Welcome! Please sit down, make yourself comfortable, and have a brownie or three...

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Perfect Gift: Softies by Heather Campbell

Holiday decorations are already flooding stores, which means it's open season on thinking of gifts for our loved ones. When I discovered that my new friend (and fellow Kindergarten mom) Heather Campbell was opening an Etsy shop called Augustine & Isobel to sell her softies, I immediately asked if I could do a blog post on these precious ladies/gentlemen/creatures.

All the softies are special and the custom-made option allows your child to be their own designer (seriously, check out the custom-made softie/sketch below).

I know you started creating softies with your son. Please tell us how you went from making the first one to selling them on your wonderful Etsy shop.

I had been hoping for some time to open an Etsy shop. I knew I wanted to sell softies, but I felt there wasn’t anything that distinguished me from other sellers. I’m a big fangirl when it comes to other softie artists, and what I’ve learned is that each has their own niche. I really wanted to come up with something unique that set me apart—something that other artists didn’t offer.

I carry around a journal that I use to scribble ideas as they come to me, and while we were on vacation, my then four-year-old son took it and started drawing his own “dolls” for me to make. I loved the exuberance and freedom of his drawings—mine are often too controlled and too self-conscious. I knew immediately that I wanted to sew his dolls. I asked him for permission to sew the ones we made, and then I began to think about the possibilities of offering this service to other parents wanting to bring their kids’ drawings to life.

What makes softies a great gift for children (eh-hem blog readers, with the holidays coming up, nothing says “You’re special to me!” like a one-of-a-kind gift for the children in your life)?

It has been so exciting for my son to see his drawings in 3D. He’s been the designer—I’m just a collaborator. I think it’s really powerful for a child to see his or her imagination leap off the page like that.

I think these dolls would make the PERFECT reading/cuddle buddy. What ages do you recommend softies for?

Softies are wonderful for people of all ages! I have a commission right now to make one for an adult. I can make them very sturdy for kiddos to snuggle and child-safe for little ones who like to chew on their toys, but there’s also an artistic quality to them, and adults can enjoy them as well. 

Tell us about the custom-made option on your Etsy shop.
Custom-made doll from child's drawing

I started making dolls for friends’ children, and I would very specifically choose eye color and hair color for each child. I like the idea of a child being able to specifically choose a doll that has the same hair color/skin color/eye color as they do or as maybe a favorite storybook character does.

When I sew a doll based on a child’s drawing, I can incorporate colors from the drawing, or if the drawing is in black and white, I can use the child’s favorite color.

How do you find the time to brainstorm/design/create softies as a busy mom and editor?

Because of my love for stories, these ideas are always flitting around the edge of my brain—I just need to sketch them before I lose them. I find myself doodling at church, in the car, or while I’m waiting for the pediatrician.

As far as construction goes, once I’ve drafted a pattern and cut the fabric, I just sew in bits and pieces while my kids play or do their own craft projects. It’s really fun during the winter, because I’ll set them up with homemade play dough or a pile of markers, and we work on our projects together. When I get close to a deadline, I put in some late hours after the kids are in bed. But the good news is I love these projects, so it’s not like work at all.


Heather Campbell is a stay-at-home-mom/freelance writer and editor/softie artist. She lives in Palmer Lake, Colorado, a quirky small town northwest of Colorado Springs. Heather has a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature, and was a children’s & teen librarian for six years. She's been writing YA book reviews for School Library Journal for ten years, and seven years ago she began doing freelance editing of nonfiction books. Her Etsy shop, Augustine & Isobel, has been featured in Stuffed Magazine.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Novels as Picture Books: Hans Brinker, by Bruce Coville and Laurel Long

Hans Brinker, Retold by Bruce Coville, Illustrated by Laurel Long

I have long been a fan of Bruce Coville. His books are full of imagination, wonder, fun, humor, suspense, magic, and characters that readers can relate to. I'm also a huge fan of my public library system. My daughters and I are at one (or both) of our local branches 3-5 times a week and we always load up on two things:

1. Nonfiction picture books relating to animals/insects (my 5-year-old gravitates toward the hairless creatures: Komodo dragons, dung beetles, spiders, sharks, fleas, etc. I once said, "How about something with a little bit of fur?" and she picked the muskrat book) 

2. Picture books

I was beyond delighted to discover this 2007 retelling of Hans Brinker because a) the cover and illustrations are absolutely enchanting and b) I read the novel (by Mary Mapes Dodge, first published in 1865) as a young girl and upon our return home, found my copy:

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here's a short summary:

Set against a backdrop of Holland's frozen canals in a winter wonderland, the year's most exciting event in a little Dutch village is about to take place. But will Hans Brinker and his sister Gretel, with their hand-carved wooden skates, be able to compete against their well-trained young friends who own fine steel blades?

