My New Vacation “Must Do”

My husband and I have had a joke since our dating years that we can’t go anywhere on vacation without him catching a baseball game and visiting a brewery or sampling the local beers. “Ball game and a brew pub!” has been a catch phrase for us through the years. One that I say while rolling my eyes. He always acts surprised when the local team where we are staying just happens to be playing against his beloved Phillies. Sure buddy, like you didn’t totally plan it that way! We recently went on a family trip to Chicago and of course hit up a Cubs game and tried some local beers. “Ball game and a brew pub” are his vacation “must do’s”.

When we checked into the hotel, one of the brochures IMG_7503in the lobby had a feature on all the
local bookstores: “Book Browsing at it’s Best – Lose a Few Hours in Some of the Best Independent Bookstores Chicago has to Offer”. Well, alright then! That got my attention! There was one called After-Words Bookstore just two minutes from our hotel. It sold new and used books, had a big selection of used fiction books and a signed books section. So I decided then and there that my “must do” on our vacation trips was going to be visiting and supporting a local bookstore.

After a day spent exploring the awesome Field Museum,
my family walked over to After-Words Bookstore for a little downtime. What we found was a huge, two-floor store with funky details you don’t usually see in the big name bookstores. There were rustic wooden beams running across all the ceilings, stone and brick walls peeking out from the bookshelves in the basement and street lamps with signs inside the store.



My favorite part was the pillars throughout the main IMG_7506floor that had been painted a tan color and then had different quotes written on them in black.

The children’s section was small, but big enough to suck me and my kids in for awhile.  They each got to pick-out a book. Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, Eragon by Christopher Paolini, and Olive My Love by Vivian Walsh. My choice? A used copy of BFG by Roald Dahl. One of Dahl’s books I hadn’t read as a kid. Perfect plane reading material, if you ask me.

All in all, a success. And I think I’ve convinced my husband that all future vacation trips need to include a visit to a local bookstore.

We’ll have to change our catch phrase to “Ball game, brew pub AND a bookstore”.

Do you have a vacation “must do”? If you don’t, maybe it should be supporting a local bookstore and bringing home some good books.

What I’ve Been Reading (June 2014)

Here are the children’s books that have been in my library bag and on my nightstand in June (well, at least the ones I’d recommend). It must be summertime, because I have a long list to share this month! Go check them out!

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Books with Two Stories: Buying Used

Screen shot 2014-06-22 at 12.40.53 PM

This weekend, I took my kids to a huge used book sale in our town. We headed right to the room with children’s books (of course!), which was clearly organized by grade level groupings. Each of my children darted off to their perspective rows. As I shopped myself, I kept stealing glances at my kids. They were sorting through the covers to see what stood out to them, stopping occasionally to flip through the pages or read the back cover. Some books warranted a sit down on floor to read it cover to cover that very minute. Then if a book was really lucky, it got tucked under their arm. I could almost hear the book saying, “Hooray! I have a new home!”

Rows and rows and piles and piles of books, all well-read and well-loved. Each with two stories: the one on it’s pages and the one about it’s history. Where was it bought originally? How many owners has it had? How many times was it read? Was it in a library? In a classroom? Was it a bedtime favorite? Did it go on a car trip? A plane trip? Some of these books give you clues. Maybe with a heartfelt inscription on the inside cover, crayon scribbles throughout, or a deep crease in the spine from continually being opened and shut. There’s a specialness to a used book.

Don’t get me wrong, becoming the owner of a brand new book is special too – just a different kind of special. The fresh smell, the crisp pages, the cracking sound it makes when you open it for the first time. Ahhh, I love that sound! But new books are expensive and start to add up. I rarely buy more than one at a time, with most of the books we read coming from the library. But look how many used books we got at the sale for only $12!
DSC_1285What a deal! My kids got so excited when I said they could each pick out five books. Five? Oh my goodness, Mom! Thank you so much! What a fun experience for a child to shop for books and leave with their very own stack. This was a great way to beat the summer heat. And when we got home, we had something else to do…READ!

Go grab some used books this summer and become a part of a book’s special history – it’s second story.

The “B” word…BORED!

We’re wrapping up our last week of school here and as a teacher, I don’t know who’s more excited for the slower pace of summer – me or the kids! During summer vacation, I try to keep a good balance of activities and downtime with a continued, but somewhat relaxed, limit on screen use. When there is nothing going on and no screen to look at, I know the “B” word will come out of their mouths. You know…

“Mom, I’m BORED!”

My typical response is, “Good!” with a smile on my face. This usually elicits a big sigh, an eye roll or occasionally a dramatic flop to the floor. Hey, my philosophy is it’s good to be bored. Kids need downtime, especially in this fast-paced society we live in. Kids need to slow down, breathe and take in the world around them. Being bored can lead to imagination, exploration, conversation, rejuvenation (ooo, I’m on a roll with the “ation” words!). They need time to read and write for fun, create, play, exercise, talk, listen, discover and just be kids.

I found this great acrostic for the word BORED (originally posted here on the blog I Lift Heavy Things) and I thought it might come in handy this summer. I made a free printable for you to tack up somewhere in your house to serve as a reminder that it’s OK to be bored. Just look at all the things that can come out of it!
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BORED printable

So when you hear the “B” word, just say, “Good!” and point to this sign! :)

I’d love to see pictures of where you’ve posted your BORED sign and hear how it’s going with your kiddos.

Happy summer everyone!

What I’ve Been Reading (May 2014)

Here are the children’s books that have been in my library bag and on my nightstand in May (well, at least the ones I’d recommend). Go check them out!


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Let’s Hear it From the Kids!

On Wednesday, the winners of the Children’s and Teen Choice Book awards were announced. No thanking the academy for these winners. They must thank the little people, because this contest was voted on only by kids! The Children’s Book Council says this is the only contest where children and teens get to decide on their favorite books.

So, without further ado. The winners are…(drum roll, please):

Book of the Year (kindergarten – second grade)51E7nP9Xi-L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Winner: “The Day the Crayons Quit” 
by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

“Alphabet Trucks” by Samantha R. Vamos, illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke

“Chamelia and the New Kid in Class” by Ethan Long

“Mustache Baby” by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang

“Bear and Bee” by Sergio Ruzzier

Book of the Year (third – fourth grade)0545143136.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_

Winner: “Bugs in My Hair!” by David Shannon

“Bean Dog and Nugget: The Ball” by Charise Mericle Harper

“Cougar: A Cat With Many Names” by Stephen Person

“The Matchbox Diary” by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

“Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale” by Duncan Tonatiuh

Book of the Year (fifth – sixth grade)1426311028.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_

Winner: “National Geographic Kids Myths Busted!” by Emily Krieger, illustrated by Tom Nick Cocotos

“Hokey Pokey” by Jerry Spinelli

“Prince Puggly of Spud” by Robert Paul Weston

“Lawless: Book 1″ by Jeffrey Salane

“Battling Boy” by Paul Pope

Book of the Year (teens)006202406X.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_

Winner: “Allegiant” by Veronica Roth

“Clockwork Princess” by Cassandra Clare

“Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell

“Smoke” by Ellen Hopkins

“The 5th Wave” by Rick Yancey


Illustrator of the Year1423163907.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_

Winner: Grace Lee, “Sofia the First: The Floating Palace”

Victoria Kann, “Emeraldalicious”

Anna Dewdney, “Llama Llama and the Bully Goat”

James Dean, “Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus”

Oliver Jeffers, “The Day the Crayons Quit”


Author of the Year1476755868.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_

Winner: Rush Limbaugh, “Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans”

Veronica Roth, “Allegiant”

Rachel Renee Russell, “Dork Diaries 6: Tales From A Not-So-Happy Heartbreaker”

Rick Riordan, “The House of Hades”

Jeff Kinney, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck”


I think this might be a good time to shamelessly show-off my copy of “The Day the Crayons Quit,” autographed by both the author and illustrator. I heard the illustrator, Oliver Jeffers, speak on a panel at the SCBWI winter conference in New York City. photoGetting the author’s autograph, who was not there presenting, was an added bonus. You can see Drew Daywalt has a good sense of humor, not just from his writing, but in what he wrote when he almost misspelled my name. Notice Oliver Jeffers did the same thing. In their defense, I get that a lot. My parents were trying to be original by spelling Susanne with an “S” instead of a “Z”. Sigh.

Now, let’s hear it from your kids! What books do your children choose? Read them the list above from their grade level and let me know if they’ve read them and which one is their winner.

Children’s Book Week: May 12-18

It’s Children’s Book Week! Click here to read all the details.


Here are some quick highlights:

  • This is the first year that official events will be happening in all 50 states! Check-out what’s happening in your state.
  • A commemorative Children’s Book Week poster is designed each year by a children’s book author. The illustrator for this year’s poster is Robin Preiss Glasser, of Fancy Nancy fame. Order a free poster here.
  • The 2014 bookmark was designed by Caldecott Honor winner, Steve Jenkins. He is the writer and illustrator of more than 30 non-fiction children’s books. Download the bookmark here.

Celebrate Your Successes

That short story you sent to a children’s magazine? Sorry, it’s not right for our current needs. The writing contest you entered? Thank you for trying, but you were not chosen. The manuscript you’ve sent out over and over and over? Too long, too short, needs more of a story arc, character is not relatable enough, too many illustrators notes, needs more illustrators notes, etc, etc. On the journey of writing for children, there are going to be way more rejections than acceptances. They say you must have a thick skin to survive. It’s true.

J.K. Rowling was rejected a dozen times before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (now Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) was accepted. Gone with the Wind got 38 rejections before being published. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight? 14 consecutive rejections. And the Newbery winning book, A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times before someone said yes.

What if all these authors gave up after a few rejections? The world would never know them. Their work would probably still be sitting in some drawer in their house or in a file on their computer. It’s a good thing they had a tough skin and kept going. On this path littered with inevitable rejections, we should celebrate our successes when they do come. And if you keep trudging away and don’t give up in the frightening face of rejection, you are bound to find some successes along the way.

Keep knocking on those doors, keep pounding the pavement…wait, that sounds pretty old school, doesn’t it? How about keep entering contests, keep submitting to agents and publishers, keep reading and most of all KEEP WRITING. And when one of those figurative doors opens for you? Bask in the glow! Be proud! Celebrate your success! Regardless of how big or small the accomplishment is, you should be busting out in a celebratory happy dance, a la Snoopy.snoopy-dance

And when you’re done dancing, you should share your success. It feels a little more real when you do. Isn’t it nice to hear people say, “Way to go!”? It builds you up and keeps you motivated.

So in taking my own advice, I would like to share one of my recent successes. I sent in a short poem to be considered for The SCBWI Bulletin, the bi-monthly magazine put-out by the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators. I got an e-mail back from the president, Stephen Mooser, saying he hopes to use it in a future issue and that he’s sending me a check. A check? As in, you’re going to pay me for my writing? Woohoo!

Fast forward a few weeks and in the mail today was a check for $50 and a handwritten thank-you from Mr. Mooser himself! You better believe I’m framing that thing! (Ahem, the letter, not the check. That check is going in the bank!)


Tomorrow I will keep on keeping on with this writing thing, but today I’m going to celebrate my success. Cue the happy dance Snoopy!

What I’ve Been Reading (April 2014)

Here are the children’s books that have been in my library bag and on my nightstand in April (well, at least the ones I’d recommend). Go check them out!


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