Gratitude

November is a month to think about gratitude. One definition of gratitude that I like is: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.  I like thinking of gratitude as a quality; something we might have in us all the time, not just when a moment calls for it. And I like the idea of returning kindness. When we receive a kindness, we might not be able to “return” it to the person who bestowed kindness on us, but we can return it to the world by being kind to someone.

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Next week we will travel to our daughter’s home in Kansas and share Thanksgiving with her, her husband, our son and his family. I am thankful we are able to have this time together, that we can afford to travel and that food will be plentiful, that their house will be warm, and there will be clean running water. I look forward to the conversations and laughter that will be shared and to the wonder that will come in seeing our grandchildren, observing their minds growing right before us.

For many this holiday will not hold joy and warm feelings. Many do not have the basic needs of life, others face a holiday without loved ones. May those of us who can, return some kindness into the world this week. Maybe it will find someone in need.

Peppermint Chiffon Pie is often served on Thanksgiving (along with Pumpkin Chiffon). Both pies are family recipes and made often as you can see by my well loved recipe card! This pie and yummy and pretty!peppermint chiffon

Hint: Nabisco Chocolate Wafers are usually found by the topping for ice cream sundaes

The family that reads together…

We know children learn by watching the adults in their lives. When they are small they mimic our behavior, good and bad. When they are older they may try to reject the behavior we model but that can prove difficult to do! Have you ever said or done something, good or bad, and thought I sound just like my mother or father.

So as National Family Literacy Month begins it we should consider how important it is to model reading for our children. I grew up in a house where reading was valued. Books were given as gifts, trips to the library were frequent, and those who could, read to those who were too young. My mother read fiction. I can still see her crying one evening as she read. And I still remember the book, Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn.  She showed me that it’s ok to get lost in a book, to respond viscerally to words, and to learn from them. My father was more a nonfiction guy. He read the paper and magazines. I still recall the stacks of National Geographics that he poured over and used to show us the world was a much bigger place than we could imagine.

This love of reading continued in the home I shared with my husband and our two children. Books were everywhere in our house, even in the bathroom. The Reader’s Digest Magazine lived in the bathroom too and was a source of jokes and information for all! We read together as a family at home, in the car, on vacation. Books were given and shared.

We still give books (all those gifts under the tree are books!) and talk about books even though we are all adults. And from Great Gramma (my mom) on down, we are sharing this love of books, modeling it for the next generations. May your family be so lucky as to pass a love of reading from generation to generation. The wealth of that inheritance is beyond measure.

Find additional resources for National Family Literacy month here.

Run away home?

Have you ever wanted to run away? Maybe you are thinking, YES, just yesterday when the work was crazy, the car needed an oil change and the refrigerator had somehow eaten all the food and was wanting to be filled AGAIN. 

Now you do remember wanting to run away when you were a child? I think most children do at some point.  The injustices of childhood loom large.  Everything happens above you. Decisions big (we’re having another baby) and small (blueberry yogurt instead of cherry) are made without you.  Just when you are in the middle of something important (the biggest block tower ever) it’s bedtime, and it seems the rules are constantly changing (don’t lie, unless the neighbor got an ugly haircut).

In Noisy Nora, by Rosemary Wells and A Baby Sister for Frances, by Russell Hoban the main character feels ignored and replaced because a new sibling has arrived.  And Max in Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak has suffered the injustice of being sent to bed without any supper.  And so, they run away to escape. In my book, The Day I Ran Away, Grace feels she’s been wrongly banished to her room and packs up to run away only to be thwarted by the fact that she’s not allowed to cross the street. 

As a child I remember one time packing my little suitcase and heading down the road (I actually just went next door), but mostly when I needed to “escape” I picked up a book.  When the weather allowed, I took my book to swing under a willow tree.  Books allowed me to forget my problems big and small and they gave me examples of how others solve their problems.

Being a child or a grown up can be difficult.  Wanting to run away may just mean we need to escape for a bit so we can face our problem with fresh eyes. And when we return we might hope a good dinner is on the table!

Grace comes home for Spaghetti and Meatballs, her favorite! I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s her favorite because it’s a family favorite often requested when my kids are returning home.

In honor of Pasta Day (yesterday) this month’s recipe is early!

The Niner meatballs and sauce recipes. Be sure to use the slider to see both!

Illustration Notes-Yes or No?

An often-debated question among authors, is whether to put illustration notes in a manuscript or not. The most common advice is to use them sparingly and only when they are necessary for the editor/agent to understand the story.

