Monday, February 20, 2017

Baking Adventures with the Little Kitchen of Horrors Series

I love to bake, so I was thrilled to edit the Little Kitchen of Horrors series, a set of cookbooks that include deliciously disgusting foods, kid-friendly step-by-step instructions, and fun suggestions for displaying these dishes (because we all know that presentation is important—especially when you’re trying to gross out your guests).

While these books will be fun for kids year-round, I was inspired to try my hand at a number of recipes over Halloween. I’ll admit that some of my creative endeavors turn out more “Pinterest fail” than Pinterest, but these easy recipes turned out to be hits.

I’ll share with you one of my favorite recipes from the series – Cat Litter Cake.

Be prepared to get some giggles when you present this dessert to your guests.

Cat Litter Cake
Serves: 10
Preparation Time: 1 ½ hours (30 minutes active)

1 16.5-ounce chocolate cake mix
1/3 cup oil (or amount on cake mix package)
3 large eggs (or amount on cake mix package)
1 16.5-ounce yellow cake mix (or amount on cake mix package)
1/3 cup oil (or amount on cake mix package)
3 large eggs (or amount on cake mix package)

1 5.1-ounce package vanilla instant pudding mix
2 cups cold milk (or amount on pudding package)

15-20 white sandwich cookies
12 small Tootsie Rolls, unwrapped

1) Preheat the oven to the temperature on the cake mix packages. Make both cakes according to the package directions. When they are done baking, let the cakes cool.

2) Whisk together the pudding mix and milk in a bowl. Then chill the pudding in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or until the pudding is thick.

3) Put two handfuls of cookies in a blender, and blend on the low setting until the cookies are crumbled.

4) Crumble the cakes into a large bowl. Add in half of the crumbled cookies. Mix in the pudding a few tablespoons at a time until all the crumbs are combined. You may not need all the pudding.

5) Put the Tootsie Rolls in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave them on high for 15 seconds at a time. Stop when the rolls are easy to bend, but not completely melted. Then shape the Tootsie Rolls into poo-shaped pieces. Be careful! The Tootsie Rolls may be hot.

6) Transfer the cake mixture to a serving dish or bowl. Arrange the Tootsie Rolls in and on top of the cake. The sight of this crumbly cake may make some guests gag, but the taste will leave them wanting more!

Two other recipes I tried were Sweet Cake Eyeballs and Mummy Dogs. The Sweet Cake Eyeballs were very popular (as cake pops usually are) and were tons of fun to decorate. The Mummy Dogs didn’t turn out quite the way I’d envisioned them and mine ended up on the rather derpy side, but that didn’t stop them from flying off the platter!

Naming your creation and displaying it in a creative setup are always part of the fun!

I can’t help but think they turned out looking like Mama Odie from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog

The Cat Litter Cake recipe comes from Cat Litter Cake and Other Horrifying Desserts, and the Sweet Cake Eyeballs and Mummy Dogs recipes come from Mummy Dogs and Other Horrifying Snacks. Click here to check out the entire Little Kitchen of Horror series.


Let us know which recipes you try and how they turn out! Do you dare take a bite?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Q&A with YA Author Sasha Dawn

Author Sasha Dawn stops by the blog to talk about writing thrillers, home improvement projects, and Harrison Ford.

1. First, tell us a little about yourself. 

I live in northern Illinois, where I've lived my entire life, and where most of my works take place. I have an amazing husband and two teenage daughters, who (along with their friends) help me pinpoint relevant teen issues. I'm a two-time breast cancer survivor, and I've suffered from insomnia since I was fourteen years old. I rarely sleep.

2. Your first book, Oblivion, features Callie, who thinks she might have killed her father. In Splinter, Sami realizes that she doesn’t know her father as well as she thinks she does—he may have abducted her mother. How did you decide to write YA thrillers?

I love thrillers, as a general rule. My high school English teacher introduced me to Mary Higgins Clark, and I was hooked from Where Are the Children? But more than that, my teen years were spent looking over my shoulder. I don't think I felt safe through most of my childhood, first because there was a rash of kidnappings in the 80s, and we were home alone. My mother taught us about kidnappings, and prepared us as if it was simply a rite of passage we'd have to endure one day. So I grew up terrified.

Later in my teen years, I was in a tumultuous family situation, and while I wasn't quiet about my plight, my cries for help were chalked up to teen angst and attitude. If anyone had listened and investigated, he would have discovered a world similar to those I create in my books. I survived because I saved myself. I channel this survival instinct when I write my protagonists. And I think teenagers are incredible people who face great challenges and aspire to prevail.

3. What’s crucial for writing a suspenseful story? Do you ever scare yourself while writing?

Research is essential. Unfortunately, crazy, unbelievable things happen in this world all the time. It's important to understand the elements of these situations and to depict them fairly and honestly. Every suspense needs a protagonist with some vulnerabilities, lots of twists and turns, and unreliable relationships.

Do I scare myself? Absolutely! Sometimes I wonder how I conjure such gruesome events. If a horrific creature like Palmer Prescott [from Oblivion] lives in my brain (and he's still there, by the way), what does that say about me?

4. What are your plans for your next book?

Editor/word magician Alix Reid and I are already working on my next release. We met at a café about a year ago, and I introduced her to Chatham Claiborne. Main character Joshua (named after my husband) narrates the tale of the mysterious Chatham Claiborne, who turns Joshua's life upside down. The rough draft is almost complete, and I think we're aiming to publish it in 2018.

5. How do you plot out your stories? What’s your writing process?

I experience strange dreams. I'm often awakened at night in the midst of a nightmare, which I promptly record. Some dreams are recurring. Some dreams I can't stop thinking about as the day goes on. By lunch, there might be distinct settings involved, which I also take note of...places like the tunnel between Schmidt's place and Sami's house in Splinter. Or the Vagabond Café and Holy Promise, in Oblivion.  Sometimes character names reveal themselves to me in unexpected ways. A few years ago, I was teaching college English, when I suddenly wrote on the board: Chatham Claiborne. I didn't know who she was then, but I knew she was important.

I know the beginning, end, pinch points, and climaxes of each book before I write. But I'm not a detailed planner. I write whenever I can—a few sentences here, a few pages there. I'm most productive between the hours of 2 and 7 in the morning, when the world is eerily quiet.

I don't listen to music while I write, but I generally hear it in my head. I consider what type of music might be in the soundtrack, if books came with soundtracks. I think Samantha Lang in Splinter would listen to a lot of late-80s glam rock . . . and Billy Joel.

6. When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Sasha and her daughters
When I'm not writing, I enjoy home improvement projects (I love power tools; Home Depot is my favorite store). Like my daughters, I dabble in ballet, tap, and jazz dance. We're in the midst of putting a dance studio in the basement, and this project serves both hobbies at once. I love baking, probably because I'm addicted to cookies, and I absolutely love being a mom.

7. Name some of your favorite TV shows, books, and movies.

I don't watch much television, but I've been known to binge watch The Walking DeadBanshee, and Justified. I watch Friends on DVD, and Gilmore Girls has a special place in my heart, as I just recently watched the entire series on DVD with my daughters. I still haven't seen the recent episodes, so no one tell me what happens!

I reread the classics a lot, my favorite being To Kill a Mockingbird, but I also love any Stephen King, Jessica Warman, and Barbara Delinsky. And Jessie Ann Foley's Carnival at Bray had me at hello.

Indiana Jones
Maybe it's a Harrison Ford thing, but Indiana Jones has an amazing lifeI never tire of watching it and Han Solo has to be the most interesting character in the entire history of cinema. Other movies that I watch over and over again include The 'Burbs, The Age of Adeline, and Midnight in Paris.

8. If you weren’t a writer, you’d be a . . .

In addition to being a writer, and a college English instructor, I'm a kitchen design specialist. I take a blank slate, and fill it with beautiful items in a functional and efficient way. I've been designing since I was about fifteen years old. I learned the business with my mother, who went back to school (go, Mom!) when I was eight years old. I love the challenge of specification of materials and motifs with the homeowners' tastes, and I love to make things beautiful.

But if I weren't any of those things, I think I'd be criminologist or a detective.

Thanks, Sasha!

Sasha's latest thriller, Splinter, will be out on March 1, 2017. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Women of NASA, STEM Trailblazer Bios

Special thanks to digital intern Amy Richardson for the following post!

In my college-level computer science courses that I took just four years ago, there were three females out of about thirty students. This makes some sense, considering that while women are increasingly choosing to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), these fields have historically all been dominated by males. Any females that were involved in STEM in the past have typically been overshadowed and underappreciated due to their male counterparts. Now, brilliant women such as Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan are starting to gain recognition for the impact they made on STEM over half a century ago. The 2016 film “Hidden Figures,” which showcases the intelligence, persistence, and courage of these three African American women working for NASA during the 1960s, was an instant hit upon its release in early January and is nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars coming up on Sunday, February 26th.

