Happy Holidays!

It’s Christmas Eve and I just finished wrapping the last two gifts. Copies of the book How To Babysit a Grandpa for my parents and in-laws. I thought they’d enjoy reading it with their grandchildren. Who says children’s books are just for kids?



What I’ve Been Reading (November 2014)

Here are the children’s books I’d recommend that have been in my library bag and on my nightstand in November. Check them out!

Preschool (ages 3-5 years) and Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years):0061552054.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_photo


Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years) and Middle Grades (ages 8-12 years):


Maha Addasi and Ned Gannon: Interview with the Author and Illustrator of Time to Pray


Time to Pray (Boyds Mill Press, 2010) is the award-winning story of a young girl, Yasmin, who is visiting her Grandma in the Middle East. The detailed illustrations and rich text (with Arabic translations included) take you on a journey of spiritual growth as Yasmin learns about the rituals of daily prayer from her grandmother.

I had the opportunity to interview the very talented pair that created Time to Pray. Author Maha Addasi and illustrator Ned Gannon.

Maha, tell us a little about your history. What got you interested in writing children’s books?

maha_addassiMaha: A little about my history. Hmm. I’ve always been a reader. My dad, God rest and bless his soul, was a medical doctor. He mastered the English language while going to medical school. His education had been in Arabic until then, and he had to work triple hard to learn all the medical terms and take his tests and Board Exams in English. He vowed that if he ever had children, he would make sure they learned English as early as possible. So I was taught to read at a very young age. There’s a Dick and Jane book that starts with: I walked and walked, and what did I see? I saw a cat. The book goes on and on, with Jane seeing various animals. This was my first recollection of reading with my dad. Each time I missed a word, he would make me start all over again. “I walked and walked” was how I dedicated my first published book. My dad sought perfection, and I was blessed by his dedication.

Ned, tell us about your history. What got you interested in illustrating children’s books?

I started drawing before I knew what illustration was at the age of three, and I first wondered about illustrating books in fifth grade when I was given Treasure Island with the wonderfully atmospheric paintings by N C Wyeth. But I always tried to tell stories with pictures so children’s books made sense for my creative output.

What were your favorite books as a child? What are your favorite children’s books now?

Maha: I grew up reading tons of Enid Blyton books. The Paddington books made me fascinated with marmalade and train stations. I loved Agatha Christie 9780141321059_custom-5dded1a6fa27cd792bcb0328843b6dc58bea5cf7-s2-c85and other mystery books. I vividly remember John Buchan’s The Thirty Nine Steps. I later got interested in Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang. The Crucible made me think, and Lord of the Flies scared me. John Wyndham’s Chocky was a creative science fiction that really got me interested in writing. I loved a hodge podge selection of books and magazines and comics. When I finally traveled to England, it was a dream come true. I celebrated my 8th birthday in England, and that trip changed my life. I was suddenly in the setting of the books I had read, or had read to me.

0670674249.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Ned: When I was a small boy, I loved Ferdinand the Bull and a lesser known title called, Thy Friend Obediah. Now three children’s books I have treasured with my kids are: The Terrible Hodag and the Animal Catchers, The Serpent Came to Gloucester, and The Arrival.

Share with us the background of Time to Pray. How did this book come to be?

Maha: Time to Pray is a story of grandma-granddaughter bonding. When I worked full time in the media, I traveled quite a bit covering events for television. My young daughters stayed with my parents when I was away. I wanted to capture something of that strong bond that my girls have with their grandparents. They sometimes quote something one of my parents had said, and I realize I had missed hearing that, or it reminds me of when I was their age or younger.

Time to Pray received an Honorable Mention from the Arab American Book Awards in 2011. Tell us about the award and how you found out you had won.

Maha: Time to Pray won the Arab American Book award because it introduced children to some cultural facts without being didactic. I believe that was a main criteria. The information had to be woven into the fabric of the story. When I got the phone call from the Arab American National Museum announcing that I won, I thought I heard them say that I had won the top award. Of course Honorable Mention is great, but immediately on finishing my conversation, I called my parents, editor, publisher, emailed my writer’s critique group en mass, to tell them that Time to Pray won the Arab American National Book Award. Retracting those calls and emails, was tough, to say the least.

This is not your only book about Middle Eastern culture. What else have you written? (And please share your good news about your most recent book!)

1590785231.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Maha: Before Time to Pray, I wrote another book called The White Nights of Ramadan (Boyds Mill Press, 2008), which was also illustrated by Ned! This year, I received an email from the Arab American National Museum that my most recent book, The Kids Guide to Arab American History (Chicago Review Press, 2013), actually won 1613740174.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_the Arab American National Book Award. I read the email three times before realizing that this was for this year and it’s the top award in the children’s book category! I called Yvonne Wakim Dennis, my coauthor on the book, and she was taking a walk in New York. I heard her yell out our news to people walking by. It was really funny.image

The illustrations so beautifully reflect the culture in the book. What research did you do, Ned, to ensure that the pictures were culturally accurate?

Ned: This part was tricky for me. I was depicting a culture and a place to which I was an outsider. I did a lot of reference-seeking in books, some magazines and through online sources; but it was Maha who really assured the editors that the details were faithful to the spirit of her story. For instance, I felt pleased with the mosque scene in the end, but it went through a few revisions in the sketch stage before I had things the way they needed to be. I also took great interest in the geometric designs. And – by the way – congrats to Maha on the award!Inside the Mosque Small

Early bird, middle of the day, night owl or catching quick moments? When do you do your best work?

Maha: I used to work early in the morning. I would get up at 4:30am, run on my treadmill until I could open my eyes, then I would work until 6:30am. Now I write whenever I get a chance. I do bits and pieces, more often in outline form in longhand, then I start typing away. I used to write at home, but I find I do a lot more work at coffee shops and libraries and book stores where I can be surrounded and inspired by books. It was the opposite at first. I used to walk into a library and feel overwhelmed that there are so many books out there. I felt there was no way I could compete. It took a while to realize that I wasn’t competing with anyone, and that it was my journey. I was going to get there at my own pace.

Ned: When I was a student I was definitely a night owl, but now I do my best work around 8 – 11am and then from 5 – 10pm.

I’m fascinated by creative workspaces. Tell us a little about yours.

Ned: What I have around me varies on where I am working these days. I have a small studio space that houses a lot of supplies and flat files and when I am there I surround myself with reference for my current project and images that inspire me, often a picture of a wolf. I also work digitally now, and then I am in an office room often surrounded by the remnants of a Lego battle which was left there by one of my two children, Claire or Eliot.Ned in the studio

What media did you use for this book?

Ned: The art for this book was rendered in ink, pencil and acrylic on Arches watercolor paper with other media mixed in on occasion.

What project(s) are you working on now?

Ned: I take commissions as they come but never know when they will arrive in my inbox, and so I creep forward on a wordless graphic novel project I have been creating.

Maha, what advice would you give aspiring writers?

Maha: Write daily, even if that means writing in your head. Sometimes you could think of solutions for plot issues while taking a walk, or running errands. You need to be open to that.

Ned, what advice would you give aspiring illustrators?

Ned: Find artists you like that no one else knows about. Make a gigantic list of all your favorite artists. Study clouds and trees. Don’t view the business of art as a bad thing, but don’t be all about money either—in essence respect yourself and others. Make time to work on your art even if it means you haven’t seen the latest television show or music performance that your friends are talking about. Love the time you get to work on art, and find good friends who understand what you do or do it too.

Favorite color?

Maha: Royal blue

Ned: Though artists are not supposed to have favorite colors, I undoubtedly do. I have always been attracted to the color cerulean blue (this is a pigment name, which artists tend to use). It is the color of sky and water. And once I learned that it derives from the Latin word caelum meaning, “heaven sky”, I knew it was my favorite.

Favorite food?

Maha: Labneh, which is a bit like plain Greek yogurt, but a little more tart and eaten with toasted pita, olive oil and kalamata olives. I can subsist on labneh alone.

Ned: My favorite drink is water, because what a miracle it is that makes almost all life possible. My favorite food is music.

Do you have any pets?

Ned: I had a dog that my wife and I were blessed with on a whim visit to the North Shore Animal League when we lived in New York City. Agnes, our mixed breed energetic and eccentric dog, lived for twelve years, but died in 2010 of lymphoma. I love dogs but haven’t been able to get another one until I get over Agnes.

Last book you read?

Ned: This summer I read, Sweeney Astray by Seamus Heaney. Currently I am reading The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K Le Guin.

Thank you Maha and Ned! Congratulations again, Maha, on your recent success!

Ned can be found at: 

Goodbye Small

Writers: Make Time For You!

IMG_8609This was my view over the weekend as I walked along the beach with two of my best friends. We’ve been talking about a girls weekend away since our kids were babies. Our oldest are all in middle school, so it was about time! We relaxed, we laughed, we shopped, we read, I wrote. It was just enough time to clear our minds and take a deep breath before our families missed us too much and we had to get back. :)

In the town of Bethany, Delaware, the adorableIMG_8613
bookstore Bethany Beach Books was open for business and we browsed for a good hour. Check-out the great sign they had set-up as we walked in the front door. I bought each of my kids a new book and picked up a copy of Pete the Cat and the New Guy for myself. As a special education teacher, I loved the recurring message, “Don’t be sad, don’t be blue! There is something everyone can do!”





Another great quote that was in the store. This one was on the wall behind the register.

It was a much needed weekend away. Sometimes we need to slow down and enjoy the little moments. It will make us better writers, friends and people.



What I’ve Been Reading (October 2014)

Here are the children’s books I’d recommend that have been in my library bag and on my nightstand in October. Check them out!

Preschool (ages 3-5 years) and Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years):



Middle Grades (ages 8-12 years):


Middle Grades (8-12 years) and Young Adult (ages 12+ years):


Happy One Year “Blogiversary”!

It was one year ago today that my first ever blog post went live! So…happy one year “blogiversary” to me! (Yes, I made-up that word.)


My first post was about going after your dreams. It took a ton of courage to put myself out there on this blog and share my goal of becoming a published children’s book author. One year later, I’m glad I did. This blog has kept me reading, writing and thinking, all good things as I continue on my journey to getting published.

Thank you to anyone who has read my blog, commented on it, subscribed or shared it with someone else. And a big thank you to my brother, the web designer extraordinaire who put together this awesome site.

Cheers to one year and hopefully many more!

If You Read It, They Will Come

If I’m being totally honest, my children do not always jump at the chance to read when we have downtime. There are no shortage of titles on their bookshelves and I usually have a giant tote bag filled with library books all ready for them to dive in. But as much as I would like for reading to be their go-to activity when they are bored, I don’t want to force it on them.

An almost foolproof way to get them interested in a book is to start reading one out loud. Don’t say their names or ask them to come sit next to you. Just start reading out loud to no one. A good book has the power to make all children within earshot slowly drop what they are doing and make their way zombie-like to the sound of your voice.

This past weekend, we had hours and hours of unheard of free time on Saturday morning and I was amazed at how quickly my two youngest said they had nothing to do. I offered “all these great books I just checked out from the library!” or suggested they curl up on the couch with a book from their room. Sadly, no takers. And I will admit, I heard the words “books are boring” and “I hate reading”. Shocking, I know.


So, I sat down in the next room with my awesome pile of library books and started reading out loud from the picture book, red cat blue cat by Jenni Desmond.

Red Cat and Blue Cat live in the same house.
Blue Cat stayed upstairs.
Red Cat stayed downstairs.
Whenever they saw each other–
it was NOT good. Not good at all.
But neither cat knew about the other’s secret wish.

By the time I was on page three, I had one kid in my lap and one sitting at my side. For the next 45 minutes, they were completely engaged and we read every book in the library bag. There is something irresistible about hearing the words of a good book read out loud.

I encourage you to try this “Field of Dreams” method with your kids.

Read it out loud and see if they come. :)

What I’ve Been Reading (September 2014)

Here are the children’s books that have been in my library bag and on my nightstand in September (well, at least the ones I’d recommend). Thank you to our fabulous school librarian, Mrs. Rosen, for some great book ideas! 

Preschool (ages 3-5 years) and Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years):


Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years):


Early Elementary (ages 5-8 years) and Middle Grades (ages 8-12 years):


Middle Grades (ages 8-12 years):


Young Adult (12+ years):


Putting my Kids to Work Last Summer

We are well into the school year here and summer seems like a distant memory. Looking back, our summer was busy and eventful with trips to the beach, a trip to Chicago and a trip to the emergency room! Oh my! We also had loads of time to relax and the “B” word (BORED!) was heard from time to time. I would direct them to our BORED sign on the fridge, which seemed to give them ideas. I would often find them later playing a newly invented game, getting crafty at our work table, running around outside or (yea!) reading a book.

The teacher in me couldn’t help giving them organized tasks to complete when they were bored (although I called them “challenges” or “missions” to make them sound more exciting. Hee hee!). One thing I wanted to accomplish this summer was organizing my “What I’ve Been Reading” posts into age group categorizes. I felt these monthly posts could be a more effective resource for parents and teachers with that added information. But did I really want to look up that information on all my past posts? Not really. Enter three bored kids…

Kids: We’re bored!!!
Me: Wonderful! I have a challenge for you! All three of you have to work together to research the age and grade ranges for all my past book recommendations on my blog! One person is in charge of calling out the book name, one person is in charge of looking up the information on the computer and one person is in charge of writing down the results on this clipboard. Go!
Kids: Um, Mom? That doesn’t sound very fun.photo

They grumbled at first, but once they got into it, they worked well together and completed my busywork…I mean, “the challenge”. :)

So, now I am happy to say that all my monthly book recommendations are broken up into the following categories:

Babies and Toddlers: 0-2 years
Preschool: 3-5 years
Early Elementary: 5-8 years
Middle Grades: 8-12 years
Young Adult: 12+ years

These categories and where the books fall are subjective and based loosely on my research on other sites, such as amazon. Often a book will fall into more than one category, such as pre-school and early elementary. Also, you may have a 10 year old who still enjoys reading early elementary picture books or a 7 year old who’s reading middle grade novels. It’s all good. These are just intended to be a general guideline when looking for books for your children or students.

Happy reading!

Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Blimey! Ahoy there, matey! Better ready ye sea legs. And no hornswaggling or ye walk the plank, ye scallywag! Aargh!  

Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day! Get in the mood by reading some of these great children’s books about pirates.