Picture Book Mania

[sz-youtube url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=6GCJ-iGhTxA” width=”0″ userdata=”Taury” /]

Today is the start of Picture Book Month (Watch the video above to learn more!), and here at T.A.A., we’ve found a fun way to celebrate that you can benefit from. Throughout November I’ll be spotlighting some of my favorite picture books and the authors/illustrators who bring them to life. From  world famous series to the first-time efforts, and all the (Once hidden) gems in-between!


Today also marks the start of PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month)-




The goal is to have 30 ideas for picture books. Remember, these are IDEAS, not drafts of picture books, unlike NaNoWriMo, the goal is just to have a basic concept for what could be a picture book, drafting them at a later date. Learn more 

If you register by November 4th, 2013, you can enter in a drawing to win various prizes, including (But not limited to)-

Books signed and/or personalized by the author and/or illustrator

Picture Book Critiques by published authors


You must be a registered participant to win the prizes.

Click the link below to learn how to register-




Whether your a pre-published author, a teacher,  devout reader or all/any of the above, there’s a lot to love about PiBoIdMo, even if you choose not to take part in the challenge. 

Your literary rat’s taking part this year (Wish me luck!) and while picture books have never been my strength in terms of writing them, I know I have the ideas, and I’ve already come up with several on the first day alone! Not bad for my first official year.

If you’re participating in PiBoIdMo, let me know in the comments below, I wish everyone the best of luck.


Today is also the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)-

2013-Participant-Facebook-Cover (1)

Like PiBoIdMo, I’m taking part in this year, and while I’ve come up short my last four attempts, this year I will draft a book to the end, and with work on my debut novel GABRIEL slowing down as we near the end of 2013, I need something to aid the wait time….


But in addition to all the fun challenges going on in November, I’m pleased to announce our next spotlight project for “T.A.A. CARES”-



This is an initiative that started earlier this year to give support and awareness to various content creators whose projects need money and/or word of mouth to 

Our first spotlight was for FETCH, a picture book written by Adam Glendon Sidwell, who started a Kickstarter campaign to earn the needed funds to pay his illustrator and printing costs. After missing out on a project that didn’t meet it’s funding goals (You can read about that story here: http://talkinganimaladdicts.com/how-i-met-a-kindred-spirit-on-kickstarter), I HAD to do what I could to spread the word. So, in addition to making a donation, I also spread the word via Facebook and Twitter. 

That project met it’s funding goal is well on the way to publication. 


This time, our spotlight is on a book that while not as far along as FETCH yet, author Julie Hedlund (Founder and host of the 12×12 picture book challenge and contributor to CBI [Children’s Book Insider’s CBI Clubhouse]) is taking the plunge with crowdfunding her next picture book via Kickstarter, an eBay-like fund-sourcing social network that allows authors and other content creators a viable way to earn money needed to bring their projects out of the proverbial drawer and into the hands of the consumers. 


Her Kickstarter Campaign isn’t live yet, but you can share your support on her blog post linked below-




You can also buy her first published effort, the storybook app “A Troop is a Group of Monkeys” published by Little Bahalia Publishing. Now available in print too!


As Julie explains in her series of five videos (The first of which is found in the link above), while many authors long for a traditional publishing experience, and/or have a preference for print over ebooks and story apps, for many authors (Herself included) we sometimes need to take less traveled roads and take (Reasonable) risks to get there. 


For authors who just don’t have the money (On their own) needed to self-publish at the needed level of quality to be taken seriously by readers and potentially agents and/or publishers, crowdfunding projects via platforms like Kickstarter is one way for authors to get the needed funds to get a book out of the office, onto the presses, and into reader’s hands, physically and/or otherwise. 

But as Julie warns in the videos preceding the one linked above, this isn’t a shortcut to publication, but a way to earn funds for the things we as authors or author/illustrators can’t do alone, or need help to do, but that said-

At times, I do feel  people in general confuse “Lack of Money” with “Lack of Will” because there’s a difference between “Not able” and “I don’t want to!” Those of you who are parents and/or teachers, you get what I mean, it’s like when you need to teach kids that HOW you say something is just as important as what’s actually said.

“Can I PLEASE have a Cookie?” is more respectful than “I Want a cookie NOW!”

Whether or not you give the cookie, you’re more apt to at least give the first response more consideration and courtesy than response 2.

Authors who are successful on Kickstarter or other alternate roads to publication come to it from a “Not able” (i.e. Can I PLEASE have a cookie?) frame of mind. That mindset is critical. 

While authors do what we can to support each other, there’s a difference between asking for a critique of a query letter or manuscript, and money to fund a publishing venture, both require commitment and trust on the part of the donor and beneficiary, and let’s be honest, the current world economy doesn’t help make financial generosity easier, never mind any personal/professional reasons we may have.

For this reason alone, I won’t be doing a Kickstarter campaign anytime soon. I know it will be an option for me at some point, but not until I’ve done all I can on my own first, since projects on Kickstarter need to be approved, and you only get one shot to earn your funds, you don’t want to leave anything on your end to chance. 

In the meantime, I urge you to help me and T.A.A. CARES, support Julie as she soon embarks on her Kickstarter adventure, and if you missed out on supporting our first T.A.A. CARES spotlight, this is your chance to if not spare money, at least some time to spread the word to those who can, online and off.


Check back soon to learn more about Julie Hedlund, and since no one entered the FETCH grand giveaway, stayed tuned for how you can still win a personalized signed copy of FETCH and my debut novel GABRIEL in a new giveaway.

As always, I appreciate comments from my readers, don’t be shy, I’m trying to build a community, and your comments and feedback is appreciated. We’re on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, too!




Until next Time,

May the fantastical fauna be with you.

Taurean J. Watkins: Nickname: Taury Literary Rat/Founder of Talking Animal Addicts

Taurean J. Watkins: Nickname: Taury
Literary Rat/Founder of
Talking Animal Addicts



Book Review: Geronimo Stilton – Lost Treasure of The Emerald Eye


Cover depicts, A freaked out passenger mouse, Geronimo Stilton and gutsy sister, Thea, riding double on a motorcycle down a narrow street,

“Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye”

One of the oldest debates in the history of literary criticism is the age old battle between storytelling and writing. For those of you who aren’t writers, this sounds whack, I know, but stay with me a sec.

Ask yourself this, “Have you ever read a book that you loved?”


Now ask yourself, “Can you remember specific aspects of how a book you love is written?”

If you can’t, you probably loved the story, even if the way it was written wasn’t significantly enhancing the experience.

As many a passionate writer will tell you, things can be nicely written, but not a story.

So, can’t the reverse be true?

Great stories with a strong voice can make up for less ambitious or elegant prose. 

(Note I didn’t say “bad.” While content is always subjective, typos, grammar snafus, and misspelled or misused words distract and get in the way of the experience, no matter how you define a good book) After all, think of some of the most popular books of the last decade-  

  • SkippyJon Jones (Picture Book)
  • Captain Underpants (Comic/Early Reader)
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid (MG)
  • Twilight (YA)

  What do all these books have in common? Aside from all being the first books in popular series, they let characters and storytelling trump HOW they were written, and “Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye” is first in a series of adventures starring a persnickety newspaper mouse, Geronimo Stilton, does just that as well.


I know, there’s adverbs, adjectives, and some books have the “Insert culture research” info-dumps. Oh my! (This first one doesn’t, though, the culture info dumps, I mean)


But here’s the thing, for years my love of this series was my dark secret, for all the reasons above, and it seemed like one of those WFH (Work For Hire) series that like “Goosebumps” and a lot of “The Babysitter’s Club” books were hired out, meaning more than one writer wrote them, and while I think these were all by the same author from Italy, it’s packaged here in the states like it’s WFH, but I’m not 100% sure either way. 

For some readers, this isn’t as big a deal (Though I know many picky readers in this regard), but as a writer trying to earn some street cred and respect with my own original work, I do have to work hard through my personal issues on this.

I know many writers start out writing work for hire books, and I respect that it’s not easy to write to a certain formula and in such a short amount of time.  (I’ll touch on that in detail in a future feature on T.A.A.)

Still, I finally swallowed my writer’s pride, let curiosity have its due, and purchased/read the one that started it all listed above.

Guess what?  I LOVED it!

And the rest is history.

I guess this is my “Nancy Drew” of sorts.

These are the books I would’ve read under the covers if they existed in my grade school youth. If I could write for this series I would. Yes, I love it THAT much. (If ANYONE from Scholastic wants to contact me about such an opportunity, please feel free!)

Plus, the art’s nice, and in COLOR, too often these types of books have black and white art, if any at all beyond the cover, and with respect to those of you with limited color vision, I love color!

I’ve read and own nearly all of the books in the main numbered series (There are also now spinoff series I haven’t yet explored), one of the graphic novels, all four “Kingdom of Fantasy” hardcover side stories, and most of the audiobooks from the first 25.  In other words, less “Old Yeller” or “Black Beauty” in terms of the prose, and more cartoonish in look and the story, but with more depth in terms of characterization than say something more one-note.

The first book in the series “The Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye” really sets up the kind of ride you’re in for in this series.

