Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Oh, Dear, the Universe Is Friendly

A little inspiration for you & me! • © Jane Smith


Super Star Children's Book Reviews: My Life As An Ice Cream Sandwich

Welcome to the monthly children’s book review feature with a focus on diverse books here at Bird Meets Worm! My team of reviewers—Joan Charles, Laurie L. Young, Sarah Orgill—and I are so excited to be championing books celebrating everything from gender diversity, people of color, the LGBTQ community to ethnic, cultural and religious minorities, people with disabilities and developmental challenges to controversial topics, unique family situations and anything and everything I did not include. It is to say we take a rightfully broad view of diversity! We aim to shine a light on books that bring both familiar experiences to those who do not often see themselves represented in books and new experiences to those looking to expand their worldview. Here at Bird Meets Worm we believe in the power of story to build empathy and thus a better world for you and me and everyone. Look for a new review on the second Wednesday of every month.


By Ibi Zoboi • Jacket Art by Frank Morrison • Jacket Design by Kristin Boyle
Middle Grade (ages 10-13) • 336 pages
Published by Puffin Books • 2020
ISBN 978-0-3991-8736-0

In 1984, twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet Freeman has an active imagination, an adventurer's spirit and a deep love for everything to do with space—including Star Trek, Star Wars, and her grandfather. Jeremiah Norfleet was one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA in the 1960's at the Marshall Space Flight Center and has helped raise his granddaughter with stories about the missions he's worked on. Together, they create their own science fictions, where she is E-Grace Starfleet, Space Cadet, and he is the wise Captain Fleet, aboard the Mothership Uhura, fighting the Sonic King on Planet Boombox.

But when trouble arises for her grandfather, Ebony-Grace is sent to a place that might as well be on another planet: New York City, which is the exact opposite of the small-town, Huntsville, Alabama home where she has grown up. Ebony-Grace hasn't seen her father or been to Harlem for a visit in five years. But when a week turns into a whole summer, Ebony-Grace has to find her way on this confusing planet, make friends with the neighborhood kids she sees nothing in common with, and try to understand the dark cloud hanging over her grandfather.

This is a perfect book. The writing is rich and full of all the sights and sounds of New York City, and Ebony-Grace is a character whom readers will instantly love and root for. Her wild imagination is brought to life in comic-book style illustrations that make you want to fight the Sonic King alongside her.

Buy this book:

Reviewed by: Laurie L. Young

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Super Star Interviews: Jess Keating

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I'm tickled pumpkin pie orange to be catching up with the fabulously talented, award-winning author, cartoonist AND zoologist Jess Keating!
 Her adorable NEW graphic novel series, Bunbun & Bonbon, launched this fall and it couldn't be more exciting! Jess has been featured in the New York Times, CBC, BuzzFeed, Parents Magazine and more. She is the creator of over a dozen fiction and non-fiction books, including Shark Lady, Eat Your Rocks and Croc! You can enjoy more of her work here.

Q: Your NEW young graphic novel series, Bunbun & Bonbon, launched with Scholastic in September! (Congratulations! So exciting!) Give us the full scoop on this adorably sweet & funny project: how you came to be writing & illustrating it, your working relationship with your publisher & what you love best about it all!

A: Thank you so much! It's truly a dream to share Bunbun & Bonbon with readers. The character of Bunbun has been in my head since I was a little girl, so it feels extra special to work on these books. If there was one word to personify the characters of Bunbun & Bonbon, it would be 'joy.' They are two delightfully curious and kind-hearted friends who love to explore their world, make each other laugh and experience the sheer joy of being alive. Everyone needs an adventure buddy, and I wrote Bunbun & Bonbon for every kid who needs a friend and a smile.

Speaking of joy, the icing on the cake to this sweet series is working with the incredible team at Graphix Books! At every turn, I've been amazed by their talent, humor and brilliance. I hope we can make many more books together!

(Psst! You can order your own copy of Bunbun & Bonbon today here:)

Ooo!!! Isn't Bunbun is cutest?!

Q: You've previously worked on a wide variety of children's book projects—picture books, fiction & non-fiction as well as middle grade novels! (Wowza!) Dish with us a bit about how your new venture into young graphic novels has been both similar and different from your previous book work.

A: You got me! One of my favorite parts about being an author is challenging myself and exploring different ways of telling stories and sharing what matters to me. Fiction and non-fiction aren't usually housed in the same place in libraries, but to me, they're very similar: both are ways of asking and answering questions about what's important to us. They just have a different process to do so.

I've always loved graphic novels and comics, and a lifetime of loving the format has been built right into my bones. The work of writing is always a challenge, but being able to harness both visual and textual elements to tell a story feels very empowering to me! Every format translates into a different writing experience, but comics in particular feels rather like juggling several plates while balancing on a unicycle. There is a lot of information to convey, and it always takes me a moment to flip into "comics mode," if I've been writing prose earlier that day!

And so it begins...(exciting!)

Q: Your background as a zoologist has been a common thread through all your children's book work, both fiction and non-fiction alike! How has it influenced your latest series, Bunbun & Bonbon?

A: My background in science and zoology has influenced so much of who I've become creatively, and I always infuse a great deal of my views on nature and the world into my work. Bunbun & Bonbon really personify my joy and awe of the natural world—they're open, curious and filled with excitement over their next adventure together. If that isn't the perfect recipe for a scientist, I don't know what is!

Above all, I want this duo to represent the possibilities and sense of wonder that we all experience when we see something beautiful and meaningful. To me, that what science—and life—is all about.

I wish my candy would talk to me!!!

Q: Tell us a bit about your typical workday as a creative professional—routines, rituals & practical practices. Set the scene for us, too—what does your creative workspace look & feel like?

A: My typical workday changes based on my deadlines and other commitments, but usually I begin the day by working out and getting out into some fresh air, if possible. I'm a huge fan of fitness and have found that my creativity suffers (not to mention my back!) when I don't stay active. Once I'm feeling awake, I split my time between working on new projects, creating extra content for readers and fellow creatives, and fielding all of the extra little bits of author life that pop up. I truly love what I do, so I often have to pull myself away to maintain some small semblance of balance in my life. I love that feeling of slipping into the flow of making books.

My workspace is a combination of digital and traditional outlets, with lots of mementos from nature mixed in with sketchbooks, paints, pens and my trustly iPad. I like to be surrounded by reminders of the outside world, so I often collect shells, rocks, animal skulls and the like, which all find their way around my desk. These objects are also handy as standby show-and-tell moments for virtual school visits.

SO fun! What a perfectly adorable beginner's comic!

Q: You are passionate about helping others tap into their creativity! You live this passion through the books you create, the classes you teach and the virtual pep talks you give. What are your top 3 best most super star tips for staying creative during these strange times we are all living thru?

A: Sharing the ins and outs of creative living never gets old to me, and I'm fortunate to have so many talented people in my life to join in. My top three tips to tap into your creativity would be:

1) Don't wait for anyone to give you permission! Most people know when they're having an intuitive hunch to begin exploring something creative, but often, we talk ourselves out of it. If you feel a yearning to create anything, go for it and don't expect permission from anyone but yourself.

2) Embrace your weird! This goes double for your interest! In our online world, it's very easy to compare ourselves to others and wish that we were different from what we really are. But those differences truly are the key to finding your creative voice. All that stuff that makes you weird? Lean into it! Not only will it separate you from a crowd, but you'll also feel immense relief to not be forcing yourself into a box that doesn't work for you.

3) Be intentional and get it on paper. This works for literally every creative problem you could be having. If you need help finding time for creativity, write it down and ask out loud for help. If you're not sure what to do next, write it down and ask out loud for help. No matter what you're dealing with, being specific and deliberate is the key. This isn't magical thinking—this is getting your brain on board with your goals. It works! (For more on this process, readers can download my free creativity minibook online here!)

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: My most perfect Sunday would be spent on a boat in Arctic waters with orca whales spyhopping beside me! I was fortunate enough to see these creatures on a trip to Iceland a couple years ago and it's stuck with me ever since. (Plus, can you tell I'm ready for cooler weather?!) I'd love to spend a day in nature like this with a sketchbook and hot cocoa beside me.

Thank you so much for having me, Jane! As always, people can reach out to me on Twitter @Jess_Keating or Instagram @JessKeatingBooks—I'd love to hear about your creative projects and goals! Take care, all!

My pleasure! Thank you, Jess, for chatting it up with us here at Bird Meets Worm! Congratulations on your fabulous new series, Bunbun & Bonbon! Hooray!

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Happy Book Birthday to Hello, New House

I'm thrilled to share that my NEW picture book, Hello, New House, releases today with publisher Albert Whitman & Company! It is now available EVERYWHERE books are sold!!! Hooray! Happy reading!

Shop Hello, New House here: