Building the House of Woolly Thyme June 26 2017
Hello Blog followers! It’s been a while. Quite a while. But, hey. Let’s be friends again. Or not. Let’s be acquaintances that run into each other once in a blue moon. Deal? I could never be committed to blogging because sitting at my computer for more than 5 minutes at a time is difficult for me. However, Instagram is where I like to hang out, where punctuation and full sentences are optional. So, be sure to follow us there.
There have been a few changes on this site since my last post, which was an inexcusably long time ago. While Woolly Thyme Press is still a big part of our site and business, we have opened this space up to showcase some of the other aspects of our creative life. Yes, we wrote, illustrated and published a children’s book, but we have always loved to dabble (which translates to become completely obsessed and stay up all night doing) in other crafts and artistic areas.
Travis and I are makers. He builds, designs, and renovates homes each and every day. But, in addition to creating unique and beautiful living spaces, he also makes toys for our children and teaches them how to draw and tie knots and build forts. My background is scientific and technical, but I’ve always loved creative writing, knitting, sewing, handwork and making a fierce effort to DIY cute, fun and sometimes completely needless items for my kids. We felt that this love of general makery that we share with one another and our children should also be shared in this space.
So, House of Woolly Thyme was born.
HOWT encompasses all of our current creative loves and obsessions (our Instagram feed is saturated with the handwoven wall hangings at the moment!) and we hope that you enjoy following our journey to live a fulfilling and creative life with our three daughters in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Check out the Woolly Thyme Shop for new handmade items for your family and home as well as our children’s book, or contact us for information on weaving workshops, weaving and knitting commissions, and author readings.
See you soon. Maybe?!
The Book Club Beard May 07 2015
Last week, the Bozzy kids got themselves into some deep ... books. What did you think that I was going to say? It is a book club.
We were surrounded by books – wall to wall, floor to ceiling ... books, books, books, and more books.
We usurped the South Shore Public Library here in Lunenburg and got lost in the labyrinth of books in the space. Our bozzies can get pretty comfortable at the library. Most of them participated in the Storytime program as babies and some still attend the programs offered by the library for school children throughout the year. We filled the space snugly and got right at home. Dare I admit this – we are a big, loud, energetic bunch of booklovers. We could get "at home" anywhere!
Being a big, loud, energetic bunch of booklovers in the library, we thought it would be a smart idea to give the kids some mandalas to color as they arrived. Mandala simply means circle in Sanskrit. They are symbols with simple geometric designs or very complicated artistic patterns that combine the benefits of meditation and art therapy. Did my plan work? Meh. But the colors were pretty, and it was far more acceptable than a hefty dose of Benadryl.
We then gathered for a special story from one of our Bozzy mamas, the sweet and soft-spoken Beth Ann Knowles. Beth Ann, you may recall from my last post, has an alter ego, The Winter Beard, who is a wonderful writer of many genres. The Winter Beard knows how to swear and roll out rhymes for testicle like nobody's business. She has created an online presence with weekly artistic projects that run the gamut from diy reupholstering, to poetry, songs, short stories and videos, and she has a notebook (albeit electronic) filled with children’s stories just waiting for massive publication. I am waiting for The Winter Beard indie-alt-rap-experimental album, personally. Believe me, she could pull it off. Her writing is fun and witty and hilariously self-deprecating, but also deep and beautiful. If you have not paid a visit to The Winter Beard, I would strongly advise that you do, but only after you finish reading this post.
Beth Ann read The Monster Under My Couch to the children, a story about a little girl who has a bone to pick with the monster living under the couch that keeps stealing all of her family's belongings. She devises a plan to trick that monster and in doing so, overcomes her own monster fears. After her story, Beth Ann talked with the kids about fears and other scary imaginings concocted by our minds.
Even this monster on the armchair.
The children were eager to share their own fears and learn some techniques to ease those terrible thoughts. One coping mechanism was a deep breathing exercise and another was creating a happy board. Beth Ann showed the kids how to make a happy board - a collage of things that make you feel good from magazine cutouts and paper.
The kids flipped through their magazines and started working, cutting and gluing as they crafted a smorgasbord of happy images.
My daughter Norah proudly shared her board - a plethora of typical happy things such as babies, tropical vacation resorts, happy children, flowers, money-loving monkeys and (see front and center) a toilet. Yes. A toilet. With a puppy sitting on it. That's my girl. Who is not happy on a toilet, right?
After the kids wrapped up their calm collaging, we shared two more books about fears and getting past them - Scaredy Squirrel At The Beach by Melanie Watt and Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully.
The bozzy buddies had another fun week together. Hopefully, they have taken some of their newfound meditation skills home with them for the monsters living under their beds, in their closets, or in that salad that they are just too terrified to eat. Hopefully, the moms and dads poured themselves a happy glass or simply gave themselves a calming stamp on the hand, like this wee bozzy.
The Bozzy Book Club thanks the Lunenburg library for sharing their space with us and especially Barbara, Barbara, and Janet for tolerating our enthusiasm. Thank you to Beth Ann for sharing one of her stories with the kids. We can't wait for the next one. And now that you have finished reading this post, head on over to see how she copes with her fear of renovating - by setting her poetic pen to paper (or tips to keys) in this week's post, I Think, I Fuel, I Fume, I Write.
