Why I love The Elf on the Shelf®

Resident scout elf, Fiddle Dee Dee

Resident scout elf, Fiddle Dee Dee

I have a crush. A HUGE girl-crush on the mother-daughter duo who created The Elf on the Shelf® phenomenon. These geniuses are Carol B. Aebersold and her daughter Chanda A. Bell. In my last blog I discussed the “experience economy” – the feel-good sensation created by products and services. The Elf on the Shelf® = total experience economy for kids everywhere (especially my own).

I have whole-heartedly adopted The Elf on the Shelf® Christmas tradition at my home. For those of you who are not in the know, please go to http://www.elfontheshelf.com/ and check it out. Directly from the web site:

“The Elf on the Shelf®: A Christmas Tradition includes a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. When a family adopts a scout elf and gives it a name, the scout elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day’s adventures. Each morning, the scout elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun. Children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their scout elf each morning.”

Parents either love The Elf on the Shelf® or they hate it. I’m pro elf and here’s why:

1. Moving an elf around was a family’s real Christmas tradition – I love that Aebersold and Bell took their family holiday tradition and shared it with the world. The Elf on the Shelf® is not an invented activity concocted by a big toy company to generate sales and profits. It was genius and fun way to build excitement about Christmas and get the kiddos to behave.

2. It comes with a picture book – This clever and beautifully illustrated picture book sadly gets overshadowed by the plush, migratory impish elf. I make it a point to read the book to my kids every Christmas season so the authors (Aebersold and Bell) and the artist (Cöe Steinwart) get their day in the sun.

3. My kids actually get out of bed in the morning to find the elf – I wish I could keep the elf around ALL YEAR. It works better than an alarm clock, especially for my daughters who hate getting up for school.

4. It helps with my children’s impulse control issues – The house rule for The Elf on the Shelf® is that children can’t touch it. Seems easy enough, right? It drives my younger daughter batty that she can’t touch our elf, Fiddle Dee Dee. But she actually respects the rules of elf engagement, which is no small feat for her attention-deficit-disorder mind.

5. It’s just darned heart-warming to hear the excitement in my kids’ voices when they find the elf – One day my daughters will be too old for The Elf on the Shelf® and when that day comes, I’ll be sad. I have other holiday traditions that we’ll continue, but I’ll miss the loud exclamation of “I found the elf!!” in their squeaky little girl voices.

I’m sure that there are blogs out there written by detractors of The Elf on the Shelf®, and I know of parents who are avoiding adopting The Elf on the Shelf® in their own homes. I, for one, am glad that I got on board the elf bandwagon (or sleigh, if you will). Yes, it can be a pain in the posterior to make sure the elf finds a new perch every morning. But it is well worth it in the trade-off of the lasting holiday memories being made in my family.

The Experience Economy, Stupid!

Painting by Norman Rockwell

Painting by Norman Rockwell

When my book launched in February 2013, I often referred to my children’s picture book Gia and Lincoln’s Aggravating Allergies as my third child. Conception, gestation, labor and delivery were painfully slow, but I finally got the book to market. I coddled my new “child,” adored it, and proudly mentioned it to anyone who passed by – “Look at my new baby!” I invented a new identity, The Allergic Author, to parent my new book. I was a zealous newbie author, and started marketing my book online, blogging, promoting my book at local book shops, book fairs, and library. I even made an e-book version. Like a new mom, I had all these dreams and aspirations for my new creation. It was going to be beloved by all, take the world by storm, change the world.

Then reality set in. Being a new author is a lot of work. And particularly extra work for me as a working mother with a family which commands all my attention. I failed to keep pace with book promotion, especially as I was going through a major personal crisis that I needed to sort out. As a result, my book – my third child – was neglected. I stopped blogging. I didn’t update my author Facebook page. I didn’t check my Twitter account. I retreated from the children’s literary world. I stopped going to writers meetings. My stack of Gia and Lincoln’s Aggravating Allergies books got relegated to the corner of a closet, next to the Christmas ornaments. Instead of being The Allergic Author, I morphed into The Apathetic Author. My Facebook “likes” on my author page dried up, my number of followers on Twitter stalled, and my blog collected cyber dust. I haven’t had a book review on Amazon in almost a year and book sales came to a screeching halt. All the hours, blood, sweat and tears (not to mention money) I invested into birthing my book, book platform, and identity as an author had gone to waste.

But then a recent encounter with a young mother broke through my fog of apathy. I was going to a doctor’s appointment and remembered my physician had two small kids, ages 3 and 1, and I decided to give my book to my doctor as a gift. When I told her the main characters had allergies, she mentioned that she suspected her 3-year-old daughter had allergies. She couldn’t wait to read the book to her kids that night. I thought it was ironic that this wonderful, smart, and accomplished M.D. was thrilled that I (The Apathetic Author) presented her my book to share with her children. I’m talking about a “let-me-tell-all-my-coworkers-right-now-how-excited-I-am” thrilled. I could hear her exclaiming about it down the hallway. I was truly surprised and humbled by her genuine reaction.

This brief exchange gave me food for thought. I realized it’s not all about the book. It is about what I like to call “the experience economy.” I learned about this theory at a business lecture presented by one of the authors of the book The Experience Economy (B. Joseph Pine ll and James H. Gilmore). They observe that most companies and entrepreneurs think they are selling products and services, but they are really selling the “experience” created by the use of their products or services. Take, for example, Walt Disney World. A local amusement park or state fair could satisfy the need for thrill rides, but throngs of vacationers go to Disney World to be at The Happiest Place on Earth. Disney theme parks provide the ultimate experience economy and, as a result, have a lot repeat business.

In my much, much smaller example (and I am not comparing myself to Disney World, by the way), my physician was excited about a picture book written by one of her patients, but she was equally enthused about sharing a new story with her children. She was anticipating the quality time of reading aloud to her little ones. Snuggling up to your kids with a book is the experience economy. It’s about the reading and the ritual.

The other evening I was reading aloud to my 12-year-old daughter. We squeezed onto her narrow twin bed and I read the introduction to The Soapmaker’s Companion: A Comprehensive Guide with Recipes, Techniques and Know-How (by Susan Miller Cavitch). This instructional manual on soapmaking was no page-turner, like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling) for instance, but it did the trick. As I kissed her good-night, I realized it wasn’t the book’s content that enraptured my tween, but the bedtime ritual of reading with me. That night the proverbial light bulb switched on in my head as I thought to myself “It’s the experience economy, stupid!”

My journey as a children’s picture book writer is filled with fits and starts and lessons learned through trial and error. It is similar to how I fumble my way through parenthood. As a mother, I wouldn’t let my daughters fend for themselves, and I can’t let my children’s book either. My third child, my picture book, needs proper care and feeding in order to thrive. It can’t create any magical reading moments packed away and stowed at the bottom of my hall closet. It’s time to arrange some play dates for my book and rethink my strategy.

Success as an author could be defined by how many books are sold, the number of twitter and blog followers, or the quantity of positive Amazon reviews. Would I love vast amounts of these things? Of course I would, I won’t lie. My inner marketer still wants to conquer the best seller list and social media. But I’d rather measure the smaller impact that is made, and define my worth as an author by knowing I helped create a reading moment between an adult and a child. And by doing my part to contribute to a culture of literacy – or in other words – the experience economy of reading.

What Would Dr. Seuss Do?


Dr. Seuss (a/k/a Theodor Seuss Geisel) was born on March 2. His birthday is linked with Read Across America Day, which this year is Monday March 3, 2014. Whether you love Dr. Seuss books or hate them (and I know a few people who do–and if you are reading this, you know who you are), you can’t argue that he innovated the children’s picture book genre.

Dr. Seuss’s most famous book, and consequently one of the most recognizable children’s book characters, The Cat in the Hat, started out as a challenge to Seuss by his publisher. According to an illiteracy report in 1954, children of that time were not learning to read because children’s books were–wait for it–boring. Seuss’s publishing house, Houghton Mifflin, assigned Seuss to write a children’s book using 250 words first graders should know. Seuss came back with a book using only 236 words. The rest, as you know, is history.

Dr. Seuss’s picture books are anything but boring. He was ground breaking and visionary. He made silliness acceptable. Made-up words were okay to read and fun to say, even in poetic anapestic meter. He introduced characters that became notorious, like the Grinch and the Lorax. And calling my daughters “Thing 1 and Thing 2” is perfectly fine, thanks to Dr. Seuss.

I am going confess something now that I am not proud of, but I think others might relate to. Here it goes…Dr. Seuss’s illustrations kind of scare me. Yes, it true. I never understood if the weirdly colored and misshapen characters were supposed to be human or science fiction-y. Why were his invented animals so bottom heavy and exceptionally hairy? These are things that make me go “hhhmmmm” every time I read a Dr. Seuss book. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. C’mon, admit it.

There are few children’s book authors and illustrators over the decades who have altered the face of children’s literature. I could name some famous game changers, but let’s be honest, their birthdays aren’t celebrated every year by children’s authors, illustrators, librarians, elementary school educators and kids. My two girls have eaten green eggs and ham many an early March in honor of Dr. Seuss.

So, what would Dr. Seuss do on Read Across America Day? Encourage reading, of course, and possibly some rhyming. I am thankful that Dr. Seuss rose to challenge of writing and illustrating a book that kids can’t put down. He didn’t have any children of his own, but he loved to entertain other’s kids. I can’t imagine what the landscape of children’s literature would be without his many contributions. He motivated multiple generations of kids to read, and that is a pretty amazing legacy. There is no denying he was one cool cat.

MY Silver Linings Playbook


Recently I was fortunate to meet and have an illuminating conversation with my favorite children’s book illustrator, Jerry Pinkney, at a private reception hosted by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Mr. Pinkney is an award-winning artist who has been in the industry for 50 years and illustrated many beautiful books such as The Lion and the Mouse, The Tortoise and the Hare, and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

Meeting someone whom I admire greatly as an artist was the highlight of my birthday week. Mr. Pinkney even graciously inscribed my favorite book of his, God Bless the Child. As a children’s book writer, and as someone who “dabbles” in watercolor, acrylic, and pastels, meeting one of my creative heroes was a dream come true.

Shortly after my encounter with Jerry Pinkney, my handbag was stolen. My entire life was contained within this bag: wallet, driver’s license, credit cards, multiple check books, debit cards, work ID badge, house key, car key, and my Samsung Galaxy 3 with hundreds of pictures. And, I’m sad to report, my freshly-signed Jerry Pinkney picture book was also in my bottomless purse as well.

I spent many hours contacting banks, credit card companies, the police, and Verizon. I continually stressed about my personal security and potential identity theft. After all, the perpetrator(s) now know my address and have my house and car keys. Was there going to be a second wave of crime? A home invasion or grand theft auto??

Bad things happen all the time to people. I know others who have experienced home burglaries, being robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight, and having purses stolen right off their shoulder in a big city.

The financial accounts and the things that make the mechanics of my life run smoothly can be replaced. Yes it’s a huge hassle to sit in the Department of Driver Services (where I drafted this blog post for 2 hours on notebook paper), go to my bank, and visit the Verizon store. And changing the locks on my house was also an unexpected time-suck and expense. But as someone pointed out, at least I wasn’t physically harmed. I know I will get my peace of mind and sense of security back eventually.

But once the flurry of activity of reissuing my license, credit cards, checking accounts, and phone access has subsided, I will still greatly miss my personally-signed copy of my beloved Jerry Pinkney book. I will always have the shining memories of meeting and speaking with him, but my autographed book that marked that significant occasion can’t be replaced. And I’m honestly sad about that.

I’m not mad any longer at the thieve(s) who stole my purse. The situation makes me contemplate how I can help people–especially “at risk” youth–steer clear of the criminal path. What ways I can assist the community in helping others stay on the right side of the law, regardless of their age?

If one good thing comes out of this personal ordeal, I sincerely hope that the people who stole my handbag recognize the beauty and awe of my Jerry Pinkney book God Bless the Child, and pass it on to a youth who will love it as much as I do, and that it will ignite a passion for reading, art, or both.

I have to find a silver lining in this life-interrupting theft, or else I will end up the victim (and the criminals win), and I’ll be bah-humbugging all the way to Christmas.

Something Wicked This Way Comes


Yes, I’m in a very dark place. What a better time to share my twisted thoughts than on the eve of Halloween? I don’t normally sink to these depths–I’m a children’s picture book author after all! But sometimes I do go out of the box. Enjoy my meandering mind, y’all!

Some people don’t believe in ghosts or ghouls,
I think those unbelievers are fools.
Evil and demons are all around,
Their dark thoughts ready to take you down.
Chills up your spine? Inexplicable fear?
They are warning sign that danger is near.
I’m not talking zombies, werewolves and such–
I’m speaking of devils you can’t see or touch.
They’re tortured spirits who walk by your side,
Pressing against your heart and your mind.
You might feel their weight on All Hallows’ Eve,
Encouraging you to do a bad deed.
Look over your shoulder–you never know
When a wicked force will possess your soul.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

"Robin with Wings" painted by Rowena Cala

“Robin with Wings” painted by Rowena Cala

Over the past several weeks I’ve had a few conversations with friends and colleagues about receiving messages from beyond. You know–THE beyond–the spiritual world. I even “randomly” went to mass on a Wednesday (Oct 2 to be exact) and it just “happened” to be the Feast Day of the Holy Guardian Angels. That day, I got to hear my priest extol the incessant good works of these celestial beings. I’m a firm believer in guardian angels or “guides” as I like to sometimes call them. I developed a strong “angel” radar (okay, an obsession, if you will) when my older brother, Robin, died 9 years ago and became my ethereal winged hero. Today, October 9, is his birthday and he would have been 47 years old.

I have warm memories of my brother, especially since he was two years older than me, and we were close growing up. We had a lot in common, like the love of the arts: music, architecture, painting, drawing, poetry and writing. I always thought of my brother as a Renaissance man. When we buried Robin, each family member had the opportunity to put something meaningful into his casket for him to take to the other side. I tucked away a copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnet #73 into his coffin. I knew he’d appreciate some good poetry, even in the afterlife.

Since that strange November day we said goodbye to Robin, I’ve felt his presence in my life many times. Some of you reading this blog post probably think I’m insane. But too many seemingly “random” or “coincidental” things have happened to me these last 9 years to completely convince me that there are no random coincidences. I know Robin has his invisible hand in events that transpire in my life, especially when there are favorable outcomes, including my path to being a published children’s author.

When my children’s picture book was released earlier this year, my mother said, “Robin would have been so proud of you.” I replied, “I know he is proud of me.” And yes, I sometimes speak about my departed brother in present tense, because after all, he is presently my guardian angel.

Not too long ago, my mom found a copy of Robin’s high school graduation speech from his class of 1984. She read the first paragraph to me over the phone. In his commencement speech, he referenced a line from Shakespeare’s play, Antony and Cleopatra, regarding one’s youthful “salad days” when one is green in judgment. I can honestly say, my metaphorical “salad days” ended the day my brother died–but not in a bad way. His death opened my mind up to a whole new dimension, literally and figuratively.

I often toy with writing a book about Robin, but from the perspective of his current perch from above as an angel, observing our chaotic personal lives and his call to action to intervene when necessary. I know one day he will want me to write this story, and he’ll undoubtedly help guide me through it, looking over my shoulder. And just maybe, “coincidentally,” it will become my best seller.

Emerging As An Author


Emerge: to come forth into view or notice, as from concealment or obscurity

There is a category of writer, which lately I’ve noticed I happen to fall into. It’s called the “Emerging Author.” A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to be included in a fabulous group of local authors at an “Emerging Author Event” at the fantastic FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA. This event featured small press, independently published and self-published writers. It was a great venue to “come into view or notice” as a children’s picture book author (click here to see me hawking my wares).

Over Labor Day weekend, on Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 2:50 p.m., I’ll be briefly speaking about my book (and by briefly I mean 3-minutes!) and doing a book signing at the Decatur Book Festival, in Decatur, GA at the “Emerging Author Pavilion.” The AJC Decatur Book Festival is the largest independent book festival in the country and one of the five largest overall. Over 60,000 people attend the book festival. I feel very blessed to be accepted as one of the local “Emerging Authors.”

The whole idea of being and “Emerging Author” got my mind turning. This concept of “emerging,” along, with my two daughters’ butterfly hatching habitat, had me thinking about my writing journey. Was I bumbling along like a caterpillar, waiting to morph into a writer? Was this part of my DNA?

My chrysalis, or “cocoon” stage, lasted 4 years–from the time I wrote my manuscript for Gia and Lincoln’s Aggravating Allergies to being published. It was during this time that I internally fed my new passion by learning to hone my writing craft, immersing myself in the book publishing world, soaking up book marketing knowledge like a sponge, and crash-coursing my way through social media marketing. And for what? So I could “emerge” out of obscurity onto the author scene as a glorious butterfly, of course.

Most newly published authors will admit they don’t always feel like an author, even though they have a book in the market with his or her name on it. This was true for me. My book was available for purchase for almost 6 months, and even though I had a web page, Facebook Fan Page, Twitter account, and blog, I still didn’t consider myself a writer/author. It wasn’t until I was accepted as an “Emerging Author” and got to speak about my book in front of an audience at FoxTale Book Shoppe, that I actually felt like I was a soaring butterfly! And it felt pretty awesome.

Now I just need to figure out how to go from “Emerging Author” to “Best-Selling,” “Award-Winning,” and “Critically Acclaimed.” Wishful thinking, but one can dream! Hopefully this next metamorphosis won’t involve another 4-year cocoon, but I’m patient.

Summer of Love

pooh and piglet

On Friday, August 2 from 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. I’ll be featured with other local writers at The FoxTale Book Shoppe “Emerging Author Event” in Woodstock, GA. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), I’m super excited about this opportunity to talk about my children’s picture book Gia and Lincoln’s Aggravating Allergies. But here is the catch, the theme of the event is “Summer of Love.” And I have five minutes to pimp my book.

Love, you say? What do allergies and love have in common? How will I possibly bridge that gap? Luckily, I don’t have to stretch too much, because despite the title of my book, the story is really about friendship, not allergies.

It’s a tale about the emerging bond between two kindred spirits who meet, and despite their differences and obstacles to their relationship, both desire to make their friendship work. Platonic love tied in a bow—well, tied up in a book perhaps.

When I set out to write this story, my goal wasn’t publication. The idea was conceived over four years ago as a creative exercise with my two daughters. We’d come up with plot and draw the pictures together. I envisioned a monkey and a lion, and my older daughter (whose blog alias is Brandi) “randomly” suggested allergies as the conversation topic between the characters. I say “randomly” because I’m not convinced that 6-year-olds actually hang around the classroom pencil sharpener and discuss their allergies. It was a puzzling request for a story line, but Brandi set forth the challenge and my job was to rise to the occasion.

In researching the children’s picture book market for books with an allergy focus, I found at least 10 or more picture books that deal with common food allergies like peanuts and eggs, and how to manage or avoid food triggers. This was not the story I wanted to write. My intention was to craft a narrative about the moment when two people meet and experience that “lightning bolt” instant when they think to themselves Wow! This person is awesome and totally gets me!

This feeling of intense connection is one that can happen at any age—from pre-school to twilight years—and it’s one of the most incredible feelings ever. It’s the bond that cements my friendships. I know in that moment that I am willing to invest my time in this person for the long haul. This is the real theme of my book. The allergies are woven in as a plot element to illustrate that the characters aren’t perfect, but they are lovable nonetheless.

Gia and Lincoln’s Aggravating Allergies is my labor of love. I often refer to it as “my third child” in which I’ve devoted my blood, sweat, tears, and let’s face it—money! I hope children who read my book will experience what it’s like to have an instant connection with a potential BFF, several times over. And that adults who read the book will ruminate on this energizing phenomenon when they think about their own besties.

A “Summer of Love” may be seasonal, but love between friends can last a lifetime.

Life Is A Beach


I am a reader. I will read anywhere. In a car, in a bar, on a boat in a moat. I’ll read on a plane, or a train, at the airport, or bowling lane. There are not many places my books won’t reach. And my favorite place to read is the beach.

