Cover Shot! Rocket Writes A Story by Tad Hills

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café. I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share. More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents. There is an allure to a beautiful cover. Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

I probably read more picture books than most adults should, but I can’t help myself.  There is so much energy and depth in a good picture book.  One of my favorites so far has been How Rocket Learned to Read.  I am a sucker for the cuteness, and how can you resist the sense of delight when Rocket did, finally, learn how to connect those confusing lines and make meaningful words?  The art is adorable, too.  When I saw that Rocket will be returning for another adventure, Rocket Writes A Story by Tad Hills was immediately placed on my wish list.  In stores July 2012.


This irresistible sequel to the New York Times bestselling How Rocket Learned to Read is "a perfect choice to inspire new readers and writers," according to a starred review from Kirkus Reviews.

Rocket loves books and he wants to make his own, but he can’t think of a story. Encouraged by the little yellow bird to look closely at the world around him for inspiration, Rocket sets out on a journey. Along the way he discovers small details that he has never noticed before, a timid baby owl who becomes his friend, and an idea for a story. This book is sure to appeal to kids, parents, teachers, and librarians.

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Review and Giveaway: Horseplay! by Karma Wilson & Jim McMullan


Title: Horseplay!

Author:  Karma Wilson

Illustrator: Jim McMullan

Publisher: Little Brown and Company



Poor Farmer is confused.  His horses are so exhausted that they sleep the day away.  Farmer  knows that they aren’t working that hard, so he’s worried that something is wrong with them.  One night, he hides behind a hay bale and he catches them in the act!  What is going on at night? Horseplay!! Lots and lots of horseplay!  These silly horses stay up all night long goofing off, and that leaves them much too tired to work. 

This is a pretty funny picture book.  The horses keep finding ways to outwit Farmer and continue to have their fun.  That’s a remarkable accomplishment since horses have brains the size of a walnut.  Farmer gets mighty worked up each time he catches his horses being naughty, and the colorful art captures his frustration with a great deal of humor.  The illustrations are cartoony and fit well with the lighthearted tone of the book. 


Little Brown and Company has a copy of Horseplay! for one lucky reader.  Not sure if you want to enter?  Here are some sample pages from Horseplay!  Look at those exhausted ponies!  Look at that frustrated Farmer!

I love this one!  Farmer has been outwitted by the sly ponies!


Fill out the widget below to enter for your chance to win a finished copy of Horseplay!  I want a young reader to enjoy this book, so entering is easy!  Only two entries.

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Review and Giveaway: Red Knit Hat Girl by Naoko Stoop


Title: Red Knit Cap Girl

Author: Naoko Stoop

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Red Knit Cap Girl is a little girl with a big dream — to meet the Moon.

Red Knit Cap Girl lives with her animal friends in an enchanted forest. There is so much to see and do, but more than anything Red Knit Cap Girl wishes she could talk to the Moon. Join Red Knit Cap Girl and her forest friends on a journey of curiosity, imagination, and joy as they search for a way to meet the Moon.

Gorgeously illustrated on wood grain, Red Knit Cap Girl’s curiosity, imagination, and joy will captivate the hearts of readers young and old as her journey offers a gentle reminder to appreciate the beauty of the natural world around us.


Red Knit Cap Girl is the story of a girl who longs to talk to the moon.  After many failed attempts, she asks Mr Owl how to reach the moon.  By following his advice, she throws a party with her animal friends in honor of the moon.  Gentle and quiet, the book shows that anything can be accomplished once you set your mind to it.  With help from her forest friends, Red Knit Cap Girl discovers a way to finally make her dream come true.

I liked the quiet tone of Red Knit Cap Girl, and thought the soft illustrations fit the story perfectly.  The animals don’t have a lot of distracting detail, but instead are painted with rounded edges.  The shading for the animals is delicate, and the backgrounds all feel textured, which gives the paintings a great deal of depth.  The artist created her paintings on plywood, and each page has a unique backdrop for the story.  I thought the illustrations were cute, and Red Knit Cap Girl and her acorn shaped head are adorable.


Little Brown and Company has a copy of Red Knit Hat Girl for one lucky reader.  Not sure if you want to enter?  Here are some sample pages from Red Knit Hat Girl!  The animals are super cute! 


I love how her knit hat looks like an acorn!

Fill out the widget below to enter for your chance to win a finished copy of Red Knit Hat Girl!  I want a young reader to enjoy this book, so entering is easy!  What are you waiting for?

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Interview with Jackie Bouchard, Author of What The Dog Ate

Jackie Bouchard is the author of What the Dog Ate, a story about a woman, her dog, and her quest for happiness.  Jackie dropped by the virtual offices to discuss her book. Check out what she has to say.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Jackie Bouchard] I love dogs, books, movies, laughter, silliness, fellow nerdy people, chocolate and margaritas. I don’t like mean folks or Brussels sprouts.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about What The Dog Ate?

[Jackie Bouchard] It’s about a woman (Maggie Baxter) whose world gets upended when she finds out her dog ate a pair of panties that aren’t hers. Maggie’s an overly analytical meticulous planner, and when her husband leaves her all her life plans dissolve. She’s got no Plan B, so she sets out on a quest for what I call “tail-wagging joy” using her chocolate Lab, Kona, as her guide. When she starts over-analyzing things, she asks herself: What would Kona do?

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Jackie Bouchard] The concept came from an episode of “Emergency Vet” that my sister had seen. They dedicated a whole episode to things the vets had pulled out of dogs’ stomachs. That got me thinking, “What if they pulled something that was evidence of some kind of wrong-doing out of dog?” I started to wonder what that might be and how that might happen. That’s when I got the idea for the panties! As for Maggie, she’s a blend of my husband and me—she’s got his basic job/work ethic and my habit of being a total rule-follower.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?

[Jackie Bouchard] The most challenging aspect for me with this particular book was making it as funny as possible. There were parts where my agent would send notes like, “Make it funnier here.” And I’d think, “Um, okay… yeah, like that’s easy!” But I’d let stuff sort of ferment (I guess that’s the best word for it) and sometimes in the middle of the night I’d wake up with an idea of how to make something funnier. I kept pen and paper by the bed and would write using my chest as a table as I lay there in the dark. I would sometimes wake up with pen marks on my t-shirt and notes that I could barely read.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Maggie?

[Jackie Bouchard] Rule-obsessed, conscientious, and tender-hearted.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Kona would never eat?

[Jackie Bouchard] That’s a short list: the sofa (only because he knows he would get in trouble), anything metal (I actually know dogs that have eaten metallic things, silly pooches, but Kona doesn’t have a taste for that) and… gosh, that’s it. Turns out there are only two things he wouldn’t eat.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Maggie’s single most prized possession?

[Jackie Bouchard] Kona’s collar. Maggie panics a little when she allows herself to think about the fact that someday Kona won’t be there. But she’ll always have his collar, and someday when that horrible day comes when they have to be separated for a while, she’ll keep his collar next to her bed as a reminder of all the things he taught her.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Jackie Bouchard] I get ideas from lots of different places, from books/shows/movies, to nature, to the news. I like to overhear tiny snippets of strangers’ conversations and try to imagine the back story of what they’re talking about or think about what will happen next. (I guess that’s called eavesdropping…) I like to pay attention to what makes people laugh.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Jackie Bouchard] I try to jot down ideas wherever and whenever, but if I’m going to seriously sit down and write for a period of time, I need: my laptop (I’m not much of a notebook writer – I have the most awful handwriting!), almost total quiet, and an ergonomic chair. (That last one makes me sound like an old lady, but I gave myself a bummer of an overuse injury in my neck/back writing cross-legged on my sofa, literally using my laptop on my lap. So, now I try to always be at my desk!)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Jackie Bouchard] That is actually a hard question because ever since I started writing about 6 years ago, I read so much more critically now. It’s difficult to read without my writer’s hat on, so I get caught up in wondering about choices the author made or things I wish I’d written or things that bother me. But if I had to pick one, I’d say “The Help,” even though it’s been a little while since I read it. The tension she built up in the story was amazing and the characters were really well developed. I was transported enough that I think my writer’s hat actually fell off. I did wonder about that pie though… Couldn’t Hilly taste that secret ingredient? Maybe there was only a little bit… (Am I the only one that thinks of these things? Oh, and Kona would have totally eaten that pie. But that would have been bad since dogs aren’t supposed to eat chocolate!)

