Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

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Interview with picture book author Anika Denise

Anika Denise is the author of several critically acclaimed books for young readers including three illustrated by her husband Christopher Denise: BAKING DAY AT GRANDMA’S, BELLA AND STELLA COME HOME, AND PIGS LOVE POTATOES. Publishers Weekly hailed her latest picture book MONSTER TRUCKSillustrated by Nate Wragg—“a mash up made in heaven” in a recent starred review. 


For what age audience do you write?

I’m published in picture books (those are for all ages, right?) and I have a particular love for rhyming books, but I’m also at work on a picture book biography and a middle grade novel.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book MONSTER TRUCKS is a high octane, action-packed rhyming Halloween book about trucks who are monsters in a spooky nighttime race.

Henry: As a fan of fantasy, starting with WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, I have a special place in my heart for monster books.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

Pure fun! I want them to shout, “read-it-again!” And I’d love if it were a perennial favorite for Halloween story hours, and the truck and monster-loving set.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Probably finding the hours to write every day. Juggling writing with being a mom, promoting new books, and doing school visits and appearances can be a challenge. This year (knock on wood)—with my littlest in full day school for the first time—I’m enjoying a more consistent writing schedule. We’ll see if this helps with my second greatest challenge, which is not abandoning longer works when I hit a slump. Before I chalked it up to being away from the piece for long stretches and losing the thread of the yarn. But really, it’s fear. The only way around that kind of self doubt is through it—and that means showing up.

Henry: Butt in chair!

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

I think that’s it, the bit about pushing through fear. Fear often shows up to the same party as creativity. Occasionally, they dance. But fear should never lead. My best work comes when I let go and dance (write) like nobody’s watching—including my own inner-critic.

Henry: If you’ve ever seen me dance, you’ll understand why fear is present.

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

Sitting on a panel between Maira Kalman and Chris Raschka. I remember being star-struck, with the Talking Heads lyrics running through my mind: “How did I get here?” Bob Shea was on the panel, too. He was reading aloud from DINOSAUR VS. POTTY, declaring, “Potty wins!” in a boxing match announcer’s voice. We were asked to read only a few pages of our books, so Bob never got to the end; and Chris leaned over to me with a wry smile and whispered, “So, who won? Dinosaur or Potty?” I think part of the reason I remember this is, I’d been so nervous. And Chris totally broke the ice.

Henry: Nothing breaks the ice like a potty-trained dinosaur.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

The same advice I give myself: finish. Don’t give up.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I’ve always liked, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Henry: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.,

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

I wouldn’t say this is strange, necessarily, but I do occasionally burn sage in my workspace to clear the energy. And I infuse essential oils like eucalyptus and peppermint that are supposed to help with concentration and creativity. Plus they smell nice.

Henry: I infuse pie. Plus, it smells nice.

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

Invisibility. For sure. A writer needs to observe and listen. Invisibility would make that a whole heck of lot more convenient, am I right?

Henry: There’s a picture book right there.

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

Maurice Sendak, Zora Neale Hurston, and Elizabeth Gilbert. Maurice and Zora because they were both fearless voices in their genres. And Elizabeth because she (literally) wrote the book on living a fearlessly creative life.

Henry: We all know of Maurce Sendak. Wikipedia helpfully offers:

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was an American novelist, short story writer, folklorist, and anthropologist. Of Hurston’s four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays, she is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Elizabeth Gilbert is an American author, essayist, short story writer, biographer, novelist, and memoirist. She is best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, which as of December 2010 has spent 199 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and which was also made into a film by the same name in 2010.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I’d have to go with the Phoenix. I love the symbolism: rebirth from the ashes. It’s also cool that it pops up across various mythologies and cultures. Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Egyptian and Native American all have a version.

Henry: Plus, it’s a dry heat…

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I love nesting with the fam: reading, cooking, baking, gardening—I’m a bit of a homebody at heart.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

She was funny and kind. And made the best guacamole.

Henry: Achievement unlocked

Where can readers find your work?

Pretty much wherever books are sold. (But when you can, shop indie!)

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Anika

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Cute Halloween Costumes for Little Kids

From the mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

“It’s never too early to start celebrating Halloween, as these Halloween-ready babies will prove. Adorable tots are the perfect models for creative parents and their baby costume ideas.”

 #1 Cruella And Dalmatian

Cruella And Dalmatian

#2 Baby Rapunzel In Her Tower

Baby Rapunzel In Her Tower

#3 Little Old Lady

Little Old Lady

#4 Baby Octopus

Baby Octopus

#5 Power Loader from Aliens

My Friend And His Daughter In Costume

#6 Oscar Baby Costume

Oscar Baby Costume

 #7 Cutest Ewok Ever

Cutest Ewok Ever

#8 Mom & Baby Spiderweb Costume

Mom & Baby Spiderweb Costume

#9 Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

#10 Baby Groot

My Wife Made My Son A Baby Groot Costume For Halloween

#11 Baby Duck

Baby Duck

#12 Harry Potter Mandrake Costume

Harry Potter Mandrake Costume

#13 Eaten By A Shark

Eaten By A Shark

#14 Stormtrooper and Ewok

My Son And I On His First Halloween

#15 Baby Yoda

Baby Yoda

#16 Baby Einstein

Baby Einstein

#17 Totoro Costume

Totoro Costume

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Dream-Like Autumn Forests

Fall is here. Halloween is just around the bend. Time for some arboreal inspiration from artist Janek Sedlář, and the mad geniuses at Bored Panda.

Janek Sedlar is a young self-taught photographer from the Czech Republic whose speciality is landscape photography with a surreal twist. He became a “serious” photographer only in 2011, and most of his captivating images were captured in his home region of Moravia and around the White Carpathians nature reserve.

“Inspiration I find in daily life, in NATURE, in my feelings and thoughts,” said for an interview with Interesting Photographers. “Being in these woods and meadows is a return to childhood, it regains my life energy and I am trying to share these moments with my camera, the process itself is like a meditation for me.”

Call of wandering

Kingdom of silence

Lane of elders

Fog in the red forest

Dream inside a dream

Autumn prayers

Place for dreaming

Angels alongside our path

Feel of amber happiness

Forest cathedral

Awaken soul

Carpathian dreaming

Shaman’s road on the other side

The path

Be on the road with warmly thoughts

Mesmerizing poetry of autumn

Forest conjuration

Carpathian kingdom

Autumnal ambient from within

Hidden beneath the leaves


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Disney princesses as heroines from other speculative fiction by Isaiah K Stephens

Just in time for Halloween, Isaiah K Stephens gives us Disney princesses taking on alternate heroine roles from other works of speculative fiction. Well, played sir. His website is http://izzydoodledump.tumblr.com/.


Ariel as Black Widow (The Avengers)


Aurora as Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones)


Belle as Hermione Granger (Harry Potter)


Jasmine as Chun-li (Street Fighter)


Merida as Rogue (X-men)


Mulan as Xena


Pocahontas as Katniss (The Hunger Games)


Rapunzel as Sailor Moon


Snow White as Wonder Woman


Tiana as Avatar Korra (Korra / The Last Airbender)

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SDCC cosplay ideas: suits of armor from children’s books and comics

When we consider children’s books and comics, we typically think in terms of interesting characters and compelling stories. So while the focus of children’s books is not on armor, some of the tales taking place in fantasy setting, have armor that plays an important part of the story. After all, The Lord of the Rings tale would have turned out very differently if Frodo had not been wearing mithril armor when he was stabbed by the troll in Moria.

Compiled below are some famous suits of armor from children’s books, comics, and graphic novels. With San Diego Comic-Con just around the bend, these armor choices could serve as inspiration for SDCC cosplay as well.

The Witch King of Angmar

“The Lord of the Rings” series by J.R.R. Tolkien
This guy is Sauron’s right-hand man, er, wraith. If you had any doubts about his alignment, a spiky helmet is always a tipoff that someone works for the dark side. Although you can’t really see it in this photo, his gauntlets and boots are beautifully crafted. Plus, he one-handedly wields a mace the size of a naval mine!

