Great news! Standard Publishing will be publishing one of my stories in their teen publication, ENCOUNTER—The Magazine! This is a special thrill because it is one of my favorites.
This story grew out of a fun assignment for a writing course with the Institute of Children’s Literature. The instructions were to go to a public place to observe children or teens, and make notes on their conversations. I went to my local library, where there were two teenage boys playing chess with the huge chess pieces. I had so much fun taking notes and enjoying their laughter, competitiveness and bravado. Eventually, for another assignment, I conjured up a story with a character based on one of the boys.
Before I submitted it for publication, I took this story to my writing critique group. They gave me a lot of suggestions, which I incorporated. I sent it to a magazine for pre-teens, but they rejected it, and a year later I submitted it to a contest, which I did not hear back from.
Recently I found information about ENCOUNTER—The Magazine in a weekly newsletter called Children’s Writers eNews. I re-read the teen story I’d written a year or so before, and found it a bit confusing. I decided to submit my original story, written for the ICL class—and it was accepted!
That was an educational experience. Although I still think it is smart to get feedback and critiques on my writing, I’ll probably trust my own judgment more!
Standard Publishing is a 150-year-old organization. If you are interested in submitting to ENCOUNTER—The Magazine, or Standard Publishing’s other periodicals, you can find their writer guidelines here and here.
[Chess photo courtesy of Wikipedia, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4d/Large_chess_set.JPG%5D
I’m back working at school and this summer is officially over tomorrow morning, so this is a good time for a round-up of what I’ve been reading during the long, lazy days of the holiday.
Lately, I have been reading and writing about old books, serious books. But browsing through the library feeling the full freedom of being on vacation inspired me to indulge myself in piles and piles of kids’ books! I found award winners, picked up some surprises in Grab Bags, found some brand new titles and authors, and revisited old ones. Here are the best:
No wonder the Pippi books stayed in my mind all these forty-some years! Pippi lives my own childhood fantasies of having exotic animals, traveling the world, living in dangerous jungles, spending most of the time outdoors, and enjoying complete independence. Her thoughts have no logical order but are creative and free, and Pippi—thanks to a supply of gold coins—can give gifts to everyone she meets. She talks to her hat, loves stepping in full gutters, and makes up “facts” out of her wild imagination. This story sails along with nothing but spontaneity, surprises, and laughter, until Pippi’s pirate-dad returns from the sea to take her back with him. But will her love of the tossing waves make up for the loss of her friends?
Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library by Vicki Myron and Bret Witter, illustrated by Steve James
I’m so glad there is a children’s version of the adult book that is so precious. It’s uncanny how much Dewey the cat’s habits and personality are so much like my cat Ginger’s. The illustrator provided perfect drawings to endear kids to the story of the famous library pet.
Caldecott award winner The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes
There is something gentle, rhythmical, predictable and comforting about poems with cumulative patterns. This book takes us through a dark but friendly and peaceful journey out the window, all around and back again. I was in awe when I read that all the intricate drawings were done on scratchboard. According to the author’s fascinating note at the end, the inspiration for this book came from a 1955 nursery rhyme book.
Caldecott award winner A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
The whimsical drawings in this book set the tone, and they pleasantly remind me of many of the books I read as a child in the 1960’s. With one look at his ever-present grin, we are drawn into Amos’s simple daily life as he cares for animals of all personalities who have needs we wouldn’t have noticed unless we were as observant and considerate as he is.
Jennifer and Josephine written and illustrated by Bill Peet
I barely missed Bill Peet growing up, but my own sons were lucky enough to enjoy him and requested his first book, Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure, over and over. In this one, the two main characters are an old, abandoned car and a scrawny homeless cat, whose many emotions are perfectly depicted in the author’s illustrations. Bill Peet worked for Walt Disney as a sketch artist, helping to produce early films such as Fantasia, 101 Dalmations and Peter Pan.
During the extra-busy weeks at the end of my school year, one of my co-workers sent out a link where we could wish Robert Munsch a Happy 50th Birthday. That inspired me to catch up on all of his books I’ve missed since my kids stopped reading them. The illustrations by Michael Martchenko made me laugh almost as much as the words!
I love how the Robert Munsch picks up ideas as he travels to schools all around North America, talking to his young readers and finding out what makes them happy, mad, or frustrated, and then dedicates the book to them!
It was so much fun spending several weeks with kids’ books! If you’re looking for some smiles and heart-warmers to brighten your child’s—or your—reading times, you could start with these!
The life of a writer can be an isolated one, and a writer’s group can be an encouraging and educational help. I joined Inscribe Christian Writers’ Fellowship several years ago in order to find writing tips and a supportive community of likeminded wordsmiths, and to grow in my faith.
One of my first experiences as a member was attending a fall conference in Edmonton, where I was excited to meet a well-known Christian historical novelist whom I greatly admired, Jane Kirkpatrick. (I not only got to meet her, I happened to sit beside her for an entire workshop and get a powerful dose of her humor and expertise, along with her command to never listen to the discouraging gremlins on my shoulder!)
Over the years I have enjoyed participating as one of the monthly writers of the Inscribe Writers Blog, where I have attempted to share my own wisdom, inspiration and experiences. But my greatest benefit from volunteering to write for the blog has been the immense amount of information, help and support I receive from readers the other members’ posts.
Now much of that excellent writing advice has been published in an anthology entitled 7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers. Inside are articles, poetry, short stories, photographs and art to inspire writers in:
- Time with God
- Healthy Living
- Time Management
- Honing Writing Skills
- Crafting a Masterpiece
Here is a sample from the book.
As I read through the book, I enjoyed the feeling of sitting and chatting with the authors, as they do what they do best, tell stories of how they have found success in their writing careers, and been drawn ever closer to God.
For the past year or two I have been working at de-busying my life and my concerns, in order to focus my energies and quiet my mind. This includes weeding out the unnecessary activities and commitments. I have a tendency to want to say “yes” when I am aware of a need that I can help with, or when I am directly or indirectly asked to help, but now I’m saying “maybe”, to give myself time to consider the impact it will have on my goals.
This book by Susie Larson, Your Sacred Yes, parallels the kind of thoughts and decisions I’ve been considering.
Now, maybe it would be simpler to just say “no” to certain requests for our time (even when the request comes from ourselves!). However, Susie Larson looks at it a bit differently. Considering our “yes’s” to be sacred, means to take time beforehand to prioritize what is most important in our lives, which is a valuable activity. “What do our yeses lead to?” she asks.
She cautions us against overcommitment and exhaustion, which can have surprising consequences. The solution, she says, is in trusting our loving God for wisdom and guidance, and understanding that more rests on his broad shoulders than ours. No, it is not our responsibility (or in our power) to fix the world and everyone in it. And our decisions are never going to have the approval of everyone else. The result of adjusting our schedules and attitudes this way is that our lives become more fruitful, calm, confident, joyful and content, and less competitive.
When I requested this book, I thought it would be something of a practical list of types of activities, volunteer work and even mindsets that we should gravitate toward or cultivate. I was partially right. Some chapters strayed off the main message and confused me, but I took a lot of notes nevertheless. There is a lot of excellent material written about the innate value of every single person as a creation of God.
I kept getting the feeling that the author was repeating herself, and perhaps this was because some messages need repeating. I prefer a simpler more logical, linear and focused style of reading, with less emotion and jargon, but many will no doubt appreciate the personable chatty style of this intelligent, accomplished radio talk show host, author and national speaker.
Each chapter ends with a prayer, several questions as personal reflections for the reader to contemplate and write about, a wise word (a quote), several questions for group discussion starters, and a “faith declaration” to help us remember what is true.
This is an energetic book filled with examples of people who have made good and bad choices, and includes the voices of many other wise leaders in the Christian faith. It contains an abundance of references to Biblical truths. I recommend it as one that can help explain our motivation to make commitments we don’t really want to make, and how to bring order and peace to our entire lives by trusting in the power of God, which comes to us through our faith in him.
[I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.]
While on holiday visiting relatives in the Denver area, I decided to check the yellow pages for used bookstores, just in case I had some time to visit them. And I lucked out and got to go to three of them!
The Bookworm in Boulder, Colorado
This bookstore came highly recommended by a friend of our family who lives up in the mountains west of Boulder, an earthy town northwest of Denver. This was originally just to be a place for me to meet another dear friend, and what a great choice that turned out to be, since I got way more browsing time than expected. Clean, well-lit, organized, stocked with a huge supply of books, nicely labelled categories, and staffed by pleasant people, this was a dream of a used bookstore. After browsing my favorite sections (writing, children, fiction, religion) for over an hour, I wandered close to the cash register area and hit the mother lode of old books. Many of their antique books had been shelved along with the newer books, so I was surprised to see one large section (surrounding a desk) completely filled with books published fifty or more years ago. I found this at just the time that my friend was planning to pick me up, and as I awaited her text, I hoped she’d be delayed just a bit longer.
After being assured by staff that I was allowed to snoop through these shelves and the boxes on the floor, I kneeled down on the floor and pulled some books out that were hidden behind a stack of boxes. One of them, I discovered, was a Bible published in 1865. After researching its value, the lovely manager of the store said, “I’m sorry, but this is quite expensive.” It was worth $75 U.S.–more than I wanted to pay. But in her hands were three other old children’s books that she thought I might like, which was a very sweet gesture. I ended up buying two old school readers for $3 each, and the Mere Christianity Journal for $6 in perfect condition. (The idea of using this journal to “dialogue with” C.S. Lewis about his thoughts is thrilling!)
Red Letter Books in Boulder, Colorado
After a fantastic lunch of fish tacos, my friend wanted to browse around another book store–happy dance!–so we went to Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall to one recommended by the sweet manager at Bookworm for its many old and rare books. Red Letter Books was a different type of store, smaller, crowded, not as organized and tidy, but with a bigger selection of interesting books. Outside on the sidewalk were its $1 sale books, and I snatched up a hardcover of Gilead, the Pulitzer Prize’ winner by Marilynne Robinson, for my friend. She in turn bought me Watership Down, which has twice been recommended to me by my pastor. (Now is apparently the time for me to read it, so in spite of the two other books I have on the go, I started reading it immediately!)
I came away with 5 additional books from Red Letter Books, most between $5 and $10: the two books I was missing from my set of 1950’s Winnie the Pooh books, a 1904 romance novel called God’s Good Man, and two other children’s books, Child Rhymes, and Stepping Stones to Literature, both published in the early twentieth century.
Capital Hill Books in Denver
While wandering around and taking pictures in Denver of the gold-domed state capital, the spires of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and the Molly Brown House, I stopped in Capital Hill books. A small but bright and orderly used book store, it has various notes and communications around the store that give it a cheerful personality.
It is arranged and labelled well, and although it has few old children’s books, I couldn’t resist a 1905 edition of my all-time favorite children’s book, A Childs’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I also have a 1950’s version of this beautiful book, which I bought with my allowance money in 1965, as well as a more recent large edition that I bought because of the gorgeous illustrations
In a way, I’m surprised at how these stores are apparently thriving while many other new book stores are failing. I am so grateful to the owners, and all the other used book lovers that help keep them going!
I am excited to have found this excellent writer! Until the Harvest is a masterful illustration of how hearts and lives are transformed through continued offers of friendship, food and forgiveness. It is a story of family, community, relationships and love; the hardships that they cause; and the beauty that only people can bring to our lives.
In the early chapters, I admit that I became impatient with the pace of the action and the simplicity of some characters. But I always looked forward to evenings spent in this community, often reading too far into the night. I appreciated how Sarah Loudin Thomas gradually revealed the nature of each character, and transformation. The subtle ways that the story changed me were a pleasant surprise.
What I loved the most was how the author, through the characters, showed affection even for the antagonists, the ones hardest to tolerate in the story, the ones who seemed to be evil to the core. The faith of a few characters is revealed naturally and subtly in only a few places in the story. I liked that. It is refreshing to see genuine glimpses of their hearts, without characters being overly verbose, emotional or heavy-handed about their beliefs.
I found the farm setting an especially welcome mental retreat from living a fast-paced urban life filled with so many inconsequential time-wasting activities. Although it created an uncomfortable longing in me for a rural lifestyle I knew I was unlikely to ever live, it allowed me to have a taste of that kind of world. I found the tone of the book to be realistic, yet comforting and safe.
It is a true book. It could happen anywhere. People can be cruel for no apparent reason, selfishly deceitful, and manipulating to the point of ruining people’s lives and relationships. But, as we see in Until the Harvest, the power of friendship toward just those people is miraculous.
[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany House book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.]
Calgary READS is an organization close to my heart, because their mission is to make reading a priority for young children. They have grown from offering one tutoring program to now having many programs and initiatives that work in schools and communities to support children and their families.
With so many new and used book stores scaling down, or going out of business, especially the precious little mom-and-pop stores, it is a joy to see that charitable organizations still put in a lot of hard work into book sales, and can raise money because people still buy print books!
Sometimes I feel sad when I see how great of a struggle publishers seem to be having with print books, and when I realize how much electronic devices and videos are replacing reading. But whenever I go to these sales, it makes me smile to see children of all ages looking intensely for their favorite authors, carrying around piles of books to buy and begging mom or dad for “just one more”. There’s just no substitute for a print book that you can hold in your hands with paper pages to flip.
Here is more information (including a map) from the Calgary READS website about this event with live music, Date Night, pajamas, wine and special readings:
Annual CBC/Calgary Reads Big Book Sale
Join us in May for a bibliophilic extravaganza!
One of Calgary’s most anticipated and attended events, this two-day celebration of reading gathers and offers up for sale more than a million pre-loved books. This is a signature fundraising event for Calgary Reads. Money raised supports our programs and initiatives within schools and the community — and makes free resources available to parents and caregivers.
The event includes family time with story read-alouds and refreshments — and the popular Saturday Date Night, featuring live music, wine and book browsing.
Donate books, attend as a shopper — and if you’re interested in volunteering to help sort, set-up, sell or tear down, please register using our Volunteer Form. We’ll be in touch!
Our 2015 CBC / Calgary Reads Big Book Sale takes place on May 22 and 23 at the Calgary Curling Club 720 3rd St NW and more than a million gently-used quality books are ready to find new homes!
The annual fund raising event for Calgary Reads kicks off on Friday May 22 from 9am till 9pm.
Then, on Saturday May 23, Midnight Madness (9am to midnight) is back by popular demand. From 6-8pm, youngsters are invited to wear their jammies and enjoy milk and Girl Guide cookies while listening to readings by special guests. Grownups take over from 9-11pm, as Date Night switches up the vibe, with a cash wine bar and some seductive book-shopping music by Midnight Blue.
- the Calgary Curling Club at 720 3rd St NW between May 9 and 17 (weekdays 10:00am to 7:00pm, and weekends 9:00am to 3:00pm) or at
- the Calgary Food Bank at 5000 – 11 Street SE between May 11 and 15 from 8:30am to 3:30pm.
No encyclopaedias, text books, dictionaries, Harlequin Romances, Readers’ Digests, book tapes, VHS, cassettes, 8-tracks or magazines, please.
Feel like getting more involved? Big Book Sale volunteers enjoy plenty of opportunities to collect, sort and sell books, along with special volunteer-only perks, and that warm fuzzy feeling of knowing you are helping young readers.
Limited free parking is available in the Curling Club lot and on the street. Paid parking is available in the large city lot on the east side of the Curling Club–see the map at the end of the post, or here ).
The Curling Club is at the spot marked “A” in the map below:
Mark your calendar! The book drive started two weeks ago for the Servants Anonymous 13th Annual Calgary Book Sale and you can still donate gently used books until May 4th at the tent in front of the OutPost Tent at Crossroads Market, just off of Blackfoot Trail at 1235 26th Ave SE, Calgary.
I just called their office and they assured me that anyone can come by to do some advanced buying at the Book Sale KICK-OFF on Thursday, May 7th, from 3 PM to 8 PM.
The sale goes from Friday through Sunday for 2 weekends:
May 8 – 10, 2015, 10 AM to 5 PM, and
My 15 – 17, 2015, 10 AM to 5 PM
This is one of the highlights of spring! I have supported this sale for many years, and always enjoy the friendly volunteers, and seeing what’s new. This is an opportunity to browse thousands of books, categorized by general subjects and by fiction genre, and to get a great deal (that supports a good cause). There is plenty of parking there (at the Crossroads Market, 1235 26th Ave SE, Calgary) and it’s worth coming early so you’ll have time to visit the booths of fresh veggies, meats, etc., at the Farmer’s Market!
I recommend shopping with a wheeled traveling or shopping bag-–it’s great for avoiding sore arms from carrying around a pile of heavy treasures and “possibilities”. I will be heading straight for the special gated area with the antiquarian, rare, and just-plain OLD books in the back right corner!
Here are the details of the sale from their website:
“Pleasure is not only determined by the things we do, but by the company we keep.”
Some say that Almighty God wants us to have a close relationship with him, and enjoys spending time with us. One part of this idea naturally appeals to me, but another part resists it. It seems a little too good to be true, and besides, he has a universe to run, and billions of suffering people to attend to, so how would he have time to chat? And how do we spend time with someone we cannot see or audibly hear? So, with these divergent feelings, I was excited at the opportunity to read this book by Dutch Sheets, hoping to find some clarity through the perspective of a well-known author who has a good knowledge of scripture.
The Pleasure of His Company is a cheerful book! It consists of thirty chapters of about eight pages each, which can be read as an inspirational book or as a devotional. I used it as both. At the end of the chapters are prayers based on scriptures. Each chapter focuses on a different angle of drawing near to God, and leads us to consider an easy shift in our routine that can help us leave the noise and busyness behind, and find peace in God’s presence.
The first chapter, “The Person”, set the tone. The author muses about the definition of pleasure, relating some humorous personal thoughts and family personalities. Then, rather than theologically listing God’s attributes, he describes him as one would describe a loved one; a loved one whose way of life on this earth attracted the most extraordinary people, whose divinity brought about one-of-a-kind events, and who set in motion global spiritual transformation. Someone, in other words, far surpassing anyone you’ll ever meet in character and fame, yet, as the author asks, “What if I told you this man requests the pleasure of your company…He created us, mere humans, because he wanted a family, not distant servants.” My reaction to the question was, “I don’t know if I believe that, but keep talking! Keep trying to convince me!”
I oppose overly-chummy—almost disrespectful—approaches toward our holy God, but I cannot deny that Jesus taught us to call God “Abba”, which means “Dad”. I appreciate that Dutch Sheets gives the scripture context that I require to ensure that, far from being a recent spiritual fad, this is what was intended all along since the creation of the human race. He has read between the lines of scripture, and noticed what is said, what is not said, from many different angles.
The author’s voice is welcoming and friendly, speaking from the heart about his own desire to draw near to God. He is trying to lead us (as Jesus was when he met the woman at the well) “out of the blinding fog of non-relational religion”. The pages are packed with exactly the kind of encouragement we need to seriously consider making more time and space in our lives to better know our Creator, with thoughts and emotions that are so basic to humanity that anyone can relate. They show a life of following Christ as something joyful, spent with Someone who delights in us; not our religious activities, not how much money we give to charities, not how morally good we are, but—as parents understand—us, his treasured children.
More than any other inspirational book, this one encourages me to believe that our Father in heaven takes immense pleasure in our company—not only as groups, communities or nations—but as individuals.
[I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany House book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review; the opinions I have expressed are my own.]
To avoid having to pay for and wait for checked baggage, I decided to only bring carry-on luggage on my trip, so that meant that there was no space for unnecessary items. And since I’d planned a do-it-yourself writing retreat and hadn’t decided yet which projects and exercises I’d be working on, I had several books I wanted to take.
Since books are heavy and take up space, I decided to limit myself to just two. So on the morning I was leaving, I lined up all the books I wanted to bring, and started thumbing through them one at a time, hoping it would somehow become obvious which ones should go along, and which ones should stay home.
The winners were a 33-page paperback of creative writing activities, and a novel I am currently engrossed in.
Here’s what happened. I thumbed through each book, and as I saw an interesting page of inspiration, information or writing exercises, I took a picture of it with my tablet’s camera. Just like that, I’d “packed” my books.
Then I found some particularly quiet music that helped me concentrate and uploaded that to my tablet as well.
I made an attempt to find a certain writing and journalling book on my library’s website, but it was already checked out. I’ll plan ahead for that sort of thing next time.
Because I actually prefer to write longhand–mainly because I can’t see the screen on my tablet when I’m outside–I had 3 spiral notebooks I wanted to bring. One was my journal, another was my writing exercises and the third was my Bible notes. But I happened upon a spiral binder at the dollar store which had moveable dividers, so I ended up saving space by having only one notebook.
Next came another choice: which of my projects to bring along to work on. Sigh, more heavy paper. But the tablet was serving me well, so maybe I could load these on the tablet too. It was almost time to leave for the airport, so in the time crunch, it was convenient and quick to put them all on–2 complete novels and many other short pieces–and I could decide on the plane which ones to work on.
While I was at it, I added my boarding pass (because what if I lost my printout?), a sheet of password hints (just in case I needed to do some banking?), and some hotel and tourist information–all of the printed copies of which I could now leave at home.
Would I have time to do some sketching? I slipped a few sheets of sketching paper in the handy pocket of my new spiral binder, and added a small pack of colored pencils to my suitcase.
In my ongoing love-hate relationship with technology, I must say this was certainly a positive bonding experience with my tablet!