Dory Story Review



When I was signing books at the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association conference recently, I asked the Penguin Randomhouse rep what book at the children’s booth was popular. She handed me Dory Fantasmagory.

I read the chapter book and was enamored by the drawings and the genuine child language and actions. Turns out the creator, Abby Hanlon, was a first grade teacher. Inspired by her students’ storytelling and drawings, Abby began to write her own stories for children. This is what I admire most – she taught herself to draw after not having drawn since childhood! (Something I hope to do someday.)

Not only did Abby capture the body language of young kids in her drawings, but she nailed the older sibling/pesky baby in the family relationship. The youngest kid, Dory, has a wild imagination that’s ticklishly funny, like when she pretends to be her brother’s pet dog, and her conversations with her imaginary monster friend, Mary.

Here’s an overview of the storyline: As the youngest in her family, Dory really wants attention, and more than anything she wants her brother and sister to play with her. But she’s too much of a baby for them, so she’s left to her own devices—including her wild imagination and untiring energy. Her siblings may roll their eyes at her childish games, but Dory has lots of things to do: outsmarting the monsters all over the house, escaping from prison (aka time-out), and exacting revenge on her sister’s favorite doll. And when they really need her, daring Dory will prove her bravery (which involves plunging her hand in the toilet), and finally get exactly what she has been looking for.

I recommend this book for kids who are the baby in the family and for authors studying examples of well done chapter books. Another Dory story is slated for 2015. I’m sure young readers can’t wait!


Abby Hanlon

Abby Hanlon

Abby Hanlon is a former teacher who taught creative writing and first grade in the New York City public school system. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and their two children.


The Origins of Halloween



On October 30th I am Skyping with kids in India to introduce them to another culture’s holidays. I was asked to explain to the kids why we celebrate Halloween. So I did some research and found out why we now wear costumes, carve pumpkins and trick-or-treat.

In case you’re curious, here’s what one site said:

Origins of Halloween
Halloween is one of the oldest of all American holidays, but it’s rooted in a tradition even older still: the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sa-whin).

The Celts were an ancient pagan people. They lived primarily in present day Ireland and United Kingdom. The Celts honored their gods by performing crop and animal sacrifices.

On the Celtic calendar, November 1st marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of a new year. But it also marked something darker. The Celts believed that Samhain, the god of the dead, released the spirits of the dead into the world of the living on October 31st. To honor Samhain, as well as the end of the harvest, the Celts held enormous celebrations. They built large bonfires and wore animal costumes during these celebrations that they believed protected them from the roaming spirits of the dead.

In an attempt to aid the conversion of the pagan Celts in the British Isles, in the seventh century the Catholic Church superimposed one of its own holidays over the pagan holiday of Samhain. This holiday is now known as All Saints Day but at the time it was known as All Hallows Day — in Middle English alholowmesse means “All Saints Day.”

The night before All Hallows Day was known as All Hallows Even’, which was shortened to Halloween. Later, around the year 1000, the Church further added its mark on Halloween by designating November 2nd as All Souls’ Day, a holiday to commemorate the souls of all the dead. Much like Samhain, this holiday was celebrated with bonfires and costumes.


Halloween and Trick-or-Treating
Despite the fact that October 31st now marked a Christian holiday, many of the Celtic traditions from the festival of Samhain lingered, especially in Ireland and Britain. One of these was the practice of dressing up in costume on Halloween night. This, coupled with another old British practice, may have led to trick-or-treating as we know it today.

Some scholars believe that modern-day trick-or-treating evolved from the medieval practice of going “a-souling.” In medieval times, many people still labored under the pagan belief that the spirits of the dead would return to the land of the living during Halloween. To prevent these spirits from entering their houses, people would leave wine and food outside of their front door.

The Church, which didn’t particularly approve of pagan customs, began promoting the practice of “souling,” in which people would go door-to-door asking for “soul cakes” — small treats in exchange for promises of prayers for the dead.

Other scholars suggest that trick-or-treating also draws its origin from the medieval custom of “mumming,” in which people dressed in costumes went from door to door, trading songs or skits for food and drink. In Ireland, a custom known as “Halloween rhyming” involves children going from door to door performing rhymes in exchange for money.


Halloween and the Jack o’ Lantern
Perhaps not surprisingly, the jack o’ lantern also has its roots in Irish and British tradition. Though some scholars point to the Celtic bonfires as precursors to modern-day jack o’ lanterns, many folklorists point to an Irish folk tale as the jack o’ lantern’s fore bearer.

The folktale known as “Stingy Jack” tells the story of an Irish villager named Jack who was known not just for his stinginess but for his overall bad behavior. Twice the Devil came to take Jack’s soul in punishment for his earthly behavior, and twice Jack tricked the Devil into promising he would not return for his soul ever again. When Jack died, he was refused entrance into heaven. But when Jack reached the gates of hell, the Devil reminded Jack of his promise and sent him away with a single piece of burning coal as a lamp. Jack made a makeshift lantern out of the coal by putting it into a hollowed-out turnip, and was doomed to eternity wandering the Earth with this dismal light, earning the nickname “Jack of the Lantern.”

During Halloween the Irish began making their own version of Jack’s lantern, hollowing out potatoes and turnips in which to put their candles. Pumpkins, however, are native to North America and would have been unknown to British and Irish villagers centuries ago. The version we know today using pumpkins only started much later, when the tradition of Halloween spread across the Atlantic.


Halloween Today
But how did Halloween become such a popular tradition in America? Historians suggest that the great Irish potato famine of the 1840s had a lot to do with it. From 1845 to 1849, blight on the potato crops of Ireland forced many to flee their homeland. A large number of them moved across the Atlantic to the United States, bringing with them their customs and traditions, including Halloween.

As the decades passed, the Halloween tradition became more and more of a secular holiday, leaving many of the religious meanings and overtones behind. In fact, nowadays most Americans aren’t even aware of the religious history behind the holiday, and very few celebrate “All Saints Day” or “All Souls’ Day.”

In other parts of the world this isn’t necessarily the case. In Ireland, many of the earliest pagan traditions, such as lighting bonfires, still exist. And in Mexico, Spain and Latin America, the three-day festival to honor saints and souls is still observed. In these countries, November 2nd is known as El Dia de los Muertos — The Day of the Dead. Beginning October 31st, people prepare altars and decorate the gravesites of family members in preparation for their deceased relatives return to the living.


Book Candy


Halloween is only a week away! I’ve got my costume picked out. You know those witch-on-a-broomstick decorations that people put up on the side of their houses or on poles that look like the witch crashed?


I’m going to be that witch with a crumpled hat, black eye and leg brace. So look for me in Old Town Fort Collins.

Now about that trick-or-treat thing…I love me a yummy Snickers Bar or Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup but if you’re looking to hand out something other than a sugar treat, how about a book?

My writer friend Teresa Funke mentioned a program where people give out books instead of candy for Halloween. It’s a great idea, especially if only a few kids come to your door each year. It’s called Books for Treats and you can get more information here:

Books for Treats logo

I contacted the founder and here’s what she suggests neighbors and communities can do:

* Collect gently read children’s books, especially from baby through second grade. Perhaps run a book drive (at work, play groups, schools, churches).

* Sort the books before Halloween. Instructions are in the free downloadable kit at

* Tell your neighbors, friends and coworkers about Books For Treats and encourage them to participate this year.

* Alert your local newspaper so they can do a story on Books For Treats (then send us the link so we can add it to the website).

* Hand out books to trick-or-treaters. Send us your best few pictures from your event and details on who hosted and what city/state (provence).

* If you’d like to make a monetary contribution to support our web hosting, label printing, etc. let us know and we’ll tell you where to send the check or there’s a PayPal link at We’re a 501c3 which means your donations are tax deductible!

We also need help writing and distributing press releases. Let me know if you have experience in this area and can help.

Please let me know if you can help!

Rebecca Morgan
Founder and Executive Director
Books For Treats
“Feed kids’ minds, not their cavities. Give brain candy.”

May I suggest a fun book to hand out?


Check with your local bookstore to see if they have any in stock or here’s the Amazon link.

Happy Halloween!

New Book Released

The latest in The Night Before series.

The latest in The Night Before series.

The newest Night Before title about Hanukkah was a challenge for me. For one, there are eight days of celebrating versus one. So did the night before refer to the first night or second night or third night or? Secondly, which spelling of Hanukkah should I use in the title and text? Hanukkah or Chanukah? And lastly, I’m not Jewish. So for this story I called on some Jewish friends from high school.

There’s an Amity Regional High School Facebook page so I threw out some questions like, “What did you eat to celebrate?” Where did you place your menorah? Did you give presents every night or just the last night? What games did you play? And I got back some wonderful nuggets, some of which I incorporated into my story. I’m giving a shout out to Mike Stern for the candle idea.

I’m excited to announce that The Night Before Hanukkah was released today and want to thank everyone for their input.

Free Family Pass to Children’s Museum



I received a Family Pass to the Eric Carle Museum for making a donation. I will not be able to use it before the expiration date (6/30/2015) so would like to give it to someone who can. It’s good for one-time admission for 2 adults and up to 4 children (sorry 19 Kids and Counting!).

The Eric Carle Museum is a wonderful museum of picture book art. I presented there last year and was so thrilled to see original art from books I love. Such a treat! Plus there’s an art room where kids can create their own art.

The museum is located at 125 West Bay Road in Amherst, MA. For more information

I will mail the pass to the first person who lives in New England who names the title of the book that the picture above is from.

Autumn Haiku


Hello my New England friends! Are the fall colors out? I sure miss my home state of Connecticut this time of year.

Here’s a Haiku I wrote to celebrate my favorite season.

Fall in New England

Fall in New England


Fall leaves glow like embers

Crackling yellow, red, orange

Warming Mother Earth.

Q&A with Dori


I used to live in Humboldt County, California where a ghost named Ralph is reported to haunt the Carnegie Library in Eureka, down in the basement. Apparently he likes to throw books off shelves. I don’t know what it is about books and ghosts, but it seems like ghosts like to mess with them.

Today I’m reviewing the first two books in a series about ghosts in a library that I’m sure any ghost will want to read rather than throw. And so will you!


About The Haunted Library A brand-new young chapter book series from Edgar Award winner Dori Hillestad Butler! When ghost boy Kaz’s haunt is torn down and he is separated from his ghost family, he meets a “solid” girl named Claire, who lives above the town library with her parents and her grandmother. Claire has a special ability to see ghosts when other humans cannot and she and Kaz quickly form a friendship. The two join forces to solve the mystery of the ghost that’s haunting the library. Could it be one of Kaz’s lost family members?

You say you’ve never seen a ghost. What’s your interest in them? I’ve always loved ghost stories. Funny ghost stories, serious ghost stories, scary ghost stories…you name it, if it has a ghost in it, I’m probably a fan. I don’t think you have to believe in ghosts to enjoy a good ghost story.

Do you like scary movies? I do! I don’t like scary/gory…but I love scary/suspense. I always have. When we were teenagers, my best friend and I used to watch scary movies together and then we’d walk each other half way home. At night. When it was dark. I remember one time the movie had scared us so much that when we got to the halfway point between our houses, neither of us wanted to walk the rest of the way alone. So we scurried back to my house and she called her mom for a ride. When her mom came, she just shook her head and said, “I don’t know why you two watch those movies!”

If you knew a hotel was haunted, would you want to stay there? Sure! I’ve stayed at bed and breakfasts in Wisconsin and Michigan that were rumored to be haunted. If there were any ghosts, they didn’t come out while I was there.

What’s your concept of a ghost in this series because I noticed that they don’t seem to have any carry over of having been a human such as Kaz not knowing what a pencil is. Are your ghosts a separate “life” form or a transformed human? It’s true…the ghosts in my series are not your traditional ghosts. They’re not dead people. They’re more like transparent people with super powers. But even in my world, some ghosts are familiar with pencils. Kaz isn’t because he’s simply never come in contact with one before.

I like Kaz’s ability to shrink and become flat. But he is leery about going through solid material such as walls. Was it your intention to “humanize” Kaz by giving him a fault and something he can hope to overcome? Yes, the intent there was definitely to “humanize” Kaz. I hadn’t really thought about it as “giving him a fault” before, but I can’t say that’s wrong. I want kids to relate to his struggles. Every other ghost can glow and wail and pass through solid objects. Kaz wants very much to master these skills, too, but it’s so hard. Any kid who’s ever struggled with anything (and what kid hasn’t?) can relate to that, can’t they? I also want readers to cheer when Kaz masters one of these skills. I want them to realize that if Kaz can learn to pass through a wall, for example, then they can overcome whatever difficulty they might be struggling with, too.


Who is the inspiration for Claire? Claire is a completely fictional character. She is a compilation of a lot of girls/women I’ve known over the years, but no one person inspired her. I just needed a strong female character to balance the more cautious Kaz.


Is Cosmo the family dog based on any dogs you know and how?

This is the real life Cosmo:


I know…he doesn’t really look like the Cosmo in the books, but I never described Cosmo in the books. I left it up to the illustrator to decide to draw Kaz’s dog. (Natasha’s note: He reminds me of Scooby Doo!)


The real life Cosmo belongs to one of my closest friends. When I met Cosmo, I assumed my friend named him after Cosmo Topper from the old Topper movies (I LOVED those movies!), but she says he was named after a character on the Fairly Odd Parents. While Cosmo Topper wasn’t a dog, he was a ghost. And now I knew a dog named Cosmo. So I knew right from the start Kaz’s ghost dog’s name was Cosmo. I knew that even before I knew Kaz’s name.

Why did you pick a library to haunt versus an old house, say? Because I’m not just someone who likes the library, I LOVE libraries. I love them so much that I did an entire blog post on this subject for my agent’s blog on Sept 9, 2014. I also wrote about my appreciation for libraries on my own blog in February 2011 after one of my other books was publicly challenged.

What’s your favorite part about writing a series? Least favorite? The best part is being able to stay with the same characters and watch them grow beyond one book. Kaz has grown quite a bit over the five books I’ve written so far. My least favorite part of writing a series is I am limited by everything I’ve already written. Sometimes I get a great idea in book 2 or 3 or 4, but I can’t use it because it contradicts something I’ve established in a previous book.

Did you start off writing this as a series or was that something that grew out of your first story? No, my intent was to write a series right from the start. A series about a ghost boy and a “solid” girl who team up and solve mysteries together. I can keep going as long as there are readers and as long as my publisher is interested in continuing the series.


About Dori Hillestad Butler – Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of more than 40 books for children. Her books have appeared on children’s choice award lists in 18 different states. Trading Places with Tank Talbott won the Maryland Children’s Choice Award in 2007. And The Buddy Files: Case of the Lost Boy won the 2011 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery.  In 2013 she chaired the Juvenile Edgar Award committee. Dori has also been a ghostwriter (not to be confused with a real ghost who writes!) for the Sweet Valley Twins, Unicorn Club, and Boxcar Children series, and a children’s book reviewer for several publications. She’s published numerous short stories, plays, and educational materials, and has served as the Iowa Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators’ Regional Advisor. She grew up in southern Minnesota, spent the last 19 years in Iowa, and has just recently moved to the Seattle area. She is on a quest to do an author visit in all 50 states (14 down, 36 to go!).

The review copies of The Haunted Library (Book 1) and The Haunted Library: The Ghost in the Attic (Book 2) were appropriately donated to the Old Town library in Fort Collins, Colorado.


Birthday Bash Gift Set Release!


Birthday Gift Set

The Night Before My Birthday Gift Set

September 4 was the birthdate of a special Night Before – The Night Before My Birthday gift set! It not only contains my book which is illustrated with happy pictures by Amy Wummer, but it also comes with a banner, a birthday crown, a cake decoration and stickers! What a fun way to get ready for a child’s birthday! And Amy cleverly made the main character gender non-specific so it appeals to both boys and girls. Can someone please drop the confetti? Let’s party!

Back-to-School Favourites

Back-to-School Favourites

Natasha Wing:

Honored to be on this list of back-to-school favorites.

Originally posted on Words On A Limb:

GravatarHere it is – a collection of my favourite Back-to-School literature. Some are new, others are older classics. Please feel free to share your discovered gems in the Reply box below. I will continue to update this list, so please come back and check again (because we can never have too many).

The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten
Maureen Fergus
Kids Can Press

A kindergartener invites her mom to class and discovers there are some things kids are better at than parents. This book makes a perfect gift for readers who are about to start or have recently started school.

Llama Llama Misses Mama (Llama Llama)
Anna Dewdney
Viking Juvenile

Strange new teacher.
Strange new toys.
Lots of kids and lots of noise!

What would Llama like to do?

Llama Llama feels so new . . .

It’s Llama Llama’s first day of preschool! And Llama Llama’s mama makes…

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Author shares love for Girl Scouts founder


Natasha Wing:

Happy to share my Girl Scout experience.

Originally posted on Girl Scouts of Colorado Blog:


Submitted by Natasha Wing 

When I was a young girl growing up in Connecticut, I was a Girl Scout. In fact, when I was in 5th grade, I recorded the times I went to Girl Scout meetings in my diary. I even still have my sash with the badges I had earned!

When I grew up and became a children’s book author, I came across an article about Juliette Daisy Low and started doing more research on her. What an interesting character! I loved that she was kooky and determined at the same time, and that her driving force was to empower girls.

I wanted other people to know how much she poured herself into starting an organization for girls in America. So as a tribute to the lady who founded an organization I loved as a girl, I wrote an article for Highlights magazine and it was accepted! Now…

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