Ramona Blue – Book Recommendation

Title: Ramona Blue

Author: Julie Murphy

Publisher: Balzer & Bray, 2017

Themes: love, genderqueer, fluid sexuality, bisexualism, lesbianism, family, responsibility, labeling, poverty, swimming

Age: 13+



This is a memory I want to keep forever: Grace standing at the stove of her parents’ rental cottage, in one of her dad’s oversize T-shirts as she makes us a can of SpaghettiOs. Her mom already cleaned out the fridge and cabinets, throwing away anything with an expiration date.


Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem. (Goodreads)

Why I love this Book:

I loved Julie Murphy’s last book, Dumplin’, but I actually think I love Ramona Blue even more. At its heart this is a story of a young woman discovering the complexities and fluidity, in her case, of love. All sexualities are valid, and I love this portrayal of a teen girl exploring and discovering and trying to figure out where she fits in all the labels society hands out. I think this book represents so well different sexualities and also the fluidity of sexuality and why it’s important to fall in love with a person instead of their gender. 

One of the key quotes for me is:

“Kissing him is different, yes. But it’s not. Kissing Freddie doesn’t feel different because he’s a boy, it feels different because he’s Freddie.”

I find this an entirely plausible scenario of what one young woman might experience, and feel it is important to have representation that allows for flux, and change and ambiguity. Teen life is often like that. 

Once again, Julie manages to create such rich fully realized secondary characters, friends, lovers, family, swim coach… Ramona (another character equally as ‘big’ as Dumplin’) has very different relationships with her (alcoholic) mom, (pregnant) sister, and dad (an amazing support0, and each is explored in the book. Her friendship group is eclectic and real and I love them.

Julie tackle so many themes in this book, and does each thread justice—how swimming becomes such an important part of Ramona’s life; how her support of her sister is both admirable and yet is robbing her of life; how her family’s poverty touches everything about their lives and yet they are all survivors; how even years later Mississippi is still suffering post Katrina.

I am thrilled to see the depiction of a teen who realizes just how complex attraction can be and is struggling and uncertain about what she feels, and hesitant to label, (and relabel) herself. This is about a girl trying to figure out who she is and be true to that, and that is a universal truth for any teen.

Oh, and I love this cover!

Posted in Book recommendation, Diverse Children's Books, diversity, LGBTQIA, young adult | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Love, Triangle – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Love, Triangle

Author: Marcie Colleen

Illustrator: Bob Shea

 Publisher: Balzer & Bray, Oct. 3rd, 2017

Ages: 4-8

Themes: friendships, geometry, puns, shapes, conflict, jealousy


 Ever since they were a dot and a speck,

Circle and Square’s friendship had a shape of its own.


Circle and Square have been best buds since they were a ‘speck’ and a ‘dot’. But now their friendship is invaded by cool dude, Triangle, and Circle and Square’s BFF bond starts to unravel. What can repair the damage to their relationship? Will Triangle’s party invite to them both do the trick?

Why I like this book:

A hilarious geometric friendship story with catchy bold graphic illustrations of the three characters that inject adorable personality into the three shapes! 

The punny geometric humor will especially tickle the the older elementary readers’ math funny bone. Every age will enjoy this suspenseful but heart-filled story of friendship in conflict when a third person is added to the equation. And the solution to this tangle is truly inspired. Marcie combines well-paced humor with a slick lyrical delivery, which makes this a wonderful read-aloud,  (though you won’t make it through without laughing!)


This text can be used in so many ways in the classroom.

  • geometry units
  • Shea’s shapes should inspire some great art projects
  • as a mentor text for puns 
  • as a discussion about friendship

Marcie is a pro at teacher’s guide, so she has of course written her own for LOVE TRIANGLE, which you can access here.

Marcie also shares on Tara Lazar’s blog how she came up with the idea for LOVE TRIANGLE.

Here are some shape songs for Pre-K.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Posted in Book recommendation, Perfect Picture Book Friday, picture book, resources & activities for elementary school teachers | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Brooke Boynton Hughes – Illustrator Interview

You readers must know by now how much I love and admire picture book illustrators. Naturally I am friends with many on FB. When I find myself often liking the work they share, then I know it is time to invite them for an interview. I am very happy Brooke could find time between her art and being mom to young twins to share with us today.




[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[BBH] So far, all the books I’ve illustrated were written by other people.  The first story of my own, BRAVE MOLLY, will come out next year but it’s wordless, so I don’t feel like I can claim the title of author just yet.  BRAVE MOLLY started with a sketchbook doodle, but most of the story ideas I’ve been working on lately have started with words.  Before having babies I would often think of a line of text or a picture book title just as I was falling asleep and I’d have to hop out of bed to jot it down.  (These days I fall asleep pretty much as soon as my head hits the pillow.) 

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

[BBH] I grew up in Loveland, Colorado and spent a lot of time hiking and camping with my family. Playing in the forest provided so much fodder for my imagination (I spent most the time I was hiking and camping thinking about fairy villages and gnome houses). Several of my portfolio pieces involve trees and forests and there are lots of trees in BRAVE MOLLY.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the forest functions as a psychological space, or almost as another character, in my illustrations.

I’ve also lived in Austin, TX and New York City and my husband and I spent 2015 traveling around the country in an RV.  I think traveling and experiencing new places and seeing how people live in different parts of the country sort of fills up my well of creativity and plants seeds of story ideas.                                       

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

[BBH] When I was little my mom took my brother and I to the library every week.  I spent a lot of time sitting on the library floor, getting lost in picture books.  I drew all the time as a kid.  I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in visual storytelling, but for some reason when I went to college I didn’t realize that you could study illustration in school.  So instead I earned a BFA in printmaking from Colorado State University.  I loved the tactility of making etchings and woodcuts, and was oddly attracted to the tedium of the process.  These are the same things that I love about working in pen and ink today. 

