Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Childhood Books that Made Me a Reader

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

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:

Barnes & Noble
Indie Bound