Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Poodle and Doodle

A couple of weeks ago we had a house guest who brought along her 90 pound Malamute mix dog. I had expected Suds, our meek, 11 pound poodle/Bischon mix to be scared of the playful big one, but instead she intimidated him, establishing right away that the house was her territory.
That reminds me of something I recently read.
Poodle and Doodle by Donna J Shepherd is an adorable picture book about a tiny poodle who is upset when her humans bring home a gigantic labradoodle named Scruffy. At first the dainty little dog is upset by the new dog's clumsiness and lack of manners, but eventually she realizes living with Scruffy has advantages.
The book is told in rhyme that's comfortable and not artificially forced, unlike some rhyming picture books I've seen. The colorful illustrations by Jack Foster are perfect portrayals of the cute and amusing story.
Poodle and Doodle would appeal to most young kids but it would be especially appropriate for those who love dogs and children coping with sibling rivalry.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Medieval Rap?

Last summer I mentioned that nursery rhymes were often originally disguised political statements from an era when freedom of speech didn't exist. I understand people at fairs and street markets would chant or sing them in public to gather support without endangering themselves. Of course lots of non-political rhymes were probably also shared that way.
Ordinary people in those days didn't know how to read and write spoken language, much less music notation. Although the words of many rhymes and both words and melodies of many folk songs were passed on by oral tradition we have no record of tunes to go with most nursery rhymes. Even those we now sing were usually set to music in the last century or two.
It seems likely to me that the ones we now call nursery rhymes were probably not sung at all, but called out in rhythmic speech, possibly accompanied by instruments like hand drums and tambourines. If so, they must have sounded a lot like what we now call Rap music. Even the meter is often similar. Can't you imagine "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall" done as rap?
It's not likely ever to happen, but I'd love to hear a modern Rap group perform nursery rhymes.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

London Calling

Can you imagine a novel for kids about ghosts, time travel, WWII history and Christian religion? I've recently read one that incorporates all of those things into the plot, and does so seamlessly. London Calling by Edward Bloor is about a Catholic boy who is transported to London, England before the United States entered the Second World War. Bloor does an excellent job of also transporting the reader to that time and place.
I was fascinated by the characters and the exciting story and couldn't put the book down until I finished reading it.
Although some people, especially those who lived during those times, might not like the iconoclastic statements by some characters about famous leaders like Churchill, FDR, and the Kennedys, London Calling manages to combine fantasy and religion in a way that shouldn't offend anyone. And nobody is likely to disagree with the book's emphasis on the importance of helping others and doing as much good as we can.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Books

At bedtime on Christmas Eve my brother and I always heard The Night Before Christmas and the Bible passages about the birth of Christ read to us. Those Bible verses were in a book of Christmas Carols and we would sing some of those, too. Even when we became old enough to read by ourselves and knew the stories by heart, sharing the books as a family was a tradition in our home. That tradition was one of many things that helped shape who we are today.
There are lots of Christmas books for children available now, and I hope parents who celebrate that holiday will carefully select some of the best to share with their children every year. I don't want to sound conceited, but I believe my picture book, Secret Service Saint, would be a good choice for many families because it helps children understand the importance - and fun - of helping others and giving without expecting to be thanked and praised.
But no matter what books are chosen, hearing the same ones read at every holiday season will help strengthen family ties.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Grandparent and Parents

What's the main difference between parents and grandparents?
I don't mean grandparents necessarily have more of that, although they might if they've retired from their jobs and haven't taken on too many other obligations.
While some grandparents have much less time to spend with their grandchildren than the kids' parents have, especially if they live far away, others live with their grandchildren or take care of them while the parents are at work, so they spend as much time with the kids as their parents do. Obviously that's not the biggest difference.
But grandparents have the benefit of a different perspective because they have lived longer. They know from experience that problems like potty training and teenage rebellion, while difficult to deal with, only occupy a small part of a person's life. They also know the good things, like the fun they share with youngsters who think the adults in their lives are wonderful, won't last forever. As a result, while parents do appreciate such things, grandparents appreciate them even more.
When those kids are grown the people who are their parents today will appreciate their memories of those early years and realize they will always be parents, just as today's grandparents never stopped loving their own children who became parents themselves.
This holiday season is a wonderful time to create memories for all generations. But if families can't be together now, I hope they'll find time to spend with each other and create lasting memories at other seasons of the year.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thunder and Lightning

