Wednesday, December 30, 2015


As we begin a new year on Friday I've been thinking about numbers.

We once had a dog that could count to five but anything more than that was just a lot. Probably since dogs have four feet and a tail the number, five, made sense to her.

I wonder when people first invented numbers. That must have been very early in our existence.

Since we have ten fingers it makes sense to have our mathematics based on the number, ten.

Long ago a mathematician named Edward Kasner coined the word, googol, to mean the number one followed by 100 zeros. In my youth I heard that term used to represent one number less than infinity, but that wasn't an accurate use of the term.

Then the internet company changed the spelling of that word to become Google. Of course you know what that is.

I googled Google and found 11,240,000,000 hits. That's a lot, but not nearly a googol.

People tend to be a bit superstitious about numbers. Thirteen is supposed to represent bad luck. I've heard that was because there were thirteen people, Jesus and his twelve disciples, at the Last Supper, or that there were thirteen people in a witch's coven. I doubt that either of those theories has been proven.

And lots of people thought the world would end in the year, 2000.  Obviously they were wrong.

Anyway, I hope the year 2016 is a good one for everyone.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Holiday Fatigue

Are you tuckered out yet?

I've been involved in two family Christmas dinners at my house, a visit to a distant relative, a church service, and there's one more family gathering I'll be attending today. Some friends will be visiting me later this week, and then I'll need to take down all the decorations and put them away. Writing thank-you notes will take up some time, too.

I absolutely love seeing so many people I love, and all the Christmas activities invigorate me, but I'll probably be exhausted when the holidays are over.

How about you?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Presence of Presents

The word, present, means to be in a certain place. For example, a student may be marked as present by a teacher, who marks the presence or absence of each student in the class.

As a verb, present (emphasis on the second syllable,) means to put something in a certain place. Perhaps someone might present a gift to another person.

And the thing that was presented would be considered a present.

During the holiday season we present a lot of presents to people.

I don't know about you, but my favorite part of the holiday isn't the presents I get, but the presence of people I love. And it makes me happy when they appreciate the presents I present to them.

Of course at this time of the year Christians celebrate that we were presented with the present of the presence of God. Now that's something to appreciate.

Saturday, December 19, 2015


With all the Christmas music everywhere I remembered the song, Toy Land, about childhood. It includes a line saying, "Once you've crossed its borders you can never return again."

At this time of year a lot of us remember Christmases when we were little kids. Of course we can't go back to our childhoods again, but we can certainly enjoy our memories. And, especially for those of us who are parents or grandparents, we can get great pleasure from seeing children enjoy the wonders of the holiday season.

And, I probably shouldn't admit it, but I'm still a kid on the inside in many ways. I often use my imagination, which is probably one reason why I'm a writer. I enjoy reading books for kids and traveling to other worlds and cultures in my mind.

And I hope I never get over enjoying the holidays, especially seeing people I love and giving pleasure to them.

Yes, Christmas is a religious holiday and that's important. But isn't Christianity about love and giving?

I hope I can always enjoy everything about this season with the eyes of a child.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My Writing

I don't often blog about my own writing, but I want to share that I've had several things published lately.

Most recent is a story in the newly released anthology, Inspire Forgiveness. I participated in a book launch event fot that book this week. I was please to discover that my story is the first one in that anthology, and to learn that the first and last ones are chosen because they should be expecially inspiring to readers.

I've also had several articles in a Nevada County newspaper, The Union, recently.

I write fiction for kids and non-fiction for adults, but haven't had any new books for children published lately. Since the already published ones are still available, I'm hoping some people will choose to give them to kids for Christmas.

You can learn more about those at

Saturday, December 12, 2015

What's For Dinner?

I've read several books by Penelope Anne Cole, but this one is different from the others.

It's apparently based on real events her daughter, Katy, experienced since the main character has that name. And, judging by her photo, Samantha Bell made the illustrations of the girl's mother resemble the author.

The story is about Katy's invitation to have dinner with a friend from Nigeria. Katy wonders what kind of food she'll have to eat.  Will it be something gross?

The book mentions foods from many different cultures, and at the end the main course served by the host family is quite a surprise.

What's For Dinner? is both fun and educational. At the end it includes some recipes and links to help readers learn more about the foods in various countries.

And I believe this book will do something I think is very important: help kids learn to accept people who are different.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Mokey's New Friends

It isn't likely that a monkey would escape from a zoo in real life, but in Mokey's New Friends, Mokey the Monkey's escape sets the premise for a great story.

Mokey is a cute little monkey and, as he explores the world outside of his usual environment (the zoo,) he makes some interesting new friends. 

First he gets to know a donkey, and then a squirrel. Both of them are different from the monkey in many ways, but they cooperate and have fun together.

Anyone who often reads my posts knows I care a lot about helping kids accept others who are different, and Connie Arnold does exactly that in this book. I hope as a result of enjoying this warm and cheerful story, lots of children who read it or hear it read will consider making friends with kids who are different from themselves. I believe that will probably happen.

The bright and creative illustrations by Marina Movshina will add to the children's enjoyment of the book.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


It feels like Winter where I live. We've had quite a bit of rain and even a little snow. (Of course we're hoping for a lot more to end the drought in California.)

But, according to the calendars,  Winter won't actually begin until December 22nd.

My etymological dictionary, says the word, winter, is related to the words for wet, and water. In the Northern Hemisphere that's certainly appropriate.

But what about people who live down under in places like Australia or Brazil.  Do they still call this time of year Winter?

It seems like they should have opposite terms for the seasons since their climate is opposite of ours in the Northern Hemisphere.

I guess since people from Europe settled into those continents hundreds of years ago those people kept the languages and terms they were used to. But what did (or do) the original peoples in those areas call the seasons?

Anybody know?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Dog Names

Back in the olden days, when I was a kid, the majority of dogs were named Blackie, Brownie, or Rover. (Since leash laws didn't exist dogs were free to rove around their neighborhoods.)

One mean little scottie dog was named Dewey after a presidential candidate. He (the dog, not the candidate) would chase us, barking ferociously and all the kids on our street were afraid of him. But one day I got fed up with the dog chasing us so I yelled angrily and ran towards him instead of away. The dog yelped, took off running, and never bothered me again.

Today most of the dogs in my neighborhood have human names. For some reason, Molly, Bella, and Buster seem to be the most common. Cookie and Biscuit are also popular. Since we live in gold country one neighbor was creative when she named her dog Clementine.

But there are a few other creative dog names in my neighborhood, such at Tika, Moto, and Shouka. That last one was named after a whale with similar coloring.

My dog is called Suds and I consider that unusual. She's a white poodle/bischon-frise mix with curly white hair. When she's clean (which never lasts long due to the dirt in our yard) her hair looks like soap suds.

If you or your neighbors have dogs, what are the pets' names?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

What Is A Family?

Lots of people, including me, were able to spend Thanksgiving with their families. But what, exactly is a family?

I looked up the word in my college dictionary which was published in the early 1950s, and found seven possible definitions.

Gone are the days when typical families consisted of a husband, a wife, and their offspring. Of course grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and all of those people's own families were considered part of an extended family then, too. That was a bit complicated.

But now so many people divorce, remarry, or have children by various partners, with or without legally marrying, it can be even more difficult to keep all he relationships straight.

My own family is so extended with cousins' cousins and in-laws of in-laws my husband gave up trying to keep the relationships straight and coined the term, step-neighbor-in-law, to refer to all of them.

But I consider all those who participate in family gatherings and holiday celebrations year after year to be my family even if they are step-neighbors-in-law, and I love seeing them at those events. It doesn't matter if we're legally or biologically related or not. I love them and consider them my family.

What does the word, family, mean to you?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Thanks

Of course most people in the USA and many in other places will be thinking about all the things they have to be thankful for because of the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow.

In many places autumn is the time of year when harvests have been completed and people are preparing for the Winter months, so this is a logical time of the year to appreciate all the good things we have.

But we have a lot to be thankful for all year round.

Many of us take for granted basic things like adequate food, water, clothing, medical care, and homes even though we know a lot of other people don't have those. We may also take for granted our family, friends, good health, and the ability to walk, talk, see, and hear if we have those.

A few years ago I began keeping a blessing journal. Every night just before going to bed I list things I'm grateful for from that day. I originally promised myself I'd write at least three things every night, but I've always had many more than that to list, even without adding the basics.

I'm usually write that I'm grateful for contact with people I care about, beautiful things I've seen, and things I've accomplished, to name only a few.

It only takes a few minutes, but thinking about my blessings before going to bed helps me keep a positive attitude and sleep well.

Instead of only giving thanks at Thanksgiving I do it all year round.

