Happy EARTH DAY, 2021

All this week I’ve been sharing posts recommending picture books that can inspire and ignite a spirit of conservation and activism regarding our one and only planet, Earth. Today is the actual and official EARTH DAY, 2021, the fifty-first such day, and noteworthy for a variety of reasons. If you care to take a look at my picture book blog posts, I’d suggest starting with today’s, since it acknowledges the power of combined effort in Wisconsin’s Senator Gaylord Nelson’s effort to launch this environmental awareness and activism movement.

The post includes several picture books that will blow you away with the power of their text and illustration. It ends with a link to a YOUTUBE video of the song BLUE BOAT HOME, lyrics and music written by Peter Mayer.  (If you don’t move over to that post, the title is linked here, too.

Why would I mention all this here? Because some changes are coming soon to this website.

By mid-May this location will expand and update to include information about the release of my first picture book. Watch for the cover reveal and details about celebration plans. This site will also be rolling in an addition page that will cross- post new picture book posts, ones that, until now, I’ve only had on my longstanding blog, UNPACKING THE POWER OF PICTURE BOOKS. Posts will soon appear on both sites in an attempt to reach readers with wide interests. And, if my best intentions are carried out, I will be reworking the archives on my picture book site to make archived posts more readily accessible for those seeking a “just right” book for particular readers, topics, and occasions.

For now, this post is simply to answer a few of the questions I hear, including:


Oh, my, yes. But much of it has been behind the scenes. Stay tuned!



Review: Mightier Than the Sword- Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing

Mightier Than The Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing

Written by Rochelle Melander

and illustrated by Melina Ontiveros

Beaming Books

ISBN-13 : 978-1506466408

Publication Date: July 27, 2021

Hardcover List Price: 22.99

I’ve been eagerly awaiting my opportunity to share a review of this book for months. My timing is entirely in support of leading as many readers to find it, read it, share it, and celebrate it as possible. The release date is July 27, 2021, and I’m excited to host an interview with Rochelle here on July 30. I was honored to host the cover reveal post (HERE) for MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing (I think you’ll enjoy learning more about the backstory of this book in that interview.)

If this introduction indicates that I’m a fan of the book, I’ve succeeded. I would have LOVED to have and work with this book while still teaching and planning writing activities in my classrooms. Even though my writing workshop opportunities with young people are fewer since I retired, I’ve already added it to lists of recommended books and will share examples from it during future school visits.

Rochelle and I are members of the same writing group, so I had the joy of hearing about this project in its early stages. That includes reading this the final result before it became available for sale. I expected wonderful writing, remarkable content, and a book I would love. MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD is all that, and more, including colorful illustrations and an appealing book design. In fact, I was privileged to offer a blurb, which I include here:

This remarkable book is packed with inspiration, motivation, and information. Writers who are featured within its pages range across millennia, gender and gender identity, culture, race, age, and professions. A consistent four-page structure for each profile provides facts in highly readable narrative, includes appealing art in bright colors, defines the writer’s purpose,  suggests contemporary comparisons, and invites writers to apply those purposes in ways that are relevant to young lives. From famous (Anne Frank) to little-known (Qiu Jin, Chinese Revolutionary for Women’s Rights), the writers’ lives and mighty-mastery of the written word are revealed through brief quotations, with citations and a bibliography in back matter. A brief concluding chapter presents familiar tips (Writers read. Writers listen. Writers explore.) with each described through quotations from writers featured in earlier chapters. Whether reading from front to back, or dipping into the profiles using the helpful Table of Contents, this is a must-have resource for teachers and young writers. Honestly, writers of any age will want this book.

I admire Rochelle’s commitment to this project and her belief in and outreach to inspire and empower young writers. I particularly appreciate the depth of research that is her foundation for the range and reach of individuals she included, across time, geography, circumstances, gender, and fame (or lack of it). Every reader will find connections among the many examples included.

If this sounds as appealing to you as it does to me, it is available for preorder from Amazon, HERE, from Barnes and Noble, HERE, and from the publisher, Beaming Books, HERE. You might also support your local independent bookseller by asking them to pre-order for you. However you choose, even if that means waiting for the publication date and requesting it form your library, I urge you to read and share this book.

