ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “The Enchanted Rope” by David D. Bernstein

The Enchanted Rope by David D. Bernstein


Young Jack’s mother has become an angel.

He misses her singing him to sleep, misses her reading him fairy tales and misses her love of wildflowers and dragons.

Under the Alaskan sun, in a field of dreams, Jack gathers up one hundred wildflowers and starts to weave an enchanted rope so he can climb up to the world of angels his mother is in. A school of salmon, a clan of wolves, a brown bear, and one bold eagle watch him as he weaves and weaves and finally sends the magic rope far up into the air.

When he returns from his adventure, he sees one red flower is missing from the rope. Jack smiles. He knows what that means.

In this magical and touching tale for children ages 6 to 8, David Bernstein explores the loss of a loved one by a young boy and offers an imaginative and comforting view of the possibility of reconnecting with someone who may have gone from earth, but who is not, in truth, gone.


This week is something of a reunion for me, in that I’ve actually read the book I’m reviewing several times before, and am only now ready to post the review. I have also reviewed a book by this author before, and you may remember his name from my review of the middle grade novel The Portal several weeks ago.

So, why the delay?

The Enchanted Rope is a story of loss, grief, and what comes after. In particular, it depicts a child who has lost his mother and who desperately seeks to stay connected with her by weaving a rope made from her favorite wildflowers. It has a happy ending, in that he meets his mother in “the great beyond” (to quote Soul), albeit in a transformed state, and they do end up maintaining the connection he was so desperate to recreate. Those who know me well already know this, but my own mother has undergone a “health journey” of her own over the last five months, one that she is lucky to have survived––and yet she is changed, fundamentally, as the result of months of cascading problems totaling to a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). The first few months I spent by her side, I thought we might have lost her. I am so, so grateful that her story didn’t end there, though, and that despite her total transformation as a person as a result I have another chance to forge my own new connection to her before facing the struggle that Jack, the boy at the heart of Bernstein’s The Enchanted Rope, must go through at the beginning of this book.

Yup, I read a children’s picture book about a child grieving the loss of his mother while I was at the bedside of my own precious mother, not knowing her fate. And as the weeks ticked by with little apparent progress, my ability to handle fictional portrayals of grief and loss over sick or lost mothers took a bit of a nose-dive. (Thus the delay. I’m so sorry about that.) I was already the kind of person to cry over a really good Christmas commercial, or anything involving injured animals, but this experience has sensitized me to a whole new range of possible emotional triggers. Including Disney (Disney+?) movies. Mothers don’t tend to last long or be very caring/capable in most of the animated classics. Even the new live-action Beauty and the Beast highlights the fact that Beauty’s mother has passed away and that she and her father grieve daily for her. My heart, my heart.

I should note at this point that The Enchanted Rope was not itself triggering for me, merely that its subject was one I wasn’t terribly well equipped to handle for a while, and yet I’m so grateful to get to review it now. In my years as a librarian, I came to realize that there are relatively few books for toddlers through elementary school that grapple with loss. There aren’t even a huge number of books on the subject of losing pets! (One good one, though, is Big Cat, Little Cat.) I continue to hope that authors and illustrators will add to the general canon more beautiful, sincere, and helpful books on grief. That David D. Bernstein goes down this road is in and of itself a rare thing for a children’s author, and that he finds a way to give voice to a child in need of connection to a lost loved one is rarer still. Sally Taylor’s illustrations are colorful and eye-catching, too.

I think I’m one of those people who will always have a soapbox on balancing the text-to-page ratio in picture books, and I can’t even blame the typography professor at my alma mater, since I cleverly (and errantly) arranged to skip that class, despite my minor in Illustration. As Bernstein’s book goes on, there is simply more story that he wants to share than in its early pages, where he communicates much with very few words. I try to remind myself in many ways, though, that any objections I have on this front come down to taste, and not necessarily even all that educated of a taste, if we’re talking about my own. (Just imagine a self-conscious laugh-cry emoji here!) I doubt many of Bernstein’s readers would even notice the shift in text-to-page, much less object. It’s just … a thing that is there. There are one or two typos to get excited about, but nothing that detracts from what I believe to be an invaluable central message:

As Bernstein might put it, one’s connection to people gone or transformed is not necessarily severed by death, and in remembering and cultivating the kinds of beautiful things that our loved ones loved, we maintain our relationships with those who leave us for what comes next. Love, imagination, and a bit of arts-and-crafts know-how can be healing to the hurting heart. More of this, please!


