Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Greetings, Earthlings

Greetings, to all my fellow earthlings!

We have successfully completed yet another journey around the sun.

Our own planet has rotated so we saw the sun rise and set three hundred and sixty five times.

In other words, we made it through another year. Hooray!

Weeks, hours, minutes, and seconds are all human inventions, but years, seasons, months, and days have been there since the world began and will continue to exist as long as our planet and solar system do.

But, compared to the size of the universe, everything we experience is so tiny we can't comprehend it.

However, we are all important to each other and things that humans do on one side of the planet can make a difference to other humans thousands of miles away.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if in 2015 we can all live at peace and help one another?

I'm wishing everyone a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

When Mommy Goes A-Marching

I've never before seen a book like this, and it's much needed.

When Mommy Goes A-Marching is about a little kid whose mother is deployed overseas. As the Author's Note at the end explains, the boy's mother was a college student in the National Guard when she was deployed overseas and had to drop out of college and leave her son with his grandparents.

The young boy in the photos is a family member of the author. 

This picture book is for young children and shows how the child is able to cope and connect with his mother as much as possible through things like Skype.

Most of the book is in rhyme, which is well done and not forced at all.  

There are probably a lot of children in similar situations and this book will help them understand and adjust to having their mothers gone away. Probably kids with fathers in the military will also be helped by this positive story.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Like millions of other people I'll be celebrating the Christian holiday of Christmas by attending church tonight and seeing family members tomorrow. I've already been to quite a few Christmas parties this year.

Nobody knows exactly when Jesus Christ was born. Experts say it's not likely to have been at this time of the year since Caesar Augustus probably ordered people to return to their hometowns to be taxed at the end of the harvest season when they had their profits for the year. The Roman Empire included areas in Europe where travel would have been impossible in late December because of the weather.  Of course Augustus, living in the Mediterranean climate might not have been aware of that.

Anyway I've read that people in the early church celebrated the coming of Christ at that time because everyone else in the area was celebrating the Winter Solstice and worshiping their own gods. Since it was illegal to be a Christian it would have been suspicious for anyone not to be celebrating.  If they didn't show signs of celebrating, Christians would have been more likely to get arrested and/or killed.

Of course there are lots of religions that have holidays when Winter begins and the days start to become longer. And in America all of them are free to celebrate or not.

Even though we don't all agree about our religious beliefs we certainly don't think people whose beliefs differ from ours should be arrested and killed. Of course if, like some ancient peoples, any groups sacrificed humans those would certainly be persecuted, but we don't have that kind of religions here.

While it might be cool to time travel back and actually see the things told about in the Bible happen, I'm glad I live now.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Merry Christmas

This will be a very short post. I just want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas or happy whatever holiday you celebrate.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

You've Got Mail

I still haven't finished sending all my Christmas cards, but I've already gotten quite a few. I'm referring to the old fashioned kind sent by snail mail, but I'll probably plenty of get e-cards, too.

The cards have made me think about the history of mail. In the 1500s when the first settlers came to America many of them probably never heard from friends they'd left behind in Europe again. If they did write letters to people from their past the mail would have been be carried by ship, then taken to the people's addresses. Some probably never arrived. By the time those people wrote back and the mail was transported to this continent and someone brought it to the person it was intended for, months would have passed.

Later mail was carried between American towns by horseback or in wagons. Benjamin Franklin became the first Postmaster General in 1775. Sending mail through the postal service was very expensive back then, so few people could afford to do it, If people knew someone who was traveling they'd often ask them to carry a letter to someone.

The telegraph was invented and wires were laid across the Atlantic to Europe in the mid 1800s and the Pony Express allowed people to communicate at distances in the West after 1860.

In the 1880s mail service became more efficient and the first Christmas cards were sent then.

Back in the 1940s when I was a kid we could mail cards and letters to family and friends on the other side of America and expect them to be delivered  in about a week.

Now when we send e-cards the delivery takes a few seconds, but I still prefer the old fashioned kind of Christmas cards.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Times and Numbers

Any child born today has a very special birthday.

During the last two decades people have commented about lots of interesting dates. Remember how a lot of people thought the year 2000 would be the end of the world?

And then there were lots of coincidental (well, they weren't really coincidences since they couldn't be avoided) number patterns on certain dates like 12/12/12  and 1/4/14.

But today, 12/13/14, is the last time for nearly a century that a date will have three consecutive numbers.

Unlike some people, I don't think there's any magical power to dates that form number patterns, but they are interesting.

And nobody is likely to forget the birthday of any kids born today.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Emma McKenna’s Ice Cream Dilemma

I am so impressed that Terry Cook is able to both write and illustrate her books! Very few people have both those talents.

While the story contains lots of rhymes, it isn't laid out like a poem, sometimes the meter changes, and the word usage is amazing.

Emma McKenna's Ice Cream Dilemma has a simple plot; When her uncle takes her to the ice cream shop Emma has to select one of many kinds of ice cream to order. But that's harder than it sounds because there are so many choices.

Kids will love the unbelievable number of ice cream flavors Emma must choose between. The choices include everything from Chocolate Kiss to Ogre Eyeballs. How can she decide?

At the end of the book the author has included some interesting historical facts about ice cream and a recipe with instructions for kids to make their own ice cream.

And when kids finish this book they'll probably be hungry for some of that.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Why I Blog

I started blogging in the Spring of 2009 Because my first book was under contract and I'd heard blogging was supposed to help publicize books. That book was Secret Service Saint about Nicholas, who discovered the joy of doing secret good deeds and eventually became known as Santa Claus.

To my surprise, another book was actually published before that one. It was The Peril of the Sinister Scientist and the publisher moved it ahead of the scheduled publication date so I'd be able to participate in a group signing with some of their other authors. That book is based on the idea, what would Jesus do in Middle School?

I had two more books published by that house, Guardian Angel Publishing and my most recent book, A Shadow of Fear, has been published by Mantle Rock Publishing.

I don't know if blogging has actually helped with the sales of any of my books, but I keep doing it  every Wednesday and Saturday because I enjoy it.

At first I wondered if I'd be able to think of things to blog about twice a week for a few months. And how could I come up with enough ideas for a whole year?

Well, it's been over five years and the ideas are still coming. The topics of words, books, and kids provide plenty of material. And I plan to keep on blogging as long as I can.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


People talk about the weather a lot. Some places in the USA have been having severe storms while California, where I live, has been having a serious drought.

Now it's pouring, and we're all grateful for that.

But if the rains continue, as they do in a normal year, soon we'll be complaining about them.

And then in the Summer we'll complain about the heat.

It seems like no matter what kind of weather is happening, people tend to complain about it.

And then there's all the conversation about climate change. Some people think it's something that occurs naturally every few thousand years while others say it's caused by pollution. Personally, I think both are probably influencing the changes.

But then there's my own theory. Climate change is really caused by the skateboarders. They jump up and down so much they're tipping the planet! ;-)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Dress Up

When I was  kid I loved playing Dress-Up.

My friends and I had some of our parents' discarded clothing, cowboy hats and kerchiefs, and perhaps discarded Halloween costumes and we'd put some of those on and pretend to be various characters. While the girls did this most often, even the boys would join in at times.

We'd use our imaginations and pretend to be whoever we wanted. Of course the girls often chose  to be princesses or fairys while the boys would become sheriffs or soldiers.

Now I'm a grown-up (at least on the outside) but I still enjoy dressing up for special occasions.

Most days I wear slacks or jeans, but it's fun to put on a dress or even velveteen pants and a fancy top to attend a holiday party.

Of course I'm not pretending to be someone else when I do that. I usually save my imagination for my writing.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bad, Bad, Bad

The news is full of terrible things.

There are riots, people getting shot, fires, storms, floods, political conflicts, terrorist attacks, climate change, wars and rumors of wars, etc., etc., etc.

If we focus on such things it seems like the end of the world is coming.

But there are more good people than evil ones in the world and nice things happen all the time. The news media focus on the bad stuff partly because the good is so usual it's not newsworthy.

If someone is speeding, ignores a traffic signal, or cuts me off at an intersection I notice, but when a vehicle drives safely and stops when it should I take that for granted.

