7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers — now available on Kindle

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.

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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
  • Submitting
  • Marketing


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.


You can Purchase 7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers from Amazon Kindle at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.


And, if you are interested in the conferences, writers groups, contests, quarterly magazine or forums, click on these links to learn more about the InScribe writers group or the InScribe blog.

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Packing Lightly for a Writing Retreat

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.

IMG_20150331_180448Here’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!






Please Read Our Past Issues

A writer who wants to carefully target a magazine in order to make a sale will study samples of the magazine, as many writer’s guidelines suggest you do.  But this can get expensive.  Having gone through this experience several times, and being frugal to the core, I have a few recommendations of how to familiarize yourself with a magazine publisher’s style and preferences by getting article and magazine samples at bargain prices.  My focus is on children’s magazines, but these tips work just as well for all kinds of magazines.

Free Online Articles

You can find a lot of free samples of the articles that a magazine publishes on websites.  The best resource I’ve found for children is the group of Cricket/Cobblestone magazines, who have a webpage of free articles, as well as an entire sample issue you can read online, for each of their magazines.  I signed up for their emailed newsletter, which has links to free articles, and have gathered about a hundred of them to study so far.  Highlights for Children is another magazine that has archives online.  At HighlightsKids.com, click “Read It” and select Stories or Articles.  You’ll see a few, and then click “Read More”, where you’ll find plenty of their past stories, articles and more.

Magazine cover Clubhouse Jr - Front

Online Databases

A subscription to a database of articles can be pricey, and a lot of my online searches for magazine back issues and articles led me to these.  But as a help for teachers and parents, CobblestoneOnline.net has an incredible searchable database containing all their articles.  It costs $35 per year for a Single User membership.  There are also online databases you can access through your library (see below).

Writer’s Forums and Critique Groups

I found some helpful information and magazine samples on a writer’s forum I belong to, and I hit the mother lode when the leader of my in-person writing critique group gave me a pile of magazines she no longer needed!

Buying Single Issues or Subscriptions

With any luck, you can find issues at your local newsstand or book store.  But I find the selection of periodicals in the stores shrinking, especially the ones I’m interested in.  Many magazine publishers in their writer’s guidelines offer sample issues for just the cost of shipping, at a reduced price, or as a download.

If you are buying several back issues—because the more issues you study, the better you’ll understand the publisher’s needs and style—it can get expensive, so you might find it worthwhile to buy a subscription.  Do check the added cost of shipping so you are prepared.  I am interested in writing for Sunday School papers, so I ordered a set of weekly papers for an entire season at a very reasonable price.

Issues of Highlights Magazine

The Library

The local library carries magazines, but understandably only the most popular.  I still use this as a good source for a few children’s magazines that I’m targeting.  Finding the copies that circulate among the branches will be a different procedure from library to library.  At mine, I used to be able to do an online search in the library’s website, and then I’d be able to see which branch carries which magazines, but the library’s search process has changed and I can’t do that anymore.  So I called the information desk, and a very kind, helpful young lady assured me that she would make a report and send it to me.  (It turned out that she was unable to generate the report automatically, so she made it manually, and I thanked her profusely for the extra time it took her!)

Using my library membership, I also use the eLibrary to search periodicals by various criteria and look at copies of actual magazine pages.  A librarian gave clear step-by-step instructions on how to find the actual pdf’s of articles and stories (which include the great artwork).  For example, I can read all the articles published for the past twenty years for a certain magazine, and see a listing of all the articles they’ve published on certain subjects and in specific issues.

Also, don’t forget to check your library’s sale tables in case they are discarding magazines.


Talk to school librarians to find out if they are planning to discard any of their issues of magazines.  Call in the spring because some will be already preparing for the end of the school year, and you want to catch them before they throw them away.  You will save them some trouble transporting heavy loads of them and they’ll probably be thrilled to pass them along to someone who appreciates them.  I obtained boxes of past issues this way from schools, and accepted all that the librarians offered, even if they weren’t the ones I needed, because you never know if they will be useful to you or someone else in the future.  The downside of this is that you may get old issues, but you might find that even these are helpful.

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Magazines.com and eBay

On the web pages of Best-Childrens-Books.com, Steve Barancik has resources for the parents that visit his site.  He includes a section on where to obtain children’s books and magazines at bargain prices.  You can find more than just children’s reading materials at the links he provides.  The magazines I checked at the links were a huge savings from ordering them from the publisher or other magazine subscription websites.

Steve recommends looking around eBay for books (using the search word “lot” for a lot!), and using Steve’s instructions for finding magazines was just plain FUN!  I bought six recent issues of a favorite children’s magazine for a great price and low shipping cost.  (By the way, he also has web pages on how to write stories, and while you’re there, you can check out my book reviews!)

Thrift Stores, Used Book Stores, and Garage Sales

This is definitely a hit-or-miss activity, but I did want to include it, because the magazine you are looking for might be easy to find in one of these places.  I regularly make the circuit of quite a few thrift stores, looking for books to use for tutoring (or, quite honestly, for the fun of treasure-hunting for all kinds of things), but while I’m there, I take a look to see if they have other resources such as magazines on their shelves.  Depending on the store, you can pick up magazines as low as ten cents each, up to a dollar.  I don’t go to as many garage sales as I used to, for time’s sake—they are very hit-or-miss and I can’t not look at everything—but their prices would be even lower.

If you need magazine samples to study for your writing, I hope that these suggestions will save you some time and money!

“I Guess I Robbed a Bank” published by Good Guy Publishing

Writers sometimes get an “us versus them” attitude toward the editors to whom we send our work.  But I have found an editor that is such a pleasure to work with, I almost stopped caring what happened to my submission.  Meet editor and author Graham Taylor at Good Guy Publishing in the U.K.  We had many emails go back and forth over a few months, and each of his quick responses and warm greetings left me feeling glad that I’d connected with GGP.  It was frosting on the cake when I squeaked in as a finalist in the Flashy Shorts 2 contest.  I highly recommend writers check them out.

Flashy Shorts?!  People displaying their colorful underwear?

colorful_beach_shortsNo, that’s the name of one of GGP’s many competitions, accepting Flash Fiction (500 word max) and Short Story (5,000 word max) entries.  It was hard to find places looking for “long short stories”, but I discovered GGP via a Google search on short story markets, and why wouldn’t I want to do business with a Good Guy?  I sent in “I Guess I Robbed a Bank” after getting the go-ahead from Graham by email, but frankly, I didn’t know I’d actually entered a  competition until they said I was one of the finalists. (Perhaps everything submitted is considered an entry to a competition?)

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Flashy Shorts 2

Hyperventilating at a hyperlink

You can buy Flashy Shorts 2 at Amazon, here.  (That link goes to Amazon.com, rather than the Amazon.co.uk address, because you may have an easier time buying it through Amazon.com.)

Please bear with me in my !!! ExCiTeMeNt !!!.  This is a first for me, my name being listed (even hyperlinked!) on AMAZON as an author.   In an odd coincidence, this is the second short story of mine published in June/July 2013, both written in 2007 while I was out of town on a holiday, both inspired from a writing prompt in The Writer’s Book of Matches.  I’ll have to do some analysis and try to recreate the environment that was so full of creativity.

So do check out Good Guy Publishing, and their many publications.   Here are the opening sentences of “I Guess I Robbed a Bank”.  Maybe they will inspire you to read the rest!

While Veronica waited at the police station for the administrator to return with the documents, she massaged her wrists beneath the handcuffs.  She noticed that a man at the counter kept looking at her.  Well, no wonder.  Her jeans were ripped at the knees and dried blood stained the denim around an ugly wound.  Frightening tattoos decorated the full length of both arms, and sliding tears had left tracks through the pink and blue butterflies on her cheeks…

Free Spreadsheet Templates for Tax Time

A few months ago, I mentioned to some writer friends that I’d created some spreadsheets to calculate my writing income and expenses.  I use these for the writing business portion of my tax return.  I offered to send a copy to them, and a few were interested, so I made them a little more user-friendly (colors!) and included some instructions before I sent them off.  Now I’m offering these to you.

Taxes in August?  Well, ideally if you have a small business, you are logging your business expenses and income each month.  This is always my goal, but  unfortunately I tend to leave all this until the last minute in March.  Anyway, this may give us an incentive to get a head start before tax season rolls around.

Income tax file

I created these spreadsheets on Open Office and saved them as Excel spreadsheets, assuming most people would be using Excel.  WordPress didn’t allow me to upload the Open Office version, but here is the Excel version.

A few notes:
1. I have highlighted in red each cell which contains a formula, so don’t type over those.
2. The GST is automatically calculated when you enter the “before GST” amount.
3. The total cost for each item is automatically calculated by adding in the GST.

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4. The totals for each section are automatically added up at the bottom of the section.  (So, for example, you can see the total GST you paid.)
5. There are 3 separate sheets all in one file: the “Writing Expenses & Income” sheet, the “Business Use of Home” sheet, and the “Business Use of Car” sheet. You can flip between these by using the tabs at the bottom.

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6. The “Writing Expenses & Income” sheet automatically grabs the final numbers from the other 2 sheets and includes them in the calculation of “Total Writing Expenses – Other”. So once you’ve filled those last 2 sheets out, the final numbers will automatically appear on the first sheet.
7. I have shown the calculation next to some of the red formulas.  For example,

“(= B12 / B13)” (the amount in cell B12 divided by the amount in cell B13).

Won’t this make tax time fun?  I’m looking forward to hearing if this is helpful!

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“Inclement Weather” published in The Storyteller Magazine

My short story, “Inclement Weather”, is now appearing in the current issue of The Storyteller: A Writer’s Magazine.  What a thrill!

This story came out of a unique writing opportunity and a great book of writing prompts.  Several years ago when I was a teaching assistant working at an elementary school, I had two months off during the summer, and spent one of those months in Denver visiting my family.  My routine was to spend mornings writing, and the rest of the day visiting.  I’d brought with me a favorite book, The Writer’s Book of Matches: 1001 Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction, and used many of the prompts to write short stories.  This was one of them.

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Over the years, I revised it many times and struggled to find markets for my humorous, slightly romantic story.  Eventually I submitted it to the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition in the Genre Short Story category.  (This is typical of my questionable habit of starting high, in a competitive arena, and if I don’t get a positive response, I know it still needs work.)  And I got no response.  I revisited it a year later, and something occurred to me about a change that was happening with the main character, so I clarified and emphasized that change and felt that I’d improved the whole story.

With this new enthusiasm, I went back to the Writer’s Market books and the internet to find a potential home for my story.  My writing style isn’t the most in-demand.  I don’t write in some of the more popular genres, such as paranormal, thrillers, mysteries or science fiction.  I think my stories could be considered a mixture of women’s fiction with a touch of romance, and on the corny side, definitely tough to find markets for.  So I was excited to find The Storyteller listed in the 2013 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market as a publisher who was specifically looking for wholesome writing.  “We accept all genres, but please remember this is a family magazine and submit accordingly.”

The Storyteller is listed in the 101 Best of the Magazine Markets for 2006-2011, and The Best of the Magazine Markets for Writers 2009-2011. Harvard University has now included the Storyteller in their publication, Magazines for Libraries. It is a world wide publication.

Screenshot - 30-Jul-2013 , 6_35_11 AM Storyteller home pgHere is the brief summary I included on the cover letter for “Inclement Weather”:

All Robert wanted was to come in out of the rain for a few minutes, but the next thing he knew, he was in a shouting match with a complete stranger.  Over a period of less than fifteen minutes, however, the conflict in the dress shop caused a significant change inside him which transformed a faltering element of his personality.  He left a  much taller man with a delightful woman on his arm.

You can buy this and other issues of The Storyteller by going to their website and clicking on “Shop with Us”.  To order this issue, choose the Single Issue option, and select April, May, June.

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Calgary Flood

For the last few weeks, many of my writing, posting and other activities have taken a back seat to the news and activities surrounding the flooding here in Calgary and nearby cities and First Nations.  Our neighborhood was evacuated for several days and since we’ve returned (all safe), I’ve been listening to other people’s stories, telling some of my own and taking many photos.  My own family, in three households around the city, all live close to the Bow River.  When we had to evacuate, we kept in touch by texting as we went in different directions to stay with friends and family, and thankfully were untouched by flood waters.  Here is my story.

June 12th – a week before the flood

At about 9:30 PM the first night of the flood while I was taking pictures of the rising river, a neighbor told me that our area was next to evacuate.  I walked home to listen to the news and by the time the police told us to leave at eleven o’clock at night, I’d grabbed a few days’ clothes, my cat and my neighbor.  We went up the steep hill on our street to a McDonald’s and hung out there with other neighbors, eating and watching the news on television.

The river was supposed to crest between about three and six in the morning, so at about 5 AM on Friday when it started getting light, we decided to go back to see how high the water was.  Police were blocking some of the roads, and we were shocked to see that the little creek about two blocks from our area was now a raging river about five times wider and faster, and was only one block from us.  All the electricity was out, so I figured that was a sign that we weren’t welcome back, so even though we were sure that no water would reach our places, we decided that we would cooperate by going to a shelter at a recreation center.

June 20th – still rising

On the way, we saw that what was once a dog park, golfing range and cement factory was now a raging river.  It was a strange to walk into the hockey rink where my kids had often played hockey, and to see the entire surface of the rink filled with rows of cots!  As was typical around the city, there were so many volunteers and so many donations offered, we watched them turn away people and home-made food because there was no more room for them.  We stayed there and ate three meals, and then went to a friend’s house for the night.  Returning to our neighborhood on Saturday to see if we could salvage some food from our refrigerators before it all spoiled, we found that the electricity was back on and we were allowed to come back home.

The entire downtown core—one of the hardest hit since it is along the river—was flooded and closed for about a week, some businesses even longer.  The mayor asked all companies, whether in flood zones or not, to close up shop in order to allow all emergency vehicles to do their job unhindered by traffic.  I thought this was brilliant, and am in awe of the competency and care of our mayor Naheed Nenshi.  My son’s IT company, which is in operation 24/7, had to move their operations to an employee’s basement and later to a college classroom, carrying on their work via their company’s server near Atlanta, Georgia.

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June 22nd – police borrowing my neighbor’s binoculars to see if it was a person in the middle of the river (it wasn’t, it was just debris)

For a few days, sections of the main highway through town were closed.  It was frightening when a railroad bridge buckled over the river with a train on it carrying tanker cars full of petroleum.  Thank God the bridge held and the train was moved with no further problems.  My neighbor works at the Calgary Zoo, which is on an island in the Bow River in the east part of downtown, and he told me yesterday that they had to lay off seventy-five percent of their staff.  The flood damage required them to close, and it will be months before everything gets up and running again.  In the early part of the flooding there was a contingency plan for some of the large cats from the zoo to be evacuated to the city jail, but it proved unnecessary.

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July 16th – now that the water has gone done, we can see how in many places the trail was gouged out by the river. It all used to look like the trail in the background, only with shale covering it.

I personally don’t know anyone who was flooded out.  A co-worker told me that some friends in Mission—a beautiful neighborhood, many of whose front yards extend to the banks of the Elbow River—lived in a seven million dollar home, but are abandoning it because it will cost two million dollars to repair the flood damage.  The government gave financial support to many victims, and recently announced that there would be conditions on any further support for those in flood zones, encouraging them to rebuild in a different location.

The flood hit two weeks before one of Calgary’s biggest celebrations, the Stampede.  It flooded one of the central venues, the grandstand, rodeo grounds and racetrack where the chuck wagon races are held.  With the announcement that the Stampede would go on as planned, “come hell or high water”, came tee shirts with that logo, sold as fund raisers for flood relief.  I could hardly believe it when I was at the grounds on Sunday and heard that to date $2.1 million has been raised from these shirts!   There on the big screen we saw the amazing transformation in photographs of the entire area under several feet of water, yet two weeks later, it was dried out and remade to a track that the cowboys and horse racers said was a better surface than they’d had in years.  I am inspired and proud of the spirit in this city.

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This bench used to sit in the shade of huge old poplar trees along a lovely red shale walking trail, facing trees and bushes and within hearing of a gurgling creek where the mallards made their nests in the rushes.

I have just returned from my latest walk in my end of the once-flooded park and saw uprooted trees and various strange debris in the middle of a large field that were apparently dropped off by that raging river during the flood.  The creek is almost down to its normal July spring run-off level, but its course has changed to cross over the walking path.  I am—and have been through the past weeks as I have seen the alarmingly fast waters and the hills of large rocks deposited in its wake—in awe of the power of God in nature.  Somehow, though it sits in the center of the most disastrous looking area, my favorite bench is still there in the midst of the wreckage with debris still stuck firmly to it.

My prayers continue for the victims in Calgary and especially High River to the south, and the First Nations to the east and west.  I hope you will join me to ask for help from the ultimate power in the universe, Almighty God, who tells us to call to him and he will answer us, and show us great and mighty things.

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In spite of the changes–and as a passerby said, it’s only people who seem upset about the change of the river’s course and all the trees dropped the the field, not the wildlife–it’s still beautiful here.

Writing for Kindergarten Readers

Since I’m having so much fun writing a story for kindergarteners, I thought I’d share some of what I’m learning.

I started two stories for the Children’s Writer Contest, but I’m pretty sure they are not going to work for this young age. So I thought I’d focus on the words first, instead of the story plot first.

According to Alijandra and Tayopa Mogilner, the authors of Children’s Writer’s Word Book, the kindergarten student’s vocabulary centers around one-syllable words under six letters long, and the sentences need to be VERY short. Many of the short sentences are technically only phrases, but they are what kiddies at this age need.

What I did to get the feel for one of these stories is read her example story over and over until I got the rhythm. Then I started with the A words and looked at each word in the list of acceptable kindergarten words, hoping for inspiration.

Then I took a break and went into the library. Actually, I was already sitting in the parking lot of the library with books to return, and wasn’t allowing myself to actually go inside until I’d written a story. But the dark clouds came and the wind whipped up and I remembered the weather forecast was for thunderstorms, so I went inside after only writing a few phrases.

I looked at four “X” books, early readers, level 1, and the feel of the short sentences got locked in my head. I checked out those books, went back out to my car, opened up that list of kindergarten words again and browsed through them again. Soon I had the germ of an idea for a story. I wrote down some phrases and short sentences, but many of the words for my first ideas weren’t allowed because they were too advanced. So I had to look up the words in the “thesaurus” section of Children’s Writer’s Word Book—what a brilliant idea the authors had, to find other words at the reading level you need—and I began to re-think how else I could express my thoughts within the restrictions of the simplest words.

I started driving home, and at each light, I’d jot down a few words and phrases that had popped into my head since the last light. Now that I’m having fun imagining this story, I have enthusiasm and momentum!

Are you writing for early readers? Let me know what works for you!

Book review of What is a Book App and Could YOU Create One? by Karen Robertson

I have been receiving a newsletter from CBI, Children’s Book Insider, for quite a while, and what a dynamic organization! CBI offers many tips about writing for children, and often gives away some of their valuable resources, which is how I happened to receive this helpful eBook.

What is a Book App and Could You Create One

With all of the changes in the publishing industry, it’s hard to keep up. But Karen Robertson’s book, What is a Book App and Could YOU Create One? How 27 Writers Did!,  gave me a lot of practical information. The loads of interviews and testimonials gave me a sense of the challenges, the wide range of experiences with various contractors and experts needed when creating a book app, the cost, the variety of uses and possibilities, and the reason to create or not create a book app. The only thing that disappointed me was that I didn’t get more of the details of how I could create a book app all on my own, without hiring others for parts of it. At any rate, I now feel informed enough to make a decision about my own book. Thanks so much for putting together all this information in one place, Karen!

(You can buy this eBook on Amazon for only $2.99!)

Children’s Book Week 2013

Don’t miss out on the 94th Children’s Book Week in the U.S., running from May 13 – 19. Organized by Every Child a Reader, Children’s Book Week began in in the United States in 1919 and is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Every year, events are held at schools, libraries, bookstores, homes or wherever children and books connect.

I just found out in the newsletter from Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers that their celebration of Children’s Book Week includes some pretty exciting things. The website features free coloring pages (like the one below) and their blog is running a contest for free books. (I don’t know which I’m more excited about, the coloring or the books!)

Eerdman’s consistently has some of the most enriching books I’ve seen: beautiful words and beautiful art. They put it best in their own words… “…Offering board books, picture books, middle readers, novels, nonfiction, and religious titles for children and young adults, we at EBYR seek to engage young minds with books . . .
. . . books that are honest, wise, and hopeful . . .
. . . books that delight with their story, characters, and good humor . . .
. . . books that inform, inspire, educate, and entertain.”

This isn’t the only Children’s Book Week. Last week from May 4 to May 11, Canada held its 36th Children’s Book Week, which annually includes writing contests, art contests and other activities. I have just learned about the Canadian children’s Book Centre, which appears to be a great resource.  Children’s Book Week in the U.K. is held in the first full week of October each year and has been running for 80 years.

It’s great to have organizations come together to support children and each other. I hope you’ll find some great information that will inspire children to discover and read some marvelous books, old and new.