When I was a little tyke we lived on the East Coast where thunderstorms happened often in the summer. They terrified my mother, who was from California, but she didn't want me to be afraid. Once when she screamed and I asked what was wrong she told me she was trying to yell louder than the thunder.
I was never allowed to shout inside our apartment otherwise but from then on every time I heard thunder I was allowed to yell, "BOOM!" What fun!
As a preschool teacher I used the same technique with my classes and children who had been frightened by thunder usually came to enjoy it. Most kids love shouting as loudly as they can with adult approval.
Now I live in California where thunderstorms are rare and usually only happen in the winter. Although I know the storms can be dangerous, especially in wooded areas where they can start forest fires, I still love thunder and lightning. If I'm lucky, we might have some soon.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Be Kind to Animals

When I was a kid my mother used to call me "The little mother of all the world" because I loved animals and little kids and was always concerned about any who were hurt. I guess some things are never outgrown because I'm still that way.
Our milk cartons all say the milk comes from cows not treated with rBST and I had no idea why they thought it important not to use it. RBST is an artificial growth hormone and I figured it was just one more thing people concerned with their health try to avoid. I've heard drinking milk from those cows might make kids reach puberty earlier.
Now I know using the growth hormone is cruel to cows. It doesn't just make them grow or reach maturity faster, it makes them produce so much milk their udders become huge enough to drag on the ground when the cow walks. If you've ever nursed a baby you can imagine how painful that must be.
Using RBST actually tortures cows so their owners can sell more milk and make more money. I'm glad the milk we buy isn't from cows treated so cruelly and from now on I'll never buy another brand without making sure it isn't either.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dog Language

How to Speak Dog, Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication by Stanley Coren is one of the most fascinating books I've ever read. After reading a library copy I bought one to keep because it's worth reading and referring to many times.
Coren's book reminds me of Brenda, a deaf dalmation we once had who learned to understand over 350 American Sign Language signs and taught us lots of the canine language Coren mentions in his book.
Anyone interested in animal sciences or linguistics would probably like reading the book, but, although Coren is a professor, the writing style is not academic. Families with pets can learn a lot about how to communicate with them and get them to behave from the book. How to Speak Dog also includes some information about communication with cats and, as we found from our experience with Brenda, many dog gestures are also used by other animals.
I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Author Visit

Recently I've visited several schools to talk about my books, Secret Service Saint and The Peril of the Sinister Scientist and talk to the kids about writing. Because I used to be teacher I find that a fun way to spend a few hours and hope the students learn some helpful information from me.
Because I was a substitute teacher for a few years I can tell a lot about schools in a short time and have been positively impressed with the ones I've visited. It occurred to me that parents might like a few hints about how to judge the quality of a school where they might be considering enrolling their kids. Even though the school year is under way, sometimes children need to change schools because of moving or other reasons.
When entering a school you're considering the first thing to do is listen. If you stand in the hallway you should be able to hear a murmur of children's voices. Excessive shouting, adults yelling and scolding, or total silence may be warning signs that something is wrong. Of course those sounds (or lack thereof) are likely to be heard in any school from time to time, but if you hear them when you enter the building and again when you leave or return for another visit something might be wrong.
Next, use your eyes. Are there interesting posters and student work on display? Are those worn and yellowed with age or do they seem to have been updated recently? Is the building relatively clean?
As you walk along the corridors try to glance into each classroom as you pass by. Are most of the kids focused on what is being taught? Do some of them raise their hands and ask questions? Do most of them seem to care about what is happening?
If it's time for recess or the end of the school day and the kids are leaving the classrooms how do they behave? Do they walk in lines or run and shove? Are they kind and considerate or at least polite to each other?
Things like that can tell you a lot about the quality of the teaching.
I'm pleased to say the schools where I've done author visits have all passed these tests with flying colors and seem to be excellent.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Do you remember your first pet? Chances are, unless you had older siblings or your parents had pets before you were born, your first pet may have been a fish, reptile, or rodent because those are easy to care for - comparatively speaking.  Many kids beg for an animal friend, but parents don't want to take on the responsibility of caring for one. They figure it's best to have children learn to care for their own animals before allowing one that takes a lot of attention to join the family.
Goldfish and lizards can be beautiful and interesting to kids, but they don't love people, and rodents tend to stink and attract other rodents. All pets need to be fed and cleaned and have their needs met.
Pets can be wonderful for kids, and loving a dog, cat, or even a horse will help kids develop relationships and accept responsibility, but having one can be a lot of work and licenses, vet bills, food, etc. all cost money. In my opinion they're worth it, but sometimes it's best to wait until the children are old enough to accept their share of responsibilities before getting one.
What was your first pet and how old were you when you got it?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Okay, I know it's trite but I can't resist blogging today about things I'm thankful for.
First there are the things I tend to take for granted but many people lack such as a roof over my head, adequate food to eat, and a much safer environment than lots of others in the world have.
My health isn't perfect, but it's better than it was for years.
And I'm very grateful to have had two books published this year. Even one would have been a dream come true because all my previously published work was in periodicals or compilations.
I've been keeping a blessing diary where every evening I write down at least three things I thank God for. Looking back over the months and seeing how frequently certain kinds of things are mentioned it's clear the ones I appreciate the most are relationships, especially with people I love; beauty, usually either the natural kind or the experience of reading good books; and managing to accomplish things, especially if those weren't easy.
What are you thankful for?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Kathy Stemke's Suggestions

As promised, here are some fun activities Kathy Stemke, author of Moving Through All Seven Days, suggests to help young kids learn through movement.


String seven bells on a string with the each day of the week spelled out. Add a picture of the foods mentioned in the rhyme below. Great for jump rope chants:

Monday, meatball, start the week, Tuesday, tunafish, what a treat. Wednesday, watermelon, red and cool, Thursday, turkey, that’s the rule, Friday, French fries, eat them hot, Saturday, slurpees, thanks a lot, Sunday, spaghetti, sun or rain, Then start the week all over again!


Make a poster of seven empty boxes.

Using tacky the kids put the days of the week in order from Sunday to Saturday.

For fun you can blindfold each child, spin them three times, and see how close to the right spot they can place their day on the boxes.


In each suitcase there is a piece of clothing for each day of the week.

On Monday we wear mittens.

On Tuesday we wear a tee shirt.

On Wednesday we wear a wig.

On Thursday we wear a tank top.

On Friday we wear a feather boa.

On Saturday we wear socks.

On Sunday we wear sneakers.

On command, one child runs to the suitcase says, “Monday” as they put on the mittens. He runs back and sits down. They next child says, “Tuesday” as he puts on the T-shirt. Etc. The first team to be finished and seated wins!


Make a poster with all seven days of the week printed out.

Cut each day into their syllables.

Sun day

Mon day

Tues day

Wed nes day

Thurs day

Fri day

Sa tur day

Give the cards to the children. Call three children at a time to make words until all the days are spelled out and in order.

To find out more about Kathy Stemke and sign up for her free monthly newsletter, Movement and Rhythm click on the link for her blog:

For more about Kathy and her book please look at my previous post.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Helping Young Kids Learn

Kathy Stemke has written a book full of ideas to help young kids learn. She says, "Many preschool children find it difficult to sit and learn, so give them opportunities for movement! It's commonly believed that when you hear something, 10% of the information is retained. If you see it, hear it and say it, 40% is retained. But, if you also DO it, you retain 70%-100% of the information. Using a multi-sensory approach to teach children enhances their retention and capitalizes on their natural tendency to move. In other words, incorporate movement into learning, and your child will have more fun and learn faster."

Kathy’s book, Moving Through All Seven Days, uses movement activities to teach the days of the week. The lyrical rhymes also teach them how to spell each day! The 14 pages of activities at the end of the book are designed to reinforce the concepts as well as give impetus to movement exploration.

You can find it on lulu by clicking on this link:

On Saturday I'll share some activities Kathy suggests.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Penny Pinching

These days most people are concerned about money, and you'll see lots of hints about how to save pennies. My grandfather used to tell me about his Scottish grandmother who taught her family, "Waste not, want not," and "Many muckles make a mickle." Gramp said that last phrase was Scottish dialect for "Many littles make a big."
We're probably all aware of hints like those to save electricity by turning lights and electrical devices off when not needed, water lawns late in the day to save water, use fabric towels instead of paper ones, re-use things instead of throwing them away, buy and store quantities of things we often use at a discount, and shop with coupons, but here are a few more 'littles' I haven't seen elsewhere.
Unless clothes are extremely dirty, using slightly less laundry detergent than the bottle or package suggests usually works fine. The same applies to dishwasher detergent, fabric softeners, toothpaste, etc.
When buying applesauce avoid the oddly shaped bottles that make it nearly impossible to get it all out.
Packages of tissues usually have several folded together at the top of the box and, if someone is in a hurry to catch a sneeze or wipe a runny nose it's easier to grab and use them all at once. Separating them when the box is opened can avoid wasting those.
Save computer paper by using the backs of previously printed things to make copies of things that don't need to look good.
These hints, and others like them, mean we can buy a few less of each item in a year. The saving from each one is small, but they do add up over time. Many 'littles' really do make a 'big.'

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Humberto the Bookworm Hamster

As a kid I had a pet hamster named Hamstead that I loved dearly. I also loved books. Lots of kids today also love hamsters, other little animals and books so they should love reading a picture book like the one I've recently discovered by Mayra Calvani. Here's some information about it:

Humberto is an antisocial little hamster… he’s totally addicted to

books! His neighbors, the squirrel, the rabbit, the skunk, the

hedgehog and the beaver want to become his friends, but Humberto

doesn’t have time for them. He’s too busy reading! Then one day,

disaster strikes and he must choose between saving his books and

helping his soon-to-be friends.

Available in print and ebook!

Find out more at:

Visit the author's website at or her blog


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Learning to Read

When I started first grade thousands of kids hadn't gone to Kindergarten because no census had been taken during WWII and school districts didn't know they were coming. I'd gone to Kindergarten, but only for a few weeks. But first grade was legally required, so there were 42 kids in my first grade class. Our teacher was new to the job and I won't go into how terrible she was except to say 21 kids were held back and had to repeat the grade because they hadn't learned to read.
But seven of us started second grade reading at fifth grade level.
Of course we all had parents who read to us at home, but so did most kids. And all parents "knew" it was harmful to try to teach kids to read themselves, so none of ours had tried. So what was the secret?
The public schools in California at that time were using sight reading (See, Hear, Say) curriculum but, because so many of the first graders weren't learning by that method, the teacher had tried using phonics and required them to chant the letter sounds every day while the rest of us worked at other things.
Remembering that experience, I played a phonics record or tape (you can tell that was a long time ago) every day as the children in my home preschool settled in for their naps. The familiarity would help them doze off.
I think doing that was one of the main reasons so many of the children began reading
on their own.
As I mentioned in my last post, I'm firmly opposed to trying to push
reading skills on kids who aren't ready for them, but this is an entirely
pressure-free way to prepare them to learn.
And it might also be a help to older kids who have learning disabilities
to play phonics CDs as they fall asleep at night.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Helping Kids Read Well

One of the first posts I ever made on this blog was about helping kids become excellent readers. It's about time to bring up that important topic again.
When my daughter was little I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but couldn't afford not to work, so I ran a home preschool.
I didn't believe in trying to push academic learning on little kids because reading readiness develops at different ages and if children aren't ready to learn to read, instead they learn that reading is impossible. Working with special education kids I saw quite a few who were so sure they would fail because they'd done so in the past that they wouldn't try to read.
On the other hand, some young kids are ready and eager to learn and it's frustrating for them to be in environments that don't allow reading instruction.
I wanted to meet the needs of all the kids so I set up a program to do that.
Every morning at circle time we'd spend about five minutes on a letter and number of the day. We'd count objects according to the day's number. Then I'd tell the kids one sound the letter of the day made and go around the circle saying, "If your name started with... it would be..." or, "If you had ... in the middle of your name it would sound like...." The kids loved hearing the funny changes to their names.
At the end of each day we'd put away the toys and have Independent Learning Time while waiting for parents to arrive. The kids could choose a book, puzzle, coloring page or other quiet table activity. They'd put each one away as they finished with it and choose another, so everything would be neat when the children went home. I'd provide a workbook for each child according to his or her learning level and interests and if one workbook was completed I'd give another. Those who wished could use their own workbooks at Independent Learning Time and many did so, but there was absolutely no pressure to use the workbooks at all. That part of the day worked sort of like the Montessori method.
The rest of the day we'd have lots of free time to play, both inside and out, a special activity such as a messy art project, a visit to the nearby library for Story Time, a cooking or science project, or a Special Event such as a field trip, party, visitor, or (rarely) a movie.
Of course I'd read to the kids during morning and afternoon circle times, letting them choose from the pile of books related to the theme of the week. Some of those would be Big Books designed so teachers could point to the words while reading. Often the kids would keep requesting more stories for 45 minutes or more.
Many of the four year olds and a few of the three year olds spontaneously began reading independently and all those activities probably helped them do so, but I'll tell you about one of the most important things I haven't mentioned next time I blog.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

By now you've certainly heard about the new movie based on the classical children's picture book by Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are. I haven't seen it and may never do so, but I'm pleased that yet another generation of kids will probably want to read the book.
In all the years I taught preschool and Kindergarten children that was certainly the best loved book of the hundreds I read to the kids. One little girl was frightened by the monsters in the book, but she was the only one who didn't love the book and ask to hear it read over and over again.
Probably every child on this planet with a normal family has experienced being punished for misbehaving, having scary dreams, and being reassured of their parent's love. No wonder so many kids can identify with Max.
Expanding a picture book into a full length movie certainly required adding a lot of material not included in the original story and I hope Hollywood did a good job of staying true to the original.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Medieval Manners

Although our culture isn't as careful about things like manners as it used to be, most parents usually try to teach their kids to have good ones. Perhaps it might interest children and help them remember to be polite if they knew where many of our customs come from.
For example, in the Middle Ages people believed that when someone sneezed their soul came out of their body until they inhaled again. During that crucial moment an evil spirit might get in and possess the sneezer unless someone said, "God bless you."
A lot of our manners are based on war.
We no longer kneel or bow except in limited situations. Back then bowing was a way of showing submission and trust because doing so gave another person the opportunity to attack the one who was bending over by hitting them on the head or even cutting it off .
Knights in armor wore helmets, and removing them was a sign that they were not intending to defend themselves. That's why men removed, or later tipped, their hats when meeting a lady or a man they respected, or entering a church or the home of a friend.
But even homes were not always safe places in those days. When tables were set a sharp knife was placed on the side near the right hand, which was dominant for most people. The knife was used for cutting food, but available in case a fight broke out.
And men would extend, join, and shake their right hands to show that they weren't going to use a weapon.
Even saying "Please," which is short for the phrase, "If you please," showed submission because people in positions of power would simply command others to obey them while everyone needed to ask equal and superior people if they were willing to do something.
Although most people aren't aware of the origins of such traditional behaviors we still do them. I wonder how much longer things like that will continue to be used in our culture.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Shroud Poems

Since my tweener fiction book, The Peril of the Sinister Scientist, is about a kid who thinks he was cloned from the blood on the Shroud of Turin a friend, Rev Earl Langguth, gave me these two poems he wrote with permission to post them here.


Might Turin’s shroud be stained with Jesus’ blood?

Could we from it extract some DNA?

What might this tell us of our Saviour’s birth,

And might it cause the faithful some dismay?

While mitochondria from Mary came,

Might autosomes suggest a man to blame?

But then, how did the Holy Spirit work?

Could sequencing detect divine control?

Since Jesus was as human as ourselves,

Would not His chromosomes be normal, whole?

I doubt we could the slightest change display,

Divinity’s not shown by DNA

God’s Spirit did that special babe conceive,

He was to live and grow as Joseph’s son,

Would not the genes of David’s line be there,

As if with Joseph’s seed He was begun?

God’s Word is seen in all He did and said,

God sealed it by His rising from the dead!


Geneticists now seem about to gain

Abilities undreamt of in the past,

The monk named Gregor Mendel found the key

To make us think to master life at last.

The double helix yields its complex mold

As mystery relinquishes control

We hope at length to use new knowledge vast,

But know you this: you cannot clone the soul!

If you could clone a man, you’d get his shape

His kind of hair, his eyes, his build, his skin;

And outwardly you’d think him quite the same

But lawlessness would reign there, deep within

An animal in man-shape, not a man

You would achieve, far short of reason’s goal,

Without a spirit, lacking right and wrong—

Because, you see, one cannot clone the soul!

Oh yes, perhaps some scientist will strive

To clone himself— his wife— perhaps his kin;

And he’ll endure the years which then must pass

Before his claims to fame might then begin;

But he will soon discover how he’s failed;

His creature’s nature will be flawed, not whole

A beast which looks quite human, but is not!

Be warned: we cannot think to clone the soul!

I would be interested to hear what people think of Rev. Earl's ideas and will share any comments with him.
A few people have expressed concern about mentioning the possibility of human cloning in a book for kids, but The Peril of the Sinister Scientist is obviously fiction. Most younger readers would just consider Joshua's imaginative ideas part of the plot, and parents of kids old enough to understand the concept would find it an excellent opportunity to discuss such things with them. The book has a definite Christian message.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tiny Angel

I recently had the privilege of reading a soon-to-be-published book by Nancy Carty Lepri called Tiny Angel.
It was bad enough that Macy had to move away from her best friend, whose letters showed she had quickly found another best friend.
Attending school in a new town where she had no friends at all and became a victim of the class bully was worse. And it didn't help that her teacher was pushing her to participate in a major spelling bee, which would make her seem like a nerd to everyone.
To top it all off, the tiny angel who unexpectedly showed up might turn out to be more of a problem than a help.
How could Macy ever make some friends and have a normal life?
Kids can easily identify with Macy's troubles and the touch of supernatural influence makes Tiny Angel more than just another book about problems in school. I think young readers will love this book.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


No Bones About It is one of The Sum of Our Parts series by Bill Kirk. These books teach kids about their bodies in a fun way.
Since it's a picture book, my first impression was that this book was for little kids, but it contains fascinating scientific information that will interest older ones. It certainly was interesting to me, and I'm a grown up. The amusing rhymes on each page will entertain kids of all ages, though the younger ones probably won't understand the vocabulary. The fascinating factoids are definitely for the older set and the book is intended for eight to thirteen year olds.
The illustrations are by the talented Eugene Ruble who also did the artwork for my soon-to-be-released book, Secret Service Saint and many others. Ruble does an excellent job of drawing the skeletal parts accurately while keeping the pictures amusing.
No Bones About It will be helpful to young students for educational purposes, but it's also just plain fun.
I expect the other books in the series will be equally enjoyable.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Where Does Food Come From?

After the Special Ed class where I had worked as a substitute teacher was over for the day I went to help the afternoon Kindergarten teacher. Her class was digging up the carrots they had planted earlier in the year and the children were thrilled and amazed to see what their seeds had produced. Even those who didn't like vegetables were eager to taste the carrots they had grown themselves.
I've also seen children eagerly devour food they helped to cook even if was something didn't normally like.
We all know childhood obesity is a problem, but eating healthier foods can help with that. In our American society where both parents (or the only parent) must work at jobs away from home fewer families eat food made from scratch. Heating up something from the freezer saves valuable time and fast foods are called that for a good reason.
But we don't have to eat quickly every day. Cooking together is a good way to have family together time and growing even a few edible plants in flower pots helps kids learn.
Of course hot stoves and sharp knives are dangerous for little children, but even if someone else must do the chopping or put things on and off of the burner kids can do a lot to help prepare meals. Doing that may encourage them to eat healthy foods and can also increase their confidence.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Case of the Missing Sock

Renee Hand's book, The Case of the Missing Sock, is a delightful mystery for kids. It's part of the Crypto-Capers series about a group of children and a granny who are gifted with abilities that allow them to solve mysteries. The gifts are not supernatural, just unusually strong talents and intelligence.
It was fun to watch the characters unravel the clues and young readers will enjoy figuring out the cryptological messages left by the thief for what turns out to be a believable reason.
Although this book is second in a series and some references to earlier events are not explained in detail, it stands alone comfortably.
However there is one problem with it. The publishing house, North Star Press, is in need of a good copy editor. The dozens of errors, such as misused homonyms, were annoying and pulled me out of the story. But, unlike a college English major like me, most kids who read the book probably won't even notice the mistakes and will simply enjoy the mystery.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Folk Song for Writers

Would you like to be a professional writer? If so, you might be interested in something I wrote many years ago. It's a little bit silly, but true.



Janet Ann Collins

( To the tune of Get Along Home, Cindy)

“I’d like to write some novels

And stories, books, and rhymes.

I want to write some articles

And sell them every time.”

“Sit down and write,

Then you mend ‘em.

Sit down and write,” I say.

“Sit down and write,

Mend ‘em, send ’em.

That’s how you’ll sell someday.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

Shroud of Turin

A story about the Shroud of Turin is in the news today. A scientist named Luigi Garlaschelli is supposed to have shown that the Shroud isn't real. Maybe I should send him a copy of my book, The Peril of the Sinister Scientist, which is about a kid who thinks he was cloned from the blood on the Shroud of Turin because a scientist who worked on that experiment is stalking him.
Nah. Even if he speaks English he probably wouldn't want to read a fiction book. And, anyway, I don't know how to contact him.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What to Eat

My mother used to insist we eat our "Good red meat" first because back in the 1940s everyone 'knew' that was the healthiest food. Of course now we know it's high in bad cholesterol and not good for us.
There used to be seven basic food groups that everyone was supposed to eat every day. Let's see if I can remember what they were. Protein foods, green vegetables, yellow, and orange vegetables, fruits, dairy foods (which included eggs,) and carbohydrate foods are all I can think of. That list was replaced by five basic foods and now there's a food pyramid. Who knows what basic food lists will be created in the future?
Of course there are lots of other ways some people think we should eat in order to be healthy including the Cave Man, vegetarian, and vegan diets.
So how should we feed our kids?
While we don't all agree on the best way to eat, we do know obesity is unhealthy and has caused lots of people to have serious health problems. Most people agree that a lot of fast food is unhealthy, but busy people often don't think they have time to cook from scratch.
My advice is to listen to Aristotle and have moderation in all things. Unless there's a medical reason to avoid certain foods, we should be sure our children get as varied a diet as possible and try not to overdo any one kind of food.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Giving Thanks

Yes, I know the traditional time to talk about giving thanks is at the end of November, but it's a good idea to express gratitude all year long.
A few weeks ago I was crossing a street where work was being done and traffic was only allowed through in one direction at a time. Since there was a break in the traffic I thanked the woman who was directing it and she was amazed. She said a few minutes earlier someone had called her a name which I won't repeat here because she'd made them wait.
Once a lot of work was being done on a street in front of a house where I used to live because wires were being moved under ground and some repairs were needed. Every few days a crew from a utility company would dig up the street, work in the hole for a while, and fill it in until the next crew came out to work on it, usually a few days later.
The work had been going on for weeks when I called the city public works department to ask if they knew when it would all be completed. After getting the estimated date I mentioned that I appreciated the landscaping they had done a few blocks away.
There was a moment of silence. Then, with a choked voice the man told me that was the only expression of gratitude he had ever gotten. Usually he just had to listen to complaints all day long.
Both those people were thankful for my thanks and reminded me how important it is to express gratitude to those who serve us even if that service is sometimes an inconvenience. The mail carrier who brings bills, the cashier who takes extra time helping a customer in line, the police officer who gives a ticket, and those who repair our streets and utilities are not only doing their jobs. In a small way they're helping to make the world a better place.
Please join me in thanking them and all the others who deserve our gratitude.
Thank you.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Songs for a Teenage Nomad

I seldom review books for young adults but recently read a YA novel that's so good it had to be shared. Songs for a Teenage Nomad by Kim Culbertson is too edgy for younger readers because of the sorts of problems Calle, the protagonist, experiences, but it's so beautifully written I couldn't resist telling you about it.
Calle's single mother has kept moving around and changing boyfriends for her daughter's entire life so the girl has never been able to have friends or feel like she belonged anywhere. Finally they've arrived in a community where Calle (pronounced like Callie) develops relationships. Then her life falls apart again.
The plot is exciting, the characters are realistic, and the writing is beautiful and poetic.
I highly recommend this book for teens who like to read.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Amazing Award!

Guess what! I just won a Newberry Award.
Before you get excited, let me explain that it's not the Newbery Medal for the year's best books for children. (Oh, how I'd love to get one of those.)
When the authors and illustrators with Guardian Angel Publishing who live near the West Coast of the US met in Oregon last week we had a tour of the Newberry Volcanic Monument. Just for fun our publisher, Lynda Burch, agreed to create the Newberry Award for those of us who were on that tour. Here it is:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Emily the Chickadee

Someone sent me the Emily the Chickadee series of picture books for young children by Carol Zelaya. The three books in the series are Emily Waits For Her Family, Caring For Emily's Family, and Emily's New Home.
The books are educational because they provide information little ones wouldn't know about the life of a bird. However they're all told in rhyme, which is often forced. The first one, which uses the same rhyme scheme for every single sentence was annoying to me, but very young children probably won't mind hearing the constant repetition of the same sound as the books are read aloud to them. In fact they might like it.
The illustrations by Kristin Metcalf are beautiful and manage to be scientifically accurate and charming at the same time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Books, Etc.

Sorry not to have posted anything on Saturday, but I was out of town at a wonderful event and didn't have internet access. The publisher of my books and a group of other authors and illustrators who work with the same house gathered in Bend, Oregon to meet each other and have a shared book signing at the local Barnes and Noble. We also got to see some of the beautiful sights in the area and have fun together.
I got some books by other authors and will probably review some of them here in the future.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Emma Lea's Tea With Daddy

Emma Lea’s Tea With Daddy is one in a series by Babette Donaldson about the same little girl, all of which involve tea. Although I’m not into it myself, I understand there’s now an entire tea culture in America and this series helps to introduce it to children.

Even though tea isn’t my thing, I found this book about a child managing to prepare a fancy meal for her father to be delightful. In the long run, the book is more about family relationships than the beverage they share, and I’m beginning to get the impression that’s true of the tea culture as a whole. It encourages good manners, too.

The illustrations by Jerianne Van Dijk do an excellent job of expressing the warm feeling of the story and the simple recipe at the end adds to the appeal.

Some other books in the series are Emma Lea’s First Tea Party, Emma Lea’s Magic Teapot, and Emma Lea’s First Tea Ceremony.

For people who love tea and want children to learn about the tea culture the best place to buy them is in a local tea shop. The books are also available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but not in bookstores.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Author Questions

Cheryl Malandrinos tagged me! That means that I have to play tag by answering a few little interview questions! Then I have to blog tag someone else! So, here are my answers and here are the bloggers I am tagging! I guess I’m it!

1. Which words do you use too much in your writing?

Suddenly, just and the verb to be. I was just amazed when my editor suddenly asked me to remove most of them from my manuscript.

2. Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?

To tell the truth, I seldom notice the words when I’m reading. They’re like a transparent window that lets me view the fictional universe of the story.

3. What are your other favorite blogs?


to name just a few.

4. Name a favorite word:

Acceptance. I love getting those from publishers.

5. And a word you’re not so keen on:

Rejection. Getting those proves I’m a writer, but it doesn’t make me like them.

6. What would you like to improve about your writing and/or blog?

I’d like my words to be so fascinating people would be flocking to read them.

7. What’s your writing ambition?

Seriously, I would like at least a few people to have their lives changed for the better because of reading things I write.

I now blog tag the following blogs / bloggers:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Horse, of Course

A while back I blogged about a horse book for kids. Here's another that's quite different.
A Horse, of Course by Shari Lyle-Soffe is a funny picture book about Aaron, who gets a horse for his birthday. However, like a little brother or sister, Horace the horse gets all the attention, treats, and other things that used to be Aaron's and makes a general nuisance of himself. Can Aaron find a solution that's best for everyone, including Horace?
The illustrations by Eugene Ruble capture the humorous feeling of the book perfectly.
Although this is a picture book, many older children will find it amusing. Some girls who are "horse crazy" might prefer a more realistic book about horses, but any kids who appreciate humor should like this one.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Teeth and Reading

Learning to read is a lot like getting teeth. While the process may be unpleasant, it's definitely worth it because so much more can be taken in.
Another similarity is that children are ready for the process at different ages.
While most babies start getting teeth when they're around six months old, once in a while a baby is born with some teeth already showing and others don't get their first teeth until after their first birthdays.
Reading readiness also happens at different ages depending on when the myelin coating on nerves in the brain finishes growing. Usually kids are ready to read when they're about six years old, but some are ready in preschool while others may not be until they're around eight years old. Becoming ready to read at an earlier or later age doesn't necessarily show intelligence levels any more than the age of getting teeth does.
However children who are expected to learn to read before they are physically ready to do so my learn to fail. If they become convinced that reading is something they are not capable of doing, they may give up. And if, when they do become ready, they're expected to use material designed for kids who are already fluent readers, they won't be able to do it.
That's why I believe children who are developmentally ready should be allowed to learn reading in Preschool and Kindergarten, but that should not be a requirement. If a child doesn't learn to read in First Grade there should be no stigma attached to repeating that grade.
And parents certainly don't need to be ashamed if their babies don't get their first teeth as early as others do.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

School Lunches

There has been quite a bit of information in the news lately about the problems with unhealthy school lunches. High sugar and fat content and lots of advertising are certainly not good for kids.
But what's the alternative?
Way back in ancient history when I was a child schools didn't provide lunches except for one day a week when mother volunteers would come in and cook food for those who would pay for it. Everyone else brought their own food from home as they did the rest of the week. Usually we had a sandwich, a piece of fruit or some carrot or celery sticks, and something sweet (often home baked) for dessert. We would have either fruit juice or milk, which might be in a thermos bottle or a small carton.
However so many mothers now have jobs outside the home that there's not much chance of having enough volunteers to cook for a whole school and health departments probably wouldn't allow that anyway. Some kids do still bring their own lunches, but those usually contain pre-packaged food that's probably as unhealthy as the things sold in cafeterias. And low income kids count on school lunches to get adequate food.
With budget cuts in many school districts (especially in California where I live) selling school lunches might be a way to make a profit, but chances are the programs may be discontinued in some places and more families will be cutting corners by making lunches at home instead of buying them.
At least now we have good freezers so it's possible to make enough sandwiches for a whole week at a time.
Peanut butter and jelly, anyone?