Saturday, February 03, 2018

Picture Book Review: WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING by Mariana Ruiz Johnson

Let me tell you about a beautiful book.

WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING is a wordless picture book by Mariana Ruiz Johnson. This book may not have words, but it says a lot. It begins with a sweet image of a child at bedtime, listening to his mother read a story. With each turn of the page, the image zooms out, revealing more and more of what is happening as the boy sleeps -- in his house, his neighborhood, his town, and even (as I interpret it) in his dreams.

The illustrations in this book are vibrant and richly detailed, showing snapshots of other stories happening throughout the night and into the morning. A child in the hospital, a mother holding a baby, a group of friends having dinner, and a colorful group of interesting characters who head out on an adventure. Where did this group of characters come from? you may wonder when you see them set out to sea for the first time. So you'll turn back to see what you missed. And if you're like me, you'll notice something new even after exploring this book a few times.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves pictures that tell a story. It would be an excellent book to share at bedtime to encourage a child's imagination to wander. Share it with young ones who aren't reading on their own yet, or with budding writers looking for a bit of inspiration. Whoever you share this book with, it will be worth adding this gorgeous book to your home or classroom library.


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Wacky Hairstyle Collage: A Read, Discuss, Do! Activity (and a GIVEAWAY)

Read, Discuss, Do! is a social media campaign that aims to give parents and educators quick and simple ideas to enhance story time. You can read a little bit about that campaign by clicking this link. I've decided to make Read, Discuss, Do! a regular feature on my blog in order to share activity ideas that are slightly more complicated than what I usually post to Twitter and Facebook. That starts today with a craft idea inspired by Susanna Leonard Hill's new board book, WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT!


DISCUSS: Have you ever had a haircut you didn't like? How do you feel about getting your hair cut or styled? Why?

DO: Create a wacky hairstyle collage like the one picture below.

You will need:
  • a printed photograph (or one cut from a magazine)
  • glue
  • scissors
  • construction paper or card stock
  • collage items such as yarn, fabric scraps, washi tape, torn paper--whatever you have lying around!
  • pencil (optional)
  • crayons or markers (optional)

Gather your supplies. Cut around the photo of the person so that only the head and shoulders are showing. Glue it onto a sheet of paper, leaving plenty of space above it for the hair collage.

Note: I used a glue stick for the photo and white glue for the yarn and fabric.

Imagine what you want the finished hairstyle to look like, then design it using your chosen collage pieces. If it helps, draw your design with pencil before filling it in. In the sample pictured, I cut out a photo of my husband (he gave me permission to share it with you), then used yarn for the hair, a fabric strip for the bow, and washi tape along the hairline. Be as creative and wacky as possible!

Having trouble thinking of an idea? Use the images from WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT for inspiration!

Have fun! And be sure to put your collages up where people can see them. The one of my husband is on the refrigerator!

Now about the GIVEAWAY!

Susanna Leonard Hill is offering a copy of WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT to one lucky winner. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post sharing a BAD HAIRCUT story. If you don't have a bad haircut story, anything negative relating to hair will do.

One entry per person please. You must be at least 18 years old to enter.

A winner will be drawn on Saturday, February 3, 2018.

UPDATE: A winner has been announced. Congratulations to Hachen Learning!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

I Didn't Give Up. Neither Should You.

I received my first rejection letter in September of 2002 (that's it on the left).

About thirteen years later my first book was published.

There's a lot hiding in the blank space between those two sentences. A lot of learning and growing, hope and frustration, failures and successes. More failures than successes, to be honest.

There were more than a few moments during that time that I felt like giving up, but I didn't. I kept writing, kept submitting, kept trusting that God hadn't given me this passion for nothing.

Many of you may be in that space right now, wondering if it is worth continuing. I'm here to tell you that it is worth it. If you have a talent for writing, it will grow. And if you have a passion for what you're doing, you won't let something as simple as failure stop you.

If something is worth doing, it's worth the struggle it takes to get it done.

So don't quit.

Instead, take every rejection as a challenge, and every submission as an opportunity to present your best self. But stay humble. Connect with other writers, published and not. Learn. Grow. Improve.

Eventually, you'll get there.

Friday, January 05, 2018

My Goals for 2018

This past year has been a productive year for me as a writer. I wrote and/or revised several picture books, revised my middle grade verse novel, wrote 50,000 words during National Novel Writing Month, got two book deals, and received my first ever royalty check!

It was also a good year for me personally. I read a lot of great books, celebrated my oldest child's graduation from college, stayed healthy, made new friends, got to visit with old friends, became more organized and less stressed, and just enjoyed life overall.

I'm hoping that the New Year will be as blessed as its predecessor, and to help it along I've made a little list of goals for 2018:

  • Write and polish at least three new picture books.
  • Revise the middle grade fantasy novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo.
  • Read at least 200 books, including at least 50 novels.
  • Blog twice a month.
  • Grow my newsletter.
  • Sell another manuscript.
  • Write more poetry.
  • Spend more time in my art journal.
  • Visit some place new this summer.
  • Volunteer more.
  • Read through the whole Bible.

I think that's a good, attainable mix. And with this blog post, it's off to a good start!

What about you? What are some of your goals for 2018?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Best Picture Books of 2017

Throughout 2017 I've been on a mission to read as many newly published children's books as possible. I've read nearly 200 books this year, and more than 50 of those have been picture books that were published in 2017! There was one that made me cringe, two that I didn't like at all, five that were okay but didn't live up to their potential, and many that were perfectly good. Then there were those that stood out above the rest and earned a rare, enthusiastic five-star rating.

For a picture book to earn a five-star rating from me it has to do these five things:

1. Be a genuine pleasure to read aloud. For wordless books, a visual story that is easy to follow.
2. Appeal to my emotions, whether that be making me laugh, cry, or relate personally to the story or character.
3. Use language that captures the attention and imagination. For wordless picture books, clever surprises and details in the pictures.
4. Have appealing illustrations that add to the depth and charm of the text.
5. Have a take-away or theme that feels like a seamless part of the story.

It's not a long list, but it's a good one! If you've missed any of these books this year, be sure to check them out in 2018.


Fans of Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT will enjoy this beautifully written and gorgeously illustrated glimpse into his life.


The sequel to SIMPSON'S SHEEP WON'T GO TO SLEEP, this books is full of humor and charm, with a flowing rhythm that is a pleasure to read.

LINES by Suzy Lee

A wordless picture book that tells a heartwarming story of friendship and forgiveness.

TWINDERELLA by Corey Rosen Schwartz

A funny and clever "fractioned fairy tale" with perfect rhyme!

MY VERY OWN SPACE by Pippa Goodhart

This story is sweet and charming, and I related to it on a personal level having come from a large family.


This book is hilarious, clever, and tons of fun to read aloud.

LOVE IS by Diane Adams

It's as sweet as it sounds without being overly cheesy. It's perfect.


So much to love about this book. A fun story, nearly perfect rhyme, stunning use of language, and a sense of nostalgia that lingers far beyond the last page.

FLASHLIGHT NIGHT by Matt Forrest Esenwine

This book captures perfectly a childhood sense of imagination and adventure.


A rollicking tale of swashbuckling adventure.


A lovely and creative retelling of the Christmas story, patterned after the classic poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore.

WATERSONG by Tim McCanna

A simple story about a fox seeking shelter during a storm, with vivid language and equally vivid illustrations.

I'd love to hear about your favorite books from 2017!

Friday, December 08, 2017

In Case You Were Wondering (or...did I win NaNoWriMo?)

November has been over for more than a week, and I feel like I'm still recovering. But I did it! I managed to write just over 50,000 words of a middle grade fantasy manuscript during NaNoWriMo. It's not a full draft yet, so I still have a while to go before I'm finished, but I'm well on my way. I hope to have the draft done by the end of the year.

How about you? Did you "WriMo" this year? Any projects you're hoping to finish by the year's end?

Friday, November 17, 2017

NaNoWriMo Halfway Point Check-in

It's the afternoon of November 17, 2017. The sky is grey, yet friendly; the house is quiet; and my NaNoWriMo journal sits on the dining room table, waiting. It's been sorely neglected today, despite my best intentions.

November is a little more than halfway over, my journal is a little more than halfway full, and I'm closing in on 25,000 words.

When I think about it, having written close to 25,000 words in just over two weeks sounds like an amazing thing. But I'm behind. I should have been at that point on Wednesday. I had hoped to reach 30,000 words by Sunday night, and I'm not sure if I will make it!

But I must strive for it. Because I want to be able to say at the end of the day on November 30, 2017 that I did it. That, for the second time in my life, I won NaNoWriMo!

Even though I'm a little behind, I'm not discouraged. If I keep plugging along, I'll get there. Maybe I'll catch up, then get ahead, and finish a day early!

As long as I don't get any surprise out-of-town guests for Thanksgiving next week, I think that is doable.