Countdown Zero Blog Tour Interview & Give Away

Countdown Zero Blog Tour Banner

I’m excited to have author Chris Rylander on my blog this morning. Chris writes humorous books that resonate with my students, such as the trilogy of Fourth Stall books. Countdown Zero is the sequel to Codename Zero. Both titles feature Carson Fender, king of pranks and unlikely secret agent.

Carson makes it clear he finds Principal Gomez’s mandates incomprehensible. What is the strangest mandate the principal has issued at school for the students or teachers?

The whole no doodling in notebooks thing, I feel is so out of bounds it should be criminal.  A student’s notebook is their personal property, and it seems terrible to me that a teacher or principal would try to dictate exactly what goes inside of it.  There was an old teacher at my high school who used to do this.  I know for me as a student, I never could make it through note-taking or lectures, without being able to doodle.  If I had a principal that didn’t allow doodles inside any of my notebooks, I certainly would have flunked out of middle school.  Then who knows where I’d be?  Maybe I’d be that guy who hangs out downtown all day pretending to be a three-legged reindeer with a headcold?  Come to think of it, that’s not such a bad life…

In this series, Carson’s friend Dillon is very intrigued by conspiracy theories. Did you have any favorites to read about when you were a kid?

All of them!  I love conspiracy theories.  In fact, not just as a kid, I still probably spend 6-7 hours a day on Wikipedia reading about unsolved murders and conspiracy theories.  My first favorites were all of the usual big ones: the JFK assassination, the moon landing, Area 51, etc.  Of course, the funny part is that while I love reading about them and find them all so fascinating, unlike Dillon, I don’t really believe in many of them.  The simplest explanation is often the most plausible. That said, I wouldn’t be shocked at all to find out that at least one of those three turned out to be a real conspiracy.

Carson has to visit some pretty interesting places in this book. Would you rather get stuck in Snaketown or Bear Country?

[Shudder]  Probably Snaketown?  I don’t particularly hate snakes or bears, but I definitely have an aversion to things that might kill me.  Bears are probably less likely to attack a person, but at least with snakes there are anti-venoms.  Whereas, there’s really no cure or antidote to having your face ripped off by massive bear claws…

If you were ever in a situation where you needed to be rescued, would you rather have Carson and his friends there to help you or Mac and his friends from The Fourth Stall?

Great question!  Definitely Carson and his pals, since they have access to a vast array of high-tech gadgets and weapons, and also have the backing of a powerful government spy agency.  Mac is better at solving every day problems for sure, but when I think of needing rescue, I’m assuming I’d be in a much tougher spot than simply needing the test key for an upcoming final math exam.

Thanks for hosting me, those were some great questions!  Okay, back to Wikipedia…

Chris Rylander is the author of the Fourth Stall Saga and the Codename Conspiracy series. A fan of brown shipping boxes turned on their sides, dance-offs to win a girl’s heart, and rice, he lives in Chicago. You can visit him online at

Find Chris on Twitter and his website.

Countdown Zero

Everyone at his school knows Carson Fender is a prank mastermind. Principal Gomez just hasn’t ever had enough concrete evidence to prove it. Carson’s latest plan, Prankpocalypse, should have Carson humming with excitement. There’s freshly fallen snow, which is always good for a new arsenal of options. Carson’s partners in crime are hitting their school with as many pranks as possible. They’ve never attempted a scheme of this magnitude.

Prankpocalypse has just one problem–at the start. After being retired from the secretive Agency that had recruited Carson to assist in thwarting the plans of an evil organization, school pranks just don’t bring the same adrenaline rush. Then other problems begin to snowball Prankpocalypse. Carson’s putting the finishing touches on a frozen replica of his insufferable principal when a frantic text warns him the principal has just arrived. It’s 2:53 AM and Carson’s stuck in the principal’s office.

In the aftermath of Prankpocalypse, Carson finds himself suddenly reinstated as Agent Zero in a mission to one of the Agency’s bases where a dangerous virus has been compromised. He has three days to get to the base and save Agent Nineteen, his former mentor. Carson has to find a way onto the seventh grade field trip, which means meeting Principal Gomez’s request that he give up all his accomplices. Then there’s the small matter of breaking into secret chambers concealed within Mount Rushmore.

