Virtual Learning Opportunities from Books Forward Authors

As parents and teachers work to keep children engaged at a time when they can’t be in school, Books Forward wants them to know about its efforts to provide at-home learning activities and resources for kids (some for adults too!). On offer are more than 30 virtual learning sessions with authors from diverse genres.

Opportunities include custom writing instructional videos for classes from YA novelist J. Elle, virtual writing groups hosted by USA TODAY-bestselling author Jenny Milchman, STEM storytimes and invention exploration with the author of Dr. Brainchild, exercise sessions for kids or adults with fifth-degree blackbelt Tori Eldridge or Pilates instructor Dani Alpert, and much more! Storytimes, workshops and classes cover everything from writing & poetry, self-care, nature & science, history & literature, business, and even humor! For the complete list of opportunities, check out the website: booksforward.com/virtuallearning/

Interview With Dr. Rachel Kowert, Author of Pragmatic princess: 26 Superb Stories of Self Suffiency

Rachel Kowert photo

Inspired by her own frustration as a mother of two seeking reading content featuring female leads who weren’t superheroes or male-companion dependent, Dr. Rachel Kowert wrote a children’s book that presents tales of empowerment and self-reliance.

Pragmatic Princess: 26 Superb Stories of Self-Sufficiency offers stories of everyday girls, solving everyday problems, with their everyday abilities. And the 26 stories represent children of all backgrounds, abilities and family types – each with a distinct personality.

Here’s what she had to say about her book. Learn more about Dr. Kowert at rkowert.com.

What inspired you to write “Pragmatic Princess,” and why is it so important to you?

As a psychologist, I know that the characters in our childhood stories are some of our earliest teachers. As a mom, I wanted books for my daughter that celebrated the powers and abilities of the everyday girl. However, when I went to find those kinds of books, they were few and far between. I wanted my daughter to have a storybook with characters that looked like her, reflected the world around her, and showed her what she was capable of doing with the skills and abilities she has right here and right now. Since that wasn’t available, I decided to write it myself.

How did you come up with the different characters and their names?

This was one of the most fun parts! More than half the characters are named after people I know or people I admire. For instance, Valerie is named after my mother, Gina is named after one of my dear friends, and Xena is named in honor of Xena the Warrior Princess (one of the very first strong and powerful women in the media that I was exposed to as a child).

We know that your daughter partially inspired this book, as you were looking for the kind of book you would want to buy for her. Is this book only for girls? What is your target audience?

This book is absolutely not just for girls! It is just as important that boys see girls solve their own problems as it is for girls to see girls solve their own problems. We read books to our daughters with male protagonists all the time and do not think twice about it! We should do the same for our boys (my son loves the book!). My target audience is those aged 3 -10+. The length is well-suited to keep the younger readers engaged whilst the topics become increasingly relevant for the older readers.

What does your daughter think about the book? Does she have a favorite princess?

My daughter loves the book! And despite the fact that “Zoe the Zealous” was named after her and designed to look like her, “Danielle the Daring” is her clear favorite. Though, I guess it is hard to compete with a girl who rides a motorcycle!

How does your background as a research psychologist inform your work?

I drew from my background to develop stories that would be fun, entertaining, but also maximize learning. Childhood stories provide an incredible opportunity to teach children a range of skills and behaviors across various categories of human development – intellectual, social, emotional, and moral. I wanted to make sure to take advantage of this opportunity by enlisting diverse characters and storylines that reflect everyday situations. My educational background also allowed me to develop characters to model effective skills and strategies to navigate some of the more difficult situations in childhood – such as fear of missing out, feeling left out, and constructive confrontation.

We know some of your past work has more of a parental audience; how was your process different when writing for children? Did anything surprise you?

It is definitely more fun writing for children! I was surprised at how much I was really able to integrate what I know about human psychology within the stories themselves. Being able to integrate a lesson or skill that I have picked up throughout my education and research career was a fantastic experience in walking the line between creative and technical writing.

Can you explain to us the science behind this book and the research that went into it?

The science behind the writing is a mix of media studies and learning theory. There is a lot of research that has found that the stories we are told as children through the media, whether it be television, movies, or books, have a long-lasting impact on our development. Knowing this, I wanted to create stories that demonstrate self-reliance but also maximize the potential for the transfer of learning through social modeling. The diverse cast of characters makes it more likely that readers will relate to any particular character and research has found that people are more likely to emulate role models of the same sex, ethnicity, and skill level of any particular activity. The book also rhymes, which helps make the content easier to memorize for younger children, which can help transition them into the pre-reading stage of development. Rhyming has also been found to encourage the development of writing skills.

Book Review: Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera

Misadventures of a Magicians Son cover image

Twelve-year-old Alex is grieving for his father and finding it hard to fit in to the town of Orchard, Maine, where his mom moved the two of them after his dad’s accident. The one piece of furniture that feels like home to him is his dad’s old desk, where he kept his magician’s tools. But when Alex finds a hidden deck of magical cards, he learns unexpected things about his dad and himself.

