Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It seems like just about any and every thought has a special day or month. Although every day is a picture book day for caregivers, parents, and children, at the very least naming a month after such an amazing art grabs everyone's attention to fuel another year of stories.

I adore writing picture book texts and only wish I had an artistic talent to go with them, but alas no. When I was a French teacher, I would avoid translating at all costs and succumb to drawing a picture on the black board to represent a particular vocabulary word. One day, after what I thought was a perfectly acceptable shape of who-knows-what-now, I turned around only to see 24 puzzled faces. To which I responded/begged, "Un peu d'imagination, s'il vous plait!"

Imagination is the start of the fantastical and of the life-like images we admire in picture books. But I believe words can be the pencils to draw entire worlds in our heads. For this reason, the stories on Good Night, Sleep Tight are written more "flowery"and "descriptive" to start the sketches in one's imagination. And the best part of it, is that the same paragraph may create an entirely different image in my head than in anyone else's. And if I could turn the pages in a child's mind, I bet I would find the most impressive works of art that could compete with any surrealist.

In honor of Picture Book Month, I want to celebrate stories of all kinds - be them read-aloud, wordless, or a simple, yet so important, board book that makes the first connection between words and images in the youngest child.

I couldn't possibly write a post for this special month without noting a few of my favorite picture books. This list could go on for years, but for the sake of space and your, kind reader's, patience, I will limit it to the following (in no particular order).

The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowery
In a Pumpkin Shell by Joan Walsh Anglund
Dolphin Boy by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman
The Princess and the Wizard by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Lydia Monks
My Mom is a Foreigner, But Not Me by Julianne Moore, illustrated by Meilo So
This is Me by Philip Waechter (I love, love, love this book and will read it forever!)
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (This story made me laugh out loud at the book store.)

Some French titles I own with remarkable illustrations that are also worth a look (and read) are:
La Fée Coquillette fait la maîtresse by Didier Lévy and Benjamin Chaud
Petit dragon by Christoph Niemann
La Petite Poule Rousse by Pierre Delye and Cécile Hudrisier

And in terms of characters, illustration, and imagination, my picture book préféré is... À quoi penses-tu? by Laurent Moreau.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

This post is going to look very different from my usual stories. In fact, one of my friends and fellow writers, Dina Von Lowenkraft (www.dinavonlowenkraft.com), has tagged me in a blog hop. Dina is a YA writer of fantasy and sci-fi. She is the author of Dragon Fire


For the blog hop, I get to answer the following four questions. At the end, you will see the writers I have tagged in return. Please share the love of reading and writing by visiting their blogs as well.

Here are my “behind the scenes” reasons why I do what I do.

1)What am I working on?

I have just completed a Middle Grade novel that grew out of an original story on Good Night, Sleep Tight. While that story is traveling through “query land” looking for an agent, I am skipping and dancing through some PB manuscripts I wrote during Julie Headlund's 12x12 Challenge last year, trying to find the right rhythm and words to create little masterpieces.

My two new character ideas (top secret) for future MG novels are also crawling their way through my mind in search of their plots.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I feel my work differs because, as for any writer, my stories can only be written by me thanks to my life experiences, travels, thoughts, and beliefs.

As much as I enjoy bouncy, active picture books, I also appreciate quiet, sweet stories with which to rock my children, nieces, and nephews to sleep. These are the types of stories I still remember my grandmother and my aunt reading to me. And because of these moments, I can still feel their love although they're gone. So I do tend to evoke emotions and softness in my youngest stories because, for me, that is what bedtime reading is all about.

Middle Grade stories do not appear on Good Night, Sleep Tight, but I will mention my latest manuscript for this post. Without giving too much away, the protagonist is a common fictional character who fights against becoming what this type of character is usually after. Not only does she have to figure out what she wants, but also what's best for her family and community. And once she works this out, she must make her decision as to which is more important.... and in the end, what will make her happiest. She lives in a fantasy world intertwined with the real world and its ecological issues.

3) Why do I write what I do?

As mentioned earlier in what makes my picture books unique, I write to create moments: moments of closeness, understanding, discovery, and joy.

