I'm fascinated by picture books starring unusual protagonists, so today I'm reviewing two books featuring the humble hedgehog, which the dictionary defines as "a small nocturnal Old World mammal with a spiny coat and short legs, able to roll itself into a ball for defense."
In Hedgehog Needs a Hug (Jen Betton, G.P. Putnam's Sons 2018), a hedgehog in need of affection gets rejected by
animal after animal in his quest for a hug. Frightened by Hedgehog's quills, the other animals invent creative excuses to avoid touching Hedgehog, until Hedgehog and Skunk get over their mutual fear of each other and embrace.
I love the rhythmic language in this book: Hedgehog "tip-patter-padded" and Fox moves by "sly-slide-slinking." The message of finding a friend when you least expect it and the warm illustrations combine for a solid debut by author-illustrator Jen Betton.
The title of Hedge Hog (Ashlyn Anstee, Tundra Books, 2018) is a creative play on words: hedgehog is literally a "hog" as he doesn't want to share his home (the hedge) with the other animals. This book is a cute twist on the universal childhood theme of "learning to share" told in simple, straightforward language and adorable illustrations. I especially enjoyed the twist at the end when Hedgehog asks the other animals to call him by his real name, Eugene.
If you'd like more hedgehog fun, consider an art project to make a hedgehog out of leaves.
For more great picture books, check out Susanna Hill's Perfect Picture Books.
Hesitantly, I bring one of the bite-sized, ridged triangles to my lips. “It’s really good,” the woman at the store had told me when she’d noticed me eyeing the odd concoction. Now, I'm not so sure.
I like spicy. I love chocolate. I’m always game for a good dark chocolate with chili peppers. But, Tabasco Brand Spicy Chocolate?
I nibble. After all, a little bit of Tabasco sauce usually does the trick. At first, all I taste is…chocolate of the Dove variety: a perfectly fine store brand that doesn’t ascend to the chocolate heaven heights of some of the more artisanal varieties on the market (at least not to the palate of this chocolate snob.) The taste is good, but it’s a bit waxy and slightly sweeter than I’ve come to like my dark chocolate.
Then the heat hits me. Yowza! The spicy sensation begins at the tip of my tongue, then travels up mid-way…where it seems to stop. As the flavors meld, I start to enjoy this chocolate more and more, enough that I decide to have a second triangle.
My 9-year-old gives it a try and pronounces it “the kind of burning you like.” Yes, I do. In small quantities - meaning the triangular wedges are the perfect size.
Anyone involved in writing children's picture books has heard of Storystorm, founded by the amazing Tara Lazar. Now in its 10th year, this online activity is simple: participants read and comment on a daily blog post by an industry expert and commit to coming up with at least one new picture book idea a day.
The idea (behind generating ideas) is this: if you get your creative juices flowing, you're more likely to write. The more you brainstorm ideas, the more likely you are to come up with some good ones that can be turned into stories. A stockpile of ideas is the surest way to negate the "nothing to write about" excuse (you know, when you try to write, can't think of anything and find yourself mindlessly perusing Facebook.)
Sounds easy, right? Perhaps even too easy. Maybe that's why I'd never participated in the past, despite being aware of Storystorm for at least the past few years. This year, as part of my renewed oommitment to writing, writing, writing, with the goal of getting published, I decided to take part.
What a great decision. it turns out that the experts who contribute to the Storystorm blog have some creative tricks for coming up with ideas. And, I've learned that consciously focusing on generating story ideas makes me more likely to do so. Best of all, I've already done a first draft of one of my ideas that I think has a lot of potential.
Whoo-hoo and thank you, Tara!
During our recent "embrace the cold" family trip to beautiful Banff, Canada, I found myself singing the song "Climb Every Mountain" from the Sound of Music. Now that I'm home, I realize this theme song also applies to the life of a children's picture book writer on the path to publication.
Today, my first "official" day of writing in 2019, I'm close to the top of the mountain. I'm exhilarated about the possibilities. I'm excited about the journey. I'm committed to scaling new heights.
But, as we did on our trek to the top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff, I'll undoubtedly hit a switchback - a part of the path that seems to take me away from where I want to go. I'll need to decide: do I give in or keep moving forward? On our mountain hike, at one point I asked my husband whether our 9-year-old son was going to make it.. After all, we were not yet accustomed to the altitude and 5.5 kilometers up was starting to feel insurmountable. Of course, it wasn't. After we stopped for a snack, we resumed our route with renewed energy.
I will try to remember the mountain when my energy starts to sag or when I doubt that I'll reach my goal of seeing my stories in print. I will stop for a "snack" - whether it's a literal snack of the chocolate I so love or sustenance in the form of reading picture books, exchanging manuscripts with a critique partner or participating in an online writer's forum.
I will keep climbing the mountain.