Posted tagged ‘Family’


November 8, 2018

“…it can come and go and you never even notice it was there.”


In Forever or a Day, Sarah Jacoby’s poetic text refers to something that is elusive. The first two pages depict a young child staring out a window as the sun rises. In the almost deserted street with skyscrapers in the background, there is a newspaper truck with Times written on the side. This is the first hint of what that elusive something is. Throughout the book, readers see a family as they move through the day. They pack suitcases, ride on a train, visit family and spend a day with them at the beach followed by an evening campfire. All too soon, their visit is over, and they retrace their steps back to their city home. Sarah Jacoby‘s illustrations are rendered in watercolors, color sticks, and mixed media. Page turns reveal bright and colorful daytime scenes and dark and sparkly nighttime scenes. Within the beautiful illustrations and text, there are layers to this story. It’s about family, love, mindfulness, and the passage of time –  time that can be elusive. This is a book you need to read slowly. Enjoy it. Appreciate it – especially with someone you love.

The Simple Pleasures of a Birthday

September 13, 2018

Tuesday was my birthday. My husband bought me flowers, an ice cream cake, and took me to lunch. Simple but so enjoyable.


Lunch in Portsmouth Harbor

When I was young, every year on my birthday I wished for a pony. I never got one. Now that I’m older I understand why that wish was never granted. A horse is too big to wrap. There wasn’t enough room in a bedroom shared with my two other sisters. And a horse is definitely not a house-friendly pet when you live in a city.

While growing up, our family birthdays were never extravagant, but they were always memorable.

Birthday wishes began in the morning from my mother, father, and siblings and ended with a special homemade birthday dinner of my choice. The pièce de résistance was Angel Pie. It’s a cherished family recipe that I requested for my birthday every year. Chocolate perfection made with my mother’s magic touch!

Then there was the year our oh-so-fun next-door neighbors brought over a watermelon half with birthday candles stuck in it.

There were always cards from family and friends lined up for me to enjoy.


Tuesday’s Flowers and Cards

On my 16th birthday, my mother prepared a party luncheon that included fresh flowers, silver, china, a delicious main dish, and Angel Pie for dessert.

On my 21st birthday, my parents took my best friend and me to a nice restaurant where we celebrated our September birthdays with champagne.

When I went away to college, my father made sure a proper birthday wish was always there for me. In the early morning hours of my birthday, and that meant in the middle of the night, he would call to be the first to wish me a happy birthday. He never ever missed a year.

The year my father passed away, I realized how much I would miss those obnoxious early-morning birthday calls. Then sometime in the middle of the night on my birthday that year, my phone rang. Being in a sleepy daze, I imagined it was a call from my father in heaven. On the other end of the phone was not my father’s voice but the voice of my daughter saying, “I’m calling to wish you a happy birthday, just like grandpa always did.” Ah, the pleasures of having a wonderful, thoughtful daughter!

At 1:32 am on Tuesday of this week, my phone rang. It was my daughter calling to say happy birthday. She is insistent on keeping up the tradition that she knows means so much to me – no matter how annoying!

It’s the simple pleasures of life that bring you happiness.

Cake anyone?


It’s not Angel Pie but ice cream cake will do!


The Relatives Came

February 8, 2018

“One of the things that binds us as a family is a shared sense of humor.” ~Ralph Finnes

We came from California, from Texas, from New Hampshire, from Massachusetts, from Florida, from Washington state, and from Washington D.C.  The core group: A brother and his wife. Three sisters and their husbands. Along with us came our daughters, their husbands, and their children. Three generations of the family were together again. We hugged. We kissed. We laughed. We cried. We’re a small family with big hearts. In all, there were nineteen of us plus one on the way. We were missing only two who were unable to attend. While the children played, the adults gabbed, ate, drank, and laughed some more. For one long weekend, we were a wild and crazy family again.


Sometimes you don’t realize how much you miss your family until you come together, and the love that surrounds you is magical.


“You go through life wondering what is it all about but at the end of the day it’s all about family.” ~ Rod Stewart

One of my favorite books is The Relatives Came written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Stephen Gammell.  It’s a Caldecott Honor book filled with charming illustrations and a story with heart.


Embrace your family!

“I think the family is the place where the most ridiculous and least respectable things in the world go on.” ~ Ugo Betti






Let There Be Light

January 25, 2018

When we moved to a new state and a new home in a new housing development, everything was … new. Meeting our neighbors helped us feel more comfortable in our surroundings, and as we cultivated new friends, smiles lit up our faces.

Sometimes you find neighbors don’t always agree with everything happening in a community, but when the developer of our neighborhood put a new “street light” at the entrance to our development, we all came together. The decision was unanimous. The light must go.

It’s wasn’t a street light. It was a  light pole that belonged in front of someone’s house to light up a driveway or walkway. If you blinked, you’d miss the tiny glow it cast. I kiddingly said, “Maybe the snowplow will take care of it for us.”

It did.


As of now, the light post lies face down in a puddle of slush. It’s a sad ending to the tale of the little light that didn’t shine brightly enough. The homeowners are in the process of replacing the light with a genuine street light that has a luminosity that will guide all those who enter our community.

Speaking of light …

Here are two sparkling books that will throw light on the subject of light.


The Way Home in the Night written and illustrated by Akiko Miyakoshi, Kids Can Press, 2017


Windows  is written by Julia Denos and illustrated by E.B. Goodale, Candlewick, 2017

Both of these books take place in the evening when lights illuminate the inside of neighborhood homes and businesses. Those looking in from the outside can catch a glimpse of what is happening on the inside. These slice of life images inspire curiosity, imagination, and a safe feeling of home and community. I especially love the lyrical language in The Way Home in the Night. The charming illustrations and text in both of these books make them a must read. And once you do,  I know you’ll agree with me.

Now, if you’re in the dark like we were this week because of a power outage, you might like this book.


Blackout is written and illustrated by John Rocco, Disney-Hyperion, 2011

When the lights go out, what’s a family to do? With the electronics down and out, a family learns how to reconnect with one another. Appealing text and illustrations show how family time can turn into quality time.








Putting Christmas Away

January 4, 2018

Ah… The Christmas Season! I love it! Decorations. Lights. Family. Friends. Festive foods. It’s like no other time of year. Our home is decorated to the nines. In every nook and cranny, there is something special. It’s been said our house throws up Christmas!

The holidays are over, and all I can say is – THANK GOODNESS! Yup, this is me, Mrs. Christmas saying, Bah Humbug!

The arrival of my daughter, favorite (and only) son-in-law, and three granddaughters on the day before Christmas Eve was the inciting incident. We were totally excited about celebrating Christmas with a four-month-old, and two-year-old twins. Yay! Fun times!

But wait! An unexpected Christmas gift came along with them. From the moment they walked through the door, the nasty flu bug was on their heels. Illness permeated the house. Suddenly, the happy family gathering became one of cranky little ones and cranky big ones, dealing with ear infections, coughs, and fevers.

On Christmas morning, I walked into the kitchen to be greeted by one of my granddaughters throwing up at the kitchen table. Fast action by my son-in-law caught the mess in his hands. (Merry Christmas, Mimi!)

The kitchen emptied out quickly, and I was the only one to remain. I spent the rest of the day there, carrying on a conversation with myself and preparing our Christmas dinner. (Hello, is anyone there? I could use some help!) No one listened to my call. They were busy napping or taking care of the sick. By the time six o’clock rolled around, everyone managed to present themselves at the dinner table. A champagne toast was made, and, as my granddaughters say, “we clinked glasses.” That one glass of champagne was the best Christmas present ever! (More, please!)

After our daughter’s family left, my husband and I took time to enjoy the peace and quiet after the chaos and recuperate. On Tuesday of this week, we began the task of “putting Christmas away.” This ritual always makes me sad. All the preparations and anticipation that go into the holidays disappear (poof!) just like that.

Well, almost. These are the last remnants of our holiday decorations. I’m sending them down to the dungeon to think about how they can make next year’s holiday season a more joyous and healthy one. Or better yet, I think my husband and I will spend Christmas at my daughter’s house and sit and enjoy whatever the holiday brings.


Now, with a squeaky clean and disinfected house, it’s time to dive into 2018 with gusto. I have high hopes for a great year for everyone!








Meet Toby and Hazel Mitchell Plus a Giveaway!

September 8, 2016

Toby Cover RGB

TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

If you and your family adore animals – especially dogs – Toby is exactly what you need! This appealing picture book, written and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell, will melt your heart. Moving to a new place can be unsettling, and the companionship of an animal can help make things better. When a young boy and his father move into a new house, they adopt a rescue dog named Toby. Toby howls through the night, is afraid of almost everything, doesn’t like to play, and chews on things he’s not supposed to chew. Dad begins to think maybe Toby isn’t the right dog after all. With determination and patience, the young boy shows his dad that he’s wrong about Toby. As the boy works hard to train Toby, a special bond is created between the two of them. Hazel Mitchell’s text combined with her muted pastel illustrations have an emotional impact on the reader. Words and pictures evoke a feeling of warmth and love. This touching story is one that will be enjoyed again and again.


Today is my lucky day! I’m thrilled to have Hazel Mitchell and her dog, Toby, visiting my blog. Hazel has illustrated numerous picture books and won many awards. Her newest book, Toby, is her debut as an author/illustrator.

Welcome, Hazel and Toby! It’s a real treat for me to interview both of you. And speaking of treats, I hear one of Toby’s favorite things is getting treats.

Is that right, Toby?

WOOF! I love treats! I didn’t know what they were at first. But now pepperoni is my favorite thing.

Hazel, what made you decide to transition from illustrator to author/illustrator? And what was your biggest challenge in doing so?

I always wanted to write since I was at school. And I wrote, but I never finished anything. When I decided I wanted to write for children (and I had journeys into adult fiction!) I really hadn’t much clue what children’s publishers were looking for. I’d always made my way in the world in art and design, so being an illustrator first came naturally. I was lucky to receive a book contract from my very first mail out back in 2010 (How to Talk to an Autistic Kid by Daniel Stefanski) and have been working ever since. Along the way I was writing picture book manuscripts and the more books I illustrated, the more I understood the art of writing a picture book. My biggest challenge was the learning curve in understanding just what makes a good story – in 32 pages. The writing and illustrating of your own book is a back and forth process and it’s hard to know which comes first – pictures or words. Sometimes, both come together.

Toby is a rescue dog and the inspiration for your book. Can you give us some background on how Toby came to live with you and ended up becoming the main character in your picture book?

Toby came to us in fall 2013. He was a state seizure with his family of poodles from a breeder here in Maine. The dogs were all kept in harrowing conditions. Toby had barely been out of a dark basement and was terrified of everything. (Even pepperoni!). At first, we were just going to foster him, but after a few weeks, we realized if we passed him on for adoption the likelihood was he’d keep going back and forth to the shelter. So, we adopted him. In spring 2014, whilst in between illustrating books, I was working on creating a new picture book idea and was playing around with different concepts. It was Harold Underdown, children’s editor, who suggested Toby as a subject (I thought writing about a rescue dog had been done so many times!). But they say write about what you love. And I knew a lot of people loved Toby, having followed his progress on social media after I adopted him. I placed Toby in a different scenario with a young boy and his dad. I decided to do this to give the reader someone else to connect to in the story and have more emotional energy. It worked well, because my agent, Ginger Knowlton saw the book and signed me with Curtis Brown and we sold the book to Liz Bicknell at Candlewick Press first submission!

Toby, how does it feel to be the star in your very own book?

I love it! I think I was born to be a star! Stars get a LOT of pepperoni. I also like the boy in my book, it would be cool to have a young friend. But I love my people.

Toby took a walk on the wild side after he escaped under a fence and ran away a few years ago. His adventure made him quite a celebrity when people from all over the world followed the search for him on the internet. Can you tell us more about that?

Oh, my. That was quite an adventure for a little dog who’d hardly been outside. He was still afraid of the garden! It was very hard to think of him out in the big world with all its dangers. I sincerely thought we’d never get him back. Because people had already been following Toby’s story since I adopted him, they really were upset when he went missing. Local Maine people turned out to search for him, looking in woods, walking the roads, even kayaking down rivers hoping to see him on the riverbanks. We put posters up everywhere and had pet tracker dogs to try to find him. The worst thing was lying awake at night when the end of a tropical storm went through and imagining him out in the thunder and lightning. I don’t think I slept at all. We were just beginning to wonder if we’d ever come to terms with the loss of Toby, when he returned to the place he was lost from and then he was home, unscathed and happy to get his treats! The online world breathed again! And so did we. What most people don’t know is that the book was already on submission with Candlewick Press. Alongside worrying about Toby in the wild, I was concerned that if Candlewick bought the book I wouldn’t have the heart to illustrate it. But all’s well that ends well! (As someone famous once said.)

Toby, do you have anything you want to add?

I never want to be lost again. The world is a very scary place for a small dog. I still don’t like wind and rain and big bangs and flashes. Or things that howl in the night … but there WAS a lot of pepperoni that people dropped everywhere and I think that helped me find my way home. WOOF!

Has illustrating always been a dream of yours? Who or what inspired you to become one?

The truth is, all I was ever good at in school was art and English. I drew in all my classes (even math) and spent my spare time in the art room. My other love was horses and I wanted to go work with them when I was 18, but my art teacher persuaded me to go to art college. (Good call!) Back in the 1980’s in the UK, illustration courses were pretty much unheard of. I’d no idea about book illustration, although I loved picture books. I became a graphic designer and commercial illustrator. And that’s what I did till I came to live in the USA and let my dreams of illustrating books surface again. Then, thank goodness, I joined the SCBWI and finally, all the dark secrets of publishing became clear! (go to

Your illustrations in Toby ooze with emotion. Tell us about your process and what types of materials you use.

Thank you. That’s the best compliment! It was one of my goals to create mood and emotional content. I’d envisioned the book as being almost wordless when I began, or with sparse text, but it was necessary to add some linking lines between pages to make the story easier to follow. The text changed as I created (and cut) pictures in the book. I wanted to give the illustrations a timeless and somewhat retro feel. And give them the feel of books I loved as a child. (Mostly British of course!).

TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

My process is to create the line work in graphite, trying to stay loose (always hard!) I work with very soft 7b or 9b Derwent pencils on Arches hot press paper (140lb). I then wash over the pencil (which doesn’t smudge as much as you’d think) with a one colour, watercolour wash (burnt sienna usually), to add texture and shadows. I then scan at about 400dpi and colour digitally, very lightly in Photoshop (which I have been using since about 1990). I work at about 125% size. My final pages are all sent to the publisher print ready.

TOBY. Copyright © 2016 by Hazel Mitchell. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Toby, have you ever dabbled in drawing or painting?

Only when I walk through mud in the garden and bring it into the house. That’s not too popular. I know some dogs paint with their tails! Do you think there’s a market for it? I do have a paw-print stamp that my people made from my footprint in the snow so I can sign my books. WOOF!

Writing and illustrating a book is very time-consuming. How long did it take you to write and illustrate this book?

It takes a lot longer than people who don’t do it think, that’s for sure! I started writing the story in Spring 2014 and publication is Fall 2016. Actually working on the art was about a year. I did about 5 full drafts before I started on the final art itself. So it was about half and half in sketches and painting time. It was fantastic working with Liz Bicknell, Ann Stott and Carter Hasegawa at Candlewick Press on Toby. They really cared about the book and my vision. And the final printing quality is wonderful – as you would expect from Candlewick Press. They are the best!

I know you do school visits. Will Toby accompany you to any of the schools?

Alas, no. He’s still very fearful and doesn’t like the big world much. And he doesn’t like computers, so skyping with him is also out. I have a Toby hand puppet who’ll go in his place and answer questions for the children. Now Lucy, (who is another rescue poodle we adopted last year) LOVES people .. so maybe she could go and represent Toby.

 Toby, what do you think about that?

I am happy to stay home. People are scary. Although .. maybe there might be treats? Perhaps one day …

Do you have plans to write and illustrate another picture book? Will there be another Toby adventure?

I am working on other stories at the moment, so I hope to have good news in the future. I would love to create another Toby story. Maybe starring Lucy, too! She’s quite envious of Toby. (Even though she gets just as many treats as he does).

What’s the best advice you can give to a new illustrator or writer?

Practice. Read. Practice. Read. Join the SCBWI. Practice. Read. Go to conferences. Learn all you can. Talk to other people in the industry. Practice. Read. Be bold!

Hazel, is there something we don’t know about you that might surprise us?

I once painted a portrait of Princess Anne that I presented to her on behalf of the Royal Navy.

And my fav dessert is crème brûlée.

And I broke my leg parachuting.

That’s it.

What about you, Toby? Do you have a secret you’d like to share?

Hmm … I love pepperoni. Oh wait, that’s not a secret!

Thank you, Hazel Mitchell and Toby for visiting my blog. It’s been a true pleasure and lots of fun getting to know both of you!

Thank you for having us, we enjoyed answering your questions. WOOF!

Hazel Mitchell’s book debuts on Tuesday, September 13th. Don’t miss your chance to get your paws on it! Find it here  and here.

Hazel and Toby close up

Hazel Mitchell has always loved drawing and still cannot be reliably left alone with a pencil. She has illustrated many books for children including Imani’s Moon, One Word Pearl, Animally and Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? ‘Toby’ is her author-illustrator debut from Candlewick Press. Her work has received several awards and been recognized by Bank Street Books, Learning Magazine, Reading is Fundamental,  Foreword Reviews, NYCReads365, Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, Charlotte/Mecklenburg, Chicago and Maine State libraries among others. Originally from England, where she attended art college and served in the Royal Navy, she now lives in Maine with her poodles Toby and Lucy and a cat called Sleep. She still misses British fish and chips but is learning to love lobster. Find out more about her books at

Represented by Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown Ltd., NYC

Links for Toby:


Book Trailer:

Finally, THE GIVEAWAY!!! For a chance to win a free copy of Toby written and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell (Candlewick Press, September 2016) and a swag bag with a personalized bookplate, leave a comment about the post below. Please note:  You must be a resident of the U.S. and at least 18 years of age to enter. The giveaway ends on Thursday, 9/15/16 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be randomly picked and announced on my blog post on 9/22/16.









January 28, 2016

Ryan T. Higgins the author/illustrator of Mother Bruce is a funny guy! This picture book, published by Disney-Hyperion, is laugh-out-loud hilarious!

Bruce is a grumpy bear who lives by himself. He doesn’t like much of anything except eggs. He whips eggs into gourmet recipes he finds on the internet. While preparing a new recipe with goose eggs, the eggs hatch into four cute little goslings. “Mama!” they say to Bruce. Bruce wants nothing to do with them and tries to return them to Mrs. Goose. Alas, she has flown south. The goslings are attached to Bruce. He tries to shoo them away, but they won’t have it. Like it or not, Bruce becomes their surrogate mother. Bruce uses his ingenuity to try to get them to leave, but nothing works. He is stuck with them as they grow from babies to teens to adults. Will he ever be rid of them? Higgins’ illustrations are delightfully funny. Each page turn offers a colorful variety of illustrations with clever lines and dialogue bubbles that kids and adults will love. If you’re a grump, Mother Bruce will make it all better!





















Celebrating With Family, Friends, and Food

July 9, 2015

“Laughter is brightest in the place where food is.” – Irish Proverb

Holidays are for family, friends, and food. That’s exactly how we spent our Fourth of July – with family and friends, enjoying a feast.

We began the day with a trip on a ferry that took us to Long Island. Our black jeep was the last one on. Yikes!

photo 1

After warm greetings, the feast began.

photo 3 (35)

To begin …

Oysters Rockefeller and Oysters Bienville

These oysters were harvested by our host, who created this delicious presentation on the half shell. Yum!

On to dinner …

doris 2

Doris, the Boston Terrier, got a peek at what was to come.

photo 4 (4)

Lobster anyone?

If that wasn’t enough, out came …

photo 5

perfectly grilled filet mignon with sides of corn, salad, red potatoes, and wine!

We ate outside on a glorious Independence Day, overlooking Long Island Sound. The combination of family, friends, food, and laughter made the day remarkable!


May 21, 2015

Last week while my brain was a blank page, I read Kwame Alexander’s book, The Crossover. The title refers to a basketball maneuver used by one of the main characters. Deservedly, Alexander received the Newbery Award and Coretta Scott King Honor Award for his efforts.

photo 1

The story, written in verse and poetry that has you moving and grooving, is narrated by twelve-year-old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother, Jordan, are talented basketball players. They’re like two peas in a pod until a love interest threatens to rupture the special bond the twins have. Kwame Alexander intertwines family, loyalty, sibling rivalry, and lessons of life with basketball skills to strike a rhythm that keeps readers turning the pages. When the boys are faced with a life-changing event, remembering the importance of a loving family pulls them together and makes for a heartwarming story. For me this book is a slam dunk.

Happy Beautiful Day!

November 20, 2014

In honor of Beautiful Day, I’m posting a few of my favorite pictures. Let the beauty shine through.



thank a veteran










No matter what your day may be like, try to find the beauty in your life. I hope you have a beautiful day!


And on this Beautiful Day, I want to wish a very special Happy Birthday to my fabulous daughter and husband!

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