a little taste of Welcome to Monsterville by Laura Shovan and Michael Rothenberg

Feeling a little scared? How about sad or shy? Have you ever been surprised by a kind gesture or felt empowered by your dreams?

In Welcome to Monsterville (Apprentice House Press, 2023), Laura Shovan and Michael Rothenberg introduce us to sixteen fun and quirky monsters, each embodying a relatable human emotion or state of being.

The collection opens with this intriguing fellow:

Hello, children!
Please don't hide.
The gate is open.
Come inside.

We're glad you're here
in Monsterville.
Our tour today
is creature-filled.

Our residents
aren't ordinary.
They're friendly! Thoughtful!
Shy and scary.

They live with humans
side by side.
You want to meet them?
Come inside.

We soon sense our new monster friends are not only all around us, but within us. Have you ever stomped off to the green cave of anger? Want to be charmed by monsterflies, or revel in the pure joy of monster houses, who shiver and shake, kaboom and quake? 

Here’s a chance to consider, observe, and turn a feeling inside out via inventive personification, crackerjack wordplay, and imaginative art that makes the abstract visible. Here is validation and feeling understood. This book is an appealing reminder that poetry has the power to reveal as well as heal.

Michael and Laura

The backstory of this collection is interesting and poignant. On the eve of the pandemic, friends Laura and Michael (who sadly passed away last November) embarked on a ‘creative conversation’ after bonding over shared grief and confusion regarding their sons. Michael was unable to write for awhile, but found release and expression in art therapy.

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[sweet review] On the Corner of Chocolate Avenue by Tziporah Cohen and Steven Salerno

“One is only happy in proportion as he makes others feel happy.” ~ Milton Hershey

Go ahead: break off a piece of Hershey bar and savor its rich chocolaty goodness as it slowly melts in your mouth. Mmmmmm! Did you know those rectangular sections are called ‘pips’? 🙂

Hershey’s chocolate defined my childhood.

When I was growing up, I simply had to have a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar whenever I went to the movies or had extra money from my allowance. So much happiness for just a nickel!

We poured Hershey’s syrup into cold milk and over vanilla ice cream, and I’ll always remember the first time I made and devoured my first S’more at Campfire Girls day camp. Marry me, please. And best of all, every Christmas, Grandma Yang would give a five pound box of Hershey’s Kisses to each of her eleven children and their families. The holidays wouldn’t have been the same without those sweet kisses.

You can see why I was excited to see this brand new picture book biography, On the Corner of Chocolate Avenue: How Milton Hershey Brought Milk Chocolate to America by Tziporah Cohen and Steven Salerno (Clarion Books, 2022). Though a longtime Hershey’s fan, I actually knew very little about the life of America’s Chocolate King.

Through hard work and perseverance, a poor boy from Derry Township, Pennsylvania – one who probably never tasted chocolate as a child – grew up to create a chocolate empire as a pioneering confectioner, resilient businessman, and dedicated philanthropist. 

Hershey’s achievements in mass production and bulk export helped to popularize chocolate around the world, making it accessible and affordable for the average consumer.

As the story opens, we see 8-year-old Milton gazing longingly at the sweets displayed in a shop window. Chocolate is a treat solely for the wealthy, and Milton was from a poor family. Since they moved around a lot, he attended six schools in seven years, barely learning how to read.

At age 14, he left school to help support his family. After a brief stint as a printer’s apprentice, he worked at Royer’s Ice Cream Parlor and Garden, where he learned the basics of candy making (ice cream, taffy, lollipops, marshmallows). Seeing candy’s power to make people happy, he decided it would be wonderful to build his own candy business.

Several years later, he borrowed money from his family to open the Spring Garden Confectionery Works in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, this business, as well as two others he started in Chicago and New York, failed.

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[author chat + giveaway] Patricia Toht on Pick a Perfect Egg

We can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season of blossoms, bunnies, chicks and eggs than by talking to Patricia Toht about her brand new picture book, Pick a Perfect Egg (Candlewick, 2023).

This third title in the wonderful series that includes Pick a Pine Tree and Pick a Pumpkin is once again beautifully illustrated by British artist Jarvis, and is, in many ways, a perfect book. 

Pitch perfect rhyming text? Check. Lively, inventive, never predictable rhymes frolic and sing as the narrative hums along. An absolute joy to read aloud. 

Illustrations that perfectly detail each story beat while capturing all the joys of the season? Check. Gorgeous colors and textures showcase spring loveliness, while an endearing main character positively sparkles as she picks, dyes, decorates, and hunts for eggs with neighborhood friends. And her adorable dog is always smiling. So much fun!

