Author Interview with Colleen Nelson

My Review:

I just love Harvey the West Highland Terrier. But, be warned-this dog tale is not like any you've read. Part animal adventure, part historical fiction, students will be captivated by Harvey's antics. Told in three perspectives, readers enter the world of the Great Depression when Harvey's presence stirs up memories of Mr. Pickerington, an elderly resident of a nearby nursing home. 

Readers will not be disappointed in this story of friendship, hope, and history.  Check out her interview below!

Q: Without any spoilers, what’s your favorite part of Harvey’s story?

A: My favourite part is the ending! I love happy endings and after Harvey’s big adventure and all the emotional ups and downs of the book, it’s nice to have a satisfying last line. (There is a second book, so it’s not a last last line…)

Q: Do you prefer writing any one genre over another? Is the process any different?

A: I mostly write realistic fiction and I LOVE writing middle grade books. I started out writing young adult books, but I like the softer, gentler side of MG. I can get into heavy topics like grief without the books themselves being heavy. The process isn’t different but I have to remind myself to keep the action moving and not to let the characters get too reflective.

Q: You’re a teacher. What advice can you give teachers about helping young people view themselves as writers?

A:  First of all, neat printing and good spelling do NOT make a writer. Writing is about ideas and sharing your voice. Giving students an understanding of structure is important because lots of times students start out writing a story but have no idea how to finish it. They lose interest because the ending seems impossible. I make sure my students have a plan before they begin. I also point out good writing when we do read alouds. I see how what I talk about in class finds its way into their work. I also find contests for the kids to enter--it gives them a goal and an authentic audience.

Q: There seems to be a shortage of MG books that focus on historical time periods outside of WWII. How did you decide the setting for these books?

A: I agree! That was exactly why I chose the 1930’s as the time period. My uncle had some stories about my grandpa’s childhood and I used those as the inspiration behind Mr. Pickering’s stories. The second Harvey book takes place in the 1950’s, which was when my mom was a little girl. I pick time periods I’d like to learn more about and then find a way to connect a family story. I think it makes the stories more fun to write and gives me an excuse to get my relatives talking about the past.

Q: Finish this sentence: I hope my books...

A: Make you laugh, cry and want to read more!

Q: What are you currently reading?

A: That’s a loaded question because I am a MAJOR book nerd! Right this moment, I am reading ‘Amari and the Night Brothers’ by B.B. Alston. It’s amazing. I will finish it today though so I’ll tell you what I’m reading next--’A Place to Hang the Moon’ by Kate Albus and then it’ll be ‘Peter Lee’s Notes from the Field’ by Angela Ahn. In YA, I just finished ‘The Book of Sam’ by Rob Shapiro and I just bought ‘Lore’ by Alexandra Bracken.

Q: What else would you like us to know?

That I LOVE to connect with bloggers and readers and am so appreciative of the time and effort that goes into your work. With so many book-related things shut down, what would writers do without you? I run an online book club called MG Lit Book Club with my friend, Kathie MacIssac and it has also been an awesome way to meet other MG fans during the pandemic. You can find us at


Red Chair Press - Books to READ!

 The One Great Gnome by Jeff Dinardo (Pub. date September 1, 2020) 

This story introduces readers to the magical, hidden, and mysterious world of gnomes, elves and trolls. Eleven-year-old Sarah moves with her family from New York City to rural Connecticut. She's eager to explore her new home and meet new friends, but she never expected to befriend a dusty old garden gnome. Readers join Sarah as she is drawn into a secret world under our feet. Sarah uses her instincts to calm old rivalries and help the underworld elves, gnomes and more live peacefully together.
You can read an excerpt of the book here:

"Plot-driven chapters that emphasize characters over world-building will draw a variety of readers into this adventure, and straightforward, humorous third-person narration keeps the twisting, turning story moving." —Kirkus

"With tributes to imaginative children’s classics embedded in it, The One Great Gnome is an endlessly fun middle grade adventure." —Foreword Reviews

What a great story that I loved sharing with my son. He loved the pictures and following along with the main character - Sarah. This is a really good fantasy story for kids ages 9 and up, but a great read aloud for all ages. 

