Little things really do count

It’s been a while. Sorry for the delay in writing but between the holidays, dealing with the flu, and trying to Christmas shop for adults, the emailer kept getting pushed back. It wasn’t until one of my readers reached out to me asking about why they hadn’t received an email in a while that I even realized anyone missed me.

That got me thinking, how much does what we do actually matter in life? Yesterday while walking out of the gym a woman came up to me and asked for spare change. Panhandling is nothing new in L.A., but what was strange was that the woman was wearing nice gym clothes and some religious jewelry. She also seemed desperate, almost on the verge of crying, and I couldn’t help but give her some of the money I had.

Now here’s the question: did I actually help her? Did giving her money help her situation, whatever that may be? Rather than go into the philosophy of charity, I have a simple answer for you… it doesn’t matter.

We shouldn’t do good things, kind things, simply because we will see a direct and measurable result. We do them because we feel that they are the right thing to do at the time, and doing the right thing pleases us. There is no way to tell how an action will affect people or the world as a whole, just like how my reader friend couldn’t have known how much of an impact a simple email could have on me.

Do not let the dream of what could happen if you do a kindness stop you from actually doing that kindness. We have no way of knowing how that spare change you threw in the charity bin helped people, but we know for certain that it helped you to do so and we can rest assured that no matter what that small act will indeed make a difference.

So don’t stop yourself from doing good. Don’t question the gift you are going to give this holiday or the meal you’re going to make. Send that thank you card, smile at a stranger. Do whatever your heart feels compelled to do. You never know how important that little action could end up being to the person on the other end.

Speaking of little steps, I have a new book out. 🙂 I’ve been hem-hawing about how to launch this book but with Christmas fast approaching I thought I should just share it with you. The book is called “Big Science: Galileo’s Gamble” and it’s a book about science and persistence and it’s designed to help your child develop their critical thinking skills.

I’ll talk your ear off about the book later, but for now, click here to check it out.

Big Science: Galileo’s Gamble

Life of Music: Alice Cotton, Fellow Fridays

In the beginning, many years ago, ten-year-old Alice Cotton had her head under the piano lid of her father’s baby grand piano. She was plucking the strings and listening to all the resonating sounds it made. For hours! Then, later, as a teen, after playing clarinet in a school marching band, she started performing and writing songs with her new guitar.  Unbeknownst to her, she was also in the process of meeting her future music partners who would be accompanying her in creating successful music acts around the U.S.

It started in New Orleans, where Alice Cotton and her childhood friend, Cora McCann (Writer & Editor, Content Marketing, Cleveland Clinic), wrote songs and performed them as a duo acoustic guitar act called Sunstorm. They performed on Bourbon Street at one of the top New Orlean’s tourist nightclubs. They continued working in taverns and clubs around the city, making a name for themselves until Alice decided to move to Oregon. Cora eventually moved back to Ohio.
In Oregon, Alice co-led one of the top performing night club bands that she shared with another childhood friend, Lisa Coffey, (harpist/instructor). Of course, their music was very original with the sound of harp strings next to the guitar, bass, and drums. They worked hard to become one of the top working bands in the area. This is when Alice learned to play electric guitar as a rhythm and lead player.
Later, Alice joined the Byll Davis band that played on the weekends for dances and private clubs as one of the only female lead guitarists in Oregon.  The rest of the time she taught 4th and 5th grade in public school and math and art to homeschoolers, always encouraging her students to pursue music and performance in fun ways.
Along the way, Alice learned about book writing from her mother who was a screenplay and book writer. Eventually, this all led to Alice’s interest in writing books for children. Of course, the books are all about music characters like Largo, the half rest, who goes on a search for his missing key in her book, Musical Tales, and Presto, a newly written sixteenth note, that escapes from its music in The Case of the Flying Note

Alice Cotton’s goal now is to tantalize young people (as she was at age 10) into pursuing a life that emphasizes an awareness of music. “It is all around us”, she says, “and is part of who we are as human beings. It has been proven that music helps our children improve overall performance (academic included) and to create well-balanced lives. She continues to say, “It is no wonder that many young people start playing an instrument at an early age. They write songs, listen to the sounds in the world, and are filled with wonder.”

