Allison's Book Bag

Books introduce us to new friends and new homes. I have loved sharing favorites and not-so-favorites with readers from all over the world. But the time to say goodbye to Allison’s Book Bag is long overdue.

In 2010, when I still taught, I started Allison’s Book bag as a way to share my love of books with my students. I used to invite students to write titles of recommended books on our white board and to promise that I’d read each book they listed. Over spring break of that year, I carted home about a dozen Golden Sower books that my students had read. After I finished reading the last of the books in my pile, my husband suggested, “You should start a blog of children’s book reviews. You’re always reading children’s books anyway. You might as well review them.” And so, I did.

Over the next several years, reviewing children’s books became a personal passion. I wrote teasers for books, interviewed authors, and collected links to children’s book sites. I broadened my reading tastes to include best sellers, award winners, diversity novels, and other categories. I wrote about literary sites and festivals. In addition, I monitored my list of followers and my blog’s unique hits. I adjusted how often I wrote and the topics I covered, partly based on what I viewed as audience interests. I even conducted surveys to confirm my guesses. Blogging was a love affair.

But as I began to delve into animal welfare, my passion for reviewing books began to dwindle. I began to allow myself to write about my other interests. At the time, I still had a stack of Advanced Reader Copies, and so I decided to return to writing strictly reviews. However, I also cut back to posting once or twice a month, which allowed me to balance review commitments with other writing interests. During the past year, I’ve read some fun books and become acquainted with new authors. There are times when I’ve thought about continuing with Allison’s Book Bag but at a slower pace.

But all good things must come to end. Otherwise, there isn’t time for other good things such as pet education and pet therapy.

Thanks to everyone who followed Allison’s Book Bag. At one point, my blog reached over 40,000 hits in a year. This might seem insignificant to some, but I’m floored at the interest my blog generated. To this date, I still receive compliments on my blog from authors, editors, and publishers. And I’m still declining review requests. It’s been a meaningful eight years.

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From Bibi Belford comes Another D for DeeDee, a heart-warming middle school novel. DeeDee has a lot to learn about friendship but is a sympathetic character with a good heart. Similarly, her family struggles without the Dad but make endearing attempts to stay united as a family. Belford draws on real-life situations she encountered as a teacher to create a funny and serious story that will resonate with readers.

DeeDee is the type of misfit kid I have long wanted to create. Trust doesn’t come easy for DeeDee. She’ll lie rather than face embarrassment. She’ll steal rather than ask for help. She’ll even betray a friend, rather than risk losing her status. If you met DeeDee in person, you’d probably find it hard to like her. But deep down, DeeDee isn’t a bad person. She’s just learned to be tough, because her learning disability and her Mexican background have set her apart. Belford does an incredible job of giving us insight into DeeDee’s heart, where we see her vulnerabilities. As with many “bad kids,” DeeDee needs the right circumstances to help her change. Number one is being diagnosed with diabetes, which requires her to be more honest with herself and others if she’s going to stay healthy. Number two change is a new neighbor. River offers to teach her how to skateboard and to help find her dad, but their friendship is tested when River starts attending DeeDee’s school. DeeDee begins to realize what is important to her, and that she must change if she wants to hold onto family and friends. Although DeeDee’s initial attempts to change are awkward and sometimes half-hearted, her true potential eventually radiates, and she’s a character that we can all root for to succeed. My one reservation is that by resolving all of DeeDee’s dilemmas in the conclusion, Belford has sacrificed a little bit of realism for the sake of a feel-good novel.

As with her first novel, Belford tackles many issues that impact young people. Through an entertaining story, she subtlety educates readers about the life of a diabetic. Belford credits two girls for increasing her own awareness. One day Belford passed out jellybeans as a reward to students who had completed assignments, only to discover that one of her students couldn’t eat sweets. A girl who loved Belford’s first book allowed the author to accompany her on visits to monitor her diabetes. Through the complex character of River, readers are introduced to the world of the hard of hearing students. A fellow teacher not only provided her with facts, but also gave feedback on her rough drafts of Another D for DeeDee. In addition, Belford had many discussions with a college senior who relies on a wheelchair for mobility and advocates for students with disabilities. Finally, Belford teaches migrant students. She also had a chance to talk with a researcher of immigration issues. Stories give us a glimpse into worlds that we may not otherwise experience. My wish for a future novel is that Belford would give recognition to documented immigrants; their road to citizenship can be hard for them too.

Bibi Belford has a gift for writing stories about characters who make bad decisions but learn from them how to love. She also the heart of an advocate and knows the power of words to give voice to issues. I look forward to future novels from this outstanding author.

My cat Rainy and I are having fun this December making personalized Christmas cards.

Instagram is to blame for my decision to make personalized Christmas cards. While scrolling through photos of Rainy’s followers, I noticed how many of their adventure cats were wearing sweaters. Then I started thinking about how much I bundle up just to drive Rainy to a therapy visit in December, and how unprotected she is by comparison. Yes, she’s covered in fur, but as an indoor cat she’s not used to frigid winter weather. Of course, before I fork out money on a sweater, I wanted to know that she’d wear it, and so I tried one of Barnaby’s sweaters on her. She reacted to it with as much interest as her harness, or in other words she barely gave it notice. I snapped a photo and then proceeded to try Barnaby’s other outfits on her, including a Santa suit. I thought nothing more about our fashion show until I noticed that a few Instagram followers were exchanging Christmas cards. Suddenly I had the perfect use for all those photos I’d taken of Rainy in Barnaby’s outfits!

Scrapbook Factory has long been my favorite software for creating designs. The front of the card was easy enough. I simply imported my photo of Rainy posing in a Santa suit. To add extra elegance, I added a complementary dark purple border and wrote “Have a Meowy Christmas!” in holly green text.

Surprisingly, given that I’m a writer, the inside proved to be a struggle. I felt insecure designing a card for people who had been exchanging cards for years. In addition, I felt awkward about writing to people whom I didn’t really know except through photos of their cats. Then Andy showed me a card his friend had made, and seeing her example boosted my confidence. I realized that I just needed to pick one thing we had in common and write about it.

For my first card, I wrote about snow, because I know that the recipient already has plenty of it in Canada. Once I had the inside designed, I decided to play around with the back. I pasted a cute graphic of a cat in a Christmas hat and wrote Rainy’s Pawsome Card. I also finally made use of the pet-safe ink that I had bought earlier this fall to create some paw signatures. I discovered that as long as a cat is used to have its nails clipped, inking its paws isn’t difficult.

I started with the victim – er, cat – that I thought would be the most cooperative, Rainy, and learned from her the best steps to take.

  • Wear old clothes. Even the most tolerate cat is likely to squirm and imprint your clothes with her inky paws. The ink come out in the wash, but I’d still avoid wearing your best clothes.
  • Spread newspaper on the floor. If your cat is curious like mine, she’ll walk through the ink as soon as you open it and track prints over your floor.
  • Place a plain sheet of paper on the floor for the pawprints.
  • Open ink pad.
  • Pick up and hold cat gently, as you would to clip nails.
  • Lift paw and place firmly on ink pad.
  • Lift paw and place firmly on paper.
  • Wash cat’s paw in a small bowl of water.
  • Dry cat’s paw with a paper towel.
  • Scan paw print.
  • Import scan into Scrapbook Factory.

My first Christmas card done, I then got to have fun customizing the inside message for family members, friends, and patients. Some of the cards I’ve mailed, while others Rainy and I will deliver on Christmas Day.

Have a Meowy Christmas everyone!

Mix together a mail order bride, a murder, and a goat. Set them down into 1863 Colorado. Throw in historical facts and stories. The result is The Lucky Hat Mine, a fun western romance by J.V.L. Bell.

Gunfire rents the air, tearing Millie from a restless slumber on a packed wagon. This time the gunshots were aimed at a rattle snake. The next time, they came from bandits. Gunshots and adventure follow Millie everywhere she goes. It follows her from New Orleans, across the Great Plains, and even to Colorado. If this trip wasn’t perilous enough, upon her arrival at Idaho Springs, she finds herself without a finance but with plenty of suitors. One of them has already murdered her finance and soon is leaving threatening notes for Millie. Surviving her new life, let alone making herself a home, will take courage and smartness.

Millie has both. She could have hopped on the first wagon leaving town. Instead she stays to bury her finance. She could have stayed at a hotel. Instead she hikes the trail to her cabin in the woods. She could have accepted any number of proposals. Instead she rejects all suitors, knowing that they only want the cabin and the mine that have been bequeathed to her. Upon settling in her new home, Millie wastes no time in making friends with nearby neighbors and in learning how to shoot a gun. When suitors persist in wooing her, she appeases them with home-cooked meals but also accepts their offers of help. And upon discovering that her finance had been murdered by a towns person, she sets a trap for them with the help of her finance’s brother.

In many ways, The Lucky Hat Mine is a typical frontier story. Millie’s finance was murdered for his gold. He left behind a treasure map. Millie has no lack of suitors who court her. One of them falls hard for her; and she eventually falls for him too. There are bar fights, attacks by wild animals, and cave-ins and landslides. In other ways, J.V.L. Bell elevates The Lucky Hat Mine beyond that of its genre. Bell is a Colorado native who was raised climbing Colorado’s 14,000-foot mountains, exploring old ghost towns, and reading stories about life in the early frontier days. She infuses her personal knowledge of Colorado and her extensive research into The Lucky Hat Mine. In addition, Bell adds humor through a quirky character, that of a goat named Buttercup.

Mix together a feisty heroine, a mystery, and baby goats. Set them down into 1863 Colorado. Throw in frontier legend and lore. The result is The Lucky Hat Mine, a madcap and heart-filled adventure.

Emily Hall’s love of her cats and enthusiasm for taking them on outdoor adventures radiates on every page of The Beginner’s Guide to Traveling & Adventuring with Your Cat. This seven-chapter e-book is a colorful, well-designed, and easy-to-read guide about how to turn your cat into an adventure cat. Hall wrote her book “to help educate and encourage people to try adventuring with their cats” and picked content based on what she viewed as important info and on common questions she’s been asked. The Beginner’s Guide to Traveling & Adventuring with Your Cat available for free simply by subscribing to her blog Kitty Cat Chronicles.

In chapter one, Hall gives three reasons for people to have adventures with their cats. For starters, it’s fun! Hall inspired me to take my youngest cat to pet-friendly stores, restaurants, and parks this past year. Second, it’s a great way to bond! I learned that Rainy prefers to start out in her stroller when visiting new places, but that she also appreciates the opportunity to sit or walk next to me when she becomes comfortable. Third, it’s healthy! Rainy doesn’t like being outside by herself nor would she be safe. At the same time, an active cat like Rainy goes stir-crazy being indoors all day. Taking her on adventures is the solution.

Chapter two overviews the personality traits of an adventure cat. Those traits are: calm, confident, inquisitive, and easily-handled. My experience is that these traits are trickier to access than you might expect. Case in point is our oldest cat. In our house she displays all the traits of an adventure cat, but outside of her comfort zone those traits tend to diminish. When my husband and I used to take her to visit his parents, in contrast to Rainy who explores their house, Cinder curled up on a resting place and waited for us to go home. A year ago when I brought her outside, she plainly showed that she preferred the comforts of home by making a beeline for our house.

The next two chapters cover gear and training needed. Personally, I would recommend that one buy some gear, do some training, buy some more gear, and continue to alternate. If your cat absolutely hates the harness and/or the leash, the rest of the gear will be of no value. Even if your cat learns to accept them, there still may be limits to the adventures you’ll have with your cat and thus the type of gear you’ll have. Categorizing the gear as beginner, intermediate, and advanced would be helpful. Alternatively, given that Hall dedicates all of chapter six to road trips, perhaps chapter three and four could just cover the basic necessities.

Chapter five is dedicated to helping you brainstorm destinations for you and your cat. In this chapter, Hall lists backyard, pet stores, parks, and pet-friendly businesses. Elsewhere Hall also refers to the woods and on the water. A number of the photos show her cats in these more adventurous places. In her sequel, I’d like to see tips on how to acclimate cats to these vary different environments, each of which have their own dangers and perks.

In chapter six, Hall talks about road trips. She stresses that you call ahead to confirm that a hotel will allow you to bring a cat (or multiple cats) with you. This is sound advice anytime you take your cat to a public place. Some parks and businesses allow pets; others don’t.

What if you have a cat like our Bootsie who is nervous, shy, timid, and difficult to handle? Then chapter seven is for you! Even the least adventurous cat will tire of having nothing to do. Every cat needs enrichment: You can provide enrichment with scratchers, climbing trees, hiding places, and natural treats such as cat grass.

With three adventure cats of her own (Sophie has been adventuring for about 5-6 years. Kylo Ren for almost 3, and Caster for almost 2), Hall drew on her personal expertise to write The Beginner’s Guide to Traveling & Adventuring with Your Cat. If her guide inspires you to take your own cats on adventures, I highly recommend joining the online Facebook group KCC Adventure Cats, where members are encouraged to share adventure spots and suggestions, training tips and tricks, and fun photos and stories of their adventure cats, and more! Hall took a year to write her guide, which has received favorable feedback, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

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Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

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