Second Dad Summer by Benjamin Klas (Pub. date August 4, 2020)

Jeremiah just wants a normal summer with his dad, but it’s clear that isn’t happening. His dad just moved to an apartment near downtown Minneapolis to live with his new boyfriend, Michael. Michael wears shorts too short, serves weird organic foods, and is constantly nagging Jeremiah to watch out for potholes and to stay hydrated. Worst of all Michael rides The Uni-cycle, a bicycle decorated to look like a unicorn! This is going to be a long summer!
You can read an excerpt of the book here:

Second Dad Summer has been receiving a lot of great buzz, including a starred review in BooklistKirkus called the book "touching and unforgettable." And Foreword Reviews had this to say: 

"The book’s characters are vibrant, and the novel is welcoming and inclusive. Insightful and sensitive, Second Dad Summer is a story all about the meaning of family and the value of acceptance."

Laura Gardner says: "Second Dad Summer is a wonderful addition to my library’s collection of LGBTQIA books. Jeremiah is spending the summer with his dad, but he isn’t a fan of his dad’s live-in boyfriend. Michael rides a unicorn-themed bicycle that is super embarrassing (and so super gay) and Jeremiah wishes he could spend time with his dad alone. His friendship with new neighbor Sage (who has two moms) helps him rethink his opinion of Michael. Lots of exploration of homosexuality, bisexuality, and masculinity. I loved this book!"

Silent Journey by Carl Watson (Pub. date August 1, 2020)

Scott Schroeder dreams of a day when he and his father can have a home of their own. Following an accident that took his mother’s life eight years before, doctors discovered Scott was suddenly deaf.

Blessed with being an accomplished gymnast, and even though he signs and reads lips, Scott’s biggest challenge is convincing others he is just as capable of doing things as those in the hearing world. Picking up on conversations he observes along the way, Scott figures out a big family secret concerning his father and uncle and decides to play a part in their reconciliation.

A young boy, rendered deaf by a fiery accident, learns to deal with many transitions in his life with the help of his uncle and a faithful dog-friend. This is what I would call a “gentle read”, perfect for younger middle-grade readers who are transitioning into chapter books.
Into the Wind by William Louzeaux (Pub. date March 1, 2021)

It’s shaping up to be a rotten summer for Rusty, a young sailing fan who lives on an island off the New England coast. He’s just flunked fifth-grade math and has to go to summer school. His older sister is bossier than ever. Worst of all, his mom is far away on the mainland —undergoing treatment for her sudden, confusing, and exhausting “sadness”—while his dad struggles to keep the household together. Rusty’s only refuge is in caring for and teaching himself to sail a small, beloved sailboat.

While working on his boat at the village dock one evening, Rusty meets Hazel, a feisty local artist from an old sailing family. Hazel asks—no, demands—that Rusty take her sailing. He refuses. She argues. And an unlikely friendship begins.

Reader Cat says: "Heart warming tale! I love stories like this. Hazel is very insightful of a child in need. Walter is lucky to find an adult interested in caring for him during some difficult family event-his mom is in a mental hospital and his dad is a bit distracted. His sister, Lizzy, was just annoying! Maybe it was just her age... Poor Walter, floundering at school, bullied by older, and seemingly, wealthier boys, no present mom or dad, and hateful sister...Hazel is just what he needs. I loved the chapters involving their sailing!I hope I'm having as much fun as Hazel someday! (She reminds me of Maude from the film Harold and Maude! Feisty and full of life to the very end.)
Wonderful story, even the inevitable end is fitting and good. Good strong story for all ages."


Guest Blog Post: Top 5 Tips for Reluctant Readers


Authors’ Top 5 Tips for Reluctant Readers

 By Louisa Onomé 
 The uncertainty of world events means that we’re turning to books in more ways than ever this year. We may find ourselves going from voracious readers to only picking up one book here or there. If that’s the case, then how can we expect our kids to be any different? 