You can find The Enchanted Rope by David D. Bernstein wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about it on the book’s Outskirts Press listing.


Next week I will be posting my review for Kevin Fodor’s memoir, Turn it Up! Confessions of a Radio Junkie.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Stella the Rejected Star” by Marc McCormack


Stella wasn’t like all the other stars in the skies above Bethlehem. She was a four-pointed star in a five-pointed world, and the other stars teased her because of it. Then one day, the stars heard an important event was about to happen-and God would choose one star to play a crucial role.

Could that star be Stella? Not if the other stars get their way, and they will do anything to stop her!

Stella’s story shows us that often the ones considered different in the world are the ones who shine the brightest through their faith, hope, and love.

Stella the Rejected Star was written by Marc McCormack when he was eleven. Almost forty years later, Stella’s story has turned out to be his son Brady’s story. Brady, who is blind and nonverbal with autism, navigates his way through the world as both a star who has sometimes been rejected, and one of the brightest-shining ones.

Set against the first Nativity, Stella the Rejected Star is more than a Christmas story and is for everyone, especially those young readers with four points in a five-pointed world.

Stella’s story is the perfect one to teach children the importance of empathy and acceptance. If your child loves Christmas and stars, even mischievous ones, they will love Stella the Rejected Star!

Some of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to autism-related charities.


Once upon a time ….

The first time I read Stella the Rejected Star, I found myself humming “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” aloud to myself. There are definitely some parallels between the stories of Rudolph and Stella––bullying by one’s peers, physical difference as a subject to be grappled with, a sort of “inspecting of the troops” or competition to guide an important process, and a message involving the triumph of the innocent over the cruel––and I think this parallel provides a unique and interesting starting point for discussions between parents (or grandparents, or caregivers) and young children.

How are these stories similar? It certainly doesn’t hurt that both Rudolph and Stella literally as well as metaphorically shine brighter than their peers, or that when Stella and Rudolph are both brought to the attention of God and Santa respectively, they take the high road and refrain from punishing their peers, even though they have acquired the power to do so.

(A quick aside: I still feel uncomfortable about having put Santa into the same sentence as God, particularly since I grew up in a household where the secularization of Christmas was a regular discussion. Whatever your or my personal stances might be on this particular depiction of the divine, I think it’s pretty safe to assume we’re all aware that the Nativity story occupies a sacred and beloved space in many households around the world, and I definitely do not want to imply I do not take the faiths of my friends, family, and neighbors seriously. I do think it’s important to specify that this book resonates specifically with mainstream Christianity as experienced in America, to prevent confusion.)

How are these stories different? Well, we’ve established that God is not Santa (and vice versa). And while Rudolph’s mission is one of spreading good cheer, Stella’s is to lead the shepherds and wise men to the newborn Jesus. McCormack also distinguishes his story with an added twist: in Stella the Rejected Star, faithfulness magnifies a star’s light, while the bully stars discover that their unkindness leads to a loss of this same light. Not only does this provide an opportunity to talk about bad behavior and bullying with kids, but it also introduces the concept of faithfulness and the relationship between faithfulness and behavior.

I find it incredible that an 11-year-old wrote this story, but that’s the background: McCormick wrote it as a boy and published it in honor of his son Brady, who has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That Brady was himself was a preemie and only surviving twin underscores the importance of this story, both to McCormick, and to those who learn from his picture book. Beyond the value of teaching children to empathize with and be kind to those who stand out for their differences, there is another moral to this story. Hardship, McCormick hints, provides a backdrop against which both heartbreaking and incredibly beautiful stories can play out. All of this in 32 pages, half of them Seth A. Thompson’s colorful and evocative illustrations. I can’t imagine a better way for families of faith to finish out 2020 than with a story of hope, faith, and maintaining joy through hard times.

You can find another detailed review of Stella the Rejected Star on the Readers’ Favorite website, reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford. It is encouraging to me personally that other highly-rated reviewers have begun to pick up on McCormack’s wonderful story.


Stella the Rejected Star is a sweet and wholesome picture book for those looking to re-invest the holiday season with the magic of love and kindness present in the Nativity story. Marc McCormack’s story and Seth A. Thompson’s illustrations combine to create what will quickly become a modern classic for English-speaking Christian families.


You can find Stella the Rejected Star wherever good books are sold, including Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can also find out more about Marc McCormack’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.


