Monday, April 9, 2018

Two Great Books by Steve Richardson

Today I want to share two wonderful books for children, both written by Steve Richardson. They are inspiring and uplifting picture story books/early chapter books, and each one is beautifully illustrated. Both are picture books for kids of any age, since the pictures tell each story visually. They are the kind of books that belong in libraries—public, school, and personal—because they beg to be read more than once. The first is Paisley Rabbit and the Treehouse Contest, which came out last month. The second is Billy's Mountain. (My neighbor read it to her two-year-old grandson, and he has been building mountains in her back garden ever since.) Without further ado:

Paisley Rabbit and the Treehouse Contest,
written by Steve Richardson, illustrated by Chris Dunn

When Jimmy Squirrel announces that his dad can build the biggest, best treehouse in the world, he stirs up competition among his friends—and not the best kind. Everyone says their dad can build bigger and better ones. Only Paisley Rabbit is silent, but she is the one to suggest a contest: Everyone will build a treehouse and then vote on the best one. 
            They all get to work on building their treehouses—except Paisley. She gets to work on research instead. Her main priority is her little brother, Davy, who needs a kidney transplant. She promises him she will have a special project for him and then plots out her master plan. 
            There is so much to like about this book. No spoilers here, but Paisley shows how vision, perseverance, caring for others, and working together can achieve much more than brash ego. Her ultimate treehouse benefits others in a way no one would have foreseen. This is an inspiring story with a strong female protagonist. The ending is both surprising and deeply satisfying.
            Chris Dunn's illustrations are gorgeous, with incredible details. Page by page, they tell the story as a feast for the eyes. This is a book for every home or school library, and it’s a layered story one will read again and again.

Billy's Mountain, written by Steve Richardson, illustrated by Herb Leonard

            For Billy, life on a Kansas Prairie has only offered an unchanging landscape of flat prairie. His favorite book shows snow-capped mountains, forests, waterfalls. One day an idea comes to him: he’ll build a mountain like the ones in his beloved book. It will bring all the wildlife in those pictures: bears, deer, elk, beavers. At first, Billy enlists the help of his friends, but the going is slow, and they give up after they’ve built a forty-foot hill. 

But Billy is determined. He contacts a family friend who is also a reporter. The reporter writes an article about Billy’s dream. The story makes national news. The news reaches an old man who remembershisearly dreams. He, too has a determined spirit. He decides to work with Billy. And when young and old work together with determination—well, miracles can happen. 

The author takes time with the miracles that unfold in this book. Young readers will develop an understanding of ecology and wildlife while seeing, too, the result of collective effort and commitment. None of this is didactic or preachy. It’s easy to get involved in Billy’s plans and root for them, and it’s interesting to wait for what comes next.

Herb Leonard’s illustrations have the same, comfortable feel that drives the story. Kansas prairies, mountain meadows, snow caps and streams, Billy’s hopeful face as he thinks of his mountain—all these have a glow to them that make a reader feel they are in each scene.  

You can learn more about Paisley Rabbit and the Treehouse Contest HERE
You can learn more about Billy's Mountain HERE

How about you? Do you have favorite books that keep resonating with you because of both the wonderful story and the wonderful illustrations? Any titles, authors, or illustrates  to share?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Entering Contests — At Last


These pictures may look familiar to you. This is how my desk usually looks when I        
 haven't tidied it up, and I seldom think to take a picture of it looking neat. This is how it looks again, because I've been insanely busy, and a mess doesn't seem to call for new photos.

Between this week and last, I have submitted 2 stories, 3 flash fictions, and 12 poems to contests. Yup. I'm celebrating that. And this is why I did it: I'm staring work on part two of an old book that bogged down when I got stuck. It's an MG novel, and you know how long a novel can take! Now I'm on fire with this WIP again, but I have learned from experience: 

When I work on a novel, everything else just sits in the filing cabinet: stories, flash fictions, poems. And they nag at me. Besides, my copy of Poets & Writers was giving me the accusing stare. I'm always interested in thumbing through the magazine's links for general submission deadlines — that I often don't do anything about — but this issue (March/April) is chock full of contests with  deadlines in March, April, and May. 

