Hello Fall, and Granbery Elementary!

September is here!  All has been quiet on the Otis blog for a while, but not behind the scenes.  We’ve been busy working on the sequel to Otis Goes to School, as well as several other new and exciting writing projects… some involving some pretty special canine characters!  We will reveal details as we receive permission to do so, but for now, stay tuned and enjoy this adventure that all started with one dog who needed a home.  We are still visiting schools and reading with students, and our favorite moments are with our young fans. Stay in touch and let us know what you like about #OtisGoestoSchool!

Fall is knocking on the door, and school is back in session! Backpacks and lunchboxes for all the students means daytime naps and eyeballing the clock for the most fabulous hour of the day for Otis.  What is that hour?  3pm, of course. The time his three favorite whippersnappers arrive back home from all that book-learning, ready for snuggles and catch-up hugs from the long school day apart.

But tomorrow won’t allow for a nap for Otis!  On Friday, September 11, we are off to visit Granbery Elementary School in Brentwood, TN.  We will visit with 732 (wowee!!) K-4 graders and gladly spread the notion:

reading is a beautiful way to grow your budding imaginations.

Otis is the special guest for this school’s “Wild About Reading” week, and we couldn’t be more excited.  We are looking forward to our largest crowd yet, and Otis is particularly excited about all the petting and loving.  Thank you for inviting us, Granbery.  We are honored to be WILD with you about #READING!



Southern Festival of Books… check!

We have not yet come down from our experience with the Southern Festival of Books, 2014. What an incredible honor to have been included in such a wonderfully planned, celebrated, and well-attended event. Rain? Yes, there was plenty of that, but my take-away lesson as a rookie SFB2014 author is that true book fans aren’t afraid of a little cloud water.

Otis and I at War Memorial Plaza (left), and the beautiful 2014 poster, signed by all the authors (right)! Check out the name in the lower, middle, right area... so cool!

Otis and I at War Memorial Plaza (left), and the beautiful 2014 poster, signed by all the authors (right)! Check out the name in the lower, middle, right area… so cool!

Parnassus Books was the on site book retailer for featured Festival books, and we felt a swell of pride when a stack of Otis books was placed in the middle of them all.  And of course, Parnassus played their part with all the professionalism, elegance and class for which they are known and loved.

Otis Goes to School at SFB2014

Otis Goes to School at SFB2014

Saturday morning, October 11, my little tight-knit family boarded the Bramlett-mobile, hung out the windows with paddles, and rowed together into Nashville’s downtown.  War Memorial Plaza was a marble and granite-floored sea of bustling excitement and umbrella polka dots, sailing from one book-loving tent to another. I had already discussed with my supportive family the possibility of low attendance, by reason of the weather and the busy weekend.  Delightfully, I could not have been more wrong!

At 1pm, my scheduled time to present Otis Goes to School, the children’s tent was packed (standing-room-only-PACKED) with little eyes of wonderment and hearts a-flutter with sightings of a real, live, fluffy black dog, making his SFB2014 debut.  We shared the story of Otis and how his book came to be.  We read a few chapters for all my new whippersnapper friends, talked about descriptive words and story-telling, handed out bookmarks, and then Otis did his thing with his new stage-induced howl and his charming willingness to sit and be petted and loved on and oooohed and ahhhhhed over. Tough job he has!

We went on to sign books, meet new fans, take pictures, and just flat out enjoyed our day.  Landmark Booksellers, the first bookstore to host a book signing for me (eternally grateful!), was there with treasured antique books and a wealth of knowledge.  And we made a great connection with the super cool book experts from McKay’s Bookstore, including plans for an upcoming Otis event!

I also had the high honor of signing books right next to Southern writer, Rick Bragg, author of Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story (Harper Collins Publishers)… and wouldn’t you know, he loved Otis and took his picture with him too!

Rick Bragg, petting Otis! He reminded him of a dog he had once. Way to go, Otis!

As if we had not yet reached enough stars for the day, we then crossed paths with Pete the Cat (also Harper Collins)!  Children’s literature brings folks and animals of all kinds together.  That was one awesome feline.

Hey Harper Collins: I’m seeing a pattern… maybe we should chat!


My biggest fans, who will go with me anywhere, are my husband and three children.

Rain or shine, sun or snow, they share their love wherever we go.

