Thursday, December 2, 2010

TodaysMama and GameStop

TodaysMama and GameStop are giving away great gifts this holiday season, and to enter their giveaway I’m sharing this meme with you.

Holiday Wish List 2010:

1. What is your holiday wish for your family?
I wish for my family to embrace the joy and hope of Christmas and carry it into our lives each and every day.

2. What is your Christmas morning tradition?
We open presents, eat Monkey Bread for breakfast, and play with our new stuff.

3. If you could ask Santa for one, completely decadent wish for yourself, what would it be?
I would love a laptop of my own and a new coffee maker. Oh, joy!

4. How do you make the holidays special without spending any money?
There is a neighborhood near us where every house on the block puts up elaborate outdoor Christmas decorations. We like to drive through each year to see the beautiful displays. We also like to decorate our own house, bake cookies, and make treats.

5. What games did you play with your family growing up?
We played lots of games growing up—Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, Sorry, Trouble, Parcheesi, Yahtzee, and card games. My mom never turned down a request to play Chinese Checkers or Scrabble. (I miss Mom!)

6. What holiday tradition have you carried on from your own childhood?
We continue lots of family traditions like hanging stockings and leaving cookies for Santa. We’ve created new family traditions, too, like opening new pjs on Christmas Eve.

7. Where would you go for a Christmas-away-from-home trip?
I’m a Southern California girl so I’d like to go almost anywhere for a white Christmas!

8. Check out GameStop and tell us, what are the three top items on your GameStop Wish List this year?
We’d love an XBOX 360/Kinect with Kinect Sports, some new Nintendo DSi games like Wipeout the Game, and some new Wii games like Disney Sing It Party Hits.

Check out the links to enter the giveaway at TodaysMama and to shop online at GameStop.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wednesday Word: Inveterate

Part of Speech:

firmly established by long persistence; confirmed in a habit

She was an inveterate gossip and a habitual liar.

Thankful Tree

I know it’s December 1 and everyone is ready to move on to Christmas, but I have one more Thanksgiving thing to share. This year my family created our own version of a Thankful Tree. It’s a really simple, cheap, and fun fall craft for the whole family. It’s a great way to think about and share all the things for which you are grateful. You might want to consider making one with your family.

First we ripped brown paper bags (grocery and lunch bags) down the seams to open them. Then we rolled and twisted them to create the tree trunk and branches. We used packing tape to adhere the twisted pieces to the sliding glass door creating a tree form. (You could do this on a wall or on a poster board, too.) Then we printed fall leaves on colored construction paper—yellow, orange, red, green, and brown. We cut out the leaves, and each family member wrote one or more things for which he/she was thankful on each leaf. This gives younger children an opportunity to practice writing, and even the littlest ones can draw pictures. The kids added the leaves to the tree with scotch tape.

We had lots of duplicate ideas on our leaves—friends, family, food, shelter, clothing, health, freedom, etc. We kept our leaves for next year so we can add some of the little things for which we’re thankful—ice cream sundaes, naps, rainbows, hummingbirds, etc.

Cute, huh? I have to tell you that the entire family looked at me like I was crazy when we started this project, but by the end they all loved it. My husband even said that it was his favorite fall decoration.

You could easily adapt the idea for other events. How about a snowman made of snowflakes with wishes for the New Year? Get creative!

Find new ways to get your family thinking, creating, and writing. If you create something like this or have a new idea, I’d love to hear about it. Please leave a comment!

I found the inspiration for our tree on Tip Junkie {one of my favorites}, which had a link to My Insanity where Kendra gave instructions for creating a Gratitude Tree. I used an autumn leaf template from Holly at Creating Cupcakes. Thanks for the great stuff, ladies!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Giving Thanks

Our church supports Empowering Lives International (ELI), an organization that helps poverty-stricken families in Africa. ELI has shared with the congregation the great need of the people they work with, as well as the small ways that we can help. For example, the church helped build a school, which provides one meal a day for the students. Most days the children eat porridge; however, Tuesdays and Fridays are special, because on those days the children get a meal of rice and beans instead of porridge. Those are the days they look forward to in anticipation.

How many of us can say we would look forward to a meal of rice and beans?

To gain some small understanding and empathy for the situation, the pastor invited us to eat rice and beans for the three days leading to Thanksgiving. Rice, beans, and water. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. My family was understandably apprehensive. Rather than set ourselves up for inevitable failure (sorry, Pastor), we decided that we would eat only rice and beans on Wednesday.

We started our day well with both a breakfast and a lunch of white rice and pinto beans. We added some salt and pepper, and we all drank water. By 2 p.m. the kids were hungry. I gave them a snack of rice with a little margarine added. By 5 p.m. we were cranky, had headaches, and were beginning to experience some impaired functioning. (My son, who is only 8, had to eat a granola bar to bolster his courage and commitment.) For dinner, I made a plentiful amount of rice and beans, and the children drank milk instead of water. We had mixed emotions about the meal—we were hungry and yet the food seemed bland, monotonous, and unappetizing.

Our conversation that evening was not. We discussed what we thought life must be like for the African children and their families. We wondered what that kind of life does to the body, mind, and spirit. We discussed how truly fortunate we are and how we take so many blessings for granted. We discussed hope for those families and ourselves.

On Thursday, we prayed, we gave thanks, and we feasted. Everything tasted richer. Was this because we deprived ourselves? No. It was because we embraced the meaning of giving thanks—thanks to a Father who has so fully blessed us.

If you’d like to find out more about sharing your blessings with others, visit Empowering Lives International.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wednesday Word: Reverence

Part of Speech:

honor or respect felt or shown; deference

They bowed their heads in reverence and prayed.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Andrew Smith on Teen Reading

Andrew Smith, author of the new book The Marbury Lens, recently gave a speech and part of it was published last week on Macmillan Children’s Publishing blog.

What he said might sound a little familiar. One key point he made was that it’s okay to let kids choose what they want to read. In fact, he said that if adults let teens make their own choices, then they might read more. Further, if they read more, then we wouldn’t label them non-readers and buy into the myth that they hate to read. Frankly, how many times have you heard a parent or a teacher say about a teen, “Oh, he hates to read.”? Far too many times.

Andrew Smith says that assuming a kid hates to read (because we’ve told him to read a book that’s good for him) is like “assuming a kid hates to eat because he doesn’t like Brussels sprouts.”

My tween daughter is an avid reader. On almost any Saturday, she may begin and end her day reading in bed. However, despite her bookworm status, she has not liked every book she’s read. {Gasp!} In truth, most of the books she has not really liked have been assigned by teachers. That’s okay! That means she’s thinking critically about literature. That’s what we would hope for, right?

My teen daughter, on the other hand, has taken a lot longer to find her inner bookworm. Being a people-pleaser, she has searched diligently for the inherent good in the books she’s been assigned—to no avail. After failed attempts to connect with assigned reading, I think she started to believe she wasn’t a reader, because she didn’t like what she was reading. I'm glad she’s not a quitter. She finally hit her stride just recently—when she found books that she enjoys, books that excite her, books that hold her interest.

Do my daughters read the same books? Nope. My tween likes historical fiction (and broccoli), and my teen likes fantasy (and tomatoes). You know what, though? They are both readers (and veggie eaters)! Can I get a hallelujah?

Now, I’m not going to say that I’m all that because I posted about this topic last month. What I’m trying to say is that maybe, just maybe, there is something to this idea of letting kids choose their own books after all. And maybe, if we stop force-feeding them the stuff that’s good for them at an early age, they will acquire a taste for reading on their own—and eventually enjoy some Brussels sprouts.

If you’d like to read more of Andrew Smith’s eloquent argument, visit the MacKids blog.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mrs. Nelson's Toy & Book Shop

Mrs. Nelson’s Toy & Book Shop is an independent, family-owned bookstore in San Dimas, California. The store opened in 1985 with the goal of “helping parents inspire a love of reading in their children.” Having just celebrated its 25th anniversary, the bookstore has built a reputation for carrying a wide selection of children’s books and toys, as well as offering story times, crafts, workshops, contests, and fabulous author and illustrator events.

If you live in or around San Dimas, then you won’t want to miss Mrs. Nelson’s After-Thanksgiving Sale! The store will be open on Friday, November 26 from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. It is offering 25% off all regular-priced merchandise and 30% off clearance items that day.

Mrs. Nelson’s knowledgeable staff can help you find the perfect books and toys to delight the little ones in your life. Be sure to add Mrs. Nelson’s to your shopping itinerary to wrap up some good reads for the holidays!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dr. Seuss Gift Ideas

Continuing the gift-giving theme this week, here are two fantastic options for Dr. Seuss fans!

Kohls is offering selected Dr. Seuss books for only $5. Selections may now include:
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
  • Oh Say Can You Say?
  • There’s a Wocket in my Pocket!
  • Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose
In addition, you can purchase a plush character to accompany most of the books for only $5. Are you doing the math? You can give a child a ridiculously cute gift this holiday season for only $10. And (here’s the big deal) you’re doubling your giving because 100% of the net profit is donated to support kids’ health and education initiatives across the nation.

Through December 28, 2010, Borders Rewards members can get a great deal on selected Dr. Seuss books—buy 2, get a 3rd one free. Depending on availability, selections may include favorites like The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Party Edition, and many more.

Enjoy your weekend, and be sure to visit again on Monday for more gift opportunities and ideas!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

First Book Gift Ideas

As I mentioned earlier this week, First Book is a non-profit organization that provides new books to children in need. I also discussed their partnership with Barefoot Books and your opportunity to shop Barefoot to support First Book.

Well, here are two more ways to give this holiday season and help First Book.

1. Gift Membership
Give the gift of reading with a gift membership to the Children’s Classics Collection, a Book-of-the-Month club. You choose the duration (3, 6, or 12 months), and each month the gift recipient will automatically receive a classic tale chosen by expert editors. The Children’s Classics Collection series begins with The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

Other available collections include: American Presidents, Love Finds You, DVD Romance, Baker’s Bookshelf, and Stephen King.

A donation of $1 for each book in your series will go to First Book.

2. Gift Donation
If a book club membership isn’t the right option for you, then consider making a gift donation to First Book. Just $20 provides 10 books to introduce the joy of reading to a first-time reader. Plus, every dollar donated to First Book through December 31, 2010, will be matched with one more book!

Consider making a donation in honor or memory of someone else. My husband and I did this for our children. We made a donation in each of their names. For Christmas, we wrapped a new book for each of them along with their donation card. They were young and a little puzzled when they first opened the donation cards, but once we explained that their “gift” was to share a wonderful story with another child, our children experienced some of the essence of Christmas. It was a great way to help them realize that it's even more rewarding to give than to receive.

If you're looking for a way to give back this holiday season, check out First Book!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wednesday Word: Gregarious

Part of Speech:

liking companionship; sociable

Because of her gregarious personality she made friends quickly at her new school.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Barefoot in November

The holiday season is approaching rapidly, and most people are in the midst of gift planning. Some have finished their shopping and started wrapping, while some of us are just sharpening our pencils and starting our shopping lists. If you’re like me and you need a little help, then breathe a sigh of relief because it's here.

Yesterday, I told you about Operation Christmas Child, a great way to give to a child in need. During the days ahead, I will share some additional gift-giving opportunities and ideas with you.

This one’s great, but (for those procrastinators out there) you better hurry!

First Book is a non-profit organization that provides new books to children in need. They have partnered with Barefoot Books, an independent children’s book publisher, to encourage you to “go Barefoot in November to help First Book.” During November, Barefoot Books will donate one book to First Book for every purchase made.

It seems to me that’s twice the giving! Just visit Barefoot Books online to browse and make your selections. If you’re having trouble deciding, take a look at these two books for your own little prince or princess:

The Prince’s Bedtime
(Ages 3-7)
Written by Joanne Oppenheim
Illustrated by Miriam Latimer
Narrated by Jim Broadbent

The Princess and White Bear King
(Ages 5-11)
Written by Tanya Robyn Batt
Illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli
Narrated by Miranda Richardson

These books are offered with story CDs and you can listen to the entire story online before making your purchase. Are you afraid of getting a blank stare that could occur when he or she unwraps a book? Then consider pairing a book with another small gift—in this case, maybe a soft blanket or a polar bear puppet. This will ensure the smile you deserve for placing a book in the hands of a child—or two!

Happy shopping!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Operation Christmas Child

I know this isn’t the type of thing I usually discuss in my posts, but I have to share this wonderful opportunity.

Our church is participating in Operation Christmas Child, a Samaritan’s Purse program that delivers Christmas gifts to children in need all over the world. Participants merely fill a shoebox with small toys, school supplies, hygiene items, or other small gifts, and a prayer for the recipient. A $7 donation is requested for each box to help cover shipping and other project costs. The boxes will be collected this week, November 15-22, and delivered to a delighted child along with the news of God’s love.

My daughters, along with their Girl Scout troop, will be filling one shoebox for a girl, and my son will be filling one shoebox for a boy.

We know how tight things are for most families right now—ours included. However, we think this is a powerful reminder to be grateful for all that God has given us and a small way to share God’s grace.

If you are interested in participating or finding out more about this program, please visit Samaritan’s Purse online.

What a great way to begin a season of thanksgiving and joy!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Blog Hopping for Jane

I went a little crazy with the blog hopping tonight, but I have a great excuse. Two words: Jane Yolen!

I started with Alice Pope’s SCBWI Children’s Market Blog. Alice {tease} posted about Martha Brockenbrough’s SCBWI pre-conference interview with Jane Yolen.

Then I immediately went to Martha Brockenbrough’s blog to read the entire interview. Fabulous! You have to read about Jane’s BIC and HOP! Martha references a previous, longer interview with Jane on another blog, so off I went again.

From Martha’s, I hopped over to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for a wonderful, in-depth interview with Jane.

Finally, I leaped into Jane Yolen’s website {a little piece of kid lit heaven}.

I have loved Jane Yolen since I read {and re-read} her book Take Joy: A Book for Writers. My son and I love her How Do Dinosaurs . . . books! However, that only scratches the surface of the 300+ books Jane has written. As an accomplished author and poet, Jane Yolen has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America. She’s pretty amazing!

Take a hop on over, and have a look for yourself!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wednesday Word: Aposiopesis


Part of Speech:

sudden breaking off of a thought in the middle of a sentence as if from unwillingness or inability to continue speaking

Despite her anger, aposiopesis prevented her from saying something she would regret.

Monday, November 1, 2010


NaNoWriMo. Have you heard of it? If not, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, an annual (November) writing project that encourages writers around the world to write a complete novel (50,000 words) in one month. The goal is about quantity, not quality.


Whoa, I lost some of you, huh? Yeah, I know. It’s a strange concept to wrap your head around for the first time.

NaNoWriMo started in 1999 with 21 writers as a movement to get writers, well, writing. Now in its eleventh year, thousands of writers will join the task this month. The project offers support to writers including regional meetings, online resources, a separate project specifically for young writers, and a kick-in-the-pants approach. For those who need to feel connected to a sense of community, this might be just what you need. If it sounds interesting, check out the website!

NaNoWriMo is an interesting idea, and I admire the optimism of the concept and the enthusiasm of the participants. However, I am an introverted, deliberative processor. I prefer a quiet, solitary writing environment, and I need time to ponder and process—everything. Instead, I am going to embrace the underlying concept of productivity and set my own writing goals.

No matter what style of writer you are, I hope you will be motivated to start—and keep—writing!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday Word: Nefarious

Part of Speech:

flagrantly wicked or impious; evil; vicious
(Do you recognize the first word—flagrantly? If not, see the post from Sept. 22, 2010.)

Victoria’s nefarious plan to harm Bella was thwarted by Edward and Jacob.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pumpkin Seeds

Okay, help me out on this one. Each year when my family carves pumpkins, the kids ask to make roasted pumpkin seeds. To which I usually respond, “We’ll see.” {It’s my catch-all phrase. I try not to talk in absolutes to my kids because they have this thing about holding me to perceived promises!} However, this year, I decided that I would try to roast pumpkin seeds for the first time.

For now, I’m attributing this momentary lapse in judgment to: 1) mother’s guilt, and 2) the incessant squeaking of an incredibly tight budget. In my pinched brain, I envisioned that this would provide an inexpensive snack for the kids and that I would appear the big hero for finally roasting some stinking pumpkin seeds.

We carved pumpkins on Sunday afternoon. The kids scooped and scraped, and then I stood at the kitchen sink {for what seemed like forever} rinsing pumpkin guts and hoping to eek out at least two cups of slippery seeds. Then, I let them dry on waxed paper {for what seemed like forever}. This morning, in my haste to make some banana, chocolate chip bread—in order to avoid throwing away some past-their-prime bananas—I nearly forgot that I had left the pumpkin seeds in the oven to dry! Luckily, I rescued them before they suffered a pre-heating disaster.

I poured a tablespoon of EVOO on them and added a very liberal sprinkling of cinnamon sugar. I baked them in a pie tin for about 45 minutes, taking them out every 15 minutes to stir and add more cinnamon sugar. I let them cool in anticipation of glorious praise from my three adoring children. I was sure they’d be excited over this surprise after-school snack.

Not so much.

Could someone please explain to me the allure of roasted pumpkin seeds? Is it just that they’re a pumpkin by-product, so they seem like they should be good? Is it a fear of throwing something away, like my need to use those soggy bananas? Has our need to repurpose just gone too far, or is there some redeeming quality to pumpkins seeds of which I am unaware? They were time-consuming and tasted a bit like cinnamon sugar coated hay.

I know that I am probably in the minority on this, so let’s hear your comments. Did I do something wrong, or am I just not that into pumpkin seeds? {By the way, I have a sneaking suspicion that I—the only one in the house—will continue eating them until they’re gone, because I can’t just throw them away!}

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dr. Seuss & Dopey Pete

It was recently reported that an unpublished manuscript by Dr. Seuss called “All Sorts of Sports” was sold at auction for more than $34,000. Along with the manuscript was a letter from Seuss to his assistant indicating that he was unhappy with the story. Apparently, Seuss was displeased with the main character Pete who attempts all sorts of sports. It seems Seuss felt that Pete would not appeal to readers and that some might even view him as a “dope.”

I am a huge fan of Seuss. (In fact, I often credit Green Eggs and Ham for turning my oldest daughter into an adventurous eater at an early age.) However, as a new writer it’s comforting to find out that one of the greats even had, on occasion, doubts about his own work.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday Word: Tenacious

Part of Speech:

persistent in seeking or maintaining something desired

As a result of her tenacious study habits, the student earned a good grade in the class.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Recently Overheard Advice

Do you know what to do when you see a ghost?


If that doesn’t work, then throw something at it!

- Jack, 4th Grade

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday Word: Aplomb

Part of Speech:

poise, composure

The reporter showed aplomb as she continued the newscast despite the heavy rain and gusty wind.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010



Stubborn are the words
that refuse to fall from my head
like gilded lilies
over the water’s edge
they float and shine
then with a crushing blow
are forced beneath the surface
and sink below.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Decline of Picture Books?

Julie Bosman reported in The New York Times yesterday (October 7, 2010) that sales of picture books have been steadily declining. Bosman cites at least two possible causes: the economic downturn and parental pressure for children to excel.

When many families are finding it difficult to afford the essentials right now, it’s hard to justify spending money on a new picture book. Consequently, bookstores are putting new pictures books on the shelf only to find them sitting there until the bookstore finally sends them back to the publishing house.

In addition, parents are ever-mindful of the rigors of standardized testing and an expectation that children need to do whatever they can to stay ahead of the curve. This includes pressure from parents for their children to read above their level. Picture books are considered too babyish, and children are encouraged to read chapter books instead.

Obviously, from a writer’s perspective this is disconcerting. {sigh} However, putting a writer’s wallet aside, what is this doing to our children?

Picture books introduce children to deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. When we force them into chapter books, we skip this essential step and deprive them of an opportunity to use visual cues along with text in order to understand and comprehend complex concepts. It’s like asking a child to listen to a broadcast of their favorite movie without the picture. Not only is it not as fun, but it forces children to make bigger leaps in their cognitive processing—leaps they may not yet be ready to make.

I love chapter books as much as the next person, but please don’t deprive your children of all that picture books have to offer—a world of color, and fun, and whimsy, and wonder. It’s about making connections that may be hard for them to process by words alone.

Do you have a favorite picture book? One that someone read to you (over and over) as a child until you could read it yourself? Leave a comment and tell me about it . . .

Visit The New York Times to read Bosman’s article.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dirty Dishes, Exercise, and a Free Newsletter

This morning, I was feeling unmotivated. I didn’t clean up the breakfast dishes, I didn’t work out, and I encountered some writer’s block. I didn’t have ideas ready for today’s post, so I kept putting it off.

Tonight, I finally did the dishes and walked almost two miles with my husband. Then, I visited the Writer’s Digest Web Site. How can I not be motivated by all of the wonderful resources there?

Money is an almost daily discussion in our household anymore. You feel me, right?

But I found a sweet motivational (and free) gem—the Writer’s Digest Free E-Newsletter. Did I mention that it’s free? And by the way, I also received a free gift for subscribing—the 12th Annual 101 Best Websites for Writers download. Jackpot!

Writer’s block, schmiter’s block . . . you can’t catch me!

The next time you’re feeling unmotivated, distract yourself with some dirty dishes, exercise, and a free newsletter. Jeez, what more do you need?

Inspiration is out there! Just keep writing!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wednesday Word: Erudite

Part of Speech:

educated, knowledgeable, learned, scholarly

The erudite professor held three degrees in English literature.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What Are You Doing for Snapshot Day?

If you read my post yesterday, you already know that the California Library Association (CLA) is encouraging people to visit their local libraries this week. “Snapshot: A Day in the Life of Your Library” was initiated by the American Library Association (ALA) in order to capture “what happens in libraries across the country in a single day.”

My family visits the library regularly. We love that they have books for each of us, and we look forward to the hours of enjoyment we get inside those pages. In addition, our library offers children’s activities, teen programs, adult literacy development, foreign language learning opportunities, seminars, workshops, and so much more!

Our city’s public library is celebrating Snapshot Day today. Lately the library has asked for more children’s books, so today we’ll be donating more than 20 gently-used children’s books. These will most likely be offered for sale to library patrons. The money generated from used book sales helps support many of the programs I mentioned. It may not seem like much but every donation helps.

Yesterday when I first told you about Snapshot Day I challenged you to find a way to support your local library. Have you checked it out yet?

For more information or to find a participating library near you, visit the California Library Association (CLA).

Please leave me a comment to tell me what you are doing! I can’t wait to hear from you!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Visit Your Library for Snapshot Day!

During the week of October 4, 2010, Californians are encouraged to visit their local libraries in support of Snapshot Day: A Day in the Life of Your Library.

The American Library Association (ALA) hopes to capture “what happens in libraries across the country in a single day.” By documenting the many types of activities that occur on a daily basis—reading, researching, learning, career building, job hunting, etc.—the ALA will be even better armed with proof of the value and importance of local libraries.

My tween’s English assignment this month is to read a mystery or scary novel. This past weekend, my family visited our local library. One of the librarians assisting in the children’s section is an avid reader of young adult literature. She dropped what she was doing to help us and was able to suggest at least half a dozen books to my daughter. After speaking with my daughter more and honing in on her interests—she likes historical fiction—the librarian was able to suggest several more books that piqued her curiosity. My daughter checked out three books to take to her English teacher for review and approval. We may not have found these books without the librarian’s skilled assistance.

Please help advocate for local libraries, which are often overlooked and undervalued resources. Find out what is happening in your community. Visit your local library and support Snapshot activities this week!

For more information or to find a participating library near you, visit the California Library Association (CLA).

Friday, October 1, 2010

“Miss Fiona’s Stupendous Pumpkin Pies” Written by Mark Kimball Moulton & Illustrated by Karen Hillard Crouch

I’ve had the itch to decorate for fall, so that’s what I’ll be doing this weekend (between the kids’ soccer and volleyball of course).

I went to the bookshelf today to pull out one of my favorites: Miss Fiona’s Stupendous Pumpkin Pies written by Mark Kimball Moulton. This picture book is about Miss Fiona who looks a lot like a witch and lives in a run-down house. However, looks can be deceiving, for she bakes stupendous pumpkin pies which she offers to trick-or-treaters and their families on Halloween. One lucky child gets to help her serve while everyone enjoys pie, cider, and spooky stories. It has a nice rhyming rhythm, so read it aloud or leave it out on the coffee table for older ones to enjoy—I’m pretty sure I’ll catch my tween and teen reading it too! The cute and muted illustrations by Karen Hillard Crouch make the story warm instead of scary.

I hope you’ll share this sweet book with your own little ghouls and goblins.

Use these links to learn more about Mark Kimball Moulton and Karen Hillard Crouch.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Stylized by Mark Garvey

Alice Pope, former editor of Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market, has a children’s market blog for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI).

Today she highlighted an interesting book by Mark Garvey, Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. Garvey’s book celebrates Strunk & White’s classic tome The Elements of Style—now 50 years old—and gives insight into the lives of these authors.

As a former technical writer, I have a copy of Elements on my bookshelf that has been referenced innumerable times over the years. I look forward to checking out Garvey’s Stylized. I hope you’ll consider making some time for it too.

In the meantime, check out Alice Pope’s blog for more details on Garvey’s book.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday Word: Cantankerous

Part of Speech:

disagreeable, contentious, peevish, cranky

The cantankerous man scolded the children when they walked on his lawn to retrieve the ball.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Flying Fish

How would a fish fly,
if a fish could fly?

With his fins spread wide,
and a smile in the sky?

Would birds mock him,
laugh, and deny
that a fish
has the right to fly?

Exactly how would a fish fly,
if he dared to try?

He’d probably just sigh,
and fly quite high!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Does Your Boy Read?

On Friday, I wrote about letting your children choose the books they want to read as a way to get them excited about reading. I said this with the caveat that parents retain the right to censor what their children read if they feel the material is age inappropriate or offensive.

Then, my husband handed me a timely and interesting article from The Wall Street Journal (Friday, September 24, 2010). The author is Thomas Spence who is president of Spence Publishing Company in Dallas. In his article titled “How to Raise Boys Who Read” he cites a decline in the number of boys who test at a proficient level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. Apparently, on average, boys are scoring significantly lower on the test than girls and have been doing so for nearly two decades. Spence says scholars agree “if boys don’t read well, it’s because they don’t read enough.” The question then becomes how to get boys to read more.

Many teachers and librarians postulate that boys are not engaged by traditional literature. Therefore, they suggest appealing to boys at their level. In response, publishers are offering newer literature that relies on maximizing the inherent funniness of gross bodily functions—farts, boogers, etc.—that appeals to young boys.

Here is where Spence diverges from these experts. He suggests that this type of content is questionable at best and does nothing to contribute to the raising of well-read, well-educated, well-rounded boys.

Spence goes on to say that another common tactic used by parents to get boys to read involves the reward of new video games. If you can agree, however, that time spent playing video games is not time spent reading, then doesn’t this approach seem contradictory or self-defeating? Offering a distraction does not seem like the best way to get your son to unplug for a while and read.

Spence’s strategy for getting boys to read and consequently raise their reading scores appears to be simple and straightforward. Guide your son toward a good book, provide him with a quiet space to enjoy it, and watch him grow. “Most importantly, a boy raised on great literature is more likely to grow up to think, to speak, and to write like a civilized man.” Thank you, Mr. Spence, for reminding us how to be better parents.

Thank you also for helping me to clarify my position. I still think that children should choose what they read. However, if you’ll remember, I recommended that you stand back and watch what they pull from the bookshelf. I did not say ignore what they choose. If, for example, your son came home from school each day and ate junk food as his after-school snack, I would hope that you would at least occasionally place a shiny apple in his hand.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Let Kids Choose What They Read

Children learn to read—and hopefully develop a love of reading—at their own pace. As parents we feel a responsibility to help with and sometimes speed this process.

As a young child, my oldest daughter was not a big reader. Perhaps that’s because when she was in kindergarten, I would sometimes fall asleep while she read her nightly reading homework to me. She’d jab me with her elbow occasionally to keep me from falling into a deep REM sleep and, looking at me with those big blue eyes, ask if I was listening. Yes, honey, I was just resting my eyes. (Who gets the “Bad Mom Award”? Um . . . that would be me.)

Despite my parenting flaws, her reluctance to read throughout elementary school was difficult for me to understand. I have been a reader for as long as I can remember, and I devoured books in grade school. In an attempt to get her more interested in reading, I suggested books to her that I enjoyed as a kid. As much as I may have wanted her to read the chronicles of Laura Ingalls Wilder—or The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald (see previous post)— because I loved them as a child, she was not interested.

What I failed to grasp then is that kids have to find what is interesting to them. As new readers, children need to find books that spark their interests. They need to find books with topics and writing styles that speak to them. They need to choose their own books.

So, the next time you feel compelled to recommend a book, just take a step back and let them browse the bookshelf. As a parent you have a right to censor material that you find age inappropriate or offensive. (You really want to read about a farting dog? Well, okay.) It may be difficult at first, but letting them make their own choices will help them develop their relationship with reading.

My daughter is a teenager now and she loves to read. Her choices (books with vampires, witches, zombies, or monsters) may be different from what I would choose for her, but at least she’s reading and enjoying it. The more they enjoy it, the more they will do it!

Now, I have some reading to finish. I won’t post over the weekends—that’s family time! Enjoy yours, and don’t forget to visit next week!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Read Aloud Time

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher—let’s give a shout out to Mrs. Alexander!—read to our class. After recess, she turned off the lights, and we rested our sweaty little heads on our desks. One of the things I remember most about this time in our daily schedule was her enthusiasm while reading. Her short brown bob would swing as she paced in the front of the room. She used different voices for each character so we knew who was speaking. She read at the proper pace so we could follow the story, and she paused at the right moments to allow us to absorb what we were hearing. Then just about the time we cooled down and stopped fidgeting, she stopped reading. Of course, it always seemed to be at some critical point in the story, and we wailed and begged for her to read more, which she rarely did. Instead, she usually left us hanging until the next day. Mrs. Alexander, like so many wonderful teachers across the nation, knew that her read aloud time served two purposes. It gave us time to settle so she could teach, and it fostered a love of books through storytelling. After all, who doesn’t love to hear a good story?

I just started reading The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald. It’s the book that Mrs. Alexander brought so vividly to life for me in the fifth grade. I’ll get back to you once I’ve finished . . .

Happy reading!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday Word: Flagrant

Part of Speech:

shockingly evident, obvious, or glaring; scandalous

The teacher said that Maureen’s mini-skirt was a flagrant violation of the school’s dress code policy.

Wednesday Words

It’s impossible to satisfactorily cite an exact number of words in the English language or to determine an average number of words in a person’s vocabulary. However, we can probably agree that there are hundreds of thousands of words and that most of us use only a fraction of them.

I love words, but I often encounter words that I cannot accurately define or that I have never seen or heard. I’m hoping I’m not alone, and I’m guessing most of us can benefit from some vocabulary development.

Therefore, each Wednesday the blog will be devoted to examining a word. I will define the word and part of speech, as well as offer an example of how the word may be used in a sentence.

I hope you have fun with Wednesday Words! Challenge yourself to use the word during the week. Quiz your friends and co-workers to see who can define it. Write the word and definition on a small note card and slip it into your child’s lunch bag. Use the word to start dinner conversation and challenge each family member to use the word properly in a sentence.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I have heard it said that fear is the basic emotion that underlies our actions. When faced with danger, we have a choice—flee or fight. In everyday circumstances, we can think of these options as inaction (flee) or motivation (fight). Since hearing this theory, I’ve often asked myself why I’m thinking, saying, or doing something. Is my action or inaction based on fear?

A few years ago, I held a very good job as an Instructional Developer. While I enjoyed my job, my salary, and the people that I worked with, I felt unfocused. I could not find the balance between work and family that so many others around me were seeking and seemed to have accomplished. Too many things were falling between the cracks as I tried to juggle more, juggle faster, juggle better. The more I tried to focus on the details, the more I missed the big picture. I was not happy and my family was not happy, so I considered leaving my job. Hello, fear.

I was afraid to leave a good job. I was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to make it on one income. I was afraid that I would miss working. I was afraid of change.

However, I was more afraid of the impact that our harried life was having on our kids. Something had to give, so I became a stay-at-home mom.

It’s been hard and we’ve made a lot of adjustments, but it has been worth it. Today, our family spends more time together and we are happier. The kids have more time for homework and activities, they are getting better grades than ever, and they are less stressed. To supplement my husband’s income, we started a small business. I am also a substitute teacher who secretly dreams of becoming a children’s author. I say secretly because few people know about my desire to write. Hello, fear.

I am afraid that people might think it silly, unrealistic, or fanciful that I would want to start writing children’s books. I am afraid because writing is difficult. I am afraid that people might not like my writing or think it’s no good. I am afraid that I won’t find an agent or a publisher. I am afraid of failure.

So, I am starting this blog. My short-term objective is to write and to get into the habit of writing regularly. My long-term objective is to see my writing on the bookstore shelf someday. I hope you’ll join me in my journey and that we’ll learn some new things. Here, I will share my experiences with writing, reading, living. Why? Because I want to grow. And because I want to show myself and my family that I can stand in the face of fear and do what is in my heart.

Today, I stand on a new precipice unsure of what’s to come, and I propose another option for facing fear . . . fly . . . with me.

Flee . . . fight . . . fly . . . what will you choose?