Pick a perfect egg
with care --
choose a white one
nestled there.

From farm fresh egg to Easter egg, this story is eggsactly what the Easter Bunny ordered. Sure to be a perennial favorite, it’s proof positive that when it comes to authors and illustrators, Toht and Jarvis are perfectly paired. 🙂

Welcome back, Patricia!!


Author Patricia Toht

Please share a fond Easter egg memory from your childhood. How did you like to decorate your eggs? 

I grew up in a big family, so we had lots of coloring going on! My parents would spread a big drop cloth on our long table, and line it with mugs. I loved the fizzing tablets that dissolved in water to reveal their colors, and the smell of vinegar that was added to set the color. 

The “Easter Bunny” hid the colored eggs around the house, along with plastic eggs…until the year the dog ate all of the hard-boiled eggs, and we woke up Easter morning to find a very vomit-y dog! 

Childhood pic of Patricia (left front) with her family.
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Emma Dunbar: joy abloom

Hot pinks and oranges, gorgeous flowers and cupcakes. What’s not to love?

Emma Dunbar’s paintings are truly a feast for the eyes. They’re an open invitation to drink it all in and feel the joy.

Emma Dunbar at Surrey Artist Open Studios (December 2022).

Born in England in 1961, Emma earned a BA (hons) in Fine Art Printmaking from West Surrey College of Art and Design (1984). She has worked full time as an artist ever since, and has exhibited throughout the UK.

Her art has been reproduced internationally as greeting cards, posters, limited edition etchings and fabric design.

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a pitch for “Happiness” by Stuart A. Paterson

“Moonlight Camping” by Deidre Lynn (Brush and Bramble Art).
by Stuart A. Paterson

I’ve made my own Museum of
Happiness, which isn’t built of brick
or stone or wood, its walls the thickness
of the day, a flapping tongue of canvass
held in place by rope & peg to stop
it flying off & joyously away
up into everywhere in time & space.

I’ll carry it around with me to pitch
beside the sea, in a field or by
that river, a billowing rickety marquee,
a travelling show of personal delights
performing one night only & forever.

What sights! What wonders! See those things unseen
except in meanwhiles, vivid dreams,
smile, laugh & gasp & live a lifetime
somewhere in between the daily grind
of minutes into hours, be amazed
by happiness’s alchemy
transmogrifying days of certainty
to joyous, raucous aeons of impossibility.

Step right up, pay nothing, be called in
to watch the carnival of you begin,
the show to beat all shows where nothing’s
out of bounds & every good thing goes
around & comes around again, not down
or out & you’re the hottest act in town,
the permanently top display, the troupe
of you booked solid every single smiling day.

~ written for Personal Best (October 2017).

“Juggler” by Dayle Bolton.


“Camping Under a Striped Tent” by Andrea Doss

This poem had me smiling from beginning to end. Sheer delight!

I reveled in Paterson’s choice words, his artful turn of phrase, and his brilliant use of extended metaphor.

Tents are portable; they can be set up just about anywhere. Never a burden, they allow us to travel lightly through life (don’t you love “its walls the thickness of the day”?). We carry our personal museums of happiness with us wherever we go. 

“Camping in the Woods” by Joanna Karpowicz.

The notion that happiness lies within, that it’s something we can all cultivate, is certainly not new, and while I appreciate the reminder, sometimes this message can be cloaked in cliché. Not so with Paterson’s poem. An invitation to “step right up” to watch “the carnival of you begin” takes care of that. Every performance is as unique as the individual; there is no sameness or predictability, not when you’re dealing with “raucous aeons of impossibility.”

“Camping Cat” by Sara Pulver.

Stuart A. Paterson wrote “Happiness” for Personal Best (a Health and Fitness podcast), when he was BBC Scotland Poet in Residence (2017-18). He has a proven track record of initiating and encouraging engagement in creative writing in many sectors of the community – primary and secondary schools, libraries, progressing writers, mental health and wellbeing, the elderly and in the area of Scots language. He has received many awards for his poetry, including Scots Poet of the Year 2020.

I’d love to stay and juggle a few more words, but I must run (this happens when you’re the hottest act in town).


What does your Museum of Happiness look like?


The lovely and talented Heidi Mordhorst is hosting the Roundup at My Juicy Little Universe. Tap dance on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Have a great weekend!

*Copyright © 2023 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.