For all of the stops on the blog tour, please click here. Chris will be at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia tomorrow (Thursday, March 5, 2015).

For more information about Walden Pond Press, check out the links below:

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Enter to win a signed copy of Countdown Zero

Categories: Reviews

Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes: Recent Reads

Books have the ability to transport us to another time and place. They are time machines more effective than any converted car or police box. Picture books offer us an effective means to take an entire class on a journey outside their life experiences.

This last weekend I had the pleasure of attending Anderson Bookshop’s 13th Annual Children’s Literature Breakfast. One thing I love about this event is being introduced to books I have not yet discovered, including the four picture books described below.

The Soda Bottle School by Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade

This nonfiction picture book is a must read for classes using elements of the maker movement or for Genius Hour projects that focus on solving community problems. It also speaks to the power of perseverence. I knew just what two classes in fifth grade needed this book from the moment I started it.

This book relates how the students at one Guetemalan school dealt with the need for more space. They gathered up plastic bottles and other trash from their village and from miles around to create eco-ladrillos (eco-bricks) to expand their school. They worked for 15 months to finish the project. It’s an inspiring read.

Friends for Freedom by Suzanne Slade

I enjoyed discovering this book about the friendship between Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. Slade traces their friendship as well as what would happen when they would arrive to speak at the same place. Anthony came to the assistance of the Douglass family when their home was burned. One thing I really appreciated as a reader was the depiction of their friendship’s struggle after the passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution but were able to reconcile.

With Bricks and Books by Suzanne Slade

This book would pair well with The Soda Bottle School. Booker T. Washington accepts a teaching job in this book in a community that does not yet have a school. After beginning classes in a shed, Washington purchases an abandoned plantation. He and the students spend long hours digging up clay and then creating bricks to build a new school building. They try using three different kilns to bake the bricks, but all of them break. When many want to give up, Washington sells his one possession of value to get one last kiln. Finally, they are able to build the school. By the time of Washington’s death, that school property would have over a hundred buildings.

You can find more about Suzanne Slade’s books on her website.

Walking Home to Rosie Lee by A. LaFaye

I find the Civil War fascinating, so I was pleased to read this historical fiction picture book. This story portrays what happened after slaves were emancipated at the end of the war. One boy goes on a long journey to try and find his mother from whom he was separated. He follows false leads and faces a number of obstacles during his search.

Check out A. LaFaye’s other books.

Categories: Reviews

The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy


Imagine you are playing Pictionary with a group of friends. Your word is outlaw. What kind of lawbreaker would you draw?

An outlaw would be fierce. He’d be a big guy, a fighter. But would he seem as tough with sixteen larger, stronger brothers?

What would you draw for a second outlaw on the poster? Would you picture a man so caught up in the action that he’d still be in his lavender pajamas? Would his tall beanpole frame be able to menace?

No? Would you instead draw a man who would assault a larger foe solely to procure a new feather for his hat? Or an outlaw with a dangerous predilection for capes?

What if your outlaws were heroes? Or at the very least had attempted heroic things? Would that make the Pictionary game before you that much harder? It certainly makes things complicated, just as the four princes in the League of Princes found their sudden status as wanted men to be in The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy. Gustav, Frederic, Duncan and Liam are in over their heads again in the third installment in the Hero’s Guide trilogy.

The charge against the infamous Princes Charming? Murder. Their alleged victim? Briar Rose. It’s news to the princes as well as to Lila, Snow White, Ella and Rapunzel, the ladies also accused of the crime. While their experiences with Briar Rose were anything but pleasant, they left the Princess of Avondell decidedly among the living.

Hunted by a slew of bounty hunters, hounded by their own pride, and thwarted by the finest mayhem, The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw weaves together threads from the previous two books in a way that is bound to leave a grin on your face.

Click on the cover below to watch the official trailer:



If you somehow missed the first two books in the series, watch the trailer for book one.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of The Hero’s Guide to Being Outlaw from Walden Pond Press.

All Hero’s Guide Artwork Todd Harris © 2014 

Categories: Reviews

The Dyerville Tales by M.P. Kozlowsky



Vince Elgin was a teller of tales. His stories enraptured the other children at the Obern House Orphanage. Tales kept his hope alive and shuttered out despair after the tragic, fiery death of his parents. His father’s body was never found, so Vince always hoped his father somehow survived. Eventually, even the power of Vince’s stories waned as he could no longer find the heart to keep watching for his father.

The arrival of a package sparked hope anew in Vince’s heart, the first package he’d received since coming to the Obern House, a package out of Dyerville. His grandfather’s funeral would be held there in a week’s time.


Vince hadn’t seen his grandfather Vincent in years, not since his grandfather used to watch him as a little boy before his senility grew worse. Included with the funeral notification was a book of his frandfather’s dictated stories.

Denied the opportunity to go to his grandfather’s funeral, Vince escapes from the orphanage with the help of one of the other boys there and a caretaker. As he struggles to reach Dyerville and avoid official notice, past and present begin to blur as Vince pours through his grandfather’s stories of a life shaped by a witch’s curse. All the while Vince holds out hope that if he reaches the funeral at last, he may learn what became of his father.

“Here dreams were like the dust on the floorboards; they went trampled and unnoticed.” With lyrical prose, Kozlowsky crafts the ordeals of Vince and his grandfather. The grandfather’s past and the obstacles before him have the feel of a modern fairy tale. Readers of Sage Blackwood’s Jinx or  Kelly Barnhill’s The Mostly True Stories of Jack would enjoy this myth-like read.

Don’t miss Juniper Berry, author M.P. Kozlowsky’s creepy middle school read about a girl determined to find out what’s happening to change her parents. Author M.P. Kozlowsky (@MPKozlowsky) is a former schoolteacher now living in New York with his wife and daughter. Visit his website at

Brian Thompson created the illustrations that complement the telling of The Dyerville Tales.

Check out these other stops on the Walden Pond Press blog tour for The Dyerville Tales.

4/28 – Word Spelunking Book Blog 

4/29 – Book Smugglers

4/29 – KidLit Frenzy

4/30 – Mundie Moms

5/1 – Bunbury In the Stacks

5/2 – A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust

5/3 – The Book Rat

5/5 – Mundie Moms

5/6 – Bluestocking Thinking

5/7 – Small Review

5/8 – Novel Novice

5/9 – The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

5/9 – Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

5/9 – Buried in Books

5/10 – The Book Monsters

5/13 – The Flashlight Reader

5/14 – The Hiding Spot

The copy for this review was provided by Walden Pond Press. Follow Walden Pond Press on Twitter @WaldenPondPress.

Categories: Reviews

Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder

What is the mark of a well loved story? Is it the number of times it has been read? Is the the creases in the spine, the tattered corners and folded covers? Is it when you crack open the book and fall its world so far that its sights and sounds seem just out of reach?

Somewhere around fifth or sixth grade, The Secret Garden was one of those beloved books for me (as was A Little Princess). I winced when Mary Lennox was at her worst, secretly cheered when she badgered Colin Craven to push himself and celebrated as difficulties wrought with drama were overcome. There was a twist and rhythm of the words that lingered.

I was thrilled then to discovered that two books I received at the AASL conference last week reference The Secret Garden. The first of those books is Laurel Snyder’s Seven Stories Up, which is coming out in January 2014 from Random House.


Annie lives with her mom in Atlanta. That’s all the family she’s ever had close, so it is surprising when her mom suddenly takes her to Baltimore where her grandmother is dying. They head not to a hospital, but to the closed Hotel Calvert and a suite on its seventh floor. There Annie finds a lonely, acerbic old woman barely kept alive by medical technology.

Spending the night in an unfamiliar room, Annie awakes to discover a girl sitting on her bed. Inexplicably, Annie has traveled back to 1937, a year when her grandmother was confined to a suite of rooms with severe asthma. With a distant, busy father and her mother out of town with two of Molly’s sister, Molly is hungry for attention, for life. It is up to the sometimes impetuous Annie to challenge Molly to step beyond the bounds set for her.

I enjoyed this visit to the past and the wonder both girls have for a city unknown to them both. Whenever Annie used a term that Molly didn’t know, I had to smile at the attempted explanations. Molly’s insular nature begins to thaw as her world opens.

So step back into the past and discover all Hotel Calvert can hold.

Please Note: I received a free copy of this ARC while attending the AASL Conference last week.

Categories: Reviews

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