Love, Laughter, and Life

Adventures With a Book Lover


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Happy Book Birthday to Hanukkah Nights by Amalia Hoffman (Author-Illustrator Interview)

Hanukkah Nights

Written and illustrated by Amalia Hoffman

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2022

Ages 1-4

It’s so lovely when authors I’ve interviewed or featured on my blog swing back by when they have a book birthday for a new book. Congratulations, Amalia, on the October 1 release of your beautiful, very colorful Hanukkah Nights! Thank you for stopping by today.

Welcome, Amalia! Let’s get to it and learn more about your newest book.

What special traditions do you enjoy with your family during Hanukkah?

We always throw a huge party with tons of food and two homemade kinds of latkes: with and without onions. Each guest brings their own menorah and we light all of them. It’s a beautiful sight. We decorate the table with chocolate coins and sing many Hanukkah songs. After the 3-5 drinks, we dance to Klezmer music.

That sounds beautiful! The lights, food, singing, and dancing, what lovely traditions.

I love how readers will learn new ways to paint when they read Hanukkah Nights. How did you get your start as an artist and illustrator?

I always knew that I wanted to be an artist. I used to make fancy greeting cards for my family members on birthdays and anniversaries. And later I sold handmade greeting cards to a shop in Jerusalem where I lived.

My parents encouraged my passion for art and craft.

My mom used to stir shredded newspaper with flour over the stove to make Papier Mache and I made puppets for our family theater. My parents enrolled me in after-school painting classes and when I was a teenager, I spent the summer in an artist village in the Galilee where I experimented with mosaic, ceramic, and stained glass.

After high school I attended the Bezalel Art Academy in Jerusalem. Basically it was a very traditional academic school. I didn’t love it but I learned how to draw from a model, proportions and perspective. When I came to America, I earned my BFA Cum Laude from Pratt Institute and MFA from NYU.

I joined SCBWI so I could meet other illustrators and enrolled in many workshops. Then I got enough courage to work on my stories, accompanied with my own illustrations. I created a story, entitled Purim Goodies and eventually sold it to Gefen Publishing, an Israeli publisher that publishes mainly in English.

As I gained more confidence, I went on to illustrate many other books.

I love how your family supported you as you grew and explored your dream of being an artist.

How did you celebrate the October 1st, 2022 release of your new book?

Actually I participated in a huge book fair that took place on the same day, https://ryebookfestival.com/meet-the-authors  So I rolled in Hanukkah Nights in a baby carriage. As usual, on every book launch, I got roses from my man & toasted with Champagne.

A baby carriage and a book fair! That is awesome! And what a sweetie to give you roses and toast you with champagne! Well done.

What is one tip you could give to new picture book writers and illustrators?

Don’t try to force yourself to work in a particular style that you think is popular. Trends change frequently and you’re better off perfecting your own techniques and styles.

Excellent advice. Thank you.

You have several wonderful books out in the world. What surprises are you working on now?

I have a new picture book coming up in 2024, but at this time I can’t provide details yet, only to say that I’m very excited about it.

I’m also working on a new board book and new picture book.

That’s wonderful, Amalia! We look forward to hearing more details as your new projects come to fruition.

Congratulations, Amalia! Thank you for sharing with us. All the best wishes for you, Hanukkah Nights, and your creative work.

Contact Amalia Hoffman.

Book buddies, be sure to check out Hanukkah Nights. Find a copy at your local indie or favorite bookstore and ask for your library to order a copy. Don’t forget to show some author love by leaving a review on Goodreads and/or Amazon. Thank you!


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Book Review: Wake Up, Freight Train! by Danna Smith and Jon Andersen

Wake Up, Freight Train!

written by Danna Smith

illustrated by Jon Andersen

Little Simon, 2022

Choo-choo! Hop aboard this hard-working nighttime freight train!

Written by Danna Smith and illustrated by Jon Andersen, this sturdy board book will delight train lovers of all ages. 🙂

Thank you, Danna Smith, Lynne Marie, and Rate Your Story March on with Mentor Texts! After participating each day, reading posts, commenting, and reading/studying mentor texts (picture books worth a closer read), everyone was eligible for prizes offered by blog guests. Fortunately for me, my name was pulled and I won a copy of Danna Smith’s adorable board book Wake Up, Freight Train!

Thank you to everyone for a fantastic month of reading, studying, and learning!

Why I Love This Book:

~ adorable!

~ fun, rhyming text

~ trains, an ever popular subject matter for young readers

~ word play and train-specific words

~ answers to “What does a freight train do at night?”

~ bright colors, animals and wildlife, shaped board book

~ plenty of onomatopoeia so readers can join in the fun!

From Goodreads:

Hop aboard this train-shaped board book that introduces each car of a freight train during a nighttime adventure!

Blow the train whistle, shovel more coal.
Here we go, freight train! Get ready to roll!
Toot-toot goes the horn, Blink-blink go the lights,
Clang-clang goes the bell, all through the night.

Featuring all the cars of a freight train, this board book is perfect for young readers who love trains! And since freight trains ride at night, there are adorable sleepy animals throughout for little ones to find.

Toot-toot! Happy adventures on the freight train!


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Book Review: Not Yet, Yeti! by Bethany V. Freitas and Maddie Frost

Not Yet, Yeti!

Written by Bethany V. Freitas

Illustrated by Maddie Frost

Clarion Books, HarperCollins Publishers LLC; 2022

Thank you, Jena Benton and Maddie Frost, for sending me this lovely copy of Not Yet, Yeti! I love Yeti, all the bright colors, and the theme of starting school. Yeti and his first day of school speak to my former-preschool and kindergarten teacher’s heart!

Be sure to visit Jena’s blog to read the original post, Simply 7 with Maddie Frost & GIVEAWAY: NOT YET, YETI! You can find Jena and Maddie on Twitter.

Why I Love This Book:

~the fun story

~the going-to-school-for-the-first-time theme

~learning new things

~the encouragement to try again, because you might not get it right the first time, and that just means “not yet, Yeti”

~big, colorful illustrations

~Yeti! I mean, just look at him!

~the friends Yeti makes (too adorable)

I would definitely read this book the first day of school! Congratulations, Bethany and Maddie! Thanks for introducing me to Yeti, Jena!

Look at the little cubbies and friends!

Amazon Blurb:

Yeti learns about the importance of patience and perseverance as he uses growth mindset on his first day of kindergarten.

It’s Yeti’s first day of school and there are so many new things to try! Maybe he can’t do everything he wants to do perfectly just yet, but his supportive teacher and helpful classmates are there to remind him that he can always try again.

Yeti’s journey to achieving his goals highlights the importance of nurturing a positive self-image and a growth mindset in early learners. With gentle humor, expressive illustrations, and a lovable protagonist, this simple and effective story is a perfect teaching aid for both parents and educators alike.


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Illustrator Interview: The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup, Illustrated by Vikki Zhang

The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup

Written by Hunter Liguore

Illustrated by Vikki Zhang

Yeehoo Press, 2021

Welcome back, friends! Last Wednesday, Hunter Liguore visited to share about her new book. You can hop over to read that interview here and get your name in the hat to win a copy from Yeehoo Press.

Today I am delighted to introduce Vikki Zhang, the talented illustrator of The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup. Vikki joins us from China. Vikki has generously shared some of her works-in-progress and completed spreads, but you really need to read this picture book in person to see the details and feel the wonder of this lovely book. The partnership between Hunter and Vikki comes to life in each page!

Character development work-in-progress

Welcome, Vikki! Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi! My name is Vikki Zhang, I came from China, Jiangsu. I received my MFA of illustration at School of Visual Arts in 2018. Then I began my career as a freelance illustrator in New York. I created art for children’s books, editorials, book covers, brands, and product surface, etc.

I am also the founder and art director of Nianyi(年衣), a kids fashion brand, based in Beijing.

Wow, I see plenty of creative opportunities for you! Congratulations on your work!

Congratulations on your new book The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup! Once you read the manuscript from Hunter, how did you get your inspiration for the illustrations you created for the book?

Thank you, Angie. I am so pleased you enjoy the reading.

Hunter’s writhing is full of love and benevolence, like the yellow lamplight emitted from the deep woods. For the protagonists are a little girl and her grandmother, I am thinking of the objects and details appeared from my experience living in the grandparents’ home. The clock, the tablecloth, the pot, the outfits and so on are directly taken from the real life.

I am a nostalgia. I also got inspiration for this book from Victorian-Edwardian era’s picture books, antique cross stitch, decor and interior design of William Morris style, Carl Larsson’s watercolor depicting family, home and farm, poem about country life, delight rhythm in guitar, etc.

Oh, that’s what your illustrations remind me of-Carl Larsson! I love his work. And I love watercolors!

Kitchen scene work-in-progress

Where do you do your illustrating work? What process do you use as you create illustrations?

I am now work at the studio in Shanghai. While this book was finished in my parents’ home during the quarantine. The process begins with sketching on iPad. Then I printed them out, traced them on light box with pencil, and colored layer by layer with watercolor. There are some pages drew directly from iPad.

How did you celebrate the book birthday of The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup when it came out last August?

I called my dad and mom sharing this good news. It’s very exciting to publish it simultaneously in US and China.

Book scene work-in-progress

I love the heart in The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup. The family relationships and the connections between ingredients and their sources is fascinating. It takes making soup to a deeper level. How do imagination and your childhood experiences impact your creativity as you illustrate?

My childhood experience had a profound impact on my art career. I am very grateful for each of my family member who gave me lots of love and care during my growth. They gave me a soft heart full of imagination. I read a line which says imagination is good memory. I can’t agree more with that. Those who can create fantasy and marvel are ones who are deeper engaged in the daily life than others.

I love reading how your family gave you a soft heart filled with imagination!

What are you working on now?

I am working on packaging designs, brand collaborations, series book art for young adults about Peking opera, and a picture book I wrote. As for Nianyi, we are preparing the 22aw collection.

You are very busy!

What tip would you give to a new picture book author or illustrator?

Don’t overthinking, let it flow, simply create things you are truly passionate about.

Be honest, be patient, focus, work hard

Thank you for the tips!

Surprise us! What else would you like to share?

The designers from Nianyi made the little girl’s red polka dress into the real product. The dress will be released in our 22ss collection!

When I drawing the little girl, her hair style is difficult to depict in specific angles. So I tie up my hair into the same style and took selfies modeling for myself.

I think that dress will be adorable!

I love this selfie Vikki took to help her see how to illustrate the little girl’s hairstyle!

Thank you so much, Vikki, for sharing your beautiful work!

Readers, you will want to find your own copy of The Whole World Inside Nan’s Soup to enjoy! And don’t forget to swing over to the Author Interview post to read more about this delicious picture book and get your name in the hat to win a copy. Thanks for stopping by!


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Masha Munching: New Book Author-Illustrator Amalia Hoffman Interview! Plus #Giveaway!

And the winner is . . . Debra Daugherty! Congratulations, Debra. I will be in touch soon! Thanks everyone, for stopping by to check out Amalia’s new book!

Get ready to read Masha Munching on March 1, 2022!

Hello, dear readers! Welcome to a very important blog post featuring a special book by author-illustrator Amalia Hoffman, Masha Munching!

Be sure to read to the bottom to learn how you can get your name in the hat to win a free copy of Masha Munching, compliments of Yeehoo Press (US only). Thank you, Yeehoo Press and Helen Wu, for this opportunity!

Welcome, Amalia! Let’s get to it and learn more about your newest book.

Congratulations, Amalia, on your newest picture book Masha Munching! Living next door to goats, I couldn’t wait to see what Masha munched. What was your inspiration for Masha Munching?

Growing up in Israel, my family spent our summers in a small village where farmers raised cows, chickens and goats. We used to laugh as the goats tried to nibble on our cloths. I have another book, The Klezmer Bunch, with a goat character, also named Masha, so that means that I have a soft spot for goats. One day, I just came up with this alliteration; Masha Munching and that kind of sat in my brain for a while, till I came up with the idea of a goat that longs for great food.

I love hearing how picture books get their beginning. I’m sure growing up around goats gave you plenty of ideas.

I love that you create all of your own art and illustrations. They are amazing! What is the process you used to create Masha Munching? Do you write the story first or begin with the illustrations?

As an author/illustrator, I usually start by scribbling images and words in my sketchbook. As the story evolves, the scribbles become more and more defined. For Masha Munching, I used paper cuts. The animals and many elements are hand painted and hand cut. I cover the board surface with Liquitex modeling paste and add textures by scraping the surface while it’s wet. When dry, I paint the background on the board. Then I glue all the cut-up elements on the board. When satisfied, I photograph the image. Sometimes, I add more textures, details and color in Photoshop.

Fascinating! So many details and steps. Masha Munching has wonderful backgrounds and colors.

Where do you do your creative work?

In my small studio that was once my son’s bedroom. I like working at home, close to the fridge and coffee pot.

Me too! I work in a she shed I named Huckleberry Hutch.

What special plans do you have to celebrate the March 1, 2022, release of your new book?

I plan to present the book in several libraries and bookstores. I’m in the process of creating a puppet that looks like Masha. I designed it in such a way that the mouth will open and close, so Masha can eat all sorts of stuff like old socks, empty containers, and newspapers. I think the kids will get a kick out of that. I plan to create a video to demonstrate how I created my illustrations. Also, I plan to have a contest on social media for kids to come up with funny things Masha could eat.

What a blast! I think young readers (and their parents and teachers) will enjoy meeting Masha!

You’ve had several picture books published through Yeehoo Press. How did you get started with Yeehoo Press and how do you submit new picture ideas to them?

I found out about Yeehoo Press from a message they posted on Facebook. Then, my agent sent them my book dummy for my story, My Monsterpiece. Yeehoo accepts non-solicited submissions so authors and illustrators can send their submissions directly.

Great advice! Thank you.

What is one tip you could give to new picture book writers and illustrators?

Be tough and ready to take rejections. Join author and illustrators groups. Stay true to yourself. Don’t write what you think will sell. If you’re an illustrator, don’t try to mimic someone else’s style.

You have several wonderful books out in the world. What surprises are you working on now?

I’m working on another picture book, illustrated in the style of Masha Munching and also a nonfiction story.

Yay! I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Thank you, Amalia, for sharing Masha Munching with us! Congratulations and best wishes as you continue to create amazing picture books for young readers.

Ready to find out how to get your name in the hat to win a copy of Masha Munching (US only)? A winner will be randomly chosen in one week on Thursday, January 14.

1. Like and comment on this blog post. Please make sure I have your email address so I can notify you if you win. Example: bookwinner (at) yahoo (dot) com

2. Follow this blog and tell me how you follow. Please make sure I have your email address so I can notify you if you win.

Amazon Blurb:

Award-winning author-illustrator Amalia Hoffman delivers a hilarious tale about a goat with an insatiable appetite and her journey to finding the best meal ever! Perfect for farm animal-loving readers.

Masha LOVES food. She chews and chomps, slops and slurps, and gobbles and gnaws through breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the farm. But Masha grows tired of eating the same meals every day. She decides to venture outside the farm in search of something new.

When Masha discovers The Bistro Magnifique, where waiters serve fancy meals in bow ties, Masha thinks it’s her lucky day! But at a proper restaurant, can Masha satisfy her desire for wonderful food while staying true to herself?

With colorful, intricate paper-cut art to amuse readers on every page, this timeless tale follows a young goat discovering that the best meal is the one shared with good friends.

Author Bio:

Amalia Hoffman is an award-winning author and illustrator of many children’s books, including My Monsterpiece, which was a 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Award gold medal winner; All Colors, a 2019 School Library Journal Best Board Book; and Dreidel Day, a PJ Library selection. She is also the author of The Brave Cyclist: The True Story of a Holocaust Hero, illustrated by Chiara Fedele, which was a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Amalia frequently tells her stories in schools, libraries, and bookstores with puppets and props. She lives in Larchmont, New York.

Books by Amalia:

Masha Munching, Yeehoo Press, Chinese & English versions, March 2022

My Hands Make the World, PJ Publishing, May 2022

My Monsterpiece, Yeehoo Press, Simplified Chinese and English editions March, 2021

Astro Pea, Schiffer Kids, 2019

All Colors, Schiffer Kids, 2019

The Brave Cyclist, Capstone Editions, 2019

Dreidel Day, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2018


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Book Report: Odd Dog Out by Rob Biddulph

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The REAL front cover is a sunshiny yellow, but I cannot make my photo true to color. Please use your imagination to view ODD DOG OUT in brilliant yellow. My apologies!

THIS is closer to the true color. 🙂

Odd Dog Out

Written and illustrated by Rob Biddulph

Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2019

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Oh, doggy lovers, this one is just too cute! Odd Dog Out will bring joy to your young readers and encourage them to be confident as they go through life marching to their own beat.

I received a copy of Odd Dog Out from Abigail at Wunderkind in exchange for a review.

What I love about Odd Dog Out:

~ The adorableness of the illustrations! You need to check out this book. There is only one type of dog-weiner dogs-and they are so cute. The bright colors on each page appeal to me as well. The odd dog out stands out from the crowd and is easy to identify.

~ The simple rhyming text perfectly tells the story and matches the illustrations.

~ The message of being comfortable in your own skin, marching to your own drum, and feeling confident in yourself rings through loud and clear.

~ The variety of doggies at the end, all uniquely expressing themselves, is a great ending (SORRY, spoiler alert!)

~ The appropriateness for young readers (4-8 years old, Preschool-3rd grade).

~ The clever wordplay.

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This is one of my favorite spreads in ODD DOG OUT.

Amazon Blurb:

A heartwarming and poignant story from award-winning creator Rob Biddulph about the power of embracing your true colors. Perfect for fans of Peter Brown’s Tiger Goes Wild.

It’s a dog’s life in the big, busy city, but there’s one lonely pup who doesn’t quite fit in. She behaves differently from the rest, sports rainbow in a sea of gray, and marches to the beat of her own drum.

She’s one Odd Dog.

Join Odd Dog as she journeys to the other side of the world to find her place in it, only for her to discover that maybe she’s meant to be right where she started.

And check out Rob Biddulph’s other books for children, including:

Blown Away

The Grizzly Bear Who Lost His GRRRRR!

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