…to come see him this weekend! I invite you to share this invitation with everyone you know: repost, retweet, email, whatever social media platform you choose. Come to the Youth Stage at the Southern Festival of Books on Saturday, at 1pm, and let me thank you in person! Blessings to all of you who have cheered us on to this milestone. See you soon!
Go Rebels! It’s a big day in SEC football, and this author is proud to sport her red and blue. Ole Miss gave me a wonderful education. Ole Miss believed in me. Ole Miss professors nurtured my writing passions in a haze of Faulkner-iffic English, journalistic instruction and attention to detail. The Pride of the South Marching Band played the soundtrack to my adventures in Oxford, and the Walk of Champions carved a path for me. I was friends Colonel Reb. I fed squirrels, studied, weaved words, fell in love with my boyfriend (now my husband), and attended and hosted many a tailgate under chandeliers in The Grove.
In the words of the Ole Miss Alma Mater:
Way down south in Mississippi / there’s a spot that ever calls…
I call it home to my younger self… the little country girl with dreams as big as a sentence composed under the alley of cedars of Rowan Oak.
Ole Miss means HOPE to me. It means, “things that could be.” And for football fans on this day, Rebels across the world are hoping for something that could be… to BEAT BAMA!
It’s just football, I know. I realize it’s just a game. There are far more intense concerns and worldwide issues to work for. But for a couple of hours on this fine Saturday afternoon, I’m cuddling up with my family and our pups, and cheering for the team that represents the school that inspired me, lifted me up, and sent me on a flight to my future with an ocean’s worth of encouragement. FINS UP!
Otis fans! Make your plans to join us at the 26th Annual Southern Festival of Books on War Memorial Plaza in downtown Nashville. The Festival runs all weekend on October 10-12, and there is something for everyone. Otis and I will be on the Youth Stage on Saturday, October 11, from 1-2pm (click here for a complete schedule), and in the Signing Colonnade immediately after. Parnassus Books is the onsite bookseller, and they will have Otis Goes to School available for you. I would love to meet you, sign your books, give you a bookmark from Otis, and thank you personally for joining us on this awesome literary adventure. And Otis would love some special petting!
All my appreciation and thanks go to Humanities Tennessee and the Festival Committees for including us in this years list of authors. We are humbled, deeply honored, and so extremely excited to be a part of such a acclaimed tradition and respected event in celebration of the written word. We want to see you there!
One of the best parts of being an author is receiving handcrafted stories from the youngest Otis Goes to School fans, learning to fashion their very own tales. As a mother, it’s that much more special to hold my very own children’s crumpled up, notebook-papered accounts of vacations and childhood shenanigans, and interpretations of “what if?” The subject of creative writing has, thus, become a platform for me as I visit schools and spend time with young folks, and it is my hope to nurture their love for literature and its composition, in honoring the ones who did so for me. To that end, I share with you my thoughts on writing with our own children:
“Mommy, I see a puppy! He has a ball! Oh, wait… now he’s a sailboat! And there’s a train! Do you see it? Mommy, look! It’s a window! Do you think the train is gonna choo-choo through the window? I do, and… oh! Look at that castle! I’d like to see that castle up close. I wonder if I look small from there. Do you see, Mommy? What do you see…?”
Have you heard your little one rambling in such a fashion? Did you slam on the brakes for the puppy that was not, in fact, chasing a ball down the road? A sailboat and a train? No, we are not at the beach, and nowhere near the tracks. Yes the car has windows, and what castle? Ahhh… it’s the view from Wonderland–the world where children don’t need glasses and near-sightedness often blurs the reasonable, busily practical adult’s vision.
Children do have their heads in the clouds. At least, that’s where they start. That’s the leaping point… the endless possibilities of soaring have everything to do with seeds of encouragement and droplets of inspiration (or the lack thereof), and then the patience of time in all its unfolding, surprising power.
And as adorable, cloud-gazing moments march further into the realm of smile-worthy old memories, words and phrases that could only have come from the mouths of your own babes will fade, and we will not recall the specifics. Of course, you’ll likely have old photographs that cover your walls, fill your albums, decorate your desks and dressers and deplete the memory space available on your phones and tablets and computers, and without a doubt, they are to be ever cherished.
What, though, of the fleeting words that go with them? What of the uncatchable moment that passed from the back seat of silly cumulus concoctions? What of the rip-roaring playground adventures of braving a tightrope walk above the lava, from swing to swing, without daring to touch a toe to the ground of sure doom? What of the cops-and-robbers escapade that played out in the backyard while you cooked supper? What of the Matchbox car chase through Barbie’s Dreamhouse and My Little Pony’s stables? Their preservation is, no doubt, in your smile, your laugh lines, yours happy dreams, the locked vaults of your heart… and theirs.
