Last February I featured National Geographic and their every four year encyclopedia on U.S. Presidents (OUR COUNTRY’S PRESIDENTS). It’s a great resource on each of the 45 men voted into this prestigious office.

This new title is a fun handbook covering the lighter side of each president along with their weird quirks and accomplishments. Between the giggles you will also find important historical information. This includes a set of pages beginning the book of how this office came to be, powers bestowed, and a look at some big words important to an understanding of the presidency.

Once through these six pages readers are treated to an look at each of the 45 presidents. You will smile or laugh out loud at Adrian Lubbers whimsical color caricatures of each man. My favorites were President John Adams, Pierce, Carter, Obama, and Trump. George Washington featured on the cover is pretty good, too.

Throughout you will find both familiar events and ones known only to the most ardent presidential researchers. Here’s the official blurb on this fun resource from National Geographic Kids:

Weird But True Know-It-All: U.S. Presidents by Brianna Dumont, illustrated by Adrian Lubbers (ages 8-12, June 2017) – What’s so weird about U.S. presidents? Plenty! Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was a great wrestler? That Ulysses S. Grant got a speeding ticket riding his horse – twice! Or that Benjamin Harrison was afraid of electricity? And let’s not forget that President McKinley had a pet parrot that whistled “Yankee Doodle Dandy” duets with him. Every president — from the 1st to the 45th — is spotlighted, featuring important historical information alongside vignette’s highlighting the oddities of each prez. “Extras” include an introduction that delves into the powers of the President, Congress, Supreme Court, an explanation as to how the electoral college works, a glossary, an index and even a listing of the Presidents’ most outrageous pranks. 

*******************QUIZ TIME*******************

Now that you have some background, try guessing the president for each of these five facts. There are hundreds more in the book but these are my favorites I didn’t know about before reading this guide.

  1. His father passed away when he was 11 years old.
  2. He kept his pet alligator in the East Room of the White House.
  3. This president had 15 kids!
  4. He was the first to have both his mom and dad at his inauguration.
  5. This president reported seeing a UFO.


For the answers you’ll have to get your own copy of WEIRD BUT TRUE! KNOW-IT-ALL: U.S. PRESIDENTS


No, I wouldn’t do that to you… Here are the answers to my teaser questions:

  1. George Washington
  2. John Quincy Adams
  3. John Tyler
  4. John F. Kennedy
  5. Jimmy Carter

God Bless America and have a great weekend!





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The world of babysitting has never seen this much fun, excitement, and under your bed scariness. Who knew those monsters lurking in the minds of preschoolers would make a great idea for a middle grade series.

Kelly is thirteen and trying to earn enough money to go to a summer camp she hopes will be a first step in not being invisible to her classmates. She reluctantly takes on the job of a babysitter on Halloween and sure enough it’s not a good night. Little Jacob gets carted off by monsters he always claimed were lurking in his bedroom. Kelly doesn’t know what to do until Jacob’s regular babysitter arrives to help out. She is a part of a babysitter society whose purpose is to rid the world of these scary nighttime creatures.

Filled with adventure, a few scary scenes, and humor, the story is told through Kelly’s hesitant and often comical narration. There’s middle grade angst at every turn as Kelly comes to grips with her own self and how anyone can shine if given the chance.

Perfect for fifth grade on up. More is on the way in this three book series including a future movie. As a former babysitter myself it will be fun to follow Kelly as she hopefully becomes a full fledged member of this unique secret society of babysitters.



When middle schooler Kelly Ferguson’s Halloween plans switch from party-going to babysitting, she thinks the scariest part of her night will be the death of her social life. But then Baby Jacob gets kidnapped by the Boogeyman’s minions and Kelly learns there’s a whole lot more to childcare than free snacks and Netflix. Like chasing shadow monsters, drop-kicking Toadies, and mastering monster-fighting moves like the Naptime Headlock and Playground Punch.

Now, with the help of an ancient handbook and a secret society of butt-kicking babysitters, Kelly sets out to destroy the Boogeyman before he brings Jacob’s nightmares to life. But when the monsters’ trail leads to her school’s big Halloween bash, Kelly will have to prove she can save the world—without totally embarrassing herself in front of her friends.

Packed with black-and-white illustrations and insider secrets from the world of monster hunting, A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting is full of tricks, treats, and terrifying twists!


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed Kelly Ferguson, the main character. She’s an every day type of girl trying to find a niche in the beginning of her teen years. Smart, heroic, and stuck in that weird time in everyone’s life known as middle school.
  2. The fun images throughout give life to the monsters and are a well done addition to the text.
  3. I always worry when I get close to the end of book one in a planned series. Will there be so many plot points unresolved you feel cheated? Certainly not here. There’s one thread dangling, but the rest are wrapped up neatly.
  4. Although set on Halloween night the story can be enjoyed any time of the year especially if you love a thrilling climatic end.
  5. The secondary cast of characters leave you with wanting to more about their past. Great possibilities lie ahead in book two and three.


“How do you know all this stuff?” I whispered, gnawing on the end of my sleeve so hard, it threatened to unravel.

“I’m a babysitter. It’s what I do.” Liz cracked open a fluorescent green can of Monster energy drink and downed it in a few heaving gulps. She never took her eyes away from the baby.

“I mean…is every sitter like you?”

“Like what? A butt-kickin’ UFC warrior?” She crushed the can in her fist.

“A deranged psychopath,” I said.

ABOUT Joe Ballarini (from Joe’s Web Site)

This guy is the author of A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting and the writer of the movie, Dance of the Dead and the upcoming My Little Pony: the Movie (oh, yeah!). Joe lives in Los Angeles with his wife, their son, and two rescue dogs.


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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This yearly favorite has reached new heights for 2018. Available now, ALMANAC 2018 includes twelve chapters filled with oh my gosh pictures, facts, games, quizzes and much more. Include this in your summer travels and you’ll never hear “I’m bored” from any young person who is lucky enough to have their own copy.

A look at the chapter titles gives you a preview:

  1. Your World 2018
  2. Awesome Exploration
  3. Amazing Animals
  4. Going Green
  5. Engineering and Technology
  6. Wonders of Nature
  7. Fun and Games
  8. Space and Earth
  9. Culture Connection
  10. Life Science
  11. History Happens
  12. Geography Rocks

That’s an eye popping collection contained on over 350 pages and 500 amazing photos! Each chapter also includes an 18 cool things feature.

The almanac is not only good for summer, but when school revs up again you’ll find many curriculum connections. An added plus scattered throughout is a section called HOMEWORK HELP giving tips on how to—write a perfect essay, make an oral report, write a good letter, and read a map to name just a few.


Here’s More Background from National Geographic Kids:

One of the most effective, easiest and affordable ways to ensure students are on track academically come September is to make sure kids have access to books throughout the summer. Whether it’s making library visits a part of the summer schedule, starting a neighborhood book swap or incorporating a trip to the local bookstore as part of an outing to the ice cream shop, there are lots of ways to get kids hooked on reading this summer.

As the best selling kids almanac on the planet, the National Geographic Kids Almanac has helped millions of kids beat the summer slide. The key to getting a child to pick up a book is to find one that interests them, and the Almanac 2018 has something for EVERYONE.  The Nat Geo Kids Almanac 2018 (ages 8-12, $14.99) is the perfect way to take a big bite out of the summer slide.


You can never stop learning, even for a big kid like me. Here are some of my “I didn’t know that” moments as I read this great resource:

  • With an app and an earpiece you can have a real time conversation with someone speaking a language you don’t know. Included are Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and English.
  • The Newsmaker Challenge next year is to Save our Sharks. A fantastic website is devoted to learning more about the importance of sharks and the health of our oceans.
  • The armadillo is truly the funniest animal on the planet.
  • Recycled denim jeans can be used as insulation in the walls of green homes.
  • The microwave oven was created by accident.
  • I was blown away by 18 Facts about Natural Disasters.
  • Harriet Tubman is set to appear on the U.S. twenty dollar bill.

There are hundreds more I could note, but you’ll want to devise your own list. The National Geographic Kids ALMANAC 2018 will for sure be the most popular non-fiction title in your home or school. Fantastic stuff!


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WELCOME TO THE WONDERLAND–Beach Party Surf Monkey for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

P.T. (named after P.T. Barnum) returns as the hilarious narrator in the second book in the WELCOME TO WONDERLAND series. Earlier this year I raved about Book #1—Home Sweet Motel.

This is a totally new wacky adventure and reading the first is not a requirement but encouraged. You’ll quickly find out P.T. lives in The Wonderland Motel in St. Petersburg, Florida with his mom and grandpa. P.T. has a knack for talking and convincing people his stories are real. His best friend is Gloria, a business minded classmate.

The nasty owner of the resort next door wants to bulldoze The Wonderland and use it for a parking lot. He always gets his way, but maybe not this time. P.T. and Gloria convince a movie crew to film their retro 1960’s movie, Beach Party Surf Monkey, at Wonderland. They hope doing so will bring worldwide popularity to the motel and keep P.T.’s mom from selling out.

Of course problems arise with the monkey costar and a teen idol with a huge ego. It leads to lots of baloney, a smelly finale, and the promise of a third book, BANANA SHACK SHAKE-UP.

The 79 chapters—not a misprint—fly by and reluctant readers who are under the parental rule of reading one chapter a day this summer, won’t even notice they’ve read many more.

