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

Legendary College GameDay: Ole Miss vs. Alabama

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!

It's a Great Day to be a Rebel

Writing Into Wonderland

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.

My daughter's journal collection... she started with pretending to write words, and now she fills the pages with "...the breathings of her heart."  William Wordsworth would be so proud.

Our daughter’s journal collection… she started with pretending to write words when she could first hold a pen, and now she fills the pages with “…the breathings of her heart.” William Wordsworth would be so proud. Thank you for letting mommy share your thoughts, dear girl!

“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.Ella writing.2

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).

Our oldest son's journals, full of his remembrances of family times, hopes and dreams.  Thank you for letting me share, sweet son!

Our oldest son’s journals, full of his remembrances of family times, hopes and dreams. Thank you for letting me share, sweet son!

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

Happy wordsmithing!




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.

My child who has the gift of being in this moment and taking her sweet time, reading to her little brother on the first day of summer.  This was an epiphany on many levels! Brother realizes sister can read; Sister realizes how happy Little Brother is when she reads to him; Mommy enjoys a flash in time she won't forget!

My child (who has the gift of being in this moment and taking her sweet time), reading to her little brother on the first day of summer. This was an epiphany on many levels! Brother realizes sister can read; Sister realizes how happy Little Brother is when she reads to him; Mommy enjoys a flash in time she won’t forget!

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!


Catching the breeze on the way to drop the children off on their first day at school.

Catching the breeze on the way to drop the children off on their first day at school.

Noisy Vocabulary

For those of you who enjoy words of the day… here’s a fun one!


School age kids love Chapter 14 of Otis Goes to School.  Midway through the chapter, Otis follows his expert olfactory tracker along the trail of the alluring scent of chicken nuggets and fresh baked cornbread.  Throwing all concerns of remaining undiscovered on his Schooldays investigations, he gobbles up tasty morsels of carelessly dropped lunch crumbs and blows his own cover, much to the glorious shock of a lunchroom full of chatty children:

“The news of a dog in School had spread to the other tables, and the cafeteria cacophony had become an uproarious frenzy.”

Much of the fun of Otis Goes to School is inseparably and entertainingly mingled with the introduction of new words to young readers… exciting words, silly words, fun-to-say words, imagination-stretching words.  To tell a story is one thing, but to tell it with words that catch the reader by surprise and invite them to know more–that is literature.

It is my hope that Otis Goes to School will become a part of the beautiful scores of children’s literature that seamlessly blend reading into the fabric of their personalities, and make them reach for more.

Be sure you are ready for reading with your favorite Otis bookmark, free with any book purchase!

Be sure you are ready for reading with your favorite Otis bookmark, free with any book purchase!

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 II

Otis was overcome with anticipation (and a clear need for even more loving) as we prepared for our second visit to the fabulous Haywood Elementary School.

(Click here for the Part I recap of our first visit.)

To Haywood we go!

To Haywood we go!

Upon our arrival, the ever-gracious, awesome teacher, Miss Jan Crowder, welcomed us to her familiarly colorful, inviting classroom, where we were consumed with hugs and giant smiles, like friends of a lifetime.  And by now, we are!

For this trip, we brought a small entourage… my husband and perfect partner-in-adventure (Robert), my daughter (Ella), my oldest son (Paul Kent), his very cool pal (Noah), and of course, Otis and me.  I could hardly wait to introduce my new friends from around the world to my crew.  It would be a great morning, I just knew it!

Reunions and Introductions! From left, top row: Musharaf, Ella, Miss Crowder, Paul Kent, me, Noah and Robert. From left, bottom row: Fatema, Martin, Omina, Shing, Rayan, and Otis!

Reunions and Introductions!
From left, top row: Musharaf, Ella, Miss Crowder, Paul Kent, me, Noah and Robert.
From left, bottom row: Fatema, Martin, Omina, Shing, Rayan, and Otis!

We arrived a tad bit early, for we wanted some special moments with Miss Crowder and her class.  I wanted each child to know how much I will always treasure their stories they wrote for me. (See Part I)

Would Rayan feel calm in petting Otis this time?

Would Martin’s smile make my heart jump again?

Had Shing learned even more English skills?

Would Omina’s eager eyes still be sparkling?

And sweet Musharaf… would he be afraid of Otis…?

And what about Fatema, who had been absent during our first visit… could we meet her?

All in a whirlwind of introductions and how-are-you’s, my wonderings were answered: Rayan’s confidence glowed… had he grown already?

Martin smiled, and my heart jumped and melted all at the same time.

Shing carried my basket of books and chatted like an old chum.

Omina met me with arms outstretched, full of compliments and stars flashing in her eyes.

Musharaf… no fear, my friend… no fear!  He approached Otis with bravery, hand outstretched, petting him with a gradual crescendo’s release of a boy’s love, like droplet after droplet of waters pushing on the gates of a dam, bursting open because they cannot hold tides that flow forth to drown fears.

And Fatema from the country of Jordan, a pleasure to meet, charmed us with immediate friendship and her outgoing personality.

This world-class family of students and their beloved Miss Crowder led us outside to Haywood’s amphitheater, where 200 first graders and their teachers awaited our arrival!

A sea of oooo's and ahhh's from Haywood's wonderful first graders, anxious for Otis to take the stage!

A sea of oooo’s and ahhh’s from Haywood’s wonderful first graders, anxious for Otis to take the stage!

Where to begin, with 200 wiggly first graders?  ADJECTIVES!  We talked about our great big minds, and our own singularly awesome yarns that we weave with every choice we make. A plane or two flew overhead, and we talked about how HIGH and BIG and FAST and LOUD it was, and how WIDE its wings were.

Who has an imagination?  Who has a story?  That’s right… WE ALL DO!

Both hands up... our imaginations are THAT big!

Both hands up… our imaginations are THAT big!

After revealing the story of how Otis came to our family (see Ancestry of Otis), and how the book came to be (see Synopsis), we read a chapter from Otis Goes to School: “The Playground.”  This particular passage finds Otis knee-deep in his secret school days investigations, observing his best girl on the kindergarten playground.  She is Queen of the Clover for the day, sporting a crown of clover blossoms tied by her maids of merriment.  (And off to my right, another clover queen with a chocolate brown ponytail and a baby blue shirt patiently listened and tied her own crown together… you can see the beginnings of it streaming down from her right hand, in the bottom left of the picture above.)

We read about Otis taking his own turn to zoom down the slide, catching playground zephyrs (see Vocabulary of Otis) in his flapping lips, landing with pride and pomp and circumstance befitting a Clover King, smiling all the way.  We applauded each other, promised to keep dreaming and to put our summer stories to paper, and asked and answered a string of thoughtful, intriguing questions.  This crowd brought their A-game!

And then, they formed a sight that I will always recall with amazement… in Otis Goes to School, Otis observes a “winding caterpillar” of kindergartners moving together in a line, to and from the playground.  On this day, at Haywood Elementary, that very phenomenon came to be, with Otis at the front of the line this time…

That's a lot of loving for one special dog who just happens to deserve all the petting these precious children had to give.

That’s a lot of loving for one special dog, who just happens to deserve all the petting these precious children had to give.


Kids always love to pet Otis, and they love Robert's laugh!  Lots of love, just all the way around.

Kids always love to pet Otis, and they love Robert’s laugh! Lots of love, just all the way around.

These 1st graders were naturally, easily, abundantly friendly and happy.  They high five’d with gusto, hugged without holding back, and shared the light of the world with me and my crew.  By the end of our visit, I had heard from quite a considerable majority of the students that their summer plans now include storytelling and writing, and reading about Otis!  That’s a music-to-my-ears way to end a school visit.

I expect wild creativity and plots that ring true for untarnished young hearts.

I expect the final point of punctuation to be positioned post-tale with pride and purpose.

I expect a lot, because these kids can do it.  These children have a fantastic fire within, and they have the ability to follow their own “what if’s.”

Write on, Haywood 1st graders; write to your heart’s content, with all the adjectives you can conjure up, and then… oh please, and then… do let me read your stories!

And of course, lunchtime called again.  We stretched our goodbyes back through the halls, past several grades’ worth of winding caterpillars, through the front office and out to the parking lot.

IMG_3216IMG_3219Before coming to Haywood, I had no idea what a jewel was tucked into a quiet little Nashville neighborhood.  There is something special about this school, something vibrant and so alive. There is worth and promise and love and lots and lots of good in this school.  There was a display of appreciation for others amongst these students.  They saw their similarities before their differences… and the differences they observed, it seemed they celebrated.  Would that their unintended example be a pattern for us as adults, for our country, for our leaders and the leaders of this world that is so near completely represented within the walls of Haywood…

To see through the eyes of a child, to love with the boundless capacity of a child… we are all born with those gifts.  If we seek the most beautiful words we can find, put them to use in telling our stories, and listen to others as they craft their own, we will experience the kind of joy that lives and breathes and beats in the hearts of Haywood.

Haywood CollageI am so thankful that Haywood is a bright new thread in my ever-lengthening yarns.  I hope that the fall season finds us making plans for more fun together.

But for now… I wish you the greatest, most fun-filled, adventure-packed, water-park-ing-est, popcorn-and-movies-and-bicycles-and-ice-cream-and-firefly-catching-and-porch-sittin’-and-tall-tale-ing-est summer of all!  And you can write.that.down.



(Please click here to read Part I of The Jewels of Haywood Elementary School) 



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!