Hold Fast to Dreams (Or, How to Pursue Writing while Juggling Young Kids and a Full-Time Job)

Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Filled with snow.

Though I’ve always loved reading, I did not grow up with dreams of becoming a writer. Those dreams came as I explored my commitment to education, equity, youth, stories, and social change. Writing, like most things I’ve pursued with passion, sits at the intersection of these pillars. I believe that writing stories is one way I can make a difference in the world. And what else are we here for, but to make a difference in this world that sorely needs change? Continue reading “Hold Fast to Dreams (Or, How to Pursue Writing while Juggling Young Kids and a Full-Time Job)”

Pushing Through Stuck

This post has been modified from the version I wrote for the Nearpod blog.

It happens every time.

It might happen after my first draft. Or, it might happen after several revisions. Inevitably, I reach a point where I get stuck. Banging-my-head-against-a-wall, pulling-my-hair-out stuck. Continue reading “Pushing Through Stuck”

Our Picture Book Advent Calendar

Christmas picture book advent calendar waiting under the tree. We wrap our gifts with repurposed grocery bags and decorate with whatever we can find around the house!

Two years ago, when Carter was just four months old, I started collecting Christmas books to create a picture book advent calendar. It was this search for Christmas books that inspired my journey into writing – at the time, I couldn’t find any Christmas books featuring children of color. This led to a strong impression to write books of my own. I have embraced the journey so far!

Our collection has grown and changed over the past two years as I add new books and put some on hold for later years. I’ve made an effort to include books with children of color, classics, religious themes, and humor. Each year, I wrap and number the books and put them under our tree.

Please forgive the Amazon links and if possible, support your local bookstore!  This year’s collection  includes:

An Angel Just like Me written by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu: A young African-American boy needs to find an angel for the family Christmas tree but can only find angels with blond hair. He goes on a mission to find an angel that looks like him and discovers that angels, like his friends, can come in many colors.

The Birds of Bethlehem written and illustrated by Tommie dePaola: The nativity story told from the perspective of the birds who witnessed it.

Carol of the Brown King: Nativity Poems written by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Ashley Bryan: Beautiful nativity poetry with stunning illustrations that portray people in all colors.

The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher written by Robert Kraus, illustrated by Vip: On Christmas Eve, the Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher steals all the sprinkles for Christmas sugar cookies! A story told in funny rhymes.

The Christmas Star written by Paloma Wensell, illustrated by Ulises Wensell: Two young children follow the brightest star and bring their favorite toys to baby Jesus. They receive the most beautiful gift in return.

Dream Snow written and illustrated by Eric Carle: A lift-the-flap book in which snowstorm covers an old farmer and his animals. When the farmer awakes, he remembers he has a Christmas surprise for everyone!

The First Christmas by Jan Pienkowski: Beautiful artwork with verses from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Funny Faces Santa Claus by Roger Priddy: Christmas characters, rhymes and big moving googly eyes!

The Giver of Holy Gifts written by Krisanne Hastings Knudsen: A board book describing the gifts Christ gives us. What gift can we give the Savior in return?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss: The Grinch is determined to ruin Christmas from the Whos down in Who-ville.

Jingle Jingle Little Reindeer: A small finger puppet book. Wiggle your finger to help the reindeer get to Santa’s sleigh on time!

Joy to the World written and illustrated by Tommie dePaola: Three beloved Christmas stories in one! This collection includes The Night of Las Posadas, The Story of the Three Wise Kings, and The Legend of the Poinsettia.

King Island Christmas written by Jean Rogers, illustrated by Rie Munoz: Eskimos help a stranded priest reach their village in time to celebrate Christmas.

Nativity Flap Book by Usborne: A lift-the-flap book with the nativity story.

The Night Before Christmas written by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Mary Engelbreit: Classic Christmas poem illustrated as only Mary Engelbreit can do it!

One Special Night: The Christmas Story Pop-Up Book written by Lori C. Froeb, illustrated by Claudine Gevry: The nativity story told in colorful, moving pop-ups.

The Polar Express written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg: A young boy takes a magical trip on a midnight train to the North Pole.

Room for a Little One written by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft: Animals welcome each other one by one into a warm stable. A donkey carrying a pregnant woman is welcomed in. That night, a little one is born.

Samurai Santa: A Very Ninja Christmas written and illustrated by Robin Pingk: A young ninja wants to have an epic snowball fight on Christmas but none of the good little ninjas will join him for fear of ending up on Santa’s naughty list. He concocts a plan to get rid of Santa, but will Samurai Santa get in the way?

The Snowman written and illustrated by Raymond Briggs: A snowman comes to life and shares an adventure with a young boy. A story told entirely in pictures.

Snowmen at Christmas written by Caralyn Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner: On Christmas Eve, the snowmen come to life and have festivities of their own!

Too Many Tamales written by Gary Soto, illustrated by Ed Martinez: Christmas Eve is going perfectly for Maria until she loses her mother’s diamond ring in the tamale mix. She and her cousins will have to eat all the tamales to find the ring or Christmas will be ruined!

Tree of Cranes written and illustrated by Alan Say: As a Japanese young boy recovers from a cold, his mother folds paper cranes to decorate a tree. She reminisces about her Christmases in California and introduces him to his first Christmas tree.

When Christmas Feels like Home written by Gretchen Griffith, illustrated by Carolina Farias: Eduardo is homesick after moving to the Unites States from Mexico. His family promises him that he will feel at home by Christmas.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: Decluttering My Home and Writing

KonMari-ing My Home
On an impulse last spring, I purchased Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Much to Andy’s horror, I made us read a few pages every night after dinner. He made it seem like torture, but secretly he loved it.

We blocked out a weekend for our KonMari tidying marathon. We didn’t make it through the whole book, but we tried to follow (almost all) the outlined directions. Here are a few key points:

  • Visualize your destination
  • Discard all at once, intensely and completely
  • Tidy by category.
  • Ask, “Does it spark joy?”
  • Discard before putting things back

We went through everything. Marie Kondo was right; it felt amazing. In a three-day period, we got rid of almost 20 enormous trash bags of stuff. Apparently, we don’t need most of the things we think we need.

The surfaces of our home may not always look super tidy (I blame the toddler for 85% of the mess!), but everything has a place: our shelves, drawers and cabinets feel much more organized. Our home feels lighter.

KonMari-ing My Writing
Around this time, I began taking The Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books, a writing class offered by The Children’s Book Academy (CBA). It was a fabulous course and I learned a ton about writing picture books.

One of my favorite lessons was about editing for brevity – or, getting the word count down. Currently, picture books range between 400-600 words, preferably less. This means picture book writers must convey plot, setting, character development, conflict, resolution, emotion and meaning in a just a few words. Every word counts. Literally.

Through the course, I learned several helpful strategies to edit for brevity. It is like using the KonMari method on writing:

  • Visualize your destination: What is the story really about? What are the core themes? Knowing these key ideas helps writers determine the necessary and superfluous aspects of their writing.
  • Discard all at once, intensely and completely: This is more KonMari + Joanna than CBA, but I have found that when I edit for brevity, I am more effective if I go through the entire story at one time. After each subsequent revision, I do another round of discarding. Tidying writing in one go helps me better understand the heart of my story. Then I revise and discard, revise and discard until I’m left with only heart. At least, this is how it works in theory; I’m still learning!
  • Tidy by category: For starters, chop characters, plot points that don’t move the story, unnecessary descriptions, conjunctions and qualifiers (and, just, but…), adjectives and adverbs, redundancy. Then, get into the nitty-gritty of word choice.
  • Ask, “Does it spark joy?”: Everything left in the story should “spark joy” so to speak. Is it vital to the story? Maybe it doesn’t spark joy; maybe it brings tears, or helps readers understand a character. Critique groups are usually right in their suggestions (my critique groups are wonderful!); but sometimes, despite what everyone else says, only the author knows the spark.
  • Discard before putting things back: Closely related to the second point. Discard before putting the story back together. Sometimes, this means rearranging things and reorganizing. Discard, rearrange, revise, repeat.

KonMari-ing my writing was initially a painful process. I felt attached to every character, every word, every detail. But, by the end of the class, I had edited my 1200+-word picture book down to 636 words. The story is vastly improved. The emotions, characters, plot and themes shine through more clearly now.

Apparently, like with our stuff, we don’t need most of the things we think we need.

KonMari-ing really is magical and life-changing!