Whoa.

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So. I had a bit of a day yesterday. Actually, it all started two nights ago, when I got a certain phone call…from the Geisel Committee.

That’s right. If you haven’t already heard, THE INFAMOUS RATSOS was named a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book. (More about the award here.)

Of course, it was my fondest hope/dream/wish that this would happen, but I never, ever really thought it would. I’m actually waiting to wake up right now and realize this has all been a dream. The past couple of weeks have been such a roller coaster, with very high highs (seeing my first novel, The Jolly Regina, finally published; joining millions this past Saturday in the Women’s March) and very low lows (a certain inauguration). But this high is stratospheric.

It’s not just the award itself, which is literally and figuratively an Honor to receive. It’s the outpouring of love and support I’ve received since the big announcement yesterday. Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who voiced their congratulations. It means everything. It keeps me going. It keeps me writing.

Big thanks to the brilliant Matt Myers for bringing the Ratsos to life with such humor and flair; to my wonderful editor, Sarah Ketchersid, and publisher (and alma mater!), Candlewick Press; and to my amazing agent, Barry Goldblatt. And a big CONGRATULATIONS to the other winners announced yesterday — and to the amazing authors and artists and books that weren’t announced yesterday. I bow to you all. Thank you for putting your hearts into your work, and putting your work out into the world.

The world can seem like a cruel and uncertain place these days. I’m just thrilled that my little story about kindness might bring some light and hope to young (and not-so-young) readers.

A few things:

  • Speaking of kindness, it just happens to be Kindness Week! (Though, really, shouldn’t it be Kindness Week 52 weeks a year?) In any case, if you’d like to spread some around, feel free to download and print some of these Kindness Cards. They’re fun to color and decorate, and they’re a great way to show someone you care.
  • If you’re sharing the book with your kiddos, you might find this discussion guide helpful.
  • If you’d like to read some behind-the-scenes stories about THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, here are a few from my archives (NOTE: The contest/giveaway mentioned has already ended)…

The story behind two of the Ratsos’ neighbors, Mrs. Porcupini and Mr. O’Hare.

The story behind one of the Ratsos’ teachers, Miss Beavers.

The story behind the Ratsos’ friends: Tiny, Chad, and Fluffy.

The story behind the Ratsos’ dad, Big Lou.

The story behind The Infamous Ratsos, Louie and Ralphie.

Happy reading!

A Mid-Week Peek

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Hello, friends, and Happy Wednesday! The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind for me, with the long-awaited (at least, to me!) publication of The Jolly Regina, the first in my middle-grade trilogy, The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters. Many thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement.

Also, I’ve been working on the second Bland Sisters story AND the second book in THE INFAMOUS RATSOS series, I have a few new projects out on submission (fingers crossed!) and I’m now drafting the third and final (?) Bland Sisters adventure.

And then there was this amazing news:

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In short: Life is very, very good right now, but also a bit exhausting (in the best possible way).

A few more fun things to point out:

Enjoy the rest of your week…

Host Your Own INFAMOUS RATSOS Party!

Hello, friends. So, after I posted about last Saturday’s INFAMOUS RATSOS launch party, with the photos of all the goodies I made, I wondered, would anyone be interested in the recipes and instructions?

And then I thought, maybe classrooms and book clubs might want to host their own Infamous parties, where they could talk about the book together, enjoy yummy treats, and make some Kindness Cards for those who might be in need of a pick-me-up — a senior center, for instance, or a children’s hospital. Wouldn’t that be the best thing EVER?

Well, whatever your interest might be, here are all the recipes, and all the instructions for creating all of the activities. Let me know if you have any questions — and of course, if you DO have a party based on my stuff, take some photos and send them to me! Even better — post them online with the hashtag #theinfamousratsos!

Without further ado, let’s get this party started!

