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Christy Catherine Marshall

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July 31, 2010

Ramona and Beezus opened in theaters last Friday, July 23, and we couldn’t wait to see it. I think we saw the previews for it months ago before the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie. And you KNOW what a huge Beverly Cleary fan I am! It was co-produced by Walden Media, which has an amazing track record of turning books kids love into movies.

I was overjoyed to be able to invite some of my friends and their daughters to a rated G movie. I didn’t have to worry about any questionable material. This film was so much fun! My girls love Selena Gomez, and the little girl who played Ramona, Joey King, was absolutely adorable.

If you’ve read the whole Ramona series, you’ll see how the script writers cleverly wove together scenes from several of Beverly Cleary’s books. The overall plot centers around the storyline from Ramona and Her Father, when Mr. Quimby loses his job. Throughout the movie, tension builds because Ramona is afraid they’re going to lose their house, so she’s constantly coming up with schemes to earn some money.

And of course, she gets into lots of trouble.

I thought this was a very appropriate theme for families to see together, with the shambles our American economy is still in. Many parents have been hit with job loss, like Mr. Quimby. Yet, in the movie, good things begin to happen, as Mr. Quimby spends more time with his family between job interviews, and he begins to unearth long-ago talents and desires. There’s a scene where Ramona and her dad spend an afternoon drawing together on the floor that is so full of the joys of parenting.

You can read a detailed review on Focus on the Family’s Plugged-in site. Ginnifer Goodwin, who plays Aunt Bea, and Josh Duhamel, who plays Hobart, create a wonderful romantic subplot. I promise you’ll need to bring some tissues. I left the theater with mascara streaks all over my face.

In Beverly Cleary’s interview on her 94th birthday, she does confess some reservations about Beezus and Henry sharing an on-screen crush. She says:

I wanted the film to be called Ramona Quimby or Ramona Q, because it’s about a little girl, but the movie people were very concerned about their teenage audience and made Beezus older. They included Henry, which I did not want and even had them kiss. I asked to have that scene removed and at this point I don’t know if they did. I expect to get letters saying, “It wasn’t like that in the books.” The little girl who plays Ramona is excellent. She likes my books and was eager to play the part. I’m very pleased with the cinematic Ramona.

I personally found it magical to see Ramona on the big screen. I read the books as a child, read them again to my children, and now have seen a director bring these wonderful characters to life. I remember in Beverly Cleary’s memoir, My Own Two Feet, she describes how she came up with the characters, Beezus and Ramona. She created Beezus as a friend for her main hero, Henry Huggins. And then she thought she’d better give Beezus a sibling, so one day she heard a neighbor call out, “Ramona.” And she thought that was a good name. This took place around 1950.

Ah … and the rest is history.

Go see the movie. Enjoy it. But then go to your library or bookstore and get copies of all the books. Read them aloud as a family — and have FUN!

July 30, 2010

Hey Moms and Book Lovers!

I just found out about this very cool program for kids. We were shopping at the mall recently looking for new backpacks and school clothes, believe it or not, and we slipped into Borders to see what was new in the children’s book department.

I found out it’s not too late for your kids to join in the Double Dog Dare Summer Reading Club. All you have to do is go here and print out the form, then have them fill in ten books they’ve read since school was out. You have until August 26 to turn the forms in, and your kids can win a free book!

The books they can choose from are awesome:

Ramona the Brave, by Beverly Cleary
Miss Daisy is Crazy! by Dan Gutman
Flat Stanley, by Jeff Brown
Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary
The Ruins of Gorlan, by John Flanagan
Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare
Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes
The River, by Gary Paulsen
Kristy’s Great Idea, by Ann M. Martin (Babysitter’s Club)

Hmmm … in looking over this list, I realize we already own most of these books. But I still plan to go pick up our free copies because, don’t you know, books make great birthday gifts! And they also make nice teacher gifts as well, since I know teachers love having their own stash of great books for kids to read.

Isn’t this a fun idea? Thank you, Borders marketing people! We moms need all the help we can get motivating our children to read.

P.S. Even if you don’t join the program, be sure to read Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney’s letter to educators about the importance of reading.

July 27, 2010

Today’s guest is Meredith Efken, who has written a fascinating novel about adopting a child from China. I’d love to share her book with someone who is interested in this topic. Please leave a comment below or email me privately, and I’ll draw a name on Friday to win LUCKY BABY. [Update: Congratulations to Laura! She won the free copy of this book!]

Hi Meredith. I was excited about reading your book because I know several families who’ve adopted daughters from China. Can you tell us about your inspiration for writing LUCKY BABY?

In 1999, my husband and I adopted our oldest daughter from China. She was fourteen months old, and neither she nor her new parents had the faintest clue what to do with each other. Becoming a family, with the addition of our second (non-adopted) daughter three years later, was this miraculous, inspiring, and sometimes heart-breaking journey. I wanted to write about that journey — not just the usual “orphan finds family in happy-ever-after ending.”

The adoption became the hook for the story, but what I really ended up exploring was the process of becoming a mother — that process of being broken, being shaped, of dying, living, of losing all control over your heart because it doesn’t belong to you any more — and how thrilling, and frightening, and painful it all can be.

Your novel gave me a lot of new insight into the emotions involved on both sides of adoption. How much of Meg and Eva’s story was similar to you and your daughter’s?

Much of it is quite different, actually. My daughter was much younger than Eva when we adopted her, and she didn’t have any physical disabilities (even though we’d been told she did.) Eva’s attachment problems are also far more severe than anything our daughter has experienced, though some of the questions and internal conflict about birth parents and adoptive parents — and their roles in her life — are ones that are very common not just for my daughter but for many adopted children everywhere.

My own family and upbringing, as well as my husband’s, are drastically different (and much more positive) than those of Meg and Lewis in the story. That’s been one of the interesting things about this novel and people’s reaction to it — I must have hit a lot of the emotional notes correctly, because many people assume the story is a lot more autobiographical than it is.

But I did draw on some of my own insecurities and fears about parenting, as well as the stories and experiences of many, many mothers — both adoptive and not. Even though the emotions in the story are not always from my own experience, they are the experiences of many other families. I hope the truth of those experiences comes through in the book.

What made you decide to focus on such a difficult aspect of the adopting experience? (i.e., attachment disorder). Is this common, especially for families who adopt an older child?

Well, first, let me just adjust the question a bit. “Attachment disorder” is a specific psychological disorder that can affect any child who has been neglected or undergone trauma as an infant or toddler — not just children who are adopted. A psychologist can evaluate a child for RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) and recommend therapy and support for the child and the family, but it is definitely a challenging and difficult disorder to work with.

However, RAD is distinct from having problems adjusting to a family or problems developing attachment after an adoption. I think it’s not an either/or situation — RAD or no problems at all. There is a wide range of experience between those two extremes. Not every child who struggles to adapt to their adoptive family has RAD. And not every child who is adopted has attachment problems — no one really understands what causes some children to struggle while others seem to have no problems at all. It’s very complicated.

That said, nearly all adopted children do have struggles unique to the adoption experience. They’ve all experienced a trauma early in life — that of losing their birth parents, even if they can’t remember it. There is a grief process they must go through to deal with that loss. Additionally, a child who has been in an orphanage or foster family experiences loss a second time when they go from that placement to their adoptive family. Even though the adoption provides the benefit of a stable, permanent, loving environment, the loss of the familiar is still traumatic.

That double loss has consequences. It affects a child in often-profound ways. So I chose to write about that, showing one child’s process of grieving and coming to terms with her loss and the impact that has on her family and friends. I don’t consider Eva to have actual RAD. She has experienced deep loss that is far bigger than what she can process on her own, and so she does end up needing the help of a therapist to work through those issues before she can really integrate into her new family.

The process of grieving for what has been lost and then moving forward with a new family looks different for each child. Some children have a much more difficult time than others. Some seem to adjust fine in childhood, but will have to deal with their grief as adults. Others seem to come through it all very smoothly at a young age and are fine. I don’t think that the age of the child at adoption necessarily impacts their attachment or adjustment by itself. My understanding is that there is an entire range of factors that can impact how a certain child reacts to an adoption.

It’s something all adoptive parents need to be aware of, but not fearful of. Adopted children — especially ones who have been in an institutional setting like an orphanage — by the very fact of being adopted have special needs that their new parents have to be prepared to deal with.

Getting support early and being patient, educating themselves, and being committed to the process for as long as it takes are what adoptive parents need to plan on if they choose to adopt. It’s not always easy, but the good news is that the vast majority of adopted children do adapt, and do go on to have very productive, healthy lives. There is a lot of support and a lot of hope available to families who are working through this process.

Thank you, Meredith, for all of this valuable information! While reading your book, I really felt like I was visiting China. You describe the sounds, smells, and sights that take your reader there. How did you learn so much about China? What is your favorite place to visit?

We traveled to China for the adoption in 1999. We spent a couple days in Beijing, about a week in our daughter’s birth city for the adoption, and then about another week in Guangzhou, to go through the immigration process to bring her home. Much of my description of China was based on that trip, including our short tour of our daughter’s orphanage.

When I needed to fill in all the many gaps in my knowledge (since two weeks is hardly enough time to really understand a foreign country), I went to a variety of sources, including blogs of expats living in China, some Chinese friends living in my city, videos on YouTube, and other adoptive families. The hardest part was portraying life in a private Chinese home in China, since I haven’t had the opportunity to actually visit anyone’s home in China.

I found videos on YouTube of people in China getting together with friends in their homes, and I also used real estate listings to see photos of the interiors of various homes in Shanghai. I did a lot of reading about how they celebrate holidays such as Chinese New Year, what foods they eat — like for breakfast — and from there I used my imagination.

My daughter and I traveled back to China last summer (2009), and I was amazed at the difference 10 years has made in the nation. I had to make some last-minute adjustments to my book based on that trip because the country as a whole has become so much more developed over the past decade.

My favorite place I’ve visited is definitely Kunming, in Yunnan Province. The weather is beautiful, the people are friendly, and Yunnan is home to over half of the ethnic minorities that live in China, so the cultural heritage is extremely rich. Plus, they have some beautiful parks and lots of flowers. The food is amazing, too.

You mention Chinese phrases often in your writing. Have you studied the Chinese language? In your book, parents Meg and Lewis want their daughter Eva to retain some of her cultural heritage by learning Chinese. Do you think it’s a good idea for children adopted from China to keep in touch with their native language in some way?

I have studied Chinese just a very little bit. It’s a beautiful language, and not nearly so hard as it has a reputation of being. We’ve got classes in our city that are specifically for adoptive families, but due to our daughter’s dance schedule (she’s intensely pursuing ballet as a possible career) we haven’t been able to make the Chinese classes.

Most of the phrases in the book were either translated for me by Chinese acquaintances or were taken from phrase lists for adoptive families on the internet.

I think children adopted from a different culture should always be offered as many opportunities as possible to learn about and interact with that culture. But each child’s level of interest in doing so is going to be different. I don’t think it’s good to force it on them.

As far as language-learning goes, I think it’s a good idea if the opportunity is there. But realistically, unless the adoptive parents are fluent in the language and use it regularly at home, a child isn’t going to become bilingual or even fluent just by weekly language classes. The exposure to the language is good — it’s good for any child to learn a second language. Learning Chinese is an especially good idea right now, considering that it is becoming a more dominant force globally.

I confess I got hungry for Chinese cuisine while reading your book. It’s full of references to delicious food! What is your favorite Chinese food? Can you find it where you live in the U.S.?

I have to say — if all you’ve experienced of “Chinese food” is in a Chinese restaurant in America, you are missing out. Real Chinese food is completely different — a tremendous variety of flavors and ingredients (a few are far too exotic for my comfort!). It’s quite an adventure!

Some of what I like best in real Chinese food (which varies greatly by region of the country) are the simple dishes — the stir-fried green beans or the mushrooms. I even had a friend in the States once who stir-fried spaghetti squash and sliced sweet peppers, and it was heaven. They don’t actually use such thick sauces as the restaurants here do. The sauce is generally more broth-like, and it lets the flavor of the vegetable really come through.

I also like the dumplings and stuffed buns — which they do serve in some parts of China, though I don’t think it’s quite as common as the dim sum restaurants in our American Chinatowns are.

We had one dish in Kunming during our 1999 trip that I’ve been dreaming of ever since. It was called Yunnan Flavor Soup, though I think it may be called “Over The Bridge Soup” in other parts of the country. The waiter brought us super-heated broth, and a tray of raw meat slices (I wasn’t a vegetarian at that point) which we cooked in the soup broth itself. Then we added vegetables, noodles, and what I believe was a quail egg. The broth cooked all of it, and it was simply delicious–and so much fun to assemble and “cook” it ourselves.

I have not been able to find a recipe for it or any restaurant that makes it, but if anyone knows of a recipe for it, I’d love to have it.

Throughout the book, you weave in certain symbols, such as ladybugs, dragons, and a dream-like Chinese woman who appears at various points in Meg’s journey. Can you tell us how you got interested in writing using magical realism? How do you think it adds to the story?

I really struggled in writing this book to adequately express the sense of wonder and the miraculous nature of the adoption experience. Plain old prose just didn’t seem to do it, and it was quite frustrating from an artistic standpoint. I’d been reading about magical realism as a genre, and it intrigued me conceptually — the writers attempt to flip-flop reality by portraying the fantastic as normal and the mundane as magical — but much of classic magical realism is darkly political in nature and didn’t really appeal to me.

Then I came across some women writers of magical realism, such as Isabel Allende, Sarah Addison Allen, and Alice Hoffman, and their blend of women’s fiction with magical realism techniques really appealed to me.

What the magical realism did for me in writing LUCKY BABY was to make it possible for me to convey the mystical and miraculous journey of the heart that is adoption. It also was a way for me to express my view of faith. As a Christian, I find that my faith is mystical, a bit fantastical to some, and rooted in the supernatural — and yet, it impacts my daily life in ways I nearly take for granted. And at the same time, that faith gives me an appreciation and a wonder for the most mundane of human experiences — eating good food, the beauty of a perfect sunset, the personal connection of one hand holding another. Magical realism seemed a perfect reflection of how I experience God at work in me, so I wanted to try it in this story.

Do you have any advice for families who are interested in international adoption? Are there any organizations you’d specifically recommend? Is it helpful to join an online support network when someone is merely exploring the option?

Don’t rush into it. Count the cost — not just financially, but also in terms of time, emotional energy, and the level of effort involved in caring for a child that has been institutionalized. There are challenges and difficulties that are unique to international adoption, and parents have to be prepared to love their child no matter what — even in the unlikely event that the child can’t love them in return.

I’ve had people suggest that by adopting, we took the easy way out because I didn’t have to go through pregnancy and delivery. And after having been pregnant as well, I can say that physically, adoption is much easier. But adoption has deeply emotional ramifications, and there are no guarantees that it will go smoothly. So long term, I think adoption is harder for parents. They’ve got to be prepared for that and willing to be that rock for their children when it gets hard.

If parents aren’t sure they can do that, then it’s better for them and for the child not to adopt. But if they are willing to take on the challenge and uncertainty, I think they’ll find that the adoption journey is amazing, beautiful, and well worth it all.

Definitely join an online or in-person support group at any phase of the adoption process. There’s so much to learn. It’s hard to list any websites these days because there are so many really great ones, but one of the longest-standing ones and most comprehensive is

Was it difficult for you to make the transition from humorous mom-lit to this novel, where you sometimes write from a Chinese orphan’s point of view? How did your creative coach help you in this process?

It wasn’t the transition that was difficult — because I knew I couldn’t personally manage to make this story a comedy. You have to have a certain amount of distance and perspective to write humorously — at least I do. And I realized early on that I had no distance and no perspective whatsoever when it came to writing about Chinese adoption. It’s why it took me eight years just to decide to write it at all.

The emotions run so deep and strong for me, and my own expectations were so high for doing it well, that it actually crippled me for awhile as I was trying to write. This is where my creativity coach stepped in and was an invaluable part of helping me get past the expectations and self-doubt. She helped me identify exactly what was holding me back from being able to write, and then came up with mental exercises and techniques for dealing with those doubts or concerns. It was all very simple stuff, but it was very effective in helping me get my confidence back.

But there were still parts of the book that were incredibly difficult to write — won’t say which ones here because it would involve spoilers for the plot. There’s a quote about writing by Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” I have no idea who he is and I’ve never read his work, but for the first time in my writing career, in writing LUCKY BABY I found the truth to his statement.

The act of emotionally “opening a vein” as I wrote was terrifying and painful, but also exhilarating. It stretched my writing skills in a way that wouldn’t have happened with comedy — as difficult as comedy actually is. So from an artistic standpoint, it was thrilling to have a chance to grow and write something so different from what I’d done before.

In writing LUCKY BABY, a novel about an American couple adopting a child from China, what was the most important message you wanted to convey?

I wanted to show the complexity of international adoption — the beauty and hope, but also the difficulties. It’s not a fairy tale where the rich American swoops in to rescue a foreign orphan and takes them away to a happy-ever-after life, or where the lonely, childless couple has their dearest wish come true.

Adoption is a beautiful, hope-filled way to build a family, but the hard truth is that it is built on a tragedy — the separation of a child from its birth parents. And there are always consequences of that tragedy that families will face. With international adoption, you have the added challenges of the loss of the child’s birth culture. I wanted to present these issues honestly because this is not a fairy tale.

Becoming a family is a long journey and it can be a hard one. But at the same time, I wanted to show the hope and beauty and healing that the adoption journey can bring as well.

Meredith Efken is also author of the critically acclaimed SAHM I Am series that traces the friendship of a group of stay-at-home mothers through their emails to each other. In addition to writing, Meredith owns the Fiction Fix-It Shop, which offers freelance fiction editing and writing coaching.

P.S. Don’t forget — if you’d like to enter your name to win a free copy of Meredith Efken’s LUCKY BABY, leave a comment below or email me at the address to your left. I’ll draw a name on Friday and will contact you for an address to send this amazing book!

July 23, 2010

When my youngest daughter slipped this book into our library tote, I thought, “Huh? What’s she trying to say to me?” Secretly, I couldn’t wait to read it, and it made its happy way to the top of our reading pile.

Rarely do I review a picture book, out of the hundreds we read every year. But this one was too adorable to keep to myself, and it also struck a deep chord within me.

I wondered how author Kate Feiffer would handle this topic. I think, deep down, many of us mothers worry that maybe something we’ve said or done will mess up our children’s lives. (Do you?)

The narrator begins her story by telling us how wonderful her mom is:

She makes people smile.
She makes people clean.
She gives hungry people food.
She takes people where they need to go, and then she brings them back home again …

After praising her mom a bit, she then poses the question, “If my mom is such a nice mom, why is she trying to ruin my life?”

She expresses five ways her mom is ruining her life, including such horrors as talking too loudly in public and preventing her from having dangerous fun. The narrator begins to hatch a top-secret escape plan that will bring her freedom. Except, in her imagination, the plan ends up with the police putting her mom in jail, which isn’t so great.

In the same way Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie takes readers on a journey of one hilarious event leading to another, Feiffer’s tale becomes more and more outrageous. Next, the little girl’s dad must get involved to help get the mother out of jail, and she goes on to explain several ways her dad is also trying to ruin her life.

But if both her parents end up in jail for trying to ruin her life, who will take care of her? Who will feed her supper and read her bedtime stories?

It was a relief for me to read this book because it brought humor to the delicate situation of how today’s parents feel the need to overprotect. And since it’s told from a child’s point of view, young readers will be able to relate to the character and realize … hey, other kids have to deal with this too.

I sometimes feel jealous of women who raised families 50 years ago, when the world was a much safer place. They could kiss their children goodbye in the morning and let them walk to school, along with a friendly pack of neighborhood kids. They could let their kids explore the town by bike, like Opie in The Andy Griffith Show.

In my hometown, a little girl was murdered a few years ago when she went off by herself riding a bike, and I remember thinking, “I can’t believe it’s become too dangerous to let kids ride bikes these days!” So now all our bike riding is done as a family, with parental supervision. Like the mother in this book, I drive people places and I bring them home because I want to know where they are, who they’re with, and what they’re doing. But it can be exhausting, all the keeping up!

This is a reassuring book for moms (and dads) that what we’re doing is important work, and it’s no small thing to make a little girl feel loved and safe. Diane Goode’s illustrations capture the humor on every page, with enough detail to render multiple readings an enjoyable task. (Goode illustrated another of my all-time favorite picture books, Cynthia Rylant’s When I Was Young in the Mountains.)

After checking out Kate Feiffer’s website, it looks like she and Goode have teamed up to create another humorous picture book, But I Wanted a Baby Brother! I’ll have to add this one to my reading list.

Here’s a cute video where girls explain how their moms embarrass them. I hope it make you smile!

July 22, 2010

I’m pretty shy online when it comes to writing about my family. They’re wonderful, and I love them, but I also love my privacy. So I scribble about my husband and children mostly in my journal.

But recently, I felt compelled to chime in at YLCF on the topic of long-distance dating. Yowza. Get me off my high horse! I have serious concerns about girls who will pour out their hearts in online relationships, thinking they know a guy just because he’s good at writing the words they long to read.

It’s scary. And dangerous. And yes, I’ve even heard of girls who’ve gone so far as to MARRY someone they know mostly through the internet, and then later discover the man’s a creep. So, I wanted to voice my concerns that girls need to be very careful they know a guy and his family well — as IN PERSON — before they give him any encouragement.

After being married nearly sixteen years, I guess I’ve learned a thing or two about what kind of man makes a great husband and father. I count my blessings every day! I hope you’ll come read my post, Absence Makes the Heart Grow: 15-year Perspective, where I share a little about my husband and how our long-distance relationship led to marriage.

July 21, 2010

We’ve eaten at IHOP a couple of times this summer after dropping off one or more of our kids at camp. I think it’s sort of becoming a tradition for us — a good hot plate of pancakes seems to settle my stomach from worrying my kids will survive a week out in the wild. (Plus, kids eat FREE at IHOP, so it’s cheaper for us to eat there than at McDonald’s.)

Well, all over the place we’ve seen these little yellow creatures popping up. I discovered these are called minions, and yes, someone’s fabulous marketing idea worked. Our waitress told our kids the drink special was “Minionade.”

“What’s Minionade?” I had to ask.

“It’s strawberry lemonade with candy sprinkles on top” she explained, with a wink. Irresistible to the under-10 crowd.

So we became initiated into the world of minions. I have to confess I don’t watch TV very often, so if you’ve seen lots of commercials for these little guys, you’ll wonder why it took me so long.

OK! I got bitten by the minion bug and decided to go see what all the fuss was about in the animated film, Despicable Me. It opened in theaters July 9, produced by Universal Studios and Illumination Entertainment.

I enjoyed this movie, and I really love the core message. The theme is similar to what happened when the Grinch tried to steal Christmas — except in this case, it’s a bad dude named Gru who’s trying to steal the moon (to prove himself to Vector, another bad guy who stole the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt).

But in order to steal the moon, he needs a shrink ray, and Vector nabbed it from him. He decides to adopt three adorable orphans from “Miss Hattie’s Home for Girls” hoping they’ll be able to use their sweetness and innocence to win him what he needs. See, he’s rotten, isn’t he? As bad as the Grinch.

Yet something unexpected happens, and this is what makes it such a great movie for parents. He begins to fall in love with these little girls. He takes them to ballet class, and the mothers all swoon over him, having no idea what a villain he is.

Eventually, he discovers the girls’ Swan Lake ballet recital is the EXACT same day he’s planning on stealing the moon, with the help of his mighty team of minions (who are just so cute). Can’t every parent relate to the call of career versus the desire to spend time with family?

What’s a mean ol’ Gru to do?

I laughed a lot in this movie, and I also cannot BELIEVE I shed a few tears. There’s a scene where the Gru writes his own bedtime story because he’s tired of the trite little book the girls want to hear every night (which most of us can relate to!) It was so sweet. I also enjoyed hearing the voice of our beloved Julie Andrews, who played the Gru’s mom.

So, I’m reviewing “Despicable Me” here to tell you it’s a fun summer film with a good heart, and I want to let the Hollywood people know we love movies like this — reminding us the moon isn’t worth capturing if it costs us our family.

Some themes are truly universal.

P.S. Don’t skip out on the credits — there are all kinds of surprises!

By: Heather Ivester in: Family,Movies | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

July 19, 2010

Below is an article by author Vicki Courtney, who has an amazing ministry reaching thousands of tweens, teens, and their parents. Her latest book for girls is Between God and Me: A Journey Through Proverbs.

A good role model can be hard to recognize — especially if you’re the mother of a tween. If your tween is out in the community, even if it’s the online community, he or she is being observed. So what can we do
to make sure they’re taking cues from the right people? Here are five tips for helping your tween find a solid role model, and how to be one yourself.

Walk the Walk
Mothers can scold their daughters as much as they want, but unless they are practicing what they preach, it’s unlikely their daughters will pay their words any attention. One of the virtues of being a role model
is sticking to your word, not only talking the talk, but walking the walk, too. In the end, the ultimate role model when it comes to virtue is the author of virtue, so monitor your fashion choices, language, and online activity as closely as you would your tween’s.

Don’t Look Too Far
Role models have changed over the generations. More people used to describe their role models as being people they didn’t know; i.e., movie stars and athletes. Joe DiMaggio, Eleanor Roosevelt, etc. Now, people tend to find role models that are in some way or another involved in their lives. It emphasizes a worthy saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” So help your tween find close-to-home role models, like a teacher, coach, or trusted friend in the community.

Learn From the Bad
Taking the bad along with the good is one of life’s easiest things to hear and hardest to implement, especially these days, when bad is the new good. Even once-wholesome stars like Miley Cyrus are human, after all. Like any one of us, she makes mistakes. A good role model admits to these mistakes instead of hiding them. For parents, instead of wringing your hands and tearing your robes, you can derive teachable moments from celebrity “role model” mishaps. Talk to your daughter about what went wrong, and how to avoid making the same mistakes.

Be Skeptical
The media bombards your daughters with messages every day. How will you know which ones to believe and which to take with a grain of salt? Often the general message can be deceptive, and the media will
leave out part of the story. Do your research and be discerning. We all deserve to have good role models — so before your teenager adopts one, make sure she is fully informed before she decides to emulate them.

Meet Their Friends
You can tell a lot about a person by who they hang out with. The type of friends a person chooses speaks volumes about her identity. No matter what, there will be those who willingly conform to a peer
group, and depending on the nature of that group, it can have a positive or negative outcome on his or her behavior. When helping your tween choose a good role model, find out first the type of company that role model keeps.

Vicki Courtney is the founder of Virtuous Reality Ministries and, an online magazine for middle school and high school girls that reaches more than 150,000 girls and mothers a year through its website, resources and events. Her blog Virtue Alert receives 20,000 unique visitors a month from fellow parents nationwide.

July 13, 2010

I hope you’re all having an amazing summer, sipping lemonade and staying cool. Here are a few blogworthy bits and pieces I’ve compiled for you. I seem to always be on the lookout for items that relate to TEEN WRITERS, so I think God is working on my heart in this area. I’ll soon have a house full of teens, and of course I want them to be writers!

*Randy Ingermanson has written a wonderful post, How Old Must You Be To Write a Novel? I wish I’d read this when I was 15. Pass this along to any teen you know!

*Michelle Medlock Adams is the new teen content editor for ibegat, an online magazine for teens. She’s written a post full of encouragement and cool links to get teens sending their work out.

*Agent Chip MacGregor recently posted about 10 Errors That Drive Me Crazy. I laughed all the way through this post, yet secretly cringed when I realized how often I commit these annoying bad habits. If you’re looking to improve your writing, read Chip’s list.

*In my other life, before having kids, I used to teach high school English. When I read Whitney L. Grady’s story, Why I Teach, it gave me chills and reminded me why so much joy can be found in the classroom.

*Jan Fields has written a snazzy article here on how to save postage when sending your writing off to editors. What do you do if a publication requests that your manuscript be included in the body of an email? See Jan’s tips on formatting.

*One of my lifetime goals is to read every book that has won a Newbery Award. So, I was totally inspired when I read about this little ten-year-old girl, Laura, who has already read every single Newbery winner. AMAZING! She even includes links to reviews she’s written for most of the books. I better get busy catching up with her.

*Here’s another fun article for you book clubbers out there, How A Book Club Changed My Life.

*Rounding out this list, my good friend Sally Apokedak alerted me to this captivating article by William Zinsser, on how he wrote his perennial best-selling book, On Writing Well. I keep Zinsser’s work only a few inches from my computer, so I loved reading the story behind his creation of it. Thank you, Sally.

Enjoy your summer reading!

July 9, 2010

My daughters love anything relating to princesses, so we have a super fun guest today who wrote THE BOOK on how to become a princess. Lindsey Leavitt’s debut novel, Princess for Hire, released in March.

Hi Lindsey. Welcome to Mom 2 Mom Connection. I heard you just returned from the American Library Association conference in Washington, DC. What was it like being there as an author?

Man, it was amazing. Every aspiring author has a list of publishing dreams, and this was big on mine.

Librarians are amazing, open, thoughtful, funny, smart people and it was great having book conversations. I love book talk. Plus, it was very surreal to have a few KNOW WHO I WAS (sure, the name tag helps, but I like to pretend I’m a Diva sometimes).

Sounds like a blast! What was the highlight for you?

Newbery/Caldecott dinner. The speeches were pitch-perfect, the chicken breast wasn’t even dry, and ten-year-old Lindsey felt like she’d arrived at the book Olympics.

Your debut novel, Princess for Hire, draws readers into the world of real-life princesses. Did you have to do any research on foreign cultures or customs as you wrote your book?

Research! Yes, I did tons — much more than I would have thought, but fun nonetheless. Pretty legit when you get to buy the PEOPLE Royals Addition and count it as work.

I wanted the scope to go beyond Europe, so I looked at royal traditions around the world. I didn’t want to lock myself into one country, though, so I went with a geographical region and tried to create a general atmosphere. The Amazon one was especially fun to research, as most of what happens to Desi (except for the magical stuff) is based on real customs.

I did a few library visits, looking at those basic country books used for elementary school reports. This gave me an idea where to start, then I researched a handful of countries in depth. I wrote two princesses that never made it into the story, but might in later books, especially since I was so fascinated with Eastern Asian culture. I want a ninja princess in there. Ninjas are awesome.

A NINJA PRINCESS — that will definitely be a hit! Did your previous job as a substitute teacher help you any as you wrote your first novel?

For sure. I never really felt like I knew what I was doing as a sub. Every day, it was a different school, different grade, different kids, all with their own challenges and problems. Often, I would have one page of notes that didn’t help much.

And, let’s be honest, lots of people think subs are idiots. Although I had a degree AND had a couple of years of teaching experience, secretaries would often talk really slow, or the teacher would write “Have them read for an hour” in the sub plans, like actually teaching was a massive improbability.

So I really tapped into that as I threw Desi in all these new situations. Not to mention, I would often write during teacher prep-time, lunch, etc. Nothing publishable, mind you, but it got me interested in writing.

What has been the most surprising aspect of being a first-time novelist?

I guess I thought getting a book deal would be all the literary validation I needed. I was surprised that there was still so much angst on the other side of the publishing rainbow — revisions, reviews, follow-up books, covers. BUT, having a real-live book in print sweetens all the strife. It’s something concrete and real and, in my case, sparkly.

Being the mother of three daughters, I’m sure your home is immersed in the world of princesses! What do your daughters think of all the excitement surrounding their mom’s new book?

They want pictures. They are begging for a book with pictures and not all these boring words. So the princess thing gives me some street-cred, but I’m no Jane O’Conner (Fancy Nancy). My three-year-old also asked why I can’t be a dog groomer, because then she could pet a dog instead of a book.

So I gave her a tiara, and I’m cool again.

Oh yes, life is always better when wearing a tiara. My daughter has tried to sleep in hers. Do you think it’s helpful for writers to be part of an online network of fellow writers, such as your Tenners blog? How did this group come together?

The Tenners have been invaluable. When I sold my book, I wanted to join the Debs (2009 debut group we are modeled after), but I was winter 2010. I was lamenting this with a friend, and she said, “Uh, start your own group.”

So I did, with the help of Heidi R Kling (SEA, Putnam). At first, I just googled around, finding other 2010 authors, and once word got out, people wrote asking to join.

How many authors are in the group now? Do you have plans to stick together beyond the year 2010?

We had to cut it off last October, when our numbers were almost 100. I’ve made some wonderful friends there, and I think we’ll have the group going for a long time. It’s a great resource for all the questions that come up, like “I don’t like my cover, what do I do?” or “I’m doing a signing in New York, who is in?”

Now that Princess for Hire has made her grand debut at the ball, what you do have coming up next?

I have a YA contemporary called SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD that will be out with Bloomsbury in March 2011. It’s a story with first love, first loss, and spandex. But not too much spandex. I have to keep it tasteful.

Well, for us 80s moms, Spandex is always in. We just can’t be seen wearing it in public.

And, of course, the next book in the PRINCESS FOR HIRE series will be out in early May. More scandals, more Desi, and yes, more princess.

We can’t wait! Here’s one last question — How do you get yourself into the writing groove, when kids, house, husband, and everything else demand your attention? Do you have a special time or place in your house where you can be alone to write, or can you pretty much write anywhere?

My very best writing still happens at night, when it’s totally quiet and there is nothing else I have to do. It’s still a challenge, even with this being my job now, to prioritize writing over all the family goodness.

I usually write in spurts, like take a weekend and write non-stop, then don’t write for a week. I can write anywhere — couch, bed, library, Starbucks — but I have this weird thing about having my feet up when I write. Yes, they’re up right now. I want to hire a foot rubber when I hit it big. Now accepting applications.

Couldn’t we all use one of those? Lindsey, this has been too fun. Do you have any parting words of wisdom for parents who’ve been bitten by the writing bug?

Do it. As much as you can, as often as you can. When you aren’t writing, read. Read, read, read. Write, write, write. And enjoy your kids, because they are not only the best part of life, but they offer some wonderful material.

That’s so true! Thank you for this refreshing interview, Lindsey. We look forward to keeping up with you and your books!

Thanks so much for having me Heather and Heather’s wonderful blog readers!

Lindsey Leavitt can be found hanging out at her sparkly website and blog. Her royal book even has its own home, so be sure to stop by and check out the bling.

July 6, 2010

We have a guest today who’s an expert on teaching kids about the great outdoors. I had the privilege of meeting Heather Montgomery at an SCBWI conference a couple of years ago, and her enthusiasm for science writing is contagious!

She’s the author of several fascinating books, including How is Soil Made? Mummies: Truth and Rumors, How To Survive An Earthquake, What’s Inside a Rattlesnake’s Rattle?: And Other Questions Kids Have About Snakes, and Why Do My Teeth Fall Out?: And Other Questions Kids Have About the Human Body.

Besides books, we often see Heather Montgomery’s byline in Highlights magazine, which our whole family loves to read!

Hello, Heather. You look comfortable up there in that tree. How did you become interested in nature writing?

I love nature and teaching about it. One day I realized that I could teach many more people through writing than I could ever hope to reach in person, so I decided to try my hand at nature writing for children.

Were you inspired by nature as a child? What were your favorite activities to do outdoors growing up?

I’ve always loved the outdoors. I grew up in a rural area where we spent our days running through the woods, playing tag in the yard, and pulling oysters out of the Chesapeake Bay.

Our family vacations were to state and national parks, and I attribute my love of learning in the outdoors to those early experiences with awe-inspiring nature rangers.

As a child I was scared of spiders and was not thrilled about some of the subjects that now amaze me, but I’ve learned that the more you learn about something, the less you fear it. Now I regularly hold spiders in my hand to teach children about them. I’ve always been curious about science and how things in nature work.

Yikes! I’m not sure I could hold a spider in my hand. What do you most enjoy now?

I haven’t outgrown my childhood pleasures. I particularly like to climb trees, wade in clear streams, watch bugs, and garden. I also love just about any sport or game played outdoors. One of my greatest pleasures is taking student groups outside to nature journal and discover the excitement of science.

Sounds like you’ve chosen a career you love! Why do you think it’s important for today’s parents and kids to get outside and explore the great outdoors?

The outdoor environment is perfect for stimulating a child’s curiosity. No matter what their interest — science, art, music, sports — they can find nature inspiring and develop life-long healthy hobbies.

Humans like to learn, and being in a natural environment where learning comes easily helps children realize that learning is fun. Free play in the outdoors is critical to the development of curiosity, physical health, and a sense of place.

I agree. Kids learn more from experience than from watching it on a flat screen. I see you’ve written a number of books on a wide range of subjects, from earthquakes to soil to rattlesnakes, and more! How do you choose to write on a topic?

When a potential topic comes to my attention, my first thought is “How interesting is it to me?” Is it something I might want to spend a few years learning and writing about? If I’m not passionate about it, then it won’t make a good topic for a kids book or article.

The second “test” I give it is marketability. Is there a publishing house out there which might be interested in it? Answering this question requires a good bit of market research.

Thirdly, I consider the practicalities. Is there enough material out there on the topic, do I have good access to experts on the subject, etc.?

Most of the books I’ve written (and all that I’ve published so far) have been on assignment. Educational publishers or book packagers have assigned me the project based on my experience and their needs.

What has been one of your most intriguing assignments?

One of the most interesting bits of field research I’ve been able to do was at Mammoth Cave. I joined a group of middle school students who were trying to figure out why one of the rivers in the cave runs backwards sometimes. We crawled through the cave, saw mummified bats, pulled test equipment from a river so far below us that we could not even see it and found a blind cave crawfish. I’m working to turn that experience into a magazine article.

That sounds incredible. I hope we’ll be able to read about it!

I also enjoyed the utterly gross experience of dissecting a rattlesnake. When I was writing my upcoming book on rattlesnakes, I happened to find a dead rattler along the road. Always one for hands-on learning, I decided to dissect it (Warning: Do not try this at home).

Wow! Did you feel like you were in any danger doing this?

Not at the time, but later when I learned that a rattler’s fangs can strike on reflex even after they are dead, I wondered if it had been such a good idea.

From that dissection, I did learn that most rattlers have only one lung — a neat anatomy note that I use during my school visits to help students think critically about how a body is designed.

Do you take your own photographs for assignments? Do you think it helps to sell an article or book idea if a writer includes his or her own photographs?

I do take photos for my projects, but mostly for my own reference and use. They, along with my nature journal, help immensely when I’m working on adding vivid detail to a manuscript. Some editors, like those at Highlights require that you submit photos to support the article, but most prefer to use professional photographers or stock photos.

How did you get started in writing for Highlights magazine? What do you recommend for writers who’d like to break into this publication?

I was fortunate enough to attend the “Writing from Nature” workshop put on by the Highlights Foundation. During an amazing five days I learned boatloads of information about writing for kids and met the science editor for Highlights. A tip I learned at the workshop was that every piece in the magazine is written by freelancers. That includes even the three-sentence “Science Corner” pieces and the short puzzles. Those are a great way to get a foot in the door.

Can you tell us about your involvement with the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators)? Do you think this organization is helpful for people interested in being published in the field of children’s literature?

Joining and becoming actively involved with the SCBWI has been the single step that has most helped my career. Through the organization, I’ve joined a critique group which has proven instrumental in improving my writing and keeping me producing work.

I volunteered to help and have become the Assistant Regional Advisor for Southern Breeze (the Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi region). This involvement has exposed me to numerous talented members who have all willingly shared their knowledge, helping me each step of the way. The SCBWI publications have been an invaluable resource as I have navigated the stormy seas of the marketplace.

Would you recommend SCBWI conferences? Is it a good idea to go if you’re just getting started in writing for kids?

Absolutely! Through SCBWI international and regional conferences I have learned about the business end of being an author, had the pleasure of meeting editors, and forced my shy self into networking. For people new to the industry, in addition to finding a supportive critique group, I would recommend reading the publications provided by the SCBWI.

Then, I’d recommend attending a regional conference or event which focuses on craft. After you have some experience, try to attend conferences and events designed to help market your work. The professional critiques available at these conferences are a good step once your work has been critiqued by peers and revised several times.

This fall I’ll be presenting at both the Carolina’s and the Southern Breeze regional SCBWI conferences. I hope to see you there!

That’s great! I’m hoping to go to one of these SCBWI conferences. Are there any other conferences you’d recommend to aspiring writers?

I highly recommend any of the Highlights Foundation Workshops. The folks at Highlights genuinely care about your progress as a writer and about providing the best literature for children. Plus, their food is scrumptious. 🙂

Mmmm…All the more reason to go! Can you tell us what your latest writing project is these days?

I’m working on numerous projects on topics ranging from hiccups to parasitic wasps and even a work of fiction. In the near future, I’ll have two more snake books published. One is on garter snakes, and the other on rattlesnakes. Did you know that these snakes give birth to live young instead of laying eggs? Nature works in mysterious ways — ways that scientists get to study and figure out!

Cool! You make it all sound like so much fun. Thank you for visiting here with us!

My pleasure.

You can learn more about Heather Montgomery at her author website, as well as at her award-winning consulting business, DEEP: DragonFly Environmental Education Programs. Be sure to scroll down to read Heather’s article, Most Dedicated Mom. I think you’ll be quite surprised!