I have been looking forward to this announcement for MONTHS! The SCBWI Midsouth Region has just announced our first ever Region-sponsored mentoring program.

We have some amazing mentors for this year! Between the six of them, our mentors have published nearly 220 books. They’ve won too many awards to count. They are New York Times bestsellers, Newbery Honor winners, and we might see one or two of them up on the big screen soon!

Even more amazing? They are taking time out of their busy publishing lives to reach out and give a hand up to some of the pre-published authors in the Midsouth! They’ll critique, guide, laugh, cry, and cheer as they join their mentees on the journey to publication.

Where else can you sign up for nine months of star-studded literary greatness?

So, sharpen your pencils, polish your drafts, and get ready to apply to the first ever SCBWI Midsouth mentoring program!

Applications will be accepted October 30, 2019 through November 30, 2019.

Fall Writing Frenzy

Oh my gosh! It was so fun to take a break from everything and write something fun for fall.

Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez at Math is Everywhere is hosting another fun writing contest – just in time for fall! (If you’re inspired to join the fun, you still have a few hours to join in.)

This month’s challenge: Pick one of the fall-themed pictures on Kaitlyn’s website, and write something appropriate for kidlit, 200 words or less.

Here’s the photo I’ve picked:

fall photo

And… here’s the story (coming in at 197 words).

Hickory Dickory Fall

Hickory dickory dee.

A squirrel ran up a tree.

She threw acorns round

All over the ground.

Hickory dickory dee.

Hickory dickory daff.

A chipmunk started to laugh.

“Kate, come out and play

You’ve been working all day.”

Hickory dickory daff.

Hickory dickory duts.

The squirrel collected her nuts.

“When leaves turn to gold

It starts to get cold.”

Hickory dickory duts.

Hickory dickory dip.

Two mice played games with Chip.

They played hide and seek

And splashed in the creek.

Hickory dickory dip.

Hickory dickory day.

Chip begged his friend to play.

“I can’t play with you.

I have more work to do.”

Hickory dickory day.

Hickory dickory date.

Chip pointed and laughed at Kate.

“We’re not friends any more

Now that she’s such a bore.”

Hickory dickory date.

Hickory dickory dite.

The snow fell down one night

Chip shivered and shook

And crept out for a look

Hickory dickory dite.

Hickory dickory dried.

Chip sat in the snow and cried.

“I’ve been searching all day

But the food’s gone away.”

Hickory dickory dried.

Hickory dickory dend.

Kate hugged her dearest friend.

“There’s enough food for two,

And I’ll share it with you.”

Hickory dickory dend.

Ciara & Kaitlyn’s Spring Fling Contest!

This month, we’re ringing in Spring with the Spring Fling Writing Contest! Pick a gif, write a Spring-story, keep it under 150 words. Easy, right?

Uh… no…

But definitely fun and a great way to welcome Spring! (There’s still time to enter if you can write fast–deadline is April 19 at 11:59pm CST!)

So, without further ado, here is my Spring Fling story (135 words):

Animal At The Zoo


First day of Spring.

Trip to the zoo!

Oh no—line too long!

Perch like a flamingo,

Wait like an alligator,

Until tickets bought.

Through the gate.

Hop like a kangaroo,

Parade like an elephant,

Greeting the animals.

Little brother’s cranky.

Squawk like a parrot,

Spit like a camel,

Time for lunch.

Spread out the picnic.

Gobble like a turkey,

Eat like a warthog,

Sandwiches gone.

Can we play?

Swing like a monkey,

Slide like a penguin,



Splash like a duck,

Giggle like a hyena,

Spring rainstorm gone.

Afternoon sillies.

Sneak like a jaguar,

Roll like a panda,

Hide like an ostrich.



Hug like a bear,

Squeeze like a boa constrictor,

It’s okay Mom.

Stretch like a giraffe,

Yawn like a lion,

Sleep like a sloth,

Until the next Spring Day.

Some Valen-tiny Writing

I just love Susanna Leonard Hill and her holiday writing contests!

For Valentine’s Day, she’s asked for stories about guilt. And they have to be “tiny” – 214 words or less.


So, here’s my stab at some Valentiny writing (coming in at 202 words):

Jack Frost’s Valentine

“Cards and chocolate, hearts and love. Phooey.” Jack Frost scowled. “This year, we need a Jack Frosty Valentine’s Day!”

Jack blew his frosty breath harder than ever before. A white cloud of frost and cold covered the town.

Children shivered and froze in place. Adults pulled coats tighter, then froze mid-step. Dogs ran toward home, but froze, icicles dripping from their noses.

“Perfect.” Jack sat on his favorite cloud to watch his frozen Valentine’s Day.

Nothing moved.

“Ha!” Jack shouted. “Every year you exchange cards and candy and hugs. Next year you won’t forget the guy who brings winter!”

Jack watched the town. Even frozen, the children were smiling. The snowballs in their hands were like presents offered to Jack.

Jack squirmed on his cloud. His stomach felt tight. He squeezed his hands together and hung his head. A tear rolled down his cheek.

“I can’t let the kids miss sharing their love with each other,” Jack said. “I have to fix this.”

More tears dripped down his face. Each tear warmed what it touched, thawing the town.

Snowballs flew. Kids finished rolling a giant ball for a snowman.

Jack looked at the smiles on their faces. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” he said.

Thoughts on Traveling to Japan?

We have a trip to Japan scheduled later this year. Folks who know us wonder what we are going to eat – rice, I say!

Japan National Tourism Organization:

Anyway, I’ve found a few amazing ideas for kids to do in Japan: traveling on the bullet train is a MUST (click here for an article about the Shinkansen), and I think we need to take a trip up to see the Jigokudani Monkey Park (check out this article!).

Anyone have other thoughts of what we absolutely HAVE to do while we are in Japan? I would hate to come home and learn about other great opportunities.

Please send your suggestions in the comments or by email! Keep in mind I will have two small kids with me.

Toddlers’ screen time linked to slower speech development, study finds

Moving out of the realm of book reviews for just a brief moment. I have to admit, our family is a little obsessed with this particular topic. Moderating/eliminating screen time for children seems to be something people either believe in or they don’t. It has definitely made a positive difference in our household. 

Here’s yet another reason why folks might want to think twice before raising their kids with their screens…


Children who spent more time with hand-held screens were more likely to exhibit signs of an expressive speech delay, according to a new study from Toronto.

Source: Toddlers’ screen time linked to slower speech development, study finds

Little Free Libraries

I think I’m going to have to get the boys make me one of these when they are playing in the woodworking shop. What a fantastic way to share some great books!

Marcia Strykowski

little-library-public-domainHave you run into any Little Free Libraries in your travels? I love these little boxes of delight scattered across the country and I hope to unveil one of my own someday. In 2009, Todd Bol built a tiny one-room schoolhouse for his mother, a teacher and avid reader. He attached it to the top of a post in his front yard in Wisconsin. Then he filled the little building with books and added a sign saying: Free Books. His little schoolhouse received a very positive response with requests for more. Inspired by this and those who came before them in support of free libraries and ‘take a book, leave a book’ collections, Todd and colleague Rick Brooks soon saw the full potential of this worthy enterprise. From this humble beginning there are now over 40,000 Little Free Libraries across the globe.little-free-lib-1Note the boogie boards used in this little…

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Journey to Oaxaca

Over Thanksgiving, Alex and I went on a research trip for our book. To get the rest of the family to join us, we called it a “family vacation.”

We spent four days in Oaxaca City, Mexico.

We knew there would be a few challenges—none of us know any Spanish (except the little Alex has learned so far at school), and we are still developing a taste for Mexican cuisine. But Alex and I were excited to see where the characters in our book travel.

My husband and I quickly learned that our plan of relying on Alex to translate was not going to work. I knew Alex wasn’t fluent, but figured he would have some Spanish basics down. The first time we looked at him for help, however, he simply shook his head and said: “I just know Spanish songs!” (I’m pretty sure that’s not true, but it meant we were left to muddle through on our own.) Luckily, all of the Oaxacans we met either spoke English or were pretty good at interpreting hand signals!

Oaxaca was simply fabulous! We stayed in the beautiful Hotel CasAntica, which is close to many of the Oaxaca sights, including the Zócalo, the Oaxaca Cathedral, and Iglesia de Santo Domingo.

Hotel CasAntica
Hotel CasAntica
Iglesia de Santo Domingo
Iglesia de Santo Domingo

Oaxaca was founded in the late part of the 15th century by Aztec warriors. It is a gorgeous old city. In the heart of the city, where we were staying, some of the streets are even cobblestone.

As wonderful as Oaxaca City is, the reason for our trip was outside the city, near the little town of Apoala. Even though it is small, Apoala is very important to Oaxacan culture. Oaxacan legend says that Apoala is where the Mixteca people were created.

Looking at Oaxaca and Apoala on a map, they seemed pretty close—just 125 kilometers (a little over 75 miles). So I thought this would be a perfect day (or half-day) trip. But the map didn’t tell me that we would need to drive 42 kilometers (26 miles) of that on a narrow dirt road through the mountains. We drove between 10 and 30 kilometers/hour (and held our breath every time there was a car coming from the opposite direction)! It took three hours to get there.

We finally arrived in Apoala, and a guide took us on a hike to the Cave of the Dark Snake. As soon as we got inside the cave, Alex declared that the long drive was “totally worth it!” After the kids had explored the cave for a while, we continued on to the base of a narrow canyon. A picturesque sight.

After lunch, it was time for a hike to the waterfall—the reason for the research trip. The waterfall was just as amazing as the Oaxaca tourist guide pictures promised. A straight-line waterfall that gushes down to a pool at its base. And that is just one part of this waterfall, which starts higher up the mountain and also continues flowing down the mountainside in smaller waterfalls.

Apoala waterfall

Another highlight of our trip was searching for alebrijes. An alebrije features in our book, and we wanted to find one like it. After searching in many market stalls for a donkey with wings, we finally came upon a donkey (without wings). We explained what we were looking for, and the stall owner said he would just make wings for the donkey and told us to come back the next day!

Here is my donkey alebrije!

My custom-made alebrije
My custom-made alebrije

Alebrijes are wood carvings created in the State of Oaxaca and sold both locally and internationally. They were named after the paper-mache alebrijes of an artist named Pedro Linares (who claimed to be inspired by a dream he had while ill). In creating alebrijes, the Oaxacan wood carvers adopted some of the fantastical influences and bright colors used by Linares in his paper-mache art.

The primary source of income for residents of the State of Oaxaca is tourism. A number of families rely on the proceeds from selling alebrijes to tourists. Wood carving—and now alebrije-making—is a craft passed down through generations, and is something that all members of the family can help with.

Tourists can find alebrijes for sale throughout the markets and at many of the stalls up in the streets.


Our trip was way too short. We missed out on the other great part of Oaxacan tourism—visiting archeological sites. There are many sites in the mountains around the city.

Alex summed it up perfectly on our last night: “It’s too bad we have to leave so soon. Oaxaca is such a beautiful city!” I guess we’ll just need to visit again soon!

The Journey Begins

I’m a writer now.

When I tell others about this new venture, I always begin the tale a few months back—when I just HAD to open my laptop and start drafting. But that’s not the true beginning of the journey, and I haven’t been walking it alone.

The seed for this new adventure was planted shortly after my son, Alex, moved from easy-reader books to chapter books. After reading only a few chapter books with me, Alex was reading them on his own. He quickly began flying through the available books at his reading level.

I soon discovered to my frustration that, while there were any number of easy chapter books about fairies and princesses and ponies, there were far fewer easy chapter books that were designed to appeal to boys. We were fortunate that Alex was reading so early—he was young enough that he was satisfied with the pet-needs-a-home books that the boys in his class turned their noses up at a year or two later. Alex eventually moved out of chapter books and into middle grade books, and found plenty to read there.

Over the next four years, that initial frustration had time to percolate and take shape in my creative subconscious until it was brought back to the surface earlier this year. We have returned to the world of chapter books—this time with my daughter. This go-round, however, we are reveling in the books about fairies, princesses, and ponies. I’m sure we will have read them all before we’re done.

When I returned to the chapter book section of our library, I was reminded of the frustration I felt when Alex was in this phase. Instead of lamenting the lack of options available to boys (and I should note that the variety has grown a bit over the last four years), I realized that I should help fix this problem. And I began to write down the story that had been begging to come out for months.

And so here we are. I’m a writer, and Alex—my sous-chef—is editing drafts, helping to research, and discussing book ideas.

What about those intervening four years? Alex and I have been researching for this for years, we just didn’t realize it. Reading is part of the bedtime routine in our household, and we often find plenty of extra reading time on weekends (and any other time we can fit it in). We read everything from picture books to chapter books to more advanced novels. And above all else, we enjoy that time we spend together.

So this is what I want to share with you in 2 Cooks Crafting Books: Our love of reading and some of the many great books that we find along the way. I’m sure there will be some books that have been around a while, some that are just making it out into the world, and maybe even a few notes from Alex here and there.  Every once in a while, I may sprinkle in a story or two about our own books.

I hope you enjoy our journey.