Garbage Island Blog Tour – Middle Grade Recommendation & Giveaway

Garbage Island blog tour

I love being part of a book tour, and even more so when it is a friend whose work you have seen evolve, deepen and knock-socks-off for a number of years. This is Fred’s début middle grade, and I am glad to say, the first in a series. I am also especially thrilled that it is published by Boyds Mills Press as I loved doing a tour of their publishing division when I was at Highlights over the summer.

Title: Garbage Island

Written & Illustrated by: Fred Koehler

Publisher: Boyds Mills Press, Sept. 2018

Ages: 7-11

Themes: Great Pacific Garbage Patch, ocean garbage, fantasy, animal communities, bravery, friendship, predators, enemies, friends, bravery

Genre: animal fantasy




Mr. Popli looked out from his only porthole into the world, scrunched his whiskers and gasped.

What stole his breath was not seeing Archibald Shrew in the lagoon, but rather the ramshackle floating bicycle he appeared to be pedaling.


Mr. Popli, the mouse mayor of Garbage Island, is always at odds with Archibald Shrew, a brilliant but reckless inventor. When Garbage Island, their home in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, splits apart, they are trapped together in Mr. Popli’s houseboat, desperate to find their way back home. At first, they only argue, but when they face a perilous thunderstorm and a series of predators, they begin to work together and recognize – in themselves and in each other – strengths they didn’t know they had. (Publisher)

Why I like this book:

This has all the stunning world building of the classic Redwall rodent series with all the non-stop action and suspense of a Hatchet survival story. I love to see picture book author-illustrator friends stretch their literary wings with lengthier texts, and Fred has debut with a page-turner, which will have you gasping for breath to keep up, but which is also filled with so much heart and character growth. 

While told from two points of view, Mr. Popli, a sober pragmatic mouse Mayor and the impetuous inventor shrew, Archibald. 

Through his latest invention, a telescope, Archie spots the community’s number one enemy, Colubra, a massive snake, with an egg. He rescues the egg believing it to be a bird’s like his bestie, Merri. Mr. Popli and Archie end up adrift with the mysterious egg and together face a series of epic greek-style hero’s journey adventures, including: a monstrous storm, an island of vicious spiders, a shark attack, and the unexpected hatching of the egg that I think readers will have enjoyed already guessing the content thereof.

The final challenge when it seems like all is lost, they face on returning to Garbage Island. There is a wonderful mix of conflict and collaboration between our two protagonists and their contrasting personalities adds much to the humor of the story. Despite their differences a lovely friendship based on the respect grown through proven loyalty and bravery develops. The conclusion is dramatic and sweet and lays the stage for the next adventure.

Fred manages a poetic balance of humor, action and depth through very thoughtful language and character growth, and some nuanced anthropomorphism! The text is interspersed with black and white sketches of key scenes, and if anything, I would have liked more illustrations! 

Let me leave you with some of my favorite quotes, which will give you taste of the story and Fred’s skill as a writer.

“A week into his punishment for the sea-cycle incident, Archie had taken to his new routines with all the enthusiasm of a one-armed starfish.” p.30

A common expletive I love- “Snakespit!

“Archie had always thought leadership was giving orders and making others do what you wanted—this was something altogether different. He felt weak and strong at the same time—weak because he was powerless on his own, yet mighty because he had earned the trust of his comrades.” p.245


I would highly recommend this as a great 4th grade classroom read-aloud.

Definitely have your students do some research on the extend and makeup of the real ocean garbage patch from which Fred got his inspiration for this story.

Don’t miss this interview I did with Fred Koehler a couple of years ago. 

Fred Koehler won a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award for his illustrations for One Day, The End. He is the author-illustrator of How To Cheer Up Dad, which received three starred reviews, and he is the illustrator of This Book Is Not About Dragons and Puppy, Puppy, Puppy and Flashlight Night.  He lives with his children in Lakeland, Florida. 





The publishers will send a copy of the book to one of my readers (in US/Canada only) as a part of the giveaway. Please leave a comment about the strangest/coolest thing you have found drifting in the ocean or washed up on a beach (can be ocean or lake.)

EDITED to add that John Smith was the winner of the random draw! 10/15/2018

Posted in Adventure, Blog tour, Book recommendation, fantasy, middle grade | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

We Are Grateful, Otsaliheliga – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: We Are Grateful, Otsaliheliga 

Written by: Traci Sorell

Illustrated by: Frané Lessac

Publisher: Charlesbridge, Sept. 2018

Ages: 4-8

Themes: thankfulness, seasons, Cherokee, Cherokee language, community




Cherokee people say otsaliheliga to express gratitude. It is a reminder to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles-daily, throughout the year, and across the seasons.


A look at modern Native American life as told by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation

The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences. 


