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.