Our Top Five Picture Books of November

Most days if you dropped by my house unexpectedly, you might think that a library had exploded inside. There are books on the couch, the bed, the table, going up the stairs. Books are everywhere!

As a picture book author, I try to READ as many of the current picture books that I possibly can to help my craft. As a mom, I try to SHARE my love of books with my son. I love learning about his interests and seeing which books are his favorites and why.

Below is a list of our top five picture books read during the month of November. We hope you’ll check them out!

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again

by Dan Santat

Humpty Dumpty has become synonymous with his great fall. Now he has a choice – let the fall be what defines him forever or face his fear and get back up again. This book cleverly and tenderly gives us a glimpse of what it means to be resilient and to persevere despite past failures and humiliation. There’s a satisfying and surprising twist at the end (displayed beautifully through the illustrations!) that reminds us that sometimes we have to put ourselves out there and take a risk to discover our true self.

Love Is

by Diane Adams

This is one of those sweet books that works on two levels . A little girl finds a lost duckling and begins to care for him until it becomes obvious that it’s time for him “to lift those wings, to travel on.” I challenge parents to read this book without becoming teary-eyed as they think about their own ducklings and all the seasons of love they’ve experienced and will experience together.

Even Monsters Need to Sleep

by Lisa Wheeler

My son is obsessed with all things monster, so it’s no surprise this book became a quick favorite. Chris Van Dusen’s adorable illustrations are filled with humorous details – a dragon with braces, three-legged aliens and a giant whose cloud-pounding tantrums cause rain storms. The catchy refrain and ending line “All little monsters need to sleep” inspired my own little monster to break out in song!

Doris the Bookasaurus

by Diana Murray

“Hooray for books! I love them so! I get a wagonload to go! ” The opening lines of this book describe my son and I and our book-borrowing habits to a T. My library card is regularly maxed out, and my son sees it as perfectly normal to check-out fifty or more books at a time. What I love about this book is the way it celebrates everything that a book can do – give you facts, make you laugh and take you on adventures! But while Doris is an avid reader, her brother’s don’t get it. They just want to play – until she finds the perfect book for them!

We are Brothers, We are Friends

by Alexandra Penfold

In full disclosure, I may be slightly partial to this book because I have two sons and nothing warms my heart more than to see the bond between them! Written from the older brother’s point of view, this book celebrates the responsibility that comes with being an older sibling instead of painting it in a negative light. It shows the joy that a child can experience from sharing his best toys and teaching his baby brother a new skill. The charming illustrations depict how even the simplest activities become adventures when shared together and how a good older brother is more than a brother – he’s a superhero and a friend.

Oh the Places You’ll Go . . . If You’re Flexible!

I received a copy of Dr. Seuss’s iconic classic, Oh the Places You’ll Go, as a high school graduation gift from my parents. It now sits on my three-year old’s book shelf and is an oft-requested choice for bedtime. I’ve always loved the title — and this summer I found myself thinking, “Oh the Places You’ll Perform.” Never in a million years could I have guessed where or for whom I’d be performing when I got started on this crazy journey as a storyteller. But one thing I have learned – the importance of being flexible.

This summer alone I performed at libraries (both in Ohio and beyond); day care centers; churches; a hospital; a residential home for senior citizens; a city park in a beautiful amphitheatre. But perhaps most interesting of all I performed underneath a stairwell. You see, I was slated to perform at an outdoor community kids fest, but the day of the festival, it was raining. I called the organizer to be sure we were still on. She told me no to worry – there was an outdoor stage where we would be covered.

When I arrived, I found the “stage” – a small area of cement below a stairwell. It was overlooking a busy highway where the sound of cars zooming by was more than audible. Water was dripping down through the cracks in the stairs above, and I was doing my best to keep my audience helpers out of the puddle that had pooled at our feet. The best part of all was that directly to the right of me there was an ice cream cart. The only way to get to it was by walking right in between me and the audience members. Who can resist ice cream? I can’t! There was a steady stream of foot traffic which required me to use all my powers of concentration to stay fully present in the story. Still, the audience hung with me, and we created some wonderful memories. Be flexible.

Then there was the performance I did in a church basement for a group of Spanish-speaking adolescents. I’d been told that the purpose of the performance was to re-immerse them in English before the start of the school year. After a long summer of speaking only Spanish in their homes, they had likely lost much of their English proficiency. But when I arrived, I quickly learned that things had changed. This was a different group of students than previously expected. Many of these students had only recently arrived in the States and spoke almost no English. In fact, Spanish wasn’t even their first language — it was K’iche’, a Mayan language. So I told the stories in Spanish instead. It was like pulling teeth to get audience volunteers. I was practically begging. But then I discovered a trick. Once I could get one student to agree to help me, they would choose the next volunteer. The students wouldn’t say yes to me; but for a peer, they were all in. Despite their initial resistance, later I was told that my visit was the highlight of their week. Be flexible.

I have learned that the ability to be flexible is a gift. It keeps you open to all of the amazing things that can be when you see the possible instead of the impossible. I’ve grown a lot in the area of flexibility, but I still have a long way to go. While being a storyteller is good training, being a parent is even better training! Right now I’m gearing up for a three-week trip across the East Coast with my brother-in-law and his family who are coming to visit us from Colombia for the first time. With all of us crammed into our mini-van and a three year old and a six month old in tow, I’m going to need a good measure of flexibility. If nothing else, I’m sure I’ll have lots of stories to tell when we get back!

It Takes a Village #2: How Two Teachers Saved My Video Project

When people ask me what I do, I often respond with, “I’m an interactive storyteller.” But most people (understandably!) have a hard time understanding what that means. Until you’ve seen what I do it can be difficult to describe. For a long time I’ve wanted to add videos to my website to give people a taste of what I do. However, since I use audience participation, I can’t post videos publicly without signed release forms.

After working with a particular school two years in a row on two different residency projects, I asked the teachers if they’d be willing to send home some release forms so that I could take videos. They agreed! Finally I had a date on the calendar for the recording of some of my stories during their last week of school.

Then we ran into a glitch. Ohio weather! The weather report was showing rain on the day of their field trip to a local mini-golf/go-kart place. The teachers asked if we could switch dates so that the students wouldn’t have to lose their field trip.

I didn’t have anything else on my schedule for the newly proposed day, but unfortunately I couldn’t find a babysitter. The teachers didn’t skip a beat. “Bring your kids. We can watch them while you perform.” After having worked closely with these teachers over the past two years, I had full confidence that my kiddos would be in good hands.

So while I performed, one of the teachers took my little ones strolling through the school hallways. Eventually they found one of my three-year old’s favorite places – the library! By the time they returned at the conclusion of my performance, Rafael had a SpiderMan book from the library in one hand and a dinosaur book that had been given to him by a teacher in the other.

Rafa warmed right up to the 4th graders who were eager to read him his books. Some of the students even had him sign their yearbooks. He also participated in his first game of Duck Duck Goose. He had the time of his life! And his mom finally had some videos of her work – thanks to some awesome teachers who made it possible!

I should add that when the teachers moved the field trip, the students were genuinely concerned. “What about Miss Lindsay? . . . If we’re going on the field trip today, does that mean she isn’t coming anymore?” After looking forward to my visit for weeks, the students weren’t willing to miss it — even if that meant giving up mini-golf! I have to say – it felt pretty good to know that my stories rate right up there with mini-golf and go-karts!

Stay tuned — very soon I’ll have some videos to share with you!

It Takes a Village: Finding Support to Keep Telling

I never thought I’d find a job I loved as much as being a storyteller . . . then I became a mom. Twice-over! Alejandro joined our family at the end of February and quickly became adored by his big brother, Rafael, and of course his doting parents. He’s an easy-going baby who is always smiling. At 4 months old, he is finding his voice, and while it’s still too early to tell, it seems we may have another storyteller in the family.

There’s so much I could share about what has happened for me over the past few months, both personally and professionally. But today I want to focus on gratitude – particularly the gratitude I feel toward all those who have shown me understanding and support as I added the title ‘mom’ to my resume. I am forever grateful to many of you who have gone above and beyond to allow me to continue my work as a storyteller all the while fulfilling my role as ‘mom.’ Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.

Six weeks after Alejandro’s birth, I was slated to teach a workshop about tableaux at the Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Literature for Youth at Kent State University. It would be my second year presenting, and I was looking forward not only to my workshop but also to attending some of the sessions. I’d planned to leave my baby with Grandma or have her join me at Kent that day, but it turned out she had to go out of town. With Alejandro still so young and not taking a bottle very well, I was starting to stress out. What was I going to do?

Then my mom suggested I ask my friend Jeff. Jeff was my parent’s friend first, but after training for three half-marathons together, we became great friends. In fact, Jeff was listening to my stories on our long runs back in the days when I was just getting World of Difference off the ground. Despite the fact that Jeff didn’t have a lot of experiences with babies, he agreed to meet me at Kent State and watch Alejandro during my workshop. Phew! I breathed a sigh of relief!

Then, since I’d hoped to attend some of the conference sessions, I sent an email to the conference organizers asking if it would be alright if I brought my son along to the other portions of the conference. I’ll admit, I was rather embarrassed even asking. But I received an almost immediate reply: “YES!”

As I pushed Alejandro into the ballroom that first night, I was feeling very self-conscious. I was the only one there with a stroller (or a baby!). Maybe I didn’t belong. Perhaps I should’ve stayed home. But one of the co-chairs walked right up to me and told me how glad she was that BOTH of us were there. She shared that she had taken her babies along with her on many occasions when they were young. She even offered to hold Alejandro or wear him in my sling during my workshop! She probably has no idea what a gift that was to me and how much she set my mind at ease. Alejandro proved to be an excellent conference participant, sleeping throughout my presentation (as Jeff strolled him around the library!) and allowing me to enjoy many other sessions at the conference.

They say that it takes a village to raise a child – and they are right. It also takes a village to support a working mom – and I am so grateful for my village.

[Pictured above with writer friend, Kathy Halsey (one of my biggest encouragers!), and Alejandro at the Virginia Hamilton Conference.]

Inspiration and Intersection: More Reflections on Week 1 of the Summer Reading Program

Week 1 of the Summer Reading Program was so filled with wonderful moments that I couldn’t fit them all into one post!

Here are a few more of my highlights:

Inspiring and Empowering Someone Else

On Saturday an adult woman slipped into the back row at my performance. At the conclusion, she introduced herself and said that she is a teacher at a school in a prison town. Many of her students have family members who are incarcerated and when she heard that I would be telling stories about conflict resolution, she wanted to get some ideas for using stories in her classroom. She described how one child taking anothers crayon could turn into an all out war – just like in the story of “The War between the Whales and the Sandpipers.” We chatted about some resources she could use, and she left excited to continue building on her use of storytelling in the classroom, particularly as a means of giving her students the tools they need for peaceful conflict resolution. Seeing her passion for her students, I know she is going to have a huge impact. I’m super excited that my performance could be part of equipping someone else to reach people I may never meet!

Building on Past Relationships

At my last performance of the week, it was amazing to see a family that I recognized from my last visit at this library over 3.5 years ago! We’d had a small crowd that winter day and so this family – from grandma all the way down to grandson — ended up playing almost every role in my story! It was quite memorable to have a whole family involved in this way. This time around, there were more children volunteers so the adults didn’t get as involved; however, the grandson took on a role once more and it was neat to see how his creativity had blossomed!

However, even more meaningful than that was when during the telling of “Old Joe and the Carpenter” I asked the audience this question: “If you could live next door to anyone, who would you want to live next door to?” This young man raised his hand and said: “My grandma.” Tears came to her eyes – and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.

 Connecting Home and Work

My week was capped off by a proud Mama moment. As my 3 year old was taking his bath, with toy fish and whales floating around, with no prompting by me, he began to tell/act out the story of “The War Between the Whales and the Sandpipers.” I was amazed by how well he knew it! He has become one of my primary listeners for practicing my tales, and every once in awhile I’ll hear him say one of the refrains from a story I’m rehearsing out of the blue, but I had no idea how much he was internalizing these stories. To see my professional and personal worlds intersect in such a meaningful way made for the perfect ending to an already great week.