TREATS:

Mr. Porcupini’s Prickly Pickle Dip

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Illustration from THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon of fresh dill

1/3c diced dill pickle

5 tablespoons dill pickle juice

2 8oz packages of cream cheese, softened

1 bag of pretzel sticks

Instructions:

Put the dill, pickle, pickle juice, and cream cheese in a bowl. Mix until fully blended. Refrigerate for a few hours, to allow the flavors to mingle.

When ready to serve, garnish bowl with pretzel sticks to resemble a porcupine!

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Mr. O’Hare’s Mini Carrot Cake Cheesecake Cupcakes

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Illustration from THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

makes 48

Ingredients:

1 box of carrot cake mix, prepared accordingly

2 8oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature

2 eggs, room temperature

1/4 cup sour cream, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Prepare carrot cake mix.

In a separate bowl, blend all other ingredients together.

Using a teaspoon, fill each mini cupcake tin halfway with carrot cake mix (I used mini cupcake liners; if preferred, you can go without and spray the tins, but I can’t promise they’ll pop out easily!). Finish with a dollop (teaspoon full) of cheesecake mixture.

Bake for 20-20 minutes (check oven regularly) until the cheesecake topping just starts to brown on the edges.

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Tiny Crawley’s Tiny Chocolate Chippers

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Illustration from THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

Makes 50 cookies

Ingredients:

1 box of chocolate chip cookie mix (I swear by Ghirardelli’s), prepared according to box

Instructions:

Using a teaspoon (teaspoon should be half-full of cookie dough each time), drop onto cookie sheets (I line with parchment paper), then roll each into a ball.

Bake at 325 for 10-12 minutes (ovens may vary).

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Fluffy Rabbitski’s Carrots in a Blanket

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Illustration from THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

 

Ingredients:

2 sheets of puff pastry, thawed according to instructions

24 baby carrots

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon of olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Toss carrots in olive oil, dill, salt, and pepper. Spread out on baking sheet, and bake for 20-30 minutes until roasted and a bit soft.
  3. Open up pastry, cut each sheet into 12 pieces. (Make sure each piece is long enough to roll up the carrot, but narrow enough that a little bit of carrot pokes out at each end.)
  4. Roll up one carrot in each pastry strip. Dab a bit of water on the end of the pastry strip to seal. Place each wrapped carrot seam-side down on baking sheet (line sheet with parchment paper).
  5. Bake 15-20 minutes, until crisp and golden.
  6. Serve with honey mustard, your favorite dressing, or on their own!

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Big Lou’s Big Ole Fruit Platter and Louie and Ralphie’s Easy Cheeses

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Illustration from THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

Each serves 15

Ingredients:

Fruit (whatever you prefer, but be sure to include strawberries and grapes), cut into bite-sized pieces

3-4 different blocks of cheese (varieties up to you), cubed

An assortment of crackers

Instructions:

Arrange separately or together on one platter, as one big happy family! Garnish with strawberries and grapes.

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STAGING THE FOOD:

Be creative! As an example, you can see how I set everything up below. Download, print, cut out, and fold these party food labels to let your guests know just what treats you’re serving!IMG_1263

ACTIVITIES:

Photo Booth Fun

In the interest of time, I ended up buying all my props from Amazon, but if you’re feeling particularly creative, you can make your own!

You’ll need:

Masks (I bought 2 of these and 2 of these)

Signs (I used 12 of these chalkboard signs, and wrote on them with these chalkboard paint markers)

A backdrop (the bookstore provided one for me, but you can make your own with a white sheet or large piece of posterboard, decorated any way you like)

Preparation:

Write some sayings from the book on the signs — I wrote HANG TOUGH, GAME ON!, INFAMOUSLY NICE, INFAMOUSLY HELPFUL, INFAMOUSLY GENEROUS, and INFAMOUSLY THOUGHTFUL on mine.

Time to pose! Make sure everyone tags their photos with #theinfamousratsos before posting!

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My friends and I, playing with the photo booth props. Say CHEESE!

