Friday, March 22, 2019

World Water Day -- Perfect Picture Book Friday


Today is World Water Day. 2019 Leaving no one behind.

watercolor of a glass of water sitting in grass with flowers by S. Tobias

This is a perfect picture book for World Water Day, environmentalists, farming, sustainability, and caring for our earth.

I am Farmer Book cover by Baptiste & Miranda Paul
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40899042-i-am-farmer
I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon by Baptiste and Miranda Paul is a book about clean water, gardening, and making the world a better place. It is a book about a man who took what was considered a derogatory nickname, "Farmer", and turned it into a life changing grassroots effort sowing the seeds of a better world. 

As I sit at my computer in my home, a glass of clean water at the ready, I think about why people in the United States should care about reading this book. We have drinking water, we have farms, and food is readily available. Yet, this is not the full truth.

Water testing in local schools showed high levels of lead in many of the sinks and drinking fountains. Thankfully, the facilities and operations department took steps to keep children safe and remove access to the faucets and fountains that were a problem.

Flint Michigan suffered a horrible water crisis that is still not fully resolved. Even if the water is safe, there are trust issues that leave the residents fearful and hesitant to drink the water.

Droughts in the US impact millions of people every day. 

We can learn how we can improve the world from one man's grassroots efforts in Cameroon.

Farmer Tantoh always loved working in the dirt. He wanted to be a farmer. After he recovered from Typhoid fever which he contracted from drinking unclean water, his mission expanded to ensure that others would not suffer as he did. 

This book takes a child into the dirt, offers a broader understanding of the world beyond their neighborhood, and offers actions that children and adults can take here and abroad. If that's not enough, there are more lessons in this story. When you know who you are and what is important to you, you don't care about being teased and given a silly nickname. You make it work for you. You follow your dreams and do what you believe in.

This poetically written biography/call to action makes a wonderful read-aloud. Liz Zunon's collage illustrations are bright and beautiful using photographs, cut paper, watercolors, and hand lettering. Zunon also illustrated Miranda Paul's One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia Both of these books would be great to share any day of the week.

In 2005 Farmer Tantoh, started the Save Your Future Foundation. Check it out. You can help locally and globally.

Want to learn more about gardening with kids? https://kidsgardening.org/gardening-basics/

Planting Trees: https://www.usgs.gov/science-support/osqi/yes/resources-teachers/

Spring tree and flower crafts: https://handsonaswegrow.com/spring-art-projects-for-kids/

Become and Environmentalist now: https://lookforlittlehelpers.com/2018/04/16/environmental-service-learning-projects/

And if you want more perfect picture books check out Susanna Hill's Perfect Picture Book Friday post.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Happy Pi Day -- Story, Drawings, Books, and a Recipe

Hooray for Pi Day! 3.14159 . . .I admit it took me a long time to understand the very basics of Pi. But I can now use it to figure out the circumference of a circle and the radius or diameter of a circle of any size.

If you want to know the diameter of a Maple tree to figure out if it's large enough for tapping for Maple Syrup, Pi will help. Just measure the circumference of the tree and divide by pi. (3.14159 . . .)

Not sure of  the circumference of your hoola-hoop? Measure the diameter and multiply by pi.

What I like the most about Pi Day is that it uses math and strives to make it fun. . . and tasty.

This year, I am wearing my Einstein shirt not because he invented Pi, he didn't, but today would have been his birthday and he did some pretty cool stuff and had some wonderfully creative thoughts and ideas.

He said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." He believed that we need to go beyond our collection of knowledge and come up with new ideas, thoughts, and possibilities.

So I took these two ideas and used my imagination to write a 50 word short story for a writing contest called 50 Precious Words, put on by Vivian Kirkfield.

Here's my story:


The Pi(e) Problem: an ala mODE to Pi Day
By Sarah Tobias, 50 precious words
My mathematician parents fill their office with equations. They mutter, “Could pi be the solution?” Aha! I've got it! I measure, mix, roll and stuff then wait by the oven. Ding! It’s done. I cut. I plate. I carry it to their office. “I hope this pie solves your problem.”


And I created three little Pi Cartoons.

Pumpkin Pi image

Pecan Pi Squared

Cloud Pi (A cloud shaped like the symbol pi for two squirrels)


If you would like to read and learn more about Pi check out this blog post of Science Books for Kids for a list of books.

If you are in the mood to do a little Pie baking, I can recommend this yummy Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. It's almost pie, just no crust. I have swapped out the fruit and used apples too. Delicious!

Well, there you have it. Happy Pi(e) Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Valentine's Day: A Tiny story and Some Book Recommendations Too

Take heart, Valentine's Day is only a day away. This post offers loads of valentine stories to read and share. 

First, it's time for Susanna Hill's Valentiny Story Contest. For the full details check out her blog post. There you will also find links to all the 214 word or less stories submitted for the contest. Take note that each story includes someone feeling guilty since that's one of the rules of the contest. 

Here's my story:


A Valentine for Mom

When things don’t go right, mom fixes it by saying, “I’m sorry, honey.”  

I used my savings to buy her a box of Valentine candy. I remove the plastic wrapper to show off the flowers and ruffles. Mmmmm, the chocolates smell so good.

Just a peek. There are so many. I shouldn’t. . . Just one taste. I’ll move them around, so she won’t notice. Leave the heart shaped one. This one's small. 

Chomp. Ew! Coconut. 

Mom hates coconut. What if they're all coconut?  I’ll just check one more to see. Creamy pink. A little lick.  Raspberry! Heavenly. Push, shift, move. You can hardly tell that I took two. I'll hide it my desk.

Shift, shift. Oops, let me fix them again. She’ll love the one with the little flower. But what if it’s coconut? I better check. Maple. Yummy. It would be wrong to leave it with a hole. Better eat it.  I MUST LEAVE THEM ALONE! . . . I can’t. I break them all open. What am I going to do?
I sit at my desk and write. 

To Mommy, 
This heart is pink. 
I spent my money. 
I ate the candy. 
I’m sorry, honey.

I put the poem in the box and take it down to dinner.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And now for a few books you can read for Valentine's Day or any day. They are full of heart.

Book Cover for The Visitor by Antje Damm
The Visitor by Antje Damm
Elise is afraid of everything. One day a paper airplane flies in through her open window. A boy comes to retrieve it, and Elise's life begins to change. There is no pushing or prodding to develop a friendship. It all happens naturally. I just love the illustrations with childlike drawings in a one room diorama. Another book that would pair well with this is Mem Fox's, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge.


Book cover for Perfect by Max Amato
Perfect by Max Amato
The eraser likes to make sure the pages stay clean and white. Pencil has a different idea. 

I think I like this book so much because it reminds me of my childhood with my sister. She was the eraser and I was the pencil. Yes, I messed with her and I liked having of stuff around. One time after a snow, I wanted to play in it, she wanted to shovel it all away. I got in the way of the shovel and had to have stitches. Eraser gets a bit dirty, but no stitches in this book. Another reason I like this book . . . the illustrations. They are simple, but unique and would encourage playing with art.

Cover art for Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Julian and his grandma go swimming every Saturday. On the bus, Julian sees three mermaids. He loves mermaids. In the pool, he imagines becoming a mermaid. At home, he gets creative. When his abuela sees him, she knows just what to do. This story of acceptance and love is beautifully illustrated from cover to cover.

Cover art for Love, Z by Jessie Sima
Love, Z by Jessie Sima
A little robot named Z discovers a bottle with a note inside. All that he can read are the words, Love, Beatrice. Little Z goes on a journey to find Beatrice and learn what Love is. Sima's soft and bright illustrations really bring this sweet story to life and give Little Z the real meaning of the word Love. She is also the author of Not Quite Narwhal and more. 

Happy Reading and Happy Valentine's Day!

Do you have favorite stories you love to read at Valentine's Day. I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The End and The Beginning

I have been preparing and moving toward a lot of change this past year. I began the year participating in Julie Hedlund's 12 Day of Christmas for Writers. It begins the day after Christmas and goes for . . . 12 Days. I am ending the year preparing for 2019 with the same program. (You can too, just follow the link) Last year, I decided my quote or theme for the year would be: Does it Move Your Story Forward?


This theme had a double meaning for me. In writing it meant, do the words and images move the one important thing about the story forward? In life, Am I doing the things that help me to move my life forward toward my writing and art dreams and goals?

By holding to my theme, I gave myself permission to say no or to delay doing things that didnt move my story forward.

It also made it easy for me to join and participate in new classes and activities. I joined the 12x12 Challenge. I began attending SCBWI Illustrator's Group in Illinois. I participated in Tara Lazar's Storystorm and created a long list of story ideas, and then participated in ReFoReMo which helped me get into the "reading lot of picture books" habit. These activities took a lot of time and focus. They really helped me stick to my theme for the year.

I had decided with my husband that I would retire from Library work at the end of 2018. (You can retire from the work, but you are always a librarian.) When the end of last school year was approaching, my husband said, "I reviewed the numbers and I think you should retire now." That was too fast for me. There were only a couple weeks of school left, I wasn't 100% sure I was ready and I needed more time to think about it. So I didn't retire. The school year came to an end, I was writing and beginning to make more art, I took a drawing class and a watercolor class. I was feeling the contentment and bliss of making art. I also felt the stress and pain of not being perfect at my art. But, the bliss was winning over. I was ready to move forward full-time into my new career. I decided that I would go back to work for a couple weeks in August so that I could have closure and say goodbye to all the students before entering this new phase.

It's funny, I was scared. I was afraid that no one would care that I was leaving. The people who cared the most were the students. There were some adults who lamented that I was leaving, but they don't react the same way that kids did. The last day was SOOOOOO hard. I cried over and over again. I received so many hugs, and many sweet notes. One girl brought me a small gift. The day ended, the kids went home (I did a cartwheel for the kids waiting for their rides.) And then it was over. Just like that boom, the end.

Thankfully, I had a plan to keep moving forward. I was already working on my writing, I signed up for two consecutive watercolor classes, and took a 4 week poetry writing class. And . . . I had my theme.

I had an amazing year. I wrote 13 picture book drafts. A lot of garbage that will never see light of day, but also a few that I think are gems in need of polishing. I wrote a middle grade scary story that I love and shared with a former student whose mom told me he was in love with scary stories. (A goal is to figure out where this story might go in the publishing world). I received an honorable mention for a 100 word scary story I wrote for Susanna Hill's Halloweensie writing contest. I wrote a whole bunch of poems during my poetry class and actually had 10 that were worthy of submitting for publication.

Then I joined the Storyteller Academ and took Arree Chung's Making Picture Book Stories and Dummies. I loved the class and weekly meetings and discussions. I am still working on revisions to my story for that class and am enjoying making dummies. I can't wait to get started with more classes at the end of January.

As I was writing this post, I was thinking that my theme for 2019 would be: Less is More. I'm not sure that will fit at the beginning of this year as I plan to participate in the 12x12 challenge again, I have signed up for Storystorm, and then there's Storyteller Academy. We shall see. There's a few more days in 2018 and no rule that I have to decide before 2019 begins.

How was your 2018? Can you remember the good stuff that happened? I'd love to hear about your life progress. Do you have a theme for 2019?


Please know that my year was not perfect, and there were many things that slowed down my process requiring me to change focus for a while. What I am most proud of is that I was able to re-focus and keep moving forward.

Happy End of 2018! Cheers to 2019!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Dancing With the Night


Dancing with the Night
By Sarah Tobias, 100 words

Trick-or-treating has ended for another year.
I shiver. More than the chill in the air.
There is more to this night.
From my window, I see a red glow from the cauldron fire.
Silhouettes dancing in the woods.
Throwing my cape over my nightgown, I sneak out and join them.
Song fills the air:
The moon, the stars, the night.
We leave the earth behind.
Oh wayyyyy, Oh wayyyy. Ohhhh aaaa.
Frenzied dancing.
Brooms come alive and lift us toward the moon.
Howlllling A woooooo!
I wake as dawn is breaking.
I shiver, wondering how I am back in bed.

Happy almost Halloween.

To find and read more Halloweensie stories, follow this link to Susanna Hill's Blog.

So proud to be able to say, this story won an Honorable Mention for "Best Description/Mood Piece" Here's a link to all the winners!


Friday, October 12, 2018

Six Ways to Get Rid of Your Parents

As a writer, I spend a lot of time reading. I read to see what others have written, to gain an understanding of how a story was put together, to see the story arc, and to keep up with stories that are being published.

Recently, while working on a story where I wanted to include a father and son relationship.  It's a story about a rogue cloud and as I head toward the ending, it becomes a big boring didactic mess.

I have heard before that you need to get the adults out of the story to allow the child to solve the problem. But, I kept wondering how do you do that when the story is about family teachers.

So I read. I read picture books with families and teachers in the stories. I discovered that you can have family stories and get rid of the parents in a variety of ways. Here is what I discovered.

1: Turn them into Children.



Arree Chung's Ninja: Attack of the Clan is a story about family. Maxwell wants to play, but his mother is too busy, his sister says no, and then his dad says yes, but not really. Maxwell is in charge of his world, but in the end, family does come in and play. It's just that they let go of their adult selves and let their inner child shine.

2. Be brave, and let the child go.


Miranda Paul's new book which will be released on Tuesday, October 16th, the parents allow Mia to "move out," so she can discover the things that are truly important to her. When I read an ARC (Advance released copy) of the book, this was a very poignant moment for me. I thought about how hard it would be to let your little girl go off and make her own discovery. Many parents would be too afraid to let their child go, but it's those times of letting go, where everybody grows.

3. Just stay in the background.


Spencer loves books. His mom and dad read to him every night. When his books begin to disappear, his parents don't get involved. They let Spencer go off to solve the mystery and come up with a solution on his own. OK, so this might be the same as letting your child go, but it's on a different level as the parental stakes aren't as high. So in my opinion, it feels more like knowing that they are in the background rather than letting their child go.

4. Go off and do your own thing, and let the child do theirs.


This is much easier to do when you are an anthropomorphized cloud. Claudette has bigger clouds in her life and they invite her to go and do big and important things. She is not ready to try those things, but she does want to do something special. Claudette is blown away in a storm and her journey to make her mark takes place when she is on her own.

5. Give up on the kid.

Rufus' parents are worried that he won't survive in the big cruel world so they send him to The Big Bad Wolf Academy. All the other wolves do as the teacher tells them, But not Rufus. The teacher teaches all the other wolves, but doesn't spend much time on Rufus. Of course, in the end Rufus is the one to save the day when the hunters come.

And the 6th way: Just don't have them in your story at all. 
Squirrel and his friends Hedgehog and Bear wake up to spring. Hedgehog falls in love and squirrel helps hedgehog win the heart of the lady hedgehog. There are no adults in this story, just childlike animals on a Don Quixotesque quest.

So as I writer, I am learning that even if you have a family story, somehow you need to get rid of the parents so the child can solve the problem. If one way doesn't work, then try another. On my cloud story, Carrie Charley Brown, founder of ReFoReMo, suggested in her wonderful critique ninja critique on 12x12, that I try reworking the story without the father. It has taken a lot for me to let go of the father. A new attempt moved the cloud to cloud school with a teacher, but right now, the story is using "way to get rid of your parent" number 6. No adults allowed. I am not yet sure this will be the right path for this story, but I am learning a lot about getting rid of parents, the dangerous didactic woods, and the importance of rewriting your story.

So if you are a writer and struggling to keep your parents from taking you into didactic woods, you may just want to get rid of them in one way or another.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Banned Books Week



I have often struggled with Banned Books Week. Not because I believe in banning books, quite the opposite. I believe everyone has the right to read what they want to read without fear. My issue is that often the public is confused by the the name of the week. When I worked in the public library, a regular question about a banned books display was: Are you banning these books? This year, I feel that theme really says what is meant by Banned Books Week.

When we ban books, we silence the stories of others, we halt learning, we say to someone who isn't just like us that they are not worthy of sharing their story.


With a book, you have the opportunity to see yourself, to learn about others, and to imagine a different world. When we say we don't want a book in a library because it says something we don't like, we are saying that it's my way or no way. We have shut off our minds and imaginations to the rest of the world. It's funny because in a library there are thousands if not millions of books. Not one of them has a requirement that you choose it, read the whole thing, or tell anyone else about what you read. So why should we care if a book that we don't like is on the shelf? If you don't like it, don't read it. Simple as that.

But . . .

If you are the kind of person who understands that books can provide you with new viewpoints, teach you about things that you don't understand, then pick up that book that is not in your regular reading wheelhouse and read it.

This summer, I read George, by Alex Gino
You can buy this book or check it out from your local library

It is the story of a 4th grader named George who is realizing that she identifies as a girl. She knows she has male body parts, but everything inside her feels feminine and female. This book has been banned because it talks about this topic to middle grade children. The thing is, being who you are doesn't wait until you are an adult. Being who you are is hard even when your body matches what your identity as you approach puberty. I couldn't image what it would be like to identify as a male in my female body until I read Gino's book. What I liked about this story was that I was immersed in George's world as she figured out how to be herself. I felt her struggles. I learned from her family and friends. I gained hope that other children who are gender identifying differently from what their body shows, have encouragement to be who they really are. I feel that I learned how to be supportive to a person as he/she/they find themselves.

This past year, I received a grant from the school foundation to purchase books on diverse themes for my elementary school. I am so thankful that this grant was funded, it allowed me to build a better broad collection for the students. It was so much fun to buy books that have the ability to excite and offend people. The selection was broad to introduce children to other cultures, sexual identities, and physical and mental abilities. It was also a little bit scary as I made my choices because these are the books that are most likely to be challenged by people.

I will go back to where I began. There are no rules you must follow in your reading selections from libraries. If you don't like it, quite reading it. If it scares you, maybe it's worth looking into more deeply, there is likely something there that you need to learn about. Just because it's not for you, doesn't mean it won't be loved and special to someone else.

I have seen time and time again, the bigger the stink you make, the more others will make a big deal on the other side to make sure that all voices are heard. Back in the day, Are You There God, It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume was being banned because boys shouldn't read that stuff. Really?!! Judy Blume wasn't writing this book for boys. The only reason boys started reading the book was because their parent made a big stink about it. Maybe, just maybe, they began to understand girls and what they were going through in middle school. Or maybe it was there George. 

To learn more about Banned Books Week, follow this link.