The novel is full of Dutch historical and cultural information and was a bestseller upon publication. By today's standards, young Hans might be seen as too good to be true (as noted by Mr. Coville in his Author's Note). We tend to like our characters multi-layered and a bit more flawed than the almost-perfectly virtuous Hans. But I would argue that the heart of Hans Brinker remains something that even the cynical among us can't deny is pretty darn nice~ the heart of the book tells us that children like Hans~ sturdy, loyal, kind, good~ do indeed exist and have traits that all of us, even the most flawed, can take something useful from. 

I had a wonderful sense of nostalgia while reading this picture book to my girls. It's not easy to condense a novel's essence and capture plot points in a way that honors the original and doesn't confuse those unfamiliar with the story, but Bruce Coville's retelling of Hans Brinker does all of that. His Author's Note at the end of the book is fantastic as well, making excellent observations about the original book's meaning and Hans's place in the world of literary characters.

Laurel Long's illustrations are magical. There's nothing more I can say.

Have you read any exceptional novel-to-picture-book retellings? Please let me know in the comments!

I'll leave you with a few images from the book and encourage you to either buy it and add it to your home collection permanently or check it out from your local library.

Author's Note

Back of the book

Friday, September 26, 2014

An Upcoming Middle Grade Book You Don't Want To Miss: The Troubles of Johnny Cannon (review & giveaway)

It’s hard to create a unique character and plot these days. People might say, “Oh, a boarding school? You’re stealing from Harry Potter!” or “That character with a beloved dog is straight out of Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, and Because of Winn Dixie!” Well, folks, I’ve found an original voice that nobody can deny is something unique and fresh. Welcome to the world, Mr. Johnny Cannon!

The Troubles of Johnny Cannon by Isaiah Campbell will be released on October 14 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Here's a summary:

Johnny Cannon’s got problems. Money is scarce. Martha Macker, the girl he likes, barely knows he’s alive. His best friend Willie is pretty great, but he also happens to be a black kid—which is not exactly acceptable in Cullman, Alabama. His big brother Tommy went to war and vanished. His Pa may be committing treason in their backyard. And just when it seems like things couldn’t get worse, an old family friend—or maybe enemy—appears and shakes everything up. How’s a kid like Johnny supposed to get himself and his family out of a mess that’s stickier than molasses and twice as tangled as a spiderweb?

What we want more than anything as readers is to feel like we’re in the capable hands of a storyteller—to be swept into another world naturally and vividly. Campbell has the gift of a natural storyteller and a main character with a voice that caused Newbery medalist Richard Peck to describe The Troubles of Johnny Cannon like this: 

"A boy with a highly original voice winces his way into the bewildering world of adults during a neglected moment in American history."

Campbell’s characters are flawed, which is where the authenticity comes in. He’s also not afraid to address the more shameful parts of our past because these things are our past and by addressing them, young readers will get an important reminder of historical injustices and maybe even internally compare them to the injustices that they still see around them in today’s world. It’s not easy to read about things like racism, but I would argue that the most difficult scenes to read in a book are often the ones that stay with us—that touch us deeply and leave a mark.

One of the most amazing things to me is that Campbell manages to develop deep and sensitive subject matter while he weaves a rollicking tale with twists, turns, friendship, and troubles galore. Holy excitement, Batman! This novel’s got it all. I won’t spoil the incredible ending, but I’ll tell you this—Johnny Cannon is a legend in the making. There’s already a sequel scheduled to come out next year, so you better hurry up and buy the first one now!

I believe in this book so much that I’m going to pre-order a copy for one lucky person leaving a comment. I’ll announce a winner on Friday, October 3.UPDATE: The winner is Linda Baie!

Any favorite character voices among books you've read? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pumpkins: The Novel of the Gardening World (and the latest book from a favorite MG author~ w/ giveaway!)

Pumpkin patch on 9-14-14
Pumpkins are one of those plants (technically fruits) that you have to wait for. They sprout fairly quickly, which gives you something to get excited about, but the process seems to drag on forever. Pumpkins, which are already available for plucking from enormous cardboard boxes outside of my local grocery store, are a lesson in patience.

My daughter and I planted the pumpkins in this photo months ago and have watched the vines grow, been delighted by the appearance of tiny yellow balls, thinned away certain plants to let the others grow better, and now we're just watching them get bigger. We're waiting. It's no use trying to hurry them along~ they'll get done when they get done.

Sound familiar? Novel writing can be a lengthy and exhausting process. Moments of excitement are followed by slogging through paragraphs that attempt to move the plot forward~ paragraphs that you know will need to be cut eventually, but at the time aid in helping you get to where you need to be in the story. Extra vines, if you will. And paragraphs of brilliance, little golden gems that delight the writer, are sometimes just disguising themselves as the same thing. Darlings that will need to be pruned for the greater good of the patch.

The pumpkins shown above would benefit from another 30 days of growth, but I'm not sure they'll get it. Unfortunately I live in a place where this sort of thing happens quite early (see other photo): SNOW.
My front porch, 09-12-14
These very short glimpses of winter threaten to shut down the entire pumpkin operation. You can cover the patch with canvas tarps, you can invest in snow-proof electric blankets to keep them cozy until Colorado changes its seasonal mindset the following day, or you can move to a more produce-friendly state. I didn't do any of those things when the snow hit last Friday, but the pumpkins seem to have survived all on their own. Tough little guys. They must really want to finish growing and get carved up as jack-o-lanterns.

In closing, don't let a few unexpected storms ruin your novels, er, pumpkins (see, now I'm getting them confused and to be fair, short stories and picture books can take just as long to "bear fruit," but my writing experience is mainly with children's novels). A growing novel is a hungry, stubborn, tough little thing, so don't give up on it.

Random fact from this fun picture book we picked up from the library: The Maxima pumpkin variety can gain as much as 5 POUNDS A DAY.


OKAY, GIVEAWAY TIME! *UPDATE: The winner is Julia Tomiak! Congratulations, Julia! Shoot me an email with your address and I'll ship it to you :)

One of my favorite middle grade authors is Stuart Gibbs. He's written the The Last Musketeer series (The Last Musketeer, Traitor's Chase, and Double Cross), the Spy School series (Spy School, Spy Camp), and the Fun Jungle series (Belly Up, Poached). I happened to get my hands on an advanced copy of his latest, SPACE CASE (which will be released tomorrow), and absolutely loved it.

It's an adventurous murder mystery with an amazing setting (Moon Base Alpha!), always-stellar Gibbs humor, and a full cast of characters/suspects. I want to pass it along to a lucky reader so just leave a comment and consider yourself entered in the giveaway. The pages have only been touched once and it's a shiny, like-brand-new copy :) *UPDATE: Winner is Julia Tomiak

Book Description:
Like his fellow lunarnauts—otherwise known as Moonies—living on Moon Base Alpha, twelve-year-old Dashiell Gibson is famous the world over for being one of the first humans to live on the moon.

And he’s bored out of his mind. Kids aren’t allowed on the lunar surface, meaning they’re trapped inside the tiny moon base with next to nothing to occupy their time—and the only other kid Dash’s age spends all his time hooked into virtual reality games.

Then Moon Base Alpha’s top scientist turns up dead. Dash senses there’s foul play afoot, but no one believes him. Everyone agrees Dr. Holtz went onto the lunar surface without his helmet properly affixed, simple as that. But Dr. Holtz was on the verge of an important new discovery, Dash finds out, and it’s a secret that could change everything for the Moonies—a secret someone just might kill to keep...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Storytelling Songwriters: Patty Griffin's Trapeze

On an ideal Sunday morning, I get up early to write, my younger kiddos sleep a little late, and I get to watch all of CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood.

On a typical Sunday morning, I get up early to write, the kids trickle out immediately/shortly after, and I try to keep the children occupied so their dad can get a little shut-eye. That's why I was driving, kids in tow, to the grocery store at 5:30 this morning to get coffee, muffins, eggs, hash browns, bacon, and OJ~ to keep the house quiet a bit longer and to gather the makings for a family feast.

I envisioned a lovely family-style breakfast upon our return, but instead the little kiddos were hungry right away, the hubby had gone out back to do something in the yard, and our big kiddo (my 6' 3" teenage stepson~ his sister is already back at her 2nd year of college...time really does fly) snoozed for a long time and woke up to raw-ish hash browns and burned bacon. Not ideal.

Still, some things are fairly constant on Sunday mornings. I like to take time to really listen to favorite music, even if it's a single song. Sometimes it's instrumental, but much of it is storytelling music (a love that was probably inherited from my parents~ see more about my dad's love of music HERE).

Patty Griffin is one of my very favorite singer-songwriters. Her songs tend to be thoughtful and haunting and she has one of those voices that makes you feel the words she's singing. Here's a song that I listened to this morning. Emmylou Harris helps out with the harmonies.

(feat. Emmylou Harris)

Little pink dress, hanging by her knees
Just overhead on the old trapeze
In the old tent tonight, spotlight going round
One of these nights the old girl's going down
Hallelujah, the old girl's going down

She started with us on the back of a horse
Just seventeen and already divorced
She took to the air with the greatest of ease
Like she was born to be gliding on the old trapeze

Some people don't care if they live or they die
Some people want to know what it feels like to fly
Gather their courage and they give it a try

Some guy broke her heart and how her heart it did ache
So she went to the tent of the lady of the snakes
Who gave her a potion and she drank it in
After that her heart never ached again
After that her heart never ached again

Some poeple don't care if they live or they die
Some people want to know what it feels like to fly
Gather their courage and they give it a try
Fall under the wheels of a time goin' by

Little pink dress, hanging by her knees
Just overhead on the old trapeze
In the old tent tonight, spotlight going round
One of these nights the old girl's going down
One of these nights the old girl's going down
One of these nights the old girl's going down
One of these nights the old girl's going down

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Audiobook Reader/Performer Tavia Gilbert and Giveaway of The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

I'm thrilled to have audiobook reader Tavia Gilbert on the blog today! When I heard that The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher would be made into an audiobook by Dreamscape, I was thrilled, and the moment I heard Tavia Gilbert's audio sample, I knew that she was the perfect choice to bring my story to life. She's a truly gifted performer and I'm so very grateful that she wanted to become the voice of my version of Becky Thatcher. Dreamscape has generously offered to provide a copy of the audiobook for a special giveaway; just leave a comment on this post and you'll be entered! UPDATE: Random.org has spoken and the winner is KENDA TURNER! And there's another chance to win over at Tavia's blog!

Tavia is an award-winning narrator with nearly 300 audiobooks under her belt. Contemporary and literary fiction, biography and memoir, fantasy, romance, children’s literature, science, religion, and more. Tavia’s range of genres is a direct result of her intuitive interpretation, clever diction and pacing, and sensitivity to each author’s or publisher’s needs.

Tell us briefly how you started narrating/performing audiobooks.

My lifelong dream has always been to be a professional actor, and I studied theater in college, earning a BFA in Acting from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. About a year after graduation I moved to Portland, Maine, for what I planned would be about six months, to attend the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, immersing myself in learning the craft of documentary radio. Sound had always been a passion — I’d sung all my life in choirs and loved radio, was passionate about voice studies at Cornish, and had listened to a few magnificent audiobooks.

When the time drew near for me to return to Washington, I met someone and began an important, long-term relationship, and soon realized that Maine was going to be in my life much longer than I’d anticipated. I did commercial work and professional theater in Portland, but still had to rely on a day job, and that was not the dream. Voice acting was the only obvious path to being a self-supporting, full-time, professional actor even from a small market like New England. I set my sights on audiobooks, listened voraciously to the best narrators, took classes, got individual coaching, joined the professional trade organization that organizes the audiobook industry, worked toward breaking in for a couple years, and have now been a full-time narrator for seven years, with about 300 books recorded.

How do you find out about different book jobs that are available?

Most often publishers contact me and assign a book that they think is well suited to my particular voice and acting skills and experience. Or I’ll be given the opportunity to audition for a project, and sometimes I book the job, sometimes not. (Your book was one that I auditioned for, and I wanted it so much it almost hurt, actually! Usually I try to forget about the things I audition for, so if someone else is cast I’m not too disappointed, but I couldn’t manage to do that with Becky Thatcher.) Increasingly, writers contact me directly with projects that they’d like me to work on. Occasionally I’ll pursue a book or a writer’s work that I’m personally interested in. However they come, I’m very grateful!

Do you do different voices? What is your process for developing character voices?

I do do character voices, and I really love vocally creating distinct personalities. That’s one of my strengths, I think — managing the demands of differentiating great numbers of people of various ages, races, genders, attitudes, classes, and dialects. I’m not a master at precise dialect — some I do better than others — but I do create a cinematic landscape successfully, so that the listener always knows who is speaking and the characters remain specific and individual. I don’t actually have much of a process, to be honest with you! I should develop one, probably. I just read the book and take into consideration what the characters say about themselves and each other, and then I act in the present moment, tweak if I need to, take notes so that I can remain consistent throughout a book or a series, and always let the words on the page guide the performance.

