Tag Archives: Children’s Books

In My Opinion

If you were born and are breathing at this moment, then you have an opinion. It seems as though the advent of the internet, forums, blogs, instant messaging, social media, and the like, have given a larger majority of people a platform on which to express their opinion. Right or wrong, good or bad, we now live in a world of commentators, posts, articles and pins that define how our perfect world should be if it were left up to our singular voice.

The other day, I was counseling one of my children and the words, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all,” popped out of my mouth. This is a go-to phrase I’ve uttered frequently over the years, but in this particular instance, it seemed to carry a bit more weight than normal because I realized that my child was merely expressing his opinion. Therein lies the dilemma of having a voice and an opinion, and the proper balance of the two.

An opinion sums up a person’s view, judgement or belief.  Inherently, there is nothing wrong with an opinion. Yet, you can voice your opinion to one audience on any given day and get a round of applause. Announce the same opinion to a different group and you might get vilified. So is there any safe universal territory when it comes to opinions? Unfortunately, the answer is no. And that fundamental fact is why we will never come together wholly as a human race.

As humans, we group together based on our opinions. Pro-life vs. pro-choice, pro-environment vs. pro-fracking, and so on. As for myself, I adhere to one simple rule when it comes to my opinions…they are mine and mine alone. Unless it goes against a moral code (ex. thou shall not kill), then my opinion is for me to live my life by; I do not force it upon any other adult – period. Just as my child has the right to an unkind word in his opinion, he does not have the right to make anyone else feel inferior, demeaned, or saddened by it should he choose to voice it to the world as a newly dispensed law.

You see, humans can’t come together wholly because of our need to not only have an opinion, but also because of our need to control others and force our opinions on our fellow mankind. We even force it upon Mother Nature. Whether it be through casual conversation or jamming it down someone else’s throat, our egos can’t let go of the fact that although we might have an opinion, it might not be right – or for everyone. Or even valid outside of our mouth.

Within the very definition of an opinion therein lies the conflict – it is a belief or judgement. As a belief, it is a beautiful part of the foundation of you. As a judgement, it can turn ugly and redefine you as inflexible and needing to be in control, no matter the consequence.

If we were to spend more time forming our opinions into tolerant, respectful manifestations of who we are, then there would be a lot less suffering and wars. Maybe leading by force and judgement is not the way to go. Maybe living an opinion sets a better example. Think about zealots solely praying peacefully vs. suicide bombings. How about pro-life activists showing a spared life becoming a life-saving surgeon vs. a picture of a unrelatable fetus on a demonstrator’s sign? How about working through the issues of healthcare with enlightened minds vs. shouting across the aisle like a spoiled child? How about it?

While negative opinions seem to capture more headlines, it is the positive beliefs that, when nurtured, are truly the catalysts for slow and sustainable change.

But then again, that is just my humble opinion.

Peace.

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To a Child: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I am a artist at heart. I majored in it in college (along with marketing) and ended up on a non-fine arts career path. How? Who knows. Life takes over and that’s that. I regret it often, but I love soaking up everything I can from others who chose the path I didn’t. I am especially mesmerized by children’s book illustrators as they have the daunting task of taking a childlike view of the world and translating simple subjects into pieces of art a two-year old can understand. It is truly amazing. Like magic.

So one thing I stress when reading to my children are the emotions, colors, and actions conveyed by the pictures in each book I’m reading. When the words and illustrations blend flawlessly, a masterpiece is created for all to enjoy. Here are some of my favorite children’s illustrators and the reasons why:

Mark Teague is a genius. Anyone who can make a dinosaur so emotive is brilliant. You just want to hug each and every one of them; despite their size, scales, and claws. Felicia Bond uses white like a pro, by pulling her subjects front and center. A giant moose in a teeny tiny sweater is priceless. Sandra Boynton is the queen of simplistic charm. Placing pupils on eyeballs may seem like a mundane task, but those two black dots speak volumes when illustrating a hippo staring quite uncomfortably at his rabbit friend’s broccoli stew – “ew”. Jan Brett has cornered the market on texture. You can actually feel the finely weaved wool of the mitten scratch your eyes. Dr. Seuss is just plain ol’ fun. Not only are his verses rhythmically light and full of dance, his characters are too. Unrealistically curling furry toes to masterful lengths makes all the difference in the world. David Shannon is a nut, and I love it (so does my daughter who makes me read Alice the Fairy every night), and so are his characters. His wild and crazy offline pen marks and self-styled font superbly matches the storyline of each of his books. Last but no least is Eric Carle. With colors and texture, he boils down creatures of all sizes (not literally – ew) to be palatable (double ew) to a toddler who craves predictability.

A great children’s book can convey the story through pictures alone as well. A superb example of this is the book Hug, by Jez Alborough. He says it all via his emotion filled pictures and by only writing the words, “Hug”, “Bobo”, and “Mommy”. Books like these allow the readers – big and small – to become the writers of the storyline. Another good one along this vein is Good Night Gorilla, by Peggy Rathmann. It is a great accomplishment to say so much without saying much at all.

Add to the “life imitating art” file, when my daughter was 2 1/2 years old, she only spoke gibberish. Speech therapy ensued. But she was able to get her intentions across by illustrating them with her body movements. So the pictures in her books were teaching her how to get along in the world, even more so than the words. These wonderfully talented illustrators provided her with valuable tools when everything else seemed to be failing, including myself. She eventually learned to speak, although pronouns are still kicking her butt, but I’ll always delight in the imprint Sandra Boyton’s hippo illustration made on her from day one. That being, she can make her pupils go “hippo sideways” at any given moment to express disgust and annoyance at anything – even broccoli stew.

Peace.

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Rhyme Time Be Mine

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I love poetry, rhymes and any arrangement of words that makes them uplifting and singsongy, or forces my brain to find meaning in each and every verse. I’ve been making cards for my parents and loved ones for what seems like forever. I even applied for my dream job once as a card writer for Hallmark. Too bad they are located 1,500 miles away from me. Stupid logistics.

Anyway, because poems are such a huge part of my life, I wrote twenty-one of them for Theo’s Mythic. Ten as openers for the games Theo confronts, and eleven interspersed throughout the book to engage the reader on a deeper level. Because let’s face it, you can have a lot more fun and infuse oodles more intrigue into a poem than you can into a block of copy. Poems are like the word ninjas of the literary world, fraught with mystery, poise, precision, and a healthy dose of crazy. And I love me some crazy.

A poem that popped into my head after I decided to write a novel for kids is what jumpstarted the premise for Theo’s Mythic. I was fascinated with making the word “only” a surname (I also adore making up names, which will be covered in another blog post – with a cool title name) and hence the Onlys were born. I welcomed the Onlys into this world and introduced them to Theo’s Mythic readers with this poem:

Way up on that lonesome hill

Amongst the craggy trees

There sat a truly precious house

Frail and bent upon a breeze.

 

But in that house a wondrous light

A concert of formidable threads

All softened ethereal collected strands

That held it firm instead.

 

And in that house a fantastic world

Known alone to those who dream it

The few, the far, the in between

Are the Onlys who get to see it.

 

Only the ones that believe in their head

That all things are possible still

Only the ones with imaginary friends

Earn their passage to that hill.

 

The Onlys are perfect

The Onlys are smart

Only the Onlys

Follow their heart.

So fun! And the poem begs the questions, “Who are the Onlys?” “Why are they so smart?” “Where is that awesome house?” and finally, “What the heck does craggy mean?” Is craggy even a word?

Shel Silverstein is a poetic genius and Dr. Seuss certainly knew what he was doing and was the master of whimsical rhyme. Dr. Seuss is one of my all time favorite literary ninjas because he would skewer every word that didn’t have a rhyming partner by making one up – bam! Boy oh boy could he make up the most farcical words, too. Case in point, “shorth” – which, according to Dr. Seuss, “Shorth is better than length.” Short for shortened length – so shorth plays the part beautifully. Curtain close.

Here is another poem from Theo’s Mythic – one of my favorites:

An Only’s clarity frees his mind

Sinking imprints beneath the rind

Removing thoughts of no use or weight

Impressing knowledge to complete a fate

Like a lightning scorch mark on the ground

Like water finding its way around

Not knowledge deferred or misaligned

But truth be told and ideas be mine.

For example, “Like water finding its way around,” means that nothing was getting in the way of Theo absorbing the information he was destined to know. Knowledge would be his as soon as he cleared his mind of all the extra baggage he didn’t need.

Poems are like crafting a well-built house out of carefully selected sticks. By piecing each one together flawlessly, you have constructed not only a place to live, but also a work of art. Verses on canvas that take hold of the beholder and draw them into a deeper and more magical level. The art of the rhyme is like no other because, whether you intend it or not, your brain goes into instinctual meter mode and the pulse of the words click through to a conclusion automatically. A lyrical ride for your senses.

So while Hallmark doesn’t allow telecommuting, I’ve chosen the path of novels to give my poems a home…way up on that lonesome hill, amongst the craggy trees.

Peace.

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Reading to a Motley Crew

Ok, so maybe my kids aren’t rock stars (yet), nor are they bad to the bone, but sometimes trying to read to three different children, at three different levels – and different sexes to boot (picture princesses vs. pirates) – is like reading to a Motley Crew.

With my first son, reading before bedtime when he was little was a treasured block of time I fiercely protected, and I was able to do it with relative ease. Many folks tend to be structured with their first child and I was no exception: dinner, play, bath, books, and then bed. It was as simple as that. I would sit with my legs crisscrossed applesauce on the floor and have him snuggle into my lap. Book in hand, we read and explored every word and picture as one fabulously literate unit.

When my second son came along, I struggled with many of the “second child” questions that accompanied an emotional pregnancy. “How can I love more than one child?” “How will I have time for both?” My eldest wouldn’t hear of not sitting in my lap as we had always done. That was his spot. My lap = his chair. Discussion over. Me holding his new baby brother and reading a book as a now re-configured unit was so not happening.

I wanted to read together as a family, but then realized that I had to divide and conquer for our collective sanity. My eldest wasn’t hearing or learning anything with a screaming baby within earshot; not to mention I felt rushed and stressed. It was ridiculous. So I decided to break routine and find time for both of them separately. It was a light bulb moment in the 100 watt range. And we would explore the world of words until such time as we could come back together without issue.

It was bliss. Each got their own quality reading and snuggle time with mommy and/or daddy. Eventually, we got back to reading together as a group as they outgrew my lap [insert sad mommy face here] and began to take on some of the reading themselves [insert proud mommy face here.]

Then I had to throw a wrench in the reading gears by adding a baby princess in with the pirates who had already put in their time swabbing the deck; thereby setting us in the direction of walking the plank. Like a book, though, out story continues to evolve, add more characters, and develop into different chapters.

The present course takes one of two paths depending on the wind and the night. On some evenings I read to the princess in her room, alone and cuddling one-on-one while the boys pick out their selections in their room. On other nights, we all gather on the floor and take turns reading a book to one another. It is hysterical to hear my daughter “read” when it is her turn – because she can’t yet. It is complete gibberish, but utterly precious. Even the boys laugh at her insistence that what she is “reading” is correct.

So reading to my Motley Crew has been an evolution of good, bad and silly. Some days the one-on-one time works and sometimes it’s a free-for-all. I also try to tailor the book selection to the reading method. So if it is a free-for-all night, then we all dance around like crazy lunatics while I read, “Eight Silly Monkeys.” And sometimes we make up our own stories or act out stories we know by heart.

My family has taken on many forms over the years and so has our reading. The whole beauty of our story is that we can rewrite it to suit our needs. Sometimes our story is fiction, sometimes non-fiction, oftentimes autobiographical, but it is always an appreciation for the written word and the illustrations that bring each and every adventure to life.

While my crew may be motley, I am the captain of this pirate ship, plus one princess, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Argh!

Peace.

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Self-Publishing

As I’ve written in past blog posts, my epiphany to write a book and the words that ensued came quickly and easily. The publishing part, well, did not.

Originally I went the traditional route: I sent query after query to literary agents I was sure would not only be the perfect fit, but also welcome me and Theo’s Mythic with open arms. Each one gushing at my expert writing ability and fighting for a chance to be “the one”. Not.

Side note: I am, and always will be, an eternal optimist.

After some very nice, “No thanks, your book isn’t quite right for my list at this time” replies, I started looking into self-publishing. Was it because I felt defeated, like this was my only option? No. I actually fell into it and realized it gave me something I was yearning for – a chance.

There were a few things I wanted to accomplish with my book and I was blessedly able to bring them to fruition via self-publishing:

  • Use my own illustrator. I wanted to use Jeff Hopkins, because he is a childhood friend and is extremely talented. I knew he would be the perfect fit and I wanted control over defining my mind’s creations onto paper. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, he could do that for me.
  • Write the way I envisioned the words to fall onto the page from day one. I wanted to use words that would challenge today’s commonplace vernacular, and use a non-linear format that would engage and make children’s brain cells work for the reward. I wanted to hand them a great book; a book that would give them the satisfaction of putting all of the pieces together by themselves. Go kids!

Those are the pluses, here is the minus:

  • I’m having a hard time reaching the masses. So now that I’ve accomplished my goals above, I’m seeking a literary agent to help me with the task of getting my book into the hands of many more children via a larger publishing house. Some agents are open to working with self-published titles and some are not. Literary agents are on the fence with this whole new world, and those who have embraced the possibility of the next “big thing” being a self-published title, are the open-minded and truly optimistic folks I’m looking for. I liken it to choosing a toy license. I used to work in licensing at Hasbro and will never forget the day I was watching a hit TV show in the UK for consideration in the US as a toy license. It baffled me. But my wonderful boss and mentor at the time said, “You don’t need to like it or even understand it, the kids do.” I was watching Teletubbies.

So where is the next great book going to come from? Everywhere. There will be titles that go the traditional route, some that come by way of internet exposure, and some that bubble to the surface of the self-published pond.

Again, being an eternal optimist, I am forever grateful that self-publishing gave me the chance. Now I’m hoping my literary agent is sitting on the shore waiting for my bubble to appear.

Peace.

 


Hello? Kids?

ImageI have to say, I am quite social media savvy. That is, if I’m talking to adults. It is a primary part of my day job and I [stupidly] thought it would translate seamlessly to my night job as an author. An author who has penned a book for kids. For kids. One more time…for kids. Who are ten to twelve years old. Do you see my problem? If not, let me explain…

Sure, I’ve been working the social media channels whenever I get the chance; specifically to attract moms and dads – those with influence over my target market. I’ve blessedly made some inroads in rallying the cause of trying to help another mom realize her dream. However, 9 times out of 10, they aren’t the folks reading the book, their child is. So if their child LOVES it, that’s nice, but it more often than not ends there. No word of mouth, no Facebook posting, no Twitter shout-out, no messages blowing up their peeps phones, and no five star reviews on Amazon. Nada, nothing, bupkis.

And the sad part is…I’m DYING to talk to them. Which characters did they like? What did they think of the Monstrosities? Do they think Theo was asleep or awake the whole time? Did they see the twist coming? On and on. Oh sure, I’ve pressed my sons, niece and nephews ad nauseam, but they KNOW me. Don’t get me wrong, their feedback has been invaluable, but I’d love an unbiased chat with a bunch of kids. So much so, I’m going straight to the big guy and have officially put it on my Christmas list. In fact, here is my letter to Santa:

Dear Santa,

Growing up with the last name Rudolph has certainly had its pluses and minuses. Being part Irish, the red nose thing was inevitable (and unfortunate at times.) I powered through, though, and have come to love my name and all that it represents. In fact, it is very deer to my heart.

However, I digress. I am writing because I am now a full fledged adult per my driver’s license and I only want one thing for Christmas – to hear the voices of children who have read my book. To hear their gleeful songs rise up like the Whos in Whoville to a crescendo atop Mt. Crumpit. To see a sparkle in their eyes, their jumpy squirrel bouncing as they retell their favorite part, and their imaginations catch on fire as they play act each and every scene.

Rudolph has seen you through many a storm to brighter skies. I only hope you have it in your big velvet bag to repay the favor to his humble namesake. Please, let me hear the children.

Sincerely,

Cindy Rudolph Barlow

P.S. If you have time to throw world peace in there as well, that would be awesome.

As I sit here staring at my Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Amazon listing, I do so all the while refreshing my browser like a lifelong gambler pulling on a slot machine handle. No triple cherries and no coins pouring forth onto the floor like an endless stream of validation.

So kids, if you are looking for me, please tell me how to play hide and seek. Until I can find my way out of the “ain’t got no feedback” paper bag, know that I’m just sitting here waiting on Santa, hoping that he REALly is all that and a bag of presents. And that he’ll deliver your thoughts to me with a big red bow.

That, or your parents see this blog post and decide to get you a Facebook account based on my plight. For that you can thank me later with a “hey, girl!” direct message and a page like. But only after I’ve asked you a billion questions about the book. And possibly five more questions after that.

Peace.


Are You Smart?

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What defines intelligence? Is it your GPA, IQ score, or merely the fact that you can find your way out of a paper bag with ease? Is it that you know a lot about a little or know a little about a lot? I have thought long and hard about this, simply because I’m saddened by seeing folks be so mean and disrespectful to each other on social media platforms, all in the name of extolling how smart they think they are. And because, to me, kindness outweighs intelligence. So I have a theory on intelligence – or being informed as I prefer to call it. (That is why being “Informed” plays such a big part in Theo’s journey in my book.)

In order to be informed, you need three things: 1) exposure, 2) understanding, and 3) retention.

1) Exposure – unless you have seen, heard or felt it, you wouldn’t know about it. So next time someone doesn’t know what a word means that is commonplace to you, don’t roll your eyeballs and tell them, “How dumb can you be?” Because [gasp] they might have never heard the word before it came out of your mouth. Instead, re-explain what you mean in simpler terms so that they can learn from you. Lift them up.

2) Understanding – I can teach you all day long about the theory of relativity, but if you don’t have the mental capacity to understand what I am teaching you, then you won’t learn it. Everyone’s brain is built a little bit differently. One person may excel at math, while another is excellent at history. Does it make the math person stupid at history or the history person stupid at math? I sure hope not, because then that would mean I’m an absolute idiot at math.

3) Retention – So I spent all day teaching you about the theory of relativity, and while you understood it long enough to take the test and ace it, you forgot all about it in a few years because you went on to be an English scholar, get married and have three beautiful children. Information relative to your everyday life started to imprint on the brain cells previously dedicated to the theory of relativity. Which, ironically, makes intelligent relative, no? So if you were able to retain the information at one point and then not now, does that make you smart then and stupid now? Nah.

That is the beauty of our world. The fact that each of us operates and understands things differently is what adds diversity to our lives. So next time you get annoyed at someone who doesn’t think like you, remember they might be able to school you on how to grow a successful vegetable garden. And if you think they don’t know anything more than you do, then remember that arrogance is uglier than ignorance.

As mentioned, I’ve thought about this more and more lately as I’ve seen examples of one person calling out another on their ignorance. And as I read through my book again and again and see mistake after mistake, I cringe. But then I realize something basic, something important, and something that levels the playing field for all of us – I’m human. Yes, folks, I make mistakes. And I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. More importantly, I will continue to learn and become more informed for the rest of my life as well. If someone wants to point out that I’ve used a semi-colon improperly; (whoops, there it is!) please do so – kindly. I don’t know it all and want to learn more. I want to better myself everyday and inspire those around me to do the same.

Where do I net out on all of this? I think it is more important to be kind than smart – or right. WHOA, STOP THE PRESSES! So am I saying we should give up on grammar, algebra, and the like? Of course not, because that would be stupid. Rather, I believe if we all helped, taught in an inspiring way, and opted for a positive vs. a negative spin on our interactions with others, then we would be in a better place. A place where we can all be smart.

Peace.