Saturday, May 29, 2010

Prejudice and Bigotry

Members of a Yahoo group for writers I belong to have been discussing the influence of prejudice in our society and how that shows and can be discouraged in children's books. Although we've come a long way since before the Civil Rights movement, prejudice still exists in our society. There's also sometimes a problem with minority people being prejudiced against those in the majority.
The vast majority of humans in most books for kids are white and sometimes the characters are portrayed as animals in order to avoid having them be members of one race or another.
Some people feel that only members of minority groups can write about them accurately, while others think research can solve that problem. And some stories, especially in picture books, are universally true and the illustrations could show children of any race or national background.
I believe the more characters of varied ethnicity children read about and see in illustrations the less likely they are to become prejudiced adults.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Saving Money

These days most of us want to save money. Here are a few ways to do that.
First, we need to buy only what we really need.
Second, it helps to buy large quantities of frequently used bargain items. Some ways to do that are joining places like Costco or Sam's Club where things are sold in bulk, and shopping at outlet stores. If storage space is a problem sometimes two or more families can share the cost and split the purchases.
When something we often use is on sale it's a good idea to buy two or three times the usual amount. But before using coupons or purchasing sale items check the prices of similar things. Sometimes other brands have everyday prices that are lower than the cost of the products on sale.
A clothing swap between families can be fun.
Some people are embarrassed to shop for clothing, books, and household items in second hand stores, but there's no reason to be. I can't buy used clothes anymore because the fragrance in the products the stores used to wash or clean them bothers my allergies, but I used to do that. I always felt proud when I could find something like a gently used designer suit for only a few dollars.
Another way to save money is to cook food from scratch and eat at home. With practice it's possible to cook enough dinners for a whole week in a couple of hours, and just reheat things each evening. Alternating between several kinds of food and freezing extras keeps the menu interesting and the meals can cost a lot less than frozen meals or fast food.
If money is tight there are still a lot of fun things for families to do. It doesn't need to cost anything extra if families take turns inviting each other over for dinner, but they still get the pleasure of eating out. If the kids in each family prepare performances for their guests that adds to the enjoyment.
A picnic at a park or beach, playing games together, or going for walks usually don't cost a thing. Other cost-free things families can do are singing together and reading books out loud - not just bedtime stories, but fiction the whole family will enjoy. Some classics are great to share that way.
There are many ways we can pinch pennies and still have enjoyable lives.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Soggy Town of Hilltop

I've already reviewed a couple of books by my internet friend, Kevin McNamee, so I was pleased when he sent me his newest one. I love it!
The Soggy Town of Hilltop is a rhyming picture book and, unlike some of those I've seen, the rhyme and meter are consistent without being forced. But that's not the important part. The story is loaded with the kind of humor kids enjoy.
I won't give away the plot, but can't resist saying it gives a whole new meaning to 'trickle down economy.' ;-)
The book also teaches kids a lesson about bullying in a very subtle way.
But I don't want to make it sound too serious. The Soggy Town of Hilltop is a fun and funny story, and the colorful illustrations by Eugene Ruble do an excellent job of capturing that feeling. Children will love it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shroud of Turin?

Because my book, The Peril of the Sinister Scientist, is about a kid who thinks he was cloned from the blood on the Shroud of Turin I've been watching for information about the Shroud. Besides the obvious things such as the current display and comments the Pope has made on the topic, there has been a lot on the internet about the validity of the Shroud.
Scientists in the '80s did carbon dating and are certain that it could not have existed before the Middle Ages, but they can't agree on a convincing explanation of how it was created. Apparently some sort of radiation was involved, but it's not likely that there was a radioactive corpse.
Here's a possibility nobody has considered; what if the cloth had been placed over a statue of Jesus Christ that was carved from some sort of radioactive material? That doesn't explain the blood on the Shroud, but it's not impossible that whoever authorized the creation of the statue might have added human blood to make it look authentic and impress people. (Hmmm... Maybe that would make a good plot idea. Too bad I don't write that sort of books.)
A lot of people in the Catholic Church believe that the Shroud of Turin actually was the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. But it doesn't take scientific evidence to make the authenticity of the Shroud doubtful. According to the Bible, Jesus was buried in two separate cloths, one on his head and one on his body. The Shroud of Turin is only one piece of cloth.
However all Christians can be inspired by the reminder it gives of the Crucifixion. I hope my book will also be an inspiration to the kids who read it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Road Trips

"Are we there yet?"
What parent on a trip hasn't grown weary of hearing those words from a squirmy kid?
Yes, sitting in a car for hours can get boring for children, but there are ways to make it less so. The obvious way is for kids to entertain themselves with electronic games and other devices. Kids and even parents may be texting and communicating with other people on the internet, or reading e-books as they ride.
Those things can help to kill time on long drives, but vacations are supposed to be occasions for families to bond and become closer.
Taking a break from the individual activities and sharing old camp songs, making up a story together, counting certain things you drive past, sharing family memories, or taking turns saying something nice about each other can help create a sense of togetherness on long drives. I'm sure we can think of other ideas, too.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When Dreams Come True

Last week I reviewed a book about childhood dreams. Yesterday after a MOPS meeting I asked two little kids what they wanted to do when they grew up. The three year old girl said, "Go to Disneyland." The four year old boy told me, "Do homework."
Both kids have a good chance their dreams will come true. In fact the boy is almost guaranteed he'll get his wish, but he may not be happy about that.
Of course both children will change their goals, but the boy's answer to my question made me think of times when our dreams come true, but they aren't what we expected.
For example, my dream to become the author of children's books has come true, but all my previous writing was for periodicals and I never imagined how much time and effort marketing books would require.
There are many dreams more difficult to live with than that.
Sometimes people go through years of education and training only to discover their chosen field isn't right for them after all. And careers that are a good fit aren't always easy. No job is.
Then there are the dream marriages that end in divorce. Even couples who stay together must go through difficulties because no marriage is perfect.
Having children isn't perfect, either. No matter how much people know in advance about the unpleasant parts, pregnancy, childbirth, midnight crying, potty training, etc. are always more difficult than expected. And if they seem hard, just wait until the teen years.
If a child or spouse develops serious health problems or has a disability, that can make the dream seem like a nightmare at times, but love makes managing to cope worthwhile.
While visiting Disneyland is fun, living there forever would probably become more like a nightmare. But, like doing homework, if we keep going even when things are difficult and ask for help if we need it, we'll usually find the benefits are worth the struggle in the long run.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Mother's Day makes me miss my mother, who died quite a while ago. But it also makes me appreciate how lucky I was to have her fairly nearby so I could easily ask her advice when it came to my own job of motherhood.
Unfortunately, in our current mobile society many young families live far away from their relatives. When having difficulties or good things to share, texting, e-mail, and even phone calls are just not the same as having a mother physically present.
That's why MOPS exists. Although the letters officially stand for Mothers of PreSchoolers, the group is open to mothers of kids from birth through Kindergarten. Sometimes even women pregnant with their first babies join.
At the end of this month I'll be stepping down as one of the Mentor Moms of the local group. Mentor Moms are women who have already raised at least one kid and participate in the group to share their experience and remind young mothers going through difficult times that "This, too, shall pass." I was asked to take that position after speaking to the local group a couple of times.
MOPS is an international organization with thousands of local groups where mothers of young kids can share their experiences, support each other, make life-long friends, and have fun while their children are cared for. Although it's a Christian group, there's almost no discussion of religion in the programs, with the possible exception of Christmas and Easter celebrations. Anyone who is interested can learn more and probably find a local group at the website,

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Growing Up Dreams

Susan Berger sent me a copy of her book, Growing Up Dreams and I love it!
Unlike many rhyming picture books, this one doesn't have any strained attempts to keep the rhythm and rhyme going, but that's not what makes the book so good. It carries the reader away into the dream world of a little girl with a wonderful imagination.
When I was a kid I had similar ideas and lots of children probably have dreams like the girl in the story. I have a feeling the author got the idea for the book from memories of her own imaginative childhood. She grew up to become an actress and creative writer, so at least some of her dreams have come true.
The illustrations by Samantha Bell are a perfect match for the words.
I'm sure lots of kids will love this book and, who knows? Maybe it will help them use their imaginations so they can achieve some of their own dreams when they grow up.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Klutzy Kantor

I interviewed Jessica Kennedy on my other blog about special needs, and she kindly sent me a copy of her picture book, Klutzy Kantor.

No, the book isn’t about a cantor who sings in a synagogue even though “klutz” was originally a Yiddish term for a clumsy person. Kantor is the name of a pegasus, or winged horse. (I wonder if Kennedy thought of the name because horses canter?)

Klutzy Kantor is a cute book and the main character’s awkwardness causes some incidents that will make little kids laugh. But Kantor is also smart and, with the help of his friends and a little magic, determines to find a way to put an end to his clumsiness.

Although the book is fun, it’s also educational. The author uses some advanced vocabulary, but the meaning is obvious from the context so children will learn new words. There’s also a challenging riddle that will make youngsters think.

The illustrations by Jack Foster are charming and do an excellent job of capturing the feeling of the story. I think lots of children will enjoy Klutzy Kantor.

Jessica Kennedy is holding a contest and I’ll include the information about that here:

I’m running a contest/drawing to celebrate my fifth essay’s inclusion in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. I will give one Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad book to a lucky winner and, if fifteen or more people leave a comment, I will give two away. Be sure to leave your email address.

You can gain double the entries by announcing the contest at this blog and

Here are the rules.

Leave a comment at the two blogs for additional entries for each.

Blog about the contest for two entries. (leave link)

Tweet about the contest (leave link)

Announce it on Facebook for two entries (leave link)

For an additional entry announce the contest on Live Journal, Jacket Flap, Book Marketing Network, LinkedIn or another social network (leave link)

The contest will end at midnight Monday May 3, 2010.