Are narrations of books always done word-for-word as written, or are there adaptions needed in some cases to make the spoken version make more sense or flow more clearly?

Narrations are and should be word for word. Narrating an audiobook reveals writing weaknesses quickly. Many skilled writers read their work aloud as they draft and revise, because they know that the rhythm and sensibility, the poetry and lyricism of language can be highlighted when words are brought off the page. If the language is clunky or awkward aurally, it should be rewritten so that it flows, whether it’s going to be read or listened to. 

Your writing was lovely to read. Truly — it is a great pleasure to narrate beautifully- written work. It’s not only a great pleasure — it’s almost always easy and even relaxing to read well-crafted literature. There are exceptions — Annie Dillard is brilliant, but really challenging to voice — but most often, the better the writing, the easier my job. When it’s great, the story almost reads itself.

What are the special considerations an audiobook narrator has when taking care of his/her voice?

I stay very hydrated, drinking water and a combination of Throat Coat and Breathe Right tea throughout the day. I don’t smoke or spend time in smoky environments, only drink with moderation, and would be reluctant to go to an event or a gathering where I had to yell or raise my voice to be heard for a long period of time. I exercise and stay fit and strong so that I’m supporting my voice with as healthy a back, neck, and shoulders, and core as I can. I try to get a lot of sleep. It’s everything, my voice. So I try to take good care of it.

What do you like to read/listen to in your free time?

I have far too little time to read for pleasure, which is a shame, because I’ve been an avid reader all my life. But when I do have time, I read literary fiction, memoir, theology and spiritual contemplation, and narrative non-fiction. I listen to audio a lot, when I’m commuting on the subway, exercising, or doing housework, and I listen to the same things I read for pleasure. I also occasionally listen to purely entertaining things like thrillers and mysteries if the narrator is one of my favorites. If I love a particular narrator’s work I’ll listen to anything they perform, because they can make everything they do fantastic! My favorite narrators are Barbara Rosenblat, Davina Porter, Katherine Kellgren, Bernadette Dunne, Carol Monda, Suzanne Toren, Simon Vance, Richard Ferrone, Johnny Heller, George Guidall, Norman Dietz. They’re also some of my favorite people!

What projects do you have coming up next?

Oh, I have such interesting things! I’m doing a biography of Coco Chanel right now, wonderfully researched and written by Rhonda Garelick, the autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt, which is remarkable and inspiring and humbling, and the memoir Not Fade Away by Rebecca Alexander, about the way Rebecca chooses to live with joy and ambition even with the diminishing of her sight and hearing. Narrating the stories of four notable women in a row is just wonderful. Who’s the fourth? Becky Thatcher, of course!

Thank you so much, Tavia, for taking the time to answer my questions. Again, I'm so grateful that you chose to voice Becky T!

LINKS~ Find out more about Tavia here!




Just leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of Dreamscape's audiobook of The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher! A winner will be chosen via Random.org next Wednesday, August 6. UPDATE: Per Random.org, the winner is Kenda Turner!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Hungry For A New Middle Grade Book? ALL FOUR STARS Giveaway!!

Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin
Boy, do I have a tasty treat for you. Gladys Gatsby has arrived!

Meet Gladys Gatsby: New York’s toughest restaurant critic. (Just don’t tell anyone that she’s in sixth grade.)

Gladys Gatsby has been cooking gourmet dishes since the age of seven, only her fast-food-loving parents have no idea! Now she’s eleven, and after a crème brûlée accident (just a small fire), Gladys is cut off from the kitchen (and her allowance). She’s devastated, but soon finds just the right opportunity to pay her parents back when she’s mistakenly contacted to write a restaurant review for one of the largest newspapers in the world. But to meet her deadline and keep her dream job, Gladys must cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy and sneak into New York City—all while keeping her identity a secret. Easy as pie, right?

I first met author Tara Dairman's wonderful character Gladys Gatsby when 250 words of Gladdy's bold culinary antics were featured in a contest entry on Miss Snark's First Victim. I fell deeply in love with that single page, so you can imagine my feelings about an entire book full of this charming heroine. I wasn't a bit surprised when I learned that the manuscript had been snatched up by a fabulous agent and, shortly after, a very large publisher.

