Allison's Book Bag

It’s a Seashell Day by Dianne Ochiltree will sweep you into the warm and cheerful world of sandy beaches. If you read aloud the simple rhyming couplets, and gaze at the bright exquisite illustrations, you’ll feel as if right there with main character and his mom while they collect seashells. This charming picture book also has educational value, teaching about numbers and about nature.

The straightforward narrative rings true to that of a young boy full of eagerness and curiosity. He rushes down the path, ahead of his mom. “We’ll be there soon!” he exclaims. He picks up an object to show his mom. “Is this a seashell?” he asks. Discovering that the object is instead a rock, he starts to dig with pail and shovel. As waves roll in, he orders them, “Go away!” His mind is set on finding shells. And soon he does! Lots of them!

The uncomplicated sensory descriptions also ring to that of a young boy. The sun peeks over the bay. A salty breeze blows. His toes squish in cool wet sand. I especially enjoyed how the young boy categorized his seashell finds. There are “bumpy lumpy shells” and “spiny shiny shells”. Accompanying him, and adding to his finds, are his mom and his dog. His mom is the one who tells him that the shell she finds has a secret.

SeashellDay_Inside

Cut-paper and collage techniques create an equally playful feel to this easy-to-read text. Artist Elliot Kreloff also  employs photographed textures, along with airbrushing and paint washes, to bring to life the magic of a day at the beach. A mix of soft and vivid colors add a nice touch too. Over all, the illustrations greatly enhance what otherwise might feel like an ordinary story.

Incorporated into this unpretentious story is a lot of educational value. As he finds them, the young narrator counts his shells. At the end of his outing, he also sets up a display of them, with each labeled by their proper name. The back pages also include a slew of interesting facts. For example, did you know that seashells refer to the covering of soft-bodied animals and that there are more than 100,000 species of mollusks?

Beaches are one of my favorite places. Whenever my husband and I have opportunity to explore them, we always end up with a handful of shells. It’s a Seashell Day brought back special memories, as well as educated me about our own collections. I guarantee it will please you too!

DianneOchiltreeBesides being a wife and mother, Dianne Ochiltree has three other roles in her life. She is a children’s author, writing coach, and workshop presenter. As a children’s author, she has numerous books published and encourages children to write. With the job of writing coach, she helps aspiring children’s authors to edit and publish. Finally, as a workshop presenter, Ochiltree draws on fifteen+ years in the publishing industry. Tomorrow I’ll review her book: It’s A Seashell Day. Save the date: September 1!

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

To MyShelf, Ochiltree refers to her childhood home as one of “happy chaos.” Her father was a lawyer, who had at least one do-it-yourself home improvement going at one time. Plus, he was an amateur carpenter/woodworker, and artist. Ochiltree often sat on the cellar steps for hours, watching him work on oil paintings, and listening to him tell her about art techniques or his favorite Impressionist artists.

Her mother was a full-time homemaker but, prior to Ochiltree’s birth, she had worked at some unconventional jobs for a woman in those days. For example, Ochiltree tells MyShelf, her mother worked machinery in a tool and die shop. During World War II, she inspected bomb casings in an ammunitions factory. Ochiltree loved hearing her tell stories about growing up during the Great Depression, or what life was like on the home front during the war. In addition, Ochiltree’s mother preferred sewing and gardening to housekeeping chores. “She’s the one who taught me how to plant a seed and tend a garden; to see nature’s wonder, not only in the grand sense but also in the simple beauty of small things.”

Both of Ochiltree’s parents were also avid readers. MyShelf reports that her father built bookcases in several rooms, and when they were filled, the books were stacked on every available surface. Her mom faithfully read to Dianne, her two little sisters, and baby brother at bedtime. The children were taken to the library early and often. “I devoured the many history books, encyclopedia volumes, art books, cookbooks, magazines and science books lying around the house, too.”

During her childhood, besides being a reader, Ochiltree was a bit of a tomboy too. She roamed the neighborhood on foot and on bicycle. She climbed my grandparents’ apple tree, tossed a baseball with the boy next door, and tried to build things with my Dad’s leftover lumber and my junior tool kit. The family home was populated by a parade of pets, from guppy to puppy, as well as the stray animals that Dianne rescued. Her grandparents also had a cocker spaniel, whom she often went next door to play too.

When it was time to go to college, Ochiltree studied English and art. This led to a position for many years as a marketing/advertising/public relations writer. She notes, however, that she feels most rewarded by the opportunity to write for children. “There is no more important readership than young beginning readers. I work hard to write the very best prose or poetry I can for them, because I hope that I just might be able to help them develop a life-long love for reading,” Ochiltree explains to MyShelf.

When one of her books was selected as a title in the Imagination Library by the Dollywood Foundation’s committee of literacy experts, Ochiltree became involved with the organization. She shares with Fresh Mom that it’s an honor to support the organization’s endeavor to help young families encourage childhood literacy by reading the Imagination Library books received to their kids.

Ochiltree and her husband currently live in Florida with a household of pets. Their chocolate Labrador Retriever not only entertains and inspires the couple, but also accompanies Ochiltree on visits to schools and nursing homes as a certified therapy dog. When not writing, Ochiltree enjoys being out in nature. She is also often found in the yoga studio taking a class or teaching a class. In addition, Ochiltree likes to travel with her husband to other countries. On her website, she notes that “Wherever I am, of course, I’ve got a book that I’m in the middle of reading.”

WRITING BACKGROUND

Ochiltree believes she was born to be a writer. Her website states that as long as Ochiltree can remember, she’s been listening to the stories her family loved to tell, reading all sorts of books, drawing pictures and writing stories. My first books were written on the backs of old reports, illustrated in crayon, and stapled together by my mom. Her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, baby brother and pets listened to her stories and poems “with a lot of enthusiasm … and patience”.

Naturally shy, especially during her teenage years, writing stories and poems was a way Ochiltree could say things she couldn’t say out loud to a real person. MyShelf quotes Ochiltree, “My characters could say and do things I just couldn’t in real life. Writing a story is a good way to deal with disappointment or frustration, I guess. I would start my story with a real situation, and make up my own ending: the way I’d like it to turn out, not necessarily the way it did turn out.”

After 20 years as a marketing/advertising/public relations writer, Ochiltree decided to try writing for a new audience, one she had gotten to know quite well since the births of her two sons: namely, kids! Fresh Mom reports that when Ochiltree reached her forties, and her youngest son outgrew picture books, she didn’t like the idea that these wonderful books would be out of her life too and decided, “Why not write one?”

According to Fresh Mom, Ochiltree was inspired to write her first book Cats Add Up, because she always had cats as pets. All the silly things the cats did in the book actually happened to her or another cat owner, “including the scene with the cats eating a frosted birthday cake. My cat, Toby, did that when l was hosting a PTA meeting one morning years ago!”

Cats Add Up was published in 1998 as a title in the “Hello, Reader!” series from Scholastic. Ochiltree found it especially exciting to be published by Scholastic because, just like many of us when we were kids, most of her reading material came from those monthly book club offerings.

Getting that first book in print was not easy, Ochiltree tells Children’s Lit. Ochiltree went to a lot of conferences where she met with editors and focused on those companies that don’t take unsolicited manuscripts. She tried twenty different publishers before her first manuscript was purchased.

Publication came about because she had applied for the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference with a writing sample, an early draft of that first published book, and was accepted. Her mentor that day was Paula Danziger. Not only did Danziger give her priceless writing advice, she introduced Ochiltree to an editor at Scholastic who agreed to look at her manuscript once Ochiltree had made revisions based on Danziger’s input. Her advice to aspiring writers is to constantly work on improving your craft and make sure that the story you are writing is one that you connect with and that you are going to like working on for a very long time.

Besides the creative process, I love the idea of connecting with children, parents and teachers in a positive and fun way through the books I write. I love hearing from my readers!

–Diane Ochiltree, Interview with a Children’s Book Author

SixWordSaturday

Looking back over a bittersweet summer

When I last wrote, another school year had been about to end and the promise of summer vacation loomed ahead. The past three months, since I took an unintended break from Six-Word-Saturday, have been bittersweet.

Gizmo TributeHow so? In the spring, just as the weather started to become nice, our adopted silky terrier lost his battle with pancreatisis. We said goodbye to Gizmo on May 23. You can read my husband’s tribute here.

In that same month, our Trap-Neuter-Release group also experienced heartache. Floods took from us two cats we had fondly dubbed the Gravel Road boys.

Out of that latter tragedy came sweetness. During the floods, another nearby colony had also been in danger. My husband and I decided to foster the friendliest feral of the cats.

The rest of my summer proved hectic but pleasant. My husband and I took our annual vacation to Newfoundland to visit my family. Upon our return, I taught two summer writing clubs for the first time. Before school started up again, I also managed to squeeze in a week of rest and relaxation.

More news in weeks to come! How was your summer?

 

Anni Moon by Melanie Abed is a middle-grade novel of uneven quality. At times, I raced through pages from an sincere desire to find out what would happen next to the two main characters and their comrades. Sadly, I also regularly skimmed sections just to get through yet another chapter. Such an experience made this review difficult to write. I struggled to pinpoint why I neither hated nor loved this fantasy, which some readers have compared to the likes of Harry Potter, Great Benedict Society, and even the classic Alice in Wonderland. My emotions were conflicted for the following reasons.

First, there’s the exciting but confusing plot. Most every chapter ends with a cliff hanger. That makes for an intense read, which at times is a good thing. One minute Anni and Lexi are hiding secrets from one another. The next Annie is hearing voices. Another they’re trying to protect each other from being expelled. The next Lexi is asking Anni to protect a doll for her. Eventually, the girls also face thieves, kidnappers … you name the danger, they probably face it. Therein, lies a problem. With each subsequent chapter, my questions increase about why all these threats even exist? Anni and Lexi seem like two ordinary girls living in a boarding school. Why then do so many people intend their harm? Unlike with Harry Potter and Great Benedict Society, none of these answers are forthcoming until the final chapters. I’m not positive every reader will allow themselves to be held that long in suspense.

Second, there are the mysterious but equally bland characters. Anni and Lexi are endearing, in the sense that they remain dedicated to their friendship. Naturally, we root for them to reconnect. There are hints throughout that Anni seems to have a mystery about her background and that her best friend is an elemental or a girl with magical abilities. Obviously, these two factors creates a sense of intrigue. Also, in Abed’s favor, lies the eclectic cast she has created, which extends far beyond even the two girls. The problem is that just first there are so many of them that I often can’t distinguish one from the other. In addition, just like Abed’s plot twists, characters seem to come out of nowhere and have no reason for their existence except to be weird. Who is the man with the golden fingernails? What is the point of Leo the cat? For that matter, I’m not sure that I truly understand the significance of Whiffle, who most of the time is just a voice in Annie’s head.

Third, there’s the competent but lackluster style. Almost immediately, the style is what most puzzled me. When listening to tunes on the air, some will catch my attention, others will grate on my ears, and the rest will just be tunes. If I were to focus on one of the latter, often these songs will be sung well and written well. In other words, there will be nothing wrong with them. Except for some reason, they didn’t captivate me like the others. If I pay closer attention to them, I might end up rethinking how I feel about them. Or I might still just view them as just another song. With the case of Anni Moon, Abed has an entertaining enough style to provide many enjoyable moments. Unfortunately, it’s also forgettable enough that I won’t pick Anni Moon up for a second read.

Anni Moon has magical elements like Harry Potter, mysterious elements like Great Benedict Society, and even an abundant of weird elements like Alice in Wonderland. You might check it out, as author Melanie Abed does show talent, but also please do read the other stronger novels too.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

I guess you could say that I’ve been in love with stories from the moment my Grandmother started reading them to me, and I believe it was that love that inspired me to want to write as w­ell. So, actually I should thank my most wonderful, amazing Grandma, Myrtle, for her love of stories, too.

–Melanie Abed, Melanie Abed, Anni Moon & The Elemental Artifact

MelanieAbedPERSONAL BACKGROUND

In kindergarten, Melanie Abed had the life goal to become a teacher who wore only pink and ate French fries all day long. Now that she’s matured, her goal in life is to become a Miss Marple-Sherlockian-Jedi Knight. According to her About page, Abed is totally serious about this goal.

As an adult, Abed has had the privilege of working in Hollywood for over a decade in many different capacities. In this field, she worked with celebrities, directors (one of whom she married), and executives.

Now Abed has taken on the life of a full-time writer, a role she labels on her About page as “not for the faint of heart”. How, when, and where she writes depends on her current tasks. If she’s brainstorming, or working on outlines, Abed prefers energetic environments like coffee shops. She usually writes in the afternoon and evenings, tending to be more of a night owl. Abed tells One Writer’s Journey that she also enjoys writing “during rainy weather, somehow it helps narrow my focus too.”

Abed also keeps herself busy with my extracurricular activities. Some of those include skydiving, scuba diving, and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. On the calmer side, she’s also an avid gardener, and butterfly enthusiast. For several years, Abed has been growing butterfly gardens; this past year her husband and her raised 150 Monarch butterflies.

BOOK BACKGROUND

So long as I have a good writing system in place, and a few writing projects to constantly work on, I stay super busy. Daydreaming for me is a huge part of the writing process.

–Melanie Abed, Melanie Abed, Anni Moon & The Elemental Artifact

While reading and researching Children’s Middle Grade literature from both the UK and the US for well over a decade, Abed explains to One Writer’s Journey, she fell for the stories made for this age range. She views them as containing messages of hope and highlighting bravery, courage, strong morals, and other admirable traits that “even adults need to be reminded of from time to time”. This decade of research also made her feel confident about attempting to put her own middle-grade novel into the world.

Anni Moon is her first published children’s work. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Abed was published in a Medical Journal after completing my Master’s program in Psychology.

The main character has been floating around in Abed’s head for over a decade before she started writing about her. Growing up, Abed wanted to read a story about a tough spunky girl. Over the years, bits and pieces of the story were cobbled together after writing and rewriting the entire book a few times.

Before writing this story, the characters and the general concept came first, then Abed plotted and outlined. She knew Anni and Lexi’s characters almost instinctively, as well as being able to see Waterstone Academy. Abed tells One Writer’s Journey that, as a child, she lived in the Edgewater just like Anni does. She grew up imagining that there was a secret portal door to another world; “these early imaginings greatly influenced certain aspects of this story”.

The most challenging aspect of writing for Abed was balancing what the reader needs to know. In the case of Anni Moon, this refers particularly to the introduction of the Elemental fantasy world and the efforts to create an engaging plot that pushes the story forward.

Abed intentionally created an ethnically mixed cast of characters. Growing up in Chicago, Abed was surrounded by a group of children from different countries so when she started thinking about her cast it came naturally to emphasize their diversity.

I found of interest the answers to two questions asked Abed by One Writer’s Journey.

QUESTION: What was the toughest criticism given to you?

ANSWER: The toughest criticism came on my first novel, ten years ago, when I was told I needed to start over and write from scratch. That was very hard to hear at the time, but extremely necessary advice. That novel was awful, and needed a lot of work, but at the same time it taught me so much. Back then, I discovered that there are certain rules to writing, and some that are extremely necessary to employ in certain kinds of genres.

QUESTION: What was the biggest compliment?

ANSWER: I’ve been very fortunate to get some really lovely compliments on Anni Moon, lots of references to some of my favorite authors, which is so wonderful to hear, but truth be told I don’t let it go to my head. I think the most important thing about writing is shielding yourself from both positive and negative reviews and just focusing on the story at hand, because that’s what’s important.

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September: Classics

Fall is just around the corner and so is my annual dip into classics. I tried to pick one for girls, one for guys, and one for both genders. There were also many I wanted to read but, alas, there's so little time and so many books. I decided to stick with ones from my shelves. Another year I'll aim to read ones new to me!

  • Farenheit by Ray Bradbury
  • Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Christy, Julie by Catherine Marshall

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Thirty days. Minimum average of 1666 words per day. A total of 50,000 words. I am a NaNo Winner for two years in a row and my novel in its second version.

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