Gay Pride Month PB, MG and YA Book Recommendations

GayPrideBannerjpg-2129472_p9It is June, which means it’s Gay Pride Month, The French Open at Roland Garros and the beginning of my annual summer blog hiatus (to write a novel, just in case ya think it’s all about pina coladas, beaches and hammocks). As a big fan of diversity in all its forms in children’s literature and having read a number of superb LGBTQ books over the last couple of years, I wanted to give you a few of Miss Marple’s favorites to celebrate this month or as great summer reads. Where I have already written a review, clicking on the title in red will take you to that, otherwise links are to Goodreads.

Picture Books:

tangoAnd Tango Makes Three                                                          by Justin Richardson, Peter Parnell, Henry Cole (Illustrator)



one dad

                                                One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dad                             by Johnny Valentine, Melody Sarecky (Illustrations)



papHow my Family came to be: Dad, Papa and Me                   by Andrew R. Aldrich




In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polaccomothrs house





1000010,000 Dresses





The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson ferdninand


Middle Grade:

daysDays that end in Y by Vikki VanSickle                                                                                          





See you at Harry’s by Jo Knowles see you




pearlPearl by Jo Knowles                                                                                                                                       





The Misfits  by James Howe  misfits                                                                                                                          




nateBetter Nate than Ever by Tim Federle                                                                                                                        




Marco Impossible  by Hannah Moscowitz          marco-Bomb-mock-1P                                                                                                   




Young Adult:

miseducThe Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth





October Mourning by Leslea Newman october




aristAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz





Freakboy  by Kristin Clark





willWill Grayson, Will Grayson  by David Levithan and John Green





Shine by Lauren Myracle





deadBy the Time you Read this I’ll be Dead by Julie Anne Peters






Tricks by Ellen Hopkins





Thank you for your faithful blog reading and have a great summer!

My Great-Aunt Arizona – Perfect Picture Book Friday

auntTitle: My Great-Aunt Arizona

Written by Gloria Houston

Illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb

Published by Harper Collins, 1992

Ages: 5-8

Themes: teaching, Appalachian region, biography, generations

Opening Lines:

My great-aunt Arizona                                                                                                         was born in a log cabin                                                                                                        her papa built                                                                                                                          in the meadow                                                                                                                       on Henson Creek                                                                                                                                    in the Blue Ridge Mountains.                                                                                           When she was born,                                                                                                            the mailman rode                                                                                                            across the bridge                                                                                                                     on his big bay horse                                                                                                               with a letter.


Gloria Houston has written an enchanting picture book tribute to her great-aunt and teacher, Arizona. She grows up linked in every way to her Blue Ridge community, enjoying the creek, making maple syrup,  square dances, but most of all she is a reader. When she outgrows the books of the one room school house (think Laura Ingalls Wilder) she takes her father’s mule through the snow to the slightly larger school in the next village. She dreams of faraway places transported through her books. She goes away to college but returns to Henson Creek to become a 4th grade teacher, where she passes these dreams and curiosity onto her students. There are many themes woven into this story, including Arizona’s love of flowers/plants. The entire school yard became filled with living Christmas trees planted each year by Arizona’s students. For fifty seven years she hugged her students whether their work was good or bad! She taught them, “words, and numbers, and about faraway places they would visit some day.” Gloria concludes the book with the death of Arizona on her 93rd birthday and her ongoing influence in the minds of her many students.

Why I like this book:

This biography is narrated with rhythm, repetition, joy and respect for her great-aunt, whom one ascertains has been a great life model to her, and many others, as a woman and teacher. Both Gloria and her aunt grew up in The Appalachian mountains of N Carolina and the rural mountain setting has a beautiful voice in this story. Gloria Houston has said that she had tried to write the story about her great-aunt as a biography and as a novel but was not pleased with the effect. When she read Miss Rumphius she realized that Arizona’s story would be better as a picture book and rewrote it in this format, which works superbly. There is a beautiful simplicity and tenacity of rural life in the rhythm of the text and the themes of learning, mentoring, location are woven beautifully into the story.

Lamb’s watercolor artwork,  filled with light and color, is the perfect backdrop for the aging and yet ageless depiction of Arizona, reflecting the enduring impact of a good teacher. The continuity of her life seems to flow through the images, and her connection to the future is beautifully expressed in the painting of the road curving out of sight into the misty forest.  This is a story brimming optimism and determination.


  • Use this book in a classroom as part of a family tree lesson plan.
  • A few different generations of children are mentioned so it would be relevant to talk about families and how each generation came from the one before them and what they did.
  • What makes a good teacher discussion.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with teaching resources and activities, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.


Illustrator Interview – Nancy Armo

I01_Nancyjoannamarpleinterview have been stalking following Nancy on FB since she joined and for much of that time I admit it has been Mole that I have been following as I wanted to befriend him. Welcome Nancy Arno, and thank you for being my final guest of the season in my illustrator interview series.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?

[NA] Author + Illustrator, equal billing. For me, illustrations and words inspire each other. I start with an image and then go back and forth between words and sketches on a storyboard with post-its to mold a cohesive story. I once heard someone describe the process as like rubbing stones together – the more you work them, the more polished they become.

[JM] Where are you from and how has that influenced your work?

[NA] My stomping grounds are the Pacific Northwest. I grew up in a small town 40 minutes outside of Seattle, close to the Cascade Mountains for winter skiing and a lake nearby for sailing and swimming. Being surrounded by nature influenced my frame of reference, which includes a sweet spot for small woodland animals.

[JM]  Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[NA] I was an arty kid growing up but didn’t know how I was going to make a living from it. In college I fell in love with graphic design. After college I worked for Hewlett Packard as a graphic designer, art director, and publication manager. After HP, I worked as an art director for an architectural firm. My last corporate job was with an industrial design firm doing package design.

It was reading picture books to my children that unleashed a desire to learn more about the publishing industry. I spent several years taking drawing and painting classes, attending SCBWI conferences and writing workshops before I felt ready to submit work. I’m still learning!

[JM] Big congratulations, and please tell my readers about your new deal!

[NA] Thank you! I’m thrilled and over the moon to be working with Peachtree Publishers. A Friend for Mole is a story about an accidental encounter between a mole and a wolf, one afraid of the light, the other afraid of the dark. Their adventures lead to an unusual friendship. It is my first author + illustrator book. Publication is Fall 2015.


[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[NA] Watercolor and Prismacolor pencils are my go to mediums but I also use crayons, gouache, acrylics and pastel chalk. I buy Fabino Hot Press #140 lb bright white watercolor paper in bulk and love Nihonga Sumi-e pan set watercolors.

[JM]  Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[NA] I seem to gravitate towards animals that struggle with issues like friendship, fears, and the everyday stuff of life. Humor plays a big part in all my characters.


[JM] What does your workspace look like?

[NA] My studio is a little room on the second floor of our house. A huge old drafting table that I have lugged around forever dominates it. I love looking out the window into the garden and watching crows gather in the trees. Usually the studio is a bit of a mess since I’m from the school of stacking piles of paper as a filing system. When it gets to the point where I can’t find anything I go on a purging binge, but most of the time it has a comfortable rumpled look.


[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them?

[NA] I am currently working on a book involving raccoons, a bear, and marshmallows. It is a tale of finding friendship through food.

These images were done in watercolor, with different shades of Prismacolor pencil layered on top of each other. By using the heat from a hairdryer or from my finger rubbing it, the wax in the Prismacolor melts and mixes with the other color layers making them appear more translucent and graduated in tone. The heat seals the color so I can build up several layers. I then use Photoshop to tweak and clean up. Sometimes I will use gradient fill layers to add depth and shadow.


WIP Pencil Close-ups

WIP Pencil Close-ups

[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

[NA] My children’s artwork is all over the house. The bulk of the artwork is an eclectic collection of lithographs and paintings, both watercolor and oil that we have collected over the years. A large collection of wind-up toys and old desk globes found at garage sales dominates our family room.


Five Fun Ones to Finish                                                                                                  [JM] What word best sums you up?

[NA] Fun-loving

[JM] If you could live anywhere for a few months, where would you go?

[NA] Mongolia and Tibet.

[JM] I have looked into Tibet from China and contourned Mongolia by train. Both fascinating nations.                                                                                                      What’s your go-to snack or drink to keep the creative juices flowing?

[NA] Coffee in the morning, water the rest of the day. Carrots when I’m thinking healthy, but for all those other times nothing beats a bag of jellybeans for a good sugar rush.

[JM] Cats or Dogs?

[NA] Last year after fourteen years together, our West Highland Terrier died. Miss Lucy had a big personality. My avatar image on twitter is a tip of the hat to our beloved Lucy.



[JM] Lucy looks such a sweetheart.                                                                        Which is your favorite park in the world?

[NA] Luxemburg Gardens in Paris. In the springtime with a lovely pastry (or two), enjoying the sunshine and watching children sail their model boats. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

Luxemburg Gardens

Luxemburg Gardens

[JM] Great choice. Paris has some amazing parks.                                               Where can we find you?

[NA] Please come visit and wander through my website –                Friend me on Facebook (please do!) at Nancy Armo                                                        Follow on Twitter and Instagram @nancyarmo

Thank you Joanna for the interview! It was fun and it forced me to clean up my studio for the photo. (A good thing!)

Nancy, thank you so much for sharing with us today though you didn’t have to clean up the studio just for us! I wish you so much success with Mole, your raccoon story and beyond!