Friday, November 13, 2015

Children's Book Review: Paper Moon, Written by RM Hedgcoth, Illustrated by Tony Tibbits

Storyline: 5.0 Stars
Illustrations: 5.0 Stars

Cover: 5.0 
Total: 5.0 Stars
Book Review: Paper Moon presents the phases of the moon in successful rhyme (which is difficult to do!), with a parable about a moon who slowly tires and then wakes.

Storyline: Moon falls asleep to the lullaby of the Milky Way, and we see him wax and wane according to his sleepiness. Fun parable to introduce the concepts of the phases of the moon. Simple text suitable for young children, such lush illustrations that all ages will enjoy this book. 5 stars

Illustrations: Wow! These illustrations are gorgeous. Full of color, with a little mystery and adding so much to the simple story. 5 stars

Total: An enthusiastic 5 stars


Rachel Hedgcoth and Tony Tibbits are actually brother and sister! They agreed to an interview, see below.


VH: How did you come up with this book idea?
RH: I actually wrote Paper Moon years ago for a bedtime story contest. In hindsight, it is fortunate I did not win (or even place!) in the contest because eventually my brother and I joined forces to create this eBook ourselves! This book is a gift I will always treasure, and I am so grateful to my brother for adding such visual dimension to my little story.

VH: Is astronomy an interest of yours?
RH: I have always been fascinated by the moon. I love the sea, weather and animals. I am part Native American, and sometimes I wonder if that is why I am inspired by the natural world on so many levels.

VH: If you were a planet, which would you be?
RH: Actually, I would not be a planet. I would have to be the moon … because I am continually mesmerized by its ever-changing hypnotic charm.

VH: What are three favorite children's books?
RH: It is crazy impossible for me to choose only three, but I love Arnold Lobel’s “Frog and Toad” books, Maurice Sendak’s classic tales and anything by Mo Willems.


VH: What are three favorite books?
RH: I love anything by Stephen King. But at the other end of that spectrum, I am a forever fan of Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary.

Currently, I am reading a book by Liane Moriarty. My love of the written word spans a diverse range. I pretty much am addicted to books of all breeds. 

VH: Who is an author that has influenced you?
RH: I draw inspiration from children’s writers of yesterday and today. I love the silliness and simplicity of Dr. Seuss, the gentle honesty of Arnold Lobel, R.L. Stine’s ability to thrill and humor simultaneously, and of course Maurice Sendak’s brilliant imagination. I strive to soak up wisdom from these and other phenomenal authors and aspire to create stories of my own that children will enjoy.

VH: What advice do you have for budding children's authors?
RH: As someone who is still navigating that journey myself, my advice is to read, read and write from the heart! You’ll feel it in your soul when you have created something special.


VH: What is your medium for this book?
TT: Illustrations for this book were all created with Photoshop using brushes, filters and layering effects. Some original textures were created by scanning torn paper and layering.

VH: How did you get your colors so brilliant?
TT: Really just experimenting. I wanted the colors to evoke the mood of the words and change as the moon slowly fell asleep! Magic happens when words and images blend to create something beautiful.

VH: Who are artists who've influenced your work?
TT: I’ve been doing commercial graphic design for nearly 20 years. I’ve designed just about every printed and digital item there is! If I had to name my top influences, they would be Paul Rand, Storm Thorgerson and Stefan Sagmeister. Although my work is nothing like or even close to the level of work they have done. I admire them greatly for their ability to distill complex concepts into pure and simple communication. These designers are true artists in my eyes.

VH: How did you get started in illustration?
TT: I wouldn’t even call myself a proper illustrator. My passion is graphic design and I tend to like a bold graphic style. I try not to put too much pressure on myself in comparing my work to “real” illustrators. When the opportunity arises and I feel like it’s something I can accomplish and be proud of, I do it. I’ve really enjoyed the freedom of interpreting Rachael’s words and having complete freedom to put it together. We speak the same language.

