Dustin Hansen and his Microsaurs

Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl is the first book in a series about tiny dinosaurs living in a top-secret laboratory. The main characters are best friends Danny and Lin who stumble upon the existence of the Microsaurs when they follow a tiny pterodactyl home from a skateboarding competition. They track it back to a mysterious house that reveals a fascination with these prehistoric creatures. The reader learns quickly that Danny is brave and Lin is braver, so the duo decides to dig deeper and find out more about the mysterious creature.

Throughout the story the characters learn the importance of teamwork and making sacrifices for friendship. This is a fast-paced story that is engaging for readers ages 7-10 with an interest in science, dinosaurs and adventure.

The Caterpillar corner had the awesome opportunity to interview Dustin Hansen about his writing process for Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl.  We hope you find Dustin Hansen’s responses to our questions as delightful as we did!

How did you come up with the idea for Microsaurs? 

Ideas are magic.

They arrive in the most random, strange, unexpected ways imaginable. For example, I’ve had ideas come to me while eating Fruit Loops. Once I was on the phone with my boss and BLAMO, right there in the middle of the conversation a totally unrelated idea blipped into my brainbox. (Thanks brainbox, could you pick a better time?). They show up while mowing the lawn, watching TV, sleeping – seriously, it is the most unpredictable thing in the world for me, and I’m probably not alone in this experience.

For Microsaurs, I was in the hospital and I’d been there for nearly a week. Long story, I’ll keep the details to myself. But I was BORED TO TEARS and I started daydreaming. No TV, no books, nothing else there to distract me. I was minding my own bored business, when a little question pop into my thought-noggin. What if the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct? What if they shrunk so small that we sort of forgot about them? What if they were still alive today? Then the title Microsaurs drifted by and I GRABBED IT!

I guess what all of these idea things have in common is that they are present a lot in our mind-melons. We just need to know when to listen and recognize when a good one floats by so we can be ready to snatch up the good ones.

What kind of research did you have to do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning this book?

 

I love research. I do it all the time. Sure, some people might think it’s just me buzzing through YouTube watching “Who Would Win Animal Battle” videos and “How To Cook With Peanut Butter” clips, but there is something great about filling the idea vault with loads of cool stuff. I call this filling the well, and it really is an important part of my writing process.

For Microsaurs, I did a lot of free form well filling, but I also studied about different types of dinosaurs, dinosaur anatomy (for the illustrations), the science of evolution, the concept of shrinking items in a lab. All kinds of nerdy and neat facts. But I also read a LOT of other books that were similar to Microsaurs. You know, fun, adventurous books like Mo O’Hara’s Zombie Goldfish books. Studying other writers that are super smart and funny is the best way to learn how to write a good book.

So, yeah. Hard to tell how much time I spent. Somewhere between 44 years (I don’t really remember much from my first 3 years on the planet) and 44 hours.

Are you characters Danny and Lin inspired by real people? 

 

YES! Danny, well I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t a little Marty McFly and a little bit Jerry Seinfeld. So, yeah, he’s not really based on a real person, but I like how Marty kind of falls into the right situation in the middle of a whole lot of bad situations, and how Jerry is funny, but still the most normal guy on the Seinfeld show.

But Lin, she’s totally based on my daughter, Malorie. Mal is full of whacky ideas, has no idea what fear is, and is generally good at everything she tries to do. Lin (and Malorie) both love critters of all kinds, especially critters that pack a punch, have teeth and stingers, and are probably venomous. But even spiny, scratchy, stingy creatures need love, Am I Right?

How much time did you spend writing, revising and editing Microsaurs?

More time than I did writing it, that’s for sure. I think the first draft of the Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl, took about 1 month to write. Then I threw it away and started over from scratch. The 2nd attempt was much better because I knew the characters better, but that meant it took longer, probably 2 months. Then the big revisions started. Another 2 or 3 months of back and forth with my writing group, my wife, my editor, my agent. And then another couple of weeks after the story was complete just tweaking words and fixing grammar and spelling errors. I’d say about six months total, give or take a few forgotten days.

Oh, and yeah, the illustrations went through basically the same process. It’s amazing how similar drawing is to writing when it comes down to it.

How does your experience working in the video game industry influence your writing?

Video game storytelling is VERY different than writing a book. One major difference is that in video games, the player (reader) is usually the main character in the game and they get to make a lot of choices that the game designer (or author) can’t control.

However, making video games taught me so much about writing in so many ways too. I learned how important it was to challenge your game player and put him or her in tough situations. This is exactly what you should do in writing too, put your main character in the worst possible predicament and let him or her figure their way out.

