Choose Your Own Adventure Section 16

image.pngIf you have arrived in the middle of the adventure, you may start at the beginning by going HERE (
Erik attempts to pass through the Icky Pods:

 Erik looked at the oozing, smelly fronds of vegetation blocking their path. Benton snorted and sneezed.

“I’ve heard it said,” Erik told Benton, “that sometimes the only way out is through. So get ready, boy, we’re going through!” Erik urged his pony into a gallop and they were soon slipping through the slimy, syrupy, sloppy mess. The fronds slid across their skin, leaving gooey trails. The pods had suction-cup-like ends that stuck to them, then let go with a squelching sound.

Benton’s skin shuddered as if he were trying to shake off the fronds. Erik had to close his eyes and hope they were going in the right direction.

Finally they burst through to the other side. “UGH!” Erik said. “I hope there’s another way out of here, because I sure don’t want to do that again!” Benton neighed and nodded his head.

There was no way to clean themselves off, so they rode on as they were. “This is the messiest quest I’ve ever been on,” Erik said. “Not that I’ve been on a lot of quests, but in the stories, they’re never this messy.”

They trotted on. The path was a little wider. “Hey, look at that. There’s the hoofprint! We’re still on the right trail. But how does a horse only ever leave one hoofprint? I’ve never heard of horses hopping! Maybe it’s magic!”

Maybe it’s a trick, thought Benton, as he kept trotting.

“This is easy!” said Erik. “We’ll soon be there, now. Easy peesy, lemon squeezy.”

Benton suddenly stopped short and with a shrill whinny, reared up on his hind legs.

“What’s the matter, Benton? Don’t you like lemons?” Erik asked, trying to keep from sliding off Benton’s hind end. Then, as the pony’s front hooves clattered back to the ground, he saw what had upset his horse — and nearly (literally) upset him, in the bargain.

Across the path, and seeping into the forest on either side, was a black, bubbling pool of something that looked like porridge. Well, if porridge had shining black oil or jet-black ink as one of its essential ingredients, that is. Bubbles blorped to the top of the seething black mass, and broke with loud plop plorps. Steam rose from the vast pit.

Erik sighed. “We’ll never get across this! It’s too hot to swim through, there’s no way around it. We’re sunk.”

Benton hoped they wouldn’t really sink. He didn’t think he’d enjoy being in that glop. He nickered and shook his head to the left.

“Another sign!” Erik said, patting his horse’s side. “You’re good. You’re really good.”

Benton nickered. Of course he was.

The sign pointed off through the woods, and said, “Ye Olde Cake & Candle: Refreshments, Lodging, Stabling.”

“Just what we need! A place to clean up and get something to eat. And maybe Lady Josie will be there, too. Or at least someone at the place might have seen her. Do you think we should go there, Benton?”

The wind carried Benton’s whinnied reply away, and Erik was faced with the decision.

To tackle the ooze, click HERE

To go to Ye Olde Cake & Candle, click HERE

Writing Craft Book Shelf

craft_booksRecently, in a fit of office organizing, I bought some lovely new shelves for my growing collection of writing books. (Thank you, Ikea!) I love these books. When I get stuck on a writing project, I thumb through and read a chapter here and there and sometimes get inspired – or at least feel like I’m doing something productive.

However, as I was putting them away I realized that there’s a lot these books have to offer that I haven’t taken advantage of by simply thumbing through and reading a little at a time. Even the ones I’ve read cover-to-cover, like WRITING WITH PICTURES, would probably hold different insights for me now than when I first read them. And so I pledge…in 2013, I will commit to reading and re-reading some of these craft books in a focused way. I will do the recommended exercises. I will seek out the books cited as examples at the library and read them.

At this point, my path is not well-planned but here’s what I envision for myself:

– I’ll start with WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul.

– Allow enough time to do any recommended exercises.

– I plan to start well after New Year’s (to allow for post-holiday recovery) and do a check-in post here on my blog every 2-3 weeks.

– I would love to have a partner (or two) to do this with me, and so I beg ask if anyone would like to join me in this little scheme? Let me know!

I’d also love to hear about your favorite craft books. Which ones have you found helpful?

Christmas in Lights

Below is my entry for a holiday story contest hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill. The parameters: the story must be 350 words or less, and must begin with with any version of “Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh.” Read more entries at her website. Enjoy!

Christmas in Lights (350 words)

By Carrie Finison

“Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh!” my friend Kayla sang, swooping her bike along the sidewalk.

“That’s about the only Christmas-y thing around here,” said Nick.

That was true. It was 60 degrees with no snow in sight. And no lights on Mrs. Mayfield’s house.

christmashouseIn December, our neighborhood is famous. People drive from miles around to ooh and ahh at Mrs. Mayfield’s holiday decorations. Every shrub is lit. The walk is lined with candy canes. A huge, glowing Santa sits on the roof with a sleigh, eight reindeer, and Rudolph.

“I wonder why Mrs. Mayfield hasn’t decorated yet,” I said.

“My mother said she fell and hurt her ankle,” said Nick.

A car pulled up. Mrs. Mayfield’s son climbed out and waved. He opened the garage and began hauling trash to the curb. We drifted on our bikes. Kayla sang “Deck the Halls.”

Suddenly, I noticed Rudolph’s red nose poking out of a box by the curb.

“Are you putting up the Christmas decorations today?” I asked.

“Actually, we’re getting rid of the decorations. They’re too much trouble now that my mother can’t get around like she used to,” Mr. Mayfield said.

No decorations?

I dropped my bike and sat on our porch.

We couldn’t let those decorations be thrown away. It might not snow, but maybe there was a way to make it feel like Christmas.

“Mr. Mayfield,” I said. “Would you mind if we use the decorations?”

He smiled. “Sure! That’s better than throwing them away. It would cheer up my mom, too.”

“Yippee!” I shouted.

Nick, Kayla, and I spent the afternoon stringing lights. My dad draped icicle lights from our balcony. Rudolph glowed on Nick’s lawn, and Kayla’s mom hoisted Santa onto their garage.

By 5:30, the neighborhood glittered in the growing darkness.

“I’ll get Mom,” said Mr. Mayfield. “She’ll want to see this.”

Quickly, we gathered in front of Mrs. Mayfield’s house. She hobbled outside.

“SURPRISE!” we shouted. Mrs. Mayfield’s face glowed. Then Kayla started to sing.

“Dashing through the snow…”

Everyone joined in. And this time, it felt like Christmas.

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Boxes for Katje

Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the lovely children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Check in each week on Fridays for new book reviews. Susanna also has a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all the book reviews. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for activities for a book, or books focused on a particular theme.

boxes_for_katje_coverTitle: Boxes for Katje

Author: Candace Fleming

Illustrator: Stacey Dressen-McQueen

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Year: 2003

Genre: Historical fiction picture book

Ages: 4+

Themes: Generosity; making a difference

Opening: After the war, there was little left in the tiny Dutch town of Olst. The townspeople lived on cabbages and seed potatoes. They patched and repatched their worn-thin clothing, and they went without soap or milk, sugar or new shoes.

One spring morning, when the tulips bloomed thick and bright, Postman Kleinhoonte pedaled his bicycle down the cobbled street.

“Oh ho!” he whooped. “I have a box for Katje—a box from America.”

Synopsis: (from publisher’s website) After World War II there is little left in Katje’s town of Olst in Holland. Her family, like most Dutch families, must patch their old worn clothing and go without everyday things like soap and milk. Then one spring morning when the tulips bloom “thick and bright,” Postman Kleinhoonte pedals his bicycle down Katje’s street to deliver a mysterious box – a box from America! Full of soap, socks, and chocolate, the box has been sent by Rosie, an American girl from Mayfield, Indiana. Her package is part of a goodwill effort to help the people of Europe. What’s inside so delights Katje that she sends off a letter of thanks – beginning an exchange that swells with so many surprises that the girls, as well as their townspeople, will never be the same.

This inspiring story, with strikingly original art, is based on the author’s mother’s childhood and will show young readers that they, too, can make a difference.

What makes it great: The incredibly touching storyline and the vivid descriptions of how little the people in Olst had, and how thankful they were for the gifts from America make me tear up every time I read this book. But what really brings on the waterworks is the ending. This is a wonderful book for helping children understand how simple things can sometimes make a huge difference in people’s lives, and that even kids can play a part in this.

What readers notice: Hopefully they don’t notice the tears streaming down my face while I read this! Both my 3-year-old and 7-year-old enjoy this story. My 3-year-old loves seeing all the surprises that come out of the boxes, and she likes the letters written back and forth between the Dutch girl, Katje, and her American friend, Rosie. For my son, this has been a good way to talk about war, and some of what happened during World War II, as well as the idea that some people live with very little and we can’t take all the things we have for granted.

What a writer notices: The structure of the story keeps readers turning the pages to find out what will be in Katje’s next box from America. She included details that would make the deprivation of the Dutch people seem compelling to children (no chocolate; no sugar; no socks; no coat).

If you’ve read any other books by Candace Fleming, you’ve seen that she knows her way around an ending, and this one is no different. It is so touching and unexpected and brings full circle the idea of what it means to give something – even when it seem you have nothing at all to give.

Activities/Links to Resources: 

See some interior illusrations:

A lesson plan for starting a class “Make a Difference Day” inspired by the book:,%202007/Notable%20Books/2.3.12.pdf

Reading Rainbow “Boxes for Katje” episode teacher’s guide:

Teacher’s guide from the publisher’s website:

The Many Gifts of 12×12 in 2012

12x12partyHere we are in the middle of a gift-giving season, and it struck me recently what a gift the 12×12 in 2012 challenge has been for me this year. Here are just a few of the gifts I have received by participating in this challenge:

– A folder full of picture book manuscripts, in various stages of completion

– A new online critique group who have already proven their worth many times over

– An extended group of friendly colleagues who are all thinking and talking picture books along with me

– I won an amazing critique from author Jennifer Ward

– I won a book on revision from Sandy Asher which was EXACTLY what I had been looking for

– Introductions to many authors I’d never read from reading Julie’s blog, Susanna’s blog, and participating in Perfect Picture Book Friday – and even an actual book from a giveaway by the generous Carter Higgins


– Participation in an online conference with three literary agents, which I never would have found out about if not for 12×12

The biggest gift of all, though, is the deepening knowledge that I CAN DO THIS. I can write a picture book – not just once or twice, but many times. Every month, in fact. And THAT is a gift that will never get old. Thank you to Julie, to the generous authors who contributed, and all the 12×12 participants for all these gifts!

Now, no party is complete without a song, right? While I was thinking about the gifts of 12×12, I went back to Julie’s blog to read her monthly featured-author posts over the course of 2012. Their advice and encouragement during the year were little gifts in and of themselves, well worth re-reading and so I composed a little song (with links in case you want to go back and read the original posts, which I highly recommend!)

The 12 Months of 12×12

(sung to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas)

In the first month of 12×12 Tara Lazar said to us,

“Make sure you have a good ending.”

In the second month of 12×12 George Shannon said to us,

“Maintain a sense of play.”

In the third month of 12×12 Katie Davis gave great tips

For marketing ourselves and books

In the fourth month of 12×12 were four fab featured authors

Who shared their writing advice

In the fifth month of 12×12 Debbie Diesen gave to us

A primer on rhyme.

In the sixth month of 12×12 Emma Walton Hamilton gave to us

A guideline for “the mucky middle.”

In the seventh month of 12×12 Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen shared wisdom

On protocols, structures, and truth in character

In the eighth month of 12×12 Rebecca Kai Dotlich said to us

“Use poetic devices in picture books”

In the ninth month of 12×12 Julie Hedlund organized

A party full of writerly prizes

In the tenth month of 12×12 Dianne de las Casas invited us

To become picture book month ambassadors

In the eleventh month of 12×12 Linda Arms White told how

To make our stories timeless

In the twelfth month of 12×12 Eileen Spinelli gave us gifts

Of wisdom and encouragement

Perfect Picture Book Friday – The Going to Bed Book

Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the lovely children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Check in each week on Fridays for new book reviews. Susanna also has a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all the book reviews. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for activities for a book, or books focused on a particular theme.

This is the last (for now) in my series reviewing books for babies and very young children. It has been a lovely trip back in time for me. I have given away many of the “baby” books we once owned, but somehow still have a shelf-full, and I’m glad I’ve saved these. My almost-four-year-old has enjoyed looking at them with me, which shows that these books really do span the ages.

the_going_to_bed_book_coverTitle: The Going to Bed Book

Author/Illustrator: Sandra Boynton

Publisher: Little Simon

Year: 1984, 1995 (revised version)

Genre: Board book/picture book

Ages: Infant-5

Themes: Bedtime


The sun has set not long ago. Now everybody goes below to take a bath in one big tub with soap all over—SCRUB, SCRUB, SCRUB!

Synopsis: (from publisher’s website) This classic bedtime story is just right for winding down the day as a joyful, silly group of animals scrub scrub scrub in the tub, brush, brush brush their teeth and finally rock and rock and rock to sleep.

What makes it great: What makes it great: Boynton’s silly, expressive animals, a little surprise, and a gentle ending (“They rock, and rock, and rock, to sleep.”)

What readers notice: This book became part of my son’s bedtime routine when he was about 8 months old. We would start reciting the lines as he was taking a bath, then getting his pajamas on, and finally while rocking him before putting him in his crib. Anything to help reinforce those rituals was helpful, I thought! At that age, I think he enjoyed looking at the illustrations – each page has a different background color in a medium tone, with bright spots of color that pop. And the last page is dark – perfect for bedtime.

What a writer notices: Even in this short book there’s a little surprise for readers – when the animals, all brushed and bathed, run upstairs in their pajamas to exercise before going to sleep. (It’s a great example of a compelling page turn.) I also love how the setting, a boat, enables the author to plausibly “rock” all of the animals to sleep.

Activities/Links to Resources: 

Activities focused on hygiene habits

A special education teacher reviews The Going to Bed Book app for the iPad:

Sandra Boynton: The Unbelievable Fascinating Autobiography

And the Crowd Goes Wild…

ATCGW coverI’m celebrating! Yesterday I received in the mail my contributor copy of the poetry anthology AND THE CROWD GOES WILD: A GLOBAL GATHERING OF SPORTS POEMS. I also got my first-ever royalty payment (yay!) which made for an exciting mail day.

Last December, a member of my children’s poetry critique group mentioned a call for submissions for a sports-themed poetry anthology. Many in the group jumped on the sports-poem bandwagon. But I was stuck. I didn’t play team sports in high school, and I’m only a casual sports fan – and when I say casual, I mean that I’m not a sports fan at all. I tend to know what’s going on with the Red Sox because it is impossible not to here in the middle of Red Sox Nation, and I’m a loyal Olympics-watcher, but that’s about it.

Without much hope, I waited for inspiration to strike. My crit group partners were posting fabulous poems about football, diving, baseball, even bowling. Surely I could come up with SOMEthing. But no. Finally, during the Superbowl, and with the anthology deadline approaching, the idea bells went off as I watched the cameras focusing on the fans in the crowd – the ones with the blue hair and the body paint and those giant foam fingers. I realized that as much as I enjoy watching a great game (and I do, even when I don’t know who, exactly, is playing), I’m also fascinated by the other people watching the game. It’s the fans — with their diehard loyalty, their superstitions, and their desire to bring good luck to their team — who inspired the poem that ultimately was accepted and published in the anthology. ‘Superfan’ is about a fan who is convinced that his shirt is what’s bringing good luck to his team – and refuses to wash it for fear the luck would wash away in the laundry.

For me, writing and publishing ‘Superfan’ was a great writing lesson. Good writing isn’t always about being an expert in the subject matter – it’s about being a good observer, and finding an emotional truth to relate to. Even though I’m not a sports fan, I do know what it is like to root for something, and to feel superstitious. And I can write about that.

Now, dear readers, I hope you will tolerate a quick plug for the book (available from Amazon). I spent an enjoyable 40 minutes reading it last night. The 50 poems in the collection span the gamut from silly (mine!) to thoughtful, without being too obscure for 8-12 year old readers. They also represent 31 different poetic forms which keeps things interesting. The adorable illustrations by Kevin Sylvester add a perfect touch. And it’s small enough to be a stocking stuffer. 🙂

To hear some truly wonderful excerpts from the book, please visit Renée LaTulippe’s blog, No Water River. She recently invited five poets to add readings to her poetry video library, and interviewed the anthology’s editors, Carol-Ann Hoyte and Heidi Bee Roemer.