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Jackie Bouchard] I’ve loved to read my whole life, from kindergarten on, so there were many books I loved as a kid, but the one that I distinctly remember reading as a teenager–and then emerging from this fog because I couldn’t put it down the whole day–was Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca.” Oh, that Mrs. Danvers! Evil, she was! Gave myself a terrible headache that day because I wouldn’t even get up to get something to drink.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Jackie Bouchard] I love to read, watch movies, hang out with my hubby, take my dog for walks at the beach, go hiking, or do other creative things like drawing on my iPad or "felting" animals (mostly dogs!) out of wool. Felting is something my sister and I recently got into. You basically take this special wool, shape it, and then stab it repeatedly with a special needle. That’s pretty much it. It’s a strange thing, but the animals come out so cute! (As long as you don’t stab your fingers and bleed on them.) Oh, I’m also very addicted to professional cycling and I get a little nutty (nuttier?) in July each year during the three weeks of the Tour de France.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Jackie Bouchard] Oh, gosh – I’m all over the place. Here’s a list:

My web site:

My blog:


Twitter: @jackiebouchard

If folks are on Goodreads and/or Shelfari, I’m on both of those as well. Just search “Jackie Bouchard.”

Hope to see you on one/all of the above! Come on over and say hi.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Thank you!

You can order What the Dog Ate from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below


Review: Binky Under Pressure by Ashley Spires


Title: Binky Under Pressure

Author: Ashley Spires

Publisher: Kids Can Press

ISBN: 978-1554535040


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

In Binky’s third adventure, our intrepid, sometimes accident-prone hero is shaken out of his routine when he’s forced to contend with Gracie, a dainty striped foster kitty who comes to live at Binky’s space station (aka his home at 42 Sentinel Parkway). Binky instantly resents the new arrival, whose cute face and perfect manners are downright annoying. Indeed, Gracie seems too perfect. So Binky decides to do some undercover investigating and discovers a shocking truth about the family guest. Soon Binky is thrust full-throttle into a situation that puts all his Space Cat skills to the ultimate test!


Binky’s back for another humorous adventure, and this time around he has a companion.  A decidedly unwanted companion, in the form of foster kitty Gracie.  When Binky’s beloved humans introduce him to his new room mate, he’s apprehensive at first, and then plain annoyed.  She’s eating his food, using his litter box, and playing with his best friend!  How could they do this to him?  Taking matters into his own furry paws, Binky explains to Gracie that there just isn’t room in the space station for both of them.  Then Gracie pulls out her triumph card – she’s a member of F.U.R.S.T., and she outranks him!

I loved this outing for Binky.  Gracie is there to evaluate him, and report back about his worthiness to keep his space cat card.  Binky being Binky, it’s kind of touch and go as he blunders his way through one test after another.  It’s only after an actual alien invasion that he’s finally able to strut his space cat stuff and save the day, with some team work with his CO.

The art showcases Ashley Spires’ distinctive comedic look.  Binky’s plump torso and triangle shaped head mask a skilled warrior who deals death to alien invaders with little hesitation.  Gracie is drawn with more cunning lines, and at first, I doubted her ability to commander a well-run space station like Binky’s.  A little adversity and a stealth invasion pushed those thoughts right out of my mind.

If you are looking for a chuckle worthy escape from the stress of your day, grab one of the Binky books and be prepared to laugh.  A lot.  If you want to laugh even more, read them aloud.  To anything.  Make sure you vocalize the sound effects.  You’ll be rolling around on the floor, even the dog isn’t quite as amused as you are.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Stargazing Dog by Takashi Murakami


Title: Stargazing Dog

Author: Takashi Murakami

Publisher: NBM Publishing

ISBN: 978-1561636129


May Contain Spoil

From Amazon:

Translated from the Japanese bestseller, this story centers on Oto-san, a man who finds himself abandoned by his family and friends with nothing in his life happening the way he had planned. He embarks on a road trip to escape it all, and he soon discovers the only one he can count on completely is his faithful, recently adopted dog, who helps him see the light at the end of the tunnel. Illustrating the valuable lessons of friendship and loyalty, this is a heartwarming tale of two endearing characters and their shared adventure into the unknown.


I don’t know what exactly I expected from Stargazing Dog, but a sad story of wasted opportunities wasn’t anywhere on the list.  From the cover, I expected a carefree tale about a man and his dog.  It’s not.  It’s a story about a man without goals or the ability to change, and the love he has for his dog, the one constant in his life.  Happie provides most of the narrative, and as someone who loves dogs and can’t imagine life without my Buu, the deceptively simple language packs a powerful punch.  It actually felt like someone stabbed me in the heart a few times as I become totally engrossed in Happie’s life with Daddy.