I went on to earn an MFA in drawing and relief printmaking from the New York Academy of Art.  I joined SCBWI in 2005 while I was still in grad school and attended my first SCBWI conference.  I started working seriously on putting together a children’s illustration portfolio and began attending SCBWI conferences as often as I could.  Six years later in 2011 (after having worked as an assistant to an art dealer, a summer camp counselor, and an historical illustrator, and after moving from New York back to Colorado) I received my first picture book contract when my portfolio was spotted at the SCBWI Summer Conference portfolio showcase in L.A.

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[BBH] Pen & ink, watercolor, graphite, and the occasional colored pencil on Arches 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper.

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

[BBH] The illustrations I’ve been working on lately are from books that have yet to come out, so I can’t share too much.  But the photos of my studio include a sneaky peak of BRAVE MOLLY. 

Also, a few months ago I finished the illustrations for BARK PARK, which was written by Trudy Krisher and will come out from Beach Lane Books next year.  I started by looking at lots of reference photos of dogs, sketching lots of dogs, and figuring out what the main dogs and their humans would look like.  I sent my sketches to the editor, Andrea Welch, and we had a few conversations about the direction we wanted the book to take.  I did a rough thumbnail layout of the story and then had lots of back and forth conversations with the art director (the wonderful Lauren Rille).  After some changes to the thumbnail layout, I did full size pencil drawings.  I then made a few adjustments to the drawings based on suggestions from Lauren and Andrea, and eventually was given the go-ahead to start on final art.  The file folder in the picture is full of all of my notes, thumbnail layouts, and most of my sketches from BARK PARK.   

[JM] Which book do you remember buying with your own money as a kid?

[BBH] I’m honestly not really sure about this.  I have specific memories of books I checked out from the library over and over (THE LEGEND OF BLUEBONNET by Tomie DePaola, RUMPELSTILTSKIN by Paul O. Zelinsky, a really beautifully illustrated version of Hans Christian Andersen’s THE LITTLE MERMAID).  And I had a copy of COME FOLLOW ME by Gyo Fujikawa that I LOVED, but I think that was a gift from someone.  I think the first book I bought with my own money might have been one of the Boxcar Children books.  Hm… I wish I had a better memory of that. 

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[BBH] My studio is still a work in progress.  We moved while I was 7 months pregnant with twins and once the babies were born we realized that we needed to move the nursery into the room I had set up as my studio.  So, things are still pretty unsettled.  Hopefully once I finish the book I’m working on I’ll be able to better organize my workspace.  (I probably should have cleaned up my workspace for the photo, or at least thrown away that banana peel, but I figured I’d keep it real).  :/

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

[BBH] We’ve moved several times in the last few years and have whittled our belongs down to only the things we really love, so there isn’t nearly as much on our walls as there used to be.  My husband is a wildlife and conservation photographer (www.WHughesStudio.com) and we have some of his photos hanging up.  I also love old photos and beach combing and little collections of things.  My husband gave me a vintage photo of cowgirls for my 30th birthday that I love and have hanging in my studio. 

[JM] Wow, I love your hubby’s work. thanks for sharing. At what point in the picture book creation process do you start thinking about end papers?

[BBH] This is something that has definitely changed as I’ve done more books.  For the first couple of picture books I did the end papers weren’t really on my radar until the very end of the process.  For BARK PARK (written by Trudy Krisher, Beach Lane Books, 2018) I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do patterned end papers.  For BRAVE MOLLY (Chronicle, Fall 2018) the endpapers are very much a part of the story and are something that the editor, art director, and I talked about early on. 

[JM] I know your twins are still tiny but what are you reading to them at the moment? 

[BBH] I honestly don’t read to them nearly as often as I’d like to.  Really we’re still sort of in survival mode (although things are starting to get a little easier) and even basics like taking a shower and eating dinner are hard to come by some days.  But, on the days that we can squeeze in some reading, 

ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee, WISH by Matthew Cordell, and BLANKET OF LOVE by Alyssa Satin Capucilli (and illustrated by me) have been our go to reads. 

[JM] This pic is adorable! 🙂

Five Fun Ones to Finish?

[JM]  What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world? 

[BBH] There are so many parks around the country that I love, but one of my very favorites is Cayo Costa State Park in Florida.  The park is on an island and you can only get there by boat.  The only cars on the island are those belonging to the park service.  It’s quiet and feels a little bit wild and the beaches are beautiful.

Cayo Costa

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[BBH] Deep down I’m a cat person, but don’t tell that to our dog, Olive. 


[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[BBH] When I was 13 I ruptured my spleen in a freak accident involving a Microburst (kind of like a mini tornado) and a giant tent pole.

[JM] What was your first paid job?

[BBH] As a teenager I sang and played the guitar in an all-girls country band.  We played at county and state fairs all over the western U.S.  We didn’t get paid much but it was my first paying job.  (I was performing with the band when the freak accident spleen rupture happened).   My second job was as a barista.  I was fired. 

[JM] Oh my gosh, some pretty wild teenage moments. You should write some YA! Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[BBH] It used to be iced coffee, black, but these days it’s lactation cookies and Mother’s Milk tea.

Yay for mom nourishment. Thank you so much for sharing today, Brooke, and wishing you all success in your creations.

Check out more of Brooke’s work at her website: www.BrookeBoyntonHughes.com

Posted in children's books, Illustrators, Interview, picture book | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments