The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle

by Janet Fox

To insure that the three Bateson children are safe from the Blitz in 1940’s London, their father has made arrangements for them to attend the Children’s Academy at Rookskill Castle in Scotland. A great danger awaits them at the castle, however. Lady Eleanor’s dark magic threatens to take their souls just as she has stolen the souls of other children through the centuries, using the charms on her chatelaine (“an ornamental appendage worn by ladies at the waist”). Both literally and figuratively, she loses a piece of her humanity with each soul that she takes. Before leaving for the castle, Kat Bateson, the oldest of the three children, is given a chatelaine by her great-aunt Margaret, who tells her it is magical. Kat, who is adept at math and logic, must use all her strength, knowledge, and newly-discovered magical skills to overpower Lady Eleanor before she takes Kat’s soul. Meanwhile, the children of the castle discover a Nazi spy is in their midst. They race to uncover his identity before he absconds with Lady Eleanor’s magic chatelaine. A strong sense of place, vivid characters, and spine-tingling suspense pervade this story of good versus evil. Children disappear, the wind howls, and strange noises come from the walls. Since her father works for the British government, and Kat’s human hand has been replaced with a powerful metal one, perhaps we will see a sequel. A fine mixture of historical fiction and fantasy.

Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo

The Storyteller

by Evan Turk

The danger to a culture when its history-keepers are silenced is the foundational motif for this story of a boy who searches his city, in the kingdom of Morocco, for water to fill his cup. He encounters a wizened story-teller who begins to tell a fable to the boy about a family who always had enough water. The approach of a sand-tsunami that gathers out in the desert, and is rolling toward the city, alternates with the tale of an old woman who brings relief from drought to a village in the form of beautiful yarn that must be woven to realize the miracle. The boy repeats the story to the powerful storm. In the process, he empowers the people and together they drive off the desert spirits who threaten to destroy the land. The use of a culturally important craft (weaving) to rescue a land surrounded by desert delivers a powerful message about the importance of preserving beautiful and useful traditions in the midst of adapting to the technology of the future. The story design, of a story within a story within a story, is repetitive and circular, building from a story about a single weaver in a village to a city-wide uprising that defeats the storm, much like a carpet, woven from single threads, grows to cover an entire room. The illustrations, rich in cultural references in design and color, are framed in motifs that suggest carpet edges. The linear style blends with the weft and warp of a loom and produces a seamless visual that enhances the text. This story begs to be read over and over, each page offering new details for discovery on each encounter, like the complex patterns of a beautiful rug. Turk’s book concludes with an “Author’s Note,” that offers insights into why he wrote this story, and a list of resources labeled “Further Learning.” This book would be a good choice for story circle both as a way to introduce the culture of Morocco and as a way of initiating discussions with young children about why it is important to preserve and tell the stories of all cultures.

Reviewer: Hazel Buys

No Better Friend: Young Readers Edition: A Man, a Dog, and Their Incredible True Story of Friendship and Survival in World War II

by Robert Weintraub

“Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.” This quote by Theodore Roosevelt opens this 38-chapter middle grade edition of Robert Weintraub’s New York Times bestseller about Judy, the purebred Pointer, and her best friend, Frank Williams, a Royal Air Force radar expert. The two met in a Prisoner of War camp in Japan during World War II. In fact, it is not until 120 pages into the book that Frank and Judy meet. Judy’s life before Frank included traveling on British gunboats, being stranded on a desert island, traveling through jungles and imprisoned in Padang. She had had a litter of pups aboard a ship, and another while in a Japanese POW camp, and was essentially not only a heroic war dog but the world’s first therapy dog, bringing hope and comfort to soldiers and refugees she met along the way. The book has many photos and sidebars about the war and Judy’s story in light of these hardships is made even more remarkable. Written for a middle grade audience, the violence and desperate measures Frank had to take to keep Judy by his side for years are evenly paced throughout and the sidebars even include information on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something not even considered following World War II. When the pair returned to London the Pointer was now known as “Gunboat Judy” or “Precious Pointer” and following her six-month quarantine (standard for all dogs entering the United Kingdom) Judy and Frank were honored in many ceremonies throughout the country for their service. Finally, the pair settled in Africa working on a food growing project for the British, where Judy had her third litter of pups and they spent two years together before Judy’s passing. The deeply touching relationship between Frank and Judy, as well as the historical details and uplifting stories of courage and survival, make this an unforgettable volume definitely worth adding to a collection.

Reviewer: Debra Lampert-Rudman

Kelly Bennett

kelly-bennettKelly Bennett loves sharing stories—both fiction and nonfiction. Her love of writing can be traced back to when she was two-ish, and used her mother’s black mascara and lipstick to write on the neighbor’s car! (And maybe blamed it on her brother…although she says he blamed it on her.) After learning how to write words (and that writing with paper, pens, pencils, and computers was safer than using her mother’s makeup), Kelly took to writing her feelings rather than speaking them aloud — a practice she believes led her to the writing life she enjoys today.

Kelly writes picture books for children to share; stories celebrating families, dancing, friends, pets, and all that goes into being a kid! These include Jumpstart’s 2015 Read for the Record book, Not Norman: A Goldfish Story (Candlewick Press); Vampire Baby (Candlewick Press, 2013); Character Counts Silver Medalist One Day I Went Rambling (Bright Sky Press); Your Mommy Was Just Like You and Your Daddy Was Just Like You (Penguin); Dad and Pop (Candlewick Press), winner of 2010 NAPPA Honors and Library Media Connection’s Editor’s Choice Award; and Dance, Y’all, Dance (Bright Sky Press), a rhyming, two-stepping romp.