Silly and lighthearted makes for the perfect combination this summer. Check in for a few hours at The Wonderland and enjoy all the amenities like a fun, outrageous  story with many laugh out loud illustrations.



There’s always something wacky happening when you live in a motel, and P.T. (named after P. T. Barnum, of course) has grown up at the world’s wackiest! When word gets out that the hottest teen idols in Hollywood (plus current YouTube sensation Kevin the Monkey!) will be filming their next movie—Beach Party Surf Monkey—right in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida, P.T. and his friend Gloria know that the Wonderland would be the perfect location. Now they just have to convince the producers!

But when things start to go wrong (crazed fans? missing stars?), it will take all of Gloria’s business genius and P.T.’s wild stories to save the movie before both it and the Wonderland are all washed up!

FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: WELCOME TO WONDERLAND: Beach Party Surf Monkey by Chris Grabenstein

  1. The extras in the back will keep readers amused until the next book comes out. P.T. WILKIES OUTRAGEOUSLY RIDICULOUS AND OCCASIONAL USEFUL STUFF is where you will find explanations of common movie terms and a fun movie quiz. Some smart marketing person decided to put the questions in the book but the answers on the author’s web page. A great way to move readers to other content.
  2. One major cliffhanger remains. Where is P.T.’s dad? Its something both P.T. and readers will hopefully find an answer to in the next book.
  3. Books with illustrations can often be hard to read as you go back and forth from words to drawings. Here though there is a nice balance and they seamlessly integrate with each other.
  4. Grandpa is the kind of grandpa every kid should have—always there when you need him.
  5. Nothing heavy here. Leave that to the many MG books dealing with those big issues. As I read the book on my porch it had me laughing, garnering a few extra looks from passing neighbors. I let them borrow my copy and now they’re the ones smiling.

FAVORITE LINE FROM P.T. as he leads the motel’s tram tour:

As people climbed aboard, I kept up my patter. “By the way, if you lost a roll of fifty twenty-dollar bills wrapped in a red rubber band over by the concession stand, please let me know. I’ve got great news. We found your rubber band.”

FROM Mr. Grabenstein’s WEBSITE:
Yes, like we said, Chris is always writing! This morning, he wrote a grocery list, a note to his wife, J.J., and a letter to Santa Claus. It’s never too early.


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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You mean I’m not done?

The plot shines with all of the needed pieces to keep a reader turning pages and the characters are memorable. It looks like I can close the book (or rather the computer file) and call this one complete….

Okay, not so fast. Another editing hurdle lies ahead to leap over and this one can be painful and lengthy…but here’s what you can do to make your pages shine even more.

Print your story out single space. Reading it this way will give you a whole new view. I found words and sentence structures repeated that I never noticed on the computer screen.

My biggest problem words were “Instead” and “but”. It’s not that I had to eliminate all of them—just the over occurrences. When I did a FIND of these two in Word, some pages lit up like a Christmas tree. I was then able to go in and either eliminate the word or rework the sentence. The difference in quality was apparent.

There are other words I collected from my mentoring experience with SCBWI that I searched for in my story. Many are known as “Telling Triggers” while others often slip into writing and can give a page or chapter a more passive voice.

It easily took me more than a week of spare time to sift through my 40,000 plus words and decide whether to let a particular word stay, go, or rewrite. Some needed to go for sure, but again the goal in doing this time-consuming step is not to get rid of every word. The goal is to take your writing to a higher level—one that will be noticed.

Here is the alphabetical list if you care tackle the task in your own writing. Just be sure to take frequent breaks!

Note: The above list is in JPEG format if you wish to drag it to your desktop and print it out.



Posted in Editing, Resources, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged | 2 Comments

FELIX Yz for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I try to keep a pulse on what agents, editors, and book publishers are looking for in new stories. Reading their blogs, web pages, and tweets can often give me insights (See Manuscript Wish List). Specifically in MG, here is what pops up the most:

  • I want diversity in race and LGBTQ
  • Give me a character who is not an everyday girl or boy
  • Show me the struggles of someone with a disability

There are certainly books out there who cover one or two of these, but with the quirky FELIX Yz, all of them are covered. Throw in a bully, a single parent family, and some light science fiction and you have one of the most unusual titles to come along this year or any year.

Felix is 13 and narrates the story. He has a unique problem after a freak accident left him fused with an alien inside him ten years prior. The alien has a name, Zyx, and the first sentence you hear from Zyx on page three makes you think this is going to be one weird ride: do what you want do not do what you do not want.

The story begins 29 days before the procedure doctors and scientists have devised to separate the alien from the boy. Each chapter is a countdown in name and content—29 DAYS TO GO, etc.  until you reach the chapter titled ZEROMOMENT.

The pages in between are about Felix trying to live a normal life in middle school despite his strange movements and ticks, courtesy of the other being nesting inside him. Felix is attracted to another boy in his class, Hector, and that thread carries on to the end. At home are a bisexual mother dating again, a piano prodigy older sister, and a grandparent who hasn’t settled on one gender going with Vern part of the week and Vera the rest.

Felix is scared of what might happen to him on the crucial day, but his dialog is often funny and perceptive. This one may not be for everyone, and for sure it is more of an upper MG title (10-13). It will make you see how life keeps happening no matter what.


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON)  When Felix Yz was three years old, a hyperintelligent fourth-dimensional being became fused inside him after one of his father’s science experiments went terribly wrong. The creature is friendly, but Felix—now thirteen—won’t be able to grow to adulthood while they’re still melded together. So a risky Procedure is planned to separate them . . . but it may end up killing them both instead.

This book is Felix’s secret blog, a chronicle of the days leading up to the Procedure. Some days it’s business as usual—time with his close-knit family, run-ins with a bully at school, anxiety about his crush. But life becomes more out of the ordinary with the arrival of an Estonian chess Grandmaster, the revelation of family secrets, and a train-hopping journey. When it all might be over in a few days, what matters most?

Told in an unforgettable voice full of heart and humor, Felix Yz is a groundbreaking story about how we are all separate, but all connected too.


  1. Zyx communicates with Felix by taking control of Felix’s fingers and typing his thoughts. A perfect way for an alien to communicate with this earth boy.
  2. Acceptance is the main issue here…of who you are, who you want to be, and pushing away others who can’t accept ways different from their own.
  3. At first you’ll be trying to understand the alternate pronouns (vo and veir?), but they soon become a natural part of the story. Yes, this will test your reading brain to the max, but you’ll survive.
  4. There is a lot going on here with the other characters, but thankfully its Felix who puts everything into proper perspective.
  5. I’ll call this a contemporary sci-fi. It seems like a fitting new label for a new type of story.


The only thing I have to report about today is that it has been less fun than usual for a Friday because tomorrow, all day, is the trip to the Facility to finish the Fitting of the Apparatus. Gah, all these Capital Letters. But, that’s how it feels, so, Whatever. The Facility is the science complex where the accident happened and where the Procedure is going to be performed. It’s a long way from here, back where we used to live. (Of course the fifty-mile rule doesn’t apply to driving there.) And may I just say I am not looking forward to any part of this, at all?

Lisa Bunker has written stories all her life. Before setting up shop as a full-time author she had a 30-year career in non-commercial broadcasting, most recently as Program Director of the community radio station in Portland, Maine. Besides Maine she has made homes in New Mexico, southern California, Seattle, and the Florida panhandle. She currently lives in Exeter, New Hampshire with her partner and her cat. She has two grown children. When not writing she reads, plays piano, knits, takes long walks, does yoga, and studies languages. She is not as good at chess as she would like to be, but still plays anyway.(Read more at Lisa’s author web page)


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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A Dash of Help

I recently wrapped up my five month long partnership in our local SCBWI Author Mentorship program. I was matched with Anna-Maria Crum and we worked so efficiently together I was able to get two manuscripts into superb shape for submitting.

Not only did my characters and plot get a needed boost, but I also learned (or relearned?) some important grammar and editing skills. Over the next few months I’ll share a few tips to help make your final product a professional masterpiece.

Today is the often misunderstood HYPHEN (-), EN-DASH(–) and EM-Dash(—). I had become lazy in how they are used and often in my drafting chose whatever one came to mind first. Here’s the low down on how to use these correctly:


  1. When to use
    1. Connecting compound words (right-of-way)
    2. Telephone numbers or grouped numbers (555-555-5555)
    3. Syllable breaks within words at the end of the line
  2. How to make one
    1. Use the minus sign on the keyboard


  1. When to use
    1. To join words when describing a range (June–August, 2017)
    2. To join numbers in a range (8–13 years old; 1968–2010)
  2. How to make one (two options)
    1. MAC & Windows: Type a word followed by a space, then type the hyphen, followed by another space and the second word. Tap enter, return or space bar.
    2. MAC: option-minus sign; Windows: control-minus sign

Em-Dash (—)

  1. When to use
    1. Set off a unique idea from the main sentence (This manuscript—minus a few flaws—is close to perfection.
    2. Separate an inserted thought (Writing is a journey—often not on the same road.
  2. How to make one (two options)
    1. MAC & Windows: Type a word followed by two hyphens, then type the second word and tap  enter, return, or space bar.
    2. MAC: shift-option-minus sign; Windows: alt-control-minus sign

No test. You are dismissed for the weekend!

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