Spirit, humor, heart, and mouthwatering dishes make All Four Stars a must-read for any lover of middle grade literature, particularly young chefs-in-the-making and young foodies. And all of the delicious food items mentioned in the book have been personally savored by the author, who sampled some of the world's most scrumptious meals and nibbles during her 2-year, 74-country honeymoon...yes, it's true, go read about it here). Here's a sample of the fantastic industry praise All Four Stars has gotten:

 Gladys is a lovable character with plenty of spunk and desireand readers will happily cheer her on, while the fresh plot adds a delicious dimension to the host of stories set in sixth grade.

The [restaurant-reviewing] plan goes disastrously and hilariously awry, but Gladys and fine food ultimately triumph. The characters are well drawn…Give this one to your young foodies.-SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

Younger readers (especially those who know their way around a kitchen) will be amused by Gladys’s reviews of her parents’ horrible cooking (“The peas… arrived at the table in a soggy, mushy state fit for a baby”) and her plot to get to New York City without alerting any adults. The triumphant conclusion makes this a tasty read.

Gladys turns out to be surprisingly canny and resourceful…and Gladys’s psychological journey and personal transformation are solid and credible. [An] entertaining story about the joys of following one’s bliss.

All Four Stars has been named an Amazon Best Book of the Month for July

The book was released on July 10 and I've already bought 3 copies for myself and family members. I love it so much that I'm giving away a copy to my blog readers as well. *Just leave a comment on this post and you'll be entered. The winner will be chosen via Random.org on July 25th.*

UPDATE: Random.org has spoken and the winner of Tara's book is michelleimason!! Congrats, Michelle!

Tara's Website: http://taradairman.com/

Follow Tara on Twitter (@TaraDairman)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Power of Books: Our Very Own Squash

Sophie's Squash, by Pat Zietlow Miller & Anne Wilsdorf, has been a very popular book at our house since it came out last year. It's been SO popular that it should have come as no surprise several months ago when my five-year-old wouldn't let me cook a spaghetti squash I bought, instead insisting that it was her new friend. She named her squash Lucy. A little background on the book, for those of you who aren't familiar:

On a trip to the farmers' market with her parents, Sophie chooses a squash, but instead of letting her mom cook it, she names it Bernice. From then on, Sophie brings Bernice everywhere, despite her parents' gentle warnings that Bernice will begin to rot. As winter nears, Sophie does start to notice changes.... What's a girl to do when the squash she loves is in trouble?

The recipient of four starred reviews, an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor, and a Charlotte Zolotow Honor, Sophie's Squash will be a fresh addition to any collection of seasonal books.

What's a mom to do? I let her draw a face on it and "Lucy" was carried around, brought on wagon walks, and tucked in at night for...well, for a long time. As gardening season approached (it's late in Colorado due to occasional snowstorms in April/May), I gently suggested that we make Lucy a bed in the backyard. The squash fell and broke open on the way to the garden, so I let my daughter sprinkle some of Lucy's seeds in a few different spots before we buried the halves of her. And so this:

Has turned into this:

There are three little sections of green in this photo (except for behind her~ those are weeds)~ all from Lucy

Now we're just waiting for the final step~ finding a baby squash.
Illustration from Sophie's Squash
This book is a joy all on its own, but the fact that it prompted such a great activity with me and my little one makes it extra special. If you have any wee kids/grandkids/neighborhood kids who have birthdays coming up, I highly suggest getting a copy of Sophie's Squash along with your choice of grocery store squash. It's a fun gift pairing. And a sequel to the book, Sophie's Seeds, is coming soon.

Hope you're enjoying some fun activities this summer!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Grants and Contests for Writers~ A Discovered Resource

Every now and then I search around Ye Olde Internet for grants and contests that I don't end up following through with because I either A) forget about the deadline, B) feel like novel drafting is more important at the time, or C) Life intervenes. During one of these recent quests, I discovered a website that might already be familiar to some of you:


FFW is a website that has several different pages (including Grants, Contests, and Markets) that direct you to a variety of opportunities.

Warning~ some of them are location-based (example: for an Arizona writer) and some are subject-based (example: project must support social welfare in some manner). I'd set aside a good hour to peruse the possibilities as you may have to sift through lots of things that won't apply to you in order to find golden tickets.