Books We Heart - Favorites from The Winter Beard April 27 2015
This month's selection of Books We Heart comes from Beth Ann Knowles, a local mom to two sweet and muddy little boys, who kicked off 2015 with a creative assignment for herself. Known to the blog world as The Winter Beard, Beth Ann has tasked herself to complete and post a new creative endeavour each week to woo a giant children's book publisher and become the next J.K. Rowling. Be sure to head to The Winter Beard's FAQ page to read some funny and juicy details about Beth Ann. In the meantime, check out what is on the Knowles' overdue library account reminder when they aren't creating their own tales from the heart.
Reading with The Winter Beard
by Beth Ann Knowles
Do you ever find yourself at the library and your kids are everywhere and the books they’ve pulled off of the shelves are everywhere and the puzzles and blocks they’ve unearthed are all dumped and mixed and scattered? In moments like these we don’t always have the time or patience or wherewithal to choose good books to bring home. We grab the five most colourful books we can see; their vibrant covers popping off the shelf and into our hands. And then we settle down with our brightly coloured books to find they are just the worst children’s books we have ever read. The story is so terrible we think there must be pages missing. Or perhaps the story is moving along great and we’ve fallen in love with the little girl and her dear Granny and then we realize dear Granny is about to die.
I’m all for books that help children deal with difficult situations, such as the death of a loved one, but I like to know in advance. It isn’t fun when, after a long day of kids sliding down banisters and jumping off top bunks, when we have finally settled them into a cozy pile of pajamas and we open up the new library book only to read dear Granny gets Alzheimers and dies of cancer. That is not fun at all. Try to get your wonderfully sensitive five your old to sleep after that.
Has any of that ever happened to you? It has happened in our house; except the kids being wild part. My kids are never not ever wild. Ahem. Sometimes, it is the colourless books that are the best; the smallest and the plainest books that make their way into our homes and hearts and library late fee log.
I can’t help you with the wild kid in the library situation. If you figure that out, please let me know. But, if you do have a few moments to select books, or, better still, if you can reserve library books from the comfort of your home whilst sipping wine and watching Netflix, I have a few recommended reads for you.
Like her most famous book The Gruffalo, Zog was illustrated by Axel Scheffler so you can bet the pictures are amazing. The rhymes you come to expect from Julia Donaldson won’t disappoint and the message is fantastic. While our boys love it, I especially recommend Zog to anyone with princess-obsessed daughters; if you are trying to wean them off of that infatuation.
Julia Donaldson’s, The Paper Dolls was illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. The story is very lyrical and whimsical and does a beautiful job of embodying the adventure of growing-up and the fun and importance of preserving our inner child and the memories from our childhood.
We’ve only recently gotten into Oliver Jeffers’ amazing children’s books. My favourite is The Hueys in the New Jumper. I love when books have powerful messages but deliver them in subtle and hilarious ways. A great book to entice conversations about how great it is to be ourselves, to be different and unique.
Nicholas Oldland attended Mount Allison University in New Brunswick where he earned a degree in Fine Arts. Not only does he write and illustrate hilarious children’s books, he also designs clothes for his family’s company Hatley. Big Bear Hug was the first of his books we discovered. It is a great read, especially if you love nature as much as we do, and it is filled with charming illustrations and a positive message for all of us preservers of the earth.
My sister lives in England and her love of books has helped us discover some great ones from across the pond. A couple of years ago she sent the children Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack by Lynley Dodd. It is an adorable story of friendship and the wonderful silliness comes in contagious rhymes which you’ll have in your head for days.
When I asked the boys which is their favourite book there was no hesitation. They have been obsessed with Crosby’s Golden Goal by Mike Leonetti ever since we first found it at the library. My four year old, who cannot read, can find it within minutes of arriving at the library. The story is about a boy who quits hockey but then joins again after witnessing Team Canada’s win at the Vancouver Olympics. While it is not my favourite book to read over and over and over again, the story is a good one and can stimulate conversation about the importance of balance when it comes to extracurricular activities.
I remember Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina from when I was a child. The book is a fun one and is great for early readers. In our house the peddler always sounds like JFK. I’d be interested to know how he sounds in yours.
Another book my sister sent us is Bob the Man on the Moon by Simon Bartram. Most kids are interested in space travel so this book is an easy one to love. The idea of a man who travels to work each day to his job on the moon is incredibly captivating for little ones. And while you’re enjoying the story there are lots of opportunities to spot the aliens who are hiding on every page.
We score a lot of fantastic reads at secondhand stores. The Wild Girl, by Christopher Wormell, is one such book. Our kids love stories about children who do not-so-childish things, such as grow up alone in the wilderness with only a dog as a companion. The illustrations are simple and beautiful and when the plot twists and a bear shows up, any child will be completely roped in.
Our favourite self-help children’s book is Do You Have a Secret by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos. This book is fantastic for stimulating conversations about good secrets and bad secrets and what to do if someone does something bad to you. It is so difficult to talk to kids about stranger danger and predators; especially without scaring them. This book makes things a lot easier. It is a great one to have on hand and read on a weekly basis as it helps open up those lines of communication. Most recently the ‘secret’ in our house was that “someone said the ‘b’ word at school”. Interestingly, the ‘b’ word was “boobs”. Someday a secret that is not so innocent may emerge from our Do You Have a Secret talks. This book will help with those awkward or sometimes scary conversations we all need to have with our children.
I probably don’t need to mention this book because most people love it, but I will because it rocks. I think Love you Forever is one of the best children’s books of all time. My kids like this book but not as much as I do. Perhaps they don’t like all the pauses; when I am choking back tears and searching my pockets for tissue. This book gets me every time. To be fair, so does Crosby’s Golden Goal. I get choked up each time Crosby scores the winner against the US in the gold medal game.
About seven years ago I taught English for a year in South Korea. I read Love You Forever to my junior high students who did not understand much English. Even they loved it! No matter the age, race, gender or culture, Love You Forever will affect you.
Lastly, I highly recommend making your own book. I made books for the boys a couple of years ago and they are starting to be able to read them on their own now. Kids love books about themselves so it is a great way to get them reading on their own. I simply did an ’S’ is for… type of book with all of the letters of their name. Add pictures of your kids or things in their life and you have a hit. I used Photolab for this but I’d also recommend Blurb.
So those are some of our family’s favourite reads. I hope you too will have the opportunity to enjoy a few of them with the young readers in your life; there are some true gems among them. And I can’t recommend enough, going online to your library’s website and putting some great books on hold for you to pick up the next time you’re in. If you don’t, you might end up with some winners but you may come home with something like the 1964 early reader, Barbie Goes to a Party by Jean Bethell. A great book for you to read aloud to fellow adults, for a good laugh, but not a good book to read to your children, unless you are rearing a Kim Kardashian type.
Beth Ann lives in Riverport, Nova Scotia with her husband, children and dog. She will be sharing her stories with the Bozzy Book Club this week at the Lunenburg Public Library. To read more of her work, visit The Winter Beard.
K is for Kone April 01 2015
A blizzard did not keep the bozzies at bay last week, which meant lots of kids were in attendance for Kone Week at the Bozzy Book Club!
What's Kone Week, you ask? Kone Week was a celebration of the greatness of Mr. Kone - a friendly, happy go lucky fellow who adores the letter K. His love for K runs deep; he lives in a K shaped house with his cat named Keith, sleeps in a K shaped bed, and happily sings the praises of all things that begin with the letter K. One day, Mr. Kone decides that all words should begin with the letter K, but he is met with obstacles and frustration as he tries to communicate in his new K-rich vocabulary. Mr. Kone’s story, called K Is For Kone, is one of the newest comical creations of Kate (with a K) Lum-Potvin.
The kids were a little kooky when they arrived at the Bozzy and we worried that we were in for a wild ride, but as soon as Kate began to read K Is For Kone, they were engrossed in its hilarity.
Following Kate’s reading, the kids were left to their own devices to create an illustrated version of the story, which has yet to be set to pictures. The children busily depicted Mr. Kone’s tale, with covers and their own storytelling drawings.
Then Kate and the Bozzy Book Club saw Mr. Kone come to life at the hands of Anne-Marie Sheppard, children’s book enthusiast and co-owner of Lexicon Books in Lunenburg. Anne-Marie shared her talents with illustrations that complemented this funny tale perfectly. She and Kate then read the story and displayed her visual interpretation with a kid friendly discussion about how she conceived the sketches from her reading of the story (only three days earlier!). The illustrations unbelievably captured the essence of Kone with witty cartoons, fantastic streetscapes and expressive caricatures.
The kids really responded to these illustrations and then shared their own with the group. It was particularly interesting to see the diversity of interpretations which relayed a great message about the infinite possibilities when imagination meets visual art. Once the kids finished illustrating their Kone books, we bound the pages so they could share their books with friends and family.
Thank you to Kate and Anne-Marie for bringing a story to life before our eyes. It was quite special for the children to experience the illustration process - a first for our book club.
The BBC meets again on April 15th, when we will venture out of the Bozzy and head to the tip of Lunenburg. It will be a musically themed book club session and we are delighted to be hosted at the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance (known to us as LAMP), where the world's finest classical musicians come to learn and perform.
Books We Heart, The Second Part February 23 2015
Today's post is the second in our series of Books We Heart. As mentioned in Part I, I wanted to make this space a collaborative one for sharing the much beloved children's books read by other authors, parents and community members. For Part II, I have enlisted the wisdom and cheeky bad girl aspirations of Kate Lum-Potvin - friend, children's book author, Bozzy Book Club co-conspirator, and mom to two grown children. Kate enlightens us with her take on the role of the "bad child" in children's books and why we are so drawn to their tendencies.
Children Behaving Badly….Stories of misbehaviour, and why we love them.
By Kate Lum-Potvin
I was a good little girl.
(Kate's doll, not the real Kate)
At least, I supposed I was. Yes, I fought with my sister—her fault, of course—and no, I didn’t always clean my room. But basically, as little girls went, I was good. Our household, tense from my parents’ divorce, was a place where behaviour was closely scrutinized. I dreaded the critiques that came my way, easily crushed by any failures.
My classmates, however, were unimpressed. “How come you never do anything wrong?” snarled a tangle-haired girl named Sherry.
I peered warily at her chapped lips, as she smacked away at her Bazooka gum. I had no answer. There was clearly something weird about me. Why was I cursed with goodness?
Being good brought praise from adults, of course; I soaked up their words like a needy little fern. But it might have surprised these adults—and all the Sherries—had they seen my favourite book.
My first choice, from about the age of seven, was Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls by William Cole, its pictures, by Tomi Ungerer, depicting gleefully psychotic kids:
Why did I re-read this book till its pages crumbled? For the same reason, perhaps, that I loved playing “the bad girl” in pretending games with my sisters. She was generally named Amelia (apologies to any Amelias out there.) She yanked tablecloths out from under food, dropped tiny babies, stole money and mouthed off. The Amelia in me became Pippi Longstocking for fifth grade Halloween, and refused to settle down in class—Pippi would never have sat!
Alas, my rebellion melted away at my teacher’s obvious shock. My “good girl” designation stuck. But we all have some mischief in us. If we can’t express it one way, we find another. Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls was pure escape from my increasingly uncomfortable self-image.
(Illustration by Kate Lum-Potvin, not Tomi Ungerer)
Also much loved by me, and later by my own kids, was the wonderful Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald, with fun drawings by Hilary Knight. Mrs. PW first appeared in 1947; her series is still underway, the latest installment in 2007.
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle is an imaginative little woman, an oddity among adults but a delight to children. When the parents of the worst-behaved kids in town despair, she suggests ingenious methods of reform that re-define the phrase “natural consequences.”
There’s young Dick, for example, who refuses to share anything. So his mother, at Mrs. PW’s behest, writes “Dick’s ____, Don’t touch!” on everything he owns: his sandwich, his bicycle, his baseball bat, etc. Wilted by the laughter of all his friends, he promises improvement, if his mother will please remove the signs.
My favourite PW chapter to read aloud is about a pair of quarrelsome twins. Their parents, on Mrs. PW’s instruction, write down every word of the girls’ arguments. All the next day, they re-enact them, so horribly the girls beg them to stop. Having tasted their own medicine, of course, the twins vow never to quarrel again.
Aside from the question of whether or not Mrs. PW’s methods would actually work, these stories are interesting in that they bend a key “rule” of writing for children: namely, that a child should be the hero of every children’s story, the source of the solution to own their problems. This is why, in children’s classics, parents are so often dead or missing (and in more recent books, divorced or distant.) A child with attentive parents, it’s feared, might not be the heroine of her own story. Too much help will cushion her path. No tough problem? No plot.
Yet children delight in the world of Mrs. PW, and in her terrible little neighbours. No matter how “naughty” a child has been, most haven’t strayed as far as these! The humour is wonderfully absurd, as well, almost along the lines of Beastly Boys—like the case of Patsy, who refuses to bathe and ends up with radishes growing on her skin.
Perhaps these stories work because, as a reader, the child can “be” both the miscreant and the wise Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. The “naughty” kid is gratified, the “good” one vindicated. Any inner tension between them is comically resolved. After all, the neighbourhood children love Mrs. PW, and she clearly loves them, keeping her house full of toys and games for them, and building its interior—naturally—upside down.
The third book I’ll mention is a departure from the others. The Friend With a Secret by Angela Bull was a favourite of mine from about age eleven. Its heroine, Lucy Quentin, is a good girl, constricted by Victorian life. She yearns for some sort of excitement, but can’t seem to supply it herself.
And here we find another popular device which works very well in children’s literature: the exciting, mysterious, slightly dangerous new friend, who shakes up the life of the well-behaved child. Olivia Lang is gifted and theatrical, lost in imaginings to escape her own troubles. She draws Lucy into a world of half-truths, threatening characters, and Victorian-style drug dealing. Lucy is torn between her friendship for Olivia and her loyalty to the gentle life she’s always known.
And this is how the “good girl” grows up: from gleeful childish recitations, to more nuanced explorations of what rebellion means. The link between honest self-expression and misbehaviour can now be explored in a richer vein. As Lucy fights her fears to save Olivia, she realizes that, in spite of her own, quieter essence, she has what it takes to find adventure in the world. She also realizes that in some ways, her stability has been a gift, one she can share with the neglected Olivia.
In the book’s afterword, we learn about the two friends’ adulthoods. While Lucy has a family and runs a children’s magazine, Olivia departs for a wilder life in London, marries an actor, and continues being Olivia. I do recall my affinity shifting from Lucy to Olivia at the story’s end. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that I’m currently working on a novel about an eleven year old girl in Victorian London who plans to be a music hall star?
Our great task in growing up is, of course, the weaving together of the many aspects of our selves. Like chefs, we season and re-season, seeking the perfect balance between ingredients that stabilize, and those which add spice. This is where literature can help. For a younger child, uncertain or constrained in some part of her being, stories depicting—or exaggerating—her latent qualities provide catharsis. Older kids, ready for more complex tales, experience their emerging selves through multiple characters.
But there’s no doubt we love our mischief-makers and rebels, whether we consciously classify ourselves amongst them, or not. So thanks, Sammy Watkins, you little horror. Thank you, grubby Patsy and Olivia Lang. Thanks for the laughter, the much-needed release, and the wild possibilities for tomorrow.
(the real Kate channels Olivia, age 22 ... she never actually smoked)
© Kate Lum-Potvin, 2015
Kate Lum-Potvin is the author of many children’s books including What! Cried Granny, Princesses Are Not Quitters and, most recently, Princesses Are Not Just Pretty. Her awards include the Red House Book Award (UK) The Japan Picture Book Award, and the Nick at Night Best Book Award (USA). She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. Kate lives in Nova Scotia with her husband, a musician, and still loves Olivia Lang.
Ho Ho Hoppity Lo February 12 2015
On February 4th, the Bozzy Book Club was summoned once again to a snow smothered Boscawen Inn. The kids toddled in wearing full snowsuits with faces barely visible apart from their rosy cheeks and noses pushing through hats and hoods. Coffee was brewing for the grown up Bozzies, buntings were hung in an intentionally unintentional manner, a guitar was waiting in the corner for a player, and the kids cozied into their now familiar spots at book club.
On the heels of a snow day, the kids were excited to gather for stories, songs, and a flurry of birthdays that were just waiting for a celebration. Their parents seemed equally happy to escape the endless cycle of shovelling and binge TV watching. The snow banks were high and the icicles decorating the windows were longer than them, but the BBC kids were warm inside and ready to rock. And by rock, I don’t mean Judy’s attempt at a punked out version of You are My Sunshine. We actually had a rock star in the house. One of the Bozzy neighbors (and the husband of our own Kate the Great Madlibist) is Bryan Potvin (www.bryanpotvin.com) from the well known Canadian rock band The Northern Pikes. Bryan is a wonderful musician and songwriter whose musical career has taken him all over the world. But on this cold, wintry day he came to play for a discerning audience of Bozzies and they loved it! It was not quite the paparazzi worthy image of a party crashing rock star in a hotel. He brought his acoustic guitar to a Victorian inn and kept it intact.
When the kids settled into their circle, Kate (www.katelum.com) warmed them up with a jazzy narrative and dance to stretch out their limbs and open their imaginations for story time.
She then pulled out a new story, A House for Mr. Ping, which has been heard by few audiences ... so far. It is a sweet tale about a man named Mr. Ping who arrives in a new town with the idea that if he finds the perfect house, he will make many friends. His ideal home is a spectacular house with sparkly paint and a fancy roof. His search doesn’t end with a glittery abode, but he does find happiness in an unexpected home. The story is filled with friendship, grilled cheese sandwiches, a ukulele and an upbeat rendition of the story’s feature song, Ho Hoppity Lo which was written and arranged by Kate and Bryan. This sing-a-long definitely upped the cool factor for the BBC with a hip Sesame Street cameo vibe. It also upped the moods of the seasonally affected parents who joined in.
The home theme was carried into our Bozzy craft. The kids had a blast with a self directed art adventure in home design that involved cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, whatever supplies were on hand and very little parental persuasion.
They proudly placed their “perfect” homes on the neighborhood mat. It was a motley but happy community and the children could see that a perfect home is made up of love, creativity, and a lot of glue!
From this we went back to circle time for another home related book, The Mitten by Jan Brett. In this Ukrainian folktale, a pile of woodland creatures make a home in Nicki’s handknit snow-white mitten. The animals all squeeze in, creating an odd coexistence until a bear’s sneeze projects them all, leaving only a stretched out mitten for the boy. It is a beautifully illustrated book, and Judy read it in her usual kid centric style.
The afternoon ended as all afternoons should – with cake. These three Bozzy kids share three birthdays in three days and did not seem to mind sharing a couple of cakes, a load of candles, and a lot of birthday joy with one another. What a wonderful afternoon at the BBC it was.
The next Bozzy Book Club date is February 25th. We are very happy to welcome Kate Inglis (www.kateinglis.com) to our club. Kate is a children’s author and photographer who has also made her home on the South Shore. She will be reading from her highly anticipated monster poetry book, If I Were A Zombie (set for release by Nimbus Publishing in the fall). I am looking forward to this as well as an evening of sipping wine in front of Pinterest in search of the perfect monster craft for our BBC kids.
Books We Heart, Part 1 January 30 2015 2 Comments
I have been working on a couple of children’s stories lately and have reached a frustrating point, a state of gridlock that any crafter or artist or maker of any kind encounters ... or so I assume and hope. At this point I ask myself: Why do I think that I know what I’m doing? Who wants to hear what I have to say anyway?
While I have never claimed to really know what I am doing in the realm of children’s book publishing, I do feel that we have tales to create and share partly because we (like many other parents) have read thousands of children’s books over our short journey as parents. Mind you, some of those thousands have been read hundreds of times each ad nauseam; some of them are just frivolous, mind boggling, make sense or not books that I could recite on demand like an annoyingly overplayed song, or books whose words we replace with toilet vocabulary just for the sake of making it new and silly again. Sometimes our children adore books that Travis and I prefer to skip over, but we let them choose their books. Some of these stories are well loved all over the world, while other books we feel a deep connection to but some families may just not get.
Over the past 8 years, I would estimate that I have read Bill Martin and Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear 291 times; Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon 820 times; Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo a mere 465 times (this figure would be higher, but someone ate the book); and the complete Curious George Collection 130 times. Sometimes it feels like I’m in the middle of my own Groundhog Day nightmare. But, we keep on reading. No matter how tired, no matter how many times we have read the book, no matter how dog-eared and toddler nibbled the book may be ... we keep on reading.
With each of our daughters we have observed wildly different responses to books and reading. Sophie, being the first born and an only child for two and a half years, had the pleasure of having both Travis and I put her to bed each night – a beautifully unsustainable routine that included waltzing to jazz music, measuring her height every single night on a growth chart, laying on the rug beside her crib while pretending to be asleep, and a whole lot of reading. Having the two of us to her lone self meant that she could hijack us one at a time to read a baker’s dozen books before tucking her into bed. Each time we would close a book, she would look up at us with her big try to say no to me eyes, stick her pointer finger up next to her right eye (I bet you thought that I was going to say stick her pointer finger up her nose, didn’t you?) and announce that we were going to read just “one mower”. She did not ask, she told us. And of course, each time we’d oblige. Sophie would sleep with her books and to this day, at 8 years old, you can find a library in the crowded nest that she calls a bed with her miner’s lamp strapped to her forehead as she reads.
Norah’s growing love of books has been a wonder to watch. She has always been at her happiest in someone’s lap reading a story. Not a day goes by that she doesn’t run up the stairs upon returning from school to read to herself in her room; her way to decompress at the day's end. She carefully turns each page and plays the narrator along with every character as though she knows what each and every word is. Oftentimes she retells the story in the way that she wants or inserts some of her day’s occurrences into the plot. At 5, she is beginning to read well, sparkling with pride and joy as she reads each sentence out loud, always out loud, to herself or whoever will listen.
Penelope is almost two and is at a point where she cannot sit still. A pile of stacked books in front of her is a ladder. Not in the symbolic ladder to knowledge sense, but a literal ladder. It’s a climbable structure that will allow her to reach greater heights ... before she leaps into the air without fear of pain or consequence. Reading books with Penelope can be a struggle at times as she flips pages and even switches books before we’ve finished reading them. When we ask her what book she would like to read, it is always one of our Curious George books, or shall I say the most informative how-to guide for creating a mischievous life. Some day she will sit.
With a house full of books for children, it would seem fitting that we would share some of our family’s favourite children’s titles on this blog. These books make us strive to create our own stories; they inspire us in their own beauty, but also inspire us as we watch our children’s response to them. This post will focus on some of our favorite Canadian titles. It is just a short list of the many that we love and we love them for many reasons – a beautiful rhyme, a calm rhythm, sweet illustrations, a meaningful message.
The first children’s title is one that makes my heart skip a beat each time we read it and was given to us by a dear friend when Sophie was born. Newfoundland poet Al Pittman’s Down by Jim Long’s Stage (http://www.breakwaterbooks.com/books/down-by-jim-longs-stage/) is a beautiful collection of rhymes about fish, for children and young fish (as read on the cover). Each fish has a name and embodies characteristics that will come to mind whenever you see a fish for the rest of your life, anywhere – in an aquarium, at a museum, in a grocery store, washed up on a beach, or even on a plate. Too much?! There are sing song rhymes such as:
Ella Eel so long and slinky met a squid whose name was Inky.“Oh my!” said Ella slinking by when Inky inked her in the eye.
This book is a Newfoundland classic and was re-released in 2001 with the addition of whimsical illustrations by Pam Hall that beautifully complement Pittman’s poetry. Down By Jim Long’s Stage feels like home to me, with phrases and references known well to Newfoundlanders. I can hear my accent breaking through as I read it and can only imagine the beauty of a raspy recitation by someone like Gordon Pinsent.
Something from Nothing is the retelling of the Jewish folktale “Joseph’s overcoat” by Phoebe Gilman (http://www.amazon.ca/Something-Nothing-Phoebe-Gilman/dp/1443119466). Gilman’s other books, especially her Jillian Jiggs tales, are always a hit at our house. But this retelling is wonderfully illustrated with another story parallel to the main story, similar to many of Jan Brett’s books. In Something from Nothing, we see as Joseph’s blanket made by his grandfather gets worn, torn and reborn into first a jacket, then a vest, a tie, a handkerchief, and a button, while the mice living beneath the floorboards (in the other story) make a home from the scraps. The kids love the repetition as the grandfather mends the tattered wears, “ ... his scissors went snip, snip, snip and his needle flew in and out and in and out ...” We love the message it sends to kids about turning nothing into something and giving old objects a new life, a concept that is often forgotten when everything in our world is so disposable. Our kids live in a house where many of their toys and clothes are handmade by friends and family. When something gets worn, torn and broken you will often hear them say “Daddy can fix it!” or “Mommy can fix it!”, much like Joseph himself. That is, as long as it doesn’t have batteries!
A review of favorite Canadian children’s titles wouldn’t be possible without a Munsch book, now would it. The Paper Bag Princess (http://www.amazon.ca/The-Paper-Princess-Robert-Munsch/dp/0920236162) is a hilarious book with an unlikely superhero and a twisted fairytale ending. One of Norah’s first sentences as a toddler was “you are a bum” after reading this book several dozen times. She couldn’t wait until she heard the words “you look like a prince” before she would quickly pipe in with her favorite line. The heroine, Princess Elizabeth, saves petty Prince Ronald in a crafty duel with a dragon only to be snubbed by him for her dowdy appearance. This book has a great message for all children, but the dragon’s fire burns a little hotter for us with three daughters who we want to be confident, strong, and capable of outsmarting any dragon (or Ronald) that they meet. In the end, Elizabeth trots happily into the sunset without her handsome, ungrateful and superficial prince.
This post could go on and on and on (wait, it already has) and I am leaving a great many books out. I thought, what about Bradley McGogg The Very Fine Frog, any number of Sheree Fitch’s books, or the Jack series by Andy Jones. So I have decided to make this post the first in a monthly series called Books We Heart. If you have books that you love and would like to share or your kids have quirky reading habits, leave a comment. In the meantime, keep reading and reading and reading and ...
Dead Men Tell No Tales January 18 2015
A word of caution - this post contains excessive use of pirate lingo. Pirate glossary follows.
If dead men tell no tales, then the Bozzy Book Club pirates spared us because I am thrilled to share our fun and wacky adventures at this week's book club with you. We walked the plank and narrowly escaped a trip to Davy Jones' locker for it was, after all, PIRATE'S TREASURE WEEK at the BBC.
Snow crystals glistened in the crisp winter sun as I walked into the Boscawen for another BBC meeting. It was contemplative, warm and inspiring at the Bozzy headquarters. So much so that my littlest scallywag decided it was a suitable setting for perfecting the art of crayon ear balancing. Would you look at that concentration and skill?
And then the quiet dissipated as the rapscallions trickled in two by two. They each found their perch at the craft tables and created treasure maps while they waited for the club to convene.
Once we had all hands on deck and this gentle pirate climbed on board, we set sail. If pirates looked like this five centuries ago, their tales would be a sweet and gentle marriage between Jane Austen and Johnny Depp.
Judy, the Pied Piper of the Bozzy Team, caroused the kids with a raucous, though oddly endearing, rendition of A Pirate Went to Sea, Sea, Sea. And well, sink me! The transformation of Judy into Fluffbucket Patch Beard (her pirate name) before our very eyes was incredible. Sweet, loveable, beautiful Judy with a smile that goes on for days became a scoundrel with the quick flip of a switch. The kids were smitten, and with absolute reckless abandon Judy forgot that anyone else was present, or that cameras were in the room, to give them a good time. Shiver me timbers, I was a bit scared.
As the more subdued landlubber of the team I had a hard act to follow, but I did give the kids something they all wanted - their very own pirate names.
We had Squidlips Eddie Three Gates, Mad Patch Bart, Dead Man Creeper Sparrow, Bucko John O'Malley, Freebooter John Beard, and Captain Patch Kidd among us, to name just a few. It took no time at all for them to shed their sweet spirits and embody their pirate personas.
Kate, or Scallywag Patch Barnacle, made a gangway and created a pirate themed Mad Lib with the kids once again that is undoubtedly becoming the highlight of our book club. The children love to watch their story unfold and are empowered by their contributions to the silly tales that they make with Kate. These stories are funny, wildly nonsensical, and absolutely perfect for kids. They deserve to be heard and we hope to share them in a compilation of Tales of the Bozzy Book Club.
We then moved into our book of the week reading. I pulled out my well worn copy of Oak Island - A Tale of Two Treasures written by (ahem) myself and illustrated by my husband Travis Hiltz. The kids were attentive and observant, except that little crayon ear balancing matey Stinky Head Bart creeping mischievously behind me as I read. They recognized the treasure chests depicted all over the Oak Island images and grasped the meaning of the tale - that the island itself is the treasure.
Judy then brought the buccaneers in for another shanty - Going on a Treasure Hunt. This woman was made for entertaining children and the familiarity of the song made a great interactive activity. It also proved to be the perfect segue into the book club finale - A Lunenburg Treasure Hunt. The kids were given clues that led to Lunenburg landmarks and ended at the Boscawen where we had hidden a sweet treasure treat.
The kids had a rip roaring time and Judy, Kate, and I were pleased to have satisfied them once again. When I got home I was filled with pirate angst and Arghhhs. I just had to splice the main brace with a clap o' thunder to bring me down!
If you would like to check out this week's Bozzy Book Club book, you can find Oak Island - A Tale of Two Treasures right here. Just hit the Catalog tab above and keep on clicking.
Our next Bozzy Book Club gathering will be held on February 4th at the Boscawen Inn. Kate Lum-Potvin, the Queen of the Bozzy Mad Lib, will be sharing another engaging story with the kids about Mr. Ping and his search for the perfect home in his new town. Kate will be joined by her husband, musician Bryan Potvin, for a lively duet of Mr. Ping's favourite song Ho Hoppity Lo. I am really excited for this one!
Pirate glossary (www.pirateglossary.com):
Dead Men Tell No Tales - the reason why pirates leave no survivors.
Davy Jones' Locker - to die at sea, referring to Davy Jones who was said to sink every ship that he took over.
Scallywag - a villainous or mischievous person.
Rapscallion - a mischievous person.
Sink me! - an expression of surprise.
Shiver me timbers! - an expression of surprise or strong emotion.
Landlubber - a person unfamiliar with the sea.
Gangway - an interjection used to clear a passage through a crowded area.
Buccaneers - heavy drinking, cruel pirates.
Splice the Main Brace - to have a drink or perhaps several drinks.
Clap o' Thunder - a strong alcoholic drink.
The BBC (of Lunenburg) December 15 2014
It was a cold and drizzly December day in Lunenburg. The doors of the majestic Victorian mansion burst open as a flood of wiggly fish drowned the reception room. They were hypnotized, if only for a short period, by the enchanting song of the BBC mermaid!
Well, the fish were really kids. And it wasn’t quite THE BBC; it was the Bozzy Book Club launch. And the enchanting mermaid was actually celebrated children’s author Kate Lum.
Almost two weeks ago, a fun collaboration between Woolly Thyme Press, the Boscawen Inn (www.boscawen.ca), and Kate Lum (www.katelum.com) was born in our community. The Bozzy Book Club is a series of book readings for children aged 3 to 9 that fosters storytelling and story making. Judy (owner of the Boscawen Inn), Kate and I saw the need for parents in the area to engage their kids on the early dismissal days which spring upon South Shore parents every second Wednesday. This is a recent change in the school schedule and has left many of us with that sinking question – what can we do with our kids that is fun, affordable, and does not involve a long drive? To answer that question, we are opening the Inn’s doors to local children and parents as a platform to share the stories created by the people of Lunenburg County. This is a wonderful opportunity for children to learn the art of storytelling from the many creative minds on the South Shore in a fun atmosphere.
Why Bozzy? According to the online Urban Dictionary, a Bozzy is defined as a person who has mastered reading a book while scootering, or any other pointlessly difficult multi tasked activity. That sounds fitting to me. And Bozzy because these lucky children get to club it up at the Boscawen Inn. The ever gracious and generous owners of the Inn, Judy and John Rawdon, host the most elegant affairs, from romantic destination weddings to corporate functions and artist retreats. They also invite the merry band of misfits in our community to less formal gatherings such as community clothing swaps, Christmas cookie exchanges and house concerts. Now, twice a month, it will be inundated with a couple of dozen children for the BBC of Lunenburg.
Our first club meeting went off with a bang. I don’t recall if there was actual thunder, but it was a great day for ducks and puddle jumpers. When the doors opened, 21 energetic kids and 1 sleepy newborn poured inside.
Kate warmed up the kids with some stretching to get the silly wigglies out of their systems before she read her charming and hilarious “almost bedtime story” - What! Cried Granny.
What! is about an energetic little boy who sleeps at his granny’s house, though granny’s efforts prove to be futile as Patrick resists sleep with some pretty crazy antics. The Bozzy kids joined Kate and uproariously read while parents nodded knowingly to her story in a café setting. She followed this with a comical madlib excercise that the kids thoroughly enjoyed creating. Kate was poised and engaging and grabbed this group’s attention with what seemed to be little effort and no sweat. Following Kate’s circle time, the children drew portraits of a granny - their granny or any granny. The resulting illustrations were imaginative and inspiring. The kids had a hoot creating bee-hived grannies, monster grannies, even robotic grannies. Just check out these works of art.
If you missed our club meeting, I would recommend that you check out Kate’s book. You can find it at: http://www.amazon.ca/What-Cried-Granny-Almost-Bedtime/dp/0613496477/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1418608520&sr=8-1&keywords=what%21+cried+granny
If you want your kid to become a Bozzy, we cannot promise that he or she will be successfully reading a book while scootering because that is just not safe. But, we will aim to have fun.
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve one of the few remaining spaces. Our next meeting will be in the new year on January 14th. I will be reading Oak Island – A Tale of Two Treasures and we are planning some swashbuckling crafts for the Bozzy pirates.
The Joy of Reading (and Christmas too) December 03 2014
This past weekend was very busy for families and businesses in Lunenburg. The town was buzzing with Christmas events that included tree and schooner lightings, craft fairs, carolling, local shop sales and celebrations, the annual Santa Claus parade and a pervasive yuletide feeling throughout the streets. There was so much happening that it was a challenge to fit it all in – a great feeling for a small community.
We were honoured to play a small part in this weekend when we were asked by the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic (http://fisheriesmuseum.novascotia.ca) to give a reading and signing of our Oak Island children’s book. The fisheries museum plays an integral role in our family’s calendar of fun. We visit dozens of times a year and often find ourselves in the museum’s aquarium or at the Tidal Touch Tank on what-do-we-do-today? days. If you are in Lunenburg, the Fisheries Museum is a must see for the young and old.
Our evening began with friends and sweet children snuggled around us as we read in the museum’s kids corner. It was a treat to read to this adorable and attentive group of children and interesting to observe them as they arrived and scooped up books to read to themselves.
From there we stepped outside of the museum with our hot cider to join in a countdown to the lighting of the fishing vessels. We then danced to live music on the wharf and even tried roasted chestnuts, provided by the Grand Banker Bar and Grill (www.grandbanker.com), for the very first time. It was a fantastic way to begin the season.
Thank you to the fisheries museum, to those who joined us at the museum on this very chilly night and to our good friend and talented local photographer Madeleine Kendall for photographing the event (www.madeleinekendall.com).
Hidden Treasure November 14 2014
There once was a man who lived in a little house in a little town. He had a little wife and together they had three little girls. This little house was filled with silliness and not a little, but a lot of noise. Under the stairs in this little loud house was a little closet that was filled with treasure. Oak Island treasure. The treasure was not in chests, but in boxes. The treasure was neither gold nor diamonds. It was books - books filled with pictures and words of truth and adventure; of exploration and empowerment.
This tiny room was once a storage closet prior to its life as a toy closet and now its re-incarnation as the Woolly Thyme Press stock room. Though I must admit, it still doubles as a craft supply storage facility and possibly triples as the Christmas elves stock room! Someday, I will be brave enough to give you a tour of the facility, but for now that vault is sealed.
Stay tuned for a sneak peak of our press headquarters ... which doubles as our dining room.
These are the realities of a grass roots press.