Monday, October 21, 2019

License Plate Love

One of my very favorite things to talk about on my blog is personalized license plates. And I haven't done it for a LONG TIME!! Turns out I've been saving some license plate pictures for the moment I finally realized this.

For those who are new to my blog, I love personalized license plates because I'm a people watcher, and personalized plates are a peek into the life of the car owner. It gives us a glimpse of who they are, and to a part of their life that is important to them. Half the fun is figuring out what it's supposed to say. The rest of the fun is in the stories you make up to explain why that’s important to them.

And as a writer, I think it's a fun way to build characterization. Do you know what your character would choose for personalized plates? If not, play the game!! It's so fun to find out.


Without further ado, on to the pictures!

Up first: MONAMIE


Perhaps many people would be confused by this license plate, but I happen to speak French, so I happen to know that this awesome license plate says Mon Amie! or My friend!

My guess would be that this is a very friendly French speaker, or more likely a French expatriate now living in Utah. But funny thing, I actually got caught taking this picture by the owner of the car! She WAS very friendly, and she was, indeed from France. I did have to explain myself, but she didn't mind my interest, and was happy to meet a French speaker. :)

Up next:  YRUHERE



This license plate cracked me up. I caught this picture while stopped at a light. Why ARE you here??! I was there on my way to a school visit, so a question I would soon be answering for hundreds of kids. As for this car owner, I would guess they have a wry sense of humor and mean to tell people to back off a little, OR they have strong religious beliefs and are asking the GREAT EXISTENTIAL question. Or perhaps it's both!!

Next on the list: HRLYQUN



We have a Batman fan on our hands here, who apparently has a thing for Harley Quinn. Maybe they have a thing for the Joker. Maybe they identify with her hopeless love and tragic treatment by the man. But I like to think this is meant to be more light-hearted, and they just love the character and comic.

Next: LVTOFLY


This one is a little less clear. LOVE to fly??? or LIVE to fly??? Or perhaps they liked that ambiguity because it's both. The two do go together pretty well. I am guessing this is a pilot. ✈ It could be a professional career pilot, but I'm going on a limb and saying that they fly more for fun than for a job. Small planes. Maybe owns their own? Or perhaps I'm completely wrong, and they just love to drive fast. 🚥😊

Finally! My own: PBNJ


 Yes, yes I did. My husband was really, really excited about the idea, and encouraged this. Of course, symbols are not allowed, so no ampersand (&), but I think this worked out pretty well. People who know me have no doubt why I did this, and people who don't know chuckle and comment: "You must really like PB&Js!"

Yes. Yes I do. In fact, I wrote  a whole book about it! 😂

But I must confess, PB&Js really are a huge part of my life, and they have shaped a lot of who I've become. Especially as an adult. And though it may be cliché, and though I will have more books published in the future, THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY will always be my first. The one that sent me down the wonderful path of author-dom.

I want to know! What would be your personalized license plate? (7 letters max!)


Monday, October 14, 2019

Reading Books We Love

Reading books is so much a part of my life and my kids' lives, I sometimes forget that not everyone feels the same way about books. And don't worry, we can still be friends even if you don't love books the way we do!

In light of this excellent post by Liesl Shurtliff, I wanted to share some stories about my son:

My son in kindergarten

My oldest son has not always loved books. I read to him as a kid (like, A LOT), I had a home full of books, I modeled reading for fun (confession, maybe too much!), and HERE is proof positive I took him to the library even when it was tough! But still, my son didn't care for them. In fact, he disliked books and reading so much that his second grade teacher reached out to inform me that he was so far behind on his reading levels, that if something didn't change, and fast, he was not going to move up a grade with his peers.

I was horrified! There I was, a bona fide book lover, hoping to be an author someday, yet I couldn't even get my own son to read.

I was lucky. I had resources. My mom was an elementary school principal at the time and had been a reading teacher before that. I asked for advice, and here is what she told me.

Image result for image maze of bones"First and most important, find a book that he wants to read. That is very important! It must be his choice." . . . So turns out, this was harder than I expected. It took a lot of trips to the library. A lot of trial and error, because he didn't know what interested him. All books were the same to him at that point, and in his mind ALL BOOKS were boring. I grabbed lots of different types of books and I started reading to him.

We didn't finish many of the books we started, but I didn't give up. After a lot of searching, we landed on the first book in a brand new series: MAZE OF BONES by Rick Riordan.

"Second," my mom told me, "once you have a book he loves, read it together. You read it out loud, but follow along with your finger and have him follow along as well." We read the whole book that way, and moved on to book 2. I was still the one reading, but his attitude was changing. He was more excited about reading time. We kept at it through book 2 and moved on to book 3. That was when everything changed.

My son got tired of waiting for me. He was anxious to know what would happen. And he began sneaking the book and reading it on his own. Slowly, slowly, slowly. And sometimes he would ask for help. But that book forever changed his reading life, and I will always be grateful for both my mom's advice, and for The 39 Clues series that kept books coming out in such rapid succession.

From there he moved on to comics. He particularly loved the Star Wars comics. And I was so grateful to see him reading! To see him excited to read.

His reading interests grew, and he began to read Rick Riordan's other books. That led him to read everything he could find about mythology. That led him to studying ancient cultures. That led him to start learning Hebrew and Greek on his own. That led him to study Inca and Mayan cultures. The kid loves to learn!

Image result for star wars comics coverImage result for lightning thief cover

Those early books that some people would call junk books and a waste of time saved my son's reading career (and yes, helped him pass the second grade). Those comics gave him confidence. Led him to understand the possibilities that can come with reading. 

Please. Get kids excited about reading. Let them read books for the joy of it. Books that speak to their heart. And please, to all you graphic novel creators: KEEP THOSE BOOKS COMING!

What book first made you excited to read?

Monday, October 7, 2019

Picture Book Review: Railway Jack


One of the most important parts of writing is reading. Read as many books as you can in the genre you want to write in. So as you can imagine, I have been reading a lot of picture books lately. I love hearing about good books from others, so I'm going to share some of my favorites. I'll focus on picture book reviews, but since I love middle grade books, I'll probably throw in a few of those too.

My reviews will also be posted on Goodreads where I review other books as well. Feel free to follow me on Goodreads, if you like. Please note that I'll only be reviewing books I love, so if it's on my blog, I give it five stars (Goodreads' system).
First up is RAILWAY JACK written by KT Johnston, and illustrated by César Samaniego.

Image may contain: one or more people

I'm going to confess that while I do love a good non-fiction picture book, my heart is with fiction. Given that, I might have been a little hesitant to pick this up. But boy am I ever glad that I gave this one a chance!


What an amazing story! This book is about an amazing duo: Jim Wide, and his service baboon, Jack. Jim had lost both of his legs in a rail accident and struggled to do his job at the railway until he found Jack. I was fascinated by Jim's foresight to recognize the potential of what Jack could do to help him. I was amazed by all the skills that Jack was able to learn, and it gave me a greater appreciation for baboons and service animals in general.

The author's research on the topic was impressive, and I especially appreciated the photos at the end of the book. I'd never heard of a baboon being used as a service animal, and I found the author's note about the history of service animals to be interesting and very informative. I have no doubt kids would be fascinated, and the discussion questions at the end would lead to great discussions.


My favorite part was when the heads of the railway came down on Jim for allowing a baboon to do  the work of a human. I don't want to give any spoilers, so I won't tell you what happens, but when you read it, you will know why this is my favorite. (I know, I'm totally the worst! But read it! You won't be disappointed.)

I can't end without mentioning the art. The illustrator did a beautiful job on the pictures. They really brought the story to life. I loved the style, and felt it was a great fit for the story. And after seeing the old photographs at the back, it was fun to look back through the book and note the great attention to detail that Mr. Samaniego paid to his work. 

This is a wonderful story that I highly recommend!

Note: I received an e-ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.



KT Johnston found history a boring subject in school—but now it's the passion of her writing. She earned a degree in biology and conducted wildlife behavior studies before switching to a corporate career. After raising two children and several litter sof curly-coated retrievers, KT began writing, spotlighting special animals who had affected the lives of everyday people. She and her husband live in Minneapolis, where the four-legged members of her family have always been special. KT hopes to inspire others to be curious about our world as well, one true story at a time.

You can follow her on Twitter, and learn more about her at her website.


César Samaniego was born in Barcelona, Spain, in 1975. He grew up with an artist father, smelling his father's oils, reading his comic books, and trying to pain over his father's illustrations! He attended Llotja Arts and Crafts School and graduated with honors in 2010. Since then he has published many books and provided art for apps, textbooks, and animations. César lives in Canet de Mar, a small coastal town near Barcelona, with his wife, daughter, five cats, and a crazy dog.

You can find more of his amazing art here.

RAILWAY JACK is on Goodreads, and is available for pre-order!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Switching my Writing Gears

It is no secret that I changed genre's from my first book to my second. My first book (The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society) is a middle grade novel, geared towards 8-13 year-olds. My upcoming book (Help Wanted, Must Love Books) is a picture book geared towards 4-7 year-olds.



Because of that change, I am often asked if I still write older books, how easy it is to switch back and forth between writing picture books and middle grade books, and how different is it writing in those two genres. So today I'm going to talk about that.

First, yes! I definitely still write middle grade books. I love the long story form, and being able to tell more. I love reading those books, too, and I still have a lot of stories in me. In fact, I'm working on one now, that I'm not going to tell you anything about (aren't I mean??!), but I'm on the second draft, so that is a good sign. Hopefully, in the future, you will see more published middle grade books from me.

Here is the thing, when I sent the draft of Help Wanted, Must Love Books to my agent, we had a little chat. She loved it, but she wanted me to understand that if I decided to go that direction, I needed to spend some time working on picture books. Focusing on writing more picture books, and spending some time (years probably) building up my author cred as a picture book author.

So that is what I have been doing these past couple of years (only recently have I begun working on middle grade again). I feel incredibly fortunate that my book sold. It is not the first picture book I've ever written, but it IS the first one I've gone on submission with (for all you non-authors, going on submission means that my agent sent it to editors in hopes they would want to publish it). The trick is to repeat that, now!

As for the question about difficulty. Switching back and forth is do-able, but difficult. The two formats are extremely different. In middle grade, I have space to say all the things. And while I want my writing to be crisp, and only say things it needs, it feels incredibly freeing to have SO MANY WORDS with which to write my story.

Picture books are mind-numbing projects where every word on the page has been scrutinized many, many times. Every word must be essential if I want to keep it. Every word must being working hard and expressing as much as possible. And even then, I need to make sure that the word really needs to be said. Because if pictures already express that idea, then it is the chopping block for those words.

With my middle grade, once I signed with my agent, I had a couple of back and forths to fix things, before going on submission, and then a couple more back and forths to fix things with my editor (not to minimize the changes, some of those changes were BIG!), still, once I sent in the final copy, it was final.

With my picture book, we were making changes every step of the way.

  • Changes before sending the text to the illustrator. 
  • Changes after seeing the sketches. 
  • Changes after receiving final art. 
  • Changes because the art director had a thought. 
  • Changes because marketing needs a different focus. 
  • Changes because I had a brilliant idea last second (yes, of course it was brilliant, why do you ask?).   

We made changes right up until they sent it to print and we could no longer make changes.

It has been fascinating to watch and participate in the process. And despite the whole mind-numbing thing, I love, love, love writing picture books. It is an incredible thing to be able to say so much with so few words, and I feel like my writing is stronger for having learned and studied the craft of picture book writing (and please note, I am still learning, and probably will be forever). I will definitely be in this genre for a long time to come because I love it so much.

So for you authors, do you find it difficult to switch genres in your writing? And for you non-authors, what do you think when an author that you love in one genre switches to write in another? Do you read those books, too?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

2019 Summer Bucket List

The day after Labor Day. Whether school started earlier or not, this is pretty much the official day of the end of summer. Pools close. Weather starts to change (we hope!). Free weekends are a thing of the past.


But happily, memories live on, so it is time to report on our 2019 Johnson Family Summer Bucket List. To be honest, things have gotten a little out of hand. We used to make a list with the intention of finishing every last thing. Now we make a super long list with the idea that we can find something to do when we're bored.

Personally, considering how long our list was, I'm impressed we got through so much! And because I like numbers, here you are.

Number of items on our bucket list: 70
Number of items checked off: 42
Percentage of the list complete: 60%

Even better than numbers are pictures, so here are a few highlights:

Monster Pizza!! This was our kick-off activity. So. Much. Pizza. We definitely want to do this again . . . when we can drag along a few more people!



Here's a two-fer: Go to Oregon. Play on the beach. And really, this beach was the site of many bucket list fulfillments. Go for a walk. Go on a picnic. Roast marshmallows/make s'mores. Visit cousins. Seriously, the beach is my favorite.



We went to Lagoon.



We went to Canada.



We ran a family 5K (even if I only have a picture of two of us). And actually we ran TWO family 5Ks, so kudos to us!



But alas, we had a few items on the list I lament not getting to:
  • Learn to make macaroons.
  • Learn to make a curry dish.
  • Fix the trampoline.
  • Silent day!!! Okay, maybe the kids were glad about this one, but we're even because they also missed . . .
  • Hatchet throwing. (It could have been fun, I just have visions of a bad ending to that. o_o)
My favorite bucket list item was going to the beach (and we did that a lot). Girlie says her favorite was going to Canada (so shout out to Aunt Becca for making that happen!).

Anyway, the point is, we had an awesome summer, and I love that our kids love doing the bucket list. And who knows? Maybe we'll keep pecking away at this list over the  fall. That WOULD break the rules, but us Johnsons are known rule-breakers,* so it wouldn't really be a shock, would it?

Tell me about your summer! What was your favorite thing you did this summer?

*hahaha! This is a lie, we are ridiculous rule-followers, and when I DO break a rule or two, my kids are horrified. HORRIFIED.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Cover Reveal!!! - HELP WANTED: MUST LOVE BOOKS


I feel like I say this a lot, but being an author is like constantly riding a rollercoaster, full of ups and downs. There is a ton of rejection, but there are also moments that make your heart flutter. Seeing your cover for the first time is one of those.

With my middle grade cover, I knew that the cover was the only image I was going to get for my book. But with a picture book, the cover is a hint at all the lovely things to come! Thirty-two pages of beautiful, glorious pictures that represent someone's vision of this world I created.

My debut picture book, HELP WANTED: MUST LOVE BOOKS, will be released into the world on March 1, 2020! I can't wait for you all to see the whole thing (I just love it!), but in the meantime, here is a hint of things to come. The promise of a story that makes my heart happy. I hope it will make yours happy, too.

The illustrator is the amazing Courtney Dawson. You should follow that link to see her amazing art work! She's so talented!

So without further ado . . .

just

follow

the

little

dots

and

ta da!!!





my cover!!!





I hope you love it as much as I do! I'm so pleased with how Shailey turned out, and I love, love, love that you can read the titles on a bunch of those books on the bookshelf. I love the fun colors, and that title font (!!!). So fun! *happy sigh*

Thanks for stopping by, and I'd love to hear about what grabs your attention when looking at covers.

Help Wanted: Must Love Books is up on Goodreads, so feel free to add it to your "Want to Read" list!

And holy cow! Just this second I discovered that it's also live on Amazon, which means you can now pre-order it!! (no cover there yet, but AAAAHHHH!) [And just so you know, this would be another one of those exciting moments I was talking about at the beginning that makes your heart flutter.]