After a fairly quick assessment, I was pleased to see that they do have up-to-date grants/contests and the deadlines are (mostly) stated. Here's one contest they list:

ALICE MUNRO FESTIVAL SHORT STORY COMPETITION http://alicemunrofestival.ca/?page_id=306 ENTRY FEES $10 and $25. Limit 5,000 words. Deadline August 1, 2014. Both the teen and adult categories will award first place $500, second place $300, third place $200, fourth place $75 and fifth place $25. Portions of the winning stories may be read during the gala event on September 27.

Many of the contests require entry fees, but here's the website's response to that:

Writing contests provide steps up for a writer – especially a struggling writer. A portfolio that contains contest wins means more than many clips. Can’t afford the entry fees? Consider entering one contest a quarter or something more amiable to your pocketbook. A few are free. Contests provide prizes, prestige and usually publication with many offering book contracts. Denouncing contests from your writing repertoire is like discounting an entire genre or refusing to eat yellow vegetables. You’re giving up something valuable that may serve you and your career well.

This might be a website to check every month or so to see if they've added anything that's up your alley. Feel free to chime in if you have any experience with FFW!

(Oh, and here's the lovely-as-always July contest round-up from Sub It Club: http://subitclub.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/july-contest-roundup/)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day! My Favorite Dad in Life & Kid Lit...

Dad holding my youngest kiddo
Happy Father's Day to all of you dads out there!

If you have a chance to leave a comment on this post, I'd love to learn who your favorite fictional dad is. Mine has to be Danny's father in Roald Dahl's Danny, The Champion of the World

My father has always been a fan of music, particularly songs that tell stories. His favorite singers (including John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin) are ones who have interesting things to say, and he's one of those people who will play you a song, pause it, then repeat a lyric to see if you've realized how cool or poignant or meaningful it was.

He probably doesn't remember this, but he once told me that Paul Simon's "Graceland" was the most perfect song ever written. So this one's for you, Dad:
The Mississippi Delta was shining
Like a National guitar
I am following the river
Down the highway
Through the cradle of the civil war
I'm going to Graceland
In Memphis Tennessee
I'm going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland
My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
But I've reason to believe
We both will be received
In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she's gone
As if I didn't know that
As if I didn't know my own bed
As if I'd never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead
And she said losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

I'm going to Graceland
Memphis Tennessee
I'm going to Graceland
Poor boys and pilgrims with families
And we are going to Graceland

And my traveling companions
Are ghosts and empty sockets
I'm looking at ghosts and empties
But I've reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I'm falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Oh, so this is what she means
She means we're bouncing into Graceland
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

In Graceland, in Graceland
I'm going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There's some part of me wants to see
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there's no obligations now
Maybe I've a reason to believe
We all will be received
In Graceland

Sunday, June 1, 2014

One Month Countdown to Becky Thatcher and Co.

Hi All~
I've got a book coming out in just one month and my editor, the lovely Kristin Ostby of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, was kind enough to ship me a couple of early copies so I could see what they look like. Here they are:

(mine's on the left, next to shiny new editions of MARK TWAIN (!!!) books)
New editions of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are being released at the same time (to be sold individually and in a boxed collection with Becky T.). Iacopo Bruno did a wonderful job with the covers and interior illustrations and I'm excited for the books to hit shelves on July 1st

Munchkin# 1 w/ books

Munchkin #2 w/ books (looks like she prefers Huck Finn)
My parents happened to stop by last Thursday/Friday and I got to surprise them with the dedication page featuring two names that are very near and dear to me: Mom & Dad. They drove to Colorado after visiting my grandma in Iowa~ 11 hours just to see the grandkids~ before heading back across the country to their home in Tennessee. They called this morning, having stopped in Hannibal, Missouri, hometown of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. Here are a couple of photos they emailed me from the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum:

Becky Thatcher House (part of the Museum's property)

Boyhood Home (with nicely whitewashed fences)

Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum sign
And in weather news, it's finally starting to warm up around here. My 5-year-old gathered a bowl of hail during last week's storm and put it in the freezer to show anyone who happens to drop by, but other than that, I believe summer is on the way. Hope you're all doing well!

Monday, May 12, 2014

May Writing Contest Round-Up (and a snow update)

Once again, I'm going to direct you to the capable hands of the SubItClub blog for contest information. Here are a few of the items they have listed for the rest of the month. Go to THIS POST for a full list:

5/12: May Secret Agent Contest - Open to MG and YA. Qualifying entries are critiqued online.

