Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

Keeping Aesop’s Fables Alive in Children’s Literature

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You might know me as the author of the children’s book series, Night Buddies, but did you know that I am also a huge history fanatic? I got my B.A. in ancient history from UNC Chapel Hill, and have made it one of my hobbies ever since.

Being a lifelong learner of ancient history means that I’ve been able to read some of the greatest classics our world still reveres today. For instance, everybody knows what the Fables are like, right? Very short little tales with explicit morals and talking animals. You know the one about the tortoise and the hare, surely? About slow and steady beats fast and flighty? How about the country mouse and the city mouse? Where the country mouse discovers grand living isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

Okay, maybe I’ll show you one you don’t know. It’ll only take a minute—

The Dog and the Sheep

A Dog sued a Sheep for a debt he claimed the Sheep owed him, and he called on a Kite and a Wolf to be the judges.

Without asking any questions, they both decided right away that the Sheep was wrong and the Dog was right. Then the three of them tore the Sheep apart and ate him before he had been given a chance to say a word.

The Point: It’s sad, but it’s true, that honesty and right sometimes haven’t a chance against cruel force.

See how short? But it does the job, right? Did you know there are 101 of these things? At least in my translation, and there may have been even more 2,500 years ago.

It turns out, Aesop may even be a Fable himself!

That’s because he may or may not have existed. One story has him an Ethiopian slave they called “the Ethiop,” or Aesop. Plutarch says he was an advisor to King Croesus of Lydia (d. 546 BC). And Herodotus (a famous Greek historian) has him a slave of Iadmon, a 6th century Samian. But scholars tend to think Aesop was no more than a name used to tie together all the animal tales floating around at the time.

What really blows me away about the Fables is the truly advanced state of 6th century Greek literature and science. With the mighty exceptions of Homer and Archilochus (ca. 680-645 BC), the Greeks were just getting started. Their temples were still made of wood, and their male statues were those stiff kouroi that all looked alike. The “Golden Age” with Sophocles and Euripides and Plato and Phidias wasn’t for more than 100 years. But despite this, the stories written during this time period resonated with people so deeply that we still know them by heart to this day.

Whether you’re trying to teach your children patience, kindness, fairness, or any number of things, there is a Fable to be told, and there are sometimes even children’s editions of compilations of the Fables if you want to get your kids to read the ancient stories themselves!

Do you have a favorite Fable? Let me know in the comments below!

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My Top 4 July 4th-Themed Children’s Book Recommendations!

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The 4th of July is almost upon us! And while most all of us know the reason we are celebrating (happy birthday America!), sometimes our children don’t take a moment to think of it as anything other than a day to play out in the sun and have a yummy BBQ. That’s where these books come in!

4th of July

The Fourth of July Story, by Alice Dalgliesh. This is a straightforward, but fascinatingly written, account of America’s independence story. It gives a history of why American wanted to break free from Britain, tells Thomas Jefferson’s story of writing the Declaration of Independence—everything you need to know! The story is accompanied by beautiful illustrations that kids won’t get enough of.

Judy Moody

Judy Moody Declares Independence, by Megan McDonald. This is another charming installment of the Judy Moody series, and takes Judy on an adventure to Boston where she meets a British friend, and has a wild adventure learning about Independence Day, and what it means to be independent herself. With a line like this, who wouldn’t want to pick up this read? “She, Judy Moody, would hereby, this day, make the Judy Moody Declaration of Independence. With alien rights and her own Purse of Happiness and everything.”

Rhyming book

Fourth of July Cheer, by Dee Smith. For the really little kiddos, this rhyming picture book is the perfect Independence Day read. It follows the story of Buster the Dog and his family heading out for some July 4th fun at the beach—complete with the beaches, BBQs, parades, and even a fireworks display! It’s very sweet, fun and easy to read, and will put you in the mood for the holiday.

Milo and Jazz

The Case of the July 4th Jinx, by Lewis B. Montgomery. Another installment of the Milo and Jazz Mystery series, this story follows the kids as they try to figure out why everything seems to be going wrong at the 4th of July fair. This is a great choice for kids being introduced to chapter books, and the mystery keeps them turning the pages!

What are some of your favorite 4th of July traditions? Let me know in the comments below!

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Your Kid Did What? 4 Reasons Parents Make the Best Writers

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It seems as though in the last decade the number of parent bloggers has skyrocketed, and for good reason. Who doesn’t have a great story of their kid to share, or advice to up-and-coming parents who don’t fully comprehend the craziness, joy, and exhaustion being a parent can bring? And apart from the blog world, there are plenty of parent-turned-authors out there as well (including me!). If you’re a parent who has ever thought about picking up that pen, here are 4 reasons I think you should go for it.

You have a lifetime (and your child’s lifetime) worth of unique experiences to share: Some people don’t want to start their blog or write their book because they think it’s all been said before. But that is not true. Every child says a different funny thing, every person’s background and family life and thoughts are unique to them, and make for a unique story to be told. If you write honestly about your own experiences, you won’t be copying anyone by writing them down.

Writing can be a great way to document your child’s youth: There is so much writing can help you remember about your life than a photograph can. You’ll be able to look back on all sorts of fun memories you and your child share, and they will be able to someday read what you wrote and remember their childhood!

You can see the world through a new (younger) set of eyes: Writing from a child’s perspective can be one of the best things for a parent to do. You’ll have to work that much harder to understand their emotions and thoughts, making you more empathetic as a parent. Whether you’re writing a novel from a child’s P.O.V. or a blog post from their eyes, taking the time to put yourself in their shoes will make you a better writer and parent.

You can share the experience with your child: Basically, it’s another opportunity to bond! Coming up with blog posts together, like an arts & craft DIY or a book review will give you and your child a creative outlet to connect with, and will help them grow their own writing and creative skills. For me, writing my book was all a collaboration with my son, since the main character is one we came up with together when telling bedtime stories. A family who creates together, stays together!

Do you have a parenting blog, or a book you wrote that stemmed out of your parenting experience? Leave the name in the comments below, and we can all share each other’s experiences!

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National Indie Excellence Award Finalist Announcement!

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I’m so excited to announce that my third children’s book, Night Buddies Go Sky High, was announced to be a National Indie Excellence Award Finalist! We placed in the Chapter Book category among two other excellent titles (for a full list of winners, click here).

This is the first award Night Buddies Go Sky High has won, but makes the Night Buddies series an 8-time award winning series!

As an indie author, much of the time you wonder if your book matters in this large market, amid books backed by big-name publishers. But awards like the National Indie Excellence Awards (who have now been around for 10 years!) bring authors confidence and pride in the work they’ve put forth, as well as bring readers a great opportunity to give books they might otherwise not have known about a read.

I’m extremely grateful to NIEA for choosing my book as a finalist, as well as to all the readers who have believed in it all along. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Now it’s time to celebrate!

What do you think of awards for indie authors? Have you ever discovered a book you love because they won an award? Let me know in the comments!

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4 Parts Inspiration. 1 Part Caffeine.

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I’m very pleased to announce that this week we are featuring a post from author Laurie McKay about where she finds inspiration to write. 

One of the most common questions asked to writers is “What inspired you?” I never thought too much about inspiration until after I finished my first book and was asked that very question, but I wished I’d thought about it sooner. Now that I have a better understanding of what inspires me, I can tap into those resources when I get lost on a page or can’t figure out the next plot point of my work-in-progress. As such, here are a few of the places where I’ve found inspiration. May they inspire you as well.

 

1. STUDYING CRAFT

I own about fifty books about writing. Some of my favorites are the Writer’s Digest Collection: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends, Character and Viewpoint, Plot, etc. I find inspiration (and motivation) in studying writing, in learning more about craft, in discovering more about my strengths and weaknesses as a storyteller. Learning about writing – whether it be in a book, in an article, at a writing conference – makes me excited to write and gives me new ideas and techniques to do so.

 

2. FAVORITE STORIES

Analyzing stories – the parts I liked and the parts I didn’t – is inspiring.

One of my favorite movies (also one of the first books I ever read) was The Wizard of Oz. You know, a girl is transported via tornado from Kansas to the magical land of Oz, meets some friends, fights a witch, finds a wizard. Then she returns home with some shiny red shoes and a new perspective on everything.

But what do I like about The Wizard of Oz?

I like that a character from one world travels to a new one, that she’s a fish-out-of-water. I like that her dog, Toto, is along for the adventure. Honestly, I like that she has magic shoes.

So maybe in one of my stories my character should travel from one world to another? Maybe they should have an animal friend? Magic footware – why not?

In my book VILLAIN KEEPER my main character, Caden, travels from one world to another. His magnificient stallion, Sir Horace, comes with him. He doesn’t have magic shoes but he does have an enchanted coat.

That being said, my book is nothing like The Wizard of Oz. It takes place almost wholly in North Carolina, the characters are in foster care, and it’s a contemporary fantasy complete with dragons, magic, and middle school.

Also, I think it’s good to think about what I like and what I don’t like. Writing is subjective and hard work, and if there is one person who should truly love my story, it’s me.

 

3. FEELINGS

There’s a part in my second book, QUEST MAKER, where my characters Caden and Brynne are being chased through a pitch-black hallway by a monstrous long-limbed villain who can crawl on the ceiling. Truth be told, that isn’t something I’ve personally experienced. But I imagine in that situation my heart would pound, my body shake, my breaths come out in rapid pants. In short, I’d be scared. And I know what it feels like to be scared.

It’s common advice to ‘write what you know’. I might have never fought a dragon, had a loved one assassinated, or been stranded in an alternate land far from home (all things that happen to my main character) – but I’ve had to fight and face my fears, I’ve lost loved ones, and I know what it feels like to be homesick.

These same feelings can be translated to my characters and the things they go through. They can inspire how my characters feel, act, and react.

 

4. WRITING

I went to the NC Writer’s Conference at Wrightsville Beach a few years ago. The author – and I’m sorry I don’t remember her name – told the room when she was stuck and uninspired, she made herself write anyway. Oftentimes, when she’d look back at her work days later, she’d find the words she wrote in uninspired times were just as good or better than her words on days when the ideas and sentences seemed to flow.

That is some of the best writing advice I’ve gotten. Sometimes, I’ve seen this referred to as Permission to Write Badly. Write something. Anything. The plot, the writing, and the details can be tweaked later in rounds of revisions.

Now, when I’m stuck, when I can’t figure out where my story should go next or how my main character should proceed, one of the greatest wells for inspiration is in the physical act of writing (or typing in my case). If I can force myself to write something, anything, no matter how rough or horrible, I start getting ideas.

For example, I recently wrote a synopsis for a new story idea I’m working on. I had a vague idea of the plot, and I had written the first few chapters, but beyond that, I was stuck. It was just a fuzzy cloud of scenes and scenarios. Once I started punching keys, however, everything came into focus. I find when I allow myself to write and don’t get bogged down in things being perfect, or even good, ideas and inspiration follow.

 

5. COFFEE

On occasion, a nice cup of coffee on a cool morning makes writing a bit more enjoyable. What’s more inspirational that that?

 

Laurie McKay is an author and biology instructor who lives in Durham, NC. When she’s not working, she spends time with her family and her two elderly dogs. Her debut MG fantasy novel, VILLAIN KEEPER (The Last Dragon Charmer #1) and her second book QUEST MAKER (The Last Dragon Charmer #2) are available now. To learn more about her or to see pictures of her dogs (and her family) follow her at lauriemckay.net or on Twitter or Facebook. You can find her book at GoodreadsIndieboundAmazonBN, and wherever books are sold.

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Book Review Tuesday!

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Last week on Twitter and Facebook, I posted a different children’s through middle grade book each day using the hashtag, #BoysWhoRead, to encourage anyone who wants their kid to become more of a reader to buy or rent (from the library) some of these books! In case any of you missed out on a day, here’s a list of all the ones I recommended.

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I Funny: A Middle School Story, by James Patterson. Do you like an endearing, but absolutely hilarious character? Then you’re going to love this read! You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll finish the book wishing you never had to put it down.

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Ungifted, by Gordan Korman. Were you ever put in the gifted program in your school? Better yet, is your child in the gifted program, or wishing he/she was? Then you should try this book. It’s funny, sweet, and filled with many good lessons to be learned for any kid who feels like they are struggling to fit in.

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The Loser List, by H.N. Kowitt. Kids can be cruel, and Kowitt takes that to heart in this story. It’s a book about everything that happens between nerd and cool in middle school—and you won’t want to miss it.

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The Rules: Trust No One. A mysterious town, a sarcastic twelve-year-old, and a bond between two brothers that nobody could break—this novel will have your heart racing as fast as you’re flipping through the pages. Plus, this is an indie book, so it has a special place on this list and in my heart.

 

Remember, if you want to share your book recommendations with me, and with other parents, just post it on social media with the hashtag, #BoysWhoRead! I can’t wait to see what you have to say!

 

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What Happened to #BoysWhoRead?

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As many of you who have been following this blog for a while know, I started a campaign some time ago called Boys Who Read, which aims to encourage children and parents together to make reading an enjoyable habit in their lives. As a children’s author, father, and lifelong reader, I wholeheartedly believe that books are an important part of expanding a child’s inner life, helping them to understand the world and the people within it with greater empathy, compassion, and curiosity.

As C. Gordon puts it, “A book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter any other way.”

And don’t our children deserve to know the pleasure of walking on that red carpet?

I have written about it before, and I will write about it again: As parents, we need to encourage our children to turn off their screens, turn off the Netflix, and pick up a book once a day. But the approach with which we encourage them to do so is extremely important. If we treat reading a book like a recreational activity (you’ve finished your homework, now you can read!) and going to pick out a book like an exciting outing (why don’t we go out for ice cream and pick out a new book!), then their mindset will follow.

But what is also important in helping your children fall in love with reading, is choosing the right books. Which is why every day this week on Twitter and Facebook I will share a book I think your child will love, using the hashtag #BoysWhoRead. Follow along, and share your own book recommendations with the hashtag so that parents all over can benefit and help their child become lifelong readers themselves!

Let’s work together to create a new generation of #BoysWhoRead. Can’t wait to see what you all have to say!

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Tuesday Review: The Charlie Bingham Series

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This past week, I has the opportunity to read two wonderful children’s books I think you would all love. Check out my review below.

Maggie Larche’s two little books, Charlie Bingham Gets Clocked and Charlie Bingham Gets Serious are two utterly cute stories! About a boy’s serial misadventures in primary school (I’m guessing in about fourth grade).

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In Clocked, a friend’s pet lizard crawls inside the teacher’s favorite clock, an old-fashioned one with the big bells on top. Charlie and his friends borrow it to catch the lizard, and this sets off a zany and wonderful series of events. The trick is to get the clock back to Miss Walker (whom Charlie has a crush on) without getting into trouble. This turns out to be anything but simple. The clock gets passed from kid to kid like a hot potato and everybody gets totally stressed. I got stressed!

The story really is a primary-grade tour de force.

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In Serious, the first line jumps right out at you:

“Sorry, Charlie. You’re just not hall monitor material.”

But this is precisely the thing Charlie has been yearning to be, for two good reasons. One, hall monitors get to leave class ten minutes before lunch and before the final bell. And, two, they get to wear really cool sashes. Owen, the head hall monitor, tells our hero he’s too much of a goofball for the august position. Charlie decides to prove him wrong by appearing as a line leader and sporting a line leader’s distinctive ribbon. First he has to get a girl to let him have her line leader spot for that day. And just like in Clocked, this sets off a wacko series of outcomes that had me really turning pages.

The stories’ point-of-view is first-person (Charlie’s), and this is exactly what you want in kids’ books. The narrative is clear and real and immediate, and would be no problem for young readers.

Miss Maggie calls these her “silly, funny” stories. She’s spot-on about that, but she may be a little too modest. I can’t imagine kids not enjoying these books.

Five stars at least.

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“Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

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Recently I came across a TED Talk entitled, “Do Schools Kill Creativity” by Ken Robinson, and was immediately struck by the importance of his message. If you haven’t had a chance to see this talk yet—though it is the most viewed TED talk on at nearly 40 million views—here it is:

I have been an advocate for children’s creativity since starting this blog. After I discovered how important it was to my son’s education that he be able to read and imagine stories, it became clear to me that creativity is something that, as Robinson points out, “is as important in education as literacy.”

What I enjoyed most about this TED talk is his claim that all education systems across the world value certain components of education more than others: sciences and math first, humanities second, and arts third. Children are told to give up the things they love when they aren’t “practical” enough, or if their passions won’t land them a job. But with so many people educated in those highly employable skills, the demand for workers decreases, and people find that they’ve given up their creative sides and passions only to be left unemployed and dissatisfied.

I think the point of this talk wasn’t to shame schools, it was to show that some children and some people excel in areas outside of what schools encourage. Children who are highly intelligent individuals are told they are mediocre students, and won’t carry out the creative, brilliant things they are capable of after being given up on in the academic atmosphere they grew up in.

My only critique of this talk—though I realize these speakers are limited in time—is that he didn’t address what was to be done about this problem. Yes, creativity needs to be encouraged. Yes, schools only push one form of academia. But how do we fix this? With budget constrictions, and altogether limited resources, how do we allow students to learn everything? To explore their creativity, but still take those science and math courses? Should there be more charter schools aimed at students with “alternative” talents?

I don’t have the answers. But I am certainly glad the question has been raised, and that people are paying attention. Creativity shaped the course of my life as an author and a father, and I think our world would benefit in many ways from encouraging more of it, so that people don’t “grow out of creativity” as Robinson put it, but rather continue to grow in their creativity for their entire lives.

What is your stance on this TED talk? Do you think schools are to blame for not encouraging the arts and humanities? Let me know in the comments!

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Should Kids be Reading on Tablets? The Benefits and Drawbacks of Reading on the Screen

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You can call me old school, but I don’t do the e-reading thing. I like to sit down with a book in my hands, flip through the pages, write in the margins, and keep all the screens at bay even if for just a few hours. Reading, to me, is an escape from the world. And lately, it seems like the world is full of nothing but smart phones, laptops, and tablets.

But what about the next generation? The parents raising kids now, not those of us who raised our kids thirty years ago? It seems they won’t be able to avoid keeping tablets in the house, and with cheaper books and easier access, shouldn’t switching from books to screen actually be a benefit to today’s children?

In some ways, yes. Books are more easily available than they have ever been. Children’s e-books are usually made with interactive features now, so kids can feel even more like they become part of the story they’re reading. They can guide the content, write pieces of the stories themselves, draw pictures of the characters, and take their creativity to entirely different levels.

An article on amplify.com said it best: “Kids aren’t just passive receptors anymore, they expect to be able to interact, remix some of the content, and work collaboratively with others to do things with the content.”

Kids are excited to sit down with these e-readers, because it’s no longer a time just to clock silent reading hours—reading has turned into another kind of game time. And while I am glad that books are getting out there and children are reading, I would also argue that this is the exact problem.

The experience of reading changes when it is filled with hyperlinks, game times, and endless upon endless distractions. It distracts from the general enjoyment of reading—losing oneself in a narrative. Why have interactive features when you can instead take the place of someone else’s consciousness, and live a different life than your own for a few hundred pages? An article on mom.me quoted a study which said, “Of those who took part in the UK’s National Literacy Trust survey, only 12 percent of those who did their reading on a screen said they enjoyed reading, while 51 percent of those burning through pages said they liked to read. Print readers, even if they mixed it with screen reading, made up a larger percent of above-average readers compared to those who only read on a screen—15.5 percent vs. 26 percent.”

Long story short, we can turn reading into a sort of game time, but real game time is only going to be a tap of the screen away from their book. Why spend a few hours reading when Angry Birds is just as easily available on the same device?

I think kids and parents benefit from putting away the distractions, locking the screens away for just an hour or so, and sitting down to read books together. You can still encourage your children to create stories and imagine for themselves—that’s how the character Crosley from my book series was created—but without a tablet and all the distractions tablets come with in the way, hopefully the pure pleasure of reading a book will continue to be passed on through the generations.

Do you prefer reading books or on tablets? Let me know in the comments!

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