Heroic Girls of Literature: Rosie (Rosie Revere, Engineer)



“Your brilliant first flop was a raging success!

Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!”


There are scientific studies on the value of failure. But ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER sums up the concept perfectly — and you get brilliant illustrations and humor along the way.

What I love about this book is that it’s NOT about one single person. The little Rosie character is helped by her caring, older Great Aunt. This is wonderful. None of us makes it on our own.

The inspiration-to-completion trajectory of the story is great. The gadgets created are fun. There is enjoyable silliness throughout.

We need to do way more celebrating of failure. And it’s related imaginative exploration.

Throw a “failure party” and read this book aloud!

I also love that Rosie makes a big, giant, colorful mess when she’s making things.

Written by:

Andrea Beaty


Illustrated by:

David Roberts



(c) 2013 Abrams Books for Young Readers


Heroic Girls of Literature: Irene (Brave Irene)


“She pushed out her lip and hurried on.”

Irene is a determined person. She’s stubborn at times when fighting for what she believes, and she’s a loving girl.

In this super book, she battles through adversity while having irritation at the presumption of the forces opposing her. Which is both kind of hilarious and admirable  — and of course, universal — who hasn’t felt insulted and mad about something keeping us from moving forward? (:

This story is a wonderfully illustrated adventure, with a warm, caring ending and lots of humor mixed in.

Go, Irene!

(And Go, too, Irene’s awesome mom!)

brave irene

Thanks to my friend Laura for giving this book to our family as a gift several years ago!

Thanks, William Steig, for the character, illustrations and story ~

bill steig

My Playlist


It was awhile before I heard about writers having playlists for certain books. Interesting concept. Some writers have certain customized soundtracks that they listen to while working on a particular story.

I myself wanted silence most of the time while composing the first draft of my WIP (work in progress). I would drive alone with the radio off and think — or go to the small apartment gym where we lived and look vaguely into the distance while my brain spun as I exercised. I didn’t want noise. Or, I wanted only the background of the jazz station that was piped into the exercise room by the apartment management.

But then it happened a few times that when I needed to work out (or my knees don’t operate properly) people were watching TVs in the small space so loudly so they could hear above the treadmill. So that meant I needed something to be able to create my own little bubble and concentrate in public. Thanks to our son, I figured out how to order songs off iTunes and put them on my phone.

These songs have now influenced and worked their way into my manuscript.

Or maybe it was the other way around – there are certain elements in the text (and in me, or that I see in life) that are also reflected in these songs.

While doing the elliptical, then floor exercises, then the treadmill — I listened to the songs below. They’re broken up into ones that I listen to in that order of activities. But I do sometimes mix it up. ‘Cause that’s the joy of modern technology.

Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson – the greatest song ever, to begin a workout with. Especially when getting started on that torture machine (the elliptical). It’s so upbeat and I appreciate the humor, i.e:

“I’m smoother than a fresh jar ‘o Skippy.” (:

“I’m too hot — hot da** — make a dragon wanna retire man.”

“Gotta kiss myself I’m so pretty — smoooch.”

Here are my favorite videos of dancing to Uptown Funk:

This 60 year-old dance teacher and her students have such energy in the first one! (: (: They’re at a competition and it’s amazing – you’ll be inspired. The second one is their appearance on Ellen.

Shake It Off – by Taylor Swift – just genius, and also a great beat for gettin’ ya goin’

Rich Girl – by Gwen Stefani & Missy Elliot — such a cool pairing and a cool song

Gangnam Style – by PSY – Love his philosophy of “Dress Classy, Dance Cheesy.” Plus any song that has actions a preschooler can enjoy, I will probably also like:

Kids know it’s just fun to jump around.

I Will Survive – by Gloria Gaynor – I love that the words can be applied to anything bad in our lives that we need to leave behind.

U Can’t Touch This – by MC Hammer – uh, again the humor … & also just the attitude

Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) – by Shakira & Freshlyground – goosebump inducing:

“You’re a good soldier — choosing your battles…”

“Pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and back in the saddle”

“When you fall – get up, oh oh — and if you fall – get up, eh eh”

[and then some stuff in another language – which I love]

Good stuff.

<– This one also gets listened to on repeat.

Single Ladies – by Beyonce – she’s awesome, so is this song

Footloose – by Kenny Loggins

Let’s Make a Better World – by Judith Hill & Tata Vega – 20 Feet from Stardom (Music from the Motion Picture) Believe me, you’re going to want this version of this song. You’ll need to buy the whole album, and it is SO worth it. These women’s voices…!!!

Lean On Me – by Darlene Love (feat. Lisa Fischer, Jo Lawry & Judith Hill) — see above — the soul in their amazing voices

Flashdance – by Irene Cara

Power – by Jeremy Loops

Fight Song – by Rachel Platten – I LOVE this song. I’ve listened to this one 15 times in a row before, when I especially needed a boost to continue writing work.

(Also by this time I was back up in our apartment and could do the last few exercises I do up there. One involves standing on one leg and throwing a beachball against the wall – so I could sing out loud and just dance around. :0)

Apparently this one was overplayed on the radio at one point, according to my husband. Too bad, because it’s awesome.

Brave by Sara Bareilles – I know she wrote this song for her friend. But like all good art, it has a universality to it that transcends even what the artist meant when creating. I think that also, the love that goes into something makes it more vibrant in the end.

Celebration – by Kool & The Gang

Unwritten – by Natasha Bedingfield – If this isn’t an anthem for writers, I don’t know what is. But it’s actually great for everybody ~

Staring at the blank page before you; open up the dirty window; let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find…

There’s that universality again.

Old Time Rock and Roll – by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band


Sk8er Boi – by Avril Lavigne

The Best of Both Worlds – by Hannah Montana – kind of makes me poignant listening to these words now, considering Miley’s life trajectory since then

Independence Day – by Martina McBride  – pulls at the heartstrings, but has hope somehow

To Daddy – she’s such a maestro, Dolly (Parton) is – what a storyteller

Let It Go – by Idina Menzel

I Love Rock ‘N Roll – sometimes I just wanna hear Joan Jett (& The Blackhearts) scream ARHWWWWUH!!!!!! That’s really the reason I listen to this song.

The Climb – by Miley Cyrus – great lyrics:

“I can almost see it, That dream I’m dreamin’,  I gotta keep tryin’,

Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose, Ain’t about how fast I get there, Ain’t about what’s waitin’ on the other side,

It’s the climb, Just gotta keep goin'”

— stuff like that

Emma Opening Titles (from Emma 1996 film) – for when someone’s blaring the TV & I want to read on the exercise bike

Thanks to all the writers, artists, musicians who brought this music to the world!

What songs are your favs for working out (or writing)? I’d love suggestions for others. Many people are much more ‘musical’ than I.

Mind Blown by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.



Unpacking books after our move, I was putting all the old, leather-bound ones up onto one shelf. We’ve inherited a few of these from basements (ah, to be back in the land of basements) on both sides of the family.

I came across two volumes written by the said Elizabeth.


Flipping open a small green and gold one rocked my world, when I came across this:

“And you,

An artist, judge so ?”

“I, an artist — yes :

Because, precisely, I’m an artist, sir,

And woman, if another sat in sight,

I’d whisper, — Soft, my sister ! not a word !

By speaking we prove only we can speak,

Which he, the man here, never doubted. What

He doubts is, whether we can do the thing

With decent grace we’ve not yet done at all.

Now, do it; bring your statue, — you have room !

He’ll see it even by the starlight here;

And if ’tis e’er so little like a god

Who looks out from the marble silently

Along the track of his own shining dart

Through the dusk of ages, there’s no need to speak;

The universe shall henceforth speak for you,

And witness, ‘She who did this thing was born

To do it — claims her license in her work.’

(from Aurora Leigh, Eighth Book)


Holy Crap!!!!

Was that ever powerful — made me cry and have goosebumps at the same time.

How she describes the  effects of a humbly but courageously made piece of art. How the creation has a life of its own. The proof that the artist is meant to do that, because of what she has made. Oh my goodness. And the inherent encouragement, person to person.

The book’s dedication to her father is also A-MAZING. Again, tears and goosebumps. We can sustain and comfort one another:


Finally, another wondrous and shining example of the wordsmith’s work in this description of “the church” ~


That none may take the measure of the place…

Heroic Girls of Literature: Raina (Smile)




I’d heard so much about this book before getting ahold of a copy at a school Book Fair. I’d heard that people liked it. I ended up loving it too. It was my first “graphic novel.”

