The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans (PPBF)

Updating a classic from the archives. Memorial Day 2016 will be observed on Monday, May 30th. This book is a wonderful resource for young readers who are curious about the history of the red poppy tradition. With gratitude for all those who have served, and their families…

bildebok from Cathy Ballou Mealey


The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans
Written by: Barbara Elizabeth Walsh
Illustrated by: Layne Johnson
Calkins Creek Books, 2012

Suitable For Ages: 5-9

Themes/Topics: Memorial Day, veterans, poppies, Flanders Fields

Opening: “March 1917. German U-boats had sunk another American ship – and the nation was outraged! Would the president call for war? Would Congress agree? Moina Belle Michael prayed not…”

Watch the Book Trailer

Brief Synopsis: An earnest tribute to the dedication of Moina Belle Michael, a schoolteacher from Georgia who was inspired by a poem to launch a national campaign establishing the red poppy as the symbol of sacrifice and courage of America’s soldiers.

While searching through her father’s WWII memorabilia, ten year old Barbara Elizabeth Walsh found a postcard addressed to her mother with a red poppy pinned to one corner. Her father explained who “The Poppy Lady” was and how kind she had been to him and…

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For Whom the Tweet Tolls


Now that I have an ‘official’ teen, she possesses a cell phone and a fledgling presence on various social media platforms. For the split millisecond that she had an account on Twitter, she checked @CatBallouMealey to decide whether my profile was worth a click to follow.

“Wow, Mom – you have over 1,000 Twitter followers?” she asked incredulously. “Who are they? And why do they follow you?”

For a moment I basked in the glow of her Twitter awe, secretly knowing that even 1,000 amazing followers is mere peanuts to most hard-core social media types.  Together, we scrolled through my feed. “Mostly book people talking about book stuff,” she concluded.

Newsflash: I did not gain a new follower.

But I’m OK with that, and here’s why.  As I scrolled down memory lane through all the tweets I had shared,”favorited” or “RT’ed” I had an epiphany.

Most of those tweets were really for me.

The cover of that book I had read and loved? I should post a Goodreads review.
That illustration I had admired? It sparked a story idea I must jot down.
The social media events I promoted (#LibraryWeek)? Gather some books to donate!

So while I might occasionally nudge bookish friends to join the Twitter bandwagon (Yes, I do mean you Jama and Maria) it is probably for my own rather selfish reasons. If you are already one of my Twitter followers, thanks for helping me share and spread the book love!

Have you ever thought about what you choose to tweet and why?

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PPBF: The Thread Soldier

2016 March B 032The Thread Soldier
Written by Anne Heathers
Illustrated by Esteban Frances
Harcourt Brace & Co NY, 1960
Ages 3 and up

Brief Synopsis (from book jacket): When a little mouse, playing with a spool of thread, discovers he has made a thread soldier, he is overjoyed. Now he will make for his new friend not only clothes, but a horse and a park to ride in. And if he can do this much himself, how much more could he make with the help of his friends?

Opening  A little mouse went out for a walk and found a spool of thread. “Whoopee!” he said. “Now I can have some fun.” He started to unwind the thread – and to pull it round and round. Suddenly he realized that he had made a flower. “Well, well,” he exclaimed. “If I can make a flower…”

Themes: Creativity/Imagination
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You never know what treasure you might uncover when browsing in a used bookstore. This tiny volume – about 6×7 – popped out as I dug through the picture book stack. The yellowed dust jacket told me it was vintage, but the story is remarkably fresh! I just loved that line of jaunty mice marching across the top. And inside – look!

The mice gleefully make a fine world for the soldier, using their mousey imaginations to the max! It’s all fun and games until someone begins to reel in the spool of thread. How will they save their friend before he disappears?

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2016 March B 033Links To Resources:

Try some string art for kids

Make some glued yarn pictures

Read Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955) and Ellen Stoll Walsh’s Mouse Paint (1995). Compare and contrast the three books!

Perfect Picture Book Fridays are the creation of the children’s book author Susanna Leonard Hill. Susanna maintains a complete list (alphabetically and by theme) of all reviews with new books being added every Friday. It’s a wonderful resource if you’re looking for book activities or books with a particular theme.

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Happy Groundhog Day Phyllis!

Sharing a favorite from the archives today!

bildebok from Cathy Ballou Mealey

Let’s see what our good friend Phyllis from Susanna Hill’s charming book Punxsutawney Phyllis is up to for Groundhog Day 2013!

Phyllis was a tad grouchy when emerging from her den, lured by Pig Newtons and cream-phylled cookies. When we informed her that tomorrow was SuperBowl Sunday, she got all excited to cheer for her favorite team, the New England Patriots!

Feb 2013 008brady(I think Phyllis has a little crush on QB Tom Brady)

                                 She seized the TV remote and refused to come outside to check on  the status of her shadow.

Feb 2013 009

                                                                                                                                                              Even her friend red squirrel couldn’t persuade her to come out and play!

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                                                                                    We were worried how Phyllis would take it when we told her the Pats were not in the big game this year.  She promptly buried her head in the peanut bowl, refusing to listen.

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Feb 2013 014After nibbling a few nuts, Phyllis regained her composure and headed out to check…

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Of Brian and Bats, Sendak and Seismosaurus

bats beachI had the good fortune to hear Brian Lies (Bats at the Beach) speak at Lesley University recently while he was sharing some book writing and illustrating wisdom with MFA students. Brian is a thoughtful, eloquent speaker who tugged at our heartstrings while sharing his inspiration for Bats at the Library. If you ever have a chance to hear him speak – go! I’m certain he also delivers dynamic school visits to wow the kiddos as well.

Brian’s presentation included slides of his works in progress, illustrations as well as a tall stack of yellow-lined notepads filled with words, scribbles and cross-outs! He also shared a list of books to consult for further information about picture book writing.***  One title was new to me, so I jotted it down and found it at the library. Let me tell you – it was a treasure!

zinsserWorlds of Childhood The Art and Craft of WRITING FOR CHILDREN, Edited by William Zinsser.
Each chapter is devoted to one author, transcribed and adapted by Zinsser from talks given at The New York Public Library in 1989. The voice of each author, though modified for print, really shines, reflecting his or her unique perspective on writing for children. Sendak talks about music, and how he was impacted by The Wizard of Oz.  Rosemary Wells digs deeply into the reasons that all good picture books require emotional truths. Jack Prelutsky’s discourse on poetry is delightfully playful and inventive, filled with marvelous examples of his work. My favorite? The seredipity of a local seismosaurus discovery and his use of a thesaurus while wrapping up a book on dinosaur poems.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Seismosaurus – Image via Wikimedia Commons

If you are a fan of Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus, I highly recommend that you read Zinsser’s book as well. Brian Lies Michelle Knudsen was right. There’s nothing like hearing from the masters to encourage and inspire you!


*** Offering a big GIANT mea culpa to Brian and the brilliant Michelle Knudsen who was the first presenter and the author who actually made this recommendation. Clearly I am out of practice on taking good notes, or was far too engrossed in this dynamic pair of presenters to do it properly!  Huge thanks to Brian for sending me an incredibly kind message so that I might correct my mistake, and allow me to apologize to Michelle for the error in my post.

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Champagne, grapes and pigs

2015 December B 012The New Year is coming! The New Year is coming! Will you hop, skip, stroll or stumble toward the finish line for 2015? Whether you are hopeful, thoughtful, gleeful or glass half-full, perhaps you’ve pondered how to prepare for 2016. Chill champagne? Eat grapes? Swap pigs? Walk your suitcase in a circle? OK – those last three suggestions can be found here on the Scholastic Parent & Child website.