Apart from our persnickety but plucky and resourceful hero, his various family members, friends, rivals and every-rodent in between has as a more extensive supporting cast than most movies or television shows for readers in this age group. But not to worry, every book in the main numbered series (Outside hardcover stand alone Kingdom of Fantasy titles, which are good reads, too)have a visual mural photo in the pre-story pages of the most prominent secondary characters of the series, but if you become a fan like I have, it’s easier to keep them all straight, as they appear when relevant to the book at hand.

The three who appear most often are Geronimo’s sister Thea, nephew Benjamin, and his cousin (From you-know-where), aptly named “Trap.”

This first adventure finds Geronimo and his assorted trio of relatives in search of a lost treasure. Through various mishap and mayhem, they end up beached on a seemingly uninhabited island, and while you think you’ve heard this plot-line a zillions times before, I promise there’s nary an Indiana Jones or Gilligan’s Island/Lost cliche in sight.

Not even the now infamously obligatory “Boulder Chase” scene. While younger readers may not be familiar with certain “Rodent Re-imagined” movie and television references, for older tweens or adults reading the book to, or with their kids, can be great conversation starters.

In my opinion, though, they avoid making it sound annoyingly “dated.” Besides, there’s always one kid in every family that’s into “retro” something, and I sure was one of those kids. (I knew about A-Track tapes and LP vinyl records when other kids my age didn’t, and knew about audio cassette tapes before Thirteen Reasons Why made them trendy again, so there!)

For those of you “Wimpy Kid” fans, there’s plenty hi-jinks, pranks, and comic situations. If you’re willing to invest a bit, the unabridged audiobook is a great alternative if your reluctant reader might stumble at the more complex sentence structures reading on the page, as it’s more ambitious in terms of the writing than say, “Judy Moody” or “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

The audiobooks of the first 10 books feature music and sound effects, feeling like an old-fashioned radio drama (Don’t know what I mean? Ask you parents/grandparents, or just Google it), but of course, way better audio quality. So, what makes this series so compelling in spite of all the “rules” to the contrary? Three key factors: Characters, Insider Rewards, Takes “Unlikely” Risks.

Let’s look at these in more detail-  


On the surface, you’d think this book would be overly didactic and predictable, and admittedly, in the wrong hands-er paws, it could very well by the case.

When you’re going into the first book of a series, this can often be the case, but this book manages to avoid a lot of those pitfalls by giving twists on the characters that could too easily be the stereotypes most writers try hard to avoid.

Our hero, despite being a persnickety worrywart, is also patient and resourceful, and dealing with his daredevil kid sister and a greedy narcissistic cousin, you need all the patience you can get, and the cute charmer kid doesn’t come of as too good to be true, and while his role here is minor, he plays more clever and bigger roles in future books in the series.

Daredevil sis can show her vulnerability, without taking away from her extroverted nature, and while not ashamed of being plucky and a little tomboyish, isn’t averse to her feminine side.


On that note, worrywart dads of daughters beware, she’s a bit of a flirt, but these being kid’s books, it only goes as far as blown kisses and mild lovey-dove talk, but nothing that would send “typical boys” screaming away from this or other books (You might want to skip #10 if your boys are still in the “Not into Girls” stage. Good book, but you have to be open to goofy first love to enjoy it The Valentine’s Day books are more funny than lovey-dovey)

Even the cousin from you-know-where has his good points and cool moments, surprising our hero almost a bit more than the readers, proving that people (Or mice in this case) are more than we see on the surface, if only for a moment…

If you’re familiar with Charles Schultz’s Peanuts characters, there’s a similar vibe in terms of how the Stilton family’s dynamics in particular work, often complicating, and bringing much of the humor to the plot at hand.

The Stiltons aren’t “The Brady Bunch” nor  “The Simpsons” but rather something

in-between, and one thing you learn quickly in this book, long before our ragtag rodent crew sets out to sea.

Though Geronimo’s not as down on his luck, or indecisive as Charlie Brown, and good at what he does, running a newspaper, he does makes his share of mistakes,

(Being late for work, soft-spoken to a fault, and a bit clumsy at times) 

Thea’s not as snarky as Lucy, and while she often likes to tease her brother’s brainy introvert ways, she often plots and schemes for Geronimo’s benefit, even if it often causes him more stress than assistance. There’s hints of Peppermint Patty here, too, as she and Trap (Like how Peppermint Patty always calls Charlie Brown “Chuck”) refers to Geronimo by various nicknames he REALLY cannot stand.