What a great story.

Raina is technically not a character, but is based on the author’s own real life experiences.

The author/illustrator does such a good job portraying the time period, and her feelings and thoughts about friendship and her own life in sixth grade. Dealing with a dental emergency whose treatment stretched on made for good drama.

What’s a graphic novel? I’ve heard strong opinions, including that they’re not worth deeming “books.” I think this idea might come from the content of some comics being more about the violence and the action drawings than the story?

According to Oxford Dictionaries a graphic novel is, “a novel in comic-strip format.” So:  it’s a longer comic book.

Well this one’s a keeper. Not only are the awesome pictures integral to the emotion and tension of the book but they’re just nice to look at. What a pleasure to read an illustrated story for older readers.

This story is about an ordinary girl with opinions, to whom dramatic things happen. It’s about someone with normal family conflict, and ultimately increased self awareness and development as an artist and person after some life experiences. Wonderful.

(c) 2010 Scholastic Graphix

Thanks to Raina Telgemeier



Heroic Girls of Literature: Grace (Amazing Grace)



“Grace was a girl who loved stories.” — is the first line of this book.


Grace acts out the most exciting parts of any stories she hears, sees, reads, or makes up herself.

This little girl and her buddies … and the ILLUSTRATIONS! in this book are fantabulous.

Theatrical Grace celebrates and seeks out adventure and journeys of the imagination — I love that in this character.

When she doubts herself and is criticized, it’s wonderful to see her bloom again after encouragement and move forward with determination.

It’s also a great story of fairness, “putting your mind to it,” and supportive family (who are women).

Lovely and goosebump-inducing. Be inspired by Grace to follow your dreams! (:

This little girl character is full of color and life, but has real struggles too.


(c) 1991 by Mary Hoffman, Caroline Binch


My Work Space



It’s interesting to see people’s work spaces.

In fact, it seems to be a trend for vloggers to share theirs (and some of those vids, people? waay too long for me! i don’t need to see the placement of every plant. but it’s exciting when it’s yours, I guess).

So I’ll keep this short and sweet  — (maybe that term is relative?) ;).

How and where I work varies.

Here’s a picture of my ‘home office’ assistant making sure that my current draft doesn’t get out of hand.


He likes to provide support where he can.


As I write this, we’ve been living in an apartment-slash-house-in-a-different-state for the past year and a half. We’re still in the apartment but have sold the house, have rental spaces full of storage, and a contract on a new, smallish house.

I don’t have a separate desk or office. Even when I did, I never typed or worked at a desk or even at the kitchen table. I guess that’s not my style.

What I do instead is a hybrid of comfy chairs at home and rooms at the local library that can be reserved for two-hour blocks per day.

Here’s “Tweety” our car, next to “Flower” her much fancier friend, parked at Library 21c. Most study rooms at this library come with white boards and large tables. I actually do sit at those tables and spread out my books and papers and laptop. It’s a wonderful, multi-use place.


I love coffee shops, but there I get too interested in people’s conversations to do much good composing or revising. At the beginning I did mix it up and go to some of these – just to have different surroundings – and to keep the flow of words coming. I’m grateful there are several good ones to choose from around here.

In the heat of a stretch of creating the first draft from scratch, I would spend the morning at one library, come home for lunch, and then head back out to another library for the afternoon. I got good at packing up my stuff and knowing what I needed, and I have a nifty little rolling suitcase/backpack that I love.

Basically, I’m a bag lady of a different, literary kind. :]



A misty view from the library at the USAFA.

Driving from one place to another also gave my brain time to fit things together or make new connections.

Back at the apartment I made an inspiration wall. Let me explain a few of its items.


Regarding the paper in the top left: “Women Don’t Do Things Like that!”

I’ve read like a bullet train since I was a teeny girl. When I was maybe nine or so I remember going through a stage where I was fascinated with biographies. I’d ride my bike to the library and I can still picture the section where the biographies were on the top shelf against the wall. Out of the maybe twenty of them there for kids, perhaps there were three about women. I seem to remember Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale … and that’s it. So I think this lack of representation of females’ contributions to history — is one reason I’m currently finding I need that reminder and motivation on my wall.

