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Reminders for 2017!


I’m sitting here at my computer, and my desk is a bit cluttered. I have—

A tiny toad. He’s looking at me, reminding me that I have something wonderful to look forward to in spring of 2018! That’s when my next picture book, TOAD IN THE ROAD, comes out from Schwartz & Wade. Right now, Toad is my reminder that I can succeed if I keep working at it.

A tiny fox. He’s my reminder that I need to keep working on the story in my head that won’t leave me alone!

My calendar, to keep me on track, reminding me of deadlines and times when I need to take a break to do other things.

My never-ending ‘to-do’ list! This reminds me of the things that move to the back of my mind when I’m wrapped up in what I’m working on. Things to do like answering emails, blogging, making phone calls, critiquing other writer’s manuscripts, and checking websites and newsletters. And things like eating lunch, doing laundry, paying bills, making appointments, family time and books to read!

I also have a postcard that sits on my desk. It says “Believe, dream, will…and put it in the hands of God.” A quote from Dr. Norman Vincent Peale that reminds me to keep on dreaming, believe in myself, and work to achieve my goals and not give up.

I have a small wooden heart that hangs on a knob above my desk that says “Creative clutter is better than idle neatness.” My excuse for my messy work area.

On a shelf is a quote from Winnie the Pooh that says “I am a bear of very little brain and long words bother me.” Something that I thought was appropriate for a writer of picture books.

And another quote that says “Many years from now it will not matter what my worldly possessions had been. What will really matter is that I was important... in the life of a child.”

(I love quotes…)

These things will most likely remain on my desk throughout 2017. They’re important reminders. They keep me focused. I hope you find little ‘reminders’ to keep you focused, too. Keep them in your peripheral line of sight as you work toward your goals in the new year. And 2017 is just around the corner! I wish you much success in 2017!  Read More 
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A Not-Quite-So-Strange Gift for a Writer


In just a few hours it will be Christmas! We celebrate the season in many different ways, but I think that spreading joy and helping others is a common thread that we all share.

Giving gifts is one way to do that. And finding just the right gift for people that we care about doesn't have to be about what we can buy for them. You can put your creative mind to work and come up with something special. For example--

What can you give a struggling writer for Christmas? A new idea? Some patience, and perseverance? Time to write? Maybe a little bit of inspiration!

This year I gave my writer friends a sewing kit. It sounds like a strange gift for a writer, but if you think hard enough, you can turn anything into some inspiration. It’s all in your presentation.

My sewing kit contained the following items:

Thread
A needle
A needle threader
A thimble
Scissors
Buttons
A safety pin
A straight pin

I added the following instructions:

Thread—use to sew the right words into your story
A needle—use to pull a common thread through your story
A needle threader—use to get that thread started
A thimble—use to keep from getting stuck when writing your story
Scissors—use to cut words in the right places
Buttons—use to hold the pieces of your story together
A safety pin—use to keep it all together
A straight pin—use to help you stick to it when things get tough

Now, if this was a magical sewing kit, it would help get us through a few of the obstacles of writing a good book! And wouldn’t that be great!? But even though it’s not magical, the message is that I’m there for them, wishing them much success.

Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays to all my writing friends as we keep on working to create great books for kids (and adults), and to readers, young and old!

To everyone, as you celebrate this special season, may your holidays be bright and filled with peace and love.  Read More 
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Celebrating Picture Book Month with Author, Jeanie Ransom!

Jeanie Ransom is one of many new friends that I made through SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) when we moved from Indiana to Missouri five years ago. I’m so pleased to interview her here on my blog during Picture Book Month!

Jeanie is the author of several picture books for children. She is a licensed professional counselor, and former elementary school counselor. She is also a former advertising copywriter and freelance magazine writer.

Earlier this year we celebrated the release of her newest picture book, There’s a Cat in Our Class. Her book celebrates the diversity of children, and the value of accepting and enjoying the differences of others around us. Read more about her book below.

Welcome to my blog, Jeanie!

When you have an idea for a book, how do you start? How do you structure it?

Before I ever start writing, I let the idea roll around in my head for a while. “A while” for me can mean days, months, even years. There are probably still some rolling around up there from when I started writing for kids more than fifteen years ago -- along with a few rocks, I’m sure! I know an idea is ready to take to the page when bits and pieces of the story -- a conversation, a situation, a turn of phrase – start coming to me, often in the middle of the night, or in the shower, or while walking the dogs. That’s when I grab a blank notebook and start playing with words. As more of the story bubbles up from whatever part of my brain it’s been simmering, I capture what I can in a blank notebook, then begin to turn bits and pieces into sentences and paragraphs. I like to write my first draft the “old school” way, in longhand, then move to the computer when the words really start to fly. I like to edit my manuscripts the “old school” way, too, printing out the pages and marking them up by hand. That’s what works for me, but everyone’s different. Find what works for you, then stick with it!

Is there anything that you feel helped you to go from unpublished to published author?

The three Ps: Patience, persistence, and perseverance.

I think we could all post those three P’s as a reminder in the place where we write! How does your experience as an elementary school counselor inform, inspire, and affect your writing, Jeanie?

Before I was a school counselor, I was an advertising copywriter and freelance magazine writer for 20+ years. My first career gave me a solid writing foundation, as well as the ability to pitch and promote a variety of products and services. My second career, as a school counselor, gave me first-hand experience working with kids as well as educators. Both careers prepared me in so many ways for my third career as a children’s author.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given about writing?

Write the book you want to write, not the book you think you should write.

Do you have any advice for beginning children’s writers?

Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators)! SCBWI has a wealth of resources and opportunities for writers (and illustrators), including conferences, workshops, and retreats.
Attend a state, regional, or national SCBWI conference.
Find a critique group in your area – or online.
Read as many new books in your genre as you can.
Today’s picture books are vastly different from picture books published ten years ago. My first picture book came out in 2000, and the word count was 1,200. My 2016 and 2017 releases all have 750 words or less. The world of children’s publishing is extremely competitive. If you’re serious about getting published, you have to do your homework.

What books are you reading now?

I like to alternate between middle grade and adult fiction, though sometimes I’m reading both genres at the same time, or something totally different, like a memoir or a collection of essays. Right now, I’m reading Ann Patchett’s new novel, “Commonwealth,” which the author autographed when she came to Traverse City, Michigan, last month for the National Writers Series, as well as Peter Brown’s first middle-grade novel, “The Wild Robot.”

Congratulations on another new book that you have coming out soon! What can you tell us about that?

Cowboy Car comes out on April 11, 2017. The illustrator is Ovi Nedelcu, and the publisher is Two Lions. I just got the F&Gs, and I’m really excited to launch this book!

I’m happy to share that excitement with you. Thank you so much for being my guest here during Picture Book Month, Jeanie.

Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November each year. Jeanie is one of the 2016 Picture Book Champions featured on the Picture Book website. Check her post there (November 12th) to find out why picture books are important to her. Then check out other picture book champions featured there daily throughout the month.

You can find out more about Jeanie and her books on her author website at http://www.jeanieransom.com/.

There’s a Cat in Our Class—A Tale About Getting Along
Magination Press 2016
ISBN: 9 781433 822629
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Celebrating Picture Books!


Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November. It encourages the recognition of picture books through blogs, tweets and other activities.

For those of us who write picture books this is a fun time. Just put ‘picture book month’ in the search bar on your computer and you’ll find all kinds of great websites and blog posts to browse through!

Here’s one from 2012 that I hadn’t seen before on the history of children’s picture books. It posted on Brain Pickings: A Brief History of Children’s Picture Books and the Art of Visual Storytelling. The post is really wonderful, and includes many famous quotes with regards to picture books through the years—my favorite part, as I love quotes.

My husband thinks that there is no one who takes more picture books home from the library than I do! I’m sure he’s wrong. But I do take my share of them home. Here are some recent picture books that I’ve enjoyed—

NED THE KNITTING PIRATE by Diana Murray, illustrated by Leslie Lammle (Roaring Brook Press 2016). “We’re grouchy and slouchy. We don’t ever quit! We slurp, and we burp, and we gulp, and we… KNIT!” How does a pirate who likes to knit fit in on a pirate ship?

FRIGHT CLUB by Ethan Long (Bloomsbury 2015). Operation Kiddie Scare looks like it’s going to be a flop. And having an “adorable little bunny” ask to join the Fright Club is no help. Find out what a bunny and its friends do to put the Fright Club back on track.

MR. DUCK MEANS BUSINESS by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Jeff Mack (Simon & Schuster 2011). Mr. Duck is perfectly content, in his quiet pond, with his solitary routine. When a group of noisy farm animals crashes the pond, Duck finally sets them straight, and it's back to his peaceful routine--with one small change that pleases everyone.

THE PIRATE AND THE PENGUIN by Patricia Storms (Owlkids Books 2009). What happens when a penguin who doesn't like penguin things, and a pirate who doesn't like pirate things, cross paths? Another fun read. 

THE VERY NOISY HOUSE by Julie Rhodes, illustrated by Korky Paul (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books 2013). Fun accumulation of noise, floor by floor, in a very tall house! Things start to settle down, then...

The Picture Book Month celebration originated in November 2011 by founder Dianne de Las Casas (author & storyteller), and Co-Founders, Katie Davis (author/illustrator), Elizabeth O. Dulemba (author/illustrator), Tara Lazar (author), and Wendy Martin (author/illustrator).

On the Picture Book Month website, you’ll find daily posts by the 2016 Picture Book Champions blogging about why they feel picture books are important. They include many favorite picture book authors and illustrators.

You’ll also find activities and ways to celebrate picture books on the site. The website includes picture book resources and resources for literacy organizations.

You don’t need young kids to join in on the celebration! But if you want to make it even more fun and you don’t have any kids of your own, you might want to ‘borrow’ some from the neighbors! ps—ask first!  Read More 
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Rhythm and Rhyme in Children’s Poetry—Perfect… or Not?


Last week I visited Nancy Polette’s class for adults on Writing for Children and talked about my journey from Reader to Writer. I came to the part where I had written some board books for Highlights Press, and said how important it had been to them that my verse was absolutely perfect in rhyme and rhythm. That’s when one of the students brought up a question that I’m sure many aspiring children’s poets ask.

He said, “I hear it all the time, make your rhyme and rhythm perfect! But,” he said, “I read many books of children’s poetry and books in verse, and they are not written with perfect rhythm and rhyme!” He wanted to know why we say to make your poetry perfect when so much of what we see published is not so.

I’m sure that I didn’t answer his question very well then. So I thought I’d put some of my thoughts about it here.

I enjoy rhyme in children’s poetry, whether it’s a collection of poems or a picture book in verse. I like it when the rhythm is right on, and the rhyme isn’t forced. It bothers me when words are switched around to make them rhyme, and when the rhythm trips me up. It interrupts my thoughts, and it interrupts the story. And I’m not sure why some of those books get published.

That’s how I feel, and I know that editors who say that they don’t want to see any poetry, really mean they don’t want to see bad poetry—‘bad’ meaning imperfect rhythm and rhyme. And they do see a lot of it. So an author who is talking to beginning children’s writers about writing poetry or books in verse would be neglect if they didn’t pass that along to their listeners.

Yes, there are many rhyming books for children, and they’re not all done very well. But the children’s authors who write poetry and do it well, with good rhyme and rhythm, have books that are on the ‘best books for children lists,’ and that are nominated or win awards. And those are the kinds of books that editors are looking for.

So, one reason for writing perfect rhyme and rhythm is in the competition. Your book is going to compete with the thousands of picture books that cross an editor’s desk each day/week/month. And by working to make your book the best that you can, you’re working your way past that first reader and past all of those manuscripts, toward the editor’s desk.

Talking more on the topic, the student said that often 'when he reads a book where the rhyme is perfect, it’s boring!' Some years back, the general opinion in the publishing world was that younger kids liked rhyming poetry, but older students did not, and preferred free verse. I remember that I disagreed, and I still do. I think that if rhyme is done well, it’s fun. It can also be a learning tool for older children as well as younger ones—for example, when learning the names of the states, or learning musical notes.

Boring? If a rhyming poem for older children is very long, and written in simple verses of four lines throughout the book or poem, it would probably be a bit boring. But it can be fixed! You can add detail, and rich language. You can ‘change it up’ a bit in places, with a repeating phrase or repeating lines. Put a twist at the end.

For younger children, such as the 0 to 2 year-old group that the Highlights board books target, rhyme should be perfect, because it makes it easier for them to understand, and to learn. Most board books at this age are concept books, designed to teach the child something. They are short, to go with the short attention span of a two year-old. Verse that follows the same pattern, and the same rhyme scheme become familiar to them, and they expect it. Not all board books are written for this young age.

If you’re thinking of writing for this age, or any age child, I would suggest getting a book about the developmental stages of children. As a former nurse who worked with children, I have a medical book that shows this. There are many other books for parents on child development including the ‘What to Expect When Your Child is…’ books.

As a child grows he has better comprehension, and you can add some unexpected rhythm—maybe an added syllable in just the right place, like a grace note in music. Or extra syllables to speed things up. But before you do, write perfect rhyme and rhythm!

I think that before you ‘break the rules,’ you should ‘learn the rules.’ If you do that, then when you do make exceptions you’ll understand why it works. And it will make your poetry better.

Perfect rhyme, and perfect rhythm, isn’t easy! And it isn’t quick. But it’s worth the effort. So don’t give up! And maybe someday your collection of poems or picture book in verse will be on that list of ‘best books for children!’  Read More 
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Sharing Good News!


Sometimes good news comes just at the right time! My life has been a bit crazy this summer. Mostly good crazy—but crazy, just the same.

We’ve had some great times with grandkids, family and friends
--overnight visits with grandkids, swimming, ballgames, and just hanging out doing fun things
--hiking, swimming and campfires with our kids and grandkids, and seeing family and friends from out of town
--celebrating other author’s victories and meeting new people

Every time I take a break I come back to those neglected ‘R’s—Reading, Revision, Research—and of course, wRiting!

It can be maddening at times. I want to sit down and just write! But I have to
--check my email
--pay the bills
--shop for groceries
--clean (well, maybe I can skip that one until company comes)
--cook (there’s always fast food…)
--clean veggies (next year I am not, NOT going to plant a garden! Really… I mean it!...)

But this time in the middle of all of this ‘catching up’ I got an email from the editor at Chicken Soup for the Soul. My story Double Exposure made the final cut and will be included in their upcoming book, Angels and Miracles! Writing this story was a little bit out of my comfort zone, because it’s a story for adults. But it’s also about something very close to my heart, since it’s a memory from when my mother passed away. And I do believe in angels and in miracles. The book will be released on November 1st of this year.

Along with the news of my story coming up in Angels and Miracles, I learned that the board books that I wrote for Highlights Press are finally out and available for sale!

Look for FIND IT at the Construction Site, and FIND IT at Bedtime at these places:

Highlights Press

IndieBound.org

Amazon (look under Highlights Books/Basic concepts)

B&N: Construction Site
B&N: Bedtime

Books-a-Million: Construction Site
Books-a-Million: Bedtime

Thanks so much for sharing in my good news. I hope that you’ll do a little happy dance with me, and that you’ll enjoy my newest books and my Chicken Soup memory.  Read More 
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You Seriously Just Might Be a Children's writer...


A couple of weeks ago my blog post was a list of fun ‘quirks’ that potential children’s writers have. But every children’s writer knows that there’s a lot more behind writing a children’s book than all the fun we have once it’s finished. Today I thought I’d look at some of the more ‘serious’ qualities that children’s writers have.

You might be a children’s writer if…

You have patience—

Writing for children takes a lot of patience. Most likely, the story starts out in your head. You finally get it down on paper at about 2,500 words. Then you realize that a picture book is more likely to be between 300 and 800 words! Many revisions later you finally have a nice tight story, ready for a publisher to snatch it right up.

You send it out, and wait—months, sometimes longer, before you hear back from the editor. Many rejections later you finally find the right editor who loves your story! After more revisions it’s finally finished, ready for the illustrator. Who takes a year or more to finish the artwork. You wait for the physical book to be put together, for reviews to come in, for your author copies to arrive…. Lots of patience, but totally worth it!

You can handle rejection—

There are many types of rejections. There are form rejections—a printed card or letter simply saying it’s not right for them, a letter signed by the editor saying it’s not right for them, a letter signed by the editor telling you why it’s not right for them (encouraging because they took the time to give you feedback!), or a letter signed by the editor saying it’s not right for them but asking to see more of your work (don’t pass on this!). And of course, there’s the rejection that you don’t receive, from a publisher that says ‘if you don’t hear from us after three months, we are not interested.’

You believe that children are intelligent and deserve your best effort—

Children’s writers see their readers as intelligent human beings, who soak up knowledge from the world around them. And they drive you to tell the story that opens their imagination, and that will captivate them!

You like to interact with children—

You enjoy being around children and love to hear what they have to say. Their perspective on things opens your own imagination, and helps you to see the world around you in a new way.

You have a sense of humor—

Your sense of humor lets you laugh and not take life too seriously. Things like—
“You’re pretty! I like your gray hair and wrinkles.” Or
“Are you more than 80 years old?”
don’t bother you at all!

Your ‘casual’ reading includes author, editor and agent blogs as well as books, magazines and newsletters about writing for children—and lots of children’s books!

Because this is your introduction to learning how to write children’s books well, and you don’t settle for less.

You attend events such as author appearances and book fairs—

Your love of books and writing spills over into your social life. You’d rather be here than at the amusement park.

You value what you do over how much money you make—

Sometimes you wonder why you do all of this work with no guarantee of publication. But you just can’t seem to stop. Stories pop in out of nowhere, and follow you everywhere. The objective is much more than the money you make, which is probably less than minimum wage when you figure in all the hours spent before your book is published. But all it takes is one child who loves your book, and you know why you do it.

If you have these qualities, combined with any of the quirks of my previous post, I’d suggest that you seriously consider writing for children!  Read More 
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You might be a children’s writer if…


I love writing for children! It’s not something I dreamed about doing from the time I was a little girl, like some children’s authors. But I always loved reading, and books. That’s my addiction. Children’s writers come from all walks of life—from being a mom or a dad, to teachers, nurses, engineers, and farmers.

There are signs, you know—signs that you might be a children’s writer! Here are just a few.

You might be a children’s writer if…

You can’t read a book for pleasure without critiquing it or line editing.

You critique plot and character when watching a movie.

You miss half of what people are saying because you’re off in the land of the latest book you’re writing.

You miss out on most of a lecture, sermon, speech, TV show… because something inspired you and you’re thinking up a new story, plot, characters, setting…

You take picture books home from the library even though you have no young children at home.

You visit family or friends and end up spending more time with the kids than with the adults.

You ad lib when reading your child a story.

You keep a pencil and paper and a flashlight by your bedside.

You find it difficult to part with your kids’ books when they’ve outgrown them.

You order more books from the book club flyers that come home from school than your kids do.

You can’t fall asleep at night because of all the words running through your head.

You have a collection of notes that you’ve written on napkins, newspapers, coupons and other pieces of paper.

You are a list maker, including lists of words that are fun to say out loud.

You make lists of rhyming words.

Working on crossword puzzles and word games is relaxing.

You take a book with you to read at the doctor’s office and are disappointed because your appointment is on time.

You miss meals because you’re writing and lose track of time.

You ‘watch’ TV but never know what’s going on.

You take a stack of books, pencils, paper, highlighters, and a laptop with you when you go on vacation.

You get your exercise by going to storybook walks at the park.

You love quotes from famous people, especially authors.

You get more excited about going to a book convention (think: BEA / ALA / Printers’ Row) than to an amusement park.

Local librarians and independent bookstore owners all know your name.

You have at least one bookshelf in each room of your house.

You think the book is always better than the movie.

You ask for books at Christmas and on your birthday.

Everyone gets a book from you at Christmas and on their birthday.

If you have any of the above symptoms, watch out! You just might be destined to be a children’s writer! (Thanks to Jeff Foxworthy for the ‘Here’s your sign’ inspiration).
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A Tribute to America in Patriotic Picture Books


Following are a handful of patriotic picture books to help celebrate America and Independence Day with a child. The first few are new to me, and the others are books that I especially like.

HOW TO BAKE AN AMERICAN PIE
by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Raul Colon
Margaret K. McElderry Books 2007

In this book the author adds American 'ingredients' that come from its land, from the people who came to America, and more. It reminds me of what the people in America all stand for, together. I personally like that some of the ingredients that she adds are 'forgiveness,' and 'faith, hope, and love.' "Place in God's hands and allow to rise." Well written in lyrical prose, with illustrations that combine reality with imagination.

AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
by Katharine Lee Bates, illustrated by Wendell Minor
GP Putnam's sons 2003

Beautiful illustrations accompany the words to 'America the Beautiful' in a moving tribute to one of our nation's most beloved patriotic songs. In the introduction the illustrator tells us that "The paintings in this book are the images that come to my mind when I sing the words." Back matter tells us more about the author of the poem that became the song and how she came to write it, and about the composer who wrote the melody to the words. An illustrated glossary tells about the places shown in the illustrations, and a map of the United States shows the locations of some of America's 'most beautiful places.'

WHAT PRESIDENTS ARE MADE OF
by Hanoch Piven
Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2004

The author selected 17 different past presidents and chose a different attribute for each, based on something about that president or something that they liked to do. I love reading little known facts about history, and I really enjoyed this book. I wasn't crazy about the illustrations, but that's just my personal taste, and they certainly are interesting.

THE SCRAMBLED STATES OF AMERICA
by Laurie Keller
Square Fish Publishing 2002

A crazy tale of mixed-up geography, each state has its own personality as they travel across the US!

BAD KITTY FOR PRESIDENT
by Nick Bruel
Roaring Brook Press 2012

Bad Kitty decides to run for President of the neighborhood cat club. A fun way for kids to learn about the election process. Read this easy reader to find out if Bad Kitty wins! There is a glossary of election terms at the back of the book.

MOLE MUSIC
by David McPhail
Henry Holt & Co 1999

Mole Music is not necessarily a patriotic picture book, but it is a wonderful story of hope, and peace. It shows the difference that one person can make in the world, and the wonderful influence of music on the heart.

Mole feels that something is missing in his life. When he hears someone playing a violin, Mole realizes that he longs to make beautiful music, too. As he gets better, he wonders if his music could reach into people's hearts, or even change the world. The illustrations tell the story from another perspective, and show how Mole's music has an effect on others that is more magical than Mole will ever know.

I wish all of my friends here a wonderful and safe 4th of July! I hope you'll celebrate our country, and never take for granted the freedoms that others have won for us. May 'God Bless America' and all who live here.  Read More 
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It’s Summertime—Walk and Read in the Park!


It’s school summer vacation time, and libraries across the country are hosting their summer reading programs. What better way for young readers to meet the challenge than to combine time outdoors and reading a picture book!

Check out your local parks’ programs to see if there’s a Storybook Walk in your area. In St. Charles county, Missouri, the St. Charles Library foundation is once again hosting Storybook Walks in the parks. This year there are four locations, the newest storybook walk at Heartland Park in Wentzville, Missouri. Visit the St. Charles Library foundation website for more information including locations and featured picture books for May, June and July.

In Quail Ridge Park in Wentzville you’ll walk around the lake on a paved walking path surrounded by trees and plants. You might see a turtle, a fish, a dragonfly or other wildlife as you walk.

At St. Charles Community College in Cottleville the story is set on a paved path around a scenic lake with a fountain. On our walk a couple of days ago, the evening sun shined through the waters of the fountain to create a beautiful rainbow. A crane kept turning its back on me as I tried to get a picture.

I have yet to visit Heartland Park in Wentzville and Fox Hill Park in St. Charles, but they’re on my list.

So if you haven’t already signed up, visit your local library and kick off your summer reading with a walk, and a story!  Read More 
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