Last week I had the honor of sharing my writing journey before a delightfully packed hall of residents and guests at Kendal at Lexington, the vibrant continuing care community where my dad lives. The talk was enjoyed by all (me included, once I got over my butterflies), especially because it was accompanied by a colorful slide show. The favorite slide by far was this one depicting two tender moments that inspired me to write GOODNIGHT, MANGER.
On the left, my daughter, then two, gently cares for her new baby doll, given to her by my mother on her birthday. It was with the same tenderness, just a couple of months later (and for several Christmases beyond that as well), that she would care for the little Baby Jesus that was part of our nativity set. She’d carry him around the house saying things like, “Baby Jesus crying. It’s okay, Baby.” Then she’d gently feed him or rock him and sing a lullaby. Before listening to her tender play, I’d never thought of Baby Jesus as ever crying. But, he was human (and God) and so he must have cried. (And in GOODNIGHT, MANGER, He does!)
On the right, you can see what a noisy and unhappy participant my sweet daughter was in the Christmas Pageant held at her school when she was three. Moments after this picture was snapped, I scooped Miss A. up and enjoyed snuggling with my little angel while we watched the nativity story unfold together. There were plenty of angels that day, so it was just fine that she sat out, and the NEXT year she was happy to participate. I think, at barely three, she was overwhelmed by the packed chapel – just as Baby Jesus, in my story, was also overwhelmed by the bustling stable.
A third inspiration experience, not pictured above, was the sweet memory of singing lullabies to Baby Jesus with my kids. Miss A. and I even recorded ourselves doing it once, so we could share the moment with my parents who lived half a country away. You can see it here:
Finally, GOODNIGHT, MANGER was prompted by a personal desire to write a fun Christmas-themed book that would center on Christ, rather than Santa, in what has become a very secularized Christmas season. I wanted to write a Christmas story that would be fun for anyone to read, but which would point them in the direction of Jesus – the real gift of Christmas.
Here’s my closing thought for the day: With only six weeks or so until Christmas, now is the time, before the hustle-bustle of the holiday season sets in, to be thoughtful and intentional about how you will share the story of Christmas with your little ones.
With this in mind, over the course of the next few weeks, I will be sharing ideas new and old describing different ways families, teachers etc. can share the Christmas story with their children in vibrant and engaging ways. And I, of course, would be honored if GOODNIGHT, MANGER makes your list of Christ-focused stories to share with your children this Advent Season. Blessings all!
I have always loved pumpkins. There’s something about their shape, color and flavor that makes me happy.
Here’s the proof:
1. When I was little I requested pumpkin pie instead of cake to serve at my seventh birthday party. (My mother honored the request but wisely also baked a cake because it turns out not all children like pumpkin pie at birthday parties.)
2. I’ve always enjoyed carving jack-o-lanterns, then toasting and eating the seeds.
3. I dressed my children up as jack-o-lanterns when they were babies.
4. I once did a picture book photo shoot in a pumpkin patch!
5. I currently have a pumpkin-themed picture book manuscript that’s out on submission with a handful of publishers.
5. This blog has not just one, but TWO pumpkin-themed posts!
That last bit of evidence (the two blog posts one) also proves that pumpkins don’t just make me happy, they also getting me thinking about writing and how we can make ours better. So, now, without further delay, I’d like to inspire your writing this week with my two pumpkin-themed blog posts. Pick the one that grabs you first, or read both. Either way, have a WONDERFUL pumpkin-inspired writing week!
My first pumpkin post focuses on pumpkin bread, (Yum!) with a writerly takeaway about the importance of conflict in baking good stories. It was inspired by forgetting to stir in a key ingredient. Can you guess what it was? Find out here: Pumpkin Bread: Thoughts on Baking Good Stories.
P.S. Final thought: My daughter celebrates her birthday this week can you guess what she’s requested for her birthday breakfast? Pumpkin bread! The apple (I mean pumpkin) doesn’t fall far from the tree (I mean patch) does it? Just saying. =)
I’ve been keeping this to myself for a little while, but the announcement ran in Publishers Weekly yesterday, so I think I can finally let out exuberant, “Baa-aaah!”
Thank you, Beaming Books, for taking on this project, one of my favorites. I can’t wait for you all to meet Little Ewe and share in her adventures as she counts her way farther and farther from Shepherd. You won’t have to wait too, too long. The book releases in November 2020!
Here’s my writerly takeaway from this latest fun news: Keep writing. Keep subbing. Keep honing your craft. Be true to yourself and good things will come. Happy writing all!
Today I am delighted to welcome debut picture book author Jean Matthew Hall as my guest with an interview as we celebrate the release of her picture book GOD’S BLESSINGS OF FALL, published by Little Lamb Books and beautifully illustrated by Olya Badulina. The book is part of the four part Bountiful Blessings series. And this interview is part of a larger blog tour. To check out the full tour list, visit Jean’s blog at https://jeanmatthewhall.com/gods-blessings-of-fall/.
Thank you for joining us today, Jean. Let’s get started with my questions in autumn orange to match the beautiful fall palette of your book’s charming cover.
Have you always been a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.
As a child I enjoyed drawing and designing more than writing. As an adult I found myself writing many articles and handbooks for my job. It became fun. Then, when I started writing stories it really became fun!
I started writing for publication around 2007. I’ve been studying and having some success since then. God’s Blessings of Fall is my first picture book to be published. This manuscript was one of the first I worked on. I wrote the first draft in 2009.
Writing for publication is a S-L-O-W process. There is much to learn.
You are so right about the slowness of the process, but good things are worth waiting for and working towards patiently. Thanks for for that reminder, Jean!
What inspired you to writeGod’s Blessings of Fall?
I am enamored with God’s created world. I enjoy observing the changes in the seasons. So, following the adage “write what you know”, watching my four-year old grandson running around the yard chasing leaves on a crisp autumn day was the spark for this story.
I’m so glad you were intentional and recognized his joyful play as the spark to a story.
Can you tell us about the illustrator? What was it like seeing your text come to full color with illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread?
Olya Badulina lives in Russia with her husband and two children. She used her favorite medium for God’s Blessings of Fall –watercolors. She has illustrated books for authors around the world.
My favorite spread is the first one in the book. The animals are adorable throughout the book, but the barn, the golden fields and falling leaves just shout fall to me.
It was surreal holding the book and seeing the animals and scenes that had been living in my head for years. I felt both proud and humble at the same time. It was a feeling of real accomplishment to see my vision and the illustrator’s vision come together to make a lovely book.
In my experience that feeling never gets old!
What advice would you give parents and caregivers who want to share their faith with their kids?
Live your faith in front of your kids. Let them witness your faith living and at work in your day-to-day life. It shouts authenticity to them. And THAT is what attracts your children to live that kind of faith-filled life. Be careful that your words line up with your actions and attitiudes.
Beautiful advice! Yes!
Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline? Where can readers find your books?
God’s Blessings of Fall is the first in the four-book Bountiful Blessings series. Books featuring the other seasons will come over the next 18 months. I also have several holiday stories trying to find homes with interested publishers. Praying that will happen soon!
Thanks, Laura, for helping me share the good news about God’s Blessings of Fall.
Thank YOU, Jean, for sharing your story here and along with your wonderful wisdom for laying good faith foundations for our little ones. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. I look forward to seeing your other books on shelves everywhere!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jean Matthew Hall has spent most of her life singing songs, reading books, playing games, cutting, coloring and gluing with children of all ages. And, she loves it! Creating encouraging board books and picture books is her idea of fun, but her favorite times are spent with her eight grandchildren.
Jean’s picture book God’s Blessings of Fall debuted in September 2019. It is the first in her Bountiful Blessings series about the four seasons.
You can contact Jean or learn more about her here:
Now for the GIVEAWAY! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of GOD’S BLESSINGS OF FALL (Little Lamb Books, September 2019) simply post a comment below letting me know that you’d like to enter. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 10/31/19 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced that Friday! THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. The winner is announced here. Thank you to all who entered.
Today I am delighted to be hosting children’s author Dawn Babb Prochovnic as we celebrate the release of her darling companion picture books WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? and WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? both illustrated by Jacob Souva and both published by West Margin Press. Congratulations! Now, without further fuss, here are FIVE, not just FUN, but truly INSPIRING FACTS about the books from the author herself.
FIVE Fun Facts About Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? & Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?
By Dawn Prochovnic
FUN FACT #1 Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? was inspired by the antics of my son, then a toddler, now a senior in high school.
There was a day when my son was being particularly silly, running through the house with a diaper on his bottom, a bandana on his head, and a pirate’s patch over one eye. He looked at me with an ornery twinkle in his uncovered eye, and asked in his best, pirate-y gruff toddler voice, “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?” I knew immediately that was the title for a book, and I started drafting a manuscript soon after. It took many years and many revisions to get this story just right, but what I continue to love about it is that each time I read it, I am instantly transported back to that memorable moment shared with my son, when he first posed that silly question to me.
FUN FACT #2 Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? emerged out of a writing exercise.
My pirate manuscript was a crowd-pleaser at open mics at writing conferences, and it received several close looks from different editors and publishers, but it had yet to sell. Eventually, I decided to completely reimagine the story with another main character. In 2015, I was invited to contribute a story to a beautiful picture book anthology called Oregon Reads Aloud. The primary submission guideline was that every story in the book needed to relate to Oregon in some fashion. I took a close look at my work-in-progress file, and after some encouragement from one of my critique partners, I decided to “Oregon-ize” a “first-day-of-school” story that had gotten a few editorial nibbles, but that also hadn’t sold. I LOVED the experience of revising within a structured framework. Ideas for clever revisions that fit within the Oregon theme and within my overall plot structure and rhyme pattern came relatively easily. Happily, the story was accepted for inclusion in the anthology, and I had a refreshed publication credit under my belt and a renewed sense of confidence in my writing ability.
A couple of years later, as a writing exercise, I challenged myself to experiment with westernizing my pirate story. Unfortunately, my attempts fell flat. I eventually came to realize that I was essentially inserting a random cowboy into my pirate’s story. I needed to do some deeper work on character development. Then I had a new idea: What about a cowgirl?
I found myself immediately transported back to a time when my college-aged daughter was in grade school, and her wardrobe included a bright pink pair of cowgirl boots. I paged through old photos and found the one I was looking for: A photo of my daughter dressed-up for her western-themed grade school carnival. I finally had the kernel of a new character in my mind’s eye. This character was unique and separate from the pirate character that I couldn’t let go of, and she had her own story to tell. Yee-Haw!
FUN FACT #3 I went from having no contract offers on the table for my “potty books” to having two simultaneous contract offers on the table–one for the pirate story and the other for the cowgirl story.
Once I finished my cowgirl story, I identified a list of publishers that would be a good fit and started the process of submitting this new story. I had not submitted my pirate story in quite some time, and unbeknownst to me, it was going through the acquisition channels at a New York publishing house. Seemingly suddenly, I had publishing offers from two different publishers on the table, each primarily interested in one of the two books. Soon, both publishers indicated they would like to acquire both books and publish them as companion pieces, so I needed to decide which of the two publishing houses I wanted to work with and begin negotiating a contract. I reached out to a handful of agents on my agent prospect list to see if anyone would help me navigate this opportunity. I only heard back from one, and she graciously declined. I then reached out to a handful of authors, booksellers, and librarians in my personal and professional networks to seek input and advice. Once I decided that West Margin Press (then called Graphic Arts Books) was the best fit for my vision for the books, I turned to the Authors Guild to help me identify the contract terms that were most important to me.
Although I certainly would have welcomed representation during this process, I learned so much along the way, and I don’t regret how it all turned out. I’m very comfortable with the decisions I made, and I couldn’t be happier with the experience of working with West Margin Press. That said, I continue to have deep admiration for the publisher I didn’t get to work with–and I continue to hold hope that we will land on another project that is a good fit.
FUN FACT #4 I used a HEAP of sticky notes to help me organize my thoughts and ideas during the editorial process for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?
Anyone who knows me, knows I am a big fan of sticky notes. I use sticky notes to help me prioritize competing to-do’s and organize larger projects, and I’ve taught many others to do the same in the workshops I teach. I have them plastered near my front door to remind me to bring a particular something with me when I leave the house. I have them in my car to remind me of errands I need to run. I leave them on the kitchen table to let my kids know where I’ve gone and when I’ll be back, and I have them in wild disarray all over my desk with scribbles of story ideas, to-do’s, and phone numbers. Every so often (truthfully, not often enough), I consolidate the notes scattered on my desk to one or two notes, and start anew.
I heavily leaned on sticky notes during the revision process for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? to help me organize my thoughts and the characters’ dialogue. After the editing process was completed for Cowgirl, I wrote out the text of the story on sticky notes. The story is told in dialogue bubbles, so I used different colors to indicate main character, supporting character, etc. I then did the same for the (yet to be edited) Pirate story, leaving blank sticky notes for dialogue that had not yet been written or that needed to be revised to align with the structure and tone of the Cowgirl story. I find that sticky notes makes it easier to revise/move text, and it creates a visual point of reference to assess the pacing of the story.
FUN FACT #5 Helping create songs for Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does A Cowgirl Go Potty? may just be the most fun I’ve had yet!
Last year, as a gift to my husband for our 30th wedding anniversary, I wrote the lyrics for a song and worked with a singer/songwriter who wrote the music and recorded the song (You can listen to the song and read a blog post that tells the story behind the song here. The process reminded me how much I love being a part of “music.” Whenever I see live music, mostly in small, local venues, not only do I enjoy the experience of listening, but I find myself wishing I were on the stage performing with the artists. I’ve long joked with friends that I’d like to be part of a “girl band” (whatever that means), saying I play a mean tambourine and could sing back-up (I played the drums in middle school and can still keep a pretty decent beat… and I regularly lead songs in my parent/child “sing and sign” classes).
This past January, as I was making goals for the coming year, I realized that I was making this “joke” more and more often, and that I really wasn’t joking–I DID want to be part of something musical.
So …. I started reaching out to my personal and professional networks, (and in some cases perfect strangers), and eventually was introduced to two different singer/songwriter/performers. They each have completely different work styles and musical styles, but what they have in common is that they are both wonderful musicians and sincerely good people, that I now call friends. I collaborated with these musicians to create a companion children’s song for each book. In one case I wrote all the lyrics, in the other I co-wrote the lyrics. In both cases, the musicians wrote the music and performed and recorded the songs, which are works of art in their own right. I couldn’t be any more proud about how the songs turned out.
The music for the Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? song was written and performed by AnnieBirdd Music, LLC, with Annie Lynn, Walt Wilczewski, and Chris Arms, and starring Red Beard The Pirate, a.k.a. Alexander Wilczewski.
You can listen to our song by viewing the animated book trailer that illustrator Jacob Souva created for our book:
The song for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? was written and performed by Singer/Songwriter/Performing Musician, Marshall Mitchell.
The song-writing process was SO. MUCH. FUN! … I can’t wait to do it again!
Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Laura! I really enjoyed thinking about and writing about Five Fun Facts related to my new books.
About the Author: Dawn Babb Prochovnic is the author of Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes Series, including one title that was selected as an Oregon Book Awards finalist, and she is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud. Dawn is a vocal advocate for school and public libraries and was honored as a 2015 Oregon Library Supporter of the Year by the Oregon Library Association. She is a frequent presenter at schools, libraries and educational conferences, and the founder of SmallTalk Learning, which provides American Sign Language and early literacy education. Dawn loves to travel and has visited thousands of potties across the Pacific Northwest and around the world. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, two kids, two cats, and a feisty dog. Learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com
I spent a delightful couple of hours Monday morning visiting with the K-2nd graders at Hillside Avenue School. After introducing myself and sharing a couple of the sparks (real-life things that happened to my own kids) that inspired the story, I read them LOVE IS KIND, pausing occasionally to reflect on how the text and the illustrations work together to tell the story. I also challenged them to give me a nod when we got to the parts of the story that were inspired by real-life events. (Hint: They had to do with the tooth fairy and a floating five dollar bill! If this intrigues you, you’ll just have to read the story.)
Afterwards, using sketches, galleys and more, I took them on the journey a picture book takes from inspiration to publication. And all along the way, I challenged them to think about how they, too, are writers and illustrators and how the stories we create just keep getting better and better when we take those original sparks and play and play with them through multiple rounds of revision until they sparkle. Finally, we closed with a Q&A where they impressed me with their thoughtful questions.
This event helped kick off the school’s Week of Respect, a national occasion that is celebrated in schools nationwide. And since love and kindness are two thoughtful ways one can show respect, LOVE IS KIND seemed a perfect pick.
Thank you, teachers and students for a great visit. And a special thanks to the school’s very kind librarian for arranging the visit. What a fun way to start the week!
I always enjoy meeting authors through social media and was delighted to connect recently with Brock Eastman who has written not just picture books/board books but also middle grade. He’s here today to share FIVE FUN facts about his two newest releases for littlest readers, Mommy’s Favorite Smell & Daddy’s Favorite Sound both published by Harvest House. The publisher sent me a review copy of Mommy’s Favorite Smell so I could have a full sense for his books. I’ve never read a book that focuses so exclusively on smell! FUN! I hope you enjoy the post. Happy sniffing!
FIVE Fun Facts About Mommy’s Favorite Smell & Daddy’s Favorite Sound
By Brock Eastman
FUN FACT #1: My kids inspire me.
My daughter asked me, “Is this your favorite sound?” as she moved a slinky back and forth in her little hands.
“No that’s not my favorite sound,” I said.
“What’s your favorite sound?” she asked.
“Kinley, I love you,” I said.
“Daddy, I love you too,” she repeated.
I smiled and said, “That is my favorite sound!”
And that is how Little Lion came to be. After ten years and many drafts, Daddy’s Favorite Sound found a home with Harvest House. And soon there were two books, one for Daddy and one for Mommy.
FUN FACT #2: My wife inspires me too.
All the credit for the second book’s idea, Mommy’s Favorite Smell, goes to my wife. We were driving back from a date talking about what Mommy’s Favorite could be and she shared one her favorite moments as a mom with me, and that was it. We are excited to share what Mommy’s Favorite Smell is to us, and we think you’ll probably agree. But to find out, you’ll have to read the book aloud to your kids or grandkids or classroom.
FUN FACT #3: Reading wasn’t my thing, and neither was writing.
I despised reading when I was younger, it wasn’t until I was in college that I started to enjoy reading. And with a degree in marketing, writing never occurred to me as something I might do. But God opened some doors and next thing I knew I had a 5-book contract for a middle grade series called The Quest for Truth, in fact the final book (Hope) released in July. From there I’ve continued to create new stories.
FUN FACT #4: Illustrator David Miles is amazing.
I met David Miles the illustrator for Daddy’s Favorite Sound and Mommy’s Favorite Smell through a story I wrote for Clubhouse magazine. I wrote a story called Waste Deep, which was connected loosely to The Quest for Truth galaxy. Clubhouse magazine selected David to illustrate the story, and soon he brought my story to life in ways I couldn’t even imagine.
FUN FACT #5: Readers…Parents…Imagination
I hope parents will read my stories to their soon-to-be-readers while snuggling up together with their kids, And I hope that as kids hear these stories, their imaginations will be sparked and they’ll want to read more and more.
Brock Eastman has a degree in Marketing and works for Compassion International. Previously he was a producer and podcast host for Adventures in Odyssey. He is the author of The Quest for Truth series, Daddy’s Favorite Sound, Mommy’s Favorite Smell, Bedtime on Noah’s Ark, Sages of Darkness series, and Imagination Station series; Showdown with the Shepherd. He writes articles for Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. Magazines. He loves reading stories to his four kids each night.
It’s been almost six years since my mother, whose lovely banner still graces this blog, passed away. And though I no longer mourn her loss in the intense way I did in the months following her death, every so often, something catches me – takes me by surprise- blessing me anew with memories of how faith-filled and strong she was —even the midst of struggle.
The blessing happened again recently as I was sorting through a desk drawer. This particular drawer was stuffed with old journals, letters and photos and, in an effort to thoughtfully thin the contents, I pulled everything out so I could sort into keep and toss piles. That’s when I discovered this:
I knew what it was immediately – one of my mother’s many sketchbooks, but I wasn’t sure exactly why it was in this drawer, since all the other contents were assorted papers of mine.
I have several sketchbooks of hers and they are all similar – a blend of notes to herself to remember – say – to pick up milk at the store – and sketches she made while sitting in concerts or coffee shops or parks.
I opened this sketchbook gingerly and it was an instant peek into her soul. Turning the pages, one by one, my heart filled with love for the hand that had etched each quick sketch and stylized ink creation, for they all reminded me of her. Here are some samples:
Then I turned the page and wow, just wow! Right before my eyes was the answer to a question I’d been longing to confirm for years —and regretting that I had not written down. It was like an answered prayer —and a renewed blessing to me.
In the spring of 2012, six months before my mother was diagnosed with ALS, but when she was starting to suspect something wasn’t quite right because she was struggling to regain her strength after back surgery, despite intense physical therapy sessions at the gym, she felt overcome by fear and anxiety. So one morning, during her prayer time, she asked God to please grant her faith, hope, and strength for the days ahead.
When she arrived at the gym she was in for a surprise. Her regular therapist was not in that day. Instead, a new therapist, one she had never seen before, greeted her. There was nothing particularly different about him. He was just an ordinary guy, but he was kind and sweet with my mom and very soon she noticed three special things about him. First, he had two crosses around his neck (FAITH!). Second, he had big tattoo on his right bicep that said HOPE! And, third, as my mom explained to me afterwards, he was very, very strong (STRENGTH!).
I remember the joy in my mom’s voice as she described this encounter to me, for she immediately saw God in the moment —using that therapist to bring her the promise of FAITH, HOPE and STRENGTH that she so longed for. And, given my mother’s sense of humor, it arrived in the perfect package.
It brought her such joy, indeed, that, later that day, she sketched it into her notebook —a soul-nourishing reminder that God hears us when we cry out to Him, and that if we are listening, and waiting expectantly, He will answer.
Those drawings were primarily for feeding her soul, of course, but my re-discovering them also fed my soul. For me, and I hope for you, too, her sketches are a much needed reminder not to underestimate the power of the still, small voice of God to speak to you in the midst of your struggles – most likely in the way you least suspect – such as through presence of this kind therapist whose appearance, which reflected all three attributes my mother had prayed for that day, was just what she needed.
Here’s my mind-boggling (at least to me), closing thought. When that therapist got dressed that day, I’m sure he had no idea that God would use his very presence to bless a worn and discouraged woman who needed a little boost of encouragement.
Think about it. Maybe this very week, or this very day, or this very morning, you might be God’s vehicle —in a way you haven’t even fathomed— to bring Light and Hope to another. I don’t know about you, but that sure motivates me to step out into this day, with all that it brings – in kindness and love.
May your week be filled with blessings —both received and given!