 

Match Game

A fun little activity for younger guests, using this downloadable sheet. Make a copy for each of your guests, then provide  markers or crayons so you can all color them in and draw lines between the Ratsos’ pranks and their (ultimately-grateful!) victims.

Kindness Card

A lovely project to decorate and give to someone (a parent? a sibling? a neighbor? a teacher? a friend?) who might need a little extra kindness. These cards can be used on their own as sweet tokens, of course, but they’re also great to give along with baked goods, little gifts, or other kind gestures (snow shoveling, yard work, chores around the house, etc). You could even choose a worthy cause before your INFAMOUS RATSOS party (such as a senior center or children’s hospital) and have everyone make the cards while they eat the treats you’ve prepared.

You can download the cards here, then just cut each sheet in half and fold each like a card. Provide some crayons, markers, stickers, glitter, etc etc, and your guests can decorate however they like. Don’t forget to address and sign them! Use your imagination and Be Kind!

Whew! That’s it. Hope this was helpful. FYI, I’ll put all of this up on a designated INFAMOUS RATSOS Pinterest board next week when I have some more time, so it’s easy to access.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Weekly Peek

Hello, friends, and Happy Monday! How was everyone’s weekend? I started mine with an INFAMOUS RATSOS-inspired pedicure.

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What? Am I the only one who reads this way?

After the spa treatment, I spent most of Friday and Saturday prepping for THE INFAMOUS RATSOS launch party. Lots and lots of cooking and baking inspired by the book — including Tiny Crawley’s Tiny Chocolate Chippers, Mr. O’Hare’s Mini Carrot Cake Cheesecake Cupcakes, Fluffy Rabbitski’s Carrots in a Blanket, and Mrs. Porcupini’s Prickly Pickle Dip! (Want to host your own INFAMOUS RATSOS party? Hosting guide and recipes to come on Wednesday.)

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RATSOS-themed treats, clockwise from the top: Mr. O’Hare’s Mini Carrot Cake Cheesecake Cupcakes, Tiny Crawley’s Tiny Chocolate Chippers, Fluffy Rabbitski’s Carrots in a Blanket, Louie and Ralphie’s Easy Cheeses, Mrs. Porcupini’s Prickly Pickle Dip, and Big Lou’s Big Ole Fruit Platter.

The party was awesome. Beforehand, my husband and I met up with my friends from the Kidlit Drinks Night Providence crowd, and we ate and toasted to the book (and I finally had a chance to sit down after all that prep work, whew!). Then it was time for the party. I had a great time reading a few chapters of THE INFAMOUS RATSOS via Facebook Live, signing a ton of books, and ending the evening with a sneak peek reading of The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina!

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Moi, signing some books.

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Me and the local kidlit gang.

Many thanks to Barrington Books Retold for hosting, my husband for his support (and for taking our son out all day on Saturday so I could bake and cook in peace), and the local kidlit community for being INFAMOUSLY amazing.

A couple of other happenings this week…

  • Are you in the Boston area? I’ll be reading and signing at Newtonville Books in Newton, MA on Tuesday, 8/9 at 11am with INFAMOUS RATSOS illustrator Matt Myers!
  • From Wednesday–Saturday, I’ll be attending a creative retreat in Burlington, VT, hosted by my fantastic agent, Barry Goldblatt. Can’t wait to see my fellow BGL clients!
  • On Friday, 8/13 at 10am, I’ll be reading and signing THE INFAMOUS RATSOS at The Flying Pig Bookstore in Sherburne, VT.

Whew! How’s your week looking?

Gratitude

NOTE: My week-long Kindness Contest has ended. But I hope to provide more opportunities for bookish freebies, so I hope you’ll check in here regularly!

Hello, friends. I’m still a bit high from all of yesterday’s book-birthday goodwill — thank you so much to everyone who voiced (and continues to voice) their congratulations and support for THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. Like Louie and Ralphie, you are all so nice and thoughtful and generous and helpful — I look forward to returning the favor someday.

