Tag Archives: books

Swept Along the Storytrail: Dawes Arboretum

Swept Along the Storytrail: Dawes Arboretum



I really need to post about the wonderful experience I had at the Dawes Arboretum in May. This was a first for me—having one of my books chosen as the title used in a storytrail.  That is, the book was reproduced in two-page spreads (with permissions) on vinyl signs that were then placed along a quarter mile trail that wound through the Arboretum. Families and kids walk the trail and read the book as they go (May through October). What a fantastic  idea!!! The program combines reading with exercise and the great outdoors—what more could anyone want? (Perhaps another 1600 acres of beautiful grounds—which the Dawes has.)

BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE page (Knopf) was the title chosen as it deals with night-time animals in the woods. And on Saturday, May 18th, an opening reception was held at which I spoke. It drizzled—still, families came out with umbrellas and wearing rain boots. I spoke about writing BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE and then we walked the trail as a group and I read the book. It was so much fun!

As I finished reading each sign the kids raced to the next one—impatiently waiting for the adults to catch up so we could read. (You can see a second sign in the distance in the photo above.) One family included a father who signed for his child. So as I read, he signed and the whole audience had this added experience. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There was so much enthusiasm in the racing kids, the laughing adults, the beautiful surroundings—the trail loops along the top of rolling hills from which one can see for miles over a valley.

The Dawes Arboretum is about 35 miles east of Columbus, Ohio in rolling river valley country. The azaleas were in bloom. And with the spring rains, the world was deeply green.

BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE will grace the storytrail for the summer as kids walk and read. The museum in the Arboretum will sell my book and I will continue to cherish the wonderful memory of such an unusual, fun, and healthy book event!

I hope other parks, libraries with trails and arboretums will take notice. This was a fun, innovative program and easily replicable by other institutions.


Here’s to reading!


Link to Dawes Arboretum

Link to StoryTrail info

Doggone Feet! is a Doggone Joy to Read . . .

Doggone Feet! is a Doggone Joy to Read . . .

Doggone Feet! by Leslie Helakoski

I’m happy dancing with “doggone” abandon for a good friend–and a great writer–Leslie Helakoski. Her latest book DOGGONE FEET! (Boyds Mills Press, 2013)  has made its appearance this month. DOGGONE FEET! is not only written by Leslie, but also illustrated by her. It narrates the tale of a growing family from the point of view of the family dog, whose domain is under the table at mealtimes. The perspective of the art is fun with dancy lines, deep pastels and all the messiness of a loving and happy family. For any family who ever loved a dog . . .

Now . . . enjoy this interview with Leslie. And don’t forget to get a look at the book trailer here (or below), or to read Leslie’s post on making the trailer which is posted at Darcy Pattison’s site, Fiction Notes.

Enjoy . . . Doggone it!

          paw prints 1



filmstrip   Doggone Feet! Book Trailer

LelSonya photo

DOGGONE FEET! by Leslie Helakoski

Published 2013 by: Boyds Mills Press


1.    I love the family portrayed in DOGGONE FEET! And I really enjoyed getting the dog’s perspective on the world. Is this book at all autobiographical? Of course! I grew up with dogs and cats under our family table along with a raccoon or two. But this story comes mostly from my current family dog who especially liked sitting under the chairs belonging to my kids when they were young eaters.

2.    You are also an illustrator (FAIR COW, 2010). I’m curious . . . do you submit your manuscripts as text only, or  also with a dummy? And then, how does the decision get made to have you, or someone else, illustrate?
I submit text with an illlustration or two if I want to illustrate. (Dummies are a ton of work and since the AD usually wants to have input anyway, could mean starting over from scratch once she’s on board.) My agent usually asks the editor to consider me as artist so that it is not an all or nothing proposal. If an editor likes the mss. but not the art (which has happened many times) then she will suggest we go with someone else for the art. I’ve tried to change the editor’s mind in some cases but usually go along with what she suggests. In the case of Fair Cow, an editor I was working with did not want me to illustrate. I felt I was capable of doing a good job with it and ended up going with a smaller press that would allow me to illustrate.

3.     Since you’re a visual artist . . . when you get an idea for a book does it come first to your mind in pictures or in text/dialogue?  Which way do you start? With sketches? Or with words? When I get a good idea that I think will work as a book, it usually comes with a visual. That is part of how I know it is a good idea. But I don’t sketch right away. I always write first–finding a way to say what I want with words can take awhile. I like to write with that visual image in mind to guide me. For Fair Cow, I had an visual with a cow sitting under an aqua hair dryer in my head. For Doggone Feet! I imagined sitting on the floor under a table and looking at all the legs and feet.

4.     Have you ever written a book that right from the beginning you knew should be illustrated by someone else?  Right from the beginning, I thought that I would NOT illustrate Doggone Feet! I was thinking that illustrating it would entail lots of proper perspective and that it would take me many long painful hours to get just right. It would not have been  fun. So my agent sent the text out without any art. We got back several responses from editors saying they thought this would be difficult to illustrate and that it would be limiting visually. I didn’t agree, I could imagine how it would look–I just didn’t want to create the art. I was complaining about this with a couple of illustrator friends and they encouraged me to do it myself and reminded me that the perspective could be wonky. That freed me up and as soon as
we submitted the text with a couple of pieces of art, it was picked up.

5.    For you, what’s the best part of being an author? An illustrator?  My favorite part of writing is when a vague story idea merges with a fun way to put down the words. That excitement will keep me working many hours tweaking to get the words just right. My favorite part of illustrating is when I find an original way to show something and the design works on the page. My favorite part of creating a book is when a child responds to the story. Priceless!

6.     Now for the really important (fun) questions:  What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever found under a table?  My 6 year-old daughter cutting her hair.

7.     Suppose you wake early and upon opening your refrigerator discover a very tiny pair of shoes within. What would be your thoughts? I have actually found tiny shoes in the fridge before. They belonged to the doll lounging on a cabbage leaf.

Dozens of Cousins Cover Reveal!

Dozens of Cousins Cover Reveal!


I’m so excited to be able to show you the cover of my next book–due out in the summer of 2013 and illustrated by David Catrow. WOW!  I absolutely love his energetic children . . . an accurate reflection of me and my cousins and our “monsterousness” as children.  (And wait until you see the wonderful, funny artwork inside!)

Clarion, 2013.

Dozens of Cousins cover by David Catrow

Dozens of Cousins cover by David Catrow

And oh how I LOVE the flap text the editors wrote:  Esp.:  ”A lively, lyrical celebration of the sweet, sweet abandon of running amok among those who love you best.”


Here it is in full:

“We are wild and fierce. We do not wait for invitations.” It’s time for the annual family reunion, and the dozens of cousins are running wild like beasties. Like hungry ogres! They hug fluttering aunts and soft-spoken elders, play in the creek, shimmy up trees, take “double-dog dares,” and devour “the sweet juiciness of the world” along with hot dogs and watermelon. Hilarious side stories unfold in Catrow’s fantastically colorful, chaotic spreads that gambol and splash with comical caricatures of grinning kinfolk large and small. A lively, lyrical celebration of the sweet, sweet abandon of running amok among those who love you best.”

(It’s now available online for pre-ordering.)

Happy Dancing!