Holiday Contest

It’s that time of year for jolly, holly fun! After a recent revision on one of my manuscripts, I needed to take a break, try something new, and recharge. So why not enter a holiday writing contest? Perfect! This one is put on by the fabulous picture book writer Susanna Leonard Hill

The guidelines?

  1. It must be kid-friendly
  2. 250-words or less
  3. About a holiday hero or act of heroism

Thanks, Susanna for putting on another fun writing contest

Inspired by my family’s recent trip to the Christmas tree farm, here is my submission. Happy reading and happy holidays to you!

LITTLE SPRUCE 

236-WORDS

Out in the country and high on the hill sprawled a Christmas tree farm. Hidden among the tall, perfectly shaped Evergreens, grew the short, and crooked trees that no one wanted.

“It’s not fair.” Little Spruce shook. “I’ll never find a good home. I’m too small.”

“But you have strong branches,” said a Fir tree.

“Perfect for hanging ornaments.” swayed another.

No one would ever want a tree like me. Little Spruce thought.

Just then, he heard a voice. “Over here, Grandpa!”

A young girl in a knitted hat popped out from behind Little Spruce. Not far behind an exhausted old man followed. “I think we’ve tested every tree,” Grandpa laughed. “How about we take this one?” 

Molly waved the branch up and down. “No. Too wobbly.”

She tried another.

Suddenly, Little Spruce felt a tug. 

“It’s perfect!” said Molly. “Grandma will love it!” 

Little Spruce shook with excitement. Was he finally getting a home? He wondered.

After arriving at the hospital, Molly carefully hung each ornament on Little Spruce’s branches.  

“I knew you were strong enough,” Molly whispered to Little Spruce.

Little Spruce didn’t care about being small anymore. Instead, he was mighty.

“Are you ready?” the nurse peeked in.

Molly nodded.

The nurse slowly pushed Grandma in her wheelchair.

Grandma’s eyes lit up. She waved for the nurse to push her closer. “So strong.” Grandma marveled at Little Spruce. “And beautiful.”

“Just like you,” said Molly.


A Story for the Season

I love this time of year. We get to be with our friends and family to celebrate the season and give thanks. 

Recently I discovered another heartwarming story that provides a wonderful opportunity for discussions about giving, helping others in need, and empathy. 

What a perfect story to share with my children and kindergarten students this time of year!

Picture Book Title: SHELTER

Written by: Celine Claire

Illustrated by: Qin Leng. 

Publisher: Kids Can Press (2017) Age Range: 4-8

 Synopsis: A storm is coming and the forest animals rush to prepare when two strangers emerge from the fog. The animals wonder: Who are these strangers? What are they doing here? What do they want?

When the strangers kindly ask to exchange tea for a chance to sit by a warm fire, or have some cookies for dipping, even just a spot to take comfort in the light of one’s hearth, the strangers are turned away. Except for one generous critter named Little Fox. Because of his kindness, the others discover the meaning of compassion and generosity.

So there you have it! If you’re on the lookout for a picture book to read this time of year, check out Celine Claire’s heartwarming story.

Also, if you have a picture book about kindness, generosity, empathy, etc. that you enjoy reading with your family (or just love reading!), please feel free to leave it in the comments below.

Happy reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Halloween Contest

 

Author Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting her 8th annual Halloween writing contest. Here’s the catch from Susanna’s blog:

TH8TH ANNUAL HALLOWEENSIE CONTEST
~ FOR CHILDREN’S WRITERS ~
AAHHHRRROOOOOOOOO!!!!!

The Contest: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (children here defined as 12 and under) (title not included in the 100 words), using the words shivercauldron, and howl.  Your story can be scary, funny, or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over).

I love being challenged to write something in so little words. It gets those creative juices flowing! Check out her sight to read other fabulous and frightening entries. Thanks, Susanna for the festive activity!

Here are my entries:

Halloween Surprise (99-words)

“Last stop,” Dad says pausing by an old house.

I squeeze his hand.

“This isn’t Grandma and Grandpa’s?”

“Come on.” He winks.

The wind howls around me.

I shiver. Even my fairy wings tremble.

Dad knocks.

Creeaakk…

Inside, a cauldron bubbles.

An old lady wearing a pointed hat stirs the pot.

“Come in,” she cackles.

I hide behind Dad.

“Her stew’s full of eyeballs and spiders!” I whisper.

I yank Dad to escape.

“Happy Halloween!”

“Grandma!” I giggle at her witch costume.

“Welcome to our BOO-tiful new house!” Grandpa howls, carrying candy.

“Now, that’s a trick, but such a treat!”

 

Halloween Mishap (90-words)

Time has come

What to be?

On this frightful Halloween.

 

Find a spell

add some goo

In the cauldron, stir the brew.

 

Gulp! I sip

down it goes

Pop! Out sticks a pointy nose?

 

What is this?

The wrong spell?

I’m not feeling very well.

 

Long black hair

to my knees,

In flies Broomstick on a breeze.

 

Help! I cry,

and I howl

now I’m feeling very foul.

 

Pop! A wart

more green skin,

shiver like a skeleton.

 

It’s too late

I guess I’ll be,

just a witch for Halloween.

 

 

Finding Time

Have you ever wished that time would slow down? Even just a little?

I know I do.

I think back to my pregnancy and being in awe of the amazing process a woman’s body goes through. I remember staring at my stomach watching this little alien creature take over, kicking me at all hours of the night.

Now, they’re 5 and nearly 7, still young, but not babies anymore.

I’m reminded of this everytime Google Photos sends me an email that says, “Rediscover this day. Look back at…”

More like, “Life is moving fast, don’t blink or you’ll miss it.”

Last week, the tears welled in my eyes as I stared at my son’s first birthday party. I remember his ruffled blond hair and the way he used to snuggle up close under my chin when I held him. Thankfully, he’s still a snuggler, but how could that time have passed so fast?

Now when the little reminder pops up in the corner of my email, bugging me to click on it and “rediscover” these moments, I can’t even open them.

Is it because it makes me sad?

Am I worried that I’ll realize these moments won’t last forever?

Or because I just don’t want to revisit the very “homemade” looking cakes I baked for each birthday (I’m no Betty Crocker. It’s okay, I’ve accepted it.).

Or maybe it’s another gentle reminder to live each moment to the fullest. To enjoy the small things in life.

The hugs.

The stories.

The muddy mess kids make when discovering a giant puddle in the backyard (I thank the lucky stars for hoses and cheap bar soap).

I also wonder if these images and thoughts are trying to tell me to be present…

That I need to remember yesterday’s memories, but recognize today’s.

And continue living life to the fullest.

Moreover, we can’t control time, but we can make time.

Especially for those that matter most.

 

 

 

 

Inspired by Nature: PB Review

My family loves spending time in the outdoors. After busy days at work, school, and moving through the daily hustle and bustle of life, there’s an urge to escape and get back to nature. A call to the wild, you could say.

Trekking through the forest, discovering a new trail, or watching the kids run wild and free, there is no doubt that nature is healing.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve set a family goal to visit as many national parks as we can. Our kids take part in the junior ranger programs and have the privilege of meeting the park rangers that work tirelessly to protect our landscapes and wildlife.

The kids have learned about animals, plants, trees, and how to preserve our natural treasures. So far they’ve each earned five badges, one for each park we’ve visited.

The reason I share this is that recently, I came across this picture book titled: OLIVER THE SECOND-LARGEST LIVING THING ON EARTH by Josh Crute and illustrated by John Taesoo Kim.  Not only is it beautifully illustrated, but it’s a story inspired by nature.

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Age Range: 4-8

Publisher: Page Street Kids

Synopsis: A tree named Oliver is tired of being the second-largest tree.  He stretches his limbs in winter, lifts logs in spring, soaks up the sun in summer, and munches on mulch in autumn, trying to grow big enough to be noticed. Until he discovers that he’s been a part of something much larger, the Sequoia National Forest.

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It’s a humorous story with a lot of heart, and there’s an excellent note at the end about the Sequoia National Forest and other second largest things in the world.

It’s a great reminder for children that you don’t always have to come in first. In fact, being second is important, too.

Words

Words are powerful.

Whether displayed on a billboard, expressed through feelings, or read in a book, they are everywhere. Depending on how they are presented, they can be perceived in various ways.

Naturally, I think of picture books and the effect they have on children, even adults.

Recently, my daughter and I were browsing the local bookstore when she bounded over giddy about a book she discovered.

I glanced at the cover. A young girl was staring at a man wrapped in a blanket crouched down on the sidewalk. At first, I was surprised she picked this. Generally, she’s attracted to bright colors and big illustrations. This story was more muted.

“Will you read this to me, Mommy?” she asked.

We found a bench and admired the modestly sized book.

“OLD MAN by Sarah V. and Claude Dubois.” I  began.

the old man book

The story starts by comparing the life of a young girl and a homeless man. With its sparse text and beautiful illustrations, my daughter and I were captivated.

“Mom? Why is he living on the street?”

“Where is the old man’s family?”

“Why can’t he remember his name?”

Questions poured out of my daughter’s mouth.

Sarah V’s. carefully chosen words kept us reading not two, but three times. We talked about homelessness, empathy, acts of kindness, and showing compassion for others.

When it was time to leave, the book’s message stayed with us. As a family, we talked about it during dinner and brainstormed ways we can help others.

This was another gentle reminder, that words, whether spoken or read in a children’s book, are powerful and have a lasting ripple effect on our lives.

If you haven’t read THE OLD MAN by Sarah V. and Claude K. Dubois, check it out. I highly recommend it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Releases: Children’s Books!

I love, love, love (did I mention, love?) children’s literature. Even as an adult, walking into a bookstore or library, I get a rush of excitement and scoop up more books that I can carry to the check-out. There’s so much laughter, love, humor, and creativity that goes into these little works of art.

Coming out next spring by a brand new publisher, A Belletristic Wander, are two new titles that I can’t wait to get my hands on. Before giving you a brief synopsis of these fabulous tales, check out the amazing illustrations.

rumtum sailer
RUMTUM THE SAILOR by Kyle Duffy, illustrated by Mary Manning

and…

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CHARLIE AND THE HOT BALLOON sketch by Nerris Nassiri, illustrated by Jessica White

Aren’t they awesome?

My son is a huge fan of rhyme, adventures, and humor, so naturally RUMTUM THE SAILOR will be a big hit in our house.

Publisher’s Synopsis:

RUMTUM THE SAILOR is a larger than life adventure of a father who sets sail, but ends up on a deserted island.  Even though he has almost nothing on the island with him (just one oar that happens to wash up), he is determined to keep his promise to his family and be home in time for supper. It is also the story of “Stow-a-way” a mischievous octopus that shares all of Rumtum’s adventures, without Rumtum ever even knowing he is there!

The publisher also adds:

“Beneath the humor and rollicking rhyme of this book, the core feelings of love for his family and the taste of fantasy as he accomplishes the impossible, will touch the heart of the reader.”

I’m hooked!

While that story is all about adventure, this next one takes on a softer tone about a little boy who was told that his mother had “gone to live in the stars.” So what does he do? He discovers the magic of a hot air balloon and decides to build one himself in hopes of finding his mother.

Author’s Synopsis:

“…it’s about a boy searching for his mother. Deeper down, it’s about a child who perseveres through the saddest thing that can happen to them. The story explores themes of love and loss through the eyes of a child and plays with innocent perspectives and determination to move past things.

Magical, right?

Now, for a few more amazing sneak peeks of the illustrators’ brilliant samples and how you can preorder these great new reads!

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CHARLIE AND THE HOT AIR BALLOON beginning sketch by illustrator Jessica White

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CHARLIE AND THE HOT AIR BALLOON beginning sketch by illustrator Jessica White

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Sample sketches by Mary Manning, illustrator of RUMTUM THE SAILOR 

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Sample sketches by Mary Manning, illustrator of RUMTUM THE SAILOR 

Preorder here and learn more about the two authors and illustrators, in addition to the publisher’s personal stories.

Happy reading!

How National Parks Helped Teach our Kids about the Environment

“Mom, what are those big white things?” my daughter asks while peering out the window as we drive through the grassy plains of the Midwest.

“Those are wind turbines. The wind helps make energy which gets turned into power. Like the power that turns on the lamp in your room or the lights in the house.”

Immediately following my explanation came the rounds of questions that spilled out of a curious five-year-old’s mouth after being told that a giant monster-like structure uses wind to create power. It is pretty amazing when you think about it.

Our conversation ignited a critical discussion that my husband and I felt we needed to start sharing with our kids about caring for our environment. How can we instill in them an appreciation and respect for the natural living life around them? After wrestling with this big idea, we finally realized the answer is a lot simpler than we thought: It’s about giving our kids opportunities to interact with nature starting at a young age.

What better way to explore this idea than by visiting and discovering the national parks across the United States and exploring the incredible landscapes of our country? With a map of the U.S. displayed in our family room and pins to mark our destinations, we were ready to explore the history, nature, and learn all about the preservation of our land and animals as a family.

With over fifty national parks spread across the U.S. and nearly 300 million visitors each year, these natural wonders can be a cornerstone in the way we address environmental topics with our offspring. The big question is, where do we begin?

Badlands

My family and I found ourselves beginning our journey by trekking through the rough and jagged trails of the Badlands in South Dakota, witnessing the damaging yet, renewing effects of a natural forest fire that had happened near Jewel Cave National Monument. The charred, black trees were the only remains of what once existed in a dense forest. Through the chaos of fallen branches and rotting trunks, sprung new life. Peering through the now open land, flowers and grass were slowly taking the place of what was once alive. This moment sparked an organic conversation about the dangers and causes of forest fires, but also how they can stimulate new growth.

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My husband and I realized the value of teaching our kids about the magnitude of our actions on the ecosystems around us. While hiking on the paths in Yellowstone National Park, our children would discover a leaf or interesting rock along the way. To a young intrigued mind, this made the perfect souvenir to bring home and show friends. However, this proved to be another teachable moment as we explained the importance of leaving nature where you found it.

Kiersten Einsweiler, blogger and fellow adventure seeker from Hiking In My Flipflops, shares how she and her husband have helped their children to develop a deeper understanding of nature’s inhabitants: “We had a recent run-in with a snake on a trail, and my daughter was absolutely terrified – screaming and crying for a good part of the hike back. On the drive home, she thought maybe the snake was actually a ‘kid just like her’ and was just as scared as she was.”

With her children making this connection, Kiersten goes on to say that she believes her children see the “parallels” between how we respect human beings and living creatures and how nature is the “…home and space of a plant or animal.”

Our kids’ favorite experience on our life-long grand adventure was taking part in the National Park’s Junior Ranger program. Over the years, this program has evolved and now includes national monuments, with many being managed by the park service.

Their motto, “Explore, Learn, and Protect,” quoted by the many children sworn in each year, couldn’t be more true. With the typical participant age being between 5 and 13, our daughter could take part. Our son, who is three, was able to participate in the Pee Wee Ranger program offered at Jewel Cave National Monument located in South Dakota’s Black Hills. We have found that regardless of age, all children are encouraged to take part in their programs.

Making our way to Glacier National Park in Montana, our kids were equipped with various tasks in their Ranger booklets and prepared to earn their badges. Marveling at the giant “monsters of ice” as our son called it, we talked about the correlation between human activity and rising temperatures leading to shrinking glaciers.

Next up? Yellowstone, the world’s first national park located in Wyoming. It is known for its geysers, mountain beauty, and hundreds of animal species. With nearly 4 million people visiting the park, there’s bound to be garbage left behind. After picking up bits of trash found tumbling along the backcountry trails, my husband and I showed our kids what the saying, “Whatever comes in, must come out” quote truly means.

Along with Yellowstone, the national park service has made a concerted effort to become more sustainable based on the changing climate, and the impact visitors have made in the parks. Putting this into perspective, Isle Royale, a remote island in Michigan only accessible by plane or boat, spends $15,000 a year removing guests’ trash. This issue is one my husband and I feel we need to bring to the forefront of our children’s minds. Being respectful of the land, which means cleaning up after ourselves so other’s can enjoy it’s beauty too.

Providing tangible dialogue relevant to our future existence, there is a wealth of information to be shared with our little ones. For example, restoration of the Redwood forest, the impact tourists have on soil erosion in Zion National Park, or how trails protect naturally growing plants. And let’s not forget the increased water and air pollution in the Great Smoky Mountains. How about the encounter of non-native species causing detrimental damage in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park? These are the real-life experiences exposing the significance as to why we must protect these precious resources.

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Or the other right hand…

Looking back, we’ll never forget the moment they raised their right hand and promised to preserve and protect these places so future generations can enjoy them. From exploring the third largest underground cave to hiking, observing, and identifying animal hides, our children were sworn in and declared lifelong Junior Rangers. The quest to accomplish this noble deed and earning a badge to commemorate this momentous time will forever live in our hearts.

In the words of songwriter Woody Guthrie, “From the Redwood Forest to the gulf stream waters. This land was made for you and me.” As we move into the 21st century, our world continues to change along with its environmental issues. Taking the time to search out destinations that satisfy our lust for adventure and thirst for knowledge, let’s continue to bring awareness to our children who will pass it on to future generations.

 

 

Children’s Books: Environment and Animal Conservation

I always find it interesting seeing what kind of books my children pick out from the library.  But sometimes, I like to encourage them to find something connected to what we’re learning about as a family. For example, our goal of exploring all the national parks (we’ve visited 7 so far!) and as part of this journey, talking about the environment and animal conservation.

My kids like to mix it up. A little non-fiction and fiction. Believe it or not, even with fiction stories there are lots of ways to apply them to real-life conversations.

Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue by Naoko Stoop

Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world

Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world

What If There Were No Bees?: A Book About the Grassland Ecosystem (Food Chain Reactions)

What if there were no bees? by Suzanne Slade and Illustrated by Carol Schwartz

 

All Kate Messner Books

Over and Under the Snow

Over and Under the SnowOver and Under the Snow

Over and Under the Pond

Over and Under the Pond

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt  

This is mostly about adding art to a community, but we tied in the importance of community gardens and their impact.

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Therese Howell, illustrated by Rafeal Lopez

Are there any books that your family has discovered that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them!

Happy Reading.

I want my children to persevere—so I have to, too

As seen on Motherly

The smell of chlorine floods my nose as we walk into the building. Kids are everywhere tightly holding onto their parent’s hand unsure of where they are going.

“Okay, everyone, it’s time to get in your lines,” announces the lead instructor.

“Mommy, I don’t want to go,” my daughter says while burying her head into my leg.

“You’ll be okay. Come on, let’s go.” I gently push her forward into the arms of a teacher waiting nearby. The teacher smiled and winked, which tells me a reluctant child is not out of the ordinary.

I know in the grand scheme of things it’s only swimming lessons, but seeing my child teary-eyed and unsure of the situation, saddens me. Last year we tried lessons, and it didn’t go over very well. Let’s just say there were lots of tears from both kids and a very fragile feeling parent.

This time it was going to be different. It has to be. Each child is a year older and if other parents can do it, so can I. Besides, I don’t want to be purchasing floaties for a future 30-year-old.

I focus my attention on a group of moms walking up the stairs to the balcony, carrying coffee and holding squirmy toddlers, and wonder why I can’t be so calm and collected like them? Maybe they didn’t notice their own child’s first day jitters while being distracted by their fussy little cherub.

As I find my seat, I stare at a giant swimming pool with a sea of children anxiously awaiting the arrival of their coaches. I scan the area and spot my 3-year-old son sitting in line hugging his knees. Our eyes meet and we both wave. Phew. He’s not crying. Yet.

One kid down, now where’s his sister? Like a hawk, I stare at the locker room door waiting for her to exit. I start to panic a little. Did she get lost? Is she looking for me and can’t find me? The locker rooms were rather dungeon-like and reminded me of a never-ending maze.

Thoughts start to flood into my mind. You’re acting ridiculous, I think. Get ahold of yourself. I shake myself into reality and focus on the end goal of getting through two-weeks worth of lessons unscathed.

Grasping the hand of one of the instructors, with tears rolling down her cheeks, I spot my daughter making her way to the pool. I read her lips as she cries, “I want my mommy.” The instructor does her best to make her feel better by rubbing her back and reassuring her that everything will be okay.

I wave my arms to get her attention. “I’m over here, sweetie. You’re going to be great. Now, get in the pool.”

She shakes her head no. I mouth, “Yes. Look, your brother is in already. See?” She finds her brother, who’s now starting to cry.

Great, I think. Now what? I’m not exactly dressed to get into the pool with them. Not to mention, I paid for these lessons. There’s no backing out of this now.

As I see others kids swimming, laughing, smiling, having fun, I wonder why mine isn’t doing the same? Maybe I didn’t expose them enough to water as babies? Perhaps they’re not ready yet? This is when I notice my son screaming at his teacher, “Let me go! I don’t want you!” He’s fighting with all his little body strength to swim to the side. Oh no, not another round of lessons wasted.

I find my daughter. She’s in the pool swimming. Quick, look away before we make too much eye contact and she starts to cry again.

“Excuse me. Ma’am, excuse me?”

I peer down over the rail where my son is below. The head coach, a stern looking lady, was trying to get my attention.

“Is this your son?” I’m starting to feel that I’m picking him out of a line-up.

“Yes.” Oh God, what is she going to say. Kick him out of swimming? He’s only three.

“Have you thought about putting him in the Splash and Babies class? If not, that might be something to consider until he gets more comfortable with water.”

I glance around. Some of the parents are looking at me. Possibly feeling sorry for my son or me because as a parent, how can you not tell that your child isn’t ready for lessons? Please don’t judge me. I know they can do this.

“Should I come and get him?” I ask anticipating a shaming response.

“There’s no need. Just consider taking it along with this class,” she says with a wave of her hand.

I smile. Easy for you to say, but how am I to convince a 3-year-old who can’t wait to be a grownup, that he has to go to a baby swim class? This isn’t going to go over very well.

Eventually, my son gets used to the water, and by the end of the hour, he’s smiling. An assembly line of parents and babysitters wait in the lobby with towels in their hands ready to pick up their swimmers. My son comes out first. Shivering, I bundle him up in his Olaf towel and tell him how proud of him I am.

“Mommy, I can swim now. I don’t need any more lessons,” he says to me in all seriousness.

I smile. “Okay, honey.”

Next, my daughter comes out of the locker room nervously scanning the lobby for me. I rush over to her and wrap her up in a pink mermaid robe.

You did it! You were amazing!” Again, she buries her head into my leg, but this time, smiling and feeling proud.

I’m happy to say that we made it back the following day and eventually completed the full lesson. There were tears, moments of doubt, and true bravery not only on my children’s part, but mine as well.

In life, there will be times when we all feel we want to quit. I have felt it many times. But what kind of example would I be setting if I let them give up? This was the perfect time to show them the meaning of perseverance. After watching parents return day after day coaxing their child to get into the pool, they gave me hope and encouragement to keep trying.

So, to be honest—this was a lesson in perseverance for me, too.

Maybe last round of lessons they just weren’t ready yet (or perhaps it was me?). Either way, we’re accomplishing this milestone in life. When it comes down to it, in this season of my life with two young kids—it’s time to sink or swim. And we choose to swim.