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Family Book Basket

I believe the Christmas season brings out the best in people, and there are always those who stand out among the rest for their generosity. The Belles of St. Mary's Church in Kouts, Indiana raffled off themed gift baskets once again this year in early December as a fund raiser. One of the baskets was a Family Book Basket. The books included in the basket would be a prize by themselves, but what made this one so special were the books that were donated and autographed by the authors and illustrators. A heartfelt thank you goes out to the following authors and illustrators, as well as a children's book reviewer and a bookseller, who very kindly donated books for the basket.

Nathan Clement, author and illustrator, for his picture book, DRIVE published by Front Street/Boyds Mills Press. Find out more about Nathan, including his up-coming book, at his website, http://stickman-studio.com/.

Rebecca Kai Dotlich, author, for her picture book, GRANDPA LOVES, published by HarperCollins. Visit Rebecca and her books on her website at http://www.rebeccakaidotlich.com/.

Esther Hershenhorn, author, for her picture book, THERE GOES LOWELL’S PARTY!, published by Holiday House. You can find Esther and view her books on her website at http://www.estherhershenhorn.com/lucky.html.

Kristi Valiant, author and illustrator, for the following chapter books which she illustrated and that accompany the Our Generation dolls: THE MYSTERY OF THE VANISHING COIN and THE ADVENTURES AT SHELBY STABLES. Find Kristi and more about her books at http://www.kristivaliant.com/.

Mary Harris Russell, children's book reviewer, who donated several picture books which she recently reviewed for the Chicago Tribune. See http://articles.dailypress.com/2002-12-24/news/0212240020_1_eric-carle-sloth-jack-prelutsky.

And finally, Darlene McDonald of Barnes & Noble in Valparaiso, who donated several books for different ages to the book basket. Find out what's happening at B&N in Valpo at http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/store/2138.

One of the un-anticipated pleasures of writing for children has been meeting the many wonderful people in the world of children's books. And that alone is its own reward.  Read More 
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Favorite Christmas Books

Christmas stories offer many things. They make you smile or laugh or cry. They offer hope to those who need it. They help us to see kindness and love in a world where life is in the fast lane. Curling up with a good book warms your heart as well as your soul. Here are some of my favorites, from board books through middle grade and even a few for adults.

SILENT NIGHT, a board book, comes complete with music and lights, published by Ideals Interactive, 2006. No author/illustrator listed. In this rhyming book for young children each page tells about the different people or animals at the manger and something about them, until on the last page they are gathered together around the Baby Jesus. The book ends with the words to the song, Silent Night. Colorful illustrations show happy faces, and the detail is simple and engaging.

SNOWMEN AT CHRISTMAS, by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner, Dial 2005, board book 2010. From decorating the tree with snowballs, and snowman mothers preparing ice cream and snow cones, to a visit from Kris Kringle and singing songs about snow and the birth of a king, we find snowmen celebrating Christmas when everyone else is asleep, in much the same way as we do. The colorful, ‘warm,’ illustrations add cozy detail and complete the book making it a great read.

DRUMMER BOY, written and illustrated by Loren Long, Philomel Books 2008. When a small wooden drummer boy is left on the doorstep of a young boy, he declares that it is just what he has always wanted. His words warm the drummer boy’s heart, as he plays his drum for the boy. Then one day the drummer boy is accidentally brushed into the trash can, beginning a cold and lonely journey. Along the way he plays his drum for a grumpy rat, three screeching owls, a lonely city, a starry sky, a snowman with charcoal eyes, and a field covered with statues and stones, and his music brings peace to all. When he is finally discovered in the field, he plays for the boy once again, and in the final scene he is placed on the mantel where he plays for the baby in the stable. Rich illustrations are from the viewpoint of the little drummer boy, and put the reader in the middle of each scene.

FIRST DOG’S WHITE HOUSE CHRISTMAS, by J. Patrick Lewis and Beth Zappitello, illustrated by Tim Bowers, Sleeping Bear Press 2010. Readers get a tour of the White House through the eyes of a dog—not just any dog, but the ‘First Dog,’ who lives there with his family. As he welcomes dogs who have come from other countries with their owners for a Christmas celebration, First Dog invites them to tell about their own Christmas traditions. Facts about Christmas in the white house as well as in other countries are briefly woven into the story. More, including the breeds of the dogs pictured, are incorporated into the inside covers of the book. Illustrations that are warm and whimsical complement the story. A book that is interesting and fun, it’s easy to see that readers will want to re-visit the story over again.

THE CHRISTMAS MIRACLE OF JANONTHAN TOOMEY, by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch, Candlewick Press 1995. Jonathan Toomey is a sad and lonely woodcarver, the best woodcarver in the whole valley. One day he receives a request for a new carving of a special crèche which has been lost during a move, and the quiet friendship of a small boy and that of his mother help bring about a healing change in the woodcarver’s heart. The reader can almost see the wood carvings through the illustrations, and feel the change of heart in the warm browns and glowing colors.

THE WEE CHRISTMAS CABIN, retold by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root, Holiday House 2009. This Irish folk tale tells the story of a tinker’s child whose life is spent helping others. As she grows old, she is finally rewarded by the fairies with a cabin of her own. And for eternity, if it’s a white Christmas, you will find her waiting in her warm cabin, with the griddle hot, the kettle full, and her arms open wide to children in need. This is a heartwarming story of the kindness of one person, beautifully illustrated with detailed paintings in earth colors.

THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, by Barbara Robinson, HarpCollins, 1972. This is my all-time favorite Christmas book for middle grade readers. The opening of the story immediately draws the reader in, starting with “The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.” How the Herdmans become part of the Christmas pageant, and their simple interpretation of the meaning of the first Christmas, will give more meaning to the holiday for everyone.

A STRANGER FOR CHRISTMAS, by Carol Lynn Pearson, St. Martin’s Press 1984, is my favorite Christmas book for adults. The story begins with two older ladies who meet in a nursing home. Their conversation about families who take an orphan home for Christmas day leads to the question of whether anyone would take an old lady home for the holiday. A bet leads to a challenge, as one of the two is convinced that at least one of her five grown children would be willing to take an old lady home for Christmas.

Some other favorites from the past:
THE LITTLEST ANGEL, Charles Tazewell, 1946; board book edition 2002 (picture book)
BEST CHRISTMAS BOOK EVER!, Richard Scarry, Random House 1981 (picture book)
SANTA CLAUS DOESN’T MOP FLOORS, Debbie Dadey & Marcia Thornton Jones, Scholastic 1991 (an early chapter book)
WHAT CHILD IS THIS? By Caroline B. cooney, Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers 1997 (young adults)
THE CHRISTMAS WISH, Richard Siddoway, Harmony Books 1998 (adults)
DASHING THROUGH THE SNOW (and any of the Christmas books by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark), Simon & Schuster / Scribner 2008 (adults)

I would love to hear about any of your favorite Christmas books, as well as any favorite books about Hanukah, Kwanza or however you celebrate the holidays.

I wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday reading!  Read More 
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Holiday Author Visits

From Thanksgiving at Bellaboo's Child Play and Activity Center, to a Holiday Author Fair at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center in Indianapolis, the holidays are celebrating authors!

Bellaboo's in Lake Station, IN has room after room of great stuff for kids to do. Within the various rooms they enjoy such things as water play, block play, a train room, an art room, a pretend room, and of course a reading room! It made me want to be a kid again. Visiting artists and planned activities are a part of the game plan, too. A friendly and engaging staff rounded out the experience. My visit there was a plesure. While I was there, the cast from Annie, which was performing in Merrillville, came in to perform several songs for visitors. One little girl who was visiting the center was so taken by it all that she decided to go up and join the cast-- a future Annie for sure!

The Indiana Historical Society certainly know how to throw a Holiday Author Fair! I was in good company with 75 Indiana authors, all enjoying the afternoon meeting readers and other authors, and signing copies of their recently published books.

I enjoy hearing what names other people give to their dogs, and my picture book, NAME THAT DOG, was a good conversation starter. So many people seem to name their dogs after a favorite person. The pick of the day was the person who named their two dogs after German beer names. I would love to hear how you named your dogs as well!

My book of poems for toddlers and young children, FROM DAWN TO DREAMS, also had a good audience of parents and grandparents who were there.

In our corner of children's authors, I was seated between two familiar faces. Barbara Morrow, poet and non-fiction author whose latest book is NATURE'S STORYTELLER: THE LIFE OF GENE STRATTON-PORTER, and Peter Welling, author and illustrator, whose latest picture book is one that he illustrated, THE KVETCH WHO STOLE HANUKKAH. It was nice to see other familiar faces there as well.

My husband, who bravely drove through the snow to get us from Valparaiso to Indianapolis, joined me from time to time during the afternoon. The rest of the day he enjoyed the presentations and exhibits at the Center. After hearing his account, we both decided that we need to go back to see what was missed and re-visit others.

While there I met Molly Head, producer and development director of Hoosier History Live!, which is an e-project featuring the nation's only live radio show about history. And it's home is here in Indiana! To find out more about this program, go to www.hoosierhistorylive.org. Live shows are on Saturdays at 11:30 am on WICR 88.7 fm.

If you are in Michigan City, IN on Saturday, come out and support your independent bookstore in the Lighthouse Mall, at the far northeast corner. I'll be signing copies of my books from 1:00 to 3:00 pm, so stop by and say hello!

I hope you are all enjoying the holidays as much as I am! More coming on Christmas books for children!  Read More 
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