I couldn't count the number of times strangers have smiled at me, held a door open when my arms were full, or let me go ahead of them.

Yes, storms and floods and earthquakes and forest fires are dangerous, but they happen rarely. How many days in my life have I enjoyed beautiful weather?

And, like many people, my financial situation could be better, but I have friends and family, a roof over my head, food to eat, utilities, transportation and health care. Lots of people in the world lack some or all of those things.

Thanksgiving isn't just for one day in November. I'll try to be thankful for all the good things all year.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thanks Again

Most years near Thanksgiving I blog about the same topic. Sorry if it gets boring, but it's something I feel strongly about. The topic is expressing gratitude.

Imagine you're late to work or to an appointment but the traffic where you are is stopped by someone holding up a sign while cars come toward you in the only lane open to traffic. Irritating, isn't it?

But imagine what would happen if nobody did that job.

Roads and underground utilities can't be repaired only when there's no traffic, so our streets, sewer and water systems, etc. would be a mess.

Whenever I'm in a situation like that I try to open my window and call, "Thank you" to the person who made me wait. Usually he or she looks surprised.

There are dozens of people who do jobs most people either find irritating or simply ignore. I try to say something nice and express my gratitude as often as possible.

And if there's a product or business I especially like sometimes I call the manufacturer or main office and express my appreciation. I don't want to waste busy people's time so I don't do that often, but a few of the people I've spoken to have told me my call was the nicest one they'd gotten all day.

The news is full of negative things and people gripe and complain a lot. But saying "Thank you" or sometimes even smiling can put a positive touch to someone's day.

I also keep a blessing journal. At the end of every day I list at least three things I'm thankful for. Being thankful helps me, too.

We don't have to wait for Thanksgiving to say, "Thank you.".

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Tomorrow is the Great American Smokeout.  The American Cancer Society encourages everyone who smokes to stop on November 20th.

Smoking not only causes cancer, it can cause other serious health problems as well. My stepfather died of emphysema and it was horrible to watch him go through that. As a kid I had severe, chronic asthma, largely because of my parents' smoking.

And people who smoke are so used to the odor theey have no idea they stink all the time. Their homes, hair and clothing always smell like dirty ashtrays.

Like all addictive substances, nicotine replaces the natural chemicals that allow our brains to feel pleasure, so quitting isn't easy. But it can be done. And, while the process isn't easy. everyone I've known who stopped smoking was glad they had done it afterwards.

If you're a smoker please take the dare and quit.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Shadow of Fear

I'm so excited! My newest book, A Shadow of Fear was published this week.

It's about a boy named Ben who is afraid of many things, but he wants to go to camp with his older brother. His parents agree if Ben can act like Jesus they'll let him go. But will he be able to face his worst fear to help a friend with special needs?

I hope this book will encourage kids who read it to face their own fears and do what is right.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Animal Language

Did you know animals and birds can communicate with in many ways?

Even bees have patterns of "dancing" in the air to tell others in their hives where to find good nectar.

Many animals can sense things humans can't, such as sounds out of our hearing range or color vision that's different from ours.

Dogs communicate a lot of things to each other through their strong ability to smell things. I'm glad humans don't have to greet each other by sniffing certain body areas as dogs do! Those animals can tell all kinds of information when they sniff where other dogs have left urine. For instance they can sense if the other dog is mature or not, male or female, healthy or not, well fed or not, aggressive or frightened, etc.

A while ago I blogged about a book called How to Speak Dog by Stanley Coren.

Coren doesn't mention smell communication, but explains how dogs communicate by using body language, barking patterns, and intonations. It's amazing how much they can communicate!

That book also talks about cat language, and how cats and dogs often don't get along because some of their body languages mean opposite things. But if they're raised together they can understand each other.

I've told so many people about that book the author ought to pay me a commission. :-) 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

My Bookshelves

I've mentioned before how I loved getting books as gifts when I was a kid. The Heidi books, Little House on the Prairie and Oz books, Tom Sawyer, and many others are still on my bookshelves today.

And I haven't even mentioned the picture books my parents read to me and my brother every night at bedtime when we were little kids.

When I went away to college I took many of the books I've mentioned with me, but most of the picture books were stored in a box in my mother's basement with my dolls and toys.

Several years later when I had graduated and gotten an apartment I went back to get the things in that box. All of them were rotten and full of mildew! Horrible!!!

I'm so glad I had kept the others with me, and I still have them.  Of course I've added lots more books since then. I kept some of my college textbooks. As a teacher I bought lots of books for kids, and I've purchased and been given many for adults.Our community has a monthly free  book swap and I usually keep some of the books I get there.

A while ago I tried to count how many books I have, but got tired of doing that and decided to figure how many by the average number on a shelf. The estimate is about 2000 altogether.

Can you tell I'm a bookaholic?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Vote, Vote, Vote

Like me, you are probably tired of campaign ads. I'll be glad to have this election over and done with.

But the constant barrage of commercials has reminded me of that old song from the days when women had to fight for the right to vote. I couldn't find the lyrics online, but here's the version I remember:

Vote, vote, vote for Johnny.
In comes Mary at the door.
Mary is a lady
And she knows how to vote
So we don't need Johnny anymore.

As I mentioned in this post
thousands of years ago there were logical reasons for men and women to have different roles. But times have changed.

The Women's Suffrage movement was started by Ellen Clarke Sargent and her husband in Nevada County, CA. That was in 1878, but it wasn't until 1920 that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution made it legal for women to vote in the United States.

So, no matter how fed up we are with the current election, I hope all the American women who read this will appreciate their right to vote and use it today.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Purple People Eater Was Here

In February when I was diagnosed with ocular melanoma and told I might loose the vision in one eye I asked the people in my church to pray that I wouldn't worry. (I tend to be a worry wart.)

The next day while I was walking the dog a tune kept running through my head and eventually I realized it was the One Eyed, One Horned Flying Purple People Eater. That song had been popular when I was in high school. Thinking of it made me laugh and every time I started to worry I'd remember the song and laugh again. That was an interesting answer to prayer so I decided to "be" a purple people eater in the Fall for Halloween.

So last night I wore purple with an eye patch and a shawl for wings. I couldn't get the paper party horn to stay on my cap, so I used a toy, plastic trumpet. Every time trick or treaters came to the door I'd blow the trumpet and tell them I was one eyed, one horned, flying, purple people eater and that was my horn.

I figured today's children wouldn't know that song, so I posted the words next to the front door. To my surprise, most of the kids said they remembered it from preschool or Kindergarten and walked away singing it. How times have changed!

By the way, because my tumor was down in the corner of my eye the proton beam radiation used to treat it didn't damage my vision at all so I'm not one-eyed, but I had fun last night.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Emilie & the Hollow World

I found Emilie & the Hollow World in the YA section of my local public library but, except for two or three "bad words," I think it would be a better fit in the Children's Section. Emilie and the other human characters aren't quite old enough for romance, although there's a hint that might happen in the future. Perhaps there will be sequels that are a better fit for Young Adults.

Regardless of the intended age group, it's a good book.

I love that it's based on a unique Sci-Fi concept.

Instead of going to outer space or another typical fantasy world, Emilie, who is fleeing from an unpleasant family situation, finds herself on a ship that takes her to the center of the planet Earth.

I did wonder why the force of gravity wasn't different there but, otherwise, that amazing world seemed realistic.

Emily encounters all kinds of dangers and meets people and a variety of creatures that don't exist on the surface of our planet. She and the other characters, human or not, seem alive and real and we care what happens to them.  The plot is exciting, but I don't want to give it away so I won't tell any details.

The ending is satisfying, but I hope Marsha Wells  goes on to write more books about Emilie because I've come to care about that character.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Lumpy Duckling

I've always cared about helping people who are different, especially kids, to be accepted by others. That's why I was eager to read The Lumpy Duckling by Kai Strand, and I'm glad I did.

The title of this book is a reminder of the classic tale, The Ugly Duckling, but it's not about ducks. It's about a girl known as Wheezy (short for Eloise) and a boy who is fat and - well - lumpy. In fact Lumpy is what he's called.

But Lumpy is Wheezy's best friend and she hates the way the other kids treat him.

Then Wheezy is given a chance to make a magic wish. She wishes the others would see Lumpy the way she sees him.

But, like most magic wishes, this one doesn't turn out the way she expected.

I don't want to give away the plot, but I will say the story involves a horrible accident and Wheezy missing Lumpy - a lot. 

Kids will certainly enjoy reading The Lumpy Duckling. The characters seem alive, the magic is believable, and the book does have a happy ending.

They'll also learn that physical appearance is not what's important about people.

This book by Kai Strand is one in The Weaver Tales series and the author is certainly an excellent story weaver.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Political Rant

Shame on me for posting something on my blog that's off topic. I usually only write about words, books, and kids. Well, maybe this could be considered about words.

I'm talking about the trickle down theory of economics. A while back some politicians said if the top people in society had plenty of money some of that would trickle down to help all the others. Perhaps that's true to some extent. After all, income taxes do help pay for welfare.

Here's a scientific experiment to try out the trickle-down concept.

When you take a shower, use plenty of shampoo and soap on your head, neck, and top of your shoulders, but don't touch the rest of your body at all.

Now do that every time you shower for a year. Then do it for four years. Remember, no tub baths and no exceptions.

Well, perhaps once a year on Christmas or whatever similar holiday you observe you could use the washcloth on your feet and between your legs, but that's all. After all, some rich people do make charitable donations once in a while.

Now, what do you think will be the over all health of your body at the end of the four years?

If anyone actually dares to try this, I'd love to hear how it turns out.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why I Read

Why do I read so much?

I'm a bookaholic with no intention of getting into recovery.

I learned to read well at an early age and discovered books could take me away from my troubles. My father had died, we were poor, I had severe, chronic asthma and got teased and bullied in school. Books took me away from all that.

They also opened up new worlds to me. I learned a lot about another culture and another time in history from the Heidi series and The Little House in the Big Woods. Those were some of the first "big kid books" I owned.

And that made me aware that I could explore the world and learn a lot by reading fiction and non-fiction.

Books have helped me understand other people and both the fiction and non-fiction ones I've read have enriched my life in more ways than I can explain.

Years ago I wrote this poem which tells why I love to read. (Feel free to share it as long as you give me credit.)

The Library


Janet Ann Collins

In the library I look and look

Until I choose one special book.

I open the book and there I see

A world of wonders waiting for me.

I read the book and then I find

All of those wonders are now in my mind.      

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fiction Timing

I recently read a book from one of the children's series that was published long ago. The kids went off for adventures without any adults, and their parents were fine with that. Most of the books written for kids in past decades had the protagonists experience all sorts of things without any grown-ups around.

When I was a kid it was normal for us to go out and play for hours without adult supervision, and sometimes we'd even go for hikes or otherwise leave our own neighborhood, though we had to get permission from our parents.

That probably couldn't happen today. And even if modern kids should be on their own because of an emergency all they'd need to do is pull out their cell phones and help would arrive.

It's becoming more difficult for authors to come up with exciting plots for contemporary stories.  Of course there are situations like child abuse, but those topics aren't usually appropriate to show in books for children in the middle grade age group.

That's one reason why lots of historical fiction, Sci-Fi and fantasy books are getting published.

Of course there are a few exceptions, but the authors of those books had to come up with extremely creative ways to get their characters in trouble. 

Have you read any good books for kids lately?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Family Reunions

Last weekend we had a family reunion at my house. Only 20 people were able to attend, but it was great to see so many relatives. They came from all over California, some traveling  for hours, but those who live farther away or had to work couldn't make it.

Some of us have known each other all our lives while others have joined the family more recently. The youngest relative who attended is two-and-a -half years old while the oldest was in the late 70s.

If I were to list all our relationships this post would take all day to read. Our extended family consists of siblings, parents, grandparents and their offspring, cousins, second cousins, second cousins' cousins,  cousins once or twice removed, cousins-in-law, etc., etc., etc.

Long ago my husband gave up trying to figure out all those terms and just called everyone step-neighbors-in-law.

And our complete extended family, or "clan," as we call ourselves, includes people of multiple races, religions, and nationalities. But we're all family. And it was wonderful to have so many of us together.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Phones, Then and Npw

Long ago Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone because he was trying to find a way for his deaf wife to communicate. When telephones became available for the public they were fastened to the wall. Lots of Victorian houses and flats have what was called a telephone bench in the hallway so people could sit there and chat. Hallways were the best place for telephones because they were in the center of the home and the bell could be heard from every room.

When I was a little kid we lived in urban areas and had dial phones, The phone  numbers had a word  indicating two letters to be dialed, followed by five numerals. Everyone 'knew' it was impossible for most people to remember more than five numbers at a time.

Then,for a while we lived in a small town and had an older phone network. We'd pick up the receiver, a voice would say, "operator," and we'd tell her the number we wished to call. In that community the word was followed by only four numerals.

Today we remember all sorts of long numbers and phone numbers include area codes, etc. so they're usually about 8 numerals long and we remember lots of phone numbers. But if we forget, automatic dialing of numbers we've saved solves that problem.

And, today,  e-phones that allow texting and video apps that can show someone using Sign Language make it easy for Deaf people to communicate. Alexander Graham Bell did succeed, but not at all as he imagined.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Walls Within Walls

This book is mysterious and exciting. The plot is about kids following clues to figure out a puzzle and experiencing some strange things in the process.

Walls Within Walls begins when a some kids, whose parents have recently become wealthy, move to an impressive apartment in an upper-class section of New York City. The parents are pleased, but the kids are not happy about leaving their friends, having a nanny because their parents are seldom home, and expecting to enter snobbish private schools in the Fall.

Then Brid, Patrick and CJ find out the original owner of the building had turned their new home into a giant puzzle with all sorts of hidden clues. If the puzzle can be solved, a treasure may be found, but the kids aren't the only ones trying to figure it out.

Readers may be able to guess the answers to some of the puzzles, but that isn't easy to do. In the meantime, they'll come to care about the characters, have some thrills, and learn some interesting things about the history of New York City.

Maureen Sherry has written a book that's fun and exciting and I'm sure lots of kids will enjoy reading it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

My Favorite Child

If you're a writer you probably know writing a book is similar to birthing a baby in some ways. It can be painful, especially if you get rejections, and takes a lot of effort, but it's joyful and amazing to hold the result when the book has been published. And the work has only begun because you have to   promote the book. At least that usually doesn't take as many years as raising a child.

I've had four books for kids published, but one of them is my favorite. It's Signs of Trouble.

Anyone who knows me is probably aware that I care a lot about people, especially kids, with Special Needs. I met lots of children like that when I was a kid myself and sent to the Stanford Convalescent Home because of my severe asthma. That experience has influenced the rest of my life.

Signs of Trouble is for young children but it's loosely based on field trips I took while working as an aide in a Special Ed class for older kids. In the book the main characters get separated from their class on a field trip and use what they've learned about safety rules and recognizing signs to get back with them. Of course nobody ever got separated from the class on the field trips the real class took.

The book also contains some educational information and suggestions for activities at the end.

My tagline is "Opening Eyes, Opening Hearts" and I hope this book helps open the eyes and hearts of the kids who read it or have it read to them. It's available online and through distributors to bookstores.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen was written by Eric Berlin, who creates puzzles as a profession.

Kids who enjoy puzzles will love this book, which is full of them. And the plot is a puzzle itself.

Winston Breen gives his sister a box for his birthday. It has a hidden compartment containing parts of a puzzle and the rest of the book is about his struggle to solve the puzzle. He must contend with some greedy adults that have other parts of the puzzle and gets into some scary situations as a result. The stakes keep getting higher.

Since I don't especially like doing puzzles myself I skipped most of the ones in the book (the answers are in the back with footnotes showing where to find them) but had to finish reading to find out the solution to the mystery.

Besides the challenging story, this book has believable characters and a realistic setting.

It's the sort of book that will appeal to boys who are reluctant readers, but not only to them.

