Thursday, December 6, 2018

Susanna Hill's Holiday Hero Writing Contest

Here I sit on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, and all I could think about this morning was if I would be able to get the Internet working so I could post my holiday story. The ocean is beautiful and there is plenty to do on board, but I love stories and can't wait to share mine and read all the other stories written.

Happy Holidays!


It's another wonderful writing Contest from Susanna Hill. It was so much fun to write my Halloweensie stories back in October. It helped me fall back in love with Halloween. This time, it's about Holiday Hero's. I tend to be more of a non-traditionalist when it comes to holidays. I like to give Thanksgiving its due, and love the Winter Solstice as it marks the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. That means from then on, the days are getting longer again. Glenda Groundhog usually sleeps through them all, but not this year. 


Glenda Groundhog’s Terrible Dream
By Sarah Tobias, 246 words

Pippa Rabbit, Vivian Fox, and Stanley Skunk spent the winter at Glenda Groundhog’s burrow.
The first frost came. Glenda said good night to her guests. She slept for many days and nights.
One evening, she startled awake. She ran through the burrow rousing everyone. “Did they move it? Have I missed Groundhog’s Day?”
“No,” Pippa soothed. “Today’s Thanksgiving. Join our feast.”
“Oh, my! What a terrible dream. Thank you. I’m not hungry. I must get some sleep.”
Weeks passed. Glenda bolted awake.
“Did they move it?” Glenda cried. “When is it?”
“No, Groundhog’s Day is still February 2nd,” replied Vivian. “Today’s the Winter Solstice. Here try a bite of mouse.”
“Oh, no! Fruits, nuts, and vegetables for me.”
Glenda waddled back to her den and fell fitfully asleep.
“We must do something,” Pippa whispered to the others. “She is losing too much weight.”
Vivian gathered nuts. Pippa found an apple. Stanley arrived with dried leaves and a long vine.
More days passed.
“Did they move it?” Glenda asked. Her tummy rumbled.
“No, Still on February 2nd,” smiled Pippa. “Today’s the New Year. Come and eat.
Glenda’s belly couldn’t resist nibbling on her favorites.
Stanley appeared dragging the vine with dried leaves attached.
“It’s a tutu.” Stanley beamed. “This is to help you remember.”
“It’s perfect! Now, No matter what I dream, I know Groundhogs Day is always on 2/2. Glenda hugged Stanley and crinkled back to her den and slept right through to Groundhog’s Day.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Chili Trick


The Chili Trick
By Sarah Tobias, 98 words

“Woo-Whoo! It’s Halloween. Time to get some candy!”
“Not before you eat some chili.”
Mom scoops up a big bowl from her evil cauldron.
“Ew! Yuck!, Mom! I don’t like it!”
“You need a good meal before you fill up on all those sweets.”
I hold my nose. Still the slimy beans and spicy sauce slosh around my mouth.
I Gag. Swallow. Shiver.
This is not a good look for a werewolf.
I wash down each bite with milk.
My stomach gurgles, but I finish.
“Bye mom.”
Ding Dong.
In my best werewolf voice, I howl, “Ahooooo – BUUURP!”


And another story for more Halloween fun.


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

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.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Under the Sea, Three Books You Should See

Well, it may officially be fall here in the Midwest, but that doesn't stop me from thinking about water and the ocean.

I love the ocean. I love water. I grew up on Lake Michigan and have gone in swimming soon after the last of the ice was gone for the season. Throughout my youth, we played in the waves and tooled around on little boats, fished, and watched many sunsets. Sadly, I never took the love of water any further than being able to swim and spend time there.

I remember the first time I swam in the ocean, I was afraid to get off the raft because I could see these strange creatures lying around on the bottom. (Sea cucumbers and starfish) I was stunned when I held a starfish and it suctioned itself to my hand at my aunt and uncle's cabin outside Seattle, Washington.

The next time I was in the ocean, I was quite a bit older and in Hawaii. Everything is so blue there. From shore, we watched dolphins leaping and jumping. I saw humpback whales and sea turtles. I was truly in love and awe of what the ocean had to offer. We went on whale watches, I read books, I listened to everything that anyone had to tell me about ocean life. That was vacation time, then I would go back to the reality of living in the Midwestern cornfields with the closest large body of water 65 miles away. That doesn't sound very far, but when you have a job and family obligations, it takes planning to spend a day at the beach.

The most recent body of water I spent my time in was the Kishwaukee River. We had a great time, but my knees didn't even get wet. We saw frogs and polliwogs, minnows, mussels, macro invertebrates, and damselflies landed on my arm. There is so much to see and learn about in any water.
This polliwog is almost through metamorphosis. It still has a tail and its eyes have not moved all the way up on its head.

When I can't be in the water, it's fun to read about it. Here are three titles that take you deep into the sea with courageous people who changed our understanding of the ocean.


She fell in love at the aquarium. With the sharks. She was told this wasn't a career for a woman. She didn't care. Her love of sharks, drove her toward her passion. This beautiful picture book biography by Jess Keating about Eugenie Clark offers an overview of her life as well as a look into the lives of sharks. She started the Mote Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida. Don't miss the authors notes and added information at the end of the book. You can also check out the article about her from the Mote Aquarium.


I discovered this book at the library recently. It is quite a story or two courageous men who wanted to discover what was deep in the ocean. When they met, they worked together to find a way to see the deep blue sea. As I read the story of the bathysphere going deeper and deeper in the ocean, my heart rate went up, and I felt the thrill and fear of this dangerous journey. Exhilarating and scary. Be sure to read the author and illustrator notes to learn mire about their research in creating this wonderful book.

Even with the Bathysphere, the world deep in the ocean is remains largely uncharted territory.


Since 1964, Alvin began making dives and more and more discoveries in the ocean. Michelle Cusolito takes you on a day trip down in Alvin a deep sea submersible. Her simple text reads like a poem and her use of onomatopoeia bring the sounds of the journey to life. Nicole Long's illustrations are beautiful and full of detail. The back matter provides details bout the author and illustrator's journey to create their book, facts about Alvin, a glossary, and details about the organisms seen on the trek to the bottom of the sea. Such a lovely book taking us to a world within our world.

As an additional note, these books were written and illustrated by women. It is wonderful to see more and more children's literature being published by women. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Chicago, Lighthouses, Black Book of Color

I went to Chicago for an evening of wandering and photography with a friend recently. She wanted to see the gardens and do night photography and I wanted to see the Lighthouse exhibit and ride the water taxi. We did it all. Lucky for us, there are very nice gardens right on the Magnificent Mile.

From the bow of the Water taxi, the boat rails, water, bridges and tall buildings on either side.

If you haven't taken the Water Taxi on the Chicago River, I highly recommend it. The Water Taxi is less than a block walk from both train stations and for under $10, you can ride up and down the river between Michigan Ave and Chinatown all day.

Just look at the gardens that separate the sidewalk from the busy street on the Magnificent Mile. So man colors, beauty, and nature within the concrete jungle.

A rainbow shape of flowers. Pinks, reds, and greens.
Coleus and a long leafed grass. Random puffy patterns of lime green against deep green and red.      Ferns, orchids, and a tropical feel in this woodland garden. A wooden redheaded Woodpecker adorns a tree.

An artist friend shared his journey in creating a lighthouse that would stand on Chicago's Magnificent mile. Rich Green spent three years preparing for this project to support Chicago Lighthouse. This social service organization supports people who are blind, visually impaired, disabled, and veterans.

The lighthouse exhibit is a call to action for access and inclusion of people with disabilities. They will be on the Mag Mile until August 11th. After that, each lighthouse will be auctioned off. (Hey, you could have one in your yard!)

By Rich Green. Folk and fairy tales come to life. Real children turned into characters and stories.
By Rich Green in front of the Disney Store
We walked a few blocks before we came to Rich's lighthouse. One the way we saw many of the lighthouses on display. The first one we encountered:

Woven lighthouse. Weavings made by people with visual impairments.

This lighthouse and the weavings were made by people who are disabled, blind or visually impaired. Seriously! I am so impressed with the colors, the even weaving, and the fun wrapped up feeling. This piece really made me think about the exhibit as a whole. There is so much color on all of the lighthouses. It is a reminder that I am very fortunate to be able to see and process colors. It also means that I need to use my best descriptions to make this post and the images understandable and enjoyable to people who are not able to see. It reminds me that life is about using all of our senses to understand the world around us.

One of my favorite books is The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria.

This book is black pages with shiny black drawings with white text and braille text

The book talks about colors in nature through the senses of someone who can't see. He describes each color based on the way things of those colors taste, smell, sound, and feel using simple descriptive language. This is a wonderful book to share with children to help them understand visual disabilities.

Below are more of the lighthouse that we saw on our outing. Take a look on the lighthouses on the magmile website to see more lighthouse and learn about the artists.

You can checkout a very nice video from Sunday Morning on CBS at this link.

Below are a few more photos of the lighthouses we saw.
Blue, white, and green plantings lead up a path to this blue white and gold lighthouse.
I got lucky with the man on the left color coordinating his outfit to this lighthouse.

Large three dimensional red poppies on a white lighthouse.

A close-up section of this rainbow, highly textured lighthouse and window.
 Silly little creatures adorn the top of the lighthouse. In this close-up, there is a little corn cob characters. Eyes big and round staring out at the big City.

This lighthouse is covered with just two eyes. One on the front, the other on the back. Thick paint gives it texture. The eye us blue, white, gold and black.
I see you.
If you have the chance to visit Chicago between now and August 11th, be sure to look for all the lighthouses. Appreciate all that you can do and see. Appreciate all that others can do as well.

I mentioned that we also wanted to see the night lights of Chicago. Here are a few photos. Even at night the City is full of colors and light.

The Giant Faces and Water feature at Millennium Park. Through the trees and the people in silhouette.
Crown Park
 

Nighttime in Chicago. The train passes, people play in the water and lighted carriage rides travel under the Millennium Park Bridge.

The only traffice on Columbus Drive as the roads were closed off in preparation for Taste of Chicago
Millennium Park Bridge
A person looks at himself in the shiny cloud shaped sculpture with the City buildings reflected around him.Others pass by as a blur in this long exposure photograph.
Cloud Gate aka The Bean