There are several more children’s books in my TBR pile for me to get through before the end of 2020, with my next review scheduled for the afternoon of January 1st. I can’t imagine a better way to start off a new year than with a good book!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Amazon book listing.


ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

Conversations : The Best of Royalene Doyle (part 2)

Celebrating the Best of Royalene Doyle

and her fantastic Conversations

farewell goodbye waving

Once upon a glorious time, Royalene gave us her backstory as an author and self-publishing expert. And let us tell you, it’s something special. Royalene started out writing genre fiction in her teens, mastering everything from science fiction to mystery to children’s books, before moving on in her adulthood to overcome that age-old tale of a gifted writer facing rejection letter after rejection letter. Her response? To take up self-publishing, of course! There’s a lot more to the story than what we can summarize here, but one of the highlights is her unwavering faith in herself (and other authors) and her own personal vision. Here is a writer who faced challenges so common (or perhaps even universal) to the profession, and out of her own grit and determination and self-empowerment, carved out her own uncommon response … and success! In fact, Royalene has had a lot to say about success over the years, and we can’t recommend reading her posts enough. But for the background and the foundation of who she is as a writer, and where her advice comes as a self-publishing professional? Read this post for sure.

Next up, we wanted to shine a light on some of Royalene’s method. (And also, let’s face it, there’s something just plain winsome about Winnie the Pooh, and Royalene’s reference here is spot on.) 2013 was a splendid year for Royalene posts (a very fine vintage), packed full of insights into how she goes about starting a new book, particularly a new children’s book. She walks readers through the first step (research), then the next (conversation), and the last (money). Each of these steps presents some obstacles for the self-publishing author to overcome, but Royalene’s clearly defined and organized steps might just prove a working blueprint for those children’s book authors who come after her. Well worth a full exploratory read, don’t you think?

Our last post for the day was the logical follow-up to the previous one; in fact, this post was published just one week after, also in 2013 (as we mentioned, a very fine vintage!). It also seems logical to have begun today’s reminisces with Royalene’s own childhood, middled with her method for writing a children’s book, and concluded with that other big component of children’s picture books—a relationship which in many ways defines the entire experience—the relationship between author and illustrator! Royalene delves into her various thoughts about illustrators, including some of her requirements for the relationship and her tips on knowing when an illustrator is right for you. As she mentions in her post, this is foundational to the creative development of a children’s picture book, and it’s just as important to develop a working philosophy or ethic of how to go about finding an illustrator and establishing that relationship as it is to write and publish the book. If you’re thinking of writing, illustrating, or otherwise publishing a children’s picture book this year, we recommend reading Royalene’s post in full!


That’s all for this week! We’ll be back next Friday as we detail more of Royelene’s greatest hits, as determined by our blog’s analytics. You can follow Royalene’s further adventures by checking out her Twitter feed (her handle is @RoyaleneD) or her website at www.DoyleWritingServices.com. We miss you, Royalene! ⚓︎


ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene has been writing something since before kindergarten days and continues to love the process. Through her small business—DOYLE WRITING SERVICES—she brings more than 40 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their projects. She developed these blogs for Outskirts Press (OP) a leading self-publisher, and occasionally accepts a ghostwriting project from one of their clients. Her recent book release (with OP) titled FIREPROOF PROVERBS, A Writer’s Study of Words, has received excellent reviews including several professional writer’s endorsements given on the book’s back cover.
Royalene’s writing experience grew through a wide variety of positions from Office Manager and Administrative Assistant to Teacher of Literature and Advanced Writing courses and editor/writer for an International Christian ministry. Her willingness to listen to struggling authors, learn their goals and expectations and discern their writing voice has brought many manuscripts into the published books arena. December 2017 marked the end of Royalene’s tenure at Self Publishing Advisor. and we will be spending the next few weeks celebrating some of her all-time hits, her most well-received articles for our blog, in thanks for years of generous service.

Weekly Self-Published Book Review: “That Pet Finder Kid Catnapped”

Book reviews are a great way for self-publishing authors to gain exposure. After all, how can someone buy your book if he or she doesn’t know it exists? Paired with other elements of your book promotion strategy, requesting reviews is a great way to get people talking about what you’ve written.

When we read good reviews, we definitely like to share them. It gives the author a few (permanent) moments of fame and allows us to let the community know about a great book. Here’s this week’s book review, courtesy of the Midwest Book Review:

That Pet Finder Kid Catnapped

That Pet Finder Kid Catnapped

Scott Clements

Publisher: Outskirts Press

ISBN: 9781460068513


Have you ever felt your pets are your only true friends? That’s exactly how thirteen-year-old Chet Parker felt every day of his life. After failing at sports, music, and almost everything imaginable, he gave up on ever finding his place in the world. But thanks to an accidental dose of modified dog DNA, things were about to change for Chet. With a new found connection to his six month old dog Zoe, Chet learns that Mr. Fluffy Pants, the cat of the most popular girl in school, has gone missing. Will Chet’s off-the-wall investigative methods drive him further down the social ladder? Or will they lift him up to claim his spot as That Pet Finder Kid?

A delightful detective story, sure to melt the heart of every pet lover.


From sports to music, 13 year old Chet Parker fails at anything he ever attempts to do. He also does not fit in with other kids at school. That’s why he is more into animals because they love you no matter what you do, he thinks. When he takes his dog to the vet something happens and he gets the shot meant for his dog. A short time later he is aware that he can sense what animals around him are thinking and his sense of smell is increased. He learns that Heather, a fellow student, lets him know her cat Mr. Fluff Fluff is gone, and she thinks he has run away. Chet aids her and realizes that for some reason someone has stolen her cat. Later there is a ransom note and now Chet has a purpose, that being who took her cat. Chet also becomes friends with a new neighbor and a severely overweight kid named “Ton” who has the reputation of eating kids he does not like. Scott Clements who works on the hit USA network series “Burn Notice” is also a very talented writer of YA novels this being one of them. Chet and all the characters in the novel are well defined in a story that rapidly moves along to the revealing ending where readers find out who stole the cat. That Pet Finder Kid Catnapped is a first class YA mystery novel that would make a great series of adventures for amateur detective Chet Parker.

reviewed by Gary Roen ]

Here’s what some other reviewers are saying:

I’m an adult reading a young adult novel, but an adult who has some pretty fond memories of YA reading and some books I continually revisit. Having said that, I really enjoyed this journey through a YA mystery with Scott’s characters in “That Pet Finder Kid: Catnapped.” I like the characters, story, and the world these kids inhabit, especially the attention to pets. I think kids reading the book or listening to it will enjoy it, too. It’s a world they know, with the attendant adolescent miseries. But it’s also got some fun mysteries going on that will keep them intrigued. What’s more, they can find their own heroes solving the mysteries and gaining some self-esteem in the process. Worthy lessons for us all.

The pacing is great for readers of every age to enjoy the ride. Middle school kids will enjoy reading it themselves. It’s good bedtime read-aloud stuff for the younger kids: The book can be done in serial selections with enough cliffhangers to have them begging for more. As for me, I’m looking forward to more stories of Chet and his friends, animal and human.

Amazon Reviewer Karen Leckey

Another great children’s book by Scott Clements! Scott has an amazing ability to create fully formed characters that spring to life right from the very first page. I really like the kids in Scott’s books–they’re bright, inquisitive and full of life and personality. The side kick friend in this book was hilarious–I laughed out loud at his jokes and shenanigans all the way through the book.

I recommend this book highly for young teens and younger children. It has a little mystery, a little magic in the way Chet can communicate with his pets, and a nice fast-paced story. And lots of really loving and fun interaction with pets for those of us who love the furry creatures. Can’t wait for the next book from Scott. If you haven’t already read it, I also highly recommend Gasparilla’s Treasure.

Amazon Reviewer P. Wells

Thanks for reading!  Keep up with the latest in the world of indie and self-published books by watching this space every Saturday!

Self Publishing Advisor


Self-Publishing Week in Review: 03/17/15

As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry. This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog every Tuesday to find out the hottest news.

Self-publishing matters, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise

This Science Codex article looks at self-publishing statistics and trends. It illustrates why self-publishing is a viable option for authors and why people should take self-published works seriously. It is an interesting read for all writers.

Is Self-Publishing Good For Women? Study Says Yes!

There has been an increased focus in recent years on sexism in publishing, but there seems to be one corner of the publishing world where women are doing quite well for themselves. According to a recent investigation, self-publishing is helping women break the publishing glass ceiling and have the kind of success that tends to skew very male in the world of traditional publishing.

Google Ads 101: A Guide for Indie Authors

This article provides tips for how indie authors can make the most of Google AdWords to target potential readers. It covers mapping your audience, keywords, bidding, and more. It is a must read for authors interested in using Google Ads to promote their books.

If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.