Friday, July 14, 2017

The Case of the Missing Milk Jug

The grocery cart was bursting with bags of food. I followed my teenage son as he pushed the cart out the automatic doors and into the bright sunshine of a July afternoon.

Past dozens of cars we trekked, until we came to the place at the back of the lot, where the kid had carefully parked our minivan about an hour earlier.

I opened the back hatch.

The kid leaned over and reached for the milk jugs at the bottom of the cart.

"What the...? Where the fudge is the other gallon of milk?" he exclaimed.

I looked. There on the bottom of the cart lay a milk jug that had clearly tipped over on the trip across the parking lot. But the other jug had vanished!

"It must have fallen off," I told the kid. "Go see if it's on the ground somewhere."

I loaded the groceries into the back of the van, looking up every few seconds to check on the kid's progress. He walked with purpose, glancing between vehicles, until he reached the front of the store.

He went inside.

He came back out.

He raised his arms in a clear "WTH?" motion.

It was obvious to me that someone had discovered our carelessly abandoned jug of milk and either made off with it or returned it to the store. So I joined my son and we ventured inside to inquire of the employees.

First, I checked with our cashier on the chance that we had simply left the jug of milk behind. But no. So we made our way to customer service to inquire further.

"Can I help you with something?" said a voice from behind me.

I turned to the short, smiling clerk and asked, "Did someone bring in a gallon of milk that they found in the parking lot?"

She looked at me with a curious expression that I interpreted to mean: "I have no idea what the heck you are talking about." So I explained in detail.

"Oh," she said apologetically, "I just got here. Let me check with someone else." I waited patiently as she flagged down a tall, older man in a bright yellow vest. "Did you find a gallon of milk outside?"

"Yeah," he said matter-of-factly. "It was still cold, so I put it back."

The clerk smiled and told me to go ahead and grab a new milk. I was slightly stunned that a grocery store employee would discover a gallon of milk on the ground only to nonchalantly return it to the cooler at the back of the store. But, happy that the mystery was solved, the kid and I made our way to the dairy department, where we were reunited with our lost jug of milk.

When we arrived home and all the groceries were put away, and after I relayed this story to daughter no. 1, I realized that this is one of countless ordinary little stories that make up the chapter book of life. And they're worth telling, even if those who hear them may not hold them long in their memory.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Story Time Isn't Just for Libraries or Classrooms

When you think about story time, does your mind automatically go to the library or to the preschool classroom?

In my searches on Pinterest for "story time" I've found an abundance of boards, lists, and links dedicated to library and classroom story time ideas. I've even come across countless links to homeschool blogs. What seems to be lacking is practical advice aimed at the parent reading with his or her child.

Story time is not just for the library or classroom. Much of the advice on the web that is aimed at librarians and teachers can be useful for parents reading with their children as well! But there is so much of it! Even as a self-proclaimed story time enthusiast, I can get a bit overwhelmed by all the talk about reading readiness, extension activities, and comprehension...oh my!

But "supercharging" story time doesn't have to be complicated. It's as simple as this:

Read a book. Talk about the book. Do a simple activity inspired by the book.

That's why I began a social media campaign called Read, Discuss, Do! My goal with this campaign is to offer simple, book-specific discussion and activity ideas that can be used by anyone -- caretakers, educators, librarians -- to "supercharge" story time!

If you'd like to see what we've been up to, check out the #ReadDiscussDo hashtag on Twitter and Facebook! I would love for you to participate with stories and ideas of your own!

Saturday, June 03, 2017

It's summer!

Summer has officially crept up on me. My daughters have been home from college for nearly a month. My son's last day of tenth grade was a week and a half ago. And we leave for our annual summer road trip in just a few days!

How did that happen?

It seems like, as the kids have gotten older, the transition from school year to summer has become less seamless. It happens little by little until, suddenly, the season is in full swing and I barely even noticed.

Anyway, summer is here! And even though my girls will be working a lot, and my son will be spending a lot of his time playing video games or shooting hoops with his friends at the park, I intend to make the most out of summer.

I'll enjoy my slow, lazy mornings. I'll happily tend my garden. I'll soak up the sun and spend as much time with my kids (two of whom are not even kids any more) as much as they'll let me.

And maybe I'll even get some writing and reading done!

Happy summer to you too! (Or winter, for those of you way down south!)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS turns one today! It's hard to believe that it has been a full year since my second picture book was officially published.

A book birthday means a book PARTY and that means it's time for a GIVEAWAY! Wouldn't you love to win a signed copy of a kick-butt rhyming picture book full of action and puns?

Then...go enter the Goodreads giveaway for your chance to win!

Good luck!

(And come back soon, because WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? has a birthday coming up too!)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

National Poetry Month: Verse Novel Reviews

When I set out to read as many verse novels as I could this month, I had hoped to read more than six of them. I got through my library pile fairly quickly, but haven't made it back to the library to get more. What can I say? April has been busier than I had anticipated!

Stil, I read several new verse novels and reread an old favorite. It's been a good reading month! It's rare that I manage to read two whole novels in a month, much less six of them!

Here is a list of the verse novels I read for the first time this month, along with a quick review of each. I hope this inspires you to do a little verse novel reading of your own.

GROW by Juanita Havill

Gardens and friendship - two things that grow well together. This book is a sweet story about a young girl helping her neighbor start a community garden on a vacant lot. As the garden grows, friendships develop. And when the owner of the vacant lot decides to build on it, the friends must work together to find a way to keep their garden growing.


I loved RHYME SCHEMER by this same author (see my review here), so when I heard about HOUSE ARREST, I had to read it. It is the engaging and heart wrenching story of a young boy who must write in a journal as a condition of his house arrest, a consequence of a desperate act of theft. He had stolen a wallet in hopes that it would help his family buy his baby brother's medicine. Throughout the story we see his attempts to convince the "authorities" that he's not a bad kid, his family's struggle to keep afloat while dealing with the baby's illness, friendships strained, other friendships grow, and a journey from desperation to hope. It's a book that will make you laugh and cry.

LITTLE DOG, LOST by Marion Dane Bauer

Anyone who enjoys stories of lost dogs finding love in a new home will enjoy this book. It is written in third person point of view, which is something I've never encountered before in a verse novel. But it works. I like the way the author tells the story from a few different angles and brings them all together in a satisfying and heartwarming conclusion. It's a quick read too. It took me a little over an hour.

LITTLE CAT'S LUCK by Marion Dane Bauer

This book is a companion to LITTLE DOG, LOST. I liked that book, but I LOVED this one. I found the writing to be a little bit more poetic, though the author employs the same storytelling method as in  LITTLE DOG, LOST. This book focuses more on the animals, and the friendship that develops between the two main animal characters is wonderfully sweet and completely believable. It is a fun, charming, wonderful book that had me fighting back tears.

UNBOUND by Ann E. Burg

Ann E. Burg has a gift for writing gripping, emotional, multi-cultural stories. UNBOUND is the story of a slave girl named Grace and her family's quest for freedom. I enjoyed Grace's voice and her spunky, indignant attitude that ends up being the catalyst for the events that lead to her family's escape into the swamp.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

National Poetry Month Plans

I didn't make any official blogging plans for National Poetry Month this year. This is mainly because I've been so busy writing! Corey and I have some manuscripts in the works. I recently wrote and polished a new picture book manuscript. And, I've been furiously revising a middle grade novel in verse.

So, with novels in verse on my mind, I decided that during April I would read as many novels in verse as I could get my hands on. I began with the middle grade book GROW by Juanita Havill. It is a sweet story about a little girl working with her neighbor to create a community garden on a vacant lot.

Yesterday I reread LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech, which is one of the most brilliant books I've ever read. Read it. It'll take you less than an hour, but it will stick with you forever!

My current read, which I will possibly finish today, is HOUSE ARREST by K. A. Holt. She is the author of RHYME SCHEMER, which I reviewed last year. So far, HOUSE ARREST is every bit as good.

So that's my unofficial, unplanned, unorganized National Poetry Month observance. How are you celebrating poetry this month?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

30 Non-writing Skills Every Children's Book Author Should Learn

It's no secret that being an author involves a lot of writing and writing-related skills. Storytelling, proofreading, plotting, revising...the list goes on. But there are just as many--possibly even more--skills that have nothing to do with writing that are key in helping you be a successful children's author. Many of these skills I've started developing over the past few years, and I've used them all! Most of these skills are essential. All of them are useful.

1. Reading aloud

This may seem obvious, but some people are naturally better at this than others. Practice reading aloud using inflection and facial expressions. You don't want to read your book aloud in monotone and put your audience to sleep!

2. Dressing in a way that disarms children without alarming adults

Kids are drawn to fun patterns, book/movie characters, and colorful shoes! Be professional, but kid friendly! Need wardrobe help? Cathrine Denton's capsule wardrobe tips helped me figure out how to dress.

3. Public speaking

Essential for any author that wishes to do school visits or book signing events. Brush up on those high school speech class skills. Practice with small crowds of people you know.

4. Social media networking

Social media networking will help you connect with authors, educators, and other book people, which will ultimately lead to people learning about you and your books!

5. Graphic design basics

Even if you're the kind of person that will hire a graphic designer to create postcard and bookmark designs, you'll want to learn some graphic design basics. This will help you quickly create timely images to share on your website, blog, and social media sites. I like using PicMonkey for my blog graphics. Canva is another popular one, and it has lots of templates that you can use for free!

6. Talking about yourself with cheerful confidence

This isn't just for those public speaking events! Conversations will naturally lead to questions about what you do. Be prepared!

7. Using Skype or other video chat programs

Seriously. This part of being an author should not be missed!

8. Taking criticism well

Negative reviews are going to happen. Learn from them, but don't take them too hard!

9. Kid humor

Even if you don't write "funny" books, knowing how to elicit a few giggles from a crowd of kids will be a handy skill to have!

10. Crafting

Book themed crafts are good extension activities. Design your own or search for some that will work with your books. Either way, be a master with scissors and glue!

11. Introducing yourself to strangers

Like book store managers and people at conferences and book fairs!

12. Explaining your book's plot quickly and concisely

The last thing you want to do is bumble your words when describing your book! An "elevator pitch" can be useful in everyday conversation.

13. Waiting without obsessing

Of all the non-writing skills, this one may be the most helpful in keeping yourself sane.

14. Playing

You write for kids. Do I have to explain this one?

15. Creating printable activity pages

A handy skill that will save you some money. Kids seem to love word searches, by the way.

16. People watching

Not to be confused with stalking. But it's good to observe people, especially kids, and pay attention to how they interact with each other. Volunteering in a classroom or in the kids' area at church can help with this.

17. Signing your autograph

Trust me. It's not like signing a check.

18. Video editing basics

Whether you want to create a book trailer or simply record a vlog, this skill can be very useful in helping you engage with your audience.

19. Photography basics

People like visual content. So take pictures. Good ones. I like using Instagram because the available filters and other editing tools can help make almost any photo look great!

20. Powerpoint

Useful for creating slideshows for school visit presentations. Also handy for putting together activity pages.

21. Reading for research

You need to know the market. What's being published? What's selling well? Read mentor texts, old and new. Plus, kids will ask you what your favorite books are. It will be wise to share about new books as well as old favorites.

22. Engaging a rowdy crowd of youngsters

Nobody wants to present to a group of kids that aren't interested. Learn how to engage with kids who seem disinterested. Interactive presentations are a good start. This may require some trial and error. Of course, enthusiasm on your part is vital!

23. Creating an attractive table display

For school visits, author appearances, book fairs, etc. Stuffed animals are a big draw. And other props. Make it fun and inviting.

24. Planning extension activities

This goes beyond crafts and activity pages. Coming up with unique games or group activities that you can share with teachers or use during your visits will help you stand out in a crowd, and make you a hit with the kids.

25. Navigation

Even in the age of GPS, it's good to know how to get around. When you're driving to an unfamiliar area for a school visit, you're gonna want to be able to get there even if technology fails you. Hint: Ask your school contact about traffic issues, parking, construction, etc.

26. Time management

Building a platform, maintaining a platform, promoting your books, visiting schools, writing. You've got a lot on your plate. Finding a good balance is essential.

27. Self-promotion

You're going to have to promote your own books, even if your publisher does publicity too. It can feel a little awkward at first, but it's necessary. The good news is that much of this is just getting out there and getting to know people. But you've got to talk about your books too. Don't be shy!

28. Bookkeeping

Keeping track of income and expenses is essential, and being organized makes tax season much simpler.

29. Thinking on your feet

Kids (and adults) might ask questions you didn't anticipate. So, expect the unexpected, and practice pausing without saying "umm."

30. How to inspire a child!

Writing a book that children love is part of it. But there's more to it than that. Hint: Think of your own childhood. How can you use that to connect with children today?