Would you like to try keeping a blessing journal?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Tec Stuff

Back in the 1970s a friend offered a class on how to use computers. I went and we dealt with cassette tapes connected to his computer and dozens of strange letters and symbols that I knew I'd never be able to remember. The simplest by far began with http://.

Then the tapes became flattened into floppy discs and most of the long lines of letters, symbols, and numbers were shortened into simple ones.

In the early 1980s I got my first computer. It was a Macintosh with a big box-like thing that connected to a keyboard and screen. I also got my first floppy disc and was sure I'd never have enough material to fill it.

Well, things have changed quite a bit since then. Technology keeps changing and new technological things are being created all the time.

Now I'm constantly on the internet and get hundreds of messages every day. I couldn't have imagined that thirty years ago.

This weekend I'll be trying yet another new thing. I'm participating in a Facebook party. I'd never even heard of those until one of my publishers announced she was having one.

I hope people I know will sign up as guests and join me. I'll be telling about my book and holding drawings for prizes Monday evening for 15 minutes sometime between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. Pacific time. Other authors will also participate and the publisher offers a prize of publication for someone who sends in a 100 word synopsis of a manuscript during the party.

Here's the link:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Little Lonnie Long Ears

Anyone who knows me knows I care a lot about people with Special Needs and other differences that make it difficult for them to be accepted.

Little Lonnie Long Ears is a picture book about a bunny who was different from the others and shunned as a result.

Lonnie had such long ears they would trip him and make him fall when he tried to do usual rabbit things like play with other bunnies. The extra long ears also made him look different.

Because of his long ears all the bunnies teased him and he had no friends. None of the other animals would accept him, either.

But one kind bunny named Chrisinda not only accepted Lonnie, she helped him figure out a way to make his long ears into an advantage instead of a disadvantage.

Because of her help, the other bunnies did accept him.

I hope this book, with cute illustrations by KC Snider, will help young kids learn to accept people who are different from themselves. And I hope it will encourage kids who have differences themselves to realize those can be used in positive ways.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My Books

I rarely mention the books I've written in my blog because I don't want to badger people with self promotion. But the holiday season is here, so I thought I'd mention my books for kids just this once in case anyone wants to order them online or request them from local bookstores to give to kids.

Secret Service Saint is especially good for Christmas because it's based on historical information about Saint Nicholas. I didn't mention the secret good deed that saint is actually supposed to have done because tossing dowry money down the chimney to save girls from prostitution when their father died isn't a suitable subject for children. Instead I made up other secret good deeds for Nicolas to do and it's a surprise at the end that he becomes known as Santa Claus.

Signs of Trouble is about kids who get separated from their Special Education class on a field trip and use what they've learned about safety rules and signs to get reunited. It includes educational information about safety, signs, and special needs at the end.

Slime & All is an early chapter book at Second Grade reading level about a giant talking worm who wants a friend and the boy who helps him. It's sort of an allegory about accepting people who are different.

The Peril of the Sinister Scientist is an amusing middle grade novel about a boy who thinks he was cloned from the blood on the Shroud of Turin. He needs to know "What would Jesus do?" in middle school and escape the scientist who is pursuing him.

A Shadow of Fear is another Christian book for middle grade kids. It's about a boy who wants to prove he's mature enough so his parents will let him go to camp, but he must face his worst fears to help a friend with Special Needs. This book is not available in bookstores, but can be ordered from Amazon.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Gatsby's Grand Adventures Book 3

I've reviewed books in this series before and, as with the others, I appreciate how Barbara Cairns helps young kids appreciate classical art while enjoying an amusing story.

Gatsby is a cat who lives in an art museum. At night while his human, Miss Anabelle, is asleep he can jump into paintings and interact with them.

This time he enters Thomas Gainsboroughs' picture, Girl With Pigs.

But the characters in the picture move around while Gatsby is there. He exits the painting, but it doesn't look at all as it did before.

What can Gatsby do?

It takes him two more trips into the painting to get the girl and pigs back into their original positions. Fortunately no humans enter the room where that art is displayed until he gets it fixed.

I think kids will enjoy this book while learning about art at the same time.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Raising Rufus

Here's another book for kids with a creative concept.

Raising Rufus by David Fulk is about a boy who finds a dinosaur egg that hatches. The boy, Martin, tries to keep the dinosaur as a pet.

The situation in which he finds the frozen egg is believable and readers will accept the possibility that it could thaw and hatch.

But feeding and hiding Rufus, a fast-growing tyrannosaurus rex, isn't easy. And the man setting up a  carnival nearby makes the future of Rufus even more endangered.

Even with help from his friend, Audrey, can Martin save the gigantic creature he has come to love?

Middle grade readers will love this book.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Here's another blog post about cute picture book for kids. The title of this book is BonBon and the author is Barbara Bockman.

I remember reading books about toys or pets that wanted to be adopted by a child when I was a kid, and this book has a similar theme. The main character, BonBon, is a stuffed poodle in a second hand toy store.

But this book is different from those others because it takes place in Paris, France and includes information about that city. While the information is educational, it's included subtly and won't distract kids from the story at all.

BonBon, like the other toys in the Twice-Loved toy shop longs to be loved by a kid, but so do all the other toys. And BonBon gets hidden behind the others in the window display so children passing by can't even see him.

And then ...  well, I don't want to spoil the story by giving away the amazing series of things that lead to BonBon getting his wish, but I will say what happens is original and creative.

And it's all shown clearly in the illustrations by Eugene Ruble.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


As a kid I loved to play dress-up and pretend to be various characters. Halloween is a great time for kids to do that!

Probably that was one reason why I enjoyed participating in Marin Junior Theater.

As an adult I haven't gotten to perform often, but I still have an active imagination and enjoy pretending. Maybe that's why I'm a writer.

In my last post I promised to tell about my experience performing with the Joffrey Ballet.

That happened over twenty years ago. Someone from my church in San Francisco told me they were looking for supernumeraries, which what people in the ballet world call extras.

I'd had less than a year of ballet lessons back in in first grade, but that didn't matter. They just needed people in a crowd to sway to the music and turn around once or twice, so I was accepted.

The rest of the supers, as we were referred to, and cast members with small parts got to hang out together during rehearsals.

The ballet was Petrushka, which is set in Russia in the winter. For performances I was dressed up as a fat man with lots of padding, a heavy coat, and a wig and fake beard. I could barely move at all!

The show was in the old San Francisco Opera House and the complicated underground rooms, which audiences never see, reminded me of the Phantom of the Opera.

Every evening the makeup people would put on my beard, etc., then I'd walk through the room where the orchestra was rehearsing to the place where I'd get my costume. The orchestra people always laughed when they saw me in my street clothes and beard.

I forget how many performances we had, but there were quite a few and the audiences were huge.

I'll never forget the fun of performing with the Joffrey Ballet.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Show Time!

Although I do plenty of public speaking, it has been over 20 years since I last performed in a show. That was the Joffrey Ballet, even though I don't know how to dance. (I'll post more about that in the future.)

But now I'm about to perform in an operetta, even though I can't sing very well. I have a speaking part and join in one chorus, singing softly so I won't pickle anyone's ears.

Actually I only have a bit part, but it's so much fun to be involved in a production again!

The show is an operetta called Everything. It's historical fiction taking place in the 1930s and includes some romance.

There will only be one performance next Sunday at 4:00 in the afternoon at the Grass Valley United Methodist Church. The show is free, so I hope lots of people will come.

Here's my costume:

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Baked Potato Boy

This is another book for children that presents a possibly disturbing subject in a way that's not disturbing.

To start with, The Baked Potato Boy seems to be about potatoes, but we soon learn it's actually about a baby who was only the size of a baked potato when he was born.

His name is Eliott and he is is an orphan but he's obviously very cute and lovable and has a happy life.

He survives against the odds and grows into a big boy who enjoys all the things most kids do.

We're left with a warm, cozy feeling after we read his story.

Then, from the information at the end of the book, we learn Elliot lives in Tanzania where there are over a million orphans.

The author, who grew up in an orphanage in the United States herself, works at the one in Tanzania where Eliott lives. She explains something about the language and culture of that country.

All the proceeds from this book go to help support the babies in the orphanage where she now works.

Young kids who read this book or have it read to them will learn to identify with others who live in a different culture and may deal with different problems, but are more similar than different.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Change That Bugs Me

Normally I think it's silly that people get upset about new ways people use the English Language. Only dead languages don't change and English is a living language.

Yes, I'm a professional writer and majored in English in college. But I also took electives in Linguistics for fun, so I'm not likely to be upset by new slang or other changes in the way we write or speak.

But there is one change that irritates me, to put it mildly.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it's driving me crazy, and I see it often in professional writing.

That change is using just "couple" instead of "couple of."

When I read something like "He ate a couple apples," it reminds me of the sound fingernails make scratching on a blackboard. (I'm old enough to remember that sound.)

Nobody would say "He wore a pair socks" or "A pair eyes peered in the window," but people think nothing of using "couple" alone.

Will we eventually be saying "People think nothing using couple alone?" That does change the meaning of the earlier sentence to one I believe is accurate.

Am I the only one who finds this change in our language irritating?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Heaven Holds Little Samuel Tippie Toes

There isn't a big market for Heaven Holds Little Samuel Tippie Toes, but it's strongly needed by some kids.

The book is about a little boy with a terminal illness and how his sister copes with his death.

Any child who has, or knows someone who has, a similar condition will find this book inspiring and encouraging.

The author, Arianne Brynn, made Samuel seem real as it portrays his desire to become a firefighter like his father.  He's an enthusiastic and fun little boy who knows he'll be in Heaven eventually.

Samuel does die. He goes to Heaven, and the Christian faith of his family helps his little sister, Gracie, cope with the loss.

In spite of the unpleasant topic of death, the book manages to keep a positive attitude, which is why it should help kids dealing with similar situations.

And Kim Merritt's illustrations help it do that. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Invented Words

 Recently when I said "My forgettory works better than my memory" the person I was speaking with told me they loved the word I'd invented and planned to use it themselves.

When I was a kid I liked to invent words.  For example I'd say, "millions and billions and trigadeerdillions" to describe extremely large amounts.

Long ago the mathematician Edward Kasner got help from his nine year old nephew to invent a word meaning the number, one, followed by a hundred zeros. That word was googol.

Of course that word, with a change in the spelling, is now famous as Google. I wouldn't be surprised if it has been used a googol of times.

I had no idea what the name of Kasner's nephew was, but his juvenile creativity helped to create a word known to almost everyone.

I wanted to know that boy's name so I googled it. His name was Milton Sirotta.

In case you didn't notice, google is now a verb.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Corey's Fire

I seldom review YA books, but couldn't resist sharing about this one. Corey's Fire by Lee Wardlaw was originally published about 20 years ago, but newer editions, including an e-book, are available.

Because of all the recent wildfires in California the book is especially relevant today.

A girl named Corey and a boy named Topher were interesting characters to start with, dealing with problems teenagers often have.

But when a huge wildfire destroys nearly everything in the area and they have to cope with the aftermath, problems intensify - a lot.

Not only does this book have believable characters and an exciting plot, it will help readers understand what it has been like for people in the fire areas.

And those who have had to deal with the real fires, reading this book could be healing.

But Corey's Fire is a well written book with a great plot and characters the reader can't help but care about, so it will be a great read for anyone who likes Young Adult books, not just people concerned about fires.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My Dogs

The first dog my husband and I got was Brenda, a brilliant, deaf dalmatian. We named her that because dalmatians are fire dogs and the name, Brenda, means fiery.  She learned to understand about 300 signs in American Sign Language and taught us about 30 dog signs. She was amazing! A story I wrote about her is in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I Can't Believe My Dog Did That.

Then we got another deaf dalmatian as a companion for her, who we named Buttons because his spots looked like buttons. He wasn't as smart as Brenda, but was a great pet.

We had the dalmatians for a long time. Unfortunately neither of us had raised a dog before and we didn't know coffee was poison for dogs. We let them lick coffee off our fingers every morning and both dalmatians died from damaged livers at about 14 years old.

Our next dog was Bungee. We named him that because he was bouncy and his tail had stripes like a bungee cord. The stripes disappeared when he got older. Bungee was a tan, terrier mix and, judging by his long body, short legs, and colors of his undercoat, he was part corgi. Terriers are bred to hunt rodents and corgis are herding dogs. Bungee had an amazing instinct to herd rodents. He'd herd our daughter's guinea pig around the floor and keep it from going under furniture, He'd lick the guinea pig and it would lick him back with its tiny tongue. He also made friends with a squirrel and a racoon.

We got the dog we named George on Washington's birthday as a companion for Bungee. He was a black mongrel who had some sort of brain injury and wasn't very bright. George would jump high into the air and catch flies. Once he caught a bee that stung his tongue, but he was back jumping at flies a minute later.

Both those dogs also died in their teens.

Then my allergist said I could only have a dog that didn't shed. At that time my aunt was terminally ill and asked us to take her dog, a Lhasa Apso named Nicky.  We did, but he only lived for a few years.

Then we got a poodle/bichon-frise mix who we named Suds because her white, curly hair looks like soapsuds. She's smart as a poodle and loves to snuggle for hours like a bichon.

I love Suds and hope she lives for a long time.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

My Pets

Pets are important for kids, and grown-ups, too.

My first pets were fish because my mother didn't like animals.

Later I was allowed to have a hamster.

Then my mother let me have a cat the kids in the neighboring summer cabin had taken in when they were going home. It was a male cat, but my mother wouldn't tell me how to tell the gender of a cat and I wanted one that would have kittens, so I named him Susie. He was never allowed to spend the night in our house, but went into the basement through a hole.

I also had other cats as a young adult but I couldn't have cats anymore after I got married because of my husband's extreme allergy to cat hair.

Then I became a dog person. I'll write about them in my next post.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Happily After All

Happily After All is one of the best Middle Grade books I've read, and I've read thousands.

I got it from the library because of the title, which is a clever referral to fairy tales. I loved it because of the characters, setting, and plot, all of which were excellent.

The book is about a girl who is sent to live with her birth mother after her father, who has had custody since she was a tiny tot, dies.

Becca doesn't want to go from sunny southern California to the woods of Vermont.

When she gets there she likes the horses, and does get to know some other kids, but is careful not to get close to anyone since she plans to return to CA.

Then she discovers some mysterious things about her own past and others about a boy in her class and is lead into danger.

I won't give away the plot but it's exciting, and I'm sure lots of kids would love this book.
 Unfortunately, it was published in 1990, so  it's probably be hard to find.

I googled the author's name, Laura C. Stevenson, and learned she's written a lot of other books since this one.  She's a great writer, so I'll definitely try to read those.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Magical Max and Magical Mickey

Penelope Anne Cole has written another cute book in her Magical series.

Since Magical Matt and Magical Mea had outgrown their powers, it seemed like the series was over.

Then, to their surprise, their mother has identical twin baby boys. Will the babies also have magic powers?

Readers must wait several chapters to find out, but, of course the title of the book lets us know Max and Mickey do get their powers eventually.

It's fun to see their older brother and sister and other characters from previous books in the series again, and to experience Max and Mickey's first use of their powers to help someone.

I hope there will be more books about them in the future.

As usual Cole has written a story kids will enjoy, and Kevin Scott Collier did a good job on the illustrations.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

FairyTale Town

Next Saturday I'll be giving a presentation at FairyTale Town in Sacramento, CA about one of my books. I'll be one of many authors at the ScholarShare Children's Book Celebration.

I'll be sharing with the kids about one of my books, Slime & All and expect to have a good time doing so.  As a parent, grandparent and former teacher, I love spending time with kids.

But something surprising has happened.

I found out one of the people presenting immediately after me is a distant relative. And I do mean distant.

His name is Andy Domek and I think he's my second cousin's cousin's son-in-law, but I may have missed someone in between.

I have a very complicated group of people who I see at family gatherings and consider them all family, but the relationships are hard to keep straight.

When we got married my husband soon gave up on figuring out who was a second cousin twice removed or a Cousin's cousin's grandchild and coined the term, step-neighbor-in-law, to refer to all of them.

So, besides meeting some wonderful kids and telling them about my book, this weekend I'll get to see one of my step-neighbors-in law at FairyTale-Town.

And that sounds sort of like a fairy tale itself. ;-)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Little Dog in the Middle of the Road

When I was a little girl back in the 1940s my parents used to read to me every evening.

Little Dog in the Middle of the Road is a newly published book by Sharon Stanley that reminds me of the story books I heard when I was a kid.

I especially enjoyed the way the author repeats the sentence, "And so it was" throughout the book.

The book tells the story of a little dog who is left with a stranger when his "person" goes away for a few days. The dog escapes, gets lost, and doesn't know it's dangerous to sit in the middle of the road.

What will happen to him?

I don't want to give away the plot, but I will say the story has a comforting ending. Any child who has or wants a pet will enjoy hearing about the Little Dog in the Middle of the Road

And Deidre Carr's illustrations add to the enjoyment.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


My name is Janet Ann Collins, but many of my friends call me Jan.

Nobody called me that when I was little because, due to World War II, everyone knew Jan was a boy's name in Holland.

When I was a kid I only knew one other person named Janet until the movie star, Janet Leigh, became famous. Then hundreds of girl babies were named Janet. I'm in several writers' groups and all of them have at least one other member named Jan or Janet.

It's amazing how many other people have similar or related names. John, Jane. Juan, Shawn, Sean, Shanna, Juanita, Hans, Giovanni, Zane, Ivan, Jeanette, Jean, Jonathan, Janice, and many others are all related. (In case you can't tell, I've always been interested in Linguistics.)

I understand the original version of those names was Hebrew, and the meaning was something like "God gives grace," ""God is gracious," or "Gracious gift of God."

With a meaning like that it's no wonder so many people chose similar names for their babies. Of course, as the name spread through various cultures and languages, lots of parents were unaware of the original meaning and simply named their children after other people.

It's no wonder there are so many of us in the world!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Corner Lots

This post is not on one of my usual topics, but it's about something that has bothered me for a long time.

I've lived in all sorts of places from small towns to the inner city and there's one thing I've noticed almost everywhere. People who live on corners seldom pay attention to the side of their house or lot they don't use to enter and exit.

Often the front of the building, house or yard is kept in pristine condition, but the side isn't.

Whether it's graffiti, overgrown or dead plants, plant volunteers pushing up between pavement sections, chipped and peeling paint, tree branches blocking sidewalks, or piles of debris, the part of the property around the corner from the entrance doesn't look nearly as nice as the front.

My own front yard is far from perfect, but I have a feeling the people who keep theirs beautiful simply aren't aware of how the place looks from the side.

And, for some strange reason, that bothers me more than seeing a place that's messy or in not very good condition in the front.

Okay, maybe I'm just crazy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Books for Kids

Anyone who often reads my blog posts knows I review lots of books for kids.

Perhaps some people wonder why I do that.

Well, here are some reasons:

I read about half a dozen chapter books and Middle Grade ones every week and like to tell other people about the good ones. If I don't like a book I won't review it.

I like to read kids' books because I can usually finish one in an hour or so. I hate to put a book down in the middle of a story. Of course some books for kids are a lot longer than I can read in an hour.

Usually the books aren't sordid or depressing. There's enough of that in real life.

As a teacher, parent, and grandparent I've shared hundreds of books with children and strongly believe in the importance of reading to them from an early age. I hope some people will share books with kids they know as a result of reading my reviews.

I'm the author of books for children. It helps to see the competition and I like to help other authors whose work I enjoy publicize their books, even if those authors are already rich and famous.

And (here's the confession) I'm still a kid at heart.

Do you ever read books for children?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Waiting for Unicorns

Waiting for Unicorns is an exciting and emotionally moving book for Middle Grade readers.

The story is about Talia, whose mother has recently died when her father takes her to the Arctic and leaves her with a stranger while he goes on an expedition to study whales for the Summer.

Staying in the tiny village, the girl makes friends with the only other kids in the area, gets to know adults in the community, and learns about the environment.

Talia thinks about her mother and makes wishes, which she writes down and keeps hidden in a jar. 

But her father's life is at risk on the expedition. What will happen to her if he is killed?

This book is beautifully written, full of exciting tension, and educational about the culture and environment in the far north.

I hope the author Beth Hautala will write more books for kids because she's an excellent author.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

My Dog

This is a unique book.

I've never before seen a picture book with song lyrics for the text, but My Dog by Keith Fluckiger is exactly that.  The music needs to be bought and downloaded separately, but the book stands alone without it.

As the title reveals, the book is the story of a dog.

The illustration by Kory Fluckiger of the puppy waiting to be adopted is so cute I wanted to adopt it myself, and the other illustrations are good, too.

I listened to the music and enjoyed it. It's fun and the entire story is included in the lyrics. The banjo reminded me of the banjo my grandpa used to play when I was a kid.

We never know the loving, mischievous dog's name, but the book tells the story of its life from the adoption until the day it finally meets the owner in Heaven.

This book would be a great one for a child who is getting a pet, has one, or just loves dogs. And it would be especially helpful for a kid grieving the loss of a pet.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Samuel & Sophia

Samuel & Sophia, A Tale of Two Teddies is a cute chapter book for young readers.

The two teddy bears in the story are alive and can talk to children, but grown-ups can't hear them.

The bears want to be adopted by a kid and, since they're siblings, they must stay together.

Unfortunately, they're purchased as a gift for a teenager who collects bears. The girl is too old to hear the bears and, since Samuel has a defect, the girl's mother tosses him out.

Can the brother and sister get together again?

This story is cute, with enough tension to keep kids turning the pages. While the concept of toys being able to communicate with children isn't new, Author Judy Dearborn Nill has used it uniquely in this story.

K.C. Snider's art helps bring the story to life.

Many kids who can't read yet will enjoy hearing the story read to them. They'll probably be begging to hear just one more chapter.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Clever Camel

I always enjoy retellings of classic tales, but this story from the Middle East is a retelling of one I hadn't heard before. It's about a camel who wants his master to let him sleep in the tent on a cold night. As the title says, the camel is clever.

But what I like best about the book is the way it shows the environment and culture in a few, well-written pages.

I especially enjoyed the poetic description of the sunset.

"Even the stars trembled in the cold" is a perfect example of showing, instead of telling readers about the atmosphere and preparing us for the camel's motivation to get into the tent.

The author, Chitra Soundar, grew up in India, so she knows a lot about Middle Eastern cultures and environment.

And Eugene Ruble did a great job with the illustrations.

Kids will enjoy Clever Camel and learn from it as well.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bo at Iditarod Creek

Kirkpatrick Hill has written an amazing book for kids.

One of my great uncles was involved in the Alaska Gold Rush, but I never knew anything about that time and culture until I read this book. The story happens after the actual gold rush, but takes place in mining communities.

Unfortunately some of the story is a bit disturbing since it involves child abuse. But, overall, the plot is exciting and the ending is positive.

I love the way the author managed to reveal so much about the culture and environment naturally as the plot progressed. The characters, especially the protagonist Bo, seem alive and I cared about them.

Reading this book was like being transported to the time and place where it happened.

The illustrations by LeUyen Pham are cute and just frequent enough to help carry the story along without taking attention away from the plot.

In my opinion, Bo at Iditarod Creek ought to win an award.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

All the Children

Some of you may remember the Sunday School song about Jesus loving all the children in the world. The song calls the children red, yellow, black and white.

Those terms are often used to refer to various races. But none of them are accurate.

I have seen some people from certain parts of Africa and a few African Americans with skin so dark brown it's almost black, but most people in America with African ancestry have skin that's brown or tan.

I once saw someone with severe liver jaundice and his skin had a strong yellow tint, but I've never seen an Asian person with yellow skin.

The only red people I've encountered had fair skin and severe sunburn.

And I have met a few people with albinism who had such pale skin it could be considered white. One of them was African American.

And why does anyone think the color of people's skin defines them?  We could discuss prejudice, but it would take all day.

Perhaps the lyrics of that song should be changed to say, "Tan, and beige, and brown and pink, God still loves us when we stink."

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Hi, Ho, Come to The Fair

This weekend I'm spending time with family at a county fair.

That got me thinking about the history of events like that.

Thousands of years ago in many cultures people would gather on certain days  for what we now call street markets, but they considered them fairs. While most of the people were there to buy and sell things, there were also entertainers.

In the Middle Ages fairs and street markets were important in most communities.

When I was a kid no street markets happened in our part of the world because people could buy things from stores, but at least once a year a carnival with games and rides would come to town.

Now lots of towns and cities have weekly street markets during the warm months of the year and the holiday season. Many of those events have rides and games, at least for kids.

Whenever I see one I think how traditional they are.

But state and county fairs are much bigger than those.

Can you imagine what someone from ancient Rome or England in the Middle Ages would think of a Ferris Wheel?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Pets

When I was a kid my grandfather, who lived with us, had a "Siamese Fighting Fish" he trained to jump out of the water and knock food out of his fingers when he tapped on the side of the aquarium. I named that fish Sir Velvet because he was the color of blue velvet.

I got a pet goldfish that kept jumping out of the fish bowl the first day I had him, so I named the fish Silly.

Later I got a pet hamster and named him Hampstead. The first day I left him outside and he escaped from the cage and disappeared so my mother got me another hamster. I named that one Hamstead.

I was allowed to adopt a stray cat my neighbors had taken in when they moved away. My mother told me it was a boy, but I couldn't see the usual body part that would show that. I wanted a girl cat so I named him Susie.

As an adult I had several other cats, because of my husband's extreme allergy to cat hair, all our pets were dogs after we got married.

We had two deaf dalmatians, Brenda and Buttons, and a story I wrote about one of them is in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I Can't Believe My Dog Did That. We chose their names because Brenda means fiery and dalmations are fire dogs, and the spots on their hair look like buttons.

Bungee was a terrier mix and probably half corgi. We chose that name because his tail was striped when he was a puppy and he bounced around a lot. He had a long body, short legs and an undercoat similar to the coloring of corgis. Terriers are bred to kill rodents but corgis are herd dogs. Bungee loved to herd rodents. He'd take care of my daughter's guinia pig when she let it out on the floor.

