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My Little Red Jalopy – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Leanna Craig Lebato

My Little Red Jalopy, written by Leanna Craig Lebato and illustrated by Jose Ramos, is an absolute treasure. This is just the first in the author’s My Little Red Adventure series. The author takes readers, parents, children and teachers alike, on a playfully sweet journey alongside a young child, who appears to be on the cusp of being a tween, and Jammin’, their family dog. This young child and faithful sidekick learn what freedom, confidence and adventure feel like as they explore the area around and near their house in the little red car that the father surprised them with. Leanna Craigh Lebato opens doors for communication with young readers though when her young character faces the potential loss of the exciting, near-child-sized car in My Little Red Jalopy. Yet, the story ends on a note of happiness and gratitude.

Leanna Craig Lebato brings to life in the form of her characters stories from her own childhood. Incorporating the absolutely adorable illustrations from Jose Ramos really makes the story pop. The author’s words and the illustrations help children feel as though they are actually right there in the moment with My Little Red Jalopy’s driver with Jammin’ in the passenger seat. My Little Red Jalopy (My Little Red Adventure Books) (Volume 1) is a fun, colorful story that will delight young hearts and minds in both boys and girls. This artfully and skillfuy crafted story will make children dream of getting their very own little red jalopy and they’ll be asking their parents for more stories from My Little Red Adventure books. Well done!

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Sojourner McConnell

An adorable chapter book for young children, Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas? (The Dolcey Series) gives young girls a powerful life lesson while allowing them to step into a fantasy. Sojourner McConnell brings to life a young fairy who has powerful magic that she’s only just begun to start using to help others. When Dolcey here’s a child in need, she has been taught by her mother how to implement her powers to offer guidance and assistance. Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas? is her first experience in actually getting to help. She hears a young girl named Emily and rushes off to not only find her but help her get through the challenging time she is facing.

The colorful imagery within Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas?, illustrated by Ellie Barrett, add an additional element of fun and fantasy to Sojoruner McConnell’s story. These occasional images help bridge a gap between young students who are ready to read more difficult books and embrace more complex concepts with readers who aren’t quite ready to give up the picture book feel. Who’s That in the Pajamas? is a very well-written story and has a fun story line all while sharing a message of hope and a lesson on how to cope with big life changes that are out of one’s control. Sojourner McConnell’s Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas?, the first in her The Dolcey Series, would make for a wonderful tool for parents who are looking for something to help their children deal with a big move away from family and friends. It’s simply a must read!

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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[Author Interview] Mercedes Samudio | Shame-Proof Parenting

Featured Authors Talk About It

Author Interview

Mercedes Samudio

ATAI: Tell us a little about you.

Mercedes Samudio: I am a licensed clinical social worker and parent coach on a mission to end parent shaming. I work primarily with parents (with children of all ages) to help them feel confident on their parenting journey. A lot of the work I know focuses not just on a child’s behavior and the parenting strategies used to help raise healthy children, but also on the journey a human takes while becoming a parent. I have found that while we know that children need love and support to grow, we often forget that parents need the same to grow and become the parent they really want to be. As a writer, my first book expands on the idea of ending parent shame and supporting parents as they develop a healthy parenting identity.

ATAI: How long have you been writing?

Mercedes Samudio: I have been writing for over 20 years in various arenas. I started my professional writing in 2013 with a blog for my business and wrote a short ebook in 2015. But, to be honest, writing has been a huge part of my identity since writing my first poem in junior high school and then my first full length book in 2017.

ATAI: What was your most recent release?

Mercedes Samudio: My most recent release is Shame-Proof Parenting: Find Your Voice, Feel Empowered, and Raise Healthy Children released in April 2017. This book is a culmination of a 2 year campaign to end parent shaming, and introduces the idea that parent’s are humans who need space to develop a healthy parenting identity. I explore the effects of shame on parenting and the parent-child relationship and lay the foundation for parents to manage this shame on their parenting journey.

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ATAI: What do you love most about writing?

Mercedes Samudio: What I’ve always loved about writing is the ability to get all the ideas out of my head and on to paper (or the computer). We all have so much for say and writing has allowed me the space to share my thoughts and explore ideas with others in healthy discussions. I truly believe that writing has the power to change the world.

