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.

Happy Birthday Nell!

What do you give a girl on her first birthday? Books, of course! What do you do when her mamas are well read? You choose wisely.

My little friend Nell turned one this month. Her moms are my friends Andrea and Hope.

I met Andrea first when we taught girls’ writing classes together at Women Writing for (a) Change. Andrea is an excellent teacher – her day job – and a loyal friend. She shows up with food in times of celebration and struggle, drops off flowers, sends a card when you need cheer and brings coffee and muffins when your kid is in the hospital. She’s also a great hostess. Nell’s first birthday was quite the impressive Eric Carle extravaganza. (You could try every food from  The Very Hungry Caterpillar!)

Nell party

Nell’s birthday was straight out of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Hope is also a cool and talented mama. Performer, writer, yogi, teacher, she is wickedly funny and rocks a Boden dress. She helped me during my last job search by editing my resume and letter. She made me laugh too.

IMG_1423

The birthday girl.

I’ll enjoy watching this family bloom. It will be lovely to see Nell grow.

Here are the Max and Calvin tested books we bought Nell.

The Library by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small. Elizabeth Brown is an obsessive reader who one day donates her book-filled home to her town to create a library.

The Library

I can relate to Elizabeth Brown in The Library. She loves books, cats and her stuffed bear.

Brave Girl. This gem by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, who also illustrated one of our favorite books about Horace Pippin. Clara is an immigrant girl who works as a seamstress in horrid conditions in a factory. She bravely organizes a “revolt of girls” who strike for better treatment. My kids were captivated by the story, based on true events.

IMG_6194

These girls mean business.

Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl. Brother Ben bought this one and it’s fascinating for adults and kids. From A is for Angela Davis to Z is for Zora Neale Hurston is introduces “rebels, trailblazers and visionaries who shaped our history and our future!”

Rad women

So many rad women to learn about!

Happy Birthday Nell!

Eric Carle and Books about Mom

At the end of the school year, Max was talking about something other than baseball.

He kept bringing up writer and illustrator Eric Carle.

Like most families, his books are a staple in our collection and the kids’ early childhood. Carle’s bright colors, great art, fun stories make for good fun.

Max told me they were working on their own Eric Carle books at school and I could see it at Young Author’s Night. I asked his first grade teacher Ms. Brown about it.

“We have been studying the collaging technique used by Eric Carle,” she said. “The students can see that it is okay to see artwork in a non-realistic way.  The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse (watch Carle discuss on video!)  is an example of Eric Carle’s  passion for “thinking outside of the box” with his artwork.  To me, this is how most children start off thinking as well so I’m very excited to foster that!  Why not paint a horse blue or a giraffe green?  Right?”

The results were spectacular. Max’s book was The Very Energetic Komodo Dragon.

IMG_6113

The komodo dragon is one of Max’s favorites.

Young Author’s Night is one of thing that makes Fairview-Clifton German Language School special. The teachers and students work so hard and it’s a time to see their work.

This year’s books included books they made about me for Mother’s Day. I think most of my mom friends can vouch that these are hilarious and a sometimes a little embarrassing.

Besides stating that “win” is my favorite drink, here’s what I do with my free time, according to Calvin. When I relax, I like to lie on the couch.

IMG_6162

Art by Calvin. Note that I’m wearing pink!

A lot of it was sweet, like Max’s picture of us reading together:

Max and Mama reading

Max and me reading. Yes, we have a pink bed. It’s fabulous!

Eddie and I cracked up at Max’s take on what bugs me. He said, “Really? Isn’t it you guys that talk back?”

Talking back

Eddie is not the one who talks back!

You can bet these books will always be cherished!

What’s your favorite Eric Carle book? Better yet, what did your kids share about you at school?

Charlotte’s Web and Patrick Swayze

I made Max cry.

I didn’t mean too – he just kept badgering me – about the end of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams.

He wanted to know what happened at the end of the story. His teacher was reading it to them at school.

Spoiler alert. I told him Charlotte died.

chweb

Max’s first grade class read this beloved book.

My sensitive boy burst into tears and I felt terrible.

“Why did Charlotte have to die?” he wailed.

“Well, spiders don’t live very long and it ends up ok,” I said. “She left behind lots of babies and some of them stay with Wilbur.”

I tried to empathize with him by saying I cried as a kid when I read that Jack the dog died in one of the Little House on the Prairie books. This didn’t help.

Did I mention he has a tender heart? The other day he cried because he accidentally killed a cicada he was playing with. This is the same day I had to break it to the kids that our favorite rabbit, the infamous Patrick Swayze and resident of the coffee shop Sidewinder Coffee, had died. This one got to me too. Patrick was a regular in our lives – Mama gets coffee, kids get to see Patrick. Both kids cried when I told them and I got teary too. I think squashing a cicada the day he found out about Patrick was a bit much for Max.

IMG_0618

Max and Patrick about four years ago.

He buried the cicada and put it in a hole with a post-it that said sycada.

We also put a peony on it. While I consoled him, I wondered to myself what Patrick’s owner Kim did with the stuffed bunny he used to hump. (You have to find humor, right?)

When I told Calvin about Patrick he cried and said, “I didn’t care when Patrick’s girlfriend died.” For a short while, Patrick had a girlfriend named Eppie who wasn’t as friendly.

bunnies

Patrick and Eppie in their salad days. 

I eventually calmed Max down about Charlotte and we talked about how maybe it was better to find out at home than in class – that was my spin on it.

I asked him about it later in the week and he said a couple of kids cried when they got to the end of the book in school.

I think this is beautiful. I’m glad kids are getting emotional about books – it tells me something is working.

And we’ll always miss Patrick Swayze.

Baking with Sarah Varon

We bought a lot of butter last week.

After reading Sara Varon’s delightful and touching graphic novel Bake Sale, the kids and I felt hungry for baked goods.

Varon’s book features Cupcake, owner of a bakery, and friend Eggplant. It’s a story about dreams, friendship and a lot of baking in Cupcake’s shop. Her illustrations are both charming and funny.

bake-sale-cover

Eggplant and Cupcake inspired the Rush kids.

Calvin suggested we follow Varon’s recipes and it seemed like a good Saturday morning plan. Of course, Max and Calvin couldn’t agree on a recipe, so I let them each pick one. Max chose cupcakes and Calvin chose the brownies – both requiring a lot of butter.

We set out to Clifton Market to buy the ingredients. Before we left, we read the recipes and made a shopping list.

IMG_5743

Calvin checks out the brownie recipe.

IMG_5746

Max made our shopping list.

Baking with little kids is an adventure and I summoned my most yoga-like self as they cracked eggs and helped me measure. We started with the cupcakes.

IMG_5750

Calvin tests the cupcake batter.

By the time we started mixing up the brownies, the kids lost interest but I carried on like the sugar addict I am.

The results were delicious. Max thought the cupcakes were best, Calvin liked the brownies. I think the cupcakes may have been my favorite.

IMG_5754

Success!

We love this story and its adorable illustrations. Here are the recipes below:

IMG_5782

Cupcake recipe.

IMG_5783

These brownies us a lot of butter! Yummy.

IMG_5784

Varon also has a recipe for peppermint brownies in the book.

I’m not the only blogger who has featured this book. Read Jama’s Alphabet Soup for a very charming description of this book.

 

Meet Clare and Wolf Hollow

My friend Clare suggested I read Wolf Hollow by Lauren Volk.

Did I mention Clare is in fifth grade?

I love talking to this bright, interesting girl about our shared passions – Project Runway and reading. We both thought it was scary the first time we read about the panther in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods.

Fox Hollow is one of my favorite books this year – it packs a punch. It’s the story of Annabelle, a young girl, in 1943. Annabelle is dealing with a horrible bully at school, prejudices that come from the war and an odd, but kind and reclusive neighbor, Toby.

This book is for ages 8 to 12 but I think any adult would love it.

ClareGraff (1)

Clare picks out great books.

Clare rode her bike over to my house to talk about the book. Here’s our conversation:

What was your favorite part about Fox Hollow?
I just liked the whole theme of the book. The specific parts I don’t want to give away. It was so beautifully written. I just really loved it.

I really liked Annabelle – she was 12 and I’m 11 and I could relate to her. I just really like her – she’s so powerful. She’s so cool.

Even though the story was set in World War II, why could you relate to Annabelle, the main character?
She was good at keeping secrets and got down to business and didn’t play around like her other friends. I can relate to her being aware of what’s going around her.

She helped a lot of people – and I like to help people.

I can also relate to Annabelle because many people misunderstand people right now and also, people are very unjust.

Wolf-Hollow-by-Lauren-Wolk-Book-Review

Wolf Hollow is a John Newbery Medal winner.

Can you tell me about your mother/daughter book club?
We started three years ago but it barely feels like a year. We usually choose a book that’s based on girl power and being strong. We like reading about girls facing adversity who are strong. After we read the book, we have a meeting and a discussion. The moms talk and the girls act out the book in the living room.

What are some other books you’ve read?
Pippi Longstocking, I am Malala and I love Harry Potter.

My mom usually reads us books before bed – we’re reading Hatchet about a boy surviving the wilderness. He’s successful! Brian’s Winter is his (Gary Paulsen) second book. It’s an awesome book.

More about Clare
She is a competitive swimmer for Cincinnati Marlins, she’s in choir, plays the clarinet and likes art and acting. She has a pet tarantula named Rose.

Thank you, Clare!

This post is dedicated to the memory of author Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Thank you for giving us Little Pea (and more).