But perhaps the most important experience I gained from working in video games was how to work with a big team to make one creative project together. Sure, my name is on the cover of Microsaurs, but it takes a lot more than just me for a book to make it on the shelves. A whole puppy pile of creative minds rolled around in the land of the Microsaurs over the year it took me to put it all together, and each one brought a special voice, idea, or direction to the book.

What type of books did you enjoy reading as a kid? Did you have a favorite children’s author or book?

I loved non-fiction books about science, mechanics, cooking (I know, I’m strange), and facts. I once fell in love with a book about small engine repair so much that I pretended to lose it so I didn’t have to return it to the book-mobile. (sorry). I loved the cut away drawings of the engines and reading about how they worked. Good stuff.

But I also loved reading stories about struggle and imagination. The BFG is a great example of this kind of book. As was Robison Crusoe, Tom Sawyer, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I adored all of those books, but perhaps the most influential book I read when I was young was Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends. Every illustration was a masterpiece and the poems were not only clever, but smart. Still to this day I consider it one of my all-time favorite books.

If you could tell your younger self anything about being a writer, what would it be?

First of all, that I’d actually be a writer. My younger self would probably be very shocked, and perhaps a little disappointed to not be a cowboy.

Reading was VERY hard for me. I’m dyslexic, so I came to reading very slowly. Probably why I loved non-fiction tech books if I’m being honest. They were step by step, good slow digesters.

But, I was always a storyteller. I loved a big grandiose tale, and if I were going to go back and have a chat with wiggly little Dustin, I guess I’d read him this poem, because it wouldn’t have been written yet, but it is exactly the kind of dreamery I wish I would have known long ago.

“The Bridge”

This bridge will only take you halfway there 
To those mysterious lands you long to see: 
Through gypsy camps and swirling Arab fairs 
And moonlit woods where unicorns run free. 
So come and walk awhile with me and share 
The twisting trails and wondrous worlds I’ve known. 
But this bridge will only take you halfway there- 
The last few steps you’ll have to take alone.

  • Shel Silverstein – 2010

At the end of the book, Professor Penrod leaves a super secret video message for Danny and Lin, suggesting that their encounters with the Microsaurs are far from over!

Click here to purchase a copy of Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl (affiliate link). 

 

 

Humorous Valentine’s Day Reads

XO, OX A Love Story* is a hilarious story about an ox who is in love with a gazelle. It consists of a series of back and forth correspondence between the two characters, revealing Ox’s complete devotion and admiration of Gazelle and Gazelle’s gradual but undeniably growing fondness for Ox.

The story begins with Ox penning a letter to Gazelle declaring his love for her. Ox receives a standard response letter with his name hand written in. When he responds to that letter, he receives the exact same letter once again. Ox writes back pointing this out to Gazelle, which elicits a real response from Gazelle.

XO, OX is a hilarious picture book, which will have young readers laughing in no time!

 

Hug It Out!* by Louis Thomas is a must have for parents with two or more children. Woody and Annie are experts when it comes to fighting with one another. Mother grows tired of constantly reminding them to share or to be kind to one another, so she comes up with a new strategy, every time they argue, they will have to hug.

At first, Woody and Annie have a hard time remembering the punishment, but after hugging so many times they grow tired of hugging and want to avoid having to do it anymore.

The story along with the illustrations, which includes a sneaky cat, capture the tension that may arise in a typical sibling relationship on a daily basis.

XO, OX is a great book for kids ages 4-8. Click here to purchase a copy of XO, OX (affiliate link).

Hug it Out! is perfect for readers ages 3-7. Click here to purchase a copy of Hug it Out! (affiliate link).

*I received complimentary copies of XO, OX and Hug it Out! in exchange for my honest review.

 

Friendship and Imagination

Giselle Potter is a unique author and illustrator. Her books feature one-of-a-kind characters and tackle complex issues in a magnificent way. I was first introduced to Giselle Potter as the illustrator of Toni Morrison’s The Big Box. Her artistic style blends folk art and whimsy in a way that makes it easily recognizable as her own. Then I discovered The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter, which combines Potter’s illustrations with cut out words producing a lovely collage affect that contributes so much to the story. Needless to say, I was delighted to hear about This is My Dollhouse which is both written and illustrated by Giselle Potter.

The main character is a young girl who has made her own dollhouse out of different materials. She painted bricks on the outside of a cardboard box and divided the inside into sections which made up the rooms. Her family consists of a variety of figures, Daddy is a stuffed bear, and Grandma Mousey is a mouse.

