Rocky’s Tale: Couch Pup to Mountaineer

Dog Superman GIF from Tenor.com

I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring again this year for the Spring Fling Kidlit Contest. Click here to learn more about this fun contest, and the wonderful folks who put many hours of their time into making it happen! Thank you to the amazing Kaitlyn Sanchez and Ciara O’Neal and ALL of the generous prize donors!

Rocky’s Tale: Couch Pup to Mountaineer

150 words

“Just a week until spring break in the mountains, Rocky!” My person says, scratching my belly.

The mountains? This couch pup better get in shape!
I make a daily schedule:

  1. Cut back on kibble
  2. Hit the treadmill
  3. Drink lots of water (Thank goodness there’s a doggie door!)
  4. Chase tail 3 times
  5. Chase squirrels around backyard
  6. 30 doggie push-ups
  7. Cut back to 5 naps
  8. No looking pitiful to score treats

I stick to my schedule—even #8!
I’m ready. A champion mountain dog. Super Rocky.
We’re finally on the road…
I yodel out the window. “Rodel-ray-re-roo!”

Finally, the car stops at a cabin.

I survey my new domain.
TV, check.
Comfy couch, check.
Treacherous hiking trails… Nope!

My kind of place!
I shamelessly beg for treats until my belly’s full, then snuggle into the couch.
Nap time.
Maybe we’ll have steak for dinner.

The First Step

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So, The Fall Writing Frenzy challenges keep coming! Kaitlyn Sanchez, one of the contest organizers, posted this challenge: take a line from your original story and create a whole new story from that line. As before, we’d love for you to share with our community by posting to your blog and sharing using the #FallWritingFrenzy hashtag!

So, here’s my effort, coming in at just under 200 words. I kept the same character from my original, but aged her up to 18 and created a new story for her. The line from the original is in bold type. I hope you enjoy!

The First Step

I unpacked my shadow box, placing it gently on the desk.
“What’s the deal with the leaf?”
I looked over my shoulder, taking in my roommate’s smirk.
“Just something I’ve had since I was a kid.”
“Whatever,” she said, with a wave. “I’m walking to dinner.”
I blinked back tears. She belonged here on this campus filled with traditions and old money—the Ivy League and all that. From the minute Dad dropped me off, I’d known I would never belong here. An imposter. Had it really only been a few hours ago?
The essay that clinched my scholarship had been about that leaf—a tangible keepsake of Mom’s last wish. In the interviews, the selection committee told me how moved they’d been by my story, and my strength in sharing it with them.
“I do belong here.”
I said the words out loud, to steel my resolve. The committee had picked me. Me.
This would be my first step on a long journey. To become a doctor. To devote myself to researching cancer—and ways to stop it’s growth.
Placing my hand on the box, I said, “This is for you, Mom. I’ve got this.”
And I did.

The Antagonist’s Turn

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

My last post was my entry to the Fall Writing Frenzy contest. The protagonist of my little story was a young girl helping her mother see the leaves change color “one last time” after her mom’s cancer came back.

So, today I saw this Twitter post by Kaitlyn Sanchez, one of the sponsors of the contest:

I need a good writing challenge, so I decided to come up with a story from the antagonist’s POV. In the case of my original Fall Writing Frenzy story, the antagonist isn’t a person. It’s a disease. Cancer. Yikes.

Challenge accepted! Here’s my story, which I also kept to the word limit of the original contest.

The Day I was Beaten

People hate me. Wait, that’s not a strong enough word. People despise me. I get called “the C word”—as if my name is too evil to speak. There are T-shirts and bumper stickers proclaiming “Cancer Sucks”—and worse, believe me. But, I have to keep this clean for kids.

Not that I normally watch out for kids. I mean, I grow uncontrollably fast in their tiny bodies just as easily as I grow in adults—another reason I’m so despised.

One recent autumn day, I felt ‘death ray level’ loathing directed at me by a little girl riding in a convertible with her parents. The family was saying goodbye. Making memories to cherish once my work in her mother’s body was done.

But they don’t know what I know.

Exactly 24 years later, that little girl—all grown up—will receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine for curing cancer. She’ll dedicate that award to her mother, and hold up a small shadow box containing a leaf. Her father will lead a standing ovation at the ceremony, with a lone tear rolling down his cheek.

That’s what I know. That autumn day was the beginning of the end for me.

Fall Writing Frenzy 2020

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I decided to throw my hat into the ring for the wonderful Fall Writing Frenzy Contest again this year. For those who don’t know, you pick an image and write a story for kids in 200 words or less. Mine is sad, but it’s the one that poured out of my beleaguered 2020 soul.

I hope it speaks to you in some way. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks to the amazing Kaitlyn Sanchez and Lydia Lukidis for sponsoring this contest. And a huge thanks to all the donors!

Image 10
Mom’s Last Wish
2020 Fall Writing Frenzy
199 Words

“I want to see the leaves change color one last time,” Mom said in July when we heard her cancer was back—and worse than ever.

I swallowed hard, but couldn’t form words.

Dad walked over and took Mom’s hand. “We’ll make it happen. I promise.”

So we took Mom home, and kept her room filled with flowers, music, art—and as much laughter as we could manage. For me, laughter was the hardest part.

One early morning in October, Dad gently shook me awake. “Let’s give Mom her wish.”

A red convertible glowed against the sunrise.

I gawked, and Mom smiled. Dad said, “I figure we should do this right.”

As the morning fog burned off the highway, Mom looked between us. “It’s beautiful. This will go in our favorite memories album. Whenever we feel sad, we can flip to this day.”

I closed my eyes, memorizing the wind on my face, and the smell of damp air. But what if I can’t remember everything?

At the slightest touch against my arm, I opened my eyes.

A lone leaf—swirled yellow and orange, had dropped from above.

A tangible keepsake of Mom’s last wish.

Now, I’ll never forget.

Middle Grade Review: Red, White, and Whole

Red, White, and Whole
                     Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca     
                      February 2021, Quill Tree Books 


Red, White, and Whole is a beautifully written and descriptive novel told completely in verse. The rich details about the 1980's pop music, fashion and styles will introduce young readers to a decade long before they were born, and fill older readers (like me!) with nostalgia for our teen years. 

Just as she did with Midsummer's Mayhem, author Rajani LaRocca brings food to life in ways that engage the senses and makes your mouth water. I'm definitely craving curry, samosas, and paneer as I'm writing this review!

More than anything, however, this book is about family. Main character Reha loves her family, and they love her. Her parents, like many who relocate to another country, surround themselves with a support network of other people who share their culture and traditions. In addition to this, she has extended family in India. Reha will need the support of all of these people when her mother is diagnosed with Leukemia.
But, Reha also has her school friends and she wants to fit in with them. What 13 y.o. doesn't? But since her mom makes her clothes and her family comes from another country, the reader easily sees how Reha feels as if she sticks out.  

I found myself identifying with Reha's struggle to fit in between two worlds--America and India. She doesn't feel as if she truly belongs in either one for much of the novel. The beautiful truth about this story is how universally relatable Reha's journey is. We've all walked that tightrope of our own hopes and dreams vs. our parents' expectations for us. In Reha's case, this is compounded by the fact she's an only child and her parents have sacrificed so much to give her opportunities. 

The novel's format suited this poignant story beautifully, as the author skillfully used verse to heighten the emotional impact of some of the most touching scenes. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to crying in a few places. You might want to grab a few tissues before you settle in to read.

This would be a great novel for 4th and 5th grade classrooms. Especially in rural areas like the town in which I currently live. Kids would enjoy the exposure to the different foods, celebrations and attire from Indian culture. I highly recommend this upcoming novel. Here is a link to pre order it.

Middle Grade Mystery

Image
Book Mail from SourceBooks Kids

I recently won 3 mysteries written for kids in a Twitter chat with middle grade mystery writer, Lindsay Currie. Currie’s latest book Scritch, Scratch releases in September from Sourcebooks. In addition to Scritch, Scratch, I also received The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel and Coop Knows the Scoop by Taryn Sounders.

I enjoyed each of these titles immensely. They might have even motivated me to attempt a MG mystery novel of my own, but I really should revise all of the drafted manuscripts I have hanging around in my computer files first! If you’re a teacher, librarian or parent and know kids who would enjoy a mystery, I recommend these titles. Each book is quite different from the other two, so I’ll break them down a bit for you.

Scritch, Scratch is a mystery for sure, but it’s also a straight up ghost story! The main character Claire begins the story with familiar enough middle school angst–an annoying sibling, embarrassing parents, the new kid at school usurping her bestie, etc. However, things take a drastic turn when a ghost follows her home from assisting her father with one of his humiliating (to her, anyway) ghost tours. No spoilers, but this ghost is scary! Claire realizes that the only way to stop him from keeping her awake at night and terrified during the day is to figure out what he wants from her–and then do it. Even if she’s not sure she can. At heart, the story is about friendships and families, but has the added bonus of highlighting little known tragedies in Chicago history. I’ve visited Chicago a couple of times, but didn’t know any of these stories.

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane is set in a boarding school in England, which piqued my interest immediately. I vividly remember reading the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time (as an adult) and discovering the whole world of houses, headmasters, common rooms, dormitories, detentions, and “skiving off” assignments. Those regular mundane parts of British school life were new to me, and I found them almost as magical as the actual magic at Hogwarts. Wellsworth isn’t a magical school, but it has plenty to hold a reader’s interest. The main character Emmy, gets sent to this school after the fall term has already started. For someone who was “the new kid” at school a few times myself, I really felt for her. Emmy makes a couple of loyal friends who help her unravel cryptic clues about her father–who disappeared when she was 3. This book is the first in a series, but I was happy to see it wrapped up and didn’t leave readers hanging.

Coop Knows the Scoop doesn’t have ghosts or boarding schools. What it does have is a small Georgia town called Windy Bottom, which becomes a character of its own. Coop and his friends are as surprised as anyone when a long-buried body is excavated on the town’s playground. But Coop never imagines his own family will get caught up in the drama and small town gossip surrounding the mysterious discovery. The town’s quirky cast of characters all become potential suspects in the investigation, but Coop and his friends are out to prove the police’s main suspect wouldn’t hurt a fly.  They walk a fine line “helping” with the investigation, even after they’re forbidden to interfere again. Saunders drops enough clues to the killer’s identity for astute kids to figure it out before the end, but doesn’t make it too easy.

Kids have always enjoyed mysteries. As a kid, I loved Encyclopedia Brown, Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, and other mysteries. It’s great to see new MG mysteries being published for a new generation of readers. Kudos to these authors! Happy reading.

Building a World for Kids

 

 

orange and yellow tentWe just got the official news that our summer camp for kids with trachs was cancelled this year. With all the closings due to COVID-19, it’s no surprise, but it’s absolutely gut wrenching for the campers and the volunteers who go each year. Especially for the campers. Last summer, as we packed up to leave, the little boy I drove up from Savannah asked me what day it was. I told him it was Friday. He promptly replied, “Then I want to come back Saturday.” He meant the very next day. Camp is a world of its own. It’s an escape from reality.

I’ve been reflecting a good bit this past week about camp. About what it means for kids with special needs, whose daily lives are filled with treatments, procedures and medications. Kids who are often singled out and maybe even bullied at school because of their differences.

This reflection led me to remember a hectic day last summer. We’d just gotten our group of campers into the cafeteria for lunch, when two of mine said they needed to use the restroom. One of them uttered those dreaded words, “I don’t know if I can hold it.” SO, we set off at top speed for the bathrooms. The two  campers in my care had just shimmied through a row of other campers seated at long tables, when a little guy I didn’t know from a different special needs camp jumped up and stood between me and my little guys.

Before I could say a word about needing to catch up to my charges, he said (in such a serious tone of voice it was almost alarming), “I’m in that house too.”

He stared at me. Expectant. Waiting. I had no clue what he was talking about for a good 10 seconds (as I’m hoping we won’t completely miss lunch because we have to walk back to our cabin and changes clothes before the next activity). Then it hit me. I was wearing a T shirt with a printed Gryffindor logo on it. Luckily, I recovered fairly quickly, considering. “Oh, yeah,” I said. “I’m a Gryffindor through and through.” His face. It just lit up completely. We’d connected. Not through that physical place, as magical as it is. But through a world built by J.K. Rowling.

This is why I’m passionate about writing books for kids. They can’t always escape physically to a place where their problems feel miles away. But, hopefully they can always pick up a book and escape to a world built by an author. In these days of isolation, we need this more than ever! We need to build connections with people we might not get a chance to see in person like we used to. We need to see someone across a crowded room, and stop them to say, “I’m in that house too.”

Gryffindor Emblem Wall Cut Out HARRY POTTER WIZARDING WORLD

 

Witch Missy

Happy Halloween Everyone. I wrote this 100 word story for the 9th annual Halloweensie contest on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website. Click the link to check out contest rules. 🙂 Enjoy!

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“I’m a witch,” Missy chants—red curls poking messily from her black pointed cap. “I need a wand.”
She snaps a twig from a leafless branch. Perfect.
Her costumed group reaches a spooky darkened house.
Missy stops.
A friend tugs her arm. “We only stop for lit porch lights.”
Cobwebs litter the deserted porch. Owls screech.
Missy shivers.
“Come on.”
Missy ignores.
“We’re leaving.” They really do.
Missy stares.
A nearby chorus of “Trick or treat!”
A cauldron! A real witch’s house! It could hold potions.
Missy moves.
Inching closer, squinting.
Then…
“MEOWWW!!!”
Missy screams.
The cat dashes.
Missy laughs.

Just One Child

Happy Halloween Everyone. I wrote this 100 word story for the 9th annual Halloweensie contest on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website. Click the link to check out contest rules. 🙂 Enjoy!

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Creak. Her rocking chair broke the eerie silence.

“Just one child,” she thought.

She adjusted her pointy black hat, and rubbed her gnarled hands together greedily. “Just one.”

Yet, none came.

Her eyes scanned fake cobwebs and tattered scarecrows with disgust.

At long last, she rose to go inside—heart heavy, lonely.

Then, a chorus of voices behind her.

Trick or treat!”

A potion for her soul! She turned. Not just one child. Her great-grandchildren!

“Sorry we’re so late. It’s a long drive, but we wanted to visit on your first “nursing home Halloween”.

A full heart. A smile. Happy.

Living History

After my dad passed away last year, Mom decided to move into an assisted living facility near my home. She wanted to be as independent as possible, and not be “right on top of us” in my house. It’s been a tough transition for all of us, in some ways. But I’ve also had the opportunity to grow my extended family through the fascinating friends Mom has made in her new home.

One of those new friends is Betty. Betty is 96 (turning 97 later this year) and still volunteers at the Mighty 8th Air Force museum in Savannah on a regular basis. She shared the story of her younger years with me recently, and we decided to make her story into a children’s nonfiction book. Here are some highlights:

Betty in Uniform
Betty in her Navy uniform during the World War II.

She was a part of a top secret project (Ultra) during World War II.

I wasn’t even aware that Americans were a part of this code-breaking effort. Like many other Americans, I watched the movie about Alan Turing a few years ago, and learned that researchers at Bletchley Park in England cracked the German Enigma code. It turns out, that was only part of the story. Betty was a part of the “rest of the story”. She worked with other Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in Dayton, Ohio to build machines that we used to break the German Navy Enigma codes. Apparently, the German Navy added extra rotors to make the codes more difficult to break, and the British needed our help. Betty’s work on the project was so secretive, even she didn’t know the importance of the work she’d done until 1995 when she received an award from the National Security Agency (NSA). You can see the one remaining machine built by Betty and other WAVES at NSA’s cryptologic museum at Ft. Meade.

Betty and Waves in Classroom
Betty (top row, second from left) with other WAVES during a training class in Washington, DC 1943. Photo from Betty’s personal collection.

Betty was a National Swim Champion. Betty swam competitively during her teen, college and even Navy years. She won several National swim titles, but never realized her dream of competing in the Olympics as both the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled due to the war.

Betty on diving board
Another photo from her personal collection: Betty poses on the diving board of the National Cash Register’s Sugar Camp pool in Dayton, Ohio during the war years.

She met famous people. Betty swam with future movie star, Esther Williams when they were both teenagers. Ms. Williams’ Olympic dreams were also thwarted by the war. In addition, Betty had the chance to meet Orville Wright, of the famous Wright Brothers. Mr. Wright asked for permission to meet Betty after reading an article about the young Navy WAVE defending her swim title. One of the world’s greatest visionaries chatted with young Betty about her own dreams. She also remembers drenching Mr. Wright’s shirt when he gave her a hug, as she’d just climbed out of the pool. It’s a meeting she’s never forgotten. Interestingly, that newspaper article almost got Betty in major trouble. Her swim coach didn’t go through the proper channels to secure permission for her to compete, and since she was in the Navy, her commander wasn’t happy! When the next championship rolled around, her swim coach knew exactly how to secure permission the right way.

WAVES poster
One of the recruiting posters advertising the WAVES.

When the Navy began recruiting women into active duty, Betty wanted to do her part. She was raised to hunt, fish, swim and even solder wires with her father. It wasn’t in her nature to sit back and let the men go to war.

I recently interviewed Betty about her experiences during the war and looked through photo albums with her. It was such an honor to have her share her story with me. It felt like I was interviewing living history. I’m polishing up the manuscript of her story, and hoping to get it into the hands of a publisher! I’d love to see kids inspired by her story too.

Betty and Melissa