Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday Wows - Marc Brown, Author of the "Arthur" Books and Seen on PBS TV

Last week when I was subbing, I came across an Arthur story by Marc Brown, Arthur's Computer Disaster:

Product Details"Arthur loves playing games on his mother's computer, but when he uses it without permission, chaos ensues. Arthur and his cohorts search desperately for a solution, and in the process learn a lesson about following rules and respecting others."

It's a common enough problem these days.  Kids want to play at whatever they're playing at and don't stop even when they're told to, they even sneak back when no one is looking.  In this case, Arthur was told not to play on the computer and he does anyway while his mother is out.  When it stops, he thinks he's broken the computer.  He and his friends try to fix it before his mother comes home.  Of course, there will be consequences.  

This is a good story for kids to realize that when they make a bad choice, there will be consequences.  They are responsible for their actions.  This is a lesson that kids need to learn again and again.  Everyone must be accountable for our decisions and actions.  Sometimes we can fix things, but if we can't then we must accept responsibility, try to make it right, and make up for our mistake or error.

This time when I read this Arthur story, I wasn't thinking what an important lesson this is or what a good story idea this is, or how nice to see the familiar characters in Arthur's world.  This time I was focusing on the artwork.  Marc Brown is foremost an artist.  Most parents know him as the creator of the Arthur book series which  resulted in a much watched PBS TV series for kids.  My child loved to watch Arthur on TV and as a teacher I've read Arthur books in school. 

 "Arthur, the little aardvark with a big agenda.  Arthur is in the business of trying to make children successful.  We are always on the lookout for issues that are important to children and families and present them through Books and Television in ways that are helpful, instructive and entertaining."

This time I really looked at the artwork.  What Marc Brown shows in this book is a normal messy or cluttered family home.  It's not neat and tidy.  There are pet and children's toys scattered all around.  There are books piled up.  The house looks lived in, not perfect.  Everyone can see themselves in this little family.  Both parents have jobs and the children have homework and chores.  They do things together as a family and with friends.  They have the same hopes, dreams, and problems we do.  It's a great series.

On his website Marc Brown wrote: 
"Although I'm better known for writing and illustrating all of the Arthur books, I think of myself more as an illustrator. Thirty-five years ago I began the wonderful Arthur adventure and now after writing and illustrating almost one hundred books about Arthur, I've decided to refocus my energies on illustration. For the last few years I've been experimenting with new techniques and having more fun than ever. There are so many new projects in the pipeline and I look forward to sharing them with you in the coming years."

We wish you much continued success with all of your future endeavors!

Tags:  Arthur Aardvark stories, Marc Brown, PBS TV, children's books.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Madness - Another Hodge Podge

Sometimes I get my blogging inspiration from where I've been and what's happening in my life.  Today I'm sharing a hodge podge of stuff -- normal highs and lows of life with a teen.

Thursday we got some devastating news.  The mother of one of my daughter's high school friends died of cancer.  We hadn't even known she was sick.  My girl had visited with her friend just a few months ago and nothing was said at that time.  How could this have happened?  How could she not know she was sick?  Or if she knew, how could she not tell her family?  Perhaps it was sudden, aggressive cancer.  Cancer doesn't always let us know it's there, does it?  We'll find out more after the funeral.  
This mother and grandmother was in her 50's.  I'm not sure of her exact age, but most parents of college age kids are just entering their 50's, unless they had their kids very young, then in their 40's.  She also had an older daughter, so I'm pretty sure she was in her 50's.  That is still too young.  And too young for her daughters and granddaughter to lose their mother and grandmother.  She was very "with it," very involved in her daughters' lives.  A smiling, gracious woman.  We were totally blown away by this news.  Now, instead of singing at the Maundy Thursday service, my daughter will be going to a funeral to support her friend.  How do you continue without your mother at that age?

