Back After Receiving A Curve Ball. Happy Perfect Picture Book Friday.

I visited my blog for the first time since April. What can I say… Life throws curve balls. I’ve missed writing my musings to you about my life and, more specifically, my childhood memories I love to tie into my picture book reviews.

To be honest, I wasn’t hit with just one curve ball. If you’ve ever watched to movie, BIG, with Tom Hanks, you’ll remember the scene when Billie gets pelted after gym class with basketballs. Got the visual? That’s what my life felt like.

Big Bear Was Not the Same: Rowland, Joanna, Ledda, John: 9781506471419: Books

Here’s a recap from the call I received that brought the bigest curve ball.

“Hi, Leslie, It’s Janet from the Breast Center. The results came in from your biopsy, and I’m very sorry, but it showed cancer.”

For a total of one second, I searched for my voice before spouting out, “Now is a REALLY not a good time for this. You see, my house just sold, my entire life is taped up inside of 114 boxes, I’m moving in a little over a month, and my daughter is in the hospital bacause she almost died from the second COVID shot. Do you understand how BAD the timing is here? I can’t have cancer now.”

To say the diagnosis came at the wrong time would imply a right time exists. There never is a good time for such a thing. About two weeks later, my husband suffered a mild stroke. Stress, by the way, is a terrible thing; the sooner it gets banned the better.

I tried distracting myself while I waited for my surgery date. I scrolled through my Facebook feed and scoffed at a post from a writer, complaining over two agent rejections they recieved in their inbox that day.

Seriously! You’re bummed about two rejections?

I’ll come clean and admit that a month earlier, a couple of rejections on a manuscript would have left me devestated. Cancer is funny in the way it gives life perspective about what is trivial and what is worth a good rant.

Confession time…

Only my family knew about my diagnosis. I thought if I told my friends what I was going through, they would tell me about their friends or family members who received a similar diagnosis, and I didn’t want my head filled with stories that might frighten me more.

As surgery neared, I discovered I needed more support if I was going to get through this. I didn’t expect what came. One by one, friends offered their love, prayers, virtual hugs, and even Reiki healing from afar. The mailcarrier delivered get well cards. Uplifting text messages and virtual greeting cards popped up in my inbox. A bouquet of colorful blooms and a bag of fresh-picked greenbeans arrived at my front door. Over Zoom, one friend offered me the encouragement I needed to face the future with renewed inner strength and a smile. Another friend chatted with me over coffee at the Starbucks in my town from the Starbucks in her town. Friends called to say they were ready to listen if I needed to talk–night or day.

This is the part when my post becomes a Perfect Picture Book Friday Review.

Shortly before surgery, a picture book arrived on my front door step from one of my critique partners and friends. The book, BIG BEAR WAS NOT THE SAME, is about a bear that lives through something scary and has a challenging time recovering when so many things remind him of the traumatic event. The story told of his special friend that promised to be there for Big Bear no matter how far they run, how loud they roar, or how long they sit in silence. Big Bear’s friend knew that traumatic events are a little less scary when friends stay by each other’s side.

Title – Big Bear Was Not The Same

Written by- Joanna Rowland

Illustrated by  – John Ledda

Suitable for ages – 4  – 8

Topics/theme – Trauma, Empathy, and Friendship

Opening – 

Little Bear loved the woods and going on adventures with his best friend Big Bear. Their days were full of laughter, exploring new heights, and great fun.

Whenever Little Bear got into sticky situations or scary ones, Big Bear was right by his side to help with his big bear claws, his big bear teeth, and his big bear hugs.

Synopsis from AMAZON – One scary day can change everything . . .

Little Bear loves the woods, his home, and going on adventures with his best friend, Big Bear. Big Bear is so big and strong and brave. He always protects Little Bear and helps him feel safe. Then something scary happens to Big Bear. He’s caught in a forest fire. Even after he escapes and is safe, Little Bear can tell that Big Bear is not the same. He runs, roars, or freezes in fear when ordinary things happen in the woods that remind him of that traumatic day. How can Little Bear’s big, strong, brave friend be so scared now? And how can Little Bear be a good friend?

In Big Bear Was Not the Same, Joanna Rowland, author of the bestelling book The Memory Box, gently introduces young readers to the common feelings of fear, anxiety, and anger that can follow a traumatic event, and shows them how to have empathy and compassion for themselves and for loved ones experiencing the effects of trauma.

Includes backmatter written by a family therapist with information on how to talk about trauma with children. 

Why do I like this book? It’s sometimes difficult to know how to be there for someone after they have endured a traumatic event. While some children automatically rush over to their friend’s side to give hugs, other children freeze up, not knowing how to help. This story offers a few perfect ways to comfort a friend in need. No spoilers here. To learn how Little Bear helped his friend, Big Bear, you’ll have to read this wonderful book.

Learn more about Joanna Rowland HERE.

Learn more about John Ledda HERE.

To leave you with good news, surgery is one week behind me, I’m on the mend, and my doctor said the final tests show I am cancer-free.

I hope you’ll visit me next week for another PERFECT PICTURE BOOK FRIDAY.

Spreading Joy with Scribble Stones this Perfect Picture Book Friday

While most kids grew up painting pictures on paper, my mother inspired me to paint on other surfaces. I sense some of you envisioning me brushing the walls with my art. You’re not wrong. Sure, I did that. But in my defense, everyone knows that walls set aside for paint or wallpaper are free game for self-expression. There was another surface I liked to paint.


Before you envision me leveraging boulders into a wheelbarrow with sturdy sticks, the stones I painted fit on the palm of my hand. My mom showed me how to soak them in sudsy water, scrub off the dirt, dry them, and paint them according to their shape. Think of it as finding animals in the sky when you gaze at clouds. To me, the stones resembled things like ladybugs, sleeping cats, cottages, and hearts. If they didn’t bring anything specific to mind, I painted colorful designs on their surfaces.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who paints stones. Today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday author and illustrator, Diane Alber, wrote a book in which the main character becomes a painted stone.

At the end of this post, I shared photographs of stones painted by my mom when I was a child and stones that my daughter and I painted. I hope you find enough inspiration in this post to set out in search of stones to design with your art.

Title – Scribble Stones

Written and illustrated by- Diane Alber

Suitable for ages – 4  – 8

Topics/theme – Finding a purpose, embracing change, and spreading joy.

Opening – 

This story is about one happy stone,
who was gray and round and rarely alone.
He lived with the others, all stacked in a pile,
and waited calmly with a large, firendly smile.

Synopsis from Amazon HERE. A heartwarming story about a little stone who was able to spread kindness to the world!

This story starts off with a little stone who thinks he will be become something amazing but then soon realizes he had become a dull paper weight. He’s on a mission to become something greater and in the process meets scribble and splatter and they all come up a creative way to bring joy to thousands of people. If you loved I’m Not just a Scribble… then you’ll love Scribble Stones! And you’ll even be inspired to make some scribble stones of your own!

Why do I like this book? The story is about a gray stone that believes his purpose is to make others happy. Being chosen to become a paper weight feels like a mistake. “This just can’t be my skill,” Stone says. But then…he meets some new friends that love to splatter and scribble paper with their bright colors, lines, and designs. It doesn’t take long before Stone realizes how he can make others happy. No spoilers here. You’ll have to read the book to learn his grand plan. Diane Alber’s colorful illustrations are energetic, bold, and extremely playful.

Learn more about Diane Alber HERE.

If you’re interested in painting stones, I included some links to get you ispired and started.

Diane Alber wrote a companion book, Scribble Stones Art Guide: Step by Step Painting Techniques and Tricks HERE.

Pinterest stone painting ideas HERE.

Rock Crafts for Kids HERE.

Many thanks for visiting.

Until next Friday.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Extra Yarn, plus a little ‘yarn’ of my own.

With my right hand still mending from surgery (and taking longer to function properly than I’d care to wait), I found myself standing in my art room yesterday, looking with longing at my stacks of fabric, piles of paintboxes, jars of paintbrushes, and boxes of fuzzy yarn. Right now, buttoning my shirt or turning a doorknob poses a challenge. (Thankfully, typing is doable.)With creative outlets in mind, the book I chose to share for Perfect Picture Book Friday was published ten years ago and goes along with my desire to knit. Yup! I’m talking about Mac Barnett’s book, Extra Yarn.

But first, a story from my past to pair with my review.

When I was twelve, my mother decided I was old enough to learn how to knit. After receiving a wardrobe of patterned ski sweaters, pants, and jackets for my dolls over the years, I was eager to learn at her side. I watched Mom quickly cast on. My desire to learn grew as her fingers made the needles dance. Shortly, the piece took shape and draped over her hand. Eager to create something equally extraordinary, I took up the knitting needles and tried to duplicate my mother’s movements. Two hours later, you could classify my creation somewhere between a cobweb and a hairball. Mom gave up.

Years later, I passed a yarn shop that advertised Saturday knitting classes for beginners. I decided to give knitting another chance. Since the teacher would be paid to teach me, maybe she’d have more patience…

The process was different from my mother’s. I learned there are many ways to knit, and the method taught in this class made sense. Before long, I knit scarves for my friends, knit and felted purses, house slippers, and stuffed animals, too. My husband, who often sat beside me, surprised me one day.

“I’ve been watching you,” he said, “and I think I know how to knit.”

“Sweetheart,” I said, choking back laughter, “don’t get discouraged if your first attempt looks like a cross between a cobweb and a hairball.” I gave him yarn and a set of knitting needles. He cast on like a pro, and before the week was out, my darling husband had knit himself a beautiful scarf. Quickly bored by basic knitting, he checked out a book from the library and learned how to cable knit and make a sweater.

And now it’s time for my Perfect Picture Book Friday review.

Title – Extra Yarn

Written by- Mac Barnett

Illustrated by- Jon Klassen

Published by- Balzer + Bray,  2012

Suitable for ages – 4  – 8

Topics/theme – Sharing, determination, and friendship

Opening – On a cold afternoon, in a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black of soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color.

Summary  – With a supply of yarn that never runs out, Annabelle knits for everyone and everything in town until an evil archduke decides he wants the yarn for himself.

Synopsis from Amazon Here Extra Yarn, a Caldecott Honor Book, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner, and a New York Times bestseller. It is the story of how a young girl and her box of magical yarn transform a community.

With spare, gently humorous illustrations and a palette that moves from black-and-white to a range of color, this modern fairy tale has the feel of a new classic.

Why do I like this book? 

This is a story about a girl named Annabelle who takes an ordinary box of yarn (Okay, it’s not so ordinary. The magical box holds a never-ending supply of yarn) and does something extraordinary with it, like knitting sweaters for everyone and everything in town. Annabelle isn’t your average character. Instead of allowing the negativity of others to crush her enthusiasm, she stays true to her beliefs, never letting anyone drag her down or steal her joy…even an archduke!

Author – Visit Mac Barnett’s web page here.

Illustrator – Visit Jon Klassen’s here.

Many thanks for visiting.

Until next Friday.

Interview with Debut Picture Book Author, Julia Richardson

Julia Richardson, author of Dandelion Seeds the World

In late January, I reviewed a picture book by debut author, Julia Richardson. Her beautiful book, Dandelion Seeds The World, is enjoying its birthday today, which makes today the best day for her interview! Please welcome Julia.

Me: Who were your favorite authors when you were a child and why did you love their books?

Julia: Gene Stratton Porter, L.M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett…and many more. Anything with a focus on nature appealed to me.

Me: Was there a book you never tired of hearing or reading when you were a child, and what was it about the story that you loved so much?

Julia: To this day, I love visiting dear Anne from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I’ve read it so many times I have it memorized, yet it never fails to lift my spirits. Anne’s vivid imagination and appreciation of beauty are pure enchantment.

Me: Can you describe the moment you knew you wanted to write for children? 

Julia: I began writing for children when I was just a child myself through my hobby marionette theater. My sisters and I wrote plays and performed for tolerant relatives on a wobbly stage made of couch cushions. This hobby continued into adulthood. Though I wrote into the wee hours of the night, it never occurred to me to attempt publication until the day I received a letter from a mother, who brought her son to a marionette show that I gave at the local library. Unbeknownst to me, the little boy passed away shortly after the show from cancer. She told me he laughed and laughed during the marionette show and thanked me for making his last hours memorable. Then she encouraged me to pursue a career with children. Five years later I had my first offer of publication.

Me: What inspired the idea for your debut picture book, Little Dandelion Seeds the World?

Julia: The idea sprang from my sons’ interests when they were young. One of them adored animals and the other was fascinated with different parts of the world. I wanted to write a book that combined these two topics, a book that both of my boys would have loved. But how?

For months, I wracked my brain for an original way to weave the two topics together. I was at a complete loss until the day my yard bloomed in drifts of dandelions. (For those of you opposed to dandelions, I find them delightful.) The golden blooms seemed to be everywhere. 


That thought spurred me into action. I raced to my computer and quickly discovered that dandelions bloom all over the world. Since they are spread by animals and loved by children, dandelions morphed into the nugget of my story. Even better, the addition of seed travel added a STEM component. 

Me: Were there any surprises along your path to publication?

Julia: The biggest surprise was that the path led to publication at all. I know plenty of unpublished writers with talent far superior to mine. 

Me: Describe the moment when your agent told you Sleeping Bear Press wanted to acquire your manuscript. 

Julia: Actually, my first manuscript sold pre-agent. An online platform called KidLit College offered an opportunity to Facetime and discuss a manuscript with an editor. Sarah Rockett from Sleeping Bear Press made a few suggestions for revision and asked me to resubmit. I remember thinking she wasn’t interested or she would have made more suggestions. By that time, the manuscript had been rejected so many times I assumed it needed a complete overhaul. It took me about 20 minutes to complete her suggestions. I stared at it for a few days and then resubmitted. A few weeks later these lovely words arrived in my inbox: 

Me with my family a few weeks before my facetime with Sarah Rockett.

We had an acquisition meeting last week and have decided to move forward with Little Dandelion! Everyone LOVED this story. It topped all of our lists at discussion. We’re so thrilled to add it to our publishing program!

I leaped out of my chair and raced through the house shouting, “I did it! I did it! I’m a children’s book author!”

Me: If you could go back to the day you began your writing journey, knowing what you know today, is there anything you would do differently?

Julia: Since my writing journey began when I was a child, I would follow my passions rather than do the expected. It took a lot of years to realize my creativity was a gift.

Me: Where do you love to write, and what makes this place special to you?  

Julia: My favorite place to write is a hammock hooked to a massive maple tree. It’s a secluded spot next to a big white barn that overlooks a field full of wildflowers. High in the branches, orioles pour out passionate melodies. In the spring, the air is scented with lavender lilacs.

Me: Can you share something interesting most people don’t know about you?  

Julia: When no one is looking, I climb trees.

This is me, pre-published, at a writing conference costume party. I was Eeyore under a black cloud of rejection.

Learn more about Julia HERE.
Link to Julia’s book on Amazon HERE.

Many thanks for visiting today.

Until next Friday.