Swimming in Numbers


BookOfTheMonth_CoverIt has been one month since Oliver was sent out into the world, a month I diligently prepared for, lining up school and library events, planning a party and writing lessons and presentations, as well as learning as much about otters as I could.

It has been fun, exciting and just a tad overwhelming. It’s not the same as realizing after I gave birth that not one of the ‘already done that’ mothers I talked to adequately prepared me for the experience. But it might be close. I will say that there’s still a lot I need to learn about publication and promotion and especially, how to keep working on old and new manuscripts while in the midst of active promotion. I will also say, there is definitely truth in the importance of neat, readable schedules and diligent record keeping.

I have never been good at holding numbers in my head. Words are what float in my head and pour out of my fingers. Yet this month I find myself plagued by numbers. They are consuming me, blocking new words from forming. This unexpected experience is similar to the first few months of each school year when I taught – every waking moment my brain was filled with what lesson was which day for which class and which student had this need versus that need and which day that week was upset due to an event and who needed work sent home because of illness or lice or unspecified…and oh, what am I teaching tomorrow?

Numbers are not negative, but I find these numbers in my way. Writing is a good way to purge negative thoughts, so I decided to try an enumeration exercise of sorts as a way to move forward.

21 Number Facts about Oliver’s Otter Phase in its first Month

Number of …

big celebrations: 1*

starfish cookies I made: 150

pounds of bologna bought for the party: 2

bologna sandwiches given to my dog: at least 17

bologna sandwiches my daughter thinks she ate: 8

starfish cookies personally eaten: 12?

starfish cookies still in my freezer: 30

library visits: 3

school visits: 5

museum visits: 2

times read book aloud: 26

number of kelp forests made: 2

otter ‘bellies’ painted: 80

otter body parts cut out: 480

reviews on Amazon: 1

reviews on Arbordale’s website: 3

interviews done: 2

events I forgot about: 1 **

minutes late to a meeting with my illustrator: 30

days late to pay my business license: 9

queries sent out to schedule a book event: 53

replies, which led to events scheduled for Oliver’s Otter Phase: 17

books sold at opening party: 25

books sold at library and school events: 0-6

books sold in the big beyond: unknown

comments from friends: inestimable and invaluable

Number that really matters: how many kids laughed, smiled, learned something or went off to write a story of their own.

Now what? If this purging helped, I shall now have some brain space to write. I’ll let you know!


* I was so touched and grateful for the friends who came.

**This is so embarrassing to admit. Luckily the venue graciously rescheduled.



Pup and Bear Warms my Heart


Pup and Bear by Kate Banks and illustrated by Naoko Stoop (schwartz & wade books, 2017) had me sighing and smiling with its sweetness, and crying before the end. The book has beautiful, lyrical language to pull us through the days of a wolf pup growing up and through his first year of life that he spends with a polar bear. My scientist side wanted to bristle at the unlikely relationship of a wolf and polar bear, but I threw such limiting thoughts away as soon as I began reading and fell under the spell of Banks’ words.

The illustrations are both calming and breathtaking, and complement the text perfectly. Throughout the book the polar bear tells the wolf cub, “I am not your mother, but I can…keep you warm, show you where to catch a fish, play with you, etc.” This book is a must read for any parent wanting to promote kindness in their children. I am not the same as you, but I can be kind is its underlying message, told in a sweet, child-relatable manner. Pup and Bear is a wonderful idea, beautifully executed. I hope you’ll check it out.


You Otter Love “Oliver’s Otter Phase”

I would be appreciative of anyone who bought a book writing a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Thanks so much.

Arbordale Publishing's Blog


Have you ever thought…what if I spent the day as an animal? Well, in Lisa Connor’s debut picture book, Oliver’s Otter Phase, one little boy spends the day as his favorite animal from the aquarium!

How did Lisa dream up this idea? It was after a trip to the Vancouver Aquarium, but don’t take it from us. Here is Lisa’s interview!

Were there any funny, special or unusual circumstances or incidents in the conception/writing of this book?

LisaConnorsI knew I wanted to write a story about sea otters after I attended a program on otters at the Vancouver Aquarium. I learned facts about sea otter behavior that I did not know, and I wanted to share this information with kids. I attempted to write a nonfiction book, but kept getting stuck, feeling it was too dry. Then I had a memory of sticking bologna on my tummy as a child…

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When Cloud 9 is Overshadowed by the News


Oliver’s Otter Phase is two weeks old already! It has been a busy week between planning a big release party, visiting schools, libraries and the Virginia Discovery Museum. Am I floating on Cloud 9? Not really. In the wake of yet another terrible mass shooting in Florida and the political aftermath, it has been hard to feel excited about my new book. By hard I mean, is it ok to be happy about something when the world seems so messed up?

I do believe we have to live and embrace life no matter what, as best we can. I do believe there is hope for positive change and I believe in the young people in our country – their voices need to be, will be and are being heard. I am proud of the students marching to protest gun violence and the need for safe, gun-free schools.

What I am really feeling in the midst of these competing feelings – angst and anger with the state of our government juxtaposed with joy and excitement at sharing my book with children and their families – is the need to hunker down and keep writing. I am writing for children, yes, but I am also writing for the future.

Two things I read this past week have helped me realize it is ok to want to write, that books can have a powerful influence as guideposts for readers of all ages. As we learn more and more about animal intelligence and are methodically bumped from our self-directed pedestal, reading and the ability to create fiction may be the main characteristics that make us human. So perhaps reading can save humanity.

An article by Niko Maragus, The Children’s Book that Made me Realize it’s Okay to Be Alone, is well-written, and worth your time. It focuses on Maragus’ realization that one can be happy and find love besides (beyond) the romantic love that we are led to believe by society is the only way to find happiness. However, for me, it also strengthened my sword-arm* and validated my desire to instill wonder about our world in children. It is my way of spreading hope and instigating change as much as someone else needs to march in protest or run for office.

I’m also reading The Trees in My Forest by Bernd Heinrich. Books about nature and natural history have always been my favorite. Might I reach adult readers as well as children with my picture books? I have had positive feedback from adults too, as they tell me they learned something new. I believe such learning can increase our ability to feel compassion for not just our home planet and the other species we share Earth with, but also for fellow humans. While a lot of this compassion does exist – it’s just hard to tell from the news – clearly we need more.

In the beginning of a chapter on acorns, Heinrich includes a quote from Mikhail Gorbachev:

“The ecologization of politics requires us to acknowledge priority of human values and make ecology part of education at an early age, molding a new, modern approach to nature and, at the same time, giving back to man a sense of being part of nature. No moral improvement of society is possible without that.”

If only we’d instituted a ‘Leave No Child Inside’ kind of structure to our educational system decades ago. How might we have slowed climate change, better-protected endangered species, and stopped pollution events from harming us? It is easy to slip into hopelessness when I ponder the what-ifs. But instead I can try to reach out and show and share the marvel of life on earth.

Heinrich writes, “If we envision ourselves as participants in the same grand, complex web of interactions as the forest, then planting acorns is like planting part of ourselves. The morality that comes from such a vision of ecosystem-as-life is a common thread that, if taught and encouraged, could unite all of mankind.”

I couldn’t agree more.

kelp  Waddell4



*Phrase adapted from title of Brenda Ueland’s book Strength to Your Sword Arm.




My library likes to profile seasonal-themed books on the top of their shelves, which made it easy for me to spot the lovely cover of NORTH: The Amazing Story of Artic Migration by Nick Dowson and illustrated by Patrick Benson (Candlewick Press, 2011). This book is beautiful and so much more than informative. It creates a mood, almost like seeing a beautiful sunset or a listening to a lovely ballad.

NORTH is a close look at the seasons in the arctic and the animals that make epic journeys to arrive for a few weeks of warmer weather. The prose is beautiful; I want to read it again and again:

“Each year in spring, many kinds of animals travel to the Arctic.

They come because they know there will be lots to eat and space to feed and

breed and roam in.

From across the world, millions risk everything to fly, walk, or swim here.


Dowson goes on to profile many of the epic journeys of specific species with more beautiful words. Benson’s watercolor illustrations add depth to the magic.

I am a firm believer that children need to be awed by the world around them, and especially by nature before we can ask them to save it. So I found myself steeling for the big BUT towards the end where we are told how we are ruining yet another special place on earth. I was so pleased that this did not happen. There is back matter that explains climate change and this knowledge is essential for us to understand. But not first, not until the wonderment is found.

This book creates wonder. It’s a brilliant, highly recommended experience about a place most of us will never go and a phenomenon hard for humans to fathom. I hope you’ll check it out.


From Earth’s Point of View


The next time your kids say they’re bored, show them a copy of Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by David Litchfield (Henry Holt and Company, 2017) to give them a better sense of time. Earth is anything but boring. However, it spent millions of years feeling lonely in its early years. How do I know this? Earth is the narrator in this book, and we get a kid-friendly glimpse into evolution from Earth’s point-of-view.

Personally, I think this is an ambitious topic to tackle and McAnulty does a brilliant job of making it accessible to young readers. Adults may find fault with how it was simplified – for example, someone, namely bacteria, was around when oxygen appeared because oxygen was a byproduct of the bacteria’s life processes – but this really is minor and not what’s important in a children’s book. I only point it out because someone may.

The book is a nice mix of funny, engaging and simple, yet full of specific facts, something not at all easy to do in a picture book for a young audience. I love the illustrations and the personification of Earth, the moon and the other planets in our solar system.

The end of the book portrays humans and our good and bad effects on Earth in a sensitive manner that empowers readers rather than frustrates them into indifference. Again, a difficult feat to accomplish in a few pages.

I may never wrap my head around how long billions of years really are. I may have had a better chance if I had read this book when I was young. I highly recommend Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years. It just might make your young reader forget all about being bored, and I’m pretty sure they’ll be awed at our amazing Earth.



Giving Thanks with The Thank You Dish


We love to teach children that it is important to give thanks or to be thankful for the good in their lives. I think giving thanks is crucial to creating kindness and happiness in the world. Trace Balla in The Thank You Dish (Kane Miller, 2017) does an excellent job of not only giving thanks, but of digging deeper into all the events that led up to the thing for which we are giving thanks.

The Thank You Dish is perfect for Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day when we share with those we love. However, I think this book is important anytime we let life’s harried pace overshadow simple joys. I think kids and adults will enjoy pondering the events that lead to our successes and joys in life whether it is our daily meals, a job we wanted, a new pet, or our homes and families. Taking the time to ponder these events can lead to a deeper understanding of gratitude.

It would be easy to make a game – for in the car, at the dinner table, before bed – of thinking up the chain of events that leads to and item or condition worthy of thanks. Who says character development can’t be fun?

If you’re interested in a lesson plan to use for K-3rd grade, go here.