Happy New Year...THE YEAR OF THE KIWI!
Day 12: Christmas Eve! My turn, and Gordon Bagshaw's, too. We present to you, a sneak peak at an illustration from my up-coming middle-grade novel, "Peter Little Wing"...
At a certain point in Peter Little Wing, Peter and the others meet a group of wētā, which is the common name for a group of insects endemic to New Zealand. These flightless cricket-like bugs are among the heaviest insects in the world!
Wētā are preyed on by introduced mammals, and some species are now critically endangered, as are so many of the endemic animals of Aotearoa.
About the novel:
Peter, a captive Southern Fiordland tokoeka kiwi, and his friends from the National Aquarium—Onion, a little blue penguin with an inner ear imbalance; Tim, a tuatara with Generalized Anxiety Disorder; and Rangi, a kea with clipped wings—embark on a quest through the unfamiliar wilderness of New Zealand in search of three ingredients needed to create an elixir to cure Peter’s ailing grandfather. Together, they traverse the length of the South Island of Aotearoa, all the way across the Cook Strait and back home to the North Island. They learn what they are all capable of in the wild of the wop wops, and what the world beyond the "Wall of Shadows" of Peter’s habitat is all about.
About the author:
That's me! Check out About Me and My Background and Other Projects on this very website!
About the illustrator:
Gordon Bagshaw, is a Canadian comic strip author and freelance illustrator. He is the creator of the entertaining online comic strips Stories According To Whom? and Frodo the Sheltie, including three book galleries. Gord drew the children’s book Sleep Time For Mammals, which garnered 1 of 3 L.M. Montgomery Literature for Children Awards in 2014. He illustrated the multi-award-winning Libby The Lobivia Jajoiana, which won 2021 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards for Best Illustrations (2nd place). Gordon resides in São Paulo, Brazil, with his lovely wife, where he teaches ESL.
PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY OF PETER LITTLE WING NOW!
And join us for the launch party Saturday February 4th 1-4pm ... in person at Hot House Restaurant in Toronto, or virtually for the readings at 2:15pm & 3:15pm.
DAY 11: One more offering from author Ken Watson -- an excerpt from "Life Supports"
About Life Supports:
Gerald Scottman is one of the world’s best players of the Pipe Organ. His phone contact is on every maestro’s speed dial when they need someone to play an orchestral organ part. On page one, he wakes in the ICU. By page three, the reader has found that Gerald has suffered a stroke and that nobody can understand him. He also has lost the use of his left arm. After lengthy physiotherapy, it is decided Gerald can’t go home. He could’t even answer the phone. So now what? He moves to a new life in the Senior’s Home. What do the kids do with his house full of music - wall to wall, ceiling to floor, garage and basement too. This is the story of how people come together and support each other in Life.
Excerpt from Life Supports...
As I settled into the car in the shotgun seat to leave the hospital, it was with relief. Yes they were all nice people but God I hate feeling like an invalid. The feeling of release and freedom lasted long enough to try to reach for my seatbelt.
“Shit,” I spat out when I realized I couldn’t catch the buckle of the seatbelt with my Left hand and pull it across my chest to snap into the latch. Donald immediately saw my distress and caught the meaning of the garbled sound I made. I pulled back so he could reach across, grab the buckle, pull out the strap and snap me in. Even so it was a wrestling match.
It was a quiet ride for a couple blocks. I think the kids were trying to decide how to tell me I wasn’t going home and who got the short straw. “We’re taking you to the Retirement Home, Dad,” Jean said from the back seat. “You need more physio on your voice and arm. We moved your dresser into your room so you’ve got clothes. Steak is on the menu for tonight - little pieces of steak from miniature cows they keep.”
I held up my right hand in a thumbs-up salute. “What about the organ?” I asked but it came out as nonsense noise.
“The physiotherapists? Oh they’re killer cute,” Donald replied. I shook my head and sighed. I’d know soon enough.
When we pulled up in front of the TerminalCare Retirement Home, I managed to get my right hand over to undo the seatbelt latch. That was a bright spot in the day. Before letting it go, I tried following the buckle back to its retracted position and then pulling it out with my right hand and across my body to the latch again. It worked. I couldn’t help but smile as I got out of the car.
As a group we paraded through the lobby and sitting area to the office of the high-priced help. She saw us coming through the window wall around her desk and came, smiling and power- suited, to greet us. I could feel her laser eyes looking deeply into mine before I glanced away. We went through the pleasantries and then the head honcho took me to where I’d be staying. It was down a long hallway, deep in carpet, muffled in sound. As we walked, I looked into any room with an open door. Straight ahead was a bed where a shape lay framed in sheets, lit by the glow from a TV screen I could not see but which must have been around the corner just inside the doorway. My soul sank after the third copy.
Donald led us into my room, hitting the light switch as he passed. I looked down and gritted my teeth prepared for another hospital room.
There was a washroom on the left. I don’t know what was behind the hall door that opened to cover the space to my right. It hung open as I came in. Between the walls of a short hall which in every other room had framed a bed with a body was ... I had to blink to be sure it wasn’t a mirage. The others were ahead and had turned the corner to be out of sight to my right. I felt completely alone, like they had disappeared and I was looking at heaven’s gate. I realized I had taken two steps into the room and had stopped dead. I must have been there ... I don’t know how long - a second? a minute? When I shook my head and looked to my right, three faces were riveted, wide-eyed, on me. My mouth must have been open. I shook myself to shut my gaping mouth and looked back at it. It was my organ! The one I practice on a couple of hours a day! When I looked back at the faces they were smiling and I realized I was laughing with tears running down my face.
Read on for more...and for recipes!
Happy 4th Birthday, Jack!
Day 10: Children's author Sherry Ellis shares her recipe for Neopolitan cookies!
1 pkg/can (7/8 oz) almond paste
1 C (2 sticks) butter
1 C sugar
4 large eggs separated
1 tsp. almond extract
2 C unsifted flour
Red and green food color
¼ C seedless raspberry jam
¼ C apricot preserves
1 pkg semi-sweet chocolate pieces
Find out more about Sherri Ellis and her books HERE.
Certain songs in anyone’s life can evoke a past moment. The start of a song can bring us back to an exact date and time trapped in amber. We can see it, smell it, hear it, and sometimes even taste it. Through a series of musically notes we can be transported through time back to another age, a powerful feeling, a past point of view. Christmas songs are some of the strongest of these talismans of time and memory.
“Feliz Navidad! Feliz Navidad!”
The voice of Jose Feliciano came from the wood paneled speakers of the stereo system. His voice sounded a bit thin and reedy and the pop and hiss from the speakers betrayed the age and wear on the album. Seven-year-old Ricky noticed none of this. It was his second favorite song on his second favorite Christmas record and as long as it played it made him feel happy and warm as he sat on the floor in the living room of his family’s home.
“Feliz Navidad! Prospero ano y Felicidad!”
Ricky’s first favorite record, Elvis singing Blue Christmas, would be put on before the night was through. He was determined to make this happen, even though he knew it was already dark outside and his bedtime was fast approaching.
“I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas! I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas!”
Christmas day was only three more sleeps away and the school break was only two days in. Ricky had planned to get the most out of the time at home. He’d already played both records most of the day, taking breaks only because his parents and his older sister had insisted he do so quite vehemently.
“I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart!”
As the music came to an end, Ricky turned the knob on the side of the player. The needle lifted off the record like magic and the record arm traced its way back to it’s small cradle on the side. The record kept spinning even though the motor stopped propelling it.
Without waiting for the record to stop, he reached towards the edges. It slowed in his fingers, coming to a halt. He lifted the record off the player, only holding the edges gently, just the way his father had shown him and carefully slid it back into the paper sleeve that lay on the floor next to the album jacket. He then slid the papered record back into the jacket and placed it on the wire shelf in front of his father’s Gordon Lightfoot albums.
Beside him, on the coffee table, lay the dog-eared Sears catalogue. His other Christmas obsession. When he wasn’t playing records, he was thumbing through the now worn pages dreaming of all the toys he wanted. The fact that he knew he really wouldn’t get most of them hadn’t dimmed his excitement one bit. The thrill of the possible was enough.
He’d written his letter to Santa, his mom had mailed it and chances were, he’d get at least one or two of the coveted items. He’d put them all on the list, all the items in the catalogue that remotely piqued his interest. He wasn’t greedy, he didn’t expect everything, but he figured Santa had to cut him a break and give him something. He’d followed all the rules. He’d been nice all year, hadn’t fought with his sister much at all and made sure to give change to the plastic dog at the grocery store that raised money for the blind; At least he did whenever his mom would give him some change for it.
He'd really tried this year. Santa must have noticed.
He’d even made his own envelope out of some leftover gold wrapping paper. The envelope had been a bit misshapen, and a bit off sized for the letter he wrote, but he had proudly tapped it shut with his list inside knowing that Santa couldn’t help but notice its uniqueness in with all the normal letters. Santa would have had to read it first. He was sure of it.
His sister Wendy, who was five years older than him, hadn’t even made a list this year. If she had written to Santa, he never saw the letter and when he asked his mom, she’d said only, “Your sister is making a different choice about Christmas this year.” and left it at that.
Even at seven, Ricky could remember what felt like endless Christmases before where he and his sister had fought over the Sears catalogue, each circling their chosen items with different coloured markers, each counting the other’s circles as to not be outdone by the other for wants. This year Randy didn’t even have to circle anything. The whole catalogue was his. She’d glanced through it once or twice but left the toy hunt for him.
Ricky realised he was sitting staring at the cover of the catalogue. Should he partake in one more round of Christmas wishes or play his favourite, Blue Christmas? It was a constate debate he’d had with himself a lot over the past couple of hours. He couldn’t do both at the same time either. Whichever he chose required his full attention. He chose the record.
Reaching for the sleeve on the wire shelf, this time in front of Feliz Navidad, he pulled out the familiar red cover; A photo of Elvis looking just off centre in front of a collection of shiny wrapped presents.
He pulled out the paper sleeved album and with as much care as he had put the last record away, he put the new one on the turntable and turned the knob. The arm did its magic again and lifted up and over. As the needle settled down gently on the turning record, the speakers crackled back to life.
“I’ll have a blue Christmas, without you…” crooned Elvis, followed by the back-up singers doing the part of the song Ricky loved the most.
“Ew ee ew ee! Ew ee ew ee!”
“How do you not get tired of this song?”
It was his mother’s voice behind him, laughing as she asked.
“Because I don’t.” said Randy turning back to look at her.
She was all done up in a long green dress he’d never seen before. Her dark brown hair was up in a bun, where she normally wore it down. She was also wearing lipstick and a bright gold bulky brooch on the dress in the shape of an angel blowing a horn. He could smell the perfume she was wearing. It smelled like flowers.
“Can you turn it down a little, honey?”
He did as he was asked and turned the volume knob on the stereo system. Elvis was lamenting red ornaments on a green tree. The backup singers were less clear now. The rise and fall of their tones blended into the background and almost sounded inhuman. Ricky determined to himself that he would have to hear the song in its entirety again at a better level once his parents left for their evening out.
They were going out to his father’s office holiday party. His mother had secretly told him for days that she didn’t really want to go. She told him it was their little secret and he couldn’t say anything to his father since she didn’t want to let him down. Ricky liked being able to share something with his mother that no one else knew. It made him feel important.
Even though he knew they were going out for the evening, the sound of the doorbell ringing surprised him.
“Who’s that?” he asked.
“Who do you think?” she countered.
His mother smiled her lipstick glossy smile and headed towards the door. As she did, his father came down from upstairs dressed in a suit and tie. He’d just gotten his hair cut that afternoon. The short buzz made him look a lot younger.
He tussled Ricky’s hair as he bent down to him.
“How’s it going, Skipper?” His father always called him that. Ricky was never sure if he liked the nickname or not.
“Good.” Ricky said.
“Listen,”, his dad looked him in the eye. “Your mother and I will be out a bit late tonight, so I need you and your sister to behave and be good for Jennifer, all right?”
“You can count on me!” Ricky said. It was too close to Christmas to risk getting in trouble for anything. He knew his dad had just had the same talk with Wendy upstairs in her room where she always hung out now.
“Good!” his father smiled back. “Your mother has been looking forward to this and I don’t want to disappoint her.”
Ricky nodded his reply.
His father stood up again and groaned slightly as grownups did when they had to get up from kneeling. Ricky always wondered what was so painful.
His father looked down at him and around him and laughed at the record sleeve lying on the ground.
“You and your mother and Elvis. I was always more of a Beatles fan.”
“Elvis is better.” Ricky parroted his mother. “Fifty million Elvis fans can’t be wrong, Daddy.”
His father laughed.
“All right. You win this round.”
His mother came back into the room with the babysitter, Jennifer. She must have walked over from her house a few blocks away because she smelled like fresh snow.
Jennifer was seventeen with short blonde hair and a look of boredom on her face all the time. She dressed like she had just come from cutting down trees in a worn-out red plaid jacket and jeans with an old army green backpack slung over one shoulder. On the backpack in black pen were drawn several band names and logos Ricky didn’t know.
Ricky had asked his mom why Jennifer always dressed the way she did. Some kind of teenaged rebellion, was the answer he got, whatever that was.
When his mother was young only farmers wore jeans. That’s why she always dressed him in cords or dress pants and button up shirts, so he looked like a proper young man. He liked the clothing his mother picked out for him but decided there was something exciting about the things his babysitter wore. Maybe someday he’d have his own teenaged rebellion.
“Hi Jen!” said Ricky, smiling shyly.
“Hey, Little Man.” She smiled back at him. He liked that nickname much more than Skipper.
His father straightened up a bit in his suit when Jennifer and his mom entered.
“How’s school going, Jennifer?”, he asked.
She looked up at him with glazed eyes.
“It’s there,” she said, “whether I like it or not.”
His dad seemed to laugh a little too hard at this.
“We’ve all been there.”, he said.
“I enjoyed school.”, his mother added.
His mother, father and Jen stood awkwardly together for a moment, almost hovering over where Ricky still sat on the floor.
Jennifer broke the silence.
“So William and I will be late tonight.” His mother smiled down at him as she spoke. ”They’ve both eaten. Ricky has his usual bedtime, which is very soon, and Wendy spends most of her time in her room now and goes to bed when she wants.”
“Which isn’t really fair.”, Ricky piped in.
His father bent down to him again.
“Hey. You just promised, you’d be good tonight. Don’t start that.”
His mother leaned down to him with a softer approach.
“You know we talked about this, Ricky. Your sister is older and has some privileges you don’t, but she also has more responsibilities. Fair is fair.”
Ricky huffed a bit at this.
“I wish I was older.”
Jennifer stepped back from the group and set her backpack down on the coffee table.
“Trust me Little Man, you don’t want to get older. It’s all homework and chores and jobs. Stay a kid as long as you can.”
“She’s right.” His mother smiled.
His father laughed again.
“When I was your age, I already had a job. Not the worst thing in the world.”, he added.
“You had a paper route.” , scolded his mother.
“I had to get up on Saturdays and deliver them and I got paid. That’s a job. Kids these days don’t know how easy they have it.”
“They still have paper routes, Mr. Stevenson.” Jennifer smirked.
“But now you have to be twelve to get a route.”
His mother laughed out loud at this.
“That’s because it’s not safe or fair to expect that sort of commitment out of a seven-year-old.”
His father shook his head. “I did it and I did a good job too.”
His mother was still laughing.
“You told me you threw half the papers in the ravine.”
His father smiled sheepishly.
“Only on the rainy days when I wanted to go home, get dry and watch cartoons.”
Jennifer sat down on the couch looking down at Ricky.
“See, what I’m saying Rick? Don’t grow up. Stay young.”
Randy looked up at his parents and Jennifer.
Read on for the rest of the story, and for more info on RJ Downes...
Day 8: Children's author Tonya Cartmell gives a reading from her picture book "12 Days of Rescue" ... plus some follow-up thoughts
Do you include your pets in your holiday festivities? Do they make their own fun during this time by getting into mischief?
Our Christmas tree skirt is always askew from our cats Guinness, and Dublin playing tag underneath and in the tree. Ornaments often litter the floor from our dog Rescue’s tail sweeping the branches.
We hang stockings for the cats and dog which are of course filled by Santa Paws. They seem to enjoy trying to pull things out, sniffing and sampling each new gift. They all receive new toys and treats and sometimes there is even a new Christmas bandana for Rescue.
We decorate the backyard with Christmas lights for Rescue to enjoy in the evening. Although, her nose is usually on the ground sniffing so I’m sure it is mostly me who admires the lights when I go outside with her. Her tail wags from the moment we say “outside” till she is back on her bed, asleep in front of the Christmas tree.
All three of our pets are adopted from rescues or shelters. Rescue is 15 and now sports grey on her face, paws, and ears. Like many seniors she has the occasional bump or lump, is hard of hearing, and a little unsteady when she first gets up, but she still has a happy doggy smile and loves to give kisses.
Rescue holds a special place in my heart. My husband and I adopted her when she was brought to Canada at ten months old. She was born in a Louisiana shelter and pulled by a rescue organization there as she was on the list to be euthanized to make room for more dogs. She was so skinny and sat quietly in her crate as people walked around checking out the dogs. When we took her for a walk, she looked at me with her big soulful eyes and I was hooked. My husband went and filled out the paperwork to adopt her while I took her for another walk. She had never been in a car before and drooled so much my pant leg was soaked by the time we got home. Since that day she has loved for going for car rides, walks, and being anywhere we are. She also loves treats. Christmas dog cookies are one of her favourites.
Her story is what inspired me to write my first children’s book, Twelve Days of Rescue. The idea for the story came to me while I was watching a Christmas movie with her curled up beside me. I thought it would be fun to have a version of the Twelve Days of Christmas from her perspective. A book that kids and families could read and sing along to.
I’d like to share this video of myself and some of my family members reading Twelve Days of Rescue. Some of them may even sing. Rescue is also in the video giving me doggy kisses and there are other dogs enjoying the story too.
Rescue and I wish you and your family, including your furry members, Happy Holidays and a very Merry Christmas.
By day, Tonya Cartmell is a registered nurse currently working for a hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. “I’m many things to different people: a wife, stepmother, nana, daughter, sister, friend, nurse, etc. But, the one thing I have kept secret from most is that I’m also a dreamer.” For as long as she could remember, she dreamed of being a published author. “Somewhere, in a box stuffed in the attic, is the first book I wrote when I was a child.” Turning 50 was Tonya’s “aha’ moment. It was time to stop dreaming and start doing and get her stories published. As Tonya says, “I was the only obstacle to obtaining my dream.” When her first children’s book, Twelve Days of Rescue, was published in 2020, she fulfilled her dream of becoming a published author. Her second book, Pa’s Hockey Sweater, was published in 2021. Tonya’s first middle-grade novel Second Hand Witch was published in 2022. Tonya holds a BA in Social Sciences from Brock University and is an Honours Graduate from the Nursing Program at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario. She spends her time with family, both human and four-legged, when not writing or working. You can find her up at the cottage during the warmer months, relaxing by a campfire.
Find Tonya Cartmell: