pretense.

A light-hearted look at a subject many kids grapple with, First Day of Unicorn School gives children and adults a charming way to talk about being yourself and finding where you fit in, whether it’s at school, sports, or other activities. The book would be a delightful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Capstone Editions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684462797

Discover more about Jess Hernandez and her writing on her website.

To learn more about Mariano Epelbaum, his books, and his art, visit his website.

First Day of Unicorn School Book Birthday Activity

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Unicorn Mask and Coloring Page

 

How do you think it would feel to be a unicorn? Color and cut out this printable unicorn mask, cut out the eyes, and add a string or elastic to pretend to be a unicorn. You can also enjoy coloring this printable unicorn picture. And don’t forget to use plenty of glitter!

Unicorn Mask | Unicorn Coloring Page

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You can find First Day of Unicorn School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookseller, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 7 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of I Got the School Spirit

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About the Holiday

A new book in a favorite series is always something special as is a child’s first day on their school journey. When you put those events together, you get today’s Book Birthday celebration of a beautiful and inspirational story that will have kids enthusiastic to start the new school year – whether they’ll be in a traditional school environment or homeschooled.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing I Got the School Spirit with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

I Got the School Spirit

Written by Connie Schofield-Morrison | Illustrated by Frank Morrison

 

A little girl gets up and stretches, rummages through her drawers for just the right shirt, and smiles throughout brushing her teeth. Why? She says: “Summer is over. / My first day is here. / I got the spirit to start the new school year!” In fact, this girl has a spirited attitude toward the whole day. She laces up the spirit in her new shoes, eats a good breakfast to keep her going until lunchtime, and fills her backpack with enough positivity to last all day.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

At the bus stop, she waits eagerly for the ride to school and, once on the bus, comforts another little girl next to her who isn’t so sure about this new experience. In the classroom, she answers roll call with enthusiasm then sings about the ABCs and 123s with gusto. At lunch she shares an orange with a new friend across the table, and at recess her kick sends the ball soaring.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Back in the classroom and gathered on the rug, the little girl says, “I listen as the spirit weaves a story. / Once upon a time….” When the bell rings at the end of the day, she packs up, rides the bus home, and runs into her mom’s waiting arms for “the spirit in a big ol’ hug. / Squish, Squeeze!” This smart little girl already knows: “The school spirit helps us all strive and grow. / I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn tomorrow!”

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

A new book in Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison’s I Got… series is always a cause for celebration. In her uplifting story of a little girl enjoying her first day of school with a true zest for life, Schofield-Morrison encourages children to find the spirit in each activity and to share their own spirit of kindness and community with others. Heartening feelings of inclusion and openness to new experiences shine on every page, infusing readers with a buoyant optimism and confidence to meet the challenges and opportunities of school. Schofield-Morrison’s storytelling is specially empowering for children who may be hesitant about beginning or returning to school. The jubilant rhythm makes this a perfect read aloud and invites kids to join in on subsequent readings.

As in each book in this series, Frank Morrison’s oil paintings are spectacular representations of home life, friendship, participation, and kids being kids. The little girl and the diverse group of children at the bus stop, flanked by their parents, and in the classroom display a wide range of emotions from casual poses to wide-eyed glee to serious attention to the teacher. At lunch and on the playground, the kids enjoy those well-earned sandwiches and their playtime with expressions that can’t help but make readers smile too. Rich colors, realistic details, and outstanding perspectives, make every page a showstopper that readers will want to linger over.

A must for all kids, whether they’re just beginning their school journey or returning for a new year, I Got the School Spirit will be an often-asked-for favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547602612

You can connect with Connie Schofield-Morrison on Facebook.

To learn more about Frank Morrison, his books, and his art, visit his website.

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You can find I Got the School Spirit at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 8 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

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About the Holiday

The Get Caught Reading campaign was initiated in 1999 by the Association of American Publishers with the idea to promote literacy and language development through reading to children and encouraging them to read on their own. As part of the campaign, posters of celebrities, dignitaries, and even fictional characters enjoying a book are available for schools, libraries, and other organizations to hang where kids will see them. The excitement of reading also takes over social media all month long, which this year is more important than ever. To celebrate this holiday, make sure you stock up on new and favorite books or download ebooks or audiobooks from your library and get caught reading! Learn more by visiting the Get Caught Reading website and the Every Child a Reader website.

I received a copy of Two Tough Trucks from Orchard Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Two Tough Trucks

Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez | Illustrated by Hilary Leung

 

One morning, two trucks are ready “for their first day of class.” But Rig’s “riding the brakes” while Mack’s “hitting the gas.” In their classroom, their teacher Miss Rhodes pairs these two up for a practice run on the track. First up is the circuit, with twists and a hairpin turn. Rig feels shaky, but Mack’s “a speedy red blur.” Mack picks up speed going into the turn and keeps on going, but Rig hits the brakes and skids off the course.