You would not specify the color of a character’s clothing unless it matter to the story. For example, in a work-in-progress, Chicken Little’s Grade-A Idea, I included two illustration notes. The first (show billboards) indicates what Chicken Little is pointing to as he suggests something they could do to get people to drink more milk. The other was (Cows Lose Their Jobs), referring to what the headline of the newspaper Chicken Little reads should say.

Normally I add very few illustrator notes. First, I hope my words evoke the images and secondly, I trust an illustrator to bring the words to life by adding their vision. But there was one time I should have added a note.

When I submitted No More Noisy Nights to Shari Dash Greenspan at Flashlight Press, her initial decision to reject it was because she was picturing Jackson as an adult. As you see in this email excerpt.

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I say I was picturing Jackson as an animal. This is a way children can explore adult behavior by using animals as main characters. But sure, I’ll rewrite.  So, I rewrite it with Jackson helping his grandma move.

But, she doesn’t like it.  And she begins seeing Jackson not as a person, but a mole and a matter of a few minutes the tide turns and Jackson is closer to finding a home at Flashlight Press!

 

 

So, lesson learned. If I’d specified that it was an animal, not a human, maybe a mole we might have saved time. EXCEPT, there was value in my rewrite as each thing we write improves our writing. It also gave Shari a chance to see my ability to take editorial comments and work with them.

snoopy-writer.

A Rewrite for the Illustrator

This month I’m looking at how authors think about illustrations as they write. I CAN’T STOP: A STORY ABOUT TOURETTE SYNDROME leans more toward the illustrated story side of the spectrum. You could read the text and know what is happening without the pictures. But the pictures help bring a challenging subject to younger readers.

I am not an illustrator. So, I look forward to the sketches to see how an illustrator “sees” my story. For this book the illustrator, Meryl Treatner used models for her illustrations. When I received the sketches there were many things I liked, but I felt that some of the children looked older.20210615_144252 As written the final pages of the book took place during recess. The text was:

One day at recess, Nathan and Josh saw some kids whispering and laughing. “Those kids better stop.” Josh was mad.

               “This is a funny tic.” Nathan laughed. “I call it ‘the chicken’.”

               Josh smiled. “It does look like a chicken, but they shouldn’t make fun of you.”

               “They don’t bother me,” Nathan said, getting in line for the tornado slide. “Not with a friend like you.”

The final page showed Nathan going down the slide. The text:

               Nathan sat at the top of the slide. “Look out below!” He closed his eyes and pushed off. He was a marble rolling down the slide, heading for the bowl. He knew that the tics were part of him, but they wouldn’t always get in the way.

               “Watch out, tics,” he thought. “You don’t stand a chance.”

The children who were making fun of Nathan looked too old to be in elementary school. The editor did not want to ask the illustrator to redo those illustrations as she would have to pay new models, so I was asked to rewrite the ending.20210615_144243

               One day on the way to the soccer field, Nathan and Josh saw some kids whispering and laughing. Josh was mad. “Those kids better stop,” he said.

              “This is a funny tic.” Nathan laughed. “I call it ‘the chicken’.”

               Josh smiled. “It does look like a chicken, but they shouldn’t make fun of you.”

               “They don’t bother me,” Nathan said. “Not with a friend like you.”

The final spread showed Nathan kicking a soccer ball.

During the game, Nathan took a shot and watched the ball fly into the net. As the kids cheered, he grinned.

               He knew that the tics were part of him, but they wouldn’t always get in the way. Watch out, tics, he thought. You’re not the only moves I can make!

At first I wasn’t happy that I was going to do a rewrite, but making a book is a collaborative effort. So  I did a minor rewrite to accommodate the illustrator, and once I did, I decided it made for a stronger ending anyway. What do you think?

Will you be my pen pal?

As you may have gathered I love the Peanuts comic strip. I’ve been reading it since I was a child and was sad when it ended. Shulz had recurring storylines and one I’ve always enjoyed was Charlie Brown writing to his pen pal. Sometimes the humor was about  Charlie Brown’s use of pen vs pencil, but sometimes Shulz conveyed profound thoughts.

I think Charlie Brown was on to something. A back and forth of letters allows us to learn about each other, to share things we might not be comfortable saying out loud. And the more we know about someone the easier it is to understand them-to not hate them.

Charlie Brown’s pen pal was in another country, but pen pals in our own country might help us overcome our differences. I love the idea of students writing to other students. It works on writing skills, communication and social skills. It could be in the same district, town, state or different state or region of the country. Sometimes we forget how much we have in common.

I’m thinking adults need pen pals too. After all children are more likely to do as we do! To that end I write a letter to my grandkids each week. At age 2 and 5 months they don’t write back yet, but I hope someday. I know we’ll learn a lot about each other that way.

Here’s a book showing the benefits of a school-to-school pen pal project.

Dear Dragon
By Josh Funk
Illustrated by Rodolfo Motalvo
2016 Viking

Two teachers announce, in their respective schools, a pen pal poetry project. Students write to each other all year . In June there will be a picnic where they will meet. George is a human and Blaise is a dragon, but they don’t know that. When each receives their letter they picture what is happening from their perspective. So when the dragon mentions skydiving the human pictures himself with a parachute. Before the picnic they decide to keep writing to each other. At first they are surprised they are different species, but then friends. That was the teachers plan all along!

If you start a pen pal project I’d love to hear about it-and you!

Travels

Memorial weekend may find many traveling this year as vaccinations are allowing us to visit with family and friends. (Please get vaccinated! Please continue to mask up where appropriate.) We will be traveling 10 hours to Lawrence KS to spend time with our daughter and her husband. They moved there a little over a year ago as the pandemic was changing our lives. This past year even families that lived in the same town weren’t visiting, but somehow having our daughter 10 hours away instead of the previous hour and a half felt worse. For them it meant moving with no in-person good byes to family and friends, no going away parties. And the pandemic made getting acquainted with their new town and making new friends difficult. I’ve mentioned before that books are an integral part of our family, so it was fun to hear that Beth and David started a book club. Just the two of them! I love it and it will be wonderful to see them, their home and their new life, and discuss books.

When I visit our kids I usually bring some kind of baked goods. Eating together was also a big part of our family! So the recipe for today is one that my sister made MANY years ago. Since then, Chocolate Chip Apple Cake is often requested and loved by all!

A Little Love for Teachers

My elementary school. New Windsor, NY

Do you have a favorite teacher? There are teachers I remember even though decades have passed since I was in their classroom. I think the best teachers help us see the joy in learning and the benefits of knowledge. They see our potential and help us see it too. No easy task.

Teachers aren’t drawn to the profession for the money! Because we certainly don’t pay them what they are worth. I think most want to make a difference. To see a face light up when they’ve reached a student. It’s always been a difficult profession. Teaching a group of individuals, while figuring out how to reach each one takes skill.

In the decades since I was in school the world has changed and those changes have increased the challenges our teachers face. And on top of that the impact of the pandemic students, their families, their communities has added challenges and stress we will be measuring for years.

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And so I want to say THANK YOU to teachers past and present. The future of the world truly is in your hands as you teach each generation. (No pressure!) I hope, as a nation, we soon recognize that investing in education is integral to our country truly having “liberty and justice for all” and being a country where ANYONE can achieve their dreams.

And to celebrate…
a couple of books!

20210420_160553Dear Dragon
By Josh Funk
Illustrated by Rodolfo Motalvo
2016 Viking

Two teachers announce, in their respective schools, a pen pal poetry project. Students will right to their pen pals all year but it must rhyme. In June there will be a picnic where they will meet. George is a human and Blaise is a dragon, but they don’t know that. When each receives their letter, they picture what their pen pal is talking about from their own perspective. So, when the dragon mentions skydiving the human pictures himself with a parachute. Of course, the dragon is flying! George and Blaise enjoy writing to each other so much that they decide they will continue after the project is over. They can’t wit to meet at the picnic. When they meet, they are hesitant at first since they are different, but all the pen pals soon become friends which is what the teachers planned all along. (Teachers are smart!)

This is a sweet story about looking past physical differences.  I love the idea of letter writing and pen pals. It’s a wonderful way to get to know someone. As Blaise writes, “Who’d have thought this pen pal thing would make me a new friend?”

20210420_160732Because I Had a Teacher
Kobi Yamada
Illustrated by Natalie Russell
Compendium, 2016

A quiet tribute to all the teachers in our lives. The simple text and quiet illustrations show what kinds of things we learn from teachers. Things like that mistakes are part of getting something right, that there are different ways to be smart, challenges can be fun. Most important, it concludes that “because I had you, I learned to believe in me.”

Better Speech & Hearing Month

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This week I’m putting on my other hat! It’s Better Speech & Hearing Month and I’m a speech therapist. Most people have some idea of what we do but most don’t know the full scope of our profession. We need a more encompassing name because speech is on a part of what we do. We work on speech and language disorders in adults and children. Fluency disorders, including stuttering. Voice and resonance disorders. Swallowing disorders in adults, children and infants. Cognitive-communication disorders including social communication skills, reasoning, problem solving, memory and executive functions. Accent modification for ESL speakers. Both speech therapist and audiologists work with people with hearing disorders.

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Being able to communicate want and needs, to socialize and interact with others is an essential part of living. Most of us take this ability for granted. It is what makes us feel connected to our life, our families, our world. It is also how we feel in control of our life. Think about a child as they learn language. Very early they learn the power in words-particularly NO. They learn that if they call you, you come. Remember you couldn’t wait to hear mama or dada and later you wished you could change your name?

Speech therapist try to find the key that makes communication a reality for each person they work with. The client or patient, and often their families, are partners in this quest. Everyone has work to do. Communication is a two-way street. Sometimes when we see someone struggling to communicate our first instinct is to talk for them. Sometimes that’s ok, but most of the time what is most helpful is to show patience as they communicate in their own way.

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Eating is another ability we take for granted. It is also essential to living not just because it fuels our body, but it also connects us with others as we break bread together. For some the ability to chew or safely swallow food is compromised. This can affect people of all ages and the causes vary, but speech therapists work to help clients consume a diet that will sustain them and give them pleasure. You may be asking, why a speech therapist? We are uniquely qualified because the muscles, structures, nerves we use to eat we also use to talk.

You can help

If you know someone who has difficulty communicating ask yourself,

  • How would I feel if that was me?
  • Would I want to be ignored or acknowledged?
  • How would I want to be treated?
  • Can I change how I’m communicating to help them?
  • Are there other ways I can communicate-a smile, a touch?

And of course, a book!


A Boy and A Jaguar
Alan Rabinowitz
Illustrated by Catia Chien
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

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A real-life story with powerful illustrations about zoologist and conservationist Alan Rabinowitz. When Alan was a boy, he was a severe stutterer. His father often took him to the Bronx Zoo because he loved animals. And when he talked to animals he did not stutter. He decides he will be a voice for animals so they aren’t misunderstood like he is. While his family tries to get him help it is not until he is in college that he receives the help he needs and becomes a fluent stutter. Now he can speak, but he says, “I can speak but nothing has changed on the inside. I still feel broken.” So, he goes to nature, where he is at home and studies animals. He studies jaguars in the jungle. He works to get protected areas for the jaguars. He uses his voice to speak for them and the result is the world’s first and only jaguar preserve. He sits with a jaguar and thanks him because he is now whole and at home.

Dr. Rabinowitz has a Q&A about cats on the jacket. He is an advocate for stutters and feels his stuttering put him on the path toward his passion so he credits it.

So if you see a speech therapist or an audiologist this month ask them about what they do and thank them for helping others in their quest to communicate and break bread with you!

Screen-Free??

When my children were young the only screen we had to worry about was the TV. And since we didn’t get cable, the few channels we got weren’t a big problem. But now, as my children raise their children, screens are as much a part of our lives as a refrigerator. Let’s face it, we are all addicted to them. So a screen-free week might be impossible, but maybe intentional screen-free time can be achieved with some planning.

Hide the screens

If you wanted to have an ice cream free week, you wouldn’t keep any in the freezer, so when it’s screen-free time put the screens out of sight. Tablets, iPads, laptops, e-readers, phones-put them in the closet. You could even cover that big screen TV with a white sheet and do shadow figures!

Stock up on substitutes

If you are trying to keep away from ice cream or some other not good for you food, you stock up on food to replace it. So if it’s a screen-free evening plan what you’ll do instead. Will it be board games, crafts, baking, hide-n-seek, a hike to look for birds or pick up trash (hmm-screen-free and doing something for the environment!).

My favorite substitute

AND of course I think books are a wonderful way to fill screen-free time. I read to my children daily, often several times a day when they were young. The picture book age saw us snuggled together on the couch or a bed. Or sometimes at the table while they ate. When we moved on to chapter books and novels, they’d each stretch out on a couch and I read from my comfy chair. And, though not daily, we had a book we read together through middle school. We explored places, topics, feelings, fantasy worlds and had discussions.

A book to get you started

Old MacDonald had a Phone
Written by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Tony Ross
Andersen Press, 2021

To the tune of Old Macdonald we learn about a farmer and his smart phone. When he drops it in the lake he orders another one online and buys a hundred by mistake. All the animals take one and suddenly “Nobody would put them down so nothing else got done.” So the farmer takes the phones and locks them in the shed but the animals are mad and still do nothing. Finally his son suggests they use them sensibly. SO there’s a farm meeting and the creatures all agree. Humorous illustrations of animals doing all sorts of people-things with and without phones. A reminder that phones are good, when used correctly!

One more thing…

If you do pass some screen-free time reading, take a picture because it’s Get Caught Reading Month! More about that next week and a book giveaway!

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