VH: What advice do you have for budding illustrators?
TT: My advice is the commercial creative world can be a tough career. Budgets can be low, deadlines are short and you are expected to work miracles at every turn. I would recommend using your talents to create products that you can sell yourself. I’m a huge entrepreneur and love the freedom and reward of working for yourself. The less people between your vision and the customer, the better! It’s never been easier to start your own business.

VH: Who are three favorite children's book illustrators?
TT: I really like Mo Willems, Clement Hurd (who illustrated Goodnight Moon) and recently found Frank Viva, who has a great flat graphical illustration style and is incredibly talented.

For more information on Paper Moon and author RM Hedgcoth and illustrator Tony Tibbitts, check them out on this author page, iTunes, and Facebook.

~Valerie Harmon, Children Book Reviewer

Friday, November 6, 2015

Children's eBook Review: Momster, Written by Laura Jensen-Kimball, Illustrated by Peter Mahr

Storyline: 5.0 Stars
Illustrations: 5.0 Stars

Cover: 5.0 
Total: 5.0 Stars

Book Review: 
When son doesn't obey after several requests--uh oh, out comes Momster. Only a hug and apology will restore his Mom!

Storyline: This story is a morality tale encouraging children to obey their Mom on the first request. After asking several times, Moms tend to turn into Momsters! Although none of us Moms like to be reminded of the times we get mad at our children, the pattern of a child giving a hug, offering an apology and wanting to do better, is a pattern we want our children to learn. And this story explains and demonstrates the pattern in a funny way.

Illustrations: The illustrations are colorful and professional and add to the drama of the story.
5 stars

Author Laura Jensen-Kimball: 
Laura Jensen-Kimball is a mother of four children, a registered nurse, and author of the children's picture book, Momster. This is her first children's book, although she has six more she is preparing for publication.

Kimball was inspired to write after her youngest child was diagnosed with a speech delay. Books were a common tool used in improving his speech. She creates books with a touch of humor she feels both parent and child will enjoy.

What is the message in this book? Kimball believes the "most important message in Momster is how powerful an apology can be.  After mom morphs into a momster, it is through forgiveness that she alters back into her delightful self.  Through mother’s transformation, a lesson is learned and an alliance is formed.  Any book titled Momster should evoke a little well-placed fear in the heart of the reader."

Illustrator Peter Mahr:
Momster is illustrated by Peter Mahr. Mahr is from Budapest, Hungary and has illustrated many children's books. He uses software from the Adobe suite and also enjoys freehand illustration.

Want to know more? Click here for Kimball's website, or here to see Momster on Amazon.

~Valerie Harmon, Children's Book Reviewer 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Children's Author and Illustrator Interview: El Perro Con Sombrero, Written by Derek Taylor Kent, Illustrated by Jed Henry

Storyline: 5.0 Stars
Illustrations: 5.0 Stars
Cover: 5.0 
Total: 5.0 Stars
Summary: Pepe is a lonely dog whose life changes drastically when a sombrero lands on his head. But what he really wants is a family. Would he trade his sombrero wealth for a real family?

Storyline: This story is adorable and speaks to the heart. A rags to riches story, however the story ends emphasizing the importance of a loving family over the kind of life wealth alone can bring. Just what a parent wants to read to their children! Plus, it's written in both English and Spanish! 5 stars

Illustrations: The illustrations are bright and as peppy as Pepe. They add a lot to the story and are very enjoyable. Read all the way to the end for more details on Jed Henry, the talented illustrator. 5 stars

Author Interview with Derek Taylor Kent, followed by an Illustrator interview with Jed Henry:
Author Derek Taylor Kent
Illustrator Jed Henry

Author Interview:

Valerie Harmon: Why did you choose to write a bilingual book?

