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Guest Blogger: "Squeeze Play" Author Cal Ripken, Jr.

Squeeze-playWith the start of a new baseball season, kids are hitting the field and parents are taking to the stands. In Squeeze Play, Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. coaches kids--and their parents--on being good sports.

Growing up, my dad was a manager of minor league teams in the Orioles' organization and as a result, we were exposed to the game in a unique way. Most people believe that Dad stood over us and created young ball players. The opposite was actually true. He was there for us but never pushed, and while he was on the road with the team, it was Mom who took us to practice and watched most of our games. And she, like Dad, was very supportive; never the kind of parent who took the joy out of the game.

In my most recent book, Squeeze Play, we were able to take a look at the role parents and mentors play, and how their response in the stands and off the field could negatively affect their kids and teammates. 

So many times, parents overreact to everything that happens, the positive and the negative. 

I believe in a simpler approach. Kids notice all of their parent's actions at their games, so while it can be challenging, I would encourage parents to react to all things on the field the same way and minimize the highs and lows. 

In Squeeze Play, the goal was to make parents aware of how some of their responses in the stands affect their kids and teammates. I also wanted to give the kids ideas about how to deal with that. Confiding in your coach or another adult could help you deal with these types of situations. 

Let me stress that the vast majority of parents who behave this way don't realize what they're doing, and most have the best intentions. Once they are made aware, they want to change their behavior and depressurize the situation for their children. 

Another issue I am often asked about is specialization and when kids should focus on one sport. 

I'm an advocate of kids developing by playing multiple sports. There are mental and physical advantages to playing other sports. 

Mentally, you don't get burned out if you're not doing the same thing over and over again. New sports keep you fresh and give you different challenges. Physically, you can develop your athleticism by having other sports challenge your athleticism differently.

I played soccer in high school and, looking back, I believe it kept me in great shape and developed my hand/eye coordination. Putting the glove down for a while always allowed me to maintain my love of the game and avoid burn out.

Encourage your kids in sports; let them have fun, and the rest will take care of itself. 

Fred Bowen: Why I Write About Sports

TheperfectgameFred Bowen, author of the All-Star Sports series and most recently, Perfect Game, explains why sports are an ideal subject for young readers.

As the author of 18 sports books for kids, I sometimes get asked the question, “Are you just going to write about sports?” The question implies that sports are lightweight subjects for a book, even a kids’ book. But it seems to me that sports are a perfect subjects for kids. Here’s why.

First, like music, art, and drama, people have been interested in sports and athletic achievements for thousands of years. The Greeks had their Olympics, and the Romans had their gladiators and chariot races.

When friends return from visiting Rome, I’ll often ask, mischievously, whether they visited “the ballpark.” When they ask what I mean, I say, “the Colosseum.” After all, the Colosseum was a ballpark.

That rich history is why I include a chapter of sports history in every one of my books. It gives my young readers the feeling that their teams and games are part of something that has been going on for a long, long time.

Second, sports are something kids really do. Kids don’t usually solve mysteries, go on fantastic adventures, or practice wizardry. But kids play sports.

When I visit schools to talk on the writing process, I always ask, “Who plays sports?”  So many hands go up that I have had to change my presentation slightly to make sure no one feels left out. Now I always add, “I’m sure the kids who don’t play on a team play something on the playground or after school.”

A recent survey by the National Federation of High School Associations determined that participation in high school athletics went up for the twenty-fourth consecutive year. The bottom line is that playing sports has become as common as owning a pet or taking music lessons, so it seems a natural subject for kids’ books. And a great way to get reluctant readers reading.

Third, sports are the place where many kids tackle some important issues, such as fairness. Nothing quite teaches the history of America’s troubled racial past like the story of Jackie Robinson. Kids sense how unfair it was that a terrific player was kept off the field just because of the color of his skin.

Sports are also the place where many kids ask themselves what they are willing to do to win. In my books Winners Take All and Touchdown Trouble, the characters must decide whether they will win by cheating or taking advantage of a referee’s mistake, respectively. These are not easy questions because we live in a competitive culture that admires winners.

Finally, kids’ books should allow readers to explore their feelings and emotions. Those feelings and emotions are present in sports. Being on teams and playing games force kids to deal directly with the joy of winning and the disappointment of losing. Playing their games, kids have to sort through many conflicting and confusing feelings.

For example, some kids may be jealous of a teammate or friend who is better than they are at a sport. Or figure out how they can help their team even though they are not going to be the big star. Sometimes kids who play sports have to learn the most painful lesson of all: that you can try your hardest and things still won’t turn out as you had hoped.

History, high interest, important issues, and raw emotions. Sports is such a rich and fertile subject, I can’t understand why people ask, “Are you just going to write about sports?” I think the question should be why aren’t more kids writers writing about sports?

Duck & Goose's Coastal Vacation

In the latest Duck & Goose book, Duck & Goose Go to the Beach, out on April 8, the feathered friends embark on a seaside adventure. Check out exclusive, unused artwork from the book courtesy of author Tad Hills.

Here's an early painting of Duck & Goose without their sun hats, and a final one with their sun hats. Author Tad Hills created a few early paintings of Duck & Goose hatless, but then decided that adding hats would give the characters a distinctly beachy look. After all, everyone needs a sun hat at the beach—even a duck and a goose!   Duck and goose no hats

Nine Pieces of Life Advice from the Mole Sisters

It's never too early to learn about the simple things in life. Rosyln Schwartz's iconic duo offers advice for young readers.

Step away from the noise of everyday life and rekindle the magic of childlike wonder. Take a moment to savor these words from the lovable Mole Sisters, who have truly perfected the art of simple pleasures.                                                           

1. Sometimes life gives you what you need.


2. Practice gratitude.                              3. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions.

5-practical                 6-dontbeafraid


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Double the Research, Double the Fun!

Graphic novelist Nathan Hale talks about his experience with the research behind books, don't let the cartoony nature of these Hazardous Tales fool you!

The first time I did historical research for a graphic novel wasn't for a Hazardous Tales book--it was for a fairy tale: Rapunzel's Revenge, written by Newbery Honor author, Shannon Hale, and her husband, Dean. This wasn't a standard re-telling of the fairy tale; it was a re-boot--heavy on the boot, because it took place in the Old West.

Even though our Old West was a fantasy kingdom, I wanted it to look and feel authentic. I looked at costumes, buildings, carts, firearms, and scenery, and then incorporated that visual research into the drawings. That dash of period-correct detail went a long way towards making the world of Rapunzel's Revenge feel like a real place.

The sequel, Calamity Jack, required even more visual research. That book was set in a turn-of-the-century American city that had been destroyed by giants. Now, obviously, I didn't have access to any cities destroyed by giants. I did, however, find a wealth of amazing photos of turn-of-the-century American cities in ruins. Giants? No--Fire: the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, or Earthquake: the San Francisco Quake of 1906. These photos were fascinating. One book in particular, The Earth Shook Sky Burned: A Photographic Record of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, by William Bronson, became my go-to book for Calamity Jack scenery.

San Francisco was nearly wiped off the map in 1906. 3,000 people died! I would stop drawing for hours and get lost in the photos and accounts. This was where the idea of doing historical nonfiction graphic novels first started to appeal to me.

What I didn't realize was just how much research would be required. When researching a historical graphic novel, you have to research your subject matter twice: once for the facts, then again for the visuals. 

Amulet, the publisher of the Hazardous Tales series, employs a very strict fact-checker. This guy is serious. If he sees an error in my manuscript, he lets me know--in angry red pen. I go back and double-check my sources, re-write the offending passages, and fix, fix, fix, until that fact-checker is happy. But that's just the first half. Then I have to draw all of these historical scenes. So it's back to the research.

In some ways, One Dead Spy, the first Hazardous Tales book, was the easiest for visual research, because it was pre-photography. I was able to just make up what many of the key characters looked like. Nathan Hale himself (the hero of that book, and the narrator of the series) had no official portrait. The images and statues we see of him today are romanticized versions of written accounts.

The Reeds, the main characters of Donner Dinner Party, have remarkable portraits. My cartoon versions of them had to match the photos. Researching the scenery of the Donner journey was easy for me. I live in Utah, close to the original route. 

I just finished the fourth Hazardous Tales book: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood (A World War I Tale). That one was the most difficult research assignment yet. Getting all of the uniforms, guns, tanks, helmets, etc., for each of the countries involved was a monster. I spent a day making sure each army's shovels were the right shovels. That book comes out this May.