(As someone whose name is constantly mispronounced, I feel for you, Geronimo)


Benjamin could arguably be similar to Linus (minus dependence on a security blanket) but not as introspective, but proof that little kids can make a big difference, something you’ll see in later books more than this first one.A nice non-preachy benefit if older kids read it to their younger siblings.

While you could argue there’s some commonality between Trap and Lucy in personality (There’s a lot of “Pulling the Football” moments between Geronimo and Trap), not even Ms. Van Pelt can defuse this one, for unlike Charlie Brown’s more predictable patterns where she knows every possible button to push at her leisure, Trap’s too crazy to call or calculate.

“A real character” as Geronimo himself says in this book. Obnoxious one minute and selfless the next, in that sense, Trap is more like what Snoopy is to Lucy, though that might be pushing it in relation to Geronimo and Trap’s “Opposites Retract” dynamics, which actually describes Trap and Thea dynamics dead on, but you get the point. (I hope…)

While Geronimo often unjustly gets the “blockhead” treatment from his own family (Except from his nephew, Benjamin), they love him a lot, and speaking as someone who’s the odd one out in his own family, I can both relate/commiserate, and feel envy at the same time.  


Insider Rewards

Unlike Harry Potter or Percy Jackson where there’s a clear end point and thus, a  smaller number of books, this series is a LONG one, at this point we’re up to 55 books in the main series, plus three spin-off series focusing on secondary and supporting characters.

But unlike other open-ended series, this one rewards it’s longtime readers with referencing previous books (relevant to the current story of the book you’re reading), bringing back various characters of the secondary, and supporting cast, as needed (If you’re going to have a supporting cast as “Mega-huge” as Geronimo’s fridge, which I’d LOVE to have in my future home, you may as well give them layers that can be peeled back with every appearance).


While some books have the “characters that don’t retain what they learn” issue (A real pet peeve of mine), for the most part, you get the feeling there is a defined, well-scoped world.

But as zany as some books in the series are, as the reader I feel there’s a level of consistency, without being so weighed down by the world’s rules that something fresh can’t jump out, while at the same time, not breaking those rules of the world. 

Because there’s not a strictly linear storyline, readers can really read any book in the series without feeling lost. The adventures are self-contained.

BUT, loyal readers of the series are rewarded with in-jokes and references from earlier books, that are relevant to the current book you’re reading, enriching the overall experience.

You genuinely feel you know a little more about Geronimo and his world each time, even though the books don’t follow a linear path. That’s hard to pull off, especially for a series boasting 50+ books (and GROWING), at the time this review is being written.  


Takes Unlikely Risks


Now this is where the proverbial rubber meets the road.

Though more subtle in this first book, having read most of the other books in the main series, I can assure you there’s more depth to the characters than what the back of the book blurb might indicate.

As funny and approachable as the story is, it’s also not afraid to get emotional, and don’t worry, I don’t mean the overly saccharine melodrama kind of emotional, I mean the “Gets you right here…” kind of emotion and heart any book needs.


Well, some books more than others…

One thing I often notice with entertainment from Europe or Japan is how sophisticated the characters and humor can be compared to what you often see in the U.S.  

Heck, there are some Canadian programs that are more sophisticated than the average U.S. equivalents,

I‘m not knocking America here (We have our gems, too,of course), but I do see a difference, something I’ll talk about in more detail on the blog at a later time.

As for how this relates to my review of the book in question, let me give you a key example-  

Near the climax (Spoiler free example), Trap says-

“It’s bad enough to brought me to the wrong island, but did you have to bring me to a tourist trap?!”

It’s so funny when you figure out that he’s using the term “tourist trap” to describe the situation at that point in the story, not just because of his name, but also at the same time not get how he himself would fit that description a few chapters before.

It’s like how the bullies in our lives don’t see their bullying you or others for what it is.

But to end this section on a positive note, Trap gives Geronimo an idea that will become one of the key hallmarks of the series, which I won’t spoil here, but while it’s not surprising, it’s another subtle way of avoiding the “annoying cousin” cliche, in that it gave our humble hero the idea he might not have thought of on his own.

Something writers, and any other entrepreneur for that matter, can relate to. Something you need to read (or listen to the unabridged audiobook version) to appreciate.


Climax and Verdict


One thing writers always hear is some variant of “Never talk down to your audience.”

Let me tell you,  one of the WORST things you can do as a writer (Apart from boring the people you want to engage)is insult a reader’s intelligence. This is one of the FEW absolute truisms all writers should live and work by.


While this is one series I follow that makes up for less ambitious writing with voice and storytelling, it also takes brave risks that avoids a lot of the formula inherent in more open-ended series.