5/15: Remixing the World’s Problems Challenge - Using the poems from Solving the World’s Problems by Robert Lee Brewer as inspiration, write your own remix poem. Winning remix will receive $500 from the author.

5/22: Query Kombat – Submissions will start on the 22nd with the first rounds beginning June 1st. Agents will be participating including Pam Van Hylckama Vlieg, Cate Hart, and Sandy Lu. More details will be posted on Michelle Hauck’s blog soon.

5/31: Write Club 2014 - Submit a 500 word sample to be considered for one of 32 participants that compete in weekly bouts. There are agent and editor judges participating.
In other news, we got more snow yesterday and it's still snowing as I type this post. My girls are set up at the kitchen table with spoons and bowls of snow in front of them. The 16-month old has plain snow, but I let my 5-year-old decorate hers with colored sugar sprinkles. I figure if you can't beat it, eat it.

This morning: Bike & Shovel

This morning: Porch chair (aka, snow lump)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day~ A Song Tribute

Happy Mother's Day to my wonderful mother!

In addition to throwing the most creative themed birthday parties ever, my mom loved to sing around the house and in the car. As a result, I am now notorious for making up silly songs and belting out the Frozen soundtrack with my own daughters. Some of my favorite memories of growing up with mom include our impromptu duets to Going To The Chapel, Hey Big Spender, and this song:

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What season is it?

View from my front porch this morning.

I love a good snowfall. I really do. I love the frosting it puts on the mountains and I love the holiday-ish feeling that the sight of snow always gives me. And I know that I'm a lucky lady to be in a situation where my family has a home and cars that the snow can fall on. I know all of that.

But this is becoming tiresome.

No, I do not want to build a snowman.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour (and 2 MG titles you don’t want to miss!)

Pirate Pens: Essential for Drafting

This blog tour is where writers/authors answer questions about their writing process. Anna Schumacher, author of END TIMES (out from Penguin in May) posted hers last week and tagged me to participate. You can check out her writing process HERE.

What am I working on?
I’m working on edits for NOOKS & CRANNIES (coming summer 2015 from Simon & Schuster), a middle grade novel set in the Lake District of England that was pitched as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue.  With lots of characters and a mystery-in-a-manor-house vibe, it’s been a fun one to work on. I’m also drafting a new idea set in 1830s Ireland.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I love all genres of middle grade and have to assume that all those voices/stories/plots have seeped into my writing approach over the years, so I wouldn't necessarily say that my writing differs distinctly from what’s been written in the past or what’s out there now. In terms of historical fiction (my stories so far tend to be set in the past), I think I try to straddle the line between straight historical and something more playful—my ideas are set during specific times and I do research to add certain details, but then I end up having a somewhat exaggerated  bent to it. There’s no real fantasy or magic in my writing (yet!), but I think it generally borders on something that could garner reader responses of “Hey, this isn't realistic!” to which I might respond, “You’re right! That’s what’s so nice about writing fiction~ sometimes you get to break rules and be a little bit ridiculous or fantastical, even when writing within a historical time/place.”

Why do I write what I do?
I write middle grade because those are the books that initially solidified a love of reading for me and I’m nostalgic for that time in my life. As for why I write in the genres I do (mainly historical time periods), I don’t know. Though contemporary and fantasy MG books are among my favorites, I can’t seem to follow through with writing ideas in those genres (at least not yet, but I’ll keep trying).

How does your writing process work? 
Come up with query-style summary paragraphs for an idea, draft most of a novel, get stuck, resort to actual outlining, finish/polish draft, send to critique partners, revise, send to CPs again, revise again. 
And now, here are two middle grade debut authors who've written novels that I love. Please stop by their blogs and become a follower (they may be posting about their writing process next week and you won’t want to miss any stellar advice they have).

Louise Galveston-
 Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD (Penguin/Razorbill Feb. 27, 2014). She and her husband live in the Midwest with their eleven kids and a parrot. When Louise isn't writing or folding laundry, she directs her local children’s theater, where she’s playwright in residence.

Check out her blog:

Tara Dairman- Tara Dairman 
is a novelist, playwright, and survivor of the world’s longest honeymoon (2 years, 74 countries!). Thanks to her travels, parts of her debut middle-grade novel ALL FOUR STARS (Penguin/Putnam, July 10, 2014) were written in a mall in Brazil, a guesthouse in Morocco, and coffeehouses in Argentina, Cameroon, Gabon, and Tanzania. Revisions took place in the slightly less exotic locale of her parents’ basement in New York.

Check out her blog: