Category Archives: Families

Bonding with BABYMOON

Usually, it takes about two years from the acquisition of a manuscript for a picture book to be born, fully developed with squeal-worthy artwork and huggable hardback covers. Sometimes, the gestational period can be much longer. Such was the case with BABYMOON by Hayley Barrett, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. And, like so many things made with love and nurtured with patience and tenderness, this book was worth the wait.

Official BABYMOON Cover

The deal for BABYMOON was announced on April 2, 2015, exactly four years ago. In that time, 26 emus could have hatched, one right after the other. (It takes an emu 56 days on average to go from egg to chick.) So please join me, all the EMUs here in our digital nest, and an imaginary mob of 26 emus, in wishing a very happy book birthday to Hayley and BABYMOON!!

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If you think a babymoon is like a honeymoon, you would not be far off. The original term, coined by midwives and birth professionals, describes the period right after the birth of a baby. It is, according to Hayley, “a time for holding the world at bay, a time for a new family constellation to rest, bond, and celebrate.” Recently, the tourism industry has adopted the term to market one last getaway trip for expectant parents. While it’s a wonderful idea to relax and reconnect with a partner before a baby arrives, I’d argue that slowing down and taking the time to connect with a brand-new family member is even more important.

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Throughout history and across the globe, postpartum traditions have existed. There are a number of names for what is essentially a babymoon, ranging from a “lying-in period,” “confinement,” “zuo yuezi (sitting the month),” or “la cuarentena (quarantine).” But they all involve the seclusion of the mother and baby in order to help them recover and bond. A babymoon could last anywhere from 8 days to 8 weeks or more, depending on the country. Moms are fed nourishing foods to help them regain strength, visitors (and their germs) are limited to protect weakened immune systems, and family members take care of the cooking and cleaning. I love how babymoons not only bonds parents with their new child, but also brings a community together. Hayley says, “It should not be a luxury. Everyone should do it.”

 

In the U.S., though, new moms are often rushed back to work, pressured to regain their pre-baby figures, and encouraged to “bounce back” as quickly as possible. They experience little rest or relaxation. Traditional postpartum practices are forgotten or lost as people immigrate to the U.S. and get caught up in the quick pace of life and lack of maternity/paternity leave. Many people don’t have relatives/friends who can pitch in. Hopefully, though, that is all changing. People can hire postpartum doulas to visit new parents and check on babies; they can even bring food and give massages. In some communities with large Chinese populations, there are guesthouses where moms and babies can spend their babymoons being pampered alongside other new moms. (Wouldn’t it be nice if babymoon guesthouses existed for everyone?)  

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Whether a babymoon lasts for a day, a week, or even (blessedly) a whole month, take the time. Enjoy “a sweet, secluded afternoon – this restful time, our babymoon.” And whether your baby is a day, a year, or even 18 years old (as my firstborn turns today!), gather them close, curl up with a copy of BABYMOON, and celebrate the person that made you a family.

BABYMOON can be purchased at your local bookstore or online through IndieBound, Amazon, and B&N

Resources for expectant and new parents:

Baby Café USA: http://www.babycafeusa.org

Ou, Heng, et al. “The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother.” Abrams, 2016.

Search online for a Mothering Circle or Postpartum Support Group near you. Some Mothering Circles even provide lactation consultants as well as classes on infant care or yoga.


Andrea Wang side photo

Andrea Wang is an EMUs Debuts alumna and the award-winning author of The Nian Monster. She loves to travel and sample new and unusual foods. Unsurprisingly, most of her writing is about food. Andrea writes picture books and middle grade novels. Her second picture book, Magic Ramen, was published in March 2019. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in Colorado with her family and their dog, Mochi, named for the sticky rice dessert.

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Filed under Families, Launch, Picture books

Sweet Treats to Celebrate JASMINE TOGUCHI—Plus A Giveaway!

To celebrate the arrival of the first two volumes of Debbi Michiko Florence’s JASMINE TOGUCHI chapter book series, I asked the EMUs to tell me about their earliest kitchen experiences. From batter-covered beaters to Easy Bake ovens, it was a sweet trip down memory lane.

Sarvinder Naberhaus recalls, “I did learn to bake as a child, motivated by (and still motivated by) the objective —  to eat the sweet treats! Cooking was a chore but baking was fun! And who wouldn’t want to use Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook for Boys and Girls with all their fun presentations of food? 

Although I’m torn between sharing our Betty Crocker recipe for Carrot Cake and the cookie dough recipe from childhood, I think I’ll stick with my mentor, Betty.