The popularity of this film along with the upcoming Oscars provides an opportunity to learn more about women that have impacted STEM. Several women are featured in the STEM Trailblazer Bios series, ranging from computer scientists, engineers, and astronauts. In this series, young readers (ages 7-11) will learn about some of the key figures in STEM, including their remarkable accomplishments in their field and significant details in their life that led them to a career in STEM. The stories are engaging, impressive, and could even inspire readers to consider working in STEM in the future. The women portrayed in “Hidden Figures” helped pave the way for new generations of gifted women to work for NASA, and the following titles are a great start to expanding your knowledge about women who have made stellar contributions to space exploration:

Mae Jemison’s childhood dreams revolved around someday being in outer space like the characters on her favorite show, Star Trek. In 1992, she fulfilled those dreams by becoming the first female African American astronaut. While working for NASA, Jemison and her team conducted experiments that helped us better understand space and how it affects humans. “Astronaut Mae Jemison” by Allison Lassieur reveals the details of Jemison’s life that led to her achieving her dream of becoming an astronaut, along with providing intriguing information about the history of space travel and Jemison’s numerous accomplishments, both with NASA and in other areas of science.
Diana Trujillo grew up in Cali, Colombia, which is where her fascination with space began. At the age of eleven, she promised herself that she would someday combine her love for math and her love for art to become an engineer for NASA. In “Mars Science Lab Engineer Diana Trujillo” by Kari Cornell, readers discover how Trujillo achieved her goals despite having to overcome obstacles such as moving to a new country and learning a whole new language. They will also learn more about aerospace engineering and, more specifically, NASA’s time experimenting on Mars.

Aprille Ericsson grew up in Brooklyn, New York where she began to consider a future career with NASA. Her path to becoming an aerospace engineer was not easy; it required a lot of dedication and hard work. She noticed that there weren’t many other African American women that pursued careers in science, but she didn’t let that deter her from her passion. “Aerospace Engineer Aprille Ericsson” by Laura Hamilton Waxman describes Ericsson’s inspirational journey from living in a poor neighborhood as a child to becoming one of NASA’s top engineers. Readers will also be informed of Ericsson’s accomplishments in her field, which have helped scientists begin to answer some of the most complicated questions involving both outer space and our own planet, including questions having to do with black holes and global warming.

The women in “Hidden Figures” have stories that prove that no matter who you are or where you come from, your persistence and hard work will help you achieve anything you set your mind to. Whether or not the film wins an Oscar on the 26th of this month, young readers will hear this message loud and clear through Lerner’s STEM Trailblazer Series.

If these titles spark further interest in the exploration of outer space, readers (grades 4-6) can dive into Lerner’s Space Discovery Guides series to learn more about the most recent scientific research and discoveries related to space. The fascinating facts paired with incredible photography featured in these titles will amaze anyone who is curious about the universe beyond our planet. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

TCEA 2017: Engaging Innovative Educators

It’s amazing the difference a three hour flight can make! Walking down the jetway toward the plane in Minneapolis, I saw the breath of the passengers ahead of me. Walking up the jetway three hours later, I immediately felt the heat and humidity of an 85-degree day in Austin. Not only was I excited to leave behind my coat and eat dinner outside, but I was excited to attend the 2017 TCEA Convention & Expo!

This was my third year at TCEA (the annual convention of the Texas Computer Education Association), and the show is one of my favorites. TCEA brings together a wide array of technology-minded educators from all over Texas and beyond: teachers, instructional technologists, librarians, media specialists, district and campus administrators, IT professionals, and many others. The exhibit hall is packed full of both what’s new and what’s proven in the industry. Attendees also participate in a full schedule of workshops and presentations throughout the week.

At the Lerner Digital booth, Sales Manager Brad Richason and I worked closely with Texas reps Tom Rathbun and Kay German to reach as many of the 12,000+ attendees as possible. We demonstrated our Interactive Books and Audisee eBooks with Audio on a variety of devices and fielded a lot of questions about how Lerner digital products can meet specific customer needs and fit seamlessly into any library catalog system.

With over 4,500 eBooks available, we had something for everyone! We were able to help those searching for Spanish language fiction and nonfiction titles with our new Spanish eBook catalog. We were able to help those searching for high interest visually appealing graphic novels with our newly updated graphic novel catalog. Plus we showed our new Spring 2017 catalog to customers interested in our brand new offerings.
And, we offered an amazing promotion: Buy any 25 digital products and we’ll give you the matching print versions for free! Ask your rep about this great deal today!

Monday, February 13, 2017

It's Saturday Night!

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has had a huge impact on Saturday Night Live viewership. In a downward spiral not so long ago, the metrics for the overall viewership of the iconic show are up by 22%. Folks are tuning in for the cold open every Saturday night, or (like me) watching it on their devices the next morning to see what the SNL crew comes up with to reflect the week's turmoil. Who will they skewer next? Will Rosie get a spot? With what new tricks will Melissa McCarthy's lectern be outfitted?

For readers wanting to know more about the iconic show, libraries will want to have a copy of TFCB's Saturday Night Live: Shaping TV Comedy and American Culture, by New York-based writer Arie Kaplan. It's a fascinating look at the show, its early creators and contemporary talent lineup, its best-loved characters, its impact on and reflection of American culture and politics, and the way it handles diversity. It has lots of fun photos--and even a catchphrase quiz on page 56. Try it out with the readers in your library. Who's famous for saying, "Attention, teachers and students!"