My personal favorite is the elevator the twins ride up to the rooftop pool where they go swimming. The young girl takes great pride in her dollhouse as she has decided what to include and made it herself.

The girl’s friend Sophie also has a dollhouse, but Sophie’s dollhouse is store-bought and perfect. Every detail was decided for Sophie and so she has a hard time imagining the world for her dolls apart from what she has already been provided by the toy company. When the girl tries to make suggestions, Sophie resists. This creates tension between the two girls.

When Sophie comes over to play, the girl covers her dollhouse. She is nervous that it is not “perfect” like her friends. In fact she hides it beneath a blanket and hopes it goes unnoticed.

This is My Dollhouse is an inspiring picture book that promotes imagination, play and creative problem solving. It invites kids to make their own toys and dream up their own stories rather than playing in the worlds that are imagined for them by others. This is a remarkable picture book that is a must have for all kids.

Click here to purchase a copy of This is My Dollhouse (affiliate link). 

*I received a complimentary copy of This is My Dollhouse in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

A Must-Have Non-Fiction Chapter Book

As an upper elementary school teacher, it’s hard to find interesting and well-written non-fiction texts for kids ages 8-12. Non-fiction books for younger readers are easy to find, with amazing authors like Seymour Simon and Gail Gibbons. For middle-school-aged students, there are plenty of narrative non-fiction chapter books that are engaging. But for the middle-level reader, there seems to be an absence of rich, substantive non-fiction books for them to grow their skills as readers of this genre.

That’s why I get SO very excited when I discover a non-fiction book that is not only interesting and well-written, but perfect for this age group. Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood From Creative Legends is one of these books.

Kid Artists… by David Stabler focuses on the childhoods of the most well-known artists, their lives before they became famous. The reader does not even need to know who the artist is in order to appreciate their experiences growing up. This book humanizes the legends, from Dr. Seuss to Keith Haring.

Each chapter features a different artist and the book is organized into three different sections: Call of the Wild, It’s a Hard-Knock Life, and Practice Makes Perfect.

For example, Georgia O’Keefe’s chapter is in the section Call of the Wild because she grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and drew so much of her inspiration from nature and the world around her. In her childhood, Georgia O’Keefe challenged gender norms, from her favorite pastimes to her preferred clothing. Readers can easily relate to the competitive dynamic among siblings as well as receiving and responding to academic criticism. For Georgia O’Keefe, art became a way of expressing herself and communicating with others.

 

Kids will be delighted to read the chapter about Ted Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss. Ted Geisel grew up near a zoo and he spent a lot of time as a child studying and drawing animals, though his drawings did not resemble the real living ones. His animals were imaginary and wonderful. Word-play was also a big part of his upbringing, which contributed to his interest in language.

When the U.S. went to war with Germany, Ted Geisel became the target of teasing for being a German-American. He stood up to the bullying and became determined to demonstrate his patriotism. Kids will learn about the importance of advocating for social justice and how Ted Geisel’s own experiences with discrimination and intolerance influenced his work as a children’s book creator.

There are so many aspects of Kid Artists that make it a strong non-fiction book. It is ideal in that it is organized into sections and chapters. Kids can examine why the author made the decision to arrange the book this way and how each chapter connects to the greater section. Within each chapter, readers can be challenged to examine the cause and effect relationships, how events or experiences in each artist’s childhood impacted his/her later work. Not to mention, readers do not have to read this book from beginning to end, they can use the table of contents to decide what chapters are interesting to them and read just those sections.

Doogie Horner’s illustrations are peppered throughout each chapter. They support the text, helping the reader envision elements of the text, while adding elements of humor to keep the reader engaged.

*I received a complimentary copy of Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood From Creative Legends in exchange for my honest review.

 

Click here to purchase a copy of this book (affiliate link).

 

 

The Perfect Chapter Book for Friday the 13th

Warren the 13th is a peculiar 12-year-old boy and heir to the Warren Hotel. Saying he is hardworking is an understatement as he is the hotel’s bellhop, waiter, groundskeeper, and chimney sweep, among his huge list of other responsibilities. His father, Warren the 12th, passed away years ago and since he was too young to be in charge his uncle Rupert came to run things. Sadly for Warren, his uncle is rather lazy and at times exhibits evidence of narcolepsy, which led the hotel to fall quickly into disrepair.

One day a mysterious and unexpected guest arrives. His face is wrapped in bandages and he communicates by using a deck of picture cards. Despite how overwhelmingly strange this guest is, Warren does his best to be a great bellhop, welcoming him even though he seems unappreciative and impatient. Warren gives him the not so original nickname of Paleface.