BETTY CROCKER’S (AND SARVINDER’S) CARROT CAKE

Grease and flour a 9×13 cake pan. Preheat oven to 350. 

Ingredients:
4 eggs, beaten
2 c flour
2 c sugar
1 1/4 Crisco oil or a bit less
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 c chopped nuts, if desired
2 c grated raw carrots

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, & salt to combine. In a medium bowl, blend together sugar and oil, then add beaten eggs. Stir dry and wet mixtures together gently. Fold in nuts and carrots last.
Bake 350 for 1/2 hour or so until the middle bounces to touch. When cool, adorn with:

Frosting:
1 stick butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c powdered sugar
Beat all ingredients together thoroughly until whitish and fluffy. Frost cake and serve.

“I started learning how to bake at my mom’s elbow when I was four,” recalls recent EMU Fledgling Andrea Y. Wang. Mom was a nurse-midwife and worked a lot, so baking was my special time with her. My favorite thing to bake was chocolate chip cookies, because…CHOCOLATE, but I also loved making banana bread. It was so easy and mashing up the bananas was really fun—and way easier than pounding mochi rice! I still have the Betty Crocker cookbook that we used when I was little, and you can see all the stains on the banana bread page.
I even wrote the smaller amount of milk needed (only 3/4 cup) right on the recipe, because the mashed bananas added the extra liquid. Now that my mom is gone, using her cookbook and her mixing bowls keeps her close to me.

Katie Slivensky enjoyed annual baking bonanzas as a kid. “My childhood baking was cookie-related. Classic chocolate chip cookies throughout the year, or ALL THE COOKIES
at Christmas-time. My mom would have my sister and I help out with the mixing and measuring (and in the case of Christmas—decorating!) I mostly liked to help because that meant I’d get to eat the extra batter off the beaters. I also took decorating the frosted cookies for the holidays VERY seriously.

Here’s my mom’s Frosted Cookie recipe:

KATIE’S MOM’S CREAM CHEESE COOKIES

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix together:

1 cup shortening
3 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar

Then add:
1 beaten egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour

Roll dough out will lots of additional flour. Dip cookie cutters into flour before cutting so dough won’t stick.
Bake cookies 9-12 minutes or until edges start to get light brown.

Cool completely before decorating with:

Frosting (3 batches of frosting to 2 batches of cookies)
1 1/2 confectioners sugar
2 TBL butter (margarine) softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 TBL warm water

Blend ingredients until smooth. Divide frosting into smaller glass bowls and use food coloring to tint. Have fun! After decorating, allow cookies to rest overnight so frosting sets up.

Jason Gallaher says, “My mom is a marvelous baker, and I remember sitting with her in the kitchen while she made a whole slew of goodies. Turtle brownies, chocolate chip banana bread, and oatmeal butterscotch cookies were my absolute fave. I wish I had a recipe to share with you, but I can’t recall any of the *actual* steps in how to make these treats, because the only steps I ever participated in were Dipping Fingers Inside the Batter, and Licking Serving Spoons Clean. But those are steps that I highly recommend in any recipe!”

POM BROKAW THINKS JASON IS SUPER SWEET! >>>>>>>>>>>

Judging from this adorable picture, Terry Pierce was a baking prodigy. Her fondest early childhood memory was baking cupcakes with her mom. “I loved to help pour, mix and my favorite part, licking the leftover batter. My brother and I had to alternate so that one of us got the bowl and the other got the beaters. When I was around five, I got my first Easy Bake oven. I found it fascinating that a light bulb could bake those small cakes! I loved the coveted chocolate cake mix. The vanilla tasted like cardboard!

I still love to bake. In fact, just this morning, I made a chocolate- cream-filled-ganache birthday cake for my family. Yum!

Christina Uss remembers, “Early baking experiences were all about my mom and me and cookies. Her Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookies were, in my opinion, far superior to all others. My best friend Karen and I started asking to cook them on our own when we were eleven, and to make sure we got the perfect results, we followed everything my mom did exactly, down to using the same mixing bowls and measuring spoons. It worked! Why? I figured my mom passed on some sort of cooking magic to us. It took meeting my husband who loves to bake but uses his grandma’s old Sunbeam electric mixer for every recipe to realize the real secret to my mom’s awesome cookies wasn’t specific mixing bowls, measuring spoons, or magic, but creaming the butter and sugar by hand with a wooden spoon. It’s hard work (especially if you forget to leave the butter out to soften until you start mixing everything else, which I always did), but gives the cookies this satisfyingly chewy texture that can’t be beat. So here’s my recipe – with two caveats.

 

My thanks to the EMUs for these scrumptious stories. I think I’ll go bake some cookies now and tuck in with my copy of JASMINE TOGUCHI.


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. It will be illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Families, Happiness, Launch, middle grade, Middle Grade, series, Uncategorized

Show Yourself in Your Work: An Illustrator’s Story

It’s launch week! It’s launch week! Hold onto your summer floppy hats, we have a book…well, actually two to launch into the world this week. A little bit from the publisher about our first book baby!

Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen

by Debbi Michiko Florence (illus. by Elizabet Vukovic)

Eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is a flamingo fan, tree climber, and top-notch mess-maker!

She’s also tired of her big sister, Sophie, always getting to do things first. For once, Jasmine wishes SHE could do something before Sophie—something special, something different. The New Year approaches, and as the Toguchi family gathers in Los Angeles to celebrate, Jasmine is jealous that her sister gets to help roll mochi balls by hand with the women. Her mom says that Jasmine is still too young to join in, so she hatches a plan to help the men pound the mochi rice instead. Surely her sister has never done THAT before.

But pounding mochi is traditionally reserved for boys. And the mochi hammer is heavier than it looks. Can Jasmine build her case and her mochi-making muscles in time for New Year’s Day?

Ages 6 – 9

Available July 11, 2017 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

And even better? This is the first book in a series. The second book is also available this week! At the end of this post, you can enter to wind a copy!

To kick off a week of Jasmine Toguchi celebrations, I sat down with illustrator Elizabet Vukovic. Ok, technically, she was in the Netherlands and I was in Maine… but laughing all the way through our video chat, it was as if we were sitting at the same table. Elizabet is not only talented and brilliant, but she’s bubbly, fun, spunky, and there are some big surprises in her journey.  You are going to love her as much as I do. Let’s get to it.

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Elizabet knows exactly what it’s like to have a big sister who gets everything first! Reading the pages of Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen, Elizabet related to Jasmine immediately. She laughed heartily as we talked about her own childhood and the misery of hand-me downs.

Growing up in the Netherlands, Elizabet lived around the corner from a bicycle store. Every summer, she looked through the shop window at the new bikes. So shiny! So new! And every summer, she watched her older sister pick out a new bike… while Elizabet got her sister’s old bike to ride. (Eventually Elizabet would get a new bike, but not until high school!)

Elizabet wore her sister’s hand-me-down clothes and played with hand-me-down toys––until one day Elizabet had enough. It happened in the toy store. The girls had begged their father to walk into the toy store, promising only to look at the toys. Finally, their father agreed. The three of them walked into the store and that’s when Elizabet saw it: a microphone. Not just any microphone, but one that echoed. Elizabet was always singing and this microphone would be the perfect accessory. She had to have it.

She asked her dad to buy it. He said no.

So Elizabet refused to leave the store––without that microphone. That’s when her father and big sister left her there and went home.

But Elizabet did not budge.

Finally, her father returned to the store. And he bought Elizabet that microphone!

As we talked about this story, Elizabet’s eyes sparkled and her grin grew wide. Tapping into these experiences, brought Jasmine to life for Elizabet. She says the illustration on page 37 of the book put in a fine point on what both girls dealt with. (And no sneak previews. The only way to see this emotional scene is to buy the book or request it at the library or win it in our book give away! Also, it’s totally worth it.) But, it’s that illustration in particular that captured both Elizabet’s experience and Jasmine’s: complete frustration and irritation. The contrast of Jasmine’s level of anger juxtaposed to the oblivious prancing around of her older sister really nails the dynamic.

Elizabet says that level of personal connection is critical to her work. You can learn anatomy, she explains, but you have to put yourself in those characters. “Show yourself in your work,” Elizabet said.

But Elizabet’s path to accomplishing that, to creating the space where that’s even possible is interesting. She is the child of immigrants from Croatia. Her parents are hard workers and always expected that of their kids. Because they had to overcome so much and accomplish so much to establish their new lives in the Netherlands, they are also very practical and pragmatic.

Elizabet was interested in drawing as a very small child. Her kindergarten teacher used to say to her parents, “You have a real Picasso on your hands.” Even in high school, a teacher mentioned that Elizabet should go into drawing.

But as a profession? That was hard for Elizabet’s parents to accept or encourage. After all, they wanted Elizabet to have a paying job, security. .. all of the things they had immigrated to the Netherlands to build.

But as effervescent and charming as Elizabet is, she also has steely determination and an unyielding drive to prove herself.

So, what could she do in that situation? First, Elizabet got a degree in optometry. That’s right, optometry. She worked full time in the field to save money for art school. She worked during the day and studied illustration at night through online coursework until she graduated from the San Francisco Art Academy.

Then, she rode her bike 45 minutes to work every day, put in her hours, rode her bike home––which was another 45 minutes, climbed into her studio chair and began working on her illustration portfolio. Every night.

But Elizabet swears that something magical happened in those late hours. It was like her illustration time was protected. Because she had a full time job, she could really give herself permission to go for it at night. Permission to take risks, to enjoy her passion. Her artwork was not burdened with the responsibility of having to make money.

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Once her portfolio was ready, Elizabet prepared herself mentally for the process. She was ready for the rejections, the long, hard, and difficult path to an agent and publication.

She started by picking her top three agencies. Then one morning, she submitted her work by e-mail. She had an offer by that afternoon. She ran around her room screaming. Elizabet doesn’t remember much of her call with her agent Justin Rucker, just that he said he loved her work. “I was so high on emotion and he talked a lot and I kept thinking is this real? Oh my God!” she remembers.

And Elizabet brings all of that to these illustrations. You’ll see it immediately, the joy and spunk…. the struggle and conflict. They flow out of her pen onto the page. These masterful illustrations are a treasure for readers and an invitation to all of us to show ourselves in our work.

Enjoy!

Anna Crowley Redding

P.S. Elizabet and her older sister are close friends today !

P.P.S. Keep reading, there’s a book give away at the bottom of this post!

Also available this week: Book 2 in this delicious, unforgettable series:

Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth (Book 2)

by Debbi Michiko Florence (illus. by Elizabet Vukovic)

It’s a big weekend for Jasmine Toguchi! She’s excited to celebrate Girl’s Day―a Japanese holiday honoring women and girls―with her sister, mother, and best friend, Linnie. When Linnie comes over to plan for the Girl’s Day celebration, Jasmine’s neighbor lets them play dress up in her garage. But the garage is dark, which is kind of scary. And Linnie decides to go home early, which is kind of weird. And Jasmine’s big sister, Sophie, doesn’t seem to want to join in the Girl’s Day fun this year, which is kind of confusing. WHAT is going on?

As her big weekend plans start to unravel, Jasmine must use her sleuthing skills to spot the clues around her. Then maybe, just maybe, she can fix things and make sure the Girl’s Day celebration happens!

Ages 6 – 9

Available July 11, 2017 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR)

Enter to win MOCHI QUEEN and SUPER SLEUTH! One entry per one comment per post this launch week for a maximum total of five entries. The winner will be drawn at random. Must have U.S. mailing address. Enter by midnight EST Sunday July 16th. Good luck!

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Filed under Book Giveaway, Book Launch, Character Development, Dreams Come True, Families, Illustrating, Illustrators, Inspiration, Interviews, process, Uncategorized

Embracing the Imperfect

Our lives are set up around milestones: memorable, noteworthy events that we mark with rituals and celebrations. In my own life, I can recall events that mark those big occasions: important birthdays, graduations, weddings, my godson’s baptism. There was a set moment for each of those, a moment that I can look back at and say, “Oh, yeah. I’ll never forget where I was and what I felt when that happened.”

For many writers, the journey to publication is marked with the same joyful celebratory dinners, champagne toasts, and group hugs as any of the more traditional life milestones. I love hearing friends’ stories of getting that agent phone call and bursting into tears, their families beaming with pride beside them. Their stories are beautiful, and my own heart bursts with happiness to cheer and celebrate all of that magic. But what if your own journey looks different?

Through circumstances beyond anyone’s control, my own first book milestones have been bittersweet. That heart-stopping call from my agent? I was on my way to work, and my husband was 3000 miles away on a business trip. He happened to fall asleep that night without charging his phone, so I carried my bottled-up joy to work with me. I finally couldn’t keep it in anymore, so I eagerly spilled the beans to my ten-year-old student, who could not have been any less impressed or interested. Humbling, to say the least.

A few weeks later my deal announcement appeared in the trades; seeing my photo and name in there made everything feel so real, and it meant I was finally free to share the news publicly.  However, just minutes after I saw the announcement, my husband called to tell me that his dad had been diagnosed with cancer. As our family worked together to help my father-in-law navigate the complicated world of cancer treatment, celebration couldn’t have been further from our minds. And now that he has successfully completed chemotherapy, his improved health and happiness feels like a much more special milestone for our family to mark.

I am incredibly lucky to have a publishing deal, and I am beyond grateful to have the chance to earn money as a writer. But, much as it pains me to admit it, when I remember these first Big Author Moments, while there is joy and gratitude in those memories, there is also loneliness, worry, and disappointment.  I have a book deal and a supportive circle of friends and family, but I still can’t help but wish that those first moments had been a little different. And then I can’t help but feel ashamed of myself for wishing that. It shouldn’t matter, I think. I am a jerk for caring about this.

Every writer I know has worked incredibly hard to get this far, and we all remember the wistful feeling of seeing other writers ahead of us, hitting those milestones. And while everything might look rosy and golden from a distance, there is no doubt that up close, everyone’s road is littered with frustrations and slights and missed opportunities.

So, and I’m saying this as much to myself as I am to anyone else, the journey toward publication is magical and thrilling and awesome and inspiring. But a lot of it can also be kind of sucky. That’s OK. Embrace the suck.  The disappointing, difficult, exhausting moments mean that all of this is actually happening. Living the Dream doesn’t mean turning your life into a dream; it means you’re turning your dream into real life. Your very own messy, imperfect, glorious life.


Kat Shepherd is a writer and educator living in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. Her wonderful father-in-law lives nearby. They are planning a massive celebration when the first book from her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts in fall 2018. You’re all invited. You can find Kat at katshepherd.com or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Celebrations, Dreams Come True, Families, Guilt, Happiness, Inspiration, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

ACKNOWLEDGING THE ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

In the months leading up to signing with my agent, I got in the habit of flipping to the acknowledgements page of middle-grade books to peruse who the author thanked and how fervently they thanked them.  I didn’t realize how much the tender, earnest gratitude other writers pledged towards their supportive spouses and children was making me sweat until I saw the acknowledgments page of Scott Seegert’s VORDAK THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE. Here, after dedicating the book to his own glorious self, Vordak refuses to commend the contribution of others to its publication, observing, “A herd of bison would have been more helpful.”

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I felt a thrill of YES and VORDAK, YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WHO UNDERSTANDS ME.  Then I found a quote from Franz Kafka telling his fiancée, “You once said you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case, I would not be able to write at all…one can never be alone enough to write…” Oh, Franz, I hear you, too, dude.

 

My husband and I worked out a plan last summer whereby he’d be the family breadwinner, and our kids would be the family bread-eaters, and I would try being the family writer. In planning, however, we failed to acknowledge that I already have a couple of full-time jobs managing our household and parenting two intense little people who want nothing more than to spend their day talking to me, negotiating with me, playing with me, squabbling near me, and lying down on various parts of me and asking me to read to them. In addition, my husband is pretty introverted and many days, I’m his only social outlet.

We’ve tried various methods of preserving a quiet, protected daily writing space and time for me.

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I’ll be frank, though: bit by bit, I’ve been disintegrating. I’ve always been unusually sensitive to disturbances in the Force around me, which my doctor is now calling generalized anxiety disorder. When I’m out of balance, I develop really odd anxieties. (One fun example: after my twins were born, I developed a fear of my home’s mailbox.)

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And I’ve found that even with a regime of medication, supplements, meditation, and therapy, if I don’t get enough alone time, I’m neither a good writer nor a good member of our family. Instead, I hide in bed and fantasize about:

  • digging a moat around and bricking up the doorway to our home office
  • finding a way to become the sound-hoarding Soundkeeper from THE PHANsoundkeeperTOM TOLLBOOTH
  • inventing reverse hearing aids that allow you to turn silence up or down as needed (better than ear plugs, we’ll call ‘em Hearing Thwarts, $19.99 per pair plus shipping and handling. Stock up for the holidays!)

It’s not easy. Nevertheless, when my editor asked for my own dedication and acknowledgements pages, I did thank my family. It’s understated, but it’s there. While there’s a mailbox-fearing creature ready to hijack my hippocampus pretty much whenever, I’m not a jerk nor an evil overlord at heart.

It’s worth noting, however, that my kids’ school summer vacation begins tomorrow. So if you hear I’ve disappeared, please do me a favor – don’t tell the authorities that I’ve likely taken my laptop to sit amidst the nearest herd of bison to get some peace and quiet.


Christina UssCHRISTINA USS has never found a frilled lizard in her mailbox, but there’s always a first time. Her debut novel THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE comes out Spring 2018 from Margaret Ferguson Books/ Holiday House. Tweet her if you know of a herd of bison seeking a Writer in Residence @christinauss or drop by http://www.christinauss.com.

 

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Filed under Anxiety, Families, Uncategorized, Writing and Life