Tuesday, September 26, 2017

My Favorite Childhood Books


There is something extra special about a childhood favorite, don't you think?

My family didn't own a lot of books when I was a kid. We didn't take weekly trips to the library. I can't remember a single excursion to a book store. When book orders came around, I almost always ordered a poster because that was all we could afford, and because I didn't want to be the only kid in class going home empty handed.

And yet, I remember books being a part of my life. I remember my mother reading to me, and talking about her favorite stories. I remember studying her copy of THE DRAGON RIDERS OF PERN with fascination. I remember the school library and book fairs.

I was a regular at the school library, of course. And over the years I somehow managed to collect a small assortment of my very own books. But one of the best book-related memories of my childhood was when I purchased a short novel at the book fair in 5th grade. What a proud moment that was!

I still have that book, a now beat-up paperback titled A CABIN FACED WEST by Jean Fritz.

Most of the books I have held onto well into adulthood have been in my memories rather than in my hands. Over the years I have sought a few of them out or stumbled upon them serendipitously at yard sales or used book stores. And a few, of course, are classics that I've happily purchased new to add to my family's collection.

In honor of childhood favorites, I'd like to share a few of mine with you!

 THE CABIN FACED WEST, as I mentioned before, is the first book I remember purchasing for myself. I don't remember all the details of the story, but I do remember how it ended!

BLITZ by Hetty Burlingame is one of many, many horse stories I read as a child. I may have been encouraged by my mother's love for THE BLACK STALLION.

Who didn't love WHERE'S WALDO as a kid, right? But even better than that, in my opinion, is ANIMALIA by Graeme Base. My family had a hardcover of this book, and I remember countless sessions with my siblings poring over the illustrations in search the little guy hiding on each page.

WHERE'S WALDO I purchased at a used book store, but ANIMALIA I purchased new, though in paperback, when my kids were little because I couldn't bear for them to not have it in their lives!

I can't tell you how much I loved these SERENDIPITY books when I was a kid. I enjoyed the stories, but I think what really captured my attention was the illustrations. The copies of KIYOMI and BANGALEE are mine from my childhood (poor Bangalee is missing his cover), but the others I have collected over the years, new and used.


Is there a child in the U.S. that didn't grow up reading Dr. Seuss? HORTON HEARS A WHO was (and still is) one of my favorites, along with THE 500 HATS OF BARTHOLOMEW CUBBINS and IF I RAN THE CIRCUS. I have quite a collection of Dr. Seuss books now, but IF I RAN THE CIRCUS seems to be missing.

One of the things I remember loving about Dr. Seuss as a kid, besides his impeccable rhymes, was the way he portrayed cities and towns in his illustrations. I always wanted to jump into the pages and explore!


I've mentioned SANTA'S CRASH BANG CHRISTMAS before in this post from 2015. This copy is not the one I had as a child, but one I came across at a yard sale. It was one of those delightfully serendipitous finds!


As much as I loved horse stories as a little girl (what little girl didn't back in the 80s?), no chapter book or novel captured my imagination quite like A WALK IN WOLF WOOD by Mary Stewart. In this story, two kids wander into another time and aid a werewolf in breaking his curse. I first read this book in elementary school, and often looked for it in used book stores as an adult. And then one day my sister found a copy and got it for me! It still has its beautiful jacket and everything!

Last, but not least are two picture books I remember reading over and over as a child. PANTALONI is a sweet story about a little boy and his puppy, and OLD LUCY LINDY is a collection of silly stories about an old woman. PANTALONI has stayed with me over the years, but I had to track down OLD LUCY LINDY through Amazon.



Are you familiar with any of these lesser known books? What are your favorite books from your childhood?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

From Chaos to Calm: How I am Learning to Organize My Writing and My Life


My long-time writing partner Corey occasionally surprises me with a comment like, "You're so organized!" This is usually in reference to me having miraculously dug up a long-forgotten email from an editor or a very early draft of an old picture book manuscript.

But here's the thing: I'm not really organized. I'm just really good at finding things.

Just ask my kids. One of them once gave me a certificate officially naming me "Finder of Things." I can find a minuscule Lego piece in our mini van. I can find a random scrap of paper with my husband's vacation schedule on it. And I can (usually) find an email from 2006 that contains feedback on a manuscript that I haven't thought of in years.

But, organized? Ha. I can't even keep my desk organized for a week straight.

I have a stack of miscellaneous to-be-filed papers sitting on top of the printer (I move it whenever I need to make a copy of something). I have piles of random scrap paper filled with jottings that I'm afraid I'll forget. My desktop computer is decorated with sticky notes of varied colors with everything from passwords to notes about manuscripts.

For years, I've only been as organized as I've had to be. I've had a system--if you can call it that--that's worked. Sort of.

But life as a published author has made me realize that I need to be more efficient. And to be more efficient, I need to be more organized.

So, I've gradually been making changes. Last year I purchased a planner to help me organize social media posts. Using it has helped me be more consistent and less messy.

But I needed some way to organize my LIFE. It seemed that no matter how purposeful I tried to be with reminders and the calendar on my iPad (and the pile of notes on my desk), my life was still organized chaos.

Then I discovered the idea of bullet journaling.

I have always loved journaling. I've got junk journals, art journals, sketch books, poetry journals, and too many composition notebooks to remember. I love writing things down. I love sketching, doodling, and experimenting with paint and collage. So when I started seeing "bullet journal" ideas popping up on my favorite Pinterest and Instagram feeds, I was intrigued. I was impressed. And then, I was a little intimidated. But the journaler in me overrode my doubt, so I started clicking on posts titled "bullet journaling for the beginner," and those eventually led me to where it all started: bulletjournal.com. Seeing the efficiency of the bullet journal in its simplest form opened a new world to me!

I started my own bullet journal in early August, and it has changed my life. It's helped me plan ahead and organize my days, remember important dates and events, keep track of writing projects, plan family meals, and so much more. It's my daily to-do list, my reading log, my idea notebook. I even have a spread for Christmas gift ideas. It's all organized and relatively neat. And amazingly, it works. Even for me, the queen of (as my sister once said) Organized Clutter.

Why does this work so well for me where other attempts have failed? I think it's because of two things. One, it's tactile. I can hold it, write in it, flip through its pages. And two, it gives me room to be as creative as I want. I can doodle in it, try fancy lettering, use sharpies or colored pencils. I don't feel restricted or overwhelmed; I feel creatively empowered! And that is an amazing thing.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the "organized clutter" in your life? Maybe a bullet journal could work for you too!

Friday, September 01, 2017

Review: MIRACLE MAN by John Hendrix

MIRACLE MAN: THE STORY OF JESUS
written and illustrated by John Hendrix
Abrams Books for Young Readers

"Ages ago, in a dry and dusty land, the people were in need."

Thus begins MIRACLE MAN: THE STORY OF JESUS, a gentle and thoughtful book about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and the way the leadership of his time turned against him. The story is told through simple yet compelling text, with sections of the story (in most cases, the words of Christ) displayed as word art that seems to come alive on the page. More than simply a retelling of a familiar Bible story, it is an interpretation of the life and teachings of Christ as a whole. As John Hendrix says in the author's note, "Though based on the gospel narrative of his life and ministry, it should not be confused with the authority of the actual Biblical accounts." That said, it would be a challenge to find a book that presents the gospel in a more accessible, or more attractive, manner. The illustrations themselves are enough to draw one in. Done in pen and ink with fluid acrylic washes, the illustrations are detailed and vibrant. Hendrix has done an impressive job of using images to convey the mood of the text.

Frankly, MIRACLE MAN is the best retelling of the story of Jesus that I've ever read. As a Christian I can't recommend it enough, but it isn't only because of my faith that I find this book appealing. This book, quite simply, is a work of art.

For more information or to purchase this book go to:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Christianbook
Indie Bound




Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Back-to-school GIVEAWAY!



It's back-to-school time, or will be soon, for many in the U.S. So to celebrate (or as a consolation...take your pick) I'm giving away a signed copy of WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?--because it's important to have quality reading material to read for fun during the school year! All you have to do to be eligible to win is subscribe to my newsletter and fill out the Rafflecopter form below.

This giveaway is open to U.S. residents ages 18 and older. Ends at 12:00 a.m. CST on August 31, 2017. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, August 14, 2017

Summer's End


The end of summer vacation is here, and I am both happy and sad about that. On one hand I will be glad to get back into a regular schedule. On the other, it's back to getting up early, lunch by myself, and seeing my teenage son for approximately 20 minutes a day. 

I've never been one of those parents who cheers when the kids go back to school. I have always enjoyed the disruption of our usual schedule and spending time with them doing summery stuff like playing in the sprinkler, staying up late building a Lego masterpiece, and going on adventures to the park or zoo. 

But my kids are older now, and summer, though still fairly laid back, is something different. I have their schedules to consider. They are almost all grown up, after all!

Still, the end of summer vacation and the beginning of a new school year is something to celebrate. This year it marks my oldest daughter's first real steps into the world as a college-graduated adult, my second daughter's third year of college, and my son's second half of his high school experience (with which he CANNOT WAIT to be finished).

As the new school year begins, I am hopeful that it will be full of good things. 

P.S. Come back on Wednesday to find out about my back-to-school giveaway!

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!