And perhaps that “someday” is now. I know you’re all curious to know who won my Kindness Contest, so here’s who won…EVERYONE! That’s right. If you commented on my blog over the past week, whether it was to recount an example of your kindness, to praise my entries about my creative inspirations, or to congratulate me on the INFAMOUS RATSOS release, YOU WILL GET A SIGNED BOOK. Here are the names of the winners:

Lovie Howell

Patrice Jackson

Anna Craig

Rob McDonald

Michelle Perron

Cathy Ballou Mealey

Robin Arehart

Clara Gillow Clark

Rebecca Reynolds

Stanley and Connie Gorzelany

Claire Bobrow

Carolyn Davis

Tracy Abell

If you haven’t already, please be sure to email me at karalareau@me.com with your mailing address, so I can get the book (and the Ratsos swag) out to you ASAP. I feel a bit like Oprah — “You get a signed book, and you get a signed book, and YOOOUUU GET A SIIIGNED BOOOOOK!” That can only be a good thing, right?

Thanks again — for being kind, for being supportive, and for being YOU.

 

THE INFAMOUS RATSOS: Louie and Ralphie!

Hello, friends! Guess what today is?

It’s the pub day of THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, also known as its book birthday!!!

I can’t believe this day has finally come (I’m sure you can’t, either, since I’ve been talking so much about the book lately), and that it comes on the heels of my delivery of the revision of the second book in The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters trilogy (more on that later). It feels SO GREAT to have that revision off my plate for so many reasons, especially because I can now spend more time celebrating the Ratsos!

To that end, check out these rat-related tidbits:

Of course, I haven’t forgotten my INFAMOUS RATSOS Kindness Contest. (Have YOU??) This will be the final day, and I will be choosing TWO WINNERS. As previously mentioned, feel free to share how you’ve been nice or thoughtful or generous or helpful (or all of the above!) in the comments section here. I’ll choose two names at random at the end of the day; each winner will get a signed book, a bookmark, and some INFAMOUS RATSOS “Hang Tough” tattoos (aka “rattoos”). Of course, you’re all winners just for playing (and being awesome), but even if you don’t snag a signed book, you’ll be eligible for some nifty Ratsos swag (more on this later). I’ll post the names of the winners tomorrow. NB: One post per entrant, please!

So, I’ve been telling you about some of the experiences and people that inspired me to write THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. Over the past few days, I ‘ve told you all about the people who inspired Mrs. Porcupini and Mr. O’HareMiss BeaversTiny, Chad, and Fluffy; and Big Lou. Today, I thought I’d talk about my inspiration for the Infamous Ratsos themselves, Louie and Ralphie!

As I mentioned yesterday, Louie and Ralphie were inspired by my own grandfather, Ralph, and his older brother, Louie. My grandfather passed away about six years ago, just after my cancer diagnosis (he never knew, thank goodness), and his absence is felt in my family every day. Like the Ratsos, he was nice and thoughtful and generous and helpful, among many other wonderful traits. But he had a really rough childhood; he grew up during the Great Depression, his father was cruel, and when he died, my great-grandmother was left to care for my grandfather and his brother and their two younger sisters. I’ve been told that my grandfather and my Uncle Louie earned reputations in their neighborhood as being “troublemakers,” though no one ever seems willing to elaborate! I can only imagine the sorts of mischief they managed together, and that’s pretty much what I did when I conceived of THE INFAMOUS RATSOS.

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My grandfather, Ralph (right) and his older brother, Louie (left).

When you’re a good kid faced with rotten circumstances, there’s a chance you could end up making some bad choices, unless you have the right guidance; in my grandfather’s case, he was shipped off to the CCC by my great-grandmother, and that seems to have straightened him out. Also, he met my grandmother soon after, and they were married fairly young; it seems as if my grandfather spent his life trying to be the father and husband his own father never was. He more than succeeded.

