Princess to the Rescue


The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry (Robbie Burns)


Driving into town, I consider my plan. I’m going to read the grade two to fours a funny story, then complain that there’s something missing from my new website–their stories. I’ll tell them I’ll be back next week with another story, and will give them flyers telling them how to submit their stories for my site.

Hmm. The book isn’t where I thought it was. Oh yes, now I know. It’s at home waiting by my office door.

With no time to go back, I decide to present The Lady or the Tiger?, with abject apologies to Frank Stockton.

“A long time ago in a land far, far away, there lived a king and queen [I choose two royal volunteers to stand sedately] and their beautiful daughter, the princess [a forest of hands shoot up, I choose the third royal].

“In those days, like in some countries today, princesses fall in love with princes. That’s it. And princes fall in love with princesses.

“But this princess fell in love with THE GARDENER [a gardener steps forward and proceeds to dig in the classroom floor]. And he fell in love with her.

“Every night she went out to her balcony and threw down a rose [a marker flies]. The gardener held out his arms [he does this] and the princess jumped into his arms [I decide against this].

“They walked in the garden and sang love songs, and he gave her beautiful flowers. They made plans to run away and get married.

“Then, as the sky turned pink in the morning, the princess climbed up the ivy to her balcony, went into her bedroom and went to sleep. When the Queen woke her up in the morning, she wondered why the princess was so tired.

“But one night when they were walking in the garden, a guard came! [Enter guard, feet stomping, pencil for a sword.]

” ‘ I’m going to tell your father!’ he yelled.

The princess cried [good job, Your Highness] and begged, ‘Please don’t tell my father!’ ”

” ‘I’ll give the freshest vegetables in the garden,’ offered the gardener.

” “I only like meat!’ thundered the guard, and he stomped back to the palace to tell the king.

“The king was so angry. His face turned red, then white. ‘Go to your room,’ he thundered, ‘while I think about your punishment!”

If you have read this famous story, you know that the commoner ends up in the arena. Behind one door waits a hungry tiger, and behind the other waits a beautiful lady, ready to wed the commoner. The hapless gent must choose one door without knowing what’s behind it. The princess, however, knows which door hides the lady and which hides the carnivore.

She signals subtly to her love, and without a moment’s hesitation he opens the door indicated and sees . . . .

That’s where Stockton ended his story, and I end my version there as well.

The children supply the ending, with the lady getting the most votes. And, in perhaps a comment on the times we live in, two of the children propose that the gardener first marry the lady, then divorce her and marry the princess.

As I’m about the leave, the after school care Writer in Residence (she puts her stories in booklets and reads them to the kindergarteners) tells me that her story for me is in the computer.

In the hallway, the Princess has me pose while she quickly does my portrait in coloured pencil.

Creativity brings a special joy, one which our Creator has chosen to share with us. I am grateful.



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A Beautiful Idea for Children’s Book Writers

swim duck

On the surface it’s a cute story about a duckling who doesn’t want to get wet–until he tries swimming and finds out that he likes it.

The kindergartners enjoyed helping me complete the rhyming couplets, and both they and nine-year-old Tina lit up when they saw the photos.

But I think that for those of us who write books for children, it’s much more than a cute, beautifully illustrated story. Author Susan Lurie says, “I fell in love with this little duck the moment I saw him in Murray Head’s photograph. He looked determined and defiant, and I recognized that look. . . . And that is where the story starts.”

From the photographer: “Take the time to know the subjects, focus only on them, be patient, and don’t intrude.”

The ducks are not forced to do anything uncomfortable or unusual; I see little sign of stress or human interference in the photos. Rather, the story is superimposed on pictures of ducks doing their thing in their natural habitat. This gives us not only an interesting writing challenge, but a lesson on using nature for our own creations without causing discomfort.

I plan to build May’s alphabet book around the pictures, but had not thought of using nature photos this way.

Do you see elements of nature you could use to produce a picture book?

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All 737 Are Hers


In light of Tina’s sometime aversion to putting pencil to paper (unless she’s drawing), I choose my words carefully. Would she like to enter a story contest? The librarian says I can type it if all the ideas are hers.

Absolutely! She shows me two that are already underway. The one about a dog has some writing, courtesy of the neighbour girl who served as a scribe, and the one about a cat has some exciting illustrations. Tina’s proud of her surprise picture, and I think I see the influence of some of the excellent picture books she’s enjoyed.

Armed with supper and fuelled with enthusiasm, she talks while I type. Only infrequently does she ask me what I think happens next, to which I answer, “I don’t know.”

Not a problem. The story starts out as an archetypal “Animal Finds a Home” story, with strong elements of “The Ugly Duckling.” Add an ocean cruise, intense dialogue and splashes of humour–and Tina has her very own 737-word story.

Which brings me to remember once again that we’re all individuals. There’s a place, and it’s a prominent one, for doing what we’re told in school and completing assigned homework. But there’s also a place to put creativity on cruise sans control and let imagination run free.

I’m glad I get to be there for that part.

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A Winning Old Door, and an Open Door for a Little Girl

stories door 2

Bright Day 1

warm and bright cold night

Thank you, everyone!

You chose “What stories lie beyond the door?” as my #1 entry to the photo contest. It was followed by “Winter sunshine and shadow” and “Warm and bright on a cold winter night.”

Here are your votes, by category of voter. Some voted for more than one pic, more than one person in a category voted for the same pic–it’s all good.

G+ friends: 3, 4, 1

Other friends: 4, 3

Artists: 1, 3

Family: 2, 3, 1

#3 also had the most interaction–even people who didn’t vote tried to answer the question! I find it interesting to speculate how much effect the caption had on the votes. Two kind friends suggested I edit out the pointy-headed photographer’s shadow (no, they they didn’t actually say that :) but you can see the difference here:

No one chose #5, “Protected and cared for in the cold.”

Protected and cared for in the cold

This did not surprise me as I do not really think it has much artistry, and it’s missing the lovely light of the top three. But it did garner the most +1s (equivalent to Facebook Likes). I actually put this one in as a tribute to farmers who care for their animals, and the approvals and kind comment indicate I may have succeeded there.

We’re allowed to enter three photos, and I’m eager to send off your choices.

Little May should be here by next month, and I’m eager to start snapping pix for her very own alphabet book.

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A One-of-a-Kind Book for Tommy’s New Sister

The Reason: Little May has been in foster care since she was a baby. She’s almost two years old now, and our daughter, Lisa, and her husband, George, are waiting expectantly for the adoption to be finalized.

The Vision: I want to make a book that will help to anchor May to her new home and family, as well as help her big brother, Tommy, with his project. A book lover himself, eight-year-old Tommy wants to teach May to read!

I see an alphabet book, loosely structured, and using phrases and sentences. For example:

A a
May has an alligator book.

C c
The cat lives downstairs with Emma.
The new baby has a cradle.

R r
Tommy is reading May a story.

I would use a plain font, and there would be photos to go with each sentence.

Here’s where I’m asking for your help. There’s a County photo contest which I plan to enter. All contestants get some free prints at a local photo shop. Having entered what I feel is a fair effort, I want to take the free print voucher to the photo shop and get the pictures for May’s book printed there.

My themes for the contest are winter, beauty and gratitude.

Could you let me know if you think any of #1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 might be of interest to the judges?

Please vote for one or more photos, or if none appeal, #6 (keep trying!).

Bright Day 1

#1 Winter sunshine and shadow

footprints past

#2 Footprints from the past?

stories door 2

#3 What stories lie beyond the door?

warm and bright cold night

#4 Warm and bright on a cold dark night

Protected and cared for in the cold

#5 Protected and cared for in the cold

Thank you for your help!

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Was Sun Tzu a Literary Strategist?

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. (from The Art of War by Sun Tzu, c. 500 BC)

After acknowledging that we don’t really like to think of other authors as competitors, my g+ friend and Literary Strategist Tom Blubaugh asked me to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of my three biggest competitors.

It’s an interesting assignment. “Competitor” almost sounds like “enemy”; that’s certainly how Sun Tzu would have seen it. So, apparently, do some hockey players–and some young hockey players’ parents. But I think of Heather, a sales rep for a large publisher, who asked her company’s permission to allow me to share her table at a trade show. They refused, but I was touched by Heather’s kindness. My one book was clearly not going to crowd out the hundreds of titles she can order, nor would it have detracted from her lovely display, but the point is–she saw me as an ally.

But we’re competitors, too. A customer with only $10.00 to spend on a paperback will buy either mine or one of Heather’s, not both. So Tom’s suggestion is an invitation to think about why someone might choose Scissortown over one of Heather’s books, and to build on that.

I started with the Berenstain Bears. Coralie and I had poured through some BB books when she was illustrating Scissortown; here’s what my research turned up now:


*A beautiful and interesting website that includes activities for children

*Many, many titles

*Choice of Christian or secular stories

*Choice of formats—p-books, e-books, apps, a recordable book and DVDs

*Choice of levels—stories written at a “regular” level, and those written for emerging readers

*Wide choice of retailers

*Charitable giving

*Related products

*All titles on the first BB page of Amazon have 4-5 stars

*High Best Sellers Rank relative to comparable books

*Over fifty years of success

On a personal note, my nine-year-old granddaughter enjoyed these stories years ago–and she still does.


That’s a tough one. I was on page 3 of google before I got to anything negative. Only one of the (fairly sparse) negative comments resonated with me: the older books often portrayed Papa Bear (and by extension other papas) as a buffoon. That had troubled me too, and I believe the newer books are an improvement.

Although the adults in Scissortown clearly need the children’s help, my intention was not to portray them as fools–and hopefully I haven’t.

An additional note: Scissortown does not appeal to people like the woman I met who does not want her children to read fantasy. I suspect that she would not like talking bears, either.

So does that put Tommy and Tina on a level playing field with the bruins?  :)

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Why Do We Write?

A dolphin family adopts an orphaned baby whale. Harrison excels at playing Capture the Flag and blows impressive curtains of bubbles. All is well until he notices that his fins are a different shape, and his skin is bumpy while the others’ skin is smooth. Perhaps he doesn’t belong after all . . . .

In the white space between this paragraph and the last one, you’ve no doubt guessed that Harrison’s mom and dad set him straight. But I doubt that you’ve guessed HOW author/illustrator Sharon Dallaire uses a universal symbol of love to make her point. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like this simple but powerful illustration.

All the proceeds from the sale of A Heart for Harrison go to support an orphanage in Haiti, which brings me to a question—why do authors of children’s books write the stories we do?

I can think of a few reasons: we love children, we love stories, we want to entertain, we have values and faith to pass on, and we need to make a living.

I love to entertain children, and I want to make a living.  After I read A Heart for Harrison to the kindergartners at Sunday School, I gave them a sneak preview/live book trailer of my own book, Scissortown. They enjoyed, as most children do, my demonstration of Tommy’s mom breaking off pieces of gooey birthday cake (all the knives had been buried). They were intrigued that the nefarious Slicers and Dicers had put the children’s pictures in a blender—and happy to hear that I’m to return another day and read that story.

But most of all, I’m a fan of “lesson stories,” as my granddaughter Tina calls them. I want the good guys to win, and to do so by making good choices.

My overarching reason for writing is to share my faith in Christ and my values.

How about you? If you had to choose one reason above the rest, what would it be?

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Four Lessons from a Nine-Year-Old on Writing Picture Books

1. After she’s done some of her “official” homework, Tina produces her “other” work: a book of paper of various colors and a two-page spread of pencil drawings. “I’m going to write stories about dolphins,” she announces. But when you’re in grade three, getting things down on paper can be pretty tedious. With the creative juices coursing through her veins and the two-page spread of main characters beckoning, Tina hands me paper and a pencil.

“You can write your ideas,” she announces, and then tells me hers.

I understand her conundrum. Tina knows it’s polite to listen to others, and there are times when she thinks I have good ideas for stories–but this isn’t one of them. I faithfully transcribe her ideas, adding one or two of my own with permission.

Lesson: When the ideas come, get them down however you can. Czech composer Antonin Dvorak wrote notes to himself on his shirt sleeves, some writers today use voice recognition software, and, if you have one, an indulgent grandma may be the wisest choice.

2. I’m impressed with Tina’s teachers. Not only does Tina have a solid foundation in phonics, she has a highly developed sense of what a story is. Tina has learned that every story needs a problem, and as we study her drawing, her main characters’ problems emerge and intertwine.

Then she tells me we’re going to mix the colors, and shows me Eric Carle’s beautiful book Dream Snow. And when she writes her story, she’s not going to simply place the text at the bottom of the page (how plebeian would that be?). She’s going to sprinkle the text here and there–artfully, like her mentors.

Dream Snow

Lesson: Take your craft seriously, and learn from those who know.

3. “This is boring!” I’m a little hurt. We’ve been reading a story about a small animal rescue, a topic near to Tina’s heart, and she doesn’t want to finish it. Why not? It’s at her level . . . and that’s the problem. It’s an easy reader, with controlled, repeated vocabulary, and simple sentence structure–and it doesn’t SOUND right to Tina. (I’m actually a fan of easy readers, but in this case it wasn’t working for Tina.)

Lesson: Read the story out loud to someone who will give you honest feedback.

4. I’ve watched some videos on bower birds and written what I feel is an engaging story about a little girl, her friend, and a thieving member of this fascinating avian family. But the ending is hard. Maybe I could leave it kind of open? Tina and I read the story, and she’s intrigued all right. She enters in, marveling at the tricks our heroes play on the villain until . . . what? I stopped the story there? Even after I’ve put her to bed, Tina is finishing the story. Her ending is most satisfying. It not only ties up the loose ends, it demonstrates our male hero’s commitment to and compassion for his lady friend.
Lesson: Don’t skimp on the ending, or your granddaughter may be tired for school the next day.

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Three Books, Many Messages

w cat

Eight-year-old Tina likes to see the books I read to the kindergartners at her cousin’s after school care. This time she’s particularly taken with Wilderness Cat and Clancy The Courageous Cow.

Wilderness Cat highlights God’s provision to a pioneer family–through their faithful cat. Most young children–Tina and the kinders included–like animals, but this quiet story held them all particularly enthralled. I think they strongly identified with the heroine, who obediently but with great difficulty gave her beloved cat to a neighbor before the family began their 50-mile trek to Canada.

Life was hard that winter, especially when Papa came home empty-handed from a hunting trip. There was a catch in my voice when Serena offered Mama her own dinner, and Mama refused. That night, Serena dreamed she heard her cat crying. Or was it a dream? She opened the door to find that her pet had not only returned, it was dragging a snowshoe hare with it. A feast followed, as well as a promise from Mama that they would never leave their faithful kitty behind again.

There’s nothing quiet about Clancy The Courageous Cow, and nothing subtle about its messages. Tina leafed through the book in the car, studying the pictures and announcing the very clear “lessons”: God made us all different and we’re all the way we’re supposed to be; just because someone is different, we don’t have to be mean; and even when others are mean to us, we don’t have to be mean to them. I have no idea whether author Lachie Hume would have attached the spiritual emphasis to the first point that Tina did; it is, of course, a reflection of Tina’s faith and the teachings of her mom and the school.

Which brings me to Scissortown and the fascinating reactions of the adults who read it. Stay tuned!

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Peek-a-Boo Round the Pillar and an Airport Book Sale

The little one-year-old on Dad’s shoulders shrieked with delight as Mom disappeared and reappeared around a pillar in the airport.

When the dust had settled, I offered Mom a little “coupon” that I give out to parents and caregivers of little ones:

Free E-book
How to Prepare Your Young Child for Success in School

A grade two teacher as well as a parent, she was interested in the content of the book: stimulating language development in children pre-birth to four years old.

I asked if she’d like to see Scissortown, and found that she, like many others, was happy to support an author directly as well as to buy a bright, colorful storybook for her little one. This simple scenario represents my absolute best way to make sales—one on one to parents and grandparents of little ones.

Second best are local venues like art shows and farmers’ markets, followed by sales in local stores. (Shipping charges make stores out of our area reluctant to carry the book.)

Internet sales are not going well, but I’m hopeful that will change with the enhanced e-book and a video.

So—when I started this blog I said I’d tell you what works and what doesn’t, and here you have it: for the paperback, direct, one on one sales, often preceded by a gift, work the very best. And—they’re so rewarding and so much fun!

When the enhanced e-book is up, I’ll tell you how that goes. My experience will be different from that of many indie authors because I fear the giant, and do not want to deal with Amazon. Said giant can most certainly thrive without me—and I hope to do well without it!

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