And check out more about Rochelle Melander:



Twitter: @WriteNowCoach

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The Overlap of THEN and NOW: Asian American Hatred

Award-Winning Graphic Novel/HistoryDISPLACEMENT

By Kiku Hughes

Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 18th 2020 by First Second
ISBN  1250193532
Praise For DisplacementA 2020 ALA Asian/Pacific American Award Young Adult Honor Title

Listed as one of YALSA’s 2021 Great Graphic Novels for Teens

This is a compelling and highly accessible graphic blend of personal history, American history, current events with a dose of magical realism. The central premise is the time-travel-displacement experience of a contemporary Japanese-American daughter. She becomes aware of surprising and traumatic  details of her grandmother’s Japanese internment story from her own seemingly lived experience. For those familiar with Jane Yolen’s THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC, (Holocaust history) it is an effective device to engage young readers with the past that is integrated through a contemporary lens.
This graphic format is highly readable and emotionally powerful. It reads as  a well-researched fictional piece, until reaching the end to discover that the author’s family story actually forms the complex foundation of the story.
Hughes includes information about her own family, and about notable resistance heroes from that illegal incarceration experience. I’ve read multiple versions of Japanese internment stories. This one does a fantastic job of tying history to present day, of exploring the reason that much of this history was silenced, even within families, and of the crisis of identity as it relates to personal past, social past, and present realities.
Highly recommended.
April. 2021
Hardcover, 400 pages
by HMH Books for
Young Readers
ISBN 035813143X
Traci Chee is an award winning author. Reading this book confirms that she is a consummate storyteller and researcher. She frames the Japanese-American incarceration during WWII (and related United States War Powers orders and consequences of that era) within a network of deep and rich friendships, neighborhood history, and the individual voices/experiences of a group of Japanese-American teens. I felt I had a decent grip on the facts of this era, which proved to be seriously lacking. This book approached as close to a lived experience of those events as someone removed from the time and place could have. I won’t forget the experiences or the characters, and neither will you.
At first I imagined I’d need a chart or notes to sustain the complexity of the individuals, their levels of connection, their personalities, and their varied experiences throughout the five years portrayed in this novel. That was far from the case, because each person’s voice and emotional journey engaged me and stayed with me. Each was so thoroughly brought to life on the page that any individual experience brought to mind its impact on the others to whom they were so intricately and brilliantly connected.
I classified this (for my own purposes) as both fiction and nonfiction because the actual experiences of Chee’s family members and others she interviewed are seamlessly woven throughout the fictional telling within actual time and places. If you have no clue about what “no-no” responses were (and their consequences), what segregation camps were, how the 442nd Regimental Combat team changed the outcome of the European front in WWII (and the cost of those successes in Japanese-American lives), or how the Revocation of the Japanese Exclusion Ban actually affected imprisoned Japanese-Americans, this is a must-read book.
And even if you DO have enough background that you feel aware of the above details (as I was), this is STILL a must-read book. What it provides is a much-needed understanding of the real-time impact of those years on those who were victimized by it, and also by the rest of American society in entrenching racism within our lives. When the phrase “systemic racism” is used (and so often denied), a book like this can help to make it real. It can (might) also open the door to honest conversations. What’s more, it is a compelling, engaging, emotional journey that every good read should be.
Both titles are classified as books for teens, yet both should be read by adults as well, and I will be encouraging that among my friends and network. The graphic DISPLACEMENT is particularly effective with middle grade readers who are in the process of learning American history.
These are  also an essential reads for those in support of current Asian-American-Pacific-Islanders who are targets of overt racism that threatens lives and security in this “free country” of ours. It is not enough to shake our heads or send “thoughts and prayers”. Voices, bodies, and activism are the responsibilities of all who believe in the core values of this country, of humanity.
Learning accurate information about generational trauma and hatred can prepare us to be more effective allies.

A “Couple” of Unsung Civil War Heroes: CLOTHESLINE CODE

By Janet Halfmann

Illustrated by Trisha Mason

Brandylane Publishers

Ages 6-11, Non Fiction Picture Book, hardcover & softcover

Buy this book at Bookshop, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble,Brandylane Publishers, and other booksellers



Congratulations to Janet Halfmann and Trisha Mason! CLOTHESLINE CODE has been awarded honors in the 2022 Storytelling World Resource Awards

… Returning to original review… I  was among others who endorsed author Janet Halfmann’s “hidden history”, THE CLOTHESLINE CODE: The Story of CIVIL WAR SPIES LUCY WALKER and DABNEY WALKER. before its release. Illustrations by Trisha Mason bring Janet’s heart-pounding story to life and augment understanding of the historical setting and circumstances, making it  suited for ages 6-11, but for adult readers, too. Here’s my early endorsement:

“Be prepared for page after page of surprises in this accurate and dramatically written and illustrated profile of Civil War heroes Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker. This is an impressive account of the brilliance, bravery, and boldness of a married couple who escaped enslavement to become spies for Union forces. They were praised while alive but have been overlooked by history—until NOW!”

And here are more details to tide readers over until it releases on February 1, 2021:

Lucy and Dabny are two of the uncounted Black people who risked their lives to fight for and otherwise serve the Union forces during the Civil War. Black men who served in uniform for the North were nearly always segregated into all-Black units and assigned a white leader. In this portrait of heroes we learn that Dabny was assigned to a brand-new intelligence unit, accompanied by his wife. The Walkers were both bright and innovative. Careful observations, questioning, and determination inspired the couple to develop a complex way to adapt the army’s established flag-signal system into a secret clothesline code. If it worked, and if they could remain undiscovered, they could provide information about plans and troop movements from behind Confederate lines.

When they were fully confident in their code, they planned for Lucy to hang laundry in specific colors and positions from the enemy encampment. Dabny and Lucy recognized the risk, from being returned to enslavement or execution. Despite the dangers, both pushed ahead to contribute to the success of the Union Army and help to end both the Civil War and centuries of slavery.

The Walkers had already risked everything in escaping from their own enslavement, yet they continued to serve the wider community, the military, and the nation in which they were finally able to live freely. During their lives and for a few years after, their heroism and contributions were well known in the Washington area where they made their home after the war. Even so, history managed to ignore them for more than a century and half. It’s to the credit of Halfmann, Mason, and Brandylane Publishers that they are finally reaching a wider public.

This publication offers all the advantages of a fully illustrated picture book with images that amplify and enrich a well-told narrative. The word count is more than typical, but every word carries its weight. That includes the supplementary text throughout, from the dedication to introduction to author notes to resource references and quotation sources.

Halfmann has demonstrated a deft touch and craft in digging out the bones of stories from history, people and facts that were long-buried from the population as a whole. She identifies intrepid individuals who have championed and sustained these noble stories, often using primary sources. Then, like constructing a quilt, she transforms neglected and ragged scraps into a work of art that inspires and comforts without distorting the factual content. She showcases real lives and relationships. Janet is not Black, but she has a proven track record of pursuing authentic stories, accessing legitimate voices, and seeking the most reliable “own voices” to consult and provide corrections or validation as her works are developed.

Halfmann’s prior successes in this arena are shining spotlights on rarely reecognized heroes and s/heroes, opening the way for others to explore and share even further. Check out The Story of Civil War Hero ROBERT SMALLS (in picture book and chapter book formats) and multi-award-winning picture book, MIDNIGHT TEACHER: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School.

These, along with the Walker’s story, present colorful and dramatic content that invite screen adaptations. Until that happens, inspire yourself to make the most of your own lives by reading Halfmann’s titles, including THE CLOTHESLINE CODE: The Story of CIVIL WAR SPIES LUCY ANN and DABNEY WALKER.

CHILDREN’S AUTHOR http://www.janethalfmannauthor.com

Meet Janet Halfmann:


Recent titles by Janet include The Clothesline Code: The Story of Civil War Spies Lucy Ann and Dabney Walker; A Bobby-Dazzler of a Pouch!; The Story of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls (Chapter Book for Grades 3-7); Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School; Grandma Is a Slowpoke; Animal Teachers; Eggs 1, 2, 3: Who Will the Babies Be?; Home in the Cave; Star of the Sea; Good Night, Little Sea Otter; Fur and Feathers; Little Skink’s Tail; and Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story. Janet has written more than forty fiction and nonfiction books for children

Before becoming a children’s author, Janet was a daily newspaper reporter, children’s magazine editor, and a creator of coloring and activity books for Golden Books. She is the mother of four and the grandmother of six. When Janet isn’t writing, she enjoys gardening, exploring nature, visiting living history museums, and spending time with her family. She grew up on a farm in  Michigan and now lives in South Milwaukee, WI.

The book is releasing from Brandylane Publishers and the illustrator is Trisha Mason. The book is distributed by Ingram. It is available from bookstores and online booksellers. You can find more info about the book on my website: https://www.janethalfmannauthor.com/the-clothesline-code

IS IT OVER? Happy 2021!

We’re ALL counting on 2021 to be a huge improvement over 2020, right?  Well, to kick off the new year, I’m sharing a  “two-fer” good news.

Later this spring (stay tuned for details) a new picture book will hit the stands, written by Sandy Brehl and illustrated by Becky Hirsch. It has absolutely nothing to do with politics or Coronavirus, but check out the title:



KA-BOOM!  When storms send you running for cover, be brave, look up. Find a story in the storm to calm your fears. Your story just might help someone you love.

The cover reveal and social media announcements will begin later this month, but close friends and family are getting a sneak preview. Followers here are both friends and family, so you are all first up to hear the news!

I’d love to have you follow along with our updates and announcements. If any of you have blog or other outlets to review books or interview creators, please get in touch! We’ll be grateful for any interest and support.

If you haven’t already done so, you can find me on Facebook at Sandy Brehl Author, on Twitter @SandyBrehl and @PBWorkshop and at https://sandybrehlbooks.com

You can find Becky online at https://www.rhirschillustration.com  or as rhirschillus on Instagram.

Heads up, there is another Rebecca Hirsch illustrator online, so don’t just  Google her name. That name must have been first in roll call when art talent was being handed out!

Here’s a tiny glimpse of an interior image, my welcome to the new year.


Happy New Year, everyone, and stay cautious as we continue our Covid battles!

Sandy’s email:


Becky’s email: