Posted by: Robin Koontz | July 26, 2020

Memorial Planting

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Last year the planet lost a sweet little woman named Avis, who shared with me her love for flora. Over the years we had fun trading plants until she became too frail to garden anymore. Recently I got permission to dig up a rose from Avis’s now sad and unkempt yard to plant here in her memory. I have several plants around our place that are memorials to people now gone. And I figured Avis would like to see one of her roses get rescued, as the old house will likely be torn down and her yard probably buried in the process.

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I zeroed in on two small roses that would hopefully be easy to dig up. They turned out to be sprouts off an ancient root, planted decades ago. Unlike most modern roses that are grafted to a wild root stock, this is an own-root rose. I shoveled out two good chunks and planted one, potted the other. Now I can say hello to Avis while I’m working in the garden.

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Here is a biography of Avis written in 2008. I tried to convince her to let me help publish her memoir, but she was too shy. Her grandkids now have all her writings, and I hope they do something with them. Avis was one of a kind.

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Posted by: Robin Koontz | June 27, 2020

Easy-reader comic book! Goldilocks, revisited.

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I decided to try writing and illustrating a graphic novel based on an early reader series I wrote called Sir Pants-a-Lot and Squire Mousekins. In the first adventure, the brave knight and his loyal squire rescue Goldilocks from the three bears. And, unlike the traditional story, they encourage the naughty girl to make amends for breaking into the bears’ home. The story of Goldilocks has always bothered me. I also spoofed Cinderella and the Frog Prince.

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An editor I’d worked with was very interested in the series. But after finishing the first one and mapping out two others, for various reasons we decided to put the project aside for now.

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But then I thought: why not release the first one and see how it sells? So I did! I polished up the illustrations and published it on the KDP publishing format through Amazon. Because the interior is full color, the little book is priced like a picture book, but I also released it as an e-book which is more affordable. Here is the link to purchase either. I hope to get some feedback so that we can think about doing more with the series someday. So I hope you check it out! You can view quite a few pages for free using the “Look Inside” feature and the e-book is free on Kindle Unlimited.

By the way, the font I used was designed by Kait Kenobi, and her fonts and designs can be found on Think Make Design.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Robin Koontz | June 15, 2020

Chirp All About It! Publishing News!

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As it has for millions of people, the pandemic has had a big impact on my working routine. When not plugging away on contracted projects, I would normally be brainstorming new ideas, researching markets, and submitting finished projects.

With the country pretty much shut down, there wasn’t much point in all of that. Since I’m fortunate enough to be semi-retired anyway, I spent my usual working time sewing, messing about in the greenhouse, and doing a lot of yard projects I normally wouldn’t have time to do. But, I did submit one picture book to an editor I used to work with, after noting that her new book publishing company was starting to publish picture books.

And today I’m delighted to announce that BeaLu Books will publish Chirp! (a temporary title) in the not so distant future! The story introduces kids to bird song via onomatopoetic poetry. This book is particularly special to me because I’ve been a bird nerd for as long as I’ve had a thought in my head. I marveled at them, stalked them, drew pictures of them, and even rescued a few. As an adult I realized that for a lot of kids, birds are the first animals they ever see in the wild, so I wrote this story as an introduction to 23 common bird species in North America. Of course I am delighted, tickled, and all that other stuff, that this book will be published.

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Screech owl and her owlet in a nest box on the Funny Farm

I have until November to get the illustrations completed, so it looks like the Funny Farm may not get quite as much attention as it has been getting in recent weeks.

 

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Lately I’ve been bombarding Facebook with a new craft endeavor: patchwork. I’ve mistakenly been calling it quilting, which is the ultimate goal, maybe, but for now, I’ve been learning how to piece together different shapes of fabric bits. And I’ve been re-learning how to sew.

So, a little sewing history: In my senior year of high school, I made a dress. It was a fairly complicated pattern as I recall, and I had problems with darts and such. Once done, I wore it to school. Morgan Fowle, my beloved art teacher, always stood at his podium and quietly took roll, eying each of us briefly and making a mark in his record book. When he got to me, he did a double take. Then he obviously tried not to smirk when he said, “You made that dress, didn’t you?”

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Photo by Jeff Shannon (most likely…)

And that was the end of my sewing career other than a few repair projects. That is, until recently, when I decided to learn patchwork. I am a quilt junkie and we own several. This is one of them:

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Here’s a little favorite called Scrap Happy that a quilting friend surprised me with made from a bag of scraps I sent her one Christmas on a lark.