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Next comes learning to downshift while climbing a hill. Mack breezes up as Rig carefully inches along. First to the top, Mack gloats, “‘I knew I was fast.’” And although Rig tried his best he “finished dead last.” Mack thought Rig was just dragging him down. For Rig, Mack just seemed liked a braggart. As he vroomed, Mack fumed and left Rig “in the dust.”

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

The students moved on to practicing backing up. As they moved around traffic cones,  “they veered and corrected, / they turned and reversed. / Rig had good instincts, but Mack was… the worst.” Rig aced the course, but Mack? He was ready to quit until Rig steered him right. “Vroom! Zoom! / They backtracked and bumped. / A Mack making progress, / a Rig feeling pumped!”

Mack was surprised that Rig had helped him, but for Rig it was just the right thing to do. They headed back to the track and took it by storm. These two trucks were “now the fastest of friends.”

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Like life’s road itself, this original story of two trucks with distinct personalities and different strengths has many twists and turns and takes little ones on a multilayered journey of discovery. While Mack is rarin’ to go on his first day of truck school, Rig is more hesitant. When these two are teamed up for the day, Mack’s fast and daring approach to the track seems to be the right one as he nails the sharp curve and is the first to reach the peak of the hill, leaving Rig far behind. These early successes cause him to honk his own horn and complain about Rig.

But then in a clever literal and metaphorical reversal, Rig’s thoughtful restraint makes backing up his forte. In Mack’s reaction to being last, Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca Gomez gently ramp up life lessons about perseverance and losing gracefully. Rig then goes on to demonstrate another winning trait in his generosity to teach Mack the finer points of driving in reverse. Mack’s acceptance of Rig’s kindness shows that the experience has taught him to be humble. Kudos to Miss Rhodes for creating a track that leads to strong bonds and friendship.

A book by Schwartz and Gomez always charms with smart rhyming and jaunty rhythms and Two Tough Trucks is no exception. Ingenious puns, evocative and active vocabulary, and plenty of “vrooms” and “zooms” for kids to chime in on make this book a lively read aloud.

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Hilary Leung’s textured and boldly colored pages will thrill little readers as Mack and Rig take center stage on the dusty, western track. Mack’s confidence shows in his straight, crisp lines and grinning grill while Rig’s wariness takes the form of wobbly tires, bent frame, furrowed brow, and grimacing grill. Fittingly, the Truck School building is shaped like a parking garage, complete with a spiral ramp that takes students to the second and third story. Cacti, roadrunners, and craggy rock formations dot the sun-drenched desert track where Mack, Rig, and the rest of the students strut their stuff.

A joy to read out loud and a story kids will want to hear again and again, Two Tough Trucks is highly recommended for home bookshelves, preschool and kindergarten classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 5

Orchard Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338236545

Discover more about Corey Rosen Schwartz and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rebecca J. Gomez and her books, visit her website.

To view a portfolio of work by Hilary Leung and learn more about his work, visit her website.

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Racing for Friendship Game

 

Here’s a racing game that kids will love! With poster board, paper, and chalk or other art supplies, kids can place their track in a city, the country, the desert, or even in outer space! Once the scene is ready, get out your own toy cars or trucks to play with or use the printable truck game pieces included below. Use a traditional playing die or the included printable 8-sided playing die. The first player to the finish line wins—or shake it up a bit and make the last person to the line the winner.

The track can be laid out on the floor and taped in place or created on poster board or paper with the supplies below:

Supplies

  • Poster board or tri-fold display board. I used a 12-inch by 4-foot section of a tri-fold board in my example. This allows you to fold up the board for easier storing.
  • White paper
  • Chalk, crayons, or colored pencils
  • Glue or tape
  • Scissors
  • Toy trucks or cars
  • Printable Truck Game Pieces (optional)
  • Printable 8-sided Playing Die

Directions

  1. Cut 30 4- or 5-inch by 1½-inch strips from the white paper
  2. Have kids lay out a track on the board using the white paper strips (each strip is one space) leaving room in between the rows for scenery
  3. Glue or tape the strips in place
  4. Draw scenery around the track OR cut trees, buildings, landmarks, or other scenery from paper and color. Glue or tape to board. 
  5. Print and assemble 8-sided playing die with tape (optional)
  6. Give each player a toy truck or car. Alternately, print and cut out included Truck Game Pieces. (To make them sturdier, print on heavy paper or glue them to cardboard)
  7. Choose a player to go first
  8. Players take turns rolling the die and moving the appropriate number of spaces
  9. The first (or last) player to the finish line is the winner

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You can find Two Tough Trucks at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

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Vroom and zoom with Mack and Rig in Two Tough Trucks Get Lost!, a new  adventure coming on September 1! You can preorder it here

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound