Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

Why You Should Give Your Child a Journal

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As parents, so often we want to find gifts for our children that will mean the world to them. Whether it’s the new game they’ve been dying to play, a Lego set they’ve had their eye on for months, or a football to throw around the neighborhood with friends, when birthdays and Christmas roll around it is our job as parents to give them something they’ll always remember. But I think that sometimes it is also instrumental to gift them with something that they’ll not only enjoy, but that will boost their confidence and expand their knowledge. That’s why I gave my son so many books when he was a kid—I wanted him to know the enjoyment of losing himself in a world that wasn’t his own and teach him that reading isn’t an activity restricted to school hours. But then I got another idea—I was going to give him a journal of his own. Here’s why that was the best decision I could have made.

A journal allows children to spend time with their thoughts. Kids are usually much less introspective than adults, and that is often a good thing. It allows them to live in the world and follow their instincts. But I think it is also important that kids try to understand why they feel certain ways, and writing in a journal gives them that power. My son could write down what happened on one of his bad days, and realize that it was bad because he felt disappointment, or anger, or sadness. He had a personal space all his own to explore his thoughts, and in doing so, to explore the world and his position in it.

A journal allows children to explore their creativity. I asked John to write down stories in his journal, to live in his imagination for a few pages each day, and to not second-guess what he was writing down. Having the opportunity to make up stories any way that he wanted, knowing he wouldn’t be judged for whatever he wrote, was instrumental in growing his creative side and making him dream bigger than a lot of other kids his age.

A journal improves children’s literacy skills. Sitting down to write a few days a week, every week, gradually helped my son become a better reader and writer. He was using skills learned in the classroom in his own way at home in the journal, and his Language Arts grades in school improved astronomically as a result. Kids don’t realize how much they’re learning by writing, to them it should become as much a part of their home life as watching TV, but every word they put down helps them become better students.

A journal will preserve memories most children lose as they grow up. It’s fun to go back and read journal entries you wrote from years past, but it’s even better to read back through childhood memories. I hardly remember what it was like to be in elementary school, but if I had kept a journal I could travel back into my head at that time and see what I thought about the girl who sat next to me in class, and about my parents, and about sitting with the nerds at lunch. These are priceless memories that your child has the opportunity to remember forever.

Did you keep a journal as a child? Would you pass that tradition down to your children? Let me know in the comments below!

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Why Your Local Library is the Perfect Summer Hangout

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It’s official . . . school is out for the summer! While your child is probably jumping for joy at the idea of spending an entire season away from classrooms, homework, and early mornings, us parents tend to have a few more hesitations during this long break. How do we keep our children busy? How will we afford to keep them entertained? When are we going to get all of our work done? (A hard enough task for stay-at-home parents when school is in session!)

The best answer to all of these questions? Make the local library your regular summer hangout spot. Here’s why:

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Libraries are free entertainment. You’ll get yourself and your children out of the house when they’re going stir-crazy, there are usually summer programs like shows and games for kids during the summer months, and there’s an endless supply of free reading material to keep your kids from watching too much television! Added bonus—when it’s time to head home, you get to take the entertainment with you for free.

Libraries provide an environment for you to work in while your children are being entertained. Pick a nice desk close to the children’s area, set up your laptop, and you’ll be good to go. During those performances or game hours, you’ll be free to enjoy an uninterrupted, quiet hour of work or writing. Added bonus—you won’t have to pay for a babysitter since you’ll always only be a few feet away from your kids!

Libraries are air-conditioned. Save some money on your electricity bill and escape the summer heat in the library. Added bonus—for some reason, every library I go to ends up feeling cooler than my own house!

You’ll be helping your kids progress their reading skills even during their time-off. Chances are, your kids won’t want to feel like they’re doing homework over the summer; they’ve had enough of logging their silent reading hours and writing book reports. But when you enter them into library contests and they end up reading multiple books in a week hoping to win prizes, they’ll be learning just as much as they did in school and will be prepared to enter their next school year. Added bonus—you’re helping them learn without hearing complaints!

So there you have it! The next time your kids are feeling bored with their summer vacation, take them down to your local library. It’s the perfect place for kids and parents to spend their time.

When was the last time you visited your local library? Let me know in the comments below!

P.S. I want to thank everyone who entered in my Amazon giveaway last week. There were so many entries that the giveaway ended the same day it began; it blew me away! Be sure to stay tuned on my Twitter page for more information about future contests!

 

 

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If You Don’t Think Your Child Notices What You Do, Here’s A Video to Change Your Mind

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The other day while I was searching through some YouTube videos, I came across this one called, “Kids Perspectives on Dads” as part of The Fatherhood Project. Take a look at it below:

Aside from being a very sweet Father’s Day gift to us fathers across the Internet, I thought this was a great video to remind us just how much our kids notice what we do, and especially what we do with them. The kids in this video talk about playing sports with their dads, watching TV with them, and just spending time together in general; the one thing I sadly found missing was any child talking about their dad reading with them.

If your child notices you watching football games or your favorite TV show, they’re going to want to join in. The same goes for reading—if your child notices you reading a book each night, they’ll want to do it too. You are your child’s biggest inspiration. You are the example in your home. I think we, as parents, need to keep this in mind with every decision we make.

Creating a new generation of kids who love reading starts with us. Introduce your child to the many worlds they can experience through reading, and enrich their lives with literature. Then, maybe, if this Youtube channel makes a video like this again we can say we did it, our children love it when we read with them. They’ll only be better off for it.

What kind of things do you and your child do together? Is reading with them important to you? Let me know in the comments below!

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Book Recommendation Time! The Best Historical Fiction for Children

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I’ve written a few posts now about how important it is for us as parents to help our children fall in love with reading. But today I want to take this one step further—I think it is important for us to get kids interested in reading about history. History is one of those subjects that a majority of people sleep through during grade school and don’t even consider studying past their few general ed requirements in college. But it’s also one of the most important subjects out there, if only to keep our world from repeating its past mistakes.

I’ve been a history buff from the time I was a kid, and I think that is largely due to teachers who made the subject interesting for me and books that made historical stories come alive in a tangible way. So I’ve compiled a short list here of some books for kids that hopefully will do the same for them.

Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry

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I’m sure you’ve heard of this classic already, but I couldn’t help but put it on my list. It takes place in Copenhagen during World War II, and it is a beautiful story that helps children to see the difficult reality of the Holocaust, while also telling of a friendship worth risking lives for.

Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos, by Robert Lawson

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First published in 1988, this funny, entertaining story tells the story of Benjamin Franklin and the founding of the United States of America through the eyes of a mouse named Amos. According to the book, Amos gave good ol’ Benjamin all of his best ideas. It’s a very charming book filled with important historical information, and I guarantee your child won’t be able to get enough!

She Was Nice To Mice: The Other Side of Elizabeth I’s Character Never Before Revealed by Previous Historians, by Alexandra Elizabeth Sheedy

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Yet another historical tale told with the help of mice! This one takes place in the Elizabethan era, and follows the life of a mouse living in Queen Elizabeth’s courts. What I think is interesting about this book is that it was written by a twelve-year-old. It really helps kids relate to an era from long ago because it was written by a child who related to it herself!

Pink and Say, by Patricia Polacco

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This picture book (still intended for kids ages 5-9) is set during the Civil War. It tells the story of a black Union soldier named Pinkus Aylee finding and rescuing white Union soldier, Sheldon Curtis (who goes by Say). It is a tragic story based on true events from the author’s own family history. To me, the Civil War is one of the most interesting historical events, and I give this book my highest recommendation.

Did you read any historical fiction when you were a kid? Did it help grow a love of history in you as an adult? Leave a comment and let me know!

 

 

 

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Need to Get Your Boys to Read? Here’s My Top Tips to Help You Do it!

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You want to know what I think? I think that right now, we are living in a time where most boys are encouraged to play sports or video games by their friends and by society to be considered “normal” or “cool.” We aren’t living in a world where the next generation of boys will be a generation who loves to read. But that’s not right. Reading opens up kids’ minds to think of things they might never have had the creativity to imagine before, it improves their performance in school, and it’s a way for them to entertain themselves away from the Internet or the television, which they’re probably getting more than their fair share of.

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So how do we do it? How do we make the next generation a generation of boys who read? Here’s my top four ideas about where we begin.

1. Put interesting books on acceptable school reading lists. Books don’t have to be extraordinarily literary or realistic to be beneficial to education. Especially among younger kids, why not let current bestsellers count toward silent reading credit? Why not let kids do book reports on something they find interesting? If they can read what is popular amongst their generation, kids might start bonding over the books they read just like they do over the video games they play.

2. Never put down books that they find interesting. To go along with my first tip, as parents we shouldn’t judge books that seem too silly, or too “boy-ish.” The book is based off a video game? It’s still a book. The book is about some guy who wears underwear outside his pants? It’s still something for them to get acquainted to the literary world with. If we want boys to read, we have to let them read what they want; the more they do read, the broader their literary interests will become.

3. Seek out reading role models. A lot of celebrities participate in reading campaigns for children. Seek them out. Or maybe there’s a teacher, an older sibling, or a basketball coach they look up to greatly; ask that person to talk to your kid about reading. If the person they think is the coolest in the world tells them they think reading is cool, chances are your child will want to give it a shot.

4.Take your child to book fairs/festivals. Book fairs usually have lots of games set up for kids, and book festivals have everything from games to live readings and full-on shows to peak the younger generation’s interest in reading. They happen all over the country, are usually free entry, and will end up being a fun day for the family—your child finding a book they’re dying to read would just be the cherry on top.

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How do you interest your child in reading? Do you think it’s still important for kids to read? Let me know in the comments below!

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Making the Decision to Write a Book

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I guess you could argue whether you ever “decide” to write a book—sometimes the idea is just in you and you feel obligated to write it down, or sometimes you’re just born to be someone who never walks away from a blank page. For me, writing the Night Buddies books fell somewhere in between needing to write it and deciding to write it. Let me walk you through just how it went.

First off, I was born a reader. And when my son John was born, I knew that I was going to do whatever I could to introduce him to the joys of reading too. (To see a post about how to go about getting your kid to love reading, click here.) Like I’ve mentioned in this blog before, to get John to really get into story-telling I had him come up with his own character; and that’s when Crosley, the first character for the Night Buddies series, was created.

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But having a character for me and my son to talk and imagine up stories about was not something I immediately imagined would lead to me writing a book. That was something that occurred to me in slow bits, over many years. I had always been a lover of books, and I had written a few short stories here and there, but when I started thinking about Crosley being a character for the page and not just in our home, a short story just didn’t seem like enough. That’s when I started thinking about a book.

But when deciding to write a book, you can’t just think about one character. I had a good start, but a long road ahead. I had to think about another main character—and who better to star in my stories than my own son? Then I had to think more in-depth about the story and what my two characters would do together, I had to think about why Crosley was a red crocodile instead of a normal green one, I had to come up with a host of other, secondary characters. In short, I had to develop an entire world. But the more I thought about these things, the easier it started to get. And by the time I had everything thought out, the decision was already made.

I was going to write a children’s book!

Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecke Scare cover

From there, of course, there were many challenges along the way. But by committing myself to this project and having the firm goal of, “I’m going to write a full-length children’s book” in my head, all those challenges were easier to overcome.

If you’re thinking you might have an idea for a book, or maybe the only idea you have is that you want to write a book, I suggest that you decide to do it. You’ll have a lot of work ahead of you, work that could take years to complete, but I can tell you this . . . turning my little idea of a crocodile named Crosley into a real, tangible book was the best decision I have ever made.

 

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I’m a Self-Published Author: Here’s Why You Should Be Too

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In today’s world, self-publishing is an option available to every author, on any budget. With the mass of books being released this way, you might wonder if putting your book out in the world without a traditional publisher is worth it. Will anyone read it? Are you wasting your time?

As someone who has successfully self-published three juvenile fiction titles, I’m here to tell you that in a lot of ways, self-publishing is actually better for authors than traditional publishing. Here’s why:

Once you are satisfied with your book, you can release it.  When you want to publish traditionally, there are a number of hurdles you have to overcome before your book is released. You’ll spend months seeking out agents, months revising the novel once (and if) you find an agent, months seeking a publisher, and if it doesn’t work out, that’s close to a year or longer of having a completed novel that nobody is able to read. And even if you do lock down a publisher after all that searching, it’ll probably be a year or two before they release your book. When you choose to self-publish, as soon as you’ve written your book and spent time editing it or having it professionally edited, you can release it—you would have a book on shelves for people to read in the same amount of time it would take for you to finish your first round of agent querying!

Your have full control over your story. Traditional publishers may decide to publish your book under certain conditions: it needs a love triangle included, the crocodile should really be a dinosaur, etc. They want the books they publish to resemble what is already selling, and if your story aims to be a bit different, they might ask you to change it. When you publish your own book, it is 100 percent your story, on your terms.

You reap the benefits. Let’s say you write a bestseller. Or even just a moderately successful novel. If you had it traditionally published, chances are the contract you signed gives a huge amount of the royalties to the publisher—most take up to 85 percent. You’ll also have to share 15-20 percent of the profits with your agent, leaving you with . . . well, you get it. When you self-publish, you earn a much higher percentage of your royalties. With Createspace, one of the most popular self-publishing services, for example, authors earn 40 percent of the royalties. I’d say that’s a pretty outstanding difference.

How you go about marketing is up to you. Even with traditional publishers in today’s world, marketing is a responsibility mostly left for authors to take care of themselves. But if you self-publish, you can decide if you want to take on a publicist, who you want as your publicist, and how exactly you want to go about promoting your book. Since all the money for marketing is coming out of your wallet (which I know can be a bummer), you get to decide what levels you will go to in order to publicize your work. You don’t have to settle for a subpar publicist and mediocre marketing if you’re not on your publisher’s list of most-anticipated novels; your book is your priority, and you can publicize accordingly.

When we put so much effort into writing and perfecting our stories, I think it is only natural that we have as much control over the publishing process as possible. I certainly know that I wouldn’t have chosen to publish Night Buddies any other way.

How do you feel about self-publishing? Would you consider going that route to publish your book? Let me know in the comments!

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Other Children’s Book Titles I Highly Recommend!

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With the release date of Night Buddies Go Sky High fast approaching but still not upon us, today I thought I would take the liberty of recommending great children’s books that are similar in some way (content, writing style, etc.) to the Night Buddies series so that you and your child can find the perfect book to read together!

Captain No Beard: An Imaginary Tale of a Pirate’s Life

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This book aims for an audience a little bit younger than the Night Buddies books, but it’s definitely worth the read. The story is about a young kid named Alexander and his cousin Hallie who turn Alexander’s bed into a pirate ship called “The Flying Dragon,” and go on crazy adventures! It’s similar to Night Buddies in that it plays with language and dialogue that is unique to the characters, which makes the story really come to life and fun to read. The book won Kirkus Reviews’ Best of 2012 in the Children’s Indie Category, and after giving it a try you’ll be sure to understand why!

Akimbo and the Crocodile Man

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I had to put this book on the list for a number of reasons, including the fact that one of the main characters is named John, and there a number of crocodiles in the story (sound familiar?). The second in a series, this tale revolves around a boy in Africa named Akimbo who is invited on a field study with crocodile expert John. But when John gets attacked by one of the crocodiles they are working with, Akimbo has to find the bravery to go on his own in a dangerous place in search of help. The book is filled with adventure, and is very fast-paced! Like the Night Buddies series, boys between the ages of seven and ten would really enjoy this read.

Tales of the Time Dragon

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Kids being led on adventures through time by a big red dragon? That could be similar to a certain kid being led on adventures by a big red crocodile! This book is great because it combines a fun fictional story with real historical knowledge, and includes maps, a list of historical facts, and a glossary. It’s about two kids who get sucked into their computer when doing a research paper, and end up traveling through time. It’s recommended for kids in either first or second grade, and I would say it’s a definite must-read (this coming from a history buff like me)!

What are some of your favorite children’s books? Leave a comment below to let us know.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

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Timeless Authors Share Their Perspectives on Parenting

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Mark Twain

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“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

In this quote, I think Twain is getting at something that can give us parents great relief—children and parents are meant to grow and learn together. You might not know everything the second you become a parent, but by being one you will learn new things from your experiences and your child every day.

Lewis Carroll

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“When you are describing, a shape, or sound, or tint; don’t state the matter plainly, but put it in a hint; and learn to look at all things, with a sort of mental squint.”

As parents, we are the first, and most present, teachers our children will have. In this quote, Carroll lets us know that the more we encourage our children to critically think about new things they encounter, the better teachers we will be.

Louisa May Alcott

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“Your father, Jo. He never loses patience, never doubts or complains, but always hopes, and works and waits so cheerfully that one is ashamed to do otherwise before him.”

This quote, taken from one of Alcott’s masterpieces, Little Women, describes a father who should be an example to us all as parents by reminding us the importance of patience. Being patient with our children, even on days when they like to try that patience to our wits ends, will ultimately lead to a happier home life, and will make us good examples for our children to follow.

Frank Baum

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“The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization.”

A parent who fosters imagination in their child rather than hindering it is more likely to be a parent whose child becomes an asset to our world. Baum wholeheartedly believed that our nation, and our world, was built by those whose imaginations were large enough to envision great things, and he believed that reading to one’s child and building an acceptance and love of imagination in them would lead to the betterment of society as a whole.

Dr. Seuss

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“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act.”

I think this is one of the greatest lessons for a parent to learn and accept. Our lives become hectic, trying to get our children to and from school, helping them build science projects, baking for school bake sales, and meeting for student/teacher conferences, all while trying to work, pay bills, and get household chores done. The great Dr. Seuss reminds us that we should only take on the things that we can give our attention to fully, and that learning to balance all the things thrust upon us is key to maintaining our sanity and our happiness.

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How Roald Dahl Inspired Me as a Children’s Book Writer

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Even before I got into writing the Night Buddies books I was a fan of Roald Dahl—author of books including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach. He is known as one of the 20th century’s best children’s authors, and I can certainly say that as a reader his books never failed to captivate my imagination and pull me inside the stories; he had me hooked from his first word to his last. But when I took on the task of writing my own book series, I started looking to Roald Dahl not only as my favorite author, but also as one of my biggest writing inspirations.

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Dahl began his writing career by writing down the things that he knew. His first published story was about his experience as a fighter pilot in World War II, and his first children’s book, The Gremlins, was about “mischievous little creatures that were part of RAF folklore.” This is where I learned my first lesson in storytelling: writing what you know, even in books that take place in worlds far from reality, will always get you the best results. In Night Buddies, even though the books are entirely fictional, I had to use emotions, situations, and types of relationships that I knew in my life in order to make them come alive on the page.

Books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reach children because they are unique, they are told from the voices of children who differ from the norm, and they use more imagination than most people could ever dream of having. Dahl didn’t feel the need to make everything in his books “pretty,” the way some children’s authors do, and is in fact known for his dark humor and sometimes grotesque scenarios. This kind of writing inspired me to write the Night Buddies books in the most real, authentic way I knew. The creativity he used in his stories inspired me to keep thinking further outside the box in order to create books I can now say I am proud to have written and feel confident that children will love.

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“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful.”

This quote by Dahl stuck with me throughout my writing experience, and should inspire any of you attempting to write your own children’s books. In the process of writing a book, sometimes it is easy to get caught up in using impressive language or trying to come up with sweeping universal themes, but remembering that what children need is a book that they are going to have fun reading makes the entire writing process much less intimidating, and always leads to a better book being written.

If you haven’t read one of his books, I suggest you drop everything and go pick one up now. You’ll be a happy reader—and a better writer—for it.

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