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And here’s another favorite, created by my mom and featured here by Shinny the cat, with matching needlepoint pillows by friend Kathy:

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A full size quilt wasn’t an appealing project for a newbie, but I figured a table runner or topper could be more manageable for learning. As always, I planned to teach myself with help from cyberspace, which was especially helpful considering we are all on lock-down because of the Pandemic Hoax.*

The first thing I learned was that written instructions are useless, at least the ones I found! It was much easier to understand the process by watching a video that I could stop and rewind until it made sense. Thanks to YouTube, I learned how to cane chairs from Ed Hammond and how to upholster chairs and benches from several creative sorts who freely shared their experiences. For patchwork, I found the Missouri Star Quilt Company videos (with Jenny Doan) and I collected design ideas mostly from Pinterest.

My first project was a little table runner. I bought a bundle each of dark and light vintage cotton fabric squares from Etsy plus a rotary cutter and a healing mat from Amazon. Then I cut out squares, sewed them together, and cut them into triangles (a trick learned from Jenny) until I had all the parts ready to assemble.

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Each row had four pieces to sew together, then each square had four rows of pieces to sew together. Then I just sewed together the squares, so logical! I could have added borders between them, but it would have made the runner too long for its designated table. I faced it with scraps, mangled on my first binding, and called it done.

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The only issue I had was that things seldom wanted to line up, try as I might. I ripped many seams and kept trying and mostly failing again and again. Finally I decided that if it looked good from far away, it looked good enough to me. My motto became, “Don’t look too close.”

Next was a bigger table topper. I drew up the pattern using Adobe Illustrator, then played with colors. A.I. can create patterns from photos of fabrics. Then we can try on all the options from our fabric stash. The hours will go by fast, I promise. I settled on patterns and colors then played with different designs:

QuiltOnIllustratorSewing up this topper had its own challenges. Some of the fabric was harvested from cotton clothes and the differences in weights and textures created a few issues.

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The next project involved learning appliqué as well as an Amish style patchwork design. Shinny seems to like this one more than she does the previous.

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I’m still working on another appliqué project, though so far it’s only on the computer, other than practicing sewing a few birds on a wire. This is the computer file:

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Anyway I’m happy to report that after creating the first two projects and watching many tutorials, I can look at almost any quilt and figure out how it’s put together. Meanwhile those two toppers are just waiting for backing fabric, batting, and gasp, quilting!

For the next project, I’m creating something that breaks from all those perfect shapes. I adore Gee’s Bend quilts and wish we owned one. But alas, they are either in museums, in someone’s possession, or out of my price range. This one was created by Mary Lee Bendolph. Is it cool or what?

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I’m going to make a table topper inspired by their whimsical abstract design techniques. Here’s what the design is looking like so far. Pay no attention to the straight lines, I intend to freeform it and see how the sewing goes:

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It’s always good to use up scraps while coming up with a fun color arrangement. The computer helped with this one too, but I think the project will progress more spontaneously when I get down to cutting and sewing.

The challenge now is finding fabric, even more challenging since we can’t go to the usual thrift stores for a very long time. But hey, today I uncovered a cotton scarf I bought for a buck at a yard sale years ago and never wear. Score! So I’ll keep hunting.

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Anyway, back to history: Morgan and I stayed in touch over the decades until he died just a few years ago. I never told him about the dress incident being so devastating to my career as a seamstress. But I think he’d be pleased that I gave up dress-making and am making art with a sewing machine instead.

Just don’t look too close.

P.S. Right after I posted this, the CDC called for everyone to start wearing a cloth mask when out in public when social distancing will be difficult for them to control. So I switched to making masks, and learned as I went along. I made them for friends and neighbors who requested them, and asked them not to look too close. Be well, everyone!

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*Don’t think for a second that I think this virus is a hoax. I’m beyond disgusted at how our government ignored this crisis despite ample and urgent warning until it was too late. I hope everyone reading this survives both the health and the financial crisis.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | December 21, 2019

Farewell to my favorite hermit

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“Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.” – Henry Scott Holland

Jerry France had just turned 80 when he left the planet rather suddenly. He had made an amazing comeback after what was eventually diagnosed as latent Lyme disease. While he was still wheelchair-bound, Jerry was finally able to drive his big truck and all his tractors and ATVs, all of which gave him great pleasure. Last I heard, everything was going good.

In 1970 or thereabouts, Jerry built his little house in West Virginia after my mom sold him half of her place. He lived there alone, smoking cigars, reading Tom Clancy and anything else of that ilk, sipping Jim Beam “toddies” but never after dinner, feeding the birds, squirrels, raccoons, and bears on his deck, and enjoying a quiet life in one of the most beautiful places on earth. After he retired, he rode a recumbent bike, clocking thousands of miles along the C&O Canal bike path, and also traveled around the east coast and south, visiting friends and exploring historical sites. He liked military stuff, also ghost towns.

We met Jerry in 1967 when he was a park manager at Coolfont Recreation, a camping and lodging resort in West Virginia. We struck up a friendship that lasted. Jerry was 15 years older than I and was very protective of the wild teenager whom my mom trusted him with. We used to party with friends, but he always got me home in one piece. I probably owe him more than my life when I think back on those days.

In later years, Jerry convinced me to join him on a trip to Mexico. My friend joined us and we had a blast. Jerry did, too, because people around us assumed Denise and I were his “girls.” After that brief trip, I traveled across the U.S. with Jerry, always in a different rig (he tried every style there was) four times over the years. We took a different route each trip, one of my favorites being Route 50. We also discovered the Valley of Fire in Nevada, and it was our favorite camping and exploring spot of all.

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Here are some pages from one of the road diaries that I kept. I tried to pick excerpts that would be fun for others to read:

The “sprinkler incident” became one of Jerry’s favorite stories. I was sitting outside where we were camping and he’d gone to bed. I was enjoying the cool (we always traveled during the hottest time of the year) when suddenly, the campground sprinkler system came on and I got soaked. Jerry found that wildly funny and reminded me of it every time I saw him from that day on. He liked to tease, that’s for sure.

Anyway, we’d spend about 12 days on the road and finally land at the Funny Farm, where we’d have a camping spot cleared for Jerry and he’d stay a couple of weeks, always smiling when it was time for dinner since as a hermit, he didn’t have anyone cooking for him unless he went to his favorite restaurant – the Peking.

After my mom died, I didn’t have much reason to travel back to West Virginia anymore, so our cross-country trips ended. The last was bringing my mom’s dog Mollie to the Funny Farm. It was too hot to fly her home, so Jerry generously offered to “give us a ride” all the way from West Virginia to Oregon. As you can see in the video, he was a great pal to Mollie. Jerry stayed with us for a couple of weeks and came back to visit several times until his last trip in 2014. His health had been declining and he didn’t feel comfortable making the trip alone.

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This short video (click here for the link) shows images from Jerry’s early adventures, his house, a few of our trip highlights, and finally his time here with us in Oregon. My favorite photos show he and Marvin comparing knots. Jerry was an Eagle Scout and spent time in the Navy, so he knew knots! The music I picked is for Jerry. He loved the old folk music from the 1950s, and the tune I found seemed to be something he’d approve of. At least, he would not complain too much.

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Farewell old friend. I’ll miss your phone messages that always said the same thing, “Jerry France here. No need to call back! Everything is going good. No complaints. Okay, we’ll talk to you later!”

Posted by: Robin Koontz | November 24, 2019

Writers are Liars

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Bonita is a very opinionated cat.

“Writers are liars, my dear, surely you know that by now? And yet, things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.” ― Neil Gaiman, Dream Country

Like pretty much everyone reading this, I engage in social media. Or with social media, I’m not sure. Anyway, I visit with friends and family on Facebook mostly, with an occasional visit to Twitter and Instagram. I enjoy groups about plants, fossils, rocks, antiques and jumping spiders. Recently I joined (after getting approval) a local community page. The participants mostly post road conditions, plus rants about bad drivers and dogs on the loose. But there are occasional tidbits about the local goings-on that I’d otherwise probably not know about.

I’ll admit that I have a thing about littering. Littering really ticks me off, and always has. I keep a grabber and bag in my car to clean up our little county road when someone decides they prefer a clean car to a clean planet and I gripe as I pick up after them. I even made a sign that encourages people to help us keep Oregon beautiful (which I swear seems to be working!).

So anyway, back to lying. I was driving behind a state highway vehicle one day when a soda can came flying out of it. Not under it, over it. And nobody was driving in front of the truck. I was so incensed that I stopped at the intersection and took a photo of the truck as it headed down the highway. Then I posted the photo on the community page with a comment about what I had witnessed. I also turned them in to their superior.

And that’s when I was reminded that writers are liars. A number of people responded to the post in anger. Most were angry about the littering. But a couple were angry at me. They said I imagined the incident, or that the can was already in the road and they ran over it but I decided to embellish the story for attention. And then one of the admins for the page posted a photo from my blog. Her comment was, “Apparently you have a goal of making up stories, at least according to your blog.” Oh, snap!

When I stopped laughing, I responded and gave her time to read and retort, then deleted the entire discussion. It was stupid of me to post my little rant in the first place. Hopefully someone said something to these workers and they will think twice about littering again. I’ll never know.

Meanwhile, are writers really liars? I write mostly nonfiction these days, which is factual, but I still love writing fiction as well. I’m currently working on another Boxcar mystery, and I have two fictional picture books making the rounds. So it’s true I guess: I make it all up! All lies!

So, of course writers lie, after all, as Stephen King points out, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie, and the truth of this fiction is simple enough: the magic exists.” That’s writing fiction.

But for the record, I don’t lie in real life, especially about litterbugs. And I’ll turn you in if I see you do it. That’s the truth.

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Posted by: Robin Koontz | July 18, 2019

Keeping it real

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One of many things I have gleaned from successful writers is to make sure my fictional stories are believable. Experienced sci-fi and fantasy writers are adept at weaving a made-up world and filling it with characters and situations that a reader can believe and invest in. Legal thrillers play out according to real laws with believable scenarios. Historical fiction writers make sure their story is based on accurate period details. The reader understands that it’s fiction, but everything still needs to be relatable and plausible. We want them to suspend their disbelief and invest themselves in the story.

It’s just as difficult to make a story set in real life believable, even when it’s completely fabricated. You’re writing mostly about familiar things that the reader might know something about. We want our possibly skeptical reader to be able to say, “Okay, that could happen.” And this not only includes believable characters and situations. We also want to strive for realism in the details.

I’ve been working for months on a picture book story that at one point, involved growing a banana tree from a seed. I thought it was brilliant (you’d have to read the story and I can’t reveal that yet). Then I realized I needed to make sure that one COULD grow a banana tree from a seed. Nearly all plants grow from seeds, but it’s not always that easy to get them to sprout and flourish, especially in a climate not really right for a tropical tree.

So, I researched what kind of banana tree would grow from seed in western Oregon, which is Zone 8, and found Chini Champa – Darjeeling, aka Helen’s Hybrid. It’s a “cross between two varieties of high altitude bananas from the foothills of the Himalayas in the Sikkim region of India. The report is that Helen’s Hybrid could possibly be the closest thing to a cold-tolerant, edible banana that has been developed. The fruit is claimed to be sweet.” Helen’s Hybrid, whoever Helen is, would be perfect for my story.

But when the eight seeds arrived in a tiny packet, the instructions explained that they could take three to six months to germinate, maybe longer! Well that news pretty much blew a giant hole in my story. I needed something that sprouted in a few weeks.

I planted the seeds anyway, in two glass terrarium style pots. I would hang them in a window where they would get plenty of morning sun and be out of reach of the two cats, who love to nose into and destroy anything that I hold precious.

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Seeds planted, I hung up the first terrarium, using the twine supplied. When I turned my back, there was a loud crash and tinkling of thin glass and I had a mess to clean up. The twine wasn’t adequate for the job (note to self: inspect twine before trusting). There were too many glass shards to try to locate and pick out the seeds from the soil, so I just tossed all of it in the trash. I didn’t hang the second terrarium. I just set it on a table and begged the cats to leave it alone. I watered it once a week. The cats ignored it and I didn’t get around to hanging it up.

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Surprise surprise, three weeks after planting, a sprout appeared! And it’s growing. It doesn’t appear to grow fast enough to work in the story, but we’ll see. Which is okay, because during the continuing revision process, I changed the plant to a watermelon. I already knew how fast they grow, and how wonderful they smell, which is also important to the story. Here’s my watermelon plant from this year’s garden. It’s a mini-watermelon that doesn’t need the warm nights and long growing season that the watermelons from more southern climates require.

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It’s important to me to research extensively and even try out things that happen in my story. I don’t want a reader to be immersed in my book and then stop and say, “No way!” I’ve put books down and moved on for that reason and don’t blame a young reader for doing the same thing. So I try to keep it real.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | April 14, 2019

Collage of Memories

BurlsClosetMy mom, aka Burl to her left coast kin, was an energetic and creative soul. Burl tried so many different crafts during her retirement years that I started calling her creations “Burl’s Limited Editions: sometimes limited to one.” Learning a new craft, enjoying the process, and then moving on to another new craft were what fueled her life until the day she died. Here she is in her little store, called Burl’s Closet, where she peddled her crafts and other treasures.