Anyone who loves well-defined characters, bold humor, has a sibling or siblings, and perhaps a cousin or two from you-know-where, you’ll find a friend and inspiration in Geronimo Stilton.

If I’ve hooked you into buying this book, please support T.A.A. by clicking the affiliate link cover for the book above.

Or check it out at your local or school library. Support them so they can stick around to support you or someone you love when you need it most.

Also, check out the official website at the link below- http://www.scholastic.com/titles/geronimostilton

When is a “Great Story” NOT about The Writing (Part III: Books I LOVE for the “Story” but the writing’s NOT bad!)

Illustration from 1819 edition of
Illustration from 1819 edition of “The Comic Adventures of Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog”
NOTE: We at T..A.A. don’t promote or endorse smoking. 
(Still, it fits, and it’s funny!)-Taurean Watkins, Editor-in-Chief, Founder and literary rat of  Talking Animal Addicts (T.A.A.)


If you haven’t read part 1, click here!

If you haven’t read part 2, click here!


Hi All!

I had a nice break, and a better than normal Mother’s Day, and a restful birthday yesterday, and it’s great to be back at T.A.A. again.



In part 2 of my series on Storytelling, I was honored that fellow middle grade author, Janice Hardy, was kind to let me share some of her points on storytelling that we discussed in private this time last year, little did she or I know at the time it would be great fodder for a more broad conversation, and if you’re a brave reader of moral-bending fiction, check out her “Healing Wars” Trilogy at: http://www.janicehardy.com


Today, I’ll share some of my own favorite books that while may not have the level of writing I personally strive toward, are still fun stories, and don’t worry, just because these books excel at story over prose, it’s not “bad” from a technical standpoint.


In other words, no out of place punctuation or nonsensical tense shifts, at least none I could read and pick up on.


Before I go into my picks, here’s another nugget of wisdom Janice gave me in the vein of part 2-


“I think to read like a reader you have to pay attention to what you love about the stories that isn’t about the writing. Focus on the parts that keep you up at night and make you recommend a book to everyone you know. If you can identify those aspects, and then get them into your own work (or read your own work with those ideas in mind), then there’s a good chance the book will become a more reader-friendly book overall.”


Again, I agree with Janice, but that said, I know from personal experience this is not easy to re-learn if you’ve been writing a LONG time, because writers really do read differently than readers (Who don’t write to publish) do, and because of this, it took me a LONG time to get back in touch with what she meant.


I still struggle here, but it’s not the “esoteric fortune cookie babble” it sounded to me when I first read it last year.


With those points above in mind, let’s get to it-


Remember, I’m not an agent or trained editor, so your millage may vary, but hey, if I thought the books were boring (Minor flaws and preference aside) I wouldn’t recommend it here.



Taurean’s Top 3 Book Recommendations for books where “Story Trumps Prose”

(In no particular order)


“The Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye” by Geronimo Stilton

I’ve kept my love of this series a secret for years; this was my guilty pleasure, my “Wimpy Kid” if you will. But of the many books I’ve read and loved in recent years, this is by far the most obvious example for me where character and story rise above the writing, that said, it’s not horridly written, even though the high use of adverbs in dialogue tags irks me a little.


While I can’t recommend this series to reluctant readers like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” with certain words and sentence structures more challenging compared to the aforementioned series, this is a great series to recommend readers who think animal stories for this age group are limited to Shiloh or Charlotte’s Web, and while both are fine books, tug at the heartstrings more than the need for a fast paced read.


That said, if you’re willing to invest in the audiobooks, they’re well produced and engage like those ‘ol school radio plays of yesteryear. (I have so much more to say about this book, but you’ll have to wait for my review in the near future.) But moving on-



“A Summer in the South” by James Marshall

A charming mystery story that’s almost more about the zany antics than the mystery, though that’s there, too. How this guy make simplicity not read boring is beyond me, and more power to him.


“Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat” by Lynne Jonell

This is a bit of a misfit pick in terms of the context of “Story trumps writing” books, because I do this is smartly written, but it’s not flowery, but it’s really the cheeky wit (Particularly of the Rat in this book) and Dahl-esque story that you remember most. With quirky illustrations by Jonathan Bean to round it off.


There you go, three books I love where story trumps the writing, but the writing still isn’t horrid, in my opinion.


Next time, my series on Storytelling continues with more authors sharing their thoughts on this often debated and dividing subject, what they did for their books, and more.


Please share your thought in the comments below. It’s great to hear from you, and now that I’m on WordPress, if you avoided commenting during my Blogger days because you hated entering those Caiaphas (I do too, believe me), you don’t have to deal with that anymore.


Special Thanks to Janice Hardy for allowing use of her opinions in this blog post.