Q & A with Linda Bailey: STANLEY AT SCHOOL

61-6Bi6fOYL._SY448_BO1,204,203,200_Today I welcome Linda Bailey to Dog Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written a canine story for kids or young adults. Linda, please share with us the title of your book. Pub date and publisher? Genre? Targeted age group? Illustrator?

My book is Stanley at School, published by Kids Can Press on August 1, 2015. The illustrator is Bill Slavin, and the targeted age group is 4 to 8.

Who is your key dog character(s) and what kind of dog is he/she? Feel free to list as many different breeds or mixes as necessary. Tell us a little more about him/her.

Stanley is a barrel-chested, goofy-looking dog who is probably a golden lab. (He looks like a lab to me, but the illustrator, Bill Slavin, maintains that he’s a mutt!) Basically he’s a dog who, in observing his people, has noticed that they seem to have an easier life than he does. In response, he sometimes tries to nose his way into the “people” world — climb onto their couch, throw a party while they’re out, ride on their skateboards, etc. These ideas tend to get him into a lot of trouble.

Linda Bailey STANLEY'S PARTY COVER jpgStanley reminds me of my childhood dog, Megan. She was also a yellow lab/golden retriever mix. I think most kids have had a dog like this in their life in one form or another and will easily be able to relate to Stanley.  In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.

Stanley is curious about the school on his street. What do the kids do there all day? His pals are also curious, and together they manage to push past the big front door. Four dogs loose in an elementary school? Chaos follows as Stanley and pals empty lunch boxes, chase basketballs, and knock over instruments and paint pots. They end up, of course, in the principal’s office. As Top Dog of the school, she marches them firmly outside.

Linda Bailey STANLEY'S WILD RIDE COVERjpgReview from Kirkus.

Check out the book trailer!

What inspired you to write this story?

Stanley at School is the sixth in an award-winning series that started with Stanley’s Party in 2003. In the years since then, I have presented the books in hundreds of schools. As part of my presentation, I always ask kids if they have any ideas for a new Stanley book, and the idea that has come up every single time is . . . Stanley at School. Kids wanted the dogs to come into their world! It took ages, but I finally figured out how to make that story work.

61Mk1p5oZuL._SY451_BO1,204,203,200_What was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

My biggest challenge was fitting the story into 32 pages. I discovered that a LOT can happen when four dogs get loose in a school. I tackled this challenge by “compressing” the school-wide chase (through gym, music room, art room and into principal’s room) into a 2-page spread. Bill Slavin was brilliantly able to fit it all into the art. A miracle!

What other YA/MG books have you written? Do any of them feature a key dog character? If so, which ones? What are these stories about?

I have written 29 books altogether. Five of them feature the same dog as Stanley at School. These books are:

9781554533183Stanley’s Party. Stanley starts by climbing onto the couch and ends up hosting a huge dog party.

Stanley’s Wild Ride. Stanley and pals break out of their yards and go on a night-time ride on skateboards.

Stanley at Sea. Searching for food, Stanley and friends wander onto a rowboat and end up heading out . . . to sea!

Stanley’s Beauty Contest. Stanley’s people make the mistake of entering their irrepressible pup in a dog show.

 61V4TNXw1eL._SY448_BO1,204,203,200_Stanley’s Little Sister. Stanley’s people bring home a new pet — a small but feisty cat. Stanley is not happy to have a new “sister.”

What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it about a dog? If so, what is it about?

My next picture book, coming out October 13, is When Santa Was a Baby. No dogs in that one, but you may spot a few hamsters and reindeer.

That story sounds so fun! What else would you like us to know about you or your story?

I adore dogs, and the Stanley books were inspired by my own dog, Sophie. Sophie is, sadly, no longer alive, but she was a beautiful golden retriever and a terrific pal. She was also a wonderful clown who made me laugh every day and enabled me to write six funny books about a literary dog named Stanley.

Linda Bailey AUTHOR PHOTO WITH DOG SOPHIECan you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

The first books I read (in early grades) were the Freddy the Pig novels by Walter Brooks. It featured a barnyard full of animals who had the most incredible, complicated, hilarious adventures. I just couldn’t get enough of them.

Linda Bailey AUTHOR PHOTOWhat advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read. Whatever genre you are writing in, read the very best of that genre. Read for the magic and for pure enjoyment. And then read it again analytically, as a writer — trying to figure out how the author accomplished that story that sings on the page.

I give aspiring authors the same advice. Sometimes books were my best teachers. Readers can  find out more information about Linda and/or her books here.

Thank you, Linda Bailey for joining us at Dog Reads! Be sure to look for Linda’s fun picture books for the dog-loving kids and parents in your life.

Q & A with Candace Fleming: THE FAMILY ROMANOV

The Family RomanovToday I welcome Candace Fleming to World Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written a story set outside of the United States for children or young adults.

What is the title of your book? The pub date and publisher? Genre? Targeted age group?

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia; July 2014; Schwartz-Wade/Random House Books for Young Readers; historical nonfiction; 12 and up

Where is it set?

Imperial Russia 1880-1917

In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.

The Russian royal family is living a fairy-tale existence. The richest man on the planet, Tsar Nicholas II owns one-sixth of the world’s land, thirty palaces, five yachts, an endless collection of priceless painting and sculpture, two private trains, countless horses, carriage and cars, and vaults overflowing with precious jewels. The Romanovs have it all! But Nicholas is a man of limited political ability. He’s simply not suited to rule Russia. And a charismatic, self-proclaimed holy man named Rasputin spellbinds his wife, Alexandra. She believes Rasputin can save her hemophiliac son, Alexei, from bleeding to death. Desperate, she will do anything – anything — including handing over the reins of power to the evil monk.

Links to reviews or blurbs you wish to share:

Does your book have a starred review from Kirkus? If so, could you provide the link?

Yes, as well as named a Kirkus Best Teen Book 2014

How are you connected to the setting of your story?

For me, it’s imperative to visit the places where my story happened. Landscapes speak. Houses hold memories and secrets. So in August 2012 I traveled to Russia where I followed in the Romanov’s footsteps, visiting Rasputin’s apartment; exploring worker’s neighborhoods, Lenin’s headquarters and the dark, dank jail cells of the Peter and Paul Fortress.

At Tsarskoe Selo – the family’s residence — I wandered down shaded lands and through lush gardens. I didn’t just learn how the place looked. I discovered how fragrant the lilacs are after a rain shower; how the ornamental bridge creaks when you cross it; how cool and dark it is in the woods. No historical document could have given me that.

None of my sources had mentioned how close the Alexander Palace sat to the front gate, either. I’d assumed it was somewhere in the middle of the Imperial Park, far from prying eyes. Not so. The tall, main gate with its golden, double headed eagle opens directly onto the palace’s circular driveway. Every day the family could look through its iron grillwork to the town just on the other side. It gave me pause. The family was so close to it’s people. They were right there, just on the other side of the gate. The Romanovs could look out their windows and see them. They could hear their people’s voices from the palace balcony. They could smell their cooking and their livestock. They really weren’t as physically removed from the people as sources led me to believe. So why, I wondered, didn’t the Romanovs feel more attachment to their subjects? The question led me down entirely new paths of thought.   And it eventually led to the book’s inclusion of first hand worker and peasant accounts under the title, “Beyond the Palace Gates.”   I had uncovered a detail that presented a new story line I’d never imagined.

What inspired you to write this story?

In truth, I’d never considered writing about the Romanovs until about five years ago. That’s when students in middle schools – mostly girls — suddenly and surprisingly started asking if I knew anything about Anastasia Romanov. Practically every time I visited a school, during the question-and-answer period of my presentation, a hand would wave wildly in the air. No matter that I’d come to talk about people from American history. Time and again I’d find myself talking about Tsar Nicholas’ youngest daughter. Why, I asked myself. Why the sudden interest in Anastasia? I eventually came to realize that these middle schoolers had seen the animated movie, Anastasia. They recognized that it was based on a nugget of truth. But what was that truth? They longed to know. And they hoped I could tell them. Sadly, in the little time allotted, I really couldn’t… not enough anyway. And so I began to conceive of a book for them. The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion And The Fall Of Imperial Russia, is my answer to those girls’ questions. Is it the royal fairy tale most of them imagined? Probably not, but it’s definitely the truth. And I believe that’s exactly what they wanted.

What was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

Pictures of ordinary Russians – peasants, workers, and soldiers – were exceedingly difficult to come by. These were people living marginalized lives.   Most couldn’t afford to have themselves photographed, nor would they have considered flitting away hard earned money on such an expense. They certainly didn’t own cameras, or have the resources to develop film. This meant, of course, that they relied on outside chroniclers. So did I. Happily for all of us, Nicholas commissioned a photographer named Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii to visually document the empire. Produkin-Gorskii traveled the length of the country just before World War I, catching on film the ordinary lives of ordinary Russians. Best of all, he left those photographs – hundreds in all – to the Library of Congress. They’re heartrendingly beautiful. One can’t help but wonder if Nicholas ever saw them. But you can. The Library of Congress had digitized them and made them available online. Go take a look!

What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it set outside of the United States? If so, where? And what is it about?

My next nonfiction book is about William F. “Buffalo Bill Cody.” While some parts of the story are set in Europe – London, France, Venice – the majority of the action takes place in America.

What else would you like us to know about you or your story?

Since The Family Romanov is nonfiction the characters are based on historical accounts. I didn’t make anything up. I did, however, find myself identifying with certain people in the Romanov’s story. I felt a real sadness for the oldest daughter, Olga.   She obviously understood what was happening to the family toward the end. She read newspapers and asked questions. And as all hope of escape slipped away, she turned inward. Imagine her sadness, her sense of loss, and her anger. After the Romanov’s murder, an icon was found in the rooms in which the family had been held. On the back in Olga’s hand was written the following prayer. Whether she wrote it herself, or copied it from someplace else is not known, but it must have reflected her feelings during the last days of her captivity:

Give Patience, Lord to us, Thy Children,

In these dark stormy days to bear

The persecution of our people,

The torture falling to our shores.

Give strength, Just God, to us who need it,

The persecutors to forgive,

Our heavy, painful cross to carry

And Thy great meekness to achieve.

When we are plundered and insulted,

In days of mutinous unrest

We turn for help to Thee, Christ Savior,

That we may stand the bitter test.

Lord of the word, God of creation,

Give us Thy blessing through our prayer

Give peace of heart to us, O Master,

This hour of utmost dread to bear.

And on the threshold of the grave,

Breathe power divine into our clay

That we, Thy children, may find strength

In meekness for our foes to pray.

Candace_Fleming_the_Family_Romanov_AuthorPhoto_Credit_Michael_Lionstar-2Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

Stuart Little. It was the first book I fell into; the first book that transported me beyond my family’s living room sofa to someplace purely imaginary and yet so, so real.

Where can readers go to learn more information?

Web page

Thank you Candace Fleming for joining us at World Reads! The Family Romanov was my favorite book in 2014 and among my all-time favorites. It is well researched and written and completely engaging. Well done!


Q & A with Trina St. Jean: BLANK

Trina StJean BLANK BOOK COVERToday I welcome Trina St. Jean to World Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written a story set outside of the United States for children or young adults.

What is the title of your book? The pub date and publisher? Genre? Targeted age group?

Blank. April 1, 2015. Orca Book Publishers. Contemporary Fiction. Young adult (12+).

Where is it set?

On a bison ranch in northern Alberta, Canada.

Link to a review

How are you connected to the setting of your story?

I grew up in northern Alberta, in a very small community much like the one in the novel. When I was an adult, my parents had a herd of about 100 head of bison so when I visited I got to spend time admiring the noble beasts.

What inspired you to write this story?

I have a degree in psychology and as I learned more about the brain I became fascinated with how the physical aspects of its function tie into the development of personality. Over the years, I read many stories of brain injury and memory loss, and I wanted to explore how a person can go about rebuilding their life when a large part of it has been erased.

Trina StJean AUTHOR PHOTOWhat kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it set outside of the United States? If so, where? And what is it about?

The novel I am working on now also takes place in northern Alberta. The main character gets a job cleaning trailers at a logging camp in the wilderness.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

I remember being profoundly moved by both Bridge to Terabithia and Tuck Everlasting.

Where can readers go to learn more information?

Web page



Thank you Trina St. Jean for joining us at World Reads!


Q & A with Shenaaz G. Nanji: CHILD OF DANDELIONS

Shenaaz G Nanji CHILD OF DANDELIONS. Book cover for USAToday I welcome Shenaaz G. Nanji to World Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written a story set outside of the United States for children or young adults.

What is the title of your book? The pub date and publisher? Genre? Targeted age group?

Child of Dandelions by Front Street in 2008 in USA and Second Story Press in Canada.

It is fiction based on real life events in Uganda.

The story is geared for Young Adults.

Unknown-1Where is it set?

The story unfolds in Uganda in East Africa during the military reign of General Idi Amin in 1972. You may have watched the film The Last King of Scotland that takes place in this period.

In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.

Child of Dandelions is told through the eyes of 15 year-old Sabine. Born in Uganda, she loves her country, but being of Indian descent, the color of her skin makes her outcast.

Her family is ‘weeded out’ and expelled in 90 days though the Indian community has lived there for four generations.

As Sabine navigates the exodus she undergoes a journey of self-discovery reminiscent of Anne Frank’s personal trauma.

Links to reviews or blurbs you wish to share:







How are you connected to the setting of your story?

The maternal side of my family was Ugandans. My Bapa-grandfather owned four farms in Uganda–coffee, tea, sugar- cane and dairy that I visited every year during school-holidays until the expulsion in 1972.

Initially my parents too lived in Uganda. Later they moved next-door to Kenya where I was born.

In fact during one of my visits in Kampala I recall waving the Uganda flag at Kololo airport cheering for Idi Amin when he took power in a coup-de-ta. At that time, people said Idi Amin was a hero who will save Uganda from communism.

During the 90-day expulsion one of my uncle’s was found dead.

What inspired you to write this story?

When my children were teens in Canada I tried to explain to them the expulsion of the Indian community from Uganda, and found to my astonishment that I didn’t really understand why it happened? Why was the world silent? Why were there no books on this? I decided to write the story.

What was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

Initially, I wrote from the first person point of view but the story was biased towards the Indian community. One of my advisors at Vermont College in the MFA program suggested I re-write from the 3rd person point of view. Reluctantly, I changed the first few chapters. I was sure it was a fruitless, time-consuming exercise, but my advisor pressed on. To my utter astonishment, a new story began to emerge gradually, one that was fair and balanced that represented both the Indians as well as the Africans. The final judgment was left to the readers.

What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it set outside of the United States? If so, where? And what is it about?

Presently I am working a story on a teenage boy who is determined to restore honor to his ‘shamed’ family in India. He accepts a dream job in the Middle East, but is trapped in the desert where he is forced to train young camel slave-jockeys who must win camel races for the Sheikh.

What else would you like us to know about you or your story?

What intrigues me both in life and in stories is the resilience of the human spirit-how much must one fight fate to obtain his/her own goal or accept what has happened.

In the early Greek version of the fable, The Oak and the Reed – the mighty oak fights the storm and is blown over but the reed bends with the wind and so survives.

Some people survive a situation but their spirit is broken and they merely exist; others survive both in body and spirits.

UnknownCan you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

Some of my first books I ripped through page by page were by an English writer, Enid Blyton. I read the Secret Seven adventure series, Famous Five, and Noddy series. I imagined I belonged to a secret society that solved mysteries. I craved for ginger beer and imagined getting lost in secret caves in the smugglers hideouts.

Where can readers go to learn more information?

Web page

My new website is under construction at this time.


Thank you Shenaaz for joining us at World Reads!

Book Review: PLAYING A PART by Daria Wilke


шутовской колпак written by Daria Wilke

шутовской колпак written by Daria Wilke.

It is rare that I write a book review on my blog, World Reads. To make the cut, I have to either really LOVE a book and want to spread the word about the book or the author must no longer be with us to give me an author interview. In the case of Playing a Part, I was first introduced to it in its Russian version (шутовской колпак ) by Arthur A. Levine who asked me to read and report on it as he was considering its acquisition, translation, and publication in the United States.

And this is how my report to him started: WOW and double WOW!

I very much enjoyed reading Playing a Part not just because of its timeliness given the homophobic-oriented laws Putin is enacting in Russia and the jail-term risk the author, Daria Wilke, might experience on her next visit home, but because Playing a Part is well written and well told. So while the “hype” and “market press” might draw attention to the book and increase sales, it’s the writing and the story that will stay with readers long after they’ve read Grisha’s story. And my guess is that it might just change how some people think along the way or at least make a dent on those sitting on the fence who view gays as “different” or not “normal”.

Daria Wilke, author of PLAYING A PART

Daria Wilke, author of PLAYING A PART

I could tell from the very first page that Playing a Part would be a winner and it did not disappoint on many levels. For one, there’s a complete story arc both in terms of plot and internal character growth that would be satisfying to an American audience. Second, the writing is literary and gorgeous from beginning to end. Third, the author, Daria Wilke inserts Russian humor that will easily cross our borders and make American readers laugh out loud. Fourth, the setting is magical and like no other I’ve seen in children’s literature in that the Moscow puppet theater is described in such intricate detail, it makes you feel like you’re part of the setting. Fifth, Grisha, our main character is not only likeable, he feels as real as any boy dealing with issues of friendship, loss, and the struggles of self-realization. And sixth, unlike many other Russian children’s books I’ve read, Playing a Part is a story that will not feel foreign or Russian to American readers. It offers sensibilities that anyone with a human heart will relate to, understand, and feel.

This is exactly the kind of book I would have wanted to read as a kid. It’s written from someone who knows Russia and can reveal her intimate knowledge and view of Russia through the details, yet write it such that it shares our sensibilities too and not make us feel lost in the details or overwhelmed by them. In other words, you don’t have to be Russian or know Russia to appreciate the story. Nor do you have to be gay. Wilke grounds us in the character and place so well, you could almost come from Mars and still follow along. All one needs to bring into the reading is an open or curious heart to become fully engaged by Grisha’s journey of self-realization.

51TGFEK2bfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_So many books written by Americans that are set in far-away lands—whether historical or not—lack the kind of authentic details that make a story come alive where the characters feel so real they could walk off the page and where the details are so perfectly accurate you might think the writer had written it in “real” time, standing in the very spot she’s just described or scene she’s just created. So many times, I’ve experienced books set in places where I’ve lived where the kind of details I’m talking about were not only absent or spare, but sometimes completely wrong. And it’s no wonder, with a little digging, you can quickly unveil that the author has never been to the place she’s describing or writing about and simply did her research on the internet. Don’t get me wrong, a good writer can still tell a good story set abroad, but it’s the writer who’s lived, breathed, and absorbed the culture of that place into their veins that produces the kind of details that separate a good story from a great one. And Playing a Part is a great story from that aspect.


LARA’S GIFT by Annemarie O’Brien

I appreciate accurate details and know how hard they are to incorporate into a story from my own experience writing Lara’s Gift, set in Imperial Russia. I also understand that not every book written and published outside of the United States is suitable for our market due to different cultural sensibilities. That is not the case with Playing a Part. Wilke goes into such lovely details about the puppet theater, puppet making, Russian weather, and Moscow life in general, readers will not only learn how to make a puppet, but will walk away with vivid images of the setting and a compelling character’s struggle to be himself. Because of these wonderful details Wilke draws from her own Russian culture, she creates similes that will be fresh to an American reader.

I give Marian Schwartz a thumb’s up for her translation of Playing a Part! And thank you Arthur Levine and Emily Clement for bringing Playing a Part to an American audience. Bringing foreign books across borders is just as important as publishing diverse books.

Playing a Part will be released on March 31, 2015 and can be purchased anywhere you can buy books.

Daria Wilke, a graduate of the Faculty of Psychology and Pedagogy of Moscow State Pedagogical University, is a referent at the Institute of Slavic studies at the University of Vienna and a teacher of the Russian language. She started writing prose at thirty-one and her first essay Die Seiltänzergeneration was published in the German anthology Mächte. For her prose, including her children’s literature, Wilke has been shortlisted for many prestigious literary awards, such as the Manuscript of the Year Award 2011, Krapivin International Literary Prize 2011 and Voloshin International Literary Award 2011. The same year Wilke won the Russkaya Premiya Literary Award for her novel-meditation Interseason.






All materials © 2015 Annemarie O'Brien. Web site by Websy Daisy. Illustration © 2013 by Tim Jessell