 So. I decided, get those little rascals out of the cabinet and into the cybersphere so they aren't hanging over my head, interfering with the present novel I want to work on in peace. It was a matter of clearing the slate. It isn't too late to get your own copy of Poets & Writers, even go to your local library, and check out deadlines you can still make. There's quite a few in April & May.

Now I can even clean house (way overdue, since I was doing research for the novel.) Yup, it's clearing out time in general.

How about you? Have you taken on any "clean sweep" type projects? Have you taken the plunge to submit to contests? What are you celebrating this week?

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop co-hosted by Lexa Cain at: Lexa Cain,  L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge , and Tonja Drecker @ Tidbits Blog(You can go to any of these sites to add your name to the links, if you want to participate.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Last Saturday's Art Show at University Art Supplies Store

I'm celebrating two days early or five days late, depending on how you look at it. Here are the art pieces from the South Natomas Community Center's Art Club Show. The reception was last Saturday, from 1:00pm to 3:00pm and students served punch and cookies. The timing was because in Sacramento, Second Saturday each month is when art receptions are held, although with adult artists receptions are in the evening, and munchies and wine are usually served.

 I had to clamber around in the window to take these photos, so they aren't as tidy as I would wish. The pieces are mounted on a wallpaper trim background, then mounted again on a mat the has complementary coloring. These last 3 are different angles of the complete show.

The little tags hanging below each art piece are the artistic statements of the student artists. They are always so interesting to read.

Enjoy the show! And have a nice day.

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop co-hosted by Lexa Cain at: Lexa Cain,  L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge , and Tonja Drecker @ Tidbits Blog(You can go to any of these sites to add your name to the links, if you want to participate.)

Friday, March 2, 2018

Celebrating a School Visit and a Program I Learned About

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So I'm celebrating a school visit today. This morning I had the pleasure of visiting Matsuyama Elementary
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School, here in Sacramento, to read Dragonella to three first grade classes. They all assembled in one room, and were so quiet and attentive when they came in. And they stayed that way for over 35 minutes, which is not typical for first graders.

It is always such a pleasure to read to children. You can see them getting drawn into another world. All those sweet faces. All those bright eyes. You can almost hear their thoughts clicking away. Afterwards, the questions these kids asked were just terrific.

I always love school visits, but today I learned about a program I hadn't heard about before — and that I think has a lot to do with how sharp these kids were: Their three wonderful teachers meet Fridays in a program called The Leader in Me. Hats off to the school for promoting this program. The program focuses on the concepts in Stephen Covey's acclaimed book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but applies the habits to children. I think the whole school does it, with different lesson plans for each grade level.

These habits that make for successful living focus on character.  (There's an online site where you can learn more about The Leader in Me, HERE, where the concepts are called The 7 Habits of Happy Kids.) To wit: 1. Be proactive 2. Begin with the end in mind 3. Put first things first 4. Think win/win 5. Seek first to understand; then to be understood 6. Synergize 7. Sharpen the saw (balance)

These are the habit definitions in the adult book, too, but in this program each habit is broken down for young children to use and apply to their own lives. Apparently there are The Leader in Me schools around the globe, and I have to say, I am impressed.

I hope all of you are having a good Friday. What are you celebrating today? Do you know of other special programs for kids that have impressed you?

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop co-hosted by Lexa Cain at: Lexa Cain,  L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge , and Tonja Drecker @ Tidbits Blog(You can go to any of these sites to add your name to the links, if you want to participate.)

Thursday, February 22, 2018


How Many Children Have to Get Shot?’ Father Asks Trump

Last week I couldn't post. I was too sad over the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school — and still am. It's hard to celebrate right now, even small things. So I'm not using the Celebrate the Small Things icon and links. Not today.

I suppose if there is anything to celebrate, it's the spirit of these young people who have taken things into their own hands to protect themselves since adults haven't done a very good job of it. But that's not a small thing. It's big. It's an awakening, a stirring of the spirit that may keep stirring through the land and wake the rest of us out of our apathy, our slumber, our leaving it to others to fix things. 

There have been so many shootings, and each time I've been aghast and outraged and motivated to write and call congress. But this shooting hit me especially hard. I'm just so sad when I think of it. So close to tears every time I hear one of these young people speak for themselves. Hearing how tired they are of all the recycled responses to what keeps happening again and again. Perhaps it's hearing their voices articulate what it feels like to be afraid to go to school now. I remember what it was like growing up in the shadow of the cold war, the nuclear bomb drills, crawling under our desks (as if that would give us a chance). But I never had to listen to what sounded like fire crackers in the hallway, while huddling on the floor behind locked doors, easily shot through, knowing this was not a drill. 