I enjoyed reading it a lot and hope the author writes more books in the future.

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Since so many people commented (on Facebook, not here on my blog) about my last post, which mentioned something from the 1940s, I thought I'd talk about a similar topic today: plastic.

Plastic? What's historical about that?

A while after the end of World War II my daddy brought home a gift for me. It was a bright orange canoe to play with in the bathtub and was made out of a new material called plastic. Apparently the material had been developed for military use, but could now be used for other purposes.

The canoe was fun to play with, but that wasn't the most exciting thing about it for me. Every time my parents had guests the grown-ups asked me to bring out my toy to show them and they all wanted to touch and feel that new material. The grown-ups admired my toy!

Unfortunately the plastic was brittle and the canoe only lasted a few months before it shattered.

Of course it wasn't long afterwards that other things made of plastic appeared on the market and less fragile forms of the substance were developed.

Some of those things, like the baggies that replaced waxed paper for taking sandwiches to school, were considered wonderful, too.

Today plastic is everywhere, and that substance has become a major problem since it's taking over landfills and never decomposes.

What's the first plastic thing you can remember?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Remember Oleo?

I was only a toddler during the second world war, but I do have some memories of that time. One was a substance called oleomargarine.

Since most young men had been drafted to fight in Europe and the Pacific workers were scarce and lots of supplies were sent overseas to the military. As a result, there was a shortage of many things in the United States.

One of those things was butter.

A substance called oleomargarine was created and sold in the states to be used as a substitute for butter. It was mostly salted lard and a tiny bag of dye came with it. The dye was orange, but when a housewife squished it into the white, fatty substance with a fork the stuff turned yellow and looked like butter.

I remember watching my mother do that.

Everyone called the fake butter "oleo" instead of using the longer word, oleomargarine.

How my mother hated that stuff! She said it didn't taste like butter at all.

When the war was over some varieties of oleomargarine that actually tasted like butter became available. The common name was changed from "oleo" to "margarine" and many brands of that are available today. Since most of them don't contain animal fats they may be healthier than butter.

But, as long as she lived, my mother would never buy anything but real butter.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Tony Abbott has written a powerful book for kids!

Firegirl is about Tom, who is shocked when a terribly scarred new girl comes into his seventh grade class. Like all his classmates, he is horrified by her appearance and doesn't want to think about how she was burned that badly. As the other kids do, he avoids her.

But gradually Tom begins to approach Jessica, at least in private. And they sort of become friends although he still finds her appearance disturbing.

While not many kids are severely burned and disfigured like Jessica, many kids with various special needs are in similar situations because "normal" kids are uncomfortable or even afraid around them.  Sometimes the same thing happens to those who are different in other ways, such as their race or the language they speak.

I hope this book helps a lot of people understand it's what's on the inside that counts the most and to accept others who are different from themselves.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Maggie Mae, Detective Extraordinaire

Kids enjoy reading about detectives and mysteries and there are lots of series like that for older kids. But younger ones don't have many in that genre to choose from.  This book is for readers from four to eight years old and helps to fill in that gap. Of course most children at the beginning of that age group will have the story read to them and it will be a satisfying bedtime story.

Maggie Mae, Detective Extraordinaire By Margo L. Dill is apparently going to be a series. The subtitle of this book is, The Case of the Missing Cookies.

Maggie Mae's grandmother is baking cookies, her delicious snickerdoodles, for a bake sale. But some have disappeared and Maggie Mae  needs to help her grandmother by discovering who has stolen them.

Is the thief her brother? Her grandfather? The dog?

Maggie Mae takes notes and follows the clues until she solves the mystery.

I won't give away the secret, but at the end of the book Grandma leaves everyone happy by baking lots more of her yummy cookies.

The cute illustrations by Jack Foster add to the enjoyment kids will experience when they read, or listen to, the story.

And they'll be eagerly awaiting the next book about Maggie Mae.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Best Laid Plans

Many years ago the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, wrote a poem including the line, "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley, "

We've changed that a bit in modern English to refer to the best made plans instead of calling them schemes.

That line, which was originally about a mouse having its home and food destroyed in the middle of winter, is still referred to in our time. While it's rare for humans to have their homes destroyed by earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, those terrible things do sometimes happen.

And there are lots of other ways our best made plans can fail.

I hope no one reading this post has had to deal with a major loss. But all of us have times when things get in the way of our plans.

It's September and the first day of Fall is just over two weeks away. Thinking back to our New Year Resolutions in January, I wonder how many of us have actually achieved what we had planned and hoped to accomplish by this time.

I certainly haven't, but I have accomplished quite a few other things I hadn't even thought of back then.

Sometimes when things go "agley" it can be for the best in the long run.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Test Post

My blog posts used to show up on social networking sites like Facebook automatically through Networked Blogs. They stopped appearing on those other sites over a month ago. I'm trying Networked Blogs again to see if it works as it used to, although I never left it before.

This is a test to see if this post appears on those other sites. I'll write the next regular blog post on Saturday morning, as usual.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

School Days

A few years ago I blogged about the difference between school calendars when I was a kid and those they have now. 

But one thing I failed to mention is the advantage of the way it used to be.

Back when most public schools in the United States followed the same calendar schedule it was easier for kids who moved from one area to another. They knew school would start right after Labor Day, which national and religious holidays would give them a break, and that Summer Vacation would begin at the beginning of June. If possible, families scheduled moves so their kids would enter their new schools at the beginning of the school year.

But in the past every state had its own choice of curriculum, and even school districts within a state might be different. If a kid had to move during the school year the new school might be ahead of what they had learned in their previous school and possibly even studying different topics.

I'm no expert on the Common Core Curriculum and have heard both negative and positive things about it. However, I do think it must be easier for kids who move to have their classes in the old and new locations be similar.

If anyone can tell me more about the pros and cons of Common Core I'd love to hear what you think.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Secret of Rover.

I never review books I don't like. I'm reviewing The Secret of Rover by Rachel Wildavsky here because it is one I loved!

This is an exciting adventure about two kids whose parents were kidnapped by terrorists. They must travel across several states in hopes of finding help from their only other relative, an uncle they've never met. And the kidnappers are pursuing them.

This isn't a simple crime story just about kids trying to save their parents, though that's certainly enough to keep readers fascinated. It's also about international security and the whole future of the world may depend on what the kids, Katie and David, do.

The Secret of Rover is a combination of mystery, Sci-fi (What is Rover, anyway?) and action adventure and it's a genuine page turner. The characters and their relationships are believable and the settings are realistic.

In short, this book has every element of a wonderful book.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More on Language

If you use the "search" feature on my blog page and type in "Language," you'll see many posts I've written about language. That's a subject that has fascinated me all my life.

Recently I've joined the local German-American Club and I'm taking an intermediate class in the German language through them.

Although I took two years of German in High School, that information has gotten buried somewhere in the depths of my brain. I'm hoping this class will help me remember what I learned in the dim and distant past and teach me more of the language.

Maybe I'll actually become a fluent speaker of German eventually. I'm already fluent in English and American Sign Language so that would make me trilingual.

If that does happen, maybe then I'll study another language.

I've always wanted to learn Spanish. Since I live in California I've picked up a little of that language, and I studied Latin, which is similar to Spanish, in High School. Maybe it wouldn't be too difficult for me to learn at least a little bit of Spanish.

And, eventually, I might even brush up on the French I took in College, even though I disliked those classes and don't remember much from it.

When I was a kid I wanted to learn every language in the world but, obviously, nobody can do that. However it would be fun to learn some more.

I just hope my brain isn't too old to do it.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Ten Little Tricksters

It's only August, but I want to tell you about a book for kids about Halloween. It never hurts to plan ahead.

Ten Little Tricksters is a standard counting story with a different number of kids - or spooks - in costumes on each page. It's not really scary, but captures the fun of trick or treating so kids will love this book.

If I were rich I'd buy enough copies to give all the children who come trick or treating to my house, but I can't afford to buy that many. However every family that buys a copy will find it's a great way to get kids excited about the holiday. Preschool and Kindergarten teachers will enjoy sharing it with their classes, too.

As you can see from the cover, Kevin Collier created illustrations that show the feeling of the book perfectly.

Now you've got plenty of time to go out and get this book before Halloween.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Secret of Ferrell Savage.

I'm impressed with this book by a new author, J. Duddy Gill. I wonder if the author's name is a pseudonym because it's so unusual and the character names are all original and amusing even without the story.

But the story is exciting, adventurous, and fun. There's real danger involved, too. It's about a boy, Ferrell Savage, his friend, Mary Vittles, and a threatening, new kid, Bruce Littledood.

 One of the things I like best about it is the lack of stereotypes. So many books for kids have similar characters and conflicts, but this one is completely original.

Yes, the main character will be in a dangerous competition (or two,) another character is threatening to him, and a girl is involved, but their interactions and reactions are not at all what the reader would expect. And the secret is very unusual!

I don't want to give away the plot so I won't go into more detail.You'll need to read it to learn more.

I hope the author writes a sequel because, while the ending is satisfying, there are a few unanswered questions. Why does Bruce Littledood need to be a winner? Why is Ferrell's mother a strict vegan? And how will his relationship with Mary develop in the future?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Recycle! A Children's Musical

I don't usually review plays, but this one is worth making an exception for. Recycle! A Children's Musical by Joni Klein-Higger should be performed in schools everywhere. With twenty characters there are enough parts for lots of kids and others can serve behind the scenes. That means a whole class could be involved in the play.

And it's educational.

Recycle! is the amusing story of some modern kids who time travel back to 1950 with the help of  a mysterious, "nutty" professor. While there, they learn how people got along without all the plastic and other things that are damaging our environment and come to understand the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling.

That's information kids everywhere need to learn.

But the play isn't boring and didactic and it could also be performed by groups of kids outside of schools.

It's amusing and has lively, catchy music kids will probably go home singing when the play is over. And performances would be only about half an hour long.

The script is available on Amazon, but the music and recording of it must be purchased from Guardian Angel Publishing, at least right now. I think it will become available elsewhere soon.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Mystery of the Haunted Toilet

One of the toilets in my house seemed to be haunted.

Once in a while, sometimes several times in a week and other times not for a month or two, it would flush itself when nobody had been near it.

The other day I talked to a plumber and learned the problem was called "ghost flushing." It happens to other toilets and apparently I'm not the only one who thinks it seems spooky.

What actually happens is a tiny bit of water leaks out of the tank over a period of hours or days until the water level gets low enough so the mechanism opens and allows new water to refill the tank.

That's what causes the flushing sound.

Okay, the mystery is solved. 

However, as a writer,  I like the original concept better. I can think of all sorts of story possibilities about a haunted toilet.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Fearless Grandpa

The Fearless Grandpa by Mary Esparza-Vela is a cute and amusing book. 

It's about a visiting grandfather who tells his grandkids not-very-scary ghost stories and claims to be fearless.

But then something happens that scares him a lot.

I don't want to spoil the book by giving away what scared him, but it's funny.

This is a sweet portrayal of the relationship between a child and her aging grandfather.

The illustrations are cute, too, but I have a problem with them. The names of the characters sound Spanish but the pictures don't make them look that way. However that's a minor point and most kids won't notice it.

I think this is a book lots of kids will enjoy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Getting Books

As an author I must admit I want people to buy my books. Like everyone else, I need money.  But, as a reader, I must admit I often read books for free, or for very little money.

First, I've used public libraries since I first learned to read, and I love them. I usually read about five or six library books (mostly middle-grade fiction) every week.

Libraries are wonderful. A few years ago our county considered privatizing our libraries and the entire community banded together to keep that from happening. Obviously I'm not the only one who loves libraries.

Then there are second hand book stores, and book sales, many of which raise funds to help libraries or other organizations.

In our community we have a monthly free book swap where people can donate as many books as they want and take home as many as they want.

Sometimes people who know me give me books as gifts, or I exchange books with author friends.

And, although I'm old fashioned and prefer hard copies to e-readers, I've downloaded free e-books from the internet and even bought a few.

Of course if I'm buying a book as a gift for someone else I get them new hard copies, and if I expect to read a book again and again or use it for reference I do sometimes purchase new ones for myself.

As my bumper sticker proclaims, "Bookaholics Unite"

What kind of books do you like to read?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Why I Love Language

As you probably know, my blog is about words, books and kids. I post lots of book reviews, but I thought it might be time to explain why I also talk about language.

I’ve been fascinated with language ever since I was a little kid. I was about four years old when my little brother was learning to talk. I felt very proud because could often understand him when our parents couldn’t. I now realize that’s because they were trying to decipher his words but he used intonation patterns to communicate.

Later when I was five years old we moved from New Jersey to California and was surprised to hear people used different words for things than we did back East. For instance we had a sofa, but our California neighbors had couches. Dialects are different in different parts of the country.

When I got a little bit older I thought it would be fun to learn  every language in the world when I grew up. Obviously that didn’t happen! I am fluent in American Sign Language, took Latin and German in High School and French in college.

A family from Germany moved in next door to us the first week I started taking German. Since they had little kids I wasn't embarrassed to try using that language with the children. However my first attempt was a big failure. I tried to ask their names but was actually asking them what color they were. However our communication did improve after that. Because I actually used that language I learned it better than the others I studied in school and plan to take some informal lessons to brush up.

Of course nobody speaks Latin today. However I once worked in a school where the kitchen staff were all from Mexico and had very limited English. I used Latin based English words to communicate with them and they could understand everything I said. Everyone else used the “simple” English, which is based on the Anglo-Saxon language and those words were the hardest for the kitchen crew to understand.

I took French in college in the 1960s. (Yes, I'm old.) The French professor was from Quebec and they were trying to get French accepted as an official language in Canada. She kept telling us French was the best language in the world and much better than English. Even then I knew enough about Linguistics to realize one language isn't better than another. I resented her attitude and flushed the French out of my mind once I had passed the tests. That was stupid since I had taken the classes in order to learn the language.

Later in college I took a lot of Linguistics electives just for fun.

Back in the 1960s my fiancé knew I was interested in languages and introduced me to a friend who was a Sign Language interpreter. That friend taught me ASL and I married him instead of my fiance'.
To be honest, I'll admit there were a few years in between but it makes a better story if I don't mention that.

I did become fluent in ASL, though I've been out of the Deaf community for a while and don't know the newer signs.

And, of course, I use my native language all the time, both in  everyday activities and as a writer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Prairie Dog Play Days

Margot Finke has done it again.

She's written another fun book that teaches kids about the natural world and it will be published soon. I'm lucky to get to see it before most other people and you're lucky to be getting a sneak peek at it.

 While her other books are mostly about Australia, this one features creatures in North America.

As the title implies, the first section of the book, Prairie Dog Days, is about prairie dogs, but equal coverage is given to skunks and eagles in the sections called Little Stinkers and Bald Eagle Rules.

Written in rhyming style and sharing a lot about the youngsters in each species, this book will be a pleasure for kids to read or have read to them.

And they'll learn a lot, too. I even learned something I didn't know about the reason bald eagles are called that. (No spoilers; you'll have to read the book to find out.)

There's plenty of educational material at the end of the book for teachers and home schooling parents to use, and I think kids will enjoy all of that, too.

The illustrations by Kathy Iler are both charming and accurate.

I think lots of kids will love this book.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

More About Gramp

I've mentioned my grandfather several times recently, and I loved him a lot. However I must admit he was a bigot. Of course most people in his time were.

Gramp thought the minstrel shows he saw were accurate portrayals of African Americans.

He was prejudiced against Chinese people because he said the men had long braids, wore dresses, and took tiny steps like women.

And he told me men were better than women and boys were better than girls and there was nothing women could do that men couldn't do better. Even with regard to sewing and cooking the professional taylors and chefs were all men and women could only do those things well enough for their own families.

He was a product of his time and culture. 

I'm glad we've come a long way since the 1800s that shaped his beliefs.

Maybe in the future no humans will be prejudiced against others. We can always hope.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


I've been reading some Science Fiction books by H.G.Wells which were written in the 1800s. My grandfather loved his books, and also liked those by Jules Verne.

When Gramp was a boy back in the 1800s he lived in the Mission District of San Francisco.

One night, probably in the early 1880s he did something unusual. With the help of his younger brother he went outside after dark, lit a lantern, and tied it to the tail of a kite. Then he flew it in the dark sky above his neighborhood.

All over the area people came out and stared at the light moving in the sky. Nobody had ever seen anything like that before! They talked about it for days afterward.

Perhaps it was the world's first UFO sighting. At least it was certainly one of the first.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Classic Books

A book becomes a classic when it is read by lots of people for a long time. That time span may be decades long, but it's often a century or more.

As a writer I can tell you a lot of the classic books wouldn't have a chance of getting accepted by a publishing house today. Writers are told we must start in the middle of the action and avoid a lot of description, but older books often spend pages setting scenes before the stories actually start. I guess in those days people knew less about environments other than the places they lived in, so they really needed a lot of information to set the scenes.

However classics are classics because they're good reads and people still enjoy many of them today.

And lots of classics written for kids are still popular with children.

In my local library some books that were originally intended for adults are found in the Children's Section. They don't contain any material that's offensive, except for some racist and sexist stereotypes that were the norm back when they were written. Kids can learn a lot about how our culture used to be by reading classic books.

I'm currently reading The Complete Science Fiction Treasury of H. G. Wells. The anthology contains seven novels and is 760 pages long, so I may not finish it before next week. But his novels are certainly worth reading. I'm amazed at the creative mind that man had!

Have you read any classic books lately? If not, you might try some.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Animal Language

 Did you know animals have language? Here are some examples:

Bees communicate the location of good nectar to each other by doing a kind of dance.

Birds use vocal sounds and gestures to communicate with each other. When a bird shakes all over that means, "finish" and many other creatures use that to mean the same thing. It's like shaking water off after getting wet.

Dogs and cats use all sorts of intonation patterns and body language to communicate. Unfortunately some canine and feline gestures have opposite meanings so, unless they were raised together, dogs and cats may not get along. For example, the dog's "Let's play" position is similar to the cat's aggressive threat.

Dogs can learn to count to five, probably because they have four paws and one tail. Once we had a brilliant dalmatian who learned to understand a lot of American Sign Language. I tried to teach her to count by asking how many treats she wanted and holding up a different number of fingers on each hand. I assumed she'd choose the higher number, but she didn't seem to be getting it. Then I realized she always picked the lower number because she wanted the game to continue. She did get it!

I wrote more about animal language and reviewed a book on that topic in a previous blog post. You can see it here:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Days of the Week

My last post was about the names of months, so I thought I'd follow up with this one.

Sunday is obviously named for the sun.

Monday is named for the moon, although the spelling is different.

Tuesday is named for Tiw. He was the Germanic god of war.

Wednesday is named after Woden, That's a Germanic version of Odin, the Norse god of war.

Thursday is named for Thor, who was Oden's son. He was the god of thunder and also of war.

Friday is named after Oden's wife, Frig. Her name sometimes gets confused with Freya, who was a Germanic godess of love.

Unlike the Roman gods who the months are named after, all those deities are from northern Europe. But Saturday is named after Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture.

(I got this information from the 1958 College Edition of Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Months and Years

Long ago when the Romans developed the 12 month calendar the names we call, September, October, November, and December were based on their words for the numbers seven, eight, nine, and ten. The first month of their year was May, a name we've derived from Maia, their goddess of Spring. It was logical to start the new year when new life appeared.

The months alternated between 31 and 30 days. The Romans didn't plan for leap years.

The emperor, Julius Caesar, had the first Summer month of July named for himself. Then when Caesar Augustus became the next emperor he wanted a summer month named after him, but he didn't want it to be shorter than July because it might seem less important. That's why he took one day from the last month of the year, February, and added it to his own month of August.

Can you guess those men were both just a bit conceited?

If you want to remember the number of days in a certain month you don't need to remember the old rhyme, "30 days hath September, April, June and November," although that works well. Instead just remind yourself that the months alternate between 30 and 31 days, except for August and February.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Wish

Here's another book I like because it takes a creative spin on a topic. The Wish by Gail Carson Levine is a contemporary book with the features of a fairy tale.

Wilma is a misfit until a magic wish makes her the most popular gitl in her school. But she learns that popularity isn't necessarily always a good thing.

This is a fun story that will help young readers think about what really matters. I give it a thumbs up.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Addictions, Good and Bad

Addictions can ruin the lives of those who have them and the people around them.

People die from lung cancer and give other people asthma by smoking. Alcoholics and illegal drug addicts cause more problems in our society than I can count. Even medication prescribed by doctors can cause addiction, though the help they give may outweigh that.

I understand addictions work by creating chemicals in the brain similar to the natural ones are generated when people feel pleasure. Those false sensations may be more intense than the natural ones.

However the brain stops making the natural chemicals as a result of getting the others, so addicts can only feel pleasure when they're high or drunk. If people get into recovery their brains do start making the pleasure chemicals again, but it make take quite a while before that happens.

However there is one good kind of addiction. An addiction to reading!

Reading can stimulate all sorts of emotions, but those feelings are natural even when they're caused by reading fiction. A good plot may give the reader fear, excitement, frustration, relief, peace and joy, to name only a few feelings gained from books.

To be honest, I must admit that I'm a bookaholic and I have no intention of ever getting into recovery.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Two by Pat Walsh

I recently read two books by Pat Walsh. They're the Crowfield Curse and The Crowfield Demon and both are scary and exciting.

The books take place in the 1300s and the main character is an orphan boy, William, who works at a monastery for his room and board. He's someone we quickly learn to care about.

Both books include a lot of supernatural stuff about demons and might be too scary for some kids. But there are also angels involved and each one has a satisfying conclusion while leaving the reader wanting more. I assume there another book in the series will be published in the future.

One thing I enjoyed about these books is the way the author managed to make the fictional, fantasy setting show a realistic portrayal of what life in a monastery during that time period must really have been like. Combining accuracy and imagination is an impressive feat.

Anyone who enjoys fantasy and historical fiction will enjoy these books.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Reason I Jump

Usually I review books for or about kids, but this one is different. It was written by a kid, a thirteen year old boy.

And he's autistic.

The author of The Reason I Jump is a Japanese boy named Naoki Higashida and it explains how the mind of an autistic person works. It was translated into English by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell and is easy to read.

If you know me, you probably know I care a lot about kids with Special Needs. I raised a long-term foster son on the Autism Spectrum and have met lots of other autistic kids as a teacher, so that's a condition that especially interests me.

The Reason I Jump answers questions I've had for years and makes much better sense than other books I've read on the topic.

It even includes an interesting fiction story written by the author.

The book is a quick and easy one to read, and it opens the readers eyes to a unique world. If you've ever wanted to understand people with autism you should definitely read this book.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Long ago, people usually stayed in or near the towns where they were born for most of their lives.

Even if they traveled to a new continent or across one to start a new life, they usually settled in one place and stayed there from then on.

Of course some families, like those with a parent in the military, or families of ministers who were assigned to various parishes, did move fairly often. And there have been gypsies, entertainers, and others who have traveled often for centuries.

However those were exceptions.

But today people move around a lot.

Even those of us who tend to stay in one place for decades at a time may live far from the places where we once lived.

I was born in one place, grew up in a house far from my birth city, moved away from there when I went to college, and spent many years in several different cities as an adult. Now I live in an area quite distant from all of those locations.

I have fond memories of most of the places where I've lived and still have friends and family in many of them.

So, how do I decide which location is my home town?

I guess in our modern world the idea that people have just one home town has become obsolete because, to me, lots of those places still seem like home towns to me.

What about you? Do you have just one home town, or many?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Oh, The Places I've Been!

No, this post isn't about the book by Dr. Seuss. It's, perhaps selfishly, all about me.

I sometimes feel a bit envious when I hear about other people traveling to foreign lands and exotic destinations.

Since coming to California when I was not quite five years old the only places I've visited out of this state are Athens, Ohio, Lubbock, Texas, and Bend, Oregon. None of those are exactly famous tourist destinations. I've also been to the outskirts of Reno, Nevada, but never saw the impressive parts of that city.

Between my food allergies and my husband's extreme fragrance allergies, traveling has been difficult.

Poor little me.

But I clearly remember the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Bronx Zoo that I often saw as a young child. And I remember driving across the Great Plains and over the Rocky and Sierra mountain ranges when we came to California.

And I've lived most of my life in a spectacularly beautiful state.

I've stood on top of Glacier Point in Yosemite, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge more times than I can count, and visited zoos in San Diego, San Francisco, and Oakland. I've been to beaches at Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Drake's Bay and many other locations, and climbed Mount Tamalpias and Mount Whitney. I've been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Lawrence Hall of Science, and dozens of museums in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Gold Country of the Sierras. I've toured the state capitol building in Sacramento and gone camping beneath the trees in many beautiful places.

Come to think of it, I've been to lots of places other people pay thousands of dollars to visit.

Lucky me!

Where do you like to go on vacations?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Flag Day

Today in the USA it's Flag Day.

When I was a kid the American flag only had 48 stars, so you can tell I'm old.

In school we saluted the flag as we said the Pledge of Allegiance and sang America the Beautiful every morning. (The Star Spangled Banner required greater voice range than most kids had.)

Many schools still say the pledge, but public schools, at least those in my state, no longer allow a song that mentions God because of separation of church and state.

Back then we were taught that the American flag should never be up outdoors after dark, or during rain or snowy weather. Schools, Girl and Boy Scouts and military bases had flag raising and lowering ceremonies at the beginning and ending of each day.

The reason flags were lowered when it was dark or stormy is because they were made of fabrics like cotton and would become damaged easily. When synthetic materials like polyester became available flags made of those things could be safely left outside in all kinds of weather. That's why they don't get lowered and raised all the time anymore.

But one tradition should be kept and often isn't. We were taught that the American flag should never be allowed to touch the ground. Of course aflag should be kept clean and touching the ground, even on pavement or floors, it's likely to gather dirt.

After the terrorist attack of September 11th, 2001 millions of Americans displayed flags. I was sorry to see lots of them draped over the hoods of parked cars and trucks with the edges dragging in driveways, and displayed in other places where they would get dirty.

Flags that are torn or dirty shouldn't be displayed. That's basic manners.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why Do They Appear?

Although I didn't plan it, all of the books I've had published seem to deal with Special Needs in some way.

In The Peril of the Sinister Scientist one of the main characters uses a wheelchair.  

Signs of Trouble is about kids with learning disabilities who get separated from their Special Ed class on a field trip.  

Secret Service Saint isn't specifically about  Special Needs, but the main character secretly helps someone who is sick.

Slime & All is about a giant, talking worm who wants to be accepted and lots of kids with physical, mental, or emotional limitations can identify with him.

And I have a story in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I Can't Believe My Dog Did That, about a deaf dog who helps a child.

So, why do things like that keep appearing in my writing?

Well, when I was a kid I had severe, chronic asthma and was sent to a convalescent home where I met lots of kids with handicaps. (Yes, I know that term isn't politically correct now. Too bad.)

In high school I volunteered with the local Society for Crippled Children. Later I worked at California School for the Deaf so my husband and I raised several Deaf foster kids who had various special needs. I worked as an aide in a Special Education class, then became a substitute teacher and worked in lots of other Special Ed classes.

I guess all that experience somehow got into my subconscious. Those "Special" people have been part of my life for so long they pop up in my mind when I'm writing. They aren't unusual to me.

I wish everyone would feel that way and treat them as they do everyone else.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Never Say Boo to a Frilly

What is a Frilly?

Why shouldn't you say "Boo" to one?

You'll have to read Margot Finke's newest book, Never Say Boo to a Frilly, to find out.

While the book looks like a picture book at first glance, it's intended for kids from seven to twelve years old and teaches them all sorts of interesting information about animals native to Australia. Both kids in the Northern Hemisphere and Down Under will find the book informative and enjoyable.

The author, Margot Finke, is from Australia herself so she knows what she's talking about.

She uses clever rhymes to introduce the young readers to information about Frillneck Lizards, various colorful birds, and Tasmanian Devils. Readers will learn about the creatures' habitats, food, and other information while enjoying the colorful illustrations by Aysin Eraglu. Kangaroos aren't mentioned, probably because most kids already know about those. (If they don't they can learn about them in Finke's previous book, Kangaroo Clues.)

Vocabulary words are listed at the bottom of the pages and would be helpful for use in schools. The whole book is educational, but it's also fun.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Almost Halfway There

It's June!

In the next few weeks we'll celebrate Father's Day, Summer will begin, and in one month we Americans will honor the fathers of our country on the Fourth of July.

The year is almost half over.

And that reminds me that it was not quite six months ago when many of us celebrated the beginning of this calendar year by making New Year's resolutions.

I'm ashamed to say I can't even remember what I resolved to do this year. Can you remember your resolutions? Did you keep them?

Maybe this would be a good time to make new resolutions for things we want to accomplish in the rest of 2014. Or we could go back to those things we had planned to do this year but haven't done so far, and try again.

In two weeks we can celebrate the beginning of Summer with New Season resolutions. If each of us accomplishes something, even something small, during the second half of 2014 we can help to make the world a better place.

Who is willing to take that challenge?

Saturday, May 31, 2014

I Did It!

Anyone who knows me is probably aware that I'm a techno-idiot. While I can do things that seemed impossible 10 years ago and wouldn't even have imagined twenty years ago, I'm far behind a lot of other people.

But last week I did something that makes me feel good.

I wanted to look at an old manuscript I'd worked on about ten years ago, but it was an obsolete Claris Works document. (I use a Mac.) I tried changing the name to something newer and the whole thing turned into a list of tech stuff I couldn't understand. All I'd written was gone!

But then I got an idea.

I pulled out the old computer I'd used back then and found the document. Then I changed it to .txt and it opened. I had to erase many pages of gibberish before and after what I'd written, and remove a lot of strange symbols that had been inserted randomly into words throughout the document. That took some time, but wasn't difficult. Spell check helped a lot.

Since the old computer no longer has internet access I put the document on a memory stick, brought it to my current computer, and was able to copy and paste the whole thing (about 40,000 words) into a new document.

I don't know if changing documents in outdated software to .txt would work on a PC, but it certainly does on Macs.

Most of the people reading this probably think what I did was obvious but, as an official techno-idiot, it made me proud.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Wednesday Wars

I recently reviewed a book by Gary D. Schmidt . It was so good I got another of his books from the library and loved it as much as the first one. That man has got to be one of the best writers for young adults in this century!

And, no, I don't know him personally, though I'd certainly like to.

The Wednesday Wars is about a kid back in 1967 who is the only one in his class who doesn't leave school for religious classes on Wednesday afternoons. He's stuck with a teacher who seems to hate his guts and insists on making him spend their time together reading Shakespeare's plays.

Of course the boy, Holling, must also deal with the usual teen problems of being bullied, not getting along with his sister, wanting a girl to like him, and living with a domineering father. And those are just the beginning of his problems because he gets into some of the most embarrassing situations a kid could imagine.

But it's not only those conflicts and the believable characters that make the book great. The style of writing lets the reader feel what it's like to be Holling and to experience life in his world. And (gasp!) kids who read this book will even learn something about Shakespeare!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Behavior From the Sky

As a substitute teacher there were days when I'd have a difficult class and when I went to the lunchroom nearly all the regular teachers were saying their classes had also been unusually difficult that day.

When that happened it was almost always either when a storm was brewing or there would be a full moon that night.

I don't remember noticing the same correlation with my own children's behavior as a parent, but it might have happened. It's easier to notice a pattern involving dozens or hundreds of kids than with only a few.

Anyway, I'm sure ominous weather and full moons do influence children's behavior.

I wonder if those things influence adults as well?

If I were a scientist I might research the number of crimes occurring at those times and compare them with the crime rates on other days, but I'm not a scientist and I'm too lazy to do that research.

I've seen some superstitious explanations for kids' behavior being influenced by things in the sky, but I believe the behavior changes are due to the change in air pressure or gravitational pull. Perhaps children are more susceptible to those things than adults.

Did any of you watch the meteor shower last night?

I wonder if that had any influence on the behavior of children.

Of course if more kids misbehave today it might just be because they stayed up past their bedtimes to watch the falling stars.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Those Needles!

When a doctor or nurse sticks a needle into someone's arm, that hurts.

Lots of kids  - and even quite a few grown-ups - are afraid of getting shots. But the injections often necessary for things like immunizations, medication, and conditions like allergies and diabetes.

When I was a kid I had to get allergy shots for about two years and I learned a secret to keep them from hurting. At least to keep them from hurting much.

It all depends on what you're thinking.

If I was worried that the shot would hurt when the needle went into my arm it would hurt a lot more than if I was thinking about other things. That was probably because being nervous makes muscles tense up, and an injection into tense muscles hurts more than one into relaxed muscles.

It's psychological.

Just as actors try to think what the character they're portraying would be thinking and that shows in their facial expressions and body language, if someone thinks about something happy or peaceful their whole body becomes calm and relaxed.

It's a good idea to encourage kids waiting to get shots to think about the most wonderful thing that could happen to them, or to imagine a magical world where everything is perfect and to tell you about those ideas while the shot happens.

There's no guarantee the shots won't hurt, but the pain will be much less if they think about things like that. It works for grown-ups, too.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


This is my post number 603 to this blog. I've written six-hundred-and-three posts!

When I started blogging in 2009 I wondered if I'd be able to think of anything to say after the first week or so. Obviously that hasn't been a problem.

Even when I was seriously ill, grieving, or dealing with other major problems and had "writer's block" when it came to working on other things, I always managed to post something here twice a week.

Since this blog is about words, books, and kids there's plenty to say. I've always been interested in the science of Linguistics, and that's why I named this the On Words Blog, though not many posts have been on that topic.

But I love kids, I'm a grandparent and substitute teacher, and usually read several middle-grade novels every week, so there's always something to talk about on the topics of books and kids.

And I hope my regular readers don't mind if I slip in an occasional post on a different subject.

While not many of you make comments on the blog itself, the posts also show on Facebook and lots of people comment on them there.

I hope to keep blogging for a long time to come. If there's anything you'd like me to blog about, please let me know.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What's in a Name?

For the last few weeks people have come up to me and asked about the Common Core Curriculum. I am a substitute teacher, but that hardly makes me an expert on the subject, so why were they asking me? It turns out there's another Jan Collins in a nearby town who has been in the news because of her stand against the Common Core Curriculum.

And she's not the only Jan Collins in our area.

About two months ago I sent Facebook Friend requests to about a dozen other people named Jan Collins and they blocked me for spam. (When I stayed blocked I discovered someone had hacked into my Facebook account and, through there, my computer, but that's a different story.)

When I began writing professionally I had to go by Janet Ann Collins (even though nobody ever called me "Janet Ann" except my mother when she was mad at me) because there was another writer named Janet Collins. She was only one of many fairly well known people with that name, including a dead ballerina.

And I can't even imagine the number of people in the world with first names similar to mine. Janet is a feminine form of John, and, according to one of my baby name books, there are 125 variations of John. And that's only the masculine forms! Let's see, we girls have Jane, Jean, Juanita, Jeanette, Joanne, Shawna, and dozens more.

Why are so many people given similar names?

My mother named me Janet because she was proud of her Scottish heritage, and many babies are named after other people. But one reason there are so many of us with similar names is the meaning.  I understand the original Hebrew name means "gracious gift of God" or just "gift of God." Apparently lots of people in the world are grateful to have their babies.

Do you know what your name means?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Okay For Now

Okay, I had to blog about this book. Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt impressed me so much I can't resist telling everyone about it. The book is much more than okay. (I couldn't resist the redundancies. Sorry.)

The book is a great story about a boy, Doug, in a disfunctional family who discovers the joy of using his artistic talent.  But that's only the tip of the iceberg.

The plot is exciting and the dangers and conflicts are real and realistic.

The book is written in a comfortable, easy style and involves characters and situations any young reader will identify with. It's fun to read.

And, in my opinion, it should become a literary classic. The depth and richness of the plot and characters is amazing.

I was drawn into the story and couldn't put the book down until I finished reading it.

I hope our library has Schmidt's other books because I can't wait to read them.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Blog Hop Tour


I’m Janet Ann Collins and this post is part of a blog hop tour. That means various authors will take turns telling about themselves and how they write.

I want to start by thanking Penelope Cole, the previous writer to post, for inviting me to participate. Her blog is:

Here’s what I look like:

And here are links to my website

And Facebook page:

I used to write feature articles for a newspaper in the San Francisco Bay Area and my work has appeared in many other periodicals and some anthologies. I’m the author of four books for children. The most recent one is called Slime & All and it’s an early chapter book (second grade reading level) about a giant talking worm who wants a friend.

You can get the book at: 
or at other online bookstores and some local “brick and mortar” ones.

I’m currently working on a book that’s unusual since it’s Christian speculative fiction for middle grade readers. As far as I know, there aren’t many new books in that genre, but some older ones, like the Narnia books have become classics. However mine doesn’t involve a fantasy world. Instead it’s about time travel. I won’t say more about that book because it’s still in process and things may change.

Why do I write for kids? Well, I love kids, I enjoy reading books for that age group, and I’m still a kid on the inside. And I want to give back some of what the books I read as a child gave to me.

A few years ago I attended a school reunion and someone told me they remembered me as being brave. I was shocked! I had often felt scared as a child. But then I remembered times when I had stood up for what was right in spite of my fears because the protagonists in the books I read always acted that way.

They say some writers are planners and others just write “from the seat of their pants.” Those are sometimes called pantsers. I don’t fit into either of those categories. I guess you could say I’m a framer. I need to have a general plot plan, but knowing too much detail before actually writing makes me bored with the project before actually writing it. What works best for me is to know the basic story line and fill in the details as I go along.

The next author on this blog hop will be Marci Seither, who will be posting in about a week.  She is a writer, a public speaker, a talented seamstress, a wife and the mother of six kids.

Her website is here:

Saturday, May 3, 2014


I was six years old when my father died. One of the bullies at school told me, "He probably died on purpose just to get away from you."

That was only the beginning of the tormenting and bullying I experienced through most of my childhood. Most of the time the attacks weren't physical, but words can really hurt you.

I tried tattling, trying to avoid the bullies, or saying mean things back, but nothing seemed to help.

One Saturday a tough girl in our neighborhood shoved me down on the sidewalk, sat on my chest, raised her fist, and said she was going to "punch my lights out."

For some strange reason instead of reacting with fear or anger I calmly explained to her that the reason she had no friends at school was because she was a bully, and if she would be nice then people would like her.

She got up, walked away, and never bothered me again.

I've seen that sort of reaction to bullying work in other situations, too.

The website, explains why. The person in charge, Izzy Kalman, is Jewish, but he bases his information on how to handle bullies on the teaching of Jesus Christ to turn the other cheek.

There might be exceptions, but that method is far more likely to have good results than tattling or fighting back, so I certainly think it's worth trying.

Except, of course, by people who think they know better than Jesus. ;-)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How Many Books?

I was deciding how many copies of my books I should take to the group book signings I'll soon be participating in when I thought of a question. How many books - not those I've written myself - do I own?

I started to count the ones in the nearest bookcase, but realized it would take me all day to count every book in the house. And the books vary greatly in thickness from picture books to huge volumes, so I couldn't just figure out how many feet of shelf space they took up. 

 There are 62 shelves of books in my house and the shelf sizes also vary. Trying to estimate the total was overwhelming but I figured there must be at least 2000 books in my house. Most of them I've read at least a few times.

And that doesn't even take into account the ones on my e-readers. (I haven't read most of those anyway, because I prefer the real, hard copies.)

Then there are the library books. I get and read some of those almost every week.

Obviously I'm a bookaholic and I have no intention of ever getting into recovery.

How many books do you have in your house?