We got a black mutt on Washington's Birthday, so we named him George. He was a stray found on inner city streets and was apparently brain damaged. He'd jump in the air and catch flies. Even when he caught a yellow jacket and it stung his tongue, he kept on jumping after bugs.

Now a sweet, snuggly poodle-bichon mix sits on my lap a lot. We named her Suds because her curly, white hair looks like soapsuds when she's clean. But she never stays white for long with all the dirt in our yard.

Those aren't the only pets I've had, but those are the most interesting ones.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

More on Animal Languages

I've blogged before about my interest in languages and the science of Linguistics.

Did you know that many animals, birds, and even insects have their own languages?

Bees communicate with others in their hives about the location of good nectar by doing a sort of dance.

Books have been written about the ways horses and dogs communicate. I have a story in the Chicken Soup for the Soul book, I Can't Believe My Dog Did That about a dog we had who learned to understand American Sign Language and taught us about 30 dog signs.

All the signs our dog used, and intonation patterns she couldn't use because she was deaf are mentioned in Stanley Coren's book, How to Speak Dog. I've told so many people about that book he should pay me a commission. ;-)

But now I wish I could learn to communicate with a squirrel.

I like squirrels and years ago tamed one to sit on my lap and let me pet it while it ate out of my hand. That wasn't wise because it started coming into the house and climbing my leg with its sharp nails when it wanted to be fed.

Now a squirrel keeps chewing on the metal corner of the leaf guard on my roof gutter. The noise is irritating and I don't know why the squirrel chews on metal, but I can't seem to make it stop doing that.

If anyone knows how I can tell the squirrel to stop, I could use an interpreter.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Bedtime Stories

When I was a kid one of our parents read to us every night at bedtime. My brother and I would each get to choose one book to hear.

I had quite a few Little Golden Books. I remember The Bedtime Story Book, Circus Time, and many others. And, of course, there were fairy tales.

I wanted to hear a different story every night, but my brother always wanted the same on. I had to listen to The Animals of Farmer Jones every single night for several years.

Probably having books read to me helped inspire my love of reading and I've been a bookaholic as long as I can remember.

Back in the 1940s parents were told they shouldn't try to teach their kids to read because they'd do it wrong and the kids would have to unlearn what the parents had taught when they started school.

And reading wasn't taught until first grade.

My first grade teacher was terrible, but I, and some other kids, started second grade reading at fifth grade level.

Years ago I read a scientific study that showed the only thing the best students at the best universities in America had in common was that their parents read to them every day.

Reading to little kids is important!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Shame On Me!

When I started blogging in  the Spring of 2009 I doubted that I'd be able to think of enough things to blog about for  the months until my first book came out. Well, I've blogged twice a week for six years about words (language,) books, and kids and and never missed a post - until today!

I thought I had something prescheduled, but I was mistaken.

I promise to be a good girl and post something as usual on Wednesday, and I apologize for missing today.

Oh, wait! I'm posting this right now!

So this post is late, but I didn't miss blogging today after all. Whew!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fire, Fire!

About twenty years ago an online group I belonged to got into a discussion about which natural disaster is the worst. To my surprise, everyone said the kind that happened where they lived was not the worst, but the best.

People who lived where there are hurricanes said they know in advance when they're coming and can shelter from them.

People who live where there are tornadoes said they usually only hit a narrow area.

People who live where there are earthquakes said the major ones only happen every few decades.

Other disasters were mentioned, but the comments about them were similar.

I live in California where we're having a severe drought and several forest fires are happening right now.  We can't predict those, we can't shelter from them, they cover large areas, and they happen often.

In my opinion forest fires would be considered the worst natural disasters, but they aren't all natural. Some do start from lightening strikes. But a lot are started by people doing stupid and careless things like burning in dangerous areas or not being sure campfires are completely extinguished.

And some fires are even started by people on purpose. Are the idiots who do that trying to make themselves feel important? How pathetic they must be!

Or is starting fires sometimes a form of warfare?

Since our state is experiencing a major drought (yes, that's another natural thing that could become a disaster) using the huge amounts of water required to fight fires is another problem.

I hope all Californians who read this are doing their part and using common sense to help prevent forest fires.

Here's a link to a story I wrote about forest fires several years ago:

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Ethan Blecher Braves A Bully

This chapter book for early readers is a fun and exciting story that also teaches an important lesson.

Ethan Blecher Braves a Bully by Chris Pederson shows Ethan being tormented by Blake the bully and his gang no matter where he goes. Even at camp during Spring Break, Blake is there.

At last, when Blake is in serious danger, Ethan has the opportunity to get even.

But, instead, he helps his enemy.

What do you think happens as a result?

I won't give away details of the plot, but I will say the book teaches an important lesson about forgiveness and turning the other cheek without being preachy-teachy at all.

Ethan Blecher Braves a Bully is a fun read, and the illustrations by Kate Jeong add to the enjoyment.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Papa's Suns

Papa's Suns by Kevin McNamee is the only book I've seen that will help kids deal with a family member having a stroke.

The book tells of a kid whose grandfather, who he calls Papa, draws pictures for him and shows him how to draw. The two of them have a close relationship, but when Papa has a stroke he can't talk anymore.

But he's still able to draw a sun for Jacob, and does so.

This charming book, with illustrations by Samantha Bell, will be a wonderful discussion starter for children who know someone who has a stroke. And it would be a great addition to the children's books in hospital waiting rooms and doctor's offices.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Scavengers

Michael Perry is a bestselling author of books for adults, but The Scavengers is his first book for kids.

It's a great one!

In the sci-fi future where the story takes place, most people have moved into bubble cities controlled by the government where everything is supposed to be wonderful. ButMaggie's family had decided to stay outside the bubble where they barely survive by scavenging things left from the past.

Maggie is a feisty girl, and decides to change her name to Ford Falcon after an old car where she sleeps. Her life, and that of her family isn't easy, but she' manages to help them survive.

Then one day they disappear and she must fight even worse dangers as she tries to find and rescue them.

The plot is dramatic and the characters are realistic.

The story has a satisfying conclusion (which I won't give away) but I have a feeling and a hope that it's only the first in a series.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Veteran's Clubhouse

My initial reaction to reading this book is, "Wow."

Kristen Zajac caught my attention right away with her depiction of the sounds produced by the band where the main character, Patrick, plays the drums.

But that's only the beginning.

When he and and his family meet Charlie, a homeless man who is a Vietnam War Veteran, Patrick is inspired to find a way to help people in that situation.

And he does!

With the help of his sister,  his friends, and his church, he inspires the community to come together and create a place where veterans can get food, clothing, health care, counseling, and job training.

And Patrick and his band help provide entertainment for them.

The Veteran's Clubhouse shows kids that even they can make a positive difference in the world.

I love the illustrations by Jennifer Thomas Houdeshell because they look like real people and their facial expressions help tell the story.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Signs They Are A-Changin'

Linguistics scientists consider a language living if it's changing. A language only stops changing when it's no longer being used.

Thanks to our constant use of computers a lot of signs and symbols have completely changed their meaning.

For example, the @ sign used to mean "at" but now it means "about" or "approximately." Having changed from an indication of precision it now means almost the opposite.

The # sign used to mean "number." Now it's called a hashtag and, while it doesn't exactly symbolize a word, using it at the beginning of something on the internet could be considered to mean, "at." In other words it has sort of taken over the original meaning of @.

And nobody knows why it is called a hashtag, but the word, hash, meant an jumbled up mess, usually, but not always, of food and a tag usually shows where to find something.

The & sign hasn't changed its meaning, but many people don't know it was originally a written word from latin. The word, et, means "and" and over time the two letters, e and t, got squished together to form the symbol, &.

Nobody really knows where the dollar sign, $, came from. It used to have two vertical lines on the capitol S and one suggestion is that it originally symbolized the United States currency as a capitol U on top of the S.

The cent sign (which isn't on my keyboard) of a letter, c, with a vertical line through it was based on the Latin word for one hundred since a cent is one hundredth part of a dollar. Maybe the vertical line was to make it similar to the dollar sign since it's also about money.

Obviously the language of symbols is a living language.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Resolutions Revisited

The year 2015 is more than half-way over. I just realized this is a good time to check our New Year's Resolutions.

Way back at the beginning of the year I resolved to learn not to worry as much as I usually did, but I've only improved a little bit.

However I have decided that I don't need to feel guilty (or worry) about worrying. I do it because I have a creative mind and thinking "what if..." is part of that creativity. Now when I realize I'm worrying I try to change my thoughts to "What if..." something good were to happen.

To the people who made resolutions to keep their homes always spotless, to become rich and famous, or to reach other unlikely goals and didn't succeed, I offer my condolences. To those who have succeeded at keeping their resolutions, I offer my admiration.

What resolutions did you make at the beginning of this year?

Did you manage to keep them?

Saturday, July 4, 2015


What Would Jefferson Think? Or Washington, or Franklin, or any of the others who helped establish the USA if they should time travel to America in our time?

They'd be overwhelmed with amazement.

Probably the first thing they'd notice would be cars and trucks - vehicles that move without animals to pull them !?!

Then they'd notice the way people, especially women dress. Shocking!

And if they saw someone walking down the street talking on a cell-phone they'd probably think that person was possessed by demons.

As they learned about our machinery that could plow and harvest crops, make and sew fabrics, and even do laundry and clean floors, they'd agree that slavery wasn't needed anymore.

But they'd be stunned to see our racial diversity and that women have rights to have jobs outside the home other than being servants or prostitutes and (gasp!) that those people could even vote and hold office in government. The founders of our country would probably pass out with shock to learn that the United States of America has an African-American president and a woman as possible candidate for that office.

The size of our country would impress those men, and they would probably feel honored that we still celebrate the things they fought for, but they could never have imagined how much our country would have changed since they established it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Some Repetition

Considering recent news stories, I've decided to repost something I've previously said here.

The reaction of the people in the South Carolina church to the shootings showed love and forgiveness, as Christians are supposed to do.

Here's what I said before that I think is relevant:

One of my college Psychology professors gave us this definition of love: "When the happiness and well-being of another is essential to one's own happiness and well-being a state of love exists."

Today I want to talk about hate.

Since hate is the opposite of love the logical definition would be: "When the unhappiness and suffering of another is essential to one's own happiness and well-being a state of hate exists."

That means when we hate someone, we give them control over our own lives.

Forgiveness means choosing not to seek punishment or revenge and, while it seems difficult, it's actually much easier than hating someone who has offended or harmed us because it frees us from the bonds of hatred.

I hope the example of those people will help more of us choose love and forgiveness.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Independence and Influence

In the America every year on the Fourth of July we celebrate Independence Day.

According to my old Webster dictionary the word, independence, means "freedom from the influence, control, or determination of another or others."

In 1776 the newly formed United States of America declared their independence from the rule and control of England.

But, since the world has become increasingly connected by technological advances in recent years, we are certainly influenced by things that happen outside of our own borders even though the government and individual people of our nation are free to make choices without being controlled by other countries.

Influence isn't the same as control and influence can be a good thing.

We hope someday everyone on our planet will be allowed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But we don't have the right to force our values on others.

We disagree about lots of things, but if each of us lives with integrity, compassion, and the common sense to know we're not the most important person in the Universe I believe we can be a positive influence on others, who will influence still others. Influence can spread in a good way until the world becomes a better place.

It's a small world after all.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Good Old Summer Time

Back in the olden days when I was a kid Summer was a time of freedom.

We would go to the local Fourth of July Fair and later shoot off firecrackers and have our own fireworks like sparklers and Roman Candles when it got dark.

At other times we might go on an overnight camping trip with the Girl Scouts or our family would go to Yosemite National Park and stay in a tent cabin. Our family couldn't afford expensive vacations, but we'd often drive up to Camp Taylor in rural Marin County for a picnic and play in the creek.

When I got older I usually went to Church Camp for a week.

But most of our childhood Summer Vacations were spent playing outside and having fun with no adults around. With permission from our parents we might go up the hill for a hike. We'd play with squirt guns or wade in the creek and get wet. Sometimes we'd put on a show for our neighbors. And we always used our imaginations to play pretend games.

Once in a while we might even pay to go to the town swimming pool or see a movie.

But the most fun for me in the Summer was performing in Marin Junior Theater. I was always a good girl, but I'd usually get the part of somebody evil in the plays, and enjoyed that a lot. And we even got to be on the new Television channel to advertise our productions.

What do you remember about childhood summers?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins?

What a fun book this one is!

Jessica discovers she has the ability to become invisible. But then she finds out certain other kids who she doesn't especially like also have super powers. 

And something evil is going on.

Eventually Jessica and her best friend manage to join forces with those kids to combat the evil. And, as the tension grows, others kids she knows also develop super powers.

But they're still only kids, they have to keep their powers secret, and the potential for something terrible happening if they fail is huge.

Can they stop the bad guy?

In Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins Liz Keller has written an exciting, believable book and kids who read it will certainly identify with the characters. (Of course readers will wish for super powers of their own, too.)

I was surprised to learn that the author lives in England, because the story could happen in America and there weren't any differences in the school setting or terminology.

Kids who live anywhere in the world will be able to identify with the characters and enjoy the book - a lot.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Jeep Fury

 No, that title isn't a make of car. It's how I feel about certain commercials.

When my mother was a girl kids in all the California schools sang the state anthem every morning. She taught it to me when I was a kid.

A couple of years ago I was furious when the anthem showed up as part of a TV commercial. I called the company and complained and they told me they'd gotten similar complaints from other people. Soon afterwards those commercials disappeared from television, which made me feel better.

But now they've showed up again with the only difference being that a different verse of the state anthem is used. Even though only the first verse was sung in our schools, that still makes me angry.

I wish hundreds of people would contact the Jeep manufacturers, tell them they find the commercials offensive, and refuse to buy their cars.

And, if the commercials in other states are similar, I hope people will complain about those, too.

If you want to know the California State Anthem, here's a link:

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Her Brown Hair

The picture book, Her Brown Hair, is called a companion piece to Her Pink Hair which is by the same author.
I reviewed that book here:

But Jill Dana's newest book isn't necessarily about a cancer patient. It's about a child in the hospital and her illness isn't specified, although it could be cancer.

Her friends visit her, both at home and in the hospital, and do things to show their affection for her.

This book will help young kids understand others with serious illnesses and perhaps give them some ideas about how to help those friends. It would also make a great gift for children who have cancer or another medical condition because it would help them realize they're not alone and that other kids have experienced similar things.

The language is very simple so young children can comprehend it easily.

The illustrations are all clay figures made by the author and I found them delightful. Perhaps seeing them might inspire young readers to make gifts of clay for their friends with medical problems.

I think this book will be helpful to lots of kids; both those with serious health problems and those who care about them.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Helping With a Problem

I don't often blog about my own books, but this one is special to me and I'd love to have more people read it because it might help kids with special needs.

Kids with any kind of special needs tend to get ignored or bullied in school.

I've cared about children like that since I was a child myself when I was sent to a convalescent home because of my asthma and met lots of kids with various disabilities. (Yes, I know that term isn't politically correct anymore but I was a child long ago.)

I wrote Signs of Trouble to help today's children understand what it's like to have a learning disability and, hopefully, to realize that kids who have special needs aren't necessarily very different from everyone else.

Since the kids in the book use what they've learned about safety rules to solve their problem, all youngsters can benefit from that reminder.

At the end of the book I included suggestions for parents and teachers to help children learn how to be safe and to understand others who have learning disabilities.

I hope that book will make a positive difference by doing that.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Cottage in the Woods

This book is spectacularly wonderful!

Katherine Coville has written a novel that uses the concept of a famous fairy tale (Goldilocks and the Three Besrs) and changes it completely. Some twists include reminders of other fairy tales and even hints of some adult classics.

The point of view character is a bear, and she must deal with all kinds of exciting characters, magic, and plot twists.

The only problem with the book is that it's supposed to be for young readers, but it's long (389 pages) and has some violence and romance, so it probably wouldn't be suitable for kids younger than nine or ten years old.

Young Adults would probably love it, but the fairy tale aspects might make them hesitant to pick it up. If they do read it, they'll be glad they did.

The Cottage in the Woods is exciting, creative, and unique.

I'm very impressed and hope Katherine Coville will write more books in the future. She certainly has me for a fan.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Magical Mea Goes to School

I've enjoyed and reviewed other  books in this series, so I was eager to read the newest book about Magical Mea. It's called Magical Mea Goes to School.

What kid wouldn't like to have magical powers?

In a previous book Mea learned to use her magical ability to help people instead of to play mean tricks on them.

Now school has started and Mea's brother Matthew, who outgrew his own magical ability, wants to help his little sister learn to use her powers wisely.

But Mea avoids him by keeping busy away from him. She wants to do things her own way.

Can she learn to use her power and help people without getting caught?

This early chapter book by Penelope Cole will be enjoyed by young readers with active imaginations. And the colorful illustrations by Kevin Scott Collier add a lot to the pleasure of reading it.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Germs, Germs, Germs

Our society is much more careful about not spreading and catching germs than many other places in the world are.

For example, many of our public restrooms have toilets, faucets, and towels or dryers that don't have to be touched in order to work.

But when leaving those restrooms we must touch the doors, and if others who didn't wash their hands had touched them... well, you know.

And any public door that doesn't open automatically has probably been touched by someone with germs on their hands.

Playgrounds are often used by kids with colds, or coming down with other illnesses. That means any other child who touches the hand rails on a slide or the cords holding a swing is likely to be getting germs.

And how do we know library books weren't read by someone who was sick in bed?

The buttons on ATM machines or the ones in stores where we slide our cards were probably touched by someone with germs on their hands.

And..., and..., and...

If we try to avoid every possibility of being exposed to germs we'll have to wear space suits like the astronauts.

As long as there isn't a dangerous epidemic where we live, we wash our own hands before eating, and take the usual precautions, we probably don't need to worry about germs.

But (and here's the controversial part) immunizations do help keep us all safe, and it's only a myth that vaccines cause autism.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Half Upon a Time

As you may know if you've read any of my previous book reviews, I enjoy books that take an unusual spin on something familiar. Half Upon A Time by James Riley certainly does that.

The book involves lots of familiar fairy tale characters in an original plot.

And it includes a girl from our time who was transported to that world, but she's not the main point of view character as she would be in most books. Instead, the main character is Jack, who's father was involved with a certain beanstalk.

But May, the girl from our world, is certainly an important one in this book.

May is trying to find her grandmother, who was a resident of the fairy tale world. She and Jack get involved in adventures with characters from many different fairy tales, but the whole plot works well.

And the story has a satisfying conclusion even though it ends with hints about the sequel that make the reader want to find out what will happen in the next book.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Beyond the Laughing Sky

This is an amazing book.

I could say it's literary because the language is so beautiful, but it's a middle grade novel and those aren't often literary.

I could say it's poetry, but it's just a narrative story.

And the story itself is unusually creative.

Beyond the Laughing Sky is about a boy who is half human and half bird. He hatched from an egg, has a beak and feathers instead of hair on his head, but he has no wings and longs to fly.

His name is Nashville, but many of the other characters have bird-like names such as Dr. Larkin the vet, Miss Starling the teacher, and Mrs. Craw, the pet shop owner.

Nashville is teased by other kids because he's different but he has a wonderful relationship with his adopted family, especially his younger sister.

But how can he fit in with the other human kids who tease him at school? And how can he accomplish his longing to fly like a bird?

The plot is exciting as the boy struggles to reach both of those goals.

Michelle Cuevas has done an amazing job of writing a book with an exciting and unique plot, believable characters, and  doing so in a lovely way.

Kids who read it will want to develop their own wings.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

& & &

If you read my posts often you know I'm interested in words and language and often blog about those things.

Here's another post on that topic.

The symbol, &, is called an ampersand. We see that little, squiggly mark often and most people know it means "and."

But did you know it's actually the Latin word, et?  The two letters, e and t, are sort of squished together on top of each other.

In the Latin language the word, "et," means "and" just as the symbol does.

And the word, ampersand, is also squished together. It was originally a phrase, "and per se and." Per se is a Latin phrase meaning "by itself." In English we might say "and, by itself, means and."


I have no idea why that complex phrase was used to define something simple. Why couldn't they have just called it "and?"

The Latin language has influenced ours a lot because the Romans conquered and ruled Britain. Later the French did the same thing and French is a Latin-based language because the Romans had also conquered that country. Since the rulers were the upper class people, those languages are the original forms of a lot of English words having to do with political power,  the arts (only rich people had anything to do with those,) etc.

And, back then, only a few people knew how to read and write.

But today the ampersand is something ordinary people use all the time.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Arctic Danger

In case you can't tell by reading my previous blog posts, I read books for kids all the time.

When I read Arctic Danger by Barbara Bockman I was reminded of books from my childhood that told about kids being sent off by their parents into possibly dangerous situations without adult supervision. But I guess in Alaska near the Arctic Circle there weren't any child predators and gangsters around, and the kids in the story, Gary and Kiana, certainly knew how to paddle a kayak down a river to the store.

I guess for them doing so was no more unusual than for kids in cities to walk to school.

But this time it was a lot more dangerous than usual. The kids encounter an oil leak in the Alaska Pipeline!

The oil is falling from an overhead pipe above the river and animals are panicking.

Gary manages to protect his sister from a crazed moose and the kids see other dead and harmed animals as they rush to the store. They tell the store owner, who calls the oil company and gets the flow turned off.

It would take some time for the crew to repair the leak and a lot of damage had already been done, but the kids managed to save many more animals from being harmed and killed.

They were heroes!

This book is fiction, but there are several pages of facts about the Alaska Pipeline at the end.

The illustrator, Eugene Ruble, did a good job of portraying the story.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Why do people tend to be superstitious about numbers?

Thirteen is supposed to be evil either because there were thirteen people at the Last Supper or that many members in a witches coven.

And remember all the news about people who thought the year 2000 would be the second coming of Christ and the end of the world?

The dates 12/12/12 and 11/12/13 were supposed to be lucky days for a child to be born.

Personally, I'm not superstitious, but I do think number patterns are interesting. 

For instance, just this week we had 5/11/15 and 51115 is nicely symmetrical.

And last week on 5/4/15 spacey fans greeted each other by saying, "May the fourth be with you." I love that kind of humor!

What other number patterns can you think of?

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Books, Books, Books

My house has lots of bookcases and books. Once I tried to count the number of books I own and gave up because the count would have taken hours to finish.

I have one big bookcase full of books written by authors I've met, usually at writers conferences.

I only keep books I intend to read again, but sometimes years go by before I reread one.

Where do all those books come from?

Some were gifts, including the ones I got for Christmases and birthdays as a kid. Others I bought at local bookstores, online, or directly from the people who wrote them. At times I've traded books with author friends and our area has a monthly free book swap where we donate books we don't want to keep, and take home as many as we want that other people have donated.

Of course I go to the local library every week and bring home five or six books to read. I usually check out Middle Grade books because I can finish one of those in an hour or so.

And, yes, I spend at least an hour a day reading, if not more.

In case you can't tell by now, I'm a bookaholic and have no intention of getting into recovery. I even had a bumper sticker made for my car that says, "Bookaholics Unite."

Books give me pleasure and teach me all sorts of things. One reason I became a writer is to give back some of the wonderful things books written by other people have given me.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Controversial Post

I normally blog about words (language,) books, and kids so this post is off topic. Sorry about that.

I recently talked to someone whose family member was recently released from the military and is looking for work. The logical sort of job for him would be as a police officer or fire-fighter because of his experience.

Probably lots of people in similar positions have also sought, and often gotten, jobs in law enforcement.

And it's not unlikely that many them have PTSD.

Lately we've been seeing a lot of news about police violence toward minority people.  Racial bigotry is still prevalent and that's terrible.

But I wonder if the officers who did such things might have PTSD and be reverting to their training in the military in a subconscious way.

Thousands - and even hundreds - of years ago prejudice was a survival instinct because when someone saw people who looked different it was likely those people were coming to take over their territory.

Today bigotry is no longer helpful and it's extremely harmful, but I wonder if people who have been in situations like wars where the "different" people are the enemy have somehow had that survival instinct revived.

Are people with PTSD more likely to be bigots?

If so, should the government provide some sort of training for people leaving the service to help them get over it?

Those are just questions, statements. It can be a very controversial topic and I'm interested in what you think about it.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

No Burglars Wanted

I usually don't post anything that lets people know I am or won't be at home at a specific date or time because some of the evil people who read it might decide to break into my house while I'm gone. But this is an exception to let you know as you read this I'm at an SCBWI writers' conference.

SCBWI stands for Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Writers' conferences are great!

I didn't submit anything to agents or editors and don't expect to sell anything as a direct result of attending this one, although I expect to learn information that will help me become a better writer and sell things in the future.

But the main reason to go to events like this is to interact with other writers. I'll be carpooling with some members of my critique group and expect to see some online friends and people I've met at other conferences.

Writers are communicators, but writing is a solitary business, so when a group of us get together we connect in ways "normal" people wouldn't understand.

And, in case any "normal" people reading this happen to be burglars, my dog is taking care of things at home.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Electric Sheet

Lots of people have electric blankets, but I used to have an electric sheet.

When I was a kid we lived in a little cabin in the hills. The original owner had built it himself in 1913 as a summer cabin. It wasn't insulated and only had a gas heater in the living room. It didn't snow where we lived, but the bedrooms still got very cold in the winter.

When my father died my grandfather came to live with us so my mother could get a job and the tiny bedroom at the back of the house became his.

My uncle was an engineer for PG&E and back then they wanted people to use as much electricity as possible. He helped develop a contraption called an electric sheet and gave the prototype to my grandfather. I'm not sure if that was in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

The electric sheet was made of seersucker with zig-zagging wires sewn into it. It couldn't be washed, but was supposed to be placed between the top sheet and blanket so it wouldn't have contact with the skin and would stay clean.

Years later when my grandfather had to go to a nursing home the electric sheet became mine and I used it for about ten years until I got married. By then the thin fabric was dirty (it didn't always stay between the sheet and blanket,) threadbare, and torn.

Of course electric blankets had been invented in the meantime so my husband and I got one and have used those ever since. I'm so glad they can be washed.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Gone-Away Lake

California is having a major drought and many of our lakes are shrinking and may even go completely dry. That's probably why I was drawn to re-read the book, Gone-Away Lake when I noticed the title in one of my bookcases.

Elizabeth Enright wrote the book back in the 1950s when I was a kid. It's about some children who wander into the woods near their summer home and discover a village of dilapidated old houses next to what is now a swamp, but was once a lake. And the houses aren't completely deserted.

The kids become friends with the aged people who live there, learn a lot about the past, and one of them even has a terrifying encounter with quicksand. The book is fun, educational, and heartwarming.

Of course this story could never happen today; children are not allowed to go outside without adult supervision (in some places allowing that is considered child abuse) and they certainly wouldn't talk to strangers or wander off alone into the woods.

But it's not impossible that summer cabins on the shores of lakes that dry up may become deserted and dilapidated. I hope our lakes don't become gone-away.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Not All Americans Are Racist

This Young Adult book by Nicole Weaver is heart wrenching. It tells of her experiences with prejudice as a young immigrant from Haiti through her adulthood and I was shocked to learn of the things she experienced long after the Civil Rights Movement.

But the book is hopeful, and by making young people aware of the problems I hope it will encourage them to make a positive difference in the world by helping to eliminate racial discrimination.

Weaver is a teacher, and the questions for discussion and to write about at the end of the book would be excellent for use in classrooms, or by homeschooled students.

I hope Not All Americans Are Racist helps bring us to a time when not any Americans are racist.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

My Hot Air Balloon

This book by Karen Karr would make a wonderful bedtime story for little kids.

It's imaginative and has just enough soothing repetition.

I love the way the kid in the story imagines floating in the sky and seeing everything from up there. In fact, maybe I shouldn't admit it, but it makes me want to go up in a hot air balloon myself, and I'm a grown-up!

The author briefly mentions that God created everything seen from the sky, but the book isn't at all teachy-preachy.

And the illustrations by Leigh Drzycimski capture the mood of the story perfectly.

My Hot Air Balloon is definitely a good picture book.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Child Who Changed My Life

As a kid I had severe, chronic asthma and, in the early 1950s, I was sent to the Stanford Convalescent Home. I recently learned it was actually called the Stanford Convalescent Home for Impoverished Children. I had never considered our family to be impoverished, but we certainly didn't have much money.

Like all new residents, I spent my first week at the home in the unit with little kids and bedridden children. One of the little ones was a girl named Gladys. She had big, blue eyes and curly hair and an impish smile.

I only knew her for that one week, but she changed my life forever.

Gladys was deaf. She was born with no fingers on one hand and was six months old when her parents discovered she was deaf. They brought her to the convalescent home and were never heard from again.

Back then schools didn't allow deaf kids to use Sign Language. The theory was they'd be motivated to speak and read lips if they couldn't sign.

But, when the teacher and nurses weren't looking, Gladys and I communicated with gestures, expressions, and body language. She was full of mischief and I enjoyed her company.

I was in another unit for five weeks before going home and never saw Gladys again.

But because of her in High School I volunteered with a program for "handicapped" children and spent a lot of time with a boy who was deaf. (He and I also secretly used gestures to communicate.)

Because of Gladys, in college when I was given an alphabet card I practiced fingerspelling until I could remember how to do it.

Because of Gladys I learned American Sign Language, worked at California School for the Deaf for years, married a Sign Language interpreter and interpreted in several churches, and raised three Deaf foster sons with Special Needs.

I would LOVE to find Gladys again (she'd be in her 60s now) and let her know how she changed my life.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Laughing Out Loud

I keep a few books made up of short things that can be read quickly. I take those with me to doctors' offices and other places where I expect to wait because I won't have to put them down in the middle of an interesting section when I'm called in for my appointment.

Recently, while waiting for a blood test, I was reading Richard Lederer's book, The Revenge of Anguished English. And I was silently laughing so much tears were running down my face and the receptionist asked if I was okay.

I was more than okay, I was having a wonderful time!

If you like slapstick or risque humor, Lederer's books probably won't strike you as funny as they do me, but I love language jokes and puns, so Lederer's books are my favorite kind of humor. The bun may be the lowest form of wheat, but I consider the pun to be the highest form of wit.

I'd read this book before, but pull it out to re-read every few years and it always makes me laugh.

And, since laughter is good medicine, maybe all doctors should keep copies of it in their waiting rooms.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Writers Together

I've attended two writers Conferences in the last few weeks and enjoyed both of them a lot.

Writing is a solitary business, but writers are communicators, so we tend to click when we get together. Many of my closest friends are people I originally met at writers conferences.

On Saturday, April 11 I'll be participating in a group book signing with other authors. While signings are on a much smaller scale than conferences and we don't have much time to share with each other, this is another way to be with other writers.

And most of the people who attend love books, so we have a lot in common with each other, too.

This signing will be in Auburn, CA at what is now called the General Gomez Art Center. That recently renovated facility at 808 Lincoln Way was previously the Placer Arts Center.

There will be a lot going on and I hope lots of people I know who live nearby will be able to join us.

It should be fun!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Spring Colors

Easter is always the first Sunday after the first new moon in Spring.

Tomorrow will be Easter Sunday and I'm already enjoying all the beautiful Spring colors. Trees are blossoming and flowers have been blooming for weeks here in California.

Yes, I know we desperately need rain and some is predicted for Easter Sunday. We'll celebrate if that happens.

And even if kids can't be outside for Easter egg hunts, people will be wearing lovely colors to church.

I notice colors more than most people do. 

Whenever I've had one of those eye tests for color vision where numbers and letters are mixed in with little dots I've always gotten 100% correct.

Since my color vision is so strong I probably get more pleasure from colors than most people do. And, wet or dry, feasting my eyes on the colors will be just one more thing to add to the joy of the holiday.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Water Emergency

Have you heard the latest news about the drought in California? It's the worst in recorded history!

It will soon be illegal for anyone in the state to shower or bathe more than once a week, flush the toilet more than twice a day, or water lawns or flower gardens at all. Slight exceptions will be made for plants that produce fruits or vegetables. Outer clothing will have to be worn at least twice before laundering.

Strict fines will be imposed for people not obeying these new regulations.

April Fool!

The regulations aren't nearly that strict ... at least not yet.

But except for watering plants, most of those artificial regulations are pretty much the way people lived in the past. Outhouses didn't need to be flushed, people often wore the same clothes for a week except for their "Sunday best" and, as I mentioned before, bathing once a week was the norm.

I hope we don't get to the point where we actually have regulations like the artificial ones I mentioned. And that will be less likely if everyone in our state tries to limit water usage as much as possible.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee

I'd never read anything by Barry Jonsberg before reading The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee but I'll certainly read more of his work in the future.

I loved this book!

Unlike many new books for kids, the author was able to make it different without seeming to try too hard or depending on gimmicks.

Candice, the twelve year old main character, has a complicated life with lots of problems and works hard trying to solve them.

But there's nothing maudlin  or depressing about this book. In fact it had me laughing out loud quite a few times.

Now I can't wait to read other Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction by this author.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Living Language

I've always been fascinated with the science of Linguistics, even when I was a little kid and didn't know that term.

When my brother was a toddler learning to talk I could understand him when the grown-ups couldn't, and that made me feel important. Then we moved from New Jersey to California when I was five years old and I was amazed that people out west used different words for some things than people did back east.

I took lots of electives in college on the subject,of Linguistics, too.

And I'm still fascinated by the way languages evolve over the years.

English has the largest vocabulary of any language on our planet because it has been influenced by nearly every other culture over the centuries.  Since most people reading this would find the topic boring I won't begin to list the various ones that have influenced our language over the centuries. If any of us were to time-travel to England hundreds of years ago we'd probably find it difficult to communicate, at least for a while.

English is still changing because it's a living language. Only languages no longer in use stop changing.

That's why it bugs me when I hear people complain about how others are using grammar and vocabulary that wasn't used in the past. Okay, maybe our high school English teachers would have given us bad marks for some of the modern usages, and current English teachers and professors may do the same. And in formal, academic writing those things aren't acceptable.

But centuries in the future many of them will have become standard usage - unless our culture has been destroyed and English is a dead language.

I certainly hope that doesn't happen.