Recently, one of my favorite pieces of original Burl art crashed to the concrete floor of our carport where it lives. One of the ancient eye screws holding the hanger had given up. The carport has been a perfect home for this serene outdoor scene created from beach finds.

CollageThis was one of many creations Burl made while living in Carmel, CA in the late 1980s. It was made of bits of driftwood, glass, rocks and shells that she collected from the local beaches. The rocks she called “holy rocks” were from Del Monte Beach. Some even have the remains of the snail creatures that created the holes. There are shells of course, plus ocean glass and driftwood.

When Burl and I ran a craft barn together during the summers of the late 1970s, nature collage was our favorite activity. We’d take kids out into the surrounding woods where we’d gather cones, sticks, leaves, lichens, rocks, whatever. They’d staple burlap to a piece of cardboard and then glue all their treasures in whatever design pleased them. I later created a giant piece for the screen door on my aunt and uncle’s house and won 1st place in the yearly contest for holiday door decor (though my collection of leaves, cones and sticks had little to do with the usual glitz of the season).

IMG_4035When Burl’s beach collage fell, a lot of little bits went flying. I gathered them up and vowed to put it back exactly as it was before. But, finding out what the original looked like was a challenge. As much as I treasured this piece, I didn’t have a picture of it, exactly.

But, after scrolling through about 3,000 photos on my Mac, I found two photos where the collage was in the background. I enlarged the images, cropped and patched them together, printed, and then used the guide to glue things back pretty much as they were.

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Now I’ll put in a more secure hanging system and hang it back up. Maybe I’ll glue a copy of this blog to the back for someone to discover after I’m gone.

Posted by: Robin Koontz | March 27, 2019

Celebrating the pre-birthday of Bug!

My new picture book, Bug, is now available for pre-sales! And it has already been getting some attention. Here’s what I can share so far:

Author and blogger Dawn Prochovnic invited me to tell Bug’s Birth Story for her blog. I’m so grateful that Dawn takes the time and energy to promote her fellow authors and illustrators. Here’s the link to Planting the Seeds for Publication.

BugDawnLast week, I created a little one-minute book trailer for Bug. A book trailer for a 32 page story is always challenging but great fun to create. Just bonk here to check it out.

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And finally, Bug had a very nice review in Kirkus that was published in February:


A girl discovers that her passions can help her make sense of a difficult skill.

Bug is a girl who loves drawing bugs more than anything else, “especially math.” When her teacher, Mrs. Muskie, announces that they will go to the science museum, which has a cool bug room, if the class performs well on the upcoming math test, Bug takes the challenge seriously. She goes to a field to study but, frustratingly, finds herself continually distracted by new bugs to draw. After several failed attempts, she realizes that her doodles hold the visual key to understanding the math problems: adding spots on a butterfly’s wings and subtracting the number of ants that drop their seeds. Notably, Koontz acknowledges her young character’s agency by having Bug independently come to this revelation and later calmly assist Mrs. Muskie when Bug’s “lucky crickets” (stashed in her lunchbox to help with the test) get in her hair. The latter moment offers a spot of fun for Bug’s multiracial classmates. Pale-skinned Bug is precocious with her short, light-brown hair, rolled-up pants, and antenna headband; Mrs. Muskie has brown skin and a “cloud of curly hair.” Proud’s illustrations in pencil and acrylic take on the style of doodles themselves, with pronounced, colored outlines and circular eyes for characters and bugs alike. The crawling critters appear charming instead of off-putting.

A respectful boost of encouragement for young minds that may be struggling with school. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: April 2nd, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-4549-2356-5
Page count: 40pp
Publisher: Sterling
Review Posted Online: Jan. 28th, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2019


 

You can pre-order Bug directly from Sterling Publishing Co., Amazon, or wherever books are sold!

Happy almost birthday, Bug!

 

Posted by: Robin Koontz | February 20, 2019

Countdown to Bug’s Book Birthday!

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My new picture book, Bug, won’t be released until April 2, 2019, but Jeep got his author’s copy yesterday! He gave it two paws up. Meanwhile, I’m working on a book trailer for it, and will announce that and more about how Bug came to be when we get closer to the publication date. Here’s the intro to the story of Bug:

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There has already been a nice review in Kirkus, on February 15. Here’s an excerpt: “A girl discovers that her passions can help her make sense of a difficult skill… A respectful boost of encouragement for young minds that may be struggling with school.”

Bug is available for pre-order here.

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