Book Recommendation: The Phantom Tollbooth

I came across the recommendation of the book “The Phantom Tollbooth” when I was reading a blog post about escaping the “cult of busy”.

I am not sure how I missed reading this book (ages 8 and up) in my youth, but I am glad that I read it now.

Although Phantom Tollbooth, written by Norton Juster, was originally published in 1961, it still has much to say about today’s life.

After receiving a mysterious package that contains a Tollbooth, the bored Milo goes on a fantastic journey.  He meets characters such as the not-so-wicked Which, King Azaz the Unabridged, and the Mathemagician, and ends up going on a journey to bring back the Princesses Rhyme and Reason. Accompanied by the watchdog Tock and the Humbug, he travels through lands such as Reality, Infinity, and Ignorance, and learns some valuable lessons along the way.

The part that most resonated with me was when the threesome meet the Terrible Trivium who gets them to do some unimportant tasks for him. His purpose, you see, is to keep them at easy and useless tasks, so that they will never have to do the ones that are important and difficult. Sound familiar?

It’s a book that I will be giving to my daughter to read when she is old enough.

First Magazine Submission


“In the world of Cupboardland, there lived three little jars called Oregano, Basil, and Thyme.”

This is the first line of my jar story, which I am excited to report I sent last Friday to be considered by a magazine. Woo hoo! This is my very first magazine submission.

I studied several magazines, before deciding to send it to the Cricket group of magazines, which includes “Ladybug” and “Spider”.

I had also considered sending it to the Highlights group, which includes “High Five”. I decided to go with the Cricket group for several reasons. The primary one is that “Highlights” buys all your rights, including copyright.

I would love to get my work printed in the Owl family of magazines. So far my research has shown though that you need to apply for a position there. So maybe once I get a few magazine stories out, I will be able to work there.

Now comes the waiting: 3-6 months. Ugh!

So onward to my next challenge, a contest at “Children’s Writer”.

Have you had any “firsts” lately?


Writing Tips from Published Authors


Last week, I attended a book talk given by four published authors. It was wonderful, as the crowd was small, so it was like chatting in your living room.

The authors were all writers of crime novels, which is not normally what I read. But all authors have valuable advice to give.

One of the questions involved how the authors made things realistic. Did they use props?

This is one of the questions that has plagued me. Do I really need to live through an experience in order to write realistically about it?

The authors had various approaches. One said that she knew little about mechanics However, one of her characters was mechanically inclined. So she asked her husband, who knows something about the subject, what skills her character would need. Another is a travel writer, so although she based some of her writing on her own experience, she also used experiences of others she had met. A third talked about how a scene just came to him, a scene that involved talking about the torture of someone.

The authors also talked about basing their physical descriptions on people they already knew. Otherwise the characters would just come out the same, short or tall, not unique like people are.

So every author had their own approach. You just need to find the one right for you.

National Picture Book Writing Week Results


I am proud of myself. I wrote 7 drafts in the 7 days of the NaPiBoWriWee challenge.

1. On day 1, I wrote a draft about a boy who discovers what happens when he doesn’t take care of the toys he has and the garbage he produces. I had thought about this idea a long time ago, but had never written it out. I discovered that it would make a better chapter book. I hope to write it out soon, but if not, then I can finish it at the chapter book challenge.

2. On day 2, I wrote a draft based on a true story, when my daughter threw her hat out of a train a couple of years ago. I think it would make a great picture book, and I will continue working on it.

3. This day I wrote all about the monsters that I had created for my daughter several years ago. I realized that it would make a better humorous article for parents. Now I just need to figure out where I could submit it. Any ideas?

4. I asked my daughter’s school librarian what sort of picture book gap that she saw. One thing that she mentioned was character development. This is a hard topic. I did make an attempt today though. I wrote up a story about a little boy who wastes his time complaining about having to do things rather than actually doing them. This is a subject a lot of parents can relate to, and I have never seen the issue addressed.

5. I wrote a draft about a story I had created for my daughter several years ago. She gave me several characters, and I made up the story based on them. In this case the main characters are a cat and a witch. It could be a picture book, but the story is a bit weak. Maybe it would be better as a magazine article.

6. This draft turned out to be shorter than a picture book. It was more like a board book. Or maybe inbetween.  The main character was bicultural/biracial. I blogged about the lack of bicultural characters in books in this blog. I would like to see more of them.

I also did a dummy book exercise today, as suggested by the organizer of the challenge. This was very helpful. I learned that I am too wordy. I used my jar story. I am still trying to decide whether or not it would make a better picture book or a better magazine story. It could become a series. But it would not be so good as a stand alone picture book, because of the cliffhanger.

7. This was the last day, and I finally started the picture book that I had thinking about since November, when I took my children’s writing course. I knew it would involve a lot of research, so I put it off. But I really enjoyed the research I did. I only wrote about 300 words, but at least I know the direction I am going now.

The story is about dinosaurs. I know, you’re thinking that the subject has been overdone. But I have a new angle on it. The trouble with dinosaur books is that we don’t really know what happened, and so the theories are all controversial, which makes writing a book about them all the more interesting.

So it was a very productive 7 days for me. Now I have 7 stories that I can work on!

What are you working on these days?

The Value of Writing and Drawing Challenges

This month I am involved in two challenges.

I have discovered that I like participating in challenges. The first one I ever participated in was the chapter book challenge in March. Not only did I finish the draft of a chapter book (my first ever), but also I wrote two fairy tales for their anthology (coming soon!) The community has been amazing. Even though we are in May, we still post messages about various issues.

So when I heard about a couple of other challenges going on this month, I jumped at the chance.

The first is Doodle Day May, which I joined to have a bit of fun. But I also am participating, because I am a firm believer that in order to enhance your writing skills, it helps if you engage in other forms of art. I blogged about this before; see my blog here. I am not great at skills like drawing, but I do enjoy myself.

Here is my day 1 sketch, a zentangle of my name.

I have my daughter participating in this challenge too. Day two involved monsters, which she loved doing. She drew a lot of them, ones that I would have never even considered.

I also drew a lot of monsters. It just so happened that I was going to write a picture book draft on monsters, so that sketch challenge came at the right time. I drew a lot of the monsters that I had planned to write about, and it really helped to clarify things for me. I not only discovered some of the monsters I had written about probably wouldn’t work, but I also discovered some new ones.

So then I wrote about my monsters for National Picture Book Writing Week (NaPiBoWriWee), which is the second challenge I am involved in. During this week, you are supposed to write a picture book draft every day. I am proud to say that I have written a draft every day so far. But I discovered that my first draft would be better as a chapter book and my third as a humorous article directed at parents. That leaves me with one potential picture book. Still, I would never have known that if I had never tried to write the drafts. And it would have taken me a lot longer to write the drafts, if I hadn’t joined this challenge.

There are many challenges offered throughout the year, and I am keeping my eyes open. Not only are they motivating, but the community support is fantastic.