Saturday, March 17, 2018

Houston Writer Spotlight-Andrew Fairchild

We were lucky enough to have a local Houston writer, Andrew Fairchild, conduct a writing workshop for kids at our library. He donates a lot of his time helpings kids in the community and this was a great yet no pressure writing talk with a book-creating exercise at the end- and my kids loved it. 

His titles are all thought-provoking, from a funny story about a girl who loves her differences to themes like caretaking, courage, and cross-barriers friendship. They don't talk down to kids, as even in light-hearted notes, these are heavy subjects. They are great conversation starters about important stuff for young kids. 

If you're looking for some new children's books, you can find Fairchild's titles on his website at

I had to read to believe that Houston is a sea of writers, comparable to New York in numbers and talent. You would think I would have been less dense about it, as several of my friends are writers, but it's easy to think you are alone when many of us are in small groups or no groups at all. 

I'm mixed on the benefits of writers groups (it was great for me one time, but harmful the others, though it can be a way to connect) but I definitely feel like those of us in Houston should all cheer each other on. 

So support your local writers. Review their work, talk to your friends about it, buy their stuff. 

A Review of "The Creature Garden"

I always think the last art book I reviewed was the best one, and I'm always impressed by the works of the next book. If I could review only art books, I probably would. They are that fun. And important- they are that important! Art books are a wonderful source of inspiration and instruction on techniques and styles you might not have been exposed to yet. Easier than an art course and more fun than a lecture, anyone interested in art needs a good set of art books. 

So, another book you should add to your shelf is "The Creature Garden: An Illustrator's Guide to Beautiful Beasts and Fictional Fauna" (it's just as much fun as it sounds like it is in the title, seriously). Made by husband and wife team, Zanna Goldhawk and Harry Goldhawk, it is a collection of art instruction on mammals, insects, sea creatures, even fictional creatures in a very stylized and gorgeous manner. You don't have to paint these, or sketch these, or anything these- you can go with the medium you are comfortable with and that includes digital. 

The subject matter is fantastic, the tips on shaping creatures are wonderful and as much as I enjoyed it as an adult, this is perfect for budding artists. If you can get your kids one book to draw along with, let it be this one. The lessons are not a chore, the beauty of it is inspiring and I think it can lead some readers to great places in their artwork.

Don't pass up "The Creature Garden". 

You don't have to use the lessons to create an army of insane hybrid creatures,
but you totally can. You know, if you want to. I made this narwhalopus with strictly digital means and
still got some nice effects. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Classic Easter Book We Nearly Missed.

I've been through almost eleven Easters with kids, and I would have thought we had covered most of the classic Easter books by now. 

I was wrong, and I'm happy to be wrong.

Our library recently received a grant and with it came stacks of new books, I found a brand new shining copy with a cover so lovely that I couldn't pass it up. 

I'd never seen or heard of "The Country Bunny And The Little Golden Shoes" by Du Bose Heyward, and the book is a story the author used to tell his daughter.

It's magical. 

This is the Easter book every child needs in their basket, and I wish I'd of found it sooner.  

A little cottontail girl bunny grows up wishing to deliver Easter eggs, and her dream doesn't go away as she raises her large family of children. She had the heart for it all along and goes on not just to be an Easter Bunny, but one of the bravest bunnies of all. 

The artwork by Marjorie Flack (who wrote the famous classic "The Story of Ping") is that charming storybook type that is likely to make people my age feel all warm and fuzzy, and nothing could have fit this story more perfectly than that. 

I will say, it's longer and more complex than some of the younger Easter stories, with some full pages of text. That makes it perfect to share with older kids as well, and my nearly four-year-old was able to sit through the whole story with no problem. 

It's a rarity such beautiful lessons are contained in such short text, so if you weren't familiar with this book, please don't miss out on it. It definitely belongs as an Easter read. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Classics for Younger Readers-A Review of "Poetry for Kids: William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare and Marguerite Tassi"

Classics, the world-changing ones, are a great idea to adapt for younger readers. I am 150% for Shakespeare snippets for kids. 

However, I feel like this particular book is the best fit for tweens and young teens, around 11-14 (but, calling this "Shakespeare for Tweens and Teens" probably isn't catchy). I'm basing this both on my older kids' reactions and the fact that I went Willy-Shakes CRAZY at about that age and would have really appreciated this volume as a gift right about then. Younger kids might read this, but I think the biggest pull and benefit of it will be felt for that age group. 

That out of the way, my gosh is this a lovely book. 

The illustrations are killer and with just the right amount of ink and whimsy. They fit perfectly without overwhelming the text and it is gorgeous together. 

All of your favorite verses are here; your Romeo and Juliet love poetry, your fairy speeches that make you question the ideas of life and theatre, and even the Macbeth-witch scene. My favorites are still the Julius Ceaser scenes, which are short, powerful, to the point. 

My older kids are just barely coming into the age-group that I feel will get the most out of this, but I think it's a safe bet for parents to stock this on the shelf for when the bard-frenzy does hit. It's actually beautiful enough I kind of just want it for my collection as an adult, anyway. 

A Review of "Eat This Not That: Supermarket Survival Guide" by David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding

It's not a secret that diet affects both pulmonary hypertension and SVT, so when I saw this, I grabbed it.

I need to eat better, I know many people feel like they do as well, and flat out deprivation doesn't seem like a good idea. Being careful about labels, especially DECEPTIVE ONES, can save you from sugar overloads, ridiculously low fiber counts, and dense calories. 

This book gives you shopping tips, some we all know, like do not go to the grocery store starving-you'll spend more money and more junk and probably be mean to the cashier. And some surprised me, like bulking up the fruit and vegetables in the freezer section can save you on freshness and money. 

The foods that get the worst ratings in here are going to shock you.

And, if you are like me, they are also going to piss you off.

I wasn't checking the labels and found the extra pricey organic granola bars I had been buying were the worst sugary oily garbage we could have been getting. Another brand at a much lower cost had more fiber, less sugar, and more vitamin content. Not paying attention to anything but the packaging was costing us and I had no idea. 

Overall, this is a fast, easy read. One most of us could use if we weren't already religiously checking the nutrition labels on our foods. The product ratings and recommended switches will also give you better ideas of what you might want to try on your next shopping trip. 


I'd recommend this book to anyone who is shopping for their household, honestly. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

You Can't Put Everything First.

Another one of my writing friends has a finished manuscript. It's amazing, and she's ready to get signed. I've kind of watched over the last year as all the women in my circle of writers have found homes in publishing houses or magazine positions and it has been astounding. 

I'm so proud of them. And I'm proud to know them. These are the people you want in your corner in the barfight we call life, and I'm so lucky. 

I'm also a little sad. Not in their direction, though. 

I had to pull my first novel out of a bad publishing deal and some ugly formatting. Totally my fault, but I learned from it so I guess that was something. But that manuscript has sat, as I continue to whittle it away, in silence. And it will for a long time, I think, along with its half-dead sequel that calls my name louder each day. I ignore most of those calls, and sometimes I'm too tired to even think about answering them with the work it will take to finish my second book. 

But you can't put everything in your life first without falling on your face. 

I found it easier to write with small babies in the house, babies that need naps and snacks versus older kids who need to go to the skate park and help with homework. Adding in a toddler has made everything shakey because that's what they are good at. 

The days where I could get an hour break are long gone. They won't be seen again until all three of my children are at school. In America, we don't have early childcare that is universal-or even universal preschool. This makes it hard for most of us to work the hours we need to without it if we don't have the cash for daycare, so our family dynamics make up the difference. I hope that changes when my children are adults. 

But, you know what?

If I'd of had to give up writing forever in order to have my children, if the trade would have been to never scribble another word to have them, I'd of done it. Without even thinking about it. 

And I'd make that choice over and over again. 

And thinking about it like that makes me feel okay that I'm not in the ranks of the women around me. They made and are making different decisions-to have one child, to have none, to have two, to put the choice away for the moment, to have dogs instead. Those are all awesome. 

Part of making a good choice is understanding what the consequences will be. And I'm more than happy with what I chose. 

A bigger family means I'm moving slower. Those stories are going to have to gather dust in the desk. They'll probably be better stories than they otherwise would have been because of it. 

Sometimes there aren't fast answers to bring productive when you are a parent.

Sometimes things, like novels, have to wait. 

I'm thinking about my own line of demotivational posters. No?
Yeah, no. 
If you were wondering, that doesn't make you any less of a writer. Just do what you can for right now. That's it. It might be short poems, flash fiction, whatever. Study your craft when you can by listening to podcasts, reading books on writing, and even taking a course if you can find one that is doable for you. Writing short stories for a blog and for magazines is an easier task when you have just a few minutes to yourself (about thirty in my house before a kid starts asking you when their turn on the technology you're holding is) and it doesn't require the deep, dark diving writing a novel pushes you into. 

A writing routine when you have to cook, clean, care and shop for smaller humans is kind of a joke unless you have some kind of killer support system (spoiler-we don't, and my husband works a high-stress job) and I still think the jerks telling everyone to get up at 4AM to work before their family does are crazy, but I tend to fall asleep at half-past 8 even when I didn't have to get up until 7AM. 

Kids really only need you this much for a short season. Right now, we're still at the stage where all of them want to gently catch and hold a crane fly in the Spring evenings. I'm aware that these days are numbered. 

This is the choice I made, and other than marrying my husband, I have never made a better one. 

My novels will be there when my children are older. When I am older, and when things slow down. And one day I will be where my writing sisters are and I'll have them to ask about the new experiences waiting for me. 

Be proud of your choices, and just keep working (when possible) and growing as a writer. 

**unsplash-logoSindre Aalberg** Credit to the photographer for the background of the illustration.

Folk Art Fusion: Americana by Joy Laforme-Because You Need This Art Book

I'm excited every time I get to review an art book. I don't think anyone can ever have enough of those (unlike writing books, whose advice might paralyze or screw you up, art books are always adding to your perception and viewpoint). 

It's hard for me to describe the style found in this book in any other way than picture all the warm and sweet memories in our collective culture as Americans-that is what Americana Folk Art is. And it's stunning. If you've brushed it off or not had an encounter with it up close, please do, because you are missing out on something remarkable if you don't. 

This isn't a list style art book, though you will get several project ideas you can work through with some instruction. It reads paragraphically and you can probably work through a piece just after reading the section and seeing the artist's beautiful example. That's a hallmark of an art book that works. 
I had to work digitally, and my toddler was allowed to help (because she could
really only improve it). It's not my best work, but it was so much
fun to try. The lessons are easy to read
and deviate from too if you like. 

You're encouraged to experiment if you want to as well. That was my only worry picking this up; that it would be a paint-by-my-numbers guide but fear not, because it isn't. 

Joy Laforme created a wondrous art book, and if you are creative minded, then you need it for the breakdown of this fascinating style. More than anything else, this book is fun, and a great set of exercises in art. You can find out more about the artist/author on her website  at