Journey

This is what happens . . .

when a writer drives home on April 17, grateful she’s wearing her winter parka and snow boots, sees truckers chaining up, and calls her husband from the entrance to the driveway to navigate the vehicle through the snow.

Snow is high and snow is low.

It’s hard to drive and hard to go.

Sun is bright and sun is warm.

When will it do that snow some harm?

Trees are bare but ground is not.

Hopes for camping are all shot.

Spring is here, or so they say.

I know it’s true though sky is gray.

Birds will sing and grass be green.

Blooms and bright leaves will be seen.

So now I wait here in the snow,

for spring will come View from our acreageand cold will go.

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Lions, Tigers and Bears? Oh, no!—Guest Post by “Astro’s Adventures” Author Susan Day

Insights into the role of animals in children’s literature, from Aesop’s fables to classic fairy tales to modern stories.

Susan Day SMILING FACES smallerHave you ever wondered why so many children’s books have animals as their main characters?

Now, we can look at Aesop. His fables go back thousands of years and are, of course, laced with naughty foxes, silly goats and cunning rabbits. They were created to teach his audience important lessons that would help them survive and become better people.

In stories such as “The Ugly Duckling” and even “Little Red Riding Hood,” animals play an important instructional role, representing the many sides of human nature. They can be mean and sneaky like the Big Bad Wolf, or naïve and vulnerable like the Little Duckling.

However, did you know that there are other reasons why children’s authors choose animals as their characters?

Many children’s books were created to help children learn more about themselves. They focus on values such as sharing, generosity, kindness and friendship. They aim to teach children how they can best shape their characters and be happier, well-rounded people.

No race, no culture, no color, no class

Can you think of a children’s book which has an animal as the main character? There are thousands available. Was the animal of a particular race? Did he or she come from a particular religious or ethnic culture? Did the animal have a particular skin color or come from a particular class?

It’s likely that the animal was blue or purple, or perhaps green, and that he or she had no particular race or ethnic background. And, that is the author’s intention.

Limited gender, too

All animals have a gender, they have to be either male or female. However, they are not defined by their gender. They have their adventure, solve the mystery, and face their fears as an animal first, boy or girl second.

Authors choose animals because they represent none of the things above. This allows the author to create a character which is immediately identifiable to any child who reads the story. The author can start with a clean slate, as it were, on which they can mold and shape the exact scenario they want.

Children need to read stories which touch their hearts and minds. They need to be able to say, “Yes, that’s me,” when they pick up a book. When the stories are about animals, the message isn’t cluttered by whether the character is a boy or a girl or what nationality or culture it might come from.

The story can simply delight and charm, and be owned by all of its readers across the globe because it speaks directly to them all.

Children need to read books which were created to meet all their needs. They need to experience the lives and worlds of others. The use of animals is a surefire way to cut through any aspects that might stop the child from immediately identifying with the characters and their stories. They won’t look at a book and see a child from another culture or the opposite gender, and think “That’s not me, I can’t identify with them.” They’ll look at a book with a rabbit on the cover and ponder, “I think and act like him. I have done silly things and wonderful things, too. This book could be about me. I could be a hero like this character.”

About the author – Susan Day

susan Day head shot smallSusan Day is a children’s author and writer. Her blog, Astro’s Adventures Book Club, is full of ideas and tips for grandparents, parents and teachers to support them in helping children become better readers. As well, Susan has created a guide to help grandparents build a more meaningful relationship with their grandchildren through their love and passion for books.

Susan lives in country Australia with four dogs, three boss cats, three rescue guinea pigs, and an errant kangaroo. And, apart from blogging, writing and reading, she loves coffee, painting and learning to box.

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Creativity, Literacy and an Extreme Cold Warning from Environment Canada

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By describing with words and also illustrating Bunny’s book-making process, the author gives readers a detailed how-to. They can see what materials Bunny uses, hear the story he makes up, and then imitate his process. Bunny smiles as he works, displays great “pride of authorship,” and delights at the reaction of his parents.

This is an excellent story for little ones! Not only does it emphasize the beauty of reading, but also the importance of using your imagination. Beautiful illustrations and delightful rhymes!

The author uses Little Bunny to show children how to deal with a disappointing situation by doing something to change it.

The themes of creativity and literacy are those I definitely want to promote to my children. I like the extra learning opportunities sprinkled in, such as teaching the days of the week and rhyming words, without the children even knowing they’re learning.

It’s been a fun ride, and the train’s just leaving the station. I’m happy with the illustrations, grateful for the reviews that are coming in, and looking forward to taking the little guy to more schools and stores.

One thing’s for sure–this is the first book I’ve used rhyme to sell. After placing it at our local Christian bookstore, I wrote this to a man I’d met at a market:

This little rabbit calls you “friend”—

you listened to his book.

And now it’s at the Shepherd’s Fold,

where you can take a look.

Our little friend is hopping into the hearts of librarians, teachers and parents even as he charms children. Readings in honor of Family Literacy Day have provided both promo opportunities and sales.

Now comes what has been the harder part for me–online sales. I’ve been pleased with the modest sales of Marie and Mr. Bee since it went up on Ingram Spark–especially since I’ve done no direct promo re that venue. We’ll see if Little Bunny fares well there, and if the reviews on Amazon lead to more sales there and on CreateSpace.

I’m optimistic about this little rabbit, with his enthusiasm for books and creative approach to problem-solving. Hopefully he will connect with many others wishing to promote these traits in their children, students and young library patrons.

And with an “Extreme Cold Warning” from Environment Canada today (they’re calling for a wind chill close to minus 40 tonight here in Northern Alberta), how very pleasant to read a story about an animal we associate with spring!

warm-and-bright-cold-night

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Little Bunny’s Own Storybook

These are exciting times! Tommy, Tina and Katie Kat of Scissortown, and Marie and Mr. Bee will soon be joined by Little Bunny. I’m working with an inventor(!) who has found an artist online that I think has done this rabbit family justice. Like Coralie’s characters in the first two books, Nataly’s work also conveys the gentle spirit of the story. (The text will, of course, be in the white space.)

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With lettuce for their salads and snacks,

and carrots for the next day’s pot,

the three continued down the path

to Little Bunny’s favorite spot:

THE LIBRARY

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But alas, storm clouds are churning on the horizon. This idyllic scene is not to last–for what is a story without conflict? Indeed, how can Little Bunny aspire to join Ulysses, Robin Hood, and Nancy Drew in the Heroes Hall of Fame without a worthy villain?

But the antagonist is not one you’d expect! For Little Bunny has no Trojan War to fight, no rich to rob nor Sheriff of Nottingham to evade, and no evil genius to bring to justice.

Indeed, Little Bunny faces a stealth adversary . . . .

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For who but a librarian, whether human or rabbit, could deliver such a soul-crushing blow to our little hero?

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Will our voracious reader munch on limp lettuce and decimated dreams until that wretched inventory is done? Or, like the fire that hardens iron, will this catastrophic event spur him to initiative and creativity? Will he slog through the slough of despair and emerge triumphant, ears erect and eyes gleaming with victory?

Watch this space.

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Gorgeous Reviews–and the Process

“Marie and Mr. Bee confirms again the power of great story-telling to open up our world, teach us, and help us grow.”   ~KAB

Regular Cover Marie and Mr. Bee

 

First, let me thank everyone who helped me choose the cover. What you see here is the semi-final one, and the slight changes (addition of a sticker to the Regular Version and a small change in the wording for the Proverbs 12:14b Version) should be done soon.

And now let me share a sampling of the gorgeous reviews Marie and her forest friends have garnered, and the process behind getting them.

Thanks to an engaging story, complemented by delightful illustrations, young readers will be so busy turning pages they won’t even realize they’re taking in some of life’s most valuable truths. All sorts of important ideas pop up while Marie and her friends play and work in the forest: the power of choice, the treasure of friendship, the capabilities of “disabled” children, what kindness looks like.   ~KAB

Marie and Mr. Bee is a powerful children’s story by Margaret Welwood that has many lessons not only for children but for parents and educators.  ~GB

It teaches children the redemptive quality of a good friendship and how to be a good friend by following Marie’s example.  ~DW

I love that the main character has a handicap, but doesn’t allow it to get in her way of accomplishing good and living life with purpose.   ~LP

Reminiscent of Aesop’s fable about the Grasshopper and the Ant.   ~BV   

I think this is the first child’s book I’ve seen where the main character is in a wheelchair (although not mentioned, just by the picture) showing that a handicap doesn’t necessarily keep one from chores and fun times. . . .The pictures are adorable and I like the way lessons are subtly woven within the story—temptations, friendships, compassion, forgiveness, restoration, establishing a strong work ethic, integrity, and building one’s own character.   ~TR

I highly recommend this powerful little book.   ~CA

Please check out more comments about the  Proverbs 12:14b Version and the Regular Version.

The process? It was–no, is–long. I still have more people to contact. No mass e-mails here.

  1. I sought out like-minded authors and book bloggers on Facebook and other social media. Facebook proved the most beneficial for this exercise.
  2. I (sincerely) Liked their posts, commented on them, and shared them.
  3. I asked for permission to send a free pdf, describing the story and, if approaching them on FB, attached a picture of the cover or one of the first pages. I didn’t usually ask for a review up front, but rather for permission to send the pdf for their “consideration for review.” I mentioned that the pdf was 24 pages, mostly pictures.
  4. If the person granted permission I sent the pdf, asking for a review “if you feel the story has merit.” (I didn’t want to create a sense of obligation in those I contacted.) The pdf was often attached to a former e-mail so there would be no surprises when it came. If the pdf was going to someone I met on FB, I started by thanking them for granting me permission to send it.
  5. I followed up those who said they’d be willing to post a review, letting them know when the book would be–or if it already was–on Amazon. This e-mail was also attached to the thread, to remind recipients what they had committed to doing and to give them another chance to open the pdf. (I’m still working through the list of pdf recipients who indicated a willingness to review.)
  6. I thanked the reviewers privately unless I didn’t know who had posted the review. Yes, we’re told not to contact reviewers, but it was important to me to thank the people who’d taken the time to give their support. I did not, however, argue or comment on any of the gentle criticism I received.

Lessons learned:

  1. People respond well the personal touch, and seem to know when it’s genuine.
  2. This is a good way to find truly interested and supportive online friends.
  3. Coralie’s art helped the process by both attracting people and arousing their curiosity.
  4. Parents and caregivers of children with disabilities want these children seen as working and playing, loving and learning like everyone else.
  5. There’s a lot of goodwill out there.
  6. It pays to listen to and learn from others. One kind editor advised me against the original title, Marie and Mr. Drone, and a FB poll proved him right. Almost everyone–including the children of a beekeeper– thought of drones as machines, even when they were looking at the book cover. And Literary Strategist Tom Blubaugh has taught me much about online networking. I have not only learned from him, but learned from him how to learn from others.

“No man is an island.”   ~John Donne          boats to island

 

 

 

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Please Help Me Choose a Cover

 

 

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George thinks he’s on to something. I think so too–he managed, after due consideration, to choose the same cover his three-year-old picked. Unlike her dad, however, May did not voice any thoughtful insights before diving for the picture of her choice.

This has been a fascinating journey so far–and it’s just started. Here are a few more highlights from my Help-Me-Choose-a-Cover campaign:

The acting children’s librarian chose the one he’d be “most inclined” to pick off the shelf, and three out of four other staff followed his lead–without knowing what he’d chosen.

I was intrigued by the intensity of emotion shown by the arts centre folk as they admired their favorite–they all liked the same one, and it was different from that chosen by most of the library staff.

One of arts centre people cares for a young man who uses a wheelchair. This kind woman has agreed to read Marie before it’s published with an eye to possibly endorsing it. Not always pleased with the way people treat her client, she’s looking forward to a story about a person with a disability where the disability is accommodated for, but not the focus. The animals help Marie, she helps them, and it all works. (“Until one day . . . .”)

I have at least one more library and one more arts centre on my list–we’ll see if there’s any consistency in the results. If so, perhaps there’s a trend to some kind of literary vs. visual arts split in cover preferences.

Next week I’ll be asking the kindergarten to grade twos, as well as the staff, at the after school care where I have a story circle. (Of course I’ll ask the children one at a time without letting them know how their classmates voted.) I THINK I know which one most of the kids will pick!

Cover A shows Marie and all her forest friends around the old oak tree. I’d originally hoped they could be playing tag around the tree–a popular pastime in Marie’s world–but that would have made for a much-too-busy cover.

Cover B shows Marie on a rescue mission. The workers have expelled Mr. Bee from the hive and Marie finds him languishing in the tall grass, hiding from the militant mavens of honey production.

Cover C shows Marie and Mr. Bee enjoying a game devised by my enterprising illustrator. (Don’t you love the game board?)

Which is your favorite? Please let me know in the comments below. And–if you could ask the children in your life for their opinions as well–I’d appreciate it very much.

Stay tuned.

 

 

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From Hero to Zero and Back–with a Lesson for “Has-Beens”

Jackrabbit

I’ve never much liked the saying, “Kill two birds with one stone.” It’s descriptive of course, but it also seems a tad brutal. How about “Pluck two blossoms with one snip?” or “Feed two kittens from one bowl”? Or even “give birth to twins”? (Don’t try that one at home.)

However we phrase it, I think Lucy Rozier’s Jackrabbit McCabe and the Electric Telegraph has done it. On the surface, it’s a highly creative tall tale historical fiction picture book. (Who knew there was such a sub-genre?) But I think it’s also something else.

Jackrabbit McCabe is a hero all right. The joyful, long-legged speedster fetches ol’ Doc Dobbins to patch up the overachievers in the Double Dare Ya Club, and rounds up every child and chick when twisters come barreling through Windy Flats. He’s a sure bet at the horse races, and he leaves locomotives in the dust.

But everything changes one day when the telegraph company shows up and the mayor proposes a race. In front of the good folks of Windy Flats and many more from miles around, in front of the brass band and his cheering family and friends, Jackrabbit loses—to a machine.

Any child who’s gone from hero to zero in short order, perhaps through the birth of an oh-so-cute sibling or the loss of a friend, should be able to empathize with poor Jackrabbit. Dethroned by a newfangled contraption and feeling “lower than snake’s navel,” our has-been hero takes the slow stagecoach home. Is there even a place for him in Windy Flats any more?

Here the story takes a most encouraging turn, as the mayor suggests that the owner of the speediest legs ever might just have speedy fingers as well—and with Jackrabbit’s help, Windy Flats is soon linked to the whole country by telegraph.

This is not only a fresh approach to teaching history to young children, it’s a lesson in bouncing back. Jackrabbit never will outrun electricity, but he uses his gift of speed to operate the telegraph for the benefit of the people of Windy Flats. Perhaps you know a child in a hero-to-zero situation who would take courage from this funny, engaging tale of a young man who bounces back.

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World Building for a Little Girl

An artist–with a delight in beauty and order and a gift for visual storytelling–fashions a world for a little girl and her forest friends.

Coralie and I looked over each other’s book dummies (the book printed out page by page and stapled together to give a rough idea of the finished product) on Friday. I wanted to see how the narrative for Marie and Mr. Bee flowed from page to page (I’d been warned about “plot holes”). Coralie was looking for consistency in her portrayal of the characters before she colors them.

2016-1-19 Page 2

 

As I looked at her pictures, something I’ve noted all along emerged more clearly than ever–Coralie is unifying the storyline through the art (and this may take care of any plot holes).

Note the stump to the left. As Coralie fashioned Marie’s world, she realized that the child (who uses a wheelchair) would have a hard time picking up sticks for her woodstove. Voilà!–the meeting place where her friends leave the firewood they’ve gathered for her.

On another page you’ll see both squirrels on the stump, preparing mushrooms to dry for the winter. (Interestingly, Coralie’s brother-in-law has a treasure trove in one of his abandoned outbuildings: a spectacular collection of mushrooms of various species and sizes, piled on the shelf and in the corners. Some enterprising animals should have a very good winter.)

See the branch Fox is carrying? She’ll use it to sweep her den. And Little Bear needs to dig roots before he plays with Marie.

Coralie recently added the picnic table where Marie and Mr. Bee will later play “Helper Bee,” a board game invented by our artist.

While assembling the pages, I reflected on Marie’s pretty, floral-patterned dishes, the floral sign with the same pattern over the cabin door, and her tidy cabin.

Beauty and design, functionality and order crown this little girl’s world (until, of course, Mr. Bee’s unseemly, batter-splattering invasion!). Marie really has it together–much like the artist. Our hero reflects Coralie’s love of beauty, design and order, just as she reflects my granddaughter Tina’s compassion for small creatures.

Coralie is careful to make the illustrations not only true to the characters, but to nature itself. The story takes place in the fall, when drones are expelled from the hive.  She suggested that Marie find the ailing Mr. Bee when she was picking cranberries, a fall fruit, rather than the strawberries I’d planned on. And at Coralie’s suggestion, asters, rather than the (springtime) daisies I’d originally planned on, set off fall’s gorgeous foliage.

We have a little girl of industry and compassion portrayed by an artist with a gift for visual storytelling and an interest in real-life accuracy . . . . I believe Marie and all her forest friends are in very good hands.

I’m hoping for a spring launch of Marie and Mr. Bee.

2015-10-26 Cover Working Copy

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Premie Poetry: Ode to a Tiny Granddaughter

To herald the safe arrival of Tommy’s new baby sister, I’m publishing my first ever poem to a premie.

newborn

You’re ever so tiny, impossibly cute,

Utterly miniature, very astute.

You know when it’s dinner; you know when it’s snack.

You’d charm the shirt right off a car salesman’s back.

We love you with all of your sweet winning ways,

And we know that we’ll love you for all of our days.

But always remember that God loves you more.

From before you were born until forever more.

stars

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Truth from the Trenches

leave me alone catleave me alone giant

“Leave me alone,” protests our sad little protagonist. “My problem is a giant So big he blocks the sun . . . .

A giant full of nasty words, A giant huge and strong, Who casts a shadow over me As dark as it is long.”

Kes Gray put this small sad rhyme into the mouth of the little boy before the current terrorist attacks cast their black shadow, but his message of despair still rings true. And, as many other fine picture books for children do, this story offers hope. Through the compassion, courage and initiative of the rabbit, the fly, the cow, the frog, the pig and others who inhabit his world, our young hero finds peace and safety.

After sharing hundreds of stories with children over the years, I’m now more fully realizing why I like this genre. Simply and cleanly, these stories affirm truths we learned as children—that we need each other, that meanies can very quickly become cowards, and that even the smallest of us has important work to do.

Are there stories and memories from your childhood that you draw on for courage in uncertain times?

 

 

 

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