Along the notion of changing the world, I believe that when we write we can heal people, help them see ideas from new perspectives, and even move them into changing aspects of the identity that need to evolve. Writing has such an ability to move others and to help others not feel alone on their journey.

ATAI: What do you find most challenging?

Mercedes Samudio: I find it the most challenging to bring ideas from inside your head into a cohesive narrative or perspective. While writing my first book, I found that I think a lot. Although that’s a good thing, it can be a hurdle to overcome when trying to share a complete idea or teach a new concept. The struggle for me was being able to keep my voice while also being clear and concise in my writing.

Another challenge has been being disciplined in writing. While writing my first book, I was working with a coach to help me stay focused and hit my word count each week. I didn’t realize the amount of stamina and perseverance needed to not only write but stay invested in the topic you are writing about. After working with a coach, I found some great strategies on writing that can help me organize my ideas and stay focused on my end goals.

ATAI: Where do your ideas come from?

Mercedes Samudio: My ideas come from the work that I do with clients, the current trends in my niche/field, and from ideas that I want to contribute to the niche/field. When I first starting writing blogs, I began to write articles that answered common parenting concerns I was hearing in the field and with my clients. As I got more prolific in my writing, I began to also include my own ideas about supporting parents and commentary on current trends on parenting. Since my aim is to address the shame that surrounds parents and child-rearing, I don’t offer lots of steps nor do I bash other parenting experts who do so. Instead, I focus on sharing my voice in the areas that we are not formally and consistently talking about. I also tend to get ideas from people sharing their parenting stories with me and asking me how they can be more effective in their parenting.

ATAI: What is your writing process?

Mercedes Samudio: Before writing my first book, my writing process consisted of: idea generation, writing blog/article, proofreading, and then publishing online. This was how I became a consistent blogger and was able to produce a lot of content to enhance my branding and my voice. After writing a book, the process has changed a bit: idea generation, free-writing, organizing, planning, writing draft, proofreading, editing, re-wrtiting draft, and then publishing. There may be a period where between planning and writing I let me ideas simmer and/or another bout of free-writing to get more of my actual voice in the piece, but this is not often. I know also think about other publications where my writing can be featured since I have a longer process that includes editing the piece.

ATAI: Do your characters (or message) ever seem to have a life of their own or an agenda of their own?

Mercedes Samudio: I write non-fiction. I feel that one of the best ways that helped me hone my message and voice was blogging. I’ve been writing content for my blog on my professional website for 5 years. In this process, I have learned to be more concise, clear, and honest in how I discuss concepts and opinions. That set a good foundation for writing my first book – and I know it will be a great basis for future books that I write. Now, I don’t feel like my messages gets away from me because I know what I want to say, I have proven writing process that helps me organize my thoughts, and I know how to get support when I need another pair of eyes on my content. I will say that going through several rounds of editing (both developmental and copyediting) taught me a lot about how our ideas are experienced by others. There were times when I really hit the nail on the head in how I presented an idea, and others where I spend too much time explaining that I lost the editor. This editing process made me more aware of the journey you want your reader to go on and where you want them to be by the end of reading your work. That revelation has helped me be more streamlined in how I share non-fiction concepts.

ATAI: What’s your favorite part of your book (or one of your books)?

Mercedes Samudio: If I had to pick just one part of the book that’s my favorite, I’d have to say it’s the discussion on parenting defense mechanisms. In this part of the book I share a concept that had been brewing in my mind for a while, and one that I would bring up in sessions with my clients. However, this was the first time that I wrote about them in a concise and clear way so that others can also learn how parents protect their parenting identity. I have since talked about this idea in trainings and workshops where it has been well received and even used by other colleagues. That’s the best feeling ever: to know that a concept you created is helping others understand aspects of their life and their experiences.

ATAI: What are you working on next?


Mercedes Samudio: Currently I am working on speaking and taking the concepts of my recent book to the masses. I enjoy sharing the book’s concepts with parents and professionals so that we can get to work on ending parent shaming. I am also working on gathering content for the next book I want to write, which will introduce the idea of having a parenting renaissance in our culture.

ATAI: Where can people find you online?

Mercedes Samudio: I’m all over the internet. Hahaha. But, you can get started on my site: http://shameproofparenting.com. From there you can find all my social media links and a contact form to reach out.

ATAI: Thank you for sharing with us and our audience.

Mercedes Samudio: Thanks so much for allowing me to share my process with your audience. If you’re reading this and wondering if your ideas or concepts would make a good book, don’t worry about that yet. Just start writing and let the ideas flow. You never know who might need to hear your ideas with your voice to help them move into a healthier part of their life.


*NOTE: ATAI does not edit the responses of the authors.

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[Author Interview] Sojourner McConnell | Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas?

Featured Authors Talk About It

Author Interview

Sojourner McConnell

ATAI: Tell us a little about you.

Sojourner: I am a grandmother and I spend as much time as possible with my grandchildren. I even live with a few of them. I also live with my Australian shepherd, Beau. He has been my companion for the last 10 years. When not writing I like to research history and read books on all topics and genres.

ATAI: How long have you been writing?

Sojourner: Literally all my life. I have jotted down poems, short stories, and even a cartoon character. Having my notebook full of writing is something my children equate with me and their years at home.

ATAI: What was your most recent release?

Sojourner: My latest book is Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas? It is my first official children’s book and it has been so fun reaching out to parents and children. It was book one of a new series featuring Dolcey. Dolcey is a fairy that assists children when life throws them a curve.

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ATAI: What do you love most about writing?

Sojourner: Bringing these characters to life and sharing their stories. I love that the vague points in my mind can become a full fledged book complete with friends, neighborhoods, and personalities. I also love to be able to bring problems to the page and help people see another way to deal with the issue.

ATAI: What do you find most challenging?

Sojourner: The most difficult aspect for me is staying focused on one story from start to finish. Right now I am looking at 3 works in progress and I am invested in each one all the time. In some ways it is more simple as I complete three works at one time, on the other hand, it sometimes overwhelms me and I have to stop writing for a day.

ATAI: Where do your ideas come from?

Sojourner: Sometimes I wake up and have the beginnings of a story in my head. Other times I am spurred on by an incident in my own past or unresolved feelings. Then they just grow as I write. I love when characters take on a full personality and begin to steer me in a new and different direction. While writing The Path of the Child, a new character popped up and took over. It was a wonderful turning point in the book.

ATAI: What is your writing process?

Sojourner: I love to write early in the morning before everyone gets up and starts their day. The quiet other than the sunrise birds allows me to focus and get involved in the storyline.

ATAI: Do your characters (or message) ever seem to have a life of their own or an agenda of their own?

Sojourner: When I write non-fiction, the history of the topic will cause me to research further into survivors, participants, and witnesses. This allows my non-fiction writing to reach a more personal level. So instead of a newsworthy article it becomes an eyewitness and emotional story.

ATAI: What’s your favorite part of your book (or one of your books)?

Sojourner: I loved that I was able to slip in a history lesson in my children’s book. It made it educational as well as uplifting and motivational. That part has also been received well by reviewers.

ATAI: What are you working on next?

Sojourner: I am working on the second book in the Dolcey Series for children and I am submitting short stories for two anthologies. Three submissions for Halloween and one longer story for Christmas.

ATAI: Where can people find you online?

Sojourner McConnell: I love the Internet so I am in a lot of places. I am on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SojournerMcConnell/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ThePageTurner1
Amazon Author page: Https://www.amazon.com/Sojourner-McConnell/e/B008IQDX4S
Blog: https://vickgoodwin.wordpress.com

ATAI: Thank you for sharing with us and our audience.

Sojourner: I would like to say thank you for having me for this interview. Especially thank you for letting me chat about my passion, writing. You really made me think in depth with your questions, and I love when that happens. Thanks so much!


*NOTE: ATAI does not edit the responses of the authors.

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My Lonely Room – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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John A. Vikara

John A. Vikara’s My Lonely Room follows twelve-year-old Jimmy Yadenik as he navigates his confusing adolescent life. Stuck between a disinterested father, tired mother, and wicked landlady, Jimmy’s only source of happiness is his journal, in which he writes about his life and crafts comic book adventures for his fictional band of friends. However, that all changes when a series of accidental events lands him in the back of a cop car with Johnny Sadinski. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and Johnny invites Jimmy to join his “club”, the Vandals. At first, joining seems like a great idea, but Jimmy soon finds out that being a part of a gang isn’t at all what he expected.

