The late Mister Rogers is quoted as saying, “It’s ok to not be ok.”
National Children’s Grief Awareness Day is a day to honor kids who are grieving – in any season – and particularly as we journey into the holidays.
Children need to feel safe inside the space of their sorrow.
They need to tell about it.
For Meggi Beth, it’s been hard lately to carry the weight of her grief story. In the book, “Will You Hold My Story?”, this lovable little girl is patiently waiting for someone else to ease her burden. In this endearing book for kids and grownups, Meggi Beth discovers two things: a secret and a story-bearer who becomes a treasured friend. Settle in and get acquainted with the delightful characters who stop by to comfort Meggi Beth.
You may even recognize yourself in the story.
Sign up here for a special pre-order bonus!
“Will You Hold My Story?” by Kathy Joy, to be released February 2021.
Do you ever feel like a neglected house plant? I do.
I do, right now: yellowing leaves, a bit droopy, and terribly parched.
There’s this Dracaena plant quietly occupying a windowsill in my spare room. Even during this sheltering-at-home phase, in a state of being hyper-alert about everything, I’d forgotten it. The poor thing was so brittle, so needy – like us.
House Plants and People
I wondered if it could be restored.
Setting to work, I couldn’t help thinking we all need a bit of repotting, some fresh water … some TLC.
I’ve seen lots of tough-girl and tough-guy books around. It seems critics in the new media don’t like a character to show or feel anything soft or vulnerable. They will issue a dogging review if the young man or girl cries or flounders for an answer. They will call it “immature”.
Everyone has needs. Humans thrive on community and teamwork. Each of us needs a little attention. In fact, I can’t seem to think of one stage in life when a person doesn’t need some attention and care. We share this life.
Like a house plant, we need some tending-to these days.
Our root system is aching to not work so hard, to have a thriving life surrounding us that we may do what we are meant to do in peace and confidence.
Our leaves are yellow – we need a careful touch to pull them away. Our soil is dry – we need an organic compost of compassion.
Nutrients should be mixed in, things like good humor, a phone call, a letter, a song.
Ridding of Leaves that No Longer Serve
Leaves that no longer serve us or others around us should be pruned. Bitter leaves, all. Cut away dry petals of memories that cause arrogance, envy, self-pity, anger, resentment, and unforgiveness.
Do you feel very bare naked without those leaves flourishing around you? Trust the process. After a stressful season or a severe pruning, either one, your roots will soon flourish.
Like the little struggling plant, we need recovery time. During a time of lacking sunlight and waiting for the regularity of better times, we will need a clear vision of hope to absorb some fresh, good nutrients. Share and be shared with.
Take care of your plants, yes.
Take care of yourself, too: hunker down in a larger pot, giving yourself extra space to expand and thrive.
It might be nice to aerate the soil to help our roots grow deeply; to enable a stronger, more vigorous life. Break up the old soil, infuse it with good nutrients.
I arise today Through the strength of heaven; Light of the sun, Splendor of fire, Speed of lightning, Swiftness of the wind, Depth of the sea, Stability of the earth, Firmness of the rock. I arise today Through God's strength to pilot me; God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me, God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me, God's hosts to save me From snares of the devil, From temptations of vices, From every one who desires me ill, Afar and anear, Alone or in a multitude. I summon today all these powers between me and evil, Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul-
Take care of the tops and the bottoms of your plants. Help them reach upward and trust.
Trash the bitter leaves.
Give the roots nutrients and space
Add water and light.
Drink, absorb life, and drink some more.
Place yourself in the environment you need, one with plenty of light and love.
I’m pleased to tell you my house plant is coming along nicely, showing some gumption, reaching toward the light. I’ve named her “Endurance” because she is making a comeback after a drought of neglect.
My house is getting colder by the moment. I think I’ll go down and turn up the heat. Just a moment. I’ll be right back.
Okay. You know how that is, adjusting the thermostat by the ups and downs in fall as winter approaches, and the warming up days of spring only to be downcast by a late winter storm? I’m sure that’s why God made us pets to hold and help us through these uncertain times.
I used to take these walks with my dog, but I myself am in a time between times now, and I have to walk by myself. So, I step onto the nano-seconds with the fallen leaves and bright sunrises and sunsets, electric rains, and bristling winds.
In these private times, I give thanks for many things past, present, and future.
Once you’ve lost this, you can never get it back; what is it?
The Time Between Times
Have you noticed how Thanksgiving tends to get lost in the time between times?
Decorations and celebration planning hops right over Thanksgiving like we are guided to hop from the treats of Halloween right into the serious celebrations of Christmas and the duties of gift-giving.
When do we get to spontaneously pause and reflect, it’s because we’ve stolen time away from these carefully sculpted hours for a private moment.
I’ve written a series of seasonal books for winter, spring, summer, and fall (autumn) celebrating Thanksgiving and hospitality. My books use the nano-seconds as stepping stones, pauses to reflect, similar to you’d use a labyrinth.
Sometimes, when these seconds slow down, I discover treasures and turns of phrases. I find myself reaching in, reaching out, praying.
A Nano-Second of Impulse
I’m not an independently wealthy author. I work a day job at the front desk behind glass. Today at my place of work, we got an email about burnout, which many of us are experiencing.
One of the perks of working in a glass bowl is that you get to see what’s happening outside. I’ve witnessed some interesting moments, plus a few things I’d rather un-see if that were even possible. Outside the door to my place of work, humanity passes by on skateboards, pushing strollers, in sneakered youth and well-shod business attire. I’ve seen army recruiters, pre-med students, construction workers, and grub hub drivers; bicyclists, policemen, delivery trucks, and dog walkers.
I’ve laughed to see people leaning close to the glass to examine their teeth, fix their hair, or admire their physique; the glass is a great mirror for them and a handy camouflage for me.
Back in the before-days, it was a common delight to see small tots on a daycare outing, holding hands, or maybe grabbing onto a long cord and marching in a wiggly line.
These days, everybody is hyper-alert.
This over-stretched year of Covid is marked by caution, measured in tiny increments of care, and burdened by restraints that brush by us and tip over our natural human boundaries. Humanity is unable to cope with robotic demands for long.
I want to shout, are we tripping over our own watchfulness, calculating every move; hesitating over every decision?
Whatever happened to healthy distractions, good old spontaneity?
A friend I’ve been missing tells me, “There’s simply no room for the unknown; the unplanned.“
It’s been raining lately, that off and on drizzle that makes you want to stay in bed. The persistent showers are cloaking the sky in a steely gray curtain. Occasionally we get a glimpse of soft pearly clouds, like the inside of an oyster shell. It’s the kind of weather for becoming a mirror of my ceilings, becoming a well-polished pearl.
If you have to go out, the umbrella is up and the head is down. Jackets are pulled snug. That’s why, while stealing a look at the world passing by, something caught my eye.
Spontaneity kicked to the curb, my ache for one rare and splendid moment is rewarded through the mist of incessant drizzle.
Some guy stood in a puddle.
He was standing in – not avoiding – a puddle.
He stomped one foot, then the other, and watched the spray fly upward.
A smile emerged from his face, then I was smiling, too.
He leaned down for a look at his soaked shoes. Wildly, he swept the puddle with one foot, then the other. Then he jumped.
The light changed, cars passed, and still, he stood there, sloshing in the cold rainwater.
I’d have expected this from a youngster, but this – this was a grownup; a man, roughly in his 40’s. It’s hard to tell.
Impossible to know whether he was a traveler, a vagrant, an executive who’d just lost his job, or perhaps a professor. It doesn’t matter. All speculations are off when you are splashing in puddles.
The world stopped for a moment.
He did not notice me watching from the office window. He did not care about ruined shoes or wet trousers. He wasn’t concerned with anything, except the lure of impulse.
The phone rang. I got back to business.
When I turned around for another look, of course, he was gone.
While the world was joining Zoom, masking up and maintaining an abundance of caution, this guy had an appointment with a mud puddle. A meeting, he honored. With reckless abandon. At the southwest corner of 9th and Sass, with St. Pete’s Cathedral towering over it all, a basic human emotion was felt: spontaneity.
And I got to see it, to feel the joy of it.
Our hearts need mending, our souls need healing, and our bodies need rest…one splendid moment at a time.
At the Capture Books retreat (fall, 2020), the question was posed in open session, “What kind of money do you actually make when you speak on an author platform?”
Trying to filter the pointedness of this question, I diverted the authors to talk about the variety of benefits they have received through public speaking. And, there are many– were many prior to Covid-19 state rules and restrictions.
After many of these benefits were discussed, including the fact that authors have continued to make appearances even through the pandemic this past summer, the question was posed again, and to my surprise, authors in the room rose to the challenge, opening up about their choices and experiences in forms of payment for speaking engagements.
Taken aback at the variety of models used, I was impressed by the author’s willingness to discuss individual finances.
Because the models were so varied, the opportunity to cover them for an article on publicity seemed like an appropriate topic, and an important one, to offer for exploration.
Books sold at events can represent the best money an author earns apart from being underwritten by a name brand.
Since an author rarely makes more than two dollars on each book sold through a store or book selling distribution service, an author’s presentation at public events can help sway not only market sales of one’s books, without a middleman, but also provides authors with an opportunity to address topics of personal importance to them.
Authors are influencers, after all.
But, how does an newer author get booked?
One author, a media library specialist, said she was regularly offered a pretty decent flat fee for public speaking in relation to her specialty. Her presentations were given to audiences of educators, other librarians, and media-industry professionals. Being employed by a school system helps.
Why is this? A school system has pre-tested their employees, thus an employee asked to present at an event is regarded to be free of liability silt, overcoming the first bar of recommendations.
Additionally, a substitute teacher has already proven an ability to organize under pressure and has some ability to manage time, a message or presentation, and is able to hold the interest of an audience.
Any teacher who has learned to use hooks and gimmicks can grab the attention of an audience. A great teacher keeps a prop or two hidden up his or her sleeve in order to entertain. So, an author who also happens to be a teacher has a distinct advantage in the field of speaking at educational events.
Another author, a ministry founder, said that since she regularly spoke to women in retreat settings, she often requests that an honorarium or love offering be taken. She also asks that she be allowed to sell books from a book table.
Since she views each of her speaking opportunities as a ministry event, she doesn’t want an awkward conversation about payment to delay or burden the relationships. Mixing business and ministry outside of traditional employment can cause unnecessary speculation. She doesn’t want any of this to get in the way of her greater goal. She does, however, ask for the travel expenses to be covered and the hotel accommodation if she has to stay overnight.
The point is not to go broke
When asked how this model works out financially, she said that most often, the offerings have been generous and they have covered her expenses and time. Because the woman asking for a reasonable model of payment was known to have small children, this author then added to her experience telling about a time when Capture Books had booked an name branded author for one of their retreats. This name branded author had small children. In the author’s contract, there had been a childcare line item, and it had happily been paid.
Another author who writes and sells gift books said that she often approaches gift and novelty shops as well as libraries for book signing events. These venues are in addition to local festivals and church events.
Since she often brings supplies for workshops such as making vision boards and life maps, her contract request includes the price of one of her books with the cost of art supplies. We call this wrapping the cost of a book into the price of her author appearance.
Bonus: In addition, she also offers a clever and quick gift wrap option for books for tips.
One author said that she felt a certain freedom and joy when she presented educational workshops on her unique process of creativity.
She speaks to creative writing classes as a substitute teacher, and group therapy counselor. In the course of her presentation, she can ask the students to look up her book on Amazon and bookmark it for purchase if they are interested. She divulged that it is mostly the booking of these opportunities that has been difficult for her.
The group discussed the possibilities of approaching the receptionist with the conversation to present for a counseling group, state run health associations, and charter schools or colleges.
With or without a hired publicist, this off-topic conversation drifted into using the contact lists provided by Capture Books to woo speaking opportunities through well-edited emails with great opening lines, a couple of endorsements, and then following up an email with a phone call to the receptionist.
During stay-at-home seasons, Zoom or Skype conferences work well for joining a classroom already set up by the teacher and school system.
At this juncture, a brainstorming process took place about who is hiring for speaker events, and included the convenience that many of these groups have a set fee with the option of hosting a book table. An author shouldn’t feel embarrassed to ask about a set fee or a book table.
Square and PayPal were the main forms of receiving payments preferred besides cash. But, many customers do not carry cash or exact change, even when they are shopping at holiday bazaars.
Why is the productivity so much higher when an author speaks at an event?
When speaking authors sell their own stock of books at events, the middle man fee is eliminated because they don’t have to pay the brick and mortar store their hefty fifty percent cut. [Though, when speaking at a book chainstore, the store’s retail policy will demand that the books are purchased through Ingram or Amazon. sold according to the list price guaranteeing their cut.]
Otherwise, the author can choose to offer the audience a discount, or they can sell the book for what it is valued at, or they can simply wrap up the price of the book with the cost of their presentation and offer each person who comes an autographed copy.
Some authors give their books away in order to woo someone to their business or product.
Authors make money and choose to work in a variety of ways because every author is uniquely gifted and embodies unique aims for having written their book(s).
In addition to the models mentioned above, an author can find partnerships in:
and corporate causes.
In the beginning, and continuing for some authors throughout their writing career since they do not have a national platform for their book topics, they must be able to borrow a platform.
Take a moment to investigate online one of the above potential partner platforms for drafting an author email to and a follow-up telephone script. Reflect on your good relationships with an organization from your past and follow the trail to where it might lead. Then, repeat and file your emails into a computer file or desk file. Begin working methodically through these contact lists.
Remember that power of familiarity
When you find an intersection of interest between yourself and a possible event partner, make sure that you put them on your email opt-in list so that your author name, press releases, and recommendations come regularly to their inbox.
Books are still sold at charitable auctions and fundraisers. One of the Capture Books authors sold her humorous housewarming book, Before Long, Let’s Move!, in a picnic basket at a State-wide realtor’s conference last year.
Authors can look at speaking events as a way to broaden their unique voice and ministry, a way to raise awareness for a cause, and as a way to offer their talents to an educational system or charity for fundraising or a church or corporation for special events.
At the very least, when an presentation is booked, the author’s book is highlighted in pre-presentation materials and in the introduction when welcoming the author to the stage.
Would adults change their behaviors in the jokes they tell or in their scare tactics with children if they knew how little children absorbed horrific events? Would it make any difference to you?
The professionals and parents are divided. Some say horror can permanently scar a child’s conscience. Others say for a child to experience a series of frightening events at a young age can strengthen a child in a variety of ways.
Let’s take a vote.
DO YOU BELIEVE AT AGES FIVE, SIX, AND SEVEN:
children should be protected from all frights because fright might scar them spiritually, emotionally or psychologically;
children should be scared (occasionally) for the fun of a joke with them or for rites of passage such as in Halloween, sitting on Santa’s knee, taught about the police or the courts or jail, or riding a bike or a motorized skateboard;
children should learn that fright exists to teach us important lessons which can be learned about together;
children should learn about the sometimes frightful powers of God and the differences between evil frights and wickedness in human nature as appropriate.
children can learn courage and problem-solving creativity at young ages if they can learn to analyze a frightful situation the best of which was seen in the Home Alone movies.
(Please post your answer in the comment section below)
The cat is out of the bag. I’ve authored a scary story for children. It was recently published by Capture Books. So, I have a dog in the fight, or a hedgehog, rather.
In the first draft, Darling Hedgehog was not able to save all of the other animals due to the time crunch of escaping the danger. Several beta readers, however, suggested that this fact would not go unnoticed by their first graders. Honestly? I wrestled with the question of whether it was important to be realistic in a fantasy picture book. Silly me.
Children develop empathy when they read about another’s problems.
Not too many know this about a girl, Auralee Arkinsly, who’s been called sweet for many years, but when she was in fifth and sixth grade, she’d sit on her neighbor’s porch with a gaggle of children from their house, and the rest of the neighborhood who had all come by to hear the scary stories that she’d happily created for them. The problem was, she frightened herself. She gave herself a fear of going along to bed alone in my room way down in the dark basement.
This is the simple reason my scary story times ended.
For years afterward my laudable storytelling experience, I stayed completely strawberry and vanilla in my taste for stories, jokes, movies, and literature. It was due to an introduction to two classical authors in my 30s that I was inspired to rethink my vanilla beans ideals.
This 1962 dark fantasy novel by Ray Bradbury is about two 13-year-old best friends, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway, and their nightmarish experience with a traveling carnival that comes to their Midwestern home, Green Town, Illinois, on October 24th. Since it was eventually made into a movie, I sent it to my niece and nephew one October when they were preteens.
Particularly, the clever, atmospheric writing Bradbury used when he painted late summer windstorms and dawdling days with falling leaves and evil intent made me feel like All Hallows Eve inside. All of this desire to fast and pray for protection is happily explained when… well, I won’t give away the fabulously moralistic tale in case you haven’t yet read Bradbury.
The Short Stories of Flannery O’Conner
The other ingenious author, Flannery O’Conner, introduced to me at a writers group, typed her twisted tales from the south. Due to her subject matter, i.e.: fraud, criminal minds, and human ignorance, her stories could almost be transported to any place. Perhaps it was the nature of things she read in her local newspaper. Perhaps she was only highlighting a sinful lack of imagination when she invoked the perfect storm for a family traveling on an isolated road, or a Bible salesman in a barn, or a nuclear bomb at our front door.
Of course, great themes of any adult or children’s book have intrepid and surprising settings that morph with the characters. These are the stories that teach readers and viewers about life and personal values.
It seems that night terrors can be developed at any age given a 3 a.m. pounding on the door and intrusion to a person’s bedroom, or due to war experiences. Night terrors are not limited to the fears of little children.
But is it right to purposely frighten kids?
It’s easy to see that Halloween and Trick-or-treat are right around the bend.
This year, a house in my community has skeletons crawling all over the house, mixing a zombie like activity with the bones of the picturesque dead. Another house on the same street has a half dozen wild-haired witches flying from the low hanging branches of their trees. The wind helps them stir up fright.
Several other houses have graveyards with chained skeletons, and voice boxed startling movement detectors. Apparently, most people think that given the right season, yes, it is just fine to frighten children.
Babies and toddlers in the arms of their fathers
Young children, who visit Santa Claus for the first time in a shopping mall, who are told to sit on his knee and tell him their secrets, well – parents think this is funny. Just fine. A rite of passage, they say.
Given it’s Halloween, babies and toddlers in the arms of their fathers come knocking on our door.
The saying, “That’ll put the fear of God in ya!” is ancient. You’ve heard it. The fear of God can be conjured in trying to stand in a forest of redwoods in the midst of a monstrous wind storm. Suddenly, one feels like Jack and the bean stock, having climbed up to the house of giants and seeing them thunder after you. Where does one hide?
There may be a kind of healthy fear that comes as a sense of awe or as a warning such as a careful look over the edge of a precipice in the Grand Canyon, or in diving out of an airplane with a parachute on for the first time.
“In ancient days, There dwelt a sage called Discipline, His eye was meek, and a smile Played on his lips, and in his speech was heard Paternal sweetness, dignity, and love. The occupation dearest to his heart Was to encourage goodness. If e’er it chanced, as sometimes chance it must, That one, among so many, overleaped The limits of control, his gentle eye Grew stern, and darted a severe rebuke, His frown was full of terror, and his voice Shook the delinquent with such fits of awe As left him not, till penitence had won Lost favor back again, and closed the breach.”
An artist who paints the potential of Venetian floods does so with both goodwill and warning. I realize there are warnings, opportunities, to learn introspection and courage at every age.
Any season is a good season to be goaded towards stronger mental analysis.
So, I went ahead and wrote my picture book about what happens between a fox and a hedgehog family living in geographical proximity. This story does have a sincere model of courage, quick thinking, and Darling-to-the-rescue in it. But, how much mental analysis can a child conjure at ages five, six or seven?
In a climate of it never being okay to confront a child with possibilities of an existing dark side in life, my first review, always to be Darling’s first review, pasted a one-star nasty put down for scaring little children. Yet, it never has been a child who’s been frightened by Darling Hedgehog.
It’s funny that fear of a book’s content is often combated by a snarky deed, a single evil star. So it was that I learned how Book trolls can play overly-concerned, conscientious adults snuffing out a book before it sees the light of day. That’s a little twisted, though. Book trolls playing overly-concerned, censoring adults – why they are considered book trolls? Here’s what I believe about that.
I believe that book trolls are begotten accidentally from genetically normal, avid readers who skip meals. Then, around midnight, when they become voraciously hungry, they hastily eat spider sandwiches in the dark under dim reading lamps.
These are the foxes who run through the fields of Amazon books ready for harvest with firebrands tied to their tails.
Maybe it is just Gremlins passing as sweet, innocent influencers begging for a new deal. But we must remember that Gremlins have rules.
The grandson secretly sells the mogwai to Randall, warning him to remember three important rules that must never be broken: do not expose the mogwai to light, especially sunlight, which will kill it, do not let it come in contact with water, and above all, never feed it after midnight.”
Hey, I don’t mind that the reviewers liking my picture book may include a caveat for an adult to be available to answer some questions. Not at all.
I agree. Picture books are best when a child sits down with an adult who preferably reads to them and talks them through the story with questions. Aren’t they?
The question still makes me queazy.
Is it a good idea to scare little children at all?
When I was very young, I came across the story of Scuffy the Tugboat at a doctor’s office. Scuffy thought he was made for more important things than swimming in a bathtub. When his little boy took him to swim in the river, the current carried him far into a gushing flood zone and then in the sea. I remember feeling so frightened to see the huge tugboats and ships and to hear their horns through the eyes and ears of poor Scuffy.
Thankfully, Scuffy was saved by the little boy who had come to the sea just that day.
The Brothers Grimm believed it was not only okay, but good to frighten children about the wolf in Red Riding Hood. Was he the woodsman? Who was he? But, that’s the point, isn’t it – to beware of strangers?
Chris Roberts, the author of Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme, tells Debbie Elliott in an NPR interview, “Childhood is a relatively recent phenomena, certainly over the last couple of hundred years, that children are seen as very separate from adults. So there would be no reason in the past not to have what would now be considered adult themes in rhymes that children could hear and sing.” (All Things Considered, October 2, 2005)
Apparently the publishers of Grimm’s Fairy Tales also believed the books would sell because wise parents and avid readers of well-written entertainment would buy.
“Plants raised with tenderness are seldom strong; Man’s coltish disposition asks the thong; And without discipline, the favorite child, Like a neglected forester, runs wild.”
From first grade on, my teachers joined my mother in warning me not to talk to strangers. Even if they offered candy. Even if they offered to give you a ride home from school. My teacher had us memorize the phone number of the local police station. I hope it was helpful to someone.
Nearing the end of a favorite children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, on the night before an expected trip to the sea, the rabbit is thrown into the trash heap and overhears that he is destined for destruction by fire in the morning, making a tear roll down his face.
I’d forgotten how frightening that story became!
Parents should probably never allow the fear of God to come near their children. Neither should children be told that God’s Son died on a cross for their sins because they would not understand the gruesomeness of the good news – sins being separated from their beings – nor the idea of their own misbehaviors at age five, six, or seven being layered for punishment. Though love and fear do not go along hand in hand easily, I personally, had parents who embodied deep love and also a much feared anger.
As Walt Disney understood, isn’t it the point of a good scare to remind us that evil and opposites exist in the same geography? That there can be good news in the land of the living and in the land of the dead? Yes, a bit of sweet salvation goes a long way when we are frightened.
Enjoy the fall holidays, everybody. Enjoy the election season terrors. Enjoy reading and discussing great children’s literature with your own littles. May you reach for a tassel of wisdom, and may you keep your hand.