Raising Awesome Readers

How Do You Face Your Fears?

As an introverted author I’d rather sit at home in front of my computer and write, but the reality is sometimes we have to help people know about our stories if we hope to sell any books. In life, we all have certain fears.

For kids, it might be fear of the dark, for an adult it might be a fear of huge creepy crawly spiders or slithery snakes. What is your fear? We all have them in one way or another.

But we have a choice :

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I recently bought and read a beautiful picture book by fellow Canberra author, Mitch Frost, all about helping kids facing their fear of the dark. The Ultimate Survival Guide to Monsters Under The Bed, is superbly written and vibrantly illustrated. With ten ‘scientifically proven,’ reassuring steps to prepare for bedtime, no child will ever be afraid of monsters creeping out of those dark places in their bedroom again. Kids will learn to face their fear in a humours look at the bedtime routine that will even tickle a parent’s funny bone. Kids previously afraid of monsters, and their parents, will have a much better night sleep. I recommend this book for parents of any child 3 and over that is too frightened to turn out that night light or sleep in their own bed.

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A couple of years ago, I too, wrote a picture book to help kids learn to face their fears. Frazzled Freya was a frill-neck lizard who had to learn to face everything and rise, but not before she continued to forget everything and run. Freya had to make a choice, and step out of her comfort zone if she was ever going to join her friends and play and have fun in the desert sun. She too, was afraid of monsters, but her monsters were very different to those hiding under the bed.

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This year, I have been more determined than ever to take my own advice and stop running, face my fears and rise to each occasion that presents itself. That means showing up at conferences and festivals, mingling in person. Taking more risks to put myself out there, not only with manuscript assessments but talking more about my established body of work. Talking about myself and my books with and to my peers does not come easy for me. that’s why agreeing to talk to a room full of teacher librarians at our recent CBCA ACT meeting was rather daunting. But instead of running from the experience, I took a few deep breaths and faced it head on. Once I started, I relaxed and to my surprise, with my notes in my hand as a safety net, I didn’t need to read them at all. I admit, once I sat down and allowed myself to breath again, I remembered I had forgotten a couple of things, but overall I did a pretty decent talk, I was able to give myself a well earned pat on the back. It wasn’t so scary after all. The best part of doing this, was sharing the experience with five other awesome local Canberra authors, Samantha Tidy, Shelly Unwin, Krys Saclier, Mitch Frost and Cate Whittle.

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The next step, was to embrace making a short video clip. At first this felt majorly impossible. Take after take, my tongue tied and my throat dried up. I had a brain freeze and forgot my lines so many times. I almost gave up, the flight receptors in my brain were at an all time high. But I had made a promise to myself,, this was the year I was going to fight those fears. I sought an alternative way to make the video. I can’t give away too much just yet, suffice to say, I did it. I still wasn’t completely happy with it, I admit I did stumble a few times, but I did the best I could and sent it off. Keep a lookout on my Facebook page, I’ll be able to reveal it there soon.

My five take home points for facing your fears are:

  1. Find helpful books to read..

  2. Take one small step at a time.

  3. It takes practice to conquer your fears.

  4. Remember to breathe - Deep, slow breaths.

  5. Just have a go, regardless of the outcome, be prepared to put yourself out there.

What are your worst fears?

What are some of the tips or strategies you could share to help others overcome their fears?

I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Where Do You Find Ideas for Stories?

Stories , like people, come in all shapes, sizes and genres. Each one is different and unique in its own way. With the exciting cover reveal of A Lighthouse in Time, Book 2 of the Adamson Adventures, my new chapter book for middle grade readers this week, I thought we might take a look at finding story ideas.

In case you missed it, drum roll please…. here is the cover for - A Lighthouse in Time. The Adamson Adventures. Book 2.

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When I do school visits, one of the questions that kids always ask is, ‘Where do you find your ideas?’

My answer, basically, ‘Stories are all around us. You just have to look and listen.’

Story ideas can come from - talking to other people. Kids, have amazing imaginations, a conversation can spark a fabulous idea. I have often been heard to say, ‘There’s a story in that.’

- everyday life experiences. The things we see and do can inspire a great adventure. Just sit, listen and observe people. It’s amazing the ideas that will spring to mind.

- memories are powerful tools. We can reflect back on the past, growing up as kids ourselves or from observing our own kids grow. Our memories make our writing voice more authentic and original.

- special events. Christmas, birthdays, even a wedding can create possibilities and help present stories of cultural diversity.

- other books. When you read a lot you travel into new and different worlds. A line from a story can set you off on a completely different tangent, leading to exploring and making discoveries of your own.

- prompts. I belong to a Facebook group that has a one word prompt every week. It is the 52 Week Picture Book Challenge. We are one month into the next year and I already have the ideas for four intriguing stories. By the end of a year, I should have the beginnings of 52 new possible stories. How exciting is that! They won’t all be necessarily picture books, some might be chapter books, the possibilities are endless.

So, where do my specific story ideas come from?

Let’s start with my new upcoming children’s chapter book for ages 8-12 years, A Lighthouse in Time.

For me, the ideas tend to come from memories and experiences. A Lighthouse in Time is no different. For as long as I can remember I have been intrigued by lighthouses. On many a driving holiday around our magnificent Australian coastline, if I spot a lighthouse, I must visit it. To explore inside and climb the winding stairs all the way to the top, is even better! I’ve collected lots of photos and statues of lighthouses from every one we have visited. Imagine my curiosity when we discovered the remains of the Cape St George lighthouse only 2 1/2 hours drive from home.

Our boys were in their early teens then and every January we had a camping holiday at Merry Beach on the NSW South Coast. Mr B being a surfer from way back, was always in search of that perfect wave. So we would explore all the beaches within a days drive of our campsite. To my delight we found and spent time at Caves Beach and the lighthouse. The more visits we made to the area, the more my curiosity grew. Caves on a beach, an area called Wreck Bay and a mysterious old lighthouse. What more could a children’s author ask for? I had to learn more about why this lighthouse had been demolished. I could see the seeds of an idea growing. The lighthouse had to be haunted. Slowly, with careful nurturing the idea grew into something a little more substantial.

Cape St George Lighthouse as it remains today.

Cape St George Lighthouse as it remains today.

An artist’s impression of the lighthouse in the 1800’s.

An artist’s impression of the lighthouse in the 1800’s.

When Elephant tree Publishing offered me a contract for Secrets Hidden Below and asked whether I could use the siblings to make a series, I immediately thought of this partially written story. I hope when you read it, you will enjoy the adventure as much as I did writing it.

Most of you know by now the story behind the idea for Secrets Hidden Below. Again it evolved from memories and experiences. It was a holiday to Bali with the family many years ago where it all began. I loved the culture and was fascinated by the geography and wanted to write a story for children about this beautiful island that they could enjoy while on holidays. Mr B had already spent several years working in and out of Indonesia, so the family was familiar with Bahasa. After our incredible holiday in Bali, it seemed a natural progression for me to extend my teaching by learning Indonesian and become a LOTE teacher. After further study on Bali and writing, I became confident I was equipped with the language, experiences and knowledge to be able to write Secrets Hidden Below. I recently found an old photo album of that initial Balinese holiday and would like to share a few memories here with you. Just a note, these were taken back in the mid 1990’s, so the quality is not as good as today.

Tanah Lot Temple

Tanah Lot Temple

Offerings to the Gods at the Temple. Balinese people are very superstitious.

Offerings to the Gods at the Temple. Balinese people are very superstitious.

Ubud

Ubud

Inside a Woodcarving shop at Ubud.

Inside a Woodcarving shop at Ubud.

Mt Batur Volcano

Mt Batur Volcano

Mt Batur Crater Lake

Mt Batur Crater Lake

Curious about the third book in the series? The seedlings from another life experience are growing. Where are the Adamson family heading next? Hint : There is no surf in sight, Dad will not be happy, but Zac will be living his wildest dreams. That is, until they become Luke’s greatest desires instead. The title for Book 3 of the Adamson Adventures is Fossil Frenzy. Can you guess where it might be set?

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Now it’s your turn.

How do you come up with story ideas

Are they similar to my suggestions or do you have alternative methods? Let me know in the comments section below.

Planning a Trip to Bali with Kids? You Need This!

Are you planning a holiday in Bali?

Do you have kids?

Whether you are going during school holidays or school term, I have found the ideal way to keep the kids entertained and occupied.

Let’s face it, kids get bored easily. From the minute you are on the plane, the ‘Are we there yet?’ questions begin. You don’t want them to spend the entire holiday on their mobile devices but what else can you do?

I have found the perfect solution. - ‘My Awesome Bali Adventure - A Travel Journal For Kids, written by Eliza McCann and Phillip Gwynne. It has everything you are searching for to keep the kids busy and have a memento of their awesome holiday.

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From the minute you step onto the plane until you return home, this journal has it all.

There are questions to complete about their flight and information about Bali to get the kids excited. One of the things I love about this journal is that it is suitable for all the family.. Kids will enjoy the word searches, crosswords and puzzles, younger kids have the opportunity to colour and play spot the difference, While there are also plenty of pages for the older kids to write about their experiences.

Bahasa Indonesia is of cause the main language spoken in Bali, and throughout the journal there are plenty of fun ways to learn a little Bahasa by completing fun activities.

In fact there is so much information packed into this journal, I can’t believe someone hasn’t thought of it before. Your kids will treasure this book for years to come. There are even spaces for all sorts of cool stuff that the kids have collected. They can glue in boarding passes from the plane trips, entry tickets to places they have been to in Bali or perhaps even that menu from a favourite restaurant. I was lucky to receive a couple of postcards with mine, maybe you will too.

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As a former Indonesian teacher and a parent, I can see that this is packed full of value. Worried the kids are missing out on all that learning at school? Worry no more, they will learn so much language, culture, geography, even a little natural science from completing this journal and take home amazing life experiences that they can never learn in the classroom. Best of all they will have had an Awesome Bali Adventure.

To purchase a copy of this fantastic journal head on over to Eliza’s website -

https://www.myawesomeadventure.com/

Connect with Eliza and check out more on this awesome idea -

https://www.facebook.com/MyAwesomeAdventure/

https://twitter.com/@kidstravelbook

https://www.instagram.com/awesomeadventurejournals/

https://www.pinterest.com.au/myawesomebaliad/

Looking for an awesome Bali Adventure to read with the kids while on holiday too?

Don’t forget to check out my own chapter book for kids aged 7-12, ‘Secrets Hidden Below.’ Join the Adamson family in an adventure of secrets, mystery and intrigue. There is pirate treasure to be found, but beware the guardian snake, lots of rotten-egg gas and a volcano spirit you don’t dare to anger.

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To learn more about ‘Secrets Hidden Below,’ you can find it right here on my website. Simply click on the link at the top of the page to my books.

If you arrive in Bali and still haven’t purchased a copy of these awesome adventures, don’t fret. ‘My Awesome Bali Adventure’ is available in all Periplus bookstores throughout Bali.

‘Secrets Hidden Below’ is available at Ganesha in Ubud, Biku in Seminyak and will soon be arriving on the shelves at Spellbound in Seminyak.

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Are you planning a holiday in Bali? What are you looking forward to most of all? Please leave a comment below.

Out of My Comfort Zone

January has been a month of massive learning.

I set myself quite a long ‘to do’ list for the year, which including great chunks of writing, I planned to learn more about marketing. This means taking myself right out of my comfort zone. I consider myself a typical crab who is happy to hide inside her shell. As a published author who needs to spread the word, this isn’t good or effective.

From day one, I took the plunge and signed up for a 30 Day Social Media Challenge. The idea being to learn how to engage better with my followers on my Author Face Book Page.

I have found it to be much more of a learning curve than I expected. Although I knew the final challenge at the end would be my most difficult.

During the month I have learnt to engage with my audience in an open and at times deeply honest manner than I ever anticipated. I began sharing thoughts and moments of my life that I would not have shared in a public domain before. Part of the learning was to realise that people want to know the story behind the stories. I will endeavour to give more of that from now on.

One particular post that I found extremely difficult was where I had to ask people to describe me in one word. This could have been quite confronting I didn’t know what to expect, however the response was awesome. Surprisingly this post had the highest engagement and the most comments from all my posts of the month. I was deeply honoured and humbled that people took the time to leave lovely comments using wonderful descriptive words like : achiever, focused, talented, resilient, inspiring and genuine. For the full amazing response the link is here -

Interestingly another post that had a lot of attention was my one about the inspiration behind the writing of my chapter book, ‘Secrets Hidden Below.’ I really appreciate the interest this was given and will continue to write small bits of information about the book’s journey to eventual publication.

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As I have already mentioned the final task was without a doubt the hardest. It was spread over two posts to ease us into it. The first one took me so far out of my comfort zone I couldn’t believe I did it. Being asked to put myself on camera in a photo is hard enough, but to expose myself on a video, I didn’t think I could do that. I found it to be one of the most nerve wracking experiences, but I pushed myself to do it. I decided there was no point taking on a challenge if I wasn’t going to see it through to the end.

So what did I learn from this challenge? Other than discovering I could dig deeper and be more determined than I ever thought possible? I realised that like my Picture Book character ‘Frazzled Freya,’ it is ok to come out into the midday sun and shine. I can leave my comfort zone, sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and give it a go.

Frazzled Freya had to learn to overcome her fears, as did I.

Frazzled Freya had to learn to overcome her fears, as did I.

I also learnt how to schedule posts. Before the challenge I had no idea how to do this. I was surprised how simple and easy it actually was. Before the challenge I didn’t even see the need for scheduling posts. I would add something to my page whenever the idea arose. It was random or ad hoc. Now I know the optimal time to post to my page to reach the highest number of my followers and the type of subject matter that will help produce the most engagement with likes and comments. I now know the type of posts you want to see from me and will endeavour to continue to post items that you, my readers, want to read or see. Even if this does include me producing more embarrassing videos.

Not quite so surprising my first video didn’t fair quite as well as I had hoped even though it did include a kangaroo hopping through the middle of it. Possibly had I mentioned that in my introduction, more people may have had a look. I believe it was partly due to the timing of the post. Part of this particular challenge was for us all to post at the same time of day, This time didn’t seem to suit my followers and the video was lost in the confusion of the ether. Not that I’m complaining, it wasn’t very good, although for my first attempt I did my nervous best. You can see it for yourself if you like. I am posting it again here to demonstrate how far out of my comfort zone this took me.

Overall, it has been a huge learning curve and I promise to continue along my journey this year and strive to give my followers more of the type of content they want. Watch this space, the videos can only improve, (they can’t get any worse!).

Thanks so much to all of you who followed along throughout the month of January. I hope you too, have learnt a little something of interest along the way. Thanks for engaging with all the likes, comments and shares. The more you engage, the more I know what sort of information you are looking for from me.

Thank you to those of you who are new to my Facebook author page. I am so happy you have decided to join me. This month I have almost reached the 400 followers mark. Let’s see if we can reach that magic number by the end of February.

A big huge thanks to Michelle Worthington of ‘Share Your Story’ for organising this awesome challenge. I will strive to grow in confidence. Thanks for all your support and the support of all the other authors who came along on this learning journey with me.

Now it’s your turn. What have you learnt this month? Have you challenged yourself in any way?

Please leave a comment in the section below. Let’s share our learning journey together.

If you enjoyed reading this post, you might also like to read my January post.

I'm Not Much of a Goal Setter, but Here I Go!

Happy New Year to all my readers. Welcome to a bright new year here at Sandy’s Story Chair. I hope you enjoy the stories I have for you again this year.

First up is a blog hop with a wonderful group of bloggers who I have been lucky to call virtual friends in recent years. We are starting the year with our blog posts of ‘What I hope to accomplish in 2019 even if I don’t win the lottery.’

The start of a new year is like a blank slate, and we don’t know what will be written upon it. Even if we don’t hold that winning lottery ticket, there are loads of things we can engrave upon it.

My writerly pals and I are sharing our hopes - on the writing road and in our family life - for 2019 in our #Gr8Blog hop: “What I Want to Accomplish in 2019 Even if I Don’t Win the Lottery.”

Please have a read, and then visit the other #Gr8Blogs linked at the end of this post for more smiles and inspiration.

I’ll admit I’m not much of a planner. a bit like my writing, I tend to go with the flow and see where the road takes me. It is somewhat difficult to make plans at the moment with Mr B working overseas in PNG. He tends to have meetings all over the place and his plans are changed at a moments notice. I try to fit my plans around him to be available to catch up where we can, whether that’s in Port Moresby, here at home in Canberra or any other city in Australia. Makes things difficult at times, I have to be ready to fly somewhere at short notice, but that’s life for now and have laptop will travel. At least I can write wherever I go.

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So what are my goals other than trying to see hubby as much as possible?

  1. Finish editing ‘A Lighthouse in Time.’ Book 2 of the Adamson Adventures and send it to my publisher asap. The manuscript assessment came back between Christmas and New Year. It was so helpful, I can’t wait to get stuck into my revisions. With all the wonderful family visitors this time of year, I haven’t had the time to sit down and take it all in.

  2. I have begun plotting Book 3. The next Adamson Adventure is going to be a lot of fun. I hope to start writing it soon too. The decision on title has to be made, I’m torn between two, perhaps you can help me choose. Which title do you think a child would find more enticing?

    a) Fossil Frenzy

    b) Panic on the Plateau

  3. I am looking forward to seeing two of my short stories published in this years Creative Kids Tales Anthology. I had set myself the goal of writing 3 stories for this, but the 3rd won’t be ready in time. See, I told you I am not good at goal setting. I have to be realistic and face the fact I don’t have time to finish it before the Feb 1 deadline. The first story is titled ‘Save it For a Rainy Day.’ It fits the enchanted theme. A small child finds an enchanted star and hides it away for a rainy day until she needs it to do something special for her family. The second story fits the ‘Things that go Bump in the Night’ theme. Two brothers can’t sleep for all ‘The Thumping’ that is going on under the house. They seek to find the answer to all the noise and discover a wonderful surprise.

  4. That 3rd story, I have set myself the goal of making it into a picture book instead. I would like to see it published one day. Maybe not this year, but one year. Daisy Dewdrop is a little rain fairy that can’t manage to bring rain to the drought stricken farm alone. She goes off in search of a few essential friends to help.

  5. My PB ‘Penelope the Playful Platypus’ is finished and ready to be revealed to the world. My goal for her is to have her published this year. Whether my publisher takes her on or whether I Indie publish, she will be published. Penelope has a fantastic imagination and longs to play with other creatures in her habitat, but sometimes making friends isn’t easy and she must learn to accept not to be too quick to judge.

  6. I intend to travel to Bali this year with the hopes of doing a book tour with ‘Secrets Hidden Below.’ It has been well received by a book store chain there who does author readings and signings in their Seminyak store. I would like to see if I can add to that a few more places as well, including the International school in Sanur.

  7. I intend to continue to improve my self confidence in this writerly life by attending more conferences. I have already committed to attending the second Creative Kids Tales Festival in Sydney in early April and will also commit to attending the bigger CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) conference being held here in Canberra in June.

  8. Meanwhile I will continue to attend as many SCBWI ACT and CBCA ACT branch functions as possible. Late last year I was approached to be a guest speaker this year for the Romancing the Stars CBCA evening later this year here in Canberra. I might even stretch myself out of my comfort zone and do it.

  9. As for marketing, I hope to do more school visits, more market stalls. and find more places to sell my books.

  10. As we say in ‘Scribbles,’ the online writing course by the amazing Jen Storer, I aim to keep doing ‘the verk!’ One day I might even finish all the course work. Is that even possible?

So I guess my word to set my goals for this year is ‘Focus.’ I need to stop procrastination and distractions and focus on all this amazing and exciting work ahead of me.

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Few! For someone who doesn’t like to set goals, there’s a lot going on here. I can’t believe how easily that all flowed out of me once I thought about it. Looks like a busy year ahead. Think perhaps I better add learning some time management strategies to that list.

What do you want to tick off your bucket list this year? Please share in the comment section.

For more inspiration, visit my #Gr8blogs pals below. (Ooooo, and we’ll let you know if one of us actually wins the lottery :) :)

If you blog and want to join us on this hop, just add the family-friendly link to your blog post in the comment section. We’ll visit and give you some blog love-:D

Thanks for stopping by!

Cat Michaels http://bit.ly/2smasqg_CatMichaels

Jacqui Letran https://rovingvegans.com/spread-a-trail-of-peace-world-tour/

Julie Gorges http://babyboomerbliss.net/baby-boomer-looks-forward-to-2019-with-exciting-book-announcement/

Shana Gorian https://authorshanagorian.com/2019/01/10/what-i-want-to-accomplish-in-2019-even-if-i-dont-win-the-lottery-blog-hop/

Rosie Russell - https://booksbyrose.com/index.php/2019/01/10/https-booksbyrose-com-index-php-kidlit-blog-by-rosie/

Carmela Dutra http://carmeladutra.com/blog-post/1354/

Rebecca Lyndsey https://rebeccalyndsey.blogspot.com/2019/01/happy-2019.html

Jim Milson → https://wp.me/p3RsfU-2kw

Corrina Holyoake bit.ly/2RlzhS2

Highlights and Lessons on the Bumpy Road to Writing in 2018.

What an amazing year 2018 has been. I’ve had some major milestone events during quite a roller coaster ride with some pretty big hills to climb and hurtle down at full speed. Has it been much the same for you or has 2018 brought you smooth sailing?

As the end of the year fast approaches, my writerly pals and I are remembering the happy moments as well as lessons we learned from challenges this past year in our blog hop: The Ups, Downs and In Betweens on the 2018 Writing Road. Check out our personal reveals, then visit the other #Gr8Blogs linked at the end of the post for more shared recollections and lessons learned along the way. We hope you'll be inspired to dive into your own special memories of 2018!

So what important life lesson did I learn this past year? You'll have to wait and see at the end of this blog. In the meantime, I'm fortunate that I had a lot of reasons to celebrate this past year. Here are four of them..

  1. The birth of my first grandson.

    Ok, I can hear you now, ‘that has nothing to do with your writing journey.’

    Sorry about that, but it was a major milestone event that I would be remiss to mention. Lachlan Edward Bennett arrived in this world on 5th January 2018, a pretty fabulous start to our New Year. In a way you could say his birth is part of my writing journey because he inspires me every day to keep writing and reading more picture books. I admit I am besotted. Love my little man.

My gorgeous first grandson on his day of birth, 5th January 2018.

My gorgeous first grandson on his day of birth, 5th January 2018.

End of November 2018, almost 11 months old, I can’t believe it!

End of November 2018, almost 11 months old, I can’t believe it!

2. Writing Workshops and Festivals.

This year was the year I was determined to stop hiding behind my computer screen and become more involved with fellow authors in the real world. I began in January with joining other members of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writing & Illustrating) ACT and beyond in a fabulous day out at a writing workshop presented by none other than my all time favourite picture book author, Jackie French. I had such an incredible fun day of learning and inspiration, I became more determined to continue along this writing road.

I then followed through by attending the first Creative Kids Tales Writer’s Festival in March. Again I met and mingled with more inspirational authors, gained an abundance of knowledge and took away with me a fabulous and worthwhile manuscript assessment. I continued to attend SCBWI ACT development evenings and even attended my first CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) ‘Romancing the Stars’ evening. It’s been a year packed full of learning for writing and marketing.

Taking in all I can from the amazing Jackie French.

Taking in all I can from the amazing Jackie French.

A few CKT members at the festival.

A few CKT members at the festival.

3. My First Traditional Publishing Contract.

After many years of editing and revising and then having such a helpful manuscript assessment by the very talented children’s author, Sue Whiting, (who I shall be forever thankful to), I finally found the courage to submit my chapter book to trade publishers. Probably the biggest milestone this year, (after Lachie’s birth) was an offer of publication by Elephant Tree Publishing in June. I could hardly contain my excitement. To think that my writing had reached a level where I would receive such an offer blew me away, and the offer includes a series. An author can’t ask for a bigger dream to come true.

Secrets Hidden Below was launched at the beginning of Children’s Book Week in August at both a public launch in Paperchain Book store in Manuka and at a school launch at Curtin Primary. After these I have done more school visits and writing workshops here in Canberra, (Telopea Park School and Forrest Primary) and overseas in Papua New Guinea at the Ela Murray International School, I even did a book signing at Harry Hartog Woden., thanks James Reddin for your incredible support of local authors. The wonderful feedback I am receiving is that kids are loving my story. That fills my heart with joy, after all. kids reading for enjoyment and increasing their literacy skills is what being a children’s author is all about.

Secrets Hidden Below will take you on an intriguing mystical adventure around Bali. With a guardian snake, rotten-egg gas and a volcano spirit you don’t want to anger, it has plenty of mystery for every adventurer in the family. A perfect holiday read together.

You can purchase a copy of Secrets Hidden Below here via my website or at any bookstore throughout Australia. If they don’t have it in stock, just ask and they will order it for you. It is now even available in Bali!

The book launch of Secrets Hidden Below at Paperchain.

The book launch of Secrets Hidden Below at Paperchain.

4. Meeting Other Authors.
As part of this writerly life we as authors are destined to be alone, writing away in isolation. That is why it is so important to connect with other authors, whether that is virtual or in person. Like-minded people with knowledge and interests that are similar to your own that you can learn from. After getting to know members of SCBWI ACT I took their advice and joined The Duck Pond, an online writer’s group of amazing friendly children’s authors.. A few months later as my confidence grew paddling in the pond, and I splashed around, I waded in a little further and extended myself by also joining ‘Scribbles'.’ An online children’s writing course run by Jen Storer, Queen Duckie herself. It has been a fabulous experience, my learning continues and the support is immeasurable. Along with making all these lovely new author friends means I am able to help support them in person too. Book launches are a wonderful opportunity to get together and celebrate each others success.

A bunch of amazing authors celebrating the launch of Sue Whiting’s latest PB, all holding their own recent releases.

A bunch of amazing authors celebrating the launch of Sue Whiting’s latest PB, all holding their own recent releases.

So what have I learned from all this years highlights?

  1. Breaking out of your comfort zone and spreading your wings can lead to amazing opportunities.

  2. Developing new friendships builds support and encouragement for yourself and others.

  3. No matter how much you think you know, you never truly stop learning, there is always so much more to learn.

  4. I am braver than I think, I can do this. Each small step takes me further towards my life goal - More kids reading, writing and learning.

Thanks for stopping by! How was your year? What was your biggest accomplishment/event? Most powerful thing you learned the past 12 months? Please share in the comment section. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas season and wish everyone a happy, safe and wonderful 2019.

For more inspirational recollections and lessons learned, visit more #Gr8blogs below.

And if you blog and want to join us on this hop, just add the family-friendly link to your blog post in the comment section. We’ll visit and give you some blog love-:D

Rosie Russell - https://booksbyrose.com/index.php/kidlit-blog-by-rosie/

Julie Gorges: - http://babyboomerbliss.net/a-baby-boomers-ups-downs-and-in-betweens-in-2018/

Rebecca Lyndsey - https://rebeccalyndsey.blogspot.com/2018/12/rockin-around2018.html

Cat Michaels - http://bit.ly/2G17SQf_IndieAuthor2018 2018 closes on a high note after turmoil from rightsizing and writer’s block

Carmela Dutra - http://carmeladutra.com/blog-post/the-ups-downs-and-in-betweens-of-2018/

Auden Johnson https://www.audenjohnson.com/2018/12/blog-hop-2018-my-ups-downs-and-in.html

Corrina Holyoake https://corrinaholyoake.blogspot.com/2018/12/my-ups-downs-and-in-betweens-on-2018.html

Writing Workshops Are So Much Fun.

One of the best things about being a children’s author is that I get the chance to visit schools and meet lots of young readers. Whether that means reading and entertaining the younger ones with my emu puppet or engaging older readers in writing workshops. Either way, a school visit doesn’t have to be daunting, if well planned it can be exhilarating for the students and the presenter.

Recently, with the launch of my new chapter book, ‘Secrets Hidden Below,’ I have had the opportunity to visit two schools and work with students to encourage them with a few new writing strategies. During Literacy Week in September I had the fantastic opportunity to work with a very talented writing group of year 5 & 6 students from Forrest PS in Canberra, then at the end of October I had the incredible opportunity to work with all year levels from Prep right through to year 8 at the Ela Murray International School in Port Moresby, PNG.

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Here are my top 5 take-home points to remember from the experience.

1. Be well prepared. Being asked to present to kids ranging in age from 5 to 14 yrs means varying your workshop to suit their requirements. Even the Preps and year 1-2’s had a slightly different presentation than the other. While the majority of the lesson centred around my picture book, ‘Emma the Eager Emu,’ some fun facts (with pictures) to learn about emus and other Australian birds, I was able to ask higher level questions to the 1’s and 2’s when discussing the themes or lessons learned from the story and able to give them a worksheet that required higher order thinking than their Prep counterparts. It was the same with the writing workshops for the rest of the year levels. With each growing age group I could extend their activities.

2. Be adaptable. No matter how organised you think you are, something will always happen to make you have to change things. In some instances the scheduled time slot for a particular group was longer than I had anticipated, while others had been shortened. Remember, you are a visitor to the school and must fit into their timetable. When my time with the year 3’s and 4’s was extended from 90 min to 2 hours, it meant I could relax, slow the pace, allow more time for students to work on each writing task. It also gave me more time to read exerts from several of my books to use as examples of writing strategies instead of the originally planned one. I initially planned to demonstrate writing devices from ‘Gingerbread Aliens’ only, but given a longer time period I was able to include ‘Secrets Hidden Below’ as well. I loved seeing the students all so engaged and full of questions. On the other hand, because there was a large year 5 - 6 cohort, it was decided to split their original session in two. This meant instead of having 2 hours to work with all of them, I now had an hour each for two groups. To make this work I had to decide which parts of the workshop to skip so that they would get the most benefit out of me being there to help them. Some groups were bigger than I had thought, some were smaller. Again, if you are prepared to adapt, you can make this work. As the year 5-6 groups were so large, the teachers decided to move the lesson into the old library. Not so bad, except in 32 C degree heat with rising humidity and an air con system that seemed to be working overtime, it was a) extremely hot, I could feel the sweat running down my back and my face felt quite flushed no matter how much water I drank, and b) the noise of the air con was so loud I had difficulty hearing some of the students answers. I hope they coped better than I did.

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3. Year 7 & 8 aren’t so scary after all. I haven’t taught students of this age in a very long time. In fact, not since I graduated from teachers college over 30 years ago. So the prospect of working with them while exciting, was also a bit daunting. I needn’t have worried, they were a fantastic bunch of kids. I began the session by recognising the fact that my books are not targeted at their age level and presented them as a learning tool for examples of writing devices. The students were all very enthusiastic and eager to participate. We had some great discussions, excellent writing and a whole lot of laughs along the way.

4. Questions and answers can stretch your thinking. Sometimes the responses to questions you ask can be surprising. When demonstrating how to draw a mind map I discovered the enormous vocab students have, no matter their age. Talk about thinking on my feet, I suddenly became very aware of my spelling. To say the year 7 - 8’s tested me, is an understatement. I’m still not sure if I spelt telekinesis correctly. I’m sure they all spotted my mistake. I had some surprising questions asked of me too. Things I had never been asked before that really made me think on my feet. I enjoyed the challenge and hope I answered them all to their satisfaction. I can’t believe I did forget to mention the one thing I do everyday during my spare time, I guess because it has become more of a routine than a spare time activity. That is, walking my dog around the country hills where we live. I walk an average of 5 Km everyday with her. We look for kangaroos, echidnas, wombats, lizards and all sort of birds. You never know what I might find that may spark an idea for a story.

5. Relax and enjoy. It all goes too fast. Relax, breathe and take in every delightful moment. Watching students from all age groups write with such engagement and enthusiasm was awesome. Listening to the excitement in their voices as they shared their work with each other and myself felt wonderful. Observing students madly taking notes from every word I said and slide I presented was surprising yet made me feel quite honoured that they wanted to remember it all. It’s all over all too soon and before you know it, you find yourself alone back in front of your computer screen looking forward to the next school visit. I send my sincerest thank you to everyone at TEMIS, I enjoyed my two days there enormously. A big warm hug to you all.

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Now it’s your turn. Have you ever experienced the joy of a writer’s workshop or author visit? Whether from the author’s or student’s point of view, please leave a comment below.

Do you have any questions? I will do my best to answer.

Spring is in the air.

It’s that time of year again where we Canberrans begin to live in hope of a little warmth and sunshine. But don’t put away your winter woollies too quickly. Just when the weather feels like it has turned a corner and we can end our hibernation, the cold winds from the south return.

Late August and September did bring us some beautiful days, enough to start dreaming of Summer holidays, visiting the beach and long country walks.

Towards the end of August after a hectic bookish month, (see last months post), I escaped for a well earned rest to warmer skies. Perth already felt like Spring had sprung. I shared several glorious days with my eldest son and his wife. We explored the wonderful Swan Valley region with all its delicious offerings of wineries, chocolate factories and even a gin distillery.

I discovered like Canberra, Perth too, has a tulip festival. Their’s is set among the beautiful hills behind Perth in the Araluen Botanic Park. A hidden native garden I had no idea existed until this visit. We had planned to visit the gardens for the day anyway, when on arrival we found to our delight the tulip festival had begun. It was a perfect Spring day for meandering along garden paths under Eucalypt trees taking in the abundant colour.

Araluen Botanic Park, Perth
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Naturally, as with all my trips to Perth, we also visited Kings Park Botanical Gardens. Many of the native wildflowers were just beginning to bloom, but I did take a few lovely shots of some of the Kangaroo Paw.

 
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Springtime in Canberra means tulips, wattles and cherry blossoms. Not to mention the inevitable hay fever that comes along with all the pollen. On one of my morning walks around our valley I did stop to take a few pics of the wattle. Its bright yellow blossoms always bring sunshine to any day.

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Back home in Canberra our own Floriade has begun in all its amazing glory. I have had the opportunity to walk around the festival twice already this year. It is wonderful to see all the families out and about enjoying the weather and all that Floriade has to offer. Including the tulips and pansies, Floriade also entertains with an annual painted garden gnome competition, ferris wheel rides and art & craft, and local produce stalls. I found my picture books ‘Emma the Eager Emu’ and ‘Frazzled Freya’, both being sold among the stalls and enjoying the sunshine, (thanks so much to Monica of Wombat Cards & Gifts).

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We even managed our first trip to the beach this month. Although the wind was still a tad chilly, it was fabulous to soak in the sun and watch our grandson experience the sand and surf for the first time.

 
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I did do one school visit, for a writer’s workshop with year 5 & 6 students, (and a book signing too, at Harry Hartog in Woden.) but that is the topic of another blog post. Maybe next time.

With the Spring also came a bit of much needed rain. (We still need a lot more.) The paddocks have been looking very hard and dry and our water tanks have never been so low. On a positive note the rain brings the kangaroos out more to graze during the day. It is a chance to see all the cute new joeys as they begin to pop out of their mother’s pouches. We have also had deer grazing in our paddocks more frequently than ever before. I think they have discovered the green grass where our grey water waste flows. Deer are curious creatures and get up to rather a lot of mischief that includes eating the blossoms from my ornamental pear tree and pulling branches off my gum trees with their massive strong antlers.

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Spring is in the air and Summer is just around the corner. Time to start making plans for those lazy hazy days down the beach. That also includes a reading list for time spent in the shade of a tree, swinging in a hammock or lazing by a pool. Perhaps it’s time to plan your next Summer getaway? Don’t forget to include a book for the kids. ‘Secrets Hidden Below’ will take them to the beaches of Bali and beyond. Filled with adventure and surprises it just might inspire you and the kids to book that well deserved holiday.

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Have you ever been to a tulip festival?

What are your plans for the upcoming warmer months?

What is on your reading list?

A Bookish Month, Engaging Book Launches & School Visits.

August has been a busy month with lots happening for authors of children's books. With Book Week in the middle of the month, we have all been busy launching books and attending school functions. This years theme was 'Find Your Treasure.' So hang on to your pirate hat me matey,, lads and lassies, this is going to be one amazing adventure into the world of children's books. You may even want to make a cup of tea, this was a long month.

Children's Book Council of Australia

It all started back in July, 25th July to be precise. The ACT branch of CBCA held their Romancing The Stars meeting here in Canberra. Craig Cormick encouraged us with his stories about writing books in a series, those that are successful and those that are not quite so successful. Jacqueline de Rose-Ahem discussed ways to broaden your books reach internationally. Kerry Malone took us along on her journey to self-publication. Jack Heath brought us to tears with laughter as he looked back on his teenage years searching for books he wanted to read which became his reason for writing. Pauline Deeves discussed the abundance of research necessary when writing for the NLA (National Library of Australia and Maura Pierlot delved into her interest in dramatic play writing.. It was an inspirational evening, we all came away filled with information and motivation to continue our writing journey.

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May Gibbs Exhibition

Still in July, but at the end, 30th July, I attended the opening of the 100 year anniversary exhibition of the works of May Gibbs at Queanbeyan Library. There hasn't been a generation in Australia in the last 100 years that hasn't grown up reading about May Gibbs much loved and iconic characters Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and the rest of the Gumnut Babies. To my international readers, if you have never heard of these adorable stories I highly recommend you find yourself a copy and learn about these beautifully illustrated Australian bush characters.  May Gibbs was a magnificent and much loved author and illustrator. Author Tania McCartney had the fantastic opportunity to open the exhibition. She has spent years researching the life of May Gibbs to be able to have the honour of writing a children's picture book somewhat loosely based on her life story.

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Wyrd Book launch

Cate Whittle held her book launch for her new chapter book, Wyrd, to a great crowd at Harry Hartog, Woden on August 11. The audience was enthralled to listen to Cate read an enchanting chapter full of magical wishes. Followed by delicious cupcakes, colouring-in for the little ones and plenty of books to be signed. I couldn't wait to take my signed copy home and start reading. Cate didn't disappoint. The story was wonderful. Imagine the horror of two girls who can't stand each other suddenly discovering their parents are planning to marry. Add to that mistakenly becoming a reluctant witch and you have the potential for disaster. Cate Whittle handles the story with both gentle humour and sensitivity.

 
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SCBWI ACT Meeting

Only a couple of days later, on the 15th August SCBW! ACT held their next development meeting,  Putting Yourself in the Picture was an amazing evening of shared learning experiences. Award winning author/illustrator Caroline Magerl had us in stitches with her light-hearted journey through the publication world from before technology right up to present day with the launch of her latest beautiful picture book Maya and Cat. Emma Allen, Hannah Sommerville and Susan Hall spoke about the benefits of collaboration, while Maura Pierlot discussed the advantages of going away on a writer's retreat. We all came away from the evening enriched and inspired once again. I also came home with an armful of gorgeous irresistible picture books.

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CBCA Book of the Year Awards

These were held at the National Library of Australia on 17th August and mark the beginning of Children's Book Week. I didn't have the time to attend this year, maybe next year I will make it. Congratulations to all of this years winners. Check out the list of recipients on the CBCA website.

Secrets Hidden Below Book Launch

Saturday 18th August was my turn for the official book launch at Paerchain Bookstore in Manuka of Secrets Hidden Below. Thank you so much to everyone who braved the cold wet wintry afternoon to come out and join me. My dear friend and colleague Lynne Audsley kindly agreed to launch my book for me. A small part of her wonderful speech said,

'As a child I loved reading the Famous Five books. Books that took me to a world where children had amazing adventures involving smugglers and hidden treasure. Secrets Hidden Below is that for modern children. They can experience the thrill of reading a book they can't put down. In fact it would be a good contender for dragging children from 8 years, away from their electronic devices  as they get caught up in the mystery of Secrets Hidden Below.'

After Lynne's amazing speech that I appreciated very much and felt rather humbled by, I spoke about the inspiration behind the story before reading a chapter that had everyone hooked. We then went on a treasure hunt around Bali before to the delight of the kids I revealed the hidden treasure inside the treasure box. Yummy Volcano cupcakes were enjoyed by all as the signing of books began.

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Official School Launch

Monday 20th August took me to Curtin Primary school to launch Secrets Hidden Below with the year 5/6 Indonesian LOTE students. We were fortunate to have Pak Baskora from the Indonesian Embassy join us for the morning. A huge thank you to Ibu Karen Kennedy for organising the event. The kids really enjoyed the presentation and were enthusiastic to read more of the book. We held a writing competition beforehand whereby I selected the best story to win a free copy of the book. The students were asked to write a story using several Indonesian words. The winning entry was titled The Berapi Harimau, (Volcano/Fire Tiger). I selected this one as I felt it read like a Balinese legend. I could see that Madison has the potential to be a great writer as she grows and learns.

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Telopea Park School Visit

There was no rest, this was Book Week after all. Tuesday meant another fabulous school with more kids eager to see me, learn from me and read my new book. This time I visited year 3 students at Telopea Park School. On arrival I was surprised to find an awesome display the kids had made from their work about my earlier books. They were so excited as they entered the library, the chatter bubbled with hello's, waves and whispers. By the end of the session I was swamped with requests for my autograph. It was a beautiful moment to be able to share time with these gorgeous kids. The competition here, I asked them to come up with a title for an adventure story. The winner I selected was 'The Caves Beneath The White Cliff of Dover.' I could imagine all sorts of intriguing situations arising from that title.

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Forrest Primary School Visit

Thursday 23rd August I found myself back at Forrest Primary. I have very fond memories of my teaching years at this school, but today I was not teaching, nor presenting my book. This time I was supporting fellow author Skye Davidson and illustrator Agnes Rokiczky as they launched their gorgeous and mischievous picture book Archibald the Naughtiest Elf in the World Goes to the Zoo. It was a lovely afternoon, the Kinders and year Ones had a lot of fun.

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Of course there have been many children's authors launching books and presenting at schools this month. I couldn't get to all the launches, as much as I wanted to. I apologise to those I missed. I was there in spirit and hope to catch up with your amazing books soon.

My hectic schedule did not stop there. I flew to Perth for my eldest son's 30 birthday at the end of Book Week. Still can't believe he is that old! Where do the years go? Then flew to Port Moresby to attend the PNG Independence Day Ball with hubby, That takes us into September and there is still so much more to come. More school visits, more book signings. These are exciting times.

 
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If you missed the book launch of Secrets Hidden Below at Paperchain but would like a signed copy, you have a second chance. I will be signing books Saturday 15th September from 11:00 am at Harry Hartog Bookshop in Woden. Hope to see you there. For those who are not in Canberra, books can be purchased through Elephant Tree Publishing.

I will also be returning to Forrest Primary this Friday, 7th September to do a writing workshop with students from years 5/6. 

How about you? How was your August? Did you dress up for Book Week? Let me know in the comments below, add a photo too. I'd love to see those bookish costumes. 

 

Patience and Persistence Does Make Dreams Come True

Emma the Eager Emu has patience and persistence, so does Frazzled Freya. In both these picture books my main characters learn the essential life lessons that to achieve anything in life you must practice, be patient and continue to try. 

One thing is certain, I have also learnt this lesson. In my blog post in May, I wrote about my chapter book set in Bali and how after almost twenty years of writing, rewriting, editing, learning and more editing and rewriting, I finally felt my baby was ready to go out into the world . First I submitted the first three chapters for a manuscript assessment by the incredibly helpful Sue Whiting at the Creative Kid Tales Festival in March. Following Sue's advice I returned home motivated and full of ideas for more rewrites and edits. When finally I felt the manuscript was complete, I found the courage to press the send button and begin the submission process to publishers.

I waited with baited breath. Just when I started to allow self doubt to take over again, I received a reply.

An offer of publication! You can imagine my excitement. To say I jumped for joy would be an understatement. I squealed with delight and ran around telling anyone who would listen. It's not everyday your dream comes true. 

That is not to say I have not been happy with self publishing so far, I have. I enjoy the road I have travelled  that helped  me reach this point. I have met many wonderful authors both indie and traditionally published and learnt so much from them all. It's just an amazing feeling to know that someone else believes in your work enough to take a risk on it and publish. I may still self publish my next picture book, it is so close to being ready, but for now I must concentrate on 'Secrets Hidden Below.'

The story has improved quite a lot over the years. It is almost unrecognisable from it's original draft. The setting and characters are the same, (almost). We have had a gender change. Instead of three brothers, the middle child is now a sister. It was a great suggestion by the publisher and I couldn't agree more. Not only does it widen the book's readership but as I edited I realised the character actually made sense as as a girl. I don't know why I hadn't seen it before? Sometimes we are a little too close to our work and it takes fresh eyes to see the obvious.

This week I have had to write the blurb for the back cover and look over several alternative front cover designs. The blurb reads as follows -

The Adamson family are set for a surfing holiday in Bali they’ll never forget.
Dad wants to surf all day and Mum wants to shop. Zac is eager to explore a sunken WW2 shipwreck. Luke is keen to cause mischief wherever he goes. Clare on the other hand, just wants to stay out of trouble.
But while building sandcastles on Kuta Beach, the kids unearth a surprising find that dramatically changes their holiday. Curiosity leads them on a dangerous path to an adventure where difficulties lurk around every corner.
Secrets Hidden Below takes the reader on an intriguing treasure hunt around an exotic tropical island that includes plenty of rotten-egg gas, a guardian snake and a volcano spirit you definitely, don’t want to anger.

I've written my bio for the publishers website and thanked them for their awesome words of encouragement. Part of their wonderful review reads 'our latest treasure is very much in the style of the classic mysteries we all loved, ( Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys). Canberra author Sandra Bennett has written Secrets Hidden Below, a rollicking adventure set in Bali for children aged 7-10. What child couldn't resist a sunken Ww2 Japanese shipwreck, a message in a bottle, a treasure map, a guardian snake, lots of rotten egg gas and a volcano spirit? ' I am so humbled that my writing has been mentioned in the same category as my childhood heroes. The new book will be released in August during book week. Thanks Elephant Tree Publishing for having faith in me. 

Next my story will go off to the type setter. I will do one last proof read and we will be ready to send the book to the printer.

School visits and book launches are next to plan.The chance to spend time reading, entertaining children  and helping them learn is my favourite part of writing children's books. Being able to share read aloud moments with them  and seeing their joy makes  my day. Exciting times ahead.

Are you are a teacher or parent in Canberra or Sydney who might like me to visit your school for a reading or writing workshop during book week or the weeks that follow? Please contact me here in the comments section below, my email gingerbreadaliens@gmail.com or through Elephant Tree Publishing. I would love to share my new chapter book with your kids.

Now for the big reveal! Here is the cover!

Secrets Hidden Below