I have so much admiration for these young people who are not going to just go about business as usual. They are facing what the rest of us need to face: It's going to happen again if something real isn't done about it. America right now is held hostage to an organization that wants to sell more and more guns, and guns that are more and more dangerous. Our politicians are their puppets, now. They don't want to shake off an organization that can do so much to back their campaigns. And they don't want to lose that backing. 

So I am saddened over the loss of life and the terrible trauma to young people who should not have to deal with this. This is the generation that has grown up with continued trauma. Think about that. School shootings somewhere, every year, coming to a school near you — perhaps your children's school — again this year.

And I'm heartened by the caliber of this generation who is finally taking it on. We should have been leading the way. But they are leading. Now we should follow. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Memoirs from Mrs. Hudson's Kitchen — A Rare Find

What am I celebrating this week? A rare literary treat for Sherlock Holmes lovers— Memoirs from Mrs. Hudson's Kitchen, written by Canadian author Wendy Heyman-Marsaw and edited by  JoAnn and Mark Alberstat.

Wendy Heyman-Marsaw
Mark Alberstat
Memoirs from Mrs. Hudson's Kitchen, is a treasure trove  for writers of Sherlock Holmes pastiches and fan fiction.  It's also sheer pleasure reading for those who simply like wondering about the fictitious people who lived at 221b Baker Street. Settling into these pages, it's easy to believe they actually existed.

Mrs. Hudson, readers will recall, was the patient landlady who rented rooms to Holmes and Watson. What's fun about this book is Mrs. Hudson's many observations on the habits of these gentlemen, what they preferred for breakfast, whether they took tea or coffee (coffee with breakfast, tea for special occasions), little gossipy tidbits like that. Obviously the landlady was an avid reader of Watson's stories, for she refers to various cases in little trips of her own down memory lane. Not surprisingly, her memories involve meals served, advances in kitchen gadgetry, recipes with instructions for preparing several recipes, and cleaning tips she and her maid, Molly used to keep 221b clean and sparkling.

Mrs. Hudson was well-read in general, and these memoirs provide her own slant on Victorian society, train travel, fashion, the history of certain buildings, and on Queen Victoria herself. We also get a glimpse into Mrs. Hudson's personal background — how she met her husband; how he died; why she never remarried. (Heyman-Marsaw provides a lovely portrait supposedly of Mrs. Hudson as a young woman.)

This delightful book both an enjoyable read and a truly useful handbook for anyone writing about the Victorian Era in general or Sherlock Holmes adventures in particular — all enhanced by newspaper photographs and advertisements of the time. Five stars to this fine book.

You can order Memoirs of Mrs. Hudson's Kitchen HERE
You can follow her on Facebook HERE or follow her on Twitter HERE

What are you celebrating today? Did you watch Victoria last night after the Super Bowl? Do you have a favorite book that provides examples of memorabilia and realia of a historical time?

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop co-hosted by Lexa Cain at: Lexa Cain,  L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge , and Tonja Drecker @ Tidbits Blog(You can go to any of these sites to add your name to the links, if you want to participate.)

Friday, January 26, 2018


Artist: Franz Xaver Winterhalter  
According to Wikimedia Foundation,
faithful reproductions of two-dimensional
public domain works of art are public domain".

"This photographic reproduction
 is therefore also considered
 to be in the public domain
 in the United States."
For some time I have been wanting to celebrate the PBS "Masterpiece" series, Victoria, tracing the history of Queen Victoria's leadership as Queen of England. Well, this is the day.

I've always been fascinated by the Victorian Era — witness the name of this blog. Most of the Era's appeal for me has been the sense of mystery shrouding stories that feature swirling fog, the clatter of horse hooves and carriage wheels on cobblestone streets, gaslit street lamps, women wearing long dresses with bustles and hats with veils. I've been a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, whose adventures take place in the Victorian Era, and  I've been equally drawn to Wilkie Collins's gothic-flavored mysteries, The Woman in White and The Moonstone. But it wasn't until I wrote my own mystery set in the era (Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, a middle-grade novel) that I had to do my own research on the Victorian Era. (And what a surprise that was! How strange that I had forgotten it included Jack the Ripper.)

I knew next to nothing about Queen Victoria herself, except that she lived for a long, long time and that she and her husband, Albert, were devoted to one another, which isn't always the case in royal families. (Years ago, my brother and his wife, who lived close to London, had taken me sightseeing on a trip and pointed out the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens.)

And then Season I of Victoria came on last year, and I was hooked. I had always been intrigued by Queen Elizabeth Tudor (who, alas, did not have such a happy love life), but I had no idea what an fascinating ruler Victoria was and what a fascinating life unfolded for her from the moment she became Queen at age 18. (It was probably fascinating from the get-go, but the series begins with the death of her father.) There were attempts on her life. Attempts by a relative to have her removed as incompetent and unstable so that he could have the throne instead. Political intrigue milled all around her by those hoping for control or at least influence. Even motherhood was fraught with intrigue: who would inherit if she and the baby died, etc.?

Well. Season II arrived a couple of weeks ago, and it does not disappoint. (I haven't been this hooked on a series since Downton Abbey.) The cast of Victoria is superb: Jenna Coleman is wonderful as the young and maturing queen. Convincingly she develops from the teenager who ascended the throne, married, and became a mother, while navigating the political minefields in Season I to a ruler juggling motherhood, wifehood and the weighty business of running a country with a steady hand in Season II.  Tom Hughes is the perfect match for her as Prince Consort, Albert: romantic, supportive, yet firm and independent-minded. Rufus Sewell is moving as Lord Melbourne (who actually advised her to get married while being in love with her himself). There is a large supporting cast who have starring scenes of their own in a variety of subplots, and the acting shimmers on all sides.

Thank goodness the Queen lived and ruled for such a long time! That means (I hope) quite a few more seasons of Victoria.

How about you? Are you hooked on a particular TV series? Are you fascinated by a particular period of history? A famous historical figure?

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop co-hosted by Lexa Cain at: Lexa Cain,  L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge , and Tonja Drecker @ Tidbits Blog(You can go to any of these sites to add your name to the links, if you want to participate.)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Celebrating Art, Writing, Blogging, and Breaks from Alll Three

I'm celebrating the "art spirit" this week. Yesterday was Art Club again, but no pictures of their work yet, because the kids got so fixated on their little masterpieces that they didn't finish in time and are going to finish them next week. I love this class. I love their commitment. Parents came to pick them up, and stood around waiting, while the kids hunched over their easels, until I finally said, "Let's make next week a finish-up week," so they (and I) could go home. These are the new easels we have this year, thanks to the South Natomas Community center. We purchased them at University Art Supplies on J Street for an unbelievably affordable price. Then I used the backs of art tablets and clips to provide a solid backing for their work. They can clip the canvas to it and have a stable surface to work on.

I'm also celebrating being back to work on a novel I started years ago that involves a ghost. I got through the whole story once, but then bogged down half way through the re-write because of a character who took on more importance and who would change many scenes, and I hadn't envisioned those scenes. So it's been cooking this long while. This week I've been working on the characters' back stories and also different kinds of timelines: one for simple events that took place in the world around them (politics, disasters, etc.) that some would remember, and then the general timeline of events plus births & deaths of characters, and then the timeline of the story itself, when it starts, when it ends, and marking birthdays celebrated or holidays and a funeral that occur within that space, ages of the various characters at the time of the story's present. It's a lot of work before I start the new rewrite, but it feels wonderful, because all the characters have come alive for me again. I feel like they are right next door — although in another century.

I'm also celebrating that I feel so much more focused after a long writing "drought" where nothing was happening. That's right. No writing. No blogging. Just the minutiae of everyday life. It seems to have been beneficial.

How about you? What are you celebrating this week? Are you working on a WIP? Enjoying respite from your writing projects? Discovering new hobbies? Just taking it easy? Any one of those can be so enriching.

Celebrate the Small Things  is a blog hop co-hosted by Lexa Cain at: Lexa Cain,  L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge , and Tonja Drecker @ Tidbits Blog(You can go to any of these sites to add your name to the links, if you want to participate.)