If I said there is a way to harness a just a bit of those effervescent clouds, that disappearing castle, the childish adventures and observations that we chalk up to the earliest parts of all our lives… if you knew that the passion for avoiding the dangerous playground lava and always catching the bad guy could be lassoed and bottled… if you could see that puppy chase the ball right into a sailboat transformation from your child’s perspective, would you lean in? How about if you knew that such a capturing could spark your child’s interest in reading, give them a foundation of confidence in schoolwork challenges, hone fine motor skills, provide an outlet for emotion and creativity, and a hobby that requires no plugs, wires, or noise?
You’ll need a pencil and paper. Actually, your child will.
It is not humanly possible to hook the whole view from Wonderland, so there is no need for mommy-guilt, kid comparisons or one more line item to add to your super-mom CV. Your maternal role, in this opportunity, is quite simple after securing the pencil and paper: to encourage, and to give your child the time and wiggle-room to do the rest… on their own personal level.
Let them write. Tell them to write. Believe that they can. Forget proper spelling, punctuation and capitalization for the moment. This is not about syntax and grammar. This is about that leaping point, from the edge of that crazy-shaped cloud they think looks like a butterfly with tennis shoes and a unicorn’s horn… write that down, child.
Is the sky blue? What kind of blue? Like an island’s ocean? Your sister’s eyes? Your favorite crayon? Put it into your beautifully childish words and sound them out right onto the paper waiting to come alive by the shape of your squarely printed letters, your curly-q swirls, and the meaning and sentiments behind it all.
What is that tickle in your mind? That’s the birth of your imagination. And just where did that butterfly go? The tug from the tip of that pencil will take you there.
“Mommy, what should I write? What should I say?” This is where you give them encouragement and time to let them do the exploring. Sometimes it’s hard to allow our children time to figure things out on their own. It’s easy to assist in the story, to give them the words, to entertain them so they are comfortable, to then cross that activity off the list and move on to a movie or video game, something to keep them occupied while you fold laundry in peace (or grab a precious minute or two to catch a well-deserved breath)!
Stretching muscles doesn’t always begin with ease. But let them get bored… it’s their imagination’s cue. Nourishing a child’s independent vision does take patience and inspiration, but once their wheels begin turning, once they see clearly that they are quite able to work out an original thought and transpose it to something on paper, your role slowly changes from “Mommy, Keeper of the Bottomless Activity Grab-Bag,” to “Reader of all things Wonderland-born.” Your child naturally becomes “Preserver of Fairytales and Memories.” And after some time, the words—especially the phonetically (mis)spelled ones–will be treasures that have magically captured those vanishing moments in the ever-evolving experience of parenthood.
Moms always love a sword with double edges… not the kind with a win-lose slicing pattern. No, this saber carves with love and purpose, both ways. Wield the power of writing and imagination, don it like knighthood on the shoulders of those tied to your apron strings, and watch them grow in a developing love for books and reading, with the added bonus of tuning the little muscles in their hands that move the pencil on the paper. While they begin to craft the butterfly’s flight path over the playground lava and through the window of the highest tower of the cloud castle, they are flexing far more than the glorious muscle of imagination.
Lipscomb Academy Reading Specialist, Suzanne Howell, says “A child’s literacy development will flourish when their reading and writing instruction is woven together. Research shows a natural connection between the two subjects. The relationship is reciprocal… [like] the chicken and the egg. One cannot exist without the other. The act of writing words… expands the child’s ability to read.”
And if they really take to writing like a hobby, put a journal in their hands. Let them carry it everywhere they go, and encourage them to stop right in the middle of their hippity-hopping tracks and jot down whatever it is that has made an impression on their hearts. Let them add their own doodles and illustrations if they feel so inclined (ok, so pencil and paper, plus crayons or paints or stickers, etcetera… for the ankle-biters who really run with the opportunity).
Writing certainly won’t be every child’s favorite pastime. But think of it this way… every single child has a story to tell, and every single one of those stories is magnificently worthwhile and wonderfully different. As an author, I’ve visited many schools and classrooms to encourage reading and writing, and I can tell you firsthand… the stories your children can weave are truly moving, drawn from the wells of youth and its endless supply of creativity.
I encourage you to put the pencil between their fingers, guide it to the paper, and prepare to be impressed. Be it about the weekend football game, the tree house stunt, the neighborhood dog who barks every time a car drives by, the lunchroom rumpus, the fairy who flutters in the garden, the Olympic gymnast and her lucky, pink and purple leotard, Bob the frog who lives in the creek or the time spent with Grandma counting cars going by from the front porch swing… there is a story that only your child can tell.
From the leaping point, give them the chance to soar beyond the puppy dog clouds, and bless them with the time to do it. You’ll find yourself inspired with your own imagination’s answer when they ask you, “Mommy, what do you see?”
I see no limits, sweet child. And the view from Wonderland, through your imagination-painted glasses, is quite spectacular.
Does your child enjoy writing? If you are a teacher (and thank you for what you do!), do your students enjoy writing? Share your children’s wordly creations with me, and I’d love to post them on the Otis blog, along with your child’s (or your class) picture! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
…at the 25th Annual Dog Days celebration, benefitting the Nashville Humane Association! It’s all happening THIS Saturday, September 20, 10am-4pm, at Centennial Park. Otis will be right in the middle of the action in the Kid Zone (and there will be lots to do there… Otis will watch you bungee jump!). He will be ready to receive all the petting you can share, and we’ll gather ’round for storytime in between all the exciting doggie events on the schedule. We’ll have our books for sale, as well as special edition bookmarks (see below), and we’ll be proudly donating to the NHA. Join us, in honor of your favorite canine companion!
And bring Fido! You two can start the day off with some exercise as proud participants in the fabulous Mutt Strutt. And Fido is a sure candidate for the cutest dog contests, or perhaps the best trick contest, or maybe best pet costume is up your alley… and you definitely need to plan to have your puppy’s portrait made for a keepsake. Join the Paws Parade at Noon, and have your fill of food truck delights while you enjoy live music and shop all the doggie-necessity vendors who will be there. After you admire the amazing K-9 unit demonstrations, it may very well be time to head over to the adoption area and add the perfect family member to your arms.
If you love dogs, then Centennial Park is the place for you to be this Saturday. Otis gives two ears up to the NHA!
Then you need a placeholder between your pages that makes you smile!
Please consider giving $1 or more for this bookmark–any donation amount that makes you feel involved–and 100% of the profits will go straight to the Nashville Humane Association, benefitting dogs just like our beloved Otis (and lots of other animals, too!). How many bookmarks do you need? Email email@example.com and let me know… today!
Pass the word… post it on Facebook… retweet on Twitter… call you animal-loving friends and send them my way. Thank you, in advance, for your help!
It’s another all-American day of observance to pay homage to something fun for everyone… and this time, something delicious! It’s National Bacon Day… and it’s also the first weekend of college football. Coink-y-dink? Surely not!
We’ve already shared a pic of our family with Otis (via Twitter on Thursday), displaying the football team to whom we pledge our loyalty… (click here to see our Rebel family).
So now, here’s Otis and his tribute to Bacon Day. He’s really a good, sweet and patient dog. He deserves every bite, don’t you think? Pick up a copy of his book and find out just how great he really is!
Did everyone have an awesome National Dog Day? Right on the heels of such a fun phenomenon comes this event you won’t want to miss…
Otis proudly invites you and every fabulous fido fan you know to join him at Nashville’s 25th Annual Dog Day Festival on Saturday, September 20, 2014, at Centennial Park! We will be there, and we’ll be donating a portion of all book sales to the Nashville Humane Association.
This charity is close to our hearts because Otis was once a lost dog, waiting on his forever family. He was a pound puppy (originally named, Bear), adopted by some college guys who changed his name to Otis, but did not set out to find him when he wandered off one summer. Otis found us, nosing under the wobbly fence plank that had been weakened by the Nashville floods. A week of searching for his owner concluded with the discovery that his previous owner was neither looking for him nor concerned for his well being, and if Otis came back, he would be returned to the pound for the convenience of the previous owner. Of course, the rest of the story is the beautiful history of how Otis became ours, and we became his. It’s all within the chapters of Otis Goes to School.
Come out and meet this courageous canine at the Dog Day Festival… you’ll love him from first sight!
From now through the day of the Festival, we will be selling special edition bookmarks for $1 each, or any donation you’d like to make, and all the profits will go to the Nashville Humane Association. We will also be hosting book sales to donate part of the proceeds (and 100% of donations) to the NHA.
Here’s the first of several special edition bookmarks… who wants one? You do!
How about an uplifting, encouraging, jump-start-to-gumption word-of-the-day for a Monday? Straight from the Vocabulary of Otis: EPIPHANY.
EPIPHANY: a sudden understanding of something
Chapter 11 of Otis Goes to School is entitled, “Kindergarten.” On his mission to find out what happens at school all day, Otis peers through a window pane and observes a classroom of these baby students:
“He saw his smiling girl in the bunch of fledgling readers, all focused together, waiting for the teacher’s approval in their discoveries of letter sounds that were turning into words before their very eyes. He was witnessing an epiphany, at the spellbinding hands and wise ways of this gentle lady who cared for his girl everyday at School.”
Of course, as one might expect, these young ones are learning to read. Some of them will pick it up quickly, as a second-nature sort of hobby (I have one child who loves to lose himself in words unfolding like a magical red carpet across the page, and has since he began to string letter sounds together.). Some of them might have known how to read before Kindergarten even began. Some will take their sweet time, a gift enjoyed only by children, and pined after by those of us who have braved the phenomenon of adulthood. There will also be those who find no interest at all in the reading skill just yet, who would rather build with blocks, win imaginary Matchbox car races, paint or daydream… at least, for a while (Another of my children fit this bill at this tender age.).
Imagine those precious Kindergarten teachers, evaluating and discerning each child’s reading level, taking those darling little hands at the door as Mom or Dad say goodbye for the day, and leading them into a brand new phase of life. These are days that they will grow exponentially–not always necessarily in body, but in mind. Given the chance to bloom at their own pace, they all will blossom into gardens unimagined, save by the superior and unmatched, imaginative design of the Creator who knit each of them carefully, with more precision than our human minds could possibly comprehend. (Psalm 139:13)
The way the mind of a child works is magnificent, and to witness the lighting of a flame, the flipping of the switch, the lightbulb going on–to see sheer delight spread from ear to ear when those funny-shaped, quirky letters finally jump in line to make a word–is to observe an epiphany.
That said, let us not neglect the many other epiphanies in our little folks’ lives, and mistakenly deny the joy deserved therefor. I have seen such happiness on the face of one proud little fellow at figuring out how the lunch line actually works, and getting it right for the first time. High five, whippersnapper!
I have seen a little girl stand with a bit more confidence, and maybe even a bit taller, when she received an unexpected compliment for her politeness and ability to follow directions and set a fine example. Keep smiling, my dear!
I have watched some pretty fast legs push the limit of “walking” in the hall, out of the pride that comes with the authority to venture all the way to the library alone, choose a book, check it out, and return to class on time. Knew you could, bud!
I’ve hugged one little darling whose tears showed her uncertainty about when Mom would arrive for afternoon pick-up, and then her elated heart and wide spread arms when Mom’s familiar car just so happened to be first in line. So thankful your school day ended with joy, beautiful child!
And how about the dreamy little artist-the one who paints watercolors with a little bit of fairy dust, who can fashion a flower uncannily like Monet? Or, the speedy-footed athlete who can somehow recall more stats than an ESPN commentator on Monday morning? Or, the shy little elfkin who figured out how to string clovers together without breaking a stem? No doubt I could share endless examples worthy of such a word-of-the-day. But you get the picture. Have you experienced the epiphany…?
Could you figure out the lunch line, the library and the pick-up line, all while being polite, following directions, setting an example, painting, playing, keeping your energetic legs from running in the halls, AND learning to read? Could you do it all at age 5 or 6? The fact is, we all had to try, didn’t we? We’ve all been through what our children are learning at this age, though we might not remember it all.
If we were afforded the chance to BE these children, way back when it was our turn, then we were the lucky ones. If you are encouraging and celebrating these childish epiphanies with your children, be they of your own household or your classroom, then your children are the lucky ones. It’s a big deal when they can brush their own teeth. It’s amazing when they spread butter on their own toast. It speaks volumes of their character when they summon the confidence to read in front of the class. And when they learn the joy of showering others with kindness, even before they are asked–well–that epiphany drops seeds that spread like wildfire in the way the Good Lord intended.
It’s a sudden understanding of something. It’s the “sudden” ingredient that makes it stick. Let us celebrate in what seems to be “little things” to us wise-ol’ adults, but what are, to our children, brilliant discoveries of the ways their world works. Let us allow them their epiphanies, and be so very proud of their abilities, personalities and talents. It is ground that must be broken again and again, to each his own path, in his own time.
Sweet, sweet time… would that we all take it like children… and Otis.
Here’s hoping for beautiful epiphanies in your world today, and may you find joy therein. We hope you’ll stay with us as we see just how far @OtisGoes!