Why I like this book:

Any library that showcases diversity, and that should be every library, should have a copy of this lovely picture book about a family and their Cherokee community celebrating gratitude daily, and around the seasons/year. For example, in the fall the family is grateful for a new baby while the community welcomes the Cherokee New Year. It is a great example of the use of specific family and general community examples allowing the reader glimpses into the history and culture of a Cherokee community.

Frané Lessac’s illustrations are warm and vibrant, and always connect the reader to the earth and nature in some way. Each double page spread introduces the reader to Cherokee names, spelling and pronunciation.


While about daily and seasonal thanksgiving, I think this would be a fantastic text to use for any school discussions about Thanksgiving!

Great for units/story times on seasons, gratitude, family, and Native American nations.

Traci Sorell, who was born and raised in the Cherokee Nation, exposes the reader to the Cherokee language (originally created by Sequoyah) and to Cherokee Syllabary (spelling and pronunciation – explained in the back of the book). There is a glossary and an author’s note that lend more information to a topic that I haven’t seen before in a PB. 

If you are working with slightly older children, look at Talking Leaves by Joseph Bruchac , which gives historical context of the development of the first written Native/Aboriginal Cherokee language.

Check out the interview I did with illustrator Frané Lessac a few years ago. 

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 diversity, Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Cindy Derby – Illustrator Interview

Cindy and I have been FB friends for years and we tried to connect this summer when I was in San Francisco, but our timing never quite worked out. But that is okay as I always believe in leaving things to do so you’ll make a return visit. So next time I am in SF, I plan on drinking mochas with Cindy (as well as hiking around Point Reyes and up Mt. Tamalpais!)

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

[CD] I am an author/illustrator. My most interesting ideas come when the words and picture arrive at the same time, and have a very symbiotic relationship.

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

[CD] I am from Marin County, California. I grew up on a hill in the woods— and I spent a lot of time in the trees with my two cats.

When I got older, I lived in Glasgow, Scotland. This is where I studied theater, performed in plays, and where I got passionately involved in puppetry.

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

[CD] While living in Glasgow, I went on a solo journey building puppets in my bedroom, and figur- ing out how to create a one-woman puppetry show. After coming up with an interesting con- cept, I received funding from Puppet Animation Scotland, which helped further my develop- ment and allowed me to travel and perform in festivals. Then I moved to Los Angeles to con- tinue my work as a puppeteer. During this time, I was also doing a lot of art journaling, and painted a lot of surrealist-style pieces during the late hours of the night.


Creating picture books is a conglomeration of everything I am passionate about—storytelling, theater-play, building new worlds and characters— while investigating the depths of our intri- cate personalities and emotions.

[JM] What did you enjoy about studying in Scotland?

[CD] Devising shows in a rehearsal space with various performers, artists, and musicians.

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

[CD] Watercolor

[JM] Can you share a piece or two for us, maybe from a soon-to-be-released book or a WIP, and the process of creating them?

[CD] Certainly, Joanna!

So, my debut book as an author/illustrator is How to Walk an Ant. It comes out March 26th, 2019 with Roaring Brook Press.

This idea stemmed from a sketch of a character I did four years ago of a girl walking ants. She really fascinated me, so I investigated her further and after many various storylines, hun- dreds of book dummies, I finally landed on a Nine-Step Guide. Amariyah, is the Ant Walking Expert, so she is going to show you how its done in this book. Because…everyone needs to learn the crucial task of walking ants.

I created all the final artwork with watercolor and pastels. I used a wire and black ink to cre- ate Amariyah’s hair. I wanted her hair and the ants to have an erratic energy. 

Cindy and ants

After I painted all the individual components in the book, I gathered the pieces onto separate boards. Then sent them all to the publishers to be scanned.

How to Walk an Ant spread

This was my first book, and the very first time sending final art. So I definitely overdid it with the bubble wrap.

Anyway, after I received all the scanned files from the art director, I collaged everything to- gether.

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

[CD] Pretty sure it was a Babysitters Little Sister book. I remember there was a necklace that came with the book that turned green very quickly.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[JM] Do you have themes or characters that you keep returning to?

[CD] I keep coming back to birds.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world? 

[CD] Right now, its somewhere I enjoy going running: around The Lily Pond at Golden Gate Park.

[JM] Cats or dogs? 

[CD] I don’t have any pets. But I pretend I do. There are cats in the neighborhood that pass through our garden. I named them: Garfield, Oreo, and The One That Stares.

[JM] Please recommend a coffee shop or restaurant for me to visit in your city/town!

[CD] La Boulangerie in Cole Valley, San Francisco. The mochas are $5 and dangerously caffeinat- ed. They also serve them in a giant bowl. After I drink one of those, I go on a cleaning ram- page.

[JM] What was your first paid job out of high school?

[CD] Working in the storage unit of a medical office alphabetizing thousands of patient files.

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[CD] hard boiled egg.

You can preorder How to Walk an Ant here: and my website is here:

[JM] Can’t wait to become an ant-walking pro after I read your book!

Posted in Illustrators, Interview, Picture Books | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment