Wednesday, December 17, 2014

BOOK NOOK REVIEWS: Trinka Hakes Noble

Title: Apple Tree Christmas
Author/Illustrator: Trinka Hakes Noble
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Ages: 5 to 9

Synopsis: Katrina loved the old apple tree. It had stood near their barn for years and had been a kind and generous neighbor to the Ansterburg family. But just before Christmas, a bitter ice storm takes down the lovely old tree, and along with it, Katrina's special place to draw and create. How can she be an artist without her cherished tree branch? Christmas is surely ruined now.

Why you should read it: I'm a country girl at heart and love when I can find a holiday story based outside of town. Throw in some snow and farm animals and I'm definitely hooked. Ms. Noble manages to draw her readers into a world where people can coexist with nature and even the destruction of a favorite apple tree can become a Christmas surprise.

Like-O-Meter Rating: 5 out of 5...grab it!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Searching For That Distant Star...

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With Christmas less than two weeks away, there are people all around the world retelling an age old story of others following a distant star in search of something wondrous. They stepped out in faith with little more than a wish and a prayer to guide them. But that was enough. Despite the  hardships, despite the doubters, despite everything that might have been in their way trying to dissuade them from staying on the path they had chosen, those brave souls stepped out into the unknown because they believed in what lay ahead for them.

While I don't proclaim to compare myself to those travelers of long ago, I can see writers are on a similar journey where they step out into the vast unknown in search of some distant star called publication. The trouble is, the whole universe is crowed with stars...some of them small and not necessarily shining the right light...and others a bright beacon to tempt the masses to their inner circle.

When I started out on this journey I really didn't stop to think where I would end up. I'd spent years hushing the voice inside me that yearned to be a writer. I expended more energy in hiding behind a facade while I tried to convince those around me stories meant nothing to me when all I needed to do was step into the light and believe I was EXACTLY where I was supposed to be.

Now I go searching for that distant star. One that calls to my spirit. One to give me hope that my stories might one day shine a little light on someone else's darkness to help them realize it's okay to take that step into the unknown. It's okay to have a little bit of faith that those distant stars truly ARE twinkling for you and someday you WILL reach them.

If you don't think it could happen to YOU then go find a copy of CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: ANGELS AMONG US and read my story of what happened when I decided to turn my back on that distant star. Read what it took to lead me back to a path that feels like home to me and realize if it can happen to ME then it can happen to anyone...even YOU!

All you have to do is believe and take that first step in search of YOUR own distant star...

Friday, December 12, 2014

PICTURE PROMPTS: Illustrator Amelia Grace


Welcome to PICTURE PROMPTS! This is my way of 'paying it forward' for all the beautiful illustrations found in picture books all around the world. For the next year you will see my visit with guest illustrators, spotlighting their beautiful artwork and sharing their answers to a few questions I thought my readers might want to know about these illustrators. On the Friday when an illustrator hasn't stopped by for a visit and a hot cup of green tea, I will put up a random PICTURE PROMPT that has inspired me to write a little flash fiction to share with you!
If you are an illustrator, established or just starting out, and would like to participate in my PICTURE PROMPT series, just shoot me an email over to donasdays (at) gmail (dot) com and I will send you the information on how to join the fun!
To start things off, please welcome talented illustrator, Amelia Grace and check out her answers to my interview questions...

Why did you decide to become an illustrator?

My journey to become an illustrator began when I was about three or four years old, and most of my attention was focused on drawing. I spent a lot of time reading picture books and admiring the artwork within them. In my most formative years I developed my skills as an artist, but it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I decided the narrative world of illustration was for me. From that point on, I attended the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD and received a BFA in illustration with a minor in creative writing.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I’m very lucky to work part time in a public library when I’m not illustrating. I’m surrounded by books (and a great number of picture books)! I have an entire collection of reference at my fingertips on a near-daily basis. Plus, I get to see what’s popular with a diverse audience of both children and parents, and I can see how my work might fit in with that.

Sassy Sasquatch sends syrup sailing. (Gouache, 2014)

Artists are trained to look at the world in a way that makes everything inspiring, so it’s hard to really pinpoint specific sources. But still, inspiration finds me a number of ways, including fantasy, nature, sci-fi, design, and the work of other artists and picture book creators.

Do you have a favorite illustration of yours? Why is it your favorite?

Every day is an opportunity to grow as an artist, and therefore my favorite piece is constantly changing. What was my favorite a month ago is probably my least favorite now. But, if I had to pick, I’m pretty partial to this piece:

Untitled, Digital. 2014.

I like this one because of the palette, the use of geometric shapes in the design – it feels more cohesive than some of my other pieces. Conceptually it’s narrative and metaphorical, born of my dilemma of having many ideas but not always being able to capture them.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently involved in a number of projects, mostly self-driven, among them being some children’s book ideas I hope to put into production in 2015. I took part in Tara Lazar’s “Picture Book Idea Month” this past November, so I have a wealth of ideas I plan on investing in. Aside from that, I’m involved in a number of art markets where I sell prints, greeting cards, coloring books, stickers, and jewelry. One of my illustrations was selected to be a part of the Amelia’s Magazine 10th Anniversary anthology project: “Things Which We Do Not Understand”. When I’m not working on those products, I’m (slowly) drawing & writing comics and zines, painting, and designing.

Nature Spirit

Colored inks. 2014. Created for: Amelia’s Magazine 10th Anniversary Gold Foil Print Book

What advice would you give to someone thinking about trying to become an illustrator?

For anyone else interested in becoming an illustrator, I say you should do it! There are many paths that lead to illustrating as a career, and for me that path included going to an art college where I studied under other professionals and practiced my craft. But that may not be right for someone else. Regardless of how you get there, it’s imperative that you never stop making work. That really applies to any type of artist – and it’s advice that has been given to me time and time again. The more work you make, the more opportunities you have to learn what works and what does not.  It is how you develop a style unique to you and uncover what it is you want to say with your work.

Amelia Grace Gossman is a MICA graduate with a BFA in Illustration and a minor in creative writing. Her work is inspired by fantasy and nature, among many other things. She loves whimsy and color. She currently lives in Harford County, Maryland, where she works in a public library, creates art and music, and takes care of 2 cats. See more of her work at, follow her updates on Instagram and twitter with @illustrationamy , and like her facebook page, Amelia Grace Illustration!

Links to include:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

BOOK NOOK REVIEWS: Maxinne Rhea Leighton

Title: An Ellis Island Christmas
Author: Maxinne Rhea Leighton
Illustrator: Dennis Nolan
Publisher: Viking
Ages: 4 to 8

Synopsis: Papa has already left Poland, and Erysia longs to see him again. She has to cross the ocean and make it to Ellis Island where Papa is waiting for her. After a long and stormy ocean voyage, Erysia and her weary family arrive on Christmas Eve only to wonder if the new world will let them in.

Why you should read it: I love all types of holiday picture books but have a special affinity to creative nonfiction ones. Beautiful illustrations and a touching story allows readers to empathize with Erysia's journey as she leaves all she has ever known to journey to a new land in the hope of seeing her beloved Papa once again.

Like-O-Meter Rating: 5 out of 5...grab it!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Story Catcher


Saturday was a magical day for me and just a bit surreal. It was a culmination of five years of hard work on my part and the support of special people in my life who believed in my manuscript. I've always lived my life with a "pay it forward" mindset; helping others when I could, supporting great writers when I was able and now standing in that spotlight made me a bit nervous. Like walking on stage for a solo performance, I had to put on my "big girl" britches and deal with the raging butterflies in my stomach.

The lovely Michelle Avery, events coordinator at Barnes & Noble, made me feel right at home and even had a table ready for me smack dab in the middle of the store. I was there for five hours and had a chance to share Addie's story with many people who stopped by to chat with me.

I don't know if you can see it in the picture above but I even had a special pen to autograph my books with. I guess I should thank the National Pen company. They surprised me with a complimentary engraved pen for my personal use. While my budget will probably not allow me the luxury of ordering more, I felt quite the professional signing all those books with such a stately instrument!

I was pleasantly surprised when some of my Taekwondo students decided to come out and join the celebration. Here I am with Aubree as she adds to her book collection.

Hensley was another one of my afterschool students who stopped by to pick up a signed copy of my book. It was a pleasant surprise and helped to settle the whirling butterflies.

I was at Barnes & Noble due to an invitation from Dogwood's Elementary School librarian, Heather Palmer. Here she is in her festive Santa hat. Every year they have their annual Book Fair at B & N and a portion of my book sales will help with their fundraising efforts.

I was even asked to do a reading of my book for the children in the store that afternoon. It was my first "official" reading and I'm glad I'd had many years doing school visits where I read to children or I'm might have been too nervous to speak!

All in all I had a lovely time. Not only was I told they sold at least 75% of my books they ordered in for this event, I also picked up quite a few more members for my FREE STORY CATCHER FAN CLUB. If you don't know about all the free goodies members of my fan club receive just for signing up, you can read more about it here.

Barnes & Noble was extremely kind to help me celebrate the upcoming release of my book, THE STORY CATCHER, by Anaiah Press on January 20, 2015. You can pre-order through Barnes & Noble (, and through Amazon ( I also received my first request for a school visit as well! May it be the first of many. **Fingers crossed**

Now, for my bit of news in the way of a surprise. Today is the official release of THE STORY CATCHER TRAILER. I hope you like it!

Friday, December 5, 2014


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I was reading about Susanna Leonard Hill's four year blog anniversary earlier this week and was actually surprised she had been blogging for such a short amount of time compared to how long her lovely writing career has been. Then I realized I had a blog anniversary coming up myself.

I have to give credit to Tara Lazar for starting me on this blogging journey. Way back on December 6th, 2011, I was just catching my breath from participating in my first PiBoIdMo event. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the love and support I was receiving from this new writing community I had just joined so I thought I would post a blog about my first PiBo. If you want to read it, go here.

So much has happened since then. I had been writing professionally for almost a year when I started my blog and I've seen it grow from a small handful of loyal followers to a blog that is now read in more than 20 countries around the globe. I've written 692 posts in those three years which has had more than 339,000 page views. And I've made many, many lasting friendships along the way.

I've posted tons of writing analogies which most of my readers seemed to like. I've spotlighted the best of the best in children's picture books through my BOOK NOOK REVIEWS, I've shared my colleagues' pearls of wisdom through my WRITERLY WISDOM series, and I've challenged my readers with my story telling skill in my FLASH FICTION FRIDAY. I even teased people with a few pages of my early reader chapter book, THE WARRIORS THREE; my young adult mystery, LACEY'S BRIDGE; and my young adult fantasy, LUNADAR: HOMEWARD BOUND. My latest series, TALES FROM THE BAYOU, shared a glimpse into my childhood growing up in southern Louisiana.

So what's next? I plan to keep my Monday Motivational posts and will continue my BOOK NOOK REVIEWS, but have a few changes in mind for my Friday posts. I sent out an open invitation to Illustrators who are interested in receiving some FREE spotlight promotion on their work to get with me as a guest blogger. Many people have replied to my invitation and I hope to roll out the first PICTURE PROMPT blog post next Friday, December 12th. My wish is to have 52 weeks of different Illustrators sharing their work with us, but should I have some openings along the way, I will probably post a random "picture prompt" I find interesting and create a flash fiction piece to go with it.

Through these past three years I've tried to remain true to the type of writer I've always wanted to who writes to visually connect my readers to my stories in such a way they feel a wee bit better after having read them. I hope I have accomplished that with my debut picture book, THE STORY CATCHER, but only time will tell.

But even beyond my stories, I pray my blog entertains, enlightens, and encourages others to dare to dream. To challenge themselves to grow beyond their comfort zone. To commit fully to the idea they will one day achieve great things. I know in my heart they will! And when that day comes, in the not too distant future, I will be there to cheer them on...with tidings of great joy and a happy dance thrown in...because there is nowhere else I'd rather be and no one else I'd rather be sharing my blogging adventures with than YOU!

Let's lift a glass and celebrate to many more years together...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

BOOK NOOK REVIEWS: Patricia C McKissack

Title: The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll
Author: Patricia C McKissack
Illustrator: Jerry Pinkney
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books
Ages:  6 to 10

Synopsis: Too bad the Depression is going on because all Laura Nell Pearson wants for Christmas is a Baby Betty doll. Times can be hard making the holidays special but when one little gets her wish, she has to decide which is more important...her heart's desire or family.

Why you should read it: It might be because I've been writing about my own childhood memories of Christmas in southern Louisiana, but I was drawn to this longer picture book about family and simple holiday wishes. Ms. McKissack has the skill to weave a touchingly poignant story about family and illustrator Jerry Pinkney's lovely artwork helps bring those words to life. Readers everywhere will be able to relate to the Pearson girls and their struggle to share the Christmas spirit.

Like-O-Meter Rating: 5 out of 5...grab it!