From wikipedia.org:
“The Witch-king of Angmar, also known as the Lord of the Nazgûl and the Black Captain, is a fictional character and a major antagonist in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth fantasy writings. In Tolkien’s novel The Lord of the Rings, he is the chief of the Nazgûl (Ringwraiths), the chief servants of the Dark Lord Sauron. His name is not revealed in any of Tolkien’s writings, nor are the names of any of the other Nazgûl, except Khamûl.”


“Thor” by Marvel Comics
Here is actor Chris Hemsworth rockin’ Thor’s combination plate and scale armor. I’m not sure why Thor and Loki wear armor, since they appear to be indestructible (recall the beating The Hulk gave Loki in The Avengers movie). And although Edna Mode is not a fan of capes, the red cape really sets off Thor’s armor nicely.

From wikipedia.org:
“Thor is a fictional character, a superhero who appears in comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character first appeared in Journey into Mystery #83 (Aug. 1962) and was created by editor-plotter Stan Lee, scripter Larry Lieber, and penciller Jack Kirby.

Debuting in the Silver Age of Comic Books, the character is based on the god Thor of Norse mythology. He has starred in several ongoing series and limited series, and has been a perennial member of the superhero team the Avengers, appearing in each volume of that series.

The 2011 film Thor, based on the character and comic, was directed by Kenneth Branagh and starred Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Hemsworth reappears as Thor in The Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World is set for release in 2013. Thor placed 14th on IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Heroes of All Time in 2011.”


“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
Elrond is one of the senior elves left in Middle-earth, and bearer of one of the three Elven rings of power. As befits an Elf Lord, he is wearing stunningly beautiful armor. The mauve and gold colors are striking, and the gracefully curving lines convey the armor’s elvish provenance.

From wikipedia.org:
“Elrond Half-elven is a fictional character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth legendarium. He is introduced in The Hobbit, and plays a supporting role in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Silmarillion”.
Elrond was Lord of Rivendell, one of the mighty rulers of old that remained in Middle-earth in its Third Age. He was the son of Eärendil and Elwing, and a great-grandson of Lúthien, born in Beleriand in the First Age, making him well over 6,000 years old by the time of the events described in “The Lord of the Rings”. Elrond’s twin brother was Elros Tar-Minyatur, the first High King of Númenor.”


“Batman” by DC Comics
Flexible black armor that renders you bulletproof! What’s not to like? Plus a utility belt with all kinds of useful gadgets. And a cape that lets Batman glide. Protective, functional, and stylish!

From wikipedia.org:
“Batman is an ongoing comic book series featuring the DC Comics hero of the same name. The character first appeared in Detective Comics #27, published in May 1939. Batman proved to be so popular that a self-titled ongoing comic book series began publication in the spring of 1940. It was first advertised in early April 1940, one month after the first appearance of his new sidekick, Robin, the Boy Wonder.
The first stories appearing in the Batman comic were written by Bill Finger and illustrated by Bob Kane, though Finger went uncredited for years thereafter. These early stories depicted a vengeful Batman, not hesitant to kill when he saw it as a necessary sacrifice. Although not canonical, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns introduced a significant evolution of the Batman’s character in his eponymous series; he became uncompromising and relentless in his struggle to revitalize Gotham. The Batman often exhibited behavior that Gotham’s elite labeled as excessively violent as well as antisocial tendencies. Miller portrayed him with an anti-heroic and near villainous characterization.”

Iorek Byrnison

“The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman
Three words: Talking. Polar. Bear. In gold plate armor. OK, seven words. Imagine the power and ferocity of a polar bear, encased in the protective embrace of lovingly crafted sky-iron.

From wikipedia.org:
‘Northern Lights’, known as ‘The Golden Compass’ in North America, is a young-adult fantasy novel by Philip Pullman, published by Scholastic UK in 1995. Set in a universe parallel to ours, it features the journey of Lyra Belacqua to the Arctic in search of her missing friend, Roger Parslow, and her imprisoned “uncle”, Lord Asriel, who has been conducting experiments with a mysterious substance known as “Dust”. Northern Lights is the first book of a trilogy, ‘His Dark Materials’.

King Iorek Byrnison is a male armored bear (panserbjørner in Norwegian). Like all Panserbjørner, Iorek follows a very strict code of conduct, and will not, in any situation, betray a promise he has made. He possesses incredible strength, and like many of his kind is an expert smith. He is a great friend and comrade to both Lyra Belacqua and Lee Scoresby.

During the first book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, Northern Lights, Iorek Byrnison is found shaping metal for humans in an Arctic port town. These humans had deceived Iorek by giving him spirits, then stole his sky-iron armor while he was intoxicated: this left him no choice but to work for the humans.”

Prince Nuada

“Hellboy” by Dark Horse Comics
Admittedly, it is hard to not think about Prince Nuada’s extendable spear and his incredible fighting prowess. But his beautiful leather armor is light and flexible, and therefore better suited to his lightning fast fighting style than would be clumsy plate mail.

From wikipedia.org:
“Hellboy is a fictional character, a comic book superhero created by writer-artist Mike Mignola. The character first appeared in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (Aug. 1993), and has since appeared in various eponymous miniseries, one-shots and inter-company crossovers. The character has been adapted into two live-action feature films in 2004 and 2008. Prince Nuada was the villain in the latter film.”

Prince Nuada, played by Luke Goss, appears in the Hellboy II movie. He is the son of the Elf King Balor, and brother to Princess Nuala, with whom he shares a symbiotic yin-yang relationship. He resents the diminishment of the Elf realms to the point of madness. His lust to restore the Elves’ former glory leads him to ruthlessly kills a room full of humans, as well as his father, to obtain two pieces of the magical crown that controls the unstoppable mechanical Golden Army.”


“Narnia” by C.S. Lewis
While he is not a named character in the book or movie, this minotaur is sporting some some ornate and evil-looking armor (that’s as it should be, since he’s a minion of the White Witch). Plate armor, combined with steel-tipped horns, immense strength, and feral ferocity make him an opponent to be feared.

From wikipedia.org:
“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is a high fantasy novel for children by C. S. Lewis, published by Geoffrey Bles in 1950. It was the first published of seven novels in “The Chronicles of Narnia” (1950–1956) and it is the best known; among all the author’s books it is the most widely held in libraries.

Most of the novel is set in Narnia, a land of talking animals and mythical beings that the White Witch has ruled for one hundred years of deep winter. In the frame story, four English children live in a big old country house during their World War II evacuation from London. In Narnia the siblings seem to fulfill an old prophecy, so they are soon adventuring both to save their lives and to deliver the country.”

Iron Man

“Iron Man” by DC Comics
Iron Man’s armor not only provides protection, but also enables him to fly, fire offensive weapons, and to receive tactical artificial intelligence. This high tech outfit is literally and figuratively the gold standard in armor.

From wikipedia.org:
“Iron Man is a fictional character, a superhero who appears in comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character was created by writer-editor Stan Lee, developed by scripter Larry Lieber, and designed by artists Don Heck and Jack Kirby. He made his first appearance in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963).

An American billionaire playboy, industrialist and ingenious engineer, Tony Stark suffers a severe chest injury during a kidnapping in which his captors attempt to force him to build a weapon of mass destruction. He instead creates a powered suit of armor to save his life and escape captivity. He later uses the suit and successive versions to protect the world as Iron Man. Through his corporation ― Stark Industries ― Tony has created many military weapons, some of which, along with other technological devices of his making, have been integrated into his suit, helping him fight crime.

Warriors Working With Wicked Witch of the West

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum
Although formidable in her own right, the Wicked Witch of the West has two sets of minions: those delightfully scary flying monkeys and halberd-wielding and ornately uniformed royal guard. Although the bearskin caps and leather jerkins are impressive looking, their protective value is questionable, given three of them are quickly overpowered by the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion. Still, they had to be included in this list for the sake of nostalgia, if nothing else.

From wikipedia.org:
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is a 1900 children’s novel written by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W. W. Denslow. The story chronicles the adventures of a young girl named Dorothy in the Land of Oz, after being swept away from her Kansas farm home in a cyclone.

The Wizard of Oz is a 1939 American fantasy adventure film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The film stars Judy Garland. Notable for its use of Technicolor, fantasy storytelling, musical score, and unusual characters, over the years it has become one of the best known of all films and part of American popular culture. It also featured what may be the most elaborate use of character makeups and special effects in a film up to that time.”

This article is also published in the San Diego Children’s Book Examiner.