Told in two parts, the first half of the book follows Daddy and Happie from a comfortable life in the suburbs, to divorce, to homelessness.  Through it all, Happie stays faithfully by Daddy’s side.  His whole life revolves around Daddy, and he is over the moon as long as he gets his daily walk and is allowed to spend time with the center of his universe.  When Happie first enters Daddy’s life as a puppy, the man tolerates the dog and allows his daughter to keep her new pet.  As the years slowly pass, the only anchor in Happie’s life is Daddy, and Daddy slowly grows fond of the dog.  Unconditional love is hard to resist, and Daddy soon succumbs to Happie’s worship.  As his fortunes decline, Daddy’s world begins to revolve around Happie, and soon, the two only have each other.  Everything else is gone; sold, stolen, discarded.  Just their mutual affection remains, even as life-threatening illnesses and a life on the road take their toll on both of them.

The second half of the book follows Okutsu, a social worker who is trying to uncover the mystery left by Daddy and Happie.  Okutsu is a lot like Daddy, except that he lacks one thing that the homeless man still possessed; the blind love and trust of a dog.  As Okutsu follows leads to close his case, he is forced to reflect back on his treatment of his dog when he was a child.  He wasn’t always nice to the dog, and even when he was at his meanest, the dog still accepted him with unwavering devotion.  Unconditional love isn’t always as easy to return as one would think, and when Okutsu was a boy, he resented his dog for always loving him, no matter how cruel he could be. 

This book resonated with me because of the relationship between Daddy and Okutsu and their dogs.  Neither one of them is particularly successful in their dealings with other people, but they have learned to form a deep connection with their pets.  Even as Okutsu chides his dog for stargazing and staring into the night sky, you can’t help but wonder how the lives of both men would have changed if they had been the dreamers and the stargazers.  Neither of them seems motivated to become more than they are, and if they didn’t have their dogs, they would both be alone, emotionally detached from everyone and everything.  Maybe that is what struck me the hardest about this book – the dogs had a fundamental ability to live and love that both men were sadly lacking.

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Shelter Puppies by Michael Kloth


Title: Shelter Puppies

Author: Michael Kloth

Publisher:  Merrell

ISBN: 978-1858945606



From Amazon:

What could tug at the heartstrings more than a puppy looking for a home? Whether he’s exploring eagerly with his littermates or winning you over with his doleful stare, a puppy is quite irresistible. Dog ownership is a responsibility not to be taken lightly, however, and every year growing numbers of newborn or abandoned puppies enter shelters. In this delightful new book, photographer Michael Kloth captures the canine spirit at its floppy-eared, tail-wagging best with over 60 endearing portraits of shelter puppies. From chihuahuas and poodles to pit bulls and Labradors, and all kinds of mixes in-between, the puppies enchant with their curiosity, playfulness and all-round lust for life. By documenting the unique characters and stories of some of the puppies he has encountered in his volunteer work, Kloth raises awareness of animal rescue causes, and especially the need for more adoptive homes.


Since I am totally biased towards puppies, this isn’t a review so much as a discussion about a cause that I feel very strongly about.  If flipping through very, very cute pictures of puppies helps prompt you to go out and adopt a dog, then please grab a copy of Shelter Puppies right now.  Open the book, and you can’t help but smile as one adorable photograph after another holds you captive.  In addition to the glossy photos, there are success stories about adopted puppies and how much their presence in their forever homes have enriched the lives of their new families. 

I don’t need to look through a book to know how true this is – my dog, Buu, was rescued from a breed specific private shelter, after he was saved from a city shelter.  Because he was an older dog, and because he is a large breed, his chances of adoption through the city shelter were slim.  When we decided it was time to add another member to our family, Buu was not a likely candidate for our home.  I wanted to adopt a female, but there wasn’t one available.  Instead, we took home a very underweight 18 month old male who was still recovering from pneumonia, which he caught at the city shelter.  He almost didn’t make the trip home with us – after agreeing to adopt him, he had to be rushed to the animal hospital, and they didn’t think he would make it.  That was a devastating phone call.  Why did I cry for a dog I hadn’t even met yet?