Derek Taylor Kent: In my travels around California promoting my middle-grade series Scary School, I found that there are many schools out there that are becoming officially dual immersion in both English and Spanish, and a huge portion of my Scary School audience were Latino kids, yet they had very little representation in the children's book market. With that in mind, I happened to be dating a Nicaraguan girl named Gabriela a few years back who also had a wonderful dog, and somehow the phrase "El Perro con Sombrero" popped into my head and it became a running joke with us. Well, we broke up, but afterward I got my own dog whose hilarious antics had me laughing all day. Inspired by my new pup, I turned the El Perro con Sombrero idea into a reality and Gabriela was kind enough to translate it into Spanish. Plus I finally had a book that I felt was very badly needed in the Spanish-speaking community so prevalent in California and elsewhere.

VH: What are three of your favorite children's books?

DTK: Among picture Books: If I Ran the Circus by Dr. Suess, Animal House by Candace Ryan,   and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

As for Chapter Books: The Harry Potter series, Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar, and Shark Wars by EJ Altbacker.

VH: How did you connect with your illustrator?

DTK: I didn't have to! The publisher hires the illustrator and works with their art director in creating the illustrations. Luckily, they did a fantastic job!

VH: What are three of your favorite books over all?

DTKHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.

What advice do you have for people who want to write children's books?

Do tons and tons of research. Read all the reference guides on not only how to write for children but how to pitch it to agent and publishers and eventually how to market them. If possible, try to have an original concept and make it funny!

VH: How did you get published with Holt/MacMillan?

DTK: I have a great agent named Eric Myers, who discovered me back from my first middle-grade novels and got those rolling, but we had been unable to sell my first few picture books. I sent him El Perro con Sombrero and it just seemed to connect right away. There were offers from several publishers, all of whom had different ideas on how they would create and market it. Holt seemed like the best fit. I've also been a fan of everything Holt has done and my author friends have had great experiences with them, so I was thrilled to be able to work with them.

VH: What do you do to market your books?

DTK: I do a crazy amount of marketing, which seems to astonish all the other authors out there.

When my first book came out I hired a book publicist. That was VERY expensive, but I learned what they did and realized if I was willing to put in the time and effort, I could do most of what they did myself.

I contacted all the best online book bloggers, all the local bookstores, and even many of the local schools. The book blogger features and reviews got the viral side of the campaign going, but most of the sales were coming from grass roots marketing. That includes creating a show/presentation, so schools will have me do a visit and perform at an assembly.

Then I will usually do a signing afterward or go to their book fair. The bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Books Inc do many book fairs with local schools, so I get to know the Community Relations Managers (CRMs) and then they'll pitch me to schools that they work with.

Once book fair season starts up, I'll be doing two or three school visits per week all over California and sometimes I'll travel to New York and Chicago as well. I've even done shows in Minnesota when a very enthusiastic school invited me to visit and created a whole Scary School day where the teachers and students dressed up as the characters. That came from just communicating with my fans who wrote to me and responding to visit requests.

VH: What's your favorite breed of dog and why?

DTK: Of course my own dog, Zander, who's an Italian Greyhound. I think he's the perfect dog for me. He's high energy, so he keeps me active. Friendly as can be. Never barks. Doesn't shed much. Doesn't smell. Never needs grooming. And is cute as can be. I also like  , Labrodors, and I had a great Bedlington Terrier growing up. But all dogs are special in their own way.

VH: If you were a dog, what breed would it be?

DTK: Maybe a whippet, the bigger version of the Italian Greyhound. They're some of the best at winning Frisbee catching competitions and I think I'd like that.

Illustrator Interview:

Illustrator Jed Henry

Valerie Harmon: What medium did you use to illustrate El Perro Con Sombrero?

Jed Henry: This book is 100% digital watercolor. No pigments were harmed in the making of this book - but billions of electrons were sacrificed.

VH: How did you become an illustrator?

JH: I studied animation in college, and after graduating, decided to do books instead. I put together a portfolio, found an agent, and the rest is history.

VH: Who are three of your favorite artists?