 Well, if anyone knows how to connect with reluctant readers, it’s the new crop of kidlit authors debuting in 2021. If debuting in (what we hope is) the tail end of a pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how to make reading exciting. Some of the 2021 YA/MG debuts have pooled together our best tips to make sure we can keep our youngsters reading all year. Let’s hear what they have to say. 

 “As the mother of a child with dyslexia who struggled mightily to learn to read, this topic is near and dear to my heart,” says Jessica Vitalis, author of The Wolf’s Curse (Greenwillow). “One of the most important factors in encouraging reluctant readers to develop a healthy relationship with literature is to read books out loud to them so that they develop positive associations with stories. It’s also important to help reluctant readers find topics and genres they are passionate about––for example, I love dark fantasy, whereas my daughter is drawn to contemporary books with a lot of humor. Finally, I’d encourage gatekeepers to offer reluctant readers a variety of formats to find what works best for them––this includes audio books, graphic novels, poetry, and illustrated novels.” 

 Erica George, author of Words Composed of Sea and Sky (Running Press), writes: “There is nothing more important to me than putting books in the hands of young readers, and as an English Language Arts teacher, I know that this can often be a struggle! My biggest tip is to show that reluctant reader in your life how important books and reading are to you. If reading is a central part of your everyday life, then you’re modeling good practices and showing your reader how important books are daily. Another important consideration is not to make reading a chore. If we tell our readers that they must read for a certain amount of time before they can do something more appealing (have dessert, go outside, play video games), then we’re making it a punishment rather than a joy.” 

 Auriane Desombre, author of I Think I Love You (Underlined), shares similar sentiments: “As an English teacher, I know it can be a struggle to find books that connect with reluctant readers! I think it’s important to limit policing of what “counts” as reading. Listening to audiobooks, picking out graphic novels, or rereading a favorite book (even if it’s for the seventeenth time) should all count as reading! Try to engage with young readers in a positive way by making time for reading together and talking about your own favorite books to start genuine conversation about books. Above all, allow reluctant readers to read on their own terms by looking for stories they feel passionate about in a format that feels accessible to them.” 

 Regardless, when working with a reluctant reader, it’s best to remember that there are many things that endear them to a book. Why not try out one of the books by our 2021 debut class? From expansive and engaging relationships to fantasy worlds dripping with character, there’s sure to be something for every reader, reluctant or not. 

 Check out the Class of 2k21’s middle grade projects here and let us know which ones would make a perfect gift for the reluctant reader in your life!

Epic Books! Unicorn Island Book 1


Did you know that has their own books, too? Unicorn Island was sent to me and I immediately saw their branding and was SO intrigued!!! 

Unicorn Island is available HERE, as well as more information on books and the Epic website! 

The first book in an illustrated series about a mysterious island will have your beginner chapter book readers hooked. I felt like the story was written with flow, description, and wonderful illustrations that brought the story to life. I'm so grateful that there are more in the series on the Epic! website, but there is still something so magical about holding a physical book in your hands. 

Sam is a young girl that has so much ambition - something that students are going to love to connect to while reading. Sam is visiting her Uncle Mitch and has zero friends, and really zero plans - then she meets Tuck and becoming friends, they also embark on their adventure. They discover the secrets of Unicorn Island and how her uncle has this connection with mythical creatures, BUT YET.... 

This story is adorable - probably more early middle grade readers, but it's imaginative and easy to follow even though they may be able to figure it out - it's a great book to put in the hands of readers who may be more unaware of what books they love to read. 

I love all of the layers and the character building moments. 


New YA MUST HAVE! Love in English by Maria E. Andreu

Click the link to order - OUT NOW! 

 Just in time for Valentine's Day!

The world may have many languages but the one that remains the same is love.

    For Ana, a sixteen-year-old girl from Argentina, it’s the only way that she is able to be understood when she moves to New Jersey. Being unhappy in her new life, she struggles to find her place. From a new class schedule to new friends, she doesn’t feel like she fits in to a world that doesn’t “get” her. But as she tries to adjust to her new life, she finds herself falling in love with Harrison from her math class and Neo from ESL and realizes that the language of love is universal. When words seem to escape her and she can’t transcribe her thoughts, her heart and her love are what speak louder than she can. Love in English is a fresh, breakout YA novel that is layered with themes of immigration, cultural identity, and finding your voice in any language. Get a sneak peek inside of the book here!