When Warren’s wicked step-aunt Annaconda learns of the new guest’s arrival, she becomes irritated and paranoid. She asks many many questions and then starts asking if he mentioned the All-Seeing Eye, a mysterious treasure that is rumored to be hidden inside the hotel. We quickly learn that Annaconda is cruel, reminiscent of many of Roald Dahl’s evil characters, including the Twit and Miss Trunchbull. And thus begins the search for the All-Seeing Eye, each character trying to find it faster than the other.

Warren the 13th* is a clever and quirky book that fuses adventure and humor. The reader must pay close attention to small clues and keep track of details throughout this fast-paced chapter book. The Edward Gorey-esque illustrations by Will Staehle are really captivating and add to the emotion of the text.

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye is perfect for kids ages 8-14. This book would be a huge hit in my 4th grade class as a read aloud, and my 5th graders would have loved to read it independently. Click here to purchase a copy of the book (affiliate link). 

*I received a complimentary copy of Warren the 13th in exchange for my honest review.

 

Simona Ciraolo is one of my favorite new authors. Her stories are powerful and hold a valuable lesson for readers of all ages. Her illustrations are captivating and convey relationships and emotions in a beautiful way.

The Caterpillar Corner has partnered with Flying Eye Books to bring you a very special Instagram giveaway! One winner will win these three exceptional books by Simona Ciraolo—The Lines on Nana’s Face, Whatever Happened to My Sister, and Hug Me!

Click here for complete giveaway rules and how to enter.

Lovely Multicultural Reads

I am such a huge fan of the Bharat Babies books. They feature diverse characters, introduce different cultures and challenge gender roles.

Padmini is Powerful* by Amy Maranville is a board book that is perfect for babies. Each page introduces a different Hindu god and highlights an attribute of the god that Padmini possesses. She is generous and kind like Lakshmi and she creates like Brahma. The comparisons are supported by the bright and colorful illustrations, making the connections easy for the reader to see. I love that Padmini’s character transcends gender stereotypes, from her appearance to her interests.

Sarla in the Sky* by Anjali Joshi is an inspirational early readers about Sarla Thakral, the first Indian woman to earn her piloting license in 1936. Sarla dreams of flying from an early age. She imagines herself as a bird, a kite and even a butterfly in hopes of one day sailing in the wind. The odds are stacked against her, and many people told her that flying planes was not for women.

The illustrations by Lisa Kurt have a dream-like quality to them with simple backgrounds of clouds and landscapes which places the focus on the characters themselves.

Sarla remains focused on her goal of flying and overcomes a series of obstacles in order to achieve her dream. Sarla in the Sky teaches the importance of not giving up in a beautiful way. Like Padmini is Powerful, it tackles gender stereotypes in a way that empowers girls to pursue interests and careers that have been traditionally identified as being for boys. 

Click here to purchase a copy of Padmini is Powerful and Sarla in the Sky (affiliate links).

*I received a complimentary copy of Padmini is Powerful and Sarla in the Sky in exchange for my honest review.

 

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Pam Munoz Ryan is one of my favorite writers for kids ages 10-14. Her books have serious depth, with complex characters dealing with real-life issues that are not easily resolved. They go through significant changes, sometimes big and other times subtle, always with the help of important relationships. If you have young readers in your life and you want to expose them to some sophisticated texts, check out any of Pam Munoz Ryan’s books.

I was super excited to borrow Echo from the library. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me a solid three months to read through it because we do have a young baby at home. When I reached suspenseful parts, I would find pockets of time to read it out loud to our little one just so I could find out what happens next.

The story begins with a young boy named Otto who meets three sisters in the forbidden forest. He learns that the sisters are trapped in the forest by a witch’s curse. They share with him the prophecy and they gift him a harmonica to pass on when the time is right.

The book is then divided into three sections, each belonging to a different preteen who encounters the harmonica and recognizes the magical quality it possesses. First we meet Friedrich living during the rise of Nazi Germany, whose face is marked by a large birthmark that so many cannot see beyond. Mike is an orphan living during the Great Depression who is fiercely loyal to his younger brother. Lastly, Ivy a young girl living in California whose family members are migrant workers. They move to Orange County to care for the farm of the Yamamoto family, who has been sent to an internment camp following the attack of Pearl Harbor.

Each section is beautifully crafted, infusing rich historical details of the different times and places without overwhelming the reader. These characters are brave, thoughtful and proponents of social change. The harmonica is the thread that connects their lives as it makes its way to the intended owner in order to fulfill the prophecy that will set the three sisters free.

