Ruthie and the werewolves

I met ten-year-old Ruthie for the first time last May. This is hard to believe since she is the daughter of my dear friend Eloise.

I traveled to Greensboro, NC this fall to visit the Porter clan  – Eloise, Logan (dad), Mary Mac, Francis, Logan (son) and Ruthie. It may have been difficult for Ruthie to contribute to the conversation since her mom and I DO NOT STOP talking when we see each other, plus her three older siblings were with us as well.

three girls

Mary Mac, Francis and Ruthie.

Ruthie does have a lot to contribute and a cool haircut and engaging personality to match!

Fortunately for me, I got some time alone with her when we went to a local bookstore, Scuppernong Books, on Saturday night. We visited the graphic novel section together and compared notes.

Ruthie picked out How to Slay a Werewolf: Professor Van Helsing’s Guides by Miles Teves and sat down at dinner and didn’t look up. That’s the sign of a good book and a true reader! (I picked up Anne Hood’s Morningstar: Growing up with Books. I recommend it and anything she’s written.)

Ruthie was kind enough to answer some questions her new book.

What made you pick out this book? 

I picked it because I have an interest in fantasy, but not cutesy fantasy. It isn’t dark and creepy but something kind of inbetween.

It seemed like you couldn’t put it down – you read it all through dinner – that’s the sign of a good book!  What made it so interesting? 

It’s a funny reference book about werewolves. It talked about a lot of things I didn’t know about werewolves. I like how the book’s werewolves compared to werewolves in different fantasy realms. Like in Harry Potter, werewolves cannot change on command and cannot be killed by silver, but in this book they can. I like how there are illustrations.

Did you have a favorite part? 

My favorite part was the advertisement for a silver trap. It was funny because it said things it contained and none of them are silver.

Can you tell me about some of your other favorite books and why they are your favorites? 

The Harry Potter series because I like the mix of fantasy and real life problems. Harry was struggling with a lot of the same issues kids do …. Like trying not to be self centered, and getting angry at people without understanding they sometimes cannot control it.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorites because it shows the power of animals in a family, but that change doesn’t happen straight away. It also shows that friends can be found anywhere. I like how the author just shows Opal’s everyday life without forcing problems on her. For example when the librarian told her about her grandfather’s candy (Litmus lozenges).

G-man graphic novels by Chris Giarrusso are some of my favorite reads because they are funny yet realistic about being the youngest child. He gets pushed around but he has super powers .. which is not normal.

I also like the Mighty Skullboy graphic novels by Jacob Chabot because they are super funny because he’s a little Kindergartner who wants to be a villain, Skullboy. But when he comes to class his teacher thinks the name Skullboy is french.

G-man and Skullboy books

Ruthie showed me some of her favorite books.

Why do you like reading? 

It’s a mix of the standard generic answer and my reasoning:  It’s not like the book takes me places, but it allows me to experience things in fantasy that I could never experience in real life.

Anything else you want to share? 

Books don’t just help you academically they also help you with your imagination which is needed not only as kids but also as grown ups.

Even businessmen, which sometimes seems boring, need imagination. For better advertisements when they need more business.

Thanks, Ruthie!

Ruthie’s mom, Eloise, was my first guest blogger when she wrote about Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman.

a girl and a woman

Ruthie and Julia.

Going home again with the help of books

They say you can’t go home again but you can visit.

This is what we did with my mom on a recent trip to her hometown of Mt. Vernon, Indiana. I wanted Max and Calvin to see where she grew up and where my brother and I spent a lot of time during our own childhood.

It was magical. My mom brought along a book of photographs she had bought her parents; she had marked for us various places we might see on our trip.

We started the day in the lovely and historical New Harmony, Indiana, which was as fascinating to the boys as it was to me as a child.

Gigi and Calvin

My mom (Gigi) and Calvin with her book about Southern Indiana.

We then drove on to Mt. Vernon where we visited my grandparents’ graves, their former homes and my mom’s friends, Susan and Will.

When we stopped in front of the house where my mom grew up, I was also interested to see the house of her former neighbor, Mrs. Ruth Hanshoe. I remember going into her kitchen as a child and she had a world map on the wall. Pins marked the many destinations she had visited.

Mom on Walnut St.

My mom and her childhood home on the left and the Hanshoe house on the right. Walnut Street in Mt. Vernon remains lovely.

Last year, Calvin and I read a book Mrs. Hanshoe had given my mom for Christmas as a girl – Eleanor EstesThe Hundred Dresses. Illustrated by Louis Slobodkin, this is an evergreen story about kids being mean and learning that there are consequences.

When Calvin and I first read this book, I asked my mom about Mrs. Hanshoe. I was curious about this woman who was a world traveler and encouraged children to read. My mom shared that she was a second grade teacher and her husband was a farmer.

“They had a cottage on the Ohio River and we would go there for pitch-in suppers,” my mom, Mary Alice, said. “She was a wonderful neighbor and teacher. She was sweet and kind and liked kids.”

My mom recalls that she was so tiny that the day they first met her, my uncle thought she might be a child. When my mom graduated from high school, Mrs. Hanshoe came over to visit wearing her own high school graduation dress and it still fit!

Signed book

I don’t know what year Mrs. Hanshoe gave this book to my mom but the book sold for $2.50. “Her printing was beautiful,” my mom remembers.

I’m so glad we took this trip with my mom. My husband and kids were interested or at least patient with this sentimental trip and seemed to enjoy hearing our stories about our childhoods and my dear grandparents.

When I asked them what their favorite part of the trip was, here’s what they reported:

“I liked seeing Gigi’s house and the Ohio River and the swings there,” said Calvin.

“I liked the cabin with the hole where you could see the world upside down, “said Max.

(He is describing a pinhole where you really could see the outside projected upside down once your eyes adjusted to the dark.) I found a blog post about New Harmony that mentions this cabin; I recommend it.

When you give a book, sign it! Some day a writer or reader may find it and be curious about you.

(As a sentimental writer, I’ve written about my grandparents in the past. Check out this post about them and the book The Secret Garden.)

Mrs. Hanshoe

Mrs. Hanshoe, left, with my Papa (Verne McClellan) and Gigi (Alice McClellan).

Her sister was a witch

I recall reading Witch’s Sister on a hot summer day and being chilled to the bone. It wasn’t our air conditioning – it was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s tales. The stories were the perfect combination to feed the imagination – two young girls, a strange old lady, a creepy house on a hill, a menacing cat, stalking crows and an ancient cemetery.

Set in the 70s, these books remind me of my own childhood.

Lynn and Mouse, the heroines, had the freedom to roam their small town as my friends and I once did. Lynn has a brother and sister; Mouse’s parents are divorced and she lives with her dad, her mom has moved away. There’s also a creek, the mentioned graveyard and family dinners.

drawing of graveyard.

Lynn and Mouse hang out in an old graveyard.

I still find these books spooky as an adult. In the first book, you are left to wonder if old Mrs. Tuggle is really witch who is trying to bring Lynn’s teenage sister Judith into her coven – are these coincidences or Lynn and Mouse’s active imaginations?

girls and witch

Lynn and Mouse and the scary Mrs. Tuggle.

A group of crows start to follow Mouse in Witch Water and you’re pretty sure the girls are spot on. By the third and very creepy book, The Witch Herself, you have no doubt. It all came back to me when I reread the books, as well as Gail Owens’ perfect illustrations. I still love Lynn and Mouse and it takes me right back to my own childhood friendships.

In my hometown, there was a creepy and ancient graveyard; rumor had it that it was haunted by Sarah Farris.

graveyard and school

This is where the scary incident in the graveyard happened. My elementary school is behind it.

I don’t know why her name was picked from the old markers but kids talked about it. The graveyard was adjacent to our elementary school playground and adding to the mystery and fear was the time a man was sitting there during recess. We watched in awe and fear as the police came and took him away. In my memory he was dressed in robes like Obi-One Kanobi and for weeks I refused to walk past the graveyard, much to my parents’ irritation since it was near our house.

My brother lives in our old neighborhood and we walked over on Easter Sunday to take a look at the graveyard. In broad daylight, this ancient and very small space no longer unnerved me. We talked about the fear of Sarah Farris and her so called hauntings from the grave. Looking around, we only found the grave of Sarah Jewett – the Farris House was one of the original houses in our village, so somewhere the names must have been mixed-up in our elementary school lore.

Gravestone

The only Sarah we found in the graveyard was Sarah Knapp Jewett.

I recently asked my friend Jeanne if she remembered the books. Her eyes got wide.

YES! You loved them!

Still do. My only regret is I reread them so quickly.

And I still find crows suspicious.

*After writing this post, I realize there are two more books in this series I didn’t know about – I’ll be checking them out!

You can’t force memories

You can’t force your kids to take a trip down memory lane.

I’ve tried.

A few weeks ago, on an impromptu visit to the Cincinnati Art Museum, my family caught the second to last day of a Robert McCloskey exhibit, Make Way for Ducklings.

What a treat!

Blueberries

An image from the exhibit.

As we perused the art, I babbled to the kids about Blueberries for Sal, a favorite of mine. I read my copy to them when they were little.

“I’m not sure I remember it,” one of them said.

I don’t know why it surprises me what I remember and what they don’t.

Meanwhile, Eddie had his own memories of McCloskey’s Homer Price, remembering that the boy’s uncle invented an amazing donut machine.

My brain was tickled by images of The Man Who Lost His Head, written by Claire Huchet Bishop and illustrated by McCloskey. I had totally forgotten this book until I saw it in the exhibit. In the story, a man wakes up without his head and tries to replace it with a pumpkin, a turnip, a wood head. As a child, the whole thing struck me as a bit horrifying as a child.

Turnip Head

The man tries a turnip for a head. See why it freaked me out?

When we got home, I dug out our McCloskey books, including Blueberries for Sal.

“Oh yeah!” both Max and Calvin said.

A few nights later, I tried to get them to read it out loud with me. Together.

Bad idea.

They wanted to read in goofy voices and made each other laugh so hard there wasn’t any reading going on.

I couldn’t get too annoyed because I remember cracking up like this as a kid. And I realized I was trying to force my memory on them. I liked the book, they liked the book but at nine weren’t ready to be nostalgic.

But I do recommend checking out this Hamilton, Ohio native’s work.

signed copy

My 1975 copy of Sal that was a gift with Don Freeman’s classic Mop Top.

 

 

Books by the Banks & Mama has a Secret

The kids and I went to Books by the Banks this fall. They enjoyed the crafts and we picked up some new books.

The best part was our conversation.

When we sat down to have a snack, Calvin asked me if you could get married more than once.

I decided to take the opportunity for full disclosure.

“Yes,” I said. “You know your dad was married before and I was too.”

They know their dad was previously married  because their brother Ben is the evidence but it hasn’t come up that I was married too.

“YOU have a secret!” Max said, scandalized and excited.

“It’s not a secret,” I said, trying to sound casual. “It just never came up.”

Calvin had already turned his attention to his new book but I could tell Max was mulling it over.

“Well, then what happened?” he asked. “Did you meet Dada on a dating app?”

This is hilarious if you know Eddie.

He lost interest and went back to looking at his new book.

Kids with Ben Clanton

Meeting Ben Clanton.

A few days later, Max said, “I mean, I knew you had lots of boyfriends but I didn’t know you were MARRIED!”

What gave him this idea, I wondered, thinking this would make my friend Fernando cackle. A few more days went by and Max asked me, “Did you and this boy you were married to have a house?”

“Yes,” I said. “And you know, baby, sometimes things just don’t work out…blah blah blah,’” I tried to explain it and said way too much.

“Uh, huh,” he said, losing interest.

He hasn’t asked me about it again.

We did buy some books.

We met Ben Clanton and he signed his new book Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt. (He was super nice!) We’ve since checked out his book Rot, The Cutest in the World, about a rotten and very cute potato.

We also discovered a new series for Max: Behind the Legend Books by Erin Peabody. To date, he’s read about the Loch Ness Monster, Zombies, Werewolves, Big Foot, Unicorns. And here’s a fun fact: she’s from Cincinnati.

Fiona – Cincinnati’s favorite baby

Fiona

My encounter with Fiona.

It was love at first sight. Sure, I knew Fiona was cute, but when I saw her floating serenely during a snooze, I was hooked.

My kiddos? Not so much.

“Look at the cute fish in there with her!” they shrieked, rushing past the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s 570 pound baby.

I thought they were crazy but maybe they were on to something. In WCPO community reporter Lucy May and WCPO cartoonist Kevin Necessary‘s new book, “My Best Friend Fiona” Trixie the Tilapia is the narrator. The book will be published by WCPO and a portion of the proceeds go to the Zoo.

book mockup for website copy

I’ve had the privilege of working with WCPO community reporter Lucy for many years. She’s an excellent writer and fair reporter. I jumped on the chance to talk to her about the book about Cincinnati’s favorite baby.

Here’s our converstion. (Kevin said Lucy covered my questions and gave this a thumbs up!)

How did the book come about?
WCPO’s General Manager, Jeff Brogan, came up with the idea. He sent an email to one of our bosses that basically said: Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do a children’s book on Fiona and have it ready in time for the holidays? Lucy could write it, and Kevin could illustrate it. And the idea took off from there.
 
Do you have a favorite Fiona story? Any personal interactions with her?
I have been a Fiona fanatic since the day the zoo announced her birth. I was lucky to go to the media preview that the zoo hosted one evening when Fiona was first starting to swim in Hippo Cove. I was trying to get a selfie with Hippo Cove in the background, and when I turned around, I was face-to-face with my favorite hippo!

She was staring right at me, and I literally squealed and fell to my knees, losing any appearance of journalistic objectivity.

I know she’s too big for it now, but I would still love to get in the pool and swim with her. 
 
Have you and Kevin worked together before?
Yes! Kevin and I first collaborated in 2016 on a comics journalism style story called Childhood Saved. That turned into a series of three stories, and we completed the third one earlier this year – just weeks before we started on the book.
Kevin_and_Lucy_with_toy_hippo

Kevin and Lucy bring a stuffed Fiona to the office.

Did you get to work with Cincinnati Zoo as part of your research process? 
Our editor, Tasha Stewart, coordinated with the zoo from the start to make sure the folks there were on board with our telling Fiona’s story in a children’s book. People at the zoo got to read the story and see the illustrations before anyone else outside of WCPO. Fortunately, they decided to carry the book in the zoo’s gift shops after it is published. But honestly we didn’t need to do too much additional research because the zoo has been sharing so much information about Fiona, and I have been following her story closely.
Fiona book

Fiona was only 29 pounds at birth.

 
What’s your favorite thing about Fiona?
My favorite thing about Fiona is that she has been able to give people hope – hope about how preemies can beat the odds and how communities can come together for a common cause.

She has been a daily dose of happiness and hope at a time with a lot of division and nastiness in the world.

What do your children  think about your book?
My daughters are 21 and 16. They both love Fiona and are excited about the book. Trixie the Tilapia, who is the narrator of the story, is actually named after my younger daughter. My younger daughter’s middle name is Beatrice, and my husband calls her Trixie. My older daughter seems to be taking that pretty well.

Kevin shares that his cats, Huckleberry and Grayson aren’t big readers, no matter how much he tries to get them interested.

Please share one of your favorite children’s books.
I have soooo many favorites. One of my favorites for sure is “The Paper Bag Princess,” written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko. It’s a great girl-power story that turns the tables on fairy tale conventions. And the illustrations are terrific, too.

 

Thanks, Lucy and Kevin. Congratulations!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the zoo’s recent loss. Henry, Fiona’s dad, passed away a couple of weeks ago. Thanks, Henry for all the smiles!

Tortoise Love

I told Max not to stick his hand in the water.

Of course he did it anyway.

We were at Spring Grove Cemetery looking for turtles in the ponds. We hit the jackpot when several swam up to us. Others must have preceded us on our turtle hunt; the turtles seemed like they were expecting us in food and swam towards us eagerly.

“He bit me,” Max squealed. “He loves me!”

The skin wasn’t broken but there were two lines on his finger. We left because the geese were starting to descend on us.

I can’t pinpoint when Max and Calvin became obsessed with turtles and tortoises but it’s lasted about five months. They have a special tortoise voice that they use when they play. They have tortoise tea parties.  I was thrilled to come home and find they played turtle school with their babysitter Colette. She even made them turtle worksheets. They kept talking about Mrs. C – and I finally figured they were talking about Colette. Mrs. C is her  turtle school name.

They really want a tortoise/turtle for a pet but I’ve read they can carry diseases; I also don’t want to take care of anything else. I will let them indulge their interest by watching funny videos on YouTube. Did you know turtles will chase a house cat, nipping at their feet? It’s their way of showing affection – I think our Henry would faint.

Turtles

Here’s what you do when your mama won’t let you get a turtle. You make your own terrarium.

I took advantage of the tortoise rage at my house and hit the library:

IMG_6110

Max reading about tortoises.

We like:

One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Jane Chapman.

National Geographic Kids Turtles by Laura Marsh.

National Geographic Kids Mission Sea Turtle Rescue by Karen Romano Young and Daniel Raven-Ellison.

National Geographic Kids Sea Turtles by Laura Marsh.

We celebrated all things turtle on their eighth birthday. (Hard to believe they are this old!) Here’s their birthday cake:

IMG_0200.jpg

I’ll have to remind Max that he once made a card in preschool that said I was special, “because my mama saved a turtle in the road.” My friend Annette and I were walking – in Spring Grove – and diverted a little guy back back to his pond.

Ah, turtles.