 Selected Reviews of Claudia’s Books


Not NormanNot Norman: A Goldfish Story
Kelley Bennett
Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

Our young narrator is not pleased with his birthday gift. Norman the goldfish is not the kind of pet he wanted. He cannot run, catch, chase strings, or sleep in his bed with him. All Norman does is swim around, and around. So our hero hopes to trade him away, perhaps at Show and Tell, or take him back to the pet store. But somehow a bond begins to grow between him and Norman. By the time they get to the pet store, there is not one other pet that he would trade for Norman. Jones brings a contemporary feeling to this old-fashioned story by creating the visuals digitally. There is a stencil-like but still light-hearted quality of passivity in the appealingly-designed spreads. Large flat color areas still supply contextual details of some middle-class suburb and adequately convey Norman’s owner’s changing emotions. 2005, Candlewick Press, Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature).

Your Daddy Was Just Like YouYour Daddy Was Just Like You
Kelly Bennett
Illustrated by David Walker

Children love to hear stories about themselves as babies, and they also enjoy following in their parents’ footsteps. The little boy in this book is no exception, as he revels in hearing tales of his father’s childhood and the ways he was “just like you.” This refrain by his paternal grandmother lends itself to the child’s participation when the book is read aloud. Grandma describes various activities that speak to the father’s mastery of tasks, such as crawling, walking, talking, going to school, learning math, playing ball and overcoming his fear of the dark. These comparisons serve to empower the boy in the story as he hears about his father’s growth, which represents his own bright future. Some of the father’s antics, such as sitting in time out or losing a ballgame, show the boy that his father had some tough times of growth, exactly like he does. There are also comical parts, such as when the father is singing in the bathtub or raising “a ruckus.” Perhaps as homage to Maurice Sendak’s naughty little Max in Where the Wild Things Are, the father, too, is punished for his wild misdeeds, pictured with a Max-like hat made from a cooking pan. This sweet book champions enduring love from generation to generation. Layered acrylic paint illustrations with soft, visible brush strokes make this book a soothing and suitable story for bedtime. It is surprising how much emotion is masterfully conveyed in the characters’ faces, despite their dots for eyes and simple features. Reviewer: Michele C. Hughes (Children’s Literature).

9780763646912_p0_v1_s192x300Vampire Baby
Kelly Bennett
Illustrated by Paul Meisel

Tootie is an adorable, cuddly baby sister, a “cuddly ga-ga-goo-goo” charmer until the night that her first teeth—or rather, fangs?—come in, and she turns into a relentlessly biting “vampire baby!” The big brother narrator of the story might have been able to accept her constant chomping at his toys, catcher’s mitt, bike tires, and superhero action figures, but when Tootsie turns to toes, fingers, and tummies, it is “YOUCH, TOOTIE! NO BITE!” Tootie’s parents insist that biting is just a normal baby phase, but if Tootie is not really a vampire, why are all her favorite foods blood red? And why is she awake so much at nighttime? Finally, Tootie’s brother has a chance to get rid of her when he sees a vampire couple, complete with vampire child, walking through the costume section of the local store on shopping day; surely, they will want a vampire baby to round out their family. But in the end, he decides that he cannot really part with his vampire baby, after all. Bennett and Meisel’s whimsical collaboration works on two levels: both text and art are carefully ambiguous between the possibility that Tootie might be an actual vampire baby, or might just be a normal teething baby who drives her big brother crazy. Young readers will enjoy the full range of imaginative possibilities here as they share in the message the younger siblings may be irritating, annoying, and downright impossible—but we can still love them, anyway. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).

Program Details

Kelly Bennett is passionate about reading, writing, and creating, and she shares this passion in her lively, interactive presentations. Equally comfortable with large groups or small, she is happy to speak to as many students as can fit comfortably into the available space. She often gives presentations in the library or cafetorium.

During a full-day visit (at one school) Kelly makes up to four 40-55 minute presentations; up to two in a half-day. (One 30-minute presentation for Pre-K/K students can be added to each of these.) The fee for a full-day is $900. Half-day visits of up to 2 presentations (at one school) are $600 per day.

Travel rates are based on airfare from Houston, TX or New York, depending on which is closer to you! If 3 or more schools in one district schedule visits in the same week, they can share the travel rate. Additionally, Kelly offers a multi-school discount of  $100.00 per school.

Kelly tailors each presentation to suit the ages and interests of the students, in this way providing them the best experience possible. Therefore, it is best to group students according to grade levels.

From Pet to Picture Book

Grades 2-8

In the beginning, there was a goldfish…. Students will discover how a favorite pet inspired a story, and how that story became the picture book Not Norman: A Goldfish Story. This presentation can be designed as a workshop for writing students of most ages.

Vampire Baby: The Truth about Biting Babies

Grades PreK-1

The true story of how a biting baby sister’s own story–and big brother’s misfortune–became a picture book entitled Vampire Baby. The program is interactive with songs and movements.

Picture Books are Like Icebergs–It’s What You Don’t See that Counts

Writing Workshop

What is it about some picture books that make a child ask “read it again” and “again” and “again?” In the first part of this hands-on workshop Kelly will dive below the surface of popular picture books to see what makes them stand out. Participants will develop a deeper understanding of how picture books work, components of successful picture books, and the surprise that makes a picture book special–knowledge they can use to strengthen and develop their own picture book manuscripts. Best as a half or full-day session.

Additional Information

To visit Kelly’s website please visit