I welcome every opportunity to talk to students about the importance of literacy. During my recent visit to Trumann Middle School I spoke to an individual literacy class, then to the entire student body. These students ranged from grade 5 through grade 8, and they were a wonderful audience. The students were attentive and respectful. They had thoughtful questions about writing and about The Legend of Sassafras House.
Thank you, Mrs. Inman, for the invitation to meet your students. Also, thanks to the librarian, Mrs. Hamilton, for letting me know the students were lined up the next day to check out The Legend of Sassafras House.
When Christmas shopping for kids from 8 - 12 years, books are always a good choice. Buy The Legend of Sassafras House at Amazon or Barnes and Noble or ask for it at your favorite bookstore. Paperback $8
"The Legend of Sassafras House is a great read for middle school children. It is well written with likable characters and a plot that keeps the reader involved. As a teacher and a parent, I would recommend this book to my students and my kids. I look forward to more from Anita Stafford." --Amazon reviewer "Absolutely delightful book. Great characters and a great story line! Your children should read this one." --Amazon reviewer "Excellent read for middle schoolers, but I enjoyed it too! My 11 year old Grandson loved it and is waiting anxiously for her next book." --Amazon reviewer
I received a warm welcome at Greene County Tech Middle School this week. While there, I shared some writing advice with the literacy classes of Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. DeRoe, and Mrs. McCarroll. I also read a portion from The Legend of Sassafras House to the students. Sixth graders are a delight. They had thoughtful questions, and I enjoyed my day.
November is always a busy month. So far, I've spent more days out of town than at home. Also, I traditionally spend an exorbitant amount of time planning and cooking the Thanksgiving meal. I like to do it, though, because it's a way to express love and caring for my family.
I've allotted part of my November to visit schools to talk to students about writing. I'll share The Legend of Sassafras House with kids from 2nd to 6th grades. The upcoming school visits on my calendar are:
November 13 -- Literacy classes of Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. McCarroll at Greene County Tech Middle School, Paragould, AR
November 28 -- Literacy classes of Mrs. Inman at Trumann Middle School, Trumann, AR
November 30 -- School wide visit at Baldwin Elementary, Paragould, AR
I'm looking forward to all things turkey and school in November.
I'm grateful when people line up to buy The Legend of Sassafras House at a book signing. I'm elated when a reader leaves a review on Amazon or Goodreads. As an author, those things are important to me. Those things make me feel honored and proud to be an author.
Today I've been honored in another way. A student from Marmaduke School, Riley Francis, sent me this artwork. It's a depiction of Treasure the cat from The Legend of Sassafras House. It's also my very first piece of fan art. Without a doubt, I'm going to treasure this drawing of Treasure. Thank you, Riley!
Today I visited Marmaduke Elementary School. I spoke to a group of 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students about writing. I also shared some statistics on the importance of literacy before reading an excerpt from my book, The Legend of Sassafras House. I enjoyed talking with the students. Most of all, I enjoyed their questions. I like the enthusiasm of kids.
One of the teachers at Marmaduke Elementary is a former third grade student of mine. Lindsay Brummett Rippy is now an awesome 5th grade teacher. It's great to see her carrying on the work I loved so much.
I've heard it said that "writing is like telling a joke and having to wait two years to know if it was funny." I've found this to be not far from the truth. I spent about two years working on The Legend of Sassafras House before it was released this year. The book is in the hands of kids now, and their reactions have brought me nothing less than joy.
I did an author visit at Oak Grove Middle School, and the kids there were amazing. They know how to make a person feel like a VIP. Not only were they respectful, they were interested in what I had to say.
Thanks to these OGMS students for welcoming me and for reading The Legend of Sassafras House.
These teachers at Oak Grove Middle School encourage their students to read, read, read. I couldn't be luckier that they are also encouraging them to read my book, The Legend of Sassafras House. Thank you for your support! OGMS rocks!
The book signing event yesterday at the Greene County Library was awesome. I was blown away by the number of people who took time out of their day to stop in for a copy of The Legend of Sassafras House. I enjoyed seeing old friends and making new friends. Thanks to the library staff for their work in promoting and hosting the event, and thanks to the many readers who stopped by my table.
The Legend of Sassafras House, a middle-grade novel, has been released by Dreaming Big Publications. Children from 8 to 12 years who enjoy mystery and adventure will want this book. Ask for it at your favorite bookstore, or find it online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.
Twelve-year-old Kale Flores knows life is not fair. He needs a friend, but more than that, he needs money. When he learns there could be a fortune hidden in the Sassafras house, he thinks his luck may have changed. Never mind the house is supposed to be haunted.
When Jasmine Palmer revealed the legend of Sassafras house to Kale, she never thought it could lead to so much trouble. She says it's a place someone could go into and never come out. Is she right?
The only thing Kale is sure of is that his problems will be solved if he finds the money. He doesn't know the deserted house holds secrets from the past, secrets that are waiting to tangle him in a dangerous web.
One good memory I have of teaching in the elementary school is Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.). There was not an assigned time during the day, instead, we were encouraged to choose random times for the D.E.A.R. activity. Students loved the surprise of being released from their other schoolwork. They also loved getting comfortable with a book for some uninterrupted reading time. This allowed the students to choose their reading material and, I hope, instilled the habit of reading for pleasure every day.
I no longer teach, but I haven't given up my own D.E.A.R. time. In fact, dropping everything to read is what I do best. Sometimes I'll pick up a book, thinking I'll read a couple of chapters, but I don't look up again until the book is finished. I believe I could serve as the poster child for D.E.A.R.
Here are some of my recent D.E.A.R. reads:
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
This is the story of a young black man falsely accused of a crime. He's educated, successful, and a newlywed. But a woman says he's guilty of rape, and the jury accepts her testimony without further evidence. His belief is that his race convicted him. He is sentenced to prison, and the aftermath is well-told with several twists and surprises.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
This is an upper middle-grade novel about friendship and time travel. Not all the characters are who they appear to be. Can something bad be good? It's hard to tell until the ending.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo
This middle-grade book is my new favorite. Every child knows that some toys are more than toys. The story is as touching as The Velveteen Rabbit, but with more adventure. This book evokes emotion and would be a good classroom read aloud.
Each of my recent book selections was the kind that begs to be finished in a sitting, once started. Books like these often keep me up past my bedtime. If you like fiction with a dose of family relationship issues, any one of these books will be a winner.
1. The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve
An intriguing fictional story of a young family woven around the factual 1947 fires that ravaged nine towns in Maine. A young mother must rely on her own wits to save her children from the fire, but she can't save her house or belongings. Grace finds strength she didn't know she possessed, only to be crushed by a husband more devastating than the fire.
2. Effie Mae's Sweet Chariot Ride by Caroline Mims
This book is fiction, but when Effie Mae passes, the story rings true because of the greed family members exhibit over the meager possessions when they assemble to lay her to rest. The pious, the scoundrels, the in-laws and the out-laws all show up, and no one trusts anyone else. No one can imagine why Effie Mae, a woman of limited means, would have hired a lawyer, let alone made a will. This author is a natural storyteller and is also a member of my book club.
3. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
Another work of fiction, but truth about the complex lives of people was portrayed in the relationships. A couple of thoughts I came away with from this book: A perfect looking life may only be an illusion, and your sins will find you out. This book has a bit of everything, including crime, betrayal, romance, and family.
4. In Search of Shiloh by Patricia Clark Blake
The Shiloh series is historical fiction and is authored by a member of my writers' group. Knowing Pat, I expected a good book, but I didn't expect to be mesmerized by the story. The saga begins with a marriage of convenience in Northwest Arkansas in the mid 1800's. A father is on his deathbed, and he wants his only daughter, Laurel, to be taken care of when he's gone. The new bride begins her marriage with this stranger, Mac, by traveling with him across the state to land he owns. Their adventures and encounters make for an entertaining read.
5. The Dream of Shiloh by Patricia Clark Blake
The story continues with the arrival of the couple in Northeast Arkansas. Laurel is accepted as the teacher for the community school. The couple works to build a house and a life, however, with no common background, misunderstanding and disagreements arise. Mac is not sure he can keep his promise to Laurel's father. One thing I enjoyed about both Volume I and Volume II of the Shiloh series was the accuracy of the historical research. With a factual base, the story and the characters come alive. The saga continues, and Pat will soon release the third book in this series.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker
This middle-grade book is about the love between Peter and his pet fox, Pax. When his father enlists in the military, Peter is forced not only to release Pax into the wild, he must also move hundreds of miles away to live with his grandfather. Peter soon realizes he cannot be separated from Pax, so he sets out on foot to find the fox. In the meantime, Pax waits for Peter to return for him, but he must learn to survive. Each of them learn to depend on others along the way. All the while, the war closes in around them.
Insane City by Dave Barry
This book was chosen by my book club, and I might not have found it had it not been on the reading list. It lives up to its name. Everything that happens to Seth on his way to marry Tina verges on insanity. Seemingly, no human could have worse luck, but all the horrible things that happen to Seth might be for the best. With all that he learns about himself, Tina, and her family, Seth is able to live happily ever after.
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate Wishtree was recommended to me by a librarian friend, and it is another middle-grade story. I taught children from this age range, and I love reading their books. This book is about an old tree that serves as a home for many animals. The people of the neighborhood have also used the tree branches to hang their wishes, written on scraps of paper or cloth. When a new family moves into the neighborhood, someone uses the wishtree to send them a hateful message. The animals and the tree are a perfect example of living in harmony despite differences. This book will help children understand the importance of treating others with respect.
Dangerous Instincts by Mary Ellen O'Toole
This non-fiction book is written by a former FBI profiler. I wanted to read it because I wanted to know more about recognizing potentially harmful situations. O'Toole discusses how to size up people in many circumstances. She advises not to rely on the sense of fear alone. Some harmful people do not look or act the part until it's too late. In today's world, it pays to be constantly wary of those around us.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
This was another of my book club reads. It is a story of the French Resistance in WWII, written as historical fiction. This book revealed the role women played in the war effort, and how they managed to live and survive with the German occupation. The hardships were unspeakable, but there were heroines among the women. Some risked their lives, over and over, to help others. This book kept me up way past my bedtime to finish it.
At a friend's invitation, I joined a new book club today. I've been a member of another group for some time, but a person can never belong to too many book clubs, I always say. Book club meetings always remind me of book reports, one of my favorite assignments in school.
This club chooses books a few months ahead, so they gave me the book list for the upcoming meetings. I wanted to get the new books as soon as possible. The bookmobile might have the books I wanted, but it always makes me sad when I have to return a good book. Sometimes I want to read them a second or third time. I decided to make a beeline for the bookstore. Booksellers must love bookworms like me. I like books I can call my own.
I browsed up and down amid the bookshelves. By the time I finished I had selected an armload. I needed my book bag to carry them. At the check-out counter, I added several bookmarks to my purchase. Is it just me, or are people who fold book pages a special kind of barbaric?
Upon returning home, I stacked the new titles between my bookends, being careful not to crease any of the book jackets. My books are almost like friends. I treat them with respect and care. I expect anyone who borrows my books to do the same. In fact, these are my top five rules for loaning out books:
1. Use a bookmark, no bent or creased pages.
2. The borrowed book is not allowed in the bathroom.
3. Please do not use the book as a drink coaster.
4. Do not write or underline in the book.
5. And last of all, please return the book.
Writing tip: Proofread your essays. Be careful not to use the same words over and over, or before you know it you can use the same word 28 times in one article.
This morning as I scanned social media, I noted a number of people bracing themselves for the start of another work week. In fact, Monday was getting bashed with words that ranged from mild dread to outright hatred.
Geez, Louise, someone needs to defend Monday.
Waking up is no harder for me on Monday than any other day. My bed is warm and comfy seven days a week. If not for alarms, my bed and I might never separate. Anyway, until I've had my coffee, I don't know what day it is.
I started loving Mondays when I was a classroom teacher. For reasons I never fully understood, the students worked harder and were more cooperative on Mondays. I have no documented proof of that, but it's true. I began to look forward to Mondays.
There's something exciting about a Monday. It's like a new beginning. The week stretches ahead with blanks to fill in. To-do lists, full of hope, are made. New projects are undertaken. Anything seems possible on Monday.
So, here we are, Monday, my friend. Let's do something great this week.
Thanks to the reign of technology, I no longer lose my grocery list. Ever since my iPhone became the equivalent of another body part, the list goes with me everywhere. I might add or delete items from the list at any time of day, at whatever moment a thought wanders through my brain. Then, when shopping day arrives, the list is up-to-date and in my hand at the store.
I remember days past when I'd get to the grocery store, fumble through my purse, and realize my paper list wasn't with me. A bewildered panic would seize my body as I wandered up and down the aisles, racking my brain to remember what I'd written on the missing list. My only option was to fill the cart with familiar items, hoping some of the things might be what I needed. All the while, I couldn't shake that nagging feeling something was being forgotten.
Of course, something was forgotten. I'd discover what it was much later when the list popped up somewhere at home, taunting me. I could either return to the store or do without.
The present generation can't relate to such an experience. The days of the paper list are over. In fact, why use a list at all? Groceries can be ordered online for pick-up or for home delivery. It's as easy as clicking 'Add to cart'. The process saves so much time and frustration.
At least, it's supposed to. I seem to have less time than ever. I don't know where all the time goes that I'm supposed to be saving. I still meet myself coming and going, and I often work into the wee hours. I have too many appointments, too many unfinished projects, and too many meetings. I'm baffled as to why there's not more free time. I wonder if it would help if I made a list.
My reading selections in January were a mixed lot. I chose one novel, three middle grade novels, and one writing craft book.
Bear Town by Fredrik Backman
I'm a fan of Backman, having read many of his other books. His stories don't always lead where I think they are going, but they lead to the right place. Bear Town is a story of family dysfunction. It's also a story of small town camaraderie and survival with lots of truth and heartbreak.
How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor
This is a story of how a homeless child hatches a plan to get enough money to move her family out of their car and into a house.
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
I'm not sure how I ended up reading so much about this topic in one month, but Crenshaw is also about the struggle of childhood homelessness. An old imaginary friend shows up, uninvited, to help the child through a tough time.
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
This is a must read for elementary students. It's a story of a child with cerebral palsy who is frustrated because she understands words, but she can't respond or communicate with others. Life changes for her when she receives a computer that allows her to communicate, but not everyone is ready to accept that a handicapped child can be "normal".
On Writing by Stephen King
King intertwines his memoir with writing advice in this book. It was an entertaining and useful read.
Sometimes I get excited over the smallest things. When the bookmarks arrived for my upcoming book, The Legend of Sassafras House, I couldn't tear into the box fast enough. It was love at first sight.
New bookmarks have always been a treasure for me, but none so much as these. Nothing could be more beautiful, except the actual book itself, which will be released soon. I keep reminding myself to be patient. Publishing takes time. In the meantime, as I wait to hold my own book in my hands, I'll be marking all my current reads with these beauties.
The Legend of Sassafras House is my debut middle grade novel. While I anticipate seeing the The Legend of Sassafras House in print, I'm diligently working on my next book. But right now, I think I'll spend a little time staring at my new bookmarks.
Today is the last day of January. It's been a long month. Thirty-one days. Six other months of the year have thirty-one days, but only January drags out so long. It could be the freezing temperatures. It could be the biting wind. It could be the absence of sunlight. Whatever the reason, January is longer than any other month. I'm always glad to turn the calendar page and see February ushering in chocolates and roses and love.
I spent this last day of my least favorite month out doing errands. At lunch I ordered a cobb salad with honey mustard dressing. The order taker got everything down, but when she read it back to me, my dressing order came out as "holy mustard". I told her it sounded good. She couldn't stop laughing.
One item on my agenda today was to return some clothing items that didn't fit. I had slacks and a dress for one store and jeans for another. I didn't want to do this chore because my receipts were missing. Losing stuff like receipts is not my custom. I felt bad to ask for a refund without one. But I did it, and I was amazed at the smoothness of the transaction. It was customer service, indeed.
Of course, I turned around and spent my refund. I needed the purse and the sweaters. I tend to freeze year-round, so the sweaters will help keep the chill away. The purse is a beautiful shade of green that has already made me forget January.
All in all, the last day of January was a good day. The people I encountered were pleasant. I finished everything on my checklist. Even the sun was shining. My least favorite month wrapped up on a positive note. What made today better than the thirty dreary days preceding? It had to be the holy mustard. I'll have to remember it for next January.
When it comes to writing for children, Barbara O'Connor just gets it. Unlike most adults, she seems to remember how a child thinks. This ability allows an author to walk in the child's shoes as the story unfolds.
Barbara O'Connor has written a number of novels for middle grade children, and I've become absorbed in each one I've read. In her book, How to Steal a Dog, she combines the reality of being homeless with spunkiness and humor. Georgina lives in a car with her younger brother, Toby, and her mother. She knows it's not normal to live as they do, washing up in service station restrooms. Georgina is afraid someone at school will discover her secret, so she wants to help her struggling mother get enough money to rent a place to live. She hatches a plan to steal a dog, return it to the owner, and collect a fat reward.
Georgina finds Willy, the perfect dog to steal. His owner lives in a big house, and she surmises rich people will pay large rewards. Nothing goes quite as planned, though. What seemed like a good idea turns out to cause all kinds of problems. Georgina wrestles with choosing between right and wrong.
I'd recommend this book for elementary school aged children. It would be eye-opening for more fortunate children to read about Georgina's struggles. It's also the kind of book that makes a wonderful read-aloud in a classroom.
I don't know why people confide in me. They tell me things I have no business knowing. They tell me details I don't want to know. Someone must have plastered a sign on my back inviting strangers to talk to me about private matters.
Listening is something I do well. I've always preferred to listen rather than talk, but maybe we should be introduced before you start spilling your secrets. Some topics require we know each other's names, at least.
I must have been wearing my sign today. Along with other shoppers, I perused the supplement aisle at a pharmacy. A well-groomed, attractive woman nearby snatched a bottle from a lower shelf and held it up in front of my face.
"Cranberry," she said.
I nodded, not knowing where this was going.
"I had terrible bladder and kidney infections before I started taking this. My daughter said I should just drink cranberry juice. Not me, I hate cranberry juice."
I nodded again. I didn't know this woman, but I now know her history with urinary tract ailments.
Something similar happened to me while at the ophthalmologist's office. A woman seated near me related the details of how her son was fired from his job. He held a professional position and had been accused of wrongdoing. I am now privy to who, what, when, where, and why. I hope I'm not called to testify in court.
This sort of thing happens to me often, and I'm always amazed. Are people so lonely they will seek out a stranger and start a narrative about their personal life? What causes such a lack of filter for subject matter? I suppose it's the fault of the sign I wear. Now if I can just get my husband to tell me what he wants for dinner.
Ready or not, 2018 is here. After the hundreds of calendar pages I've turned over, dates don't worry me much any more. Every day is a good day to me, but I do sit up and take notice of a new year. If for no other reason, it's always good to know the year because a nurse or doctor may check my orientation, and I do like to pass tests.
Each year we have to take the bad along with the good, but, wow, it seems like 2017 was extra full of sadness and evil. There are so many things we have no control over, yet we have choices every day that can make a positive difference for ourselves and others.
Here's a list of choices that could prevent at least some of the needless unhappiness and suffering in 2018. Starting with what we can control will make life better for ourselves and those around us.
Drive sober and unimpaired.
On the same note, being distracted while driving is just as dangerous. Put the cell phone away.
Choose kind words.
Be aware that your tone of voice can hurt as much as words.
Talk to your children, and not just to order them around. TALK to them.
Laugh with your children.
Know there are two sides to every story.
Clean up your own messes. Can I get an amen?
Help those who are weaker.
And the gold standard for all circumstances, treat others like you want to be treated.