Category Archives: Books

Why and How to Read to your Baby

Why and How to Read to your Baby

This article first appeared on Doing Life Together.

Doing Life Together

All five of my children knew how to read by the time they entered kindergarten.

Are they incredibly brilliant? Yes. But more than anything else, I attribute their early grasp of a complicated but vital skill to the fact that my husband and I read to our children from the time they were babies.

story-time-with-mom-by-devinf-on-flickr Photo by devinf on flickr

At what age should I introduce my baby to books?

Somewhere from three to five months, while holding the baby in your lap, page through a board book with him. He will try to wrest it from your hands and put it into his mouth. That’s what babies do—they explore the world with their taste buds and their sensitive tongues. Let him have it, and gently try to draw his attention to the pictures.

This step is a lot easier if you have already been showing him things in his environment and…

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Video of the Week #101: For Reading Out Loud

Video of the Week #101: For Reading Out Loud

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Creative Juice #43

Creative Juice #43

A dozen delicious offerings served up to tempt your artistic palette:

  • This article is much longer than what’s usually included in Creative Juice. It’s also the saddest story I’ve read in a long time—and it’s true. But people need to read this.
  • Want to make time to be more creative? I participated in the Index-Card-A-Day Challenge last year, and I’m doing it again this year. You can, too.
  • This article is a little old (we’re past the end of the coloring challenge mentioned in it), but I love the artwork, so I’m sharing.
  • Love coffee table art books? You can enjoy 204 of them for free—virtually.
  • Reading list for personal growth.
  • Sand scuptures.
  • The Garden of Earthly Delights.
  • Wouldn’t this be a nice home to own?
  • You could totally do this flower pot project.
  • I didn’t even know I needed art masking fluid. Now I must have it!
  • Have you ever gone through The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron? It’s a 12-week exercise to increase your creativity. I’ve done it once, and I want to eventually do it again. A few years ago I read this related article, and it was so beautiful I saved it. Now I share it with you.
  • Reasons to make art, even if it’s not all that good.

Creative Juice #42

Creative Juice #42

Twelve recent articles to challenge your preconceptions and open you up to new possibilities.

Guest Post: Book Giveaway – In the Red Canoe

Guest Post: Book Giveaway – In the Red Canoe

Thank you to Kathy Temean of Writing and Illustrating for this guest post about Leslie A. Davidson’s new release.

Writing and Illustrating

Congratulations to author Leslie A Davidson on her new book IN THE RED CANOE. She has agreed to participate in our book giveaways. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you did to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you. Check back to discover the winner.


Ducks and frogs, swallows and dragonflies, beaver lodges and lily pads―a multitude of wonders enchant the child narrator in this tender, beautifully illustrated picture book. A tribute to those fragile, wild places that still exist, In the Red Canoe celebrates the bond between grandparent and grandchild and invites nature lovers of all ages along for the ride.

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Review: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Review: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

When I read How to Write Funny last year, I was disappointed to find that many of the writers who are considered geniuses of comedy aren’t very funny to me.

So I perused all the books on my shelves and thought about who I consider funny. I like cerebral humor. I like wry, twisted observation.

I came up with two authors: Anne Lamott (see my review of Bird by Bird), and Sarah Vowell.

Sarah_Vowell by Tammy Lo

Photo by Tammy Lo

If you’re not familiar with Vowell, she was a popular contributor to This American Life on NPR, and the author of many commentaries on American history and culture, and the voice of Violet in the animated movie The Incredibles. I saw her speak in person at a writers conference many years ago.

Assassination Vacation is a cerebral and wry account of a marathon pilgrimage Vowell took to various sites connected with the murders of presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, accompanied on various legs by a friend, her sister Amy, and/or her (then three-year-old) nephew Owen.

How could that possibly be funny?

Vowell makes it so. Let’s eavesdrop on a conversation in the book:

Bennet asked, “You know that Kevin Bacon game?”

“The one where he can be connected to every other movie star?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. Assassinations are your Kevin Bacon. No matter what we’re talking about, you will always bring the conversation back to a president getting shot.”

He was right…Once I knew my dead presidents and I had become insufferable, I started to censor myself. There were a lot of get-togethers with friends where I didn’t hear half of what was being said because I was sitting there, silently chiding myself, Don’t bring up McKinley. Don’t bring up McKinley.

Assassination VacationOh. I almost recognize myself in that exchange.

Vowell collects interesting but random facts and shares them with us. For example, “Mary Surratt’s D.C. boardinghouse, where John Wilkes Booth gathered his co-conspirators to plot Lincoln’s death, is now a Chinese restaurant called Wok & Roll.”

Here is how Vowell describes the tour guide who leads her through the Oneida Community, a former cult commune in New York, and briefly the home of Charles J. Guiteau, the assassin of James Garfield:

…Joe Valesky, a retired Oneida native who taught high school American history for thirty-six years, gives me a guided tour.  Someday, I hope to be just like him. There are people who look forward to spending their sunset years in the sunshine; it is my own retirement dream to await my death indoors, dragging strangers up dusty staircases while coughing up one of the must thrilling phrases in the English language: “It was on this spot…” My fantasy is to one day become a docent.

Did I mention I love nerds, being one myself?

Vowell is annoyed when while trying to find the place where a particular event happened, there is no marker:

I am pro-plaque. New York is lousy with them, and I love how spotting a plaque can jazz up even the most mundane errand. Once I stepped out of a deli on Third Avenue and turned the corner to learn I had just purchased gum near the site of Peter Stuyvesant’s pear tree. For a split second I had fallen through a trapdoor that dumped me out in New Amsterdam, where in 1647 the peg-legged Dutch governor planted a tree he brought over from Holland; until a fatal wagon accident, it bore fruit for more than two hundred years. To me, every plaque, no matter what words are inscribed on it, says the same magic informative thing: Something happened! The gum cost a dollar, but the story was free.

Sarah_Vowell by Loren-zo

Photo by Loren-zo

And her writing is so picturesque: “…the McKinley National Monument in Canton is a domed edifice on top of a hill. It’s a gray granite nipple on a fresh green breast of grass.” Tell me you didn’t smile when you read that.

Sarah Vowell loves history, and she has the knack of making it interesting to those who might rather stick needles in their eyes than read about past tragedies. You may not think a book about presidential murders could be entertaining or actually funny, but Assassination Vacation is.

What about you? Do you like history? Have you read anything by Sarah Vowell or heard her speak? Share your opinions and insights in the comments below.

Review: Writing the Heart of Your Story by C.S. Lakin

Review: Writing the Heart of Your Story by C.S. Lakin

I read a lot of writing books. This is one of the best I’ve ever read.

I’ve long been a big fan of C.S. Lakin’s website, Live Write Thrive. So when a deal came along for the Kindle edition of Writing the Heart of Your Story: The Secret to Crafting an Unforgettable Novel, I ordered it.

The books we remember years after we finish the last page are the ones that connect with us on an emotional level. Lakin’s book takes us on a journey to discover what’s at the heart of the story we’re writing, and how to make that heart connection with the reader.

The thirty chapters of the book are divided into five sections, defining heart, and explaining how to heighten it in your characterization, plot and theme, scenes, and more.writing the heart

Lakin encourages writers to put a lot of thought into the very first page of the novel. She’s devised a checklist of 13 items that should appear on page one. The list turns some common writing advice upside down, but will compel the reader to turn to page two. “Think about the emotion, feeling, or sensation you want to evoke in your reader…establishing immediately…the drives, desires, needs, fears, frustrations of your protagonist. Not only do you need to show her in conflict…you also need to reveal her heart, hint at her spiritual need, show her vulnerability, and what obstacles are standing in her way. In the first scene? Oh yes.”

Latin is a plotter rather than a pantser, but she plots strategically, planning how she will impact the reader before she even starts her manuscript. She tells us to RUE: resist the urge to explain. She challenges writers to take out all but maybe three short sentences of backstory.

Lakin also sends us to our bookshelves to reread our favorite books and analyze them for the elements she presents. There we find proof her strategies work.

She shares hints she’s gleaned from other writing books that help writers identify elements of heart. For example, she recommends Elizabeth George’s practice of free writing about her characters. “Call it muse or divine inspiration, but freewriting, like journaling, can draw from a deep well of experience and emotion. Things float to the surface of the mind when you do this, and I will guarantee that some of your best ideas for your character will come through this exercise. You are delving into the mystery of your character, and this exercise will bring out their secrets.” (I can’t wait to try that idea!)

I love the questions Lakin raises in Chapter 19 for building conflict and complications:

  • What’s the problem about? How can I make it bigger? If I take my protagonist out of the story, what does that problem look like in universal terms?

  • How can I make this problem the protagonist has harder? How can I make things worse in the outer world and in his personal life?

  • How can I make the effects of this problem worse for other people as well? How can I broaden the scope of this problem so it affects a greater scope?

  • What does this problem push people to do that they wouldn’t normally do? How can I blow that up bigger and make them do worse things?

  • How can I make it harder for my protagonist to solve this problem? How can I raise the stakes so more is at risk? If I have just one thing at risk, what other things can I add and put at risk?

Lakin gives special consideration to the setting of each scene:

Where is the best place I can put my character to have this scene unfold and lead to the important moment revealed in this scene? Rather than pick something off the top of your head, which is what a lot of writers do in their rush to put a scene down, you will find that if you deliberately and judiciously choose a setting that will best serve the interests of your plot and your character’s need for that scene, you will have a much more powerful novel.

While reading Writing the Heart of Your Story, I found myself running to the computer to rewrite sections of my work-in-progress.

I’m currently reading Lakin’s novel Intended for Harm. It’s interesting to see how she uses her strategies in her own work.

Writing the Heart of Your Story is a book I intend to reread often—whenever I start writing a new novel and whenever I start editing it.

Review: The Story of With by Allen Arnold

Review: The Story of With by Allen Arnold

In January, I attended a writers’ mini-conference given by Christian Writers of the West. The guest speaker was Allen Arnold, former fiction editor for Thomas Nelson. He spoke at length about inspiration and creativity and how the desire to create comes to us from God as an invitation to closer intimacy with Him.

Arnold’s presentation was so refreshing and invigorating and so full of ideas I wanted to explore further, that I bought two copies of his book, The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, and Create. One was for myself, and the other for my friend Tom, who is struggling to finish writing a very important book. I gave it to him a few days later.the story of WITH

In the meantime, I began reading it.

A large part of The Story of With is an allegory, the story of Mia, a girl whose father disappeared long ago. I found the allegory kind of hokey.  Each chapter ended with an explanation of that part of the allegory, which was necessary—I wouldn’t have understood the allegory without the author’s commentary. Which made me wonder—why would Arnold devote so much time and energy to the allegory if it didn’t clarify his premise (and instead required him to interpret it for the reader)? I regretted giving Tom the book before reading it myself.

But before I finished the book, I saw Tom again, and he shared that he had read the book straight through, moved to tears because it affected him so deeply. When I mentioned my disappointment with the allegory, he said for him, it didn’t detract from the message.

These passages from The Story of With especially resonated with me:

  • [God’s] motive in giving you specific talents isn’t primarily so you’ll be productive…It is so your desires can find their fulfillment in Him…God doesn’t need your help as much as He wants your heart (page 120).

  • The door will find you when you are ready (page 205).

  • True success means you create with the Creator, in fellowship with others, as you engage with the community your creation serves. With. With. With (page 213).

  • Living like this ushers in an atmosphere of abundance and freedom. There’s no longer a need to try and control your Story. You know God has even bigger plans than you for what’s ahead. So you are content to ride with Him wherever the path may lead (page 243).

I recommend this book for creative people, but with two caveats. First, if you have no use for God, The Story of With will make no sense to you; it will just be jibberish. (But if you are searching for God, you can find Him here.) Second, if you are looking for the way to make lots of money or fame from your creations, that goal is not addressed here. But if you desire freedom, high quality of creative life, and intimacy with God, you must read this.

Have you already read The Story of With? What is your opinion of it? Share in the comments below. And if you read the book later, come back and let us know what you think.


Creative Juice #39

Creative Juice #39

Good stuff here this week. Lots of ideas to make you more creative.

  1. The perils of being a new photographer (or how to almost get thrown out of a concert by Prince).
  2. Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik has written a new book for girls.
  3. What’s your superpower?
  4. Did you know former president George W. Bush is an artist?
  5. Photos or paintings?
  6. I love keeping up with this quilt group.
  7. What can you do with a dead butterfly?
  8. The illustrations of Pat Achilles.
  9. Interesting reading list.
  10. I may already have included this article in a previous Creative Juice, but it bears rereading—it’s that important for your brain.
  11. Five things you can do now to encourage your creativity.
  12. Another strategy to improve your creativity.

In the Meme Time: R is for Reading

In the Meme Time: R is for Reading

a2z-badge-100-2017Live in that World

Words have Lives


Read 1



Read 2

REad Snicket

Read 3


Read 4

REad Doctor-Who

Read 5