We reevaluate.  I'm now even more committed to my health and daily exercise.  If at all possible, I'm going to improve the quality of my health and hopefully, extend my life.  I'm already older than most of my daughter's friends' parents.  Optimistically, I have a head start on longevity.  Realistically, I have less time left, so health, fitness, safe living, and joy in life are my watchwords.
Over the weekend, I believe we felt more intensely.  We observed life more closely.  We made more plans and enjoyed our time together more.  I even perused Facebook to see what my family was up to.  You never know how much time you have left, so make the most of each moment.  Of course, doing so sacrifices some sleep -- need to be careful there  -- sleep seems to extend your life and helps repair your body.

That gave us a lot to think about as my daughter launched into the second week of her new quarter.  This morning she got great news in Math, 80 out of 100, so a real B!  We rejoice in these small victories.  She can bring her GPA up, she can keep her good student/good driver insurance discount.  It is uplifting to both of us to see her successful.  When you deal with special needs kids, you are grateful for these moments and pray for more.

Yes, there's a bit of madness in daily living.  Nothing works right all the time.  You sit at a lot of red lights.  You swerve to miss a crazy driver.  You get "ticked" at losing a parking spot or losing a discount that you'd counted on getting.  Sadly, you lose friends and family.  But then there is a bright light shining on a lovely "B" grade, so very satisfying.  It makes the sky bluer, the grass greener, the flowers prettier, the roses sweeter -- "and I say to myself, what a wonderful world. . ."

Have a wonderful week!
Tags:  sadness, cancer, death, loss, teens, friends, mothers, grandmothers, math, good grades, victory, triumph, daily life, beauty in nature, love, hope, gratitude, thankfulness.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Wednesday Wow - missed - Friday First and Fancies - Denise Fleming

Sorry, I missed my Wednesday Wow posting.  So I'm doubling up today with my Friday First and Fancies post in place of Wed. Wow.

I subbed today and while rummaging in the class library, I rediscovered some old favorites to blog about. 

Product DetailsI picked up Denise Fleming's "In the Tall, Tall Grass."  It was delightful to read her book again -- about the creatures who live in the tall grass.

She wrote and illustrated many children's books and won the Caldecott Honor for "In the Small, Small Pond."

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Tags: Denise Fleming, Children's books, animals, grass, bugs,

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"There’s a Lion in the House" by Mary Esparza-Vela, Illustrated by Jack Foster

There’s a Lion in the House, by Mary Esparza-Vela, and illustrated by Jack Foster, is another sweet book for young children. Young Robby Rabbit has a bad habit of tricking and teasing his brothers. Of course, they don’t like it one bit. Just like the story of the boy who cried wolf, Robby plays his tricks once too often and when he really needs help, no one comes to his rescue.  He’s left to face the dangerous sound of a lion’s roar all on his own.  He’s brave and hurries to save his parents, only to get a big surprise – and it’s not a lion in the house!


Jack Foster’s illustrations are in his usual cartoony style. The rabbits are soft and fluffy; the action and emotions are well-portrayed.  It’s easy for youngsters who don’t read yet to follow the story and be happily entertained. More information about Jack Foster is at

Ms. Esparza-Vela’s stories are straightforward, but each one has a message that teachers and parents will appreciate. In There’s a Lion in the House, the message is if you tease and play tricks on your family, they may not believe you. It’s better to be truthful and be a family member who can be trusted. 
aboutIn Lucky’s Lick, the message is you can do what must be done if you have the love and support of your family and friends. 

In You Can’t Take the Dinosaur Home, the message is we can’t always do what we want to, but we can look out for our family and listen to our parents. 
aboutIn The Odd Chick, the message is to appreciate and accept our differences. 

In The Turtle Who Imagined, the message is to accept yourself and your gifts. 
aboutIn The Smiling Burro, the message is to value your pets and care for them. 

In Bearly Learning about Water the message again is to take care of and look after your family.


Most of Ms. Esparza-Vela's books are translated into Spanish. More information about Mary Esparza-Vela and for signed copies (and dolls) go to:

There’s a Lion in the House and many of Ms. Esparza-Vela's books are published by, and also available from and
Tags:  Mary Esparza-Vela, Jack Foster, children's books, lion, rabbits, turtle, chicks, bears, burro, puppy, love, helping, playing, learning, family, brothers, sisters, Guardian Angel Publishing

Monday, April 7, 2014

(pre) Monday Madness -- A New Quarter

Dear Friends,  
Tomorrow starts a new quarter for my girl -- her third quarter of her first year of college.  Exciting.  But we found out that English has to be re-taken in summer.  (Hmmm, I'm an English Major, but my artist daughter isn't.  Oh well.  We are thankful for our blessings.)  She's continuing in college and she's happy and healthy and safe.  I'm grateful for my life and my wonderful, "arty" daughter.

I'm sitting here at my laptop while the sunlight fades into twilight to the tune of a Mariachi Band across the street.  Yep, my neighbors are celebrating big time with a live band.  Usually, their parties just have recorded music, so this must be a special celebration.  Thanks for sharing the music and the BBQ aroma wafting through the air.

And what am I doing?  Musing over the SCBWI conference I attended yesterday (I'll write about it another day.  I need some perspective on the material presented.)  One thing happened that I'll share now.  A fellow author had a diabetic episode and I was the first responder!  She wasn't responsive when I talked to her, touched her and tried to rouse her.  She looked at me with unblinking eyes, sweat profuse around her neck and hair. When she didn't respond, I realized something was wrong and thought low sugar, but didn't know what to do.  I needed help.  

I called a volunteer and she got a nurse -- soon there were two nurses and a pediatrician.  Paramedics were called and we gave her sugar water, but she wasn't responding fast enough.  Thankfully, the paramedics arrived and gave her I-V, checked blood pressure, heart rate, and kept at her until she knew who and where she was.  Then they took her off to the ER where her son made sure she got home safely.  
I was glad I was there in that moment.  I was stressed and shocked, but after a hug and some crying, I was okay.  When you are involved in such a pivotal moment in time, you reassess.  What's important.  What should be prioritized. What direction are you going with your life?  More about that this week, too.
The watchword here is the Boy Scout Motto:  Be prepared.  If you have a health condition, wear your medic alert bracelet or life alert necklace prominently.  It's also a good idea to have a card of instructions in your purse or wallet -- just in case.  In my phone contacts, I have two family members listed:  ICE/their name.  ICE means In Case of Emergency, call one of these two.  I didn't list my girl because I want more mature heads to be contacted to make sure she's taken care of if something happens to me. 

I will also be contacting my mortgager to put my house in my Trust (better late than never).  I need to up date my Will and other documents.  Be prepared.  I need to write the Letter to my Daughter -- just in case.  It's probably a good idea to get rid of more of my junk, too  -- We'll all be traveling lighter at the end.  We should try to make it easier on those left behind.  Was my friend's episode the catalyst for all this end-of-life planning?  No, I've been thinking about it for awhile.  Also, the sermon in church today was in the same vein, about Lazarus and his return from the dead (and dying twice).  We all need to prepare for our end.  Not to be morbid, but simply to leave our affairs in as good an order as we can.  It's part of our job as parents, most especially parents of teens.  They will want to be strong -- be adult.  You can help them with this by planning, and now isn't too soon.
Tags:  help, priorities, first aid, support, planning, dealing with problems, thinking on your feet, being there for others, end-of-life plans.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday Firsts and Fancies - SCBWI 2014 Spring Spirit Conference

To all my writer and author friends, I'm going to another SCBWI conference, California North/Central's 10th Annual Spring Spirit, on Saturday - it's one of my favorites. 

Why do I especially like this conference?  

First:  The conference is well-planned so that you can easily see which workshop meets your needs.  You don't have to choose a picture book, mid grade or young adult "track"  -- you can choose workshops from each and every genre.  (I'm currently writing in all three, so I appreciate help in all areas!)  You can submit ten pages of a manuscript for critique by a presenter.

SecondThey run a slide show of Published and Listed Authors (PAL).  Even if you aren't a presenter or volunteer (who can sell at the bookstore), you still get a little publicity - and a lift at seeing your book cover up on the screen.  It's a very supportive environment for new and experienced writers and illustrators.
ThirdThere are also tables of freebies and a "Critique Group Connection."  Everything is in one well-laid out venue with free and easy access parking.

Fourth:  They have good snacks and drinks (and I think the lunch is passable.)

Fifth:  Every year they get better!
What do you hope to get from this year's conference?

Each SCBWI conference helps fire you up and get you excited about writing. You get new ideas and strategies.

They cover nuts and bolts stuff that children's book writers need to know, but they also offer little "Aha" nuggets of insight and tips.  

They keep you up-to-date on what's happening in the industry.  

You get to hear speakers and presenters -- agents, editors, publishers -- that you wouldn't normally be exposed to.  It's professional and supportive.  

You get to meet creative people -- authors and illustrators - you wouldn't normally meet.  I was happy to meet fellow GAP Authors Janet Ann Collins (Signs of Trouble, Slime and All, Secret Service Saint, The Peril of the Sinister Scientist) and Melissa Abramovitz (ABC's of Health and Safety) there and will see Melissa again this year.

And, this is a biggest one,  you get the opportunity to submit to publishing houses that are normally closed to unsolicited manuscripts, but open to conference attendees. You get to meet and submit to agents, too.

Can You Share Information from the Conference?

You're allowed to tell people general things you've learned -- things that are readily available-to-the- public-at-large - that kind of information.  

However, since attendees have paid for the conference, and thus for the information the speakers present, it's not kosher, acceptable, or allowed to share hand-outs, materials, or guidance presented. Attendees are special -- we get special treatment and special information!  

I highly recommend SCBWI to all aspiring children's book writers and illustrators.  There are regional conferences, local events/meet ups, and national conferences.  Plus, as a member you benefit from their website resources and connections.

Happy conferencing to all!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

"A Sandy Grave" By Donna McDine Illustrated by Julie Hammond

A Sandy Grave, by Donna McDine, and illustrated by Julie Hammond, is a new Chapbook for ‘Tweens by the author of Hockey Agony, Powder Monkey, and The Golden Pathway. All of Ms. McDine’s books have the theme of doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. A Sandy Grave continues her themes of young people dealing with – and surviving – personal and societal injustice.

a sandy grave coverLeah joins two friends and their families for a beach vacation. On her first day there, the beach is filled with “looky-loos” staring at a beached dead whale. While walking down the beach to get a closer look, Leah sees two individuals representing the dregs of humanity, and I don’t say that lightly. In my book, poachers are in the same category as murderers. They kill wildlife for greed and diminish our natural world and our collective humanity. Leah feels a shudder that tells her these men are up to no good.

 “Leah tried to shake off the creepy feeling that was radiating down her back and arms. Grandma always said if something doesn’t seem right trust your instincts. Every inch of Leah screamed that she was right on the money.”

You’ll have to read the book to see how this story plays out, but I’ll tell you this much -- Leah does the right thing!

The artwork by Julie Hammond is light and frothy in contrast to the dark side of life that we glimpse. You see the ocean breeze in the girls’ hair and the sparkle in their eyes. Their stylish summer clothes help lighten the evil lurking in the background. They’re ready for a fun vacation and maybe even an adventure.

This story has bravery, confronting injustice, and, yes, ‘tweens doing the right thing for the right reasons at the right time. For teachers and parents, this book addresses themes of social injustice, right and wrong, protecting wildlife, living in harmony with nature, decision-making, meeting challenges, and supporting your friends in trying situations. I wholeheartedly recommend this and all of Ms. McDine’s books for Tweens.

about      about                                      about

Donna McDine’s books are published by and available from quality online booksellers such as and More about Donna McDine at And more about Julie Hammond at
 Tags:  Chapbooks, Tweens, injustice, doing good, overcoming obstacles, doing the right thing at the right time, beached whale, beach, vacation, young people, helping friends