JH: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, John Singer Sargent, and Takeuchi Seiho.
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi
John Singer Sargent

Takeuchi Seiho

VH: What is your preferred medium?

JH: Watercolor or Photoshop, or a combination of the two.

VH: What advice do you have for people who want to illustrate children's books?

JH: Don't go to the library for inspiration - go to the book store. Look at the New York Time's bestseller's list. That is your competition. Vanquish them.

VH: What are three of your favorite children's books?

JH: Anything by John. J. Muth. He's a delight.

VH: What are the most important art classes for an illustrator?

JH: In the end, artists need to educate themselves. Teachers can only give you 10% of your knowledge. The rest is experience, observation and practice.

To buy the full-color eBook version (softcover also available) click here for Amazon.

Go here for Derek Taylor Kent's website, here for his book website (with select book pages), here to see him on Facebook, and here to follow him on Twitter.

Go here for Jed Henry's website, here for his blog, and here to follow him on Twitter.

Thank you Derek Taylor Kent and Jed Henry.

~Valerie Harmon

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

App Award: Family Choice Award and Interview about Book Apps

Congratulations to our reviewer and author Valerie Harmon, and Illustrator Carol Stevens, for winning the Family Choice Award for their 10 book apps.

Book App Interview:

What are book apps?

Book apps are versions of books, in our case, our children's books, that can be read on devices (iPads, Kindles, etc).

How are book apps different than regular books?

While we love reading from paper books, book apps present a new and interactive way to read. There are many types of book apps out there, but ours come with sound effects, animations, a narration option--the app platform is incredible and adds to childhood interest in literacy. With busy parents, book apps that read to children can help increase the length of storytime. And because they're digital, a whole library can be carried on one device.

How do you make a book app?

Typically authors must hire a coder to turn their book into an app. Stevens, however, was able to use Adobe In Design to make the apps herself. Harmon happened to be a voice-over actress, as well as author, so she read the narrations herself. We searched and bought the music and sound effects online. It was a tremendous learning process, but by the fifth book, we got the pattern down.


As a special offer to our blog readers, Harmon and Stevens have made one of their book apps FREE!

Chipmunk Wants to Be a Bear Book App--FREE
The Quest:
Chipmunk is so afraid of everything that he hates to leave his tree house! When he notices a grizzly bear who doesn't seem scared of anything, Chipmunk begins a quest that reveals him to be braver than he thinks. This app storyline demonstrates conquering fears of all kinds.

App Details:
Tapping or swiping the stars can drop an acorn on Bear's nose, catch Chipmunk riding on a fish, or send a hawk soaring in the sky, and much more. The icons on the left release a variety of sounds effects, including a laughing raccoon, gurgling stream or even a grumbling bear. This app teaches children to work hard toward a goal, no matter what, with 61 animations, 28 sound effects, music, and dramatized narration.

Thanks and Congratulations Valerie Harmon and Carol Stevens!

~The Children's Illustrated eBook Review

Friday, June 19, 2015

Author Interview: Boe the Great by Joel Feldman

reviewed the book Boe the Great here (I rated the book 5 stars so you should definitely read the book), and now I get to interview the author and illustrator Joel Feldman too! Read for a peek into his mind and some advice he has to other authors and illustrators.

Author & Illustrator Joel Feldman
Valerie Harmon: What children's books influenced you and are your favorites?

Joel Feldman: My mother had a small collection of French comic books. Tin-Tin and Asterix were my favorite ones. The funny fact is that at the time not only was I too young to read, but I hardly knew any French. Those colorful images are so well drawn, making each comic strip and frame guide you through the story line so perfectly. Above all I remember each and every detail those books had. The rich characters, the acting gestures, clothes and outfits, background layout etc. The scenarios were very well planned, exploring different countries and cultures. I was greatly fascinated by all of those features, and they still guide me in my work today, as a writer and illustrator.

VH: How do you get your story ideas?

JF: Whether it's watching random people on the street, reading a newspaper or a book, listening or playing music - ideas keep flowing all the time. The tricky part is to choose the best ideas, and then to transform those thoughts into a detailed story or an illustration. I'll also note that my daily work involves using my imagination all the time. Luckily, I get to sail through imaginary ideas and worlds while I'm working. Boe the Great. I had many ideas in my mind, but none of them has developed into a solid one. It was only after I randomly draw a small Viking riding a horse, on a distant snowy mountain, which made me realize I would love to "stay" there. The story developed later on, but all the small details were already present in that quick sketch, making everything very easy to visualize.
I have a privilege to get inspired by an illustration - just as it happened when I realized I would love to "stay" there. The story developed later on, but all the small details were already present in that quick sketch, making everything very easy to visualize.

VH: How did you learn illustration?

JF: Since I was very young, I always loved drawing. My father had many creative ideas and challenges, which really helped me to develop my creative skills, imagination and memory. Nevertheless, I was always more of a doodler and never consider myself an "illustrator" until I started my studies at Bezalel (Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem, Israel) at the age of 24. I studied animation for 4 years, which was indeed a great experience.

Character design, layout design, script writing, film, directing and many more. It was all there. I learned so many tools to choose from, and after I graduated, hard as it was to get myself into "real life," I had the knowledge and artistic variety to get things moving. The beauty of this work\hobby is that it is always evolving and changing. You learn new things, and your taste differs along the years. For me it's a never ending journey, and I hope to keep it that way.

VH: Having published, what advice do you have for other authors looking to publish their books?

JF: First of all, I illustrated several books for other authors, but Boe the Great is my first as a writer as well. After I published the book through Amazon, and it was quite well received, I got a huge opportunity to publish the book in hard cover, translated from English into Hebrew. With all due respect to online marketing and distribution capacity it provides, the joy and satisfaction seeing your creation on every book shelf in your home country, is just way beyond everything I hoped for.

I created Boe the Great while working other jobs. I had an idea which I thought was worth working for, and I went all the way with it. I never expected any success or fame, and always said to myself that getting paid for this would be a bonus - not a goal. In the end, having a world I created from a small idea, into an actual book - that is true success to me. Having said that, my advice would be set your expectations right. Don't criticize yourself too much, never stop dreaming, but try to get everything in the right perspective.

VH: What is your favorite part of being a children's book author?

JF: There are many reasons to be happy and proud. First of all, the personal experience. Like every art form, it is a creative process. The journey you go through is a great experience. Though it is quite tough and very long, in the end it is really satisfying. I have created something. It has a name and look. It has an idea behind it. It has rules of its own. The second thing for me is the readers. Whether it's the parents or the children, the idea that my book, my thought and creational process, is that family's time together or any other part of their lives - is just unbelievable. I take this opportunity and responsibility for those family's precious moments very seriously.

VH: As an artist, what advice do you have for creating successful book covers?

JF: eBooks and printed books covers are quite different. The digital version of Boe the Great, as presented at the kindle store, is shown in a very tiny frame among many other book covers. Naturally, my goal was to make people see the essence of the book in a quick glance, and to hopefully make them notice it and choose it over others. I choose an illustration where Boe is shown in close up, covering almost the entire composition, leaving a reasonable spot for a readable book title. Everything needs to be visually clear and right in place.

On the other hand, printed books have a more comfortable composition, in my opinion. There is more space to create a detailed illustration, which is obviously a better way to tell what's inside the book.

Moreover, your book might be placed proudly on the display window, and also might be hidden on the shelf right next to hundreds of other books. For that, my advice would be to make it noticeable by choosing the right colors and the right font. Do your homework by going to the local book store and see for yourself what catches your attention, and what will make you browse elsewhere. Simple as that.

VH: Do you have a funny or unique story about the whole author experience you'd like to share?

JF: Boe The Great is dedicated to my father, Gadi, which sadly passed away almost 3 years ago, and 6 months before the book was made. My father's spirit is in the core of everything I do. He was extremely smart and knowledgeable, a great educator who always set a good example. He always encourage me to create, and was very proud at any result I ended up with.

