Before you do your holiday shopping..

One of the best Christmas presents I ever received was the Little House on the Prairie set. It was a gift I enjoyed for years and still do since I recently pulled them out with my own kids.

Before you head out with your holiday shopping list, I asked Max and Calvin for their input:

Max’s holiday picks:

  • Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski
    “It shows what people eat and what animals they love. It shows what sports they play.” A
    ll ages.

Calvin and Max check out Maps.

Calvin’s holiday picks:

  • Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson “People might like it because they might like the roller derby.” 7 and up.
  • Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems
    “I love it because it is very funny and I love doing the voices.” (Look out for a future blog post on this one.) All ages.

Calvin loved Roller Girl and I did too!

The three of us agreed on:

  • I am Helen Keller by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
    It’s amazing to read the story of Helen Keller and the book has braille in it. All of Meltzer’s books are winners. All ages.

My suggestions, Max and Calvin approved:

  • The Night Gardner by Terry Fan and Eric Fan
    This book is beautiful! One of our favorites this year. All ages.
  • The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
    A lovely tale about a girl and her grandfather. We adore this book, illustrated by the author of Mr. Frank. All ages.

The Imaginary Garden is a sweet story about Theo and her Poppa.

For ages 1 month to 100:

Anything by Todd Parr or Mo Willems.

Do you have any memories of books you received? What are your ideas for the holiday gifts?

Talking with author Diane Stortz

I did a little self-promotion last fall. Not my usual plead to read my blog on via social media. I took a flier I made to Cincinnati’s Books by the Banks, hoping to intrigue some writers and get them to be blog guests.

It worked. I reconnected with Brandon T. Snider, now a fabulous author and actor.

I also heard from Cincinnati author and editor Diane Stortz – how lovely is that? Author of several adult and kid books, her writing centers on her faith.


Here’s my interview with Diane:

How long have you been writing children’s books?
When I was working as a children’s book editor in-house, I sometimes wrote a picture book or board book to fill out a line. I started trying to publish on my own after I began to freelance in 2006. A book for adults came first, and then The Sweetest Story Bible was published in 2010.

Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process?
I try to stay well aware of the marketplace and not duplicate what other authors are creating. I want to offer books that parents recognize as a great value and children want to return to again and again. Finding just the right words can be difficult—sometimes I write whatever comes to mind and then go back to seriously revise!

Why did you decide to write about your faith?
I love making the Bible accessible to children, helping them develop the perspective that it’s not primarily a book of rules but a revelation of who God is, what he does, and how much he loves and cares for them.


What gives you joy about writing?
Well-written words have a rhythm, a musicality, that I enjoy hearing and creating. And seeing the finished book and paging through it for the first time is always a joy!

Your book Words to Dream On includes suggestions for bedtime and Words to Dream On. Can you tell me more about that?
With every story there’s a short, related Bible verse—wonderful words for children to be thinking about as they drift off to sleep. The tips for bedtime at the back of the book come from experience and the advice of experts—things like establishing a consistent routine and sticking to it as much as possible, and ending noisy, energizing activities well ahead of time.

Do you read your books to your grandchildren? Can you share some of their reactions?
I do read to them, every chance I get! They think it’s exciting that they can find my books in bookstores. And when they really pay attention to a story, or talk about it later, that’s so encouraging to me!


Diane’s grandchildren find her books at Barnes & Noble. Cool grandma!

Can you share any favorite books that you read to your girls when they were growing up?
Some that stand out are the Little Golden Books’ Forest Hotel and The Animals’ Christmas Eve, plus The Man Who Lost His Head, which my husband had enjoyed when he was a boy and searched for a copy to read to the girls.

Could you share some words of encouragement to parents wanting to instill a love of reading in their children?

  • Keep books accessible to children around the house. Start babies and toddlers with sturdy board books and expand the types of books as children grow—picture books, chapter books, Bible storybooks, nonfiction.
  • Let children own some books, but use the public library too. Children enjoy choosing their own books from library shelves, and there’s no cost involved!
  • Show that you value reading. Be a reader yourself. And read to children regularly, even when they begin to read independently. They value this time with you!

Thanks, Diane!

Diane had a new book out I AM:40 Reasons to Trust God.