Misadventures of a Magician’s Son by Laurie Smollett Kutscera is a story that delves into issues of grief, friendship, self-confidence, and more. Alex must figure out who to trust in his new environment, and how to honor his father’s legacy while being true to himself. I recommend it as a fun read for ages 9 to 12.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: We Could Be Heroes by Margaret Finnegan

We Could Be Heroes cover image

Hank knows that different is not less. It’s one of the things his parents taught him to help him get through moments when it’s clear that he’s different than his classmates. Like when he set fire to a book because it made him sad. Or how he still likes to play games that his friends lost interest in. Or how his feelings bubble up and make him feel anxious when he doesn’t know how to handle social situations.

When his classmate Maisie wants to be his friend, at first Hank is happy. Then he feels she is just using him to save Booler, the dog next door, from being tied up all the time. After the two of them forge a true friendship, they decide on a plan that will make them heroes, just like the words in their favorite David Bowie song.

We Could Be Heroes by Margaret Finnegan is a sweet story about two kids who think of themselves as misfits, Hank because he has autism, and Maisie because of a condition that’s revealed later in the book. They are both lonely, and they want to help Booler because they perceive him to be similar to them in many ways. Through their time spent together, they learn a lot about themselves and each other, and they grow in the way they see the world around them.

We Could Be Heroes is a great story for anyone who has ever felt misunderstood or at a loss to understand the right thing to do in confusing situations, which is most of us. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs and readers aged 9 to 13.

Here’s a little bit of info about the author if you’d like to find out more:

Margaret Finnegan’s work has appeared in FamilyFun, the Los Angeles Times, Salon, and other publications. She lives in South Pasadena, California, where she enjoys spending time with her family, walking her dog, and baking really good chocolate cakes. Connect with her at MargaretFinnegan.com.

Twitter: @FinneganBegin

Instagram: @finneganbegin

Book Review: The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne

The Stars We Steal cover image

The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne is set during a time in the future, long after another ice age has made Earth uninhabitable. Princess Leonie lives on a spaceship with her family, hanging onto their fading fortunes and doing her best to avoid an arranged marriage to boost their finances. They are part of a society created when humans had to flee Earth, and they are trying to survive and thrive until the time comes when they may be able to return. But there are complications.

Leo still pines for Elliot, a rejected suitor from the past whom she still loves, although she knows he’s keeping secrets from her. And she has to juggle her father’s decline since her mother’s death, her sister’s love of an unsuitable man, and a controlling aunt who wants to manipulate them all. The story feels in many ways like a futuristic adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, with its rejected love, family agendas, and proscribed expectations.

The Stars We Steal is fun to read and will keep readers entertained until the last page. I highly recommend it for ages 14 and up.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith

Gloom Town cover image

Twelve-year-old Rory and his mom have trouble making ends meet even though she has two jobs. So when he gets the chance to work at a mansion for the reclusive Lord Foxglove he takes it. But there’s something strange going on in Foxglove Manor, something sinister that Rory will need to discover before it endangers everyone in his seaside village.

Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith is a mystery with a delightful touch of creepiness. Despite his fears, Rory braves through strange happenings along with the help of his friend, Isabella, a girl who tells fortunes and has special powers she’s only just figuring out. As the two get deeper into solving the mystery, they elude danger, fight off unusual creatures, and make a discovery that changes Rory’s life forever.

I recommend Gloom Town for readers aged 9 to 13.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Zatanna and the House of Secrets

Zatanna and the House of Secrets cover image

Zatanna would love to be a magician, like her dad. Then maybe things wouldn’t be so difficult with the kids at school, who don’t think she’s cool enough to hang around with. One fateful day several things happen in a row: Zatanna gets mad at some boys being mean to her and turns their skin red; her dad disappears; a Witch Queen appears; and suddenly Zatanna is not sure at all about who has powers and who doesn’t.

Zatanna and the House of Secrets by Matthew Cody and Yoshi Yoshitani is a graphic novel full of twists and turns and adventure. Once Zatanna discovers a strange set of circumstances, she has to figure out how to solve the dangers coming her way if she wants to save her dad. She also makes a discovery about her long-dead mom, the mystery of the house where she lives, and finds an unexpected ally. The graphics are appealing and fun to look at and the story moves along at a fast clip. I recommend it for readers aged 9 to 13.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Diana: Princess of the Amazons by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

Diana Princess of the Amazons cover image

Before she became Wonder Woman, Diana was a young princess on her hidden isle, longing for someone to play with. Her mother and the other Amazons were always so busy training, that they didn’t have much time to pay attention to her. So when she finds an unexpected playmate in a piece of clay come to life, she can’t believe her luck…until her new friend Mona leads her into serious trouble.

Diana: Princess of the Amazons is a graphic novel written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale and illustrated by Victoria Ying. It imagines what life for young Diana would be like as an energetic and playful young Amazon who is also lonely for a friend. It’s a cute story and sure to appeal to readers 9 to 13.

The publisher provided me with a copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.

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