Friday, November 14, 2014

Some Picture Books I Read

November is National Picture Book Month. Good picture books have inspired and enlightened me from childhood to adulthood. I don't believe anyone is ever too old to be entertained and nurtured by a picture book. Anyhoo, here's a list of some picture books I've read recently,* either to myself or at least one of my children. 


1. BATTLE BUNNY by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, Illust. by Matthew Myers (Simon & Schuster- Picture Book/Early Reader)  In a story that spoofs the vintage animal birthday story, the creators convert the doe-eyed Birthday Bunny into a power-hungry Battle Bunny with an "Evil Plan."

2. ME & MOMMA & BIG JOHN  by Mara Rockliff, Illust. by William Low (Candlewick- Picture Book) Inspired by a true story, this story shares the perspective of a young boy who remembers his mother's contribution to the building of the "Big John" Cathedral in New York City. 

3. IMMI'S GIFT by Karen Littlewood (Peachtree-Picture Book) An Eskimo girl who receives gifts from an unknown benefactor decides to offer back a gift of her own.

4. CRANKENSTEIN by Samantha Berger, Illust. By Dan Santat (Scholastic-Picture Book) Crankenstein has many reasons to be moody…until he meets another like him.

5. TEENY TINY TRUCKS by Tim McCanna, Illust. by Keith Frawley
(Little Bahalia- Picture Book) Industrious delivery trucks mingle with nature as they venture to their destination.

6. MY DADIMA WEARS A SARI by Kashmira Sheth and Yoshiko Jaeggi (Peachtree- Picture Books) An Indian grandmother shows her granddaughters about all the uses for her sari.  

7. ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon, Illust. by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane- Picture Book) Told in verse, this book glorifies the most beautiful things, and yet the most simple things, all around us.

8. HALF A WORLD AWAY by Libby Gleeson, Illust. By Freya Blackwood (Arthur A. Levine- Picture Book) Two friends miss each other terribly when one moves to another country.

9. KNUFFLE BUNNY by Mo Willems (Hyperion-Picture Book) A toddler struggling to convey a message throws a tantrum, much to the irritation of his father and other adults around him.

10.  SLEEPYHEADS by Sandra J. Howatt, Illust. by Joyce Wan (Beach Lane- Picture Boo) Animals and one young child cozy up for bedtime.

11. TRAFFIC PUPS by Michelle Meadows, Illust. by Dan Andreasen (Simon & Schuster- Picture Book) Traffic pups catch speeding drivers and red light runners. Check out my interview with the author. 

12. GOLDY LUCK AND THE THREE PANDAS by Natasha Yim, Illust. by Grace Zong (Charlesbridge-Picture Book) Goldy Luck, tasked to bring turnip cakes to a neighor, wanders into an empty house with three bowls of congee.

What picture books have you read recently? 

*I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating that when I share "recent reads," I'm not listing everything I've just read, but just some things. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

IWSG: Trick-or-Treaters

Today is IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities and other things. 

Earlier this year, we moved to a new house in a part of the neighborhood known for its extremely high foot traffic on Halloween. In the weeks leading up to the big night, I got several giant bags of candy from Costco, made a few shopping trips to various stores searching for decorations, and spent an entire evening setting up my window display. All this took time and effort. But I enjoy preparing for Halloween. On Halloween night, while my husband and daughter were out trick-or-treating with friends, I passed out candy to a few hundred trick-or-treaters.  

I was excited to see the fun and creative costumes on those who stopped by, and I was really tickled the overwhelming majority of children who came by (or their parents) were appreciative and friendly.

I was less moved by a few rude trick-or-treaters.

One girl, after taking candy from me and not saying thank you, craned her neck to see into my house and commented in disdain that she thought my house was messy. When I ignored the remark, she repeated herself, raising her voice. Still pretending I didn’t hear her, I shut the door.

Then there were a brother and sister pair, possibly in junior high, who weren’t shy to express they didn’t care for what I handed out to them. Now, I wasn’t giving away lemon-flavored chewables wrapped in quarter-sized wax paper. I'd given the two kids store brand chocolates.

With attitude, they demanded a trade. They wanted to sift through my candy until they found something they liked. Unwilling to offer positive reinforcement for their behavior, I smiled and told the kids that if they didn’t like my candy, they could give it to someone else. Then I shut the door. (Aren’t doors great?)

And yes, the parents were present but sadly inactive during both these incidents.
Sometimes when you’re sharing with others, it doesn’t mean that all the recipients of your offering would respond the way you ideally imagine they would. Sometimes people, young and old, look for reasons to be dissatisfied. This can happen when you’re giving away candy on Halloween.... And this might also happen in various instances during your writing journey. Perhaps one or both things have happened to you?

Don’t let rude trick-or-treaters, real or metaphorical, make you insecure or keep you from doing what you love. 

I’m already planning for next year’s Halloween.

How was your Halloween? Any interesting trick-or-treaters? 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Survive and Thrive Bloghop: Asthma

Today I'm participating in the Survive and Thrive Bloghop, hosted by Stephen Tremp, Michael Di Gesu, Diane Wolfe, and Alex Cavanaugh.  Copied from Alex's web site: The blogfest is meant to bring awareness of disease prevention and early detection regarding medical conditions that may be averted or treated if caught in the early stages. Our desire is to motivate people to go in for early screening, and if a condition is caught early and treated, then our world just became a little better place to live.  The topics are wide open. You can post about a particular cause you support. Or you can share a personal or family experience that is near to your heart.

I’ve had asthma since childhood. Being a non-medical professional, I really can’t say if there’s a surefire way for anyone to prevent scoring this respiratory condition that offers wheezing, shortness of breath, and the company of inhalers. But if I were to give a cocktail party response about how someone can avoid getting asthma, I’d say that a good doctor listening to your lungs when you’re miserably congested might be able to detect early wheezing, and then they can offer immediate treatment to keep the wheezing from becoming more serious.

Growing up with asthma wasn’t easy. I didn’t know many other kids, if any, with asthma. I remember sometimes getting up in the middle of the night when I was in elementary school, middle school, and high school. I’d sit in bed and just cough and cough and cough some more. My post-nasal drip, either from general allergies or catching a bug, would tickle my throat and trickle down to my lungs. My eyes would tear up and my back and neck would ache from the physical exhaustion of coughing and inhaling heavily. The inhalers helped some, but I still had many rough, unwanted all-nighters at home or in the ER fighting my shortness of breath.

My asthma improved by the time I was a spring-semester high school senior. And my symptoms continued to subside as I continued on to college. I am pleased to say (knock on wood!) that as an adult, my condition is mostly much more mild now than it was when I was younger. 

While asthma might've deprived me of a good night's sleep on a number of occasions and it has given me some challenges, I'm not the fragile image of the suffering asthma patient you might've seen on TV or in a movie. Having asthma hasn't stopped me from pursuing what I want to do, whether it is working, writing, traveling, exploring, playing, or connecting with others. 

I just need to remember to bring my inhaler with me.

Do you know anyone with asthma?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

IWSG: Keeping a Dream Journal

Today is IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities and other things. This IWSG day is different from others because the posts IWSG folks are sharing today will be put into an eBook called THE IWSG GUIDE TO PUBLISHING AND BEYOND.

A few years ago, I started a dream journal. As much as I want to spotlight all the colorful and surrealistic experiences I've regularly recorded in this notebook, the truth is, I don't write in it very often. But it is there when I need it. I write in it uninhibitedly, and I don’t show it to anyone. (That said, I frequently share dreams with my husband in that just-woke-up mumbling and grumbling way that I speak in after the alarm goes off.)

Here are some benefits I’ve experienced from keeping a dream journal:

-Writing about a dream can help me recognize unresolved feelings I have about a subject.
-Reflecting on a dream can help me see where I'm growing. It can also help me see when it’s time to reach out to a confidante about something that has been troubling me.
-Sometimes stuff from dreams become idea seeds that I can nurture into stories or story elements.  
-Just by having this journal, I’ve gotten better at remembering dreams, even those that I don’t write down.
-Thinking back on a bad dream empowers me to realize something that bugged me was just my mind playing tricks, and that I can always change a bad dream into a good one. So the next time I'm stuck with lousy company in a stranded elevator with a psycho unicorn stabbing its horn through the doors, I’d know better what to do.
-Remembering a good dream is like reminiscing about a great meal.

Do you keep a dream journal? Would you like to share a recent dream you had, good or bad?

Cynthia is a reader and writer who blogs regularly at

I give Insecure Writers Support Group permission to use this post, about writing, in THE IWSG GUIDE TO PUBLISHING AND BEYOND.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Underrated Treasures Blogfest

Today I’m participating in Underrated Treasures Blogfest, hosted by Alex Cavanaugh. From Alex’s page:

Everyone has a favorite movie or band that no one else has ever heard about. For whatever reason, they remain undiscovered and underrated. Now is your chance to tell the world about this obscure treasure! On Monday, September 22, post about your favorite unknown –MOVIE – BAND/ARTIST – TV SHOW – BOOK. Post about one or all four – dealer’s choice! 

My picks for this blogfest aren't "unknown," but they just didn't get as much attention as I felt they deserved. 

MOVIE: View from the Top: A View from the Top received many unflattering reviews. The film is about a small-town girl (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) who aspires to be a flight attendant. I LOVED the movie. As an aspiring kidlit author, I could relate to the longing to achieve something that might not be as monumental as curing disease or walking on the moon, but I believe what I have to contribute is relevant, nonetheless. Dreams, big or small, count.

BAND/ARTIST: Pet Shop Boys’ version of “Where the Streets Have No Name”: I LOVE both Pet Shop Boys and U2, and both bands are definitely widely known. I like the Pet Shop Boys’ electronica rendition of “Where the Streets Have No Name” a teeny tiny bit more, although it had less air play than U2’s version. Having heard PSB’s version of the song a gazillion times through the years, the six seconds between 3:26 and 3:32 still make my heart race.  

TV SHOW: Beyond Reality: Raise your hand if you’ve heard of The X Files. The Twilight Zone. How about Beyond Reality? Got it. This  gone-waaay-too-soon show was about a pair of parapsychologists (one played by Shari Belafonte) who dealt with paranormal and sci-fi themed cases. The show aired for less than two years, and unfortunately, I can’t find much about it online. I remember watching the show alone as a kid and being comforted by the notion that the unknown, as shown by the show, doesn’t have to be scary.

BOOK: THE GIRL IN THE BOX by Ouida Sebestyen: When I was a ‘tween/early teen, the book that most of my girl peers raved about for its dark and disturbing content was GO ASK ALICE. While GAA stroked my 'tween curiosity about "older girl books" and it was groundbreaking for helping to steer YA lit toward a new horizon, it was THE GIRL IN THE BOX by Ouida Sebestyen that really creeped me out. The story about a girl dealing with typical teenage angst being kidnapped by a stranger, then locked in a dark room with a typewriter is what I consider dark and disturbing.  

Do any of these "treasures" ring a bell to you?

Image from

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Reacting to Upsetting News Stories

It's IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities and other things...

In the last month, I’ve seen a variety of news stories about people, places, and things that have left me with sadness and frustration in the pit of my stomach. While there is a lot of beauty in this world, these stories remind me that ugliness, hate, and cruelty exist too.

Many times I have wanted to turn to my blog, to Twitter, and to Facebook and unload a rant. I would quietly draft what I want to say inside my head, but I don't end up following through with my intended public outcry. A few things have held me back. One, I try not to turn to the Internet when I’m emotional. Two, sometimes I feel I won't have anything original to add to a dialogue when I’m already thinking what many others are expressing on their social media. And three, my words can’t turn the clock back and prevent the terrible or horrific incident that occurred.

Maybe someday when I'm more comfortable with social media, I could be more expressive online when I come across upsetting news stories. At the same time, there is no requirement that one must reveal all their private thoughts or react to current events on their Twitter.  (But if that were the case, this could be the plot for a dystopian story.) 

We can exercise and grow awareness of issues offline too.  

How do you handle upsetting news stories?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

IWSG: Notes from 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference

It's IWSG day. Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about their writerly insecurities....I'd just attended the 2014 SCBWI Summer Conference, from Friday, August 1st to Monday, August 4. I stayed an extra day for the optional Monday intensives. It was fun to be back at the Hyatt Regency, Los Angeles and to see familiar faces while forming new connections with others- writers and illustrators. This is my second year attending this conference, attended by kidlit folk from all over the country and all over the world.

I enjoyed the long weekend. Reflecting back on the conference is a bit like waking up from a sweet and unusual dream. Explaining unusual: I don't get to dream many dreams where I can document my activities with note taking and photos. I have my work cut out for me, and I hope my high from the conference would take me through those late-night writing jams when I'm feeling uncertain and insecure.

A few quotes from the speakers at the conference:
Megan McDonald quotes someone: "Many children's books are the working out of some childhood splinter." She adds: "Find your splinter."

"There's no such thing as writer's block. It's just that you're editing too early." - Stephen Chbosky

"Do not let anyone discourage you. If they do, get angry, not depressed." - Judy Blume (yes, it's THE Judy Blume!)

Have you gone to any conferences lately?