Storytime: Love

Whether your sweetheart is a tiny toddler in your lap, the kid across the aisle in homeroom, your child, your dog, your date, your mate . . . these books about love are the perfect excuse to cozy up and share some time together.

Love, Splat by Rob Scotton

Splat is such a great character. I love his foamy toothpaste mouth as he dreams of his crush, Kitten. I love that he steps on a piece of toilet paper on his way to the kitchen, and he has his own personal raincloud when he thinks he’s not good enough. Kitten has “snowy white paws and pea green eyes, and Splat likes her more than fish sticks and ice cream.” Rob Scotton has a knack for capturing personality, and sweetness. He makes no mention of the red umbrella Kitten holds over Splat’s head as she hands him her valentine, shielding him from his own storm, but it says a lot about who she is and how to love someone well. They end up giving each other “I like you” cards and it’s just an “awwwwwwww” kind of story that takes me back to the days of grade school crushes.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin. E. Stead

The Uncorker of Bottles has an important job, to deliver the messages he finds in bottles floating on the sea. Sometimes they’re sad but usually they “made people quite happy, for a letter can hold the treasure of a clam-hugged pearl.” The Uncorker sees himself as unlovely, receiving a message addressed to him “was about as likely as finding a mermaid’s toenail on the beach.”

Soft colors and lovely pencil drawings illustrate this story about a man who takes his job seriously and sets out to find the owner of a party invitation that isn’t addressed to anyone. He asks, “a seagull, a sailor, and a one-man band,” but nobody claims the letter. I love the quirky characters and language, and the arc that takes us from low to high, like the tide. I love the mystery of who sent the invitation that draws everyone to the beach. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is everyone comes, and the man who thought himself unlovely dances at the water’s edge with his new friends, his heart a “glass vessel, filled to the brim.”

Viking in Love by Doug Cenko

I was hooked from the first line of this story, “Stig was like most Vikings. He loved fresh air, hearty stew, and, or course, adorable kittens.” Yes! Unfortunately Stig doesn’t like the sea. When he falls in love with a fearless viking named Ingrid who is swept out to sea he writes her a love note. What follows are two of the funniest picture book moments I’ve seen in a while. He tries sending the note out to Ingrid folded as a boat, and then folded as a bird, but when that fails . . .


These are followed by another funny scene, he grabs a kid’s inflatable horsie floaty and sets out on the sea, determined to conquer his fear and get his love note to Ingrid. But the waves toss him around, popping his floatie. We get a wordless double page spread where Stig sinks down into the sea alongside his two kittens but then . . . page turn, we see two hands plunging down to grab them, and then another page turn, Ingrid in her Viking boat holds Stig in one hand and the kittens in the other. Turns out she has a love note for Stig, tied to her own kitten, and they fall in love and sail off into the sunset, passing between two octopi who make a heart with their tentacles. It is about love and conquering your fears and it is silly and goofy and sweet and I love it.

Hug Machine by Scott Campbell

We gave this book to my son Christmas 2014 with the inscription, “To Nate, who is a great hugger.” He was fifteen years old at the time, and he really was and still is a great hugger. In this book the “hug machine” is a kid with buggy eyes and outstretched arms who calms people down and cheers them up with his hugs. But he doesn’t just hug people, as you can see from the cover. No fire hydrant, mailbox or tree is ignored. Nothing is too pokey (a porcupine) or too big (a whale) for a hug.

It is a great picture of unconditional love and the capacity of anyone, even a child, to make a difference in the world with this simple act of kindness. In the end, the hug machine is exhausted from all that hard work. When he can’t give one more hug, he receives one, and we’re reminded that givers need to be receivers, too. All that in just over 200 words, this book is simple enough to be enjoyed by toddlers with a message adults need to hear, too. It is the beauty and brilliance of a well-written picture book, nailing universal truths with humor and simplicity.

More, More, More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams

I love thinking about all the different kinds of love when Valentine’s Day comes around. In this book the love of a daddy, mama or grandma for their sweet child is shown as they scoop those babies up, sing to them and give them affection. The paintings are bright and ethnicities are diverse. A 2015 New York Times tribute to Williams after her death says, “Her illustrations, known for bold colors and a style reminiscent of folk art, were praised by reviewers for their great tenderness and crackling vitality.” In this book each story plays out almost as if on stage. A chair or couch are the only props so our focus is on the activity, whether a kiss on the bellybutton, a swing all around, or a rock in the arms.

Each story has a similar refrain, a chant, focusing on an adorable part of the baby’s body. “Just look at you with your perfect bellybutton, right in the middle, right in the middle, right in the middle of your fat little belly, “ or, “Just look at you with your ten little toes, right on the ends, right on the ends, right on the ends of your two little feet,” and finally Little Bird’s mama croons, “Just look at you with your two closed eyes, right on either side, right on either side, right on either side of your neat little nose.” The babies can’t get enough, they beg for more, more, more, or in sleepy Little Bird’s case, “Mmm. Mmmm. Mmmm.” So, so sweet, the entire text acts as a refrain, a tribute to being treasured and loved and cared for.

Hot Dog by Doug Salati

I can’t resist including Hot Dog, especially since it just won the Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book for children in 2023. We moved downtown a few years ago during the pandemic, and because of our doodle Humphrey (he’s a Double Doodle actually, as if the word doodle isn’t quite cute enough) we entered the world of dog parks. We began to meet lots of dog owners, many who got “pandemic pups.” Most of these new friends were single without kids and their dogs were their children. We just recently went to Humphrey’s friend Penny’s third birthday party. I have never encountered such love for pooches as I have the past couple years, and if a dog can have a birthday party, they most certainly can be a valentine.

This review is my love letter to this wonderfully simple book. I love the illustrations, the super brief rhyming text, and the world of city and sea. Hot dog is a weiner dog with a kindly bespectacled owner who gets it when the city is so hot he can’t sit, and the crowds are “too close! too loud! too much! THAT’S IT!” That dog won’t move one bit . . . until something changes. His owner calls a cab, hops on a train, then a ferry, and takes them both to a “welcome whiff of someplace new where she kicks off her shoes and that doggie runs and runs.” A bunch of wordless spreads follow, inviting you to take your own sweet time to notice the shells, the seal, and the setting sun. I love that they go back to the city, all cooled off, and now it’s a good place. It’s familiar. It’s home. Sometimes we all just need a break. I loved taking one with this book.

Leave a Comment

What I’ve Learned from River

I’ve had the privilege and joy of watching my grandson, River, twice a week for the past few months as Alayna went back to work part time. In a shameless display of grandmotherly picture sharing, I give you ten things I’ve learned from River lately:

  1. It’s okay if your hair looks funny. It makes people smile
  2. Reread your favorite books.
  3. You can never say enough “I love you’s.”
  4. Get on the floor. It’s as whole new world down there.
  5. Food should be experienced, not just eaten.
  6. Go outside as often as possible
  7. Naps are important.
  8. Take lots of walks.
  9. Dogs can be great playmates.
  10. Eat lots of fruit, it’s sweet and delicious! Also, apples can be toys.
  11. And one more . . . our bodies are amazing. That thing in your mouth that makes a sound like a motor? Amazing.

Read 6 Comments

Storytime: Courage

There are so many books that can be read about courage, and so many reasons kids (and adults) need them. These are just a few of the ones that capture my heart and inspire me.

Pablo by Rascal

This is a simple, odd book, and it’s about so much more than a chick hatching out of a shell. It’s about starting new things (like a new year!) and how it’s exciting but also scary so maybe you take it one peck at a time. It’s about not missing a speck of the world around us. It’s about moving forward while not entirely leaving what’s behind us.

There’s suspense as we slowly see first one eye, then another, a beak, a leg, a wing emerge from the shell, the entire book in black and white, until we see the full yellow chick. And there’s delight in imagining this chick inside his shell, having “a small croissant and a hot chocolate” to gather his strength. “Pablo has to come out of his shell. He’s too big for it.” I could share this with my 8 month old grandson, or my 75 year old mother, and they’d both love it for different reasons. Or maybe the same. Love it for it’s symmetry, simplicity, surprises, and sweet story.

Story Boat by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh

A picture book totally rooted in what a child’s perspective may be like for a family forced to flee their home. It is traumatic and chaotic and yet kids are kids are kids, and they bloom where they are planted. Their imaginations buoy them, blessedly ignorant of some of the trauma and uncertainty. There is sadness as they traverse barren landscapes, migrating with people of all ages, or stay in tents, but page to page there is hope as they look at each small belonging they still have and imagine where it could take them.

Here is a cup.

Old and fine, warm as a hug.

Every morning,

As things keep changing,

We sit, wherever we are

And sip, sip, sip,

Sippy, sip, sip


From this cup.

We turn the page and are transported, with the kids, in their cup. It makes me think about my own “”familiars,” and how they are my home just as surely as the walls and roof. I put this as a January, New Year, pick because it is about new beginnings, and hope. It also inspires me to connect with those in my city who are recent immigrants and listen to their stories, like boats that have carried them to our foreign shores.

Courage Hats - Hoefler, Kate

Courage Hats, by Kate Hoefler and Jessixa Bagley

I love the set up that comes in the first few pages of this book. “Not everyone loves a train. That’s the world. But sometimes you’ve got to take one anyway.” What a great line, shorthand for so many times when we find ourselves in unavoidable, fear-inducing situations, whether it’s the first day of kindergarten or college.

This is the sort of beautiful book that can be shared with all ages. You’ve got a small girl named Mae. The train will take her deep into bear places, and bears are big and eat small things. And you’ve got Bear, who is big, and the trian is heading into people places. People are small and eat big things.

Did you know you can wear courage on your head? Part of the charm of this book for me is how in the midst of the simple story of a girl and a bear on a train, truths are stated. In this world you may be afraid of trains, but you can wear courage on your head. “No matter how you feel about a train, someone else feels the same way.” What a comfort that is! And in the end, when you share your fears and go through something hard together you don’t need that courage hat anymore. You’ve made a friend, just like Bear and Mae, who end up at camp together in the end. It is about the big and the small, courage and friendship and paper bag hats all wrapped up together.

Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome

This would be a wonderful first introduction to Harriet Tubman, a glimpse at so many different roles this incredible woman played accompanied by gorgeous illustrations. At a time of year when I’m looking backward as well as forward, I am inspired by a life so well-lived. Each page goes back in time, starting when Harriet is an old woman to when she was Harriet the suffragist, and before that a General (ferrying slaves to freedom across the river at the end of the war), Union spy, nurse, Aunt Harriet who helped her parents make it to freedom and a new home in Canada, Moses, and even further back to when she was a conductor on the underground railroad,

with no trains

and no tracks

just passengers

traveling to freedom

up north

through swamps

past slave catchers

across rivers

under the cover of night

and then way back to when she was a slave called Minty, and before that to when she was Araminta, a young girl.

What a wonderful way to honor this incredible woman, and remind us that our days add up to our lives. As a new year rolls in, I’m reminded to make those days count.

Lincoln Clears a Path: Abraham Lincoln’s Agricultural Legacy by Peggy Thomas, illustrated by Stacy Innerst

This one is a big longer so good for slightly older kids, it’s a brilliantly written book tracing the dawn of a new age ushered in by the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, but looking at it through the lens of farming and its impact on Abraham Lincoln. He used what he knew about working and clearing the land to inform how he cleared a path to freedom, an unexpected analogy that works really well. Thwack! He cut trees with his dad to clear a path for fields. Swish! He cleared brush. Thwump! He pulled stumps. Yah! He used a horse to plow fields.

The book starts with carefully chosen anecdotes about Lincoln’s childhood. He once planted seven acres of pumpkin seeds that were washed away in a storm, learning how to deal with frustration and disappointment and not give up. He went back for his dog, left behind on the icy banks of a river when his family moved, showing that even at a young age he cared for the less fortunate, and had a tender heart.

I didn’t know that Lincoln was responsible for the USDA (thwack!), which supported farmers who supported the troops. Or the Homestead Act (swish!), that allowed citizens and immigrants who believed slavery was wrong to settle land in the west. He created the Pacific Railway Act (thwump!), clearing a path across the nation, and he created land-grant colleges (yah!), clearing a path for students. All these facts that could have felt dry and boring are presented in a compelling way, bringing the language from the fields to governing and showing how there were so many things beyond the Civil War that tended the soil that eventually grew into the Emancipation Proclamation.

It’s a good book for any time of year, and inspiring as we begin a new year to think of what we’re capable of no matter what our background. How can we “”Lincoln”” our lives to make this world a better place? “

Leave a Comment

Storytime: Christmas

I love seasonal books, maybe because I only take them out once a year and they go along with so many memories of family gathered and good meals. In December, they beckon me to slow down in the midst of busyness. I put as many as I can face out, setting them against the spines of other books on shelves and scattered on the coffee table. They are a part of my home, ingrained in my family’s lives, part of our stories. Here’s a few of my favorites.

Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed

It’s the story of a young boy who calls himself the Red Ranger of Mars who doesn’t believe in Santa but begins second guessing himself when he sees a small man with pointy ears turning up the path next to a mailbox labeled Saunder Clös. The boy is so shocked the most “flowery” thing he can think to say is, “Mister, you look like a turnip.” That line gets me every time. It goes on to say, “I could not recall ever actually seeing a genuine elf, nor calling one a vegetable, but I was certain that I just had.” The boy meets the most ancient man he’s ever seen, gets his hopes up, has them dashed, and in the end experiences a Christmas miracle when he turns from anger to kindness for the sake of an old man’s dream, and ultimately, his own. That last page turn, inspiring.

Only a Star by Margery Facklam, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

This book is very short, perfect for the very young and up. It explores a simple question, “What were the trimmings that first Christmas morning? What brightened the stable to welcome the child?” From dewdrops on a spider web that turn to diamonds in the starlight, to a scurrying scarab beetle that gleams like an emerald, the author imagines what might have been found in nature and declares it beautiful. I love a book that explores the “extraordinary in the ordinary” theme, a book that causes us to pause and notice the world around us in all its glory. It is what children do, too, calling us to see snail trails and dust sparkles. And if you have a child like my youngest still is, at the ripe age of 21, you’ll love the notes at the end that give fun facts about each creature.

Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

As a Texan my experience with ice is very different from Ellen Bryan Obed’s, who hails from Maine. This beautiful little book isn’t necessarily a Christmas book but I put it out each December, a perfect read with a cup of hot chocolate and even nicer with a warm little body by your side. It goes through the winter season as defined by ice, starting with “first ice,” described as the ice that forms at the top of a sheep pail in the barn, “a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it.” It goes on through “black ice,” where the children skate on the Great Pond, “garden ice,” explaining how they transform their vegetable garden into a small skating rink, to the “last ice” which has, “grainy places that were coarse like sugar.” The language is lovely, and the black and white pen and ink illustrations pair perfectly, drawing us into this world of ice and the life that revolves around it.

Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story

By Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Alison Jay

When I first saw this book I felt like I was seeing an old friend. Alison Jay illustrated a quirky little board book I loved reading with my kids called Picture This, and her crackle-paint style is easily recognizable. This book is about anticipation, and culmination, as creatures and creation announce, “It’s time! It’s time!” The leaves rustle with a rumor, and one of my favorite spreads, “The skies shouted it to the seas that thundered it to the waves that roared it to the great white whales that sang it to the starfish in the deep.” What’s all the chatter about? A tiny baby, wrapped in rags. The book starts with the line, “The world was about to change forever, and it almost went by unnoticed . . .” The illustrations and words are gorgeous, and I love how it broadens the perspective of the Christmas story far, far beyond a stable in Bethlehem. The stars sing and the animals proclaim what so many couldn’t see.

The Christmas House

By Ann Turner, illustrated by Nancy Edwards Calder

I fall into this book every Christmas like entering a familiar home. The glowing windows on the cover and tiny face peeking out the window in the front door are so inviting. The text is a series of poems told from different perspectives, from the house itself to the cat and dog, various people, and even the table. So many lines to love. The table’s poem ends with:

Now all are here

where I hold your faces deep

inside my polished wood

And the house poem ends with this lovely sentiment:

I welcome them all,

I hold them all,

I gather them in,

and I let them go

at the end.

Careful words that capture so much feeling, it is a cozy book to keep out this December.

Leave a Comment

Bookshelf: The Field

I discovered this book, written by Baptiste Paul and illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara October 2019 at a USBBY (United States Board on Books for Young People) conference where there were people from all over the United States and abroad. It was a fitting to place to find a story set on a Caribbean island, about kids playing a game played all over the world. Whether you call it futbol or soccer, the universals of kids having fun rain or shine, and not wanting to go in but mamas insisting it’s time for bath and bed, will find common ground. This portrays a bright, real world I’d love to visit.

Leave a Comment

Storytime: Thanksgiving

To see summaries of the five Thanksgiving books, scroll to the bottom of this post. If you have a couple minutes . . . I’m finding so much to be grateful for these days. Sunsets.

The most precious grandbaby in the whole wide world.

Tater tots and books, a library and bookstore within walking distance, falling temperatures and birds in flight and things to look forward to like dinners and stories around tables . . . and pie. I hope you find some new treasures in the books below:

Pie Is for Sharing - Kindle edition by Ledyard, Stephanie Parsley, Chin, Jason. Children Kindle eBooks @

Pie is for Sharing creates a wonderful world, one I wish I could step into. The illustrations paint a picture of a perfect day as different families gather in a park. The kids start off sharing pie, then a book, a ball, a tree, with spare, clever text like “Other things for sharing: a jump rope, your place in the middle, a rhyme (turn the page) time . . . That one word on a beautiful spread where kids build in the sand at the edge of a lake or chase each other through the shallows while the adults sit and chat.

The day ends with sparklers and a shooting star shared on a blanket under the night sky and a little more . . . pie. A lovely circle back to the beginning as the day ends. Not a Thanksgiving book, or even a November book (it takes place in summer) but sharing and giving thanks go hand in hand, and ‘tis the season for pies.

Sophie's Squash: Miller, Pat Zietlow, Wilsdorf, Anne: 9780593181690: Books

‘Tis also the season for squash and Sophie’s Squash is adorable. One fall day Sophie chooses one at the farmer’s market. “Her parents planned to serve it for supper, but Sophie had other ideas.” What a brilliant line, inviting us to turn that first page and find out what she’s thinking.

Turns out that squash is “just the right size to love.” Sophie gives it a face with a marker and christens her Bernice, and after that they’re inseparable until Bernice begins to go soft and spotty. Sophie asks the man at the farmer’s market how to keep squash healthy, and he tells her fresh air, good dirt and a little love. She tucks Bernice into a bed of soft soil, and that night it snows, but come spring, Bernice produces two small squash who Sophie names Bonnie and Baxter. This is a sweet story of friendship and hope, the parents are kind, and Sophie is so loyal. May we all have a Sophie in our lives.

Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden: Levenson, George, Thaler, Shmuel: 9781582460789: Books

Pumpkin Circle is an ode to the pumpkin, following its path from seeds that reach with “silky roots” to grow a dense patch of leaves and vines. Their “twisty tendrils grasp like hands stretching out to cling. They roll down into fancy curls and wind up just like springs,”

And eventually grow into big, fat orange pumpkins that will decay into “muck and dirt, a place for seeds to grow.” The photographs pair perfectly with the lyrical text, a great nonfiction picture book, pumpkin poetry.

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade (Bank Street College of Education Flora Stieglitz Straus Award (Awards)): Sweet, Melissa: 9780547199450: Books

Balloons Over Broadway tells the story of how the Macy’s Day Parade came to be. Did you know Macy’s originally put on the parade for their employees, many of them immigrants who missed the music and dancing in the streets from their homelands? Macy’s hired Tony Sarg, also an immigrant as well as a “marionette man,” to help design that first parade on Thanksgiving Day, 1924.

It was such a success Macy’s decided to do it every year to celebrate America’s own holiday. This book is fascinating, the illustrations are genius, and Tony’s “upside-down marionettes” were, and still are, a huge hit. Tony Sarg was a child at heart, and Melissa Sweet’s art was created with the same sense of whimsy. This book could sit on your coffee table to be shared with adults as well as read to kids, it’s beautiful and fun.

Thankful inspires me with its creative gratitude, “I am thankful for things that are soft and fresh, like laundry, bread, moss on rocks.” It invites us to look closer at our worlds and notice all the little things we are thankful for. Throughout the story a young girl makes her paper chain, writing her gratitudes on each colorful link, illustrated with photos of three dimensional paper sets. It is the perfect mirror, a story about a paper chain illustrated with paper cut-outs, a story that begins with one link and ends with the chain stretched around the girls’ window, ready for her to begin reading the first link the next day. What a wonderful tradition, and a beautiful book.

Leave a Comment

Bananagrams and Revision

If you’re not a writer, maybe you think this post isn’t for you, but I would argue that everyone revises. For writers, it happens on the page all the time, but for humans, we revise our plans and our lives every time we encounter change. Sometimes the change is self-inflicted. I revised what I thought my kids are capable of when our family traveled overseas for a year.

Yes, we took our three kids, including a six-year-old, up this skinny, treacherous path, climbing 1200 feet to the top of Waynu Picchu

They all made it!

Sometimes we have no control, and unforeseen circumstances force us to revise when Plan A doesn’t work out.

Impromptu “gourmet” picnic on the hotel floor

I revised my to-do lists and my pace when Rebeka came to live with us for a year to have surgeries on her clubbed feet. My life slowed down as we took time for her to learn how to walk on her turned-straight feet.

A death, a move, an accident, kids, winning the lottery, or an empty nest . . . they all require life revision. And for writers, revision also comes in the form of edits in our manuscripts. In the same week that my new book deal was announced . . .

I received my revision letter for the first of the two-book deal, THE MINOR MIRACLE. The manuscript a publisher buys often goes through a lot of editing before it gets published. For me, it’s usually easier  to revise than to face a blank page while drafting a new story. But not always.

As I dug into my editor’s twelve-page revision letter and comments in the manuscript itself, it felt a bit like a game of Bananagrams. For those unfamiliar with the game, everyone pulls letter tiles and makes their own crossword, and when someone uses all their tiles everyone has to pull another from the big pile in the middle and incorporate it. Sometimes it’s easy. You pull an “s” and make a word plural. But sometimes you pull a “j,” and to fit it into your perfect little puzzle you have to entirely mess it up and start over.

Some of my editor’s comments will require me to cut chapters, and then add new chapters. I’m needing to think deeply about theme and motivation. There is a trickle-down effect to edits like this that affect the entire manuscript, and so I take a deep breath and mess with my tiles. My tidy manuscript is messy again.

It is great practice for life, holding loosely to my puzzle so I can change and adapt when needed. In Bananagrams, when there are no more tiles left to draw and someone finishes their puzzle, they yell “Bananas!” I’m looking forward to the day I can send my manuscript back to my editor with all the pieces back in place, the story stronger, proud of how I was able to incorporate all those edits. It is a “Bananas!” moment.

Those writers out there know there’s a good chance I’ll be playing another round before it’s all through. I’ll be okay. I love games, revision, and most importantly, this story.

Read Comment

Riley’s Story: A Girl and Her Gift

“I would love to tell my story. Could you help me?”

When I got a letter from this spunky, brave, strong-like-a-butterfly girl asking if I could tell her story, I couldn’t resist.

Meet Riley. She’s ten years old and she’s read Her Own Two Feet five times. She’s also had stomach surgery “twice in the same spot.”

The first time I’d heard about Riley was back in November of 2021, when I got an email from her mom. She said Riley’s fourth-grade teacher was reading Her Own Two Feet in class when Riley had to have emergency surgery.

Mrs. Wilson and Riley

Her mom said Riley was talking about Rebeka in the surgical prep room, but at the time her mom didn’t know what she was talking about. “Come to find out, she was using Rebeka as an example of surviving anything. Riley reads your book over and over again.” I was so touched. Before Her Own Two Feet came out, Rebeka told me she hoped her story would help kids who were going through hard times, so this was really gratifying. I printed the email to send to Rebeka and sent Riley a letter and an autographed sticker for her book.

Five months later, this April, I got a package in the mail from Riley.

The letter, with stars dotting the i’s, said she had another stomach surgery on the same spot. In her letter Riley said, “Rebeka helped me so much.” I wanted to hear more, so I asked Riley’s mom if we could zoom so I could ask Riley a few questions and she agreed. We chatted a bit and Riley showed me her butterfly shoes and pink crocs, just like Rebeka’s.

Then Riley told me about her first surgery. How she had started having bad pains the night before, and the next day after her regular doctor couldn’t diagnose what was wrong and she couldn’t stop getting sick, her mom rushed her to the hospital.

She talked about how there were so many doctors in the room, the bright lights, lots of medical equipment, and how nobody could go with her when it was time for surgery. It sounded a lot like Rebeka’s experience that we describe in the book. “It sounds scary but once you do it, it’s not scary,” Riley told me.

Which isn’t to say that it’s easy. Riley told me about her second surgery, how she had the familiar pains at school this time, and had to have the same surgery again. This time she got the same medicine Rebeka had before her surgeries to help her relax (Riley called it the “I don’t care” medicine), and she got to choose a flavor for the air in her mask like Rebeka, too.

What struck me about Riley is how much it helped to face a painful, frightening situation with courage because she had seen someone else do it. And now she has her own story to share with others, her own encouragement she can give. Encouragement is such a gift, and Riley is an excellent gift-giver.

When I asked her about the gifts she sent for Rebeka’s family she explained their specific purposes. In Chapter Thirteen of the book Rebeka uses tape to hang a tutu on the wall of our house. “What a wondrous thing this tape was! How Papa would love a roll.”

Riley explained that the clothespins can be used to hang clothes on a rope to dry. And the rubber bands? Riley remembered how Rebeka hurt her knee when she crawled on a piece of dry maize in Chapter One of the book. She imagines how someone might use rubber bands to hang the maize to dry up high, so little kids won’t hurt themselves.

Not only is she strong, and courageous, and kind, Riley is creative.

My favorite stories tell both the big moments (like emergency surgeries) and the little heartwarming ones (like rolls of tape, clothespins and rubber bands in a package.) I count it an honor to tell a little of Riley’s story here, and I hope she goes on to share it herself. She’s got lots to give.

When I shared this post with Riley and her mom, before posting, Riley wanted to tell me “one more thing.” At her school library, Her Own Two Feet is in the “Heroes” section, and she thinks that is the perfect spot for our book. To the librarian who made a spot in the library for books about heroes, and the teacher who read out book to her class, and to Riley’s mom and Grandma who helped her reach out to us, and to Riley who’s sending a roll of tape, rubber bands and clothes pins across the ocean, you are our heroes. Thank you.



Read 6 Comments

Peace Like a River

His name is River, and we are enchanted. Ever since our grandson came into this world on April 8th, my world of walking the dog and editing my manuscript and answering emails and doing basic daily tasks has faded next to the primary goal of when I can get myself back to the River. Leon Bridge’s lyrics repeat . . . take me to your River, I wanna go . . .
Alayna, my daughter now a mother, spent most of her childhood growing up next to the Colorado River (though it’s called Lake Austin since it’s dammed up at both ends). Now Clay and I live beside a river once again, though this time it’s called Lady Bird Lake. Maybe that’s why I like his name so much. Or maybe his name could have been Horace Fankfurter Fartsalot and I would have been just as enchanted because just look at this boy.
Back when the kids were little and we lived by the river, I remember how quiet it could be on weekday mornings, the light filtering through the cypress trees. We made a mug for our neighbors one year for Christmas with pictures taken out our back door, and included a lyric from a beautiful hymn, Peace Like a River.
I feel that same peace when I’m holding this little guy. As I write this, little River Davis Choi is only a week old, and I have to say, he is one peaceful little boy. Fill him up with his Mama’s good milk . . .
. . . make sure his diaper is clean, and he is content. There is so much new to encounter. Clothes to wear (so exhausting) and dogs to meet, but he takes them all in stride with very little fuss.
I’ve been blogging here since 2011 (and at our Faces in the Street site in 2007-08). That’s a lot of stories, some the big, splashy kind and some the sweet, quiet kind. There’s our trip around the world with the kids, that time I grew some pretty great tomatoes, our year with Rebeka, the foster babies, Her Own Two Feet, two beautiful weddings, favorite books I’ve read, and now River. He’s our once upon a time, the beginning of a most wonderful story and I can’t wait to find out what’s next. But I’m also quite content to hold him on these first few pages of his life, while he stares at the world in wonder and dozes and coos. He makes me peaceful like a river.

Read 9 Comments

Two Women Walk Into a Bar . . .

It’s so cool when the circles of your life intersect, and I’ve found it often happens when you say “yes.” Yes to writing an article or stepping into a new group of friends or taking an extra minute to reach out with an email. Circles like writers, family, friends, book club, dog park, church . . . each has its own thread. Here’s how two of those threads, they all seem so random sometimes, braided together in an unexpected way. I was running around chasing a doodle and writing stories in Austin, Texas . . .

In the elevator, after a good play at the dog park.

. . .and a then-stranger named Julie Rubini with her much-better-behaved dog Luna, was also writing stories in Toledo, Ohio.

We first connected when I wrote an article for Nonfiction Fest about my process in writing Her Own Two Feet and Julie won the giveaway, woohoo! We got in touch so I could mail her the book and she kindly mailed me one of hers in exchange, children’s biography Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller. A friendship bloomed, ala’ digital pen pals. We already had a connection in that she had been inspired to start a book festival in Toledo after visiting the Texas Book Festival, created in honor of their daughter Claire, who tragically died at the age of ten.

I was so touched and impressed by all that she and her husband had accomplished through Claire’s Day, truly an awesome children’s literacy event that changes lives and has grown tremendously over the years. She and her husband had also traveled extensively in the US, with their kids in an RV, and Clay and I have traveled a bunch with our kids overseas, and Alayna and Choi had their RV travels. So we had lots to talk about.

Our trusty steed in 2008, Stockton Beach, Australia.

This caption was originally titled, “Kids having fun doing homework in campervan!” Yeah, right!

But I figured that was that, two women separated by many miles who would occasionally correspond via email, until Julie texted saying she and her husband were in town en route to pick up an RV in San Antonio. When I say, “please let me know if you ever come to town,” I mean it! Julie believed me, and I’m so glad she did. The four of us (Julie and I plus husbands) got together for lunch, and serendipity number two, their hotel was right across the street from where Nate’s band Everett was playing their first concert since the pandemic!

Julie and her husband Brad joined Clay and I, some of our friends, and old and new Everett fans for drinks and great music. The energy on stage was awesome (shameless plug, I love the new Superhero release) and Julie and I snapped a quick pic in the dark bar all smiles.

I would have never thought, writing that article, I’d end up with a new friend sharing drinks in a little bar off Red River listening to Everett. It’s not a big thing, really, but life is a little richer and the friendship stronger and who knows where it might lead?

I like to think the braid isn’t complete. Maybe I’ll find myself in Toledo someday, or in an RV with Clay at some campervan park, meeting up with Brad and Julie. And we’ll turn on the radio, and Everett will be playing, it’s a top ten countdown, and Julie and I will be talking about our recent bestsellers and tracing the braid since the last time we met . . . because we never stopped saying “yes.” It’s so worth it.

Leave a Comment