Sunday, December 28, 2014

Books I Read in 2014

My New Year's resolution last year was to read 20 books.  Sadly I fell short and only made it to 17.  I would like to use the excuse that 2 of those books were over 600 pages long, but then 3 of the books were under 150 pages long.  I have no excuse.  *Sigh*  Next year.  Next year I will have those 20 books for sure!

I have listed the books with #1 being my favorite and #17 being my least favorite.

1. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
2. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbra Kingsolver
3. Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler
4. The Underworld – Don Delillo
5. Watership Down – Richard Adams
6. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
7. Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut
8. Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud
9. Bird by Bird – Ann Lamott
10. Total Chaos – Jean Claude Izzo
11. Chourmo – Jean Claude Izzo
12. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman
13. Mary Poppins – P. L. Travers
14. Winter’s Tale – Mark Helprin
15. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
16. The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
17. Sons and Lovers – D. H. Lawrence

I rate and write short reviews of the books I read on Goodreads.  If you'd like to follow my reading history more closely my profile is here.  Happy reading everyone!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Holidays!

I'm gonna disappear for awhile as I launch in to the madness of Christmas present preparation, but before I go I just want to remind you all to keep in touch with your inner child this season and wish you all very merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Literature vs. Film

We all love Christmas time so we can watch our favorite Christmas movies and read our favorite Christmas stories, but when it comes right down to it which is the most important to you? Christmas literature or film? It's a ridiculous question I know, but if you had to choose.....

I was having a hard time deciding so I made a bracket to help me decide. The dilemma was rough! My top two finalists were "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." and "It's a Wonderful Life." Gah! How could I choose?!!! I finally ended up choosing "It's a Wonderful Life" so I guess that means film wins (for now). My husband Keith is also a film person because his winner was the movie "A Christmas Story." but Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" put up a good fight.

I am interested in hearing your own thoughts! Feel free to use my bracket to help you decide. Keep in mind I made this bracket for myself so I apologize I've left out some of your favorites. Also please forgive the atrocious butchering of titles. I had to make them fit into very small, tight spaces.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Top 15 Favorite Christmas Picture Books

So many Christmas picture books to choose from!  Seriously the libraries are packed with all kinds of Christmas gems.  I've read about 50 of them this year, but this is only a handful.  I know there are many others out there that haven't come to my attention yet, and if you have favorites that aren't listed here please let me know!  I've carefully selected our families top 15 favorites by observing the books my son likes best, the ones I love most, and the ones that delight us both.

My 3 Year Old Son’s Favorites
These are the one's my 3 year old son has asked me to read time and time again.  He never gets tired of them!

Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer – written by Robert L. May and illustrated by David Wenzel
Christmas Eve with Mrs. Claus – by M. P. Hueston, illustrated by Teri Weidner
How do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas? – by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague
Santasaurus - Niamh Sharkey
The Christmas Box - by Eve Merriam, illustrated by David Small

My Favorites
Most of these are ones I loved growing up.   There's nothing more nostalgic than my childhood memories of reading these books by our Christmas tree lights.
The Wild Christmas Reindeer – Jan Brett
How the Grinch Stole Christmas – Dr. Seuss
Merry Christmas Strega Nona – Tomie dePauola
Father Christmas – Raymond Briggs
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey – by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P. J. Lynch

Our Mutual Favorites
The best kind of books are the ones that both you and your kid truly love and enjoy.  These brilliant five have brought many smiles to my son and I this Christmas season and I strongly suggest that you all go out and read them!
Santa Claus the World’s Number One Toy Expert – Marla Frazee
Snow – Uri Shulevitz
Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas – by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
It’s Christmas David! - David Shannon
Red Sled – Lita Judge

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

10 Awesome Indoor Activities to do with your Kid

It's nearly winter so time, and if you're anything like me I know you're looking for indoor activities to do with your kids because it's just too darn cold to be outdoors.  Here are 10 of our favorite activities.  If you have any indoor activities you like to do with your kids please feel free to share!  I'm always looking for new ideas.

 1.  Create your own winter wonderland

Just empty one of your kitchen cupboards fill it with Christmas lights, and then let your kids design their own winter wonderland using their toys and other items around the house.

2.  Make a nest.

This was a favorite past time for me when I was a kid, and it's fun that my own son enjoys it too.  Grab every blanket, stuffed animal, and pillow in the house and build a comfy nest to snuggle in.  

3. Rice Sensory Bin

This activity will have my son entertained for hours.  It's a good replacement for a sandbox when you can't go outside.

4.  Go Fishing!

Attach a magnet to a string and tie it to the end of a stick.  Then find something magnetic!  We use poker chips, but you could also use paperclips or other metal objects.

5.  Blow up Balloons with Baking Soda and Vinegar

For instructions on how to do this activity go to It's super fun!  It's also a good chemistry lesson.

6.  Yarn Spider Webs

Samuel loves making spider webs with yarn or string.  Usually he just wraps it around kitchen chair legs, but for picture purposes I made this particular web with him.  

7.  Richard Scarry's Busytown Game!

We love Richard Scarry books so I thought we'd give this game a try.  Best decision ever!  Samuel absolutely loves this game.  If you want to give your kid this game for Christmas you can buy it at Amazon here.

8.  Go to the Library!

We go to the library about 3 times a week.  Perhaps that's a little eccentric, but we love it.  There are toys to keep Samuel entertained leaving me time to browse for awesome picture books or read a novel.  

 9.  Cardboard Boxes are fun.

The possibilities for cardboard boxes are endless.  On this particular occasion we made a car slide and village. We've used boxes to make sailboats, cars, and a puppet stand.  Just use your imaginations and whatever resources are available around the house.

10.  Marshmallow Sculptures

Toothpicks and marshmallows.  Once you can convince your kids not to eat the marshmallows this is a fun activity.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Waterlady: An Ozark Tale

Today I am reviewing the picture book "The Waterlady: an Ozark Tale" written and self-published by my friend Catherine Valentine which you can buy on Amazon for a mere $8.22.

First of all I need to point out that the cover for this book is just stunning. The font goes beautifully with Rebekah Burchfield McCleary's intriguing cover illustration. It was very tastefully done.

The story is written in a lyrical, easy to read style that flows naturally especially when read out loud. The book is about a mythical creature (the waterlady) who encounters a young girl in the woods. The book captures beautifully the message that we should all spend more time outside enjoying the wonders and magical beauty of nature. After reading this book I immediately wanted to pull on my boots and head outside. Catherine and Rebekah did a wonderful job on combining their storytelling skills to tell this lovely story.

I have conducted a Q&A session with Catherine since I was very interested in the process. It is fascinating to read and if you are at all interested in self-publishing yourself I highly recommend you read what she has to say.

Q&A with Catherine Valentine

1.Why were you inspired to write this particular story?

It’s hard for me to say what was the first spark, but I’ll do my best. It all began in the woods near my junior college--Bicentennial Conservation Area: Mort Walker Trail. I found the woods peaceful, imaginative, and inviting and near the trail where I walked there was a tiny pond that was nothing more than a mud hole hidden in the trees. There was something wild about this place in spite of being so close to civilization. I began free writing about ideas of a woodland mermaid (I credit Bianca Spriggs’ poem “Waterbody” for giving permission to write about a mermaid). After writing freely I began to try to craft a story and nothing seemed to work. Then one day in May of 2014 I simply wrote a poem called “The Waterlady” and it just seemed to work. It seemed right. After 3 drafts (mostly about spacing and flow) it was done.

2. Tell us about your illustrator. What is your relationship with her?

My illustrator, Rebekah Burchfield McCleary, and I have been friends since we were 4 and 5 years old. We grew up together and our families are very close (her brother married my sister, in fact). Rebekah is a talented artist and even published her own children’s book called “Where Malachi Reads” (found on It was a little dream of mine that she would illustrate one of my stories. Although I knew she liked my writing it was very nerve wracking to ask her to illustrate my poem. It’s hard to ask someone to love your work so much as to invest time into it. She ended up loving it and the rest is history.

3. Why did you decide to self-publish?

I fell into self-publishing. After Rebekah and I started on our project I tentatively asked about publishing (knowing she already published a book) and she’s the one who told me about CreateSpace through I looked it up and watched a video and it seemed to make a lot of sense. I really didn’t consider the traditional rout because the point was to just finish a book together, not land a book deal.

4. What has been your greatest reward in creating this book?

The greatest reward was working on the project with one of my oldest friends. It was truly collaborative--over 70 messages, two phone calls, 3 meetings (she lives in another state), and I even took pictures of Mort Walker Trail to share with her where I got my ideas. We are both proud of our book.

5. What has been your greatest challenge in creating this book?

I think I was surprised by how much work goes into creating a children’s book and how much time. Our finish line kept being pushed back because of the demands from everyday life and distance and wanting to have the best book possible.

6. If you could do it over again what would you do differently?

I am proud of the project, but the one thing I would do differently is that I would be more patient. Books take time to create, even children’s books. The point is to have something good, not just reach the finish line.

7.What advice do you have for other writers out there looking to self publish their own picture books?

Treat your children’s book like it’s your first novel. Give it all your time, creativity, and energy. Give it the respect it deserves. Give a lot of thought into illustrations and the relationship between images and words. Give time to formatting and do all the nitty-gritty work to make it as professional as possible. This is a real book, treat it as such.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Let's Talk about Racism

Okay. Racism is an uncomfortable topic. Especially for white people. I’m a sociology major and took an “interracial communications” course in college and I still feel highly unqualified and awkward whenever I broach the subject. However, I am going to try to blunder my way through this post, because I honestly believe that we (especially white people) need to talk about racism, and recognize our own racist tendencies if we ever want to break free this horrific cycle of events we’ve been reading on the news. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner.  I am scared to turn on the radio or get on Facebook these days for fear of hearing yet another story like theirs. I have always been the kind of person who tries to keep a positive outlook, but if I keep seeing news stories like this it’s going to rip apart my belief in the good of mankind.

Racism is real. I have been a personal witness to this. Not just on the news. In real life. I’ve watched my friends grow uncomfortable at a public swimming pool from the squinty-eyed stares of white people looking at the color of their skin. I’ve seen a white man completely ignore my friend when she asked for directions because she was black. I heard the man who lived next door to me begin a rant about a neighbor with “Now I’m not a racist” and end the rant by calling her “a fucking monkey.” Racism is real. I’ve seen it in others. I’ve seen it in myself.

There is a quote by bell hooks a beloved writer from Berea where I used to live. It says “Individual white people, moving from denial of race to awareness, suddenly realize that white-supremacist culture encourages white folks to deny their understanding of race. Yet when the denial stops, it becomes clear that underneath their skin most white folks have an intimate awareness of the politics of race and racism. They have learned to pretend that it is not so, to take on the posture of learned helplessness." The truth hurts. It really does. It’s time for white people to face the reality.  It's time to stop pretending everything is oaky.  It's not okay!  Something has got to change.

Racism and racist are strong words. They tend to scare people away. I would suggest we use words like prejudice and bias instead. Everyone knows that racism is wrong. No one is going to admit to being a racist. However, we all have our prejudices, and we need to be able to identify and recognize them before we can eliminate them. A friend of mine posted this facebook status yesterday that eloquently mirrors my own thoughts and feelings about this matter. She said, “Personally, I think that all of us white people (and ESPECIALLY the liberal ones) need to stop freaking out at the mere mention that we might be racist. Instead, we need to pause, reflect, and ask ourselves honestly, "do I ever have racist thoughts? maybe even a teeny tiny bit?" And then ask ourselves, how can I change? How can I be better? None of us are perfect, and people need to stop being so damned defensive about it.”

I have been debating whether or not to write this blog post for a long time. I am always so worried about offending people in my writing, and racism is such a sensitive topic, but then I thought about all of the other safe, inconsequential posts I might write. No. This is something I need to say. I may hurt or offend a few people, but at least I will be able to provide some slight relief for growing knot in the pit of my stomach.   At least my voice will be heard.

“In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
                ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Last week I received a most delightful package in the mail, a copy of the book I illustrated for my Aunt Linda, Lucy and Friends.  It was the first time I'd seen it in the form of an actual book. There is something incredibly satisfying about seeing your work in print.  Throughout the entire evening I kept peeking at it to admire my handiwork.

The next morning when my 3 year old son woke up I had him come sit on my lap and showed him the book.  "Look!"  I said.  "I illustrated this book.  I drew the pictures!"  Not many people out there get to say these words.  It felt so good.

After reading the book my son said, "That book is awesome."  Boy, oh boy!  My son really knows how to pay a swell compliment.  The countless hours I spent drawing, painting, and formatting were entirely worth it just to hear those 4 words.  I gave him a big ole squeeze and felt like a million bucks.  It's his opinion (as well as other kids) that mean the most.  He even asked me to read it again!

This is why I do what I do.  Money is nice.  Recognition is even nicer.  But being able to connect with the imagination of children is the reason I got in to this business.  Words cannot express my happiness in achieving this goal with my first illustrated book.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dear Parents

Dear parents of the screaming child throwing a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store,

I know that you feel like everyone is watching and judging, and you're probably right! It has been my observation that people in today’s society are quick to judge parents and slow to understand that children can’t be perfect little angels every waking moment of their life. There are a handful of compassionate people out there who will empathize with you, and may even offer to lend a helping hand, but the cold truth of the matter is that the majority of people judge.

This is unfair. Tantrums are completely normal! All parents have experienced the horrors of their child misbehaving in public. If they say otherwise they are either lying or they have an abnormally perfect child. But the sad thing is it’s not only the people who don’t have kids that are judging. Parents are guilty of this as well. I am sorry to say that I also am guilty of passing judgment.

Earlier this week I took Sam to a children’s museum and every time we passed this mom and her 4 year-old son he seemed to be throwing a horrible fit over some minor thing. I thought, “She is letting that kid walk all over her. I’m sure glad my son never acts like that.” I left the museum feeling rather smug. I am not proud of this. That very evening I read a blog post from my cousin who is a wonderful mother to 4 adorable kids. She wrote about a truly horrific experience she had at Target where one of her girls was having a melt down and a complete stranger walked up to her and said, “I think you should take parenting classes.” This experience really shook my cousin up, and I was outraged that someone could be so blatantly cruel. I stewed over that post all evening. I think one of the reasons I was so upset was because I realized I was one of those people passing judgment. Even though I would never approach a complete stranger and criticize them out loud, I was still guilty of thinking unkind thoughts. I resolved to stop.

Perhaps it was bad karma for being judgmental, but the very next day Sam had his first horrendous tantrum in a public place. Of course he would choose the library of all places to do this. He made a little friend in the kid section and the other kid ran into another section where adults worked on computers looking very much like they did not want to be disturbed. Sam was looking like he was going to follow him so I said, “Sam don’t go in there.” But he did. I put on my stern mommy expression, stormed in after him and grabbed his arm. I began to pull him out of the room and he just flopped on the floor and started screaming “No! No! No!” Heads turned in our direction. I flushed crimson. The other little boy allowed his mom to guide him quietly of the room. Sam on the other hand continued to make a scene. Not knowing what to say I just picked up my son and walked out of the room without a word. I could feel their eyes upon me as we retreated.

Dear parents. I know what it feels like to be judged. I’ve been there. It’s not fun. We can’t change the way other people will think about us, but we can choose how to respond to the situation. We could spend the day analyzing what we did wrong, reliving the embarrassing moment, and worrying what other people think, or we could allow the moment to pass and move on with our lives. Tantrums are fleeting. They flare up, they explode, and then they’re gone. We teach are our children how their actions affect those around them. They learn to stop throwing tantrums. They grow up into decent human beings. Who cares what those uppity, snobbish strangers think? They don’t know anything about you or your child. Just hold your head high, love your child, and love yourself. In the end that’s all that matters.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Board Games Bracket

I make brackets when I'm bored. Today I am especially geeky because I made a bracket of games that most people have never even heard of before.  Even if you are a board game fanatic like me this list is by no means perfect.  I designed it specifically for my own Game Night friends and family.  Still I thought I'd throw this out there for anyone who might want to participate.  Enjoy!

If you are ever looking for board game recommendations let me know!  I am more than happy to share my knowledge.  Christmas is coming up and board games make terrific gifts.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dare to Discover Something New

A few weeks ago I went to Barnes and Noble to buy, "Ernest the Moose Who Doesn't Fit", a picture book I discovered at our local library and fell in love with.  When I got there I was appalled to discover that they did not have the book or any book by that particular author/illustrator, Catherine Rayner (who is fantastic btw).  When I asked the nearest employee if they had the book she said no and then went through the trouble to find me another moose book, but it was vastly inferior to Ernest the Moose so I left the store without purchasing anything.

The more I learn about the children's book industry the more I realize how terribly unfair the market is.  Publishing houses and books stores, like any other business, are mostly concerned with making money so they sell the classics.  When people go to the store to buy picture books they are naturally drawn to the ones that their parents read to them as kids: Goodnight Moon, Curious George, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Generation after generation are buying the same books again and again and again, not because they are the best, but because they are familiar.  This needs to stop.  Wonderfully talented new authors and illustrators are producing absolutely stunning picture books, but they are too soon forgotten because they don't fall under the "classics" category on the bookshelves.

Don't get me wrong.  There are a great deal of many wonderful classics and they deserve to be read.  My own picture book collection includes: Ferdinand the Bull, Love You Forever, Strega Nona, and On the Night You Were Born.  These books have become classics for good reason.  Classics are great, but it's a problem that they are the only books selling.  Emerging writers and illustrators deserve some love too.  I think people would be astonished at the wealth of talent out there if they only ventured to open books they never heard of before.

Here is what I suggest.  Spend time in the picture book sections of your nearest local library or used book store where you don't feel bombarded by marketing techniques.  Pick up books that you have never heard of before.  Dare to discover something new.  Allow yourself to become lost in the picture book world.  When you find a book that you really truly love then buy it!  You may have to order them online because book stores tend to sell only what they see as marketable.  I guarantee it will be the kind of purchase you can feel proud of.  There is something wonderful about supporting the creators of a work of art you love.

Keep the forgotten picture book illustrators and authors in mind as you search for Christmas gifts this year.  They've worked hard to produce something beautiful in this world.  They deserve some recognition.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

It's Time to Start Taking Myself Seriously!

I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a children’s book author/illustrator approximately two years ago as a recent college graduate staying at home with my one-year old son. I was researching how I might go about publishing a little “cat in a flowerpot” story I wrote. The more I researched the more my ambitions caught fire. I joined SCBWI, was counseled for a brief time by author and illustrator Vuthy Kuon, and did a great deal submitting, writing, and illustrating.

It can be a challenge to find time for these things when you are a stay at home mom. My studio became wherever my son happened to be: on the toilet seat next to the bathtub, on a park bench, and on the living room floor amidst legos and dinosaurs. For a time I managed my mom’s business, Attic Light Studios, where I would work on my illustrations while transferring VHS’s, 8 mm reels, and audio cassette tapes to digital files and DVD’s. It really didn’t matter where I was, if I had an idea my life would suddenly go on hold until it was complete.

I learned that making it as a children’s book author/illustrator isn’t something that just happens overnight. I put the “Cat in the Flowerpot” story on the back burner and started writing newer and better stories. The children’s section in the library has become my second home. Sam and I visit there at least 3 times a week and that is not just so he can play with the library toys. I’ve poured over hundreds and hundreds of picture books. They are my research. I come home from each library visit with an armful of them. Sometimes the pile is so big I barely make it to the car without dropping them. Perhaps I should invest in a wagon.

In addition to my picture book research I have also been extremely busy with illustrating for other people. In fact I just finished illustrating a cute little picture book about a llama named Lucy for my Aunt. In the past year I have been commissioned for multiple projects including a Human’s vs. Zombies poster, a book cover for my friend Victoria’s YA novella Re'and, multiple caricatures, and my Aunt’s 32 page picture book. Guess how much I’ve earned?! Not even enough to pay one month’s rent for our apartment. Ha! It’s a good thing I love what I do.

As much as I love making other people happy with my artwork I think it’s now time for me to start thinking about myself. Now that I feel confident in my abilities it’s time to start charging more and accepting less job offers. I need to focus on becoming professional. I need to make my own projects come to life. I do not regret the work I have done for others. Each has been a terrific learning experience and helped me develop confidence in myself. I have grown an unbelievable amount as an illustrator in this past year. However, now it’s time for me to start taking myself seriously, and recognize my own worth. My time is valuable and I need to spend it wisely. I’ve learned this the hard way.

Thank you everyone who has supported me in my struggles as new artist. Even though it can be scary, frustrating, and financially straining, it is an absolute joy for me to walk down a career path I love.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Picture Book Picks of the Week

My Pick

Title:  Wag!
Author and Illustrator:  Patrick McDonnell
Review:You have all read the comic strip "Mutts" in the Sunday paper right?  Well the creator of those comics also wrote this incredibly adorable book. If you are a dog lover than this book is definitely a must read.

                       Sam's Pick

Title:  How do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?
Author:  Jane Yolen
Illustrator:  Mark Teague
Review:  This is the second book illustrated by Mark Teague to make it into our batch of favorites. The guy really is a master at what he does.  Anyway Samuel completely adores this book as well as all of the "How do Dinosaurs..." books.  I think I am seeing a trend here with his favorites.  Most of them tend to involve dinosaurs!  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Best Halloween Movie List

6 weeks before Halloween I posted a Facebook status declaring I would watch at least one new Halloween/horror film every week before Halloween. I received a wonderful variety of recommendations and tried to watch as many of them as I could. I’ve already surpassed my goal having watched 10 movies with 13 days left before Halloween, although after watching “The Orphanage” (which I now consider the most terrifying movie on the face of the earth) I had to stop watching the straight up horror films and stick more to the family friendly genre.

Anyway I have compiled a list of what I consider all the best Halloween movies (not just the ones I’ve seen in the past month.) I have highlighted my top two favorites in each genre. I hope this lists helps you all as you decide what to watch for Halloween this year. Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Halloween for Kids

I have done a lot of research on this topic lately and read about 30-40 of what I consider to be Halloween picture books.  It was tough, but I narrowed them down to my top 10 favorites.

1.  Big Pumpkin - Written by Erica Silverman and illustrated by S. D. Schindler.

I am a bit nostalgic about this book since it's one of my dad's all time favorites and he read it to me many many times as a kid. Now I'm carrying on the tradition and reading it to my own son. The rhythm of this book is delightful and it's fun to read all the character's voices in different accents.  It is a most enjoyable book to read aloud.

2.  The Monster's Monster - Written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell

This author is the creator of the daily comic strip Mutts.  His comics are adorable, but not quite as adorable as this book!  I guarantee that you will not find a sweeter Halloween picture book than this one or at the very least you won't find a more adorable spin off Frankenstein.  

3.  The Hallo-Wiener - Written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey

This is a terrific Halloween book if you are looking for a laugh.  It's funny for the kids plus there are a few hidden jokes for the parents to enjoy as well.

4.  The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything - Written by Linda Williams and illustrated by Megan Lloyd

I remember reading this book back in elementary school.  It has just the right amount of scariness for little kids.  It's enough to make them feel slightly uneasy, but all turns out well in the end and it leaves you with an overall good feeling. 

5.  Ghost in the House - Written by Ammi Joan Paquette and illustrated by Adam Record

Not only is this an adorable Halloween book, it's also a great counting book!  It begins with 1 ghost exploring a house and as he stumbles upon new friends the numbers in the group increase.  The characters are lovable and the rhythm and rhyming in this book is terrific.  

6.  The Ghost of Nicholas Greebe - Written by Tony Johnston and Illustrated by S. D. Schindler

 My 3 year old son is still a bit too young for this book, but I would highly recommend it to kids 5 and up.  The plot is excellent, the illustrations are awesome, and it is the perfect ghost story for kids!

7.  I'm Going to Eat You!  - Written by Matt Mitter and illustrated by Jimmy Pickering

This is definitely one of my son's favorites.  It's a  delightful pop up book full of fun Halloween monsters and an interesting twist at the end. This is one of those books Samuel asks me to read again and again and again.

8.  Vampirina Ballerina - Written by Annie Marie Pace and illustrated by LeUyen Pham

I was so excited when I stumbled across this book at the library because LeUyen Pham is one of my all time favorite illustrators and I was delighted to see she had done a Halloween book! The story is sweet and the illustrations are lovely.  

9.  Go Away Big Green Monster! - By Ed Emberley

I was first introduced to this book when a librarian read it to my son and I and a room full of toddlers during "Baby Time."  The book fascinated Samuel and when the librarian had finished he insisted on reading it again himself.  It is a delightful book and I think it's great in teaching kids confidence to face their fears.

10.  Room on the Broom - Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Alex Scheffler

I have saved the best book for last.  This one is my son's favorite as well as mine.  We were introduced to it when we watched short film version of it.  I liked it so much that my husband got me the book for my birthday.  Samuel often likes to play act this entire book.  He has the lines memorized and everything.  

Thanks letting me share my favorite Halloween book list with you.  Please feel free to share your favorites as well.  I'm always looking for new books to read.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My Kid Watches TV and That's Okay!

A few years ago when I took my son in for his 24 month check up and was sitting in the pediatricians office I read a poster that said children under the age of 2 should not be allowed to watch more than half an hour of television a day.

Well shit. My son had been watching a movie a day (sometimes even two on really bad days when he woke up at 4 in the morning and wouldn’t go back to sleep.) Did this make me a bad parent? I felt incredibly guilty. I depended on the time Sam watched movies to complete an illustration, or work on a piece I’d been writing, or maybe even wash the gigantic pile of dishes collecting in the sink. I went home and asked my dad (who happens to have his doctorate in child and family studies) what he thought. He said a movie a day was not going to hurt anything and told me not to worry. But I did worry. I still let him watch movies, but that stupid poster kept nagging at me and I felt as though I was doing something wrong.

Talking to other parents didn’t help. Some moms would admit they occasionally let their kids watch TV, but then add defensively “They are all educational shows like Sesame Street and Magic School Bus.” Other parents didn’t let their kids watch any TV at all. I continued to feel guilty even though Sam averaged out only 1½ to 2 hours of TV a day. I often found myself taking an apologetic or defensive tone when I explained this to other people saying things like, “I know I shouldn’t let him watch so much TV” and “Movie time is the only time I can work on what I need to get done.”

I have to admit that one of the reasons I let Sam watch movies and TV is that I want him to become a movie buff like me. I hope to spend many future evenings watching Star Wars, It’s a Wonderful Life, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Much Ado About Nothing with my son on the couch. This is the future I want. I know there are plenty of people out there who don’t care for movies and that’s okay. I just don’t want to be judged for choosing to raise my son in this movie connoisseur lifestyle I have chosen.

My dad was right to tell me not to worry. My son is 3½ now and I couldn’t be more pleased with the way he is turning out. He is a smart, healthy, kind-hearted little boy with a wildly active imagination. I’ve decided to stop caring so much about what other people think of my parenting style. There are so many recommendations and rules that parents are supposed to follow in raising their kids, and it’s impossible to meet them all. Every family is different. Every child is different. Yes, I let my child watch movies. I let him watch TV shows on Netflix. Occasionally I even let him watch over 3 hours worth and that’s okay! Parenting should not be judged on whether or not we follow all the Pediatric rules and guidelines. The kids themselves are the best reflection of good or bad parenting. In the end it doesn’t matter how many vegetables your kids eat or how much TV they watch. It’s the time you spend with them, and the example you set that counts.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Picture Book Picks of the Week

My Pick

Author and Illustrator:  Ezra Jack Keats
Title:  Peter's Chair
Review:  I found this on one of the shelves in the library and a wave of nostalgia washed over me.  I remember reading this book as a little girl and it truly captured my imagination.  In this book the little boy decides t run away and he gathers what he considered his prized possessions.  It got me thinking about what I would take with me if I decided to run away.  Anyway it was fun to read this book again as an adult.  I was pleased to find that I liked it just as much as I did when I was a kid.  

Sam's Pick

Author and Illustrator:  Molly Idle
Title:  Tea Rex
Review:  I think this book must have been written for Sam.  He loves tea parties and he loves dinosaurs so it couldn't have been more perfect.  The illustrations are so pleasant to look at.  It was done entirely with prisma colored pencils and now I am inspired to take up colored pencils again.  It's so refreshing to see this style when so many books these days are illustrated digitally via photoshop.    

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Don't Go to the Light!

I was challenged by my friend Catherine to write a piece of horror flash fiction centered around an insect.  I gladly took on the challenge.  As I was writing this I realized I may need to try writing outside of the picture book genre more often because even my horror stories come out sounding like a picture book. Enjoy!

Don't Go to the Light!

Four lunar moths: Lucinda, Laramie, Latisha, and Lou flitted together through the woods at night.

They came upon a clearing where the full moon glowed brilliantly in the sky. “Look at that!” Cried Lucinda, and she took off toward the beautiful orb of light.

CHOMP! The three other moths looked on in horror as a giant bat came out of no where and put an end to Lucinda’s flight to the moon. He smirked as a piece of her dainty wing jutted lifelessly from the corner of his mouth and then disappeared into the night.

Laramie, Latisha, and Lou pressed on, resisting with all their might the pull of the sinister moon. They passed children catching fireflies, and Laramie paused to admire the jar of multiple blinking lights.

“No Laramie!” Cried Lou. “Don’t follow the lights!” But it was too late. Laramie had already started flying to the jar.

“AH HA!” yelled a child as he cupped Laramie in his hands. “A fine specimen for our collection.” And he placed Laramie in the jar of prisoners. He beat frantically against the glass pleading for help, but Latisha and Lou were powerless so they left him there.

They came to a small farmhouse where a great light beckoned to them on the front porch. Lou averted his gaze, but Latisha could not look away.

“Latisha no!” cried Lou, but she was already gravitating toward doom.

ZAP! An electric shock pelted through her small, unsuspecting body and she fell to the ground. 

“Latisha!” Lou dove down to his last and only friend, but she was gone. The sun began to rise.  Lou cursed the light found shelter in the darkest corner of an empty cardboard box to wait for it to pass. Darkness was his only friend now.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

It's Finally October!

I love October, and I love lists.  So you can expect a lot of Halloween/fall related lists from me this month.  Today I made a list of my favorite Halloween songs.  I'm always looking for new songs so if you have a favorite Halloween song that's not on the list let me know!  

Monday, September 29, 2014

Picture Book Picks of the Week

 My Pick

Title:  The Quiet Book
Author:  Deborah Underwood
Illustrator:  Renata Liwska
Review:  This book is incredibly adorable.  It begins "There are many kinds of quiet:" and then proceeds to list a few of the many different "quiets" children experience.  For example there is: coloring in the lines quiet, hide and seek quiet, first snowfall quiet, sleeping sister quiet...the list goes on and on.  I am inspired to write my own book quiet book only from the perspective of a mother.

Sam's Pick

Title:  More
Author: I. C. Springman
Illustrator:  Brian Lies
Review:  This book is so wonderfully simple.  There is only 45 words in it total!  Most children's book authors struggle to keep their stories under 500 words!  This author must know what kids like, because Samuel loves this one.  He asks me to read it again and again and again.  I certainly don't mind obliging because the illustrations are beautiful and it's nice and short!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

What's in Your Gunny Sack?

In Ann Tyler's novel "Breathing Lessons" there is a character who believed that when he died and went to heaven all the things he lost in his lifetime would be given to him in a gunny sack.  Things like: the red sweater his mother knitted for him that he left on the bus, or the diamond ring his sweetheart failed to return when she broke off their engagement.  I read this and thought "What a great writing prompt!  What will be in my gunny sack when I die?"  Here is my answer.

  • My white teddy bear. The first stuffed animal I ever loved. I remember crying myself to sleep over his loss.
  • The beautiful scarf my dad bought me from Denmark. I left it in the 3D theatre at the Cincinnati zoo and never went back and get it.
  • The umbrella my sister Brooke gave me for my birthday.
  • The black jacket I loved that I left at the Baldwin Farms pumpkin patch.
  • Our Australian shepherd puppy Dance. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard in my life as I did when I saw her body lying dead in the snow after getting hit by a truck.
  • My brother Michael’s old baby blanket that he gave to my son Samuel when he was first born. I left it on a bench at the Louisville airport.
  • The diaper bag that my sociology professors gave at the baby shower for Samuel. We left it on top of the car when we were traveling and it fell along the highway somewhere in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • The disc golf driver my husband gave me as a birthday present. I lost it on the Berea disc golf course and someone was even kind enough to call and tell me they found it.  I arranged to pick it up, but for some reason I never ended up going. 
  • The wedding band I lost after fiddling with it in the dark while singing lullabies to Sam. I looked for it in the morning, but never found it.
This list is short but it was painful for me to write.  I guess that means it's an excellent writing prompt.  I was forced to recollect things from my past that I regret losing and tried to forget about.  I found it interesting that the majority of the things on this list were gifts given to me by people I love dearly.  It's funny how remembering the loss of little things like scarves and diaper bags should hurt me.  Sometimes it's the small things that hurt you the most.

I would love to hear what other people would put in their gunny sacks.  Name a few items right off the top of your head. You may be surprised by the memories that pop up first.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Picture Book Picks of the Week

My Pick

Author:  Drew Daywalt
Illustrator:  Oliver Jeffers
Review:  Okay.  As someone who worked her crayons to death as a kid I can especially appreciate this book.  The author who came up with this idea was a genius.  I wonder what my crayons would have said to me when I was little.  Probably they would have told me to stop leaving them out in the sun!

Sam's Pick

Author:  Audrey Wood
Illustrator:  Mark Teague
Review:  I saw this book at the library and it immediately triggered some old memories from childhood.  I'd forgotten about this book, but as I flipped through the pages it all came rushing back to me.  I loved this book.  So you can imagine my delight when Samuel chose this book as a favorite as well!  I can't imagine a kid out there who wouldn't love this book.  The illustrations are bright and wonderful.  The story is magical.  It's the kind of book that turns the gears to one's imagination.  If Sam hadn't picked this as his book of the week then I certainly would have because it is fantastic.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Happiness is...

A box of hot freshly delivered pizza.
Sprinting across the yard with my dog to chase a squirrel she will never catch.
The warmth of the sun against my bare shoulders.
Discovering an old picture book in the library that triggers old forgotten memories.
Feeling pretty when I look in the mirror.
The weight of my son’s head against my chest.
Strangers who are unexpectedly kind.
A fistful of cool, moist sand.
Movie nights and beer.
A smooth wooden paintbrush between my fingertips
Pretending to tango in the kitchen with my husband.
The honking of Canada geese flying above me toward the setting sun.

                    ~ By Heather Dent

Monday, September 15, 2014

Picture Book Picks of the Week

My Pick

Title:  Chester's Masterpiece
Author and Illustrator:  Melanie Watt
Review:  This is probably the funniest picture book I have ever read.  It had me laughing out loud right in the middle of the library.  Samuel put down the toys he was playing with and sat down with me on the floor in the book aisle and we read it together.  It's so funny.  Seriously everyone needs to read this book.  Adults will love it.  Kids will love it.  Chester is quite a character.  Imagine my delight when I turned back to the bookshelf and discovered that there was a whole series of Chester books!  We took them all home with us of course and enjoyed every single one of them.

Sam's Pick of the Week

Title:  Dinosaur Roar!
Author and Illustrator:  Paul and Henrietta Stickland
Review:  We had a lot of favorites this week, but when I laid out a bunch of the books and asked Samuel to choose his favorite he didn't even hesitate.  "Dinosaur Roar" wins for sure!  When I asked him what his favorite page was he said, "All of the pages!"  The book is simple, rhyming, and catchy.  No wonder Samuel likes it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Things I don't post on Facebook

I value honesty, but when it comes to facebook I sometimes feel like I'm lying somehow because I mostly seem to be post the happy positive things in my life, thus deceiving people that my life is all sunshine and roses.  Well I just want everyone that I am not perfect and neither is my life.  I certainly have my ups and downs and I usually tend to document the ups and avoid the downs.  But today I'm going to allow myself to be vulnerable.  Here glimpse of the not so happy things in my life right now.  I'm not looking for pity.  I'm just trying to be honest.

I don't post pictures of...

  • My parking ticket
  • My son, Sam, throwing a fit when he can't watch Dragon Tales
  • The pee puddles my dog Ginny leaves on the kitchen floor.
  • Selfies of me shaving my mustache in the bathroom mirror. (yes I grow a few hairs on my upper lip)

I don't post statuses like:

  • I HATE football season!!! I just want to watch movies and play games with my husband, but he is having an affair with football (particularly with the OU Sooners.)  Can you blame me for getting jealous? 
  • I seem to spend half my life looking for things. I feel like I have Alzheimer's or something. Yesterday I found my camera in the kitchen food cabinet and the book I'm currently reading in my underwear drawer!  I cannot blame Sam for these misplacements.
  • I wish I wasn't so addicted to facebook. It's pathetic the way I hover over the computer waiting for people to like or comment on my stuff.
  • The other day Samuel knocked a little two year olds toys away from him just to be mean and make him cry. I just wanted to walk away and pretend he wasn't my son. 
  • Sometimes I feel unreasonable contempt for the world and everyone in it.

Whew!  Glad I got that off my chest!  This post is a bit of a downer so let me just say that most of the time I love my life and I love my family and I love this mad, crazy world we live in.  I just want everyone to know that I have my moments.  We all have them.  That's what makes us human.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Picture Book Picks of the Week

 My Pick of the Week

Title:  Joseph Had a Little Overcoat
Author and Illustrator:  Simms Taback
Review:  This book is terrific.  The story is about a Jewish man whose overcoat gets old and worn so he turns it into a jacket, then vest, etc, etc.  It inspires one to be resourceful while simultaneously learning about Jewish culture.

Sam's Pick of the Week

Title: Looking for a Moose
Author:  Phyllis Root
Illustrator:  Randy Cecil
Review:  Samuel wants me to read this book over and over again.  I wouldn't mind only this book gets me all tongue tied!  I was reminded of Dr. Seuss's "Fox in Socks."  Otherwise it's great!  The illustrations are unique and eye catching, and obviously kids love it.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Morning Tranquility

Prisms in the window
Rainbows on the floor
Dishes on the counter
From the night before.

Muffins in the oven
Coffee in the pot
Sleepy kitten nestled
In a sunny spot.

Tulips on the table
Friendly smile at me,
And outside on the porch
Sings a chickadee

With slippers on my feet
And curlers in my hair
I grab a book of poems
And curl upon a chair

Peace is hard to come by
But it is often found
In the morning sunrise
And dewdrops on the ground.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Picks of the Week

I've moved on from the "R" section of the library to the "S's".  Here are mine and Sam's two favorites from this week.

My Pick
Book Title: Where's Walrus
Author & Illustrator:  Stephen Savage
Review:  This wordless picture relies fully on it's illustrations.  Usually I like picture books that I can actually read aloud, but this one is the exception.  The walrus is so incredibly adorable and the illustrations are so simple and unique that I can't help falling in love.  

Sam's Pick of the Week

Title: There are Cats in this Book
Author & Illustrator: Vivian Schwarz

Review:  Utterly delightful interactive book .  Inside the book are three adorable cats who tell the kids things to do like “turn the page!” or “Open the box.”  Samuel just could not get enough of this book!  The book is cleverly written in a style similar to a cat’s behavior, distracted and playful.  It’s perfect.