Echo blends elements of fantasy in a mostly historical fiction book in an extraordinary way. This book is great for kids ages 10-14. Click here to purchase a copy of Echo (affiliate link).

Informational Picture Books About Kwanzaa

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Seven Candles for Kwanzaa provides a great introduction to Kwanzaa. Short paragraphs are accompanied by illustrations that support the text. Unfamiliar words are followed by the pronunciation in parenthesis. The reader learns about the origin of Kwanzaa, what people eat and drink during the days of celebration, what they wear, and some of the different traditions that go along with it. Each day of Kwanzaa is accompanied by a main principle from unity to determination. Examples of what that quality looks like in everyday life are also included to help the reader understand and relate to it.

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The Story of Kwanzaa by Donna Washington emphasizes the origin of Kwanzaa and it’s role in honoring the rich history of African Americans living in the United States today. It recognizes the many hardships faced and as groups of Africans were taken away from their families and homes and brought to America by force in our country’s early history. Kwanzaa was created to celebrate family and new traditions that have evolved over the years.

The Story of Kwanzaa has a more typical structure of a non-fiction book, with headings that make the text easy to navigate.

Either or both of these informational books about Kwanzaa are great for introducing the holiday. Before reading them, you can ask children what they already know about Kwanzaa, as well as what they want to know and begin to create a K-W-L chart (Know, Want to know, Learned). Then after reading you can update the chart, to reflect newly acquired information as well as new wonderings.

Click here to purchase a copy of Seven Candles for Kwanzaa and The Story of Kwanzaa (affiliate links).

Picture Books Based on Hindu Mythology

 Ganesh and the Little Mouse by Anjali Joshi is an adaptation of the tale of Ganesh and Kathikeya’s race around the world. In the original tale, they race to win the tastiest mango. Kathik relies on his physical strength while Ganesh his smarts. Ganesh declares that his parents are his world and walks around them and wins.

Anjali Joshi’s beautifully told version of this story infuses elements of friendship that makes it easily relatable for kids of all ages. Ganesh and Little Mouse are best friends. The other gods teased Ganesh for being friends with such a feeble, small creature. Ganesh’s parents comfort him and reassure him that his friendship with Little Mouse is very special. When Ganesh sees a sign for the Annual Around the World Race he and Little Mouse enter hoping to prove to the others how strong and fast they both are. The other gods taunt Ganesh, even his brother, but he remembers his parents’ advice to him and tries to stay strong.

The day of the race, it seems like the odds are stacked against Ganesh and Little Mouse. Until Ganesh demonstrates his true devotion to his parents and best friend in a clever way that makes them the winners.

Ganesh and Little Mouse’s gorgeous illustrations by Christy Mccreery are colorful and captivating and help bring the story to life. Just look at the pictures above!

This is the perfect picture book for introducing different cultures and mythology. Joshi’s adaptation highlights the message of the importance of friendship and family in a way that is accessible for young readers. The author and illustrator capture the emotional toll that such treatment and bullying from others can take on a person, but they champion open communication and standing up for what you believe in. This book is perfect for readers ages 6-10.

Click here to purchase a copy of Ganesh and Little Mouse (affiliate link).

 

Hanuman and the Orange Sun by Amy Maranville is another wonderful picture book that retells the story of the god Hanuman mistaking the sun for a giant mango, in this version the sun in an orange.

The main character is a young girl named Harini who comes home very hungry one day and her mom compares her to Hanuman Dada. Her mom proceeds to share the story of baby Hanuman who ate the sun by accident. Here is Hanuman on his way up to the sun!

Without the sun the world is left in darkness. The gods turn to Indra, the King of the gods for help. Indra acts severely and impulsively, as most gods in mythology do, and strikes Hanuman with a lightning bolt. Hanuman’s father, Vayu the God of Wind, retaliates by stopping all the winds, which impacts the crops and the oceans and the entire Earth until the gods apologize to his son.

At the end of the story Harini’s mom asks her if she understood the lesson of the story, to which she answers, “Be careful what you bite.” (A very accurate kid response to such a question.) Then she explains, “Think before you act because you are more powerful than you know.” A lovely yet simple message that can prompt a great conversation with kids of all ages.

The illustrations by Tim Palin are rich and colorful. They are fun to look at and support the text beautifully.

Hanuman and the Orange Sun is a great picture book for kids ages 4-7. Click here to purchase a copy of this book (affiliate link).