I’m excited to welcome fellow Little Lamb Books author, Amberly Kristen Clowe to Sensibility and Sense today! We’re celebrating the release of the newest book in her Teeny Sweeney chapter book series, TEENY SWEENEY AND THE COUSIN CALAMITY! Amberly Kristen Clowe, is a veteran elementary school teacher and writes from her home in Kingwood, Texas. She and her husband have two children, and two dogs, Roxie and Bella. Amberly loves cycling and coffee and spends her days crafting stories that share faith in a fun way with young readers. TEENY SWEENEY AND THE COUSIN CALAMITY is the second chapter book in the Teeny Sweeney series. Welcome to Sensibility and Sense, Amberly! Now, let’s talk about your new book:
TEENY SWEENEY AND THE COUSIN CALAMITY
PR: Since this is the first post about your new children’s book Teeny Sweeney and the Cousin Calamity, tell us about it.
AKC: Glad to. So, very early in the book, readers find out that Teeny’s cousin, Winston Waddlesworth, will be visiting the Sweeney household. Readers also find out that Teeny doesn’t really dig her cousin. This book was so much fun to write because there are many pieces at play. Not only is Teeny struggling to get along with her cousin, but there’s someone or something terrorizing the neighborhood. There’s a lot going on in this story, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE how the setting changes throughout. Kids will visit an indoor waterpark, a food truck festival, one of my absolute favorite places—the library, the zoo, and more. How fun is that!
PR: Will we see some familiar faces, like Amanda Mayweather? Will we be introduced to any new ones?
AKC: Readers will get to hang out with Amanda for a little while in this book and meet one of her family members. There are new characters galore! I’m also really excited that we learn even more about Teeny.
Writing the Second TEENY SWEENEY Book!
PR: How did the experience of writing the second book in the series compare to the first?
AKC: You know, it was really fun to dive more into this made-up place, to learn more about the characters we knew, while introducing the many new ones. I did find myself referring to my character documents and making sure to not contradict what we had already established about the characters. That was super interesting. I have the best editor, so it was awesome to work with her on another project. My publisher is also so lovely. This year we started Zoom-ing, as opposed to phone calls, so I (like a zillion others) did set up a space to do that. Haha. It was such a treat to see the illustrator, Janet Samuel, put color to Winston and especially Mustard Steve the Mustard Seed, the hero from a graphic comic strip in the story. The first time I saw his little character in his little cape I definitely cried. Not gonna lie.
PR: What message do you want readers to take away from this book?
AKC: Honestly, I think the message, though packaged a bit differently with different scripture, remains the same. My goal for this series is to help young readers look to scripture to guide them in their everyday situations. I don’t want church to be on Sunday and life to be Monday through Saturday. It took me a long time to even understand that I was compartmentalizing. I would love for it to take readers much less time to not do that. We need God’s guidance every day of the week. Teeny isn’t telling anyone to do that, but instead, she’s showing them how. She tries really hard to always think about what does and doesn’t please God.
More TEENY SWEENEY Books?
PR: I hear that there are more Teeny Sweeney books in the works. Can you tell us what to expect next?
AKC: Hmmm … I can’t say too much, but I can say that I would LOVE to have some holiday Teeny Sweeney books and some short stories.
PR: At the end of every blog post, I like to leave a little sensibility and sense for the journey. Could you share some of your wisdom with our readers?
Sensibility- Remember to have fun. That can be easier said than done, when we have these constant ambitions.
Sense-Think about what you’re currently passionate about. Our passions can be super fluid. Dig into the things that excite you. Maybe it’s reading and writing in an entirely new genre. When I’m working on projects that pique my interest, I’m having fun!
A few weeks ago I announced I was beginning a long-overdue middle-grade novel revision. Every journey begins with a first step, so I’m checking in today to talk about my first steps and why they are important to my overall process.
First, I read the beginning chapters of Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison. In her novel revision guide, Darcy recommends reading two other books before starting the exercises in her workbook. These two books are:
SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS, by Renni Browne and Dave King, Harper Collins, 2004.
THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, by Noah Lukeman, Fireside Books, 2000.
I’ve started the first book and am re-learning and being reminded of many things. It’s always good to refresh your editing skills, especially if you are timid with the delete button and tend to hang on to words that need to be let go. Thankfully, I’ve become pretty ruthless when it comes to self-editing over the years. That means I’m rarely married to any sentence, paragraph or section; my chopping block is no respecter of words. So rather than digest the entire book before diving in, I decided to read the rest of it as I go and use it primarily as a reference tool. I have not yet started reading the second book.
The main reason for putting off reading the second book was because one of my long-time critique partners and friends asked if anyone in our critique group would be interested in swapping middle-grade manuscripts. We are a picture book group, but a few of us also dabble in middle grade, so I decided it was perfect timing for me and said, “Yes!”
I was so nervous. It’s been years since anyone that I’m close to has read my novel. Years! I had an agent interested last year, which is part of the motivation for this revision. So showing it to someone I trust as both a writer and a friend, was a huge step for me. We swapped, and within a few days she sent me her critique, and her comments have boosted my confidence in a huge way as well as helped me see the areas that need the most work. Whew! I could finally exhale, knowing I wasn’t wasting my time and that the story still had merit and was worth working on. I didn’t realize it at the time I sent it to her, but this was probably the best way I could have started this revision.
The second thing I did was take time to actually read my book again. I didn’t read all of it, because that’s what I’m doing as I go through and make changes, but I read enough. I needed reminding that what I started 10 years ago during that dark time wasn’t just therapy or a way to deal with emotions. I needed to see it with the fresh eyes of today’s me rather than the me of that time in my life. And you know what I discovered? I really like it. I’m excited to spend time with the characters and help them grow stronger and change where change is needed.
Without pausing for these few weeks of reading and reflection, I would have come to this project as just another task in my writing life. I would have opened my workbook with a sigh rather than a spark, and that would not have worked over the long haul. Revision takes time, and if you’re not motivated by a love of the work, it will quickly turn into drudgery and you’ll never finish.
So here’s to finding the path into the process that works for you. I’m glad I was able to see my way clear to doing these things before I ever added or deleted one word from my WIP. I hope today’s thoughts encourage you to find the just-right way to begin your next big project!
Sensibility-Take time to fall in love with your WIP again. You must be willing to spend time with the characters you’ve created, no matter where they are on their journey.
Sense- Not every path to revision looks the same for every writer. If you find yourself stuck in someone else’s process, stop, think, breathe and reflect on what you need to do to move forward.
“If we are not willing to fail we will never accomplish anything. All creative acts involve the risk of failure.” -Madeleine L’Engle
Good afternoon to all my Sensibility and Sense followers! It’s been several weeks since I’ve posted an update; I’ve been hesitating because of these uncertain days and times we find ourselves in. But because I firmly believe that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind,” I know that any happy news when everything pulls us in other ways can be a balm to the soul. So today I wanted to share with you. . .
I have a book deal!
After years of waiting, working, hoping and praying, Little Lamb Books has connected with 2 of my picture books and offered me a contract. If things go as planned, you’ll be holding MRS. NOAH and MILLIE’S CHRISTMAS MIRACLE in your hands in the fall of 2021 and 2022, respectively. You can read about how it all happened here:
I want to thank each and every one of you that has commented here throughout the years, followed me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and anywhere else I hang out, offered encouragement and a shoulder and listening ear when I was discouraged. You have no idea how much each thing means to a writer with a dream and a passion for creating uplifting content for young readers.
And so now, as we all continue to hunker down, stay at home, wash our hands, reach out to those in need and generally take care of each other, please know that all of you are in my thoughts and prayers. May God’s peace and hope fill your homes and your hearts as we all wait this out together.
I want to wish you and your family and friends a blessed and Happy New Year! I’m so grateful you’re part of my journey and appreciate so much when you stop by and read my musings about writing or celebrate with me when I have good news. You truly are one of my best gifts. . .
And guess what?! In just a few weeks I’m going to have some big news to share, and I cannot wait! So please keep visiting and reading so you can be part of the celebration!
Happy New Year!
Sensibility- The writer journey, full of its twists and turn, highs and lows, is one I’m grateful to be on!
Sense- When it comes time for New Year’s resolutions and goal setting, be kind to yourself. Set measurable, reachable benchmarks so you can look back on 2020 and be happy with what you’ve accomplished. Remember, life is a one-day-at-a-time journey. Look for the joy!
I’m so thrilled to be part of THANKU: POEMS OF GRATITUDE, Edited by Miranda Paul and Illustrated by Marlena Myles (Millbrook, September 2019). It’s my debut as a children’s poet, and I couldn’t be prouder of the finished product. Part of the proceeds from the sale of this book help fund WeNeedDiverseBooks.org, an organization dedicated to diversity in children’s literature. All children need to see themselves in children’s books, both as characters and in the people who create them, and We Need Diverse Books is committed to making this happen!
I would especially like to thank Miranda Paul for making this work possible and for allowing me the chance to be part of it. Thanks, Miranda!
As we approach the season of Thanksgiving, I hope this book helps you and all the young readers in your home learn more about what being grateful means. Many blessings to you and yours in the coming weeks!
Sensibility-Gratitude is more than just saying, “Thank you!” It is an attitude of the heart!
Sense- Set aside time in the weeks ahead for thankfulness. A gratitude jar, a conversation at the dinner table or during quiet moments before sleeping or bedtime prayers help children grow their gratefulness each day.
What are some ways you and your family focus on gratitude during the holidays?
I just signed up for STORYSTORM 2018, and I’m looking forward to 30 brand-spanking-new story ideas by the end of January! Thanks for hosting again this year, Tara Lazar, and happy 10th Storystorm Anniversary!
I’ve been doing some research about the lives of today’s children in my efforts to learn more about my audience, and I’ve come across some pretty startling statistics. For example:
1 in 6 people in America face hunger. That means more than 1 in 5 children is at risk for being hungry during a regular school day. Among African American and Latino American children, the risk is 1 in 3.
For every 100 school lunch programs, there are only 87 breakfast sites and 36 summer food programs.
Nearly half of the 1 in 7 people enrolled in SNAP programs are children.
Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunches each day at school. Less than half of these kids get breakfast, and even less than that have access to a meal program in the summer.
40 percent of food is thrown out in the United States each year. That’s about $165 billion, and that amount could feed 25 million people.
Yep, you read that right…$165 billion…enough to feed 25 million hungry people; and a grotesquely large number of those are children. Pretty overwhelming stuff, considering we’re at the end of the season of thankfulness and just opening the door on the season of giving.
So what do these numbers have to do with writing for kids? Well, think about that for a minute. One in 5 children ARE hungry during the regular school day. That means when little Johnny or Susie picks up a book during library time, most days all he or she can think about is, “When’s lunch?” And I don’t know about you, but when I’m hungry, reading, thinking or any kind of concentrating is almost impossible. Now imagine if that same child picks up a book about making pancakes, or having a meal with family, or sitting down to a table laden with holiday goodness? I mean, don’t we all get a little bit hungry, even when we’re not if food flashes in front of our eyes?
Now let’s talk buying books. If more than 20 million children across America receive free or reduced-priced lunches, how many of them have ever or will ever hold a book in their hands that they’ve purchased with their very own money? And how does that figure into school book fairs where some families must choose between paying the rent or buying groceries, much less finding some extra cash so a child can be like his or her classmates and visit the book fair? Part of developing a life-long love of reading is the feeling that comes when you crack open a book of your very own. The smell. The sound of pages turning. The brightness of brand new pictures and paper that isn’t stained or torn. All of this creates memories that draw adults back to books. I know ebooks have their place, but for book lovers, there’s just nothing quite like it. If this love of books never develops because books aren’t accessible or kids are too hungry to read them, how is this impacting society as a whole?
When I was a teacher I wrote a different inspiring quote on the chalkboard each day (you know, that long green thing that used to hang in the front of the classroom:). One of my favorites was, “Readers are leaders.” But even the child with the absolute most potential for greatness in the world can’t lead when she’s hungry, because all she thinks about is, well, being hungry.
It would be great if the answer were as simple as putting hungry children in our stories so they can see themselves in what they read. Or don’t put hungry children in our stories so they won’t feel marginalized. Or don’t put food in our stories so we don’t create more hunger. Or put more food in our stories, or, or, or… you see the problem here, right? I guess, as with many other types of social injustice, writing in the most thoughtful way possible with the goal of shining some light on the problem without singling out children and making their lives more difficult is the best approach. Pretty tall order, but you’re a writer for children, remember? In your heart, you’ve taken a sacred oath to do just that. And if you haven’t you should, or find something else to do with your time.
The other thing you can do is put legs on your prayers for hungry children by seeking out ways to help. I read a really great suggestion on Facebook the other day about going to your local school and paying off outstanding lunch charges for children in need. You may not know this, but hungry kids fall through the cracks all the time, and not all families who need free and reduced-priced lunches get them for a variety of reasons. When these kids’ lunch charges exceed a certain amount, they can no longer get lunch and are forced to eat a dry cheese sandwich or a bowl of Cheerios. Yep. It’s the truth.
Another great idea is to help your local school start a sharing table! Sharing tables are no-judgment zones in school cafeterias. They help reduce food waste by encouraging children to place the food they don’t like or don’t want to eat on the table and choose something they do like instead. At the end of the day, any extra food is donated to charity to help feed the hungry in the community. It’s a win-win because kids who didn’t get quite enough can feel free to pick something off the sharing table without feeling embarrassed, and food that otherwise would have gone in the trash gets eaten. Some schools even pack up the leftovers and send them home with needy kids so their families can have just a little more that night. You can read more about Sharing Tables here:
Writers are doers.We “do” every day without having to punch a time clock. As long as we meet our deadlines, it’s all good. Put that writer “do” into finding ways to help end childhood hunger.
Then what will we have? More kids with satisfied tummies and books in their hands (the ones with your name on them). More readers. More leaders who remember what it’s like to be “that kid” and who work to change their world.
A few weeks ago, after almost 20 years of first-day pictures, new backpacks, shiny, white sneakers and packing lunches, my husband I finally made it to the empty-nest club. To celebrate, we took our first extended trip without any kids or pets, and headed north to Michigan’s gorgeous and remote Upper Peninsula. It seemed like the perfect way to ease into our new roles- drop our daughters off at school, pick up the ferry across Lake Michigan and have an adventure. It was amazing. We talked, laughed, hiked, ate, rested and looked at each other without interruption for 5 whole days! “This empty-nest thing is a piece of cake,” we said. “We’ve got this!” And then we came home.
Yep, you guessed it. The other shoe fell sometime during the second evening of our newly-found, empty-nest bliss. I looked at my husband after our second or third episode of the West Wing and said, “What time is it?”
“Eight-thirty,” he answered.
“That early?” I responded.
“Yep,” he said.
“So this is how it’s going to be?” I questioned.
“I guess so,” he said.
I’m not sure if we both cried right then, or if a number of tears I shed over the next few minutes were enough for two, but there were waterworks a-plenty. It felt good to let it out after all the busyness of getting the girls supplied, packed up and delivered to school while at the same time preparing for our own trip. It was the end of a very long marathon that began the previous September with the last set of senior pictures, homecoming, etc. You know, all that “last time, last kid” stuff we do to send our babies off into the big college world. We trudged upstairs and went to bed, weary from weeping, while at the same time strangely refreshed.
It took me a while to get back into a routine, especially since a week later we made a trip south due to a loved one’s medical emergency. But after we got back home again, I fell into a groove, and it felt good. It was now time to take care of some long-neglected items on my to-do list, and one of those was my bulletin board.
Ever since I became a teacher (once upon a time), I’ve loved bulletin boards. So there’s always one in my kitchen where everyone can see it. It has a nice calendar and lots of room for whatever notes, business cards, receipts, etc. that I need to keep in a safe place. It’s been our family hub for a long time. So, I started removing every piece of paper thumbtacked to the cork. Everything I touched was outdated or no longer needed. I didn’t find anything important. Nothing. Zilch. When I finished, this is what was left:
The empty cork with lonely thumbtacks and a blank calendar almost made cry. . . almost. But before the floodgates opened, I realized something. That emptiness represented space in my life. Something I haven’t had much of since hearing those first amazing words, “It’s a boy!” Those were the absolute best years of my life. There’s nothing better than being a mom! But wow, that space, that cracked, well-used corkboard space looked hopeful somehow. What to do with it?
The temptation to fill it up to stop the loneliness came. . . and went! Are you kidding me? How about pausing, exhaling and letting God fill the space? Or not fill it! What an incredible feeling- to have space that didn’t need filling, just repurposing.
And of course I’m using my part of that space to write, and write and write some more. In the emptiness, creativity has flooded in (and I’m getting my paying work done too). I’m enjoying my quiet hours more than I ever thought I would. Oh, I still cry. And there are many evenings when I ask my husband, “Is it that early?” I mean hey, we’ve only been at this a few weeks. And thankfully, my kids are close enough to us that if the need for a cup of coffee with them becomes overwhelming we can get to them easily. But that space. Wow.
It’s been a week or so since I cleaned off the bulletin board, and it’s still empty. Even the calendar for October is empty (not the one I keep on my computer, but still). I think I’ll keep it that way a while longer. It’s a great reminder to cherish the space as a gift, rather than fill it with more things that don’t really matter.
And as a way of celebrating this new season, I’m running one of my famous BOGO Critique Specials. That’s right! Now through November 17th, purchase one picture book critique at the regular price and get a second critique absolutely free. Just click on the PGWRites Critiques tab above for more information. Looking forward to reading your stories in the coming weeks!
Sensibility-Life’s seasons can be challenging. Keeping a positive attitude and looking for the unique joys each one brings keeps us moving forward.
Sense- Find yourself with some unexpected space? Fill it with creative projects. They are the best kind of food for the soul!