The princess sheet below says,

Sometimes, on dark days, I think…”nobody cares and nobody’s coming.” Then I remember who sends thoughts like that…and I straighten my crown.

~ attribution unknown

I like that because I feel like that sometimes, and it’s important to slay those lies.

The partial white sheet is a quote from The War of Art, by Stephen Pressfield. It says:

“The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she’ll improve it. Where it triumphed, she’ll make it better still. She’ll work harder. She’ll be back tomorrow.”

*keep those huskies mushing*

I just needed to keep telling myself this. Especially at a certain point.

Below that is a quote from Jerome Jarre‘s excellent video (<– click on the link to watch it), saying:

Be Brave. Believe in yourself. Do what you think is right. Take risks. You have this one life.

I found it important to get out of the apartment every day, even though sometimes I wouldn’t technically have to.

The local library here in Monument, Colorado is also a good place to work.

They have a gorgeous, inspirational quilt display annually.


And they have, “Daisy Quackers” who lives at the front desk and wears holiday-themed attire year-round.


Little kids love to feed the geese at the pond at the back of this library. I love to watch them. Many times I like to work in an area which has a low level of activity. The buzz is inspirational. Sometimes though, more quiet, concentrated work needs a quieter space.

As I’ve mentioned already, driving — long distances (or even short) can be a very, very good time for writing, and thinking about different aspects of characters, letting the story develop and show itself, letting your mind drift creatively.

I did a lot of driving when we were living in the two states. Here’s a shot of an amazing cloud formation from one of those trips. I think we were still in Texas at that point. Lots of composing mentally and ideas developed on those miles of highway.


Lastly, I carry these two items in my purse. Somehow, this is part of my work space, too. I like the thought that they’re in there. (: Plus, if I’m seated behind a crying baby on a plane I might be able to use the hedgie finger puppet as entertainment over the seats.


Working. And Space to do that. What a gift.

How and where do you work?


Heroic Girls of Literature: Claudia Kincaid (From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)



This is the first post in a series celebrating my favorite girl characters in books.

In these reviews I’ll try not to spoil the story for you, but at the same time I’ll attempt to give a few reasons why this character is stellar and I like her.

I’ll plan on alternating classic books with contemporary ones.



I love Claudia. She’s unhappy and does something about it in her own inimitable way.

This is the first sentence of From the Mixed Up Files….

Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. That is, running away in the heat of anger with a knapsack on her back. She didn’t like discomfort; even picnics were untidy and inconvenient: all those insects and the sun melting the icing on the cupcakes.”

Isn’t that sweet! In the 80’s expression way. 🙂

Claudia is deliberate and likes comfort. She plans very carefully. She likes to think scientifically.

But then later in the book she has an urge that to me reveals her desire to learn things and be taught things, instead of always being the one to know and teach and run the show. Her sensitive side comes to the surface. How, why, and to what she’s sensitive is revealing.

Her relationship with her younger brother evolves throughout the book. He’s a mathematical, matter-of-fact sort but also a bit more laid back in some ways. They grow and change together, and in some ways because of each other.

There are many girls (and people) like this all over the world.

We can all relate to making plans and having life change them for us. We have times when we’ve found satisfaction or adventure in a place we didn’t think it existed.

This character and this book are timeless and enjoyable because of Claudia’s brave stubbornness along with at the same time vulnerability, and her ability to learn from others. The story gave her a chance to explore and with determination solve a mystery while finding out more about herself.

(c) 1967 by E.L. Konigsburg


My Teacher



hero teach

Mr. Krafft changed my life.

Like with all exceptional teachers, it was the small things.

I simply and powerfully knew that he SAW me.

What I didn’t know then, was that our relationship would have a wraparound effect later.

I didn’t know he was a missionary before becoming my 5th grade teacher at the Lab School in Greeley, Colorado. I hadn’t any awareness that for 16 years he’d lived across the world in India, trying to share the love of a personal God with children there. I found that out later.

When I was ten, I just knew he complimented me on my outfit one day when I tried to be a little fashion-y wearing a pink sweater with a red bandana. (Yes, I absolutely remember those details from 35+ years ago).

Every week in the upper corner of that classroom chalkboard, in his perfect cursive handwriting he wrote quotes for us. Being a word person I loved these and looked forward to them.

Towards the end of the school year he called me over to a table at the side of the classroom, to show me that he was filling out a recommendation for me to go to smart camp — 😉 not its official name.

I went to that camp that summer. During it because of something they did to encourage it I’m sure but that I don’t remember, I experienced my first official writing experience. I carried around with me a little, flip-top notepad and began writing a book on its pages. I never finished that book but I found that small notepad somewhere many years later, and discovered my writing was a complete rip-off of the Raggedy Ann stories.

It didn’t matter.

I was creating stories in a new way, coming out of ME.

It’s natural to emulate at first.

The important thing is that in that milieu, writing stories was seen as an acceptable activity.

Now as an adult in the past two years, I’ve read and re-read the Paris Review interviews “Women Writers at Work.” Not only did these give me great insights into work habits and thoughts about the profession, but they allowed the reality of writer-as-professional to sink into my consciousness.


I needed to become aware that FICTION writing is a ‘real’ thing that people (women) do. That it’s a legitimate way to spend time. That it’s not just a ‘real’ job, but hard work. That it takes grit, hours of commitment and lots of overcoming discouragement and self-education.

Encouragement is a beautiful thing.

I don’t know if we can get too much of it. We need to accept it wherever we can — whether it’s found in books, movies, people or nature.

The best teachers are huge distributors of encouragement.

Mr. Krafft came to our wedding 15 years later in my hometown. He was having some health issues at the time, and was sitting at a table in the reception hall instead of standing in the receiving line. His wife led me over to sit with him so that he could show me his wedding gift to us. As I sat down at the round table in my poofy dress, he pulled a white business-sized envelope from his jacket pocket. His hands were more gnarled than I remembered as he unfolded a sheaf of papers. Then I saw written on those pages in his perfect cursive, the quotes from the blackboard of that fifth grade classroom.

Not even wrapped up, or with a bow.

That’s heroism, right there.

Rock on, teachers.




Oops. Revising After Feedback.


Just for a laugh. (:  Found on Twitter @CarolynArends

Just for a laugh. (:
Found on Twitter @CarolynArends

Remember that house-building analogy? The one about writing a book is like building a house?

Well after some critiques of my WIP, I’ve discovered that in fact I did create a house/story.

My story-house has missing walls on a couple rooms. It has doors going nowhere. It has rooms completely without doors. Those things need to be fixed.


First, I settled down. I let the feedback penetrate the surface. I percolated.

Then I made notes, and created documents with titles like:


“Problems & Possible Solutions”

“Notes on WIP”

I wrote down everything that came to mind while I analyzed. I thought. I began reading a couple really good children’s novels. I watched a good TV show.

Then I wrote some sections that I thought were missing as they came to me, not knowing exactly where they would fit into the manuscript.

My critique partner gifted me with several great resources on plotting. These were exactly what I’d been looking for but had not found online. (She found them in magazines.)

I’d studied several books on plotting and gotten some good data but I needed something short and technical. Something that I could plug my ms into and it would help me figure out what to do.

power outlet with plugged in cord, closeup isolated on white. limited dof, focus on outlet.

After all this and an excellent brainstorming session with a literary friend (and a plotting session with a giant pad of paper) I’ve begun again…

And, it’s coming! It’s happening… The same thrill of creation, but this time what’s appearing is how things fit together, instead of a character out of thin air (although those are expanding too).

This is all so fascinating.

But I totally see, why so many people quit throughout this process.

It’s basically facing failure, over and over and over again.

What keeps me going is:

1) The little niggling thought that it can be figured out.

2) A pure, inescapable (unexplainable?) pull to keep on doing it.

3) Friends, friends, friends.

4) Listening to FIGHT SONG by Rachel Platt ~

I THOUGHT her lyrics were:

This is my fight song/Take back my life song/PROVE THEM ALL RIGHT SONG!

[She actually says, “Prove I’m alright song.”]

Uhm. I’m going with the, “Prove them all right song.” (:

This is SO different than “prove them all wrong” (which actually can be motivating too, but maybe in the short-term?)


Anyone who has ever noticed or complimented or appreciated my writing, or ability with words … I want to prove them right! I want to keep working.

Anyone who had ever encouraged me and others to write/create — THANK YOU!!!! Every one. Seriously. Thank you.