The books may look cartoony, the facts may be interrupted by jokes, but everything in a Hazardous Tales book has been researched, fact-checked, then researched again. Double the research, double the fun!


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The Boy Who Read Books

EmpressofthesunEmpress of the Sun author Ian McDonald reflects on an adolescence immersed in literature.

I was always the different kid. The one you couldn’t place in the sports team. The one who didn’t watch what you watched, who listened to different music. Who trawled shops looking for comics–which were rare treasure when I was a kid, growing up just outside Belfast. I was the Boy who Read Books.

I had allies. A family friend realised that I had a hungry imagination. She gave the Moomins, The Phantom Tollbooth, the 35th of May, the Uncle books. My Dad bought me Spiderman on the understanding that he got to read it after me. My primary school had a book club. There I discovered Alan Garner’s fantasies, and Arthur C. Clarke. An English teacher spent a year working us through Irish and Nordic mythology. Our library had a good science fiction sectio--Victor Gollancz put out their SF in yellow jackets. I worked my way along the yellow spines.

I loved science fiction–it opened up a larger universe to me. I grew up by the sea, and the horizon is very real there: the line where the sky and sea seem to meet. The place beyond which you can’t see. I always wanted to know what it was like beyond that line. Science fiction looked beyond the horizon. There were wonderful things there.

I loved television: the old Gerry Anderson series Stingray, Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5. Dr Who, Star Trek, Lost in Space, Blakes Seven. There was so little then I gobbled up whatever I could find. I’m sure if anime had existed then, I would have loved it too. I might well have vanished into gaming forever. But for me, the pure stuff, the stuff that fired the imagination, was on the page. Worlds! In my head! Mine in the way that images on a screen weren’t. Because I made them out of words.

And now I write.

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Excerpt: "The Blood Guard" by Carter Roy

The-blood-guardCarter Roy kicks off a new middle grade adventure series with The Blood Guard. In it, thirteen-year-old Ronan Truelove discovers his seemingly ordinary parents are anything but as he embarks on a journey to protect the Pure, a group of 36 nobles whose safety is crucial to the well-being of the world. 

Get a taste for what's in store with this excerpt of chapters 1-3. Then, log into Facebook and enter for your chance to win The Blood Guard prize pack including a Kindle Paperwhite, the Kindle edition of The Blood Guard, and a custom Paperwhite Cover. Giveaway ends 03/20/14 at 11:59pm. No purchase necessary. See official rules.

Tom Angleberger on "Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue!"

Princess-labelmakerTom Angleberger introduces Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue!, the latest book in the Origami Yoda series.

The Origami Yoda series has been moving toward a climactic moment and I can’t wait for readers to finally get there.

Since the first book, Origami Yoda has been dispensing Jedi wisdom to the students of McQuarrie Middle School. And, even though he is only a finger puppet, it’s been really, really wise wisdom. If he gives you advice, it turns out to be great advice. If he predicts the future, his predictions come true.

This, of course, leads the students to wonder if he truly is only a finger puppet.

Origami Yoda battles mean kids, grumpy teachers, gross food, multiple embarrassing situations, and even a Darth Paper puppet.

But then comes an enemy too big even for Origami Yoda: standardized testing. It’s not so much the tests as the year-long mania that goes with them. Everything—art class, the band, the school play, the field trip—must take a backseat to “test prep.”

So, in The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett, Origami Yoda calls for a rebellion. He tells the kids to come together and fight the test. They each make their own puppet—Foldy Wan Kenobi, Luke Skypaper, a whole tribe of Ewoks—and they take a stand.

But…It ended in a cliffhanger!

Sorry about that, everybody! There was just too much to cram into one book.

But now, at last, I get to tell you the rest of the story in the latest book, Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue!

Origami Yoda is certainly wise. And Foldy Wan, Han Foldo, Luke Skyfolder, and the rest are certainly brave. But let’s face it: They weren’t getting the job done.

They’re going to need some help from The Princess.

Why is she named Princess Labelmaker? Well, remember those old school labelmakers, where you dial in a letter, squeeze the handgrip, and crank out a stick-on label that says “Oregano” or something like that? (Look it up on if you don’t remember.)

Not only is a labelmaker useful for labeling your spice rack, it’s also a great way to send SECRET MESSAGES. (No handwriting to decipher and much more portable than a computer printer.)

Someone is using one of these labelmakers to send messages to Principal Rabbski. And that person is telling her all the secrets of the Rebellion! Could Princess Labelmaker be a spy and a traitor? Or is she something else entirely… like maybe a hero?

Who is behind these messages? And who exactly is being rescued? Is the Princess really fighting the tests or just getting everybody in bigger trouble than ever?

“Read the book you must!”

Chris Rylander on His Favorite Spy Stories for Kids

The-fourth-stallChris Rylander, author of The Fourth Stall saga, recommends stories for kids featuring agents and espionage.

There’s just something captivating about spies. It likely has a lot to do with the inherent and relentless danger of their trade, or perhaps it’s the allure of pretending to be someone else as a profession. Whatever the reason, I will always be naturally drawn toward spy stories. Here are some of my personal favorites.

The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity (Brixton Brothers) by Mac Barnett The book both perfectly lampoons and captures the adventure and excitement of being an amateur sleuth. It’s wacky, clever, hilarious, and of course contains a whole lot of spying and sneaking around in disguise. Its lightning pace and constant hilarity will keep even reluctant readers up way past bedtime. (And it also just might generate a new wave of amateur detectives in the process.)

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh No spy book list could be a credible spy book list without containing Harriet the Spy, right? This is the book that did it first and the best, while highlighting the real dangers of being a middle school spy: making and keeping real friends. Classics become classics because they transcend things like generational differences and reluctant readers. This is a book that any reader at any age would have a seriously hard time putting down. Plus, I will always love books with atypical protagonists as astute and brashly honest as Harriet.

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak Not all great spy books are necessarily about “spies.” Some of the best and most intriguing spy work is sometimes done by ordinary people pulled into the world of sleuthing by extraordinary circumstances. This is one of my favorite books and it includes incredible mysteries, a lot of humor, and some great detective work by the seemingly hopeless protagonist, Ed Kennedy. I was hooked from page one, and I suspect almost any reluctant reader would be also. After all, who could resist a book that opens with a bank robbery?

Spy School by Stuart Gibbs This book is simply an example of a great, action-packed, good old-fashioned spy book. From the moment Ben Ripley is recruited by the CIA to come to their Spy Academy, the reader is drawn in to a world filled with quirky characters, humor, and all the classic spy tropes. What helps this stand out even more is that unlike most spy stories, with unrealistically suave one-dimensional heroes, Ben has real depth and is far from the perfect secret agent candidate. And that only makes the reader want to root for him even more.

Kids' Characters to Inspire a Love of Reading

FranklinIt's National Reading Month--the perfect time to dive into a new series. Here are a few favorite children’s book characters young readers will be glad to get to know.

Meet Franklin, Edward, the Berenstain Bears, and the Mole Sisters. These wonderful friends, by turns gentle, funny, fearful, and optimistic, experience events that young readers encounter every day. These characters will introduce your new reader to worlds filled with fun, adventure, challenges, friendship—worlds they will come back to again and again. These short, sweet stories are just the right length to capture the imagination of a new reader without being overwhelming. Once hooked, kids won’t be able to resist reading all the adventures in each series.

From confronting his fear of the dark to planning what to get his mother for her birthday, Franklin shares the kind of experiences that so many preschoolers face. In this bundle of Franklin in the Dark, Franklin Says I Love You, and Franklin and the Thunderstorm, he shows readers that it’s okay to be scared or concerned, and that with a little help from friends and family, a happy ending is never far away.

Did You Know? Even though their language skills may be improving dramatically, preschoolers still rely on facial experssions, tone of voice, and gestures to help them understand things.

Edward Almost Ready
Edward is a little bear who shares with many preschoolers the fear of trying something new. His supportive parents offer him sandwiches, cinnamon toast, and bedtime stories to make him feel better and more secure. In Edward Almost Goes to School, young readers will be reassured that not everyone is ready for things at the same time.

Did You Know? There are a number of things parents can do to prepare children for the first day of school: taking your child to visit the classroom and meet the teacher; having a playdate with one of the other children who will be attending the school; providing a transitional object, like a favorite blanket or teddy bear or even a story so the teacher can read it; and giving lots of reassurance that "Mommy's coming back" or "Daddy's coming back."

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