We decided to adopt a dog instead of purchasing a puppy from a breeder after we failed to save our Doberman.  KC died of congestive heart failure, an affliction that is common for Dobermans.  It was hard for me to decide to bring a new life into our home, because there is always that fear of loss.  Could I go through that again?  It is an inevitable end when you love a pet and agree to care for it for its entire life.  That is what pet ownership is really about, though, isn’t it?  Making a promise to your pet to take care of it and to love it forever.  It is a sacred trust that you agree to accept when you bring an animal into your house.  The joy and love that you receive in return is priceless, though.  How can you resist that happy greeting every time you walk through the front door?

Shelter Puppies is a beautiful book full of beautiful photographs of adorable puppies.  The glossy, full-color pages will delight even the most hard-hearted of readers.  Michael Kloth’s introduction should be required reading for all potential dog owners.  There is more to having a dog than feeding it and letting it outside.  The statistics included in the book are sobering – millions of dogs and cats are euthanatized every year in the United States alone.  In our throw away society, when did these vulnerable lives come to mean so little?

Grade: A – How can a book full of puppy pictures NOT get an A?

(25 cents from every copy sold in the US will benefit the ASPCA)

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Trouble With Being a Horse by Emily Edwards


Title: The Trouble Being a Horse

Author: Emily Edwards

Publisher:  Single Stride Publishing

ISBN: 978-0986671500


May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

The main character, Olivia, is an eleven-year-old girl who loves horses and finds her greatest happiness with them. The rest of her life is not so great: her family mostly ignores her and don’t really understand her, and she’s a bit of a social outcast. She feels unhappy a lot of the time, as many young girls can feel, and in a low moment of unhappiness she unwittingly wishes to become a horse, as she thinks this will solve a lot of her problems. Olivia is shocked, to say the least, when she is actually turned into a horse. Thrust into the unprecedented situation of being a girl in a horse’s body, Olivia is unsure of what to do. She feels strongly that she should keep her unusual state a secret, and joins a group of wild ponies, but is forced to seek help after sustaining a bear attack. Luckily, she winds up at a good stable, and meets Jenny, the daughter of the man who runs the centre, and together they form an unbeatable team in the show ring. But when Olivia can’t resist showing off how much she knows, she puts her secret and friendship with Jenny in jeopardy. Olivia must decide whether she wants to remain as a horse or return to her life as an ordinary girl, and in the process is taken on a journey of self-discovery.


Olivia is your typical horse-crazy young girl.  She lives for her riding lessons and for hanging out at the barn.  Her family doesn’t have a lot of money so she has muck stalls and perform odd jobs at the barn to pay her way, but she doesn’t care.  She loves horses, and she wants to learn to be the best rider she can be.  She is frustrated that her family isn’t supportive of her equestrian goals, and when she is forbidden from riding anymore, she rebels.  She goes to the barn anyway, and wishes that she was a horse.  She thinks that life would be much easier that way.  She feels unloved and unappreciated at home, and the uncomplicated life of a horse seems ideal to her.  After a bizarre twist of fate turns her into a horse, Olivia learns just how wrong she is.  Being a horse isn’t nearly as easy or carefree as she thought!

This book offers a twist on the usual horse-theme – the protagonist actually gets turned into a horse.  Now a horse-girl, she ends up in the care of Jenny and her family.  Able to understand everything that is asked of her, Olivia tries to be the perfect horse.  Only being the perfect horse isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Jenny quickly becomes frustrated with her new mount, because she does everything before she’s even asked.  It’s as though Jenny doesn’t even need to be part of the equation for them  to win at horse shows.  Olivia’s perfect horse act has also garnered a lot of unwanted attention, and after a tragic accident befalls Jenny’s father, Olivia learns just how hard it really is to be a horse.

I thought the premise of this book lived up to its promise.  While Olivia understands everything that is going on around her, she can’t make the humans in her life understand her.  She finds it frustrating and frightening that she has no control over her life now that she is a horse, and that she can’t take anything in her life for granted.  An accident changes everything, forcing her into an unpleasant new home.  Now that she has had so much time to think, Olivia realizes that maybe being a girl wasn’t so awful after all.

This book will delight middle grade girls who enjoy horse and animal stories.  There’s a ton of suspense, and I actually started worrying about how Olivia was going to deal with the ownership change that put her in a horrible situation.  The ending was just a bit too simplistic in regards to how Olivia’s long absence was dealt with, but over all this is a satisfying read.  Olivia returns home with a new perspective, which helps her to better understand both the people and horses in her life.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher