Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

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Fractured Fairy Tales: Little Red Riding Hood

My new picture book, LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH, from Pelican Publishing, is an aquatic adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood. Clearly, this is not the first, nor will it be the last, fractured version of the story of a stylish but foolish young girl and the hungry wolf that eats her. Oops, spoiler alert. Below are some other terrific takes on this timeless tale.

LRCLittle Red jets off to take fresh crab cakes to her grandmother. Everything goes swimmingly—until a big, bad tiger shark attacks! Little Red has to use her cuttlefish defenses—camouflage, quick reflexes, and squirting an ink cloud—to outwit the shark, combining science and spunk. Gorgeous illustrations depict the reef and its adorable main character with lively detail.

The authors include information about cuttlefish and tiger sharks, addressing Common Core standards, as well as resources for further reading. This aquatically fractured fairy tale will tickle your cuttlebone and spark your curiosity.



NINJA RED RIDING HOOD by Corey Rosen Schwartz, illustrated by Dan Santat


Wolf just can’t catch a break! Ever since the three little pigs started teaching everyone Ninja skills, huffing and puffing just hasn’t been enough to scare up a good meal. His craving for meat sends Wolf to classes at the dojo, and soon he’s ready to try out his new moves. A little girl and her tiny granny should be easy targets—right? Not if Little Red has anything to say about it! Kiya!






LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Troy Cummings

red3Little Red Riding Hood straps on ice skates in this fractured fairy tale! A figure-skating enthusiast, Little Red has worn out her skates and must win a pairs competition to earn new ones. But who will be her partner? The Dish is already skating with the Spoon, and Hansel has Gretel. You won’t believe what big eyes, sharp teeth, and furry paws her partner has . . . all the better to spin her with!




PETITE ROUGE – A Cajun Red Riding Hood by Mike Artell, illustrated by Jim Harris

red4When her grand-mère comes down wit’ de flu, this Cajun Little Red knows what she has to do. With her witty cat, TeJean, she sets off in a pirogue to bring Grand-mère some gumbo. Who should she meet upon the way, but that big ol’ swamp gator, Claude! Mean ol’ Claude may want to gobble up Petite Rouge, but she and TeJean have a better idea. Before long, they have Claude running back to the bayou where he belongs!




HONESTLY, RED RIDING HOOD WAS ROTTEN! The Story of Little Red Riding Hood as Told by the Wolf by Trisha Speed Shaskan, illustrated by Gerald Guerlais

red5OF COURSE you think I did a horrible thing by eating Little Red Riding Hood and her granny. You don’t know the other side of the story. Well, let me tell you…








BETSY RED HOODIE by Gail Carson Levine, illustrated by Scott Nash

red6Betsy is finally old enough to take cupcakes to Grandma all by herself—with the company of her faithful sheep, of course. And although wolves aren’t good for grandmas, Betsy lets her best friend, Zimmo, come along too. But will Zimmo’s wolfish instincts make Grandma the tasty treat instead?





LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD – A Newfangled Prairie Tale by Lisa Campbell Ernst

red7When Little Red Riding Hood sets off to deliver muffins to her grandmother, you bet that a big bad wolf isn’t far behind! Set on the midwestern prairie, this is a “Little Red Riding Hood” that will captivate youngsters with its feisty heroines and bold humor. Especially to be relished is the way the story line plays against the classic tale’s plot, with laugh-provoking lines that show true wit. As the dastardly wolf chuckles, appreciating his own schemes, the text soars, suspense builds and vibrant pictures bring out all of the fun.




LITTLE RED COWBOY HAT by Susan Lowell, illustrated by Randy Cecil

red8This Southwestern version of Little Red Riding Hood features a tomboyish main character, a wolf as sleazy as any streetcorner lothario and a distinct self-defense theme. Lowell’s (The Three Little Javelinas) outwardly tough Little Red wears a sheriff’s badge and shoots rattlesnakes with her slingshot. However, she’s intimidated by her aggressor, who steps from behind a cactus and blocks her path (“She didn’t want to talk to him, but she’d been raised to be polite”). Later, as Little Red flees the wolf in Grandma’s house, Grandma bursts into the bedroom with an ax (she has been chopping wood). Together the two frontierswomen chase the wolf away, and the tale ends on an up-to-date empowerment .



LON PO PO – A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young

red9Not for the faint-hearted, Lon Po Po (Grandmother Wold), is a tale of a menacing danger and courage….(Young’s) command of page composition and his sensitive use of color give the book a visual force that matches the strength of the story and stands as one of the illustrator’s best efforts.






LITTLE RED – A Fizzingly Good Yarn by Lynn Roberts, illustrated by David Roberts

red10Little Red is happily taking a basket of ginger ale to his grandmother when he stops to gather apples in the woods. Who should grab his red cape, but none other than the wily wolf, who runs immediately to the grandmother’s house to devour her and wait for Little Red to be next! With a new, happily-ever-after spin on the story, the boy tricks the wolf into gulping down the entire ginger ale at once, which triggers the wolf to hiccup his grandmother out of his belly. Little Red gallantly overcomes the wolf and is the hero of the day!


