Back at it: Picture Book Reviews

20190428_151319It’s tough to have a day job, be a mom AND write– don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. It can be done, but there will always be times one of the balls in the air falls to the ground and you stumble around for a while until you get them back in the air again.

Since getting my picture book contract, I’ve been busy with a lot of writing-related tasks, but I’ve also been teaching full-time and balancing family tasks like parent-teacher conferences, choir practice, and getting estimates on our house renovation. You know, the usual.

But through it all, my mind is still filled with story ideas, snippets of poetry, insatiable curiosity about works I see on Twitter, etc. So, let’s get back at it and review some picture books, shall we?

20190428_151132This time the crop is inspired by a display in my local Barnes & Noble showing off 50 books your child should read before the age of 5. Many of them are books I read as a child, many more are books I’ve already reviewed (and loved), but were are a bunch I hadn’t read yet, so let’s go!

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Give the gift of vulnerability this holiday.

FirstParishParadeHappy Holidays!! No matter what you celebrate this time of year, or even if you celebrate nothing at all, the month of December is stressful. My upcoming picture book celebrates a wide variety of traditions, but personally, I’m Christian, so my house is getting ready for Christmas. The religious season is Advent so we have a wreath and an Advent calendar, but it’s hard to get away from the pervasiveness of 24 hour Christmas music, decorations, etc. And to be honest, I don’t mind (so long as they wait until after Thanskgiving). I love the joy and excitement of this time of year– it’s worth the stress that comes with it.

One of my favorite traditions is my town’s annual “Festival 20181201_170636of Lights” parade. My older son has been marching in it for the past 7 years, first as a cub scout and now as a boy scout. My husband, younger son, and I find a spot on the route to watch, usually in front of town hall where we’re close to the cider and the bathrooms in the Congregational church next door.  My love for this small town tradition led me to write this song, “Small Town Christmas.” I’ve written songs for years but outside of the church setting (many are hymns), I don’t share them much.  Even though I have years of choral experience, I love to sing, and I don’t get nervous in front of people, I’m sometimes self-conscious about the sound of my voice as a soloist. And recordings are so hard to get right, there’s always going to be something in there that makes me cringe.

So, my gift to you readers this year is the permission to be vulnerable. Put yourself out there even if you know you are going to make some mistakes. Make a craft for someone even if every stitch isn’t even.  Bring that homemade pie to the party even if the crust is a little too brown.  Put a hand-written note in your Christmas card even if your handwriting is awful. Letting yourself be imperfect is not a sign of laziness, but of bravery.

As for me, I’m going to share this song with you 20181201_163743— there are a few spots I wish I had the post-production talent to fix, but it’s from the heart, right?  The poem itself is below, and the YouTube video is embedded below it.

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

Small Town Christmas – A Maine Carol

Each year I turn on the Macy’s parade,
Rockettes and floats and balloons.
You might think I’d like to visit someday.
Not likely anytime soon!

REFRAIN:

I want a small town Christmas20181201_170217
with some greens on the door
‘Cause when I was a kid,
That’s what everyone did,
And I just couldn’t ask for more.

I’ll take our Festival any old year,
Lighting the trees in the park,
Half of the village lines sidewalks to cheer
Watching the other half march.

Park at the library, walk to the square,
Speakers blare “Jingle Bell Rock.”
Burst out in singing and no one will care,
They might join in round the block.

REFRAIN

Fire trucks, boy scouts, the school marching band,20181201_170048
Cider in front of town hall.
Little kids waving with wool-mittened hands,
Perched on the mossy stone wall.

Folks you find rude at the little league game,
At the parade are just fine.
Maybe tomorrow it’s back to the same,
Wish we could all stay this kind.

REFRAIN

December 4, 2018

How to Make Friends and Influence People: PB Reviews

20180908_123424We’re back to school, folks! That means my book review posts may be slightly less frequent as I focus time on my teaching and steal away a bit for writing and submitting. However, I carved out a bit of time this weekend to read some fabulous new books– most out within the past few months! There’s a thread of similarity running through them as they all have to do with relationships, emotions and fitting in– highly appropriate themes for back to school! Enjoy!

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8 Things I want you to remember about my Daddy:

FrankBigLakeThis weekend we held the memorial services for my Dad, Frank Manzer, who died last week after many years of ill health. I know this blog is usually about the craft of writing and language, but writing is also about memories and emotion. So I thought I would share the words I delivered at his service yesterday, because my Dad taught me a lot about the craft of writing, both explicitly, and by giving me a childhood filled with the kinds of experiences which have provided a lifetime of writing material:

When I was a little girl and we visited “Gramp Manzer,” my Dad’s dad, he was always sitting in a chair being gruff and quiet. I heard stories about how active he had been– he was a “good man, once,” people joked, but it was hard to believe of someone so frail. Meanwhile “MY DADDY” was a Paul Bunyan of a man (though much shorter), who could do anything. Years later, at the end of his life, I knew my own dad had become that same frail man to his grandchildren. So there are a few things I’d like you to remember about my Daddy– some things you might not know about him if you just knew him as a grumpy old man sitting in a chair watching Gunsmoke and the Red Sox. (Cause he certainly was that, too!)

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Writing your Culture: Products, Practices, and Perspectives

IMG_0765
Ever seen an asparagus peeler? (The tool, not the person). Father & son peel white asparagus during ,,Spargelzeit”–an important season in Germany.

Being both a language teacher and a writer, I’m thrilled about the momentum of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks and  #ownvoices movements. Just as kids deserve to see themselves on the page, we all deserve to learn about new experiences, foods, and ways of interacting with the world! That’s why most of us grew to love reading in the first place.

The tricky bit is writing about a culture in a way that makes those within that culture feel validated without alienating others. How? Read on…

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Beyond Disney : Five Grimm Fairy Tales you probably don’t know.

3887437683_429851956b_z‘If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.’ – Albert Einstein

I’m taking a slight departure from picture book reviews today to talk about fairy tales. As a German teacher, and former college professor, I’ve spent a lot of time with fairy tales — teaching the history of the Grimm brothers and their collection of the folk tales handed down in oral tradition as well as the literary fairy tales of the Romantic movement with their intricate tales of madness. Then of course, there are the Disney adaptations with all the blood and violence stripped out, and the marvelous modern re-tellings which turn expected norms on their ears and put familiar characters in diverse new settings.

I read aloud to my kids every night and we’ve done Harry Potter, Narnia, Percy Jackson and many other series, but I thought I’d take a break and pull my “Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales” off the shelf. The boys appreciate hearing a story from start to finish in one night (another perk of picture books!) and I’m ashamed to admit I never read the boys many fairy tales when they were little. We’re avoiding the old standby tales like Snow White and Cinderella (even though the original Grimm versions are much more exciting and bloody) in favor for a few of the obscure ones I discovered in graduate school and often use in my teaching.

So come with me and explore a few stories which deserve way more attention than they’ve been given by “mainstream media:”

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