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My grandparents, early on in their romance. (FYI, my grandmother just turned 95 a few weeks ago!)

Originally, I wrote the Ratso Brothers as minor characters in a longer story. That story never quite panned out (though one day, I might go back to it), but those two little rats kept pestering me to write a story about them! My grandfather’s last name was Rizzo, which I then filtered through “Ratso Rizzo,” the character Dustin Hoffman plays in Midnight Cowboy. Voila! The Ratsos were born.

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Illustration copyright 2016 by Matt Myers.

The way Matt Myers has brought Louie and Ralphie to life is pretty much how I’ve always seen them in my head. I especially love that he’s given Ralphie those thick glasses, since they look exactly like the ones my grandfather used to wear!

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The original “Ralphie,” wearing his trademark glasses.

Thanks so much for following me through this journey of my creative inspirations over the past week, and a big thumbs-up to those of you who participated in my Kindness Contest. I didn’t write THE INFAMOUS RATSOS until after my grandfather passed away, so he never got to see my tribute to him. I can only hope I’ve done his “troublemaker” spirit justice, and that his legacy of kindness might live on in my words.

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One of my favorite photos of my grandfather and me, at our town parade.

THE INFAMOUS RATSOS: Big Lou

Hello, friends, and welcome to the fourth day of the INFAMOUS RATSOS Kindness Contest!

The winners of Friday’s Kindness Contest are (drumroll, please)…Robin Arehart and Michelle Perron! Email me (karalareau@me.com) your mailing addresses as soon as you can, ladies, so I can send each of you a signed copy of THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, along with some fun swag!

The Kindness Contest will continue to run today and tomorrow, so you still have two more chances to win! As previously mentioned, feel free to share how you’ve been nice or thoughtful or generous or helpful (or all of the above!) in the comments section here. I’ll choose a name at random at the end of the day; the winner will get a signed book, a bookmark, and some INFAMOUS RATSOS “Hang Tough” tattoos (aka “rattoos”). Of course, you’re all winners just for playing (and being awesome), but even if you don’t snag a signed book, you’ll be eligible for some nifty Ratsos swag (more on this later). I’ll announce today’s winners tomorrow. NB: One post per entrant per day, please!

So, I’ve been telling you about some of the experiences and people that inspired me to write THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. Over the past few days, I ‘ve told you all about the people who inspired Mrs. Porcupini, Mr. O’Hare, Miss Beavers, Tiny, Chad, and Fluffy. Today, I thought I’d talk about my inspiration for Louie and Ralphie’s dad, Big Lou.

As you’ll learn tomorrow in greater detail, my grandfather was named Ralph and his older brother was named Louie. Their father was named Carmen. Sadly, Carmen was the OPPOSITE of the character I created for Big Lou — to put it mildly, he was not a nice man. Carmen died when my grandfather was pretty young, so my great-grandmother, Frances (whom I called “Nonnie”) raised my grandfather and my Uncle Louie and their two younger sisters by herself. It was the Depression, and they were very, very poor; honestly, I don’t know how Nonnie did it, but she did. I suppose I borrowed some of Big Lou’s surface toughness from my great-grandfather (who, it turned out, was tough on every level), and then combined it with what I know of my great-grandmother, who did what she could to hold her family together through some very tough circumstances.

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My great-grandfather Carmen (center), with my grandfather (Ralph) on the right and his older brother, Louie, on the left. My great-grandfather’s expression tells you all you need to know about his personality.

I’m so thrilled with Matt Myers’ depiction of Big Lou. I love his buzz cut and his rolled shirtsleeves (complete with embroidered “LOU”), and his trucker hat and his gruff expression — well, gruff to a certain point! The image of Big Lou and the boys crying next to the photo of Mama Ratso gets me teary every time.

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Tomorrow, look forward to my final story about the people and things that inspired me as I wrote THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. In the meantime, hope you’ll enter my Kindness Contest — and spread the word about it to others!