Writing quote

Sure, it's simple writing for kids...Just as simple as raising them.
— Ursula K. LeGuin

Sunday, January 29, 2012

BOOK REVIEW—Stormin' Norman, a Soggy Doggy

        In Andy Allen’s Stormin’ Norman, the Soggy Doggy, a quiet walk on a warm summer day leads to near-disastrous results when Norman falls into a fast-moving creek while fetching a stick. Unable to swim back to shore, he is quickly swept downstream and his owner, Andy must dive in to save his best friend.
This gentle story about a boy’s bond with his beloved dog is complemented by vibrant, eye-catching illustrations by Brian Barber. Effective picture books are marriages between the text and illustrations, and some of the artwork in this book reveals why. When Andy grabs what he thinks is a stick in the water, the picture shows what the text doesn’t say, that the stick is attached to a big log under the surface, and as the log floats away from shore, its weight carries the hapless pooch with it. Children with pets at home will certainly relate to the tale of Andy’s heroic efforts to rescue his dog and recognize the loyalty that is borne out of unconditional love. 
  Although rhymes can be fun to read for little ones, and if done well, kids get caught up in the musical cadence, it is an extremely difficult thing to accomplish. Rhymed verses and poems are a different ball of wax altogether. But trying to fit an entire story into rhyming meter takes tremendous skill and a highly attuned ear. Few writers can make it sound natural. Dr. Seuss and, more recently, Alice Schertle (her rhyming book, Little Blue Truck, is a big favorite in our house) are two that come to mind when I think of great rhyming books.
There are moments when the rhyming in Stormin’ Norman rolls off the tongue, “But this day was sunny, the weather was grand. Andy called Norm with a leash in his hand.” The next two, though, illustrates the unevenness of the rhyming that can occur when you try to force the rhyme to fit the story: “Then Andy set off with his dog by his side, And his puppy excitement, Norm just could not hide.” and shouldn’t it really be “Then Andy sets off...?” to make the verb match the personal pronoun?
The story also begins with a man (we presume it’s an older Andy) telling a young boy a story; the ending would have been a little more satisfying if it had ended with (or “come back to the beginning”) the man wrapping up the story for the boy. As it is, readers are left wondering who that little boy was in the beginning and what happened to him?
Apart from the distraction of the uneven rhyming, the book’s humor will appeal to kids, from Norman’s tug-of-war with the stick to a fish donning the glasses Andy lost in his rescue attempt.  And what kid who’s ever owned a dog, can’t take a big sigh of relief when Norman is safe on dry land, and back with his loving owner Andy?

Book Reviewer for BookPleasures.com

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


     Congratulations to Ryan Keith of Kirksville, Missouri who was one of 685 people who entered the GoodReads Cixi, The Dragon Empress Chinese New Year giveaway. Ryan will be receiving a free signed copy of the book.

BOOK REVIEW—A Lesson My Cat Taught Me

     I am now reviewing books for BookPleasures.com. This week's book review is Saul Weber's book, A Lesson My Cat Taught Me.

     A Lesson my Cat Taught Me is a chapter book for early readers by Saul Weber. This is the author’s brief summary of the book: Jennifer and her mother find a friendly, abandoned cat.  They soon discover it only has one eye. Jennifer calls the cat Uno, and learns that despite its disability, Uno is capable of doing more things than her other cat, Mr. Tickles. When Hillary, who is in a wheelchair, joins her class, Jennifer sees her as a friend rather than a girl with a disability because of what Uno has taught her.
     The black and white sketches by Nancy Lepri lends the book a sweet, simple feel that harkens back to books we grew up with 30 years ago. The message the author is trying to convey—that kids with disabilities are no different than other kids, and Jennifer learns this lesson through observing her “disabled” cat—has great appeal, and it is a lesson of tolerance and friendship we hope that kids of all ages will take to heart.
     This is a self-published book, and while there may be many talented self-published authors in the book world, the lack of editorial oversight is often a problem. In A Lesson My Cat Taught Me, punctuation errors, typos, missing words only serve to pull the reader out of the story and provide distractions I’m sure Mr. Weber did not intend.
     While the story is a sweet one and the characters are likeable, the pacing is somewhat slow because of lengthy passages of dialogue where much of the exchange is between Jennifer and her mother about feeding the cat or changing its litter. Uno’s disability is that it only has one eye, hence the name. I had expected that Uno would somehow overcome the challenge of seeing with one eye, and that the “lesson” she teaches Jennifer is about how she adapted to the disability of her impaired vision. However, the tricks Uno performs with Jennifer’s patient coaxing has to do with selecting which hand Jennifer is hiding the treats or begging for a treat. For me, this diluted the “lesson” of Uno dealing with its handicap.
     The relationship between Jennifer and Hilary, the new girl in school with a wheelchair, has the potential for encouraging kindness, tolerance, and acceptance of others different from ourselves. It’s a little too quickly glossed over, and I would have liked to see the author spend more time on developing this friendship and on how Hilary either triumphs over her disability or not let it impede her, and less time on Uno’s tricks and eating habits.
     A Lesson My Cat Taught Me could have benefitted from some tight editing, but overall, the book’s message is well-needed, and it truly is a sweet story.

Reviewer for BookPleasures.com

Monday, January 23, 2012


    Kung Hei Fat Choi! The Year of the Dragon. Cixi, the last empress of China was nicknamed "The Dragon Empress" because of her supposed greed, lust for power, and notorious bad temper. However, this term was probably coined by Western journalists as Dragons in Chinese folklore are not the fierce, fire-breathing beasts of Western literature. Rather, they're benevolent creatures—rulers of the Heavens and Oceans. They're water symbols and are considered good luck because they can bring the rain and good harvest.
   If you're born in the Year of the Dragon, you're passionate, brave, enterprising, tactless, conceited and quick-tempered. Find out more about the Chinese horoscope here.
   Some Chinese New Year rituals of note: clean your house from top to bottom, resolve old arguments and pay off any debts before the New Year to start the year off with a clean slate. But do not sweep your floor on New Year's Day lest you sweep your good luck away. 
   Luck and wealth are significant New Year themes. Common gifts on this holiday are "lucky" red envelopes given by married people and the older generation to children and unmarried people. It's a wish for a prosperous year, but the act of giving red envelopes is also supposed to bring the giver and receiver good luck. Potted peach blossoms make beautiful adornments for the home, but also symbolize fertility. The more blooms on Chinese New Year, the better. Tangerines because of their round shape and orange color resemble gold coins, so signify wealth.
   The Chinese New Year feast consists of foods that represent certain prized qualities either based on the sound of the Chinese character for that food (for example the word for fish sounds like the word for abundance and so represents prosperity when eaten) or on their appearance (noodles or sea moss symbolize longevity because of their length). Dumplings like pot stickers look like the old Chinese yen, so symbolize wealth. My favorite Chinese New Year food item is turnip cakes. Actually made from daikon radish, and not turnips, they symbolize "rising fortune" or "good omen". Here is a great turnip cake recipe I use.
Turnip cake batter—rice flour, chinese sausage
green onions, dried shrimp and cilantro
Turnip cakes after steaming

Yum! Fried in oil and ready to eat!
Home made potstickers

Pot stickers in the pan


Thursday, January 19, 2012


   My article on Lek Chailert, known around the world as the Elephant Queen, has been published in the January issue of Faces magazine. The article profiles Lek's great love and compassion for the endangered Asian elephant, and her commitment to saving them from abuse, returning them to their natural surroundings, and preserving their dwindling habitat. To this end, Lek and her husband, Adam, founded Elephant Nature Park in 1995 as an elephant sanctuary. Once numbering around 400,000 in Thailand alone, there are less than 30 - 40,000 Asian elephants on the planet!
   These gentle giants need all the help they can get if they are to survive. They can eat up to 650 lbs. of food a day which is the equivalent of about 2,600 hamburgers! The upkeep can be pretty costly, especially since many of them have been abused and enter the sanctuary with injuries. There are vet bills, medicines, equipment etc. If you're interested in saving the Asian Elephant from extinction, please visit The Elephant Nature Park website for more information, and how you can help.



Tuesday, January 17, 2012


   Chinese New Year is Jan. 23 this year, the year of the Water Dragon. Want to win a free, signed copy of Cixi, The Dragon Empress? Enter the Goodreads.com giveaway:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Cixi the Dragon Empress by Natasha Yim

Cixi the Dragon Empress

by Natasha Yim

Giveaway ends January 24, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

And while you're at it, try your hand at this fun Cixi, The Dragon Empress quiz.

Monday, January 16, 2012


   Wow! I can't believe it"s been awhile since I've entered a post. Life has been extremely busy, and for awhile so was the promotion for the book. It'll take me forever to catch up on everythiing that's gone on in the last 3 months, so here's a quick recap, and then on to my New Year's resolution to set a consistent blogging schedule. This year, I also plan to post more reviews of books, particularly children's books, as I am now reviewing books for BookPleasures.com, and also posting various writing wisdoms that I have gathered from around the blogosphere.
   Following on the heels of Goosebottom Books' successful launch at the Book Passage in Corte Madera, we held a launch party in Ukiah where Gretchen Maurer (Mary Tudor, Bloody Mary), Shirin Yim Bridges (Agrippina and the publisher of Goosebottom Books), and I were the authors present. We had a fantastic turn out! It was truly wonderful to see all our friends and families, writing and literature friends in the audience. We presented our dames, signed books, held a raffle where the proceeds went to our public library, and generally, had a very good time.
Setting up for the event

What a great turn out!
Presenting Cixi, The Dragon Empress

Gretchen Maurer (L), Shirin Yim Bridges (C) and me (R) with our
Dastardly Dames' books.

      In November, Gretchen and I did a blog tour with World of Ink Tours, which included an interview on Blogtalkradio.

Listen to internet radio with WorldOfInkNetwork on Blog Talk Radio

Then in early December, I finally received the offer of terms from Charlesbridge Publishing for Goldy Luck and the Three Chans which my agent, Karen Grencik, is still negotiating. Sheesh! It takes forever, but looking at all the language requests she's made of Charlesbridge, half of which I don't understand, I'm so glad I have an agent to wade through the legalese.