Many of us may write resolutions, although I tend to write very few worth sharing. But in the spirit of full disclosure and unvarnished authenticity, here are some of the resolutions that I am making for 2016:

  • On February 17, 2016 at 4:52 PM I will eat a piece of cheese.
  • On June 22, 2016 I will wear a blue shirt.
  • On September 9, 2016 I will jump on the trampoline at 5:38 PM.
Photo credit G. Mealey

Photo credit G. Mealey

Now you may not be overly impressed, but those resolutions are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) and I know that I have a high probability of success. Sure, I could become lactose-intolerant, making February’s goal more challenging. Or if the trampoline blows away in a microburst, I’ll have to visit SkyZone come September. But no matter what happens, those resolutions will keep me honest about making plans and promises.

That honesty comes into play with my long list of writing goals for 2016 ranging from the very broad to minutely specific. I plan to tackle those with the same determination and positivity. If your resolutions also include goals around writing and/or publishing books, don’t miss this terrific post from Miranda Paul at the Children’s Book Academy. Miranda created a checklist of 100 ideas to help you along your writing journey. I’ll bet you get a feeling of accomplishment by crossing off things you have already done!

However you choose to observe, embrace or celebrate the coming year, I wish you all the best. Thank you for reading along!

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A PiBoIdMo 2014 O.M.G. Moment

piboidmo2015participantIn October I was cleaning and organizing files, preparing to add 30 more inspirational picture book tidbits from Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo 2015 Challenge. I discovered a manila folder, stuffed with notes, stuck in a three ring binder. Although I’m not prone to text-speak, I had an O.M.G. moment. But let’s begin at the beginning…

Day 7 of PiBoIdMo 2014 featured this brilliant post from Jen Arena about her George Stanley Idea Generator.  Jen said George was known around Golden Books as “Captain Hook because, more than any other author we’d worked with, George had a knack for coming up with books with hooks, books that kids really and truly wanted to read based on the idea alone.” She offered this clever chart and suggested we pick two words from the chart, mash ’em together with a kid-friendly hook and PRESTO! Story inspiration.






In December Tara emailed me with the welcome news that my name had been drawn as the winner of the Day 7 prize, a thirty-minute brainstorming session/Q&A/editorial consult with Jen. Wow – out of 523 comments, somehow I’d gotten very lucky!

I knew I didn’t want to waste this great opportunity. Jen has twenty years of experience as an editor with Putnam, Golden Books, and Random House and has been writing for kids just as long.  Her books include Besos for Baby and 100 Snowmen, plus dozens of readers for DK, Penguin Young Readers, and Kane Press. 100 snowmen

I sent emails thanking Tara and Jen, promising to be in touch after the holidays to set up the consult. Next I asked my library to reserve every book Jen had written so I could study them. The books trickled in, I made a list of questions, debated which of my PiBoIdMo ideas I could ask her about, and then…forgot to follow up.

Until October! When that manila file fell into my lap, I sent a speedy apologetic email and Jen kindly agreed to chat with me despite the lengthy delay.  And it was terrific! Jen shared up-to-the minute information on picture book trends and how editors, authors and illustrators work together to polish manuscripts into books. We had a chance to indulge in some myth-busting about the book industry (i.e. do clown and/or snake books sell?) and she gave me some terrific suggestions for a particularly pesky story idea that I’m trying to nail down.

Write from the perspective of a different character, she suggested, or change the time and place where the story occurs. Write multiple versions and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each. The best advice she gave me? “You’re only limited by the amount of time and effort that you are willing to dedicate in order to write the best book you can write.”

Jen also offers freelance editing services if you wish to contact her via her website. I’m sure you would find that she is a skillful, reflective and talented resource able to help you strengthen and refine your writing skills.  I hope sharing a few tidbits of  Jen’s wisdom will serve you well as you begin turning PiBoIdMo 2015 ideas into stories, or mashing them up a la the George Stanley Idea Generator. And if you are lucky enough to have your name drawn as a PiBoIdMo prizewinner – I hope you prepare well and follow-up promptly!

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