A close up of a sign

Description automatically generatedAbout The Book

Sixteen-year-old Ana is a poet and a lover of language. Except that since she moved to 

New Jersey from Argentina, she can barely find the words to express how she feels.


At first Ana just wants to return home. Then she meets Harrison, the very cute, very American 

boy in her math class, and discovers the universal language of racing hearts. But when 

she begins spending time with Neo, the Greek Cypriot boy from ESL, Ana wonders how 

figuring out what her heart wants can be even more confusing than the grammar they’re

 both trying to master. After all, the rules of English may be confounding, but there are no 

rules when it comes to love.

With playful and poetic breakouts exploring the idiosyncrasies of the English language, 

Love in English is witty and effervescent, while telling a beautifully observed story about

what it means to become “American.” 


A person taking a selfie

Description automatically generatedAbout The Author 

Maria E. Andreu is a writer and author of the forthcoming Love in English (Balzer + Bray, 2021) 

as well as an as-yet untitled book (B+B, 2022) . Her work has appeared in Newsweek

The Washington Post,, and the Newark Star Ledger. Her debut young adult novel, 

The Secret Side of Empty is a Junior Library Guild Selection, a National Indie Excellence

 Book Award winner, an International Latino Book Awards Finalist and has been called 

“captivating” by School Library Journal. Maria is Latinx and Argentinian-American and 

currently lives in New Jersey with her two children.

Maria’s interest in the immigration rights movement stems from her own childhood and

 adolescence experiences with being undocumented in the United States.  

She obtained her U.S. citizenship thanks to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.


Sixteen year old Ana has recently moved to New Jersey from her homeland of Argentina. 

Not only is she the new student on campus, but she is also learning a new language, 

and trying to “become” American. The prose throughout this story is exceptional. 

Not only is it poetic, it is also humorous as Ana navigates the nuances of the English 

language. “How can a crane be a bird and a piece of machinery at the same time.” 

This is just one example of the thoughts Ana has as she learns new words and tries to 

make sense of the words flying out of her classmates.

Ana meets Harrison in math class and Neo in ESL class. Each of these boys play a role 

in teaching her more about English, America, the that some things (like love) are universal 

across all languages.

This was such a sweet, tender YA story. I was cheering for Ana and for love to prevail 

with the turn of every page and (without giving away the details) I was extremely pleased 

with the conclusion.

I also enjoyed reading this as an opportunity to learn more about how my ESL students 

may be thinking, feeling, and experiencing school. I know reading this has provided me 

with greater understanding of some of my favorite students.

*As someone who teaches in a district that is very ESL/ELL heavy. This story I immediately

took to our ESL teacher and wanted her to immediately put in some 8th graders hands. 

A story to no longer feel that you are isolated, but also for students to see those that come 

in need of language acquisition support and what/how they also feel. 

I am so glad this story is out in the world. 



Jumbies Review and Recommendations


Currently only $7.95 paperback on Amazon! 

The Jumbies reminds me so much of Native American stories growing up in Oklahoma, but the story brought so much more than just an old folk tale. It made me think of conversations that need to be had in classrooms about historical past of taking over land, despising someone based off differences, and not accepting others. The thought that kids can make a huge difference in changes is something I feel all students need to hear and read in any story.

Currently only $7.95 paperback on Amazon! 
Perfect follow up adventure after the first Jumbies. Hoping for a third.

Currently only $8.69 hardback on Amazon! 

Once again, I was captivated by Tracey’s storytelling. Corinne is a bad ass girl who seriously defends her friends and family until the end. This series is one I will recommend for a long time. How lucky for my students to have all three readily available; whereas, I had to wait.
Wire bend, story end.

If Tracey wants to write a 4th, I wouldn’t be sad about it😜.

So, once you finish the series. I highly suggest reading aloud The Jumbies to your middle grade classes. The writing is phenomenal and there's so much plot and character development, it truly brings the imagery to life. 

Here are some recommendations for your students after they fall in love with The Jumbies.