In my writing for older listeners and readers, those same moments are important. In them, I want to also sprinkle doses of self-awareness and life-discovery.

Life can be so confusing and frustrating for little ones and older children as they grow. I want to provide an escape though my books. Yet once the story ends, I wish for the reader or listener to know something more than before and to feel encouraged.

4) How does my writing process work?

Very often, I get the idea of a topic I want to explore: family, friendship, loss, … Or, I see a situation in a child's life: a friend moving away, a family vacation, the desire for a pet, ...

From these ideas, I brainstorm what could be funny, frustrating, or satisfying from the particular predicaments with some sort of twist to it. Then, I envision a character to throw into the adventure and see how he or she handles it.

But sometimes, I get the idea of a particular child or of another type of character (animal, toy, etc.) and wonder what would be an interesting but challenging situation for them to encounter.

Being a very visual person, I “see” the story in my head as it comes to me and write it all down. Then, I go back and polish the story with the right speech tags, action words, just enough description, etc. I then revise over and over again until the pacing and the rhythm sound just right.

For my middle grade stories, the character comes to me first and then tells me where he or she wants (or does not want) to go. I find this creative process loads of fun and enjoy going along for the ride.

For more insights from my fellow bloggers and friends, please visit:

Olivia de Vos at Olivia Sadie's Blog (http://www.oliviadevos.wordpress.com/.) She say, “I'm interested in anything and everything except cooking and sewing, so perhaps I should be writing feminist literature. Indeed, I'm trying to find my niche and have dabbled in, well anything and everything, from welding to bricklaying, to pottery. Currently, I read, travel, take photos and write, not necessarily in that order. In between, I work as a teacher to make a living.”

Ramona Siddoway at You Make Me Smile (http://ramonasiddoway.com/tag/ramona-siddoway/). I first met Ramona years ago at a writer's group. She made me smile as soon as I walked in the door, and I'm sure her writing will make you smile as well, if not fall on the ground laughing.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

DRAGON DREW'S TAIL


self-control, emotions, responsibility, family

When Dragon Drew danced around his cave, he jumped high. He tapped hard. He spun fast.
One day...
Swoosh! Crash!
His sister Amy's tower tumbled to the ground.
“Watch your tail,” warned Amy and packed up her pebbles.
Grrr. I always knock stuff over. Drew moped into his bedcave. He set up his play town. He lined up the houses. When he stood the last people in the school, he heard his neighbor singing.
What a rockin' song, he thought.
Drew jumped. Drew tapped. Drew spun.
Swoosh! Crash!
The whole town whipped under his bed.
“Watch your tail,” warned Mom and handed him a broom.
Grrr. I always scratch up my toys. Drew stomped into the playcave and set out paper and paints.
He dipped his brush in the blue. He smeared some red with his paw. When he hung his picture to dry, he heard Amy practicing her piano.
What a jazzy tune, he thought.
Drew jumped. Drew tapped. Drew spun.
Swoosh! Crash!
The easel flew against the wall.
“Watch your tail,” warned Dad and handed him a mop.
Grrr. I always make a mess. Drew sulked to the living cave and grabbed some books. He read one and put it beside him. He read a second book and stacked it on the first, and then another and another. When he closed the last book, he heard...
A pan clink. A cupboard bang. Plates clank. And a spoon ding on a glass.
What a great beat, thought Drew.
Drew jumped. Drew tapped. Drew spun.
Swoosh! Crash!
Books flew across the living cave smashing everything!
“Not again,” said Dad.
“Clean up this cave,” said Mom.
Grrr. I always cause a catastrophe. Drew wiped a tear from his cheek.
Drew looked at his tail. Then, he looked at the mess. Mmmm...
Drew hummed and wiggled this way. He hummed and shimmied that way. Finally, he hummed and twisted everywhere until the living cave was tidy.
Drew was so happy, he jumped. He tapped. He spun.
Swoosh!
But no Crash!
“Look at that tail!” said Mom, Dad, and Amy. “Great job, Drew!”


What do you think?
Do you ever have days when everything seems to go wrong?
Do you ever have times when it's hard to control your excitement? If so, when?
Have you ever bumped into something or dropped something or spilled something by accident? How did you feel? How did you fix it? 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thanks to Susanna Leonard Hill for hosting the Halloweensie Contest! The rules are to incorporate the three words, cackle, black cat, and spooky, into a story of no more than 100 words. Here's mine.


Lizzy Witch and Spooky 

The final bell clanged. Schoolwitches cheered. It was Halloween break!

Lizzy Witch kicked up her broomstand and soared home to her black cat.

"Where's Spooky?" she asked Mum.

"We never know," she cackled.

Lizzy echoed into the caldron. "Spooky."

She plucked through the pumpkin patch. "Spoooky."

She flew over the chimney and under the thorn bushes. "Spooooooky!"

Lizzy coasted home with empty arms and an empty tummy.

"Soup's on," said Mum.

"I can't eat without Spooky." Lizzy sobbed. 

"Who do you think caught the ingredients?" Mum winked.

Just then, Spooky sprang into Lizzy's lap.

"Happy Halloween to you too, Spooky!"



Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dolphins on Her Mind



My twin sister Avani and I watched the most amazing science video today – about the sea, about coral reefs, and about dolphins!
They squeak. They swim and play. They save people when they fall off boats.
And Avani wants one.
Avani could squeak in dolphin language. It can't be that different from whining.
We have a swimming pool. And she's not afraid to ride on a dolphin's back.
Avani asks Mom as soon as she gets home.
“You want a dolphin?” Mom squeals. She would be great at talking to dolphins, too.
“Please?” says Avani.
“Sorry, Avani. It's not possible,” she says.
Avani goes to our room and draws a picture of a smiling dolphin jumping out of our swimming pool. Dad always swims laps by himself. Surely he would like the company.
Avani asks Dad as soon as he gets home.
“Swim with a dolphin?” Dad repeats slamming the trunk. He is definitely strong enough.
“Please?” says Avani.
“Sorry, Avani. It's not possible,” he says.
Avani is so distracted during dinner, she pokes green beans into her cheek. She pours water down her chin. And worst of all, she forgets she has a piece of bread in her hand, leans onto her elbow, and smashes it into her ear.
Dad asks, “What's on your mind, Avani?”
“Dolphins,” she says.
He shakes his head.
“Mom, can I use your computer?” Avani asks.
“If it's for school work,” she says.
We both go to the living room.
She types DOLPHINS and we watch shiny, grey creatures swim in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Pacific Ocean... Pink dolphins even swim in rivers! But not one dolphin lives near us, in the middle of the country.
I write down some notes while Avani types DOLPHIN CENTERS. They exist in North America, South America... Australia has several centers! But not one center is anywhere near our house.
Then we see a word at the bottom of the screen. ADOPTION. She clicks on it, and we read the description.
“Mom, Dad,” I shout back into the kitchen, “Avani can have a dolphin.”
As I scribble down names and places, my parents scoot back their chairs.
“Come see,” Avani shouts even though they're already standing behind us.
Mom says, “These dolphins have been injured and can't go back to sea. How sad.”
Dad says, “They need donations to help care for them.”
“I'll give everything in my piggy bank,” Avani says and runs upstairs. Her coins rattle as she runs back downstairs. “Please?”
“Sorry, Avani,” says Dad. “It is not possible that you have enough money to feed a dolphin for a year.”
But Avani asks, “What if we each add some money?”
Mom and Dad look at one another.
“Please?” says Avani.
Finally, a smile creeps onto Dad's face and in between Mom's cheeks.
Avani knew it was possible!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Growing Book by Book

I would like to thank Jodie at Growing Book by Book for creating such a resourceful, fun blog all about literacy.

I would also like to thank Jodie for featuring me today on Growing Book by Book. In the interview, I share how I encourage literacy in my family and the reading habits I now see in my children. As much as I have appreciated previous interviews with teachers, librarians, parents, writers, authors and author/illustrators who have appeared on Growing Book by Book, I hope you will also get some value from today's feature.

Happy reading to everyone!