When I plan a trip the beach I joyfully visit the bookstore to purchase my stash of “beach reads.” Technically, a beach read can be anything, but most people associate it with a quick-paced paperback like a good thriller or chick lit. My beach reads this year are Minding Frankie (by Maeve Binchy) and How to Be an American Housewife (by Margaret Dilloway).

I’ve witnessed a hard core beach reader lug a 4-inch-thick hardcopy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (JK Rowling) to the beach. This, of course, was pre e-readers. I had to admire his grit–a book with that kind of heft takes up premium space and weight in a beach bag.

Reading on the beach is double therapy: book therapy and beach therapy. It’s hard not to feel all Zen-like when reading a great book while soaking up the sun, listening to the rolling surf, and smelling saltwater-tinged breezes. Throw in a few rum runners and it’s heaven on earth.

My kids think I’m supremely boring because I don’t boogie board with them or let myself be buried alive in their diligently excavated sandy graves. They will occasionally emerge from the surf to excitedly show me a hermit crab or sand dollar, and I’ll gingerly protect my book from their dripping treasures. I don’t mind if they think I’m boring. I do my duty as the sunscreen applier, picnic packer, and towel bearer. And when my girls are through being mermaids, we will stroll hand-in-hand along the shore and collect sea shells.

Yesterday on vacation my kids wanted to buy books. My younger daughter got Fairy School Dropout (Meredith Badger) and my older girl picked condensed, juvenile versions of Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) and Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens). I seriously doubt these will make it to the beach, but the fact that they even desired books on a summer beach vacation shows a lot of promise. Maybe I’m rubbing off on them after all.

But for now they are content with building sand castles and jumping waves. And I’m perfectly happy lounging under the umbrella with my slightly damp, dog-eared novels for company. And when I unpack my books after I get home from vacation, I’ll expect grains of sand to fall from their pages, reminding me of my idle days on the beach, reading.

Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head


It rained all day on Fourth of July
There wasn’t one firework in the sky
“Rain, rain, please go away!
It’s my Independence Day!”
All the people complained with a sigh.

There is nothing worse for ruining a long holiday weekend than a constant deluge. It’s been raining five days straight over Atlanta, Georgia as I write this. This weather is fluky for Atlanta in the summer. It is so unusual I contemplated building an ark.

The irony of the situation is that my adventurous younger daughter loves playing in the rain. (For the purposes of my blog posts, I shall now call her “Indy” in honor of her recent declaration that she wants to be Indiana Jones.) She makes splashing in puddles an Olympic sport and can’t resist getting soaked under streaming rains spout. She has a fascination with umbrellas and is compelled to open them, even indoors (despite my best efforts to tell her it’s bad luck.) The other day she discovered the joys of making mud pies and had an assembly line going with her friends, to the dismay of the other parents (and to my dismay as well). After her mud pie factory was unceremoniously shut down, Indy quickly moved on to observing the wiggling earthworms that appeared after the downpour.

Indy’s birthday is fast approaching and I have an inspired idea for her presents: her very own kids-sized umbrella and some rain boots for serious puddle splashing. Of course I have to throw in a picture book for good measure. I was lucky to find one online called Come On, Rain (by Newberry Medalist Karen Hesse) about a sudden summer rainstorm in a swelter city and a little girl’s excitement about romping in the raindrops. It’s serendipitous to find books that perfectly match what is going on in my life.

I’m glad all the rain didn’t ruin Indy’s long holiday weekend. In fact, she found a kindred spirit in her young male cousin visiting from Dubai, whom I’ll call “Short Round.” He also loves the rain. Where he lives in the Middle East it rains as much there as it snows here in Atlanta, Georgia, which is hardly ever. The second it started raining, he shot straight outdoors to feel and observe this mysterious water falling from the sky. His enthusiasm for rain put my whining about the weather to shame.

Five days of rain should leave me cranky and depressed, as lack of sun often does, but this week’s showers symbolize renewal. I have a renewed sense of joy watching my daughter and her friends revel in the rain, oblivious to the wet clothes plastered to their bodies, faces turned up to the gray sky in pure delight. Their adventures in the rain soak my parched, adult heart.

Of course, my observations are made from the cover of warm, dry shelter which I’ve concluded only grown-ups can really appreciate.