Month: December 2016

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Antsy Ansel.

Before I became a writer, I was a photographer. I studied at Brooks Institute of Photography in sunny, eucalyptus and ocean-scented Santa Barbara, California. I was following my life-long dream. I first knew I wanted to be a photographer when I was seven. My parents took my sister and me to the zoo, and I brought along my Kodak box camera. I photographed the lumbering brown bears, snuffling for food. I photographed the elephants, sweeping up dust clouds with their trunks in search of peanuts. I photographed the vibrant, pink flamingoes, posing on a single, spindly leg. Then, I sat on a park bench, flipped the lock up on my camera, and pulled out the film to see my pictures. Nothing. Just a long stretch of glossy, black film. Gone were the bears, the elephants, and the pretty flamingoes. Enter tears….

My father, being a scientist, explained in the simplest terms how photography works. I became intrigued. I wanted to know more about the magic that changed a strip of blank film into negatives. Then, I needed to learn how to take those negatives and change them into prints. By the time I turned fifteen, I had converted our basement bathroom into a darkroom equipped with an old, but functioning, enlarger, trays for chemicals, tongs, a paper safe, film processing canisters, the works! Through high school, I took every evening course in photography the junior college up the road offered. By my sophomore year in high school, I became the school photographer for the newspaper and yearbook. Brooks Institute of Photography, which I mentioned earlier, is where I met my husband, a wonderful man whom I married the day after graduation. We opened a studio and photographed weddings, families, children, and pets. We were living our dream. Years into our career, I over lifted a piece of heavy equipment and won myself a matched set of textbook-perfect bulged discs (the doctor’s description). We closed our studio doors. My husband turned to banking, and I turned to my love of writing.

So, why the story about my years as a photographer? Because today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday (PPBF) review is about Ansel Adams, one of the greatest and most beloved nature photographers of all time.

Title – Antsy Ansel – Ansel Adams, A Life In nature

Written by  – Cindy Jenson-Elliott

Illustrated by – Christy Hale

Published by – Christy Ottaviano Books – 2016

Suitable for ages – 5-9

Topics/Theme –  going after your dream, determination, and love of nature.

Opening –  Ansel was antsy. H never walked–he ran. When he sat, his feet danced. Even his thoughts flew about like a gull in a storm. Ansel noticed everything. And everyone noticed Ansel.

“Pay attention,” said his aunt.

“Please sit still,” begged his mother.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE. You may be familiar with Adams’s iconic black-and-white nature photographs. But do you know about the artist who created these images?

As a child, Ansel Adams just couldn’t sit still. He felt trapped indoors and never walked anywhere–he ran. Even when he sat, his feet danced. But in nature, Ansel felt right at home. He fell in love with the gusting gales of the Golden Gate, the quiet whisper of Lobos Creek, the icy white of Yosemite Valley, and countless other remarkable natural sights.

From his early days in San Francisco to the height of his glory nationwide, Antsy Ansel chronicles a restless boy’s path to becoming an iconic nature photographer.

Why do I like this book? I thought I knew a great deal about Ansel Adams prior to reading this book, but what I knew was the adult life of the man and not the life and path of the boy who became a renowned nature photographer. Teamed with the traditional and digital collages of Christy Hale, Cindy Jenson-Elliott’s informative story of the life of Ansel Adams becomes a treasure to read and admire.
Learn more about Cindy Jenson-Elliott HERE.
Learn more about Christy Hale HERE.
BONUS – Read a review by Joanne Roberts of Antsy Ansel on her blog, Bookish Ambition. In addition to a wonderful review, Joanne offers many great links for added research on Ansel Adams complete with a teacher’s guide, activities, digital photography lessons, and more.

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

The End of Santa Claus

When I was a child, Santa existed through illustrations in my picture books and as the mysterious, magical, stocking-stuffing man I never once met. With a Santa Clause listening to the heartfelt wishes of children in shopping malls around the globe, how is it possible I never sat on his knee? Simple.

My parents never took me to see Santa Claus. (Sniff.)

It wasn’t long before I figured out that my Mom was the maker of the magic that belongs to Christmas. I think I was seven when I noticed Santa’s wrapping paper looked exactly like ours. And let’s just overlook that his handwriting looked suspiciously like my mother’s, too…


It was when I had my daughter that I decided to make up for my own childhood loss. I was determined to give my little girl more than a seat on Santa’s lap at the neighborhood mall.

Being a writer, I indulged my childhood fantasy in creating a real Santa, genuine pointy-eared elves, a cookie-baking Mrs. Clause, and a shimmering castle of ice nestled deep in the heart of the North Pole.

The bigger magic I created at Christmas began (and don’t cringe when I tell you this) when my daughter asked Santa for her very own Elf on the Shelf. While some parents sit their chid’s elf on a bookshelf on Monday, on top of the fridge on Tuesday, stuffed in the tissue box on Wednesday, etc… my writer’s imagination shifted into high gear. My daughter’s elf, Roza, would do soooo much more than the average elf! elf-of-the-shelfShe would listen to my daughter’s daily news, pay close attention when she had questions, and write letters. Nightly letters. (Picture me struggling to stay awake until my daughter lay deep asleep. Now picture me bleary eyed, padding downstairs at midnight to sit at my dining room table armed with three pairs of glasses, a pencil sharpener, and pencil.) In the tiniest handwriting possible, I answered my daughter’s daily questions about life at the North Pole, about the day to day activities of an elf, and about Santa and Mrs. Claus.


My daughter asked her elf questions like:

Just how old are you?  (Turns out Roza is 132 years old!)

Since you’re over one-hundred years old, did you belong to a child before me? (Turns out there were several, and the stories might amaze you.)

Are you married? (She sure is. And Roza’s husband, and fellow elf, is Santa’s head sleigh engineer.)

How many children do you have? (She has over 70.)

Do you have any pets? (This list is long and growing all the time. But I will say that Roza’s favorite pet is Mush Mush her rabbit who makes babies faster than reindeer fly.)

What’s your favorite meal? (Anything as long as it’s coated in crushed candy canes.)

How did Santa become Santa? (This answer, I’m sorry to say, could be a blog all by itself.)

Is he the only Santa we’ve ever had? Or was there a Santa before him? (Yup, another blog entry.)

How did Santa meet his wife? (She was the girl next door, of course.)

If Santa has been around back when my great, great, great, great grandfather was a little boy, what’s keeping him alive so long?  (You guessed it. This, too, could be another blog entry. )

Will Mrs. Claus live forever, too?  (Yes! Thankfully she was caught in the spell cast that turned Santa into a saint.)

Has Santa been married before? (No sirree! Santa is a one woman man.)

Do Mr. and Mrs. Claus have pets? (Their favorite pet is a polar bear that sleeps at the foot of their large bed.)

Who named the reindeer and what do the names mean? (Would you believe the elves named the reindeer? I’d go into details for each reindeer’s name, but this blog is already running long.)

How do you get down the chimney when the flu is closed? (There is an entire science to the magic behind this ability.)

How do you get into a child’s home who lives in an apartment without a chimney? (See above scientific magic.)

Okay. I guess you’re getting the idea that this mom doesn’t get much sleep in December with all these late night scribblings to invent the North Pole. And yes, there have been plenty of letters from Santa, too. (You guessed it. Those letters were written by yours truly.)

My daughter’s elf has not only written countless letters, all carefully preserved in a wooden treasure box, but Roza has made her earrings and a bracelet, baked her a batch of candy cane crunch cookies, thouroughly wrapped my writing room in yarn, toilet papered our Christmas tree, exchanged our holiday stockings at the mantel for our underwear, and made an elf-schristmas-cookiesized armchair out of marshmallows.

Year after year, my daughter has come closer and closer to questioning the magic. After all, many of her friends at school are Santa doubters.

Last week, instead of having her usual conversation with Roza, which I was always allowed to hear, my daughter decided the time had come to test the magic. When she believed I wasn’t around, she whispered something to her elf.

“What did you tell Roza?” I asked as inocently as possible.

“I asked her to do something.”

“Gee, I hope you didn’t ask her to toilet paper the house again.”

“Nothing like that,” my daughter said.

“Then what do you want her to do?”

“I’m not telling you,” she said. “This way, I’ll know for sure if Roza is a doll like my friends say she is.”

Yup, this is the moment I suffered a mild panic attack. Come morning, when my daughter awoke, Roza would not have done what she asked, and everything would clatter to the ground in a grand domino effect.

“Mommy,” she said, “you and I both know Roza is real. After all, there’s no way you would get out of bed late at night and write those letters from her. And her handwriting is so small it would take you three pairs of glasses to write them! And there’s no way you would tie up your writing room in miles of yarn. And after how mad you got when Roza toilet papered our tree… well… you just wouldn’t do something like that!” Then, she lowered the boom. “And I know you wouldn’t lie to me.”

I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I welled up with tears because my little girl was growing up. Santa, Mrs. Clause, Roza, all the animals at the North Pole, (and did I mention that over summer vacation Roza had a baby and named it after my daughter?) the little elf baby, and all the magic I worked so hard to create was coming to an end.

“Mommy?” my daughter said. “Tell me the truth. Is Roza real?”

I slipped away to where Roza perched on our piano. I smiled at the careful placement of marshmallows she (okay…my husband and I) left on every key as I gently lifted the little elf. No more would I stay up late to sneak downstairs and create the magic. No more would I wear three pairs of glasses to answer my daughter’s important Chrismas questions. No more would I concoct elaborate plans of mischief for Roza to get into. I carried the little elf doll upstairs to my daughter, sad that the time had come to shatter the dreams I helped make real.

Anyone who knows about the elf on the shelf knows you Never touch your elf or the magic leaves, and she or he will be a doll forever. My daughter looked at Roza, cradled in my hands, and the floodgates blew wide open. She took me by the hand and sat me down with a pad of paper and pencil. “Prove to me that you wrote those letters from Roza, because I know your eyes aren’t good enough to write anything that little without putting on three pairs of glasses.”

I put on three pairs of glasses and wrote her the very last letter from Roza.

More tears, mine included.

“What about Santa?” she sobbed. “Are you him, too?”

“Honestly, sweetheart?” I said. “I am not Santa. I’m one of his devoted helpers. Santa is very real, and you can go on believing in him for the rest of your life.”

Then I told her the true story of the young man named Nicholas who became Santa.

Many years ago, back in the year 280, a boy named Nicholas was born in Patara, which is part of the country known today as Turkey. His parents were quite wealthy and raised Nicholas to believe that he should give what he could to help the less fortunate, the needy, the sick, and any people who were suffering. Because of his great kindnesses, when he was a young man, he was made Bishop Nicholas of Nyra and was known throughout the land for his generosity to those people in need and especially for his kindness and love for all children. On December 6th in the year 343, Nicholas was granted sainthood upon his death and named Saint Nicholas. The day he became a saint is the day many children celebrate and know as Saint Nicholas Day. The spirit of Saint Nicholas has been felt by many, especially at Christmastime. This is a time of year when people give more freely to others and open their hearts to others with kindness. Many people credit the spirit of Saint Nicholas for this magical feeling. So you see, Santa Claus was a very real and very generous man. Just because he passed away so many years ago doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. He existed and his spirit will always live on and on. And you can always believe in him.

I believe.

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays.


A Twist on the Twelve Days of Christmas

Yes, I’ve taken the famous song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and put a high-tech spin on it. Why? So glad you asked. Because The Twelve Days of Christmas is the theme behind Susanna Hill’s Holiday Contest.

Here are the rules:

Write a children’s holiday story (children here defined as approximately age 12 and under) using the basic format/concept of The Twelve Days Of Christmas!  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 300 words. (It can be as short as you like (the judges will be grateful? , you are welcome and encouraged to write shorter, but no more than 300 words!  Title not included in word count.)  The field is wide open!  Have fun!  The more creative the better!

Coming in at 286 words, here is my high-tech version of a classic Christmas song.



Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

On the first day of Christmas the elves surprised me with:

A high-speed, electric-powered sleigh.

On the second day of Christmas the elves pushed into view:

Two turbo launchers,

and a high-speed, electric-powered sleigh.

On the third day of Christmas the elves prepared a treat:

Three cocoa heaters,

two turbo launchers,

and a high-speed, electric-powered sleigh.

On the fourth day of Christmas the elves gave me a gift:

Four high-tech gizmos,

three cocoa heaters,

two turbo launchers,

and a high-speed, electric-powered sleigh.

On the fifth day of Christmas the elves amazed me with:

Five heated seats,

four high-tech gizmos,

three cocoa heaters,

two turbo launchers,

and a high-speed, electric-powered sleigh.

On the sixth day of Christmas the elves secured for me:

Six rooftop radar,

five heated seats,

four high-tech gizmos,

three cocoa heaters,

two turbo launchers,

and a high-speed, electric-powered sleigh.

On the seventh day of Christmas the elves attached for me:

Seven rocket boosters,

six rooftop radar,

five heated seats,

four high-tech gizmos,

three cocoa heaters,

two turbo launchers,

and a high-speed, electric-powered sleigh.

On the eighth day of Christmas, the elves caused me to shriek:

Eight robot reindeer,

seven rocket boosters,

six rooftop radar,

five heated seats,

four high-tech gizmos,

three cocoa heaters,

two turbo launchers,

and a high-speed, electric-powered sleigh.

On the next days of Christmas the elves outdid themselves:

Twelve gift dispensers,

eleven good kid sensors,

ten high beam headlights,

nine ice storm melters,

eight robot reindeer,

seven rocket boosters,

six rooftop radar,

five heated seats,

four high-tech gizmos,

three cocoa heaters,

two turbo launchers,

and a high-speed, electric-powered sleigh.

But on Christmas Eve at launch time,

with Rudolph in the lead,

I snuck off in my trusty, shiny sleigh.

I hope you enjoyed this little holiday tale. Good luck to everyone who enters Susanna Hills contest.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Goes Prehistoric!

Dinosaurs and cavemen both played a part in my childhood. My mother, a scientific illustrator at the Field Museum in Chicago, studied Dinosaurs, painted scenic backgrounds and illustrated a book in the “What is” scientific series called What is a Dinosaur, published by Benefic Press in 1961.


My father, on the other end of the spectrum, liked to make light in life and would often try to get our attention by saying, “Look! A Tetradactyl flew over  our house!”

Now, if you’re wondering how cavemen fit into my upbringing, that’s a source of stress. While my sister and I tried to get Dad to drink plenty of water each day, Dad would push the glass away and say, “You never hear about cavemen drinking water.” And, of course, a lack of water in Dad’s diet led to numerous visits to the doctor and on rare occasions, the emergency room. Having said that, I hope you’re inspired to pour yourself a glass of cool water and chug-a-lug.

I also grew up with the television show, The Flintstones. A funny program about Cavemen! Maybe all this is why I chose the book I did for this week’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review.

TEK The Modern Cave Boy

Title – TEK The Modern Cave Boy

Written and illustrated by – Patrick McDonnell

Published by – Little Brown and Company -2016

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Theme –  If you change your view, you might find a bigger and better life waiting for you.

Opening –  Once upon a time, way, way back, a long time ago, or maybe yesterday, there lived a little cave boy named Tek. Tek was pretty much your typical troglodyte child. Yes, he did have a beard, but everything was kind of hairy back then.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE.  From a beloved, bestselling Caldecott Honor recipient comes a hilarious reminder of how technology can take us backward… all the way to the times of prehistoric man!

Tek is a cave boy in love with tech: his tablet, video games, phone, and TV keep him deep in his cave, glued to his devices, day in and day out. He never sees his friends or family anymore–and his ability to communicate has devolved to just one word: “UGH”! Can anyone in the village convince Tek to unplug and come outside into the big, beautiful world?
A distinctive package and design cleverly evoke the experience of using an electronic device that eventually shuts down… and after a magic page turn, Tek (and the reader) reconnects with the real world.
Why do I like this book? Prehistoric times collide with the modern day world. What’s not to love?  The reader gets introduced to such amazing dinosaurs as the Watchamacallitasaurus, the Hoozdatasaurus, and a flying Idontgiveadactyl. We also learn, much to my amazement, that the internet was invented by the father of caveboy. Who knew? All that aside, the design of the book makes it stand out on the shelf. Shaped like a tablet, the book is complete with a page on which to enter your password. A lot of thought went into developing this clever, soon-to-be, childhood favorite.
Learn more about Patrick McDonnell HERE.

Find more “Perfect Picture Book Friday” reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.