Friday, November 13, 2015

This is Why I Write Children's Books

One day a few years ago, I went into my 11-year-old son's room and found this sign placed over the door of his beneath-the-bed storage space. It had been drawn on computer paper and nailed (yes, nailed) onto a plank of wood, which was then balanced on the end of his bed.

I'm not sure where he got the wood, or how he managed to acquire nails and a hammer with which to affix this dire warning. But obviously, a length of tape would have been insufficient. And a bit too neat for an ogre, I think.

Fortunately for my son, he was wise enough to nail this sign to a random piece of wood rather than to his actual bed. But had he chosen to do the latter, I still would have smiled and taken this picture.

Because this warning sign represents exactly the kind of imaginative thinking I have been working to instill in my children through books and creative endeavors. It represents the part of childhood that should always stay with them, no matter how old they live to be.

I want to capture these moments and preserve them in stories and poems so that they can inspire children to think, and create, and always keep a sense of wonder about the world around them. Or in their minds. Or, in my son's case, in the ogre cave under his bed.

This is why I write children's books.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ten Ways to Do NOTHING (and why you should)

As a writer, I know how important it is to let my brain take regular breaks. It can help me to refocus, recall details, or get out of a rut.

According to Scientific American, letting our minds wander is an essential element for a healthy brain. It helps us be productive and motivated, learn from our experiences and plan for our futures.

In other words, it's healthy for our brains to do nothing once in a while.

But if you look around you in a public place (or maybe even look in the mirror), you'll see evidence that people are afraid of being bored. People who can't resist checking their phones while stopped in traffic (or while driving--yikes). Whole families who sit at a table in a restaurant, each of them typing or scrolling away on electronic gadgets. And it isn't just the little gadgets. It can be TV or work or even reading. Spending too much time doing these things may be overstimulating your brain, not giving your mind a chance to recoup and reset!

Our brains need a little R&R now and then, and not only when we're asleep. With that in mind, here are ten ways for you to do nothing, or at least the kinds of somethings that help your brain take a break.

1. Sun bathe! No swimsuit required. Step outside on a sunny day and soak up some sun, leaving your phone in your pocket (or better yet, in the house or office). Close your eyes and use your other senses to experience the outdoors.

2. Cuddle with your favorite person or pet. This could even lead to a little power nap, but simply curling up with the TV and gadgets off or put away is a great way to relax and let your mind wander.

3. Go for a stroll. Again, without your gadget.

4. Take a bath.

5. Use the bathroom without your phone.

6. Forced to wait somewhere? Let yourself be "bored" for a few minutes before reading or taking out your device.

8. Stretch!

9. Do a mindless chore, like washing the dishes by hand or folding laundry.

10. Color or doodle. I do this in the middle of drafting quite often, taking a break to doodle aimlessly in the margins of my notebook.

Do you have any favorite ways to take a brain break?

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

PiBoIdMo: Accidentally On Purpose

It's November again, and that means NaNoWriMo for some, PiBoIdMo for others, and for a few of them maybe even both!

But not me. I'm in no shape to do both challenges this year. So, PiBoIdMo it is for me!

It's day 4, and already I have FOURTEEN ideas in my Picture Book Idea Month journal. (See it there on the left? I decided to get out my markers and make a colorful title page for it.)

Fourteen ideas in four days isn't too shabby, right? So, how did I do it?

A few of my new ideas came from a couple short brainstorming sessions with Corey. But the others I just sort of happened upon. Accidentally on purpose.

Do you know that scene in the movie Forest Gump, in which the feather floats on a breeze until it finally lands at Forest's feet? That's what I mean when I say "accidentally on purpose."

You see, when I have my PiBoIdMo journal open on my lap, I usually just let my mind wander. I'll stare out the window, look around the room, or sometimes even close my eyes. And then I just float around on a breeze until I settle on an idea. Sometimes the idea is so faint that it nearly blows away on a breeze of its own. Other times the idea is as solid as a lump of clay, ready for me to shape it into a story.

I'm certain that I'll have 30 or more ideas by the end of November. And if I'm truly fortunate, a few of them will make it out of the idea book and into a Word document, and beyond!

What about you? Are you participating in a writing challenge this month?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Will my son ever be a reader again?

Not too long ago, I came across this greatly mistreated paperback copy of SANTA'S CRASH-BANG CHRISTMAS by Steven Kroll at a yard sale. I immediately knew I had to have it, despite its obvious maladies.

I had to have it because my family had it when I was a child, and I loved this book. It had been one of my favorite Christmas books, second only to Dr. Seuss' HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS. It had a special place in my heart even though I hadn't seen or thought of it for years.

The other day, I was looking through the shelf of picture books in the family room. My fourteen-year-old son happened to be nearby. Every now and then I'd pull a book out and show it to him. "I love this book!" he would say as he'd flip through the pages. We talked about reading them together when he was younger. Even as a teenage boy currently rebelling against reading, books have a special place in his heart. And he remembered that, just for a moment, when he said to me, "I like books. I just have to force myself to read the first couple of chapters."

I've been a little concerned lately that the boy who used to beg me to read CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS or CHICKS AND SALSA over and over has lost his love for reading. I've worried that the same kid who devoured THE MAGIC THIEF in two days will never find another book that he can't put down.

But those little moments of "Oh, I love that book!" have assured me that books still have a special place in his heart. With time, and perhaps some subtle encouragement from me, they will once again have a special place in his life.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


It's finally here, folks. The cover you've all been waiting for.


This little book deserves to be revealed with flair!

Thursday, October 08, 2015

School Visit: Great Questions from Students!

On Tuesday I spent the day at a local elementary school, visiting with kids from preschool to fifth grade. The students were all enthusiastic and engaged. They asked so many questions that one of the first things I did when I got home that afternoon was to write down as many questions as I could remember. I'll share them with you here, along with my answers.

How did you get the idea for WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?

Corey's daughter was a bit bossy, so she told me one day, "We should write a story about bossiness." We had a cast of characters from an earlier story that we thought would be perfect for a new story involving a bossy character. We thought it would be fun for them to be doing a building project together, and what could be more fun than building a treehouse?

Follow-up question to that one: What was the story about that had the same characters as this book?

It is about the same group of friends crowding into Porcupine's art studio and creating a big mess!

How many books have you written?

I haven't counted, but I think it is over 50. Only two have been (or will be soon) published, though.

*Note: 50 is an astonishingly large number to a group of 3rd graders.

What is your favorite book that you wrote?

I have a manuscript titled PRINCESS PIE that I am hoping-hoping-hoping gets published some day.

Why did you bring that stuffed moose?

Because he's my inspiration! He sits with me in my office at home. Plus, I thought you would like him.

*They did like him. Moose got several hugs.

When did you start writing?

When I was very little. Maybe 5 or 6. As soon as I learned how to write!

When did you start trying to be an author?

About 15 years ago or so is when I decided I wanted to try writing as a job and not just for fun.

Is it easier to write by yourself or with a partner?

Sometimes it seems easier to write by myself, but having a partner has benefits. For example, Corey and I live in different parts of the country, and we each talk a little differently. So sometimes words that rhyme for me don't rhyme for her (like thought and not). Working to make the rhymes work for both of us means that they will work for more people in general. Also, it's fun to have someone to brainstorm with.

Which part of the book did you write, and which part did your partner write?

Great question! The truth is that the whole book was a team effort. Corey and I wrote the story together from beginning to end. We both had to be happy with every line and every word!

How do you send a book to a publisher?

Once you know who you want to send it to, you write a letter telling that person why you think your book should be published. If it's a picture book, you usually send the story along too! And then you wait and hope. (If you have an agent, he or she does this for you.)

What does "publish" mean?

It means that a story is put in finished form in a book or a magazine.

Where was the book made?

The book was printed in China, but the publisher has offices in New York, London, Toronto, Sydney and New Dehli.

Are you working on other books?

Always. And Corey and I have another book coming out this year titled HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS.

Who is your favorite author and what genre do you like to read?

It is hard to pick a favorite, but I really like Dr. Seuss a lot. And I read a lot of young adult books, especially fantasy.

What do you like most about being an author?

Writing stories is a lot of fun, but I also really like visiting schools to talk to kids about books and reading and writing.

Why are you wearing an Ariel [The Little Mermaid] shirt? 

Because The Little Mermaid is one of my favorite movies!

*And because showing kids that you like some of the same stuff helps them be more open to you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My Favorite Banned or Challenged Books

It's Banned Books Week.

As a mother, an author, and a former educator, I believe that no one should have the right to tell my child what he should or shouldn't read besides me. And so, in honor of Banned Books Week, here are a few of my favorite banned or challenged books.

SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson

ANIMALIA by Graeme Base

by Maurice Sendak

THE GIVER by Lois Lowry

by Roald Dahl

by C.S. Lewis

WHERE'S WALDO by Martin Handford

by Madeleine L'Engle