“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Mark Twain

2014 in Review

I say this every year (really!) but can you believe this year is over?? Crazy. For me, 2014 was quite a year writing-wise (and otherwise - but I'm not dwelling on that). As is my custom, I thought I would give a bit of a review of the year ending today.

For the first time, I chose one word to focus on for the year. My word was "Content" (stress on the first syllable), and it absolutely challenged, and grew, me in many ways. I may not be more content in my circumstances (like Philippians tells me to be), but I AM more aware of my discontent. That's progress, right? ;)

Seriously, having this word as a theme helped me focus on not striving too much, and accepting where I was and what I could do - with God's power, of course.

I also made a few goals (not resolutions - just FYI) for 2014, pointing toward my new direction and focus as a children's picture book writer. I am listing them below, along with how I did on each.

* Write 12 picture book drafts in 2014 (with help from 12x12 )

I accomplished this goal - finishing my twelfth picture book draft of the year on Sunday, December 29. Most of them are pretty pitiful, and MAYBE one of them is near ready for submission, but you can't fix a blank page. I am QUITE happy with my progress.

* Learn as much about picture book writing as I can

You know how they say your goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-sensitive)? Well, I just (as in a couple of days ago) realized this particular goal is exactly NONE of these.

Despite the faultiness of my target, I'd say I actually did pretty well on this one.
  1. I worked my way through a few craft books specifically for picture book and/or children's book writers (including Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul, The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb, and the Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books by Linda Ashman
  2. I participated in several picture book writing challenges (including Start the Year off Write, ReviMo, RhyPiBoMo, Kidlit Summer School, 12 x 12 and PiBoIdMo
  3. I took a couple of online classes. 
  4. I also joined an online critique group to help me hone my skills
  5. I am a participant in the Debut Picture Book Author Study group (though I did NOT participate every opportunity I could have)
  6. Since April, I have read and taken notes on a relatively current picture book almost every day. 
  7. I also follow several blogs by picture book authors that I am learning much from.
  Maybe not "as much as I can," but I'd say quite a bit!

* Work on writing or revision of a picture book manuscript five days a week minimum

Though I cannot say I did this every single week of 2014, I would estimate (cuz I'm not in the mood to count LOL) that I can count on two hands (maybe even one!) the number of weeks I did NOT meet this goal. Sometimes all I did was cross out one word, or write three, but I was quite good about doing SOMETHING most days.

So, there it is - my 2014 in review. Watch for a post tomorrow (or the next day - will see) with my word and direction for 2015.

How was YOUR 2014?

My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer. Psalm 45:1

A Wild Aussie Christmas - A Holiday Contest Entry

I've spent the past week or so writing this story for Susanna Hill's 4th Annual Holiday Contest (by the way, I "met" Susanna a year ago with the 3rd Annual Contest, which I also entered). The requirements: 350 words or less, written for children (age 12 or under), and where wild weather impacts the holiday.

I will probably (at some point) rework this a bit to make it more of a picture book-type manuscript - so I would love any feedback along those lines. Hope you enjoy the story (and that I didn't make too much of a fool of myself!).

A Wild Aussie Christmas
By Joanne Sher

December in Australia is very different than America. Instead of snowmen, they build sand castles. Rather than sitting by the fire, they get a tan.

December is summer Down Under, and it's often sweltering on Christmas day. But one Aussie Christmastime was very unusual indeed.

The Durvan family was preparing for their annual Christmas eve barbecue on the beach – making dessert and salad and preparing chicken to grill – when little Debbie Durvan darted into the kitchen.

“Mum! Dad! It's snowing outside. It looks like a snowstorm!”

“Snowing? In December? It can't be!”

“Come look.”

And they did.

“Snow for Christmas. Imagine that,” Mum said.

Dad couldn't believe it. “What now? We certainly can't have our family Christmas barbie, or pile the presents under a palm tree in weather like this.”

Mum sighed. “We'll have to try something different.”

“But we've always had a beach Christmas.” Debbie crossed her arms. “It'll be weird to do anything else.”

“Maybe,” Dad said,” but it might be lots of fun. And perhaps we'll find a new tradition.”

“I know!” Debbie piped in. “Instead of making sandcastles, we can build snowmen. And we can sled instead of surf.”

Mum nodded. “And we'll have a fire in the fireplace instead of on the barbie.”

“Of course. I'm guessing he won't be in his swimmers this year, though,” Dad said. “And he might need a snowboard to get here.”

“But how about all the presents?” Debbie asked.

“Oh – maybe a sleigh.” Mom piped in.

Pop's eyes twinkled. “Maybe.”

“It sure will be cold for caroling by candlelight,” Debbie added.

Pop pat Debbie on the back. “We can just wear our winter gear.”

“But what about poor baby Jesus? Won't he be freezing out in the manger this year?” Debbie's eyes dropped.

Mum smiled. “He will have His love to keep Him warm. And besides, He grew up a VERY long time ago. You know that – right?”

Debbie nodded. “And He loves us whatever the weather.”

Even during an Aussie Christmas blizzard.


Make sure you stop by Susanna's blog and read some of the other entries.

My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer. Psalm 45:1

Perfect Picture Book Friday:Brother Sun, Sister Moon

I'm joining with the delightful Susanna Leonard Hill today, sharing a fun picture book I encountered last week for Perfect Picture Book Friday. Thanks, Susanna, for giving us a place to share our favorite picture books! (Check out her ever-expanding list of perfect picture books here - and check out what she, and several others, are adding to the list here at her blog)

I had intended to post this last week, the day after Thanksgiving, because of the gratefulness theme. But last week completely got away from me, so here we go.

Title: Brother Sun, Sister Moon: St. Francis of Assisi's Canticle of the Creatures

Author: "reimagined by" Katherine Paterson

Illustrator: Pamela Dalton

Publisher: Handprint Books, 2011

Age Range: 4-6 years

Theme/Topics: Gratitude, Prayer, Nature

First Page/Spread: "We come to sing a song of praise to you, O God, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, who by your power and out of your love have created all things and called them good."

Synopsis: In Brother Sun, Sister Moon, award-winning author Katherine Paterson re-imagines a hymn of praise originally written by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1224. Illuminated with the exquisite illustrations of cut-paper artist Pamela Dalton, this picture book offers a stunningly beautiful tribute to nature.

Resources: The original prayer/canticle is included in the back of the book to look at. There are some activities related to St. Francis of Assisi at this site. Most nature-related activities would also work, including looking through the gorgeous paper-cut illustrations for specific plants or animals.

Why I LOVE it: The language is absolutely gorgeous, as are the pictures. The prayer itself is just lovely and peaceful.And the whole idea of praising the Lord for nature warmed me - especially at this time of year. It is a lovely story to share about thankfulness (yes - last Friday would have been better - right?)

Hope you'll give this book a look - and check out the OTHER perfect picture books for today at Susanna's blog - and Susanna's ever-growing list of wonderful picture books.

My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer. Psalm 45:1

My One Word: 2016 and 2017

Most who know me know I am a very goal-oriented person (in fact, I already shared my goal wrap-up for 2016 and my new ones for 2017 on this...