Children’s Fiction Featuring Cephalopods

“Children’s fiction featuring cephalopods” is not a phraseI ever imagined myself uttering. But, since my new fractured fairy tale picture book, LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH from Pelican Publishing, features cuttlefish, and since cuttlefish are a type of cephalopod, well, here we are.


First things first. What exactly is a cephalopod? Wikipedia explains,

“A cephalopod (pronounced /ˈsɛfələˌpɒd/) is any member of the molluscan class Cephalopoda (Greek plural κεφαλόποδα, kephalópoda; “head-feet”). These exclusively marine animals are characterized by bilateral body symmetry, a prominent head, and a set of arms or tentacles (muscular hydrostats) modified from the primitive molluscan foot. Fishermen sometimes call them inkfish, referring to their common ability to squirt ink. The study of cephalopods is a branch of malacology known as teuthology.”

Teuthology? That sounds like a dentistry subspecialty. In any event, the cephalopod class includes octopuses (octopi is not the correct plural), squid (both singular and plural), cuttlefish (again, both singular and plural), and nautiluses.


Despite the name, cuttlefish aren’t even fish, they’re molluscs. Male cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles. Female cuttlefish have only six arms and two tentacles. The arms and tentacles have suckers for grabbing prey. And if they keep eating, they keep growing. If that isn’t strange enough, their blood is greenish blue.

cuttlefish1Cuttlefish have an amazing ability to quickly change the color, pattern, and texture of their skin. Cuttlefish can use this camouflage to sneak up on their prey, which consists mostly of crabs and fish. The cuttlefish’s ability to quickly change color also helps it avoid being hunted by predators. If camouflage doesn’t work and it is spotted by a predator, a cuttlefish can squirt out a cloud of brown ink to help it hide.

How can you not now love cephalopods? So, here are some other children’s fiction books that feature cephalods.


SQUID FOR PRESIDENT by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Sara Varon

Join Aaron Reynolds and Sara Varon as they explore the ideal qualities of leaders, diplomats…and giant squid. Squid knows all about being president. It means living in a big house, doing all the talking—oh, and having a tie is crucial. He’s all set! In the next election, make a more informed choice. Vote for President Squid!






KID VS. SQUID by Greg Van Eekhout

Thatcher Hill is bored stiff of his summer job dusting the fake mermaids and shrunken heads at his uncle’s seaside Museum of Curiosities. But when a mysterious girl steals an artifact from the museum, Thatcher’s summer becomes an adventure that takes him from the top of the ferris wheel to the depths of the sea. Following the thief, he learns that she is a princess of the lost Atlantis. Her people have been cursed by an evil witch to drift at sea all winter and wash up on shore each summer to an even more terrible fate―working the midway games and food stands on the boardwalk. Can Thatcher help save them before he, too, succumbs to the witch’s curse?





kesingerA beautifully produced and richly illustrated book that showcases the day-to-day adventures of independent girl-about-town Victoria Psismall and her pet land octopus Otto. Thirty panoramic, full-page illustrations humorously chronicle the duo’s home and social activities that include (among other things) bathing, biking, dating, cooking, playing croquet, and pumpkin carving. Accompanying text explains the “do”s and “don’t”s of living with a large land octopus.


The Berenstain Bears dive under the ocean to discover life below the waves! The family meets flying fish, dolphins, sharks, and giant squid while getting a close-up look at undersea plants in this remarkable learning adventure. This 8×8 paperback picture book takes young readers on the trip of a lifetime with their favorite bear family.




THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS ON THE OCEAN FLOOR by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Bruce Degen

When Ms. Frizzle drives the Magic School Bus full speed ahead into the ocean, the class takes a submarine expedition that’s anything but ordinary. With a well-meaning lifeguard in tow, the class takes a deep breath and learns about hot water vents, coral reefs, plant and animal life on the ocean floor, and more!




WISH FOR A FISH: All About Sea Creatures by Bonnie Worth

The Cat in the Hat, Sally, and Dick take an undersea voyage aboard the S.S. Undersea Glubber! Traveling down from the Sunny Zone to the Dark Zone to the Trench at the bottom, Captain Cat and his crew get up close and personal with the different life forms found at each level of the ocean. Along the way, they meet sharks, jellyfish, dolphins, manatees, whales, and sea cucumbers, to name just a few!






DRAGONBREATH by Ursula Vernon
vernonDanny Dragonbreath can’t breathe fire, but he has no fear. And that comes in handy when a bad grade at school inspires him to enlist his cousin the sea-serpent’s help with a research project. Using a hybrid of comic-book panels and text, Ursula Vernon introduces an irresistible set of characters that will have readers laughing until smoke comes out of their noses!





OCTPUSES ONE TO TEN by Ellen Jackson

octopus Dive into this fascinating counting journey through the amazing and mysterious world of octopuses.

Everyone knows octopuses have eight arms. But did you know that they have three hearts and nine brains? This intriguing exploration of octopuses goes through numbers one to ten, with a snappy rhyme and fascinating octopus facts for each number. The book also includes octopus crafts and activities for more learning fun!

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Interview with children’s book author Deborah Underwood

Deborah Underwood is the author of numerous children’s books, including INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA, HERE COMES THE TOOTH FAIRY CAT, and the New York Times bestsellers HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT, THE QUIET BOOK, and THE LOUD BOOK! She has written more than 25 nonfiction books on topics ranging from smallpox to ballroom dancing, and has written for National Geographic Kids, Highlights, Ladybug, and Spider magazines.


Tell us about your latest book.

My most recent books are INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA, illustrated by Meg Hunt (Chronicle) and the HERE COMES THE TOOTH FAIRY CAT, illustrated by Claudia Rueda (Dial).

INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA is a twist on the familiar story: Cinderella dreams of a career in rocket repair, so she desperately wants to attend the Royal Space Parade to see all the ships. Despite her stepmother’s sabotage attempt, she makes it to the parade (with the help of her fairy godrobot) and comes to the prince’s rescue when his ship breaks down.

HERE COMES THE TOOTH FAIRY CAT is the third book in the Cat series. Cat tries to trick the Tooth Fairy into paying a visit. But the Tooth Fairy turns out to be just as tricky as Cat!

Henry: I’ve read both those books. I loved how INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA reminded me of the Kaylee character from Firefly, and teaches that smart is the new pretty. I enjoy seeing innovative writing techniques, and loved how the cat wordlessly answers the Tooth Fairy narrator’s questions.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

One of the most challenging aspects of a writing career is juggling all the non-writing things: website updates, promotional work, speechwriting, responding to emails—all the things that pull time and energy away from writing.

But in terms of the actual writing, the first draft is usually the hardest part for me. Once something’s on paper, I feel like I have the tools to start fixing it, but writing that initial draft can be daunting.

Henry: And answering interview questions and caring for one’s cat! Bella is miffed you failed to mention her. I completely agree that the first draft is the most difficult.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

This is an ongoing experience: being part of the children’s writing and illustrating community has become an important part of my life. In general, people drawn to this work are not only funny, smart, authentic, and talented, but also tremendously supportive of each other. I feel lucky to be a member of the tribe.

Henry: The humorous Facebook exchanges alone are worth it.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read a lot of books in the genre that interests you. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org) and a critique group or two. Go to conferences and learn. It’s a tough field, so doing your homework—understanding the publication process and the market, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and continuing to hone your skills—is important.

Henry: I completely concur. Critique groups, I’ve found, are especially valuable to honing one’s writing.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Today’s favorite is from Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Henry: Nice. I also like:
“I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” ~John Locke

“Well done is better than well said.” ~Benjamin Franklin

“Between saying and doing, many a pair of shoes is worn out.” ~Italian Proverb

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

Hm…not rituals, really. But I usually write my drafts on a legal pad, and I’m quite fussy about having the right pen for each project. I once spent 45 minutes shopping for a pen before starting work on a story because I wanted a particular shade of blue!

And if you go to a cafe and see someone changing tables four times, it’s probably me. If I’m working, I’m ridiculously sensitive to noise, drafts, light, etc. so I tend to move around a lot.

Henry: You are the Sheldon Cooper of picture book writers! 

Sheldon Cooper: That is my spot, in an ever-changing world, it is a single point of consistency. If my life were expressed as a function on a four-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system, that spot, at the moment I first sat on it, would be 0-0-0-0.
Penny: [blank stare] What?
Leonard Hofstadter: Don’t sit in his spot.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

The ability to talk to animals. I have a few things I need to discuss with my cat, Bella.

Henry: And no doubt, the reverse is true. “I’ve been meaning to speak with you about the cat food, Deborah.”

Sheldon Cooper: “You don’t have to sell me on cats, Leonard. I’m already a fan. All right, fellas, who’s in the mood for Fancy Feast? *disgusting plop of cat food on a plate* Well, that’s not fancy at all.”

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

I know I should say Shakespeare, Milton, and Jane Austen or something. But if I had to decide right this second, I would cheat and invite the other seven members of Erin Murphy’s Dog, the one-performance-a-year band I’m in: Ruth Barshaw, Mike Jung, Arthur Levine, Jeannie Mobley, Kristin Nitz, Carrie Watson, and Conrad Wesselhoeft. Partly because I love them, partly because we could play music after dinner, and partly because I think they’d forgive me for having papers strewn all over my apartment.

Henry: Tickets for Erin Murphy’s Dog are on sale now at Ticketmaster and Stub Hub…

Where can readers find your work?

They can find (or order) my books in their independent bookstores. And they are cordially invited to visit me online at DeborahUnderwoodBooks.com to see what I’m up to!

This interview is also on the San Diego Children’s Book Examiner.