You can connect with her via social media and at her website:


Brandon T. Snider – author and actor

Brandon T. Snider

Brandon T. Snider

You may recall me writing about my brush with fame at this year’s Book by the Banks event in Cincinnati. It was with someone I actually knew – Brandon T. Snider was a student when I worked at Mariemont Schools in my tender 20s.

He’s written multiple books including the award-winning The Dark Knight Manual, Minions on Ice, and Scribble and Sketch (Regular Show), to name a few.

Not only does Brandon act (think Inside Amy Schumer), sometimes, he does research during bachelor parties. He and I also have something in common – wearing fake hair on the Mariemont High School stage.

He graciously agreed to do a Q&A with me.

Do you have to do a lot of research for these characters or do you already know them? Or both?

The amount of research I do depends on what I’m working on. There are some characters I know backwards and forwards as was the case for the DC Comics Guide. I‘ve basically had all that information in my brain since I was a kid. However, to be safe, I consulted a variety of sources to double check statistics in order to make sure I get everything right.

When it comes to Adventure Time, Regular Show or any of the Cartoon Network stuff, I like to do marathon viewing sessions. I’ll watch newer episodes so I can get up to speed. If I’m focusing on specific characters I’ll make a list of relevant episodes where they appear.

Sometimes I get asked to work on projects where I don’t know a lot about the characters, as was the case with My Little Pony a few years ago. I got approached for that job as I was on my way out of town for a bachelor party weekend. The timeline was tight so I was sneak-watching episodes on my phone while people were enjoying themselves.

dc cover

One of Brandon’s many titles.

What do you love about writing?

Writing and language are how humans communicate. It’s how we share ideas. It’s how we express ourselves. I love challenging myself to go deeper, to find a way to connect to a new idea. The process of creation can be wonderful and heartbreaking but when you have a breakthrough it makes it all worth it. When I write something that speaks to a young person and gets them interested in reading and creating, it’s incredibly special. I love that too.

Another Snider book.

Another Snider book.

How do you balance writing and acting?

It can be tricky sometimes. I audition for a lot of commercials and when I book one it means that I basically have to drop what I’m doing for however long it shoots. If I’m on a deadline, that could be problematic. Thankfully, I work with some great editors so if something comes up we adjust the accordingly. Time management is an ongoing struggle but I find that if I can make a firm to-do list each day it really helps me focused on the task at hand.

You’ve come a long way since The Hobbit! Tell me about some of your acting gigs?

HAHA! I can’t believe you remembered that I was The Hobbit back in high school. One of the worst book-to-stage adaptations of all time. No disrespect to the source material but a bunch of high school kids trying to create a lush fantasy world on stage doesn’t quite work. My feet were covered in spirit gum and fake hair. But we had fun.

I went on to get a theater degree and moved to New York City after graduation. I’ve done an assortment of TV and theater but most notably I’ve been on Inside Amy Schumer a few times in recent years. I’m doing a short play in December with The Collective, a theater company here in New York. I do stand-up comedy from time to time. And you’ll even see me dancing like an insane person in a United States Postal Service commercial soon.

Max enjoying one of Brandon's Uncle Grandpa books.

Max enjoying one of Brandon’s Uncle Grandpa books.

What did you read as a kid?

I read a lot of comic books. I had major Justice League and X-Men phases. I was into the Time Machine series. As a very little boy I was obsessed with Barbapapa’s Ark. It was way ahead of its time in dealing with environmental issues and the ethical treatment of animals. It had a very hopeful message that didn’t sugarcoat humanity’s flaws. I also liked that the characters were colorful blobs.

Any advice for young readers and writers?

Keep reading and writing. And be patient. I was very anxious for growth and success when I was a younger person. I think that’s fairly natural. But you don’t hit a lot of life until your twenties and thirties. Sorry kids! Trust me, you’ll have so much great material to write about once you’re older. In the meantime, never stop writing and develop your skills.

What new books do you have coming out?

In 2016 I have a lot of cool stuff coming out: What Would Captain Kirk Do?, Adventure Time: Hero Time with Finn & Jake and my very first Mad Libs which was a dream come true to write because I freakin’ love Mad Libs.

Thanks, Brandon!

I myself wore a fake beard and wig as a Papa in Fiddler on the Roof at Mariemont.

More info

Check out all things Brandon on his website Cootie Kid.