From Main Street America...

Usually, expat assignments last under five years. But when we rented our current house in Belgium, we had to sign a nine-year lease. We did this because if we were to leave before the end of the lease, the fees would be much less. I almost laughed out loud as I signed the paper and thought, "Yeah right, we'll never be here that long."

After that signature, I was officially an expat. Before leaving the US, telling people of our move abroad sparked great interest because it seemed so out of the ordinary. But in fact, arriving in Brussels proved just how normal it was. I was excited to hear stories of other families who had already lived in five countries or more. Considering we had already lived in three States in our first four years of marriage, I expected the same globe-trotting life. My husband's assignment had indeed been specified as a two to three-year deal...

...to Main Street Belgium
...nine years ago. Our lease is up.

Hoping to travel a bit through Europe in those couple years, I expected to be back in the US for my first daughter, then only 1 year old, to start kindergarten. Instead, we have

had a second baby
a sprained neck from falling off a swing
an appendicitis
traveled to a dozen countries at least once (excluding the USA)
celebrated baptisms and communions
started both daughters in school - local and international
survived lay-offs, budget cuts, furloughs
benefitted from job title changes and promotions
made a slew of friends
said good-bye to many of them
learned about the world through these friends
and continue to make more...

At some point between comparing potty-training practices and starting the children in primary school, I stopped feeling like an expat. I was just another woman, mother, wife, writer, living somewhere else.

Nothing replaces family but when your closest friends are also away from their families, a natural and strong bond forms. We support each other no matter the color of the hand being held, how smooth or rough it may be, or to where that hand waved good-bye. We celebrate our children's birthdays, help out when they fall ill, and have a good laugh at our cultural faux pas.

I have been also fortunate to make some very dear Belgian friends. Speaking French before the move certainly helped. I could comfortably attend local playgroups, go shopping, explain various ailments to medical professionals, read the newspaper, pay my speeding tickets and parking violations (I'm getting off track)... but all that to say, I did my best to integrate.

After five years, my husband was rehired under a local contract. We aren't even technically expats anymore. Regardless, I am still referred to by the neighbors as l'américaine qui parle français (the American who speaks French).

And so this “expat life” has slowly taken shape as, simply, “life.” I just happen to live in Belgium, raise my kids as bilinguals with two nationalities (neither one being Belgian), renew passports on a regular basis, pay taxes in two countries, and rack up quite a few frequent flyer miles... like so many other people.
Oh, the places we go!
And what about these Third Culture Kids I'm raising? This life is the only one they have ever known, except for my eldest daughter's six months at a YMCA daycare. When we go back to the US, I take my daughters around to my old neighborhood, to my friends' homes, to play at my old playground, to have ice cream at the same stand open only in the summers and still run by the same family. But to them, that's “Mum's country” (yes, they even call me 'mum' instead of 'mom'). The US is a world of cook-outs, swimming pools, beaches, and amusement parks.

Visiting their French mamie and their English grandad in France doesn't seem all that different than being in Belgium except that they happen to live in the Alps and the bread is... well... crustier. Considering we spend almost every holiday with them (except for the Christmas during which the above-mentioned appendix was removed from my daughter), France is the land of skiing, hot chocolate, pain au raisins, long meals and late-nights.

But in Belgium, my children are who they are. They like fries, but also snails, and pâté. They love bandes dessinées (comic books). They don't even bat an eye when a different language is spoken. And still, they are influenced by my American side (i.e., I do accidentally speak louder than the kids like in public places) and my husband's French and English sides (i.e., we systematically have to stop for an espresso mid-morning no matter where we are or where we are going and the same is true at 4pm for a tea). And so, my children are living their unique hotchpotch of a culture beside all the other Third Culture Kids running through the Belgian playgrounds. This is, simply, their life.

I would be quite happy to move the family to another country, to see new monuments, to learn another language and about a new culture first-hand. But at the end of the day, whether we're sitting at the dinner table around moules frites or fish and chips, couscous or coq au vin, or even mac and cheese (for which I've spent a small fortune at an American food shop), we're still here...growing, learning, living...and loving it.












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