Creating Boe the Great was an important therapy for me trying to be as creative as I can instead of drowning into sorrow, which I defiantly felt and still feeling until this day. A good friend of mine, who read the book, told me he felt the sub-context of Boe the Great was about Departure, not necessarily of a person, but more of an end of an era, a dramatic change in life. Though I never aimed for that purpose and perhaps other people will find different ideas, it may have been subconsciously there all along. Dedicating Boe the Great to my father is like giving a gift back in return for everything he meant for me--making him proud.

VH: Do you have anything you'd like to share with the children who read your book?

JF: Of course. Like Boe's journey in the story, it is very important for us all to search for our own unique way. It is up to each individual to search for it, but it is also up to the parents to let it happen. That child you marked as failure on one subject might be a shining star in other subjects. Our world is so full of opportunities, and it gives us endless ways to become happy and successful. Remember that failure might lead to success, and we need to open our eyes to search for it and believe in ourselves and those around us.

For more information on Joel Feldman, check out these links:
Feldman's website -
Boe the Great Review:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Congratulations to child author Ryan Rector!

Author Ryan Rector

Congratulations to 10 year old writer Ryan Rector for making the Los Angeles local news as a children's book author.

I reviewed her book Hey Zoo Animals, Wake Up Already! and interviewed her in April 2015. Click here for that blog post.


Friday was the last day of school for Stevenson Ranch elementary school 4th-grader Ryan Rector, but she may be hearing from some of her classmates this summer who are looking to add a book or two to their reading lists.

Because at just 10 years old, Ryan is the author of not one, but two books.

She's written "I'm Not a Vampire, I Just Suck My Thumb," and "Hey Zoo Animals, Wake Up Already!" with the help of her father, Clarence.

"It's mostly her ideas, but it's just me with a little bit of assistance of putting it all together," he said.

---Read the rest of the news article (and a video interview) click here----

~Valerie Harmon

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Children's Picture eBook Review: Survivalist Sam Stocks Up, by Kermit Jones, Illustrated by Christy Brill

Storyline: 4.0 Stars
Illustrations: 3.5 Stars 
Total: 4.0 Stars
I've come across children who experience a lot of anxiety for the future. After all, the world seems a scary place, and they are entirely dependent on adults. Something that can help their anxiety is a book about preparations for an uncertain future. 

Children (and adults) can take comfort knowing that unsteady income, job loss, etc., doesn't mean going without basic necessities if they are prepared. 

Although I would emphasize the value of preparing for an uncertain future (rather than a disaster that has us needing primitive skills, or the titles "prepper" or "survivalist"), this book is valuable for teaching children (and adults) a simple way to become more self-sufficient and have more peace of mind for the future.

Starting with food and water (Beans), then to hunting/protection (Bullets), medical/education (Bandages) and having things to trade (Barter) these four illustrated steps make preparations seem less overwhelming. 4 stars

Illustrations: The illustration style is not professional, but colorful and adds interest (especially from the children) to the story. 3 stars

Author Kermit Jones
Author Kermit Jones, Jr. stumbled across the idea of a prepper book for kids when trying to decide how to explain the topic to his four young daughters.  

Having attended high school in a very rural part of Virginia, he later went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.  After spending a few years as a Surface Warfare Officer, he resigned his commission and entered the Navy Chaplain Corps, earning his Masters degree at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.  A Reservist, he was recently recalled to Active Duty.  

In addition to writing children’s books, he is an instructor for and has been a guest on several radio and talkshow broadcasts. Between kids and his career, he has learned that it is important to “be prepared!”

If you are interested in Jones' other children's picture books on preparedness, Click on these covers: "teaching kids gun safety," "resourcefulness" and "how preparation keeps away fear":


You can also look at Kermit Jones' website here.

~Review by Valerie Harmon