Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Dear Readers,

Welcome back to the Back-to-School Book series! I’m so excited to share a NEW early reader by our good friend, Jamie Michalak and the lovable duo, Joe and Sparky. And also exciting that Jamie is giving away a hot off the press copy of Joe and Sparky, Party Animals. That’s right, it’s a book about a Birthday Party and it’s a Book Birthday! All you have to do for a chance to win the autographed copy is to leave a comment for Jamie and her assistants. Or maybe you’d like to share a favorite birthday memory with us of when something went awry! (The winner of A Dash of Dragon is announced at the end of the post.)


It all began with two little boys on a winter night. My sons crawled into my bed for a story. But they were in a silly mood. I’d only read a few pages before they began cracking jokes and laughing.

“OK, time to for bed,” I said, shutting the book.

“Wait, wait, wait!” said the youngest, stalling. “I have a great idea. You should write a new Joe and Sparky story.”

“Yeah,” said the oldest. “Call it Joe and Sparky, Party Animals!”

Hmm, I thought, my wheels turning

Text copyright 2017 by Jamie Michalak.
Illustrations copyright 2017 by Frank Remkiewicz.
And so together, giggling under the covers, my assistants and I plotted out a story about Joe Giraffe and Sparky Turtle throwing a surprise party for Joe’s pet worm, Wiggy. Wiggy is mentioned in the previous three Joe and Sparky stories, but he never appears. Is Wiggy real or imaginary? Now would be my chance to find out!

This was a few years ago. Now Joe and Sparky, Party Animals! is a real-live book!

Last night, a little past his bedtime, my youngest—let’s call him Assistant 2--grabbed his karaoke mic and interviewed me about the book for Clara’s blog. . . .

Q:  Hold on, Mom. Should I put on my suit and tie first? 

A: I don’t think that’s necessary. Plus, you have to go to bed soon.

Q: I better make this a long interview then. My favorite part of Joe and Sparky, Party Animals! is when a frog brings a balloon to the party, and Joe and Sparky think the balloon is a guest and talk to it. Who came up with that great idea?

A: You know it was you and your brother.

Q: But mostly me, right? Your smartest and most awesomest son? (bats eyelashes) 

A: Ha ha. You guys thought it would be funny if Joe and Sparky met a smiley faced balloon for the first time and mistook it for a party guest. I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say that balloon ends up being the life of the party.

Q: Until he dances with a porcupine and—

A: Shh! 

Q: How long did it take you to write Joe and Sparky, Party Animals?

A: About six months. 

Q: (whispers) No, that’s too short. You’re supposed to say five years! That sounds more impressive.

A: OK, five years. 

Q: FIVE YEARS!?! That’s half my life!

A: No, it really didn’t take too long. I wrote the story right away so I wouldn’t forget anything. Sometimes I’ll have what I think is a good idea, but then wait too long to write the story and my idea disappears like the drawings you make on the bathroom mirror after you shower. I had to strike while the iron is hot! 

Q: I don’t know what ironing has to do with anything, but okay … Knock, knock. 

A: Who’s there?
Q: Anita.

A: Anita who?

Q: Anita another Joe and Sparky book by Jamie Michalak! 

A: You’re cute.

Q: Does that mean I can stay up later?

A: Sorry, buddy. Time for bed. Thank you for your questions!

Q: Last question: who are you wearing?

A: (laughs) Go to bed.

Q: Wait, wait, wait! 

A: Yes?

Q: Want to write a new story together? I have a great idea . . .

From JOE AND SPARKY, PARTY ANIMALS! Illustrations copyright 2017 by Frank Remkiewicz. Published by Candlewick Press.

Jamie Michalak is the author of more than forty children’s books, including the highly praised Joe and Sparky early reader series, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz, and the forthcoming early reader FRANK AND BEAN (Candlewick Press, 2019), illustrated by Bob Kolar. When not writing, she can be found singing off-key, drinking too much coffee, or hanging out with her sons, who give her lots of ideas for stories. Jamie lives in Barrington, RI. To learn more, visit www.jamiemichalak.com.

Assistant 1 and 2 are short, noisy people who enjoy making movies, eating tacos, and staying up too late.

Frank Remkiewicz is an award-winning illustrator of more than 100 children’s books, including the popular Froggy series by Jonathan London. Prior to his career in publishing, he created art for posters and greeting cards. Frank lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida with his wife, Sylvia Nissley. To learn more about his books, visit remkiewicz.com.


Candlewick Press, August 2017
ISBN 978-07636-8206-4

A Junior Library Guild Selection

“Share this gentle story of fantasy, patience, and tolerance with new readers learning how to be true friends.” —Kirkus Reviews

The endearingly mismatched duo has their hands full when a party for a friend goes comically awry. Joe Giraffe decides to throw a party for his pet worm, Wiggy. There’s just one problem: Sparky Turtle is not entirely sure if Wiggy even exists!  What will happen when every animal in the zoo shows up to Wiggy’s party with presents and cake? Worm or no worm, this silly, satisfying tale is sure to leave new readers smiling!

Thank you, dear readers for joining this exciting Happy Birthday Celebration! For more about Jamie and her lovable duo, Joe and Sparky, check out her website: www.jamiemichalak.com 

The winner of JOE AND SPARKY, PARTY ANIMALS! will be announced next week, when our long-time friend, Kathy Cannon Wiechman will share about her soon to be released MG historical novel, Not on Fifth Street. 

The winner of the comment contest for A Dash of Dragons is: Linda Snyder Koons Congratulations, Linda! Please e-mail me your mailing address and to whom you’d like the book personalized: claragillowclark(at)gmail(dot)com 

As always, dear readers, I am deeply grateful for your support of authors and good books! 
Thanks so much for stopping by!


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Heidi Lang & Kati Bartowski--Sister duo and debut Co-Authors - Interview + Book Giveaway

Dear Friends,

Summer seems to be flying away with the songbirds, and that means it’s time to get ready for school. And back-to-school time is especially exciting here for learning about new books for your favorite young readers. You’ll also get introduced to new authors and hear from some long time friends who’ve visited before. First up on our Back to School Celebration of Books is a special treat of a sister writing duo--just how do siblings manage to write together? Heidi and Kati will have their say, and then at the very end of the blog you’ll find out how to enter the giveaway for their debut novel, but also learn what’s percolating for future posts. But now, please welcome the sweet sister duo, Heidi Lang and Kati Bartowski!

Here’s a look at their debut novel just released in mid-July: A Dash Of Dragon
Published by Aladdin Books

The plot rockets along, the third-person narration peppered by agreeably colloquial dialogue. Mix a dash of humor with some action and adventure, throw in a couple of cute boys plus a gutsy heroine—this novel is a recipe for success—perfect for Top Chef fans with a penchant for the fantastical. Kirkus Reviews

This middle grade fantasy introduces an exciting world where engaging human and magical characters live together. The title tackles themes of abandonment, loneliness, risk-taking, trust, and friendship. Readers are likely to become wrapped up in Lailu’s story and anxious to know what her fate will be. School Library Journal

A wildly inventive fantasy with wide appeal. — Maggie Reagan (Booklist June 2017)

Cooking fans prepared for a different slant on magical creatures will find this a particularly entertaining outing, as there are lots of foodie references, but even fantasy buffs who have never heard of loin cuts or hot pots will likely find this a zingy, buoyant adventure where the happy ending is certain but the path to it is enjoyably twisty. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski - our co-writing method.

Co-Authors Kati & Heidi

HEIDI: Heidi here, co-author of A DASH OF DRAGON. I’m a dog walker in Santa Cruz, so when I’m not writing I spend my days out on the trails with roving packs of dogs, and then all my spare time trying to get dog fur out of my clothes. 

KATI: I’m Heidi’s sister, also co-author of A DASH OF DRAGON, and instead of dog packs, I spend most of my time wrangling a high energy toddler. When she sleeps, I manage to get in some writing or drawing. 

HEIDI: When I tell people my sister and I wrote a book together, most people have one very big question: How did you co-write with your sister and not end up killing each other?

KATI: You know, I often wonder that same thing…

HEIDI: Oh, you’ve loved every minute of it, and you know it! ;)

KATI: Anyways…Heidi and I thought we’d share with you all our co-writing process. We didn’t initially set out to write a book together, so we cobbled together our method as we went along. 

HEIDI: Originally Kati was planning on writing two separate books: one about a girl who hunts and cooks mystical beasts, and the other about a fantasy world slowly being taken over by science, with the elven mafia fighting to keep control as a group of steampunk scientists gain more power and influence. I loved both of those ideas, but thought they would work best combined in the same book. Once I suggested that, Kati realized my brilliance and begged me to write it with her.

KATI: So, what actually happened is Heidi kept coming up with ideas and suggestions, and I could tell she was super excited about it, so finally I was like, “you know, maybe we should just write it together.”

HEIDI: And I jumped at that suggestion like a wild hyena.

KATI: That’s a strangely accurate description.

HEIDI: Thank you! ;) Kati and I had done quite a bit of writing on our own before this, and we always tossed story ideas at each other, so it was probably inevitable that we’d write something together eventually. And honestly, I really was super excited about this story. I still am, in fact. We are finishing up revisions on the sequel, and let me tell you, it gets even more epic. 

KATI: No spoilers! Moving on to the mechanics of how we actually co-write, Heidi and I have very different writing styles. I like to plot out everything—

HEIDI: She really does. Every little thing.

KATI: Whereas Heidi is a complete pantster, or someone who writes by the seat of her pants. Meaning I’ll spend all this time creating a detailed outline, just so Heidi can go in and ignore it.

HEIDI: I don’t ignore it. I simply…take it under advisement. ;) But the overall story arc is one that both Kati and I agreed on before we started, and even while we were working, we spent a lot of time talking about the characters and the story to make sure we were both moving in the same direction.

KATI: We would each take turns writing sections. I’d write something and then send it over to Heidi, who was free to revise my section before writing hers and passing it over to me, and repeat. We purposely didn’t set any strict page or chapter amounts on each section - we would each just write as much as we felt like writing before sending it on. 

HEIDI: It worked out nicely that way. There wasn’t pressure to force a certain amount, and it gave me the opportunity to do things like oh, say, invent a new character and end my section with his sudden arrival, and then sit back and see what Kati would do with it. 

KATI: True story. She invented a character who terrified all the other characters in the story, but didn’t tell me anything at all about who he was or why they were scared of him. Not cool. :(

HEIDI: Heh heh, probably my proudest moment. :) Earned me an angry phone call, and was the one time Kati forced me to add more to my section…but it was totally worth it. Also that character morphed into an integral part of our story, so yay for pantsing!

KATI: Anyhow. By the time we were done with a complete draft, we’d both revised each other’s sections enough that all our writing was mixed in together, which made it feel more like one voice. It also made it easier to cut and change things in the next round of revisions, because everything was a mix.

HEIDI: To get back to the first question, how we were able to write together without killing each other, I’d say the fact that we are sisters really helped. We could both be completely honest with each other about things we felt were working or weren’t, and even though there were some heated…discussions, ultimately we’ve been sisters a long time, and we both knew we didn’t have to worry about any disagreements ending our friendship. Sisters to the end!

KATI: Whose end is the question… ;)

HEIDI: Haha. Okay. Well. I’m going to slowly back away now…it’s been lovely chatting with all of you!

KATI: A DASH OF DRAGON is our debut MG fantasy, and we hope you have as much fun reading it as we had writing it! And if you want to follow us, you can find us on twitter at @hidlang and @ktbartkowski. We’ll be doing a special sisters-themed giveaway soon! Our website is www.HeidiandKatiwrite.com

Thank you, Kati and Heidi for sharing about your experience of sisters co-authoring a book! And thanks so much for donating an autographed copy of A Dash of Dragon for the comment contest. 

Readers, all you have to do for a chance to win A Dash of Dragon is leave a fun comment for the dynamic sister duo. If you’re new to the blog, please include your email in your comment. The winner will be selected through random.org and announced on Wednesday, August 23rd. Next up is a new post featuring a favorite dynamic duo--Joe and Sparky, Party Animals by our  good friend, Jamie Michalak. Coming soon is historical fiction with Kathy Cannon Wiechman.

Thank you, dear readers, for supporting authors and good books! We appreciate your comments. You’re the best ~Clara