Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What do you think of e-books?

OK. I’ll admit that I am a creature from another generation. I grew up in an era when most neighborhoods had a library and reading was a popular pastime. My love of books led me down the path to writing children’s books. Now there’s a new creation – ebooks. Not worn, well- used books, lovingly handled by numerous children, edges worn, corners folded. Now books can be downloaded (Or is it uploaded? I get them confused.) onto computers and other fancy electronic gadgets. So, I’m faced with a big decision - to ebook or not to ebook. Will children read picture books on a computer screen? Will parents sit in front of a computer and read fairy books to their children? Is the cost the biggest issue here? Is it a matter of ease and immediate availability? Will kids be happy curling up with a good computer? Can you fall asleep with a nice laptop on your chest? Please help me here. Any advice would be appreciated.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Do You File or Pile?

As I look around my office, daydreaming about anything I can think of that will distract me from work, I am gazing upon the piles of unfinished business and other “stuff” on my desk. I see the manuscript for my next book (The Belly Button Fairy), a cute little fairy doll sitting atop my computer, the latest copy of “O” Magazine and a piece of jewelry that needs to be repaired. Now I look across the room, peering jealously at my husband’s desk. He has a lot of boring things such as bills and invoices, along with several relatively neat stacks of reading materials. He actually knows what is in each stack. He even keeps a huge archaic file cabinet where he files away everything he can think of, everything in labeled folders. I, on the other hand, use the 21st century method of storing everything in my computer, all under cute little titles that I can never find when I need them. This is the difference between rightbrained people (me) and leftbrained people (my husband). Who is correct? Depends on who you ask.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Spiced Yellow Summer Pie

Looking for a delicious, healthy dessert? Each serving has only 155 calories and 3 grams of fat. They'll never guess the main ingredient! This recipe is from my cookbook, The Meatless Gourmet - Easy Lowfat Favorites. It's quick and simple. Enjoy!

Makes 8 servings
1-1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
1-1/2 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

2-1/2 heaping cups yellow summer squash, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch to 1-inch pieces
4 egg whites
1 cup nonfat dry milk
1/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine butter and honey in a 9-inch pie pan. Add graham cracker crumbs and mix until crumbs are moistened. Press crumbs onto bottom and sides of pan to form crust. Bake 5 minutes.
In a blender container, combine all filling ingredients. Blend until smooth. Pour into crust. Bake 25 minutes, or until set.
Cool slightly, then chill.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Letting Boys Believe in Fairies

It makes me sad that many parents discourage their little boys from believing in fairies. They let the boys believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, dragons and monsters, but when it comes to fairies, that’s where many draw the line. I visit many schools and libraries, reading The Knot Fairy and The Sock Fairy. I sell almost as many books to boys as girls, however I’ve met many parents who will not let their sons buy the books. I’ve had fathers say to me, “These are girls’ books, right?” Actually the Sock Fairy is a little boy fairy, proving, without a doubt, that fairies themselves can be boys or girls. When I ask the children to make up their own stories about fairies that they have created, the boys become as excited as the girls. Yes, there is a difference between the fairies that the boys create versus the ones created by the girls. The boys have come up with ideas such as the Lunchbox Fairy, the Thunder Fairy and the Broken Toy Fairy, while the girls have created the Earring Fairy, the T-Shirt Fairy and the Rainbow Fairy. So, what’s the harm in letting boys believe? They love to believe in dragons and elves. Please let them believe in fairies, too. Before long they will be older and their imaginations will be (unfortunately) stifled by the world around them. Let them hold onto their imaginations as long as they can. And, Dad, if it makes you feel any better, some fairies do very unpleasant things.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Heart New York

I just returned home from a fun- and business-filled weekend in New York and all I can say is “Wow!” No matter how many times I have visited the Big Apple, I am always in awe of the hugeness (is that a word?) of everything. From the numbers of people on the streets to the giant portions of food in the restaurants, everything in New York is done in a very big way.

On Friday I was the “guest fairy” at a Fairy Gathering held at Barnes & Noble on Broadway. It was attended by lots of little “fairies in training”. Some wore wings and sparkly dresses, while others wore mismatched socks in honor of The Sock Fairy. There were quite a few little fairies with tangled hair, however I don’t think this was intentional. I don’t think they realized that they were the spitting image of The Knot Fairy. It does, however, prove that “art imitates life.”

On Saturday, the Brooklyn Public Library hosted an author’s reception where I was thrilled to meet Marty Markowitz, the president of Brooklyn Borough. What a treat! He is like everyone’s Uncle Marty.

The Brooklyn Book Festival was the highlight of the weekend. Twenty thousand or so enthusiastic book buyers braved the heat and humidity to see what was new in the literary world. This is one of my favorite book fairs, drawing people from all over the east coast.
The best news for me was that fairies are still very popular! It was really heartwarming to hear the words that so many authors long to hear: “I loved your first book. Now I must have the second one.”

I arrived home tired, yet happy. Thank you, New Yorkers, for a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Don’t Forget to Read the Pictures

Have you ever wondered why picture books contain pictures? They’re not just there to look pretty, or take up space, or make the story longer. In a good picture book, the pictures should add to the story. They should tell you things that the words alone don’t tell you. Remember the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words”?

When I visit schools, I read my books, and then I go through each book a second time with the children. I ask the children to tell me what the pictures are “saying” that the words didn’t say. This really enhances the meaning of the story. And, since children as extremely observant, they usually see things in the pictures that adults don’t notice.

Another exercise I do with children is to “read” an entire book with them without actually reading the words. If the pictures are an integral part of the story, the children will be able to make up the story as they go, getting all of their clues from the pictures. If the author and the illustrator have done their jobs, the children will be able to find meaning in the pictures. The picture story may not have the exact same meaning as the words intended, however this is still very useful in story-building.

Think of the other types of books that you read. It’s so much easier to put a recipe together when you can look at a picture and see what the author meant for the dish to look like. Also, think how much harder it is to put a bike or scooter together when the directions do not contain pictures of the finished product.

Pictures truly are worth a thousand words. What’s your opinion?

Please be sure to read the pictures in my books, The Knot Fairy and The Sock Fairy!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Cooking With Herbs

My first career in writing was cookbooks – seven of them to be exact. I’ve moved on to children’s books, however I still love to cook. So, you’ll be seeing lots of recipes and cooking tips in my blogs – all geared to a healthier lifestyle. I thought it would be nice to start with herbs. Please feel free to comment and to add your own favorite recipes.

To my mind, herbs are the essence of cooking. These are the special ingredients that you remember most about a dish. And, even though herbs are used in relatively small quantities, they add a great deal of flavor to the recipe.

Herbs can be dried or fresh. Indeed, a mere teaspoon or two of dried herbs can make all the difference in a soup or sauce. However, all too often the dried herbs have been sitting on the shelf too long and have lost their seasoning capabilities. So be sure to buy from a store that has a relatively fast turnover and buy dried herbs in small quantities whenever possible.

Finding fresh herbs used to be difficult unless you grew your own. However, today a wide variety can be purchased in most large grocery stores. When choosing fresh herbs, keep in mind that they are very delicate and will not keep for more than a few days. Avoid wilted herbs and, if possible, purchase ones with the roots intact as they keep longer this way. Fresh herbs should be wrapped and stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator and washed just before using them.

Remember that fresh herbs are less potent than dried herbs, so you'll need to use more - about two to three times as much as dried. When used in a slow-cooked sauce or stew, fresh herbs are best when added toward the end of the cooking time. Dried herbs, on the other hand, are best when simmered slowly to release their flavor or allowed to marinate in dressings. Fresh herbs can always be used in recipes that call for dried herbs.

The following recipes feature dried herbs. I think you’ll agree that herbs add depth and character to even the most humble dishes.
(Note: In case you've wondered about the difference between herbs and spices, spices are actually derived from the seeds, bark, roots, flowers, and fruits of certain plants and herbs are the aromatic leaves.)
Manhattan Clam Chowder

Basil, thyme, parsley, and bay leaf are featured in this exquisitely flavored chowder.
Makes 6 servings
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup sliced onions
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1 16-ounce can tomatoes, drained (Reserve liquid.)
1 large cooked potato, diced (about 9 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
12 ounces canned clams, drained (Reserve liquid.)

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add carrots, celery, and parsley. Cook, stirring frequently, 5 minutes. Add small amounts of water, if necessary, to prevent sticking.
Add tomatoes, potatoes, salt, pepper, and remaining spices.
In a 1-quart bowl, combine reserved tomato liquid and clam liquid. Add water to equal 1 quart. Pour liquid over vegetables and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes.
Add clams. Simmer 15 minutes, covered.
Remove and discard bay leaf before serving.
Each serving provides 137 calories.

French Herbed Cheese Spread

If you love the expensive, imported herbed cheese spreads, this one's for you.
Makes 6 servings (2 tablespoons each serving)
3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
2 tablespoons dried chives
2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Pepper to taste

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients, mixing well. Chill several hours or overnight to blend flavors.
Spread on crackers or bread.
Each serving provides 46 calories.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Why Didn't I Think of That?

Why Didn't I Think of That?

As I return home from the Decatur Book Festival, I keep thinking of the wonderful people of Decatur, Georgia and their display of true Southern Hospitality. The event was extremely well planned and well attended, drawing families from all over the South. The Knot Fairy and The Sock Fairy were very well received by the little fairy lovers and their parents.

It was while speaking with the many book- and fairy-loving people that I had a true "Aha! Moment". So many people wanted to know where my story ideas come from. The truth is that my ideas come from the simple, everyday situations that people all over the world face on a daily basis. At least a dozen people asked me the same question: "Why didn't I think of that?" That's when I had my Moment. Stories are everywhere!

The stories in my books reveal the mysteries behind tangled hair and missing socks. Both ideas came from previous Aha! Moments. The Knot Fairy was born while I was trying to comb the tangles from my granddaughter's hair. The Sock Fairy came to life while I was searching for my husband's missing tennis sock. Stories are everywhere! Adults often get caught up in everyday happenings to realize this, however just ask a group of children for story ideas and watch their young, crystal clear imaginations start rolling in full gear. When I visit schools, I love to ask the children to think of other fairies that we can blame for life's mysterious happenings. The children have come up with such wonderful characters as The Lunchbox Fairy, The Snow Fairy, The Missing Earring Fairy, The UPS Fairy (with his tiny brown truck), The Missing Toy Fairy and the Messy Desk Fairy.

Yes, my friends, stories are everywhere. Just open your eyes and your imaginations and try to think like a child. Before you know it, someone will be saying to you - "Why didn't I think of that?"

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Write For Your Audience

As the book publishing world becomes increasingly competitive, it is more important than ever for authors and publishers to understand and address their target markets. In some genres, such as children’s books, the person purchasing the book may not be the one who will be reading the book. Have you addressed them both? Will your book attract them both?

It is very wise to share your ideas and first draft with the people in your subject area who you hope will be the ones to choose your book from a crowded bookstore shelf. I have spoken to several children’s authors who said that they didn’t share their ideas beforehand because they were actually afraid of the results. The thought of receiving negative comments was more than they could bear. All the more reason to do it! One author told me that he didn’t show his book to anyone because he wanted the story to be a surprise. He also said that he “just knew” that everyone would love it. Some authors find out too late that it isn’t enough to simply feel sure that your audience will love your book.

While I was working on my first children’s book, The Knot Fairy, I organized several decidedly unorganized focus groups consisting of all of the children in my daughter’s neighborhood. I can now tell you from experience that children are honest – maybe brutally so. What did I learn? I learned that the ending to my book (an ending that I thought made perfect sense) didn’t make sense to the ones who would be reading it. Luckily, these little Einsteins had wonderful ideas for what the ending should have been. I can now say with pride that the last line in The Knot Fairy was actually written by a seven-year old! A few revisions later, I read the book to the same group, this time receiving an enthusiastic “thumbs up”. Five book awards later, I think they were right on target.

While working on my second book, I almost made the dreadful mistake of sending it to the illustrator without doing my research. After all, I thought I now knew how to please children. I thank my lucky stars that I came to my senses and called my group together. My story was a perky, rhyming account of The Button Fairy – you know, the one who is responsible for missing buttons. The children hated it! Why? Not one of the children in my group had ever lost a button. They didn’t know what I was talking about. In fact, there were fourteen children in the group and not one of them even had a single button on their clothes. Zippers, yes. Velcro, yes. Buttons, no! My research had shown that, sadly (for me), the book will spend its life in my file cabinet and will probably never see the light of day. Thank you, kids.

The Sock Fairy was next on my to-do list. Fortunately it passed the kid-test with flying colors. The book was released in June 2008 and is being embraced by both children and adults. In fact, adults are even more keenly aware than children of the frustration of missing socks.

The message learned is simple. Do your research. Find out what the audience you would like to capture is actually reading. Talk to bookstore employees. Be sure to also ask them what is NOT selling. Talk to librarians. What are the most popular books in your category? Check Amazon. What are their bestsellers? Find out what the people interested in your genre want to read. Find out what the best selling books all have in common? Then make yours better.

Please visit the Just For Fun page on my website for printable coloring pages for the kids. http://www.bestfairybooks.com/

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Fairy Tale is Born

My first cookbook was published in 1980, launching an exciting career in the world of food. I taught cooking classes and traveled all over as a featured speaker and guest on radio and TV shows. I even appeared on the Regis Philbin show. (That’s really my biggest claim to fame.) The result was a total of seven successful cookbooks and a totally burned-out author. So, I decided it was time to slow down and enjoy the wonderful time of life I fondly refer to as “grandmotherhood”.

All was peaceful, until three years ago…

My new career started on an ordinary day, in an ordinary way. I was simply brushing my twin granddaughters’ hair. One of the girls was distressed about the mass of knots and tangles in her beautiful, but very curly tresses. I found myself doing something that having ten grandchildren has taught me to do well - making up stories to divert the girls’ attention. I told the twins about a tiny fairy who flies into children’s rooms at night and delights in tangling their hair. It worked! No more tears and no more tangles. Later that day the girls and I sat down together, wrote the entire story and decided to call it The Knot Fairy. I never imagined that this was the beginning of a new and very exciting adventure. The adventure actually catapulted into a career a few days later when I innocently said to the girls, “Why don’t we turn this story into a book?” Oops, that just slipped out. I didn’t mean to say it. Now what? I couldn’t back out. I could never disappoint my grandkids. And so, a fairy tale was born.

Anyway, this seemed like the perfect time to re-invent my career. My bachelor’s degree in education and my minor in children’s literature were calling to me to re-enter the book world. As I fast-forward to today, three years later, and only one year after the release of The Knot Fairy, I am happy to report that the book has been the recipient of two children’s book awards and a selection on the esteemed BookSense Childrens’ Pick List. In addition, the book is now a finalist in the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards. It seems that the mystery of tangled hair is a popular dilemma that crosses all ages and ethnic boundaries.

Now, in keeping with my theme of explaining some of the deeper mysteries of life, I am pleased to announce that my second book., The Sock Fairy will be arriving this Spring. Yes, everyone has been visited by this mischievous little sprite. He’s the one (yes, a little boy fairy) who is responsible for missing socks, mismatched socks, and the occasional hole in the toe.

So, just remember - when life’s little mysteries have you baffled – who better to blame it on than a fairy?