Saturday, December 29, 2012

Infinity Ring

This is a new series for kids published by Scholastic. It's Sci-Fi with a touch of historical fiction about some kids who time travel to try to stop bad guys from destroying the world. The story starts in a time like ours that's dystopian because of the history the kids must try to change.

So far I've read the first two books and can't wait to read more because they're so well written.

To my surprise, they don't have the same author. James Dashner wrote the first one and Carrie Ryan wrote the second, but the realistic characters, the underlying plot concept and the style of writing are the same. I know lots of traditional series for kids have been written by various authors under the same name, but I always felt that was dishonest. I appreciate Scholastic's integrity in letting the authors of this series use their own names.

These books are action-packed adventures and I can't wait to read the next one.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


No, I'm not talking about recovering from addictions, although that's a good thing. Nor is this post about recovering from illness, though I hope everyone who is sick can do that soon. I'm talking about recovering from Christmas.

Some people are still away from home visiting relatives and the celebrations won't be over for a while because of New Year's Eve. But soon we'll all be done with taking down decorations, throwing away gift wrap, sending thank -you notes (yes, some of us still do that,) finishing up the cookies, and putting away the gifts we received. Then things will be back to as normal as they're likely to get.

This year, with all its drama, is almost over and it's time to evaluate it. New Year's resolutions often get forgotten before long, but let's look back and think about 2012. What was the best thing that happened to you this year? Did you accomplish anything special? And what are you thankful for?

Let's all approach 2013 with a positive attitude and start keeping track of all the good things so when we look back next year our gratitude list will be even longer than today's.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Okay, I'm sure thousands, if not millions, of people are blogging about Christmas this week, but I couldn't resist doing it too.

While there's a lot of doubt that Jesus was actually born at this time of year, Christians have celebrated his coming into the world at this time for nearly a thousand years.

Caesar Augustus would have been stupid to require everyone in the Roman empire to travel to the homes of their ancestors in the winter because lots of people in the northern areas would have died from the extreme weather. The best time to collect taxes would have been at the end of the harvest season and, being from the Mediterranean area, he would probably have chosen early Fall for the date, although many scholars think it was in late August.

But most cultures in areas where winter is a bleak season had some sort of celebration when the days began to get longer again. The Romans' Saturnalia was held at that time and early Christians who were being persecuted needed to celebrate or risk being arrested, so they chose to honor the birth of Christ at that time.

Today lots of people who aren't Christians celebrate Christmas, partly because it's something people in our society have always done, and partly because it brightens the winter. Unfortunately, many people in our culture seem to worship Mammon, the god of money, and celebrate Christmas by showing off how much they can afford to spend on gifts, etc.

But there are still plenty of us who focus on Christmas as a celebration of the Incarnation. So be it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Better Late Than Never

When I started blogging back in 2009 I wondered how I'd ever think of enough things to write about. Well, the ideas are still coming. Usually I post things around 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

This morning I didn't post anything, not because I couldn't think of anything to write about, but because I couldn't decide between all the ideas. I wondered if today's blog should be about the shootings or one of several related topics like school, guns, autism, or safety rules? Should it be about Christmas, traditions, Winter weather, families, or another seasonal subject? Or should I write about writing or books related to any of those topics?

Finally I decided to blog about all the things I could be blogging about instead of making a choice. So here you have it. I promise to be more specific on Saturday.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Revenge of Thelma Hill

I'm not much into ghost stories, but I enjoyed The Revenge of Thelma Hill a lot.

It starts off with a scary first chapter, but eventually we learn the ghost of Thelma Hill isn't evil. She just wants Frannie James to help her. Thelma was murdered years ago by her husband, who buried her in the basement of the house where Frannie and her family now live. The ghost wants her bones buried in a consecrated cemetery so she can go to Heaven and for her murderer to get the punishment he deserves. She's certain Frannie is the only one who can make that happen - but how?

The real scary character in the book isn't the ghost, but her murderer.

The subplots include Frannie trying to find out what happened to her own mother, who had left the family when she was two years old, and dealing with her obnoxious twin brother. Since the family moved to their new town during Summer vacation her brother Jeff is the only kid she knows, but they can't get along and quarrel constantly. And, of course, if Frannie tells anyone she has been seeing a ghost they'll think she has gone crazy.

The author, Margot Finke, has done a wonderful job of writing an exciting, tension-filled story and portraying realistic characters and relationships.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Book

I don't often mention my own books here, but the increasing commercialism as Christmas approaches reminds me of why I wrote Secret Service Saint. The book is about Nicolas who discovers the adventure of doing secret good deeds and eventually becomes known as Santa Claus. I wrote it to encourage kids to think about helping others, especially without getting any reward or praise in return. Secret giving really is an adventure and can be at least as exciting as getting presents for Christmas.

Of course kids must be careful to stay safe when doing things like that, but there are many ways they can secretly help others and I hope those who read my book will find out how much fun secretly helping people can be.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Lost in the River of Grass

Lost in the River of Grass is one of the most exciting books I've ever read.

It begins like the typical novel for girls with the main character having problems being accepted in a new school, but even that part is unusual since it opens on a field trip in the Everglades. And soon, when the main character, Sarah, and a boy she barely knows get marooned and lost it turns into an adventure novel that would appeal to boys as well as girls. Of course the development of the relationship between the main characters is probably more of a girl thing.

But very page of the book is exciting.

It includes an amazing amount of information about the Everglades and creatures that live there, but all the information is essential to the adventure and doesn't feel like it's intended to be educational. This is definitely a page-turner because the survival of the kids is threatened in so many ways by the creatures and situation they're in as they try to find their way out of the river of grass.

I reviewed another one of Ginny Rorby's books, Hurt Go Happy, here a while ago. I had read that one because it's about deafness and an animal who learned Sign Language and I have experience with both those topics. I decided to read Lost in the River of Grass since it was by the same author and I'm glad I did. Although there's a brief mention of some of the characters from the previous book, this one is entirely different. I recommend it highly.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


'Tis the catch germs.

People in stores, schools, and businesses are sniffling and sneezing and when someone sneezes we say, "God Bless you."

That's because in the middle ages people thought our breath was our soul. The soul left the body when someone sneezed and an evil spirit might quickly slip in, but saying "God Bless You" kept them from doing that.

Of course we don't believe that anymore, but there are still things we can do to help with sneezing.

It's important to teach kids to sneeze or cough into their arms, not their hands, because germs on hands will be transferred to everything they touch.

Of course we all make sure kids wash their hands before eating and after using the toilet. But they may not know public restrooms often have germs on faucet handles (touched before people washed) and door handles (because some people don't wash their hands before leaving) so it's a good idea to cover those with a paper towel before using them.

And please keep sick kids home from school and other public places to keep them from spreading their sneezes to others. Even people who got flu shots may catch colds and other contagious illnesses.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sand Art Secret

Last Summer at I reviewed a book for kids about Whispering Wally, the whale who only speaks in a tiny, soft voice. Now Kevin Collier, who is both the author and illustrator, has released a new book, The Sand Art Secret.

Like the first one in the series, this book is charming. I loved the colorful ocean and cute depictions of the creatures that live in it.

The simple story is appropriate for little kids and the lesson it teaches is something that may influence their lives. Since, like his character, Torrie the tiny sea turtle, Collier is an illustrator himself, perhaps he had to learn that same lesson at some time.

Besides being available in hard copy, this book is also available on Kindle for those who have newer models that can show colors at

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Search For WondLa

The Search For WondLa is a combination of fantasy and science fiction. This book is huge -- over 450 pages -- so it might seem inappropriate for middle grade kids. However many of the pages are illustrations by the author and, like the Harry Potter books, it carries the readers into a fantastic world they won't want to leave. The characters and situations are extremely creative and different from the standard sci-fi or fantasy ones.

The story is about a girl, Eva Nine, who has grown up under the care of a robot and has never seen another living being. (It's interesting that her name is similar to the first woman in the Bible.) She's flung into an exciting adventure in a world filled with fantastic creatures, both good and evil. More than anything she wants to know where she came from and to meet other human beings - assuming she can survive long enough to do that. I cared about Eva and was eager to find out what happened to her.

Many series books leave the reader hanging at the end and they must read the next book, and the next, etc. to find out what happens. Personally, I consider that dishonest and never read a second book by an author who writes like that. However Diterlizzi is honest. The plot of this book is resolved in a satisfactory way, but the reader is left wanting to know more. I can't wait to read the next book in this series.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Myth-Busting Columbus

Thanksgiving is over and Christmas and Hanukkah aren't here yet, though we're already being bombarded with ads to buy gifts. Columbus Day was almost a month ago and I wish I'd read this book soon enough to recommend it for that holiday. However it's a good one for any time of the year.

Everyone in America has heard of Christopher Columbus discovering the New World and many people, even adults, believe he was a hero but there's lots of information in this book that brings his heroism into question. I've seen most of it before, but never combined into a book for kids.

Myth-Busting Christopher Columbus by Kelly Bakshi not only tells all about Columbus, it does so in a friendly style that will engage kids with questions. The illustrations are all photos, some of historical paintings, maps, and documents, and colorful ones of places and items mentioned in the book.

In my opinion every elementary school in America should have at least one copy of this book and it should be used in all classrooms that teach about Columbus Day. Homeschooling parents would find it helpful, too. And lots of kids will enjoy reading it themselves.

Some of them would like to get it as a present for the upcoming holiday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who Do You Thank?

Okay, you've probably read dozens of things this week about being thankful for your blessings, etc. and that's important. But some thanking is ordinary and should be done all year long, and not just during the holidays.

Sometimes even those who seem to be a nuisance deserve our thanks. If people get pulled over for speeding and get tickets they won't feel grateful, but the police officers are saving lives by doing that job. The building inspector who requires someone's time to check things may be preventing a fire or keeping people from being cheated by lazy contractors.

Every time I must wait while traffic coming the other direction passes a construction zone I try to thank the person who required me to stop. Just imagine what would happen if if nobody did that job.
Several years ago I blogged about that and you can read the post here:

And then there are the people who are doing things we do like. It's nice to thank a teacher, doctor, or other professional who is doing a good job, but contacting one of those people from your past and expressing gratitude means even more. And authors love to hear from readers that something they wrote made a difference. Even the checker or bagger at a grocery store would love to hear that someone appreciates the job they do.

Those are only a few examples. I'm sure you can think of many more people who deserve thanks, not only at Thanksgiving time, but all year long.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Childhood Pets

I've always loved animals. In fact when I was a kid my mother  used to call me "the little mother of all the world."

But she wasn't an animal lover, so at first the only pets I was allowed to have were fish and they weren't very snuggly or easy to train. My grandfather, who lived with us, had a Siamese Fighting Fish he trained to jump up out of the water and knock food from his fingers when he tapped on the side of the tank, but that wasn't as good as having a dog that could come, sit, etc. on command. And I couldn't pet or hug my fish even though I loved them.

Finally my mother allowed me to have a pet hamster. I named it Hamstead and, even though he never learned to do tricks, he was very snuggly.

A few years after that some neighbors who spent the summer in the cabin next to the one where we lived took in a stray cat. When it was time for them to return home, they convinced my mother to let me keep it as long as it didn't ever spend the night inside our house. It was a tomcat and I would have preferred a female that might have kittens, so I named him Susie. He was loving, cuddly, came when called, and even learned to stay away from the hamster cage. I was very happy to have him.

What kind of pets did you have when you were a kid?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fun Book

I recently had the pleasure of reading a book that was published way back in 2001 and enjoyed it so much I can't resist sharing about it. The title was MAXimum Boy starring in The Hijacking of Manhattan and the author is Dan Greenburg.

This is a short book intended for younger readers but it's so much fun older kids will enjoy it, too. It's an exciting adventure  and could be interpreted as a parody of many other books about heroes with amazing powers, but it's not at all sarcastic.

The hero, Max, got supernatural powers from contact with radioactive material and uses it to fight evil powers for the good of everyone. Sound familiar? But Max is just a kid, his family and school principal know his secret identity and they stay involved in the story. His mother even made his superhero costume and does his laundry.

Boys, especially, will enjoy this action-packed book but it's a fun read for anyone.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Chances Are

Okay, I can't resist books for kids, so here's another book review.

Chances Are by Susan Bangert-Wood is an alphabet picture book, but different from the usual kind because each letter tells of an animal doing crazy things they could never do in real life. Little kids who hear this book read to them and see the illustrations by Jack Foster will laugh out loud. Even toddlers will want to hear it over and over again.

When the kids are a little older they can learn the alphabet letters for each creature.

Bigger kids will enjoy the pages of activities in the back of the book,  which are suitable for kids in elementary school.  It bothered me a bit that some of the pages have slightly different meter, but that may be deliberate since one activity is counting the number of syllables.

Because of the variety of age groups who can benefit from Chances Are, chances are children who get this book when they're little will continue to enjoy it for years.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Magical Matthew

Penelope Anne Cole has written a book based on a creative concept. Magical Matthew is about a boy who has a magic power, but it's unlike any magical power I've ever heard of before. He can fix broken things by simply wishing them whole.

One thing Matthew can't fix is his friend, Lily, who uses a wheelchair because she can't walk. But that doesn't keep them from being friends, and Lily eventually learns about Matthew's secret power.

Unfortunately something happens to destroy Matthew's magic. His friendship with Lily lasts and he realizes he may be able to fix things without using magic, but that's not the happy ending of the book. I don't want to spoil it, so you'll have to read the book to find out what that is.

The colorful illustrations by Kevin Collier capture the cheerful mood of the story perfectly and lots of kids will enjoy reading Magical Matthew or having it read to them. Maybe some of them will even be inspired to find ways to help others.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Daylight Saving?

It seems strange to me that our governments command everyone to get up an hour earlier or stay in bed an hour longer, but that's what happens in most, but not all, of the United States. In the Spring we are required to set our clocks an hour later (Spring ahead) and in the Fall we must set them an hour earlier (Fall back.)

Daylight Saving Time was put into effect during World War I and World War II and didn't exist in between those wars, but was continued after the second one.  And back then it probably helped save energy.

But does it really do that today?

Back in the first half of the twentieth century most electricity was used for lighting. By the late 1940s most people had some appliances like vacuum cleaners, radios, toasters and electric mixers in their homes, but even televisions weren't available yet. In some rural areas people still used ice boxes instead of refrigerators.

I wonder if today we actually use a lot less energy during daylight hours. Now millions of people depend on computers or power tools to do their jobs, big box stores and other buildings are lit all day, many homes have whole-house air conditioning and heating systems, people use cell phones instead of land-lines, read on electronic devices and use other things that need charging.

People recovering from Sandy who have been without electric power for days realize how much we have come to depend on it for things we use all day, not just after dark.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Precious Bones

No, this isn't a spooky Halloween story. Precious Bones is the title of a book by Mike Ashley-Hollinger about a girl with that name, although she's usually simply called Bones. She's part Native American and lives at the edge of a swamp in Florida in 1949.

The plot includes a huge storm, but that's just the beginning of the problems. It is exciting and I don't want to give away any secrets so I won't talk about that here.

What I liked best about the book was the way it pulled me into a world that seemed totally real. The book is written in first person and the dialect is so realistic and became so comfortable that I found myself starting to use it. The characters might be people someone traveling to that place and time would actually meet. 

I liked the way the adults were involved, but it was the kids in the story who did the important things.
And those kids, by continuing to do what they thought was right, managed to make a big difference in their world in spite of huge obstacles.

I recommend this book highly.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Okay, we all agree that we're tired of political advertisements, but as soon as the election is over we'll be swamped with Christmas ads. Some of those are already showing up.

But ads aren't only a nuisance, they can be dangerous to children.

I once read about a scientific study that showed most young kids believe everything they see in ads is true. Because of being bombarded with commercials, children not only want the products, but they accept the social stereotypes portrayed as accurate.

And they may even try to demand the products they see advertised and loose respect for their parents if they don't get them.

Of course we know too much watching of TV, videos, and playing games can desensitize kids to violence and cut down on the time spent in social communication.

So what can parents do about all these problems?

Obviously the first thing is to cut down on the time children, especially young ones, are exposed to the media. When parents work and have others to care for it can be difficult to make time for family activities, but it's important to make that a priority.

And when kids are watching TV parents can make it a habit to comment on the untrustworthiness of commercials. Parents might even borrow their kids gaming devices, play a game or two, then discuss what's good and bad about them.

And while we're getting all the political ads maybe we should remind ourselves not to believe everything we see.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bullies Again

Recently I substitute taught at a local school that was celebrating Bully Prevention and kids kept coming to we and telling me about some minor thing another student had done or said. They were obviously proud to be telling me, and sometimes the other kids they were tattling about would even accompany them, wait to be asked if they had apologized, and say "Sorry." Obviously they weren't actually feeling any guilt.

I went along with the school policy since that's what they were paying me to do, but I have serious doubts about the ultimate success of the program.

All adults sometimes get negative comments from other people and we can't just run to a teacher or other authority figure and tell on whoever said them. In this world kids need to learn to cope with things like that.

Of course if someone is seriously harming or endangering others it may be necessary to report them to authorities. That's why we have police and courts.

And it is worthwhile to teach children that mean comments to or about others aren't polite. But I'm afraid in the long run encouraging them to be tattle-tails will do more harm than good.

 A while ago I did a series of posts about bullies and a way to handle them that really works. If you go to the top, left side of this page and enter "Bullies" in the search bar you can see all my previous posts on the topic.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Remote Control

Boys who love action and violence will love Remote Control by Jack Heath. Reading it was like watching an adventure flick that never slows down for a moment.

To be honest, this genre isn't the sort of thing I usually enjoy reading. I'm an old lady, not a teenager. But the excellent writing drew me into the plot and made me care what happened to the characters.

Remote Control is science fiction that takes place in a dystopian future universe. It's the second one in a series and I hadn't read the first one, but enough of the past was explained when needed so it wasn't confusing. And, while the ending does encourage readers to get the next book in the series to find out what happens, the story in this book is resolved satisfactorily so I didn't feel cheated.

According to the jacket blurb, Heath started writing the first book in the series as a student in high school. Wow! He obviously has talent, intelligence, and discipline. I just hope he doesn't end up ten or fifteen years in the future churning out dozens of novels that are all alike as some successful authors have done.

In the meantime, I assume the other books he has already written are as excellent as the one I read.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Politics! (A Rant)

Are you tired of political advertising? With a little more than two weeks to go before the election in the United States it will probably only get worse. If all the money spent on campaign advertising were to be donated to the government instead, our country would be in much better financial shape.

Maybe I'm hallucinating, but I seem to remember that a few decades ago candidates mostly talked about what they, themselves, had to offer rather bad-mouthing their opponents.

Here's a crazy idea: what if when the next election comes along we all start in mid-summer keeping count of how many commercials, mailings, phone calls, etc. we get for each cause and candidate and vote for the ones with the lowest numbers?

Okay, I'm just kidding. Obviously that wouldn't be sensible.

But nobody in any government office is likely to vote for anything that offends those who finance their campaigns, so our country is actually being run by the rich. Isn't that what a lot of our ancestors came to America to avoid? Whatever happened to "government of the people, by the people, and for the people?"

I wish it would become illegal for anyone to make campaign donations and the government itself provided equal amounts to all candidates, no matter what parties they belonged to. Come to think of it, there's nothing in the Constitution about political parties so maybe they should be eliminated altogether and each candidate and issue evaluated on its own merits.

Of course that will never happen because the people who have authority because of the way things are want to keep it that way, and they're the only ones who could make the changes.

But at least we can vote and I hope everyone reading this will do that, even if it must be for the lesser of the evils. It's better to make a tiny difference than no difference at all. But please let's all actually read everything in the voter's guides and not make decisions based on the ads.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Plumber and the Wishing Well

 Even though Halloween isn't here yet Christmas items are already showing up in stores. I guess some people do their holiday shopping early, so today I'm reviewing a Christmas book for children.

The Plumber and the Wishing Well isn't a typical Christmas story. Instead it's more like a traditional fairy tale. In it the plumber wants to buy Christmas gifts for his family but he has lost his job and can't afford anything.

Meanwhile some traditional fairytale characters - an elf, a fairy, and a leprechaun - are trying to use a wishing well to get gifts for their own loved ones, but something is wrong with the well and their wishes don't work correctly.

A bird asks the plumber to fix the magic wishing well and he does so, but the way his own wishes are answered is a surprise and I don't want to give away the ending.

Kids who like traditional fairy tales will enjoy this book because it's an unusual take on that sort of story. The author, Liam Maher, grew up in Ireland so it's not surprising that he knows a lot about the kinds of magical creatures in his story.

Gin May's illustrations are beautiful. I especially liked the traditional style pictures of the magical creatures, the realistic birds and the lovely cover.

This book would make a great Christmas gift for kids but the story can be enjoyed at any time of the year.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Benjamin Jay was a Bully

At last! Someone has written a book for little kids about bullying that doesn't just tell them to tattle.

Benjamin Jay was a Bully by Emma M. Glover is a great picture book about a bully who moves into a neighborhood and what the other birds do about him. Instead of fleeing in fear they take the advice of Miss Gray Dove to follow the Golden Rule and treat him as they would like to be treated. Benjamin does lots of mean things, but the other birds keep turning the other cheek until he gives up and becomes their friend.

KC Snider's illustrations are beautiful and accurate depictions of the various kinds of birds in the story so the book will help children learn to recognize the species while they enjoy the tale.

Besides offering a way to deal with a problem many kids face, Benjamin Jay was a Bully is a story children will appreciate.

For more information about how the techniques used by the characters in this book can actually work I suggest going to  Bullies2Buddies and downloading resources.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


I recently read Captain Courage and the Fear Squishing Shoes by Stacey A. Marshall and loved it. As a kid I was a lot like Katie, who moved to a new school and felt afraid to talk to anyone. Her school principal turned into Captain Courage and destroyed her fear so she felt brave enough to speak out in class and all the kids loved what she shared.
If only real school principals had time to help individual students like Mr. Magico did.

The bright illustrations by Michele Morse portray the story wonderfully.

And, even though this is a fictional story, this morning I saw a video about scientific studies that show what Captain Courage did can actually work in real life for adults, too. The video is long, but if any grown-ups want to watch it, here's the link

But the delightful book is better for encouraging shy kids.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I Can't Believe My Dog Did That

I've blogged a lot about American Sign Language lately and here's one more that's sort of on the topic.

We once had a deaf Dalmatian dog named Brenda who learned to understand lots of signs and taught us some signs dogs use. Some of those are even used by other animals and birds.

For example, shaking all over, like shaking off water after getting wet, means "finish" and many creatures may do it when they're glad something is finished or sometimes if they want it to be over.  The ASL sign for "finish" is like flicking water off the fingers and was probably derived from the animal sign.

I wrote a story about Brenda and an amazing thing she once did and it was recently published in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I Can't Believe My Dog Did That.

If you would like to read the story it's on page 179 of the book, which is available on Amazon and in most bookstores. Of course there are lots of interesting things in the book other dogs did as well.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Baby Signs

Earlier this week I blogged about sign language and Deaf children. Today I want to follow up with a post about using American Sign Language (ASL) with hearing kids.

When my daughter was born we had three Deaf foster kids and signed all the time in our home. She started making up her own signs when she was about five months old and soon learned to use real ones. Once she realized she could get what she wanted by communicating her needs and wishes she was motivated to learn to talk as well, and by the time she was a year old she had a vocabulary of about 30 words and signs. By 18 months she could communicate - and understand - just about anything. And being bi-lingual made it easy for her to learn a third language when she was older.

Since it's easier for babies to control the muscles in their hands than the ones in their mouths they can learn to sign sooner than they can learn to speak.


The "Baby Signs" books, videos, etc. are often not real ASL and many Deaf people find them insulting.

Nobody would make up sounds and call them "Baby Spanish" or "Baby German." Parents might copy their own child's baby talk or simplify the pronunciation of certain words, but they would also use the real vocabulary and pronunciation of their own language in the presence of the baby. And parents seldom try to teach their little ones to use the same baby talk as other people's kids.

Anyone who wants to use ASL with a baby can find the real signs in several locations. One online resource showing specific signs in a video dictionary is ASL Pro .

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What If...?

What if you had a baby and discovered it had a neurological condition that meant the only language it would ever be able to learn was Mandarin Chinese? If you lived in China or already knew that language it wouldn't be much of a problem. But if you lived in the US, Canada, or western Europe and didn't know that language what would you do?

Would you forbid your child to use it, hoping the diagnosis was wrong? Or would you do everything possible to learn Mandarin yourself and find situations where your little one could interact with others who use that language?

If you were a smart and loving parent of course you would choose the second option.

Not too long ago that's the sort of choice parents had to make when they learned their children were couldn't hear. For a long time the philosophy was that forbidding deaf children to use Sign Language would motivate them to learn to speak and read lips.

A hundred years ago when lots of kids lost their hearing due to infections and diseases after they had already been hearing and perhaps using spoken language that approach might have worked for some of them. But by the mid twentieth century medical advances had made it very rare for people to loose their hearing for those reasons.

Instead, most deaf children were born that way because of prenatal damage and forbidding them to learn Sign Language meant they would have no exposure to language at all. Of course some deafness is hereditary, but kids from Deaf families would learn to sign from their parents.

When I started working at California School for the Deaf in the 1960s I was one of the first people who knew American Sign Language who was allowed to work with the young children. At first the kids who were not from Deaf families had tantrums all the time, but as soon as they learned to sign the tantrums stopped.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lessons for Kids

When I was a kid (longer ago than I want to say) some kids took music lessons and girls might have dancing lessons. Lots of us belonged to the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or Campfire Girls. Religious classes and activities also took up some time.  There were no organized sports or after school child care and even most of us whose mothers worked outside the home were cared for by relatives or neighbors. Of course we had chores to do, but homework in grade school was mainly studying for tests or finishing something we hadn't done in school and seldom took much time.

All those things only took a few hours a week and once school was out kids were free to go out and play.

Lots of the activities kids participate in today are good for them.  Learning things like how to play an instrument and being physically active in sports will benefit them in the long run.

But it's too bad today's children can't ever play without adult supervision. We used to use our imagination and pretend while we played until we were ten or eleven years old. Now most kids stop that sort of play by the time they're in first grade and only escape into imaginary worlds by playing video games. 

But there's one way kids can still exercise the creative part of their minds; they can read. Once kids can read fluently books can take them anywhere and they're much more likely to become good readers if adults read to them a lot. And even older kids can participate in family times when a book is read aloud and shared by everyone.

So if you have kids please, please, find time to read to them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Riley's Heart Machine

Anyone who knows me is aware that I care a lot about kids with special needs and want to help anyone who is different to feel accepted. It's no surprise that I absolutely loved Riley's Heart Machine by Lori M. Jones.

This charming picture book is about a girl who has always kept her difference a secret from her friends, but she finally dares to share about her pacemaker at a show and tell time in her class. To her surprise the other kids find the "heart machine" and the story of how she got it fascinating.

I'm sure lots of kids who feel different for various reasons will find this picture book inspiring and it may even help kids who don't feel different (if there are any kids like that) to be more accepting of those who do.

The illustrations by Julie Hammond add to the charm of the book.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Here in the USA as the Presidential Election approaches the news is full of politics.

I wish I had a bumper sticker that said "If you don't vote, don't gripe" because lots of people who complain all the time don't bother to vote.

Does voting by ordinary citizens really make a difference? Well, maybe only a very small one, but it's certainly more likely to influence how things are done than not voting.

Unfortunately almost nobody in a high political office is likely to vote for anything that offends the people who finance their campaigns. It would be nice if campaign donations were illegal and the government provided equal amounts for all candidates to notify the public of their qualifications and stands on political issues. But since the people who could make that happen benefit from the way things are now, that probably won't change.

I understand in Canada they have three major political parties instead of two so if there's a split the third party always breaks the tie.  Maybe someday in the US a third party will become equal to the two major ones, but that's not likely to happen in the near future.

Since there's no mention of political parties in the Constitution maybe it should be illegal for Congress to differentiate between them but, again, the people who have the authority to let that happen would be opposed to it so it won't be allowed.

Yes, our system is flawed in many ways, but ordinary citizens do have a voice and can make a difference in the world if we let our opinions be heard, and voting is one way we can do that.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wilderness Warriors

Like many kids today, Tyler and Caitlin were getting into a lot of trouble. And I mean a LOT!

 But their parents had an idea of a way to change their behavior and attitudes and the kids didn't know what it was.

They found out the hard way when their family moved into the wilderness, but would that help to change the kids' attitudes or only make things worse?

I don't want to spoil things by giving away too much of the plot, but I will say this is an exciting book. It's also extremely realistic since it's based on things that actually happened to the author Colleen L. Reece, and to a family she knew.

Kids who read this novel will be carried away into the adventures and I hope they'll also learn about the meaning of courage. As Tyler and Caitlin's Dad said, "Chickens are people who are so afraid of what others think they just go along with the crowd."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Signs of Trouble

I don't often post things about my own books because I don't want to be a bragger. But I've recently been in some Special Ed classes at local schools and was reminded why I wrote Signs of Trouble. It's about kids on a field trip who get separated from their Special Education class and use what they've learned about recognizing signs and following safety rules to get reunited with them.

Many years ago I worked as an aide in a Special Ed class that took similar field trips and later I took my preschool students on similar trips. Of course no kids ever got separated from us in real life.

The educational activities in the back would be useful for teachers of kids with various special needs and any young children because it helps them learn how to stay safe and develop beginning reading skills. It would also help children who don't have special needs learn to understand those who do.

And when I've read it aloud the laughter and other reactions show the story is enjoyable.

Local bookstores can order Signs of Trouble, it's available at the usual online stores and can be ordered from the publisher at

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

R.O.V.-R the Undersea Explorer

R.O.V.-R the Undersea Explorer is a picture book that will appeal to parents, teachers, and kids. Lots of young boys will especially enjoy it because many of them tend to love mechanical things and science.

The story is told by a Remote Operated Vehicle (R.O.V.) who goes under seas to explore things and send information back to his human on a ship. In this book he gets to examine the Bimini Road under the Atlantic Ocean near Florida.

Kids will learn a lot about that fascinating site and how scientists study it, and they won't find the information boring since it's told by a life-like character. Okay, I'll admit it; I'm a grown-up but I learned some new information from the book and enjoyed reading it myself.

Of course Kevin Collier's illustrations portray the story perfectly since he both wrote and illustrated it.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

They Used to Last

Way back in ancient history when I was a kid if someone bought a major appliance, such as a stove, washing machine, or refrigerator, they assumed it would last for the rest of their lives and they were often right. Smaller things like irons, electric mixers, toasters, phonographs, and electric hand tools were expected to last forever, too. And when people bought a new car they thought it would probably last for for fifteen or twenty years if they took good care of it.

Sometimes people who could afford it would buy newer versions of things because they had features the old ones lacked, but that wasn't a necessity.

Now we're lucky if things can be used for a fraction of the time they once were. That phone from 2000? A ten year old computer? Toss them as e-waste! Even major appliances wear out far sooner than they used to.

Some of the need to buy new things is because of technological advances that keep older things from working, but even some of those changes aren't improvements. Others are legally required because of energy efficiency. And household items don't need a lot of fancy features. But many things are just changed because of planned obsolescence. That helps manufacturers make money, but it's sure hard on individuals, especially in this present economy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Learning Styles and Clutter

Nearly everyone has a predominant learning style and mine is visual. I'm also a somewhat kinesthetic learner and not much of an auditory one. I need to see things to remember them and tend to take notes in workshops and lectures at writers conferences.

Several times I've read housecleaning advice that says you should get rid of things you keep because of sentimental value and only keep one item to remind you of a specific loved one. That's nonsense to me. I don't keep things to keep from forgetting people, but to enjoy thinking of experiences I had with them. But if I get piles of papers in my office I find it difficult to write and most of the time things in my other rooms are put away where they belong. I think I have those tendencies because of my dominant learning style.

So here's a question: Do learning styles have a big influence on parts of people's lives besides learning?

For example, do they influence how most people keep their environments? Do kids who are visual learners tend to keep their rooms tidier than, say, auditory learners?

And do they influence talents? Are visual learners likely to be artistic? Are athletes usually kinesthetic learners? Do most auditory learners have musical abilities?

How do your dominant learning styles effect your life?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Love, Amalia

When I was a kid my father died so I can identify with the main character in Love, Amalia by Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta. When her best friend moves away and the grandmother she relies on for comfort dies soon afterwards Amalia is devastated.

This book portrays the extended family interactions and Latino culture well and readers will pick up some Spanish vocabulary by reading it. The loving relationship between Amalia and her grandmother is shown in many ways throughout the book.

But the most important thing Love, Amalia has to offer is the way the girl learns to cope with her grief.

I recommend this book highly for any kid who must deal with the loss of a loved one.

While many young readers are not girls and may not have support from nearby family like she does, anyone who has suffered the death of someone they care about will be able to identify with the main character's emotions and doing so should help them cope with their own feelings.

The book will also help kids understand any of their friends who are experiencing grief.

The few questions at the end would be useful for group or family discussions or to answer in school, and the two recipes look delicious.

Many children will benefit from reading this book.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


When we got married and moved into our first apartment my husband said, "Pictures should be of people."

Ever since, although there is some art work on the walls in other rooms, our living rooms have always had a group of photos of family members on one wall. Other pictures of our kids and grandkids stand in frames on bookshelves and dressers throughout the house.

Some of the photos on the wall are of my ancestors and were taken in the 1800s, well over 100 years ago. In order to protect them from sunlight the frames contain ultra-violet resistant glass or plastic and a few of the pictures are actually copies of the originals which were scanned and printed from my computer so the originals can be kept safely in dark places.

I look at the pictures on the wall every day.

Long ago cameras could only take twelve, twenty-four or thirty-six pictures on a roll of film and now we can easily take hundreds - or even thousands - of shots with our digital cameras. But will those pictures still be viewable in a hundred years?

Technology keeps changing and in a few decades we may not be able to access pictures taken today.  And even if we print out copies on photo grade paper we don't know how long it will take for the ink to fade away.

That's why when I take an especially good picture of grandkids or other family members I have it printed at my local drugstore. That doesn't cost much and it seems worth it to be sure the picture will be available for future generations to see.

Maybe one of them will think pictures should be of people and want to display them on a wall.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Starting School

The first day of school can be both a positive and negative experience for kids. While it's fun to re-connect with friends they haven't seen over the summer, it's always a little scary to have new teachers and not know exactly what to expect. Starting a new school is the scariest thing of all.

There are lots of books for little kids about the first day of school and I read many of them to my grandson before he entered preschool. His first day went smoothly because he knew what to expect and the teacher was impressed with how well he adjusted. But the second day wasn't so good. He had no idea there would be a second day and even more after that.

When I was a little kid I had to enter new schools several times after the school year had already begun and everyone else had already gotten used to the routine and knew the teachers and each other. That was very scary for me.

But being new is probably harder for older kids because the social hierarchy has already established and they have to deal with bullies. Here's a website that can help a lot with the bullying problem.  While the techniques suggested here are different than those suggested in many bully prevention programs and may not always be successful, I've seen them work many times.  I think it would be a big help to kids starting new schools or a new school year to know about them.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bearly Learning About Water

Mary Esparza-Vela has written a cute book about the relationship between siblings. Of course they happen to be bears, but human children will be able to identify with them.

Molly keeps trying to get her little brother Fritz to try new things, but the younger cub is afraid of nearly everything. However she gradually gets him to try a few things until Fritz manages to overcome his fear of water on his own.

Of course I liked the illustrations by Alexander Morris, who illustrated one of my books.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Street Names

A few days ago I blogged about people's last names. Today let's talk about street names. That includes roads, avenues, etc.

Lots of streets are either identified by numbers or letters. That's especially true in urban areas. Some cities have numbered streets going in one direction and those identified by letters crossing them.

Others may be named after famous people. In the United States many streets are named after former presidents.

Other streets, especially in areas that were originally rural, are named after a family that once lived there. Others are named after businesses originally located on them such as a mill, mine, factory, farm or ranch. There are School and Church streets in most towns, too.

A lot of street names tell something about the geography, such as a beach, hill,  river, or mountain.

Sometimes streets in certain areas, especially housing developments, may all have the names of certain flowers, trees, birds, or animals or even people's first names, usually in alphabetical order.  Names of states or countries might be used, too.

And, if people of various nationalities have lived in an area the street names might be in languages other than English.

Does your street name fall into one of these categories?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Last Names

Long ago people didn't use last names, but when lots of people had the same or similar first names descriptions were added to make it clear who was being talked about. (I guess humans have always talked about other people.) Eventually those tags stuck and became surnames.

Often those last names were jobs. For example John Clark (clerk,) John Baker, John Black (short for blacksmith) and John Farmer were known by their occupations. Others were derived from the place someone lived or had come from, or, if they were servants, their owner or boss.  My last name, Collins, meant Colin's.

Women and children weren't considered important so they were simply known by the name of their husband or father, and if a father was well known his sons might still be know as his son when they grew up.

These are English examples, but family names in many other languages were also derived from occupations, locations, and  the fathers' first names.

Do you know the original meaning of your last name?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Milk Cartons

When I was a kid our milk was delivered in glass bottles that would be returned, washed and reused. My mother thought the milk in waxed cartons at the grocery store must be inferior and wouldn't buy it.

Now most of us in the U.S. no longer have the option of home delivery by milk companies so we all buy it in stores.

I've gotten mine in cartons for years, but recently learned that in my area the milk cartons aren't recyclable. All the ones I and other people put in the recycle containers were simply sorted out and sent to the landfills. However the plastic milk containers are recyclable, so I now buy my milk in those even though they cost slightly more.

Do you know if milk cartons can be recycled in your area?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


When I was a kid there was a sexist saying: "Men!" (or "Women!") "Can't live with 'em and you can't live without 'em."

Now I say that about computers. They can drive us crazy when they don't function well, but we depend on them for lots of things.

Long ago computers were science fiction. Then real ones were invented, but they were the size of refrigerators and couldn't do anything like what tiny contraptions like i-phones can do today.

Back in the early 1970s I worked at the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley and people from the nearby Lawrence Hall of Science brought some  Tele-Typewriter Devices normally used for sending telegrams to our campus and connected them with their computer through phone cords. The idea was that Deaf people might be able to communicate at a distance that way. I was computer phobic and a bit scared to be one of the staff who first tried using the TDD, but also excited to get to do it. I outsmarted the program and soon had the computer typing gibberish so I got over my fear of them.

A few years later I took a computer class from a friend. It involved feeding tapes from a tape recorder through the computer and using a lot of html code, which I couldn't remember. I decided computers weren't for me.

But in the 1980s I got a Macintosh Computer that fit on my desk and found it easy to use. By then the tapes were consolidated into floppy discs. I got one of those discs, but doubted that I'd ever fill it up in my lifetime. Of course you know how inaccurate that was.

Now computers are everywhere and I use mine all the time even though it's difficult to keep adapting to the changes in software, etc. I consider myself a techno-idiot because I know lots of people who are far better than I am at technological stuff, but I keep on learning and can do things I wouldn't have imagined were possible a few decades ago.

And when something goes wrong, like what made me take my laptop in for repairs this week, it's obvious that doing without a computer is now a major problem.

Computers! Sometimes it's hard to live with 'em, but we sure can't live without 'em anymore.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Free E-Book

Long, long ago in a land not very far away I wrote and self-published a small book for people who were on special diets. Since several members of our family, including myself, had limits to what they could eat for various medical reasons, I had learned lots of ways to cope with things like finding allowable foods, adapting recipes, handling other people who don't understand why someone can't eat like everyone else, etc.

I had about a hundred copies run off at a local Copy-Mat and, over the years, gave most of them away to people who could use that information.

Now I've made Dealing With Different Diets into a PDF version and will give it away for free to anyone who sends me a request through the Contact Me page of my website,

If you know anyone who might be interested, please tell them about the opportunity and direct them to the link.

Coping with special diets isn't always easy and I'm hoping Dealing With Different Diets will be helpful to lots of people.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What I Read

Not counting e-mail messages, Facebook posts, e-zine articles and the like, I read a lot. Most years I finish about half a dozen novels and a dozen nonfiction books for adults. Then there are all the newspaper stories and magazine articles. But those are only a drop in the bucket.

I usually read a couple of YA novels every month as well as a few early readers and occasional picture books, but those aren't the main way I feed my bookaholic appetite either.

Every week I read about half a dozen middle grade novels.

Why, you may ask, do I read so many books intended for kids?

Well, I could say it's because I write for kids so reading those keeps me aware of the genre, and that's true, but it's only part of the reason.

Mostly I read middle grade novels because I can usually finish a whole book in an hour or two without having to put it down in the middle, and I know it won't be sordid or depressing. And I'm still a kid at heart and enjoy being carried away into the worlds of children's lives and adventures. Reading fiction for kids is just, plain fun!

What about you? What do you like to read, and why?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Series Books

Kids have always enjoyed reading about the same characters in different stories. When I was young I loved the Heidi trilogy, Little Women, Nancy Drew, the Ramona books, the Narnia series and many more.

Some are justifiably classics while others weren't very well written, but kids still check them out of the library or get them as gifts and enjoy them.

Recently I read one from a series that I won't mention by name because it was so bad. The family of children told their parents they were about to take their boat to sea to follow the evil bad guys and the parents response was to suggest they try to be home in time for dinner. Even in the 1920s or 30s when the book was written that was unrealistic.

But some recently written series are annoying in a different way.

I find it very frustrating when I come to the last page and nothing has been resolved. That's just a dishonest way to get people to buy the next book, and then the one after that, and so on because they'll never find out what happens unless they read the entire series. It's okay if there are still a few unanswered questions at the end of a book, but the main ones should be resolved or the reader has been cheated.

Of course all newer series for kids aren't like that.

Some great ones I've been reading lately are the Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer.

Each book has a mystery that is solved by Enola, the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, at the end, but there's an underlying problem of the girl's family relationships that continues throughout the series.

Springer does a wonderful job of portraying the world of long-ago London, (some of which might be disturbing to sensitive young readers) and the historical setting is essential to the plots, not just an interesting background. The feisty protagonist is someone modern girls can relate to, the stories are exciting, and the mysteries difficult for the readers to solve.

I highly recommend this series for kids.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

ABCs of Health and Safety

This picture book by Melissa Abramovitz is an original and creative way to teach kids two things at the same time; the alphabet and how to care for themselves. For that reason it should be especially useful for preschool teachers and parents of young kids.

The author managed to find two relevant words for every letter of the alphabet that relate to healthy habits.

Young kids can learn the meaning of words like 'quiescence' and 'sufficient' from the context and will be reminded several times of the importance of exercise and a balanced diet. They'll also get some wise advice they might not find in other books for their age group, such as not skating on thin ice.

The illustrations by Alexander Morris are bright, cheerful, and as energetic as the kids who follow the advice in ABC's of Health and Safety will be.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

What to Do With That Hair

No, I'm not talking about hair styles. At least not exactly.

Yesterday I got a haircut and, as usual when seeing the pile on the floor for the hairdresser to sweep up, I thought, 'What a waste!'

Of course when someone with long hair gets it cut short they can donate it to be made into wigs for cancer patients and others with medical conditions that make them loose their own. Locks of Love makes wigs for children and Pantene makes them for adults. (A while back when I went from long to short hair I donated mine to Pantene.)

But what about all those short pieces of hair that beauty and barber shops must deal with every day?

I guess they couldn't be used to stuff pillows, although I don't know why not.

In rural areas some people spread the clippings in their yards to keep mountain lions away because the hair smells like humans, but that would only use a tiny percent of the cut hair.

Of course human hair is bio-degradable, so I guess sending it to landfills is practical, but it still seems like a waste to me.

Can anyone think of other ways those shreds could be used?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Years ago members of a Yahoo group I belonged to got into a discussion about which is the worst natural disaster.

To my surprise, everyone said they preferred the sort that happened where they lived. People in hurricane areas said you always have warning that they're coming and can shelter from them. People who lived where there are tornadoes said those only touch a narrow area  so most people are okay. People who lived in earthquake country said big quakes only happen once every few decades.

In my opinion, wildfires are the worst disasters because they happen often, can cover large areas, there may not be a warning that one has started, and you can't shelter from them. I'm sure the people in Colorado agree with me.

But many wildfires are caused by people so maybe those aren't natural disasters. However they're still something to be concerned about.

I wrote an article a while back that tells things even kids can do to help prevent them. Here's a link to that article:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The First Americans

The First Americans is about the history of Native Americans, beginning with their travel over the land bridge to this continent and describing tribes in various parts of the continent. It has just enough facts to be interesting and informative without being overwhelming.

This educational book by Kelly Bakshi was released in time for the Fourth of July, probably because it's about American history. However I think it will be more appreciated in the Fall because school curriculums deal with Native Americans then. Both teachers and young students will appreciate the valuable information in this book.

The story of each tribe's culture is told in a charming way by a fictional child. Readers will learn about the Inuits in Alaska, Kwakuitl of the Northwest Coast, Hopi tribe of the Southwest, Dakotas, who lived on the great plains, Iroquis of the Eastern Woodlands, and the Natchez tribe of the Southeast.

Young readers will especially enjoy the chapter about games and sports.

The many photos show more about the world of each tribe and the numerous activities at the end will help kids learn more while having fun.

I highly recommend this book

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


This blog is supposed to be about words, books, and kids but I haven't blogged much about words for a while. Since this is Independence Day in the USA I decided to talk about the word, independence.

Depend is derived from a Latin word meaning to hang down from something, like a pendulum. It also means to rely on something. When America declared independence from England it meant this country would no longer rely on that government, but would have its own.

But "in" not only means inside of, sometimes it means 'not.' And the prefix, "un," also has that meaning. So why isn't the word undependence?

And now the individual states, counties, cities and people in America are all intertwined and interrelated so, even though we don't depend on another nation to govern us, the United States are interdependent. We could be called the Interdependent States of America. Of course we won't really change the name for lots of reasons.

I think language is fascinating and the English language is one of the most complex and interesting ones on the planet because it has been derived from and influenced by so many other languages.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Whispering Wally

I just read a cute picture book by Kevin Scott Collier about a whale who is afraid to use his loud voice. I've seen other books by Collier and, like the others, Whispering Wally one has bright and cheerful illustrations and a plot with a positive message for young kids.

But what I like best about Whispering Wally is his own blog where you can watch him in a video of another story and download learning activities for kids. The URL is

Kevin Collier and his wife Kristen have a webpage where they show the many books and products they've created to encourage family values.  They're currently offering some free giveaways on the site,

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The London Eye Mystery

It happened again! I chose a middle grade novel to read without realizing it featured someone with a special need. In this case Ted, the narrator and protagonist of The London Eye Mystery is on the autism spectrum. Will his unusual way of thinking help or hinder him in figuring out why and how his cousin disappeared from the sealed capsule on the huge ferris wheel?

It was interesting to learn about that gigantic modern landmark, the London Eye, and the exciting story kept me guessing.  Ted's point of view seemed realistic, as were his relationships with the other characters.

This book, published in 2007,  is definitely a page turner and will be enjoyed by anyone who likes mysteries. I'll look forward to reading future books by the author, Siobhan Dowd.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dovey Coe

When I checked out this book at the library I didn't realize one of the characters was deaf. In Dovey Coe the protagonist, whose name is the title, has a deaf brother.

While I found it difficult to believe that Dovey had taught him to read and read lips he was not born deaf and lost his hearing when he was about ten months old, so I suppose it was possible. Otherwise everything in the story was believable.

It's a mystery that involves Dovey being accused of murdering the town bully because she was found in the room with his dead body. The plot development of the exciting story is excellent. The small, rural community in North Carolina is realistic and Dovey, a feisty girl, tells the story in first person with the appropriate dialect.

Frances O'Roark Dowell did a great job writing this book and it's no wonder it won the Edgar Allan Poe Award. It was published in 2000 but the story is timeless and kids will enjoy it whenever they read it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Anyone who knows me is aware of my interest in helping kids with special needs so it's not surprising that I chose to read Wonder by R. J. Palacio. This book is about a boy named Auggie who has always been home schooled because of his severe medical problems resulting from the birth defect that left him with facial deformities. But now he's about to enter fifth grade in a middle school and wonders if he'll survive.

It's difficult enough for anyone to cope with the social pressures of being a new kid in school, but people have always reacted uncomfortably when they see Auggie's unusual appearance, so dealing with that is far more difficult for him.

This book portrays Auggie and his classmates in realistic ways and the author obviously understands them. I found it a bit disconcerting that the book suddenly switched points of view every few chapters, but I got used to that after a while.

This book kept me turning the pages to find out what would happen next and I enjoyed reading it. Many kids who read it will probably be inspired to accept people who are different from themselves, and to be kind to others.

Wonder really is a wonder.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Blogging About Blogging

I can't believe I did it!

When I started blogging I was afraid I'd never be able to think of enough topics to post something twice a week for more than a month, but this is my 400th post. Since I blog about three topics I enjoy -- words, books, and kids -- there has never been a problem finding material to use.

Often I review books for or, rarely, about kids and there are plenty of those to choose from. Other times I've posted thoughts on writing or linguistics or information that might be helpful to parents or teachers. Once in a while I mention my own books, but my blog posts are not intended to be advertisements. I hope the things I've written about here have been helpful to the people who read them.

And, you know what? I've already got ideas for many more posts to come.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hurt Go Happy

You might think Hurt Go Happy is an odd title for a book, but if you're familiar with American Sign Language it might not seem so strange.

I saw this book, by Ginny Rorby, in a catalog. It's about a Deaf girl who meets an old man raising a baby chimpanzee and teaching it Sign Language. Since I've had lots of experience with Deaf people and once met Koko, the famous gorilla who learned how to sign, I couldn't resist buying the book.

The girl in the story has been forbidden to learn Sign Language by her mother, but starts learning it from the old man and becomes friends with Sukari, the Chimpanzee. But when the old man dies, Sukari is shipped off to a horrible research facility where she and many other animals are treated cruelly.

Is there any way a young girl who can't hear can find a way to save the animal she loves?

Some of the realistic descriptions of the research facility are disturbing but I recommend this book anyway because it's exciting, well written, and should motivate lots of readers to care about animals and understand that people who can't hear are not very different from themselves.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What If....?

Okay, here goes my writerly imagination again.

Today plastic and synthetics are everywhere.  What would happen if they were all to suddenly disappear? Insulation on wires would be gone so fires would start, cars would fall apart on the roads, and many people would find themselves naked as their clothing evaporated.

If you're a writer, or would like to be one, think of a story involving that horrific event. What could have caused it? How would people react? And what could be done about the resulting problems?

I'd love to hear your ideas.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Chip's Sharing Day

Why do parents think it's okay to invite kids into their homes and expect their own children to share their private possessions and get along with them?

In Chip's Sharing Day by Linda Derkez a boy's home is invaded by relatives, his mother insists that he share his toys with a cousin - and the cousin is a girl!

Shouldn't he have something to say about all that?

Well, he does take her to his room, but keeps stopping her from playing with his things. Chip acts like a bully and teases the girl by calling her Dorkie instead of Dorcas, but in the end she turns the tables and they become friends.

Although the cute illustrations by Phoebe Doehring show the characters in this book to be bears, most human kids will be able to identify with them. And maybe some parents who read the story to their kids will realize it takes more than a command to teach children to share and be polite.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Buster Bear and Uncle B

J. Aday Kennedy, who uses a wheelchair herself, has written a cute picture book about a boy and his uncle who was injured in a war.

Ham, the boy, is disturbed when his beloved uncle arrives in a wheelchair, but soon realizes that Uncle B is still the person he has always loved and is able to do lots of fun things even though he's a paraplegic. After all, Ham still loves his teddy bear even though Buster Bear is now worn and torn.

The feisty little boy playing cowboy at the beginning of the book took me back to  my own childhood and the art by Marina Movshina is as lively and bright as Ham himself.

Kennedy has written a Teacher Guide to go with the book and, speaking from experience, I can say the  questions and activities will certainly help kids understand people with disabilities. For more information please go to the author's website

This book will be helpful, not only to kids who know injured war veterans, but to any who might encounter people with special needs. And that includes just about every child.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I guess some ancient people discovered glass when fire, or perhaps lightning, melted sand into that shiny substance, but it took a long time before they learned to make it into flat sheets for mirrors, windows, and other practical purposes. Stained glass windows are an art form and lots of other beautiful things are made of colored glass.

As a writer I can't resist asking this question: What might happen if all the glass in the world were to suddenly disappear?

What would we do without it?

Windows would become wind holes, and monitors and TVs would have no screens.

Just look around at all the things in our homes, offices, and streets that are made of glass and imagine what the world would be like without them.

Does that give you any ideas for stories? If so, please leave a comment and share them.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Chase Against Time

I found the title of this book appealing because I enjoy plays on words. The main character is named Chase and time is of the essence in solving the mystery.

Chase loves music and wants to play in the Sixth Grade Honors orchestra next year, but the school's music  program is in danger because of financial problems. Someone donated a cello once played by Yo-Yo Ma to be auctioned off as a fundraiser, but the cello disappears and, because of the short time available, the principal asks Chase to find out who stole it without letting anyone find out that it's missing.

The short time available and Chase's motivation to save the music program create great tension and this book is a page turner as we root for the likable character and his friends.  The only thing I didn't like was that when the police got involved they didn't take possession of the evidence, but that's a minor technical point and doesn't detract from the excitement of Chase's race against time to solve the mystery. Steve Reidman has written a book lots of kids, including boys who are reluctant readers, will love.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Snail Mail?

In centuries past if people travelled far from their homes, like European and Asian people going to America, it could take months for correspondence to arrive. And illiterate people often had to pay someone else to write or read the letters for them. Often the letters were carried by someone who happened to be going to the town where a person lived and they might not ever arrive.

When people moved across the North American continent during the California Gold Rush the Pony Express and Transcontinental Railroad made it possible for mail to arrive in a matter of weeks. And modern methods of transportation allowed it to arrive even faster. Air Mail could get letters across the continent and delivered to homes in less than a week!

Now people depend on the internet for communication and messages can travel across the planet in a matter of seconds. Some people think the US Postal Service, which was privatized years ago, will go out of business. Of course gifts and packages can be delivered by other companies. My mailbox is mostly filled with ads, catalogs, and an occasional bill, but it would be sad not to get physical birthday and other greeting cards that can be displayed and kept, and some people can't afford internet access. I hope we can continue to get snail mail in the future.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

"Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?"

 This isn't a new book. In fact it was published in 1992, but I reread it this week and couldn't resist sharing about it. The author, Avi, has written dozens of books, but this one connected with me because it takes place when I was a kid with an imagination like the main character's. Of course I wasn't as obsessed with radio shows as Frankie, but I did listen to a lot of them. The book's title is a quotation from my favorite, The Lone Ranger.

Much as I enjoyed it, this book wasn't written for old fogies like me. Today's kids who have fun reading it will not only learn a bit about history, they'll be able to identify with the main character who wishes he could be a superhero.

The most appealing thing about this book is the humor and, even though I had read it before, it had me laughing out loud by the end.

It might be possible to find used copies of "Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?" online, but if you can't I suggest you take any boys who enjoy humor and adventure to your local library and check out a copy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Photos Now and Then

I can't even count the number of photos I've uploaded to my computer, but there are probably thousands of them. Since we don't need to pay for film and to have it developed, or figure out complicated camera settings and flash bulbs we take lots more pictures than people did a few decades ago.

My great grandfather was a picture framer and had a shop next to a photographer's studio in the 1800s so I've got quite a few family photos from that era. Of course I have wedding portraits of my parents and all my grandparents, baby pictures of me and my brother, annual grade school photos, and lots of pictures of my own kids and grandkids.

Some of the older photos are framed and on the wall with UV protected glass to keep them from fading. After all, they're over a hundred years old.

But that makes me wonder if the pictures I take and upload to my computer or save on memory sticks now will be available for future generations to see. Chances are the technology will have changed so much my grandkids' pictures may not even be viewable by the time they grow up and have kids of their own.

Even if I print photos out, the ink may fade by then. For that reason I've been taking a few of the ones I'm sure I'll want to be available in the future to the local drugstore and having them printed out there. It doesn't cost much and I hope future generations will be glad I did it.

How about you? What are you doing to be sure pictures will be viewable in the future?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Katrina and Winter

Okay, I admit it; I'm jealous. Nancy Stewart has done it again. As with One Pelican at a Time, which I previously reviewed, she's written another book that will make a positive difference in the world.

Katrina and Winter, Partners in Courage is about a girl with a prosthetic leg who meets a dolphin with a prosthetic tail and is encouraged to overcome her feelings of inadequacy and become a normal kid. This is a true story illustrated with photos of Katrina (the girl) and Winter (the dolphin.)

The story is well written and the part where Katrina is reunited with Winter actually brought tears to my eyes. The book will not only encourage kids with special needs and help other readers to understand them, it will make anyone with difficulties and obstacles in their lives want to keep trying and do their best.

And when those young readers have grown up their lives may be different because of having read this book, and maybe some of them will go on to make a difference in the lives of others.

Yay, Nancy Stewart!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Tagline

Several years ago I was trying to figure out a tagline for my webpage and asked members of my critique group for help.  Acting on their suggestions I chose to use "Opening Eyes, Opening Hearts."


Because, as my friends reminded me, most things I write involve people with special needs or who are different in some way. I try to help kids - and adults - understand and accept others like that.

And that topic applies to most of my books. The Peril of the Sinister Scientist includes a girl who uses a wheelchair as a main character and Signs of Trouble is about kids who get separated from their Special Ed class on a field trip. Even the giant, talking worm in Slime & All is sort of an allegorical character who is feared because he is different.

I guess my own experience as a kid who was teased and bullied and my many years of working with kids who have special needs have made it impossible for me not to care about others in similar situations. I hope the things I write about really do help to open people's eyes and, as a result, help them to open their hearts.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen

I couldn't resist sharing about this book for middle grade kids by M. T. Anderson. It's a take-off on the traditional mystery series for kids written long ago and had me giggling. While some young readers might not get those references, the story is still a lot of fun and the mystery is hard to figure out.

The kids in the book are all heroes and heroines of (fictitious) series of their own, and stay true to character. The situations they get into would be terrifying, if they weren't so funny. The plot is tangled and the book is definitely a page turner.

The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen was published in 2006 but reading it might encourage kids to check their local libraries for mysteries published decades ago. This book is a fun read for all ages.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Different People

In the distant past most humans only saw people different from themselves if they were being invaded by enemies. I guess that's why so many people  today are still uncomfortable and even afraid when they encounter anyone who is different.

Racial prejudice is only one thing that shows this discomfort. I've been amazed to see lots of instances when people seem to be afraid of somebody with special needs.

A few years ago when I was trying to choose a tag line for my website my friends helped me figure out that most of my writing involves helping people understand and accept others who are different. For that reason the tag line I chose is "Opening Eyes, Opening Hearts."

If only we would all learn to look below the surface we'd realize that most people are really not that different from ourselves. No matter their culture, background, political views, economic situation or physical problems, we are more alike than different on the inside. And if we would only all realize that, the world would be a much better place.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

May Day

No, May Day isn't just a cry for help. That's an anglicized spelling of the French m'aider, which means "help me."

But the first day in the month of May has been celebrated in many cultures for centuries. It's exactly half a year from November first when the night before, which we call Halloween, symbolized the start of the cold, dark time of year. By contrast, May Day symbolizes the coming of the warm, sunny half of the year.

Because of the change in weather the holiday has focused on flowers and fertility. Quite a few ancient cultures, including the Romans and Druids, had religious celebrations on that day but even without religious connotations May Day has been considered a pleasant occasion. When I was a kid we used to leave small baskets of flowers at neighbors' front doors.

But in 1886 because of demonstrations demanding an eight hour work day, May Day became associated with political controversy, and it was later celebrated by Communists in the Soviet Union, so people in the United States didn't observe the day as anything special.

But the first day of May is still a good time to think about the nice Spring weather (even if it hasn't arrived yet where you live) and the beauty of flowers and green leaves on trees.

I hope you have a happy May Day on Tuesday, May 1, 2012.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Water Cycle

Myra Calvani's book, The Water Cycle, is a good one to use for teaching science to young children.
The information is presented in an amusing way so even little kids can understand it, while the educational activities at the end will be helpful for teachers and homeschooling parents.

Unlike most books on this topic, Calvani mentions some of the negative things about the water cycle such as the possibility of floods and being painfully hit by hail. Children need to be aware of things like that.

The illustrations by Alexander Morris communicate a lot through the expressions of people and animals and his personalized depictions of the raindrops, clouds, and other aspects of the water cycle are cute and amusing.

This book is the first in the Waterplay Series and I expect future books in the series to be equally as informative and amusing.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Earth Day

Tomorrow will be Earth Day when we acknowledge our gratitude for our planet and talk about ways to protect it.
Last year I posted a story about Earth Day that is both amusing and horrifying. Here's the link in case you want to read it:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


When I was a teenager I had terrible acne, and the zits had a negative effect on my social life and self esteem. And I'm certainly not the only one who ever had to deal with pimples.
I just did a google search for the word, acne, and got 129,000,000 hits.
Lots of the sites gave information about the influence of hormones, stress, and suggested treatments. One page I visited said about 3/4 of all teens have the problem and adults often have it, too.
My acne continued well into my 20s when I discovered something only mentioned on a few of the websites. While hormones and stress did play a part, my acne was primarily caused by food allergies.
Surprisingly, that's not unusual.
Food allergies don't always show up on skin tests and it can take several days for people to react to things they eat or drink, so many people are allergic to foods but don't know it.
If anyone who has acne also has a family history of allergies, and especially if they are allergic to anything themselves, it might be a good idea for them to investigate the possibility that their pimples are an allergic reaction to something they eat or drink.
While a complete elimination diet is extremely difficult, results can sometimes be found by avoiding all the foods someone frequently eats for a week, then adding one of those foods back every five days. Keeping a diary of what is eaten and when reactions occur can show a pattern. (I'm not a medical practitioner and only speak from personal experience.)
Yes, doing all that is a bit of a nuisance, but it's worth the effort to get rid of the acne. It worked for me.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Our society in the USA and those in most of the world are controlled by money.
But money, like words, only has value because we agree that it does.
Paper money may stand for gold, but even gold is only valuable because people think it is. Yes, it's pretty. Yes, it's rare. But you can't use it for clothing or shelter and it isn't good to eat or drink. And gold - or money - can't love anyone. Today gold may be used in some electronic devices, but historically it couldn't produce heat or light.
Why did humans in ancient times consider it a treasure?
In today's world it would be extremely difficult to survive without money in some form whether that be gold, cash, checks, credit and debit cards or legally binding promises.
But a lot of the things we have or wish we had are simply status symbols, pretty and pleasant like gold, but not essential. We do really need clothes, shelter, utilities, food and water, transportation, medical care and love.
The greatest of these is love, which is priceless.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Healthy Foods?

Back in the 1940s everyone, including my mother, knew the healthiest foods were "good red meat" and spinach because they were high in iron.
Now scientists say the iron in spinach doesn't absorb into humans very well and we've all been warned that red meet contains cholesterol that clogs arteries and causes heart attacks.
In the meantime we've been advised to eat certain foods and avoid others, but the advice has changed over the years. The seven basic food groups of proteins, carbohydrates, dairy, green vegetables, fruits, red and yellow vegetables and fats were changed to the food pyramid, which has also been modified.
The newest suggestion seems to be the Paleo Diet, which is supposed to be what cave men ate; lots of fruits, vegetables and meat, including the red kind, and no grains or dairy products at all.
And then there are all the diets that are supposed to help people loose weight.
It seems to me that except for special diets required for medical reasons, the best thing to do is follow the ancient advice from Aristotle, "moderation in all things."

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Traditions

When I was a kid we were fairly poor and most of my clothes were hand-me-downs. But every Easter I would have a new dress to wear to church.
Many people know Easter bunnies and eggs come from the ancient Anglo-Saxon religion that celebrated a goddess of Spring named Eastre.
So, what do new clothes, eggs, and rabbits have to do with a Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection?
Simple. They all remind us of new life.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Joy the Jellyfish

Joy the Jellyfish is a cute picture book written by Kristen Collier and illustrated by Kevin Collier.
It's about a transparent jellyfish who is unseen or unnoticed by all the other sea creatures. Joy is lonely and wants a friend more than anything. But what can she do to get one when she's almost invisible?
At last Joy travels far from the Great Barrier Reef and meets someone who not only befriends her, but teaches her how to make other friends by offering her friendship to them. I won't give away the plot by telling you who it is that helps her.
The wise knowledge that you have to be a friend to make a friend will be helpful to young readers and those who hear this book read aloud to them.
Kids are often caught up in attempts to be popular and I hope learning the wise words in the book from Joy's adviser that a true friend sees you from the inside out will help them focus on what really matters as they grow older.
Of course Kevin Colliers illustrations are perfect expressions of the story. I have a feeling the Colliers are good examples of friends as well as being husband and wife.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Gardening With Kids

I'm not much of a gardener, though I'm learning. But even the simplest gardening can be fun and educational for children.
Once when I was helping in a Kindergarten class the students dug up carrots they had planted in the yard and cared for. They were absolutely amazed to see the results from the tiny seeds.
As a child I loved eating the peas from our garden and my grandson was proud to dig up potatoes from our yard and help pick zucchini from the vines.
Besides helping children learn about nature and science, letting them plant, care for and harvest vegetables can have another advantage. Sometimes picky eaters who don't like veggies are willing to eat those they've grown or helped to grow themselves.
Of course vegetables are not the only kind of plants in gardens. Watching seeds or bulbs develop into flowering plants can also be exciting for kids. And, to be honest, gardening can be a good excuse for children to play in the dirt.
In urban areas many people don't have yards, but container gardening on a deck or rooftop or even using flower pots can help children learn about how plants grow.
Where I live, in the Sierra foothills of northern California, it's pouring rain today and it won't be time to plant gardens for quite a while. But there are lots of areas where it actually feels like Spring.
Wherever you live, if you have children it's a good idea to let them experience the joys of watching plants develop.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wolf Hybrids

I understand many people are afraid of wolf hybrids, dogs that are half or even part wolf. Often shelters must euthanize them because nobody will adopt them.
But I once knew a wolf hybrid who was one of the sweetest and smartest dogs I've ever met. Her name was Sheba.
Back in the early 1970s when I worked at California School for the Deaf many of the children who lived in the dormitories never got to go home except when the school was closed for long breaks. For that reason it was decided that staff members would be allowed to bring their own dogs to work so the children could have experience with animals. Sheba was one of those dogs.
My puppy, Brenda, was another.
Brenda had been born in a Kansas puppy mill where she was kept in a small cage, then shipped to California. She was deaf. My husband and I got her from the SPCA when she was about six months old. They had rescued her after she was abused by her owner when she didn't obey spoken commands.
Brenda was smart, but had no idea how to be a dog until Sheba took her under her wing.
Every day when the two dogs were on the playground Sheba taught Brenda how a dog should behave. For example, she showed her how to fetch balls thrown by the students.
Before long Brenda acted like a normal dog and both she and Sheba loved playing with the deaf children and being petted.
Sheba proved to me that wolf hybrids can be excellent pets.