In the end, Alice Cotton became a master teacher of music, art, and mathematics. Her wish is that music not be ignored in the raising of our children, hence she writes musical fantasy books for 8 – 11-year-olds.  Go here to see all her books and acquire a unique gift for a loved one: alicecotton.com

 

 

The Trojan Horse of Shock Value- Poop

Why a children’s book author would write a book called Poop.


No one ever said writing is without risk. Writing is a funny thing, people ask all the time for you to bear your soul and to be as honest as possible. Actually, only writing that is honest, perceptive, and takes a risk has any shot of being noticed by readers. Yet, even when we bare our core there is still a chance that people won’t like it, or worse, they simply won’t care.

When I started working on Poop two years ago, I was in a bad place both financially and spiritually. I did what most writers do when they can’t figure life out; we write. I purchased a little red Moleskin journal, the writer’s confidant, and plotted out a story about a boy who was also going through a hard time and his imaginary friend that would help him go through it. The plot sat at the front of the book, though I didn’t have all of it, and I would reference back and forth as the year went on and the story continued.

Normally I don’t hand write work, it takes too long, but there is a certain magic that happens when you slow down. Text gets more dense, meaning becomes more layered, and the texture of the words feel organic. The red notebook came out anytime that life got particularly stressful. One of the key moments in the book was even worked on as a real estate agent was negotiating the contract for the house I was living in in the room next to me- a contract that would eventually lead to me needing to find a new home. Emotions charge writing, even if that emotion doesn’t come through on the page.

I wanted Poop to be honest. I wanted it to have emotion, to feel like something that actually happened. Characters were allowed to act on their own, say what they wanted to, and only move the plot forward when they felt like it. Many times I had to restructure the plot simply to afford a character who had made a different decision and, unlike most of my work, I had no idea what the ending would be until the book was almost done.

Poop came from a vast reserve of life experience- much of the plot actually happened to me. During the writing I underwent two cat scans and an endoscopy to root out the cause of my own stomach issues. I had arguments with loved ones just like Liam did and I came to some of the same conclusions on maturity and life that Liam eventually holds. In short, I was translating and understanding my own real world experience into this book. It felt like crystallization, like the memories were being converted into something more solid. Yet it wasn’t a journal.

When I finally finished, I started to understand what I had created. This book, the one with a smiling pile of poo on the cover, was actually about maturity. It was a Trojan horse ready to spring on unsuspecting readers. Liam’s journey through the book is one of self-realization in regards to his place in the world. He starts off feeling like he is the butt of existence, at the mercy of everyone, and it slowly dawns on him that not only is the world not against him- the world really could care less about him.

While that may seem like a harsh lesson, in reality it’s a great relief to the boy. That moment when we realize that life isn’t about us is crucial to maturity. It’s a threshold that some adults never cross (Liam’s father is just such an adult.) This change is entirely facilitated by Liam’s imaginary friend, Poop, who is in actuality Liam’s sense of fatherhood guiding him through the process.

Liam makes mistakes, he acts out for attention, and he heroically strives to solve his problems. He is everything that I wish I was and, eventually, what I became in my own life. For me, Poop represents turning your weaknesses into your strengths through a process of confronting life. Writing the book, in the same way that Liam writes his essay for the climax, was an alchemical process turning a miserable situation into inner peace.

My greatest hope for this book is for it to translate that same process for children going through their own difficulties. Yes, most of the people that respond to it have suffered from celiac or some other stomach condition, however, maturity is something that we all grapple with at one time or another- if not continually.

So why would a writer risk his reputation to publish something with a shocking title? Answer: when a writer feels that it’s the best avenue for conveying truth.

Poop is out and available for your Kindle and in Print. Follow this link to claim your copy.

A Different Sort of Alphabet – Sarah Steele, Fellow Fridays

I met Sarah through on online writer’s group. Shortly after my blog imploded, Sarah was kind enough to help me re-start Fellow Fridays. So please give her a warm welcome. 😀


Our children are learning daily in school that there is one right answer. One way to write their numbers, one date for each event, one character that was the hero. And there is certainly a place for the one right response! But when it comes to art and the imagination and entrepreneurship, children need to be encouraged to think outside of what is expected, to look at the world with eyes, fresh and unassuming. We (the ones with the old, assuming eyes) need them to do this! And this is why my husband and I collaborated on our first two children’s books—to give us all an opportunity to look at ordinary items in unusual ways.

Our first book, The Shoephabet, features colored pencil illustrations of shoes formed into letters (shoelaces are quite helpful in this endeavor). Each shoe has a rhyme that highlights its personality. Children are constantly trying to place their own shoes into letter formation while they read this book, and in fact, we encourage this. Shoes will always only be accessories worn on the bottoms of feet unless we gain the ability to look at them in different ways.

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Our second book, The Monsterbet, is much sillier and downright Seussical. From the creative monsters and hilarious rhymes to the bright colors and monster font, this whole book shouts for kids to engage their imaginations and to let this book only be the diving board into the world of the unusual, the inventive, and yes, even the slimy. And the repetitive phrase “The ABCs do not scare me!” is sure to keep your kids actively participating while you read together. (While our books are officially targeted to ages 3-7, we have found that no one is too young…or too old to be entertained by shoes and monsters.)

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As a one-right-answer girl myself, I found The Monsterbet much more difficult to write. (We wrote these books backwards to many—illustrations first and then words.) The shoes in The Shoephabet were easy to identify and had clear roles—the steel-toed boots worked hard, the wrestling shoe wrestled, the ballet slipper danced. Even the more ambiguous ones still obviously walked or played. But when I came to the creatures in The Monsterbet, I found my box expanding or better yet, disappearing altogether. What does a monster do? The answer was always…anything! So I took my cues from some of their unique characteristics and started making lists upon lists of adjectives, nouns, and verbs that pertained to each individual monster. (The snot and slime also pushed me out of my usual comfort zone and deep into the middle school boy section of my brain. Who knew that even existed?!)

Because of these books, my own children now look at trees and clouds and blades of grass to see what letters they can find all around them. So if your child has a great imagination or one that could use some prodding (or if your own imagination could stand to be stirred), you will surely find inspiration enough in these two alphabet books, The Shoephabet and The Monsterbet.

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Check out my website for free coloring pages of the illustrations in both of these books!

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Sarah’s books are available on both Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com

Visit Sarah at here website: http://bysarahsteele.com/

Or connect with her via Linked in!

Sandra Bennett, Australian Children’s Author- Fellow Friday

Picture Books Are Wonderful Conversation Starters

Have you ever been afraid of the dark?

Frightened of monsters hidden under your bed or in your wardrobe?

Picture books can be a wonderful way to start a conversation with children about ways of facing those fears or sorting through other emotions.

Why not read a picture book and start a discussion today?

I realized the power of picture books and their potential to start a dialogue when I was teaching a year 5 class one day. It was one of those moments when I needed an impromptu lesson, so I grabbed a picture book out of my trusty resource bag and began to read aloud. The initial class response was stunned silence. What was I thinking reading them something with pictures and very few words! It didn’t take them long to sit back, relax and enjoy the experience. After reading the story, the real work began. A lengthy conversation ensued that lead to some amazing writing of their own. I had re-opened the world of picture books to 10 and 11 year old students.

 

Curtin South Preschool

What was this amazing picture book that enlightened and brought so much wonder to our classroom? One of my favourites, “Diary of a Wombat” by Jackie French. Written so simplistically, yet capturing the character of a wombat so magnificently.

Since then I’ve now written two Australian picture books myself. My goal, is to introduce unusual Australian creatures to children around the world while opening opportunities for conversations with parents and teachers. Through my stories children can learn a little about Australia’s environment, the animals that call it home and something about themselves along the way. Each book finishes with a few fun facts about the characters contained in the story.

My newest release is “Frazzled Freya.” A rather timid frill neck lizard so scared of shadows and unknown monsters she is too frightened to join in all the fun and games with her desert friends. Set in the harsh Australian Outback, the vivid yet earthy colours used by my illustrator, Dianna Budd, depict perfectly the heat of the sun Freya is desperate to avoid.

Frazzled Freya_cover_amazon_001

 

Parents, teachers and children can read along and discover Freya’s journey to triumph as she conquers her fear with a little help from a few unusual desert friends. The story provides an excellent opportunity to begin talking to your little ones about facing their fears, trying new experiences and stepping outside of their comfort zone.

Emma the Eager Emu,” tells the tale of a very unusual bird who can’t understand why she is so different from all her friends at flying school. She is desperate to learn to fly and be just like everyone else. An assortment of colourful yet different species of Australian birds come to Emma’s aid. Through her tenacity to never give up, Emma eventually learns the significance of individualism and discovers her own special way of doing things. This is another wonderful conversation starter as children struggle to fit into peer groups at school and learn to understand and embrace their own unique qualities and differences.

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Is there a topic you feel you would like to discuss with your child? I’ll bet you can find a picture book to help lead you into the conversation. So, pick up a picture book today, snuggle with your child tonight, share the book and read aloud together. If you’re a teacher, don’t be afraid to use a picture book in a middle grade classroom. You just might be surprised by the conversation it helps start.


Sandra’s Website

Sandra’s Facebook 

Grab your copy of Frazzled Freya here or Emma the Eager Emu here

 

Rosie Russel, Author Interview

Hey everyone. Today I’d like to introduce you to friend  and a fellow Kidlit author Rosie Russel. Just to change up the format a little bit, this was an interview. I kind of liked the power! 😉


When and why did you start writing for children?

I worked as a substitute teacher in elementary and middle school classrooms in our district for fifteen years. The one thing I loved the most, was spending time reading to the children. Also, helping them write their own stories was a thrill to me.

When our grandson was born, it was time for me to be close by to help out with him. During that time, I spent many hours reading to him, just like I did when our sons were young. I knew I always wanted to try writing my own children’s stories. When I set my mind to it, it was not hard at all to come up with my own tales. I love it when I can use real life situations, memories, people I know and love, and items in my stories. They all have a special meaning to me.

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Most of your books are pre-school to first grade, what are the pleasures and the challenges of writing for this age group?

Yes, four of my titles are Early Readers and two of my titles are for third grade and up.

Many people will say to me, “writing children’s books must be easy?” It is in some ways, but many times, it’s difficult. The sentences have to be rich and very precise. For children learning how to read new words, comprehending, and learning punctuation, it has to be as perfect as possible. Also, not telling the reader everything is hard, as you want them to arrive at their own conclusions. Two of my titles are very repetitive, which are my “Beasley” books. It’s my hope that the reader will “own” the words by the time they are done with those two stories.

Who does your illustrations?

I illustrate all my own books using a Wacom Pen Tablet. I have around four different kinds of programs to help me get the right look for each story. I have watched many videos on how to draw faces, hands, expressions, and so much more. Some of the programs I use have added features for me to include. I’m very picky on the final result and sometimes will work as long as a week or more getting one page exactly the way I want it. It just takes a lot of hours of practicing. I encourage everyone to give digital drawing a try, it’s a lot of fun!

Beasley_and_Friends__Cover_for_Kindle_clipped_montage

Do you have a goal to your work, a personal statement or a grand purpose?

My personal statement is “Engaging young reader’s one book at a time.” My goal is for children to read books and to be engage in the story. I feel if a child loves a certain story or even the illustrations, it will draw them back to more books and more reading. I worked with many “struggling readers” over the years and I always could tell what stories took and what stories didn’t. If a book is not clear in the meaning, they may give up.

What is your favorite thing that you have created? What is your least favorite?

I am partial to all of my stories as each one of them holds a special memory or situation that has really happened. (Just for the record, the Maggie, Millie, and Merrie” tales did not really happened.) The first one was based on a dream I had when I was young. The second one is based on something fun my sister and friend played growing up. I’d better stop before I give anything away.

The “Avi and Jackson Best Friends” title is a rhyming book based on our sons growing up. I wrote it just for them and never intended to even sell it. After we discussed it, I was thrilled they didn’t mind for me to make it public. It didn’t take long before I knew this was something I wanted to do full time.

What advice do you have for other authors out there?

I would suggest to other authors to always keep learning as much as they can every day. At first I felt frustrated because I felt like there was so much to do and not enough time. So now I say to myself, one step at a time.

Also, building a platform for yourself and your books is important.

I would also suggest for authors to visit with other authors and share ideas and situations that arise. Most all of the authors I have met are very supportive of one another and it’s a great feeling knowing you are not alone.


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