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!

Real Lessons in Unreal Books, Jean Lee

I met Jean via Twitter and connected over the idea that sometimes the best way to communicate a solution to a real problem is through a fantasy story. Personally, I go back and forth between realism and screaming monsters, so this question is particularly pertinent. So here’s Jean Lee with an excerpt from “Lessons Learned, a collection of essays” to shed some light.


In Reflections on the Magic of Writing, Diana Wynne Jones notes more than once that she received flak for not writing “Real Books.” Real Books were to be about present-day, everyday-world children handling real, everyday problems: abusive parents, poverty, illness, etc. These books should then be passed on to kids actually experiencing said problems to…I don’t know, strengthen character or something. She didn’t get it either, which is why you don’t see any Real Books with Jones’ name on them. (Personally I like her recollection of fellow writer Jill Paton Walsh’s words on the matter: “If you know two people who are divorcing, would you give them each a copy of Anna Karenina? Can you imagine a less helpful book? Yet people do this to children all the time.”)

What I do love is Jones’ own style of handling Real Problems in Unreal Ways. Take Witch Week, or Year of the Griffin—who doesn’t experience some lousy spells (couldn’t resist, sorry) in school? It doesn’t matter that one of the main characters in Year is a griffin: she’s a still a new student trying to find her way through a school with horrible teachers. Eight Days of Luke, Black Maria, and Fire and Hemlock all have terrible adult guardians the child protagonist has to survive; some are mean, some are self-centered, and some are, well, magical.

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Now granted, I haven’t completed my journey through all of Jones’ work, but I did just finish The Ogre Downstairs. As I read the final pages, it occurred to me that this was the first book where magic was part of the problem, but not the solution. It’s a story of a mixed family created by a widow marrying a divorced man the widow’s children nickname The Ogre. The Ogre’s two sons are just as beastly at the outset. When The Ogre gives each group of children a unique chemical set (enter the magic!), everything gets profoundly worse with The Ogre, but better among the children. Why? Because they work together to figure out how to stop floating, or how to get their minds re-switched to their proper bodies. Magic forces them to see things from each other’s perspective, and from this they unite against The Ogre.

Magic completely destroys a party the widow wanted so badly to succeed, and the row afterwards drives the widow out of the house for space. Everyone feels terrible, including The Ogre, who is not, the children realize, an ogre at all. The story ends with a family that better understands each other and, thanks to a final round with the magical chemistry sets, enough money to live in a new house sans magic toffee creatures or living dust balls. So yes, I suppose the magic did help with a solution in the way end, but the primary conflict was not solved by magic, but by understanding and teamwork.

A Real Book kind of solution to a Real Book kind of problem in an Unreal Book. Fancy that.


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Jean Lee has been writing all her life, from picture books for preschool to a screenplay for her Masters in Fine Arts. Nowadays she blogs about the fiction, music, and landscape that inspire her as a writer. She currently lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children.