I am so thankful to have their inspiration, for their heart-generated support, and for their encouragement to keep reaching, keep writing, keep going.  This is a family adventure, this call to write, because it affects each one of us.  I appreciate and love all of you–my Robert, my Paul Kent, my Ella, and my little Preston–beyond any string of words I could ever hope to weave.

My bearded, bowtied husband brings his contagious smile to every event we attend... and he often holds the leash.  And, our three little ones--well, they are golden. Bottom right: Robert and I enjoyed the fantastic Author Party, held at the Waller Lansden law firm and catered deliciously by the Greenhouse.  We met and fellowshipped with some fascinating folks!

My handsome, bearded, bowtied husband brings his contagious smile to every event we attend… and he often holds the leash. And, our three little ones–well, they are golden.
Bottom right: Robert and I enjoyed the fantastic Author Party, held at the Waller Lansden law firm and catered deliciously by the Greenhouse. We met and fellowshipped with some fascinating folks!

Thank you to the Southern Festival of Books, Humanities Tennessee, Parnassus Books, and all the many generous sponsors and donors, for a truly amazing event.  The hospitality was top-notch, the swag was perfect, the organization was flawless, and the fans were devoted!  For me, it will forever be one of those career moments that shines with a special brightness… and I hope it’s the first in a long line of moments together.  SFB2015?  I definitely want to be there.

And for those of you who know us well, and noticed that our schipperke, Oxford, was not in the photos… he’s the only one who stayed home for SFB2014.  What was he doing?  Conjuring up ideas for the sequel.  After all, The Oxford Files, is in the works.  Maybe SFB2015 will be his year…

Oxford... scheming.

Oxford… scheming.

OTIS wants YOU…

…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!

Ad for Southern Festival of Books time slot

Southern Festival of Books

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!

Southern Festival of Books poster image 2014

OGTS new cover pic

Otis goes to the Southern Festival of Books!

That’s right, folks!  That is the great news we received just last week.  Otis, Yours Truly, and this book that was born out of the true story that is our family life (Otis Goes to School)–we have been blessed with an invitation to attend, present and sign at the acclaimed and celebrated Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, Tennessee, October 10-12, 2014.  We are filled with joy and thankfulness, and we hope to see you there.

Spread the word… it’s a fabulous event for all ages.  Otis will be there graciously accepting all the petting you can share.  Otis Goes to School will be available for purchase (by the official retailer of the Festival, Parnassus Books), and I would dearly love to meet you, sign your books and give you the latest bookmark featuring our star, Otis.

Thank you, again and always, for joining us on this never-fails-to-be-interesting journey!

Southern Festival of Books announcement

*Isn’t the poster for the Book Festival just wonderful?!  This year’s Festival art was created by Cage-Free Visual.  Here’s an up close look…

Southern Festival of Books poster image 2014

Please do stay tuned for more specific details about the Festival, our popular words of the day, our school appearances coming up very soon, sneak-peeks of the latest Otis bookmark, and all things literarily-Otis-related.

As the caption of the Festival encourages: celebrate the written word!


Never Give Up.



Sir Winston Churchill, picture from Wikipedia

Sir Winston Churchill, (picture borrowed from Wikipedia)

The courageous concept might have been best addressed by British statesman and historical pillar, Sir Winston Churchill, in his commencement address to the graduating class of Harrow School on October 29, 1941:


“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

Those might be the greatest exceptions, indeed.

And for all the glorious phrases, the delightfully lyrical strings of bolstering, commanding words and the theoretical questions with the stronghold answers of this political powerhouse, the crux of the speech’s message can be summed up in one quality, one adjective, one “way-to-be” in the face of whatever hand life deals.  It is less dramatic and carries less flair, but it’s a fantastic word, nonetheless:


There’s your word for today, straight from the instructions of Sir Winston Churchill, himself… and one soft and furry black dog. (Click here for more vocabulary from Otis Goes to School.)

Of course not.  No, I am not comparing the rollicking adventures and narrow escapes of the loving and lovable Otis to the tumultuous encounters of Churchill and his contemporaries.  But truly, no one explains the meaning of the word, TENACIOUS, better than Churchill.  (For the record, I think Churchill would really like the gumption and moxie of our Otis.)

With respect to Otis Goes to School, the word “tenacious” is found in Chapter 10, “The Playground,” when Otis investigates the goings-on of kindergarten kings and queens, merry maids and pirates.

“Children hid behind Oak tree trunks and appeared again as a burst of energy in a race to make it to the day’s designated home base, safe from tenacious taggers.”

These are taggers who don’t give up!  Reading further, you’ll find these “boisterous boys… chasing imaginary bad guys with convincing hoots and hollers and curved stick-pistols…”

When kids play tag, they absolutely do seem tenacious.  They put their heart into the game, full force, top speed, no-holds-barred.  They do not give up.  They do not give in, but for conviction (when it might not be fair–such as, when playing tag with a younger sibling), good sense (when mom says stop, or the teacher confiscates the stick-pistol, as in Chapter 10)… or if they tag their target!

I think this word is an absolutely perfect word.  It even makes the speaker growl a bit when the word is spoken, perhaps gritting one’s teeth when sounding out those lush syllables of the word.

Let us be tenacious in things worth doing.  

My precious grandaddy always said, “If you are going to do a thing, do it right, do it well, do your best.”  That’s being tenacious.

Otis did not give up in finding a forever family when his former owners had the pound in their plans.  He might not know it, but he was tenacious.

Yours Truly has knocked on many a proverbial door (and some literal ones, too!) to get this book in the hands of someone who could take it to children around the world.  I’ve heard “no,” or “not at this time.”  I’ve heard silence as a gaping response, my least favorite, actually.  But by the grace of God and a boatload of tenacity–those grand moments of being tenacious–Otis Goes to School is really going places!  Good places, like the Alabama Book Festival last spring and bookstores like Landmark Booksellers and Parnassus Books.

And upcoming in October, 2014, Otis Goes to School is appearing at our most exciting break yet.  We will share details as they become available… but you can head on over to our Facebook page for a less-than-subtle hint! (And “like” us while you’re there!)

One thing worth doing, doing well and with all our might: introducing children to their own imaginations, and to the power of beautiful, sensational words to describe their explorations therein.  What would Churchill think of that?  Why, he would most certainly agree, for in the same speech of 1941, he declared, “…without imagination not much can be done.”  Of course, he was specifically referring to the imaginations of the people of his day who would lift the world from its own peril in the battle-ridden years which then lay before him and this class of graduates on the brink of their lives.  (You can read this famous speech in its entirety, and learn all about Sir Churchill by visiting the website, www.winstonchurchill.org.)

But the sentiment remains, and is worth pursuing, today and always.  BE TENACIOUS.





Otis the Mustang – Part TWO

Following our fine experiences as Chapel guests of the Lipscomb Academy pre-K/K and third grade Book Day readers (click here for Otis the Mustang, Part ONE), we found ourselves welcomed with a perfect poster and sweeping seas of smiles by the seriously sensational second graders (Don’t you love alliteration?  I do, dearly, for double the delight and dazzle… click here for more Vocabulary of Otis.).

Welcome, Otis!

Welcome, Otis!

The absolutely fantastic Mrs. Lankford of second grade made us feel quite at home… and a homecoming, indeed, it was, as our oldest is a graduate of her class.  If every elementary ankle-biter could experience a Mrs. Lankford, somewhere along the way of their schooling, well… this world would just be a finer place all together!  She inspired Chapter 16, near the end of the book, because my oldest was wrapping up his second grade year with her when I completed the manuscript for Otis Goes to School.

All four classes of second grade, and all their amazing teachers, filed into our hostess’s classroom.  They spotted the star–Otis, of course–and there was immediate mutual love between these children and this canine.  After a little background about creative writing, book planning and production, and the sentimental history of Otis, we dove into two of the chapters between the front and back covers of Otis Goes to School.

Hands of the sensational sea of second graders!

Hands of the sensational sea of second graders!

I chose Chapter 13, “Pond-Dog,” for this bunch.  There is a particular water feature around which the happenings of this chapter take place, and it sits just behind the second grade classrooms, so I knew Otis’s discoveries thereabout would prove extra special, and would ring that bell of familiarity with ease and recognizable description.

And just as I suspected, they did not disappoint.  They recognized the pond immediately, and that perfect likeness to Otis therein, as well.

Otis sat, and then stood, and then sat and stood again, and Pond-Dog did the same. Otis panted and sneeze-barked, and snorted a friendly hello, and Pond-Dog did the same. A lovely water-butterfly danced in the air just above Pond-Dog’s ears, and much to his surprise when he looked up, there was a Monarch dancing above his own ears! Otis watched his cotton-ball clouds float to the east, and noticed the pond-clouds did the same. He wondered if they eventually met somewhere far away on the horizon, wherever it is that clouds go.

“…wherever it is that clouds go.” Ahhh, these little ones, they went right along with us, searching our imaginations for those very clouds.  We deeply enjoyed all the interest and intensity these second graders exuded.  For the Lipscomb set, they might just take the cake for “most into-the-story!”

Of course, we topped it off with Chapter 14, “Lunch.”  And good timing, because that’s just what they were ready for!

Distracted from his stealthy-ness by his newfound buffet line, Otis brushed against the legs of the cornbread girl, and his soft fur tickled her knees. She lowered her head and peered under the table, still laughing along with her friends, and spotted Otis, who paused with a deer-in-the-headlight expression.

“A dog!” the girl called loudly to her friend. “Y’all look at the dog under the table!”

And they all swiveled and twisted on their stools to crouch down for a better look, raising the noise-level all the while.

“Oh my, it IS a dog!” one girl exclaimed.

“He’s cute!” another declared. Well that was surely a nice thing to say.

“Dude, that’s awesome–a dog in School. Hey, feed him my carrots!” a goofy boy insisted, holding down a bright orange carrot between his finger and thumb.

“Hey, that’s that dog that hangs out the window every afternoon in the pick-up line!”

“Naw, can’t be, somebody tell the teachers…”

“Here boy, have a nugget!”

Otis grabbed the carrot and the nugget and kept moving forward under the table. Yep, he had been discovered, but it was worth it. Lunch had been spectacular. Students petted him and scratched his ears as he stepped over feet and lunchboxes. The commotion had drawn the attention of the teachers at this point, but it was nearly impossible to contain the excitement of children who had just found a big black dog under their lunch table.

There were squeals and hollering and he knew he heard his name several times. More food appeared under the table, served in the palms of chuckling children. “That’s Otis!” someone insisted…

See you in the pick-up line, second-grade.  You are always the BEST at waving to Otis in the afternoons.  He’s extra happy and shows off that polka-dotted pant in a large way when you greet him coming around that curve.

Mrs. Lankford's 2014 second graders!

Mrs. Lankford’s 2014 second graders!

Otis enjoyed every second of the second grade’s petting.

To the First Grade!

And less than 24 hours later, we were welcomed into the first grade classrooms, and into the extra huggable arms of these bright and dear young ones.  You do know, first grade is training ground for the best huggers of the future.  I don’t remember when I’ve received better hugs than in first grade classrooms.  These students are still the age of love in its most pure, childlike form, and they give it freely to those who look upon them with likewise admiration and appreciation (…and they do admire alliteration!).

Perhaps all the hugs are why these teachers smile so easily, so readily, even (perhaps, especially) upon the little learners who might challenge the very patience of Job with their wiggly-ness and unable-to-stop-talking-for-one-blessed-moment-ness.  There are first graders who follow the playbook as though life depends upon successful tippy-toeing between the clearly explained bylaws of first grade.  And then… and then… they are those who run haphazardly through the bylaws, past all the exceptions and clear into the unchartered territory of the first grader’s inquisitively insistent, “…but why?” (Thank you to my children’s Uncle LaGard Smith, for that succinct yet ridiculously accurate two-word summation of the ever wondering six-year-old’s favorite question.)

How do I know, you ask?  Let’s just say, the blessing of raising three children (three vastly different little Bramletts, who artfully resemble each other in looks, yet somehow encompass the full spectrum of personality possibilities within this gene pool) comes with the revelation that truly, no two children are alike, nor should they be.  They definitely approach the playbook from all angles.  And first-grade-caliber hugs help smooth those angles, no doubt here.

How else do I know?  It might be duly noted that Yours Truly, when in first grade, loved school deeply, and was often ready with some profound (wink) answer and exuberantly raised hand… it is possible that said hand might have been waving rapidly back and forth with ferocious first-grade fervor, and that the thumb and tall-man finger may have been snapped a time or two (or three) to grab my dear Mrs. Snellgrove’s attention, so that the enlightened answer/revelation/story might gush forth from the two little pink inward-squeezed lips of this overly excited only-child who scoffed at by-laws and exceptions where spotlight was available.  But I gave great hugs, and Mrs. Snellgrove was always smiling!  

Yours Truly, sometime around my first grade year.

Yours Truly, sometime around my first grade year.

(Thank you for your patience, Mrs. Snellgrove!)

First graders are exceedingly different and beautiful, but they all hug with wild abandon, with tremendous gusto… and with some pretty strong muscles, too, I might add!  These first graders lived up to their high heights of huggability, and ended our 2014 Lipscomb Academy visits with love to last us through the summer.

We were hosted by the very sweet, very gentle and dear Mrs. Woodard, who blessed our oldest two children with her knack for encouraging young readers, her soft voice, and her ever-caring gaze upon the lot of those under her tutelage.  Her wonderful, fellow hugged-to-the-max teachers and all the first graders joined us for a reading of the Spring volume of Ella and the Little Red Wagon (quite special, since this was a visit to our very own Ella’s classroom and grade) and Chapter 12, of Otis Goes to School: “The Spelling Test.”

This chapter is based on Mrs. Woodard and her classroom specifically, so these darlings followed right along with all the rituals of the spelling test described… all the knee-bouncing, eraser-to-the-forehead thinking, the clock ticking, the bottom-lip-biting and uplifting teacher-given winks of encouragement.  They were right there with me, right there with Otis as he reassures Chapter 12’s first-grader in his spelling of the last word of the test… “DOG.”

Otis was glad the word had not been CAT, as he would have been no help there.

The first graders!

The first graders!

I was so happy to know that just about all these students were ready to get to work on their own stories, their own written adventures of imagination.  They also shared much with us about their own dogs and other pets who resemble Otis.  And the beauty in that strong compulsion to share the first thought that comes along is the innocent and immediate reminder that children of this age have their worlds before them.  They are sitting at start, fumbling for their own sets of keys to the ignition of imagination, and all their engines are Formula-One-worthy.  Their potential is boundless, untold and yet-to-be.

That’s why they hug with all their might… because they don’t know “can’t.”

It’s a great thing not to know the meaning of the word, “can’t.”  Personally, and in my house, it’s the equivalent of a forbidden four-letter word.  “Can’t,” just provokes me, really, and I’m sure my patient husband–who would make Job proud–would agree wholeheartedly.  To me, “can’t,” evokes the opposing response of, “wanna bet?”

Actually, the more typical response of this author to the atrocious contraction, “can’t,” is more along the lines of a raised right eyebrow, an ever-so-slight smile with a set jaw and hidden, clenched teeth, nose flared in the fashion of family decent, eyes flashing and scarcely squinted, excessively focused and bluer than before the inherent challenge.  I think my husband concurrently shows both eyebrows raised high to wrinkle his concerned forehead, a gritted smile in the oh-boy-here-it-comes fashion, and a tense oh-man-what-path-are-we-about-to-embark-upon sensation.  It always works out swimmingly, though, because “can’t,” just won’t do.

These first graders have the right idea.  Keep hugging with all your heart and might.

Keep answering that call to tell your own tale, and tell it well (don’t forget your adjectives!).

Never learn the meaning of the word, “can’t.”  Step right over it, because you can.

Otis time is special time.

Otis time is special time.

I look forward to keeping up with all the Mustangs.  And I can hardly wait to see how you’ve all grown by next year.  It’s summertime, so I’m hoping your adventures are laying ground to stories you’ll share with me, upon our next gathering together.

To all of the Lipscomb Academy teachers who invited me, my husband, our dog, family and book into your classrooms, bless you and thank you.  Thank you all for what you do everyday, for showing up with excitement, for inspiring our children, for being everything that you are to your own families and then pulling even more from your hearts to share with your students and all their families.  Our experiences with your students shall be forever treasured, keeping our hearts full with happy thoughts.

And selfishly, we can’t help but hope for more of the same.

God bless you Mustangs, as you have all greatly blessed us.  Have a summerload of fun!


Two of my sweets: Robert and Otis.

Two of my sweets: Robert and Otis.


For more excerpts from Otis Goes to School, click here!

To find out how/where you can purchase a book or schedule an appearance, click here!

UPDATE: Here’s a couple of treasures given to me by students after our first grade visit… I love the artwork, and the thought behind the stories!  Thank you to Scout and Esme for sharing your talents with me!  I’ll treasure them always.

Thank you for the colorful picture, Esme!

Thank you for the colorful picture, Esme!


Great story, Scout!  I love the way you describe your day with Ella at school.  I know you have fun!

Great story, Scout! I love the way you describe your day with Ella at school. I know you have fun!


Otis the Mustang — Part ONE

*Please click here for Otis the Mustang — Part TWO, the second and first grades.*

Lipscomb Academy–to which my family still fondly refers as David Lipscomb, to pay homage to the school’s history as well as my sweet husband’s “Lifer” status (K-College)–has all but made a Mustang out of the certain canine for which this site is particularly designed to promote.

This spring found Otis at many an elementary school, even more than once at a couple of them… and Lipscomb invited Otis to visit almost every grade!  He made appearances for the pre-K and Kindergartners, and the 1st – 3rd grades.  The only students we missed were the pre-1st students (most of whom met Otis last year when he visited the Kindergarten), and the 4th graders (who all met Otis at last year’s Book Day).  Needless to say, though say it we must… Otis feels right at home in the classrooms of the Brewer Campus of Lipscomb Academy (David Lipscomb Campus School, for the Mustangs who go back that far.).

All dressed... white fur tie in place under the Lipscomb jersey, of course.

All dressed… white fur tie in place under the Lipscomb jersey, of course.

Of course, Lipscomb is quite special to our family, and to the book, Otis Goes to School.  After all, the chapters describe the very walls and halls of the building, the trees of the playgrounds, and even the goldfish pond behind the second grade classrooms.

When Otis goes for a ride to gather the two oldest of his three favorite children, it’s the Lipscomb pick-up line he knows best.  It’s the scents of lunch from waving hands and post-P.E. students that he recognizes.  He knows the security guards and teachers, and when to brace for the sharp turn to enter/exit the parking lot.  Lipscomb is another home for this dog, and because we live so close, he can probably smell it with his expert olfactory tracker from his very own backyard.

So we thoroughly enjoyed all the familiar faces (and new ones as well) that we saw at our first spring visit to Lipscomb: pre-K and Kindergarten Chapel!  Because this set was much younger, and because this was time set aside for a message sharing God’s love and creation, we read from the Ella and the Little Red Wagon series.  It being spring, we of course chose the Spring volume.

Ella and the Little Red Wagon - SPRING COVER

Ella and the Little Red WagonSpring (Not yet in stores, but coming soon!)

Lucky for me, my Ella’s first grade teacher let her tag along and introduce the book (and Otis) to the nearly 80 students present that day.  The little ones loved making the connection between a character in a book, and their real-life versions right in front of them.

The Ella series is all about discovering God’s world around us. With Otis as her faithful sidekick, Ella finds outdoor treasures of all sizes and shapes, and gathers them in her wagon.  She finds that these gems are sent to us as little reminders of the current season, and how much care God puts into each detail.

Ahhh… if He puts such focus into the tiniest of dappled freckles in the center of the tulip, or the dash of red on the robin’s breast, or the perfect pop of yellow on the bumblebee’s stripes, then how much–oh, how very much–love and attention and care He must put into each one of us.

No doubt, Ella’s favorite treasure in the book is Otis, so she gives him a ride in the wagon, too… a point certainly not lost on our very sharp and attentive pre-K/K audience.

We also read from Hello World, and remembered the importance of noticing everything around us.  It is most refreshing to see through the eyes of the youngest readers… these wide-eyed, clean-canvassed little thinkers.  Our youngest son, now age 3, says “Hello,” to everything… “Hello airplane, hello school bus, hello cloud… hello, Otis!”  Therein lies the inspiration for this picture book.

Hello World Book Cover

Hello World (Not yet in stores, but also coming soon.)

HW pgs34-35

Oh, these pre-k/K-ers had such wonderful questions!  We chatted about how to make a book, how to put all the pieces together, how to know what to write about, and when the story is finished.  We talked about Otis, and his history before joining our family.  And we talked, of course, about writing our own stories.

Who has a story?  Who has an imagination?  That’s right, littlest Lipscomb darlings… just like Haywood and St. Paul and Judson realized… we ALL do.  And I thank you so much for being a part of mine!

We made it into the grades' newsletter for May, put together by the teacher who so graciously invited us to speak in Chapel, Mrs. Austin!

We made it into the grades’ newsletter for May, put together by the teacher who so graciously invited us to speak in Chapel, Mrs. Austin!


The children were so patient and tender with Otis, and he loved every moment of lovin' these students could share!

The children were so patient and tender with Otis, and he loved every moment of lovin’ these students could share!

THANK YOU to the Mustang pre-K and Kindergarten classes!!  We had a wonderful morning with you, and we hope you’ll have us back next year!



Numerically speaking, 1st grade would come next… but Otis made the leap to third grade for the calendar’s sake.  For the second year in a row, we were invited to speak and read for Lipscomb Academy’s Third Grade Book Day!  This year was extra special, because our oldest son, Paul Kent, was an official third grader.  Students and teachers celebrate the day by dressing as their favorite storybook character, and my boy went as “himself.”  He is, after all, the “oldest boy” in Otis Goes to School.

Another reason for the extra special-ness of the day is that last year, when I read this book to the then-third graders, it was in the form of a 3-ring binder.  I had written the full manuscript in ink/pencil/crayon/marker–whatever I could grab that would write at the time–and I typed it into my computer, printed it out, punched holes with my lawyer-husband’s three-hole punch, clicked the rings closed, slapped a title page on the front and made my way as a fledgling author with tummy butterflies and a here-goes-everything approach, to my first appearance at Book Day.

Last year's Third Grade Book Day (2013)... a helpful parent keeps Otis in check while he gets his first dose of lovin' as a real life storybook character.

Last year’s Third Grade Book Day (2013)… a helpful parent keeps Otis in check while he gets his first dose of lovin’ as a real life storybook character.

This year, I was able to show the students a real book.  I held in my hands many months of work, of late hours, of doing and redoing and scrapping and re-redoing until the cover was just right.  I held in my hands the finished product of last year’s infant of a book, in its cradle of a binder closed with crossed fingers, hopes and prayers.  Last year’s third graders are this year’s seniors of the elementary school, and I remember them listening intently, responding to the character of Otis, and high-fiving me in the halls for the remainder of last spring, saying, “Hey, you read about Otis to us!  Is it in the library yet?”

Those comments encouraged me forth, and made me unable to hide a smile that foretells what I do hope for: that this book, all my books-in-the-works and books-to-be-thought-of, might be in that library, in libraries everywhere, in bookstores everywhere, in homes around the world, and most importantly for my children’s books, at home in the hands of a little one learning to follow the call of his or her imagination.

I brought the 3-ring binder and the finished, bookstore-ready copy to share with this year’s third grade… my oldest sitting close beside, my supportive husband keeping Otis calm, and my sweet girl beaming at being included in big brother’s class event (Preston was having a big time on a playdate with a pal, having had plenty of personal Otis-time before breakfast). Joy, it was, to hold proof in hand (there’s the lawyer in me) that hard work really does what the old saying indicates… it pays off.  It makes a difference.  It means everything.

Thank you, Mrs. Sanders and all the third grade teachers and students, for inviting us to return to Third Grade Book Day!  I’m hoping to share something brand new next year, if you’ll have us back!

This year's Third Grade Book Day (2014).  Now this is a bunch of characters!

This year’s Third Grade Book Day (2014). Now this is a bunch of characters!

Pre-K/K and Third Grade Book Day… Otis was just getting started!  There’s more?  Why of course, there’s always more in the experience of the long-winded writer.  Second and first grade stories are coming up… in that very order.

Please click here for PART TWO of Otis the Mustang, the second and first grades.


The Jewels of Haywood Elementary School — Part I

Otis has been around the world today!

Better stated… today, Otis was loved and hugged and smooched and squeezed by children from all over this planet, right here in the heart of Nashville.  Today, we visited Haywood Elementary School, for the second time in two weeks (Click here for the Part II recap).

On both trips, we were met with such love, such excitement and interest.

On both trips, we made beautiful new friends.

On both trips, we were blessed.

For a mere peek into the remarkable wonders of Haywood, read forth…

Our first visit to Haywood Elementary School, visiting with Miss Jan Crowder's 1st and 2nd graders, for whom English is a second language.  What precious children, and what a loving teacher!

Our first visit to Haywood Elementary School, visiting with Miss Jan Crowder’s 1st and 2nd graders, for whom English is a second language. What precious children, and what a loving teacher!

The photograph above includes children from Egypt, Burma, Somalia, Iraq and Uzbekistan! (The country of Jordan is also represented, but the student from Jordan was home sick on this day.  She is in Part II of this story though, back and well for our second visit!)

Miss Jan Crowder and her class greeted us with graceful manners, helpful hands, and promising imaginations.  We gathered in the cozy library, and read aloud the Spelling Test chapter, together.

They sat close… some close enough to reach a fingertip to pet Otis while they listened.

They scooted closer… close enough to share impromptu hugs with me, and exuberant smiles certainly drawn by the unparalleled hands of God above.

They looked right into my eyes, because they are so curious, so ready for knowledge, so honest and innocent to worldly concerns, even though they represent just that: the world.

One smiling boy touched Otis, and jumped back, testing and conquering his own apprehension.

One brown-eyed fellow beamed joy and happiness with a darling grin that I won’t forget.

One studious chap followed along, word-for-word, showing his skill in mastering English.

One pretty, smart girl bounced around me with delight and zest for life.

One precious child kept a distance from Otis, his fear of dogs shown on his face. (Remember this boy… I’ll return to him momentarily.)

Such patience and interest in these darlings!

Such patience and interest in these darlings!

Eyes-to-eyes and heart-to-heart.

Eyes-to-eyes and heart-to-heart.

We talked about our imaginations and our own stories.  We talked about adjectives and the power of descriptive words.  We celebrated the fact that all of our stories are different, and all worth telling with the most beautiful words we can muster.

Lunchtime scents finally found their ways into the halls, signaling the end of our time together.  After all the hugs we could fit into our affectionate goodbyes, we parted ways for the day, their promises of telling their own unique stories, echoing in my mind.

Otis was happy with all the loving of the morning, and I was touched by the connection Miss Crowder had with this class that she so expertly fashioned into a family.  She found herself at the beginning of the school year with the world’s children at her feet, and six different language barriers between them.  Such hurdles are no match for Miss Crowder’s dedication, devotion and true love for these youngsters.

And now… these students and their teacher–this family–moves as one unit, with respect and patience and order, with manners and politeness, with concern and time for each other… all with beautiful English and ambition for excellence!  Like polished jewels of the earth, these students reflect the care Miss Crowder brings from her heart, every single day, and I could see that they were all blessings to each other.  To be included in the morning’s study with this class was a gift, for Otis and for me.

Only a few days later, Miss Crowder hand-delivered those promised stories to me.  I was speechless, holding true treasures in my hands.

"I love you Otis."

“I love you Otis.”

"I like Otis. I like Mrs. Ashley."

“I like Otis.
I like Mrs. Ashley.”

"Otis is smart. Otis is good smell."

“Otis is smart.
Otis is good smell.”

"Otis is smart. He can hear you. He is good dog. Otis is best dog."

“Otis is smart. He can hear you. He is good dog. Otis is best dog.”

And from the little fellow who was afraid… he rose above that fear, just as the twinkle in his eye promised he would.  Fear, to anyone, is a hindrance.  But to a child, an 8-year old, in a faraway country, nowhere near his Somalian home, communicating in his second language, already overcoming so much… a fear could be paralyzing.  This boy paused before his fear, calculated his own source of courage, and waited patiently while it swelled within his lion’s heart.

Though he did not need to apologize for his apprehension around dogs, he did, within his handwritten story (below).  I smiled with a furrowed brow when I read his words.  If I could just reach through his sentiments with a hug and assurance that I understood, and to tell him not to fret…

I would get that chance, in fact.

"I love Otis so much. I want to be friends Otis. I want to say I'm sorry because I was afraid."

“I love Otis so much.
I want to be friends Otis.
I want to say I’m sorry because I was afraid.”

Needless to say, Otis and I could hardly wait to return to Haywood Elementary.

Click here to read further about the Jewels of Haywood Elementary School — Part II200 1st graders and no fears in sight!