My Lonely Room’s pacing is a bit awkward; some scenes seem to drag on forever, while others speed by too quickly. Many scenes focus a bit too heavily on teenage brooding; while this is accurate to the character, it does tend to be tiresome to read. Also, it seemed as if many of the descriptions in My Lonely Room (for instance, the first walkthrough of Jimmy’s apartment) were rambling and unnatural; they deviated too far from a natural, flowing narration. Paired with several instances of tense disagreement and a plethora of run-on sentences, My Lonely Room certainly has potential for improvement.

Despite this, My Lonely Room is a truly great piece of fiction – such a good one, in fact, that it’s easy to forget that it is only fiction, rather than a truthful account of a real teenager. John A. Vikara portrays the uncertainty of adolescence perfectly and truthfully, with precision rarely obtained in modern literature. Also, Vikara represents the time period well; his nostalgia for the 1950s is wonderfully written, without ever making his portrayal of the decade seem like a rough caricature. All in all, My Lonely Room is a good read, with a protagonist that people of all ages, born in any decade, will relate to wholeheartedly.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Barry Bear’s Very Best – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Florenza Denise Lee

Being a well-behaved child and kind and compassionate adult is tested time and time again in our lives. Books can help support children in choosing good ways of behaving and being. Florenza Denise Lee has written a powerful children’s book to do just that in Barry Bear’s Very Best: Learning to Say No to Negative Influences. Beautifully illustrated by Michelle Wynn, this full-color book is the story of a young bear who chooses to be helpful and do his “very best”. Yet, he’s confronted by a group of new young bears who make negative choices. Barry has to make difficult decisions. Will he let the appropriate adults know? Will he choose to continue on a more positive path?

Young readers and parents might be a bit suprised by some of the choices the neighbor bears choose to make in the pages of Barry Bear’s Very Best, but these are things that our children are confronted with regularly in their lives. Florenza Denise Lee is straightforward in making that clear. She doesn’t hint around at what younger children make face in regards to peer pressure or possibly even bullying. She drives home the point instead. But, Lee doesn’t leave children wondering how to handle the situation. Instead, at the end of Barry Bear’s Very Best: Learning to Say No to Negative Influences, she offers tips and advice on how to handle bullying for the victim, bystander and the bully. There can never be enough books on the market to help create positive change in the world, and Florenza Denise Lee’s Barry Bear’s Very Best is one every parent and child should read.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Diesel the Body Guard – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Cindy L. Shirley

Diesel the Body Guard: No Bullies Allowed is a very cute story about an exceptionally important topic. Cindy L. Shirley wrote this children’s tale in a way that can help teachers, parents or elementary school students read it and open up the door to have conversations around bullying. This beautifully illustrated children’s book gets right to the point and brings awareness to the issue of school bullies. In Shirley’s Diesel the Body Guard, the two brothers, who are doing the bullying, come to see that being friends with the two red-headed girls and Diesel, the brilliantly red rooster, would be a far better choice than being mean to them. This is the best possible outcome and rarely comes to fruition in real life, but Cindy L. Shirley gives hope to the victims and if this book is read to children -victims, bullies and by-standers alike, perhaps it will touch the hearts and minds of the audience and create change.

Cindy L. Shirley wrote Diesel the Body Guard with a highly important topic as the core message of her children’s book. The illustrations by Cleoward Sy take the book to another level as it’s even easier to fall in love with the little girls and the rooster by looking upon their adorable pictures. Oftentimes, bullying is overlooked or adults are simply unaware that it is happening, but Diesel the Body Guard: No Bullies Allowed, can help bring bullied children’s experiences to the forefront in a way that is not intimidating. It is important to note that being a short children’s book, the storyline moves forward quickly and one should not expect bullies to convert from being mean to being friendly so quickly. However, the message is clear. Be kind to others and they are far more likely to be kind to you in return. Excellent work!

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Cub’s Wish – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Angie Flores

There is a wealth of value and importance in curling up with one’s child at the end of the day, and Angie Flores offers a perfect book for those moments. Illustrated by Yidan Yuan and written by Angie Flores, Cub’s Wish is a simple tale of a father and son -panda and cub- sharing a special moment together. The depth of the conversation goes far beyond what Cub wants to wish on a star though. In fact, in the end Cub realizes that all he really wants and needs is to be happy and to enjoy the time he has with his family.

Through Angie Flores’ creativity Papa Panda gives his son, Cub, a bit of guidance with his powerful words of wisdom in regards to selecting something to wish upon. Yidan Yuan brings the words to life with the beautiful warmth of her illustrations. Cub’s Wish is not only pleasing and enjoyable to read with one’s child but it creates an opportunity to open the doors of conversation and communication between parents and their children. Flores’ Cub’s Wish would make a great addition to any child’s home library as well as being read in preschools and elementary schools.

Cub’s Wish is highly recommended for parents and schools. But, it would also make a beautiful gift for children or new parents. The capitvating images by Yuan and the wonderful concept put into words by Flore’s will likely have children asking their parents to read it again and again, night after night.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Smile Big, Dream Bigger – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Andrea Scott

Life has a lot of challenges, and these challenges can have a great influence on our children. Andrea Scott’s book, Smile Big, Dream Bigger, shares a powerful message of the positive impact smiling, getting an education and reading can have on our youth and the future of our world. In this full-color children’s book, Samantha is a young girl who deeply wishes her community in the mid-west were safer and wonders “why there is so much violence in [her] neighborhood.” She is one of four children and daughter of a single mom, who works very hard to create the best life she can for her children. Samantha becomes inspired through reading about leaders, and makes a promise to herself that she, too, will become a leader one day. She knows that smiling and trust in herself and her abilities will make her dream come true. She wants her big dream more than just for herself; she wants to become a leader to inspire her neighborhood and help make them happy, too.

Smile Big, Dream Bigger is a high-quality inspirational children’s book. The message that Andrea Scott shines a light on is vitally important. Don’t let the dark shadows and violence around you stop you from becoming the best you can be, and don’t let it stop you from smiling. The beautiful illustrations throughout Smile Big, Dream Bigger are very likely to inspire the reader to do just that – smile and dream. The writing and the imagery is heart-warming and helps others know they can create opportunities for themselves and their communities because everyone does matter! I highly recommend Andrea Scott’s Smile Big, Dream Bigger for every young child’s bookshelf and for public and school libraries. It’s a must read for parents and elementary school readers.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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How Mommy Got Her Groove Back – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Rebecca Undem

How Mommy Got Her Groove Back is Rebecca Undem’s touching memoir about her departure from and eventual return to her rural upbringing. Raised in Oakes, North Dakota, Rebecca cherished growing up in the country with her loving family. However, she yearned for a more exciting life in the city. After a series of corporate jobs in big cities, though, Rebecca began to feel like her heart wasn’t really in it. She and her husband, Jeremiah, returned to Oakes to help her parents with the family business. Once there, she struggled to balance her desire for a successful career, her familial role as a farmer’s wife, and her new, most important job as a mother to their three young children. A long, zig-zagged road of trial and error later, Rebecca found herself and her calling in the one place she least expected to do so: her own hometown.

How Mommy Got Her Groove Back is a true gem in a dozen different ways. The most significant is that it is so easy to relate to; at times, it feels so very personal. Although it is a memoir of her own life, Rebecca Undem’s trials and triumphs are ones that we all, as human beings, have faced at one point or another. She is all of us, in that she is a determined woman who is just trying to do the right thing for herself and her family. Her words are poignant, yet casual; witty, yet friendly; humorous, yet so strikingly hard-hitting. It is sometimes difficult to become so wholly invested in the life of another, but Rebecca Undem achieves that captivation immediately and maintains it until her last page.

This book is anything but just a memoir. How Mommy Got Her Groove Back is an epic adventure, full of love, sadness, faith, and above all, life. Also, perhaps without intention, it is brimming with friendly advice and confident support. All in one short book, How Mommy Got Her Groove Back is a shoulder to lean on, a picture of nostalgic love, and a beacon of light to lead its readers to their own callings, serving to cement Rebecca Undem as a forever “Nestie” for all of us.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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