Friday, December 30, 2016

Writing Our Lives

THE KNOWING BOOK is a wonderful story about life and living. This book lends comfort to the usual, the constant. The sky has always been above you, is above you now, and will always be above you. And then it encourages opening your door, stepping outside and experiencing the world. Don’t be too busy to slosh in a puddle, or fly a kite, or too important to pick up a lost coin or the common shell. The end of the story wraps you in the warmth of looking up at the stars which have always been above you, and always will be. 
With the new year approaching, I wanted to share this book to remind us all that each day can be a new adventure, one step at a time.

Perhaps your adventures will include the library where books, movies, music, and events are all just waiting to transport and transform. Or wandering around a park or neighborhood, making new discoveries around each bend. Possibly parachuting out of a plane, zip-lining, white water rafting, or traveling to other countries. Maybe making new friendships which start with a simple hello, and take us on a journey filled with shared laughter, tears, and memories.

Every day, every choice, we write our own lives.

For 2017, I’ll be writing in more friendships, love, stories, adventures, and continued health. What will you write for your life?

Cheers to exploring our worlds, and discovering more about ourselves.

#BoydsMillsPress  #RebeccaKaiDotlich #MatthewCordell #HappyNewYear #2017 #Resolutions 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Twelve Daves of December

Susanna Leonard Hill’s The Twelve Days of Christmas! Contest lured me in. How hard could it be? The challenge turned out to be a laborious climb up a steep and snowy mountain. But I managed to ponder, push forward, and play my way through, and came up with The Twelve Daves of December. I hope you enjoy my story, and long to be a Dave . . . having fun with friends, truly living life. 

Live life. Be a Dave.

The Contest:  Write a children’s holiday story using the basic format/concept of The Twelve Days Of Christmas!  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 300 words. 

191 Words

Twelve little Daves gather for fun on the twelfth day of the twelfth month.
12 little Daves clip clop about, catching snowflakes on the end of their snouts.
11 little Daves squeal peal downhill, sledding hog wild for a wintry thrill.
10 little Daves swish sway a slope, skiing over bumps like antelope.
9 little Daves pack stack the snow, forming mighty forts, tough as buffalo.
8 little Daves duck chuck snowballs, whizzing frozen spheres up and over fort walls.
7 little Daves knick knock on doors, singing off key about snowflakes galore.
6 little Daves pit pat snowpigs, adding coal eyes and multi-colored wigs.  
5 little Daves hip hop along, hoofing nature’s trail full of beauty and song.
4 little Daves sip slurp cocoa, warming up from inside out, and head to toe.
3 little Daves splish splash the scene, scooping up, and munching on snow cone cuisine.
2 little Daves stride glide a pond, skating and falling right into a yawn.
1 little Dave chill frills alone, strutting back home with a secret all his own.
I enjoy being a Dave . . .
but I’m really a Jerome!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving Thanks That All Are Welcome

Strictly No Elephants
Author: Lisa Mantchev & Illustrator: Taeeun Yoo
**As seen on EasternPennPoints Blog (Eastern PA Chapter of SCBWI)**

Strictly NoElephants, written by Lisa Mantchev and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo, is a poignant story about friendship and fitting in. A boy and his pet elephant are off to the Pet Club. But when they arrive, they find a “Strictly No Elephants” sign hanging on the door. They are not welcome.

Turns out, they aren’t the only ones. They find a girl and her pet skunk who aren’t welcome at the Pet Club either. Together they create a club where their sign reads “All are welcome.”

This story touched my heart, and I could easily think of a million ways others could relate. Everyone wants to feel included. Everyone needs friends to lift each other over cracks, coax each other along, brave the scary things together, to never leave one another behind.

As Thanksgiving approaches, this story made me think about my ever growing children’s book writing world where the sign always reads “All are welcome.” I’m so thankful for that.

I’m grateful for the shared knowledge, opportunities, and camaraderie from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), The Highlights Foundation workshops, Writers Digest online workshops, KidLit Facebook groups, and my two amazing critique groups. And the never ending support of friends and loved ones. Especially my fiancé and first editor, Allen.

I’ll be keeping Strictly No Elephants and its ever important messages of friendship and inclusivity close to my heart as I munch on my turkey dinner, mingle with friends and family, write my stories, and walk amongst the wonderful variety of people in this world. Will you join me?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Highlights Foundation Workshop: Perfecting the Picture Book Text

L to R: Anne Marie Pace, Kristy Dempsey,
and Kathy Erskine
Workshop Leaders and Authors:
Kristy Dempsey and Kathy Erskine
with Special Guest and Author: Anne Marie Pace

I worried that this, my second Highlights Foundation workshop, would not live up to my first experience (Picture Books & All That Jazz) BUT . . .

There is a special magic in the air at the Highlights Foundation Barn, in the beautiful surroundings, and in the food. The type of magic that encourages leaps in learning, sparks new ideas, sets pens and keyboards in action. The kind of magic that creates a sense of camaraderie, compassion, friendship.

The Barn: a beacon in the fog.
Our workshop leaders, Kristy, Kathy, and Anne Marie, shared their expertise on picture book concepts. Such as: generating new ideas, first lines, story structure, language, character, and voice. They talked about illustrations (including whether to art note or not to art note), revision, and publishing. We received one-on-one and group critiques, in which we received lots of priceless feedback!

AND . . .

·         We toured Highlights Magazine, and met with Boyds Mills Press assistant editor Cherie Matthews.

·         We learned tips from illustrator Lori Richmond and Bloomsbury Publishing editor Brett Wright, and chatted with them over breakfast and lunch.


·         We Skyped with authors, glimpsed their lives and methods, and received their books!

o   HeidiStemple: You Nest Here with Me

o   TamekaBrown: My Cold Plum Pie Bluesy Mood

o   KellyStarling Lyons: Hope’s Gift

o   LindaUrban: Little Red Henry

o   KatyDuffield: Loud Lula (Though a Skype visit was scheduled, Hurricane Matthew blew those plans away.)

·         We Skyped with an agent, discovered what agents do, what they look for!

o   EmilyMitchell: Agent with Wernick and Pratt

·         It’s always heartwarming to connect with fellow workshop attendees. Like Mark Malcolm. His sense of humor. His voice and intonation. His love of words and people (minus bullies). His impromptu kazooing. His ability to create entertaining poetry in minutes. He, alone, made the trip worthwhile.
·         AND the food! Amanda and Alison delivered again. Always a variety of delicious, nutritious cuisine. One morning Kent Brown, Jr., Highlights Foundation executive director, held open the egg and the bacon container lids for me. During our stroll towards the gluten free bread, he told me that my picture was in the kitchen and did I want to see? Turns out that all of the attendees’ pictures and names, and food allergies hung in the kitchen for the staff to reference. They take food issues seriously and work hard at creating meals to meet needs and satisfy all.

So was this workshop worth its cost and my time? Did it meet my expectations? Yes, yes, yes, and so much more. In addition to all the wonderful experiences listed above, there’s also an energy one gets by being around others sharing the same passions. Since I’ve been home I’ve revised stories, and poured out new ideas. And did I mention we get to send manuscripts to the agent and editors we met during our workshop? Yes, worth so much more.

Our Workshop Treasures



Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Writer's Point of View

At the top!
On Sunday, Allen and I went for a heart-pounding, challenging hike. Or, as one struggling hiker called it, torture.

About half-way up the mountainside we took a break to let our hearts catch up, and eat a snack. As we sat there, a family of three hiked back down past us. We chatted, learned we had survived the roughest part of the hike, and they continued on. It wasn’t until they were farther down the trail, that I noticed the twenty-something’s prosthetic leg.

The hike, like life in general, is all about the perspective, and the determination from within. Some of us have to work harder, push more. It may take longer to reach our goals, but we can make it if we don’t conjure up excuses, and if we don’t give up.

Allen and I were a wee bit excited to complete the hike!
I can honestly say after completing that heart-pounding hike that the more difficult the challenge, the more exciting and rewarding the victory.
Now onward and upward with my writing . . .

Monday, September 26, 2016

Counting Crows Review

by Kathi Appelt
illustrated by Rob Dunlavey

I'm not usually a fan of counting books, but the cute cover design and clever title captured my curiosity.  I brought the book home.

I've opened it more than one, two, three times. Why? The rhythm and rhyme of the words and the jingle and jime of the illustrations pair up perfectly as though they were created by a single person.

The counting follows the cool, sweater-sporting crows through a day of snacking, hopping, singing, flocking. On it goes all the way to the end where danger lurks close by, and off the crows fly.

Counting Crows is candy for the eyes and ears. I'm indeed a fan.

#Counting #Book #PictureBook #Crows #KathiAppelt #RobDunlavey

Friday, August 26, 2016

There’s a Giraffe in My Soup REVIEW

Author: Ross Burach

A little restaurant patron has a BIG problem. He’s got a giraffe in his soup. And then an alligator, and an elephant, and a . . .

The hilarity continues as the waiter tries again and again to serve up soup to his hungry customer. And then sends him running out the door from a free dessert.  

There's a Giraffe in My Soup serves up illustrations just the way I like them: colorful, fun, and a bit outrageous. This savory book leaves you feeling full of giggles, gasps, and wonder. And wanting more.
More is coming from Ross Burach in February 2017:  


Both being published by Harper Collins.
#RossBurach #PictureBook #HarperCollins #KidLit #Review

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Cow Who Climbed a Tree AND Other Ways to Kick Doubt Out

**As seen on EasternPennPoints Blog (Eastern PA Chapter of SCBWI)**

I’ll be in the middle of writing and I’ll get this unwelcome visitor called Doubt. *sigh* And this visitor asks all kinds of annoying questions. Can you write? I mean really write? Will you ever be published? What are you doing? Are you wasting your time? Should you keep plugging away?

And so if you’ve ever experienced a Doubt visit, you’ve got to read The Cow Who Climbed a Tree by Gemma Merino. To discover Impossible! Ridiculous! Nonsense! is absolutely possible. Even when there’s a ton of naysaying from your herd or in your own head.

Matt de la Peña is proof. He received the 2016 Newbery Award for Last Stop on Market Street. His acceptance speech mentions Doubt. Here's an excerpt:

This job can be a lonely, lonely ride. And there are moments when it’s nearly impossible to maintain a belief in yourself. Ninety-nine percent of the time the words don’t seem quite good enough. Or the characters don’t seem quite real enough. Or, worst of all, you don’t feel quite talented enough.
So how can we kick Doubt out? These are the branches I climb:

·         I’m open to learning. I read, read, read. I attend workshops. I'm a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writersand Illustrators (SCBWI). And I'll be chairing/co-chairing a new SCBWI picture book critique group in Mechanicsburg, PA (interested? contact me at:

·         I surround myself with positive people. I can’t imagine life without my loved ones and friends cheering me along the way.

·         I have reminders in my environment. Like these words on my wall:
    Make your Magic = write.
    Be Grateful = I take a moment of each day to acknowledge people/things in my world for which I’m genuinely thankful.
    Believe = that my goals of publication will happen.
    ·         I keep healthy. I walk. Run stairs. Take time to enjoy life. Adventure. And eat right as much as possible.

   ·         I practice, practice, practice.

Have you used these Doubt busters? Do you use other ways to kick Doubt out? Please share in the comments below!

#SCBWI #NewberyAward #MattdelaPena #GemmaMerino #amwriting #kidlit #doubt  #picturebooks #GetBrave #LiveLife

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Max the Brave Review

by Ed Vere

The cover of Max the Brave worked like a magnet, pulling me in. And then I opened the book and learned that sweet-looking Max doesn't like bows, and I was totally hooked.

This fearless kitten chases mice, but since he's never seen the rodent, Max is on a quest to find one. He asks every critter he encounters --from a fly to an elephant-- if they are a mouse. Each time Max is told no, but that a mouse just passed by. So Max continues on his quest, always seemingly one step behind his prey.

There are some twists and turns in this cute and fearlessly brave story where sometimes mice are monsters.

#MaxTheBrave #EdVere #BookReviews #KidLit #PictureBooks

Saturday, June 18, 2016

2016 Highlights Foundation Workshop: Picture Books & All That Jazz (PB&J)

Leslie Helakoski, Darcy Pattison, Kelly Bennett
DarcyPattison & Leslie Helakoski


JAZZED. That would be me after attending the PB&J Workshop.

Our group of about twenty writers toured Highlights Magazine which is celebrating its 70th year! We learned how to make submissions, and were encouraged to do so. Then we walked across the parking lot to Boyds Mills Press. There, Cherie Matthews, Assistant Editor, gave us priceless information about their inner workings.

I became teary-eyed grateful for this opportunity as we weaved through the Pennsylvania countryside towards the Highlights Foundation’s campus. When we pulled into the driveway, I felt as though this was where I was meant to be.

The Barn.
Darcy and Leslie made us feel welcomed. We ate dinner. And then we dove right into writing lessons. A mere two hours later, I sat down in my comfy, cozy room, took out my manuscripts and eww, eww, ewwed all the way through. Which did not feel so comfy and cozy, but made me realize that this was exactly where I needed to be.

Over the next few days we learned how to generate valid story ideas. We learned how to harvest words and place them properly into stories. To create pitches for agents or editors, and keep our focus while writing. We learned about structure, voice, rhythm, and editing. And so much more.

My brain operated at full speed. Learning and writing was all I wanted to do. I hardly slept. And I LOVE my sleep. One morning I awoke with a jolt at 4:17 with an idea bred from a newly learned technique. I grabbed paper and pen, and feverishly wrote.

I treasured being immersed in writing, elbow to elbow with peers sharing the same passion. We celebrated accomplishments. We supported each other through the joys and pains of becoming better writers.

Back at home, I missed that camaraderie. But not for long. Lindsey, one of the other attendees, started a private Facebook group where we continue to share in one another’s journey.

Jazzed Jeanne
Thanks to PB&J, I am equipped with valuable knowledge, an even stronger desire to write, and have a support group. JAZZED. My only regret is not taking this workshop sooner!


·         FOUR priceless critiques!

·        Getting to know our intelligent, patient, and kind instructors.

·        Meeting and listening to Kelly Bennett, Kelsey Murphy, and Tim Gillner.

·         Distractions were at a minimum.

·         The gracious and generous staff.

·        And oh, the food! I’m still savoring the apple chutney pork chops and that wild rice dish, and the specially made gluten-free peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies! Mmmm . . .

WHO SHOULD ATTEND? Everyone interested in writing picture books. All levels.
HOW TO PREPARE? Read, read, read classics and newly published picture books.
WHAT TO BRING? A laptop, one or two of your favorite picture books, imagination, and your passion for writing. Of course clothing and toiletries are helpful, too.


#Workshop #Highlights #PictureBooks #WritersLife #Author #GetBrave #LiveLife

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Little BIG

by Jonathan Bentley

So glad I ignored my first assumptions about this book. The title Little BIG made me think that the pages inside would be filled with dull comparisons of littles versus BIGS. BUT . . .

Little BIG is really a heart-warming story about a younger sibling who longs to be big like his older brother. And yet he realizes the privileges of littlehood. It's that lifelong pull of wanting to grow up, and yet longing to be forever young.

Love the way the story weaves back and forth between little and big, and ties itself up with the perfectly little ending.

And have I mentioned yet that the illustrations are wonderfully adorable? They're part of the magic that brings me back to turn the pages again and again.

The only thing I'd change about the book is its title. How does If I was BIG Like a Monster sound?

#JonathanBentley #KidLit #PictureBooks #Books #LitteBIG #BookReview #Review

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Last Chocolate Chip Cookie

by Jamie Rix
Illustrated by Clare Elsom

Every time there's the last one of anything, I experience this twinge of guilt as though I should offer this last whatever to everyone and anyone before I devour it. And now I may understand why. . .

Just as Jack is about to grab the last chocolate chip cookie, his mom snags him. She makes him offer the cookie to everyone else first because it's the polite thing to do.

So off he goes with the cookie in his pocket and a little resentment in his gut. But he does what he is told and makes his rounds from his brother to the Mexican baker with a mustache on his face to Splagly the alien in outer space.

Well, Splagly looks at Jack and decides he looks like a tasty morsel. But before the alien could woof down poor Jack, Splagly's mom snags her son . . .

In the end, there's a tasteless twist.

The Last Chocolate Chip Cookie is a cute story with colorful, inviting, and fun illustrations.

#KidLit #JamieRix #ClareElsom #PictureBooks #ChocolateChipCookies

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Turnip

Written and Illustrated by Jan Brett

Turnip fan or not, The Turnip is an entertaining story about being in the right place at the right time. 
The story begins when Badger Girl discovers an enormous turnip in the garden. However, she nor Badger Boy, nor their parents, or any of the passers-by can pluck that turnip from the ground. That is, until Rooster struts along after narrowly escaping the cooking pot. He gives the over-sized turnip a good heave-ho at the same moment the bears living beneath the vegetable give it a good push to remove it from their bed. Rooster gets the credit as the turnip is finally set free. 

All are happy as Mother Badger declares there will be turnip pancakes browned in butter for all. And as everyone is enjoying the feast, Father Badger declares Rooster, who proved himself useful, has a new home.

 As always, Jan Brett's detailed and darling illustrations add to the magic of her books.

#JanBrett #KidLit #PictureBooks #Turnip #TheTurnip #books #review #bookreview 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Nerdy Birdy Review
Written by AaronReynolds
Illustrated by Matt Davies

Ever felt different? Ever want to belong? Then you’ll enjoy Nerdy Birdy.

Nerdy Birdy has big glasses, extra small wings, a birdseed allergy, and enjoys reading and video games. He feels different and alone, cast aside by the cool birds, until his peeps – a whole flock of nerdy birds just like himself – invite him to be friends. But when he wants to include another loner to the group, the nerdy birds refuse because the new guy is different. Nerdy Birdy is confused, and chooses to leave his flock to keep the new guy company.

This book teaches kids to be inclusive. And that seeing differences is okay, but seeing similarities? Even better. 

#KidLit #PictureBooks #MattDavies #AaronReynolds #Books #Reviews