When I Grow Up

Learning The Truth About Frogs

Did you know that all toads are frogs (but not all frogs are toads)?

Or that frogs have a lot to say, but few actually say “Ribbit?”

Or that it’s important that frogs blink when they eat?

Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs by Annette Whipple shares these facts plus a whole lot more. This book, part of a series of “Truth About” various animals not only shares fun froggy facts, but also offers ways to find frogs in the wild. It addresses the importance of doing your homework before bringing a frog into your home as a pet and separates the fact from fiction in frog lore.

Full of delightful photographs and color illustrations accompanied by frog commentary, Ribbit! would be equally at home in a classroom or on a child’s home bookshelf. For those who want more truth about frogs, the author has put together an educator guide of activities to keep frog aficionados busy for hours. (Guides for owls and spiders, also part of the “Truth About” series are also available at the author’s website.)

Note: Though an advance digital copy of this book was provided free of charge, no compensation was made for this review and the opinions are exclusively mine. KY

Living an Ordinary Life, on Purpose

In our Pinterest-perfect world, the last thing most people will admit to is being ordinary. Instead, we strive to be more, have more. Our Facebook feeds are filled with highlight reels. We see the exciting lives of our “friends,” some of whom we might not engage with regularly in real life. But think about it:  isn’t it in the ordinary that we derive the most satisfaction? Isn’t it the “ordinary” things that bring us joy?

Mikala Albertson certainly thinks so. In her book Ordinary on Purpose, she lays out a convincing case for embracing the ordinary. She reveals personal details about her life and her marriage that are unimaginable to many. A victim of abuse as a child and wife of a recovering addict, Albertson doesn’t sugarcoat life’s challenges. Instead, she confronts them head on, with cautious optimism, despite her doubts.

While the book relates her struggles, as a wife, a med student and new mother, it also shows her resilience, and the strong influence of her faith. She admits to getting caught up in the unattainable search for perfection and talks about her epiphany: discovering that the things she loved most were everyday, dare we say it, “ordinary” events.

While we may not relate to her specific experiences, all of us can learn from Albertson’s journey to self-acceptance.  She talks about the need we, as humans, feel to be part of the inner Circle (whatever group that may look like in our lives) then reveals a secret, one that many of us need to hear: The Circle isn’t real. There’s no one inside. We’re all on the outside.

In revealing her personal struggles, Mikala Albertson encourages the rest of us to be honest with ourselves, as she has, and to set aside the pursuit of perfection. This book clearly shows us that true joy in life in found in the ordinary. Doesn’t it then make sense to embrace the ordinary, on purpose?

Note: Though an advance digital copy of this book was provided free of charge, no compensation was made for this review and the opinions are exclusively mine. KY

Discovering Beauty and Purpose While Hiking the John Muir Trail

The Trail by Ethan Gallogly, PhD, is a novel, but it reads like a memoir. A sort of On the Road for the Thru-Hike crowd, the book tells the story of Gil, a young man who has agreed to accompany his late father’s good friend, Syd, (who is dying of cancer) on his quest to complete the John Muir Trail. The two face struggles on the trail and meet a number of interesting characters. As is true with any great undertaking, both discover something new, about themselves and each other.

From the start, the reader sees that Gil is no camper, or even hiker. His gear is all purchased shortly before this trip and he is a bit dismissive when others try to advise him. As the novel starts, readers of A Walk in the Woods may expect this to be another story of a hapless hiker and things gone wrong; while the reader does get some laughs at Gil’s expense, the story quickly moves in another direction. The book is not so much a tale of a hike, but of the trail and the characters, both of whom are searching for meaning in their lives, even if they don’t recognize it themselves.  Their interactions with others over the course of a month are intermittent but influential; these other characters’ stories become intertwined with Gil and Syd’s stories as they meet up again and again.

The Trail is the story of inter-generational friendship, personal growth, facing ones darkest fears, and discovering oneself. Presented as a daily hiking log, the book also tells the reader about the history and geography of the John Muir Trail and its surroundings. The text drifts into the didactic at times, but since the character doing the telling is a retired professor, it somehow works.

Line drawings by Jeremy Ashcroft complement each chapter and give the reader a visual, making it clear how much of an accomplishment each day of the hike truly is. The book is very much an entertaining read that will make you want to visit, if not thru-hike one of America’s treasures: the John Muir Trail.

Note: A digital copy of this book was provided free of charge for review. No compensation was provided; the opinions are that of the writer.

Journaling Together: A Simple, Yet Novel Mother-Daughter Bonding Experience

A little backstory – Sometimes we see a Facebook post that speaks to us. It may be the topic, the writing style or a combination of both. This may lead to following (or “liking”) said person so that we continue to see more of their posts. Several years ago, I discovered the blog and Facebook page “Playdates on Friday, by Whitney Fleming.” I liked the author’s approachable style and topics. Some time after, we both landed in the same online writers group. Shortly after that, we met in person at a writers’ retreat where I learned that Whitney is the real deal. We became friends.

When your friend writes and publishes a book, you read it. When I heard about Whitney’s first book, Gratitude Journal for Teen Girls and Moms: Shared Prompts for Connection and Joy, I thought it was a sweet idea, even if it wasn’t the sort of book I usually buy. I’m also not the target audience (or so I thought). My kids are grown but this book sounded like something my sister and teen niece might enjoy.

Not only am I “beyond” the target audience, I am not a consistent journal writer. I’ve used a journal on occasion – I kept a diary fairly regularly as a teen, but as a rule, I don’t make it a habit. I’ll also add that I am generally resistant to journal prompts. But every book has its audience, and it’s not always me. I knew I could look at this book and give an honest review.

To my surprise, I LOVE this book. The prompts are varied, from quick and easy fill-in-the-blank type questions to introspective ones that invite longer, more thoughtful responses. Whitney has also cleverly inserted opportunities for mom and daughter to put in their own responses, then respond to each other’s answers. My favorite of these asks each how and why they are proud of each other.

The book opens with short instructions, basically telling you to “do you. ” It stresses flexibility, a much needed attribute in today’s over-stressed and over-scheduled world. The purpose of this journal is to share thoughts and ideas that will help you grow closer. Moms will get insights into what their daughters are thinking and feeling; they’ll learn about what it means to be a teen today. Daughters will learn that Mom understands more than they realize; she may not have walked in their shoes, but once wore a pair very similar. As a family historian, I see more value in this book. I imagine years from now many women will treasure these journals and perhaps share them with the next generation.

Honestly, my only issue with the book is the title. I feel this book has value for any mother/daughter combination. While teen references are scattered throughout the book, most of the prompts apply to everyone (even sons!). And those that specifically reference the teen years can easily be adapted to young adults. In fact, I asked my three adult daughters to take this journaling journey with me. Perhaps soon three altered-cover copies of this book (with an X over the word “teen” – or maybe taped over with each girl’s name in its place) will make frequent appearances on my desk. Maybe I can be a journal-er after all.

Note: I received a complimentary advance reader copy of this book, but no compensation was provided for this review. It is the honest opinion of the writer. KY

These 25 Girl Warriors Are Poised to Save the Planet

book cover, girls marching

GIRL WARRIORS, How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the Earth, by Rachel Sarah, is an educational and encouraging collection of short biographies. In this middle grade book, 25 remarkable girls and young women around the world share their stories of how and why they chose to speak up, and, in many cases, spend time and money establishing non-profit organizations. The book highlights a number of climate issues and shows some ways individuals can some together to combat them, proving that hope is evident in the next generation.

These climate activists all began at a young age (as young as seven) to advocate for the environment while “adults around them destroy the Earth.” These courageous young people may come from different communities and cultures, and have different perspectives and priorities, but all have made a commitment to make the world better. In some cases, their fight against the forces behind violence, racism and greed initially meant standing in protest alone.

Fearless and determined are good words to describe all the members of this group of 13- to 26-year-olds. They all come from supportive families (some parents laid the foundation for environmental concerns; others went along for the ride), but their projects have been their own. Through their activism, all have become familiar with bureaucratic obstacles and the stress that comes with attempting to change hearts and minds. One young activist, Haven Coleman, likens “[t]rying to get adults to change their behavior [to] potty training a kid.”

Several report often being the youngest speaker at events, but that hasn’t deterred these young women – they know what is on the line. Activist Bella Lack sums up the underlying motivation succinctly: “Our fate is bound up with that of other species, and harming them will undoubtedly harm us.” It may surprise some that Greta Thunberg is not one of the 25 profiled here. Even so, she seems to be ever-present in the book; most of these profiled individuals were inspired and encouraged by her, and several shared a stage or protest steps with her.

An exciting bonus in the book is the inclusion of each activist’s Instagram handle. Not merely a collection of accounts with pretty photos, here is an assortment of accounts that convey serious messages and include some impressive bios (especially considering that some of them are barely old enough to have an account). These include not only titles such as “founder,” “advisory board,” and “[award]  recipient,” but also “TEDx speaker,” “youth ambassador,” “BBC 100 most empowering and influencing women’s list 2020,” and “Teen Vogue 21 Under 21.”

GIRL WARRIORS is enlightening and inspiring. If the future depends on the actions of our teens and young adults, this book shows that, if we pay attention and make necessary changes, we just may be in good hands.

Note: no compensation was provided for this review. It is the honest opinion of the writer. KY

More Support, Less Judgement Needed for the Pregnant Girl

Nicole Lynn Lewis grew up in a middle class family in suburban New England and later Virginia Beach. An honors student in high school, her life changed when she fell in love with the wrong man. At age 17, a stack of college acceptances sat on her desk and she learned she was pregnant. This news changed the trajectory of her life, plunging her into poverty and creating challenges that some would find it impossible to overcome.

PREGNANT GIRL: A Story of Teen Motherhood, College, and Creating a Better Future for Young Families tells of Lewis’ experiences and shows how she persevered to become one of the 2% of teen mothers who earn a college degree (in her case, from a prestigious liberal arts college). Lewis shares her struggles with periods of homelessness and hunger, alongside the separate (but in her case, co-existing) stresses and challenges that come with being a college student and a new mother. More than just a memoir, the book weaves in facts, statistics and true stories related to teen pregnancy, relying heavily on Lewis’ work with teen parents through her nonprofit Generation Hope.

The book focuses on some of the root causes of teen pregnancy (roughly 750,000 girls between 15 and 19 become pregnant each year) and how even one person can make a difference. It addresses the lack of accessibility to services that have been proven effective to pull people out of poverty and shows the unrelenting determination some individuals have found deep within themselves to succeed. Lewis also points out that while the numbers of teen pregnancies are high, these numbers are on the decline. They are, in fact, significantly lower than they were two generations ago. She shows how targeting social programs to meet basic needs can reduce these numbers even further.

PREGNANT GIRL is raw, honest and inspiring. It reveals a life on the edges of mainstream America that too many are unaware of and demonstrates how easily one can slide from one socioeconomic bracket to another. One clear takeaway from this book is that teen pregnancy is not a moral issue, but a social one where small investments can pay huge dividends. This should give hope to women who see themselves reflected in these pages and compassion from those who recognize that, given even a single different life circumstance, they could have found themselves in the same place.


Note: Though an advance digital copy of this book was provided free of charge, no compensation was made for this review and the opinions are exclusively mine. KY

Woof! New Children’s Book Reveals The Truth About Dogs

book cover: close up photo of a pug-nosed dog and title: WOOF! THE TRUTH ABOUT DOGS

WOOF! THE TRUTH ABOUT DOGS by Annette Whipple explores some of the “whys” about dogs that children, in particular, are eager to learn.

A detailed question-and-answer book, illustrated with beautiful in-your-face photos of dogs and charming sidebar illustrations by Juanbjuan Oliver, it answers the questions:

Do dogs sweat?

Why do dogs smell butts?

Why do dogs chew shoes?

And much more.

Page spread from book, "Do dogs sweat?" with photo of dog panting and smaller photos of a dog's nose and paw

A great introduction to dog behavior, this informational picture book also provides simple, yet effective directions on how to behave around a dog you are first meeting. Readers will appreciate the accessibility of the dog facts, which may prompt further questions and conversations, particularly about dogs actually met in person. The book also addresses the fact that some dogs are not simply pets but also have careers, (such as police and service dogs). The rules for approaching them may be different. In addition, the author has spread interesting tidbits of information throughout, to further explain why dogs act the way they do and reinforce the concept that dogs have established close bonds with humans over time.

The second book in the The Truth About series, Woof! also includes an abbreviated list of dog breeds, a number of suggestions of things kids can do to help dogs, and directions for a simple do-it-yourself dog toy. Children are certain to pick up WOOF! THE TRUTH ABOUT DOGS to read, in part or whole, over and over again, making it a welcome addition to any classroom or personal library.

Note: Though an advance digital copy of this book was provided free of charge, no compensation was made for this review and the opinions are exclusively mine. KY

Grief and Joy Are Not Mutually Exclusive Emotions

The Price of Admission, Embracing a Life of Grief and Joy, by Liz Petrone is a poignant memoir, It’s a book about being a mother and being a daughter, about living in the past and the now, about losing and finding, breaking and healing.

Petrone’s writing style is approachable; she brings the reader in as if joining a conversation. The book is at times laugh out loud funny, and at other times it’s introspective and poignant. but above all, this book is real and honest. Liz does not shy away from the hard things – she admits to bouts of depression and anxiety as well as an eating disorder and a suicide attempt in her youth.

She talks about her relationship with her mother (it’s complicated) and how her mother’s demons and death have influenced her own mothering and how her mother remains an ever-present character in her life. She talks about the importance of friends, particularly other women, and how we need friends of all ages, at all life stages, to help guide and support us on our journey. She talks about the drudgery of parenting, as well as its joys.

This book is hopeful in the face of adversity. Life is messy and sometimes painful. While most people share only their highlight reel. Petrone provides a clear message that too few are willing to admit: life is hard, we make mistakes, we may even break, but we also can once again be made whole. She lets her readers know, they are not alone.

Liz Petrone has graciously donated a copy for a #giveaway. Click below to enter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: Opinions expressed here are my own. No compensation was provided for this review. KY

A New Perspective in Parenting: a Supportive Scaffold

There are lots of parenting styles which have prompted comparisons of parents to non-human objects. In essence, parents have been called tigers, helicopters, snowplows, and lighthouses. To that list we now add — building materials? Yes! In his new book, child and adolescent psychiatrists Harold Koplewicz likens parents to the lattice-like structure placed around a building as it is being built or repaired. And he does so convincingly.

The Scaffold Effect, Raising Resilient, Self-Reliant, and Secure Kids in an Age of Anxiety is a parenting book that covers all stages of development, from toddler to teen. It presents the idea that parenting done well is like a scaffold: a protective, supportive framework put in place during periods of growth which is then removed when the structure is able to stand on its own. When there is a need for some extra TLC or repair, the scaffold may be put back in place and then removed again. This process can be repeated as needed.

Throughout the book, Koplewicz focuses on building relationships. When children misbehave, he says, parents should use positive discipline; not punishment. Children need to be taught what they should do and provided with the framework they will need to be independent adults equipped to deal with adversity.  They need parents to model communication and coping skills and to support them as they work on those skills.

The book presents common issues parents face and offers specific strategies to provide structure, support, and encouragement. It explains that parents should set clear boundaries, offer guidance, and cheer their children on when they succeed, and help set them on the right path when they falter. The book suggests ways parents can help their children grow by using patience and warmth, dispensing discipline dispassionately, and monitoring without being intrusive. It also encourages parents to be aware both of their own biases and their child’s individual needs. Charts in each chapter address common mental health issues and break down which behaviors are normal, which may be a sign for concern, and when you should seek help.

As children enter adulthood, the scaffold is removed, layer by layer.  When (not if) it is necessary, Koplewicz says, the scaffold may be put back up temporarily. As children grow into teens and young adults, the parental role shifts to one that is more advisory in nature, but there is no magic age where children “become” adults nor should this be expected.

Parents will be happy to find that The Scaffold Effect provides solid parenting advice, in a way that is guilt-free. An early chapter points out that parental burnout is very real, essentially making the point that parents need to tend to their own needs before they can effectively help their children. This book also reassures parents that everyone makes mistakes sometimes and that change is possible even when behavior (the parent’s or the child’s) is seemingly already ingrained. While no one wants to be compared to building material, this metaphor makes sense.

Note: Though an advance digital copy of this book was provided free of charge, no compensation was made for this review and the opinions are exclusively mine. KY

Reading as a Writer

Some may have noticed a large number of biographies on my 2020 reading list. There’s a reason for that.

[conspiratorial whisper]

Here’s a little behind the scenes information: Writers need to also be readers.

You might be saying, “Of course, that makes perfect sense!”

I think it’s safe to say that most writers are readers. Most of us have been called to write because we spent so much of our lives reading the words of others. We recognize how valuable words are. We love the way individual letters can be put together to make words that can then be strung together to form thoughts and ideas to be shared with other people, who may relate to what we have written and may even experience strong emotions. As writers, we are word people. And of course in a material sense, writers need readers. Without readers, our writings just sit there, unused.

But that’s not what I am talking about here. Writers need to be constant readers and reading is sometimes part of the job. Writers who want to be published need to know what other people are writing about. They need to know what readers are looking for. They need to know what stories are currently selling.

Writers also need to be marketers. Writers are the only ones who know the details of their stories, the only ones who know what message they want their readers to receive, the only ones who really have a vested interest in their work selling.

Back to the reading list.

As noted, last year I read a lot of biographies. I read more biographies than usual last year because I am writing a biography. And what many people might not realize is that in order to convince a publisher to make your book a reality, a writer first must write a book proposal. This proposal of course includes details about your book, but also requires you to list “comps” – other books that are similar to yours, that might inhabit the same shelf space at the bookstore and possibly be competition for your title. While I suppose I could simply go to the bookstore and make a list of the books on the biography shelves, what’s the fun in that, when I could instead read them all! (I jest, there are too many to read them all, and if you want to be taken seriously, you do in fact need to show that you have read your comps.)

Book publishers want to see current books, and on my first bookstore visit to find relevant comps, nothing really seemed similar enough. While my book tells the story of a notable individual, it also covers the specific topics of education and children’s literature. I was disappointed to not find the perfect book, but not wanting to go home empty-handed, I selected biographies on people that interested me and began reading.

As often happens, one good story led to another. I began seeing recommendations and ads for biographies that more closely fit what I was looking for. I soon learned that there were many more fascinating people in the world than I had realized. I also noted that I had begun reading as a writer.

Let me explain that.

I’ve never been the sort of writer that focuses on the story elements we all learned in high school. You might remember learned about setting, character, plot, theme, and conflict. You may remember analyzing stories and having to pick out the introduction, rising action, the climax, the denouement. My English teachers suggested that writers start with these, but I’ve always been a more intuitive writer (a result, I believe, of being an avid reader all my life). In fact, I am incapable of writing an outline before the story. Even in school, I had to write the story before I could outline it, often because I don’t always know exactly what I’m writing about until it’s already been (at least partially) written.

But while reading these books, I found myself noticing things that I felt worked (and maybe didn’t work) in the stories. Some of these things were subjective and matched my personal interests. I made mental (and a few scribbled) notes of things I want to include in my book as well as what information may not be of enough interest to readers to bother including.

Storytelling techniques jumped out at me. I noted as a reader that I want more than a timeline, even one filled in with lots of details. As a writer, I know it’s easy to get bogged down in the research, especially when everything seems interesting and relevant. The question therefore is “Does this information contribute to the story you are telling?”

This storytelling is ultimately the author’s job. While a biography must be a true story, it need not be the whole story. In fact, in most cases, the whole story is too long and honestly at times, uninteresting. I found this revelation reassuring; it removes the pressure to tell “the whole story” and makes it easier to determine when to stop researching. (Full disclosure: I struggle with this – the end to research makes me a little sad.)

Noticing that I was noticing these things made me pause. While I wasn’t enjoying the books any less (as often happens when you read to analyze rather than for pleasure), I was reading differently. I was learning: how to be a better writer and how to determine which stories make the book and which end up in the slush folder. (I have a tough time permanently deleting words/sentences/paragraphs that sound good, so they end up in their own folder and sometimes end up being pulled out for other, related stories.) It got me thinking about what threads will weave through my own book and what steps I need to take next.

While I’m keeping details under wraps for now, I’ll be sharing more here in the future. Until then, I hope you enjoy my reading recommendations – there are more coming.




For those who are wondering, my novel hasn’t been abandoned -it’s being revised, with the help of my wonderful new critique group. I’ll keep you posted on that one as well.