Reviving Creativity

Are you a creative? Do you write, sew, paint, sing, cook, or craft? Do your fingers itch to create? Does your mind bubble with ideas? Being a creative person usually fills life with joy and adventure.

Until the day it doesn’t.

Every creative has dry spells. The blank page stares back with no words or pictures. The ideas feel flat or nonexistent. You wonder if it’s a temporary creative block, or if this is the new normal. A life without imagination and ingenuity? Unbearable.

How do you revive your innovative spark? I’ve got seven suggestions to stimulate inspiration and get you back on the road to originality.

Learn Something New – The brain thrives with the challenge of learning. Tackling a new skill floods the brain with dopamine, develops new neural pathways, and relieves stress.

Consult with Colleagues – Two heads are definitely better than one. When you feel stuck talking with a fellow creative may be just the solution. Bouncing ideas off each other can lead to innovation. It also helps to fell the support of friends.

Get Out in Nature – Studies show that time spent in nature reduces stress and anxiety while increasing the brain’s capacity for concentration and creativity.

Visit a Museum – Viewing wonderful works of art, investigating historical events, or strolling through halls of history may give your brain the new ideas you’ve been seeking. Be sure to take a notebook along to jot down your insights.

Doodle -Get out your colored pencils, crayons, or marker and Play! Remember the childhood joy of coloring? Letting your mind explore shapes and colors can free your brain from thought patterns and allow new ideas to flow. It’s also a great stress reliever!

Travel – Seeing something new expands you mind and stimulates creativity. You don’t have to travel across the globe to reap the benefits of travel. Take a day trip to a spot you’ve never visited. Go to a new store or restaurant.

Play with Your Toys – Do you have a collection? Pull it out. Rearrange it. Let it inspire you. Love Legos? Or models? Build something. Love antiques? Polish yours or shop for new ones. Indulge yourself with what you already love. Your brain will find comfort in the familiar and new ideas may come from old loves.

Retreat to Renew

I’d been feeling a little gray. Lifeless and leafless as the trees outside. My creativity sunk in the March mud. How could I pull myself out of my winter funk?

A writer’s retreat!

With the help of my writing buddy Nicki Jacobsmeyer, we gathered 13 brilliant brains in a castle on the lake and found renewal. We also found wine, chocolate, stories about wild west romance, a magical flying caravan, and some killer poetry. Of COURSE my spirits were lifted!

I’m home now where the mornings of Brain Trust and evenings of sharing our stories are just a memory. But those memories are the sparks I need to fuel my own creative fires. Ideas are percolating. Excitement is building. And pushing through the March mud are the green shoots of new life and new projects.

If you feel flat, zapped, and unproductive maybe it’s time to take your own retreat. And if you’re interested in joining me on the next retreat adventure… send me a comment or a message. I’d love to hang out with you!!

Chasing Mary Anning

I’m off on an adventure to walk in the footsteps of paleontologist, Mary Anning. In case

Portrait of a woman in bonnet and long dress holding rock hammer, pointing at fossil next to a spaniel dog lying on ground.
Mary Anning Portrait by unknown artist.

you’ve been sleeping under a fossil and haven’t heard of this remarkable woman, let me introduce you.

Mary was born into a poor, and I mean dirt-poor family in 1799. How poor were they? Living next to the jail poor. And in Lyme Regis, England, that also meant living in a house that tended to get flooded every other year. But hey – sometimes they had a place to sleep! Mary’s dad was trained as a carpenter, but got bit by the treasure hunting bug. And by treasures I mean fossils. The cliffs along Lyme Regis are littered with the bones of ancient fish, ammonites, and crinoids. And the tourists who came to take the waters were fascinated with these strange rocks. Mr. Anning saw a business opportunity and became a souvenir seller with Mary as his assistant.

By the time Mary was twelve years old she had discovered an entire ichthyosaurus skeleton… (I would have died of happiness to find a dinosaur anything when I was twelve. ) and was becoming a self-taught expert on anatomy and illustration. During her lifetime Anning is credited with discovering a plesiosaurus,  a pterosaur, a Squaloraja polyspondyla (fossilized fish) and too many belemnites and coprolites to count.

Sadly, Mary had the unfortunate problem of being born with an x chromosome, and in the 1800s women were not supposed to read the newspaper let alone understand and develop complex scientific theories. So while the male scientists of the day came to Lyme Regis to consult with the woman who understood fossils, Mary received no academic or historical credit for her work or discoveries.

History needs to remember Mary Anning! And by that I mean her story needs to be told. My good friend, Linda Skeers, has written an incredible picture book that tells Mary’s Story. I highly recommend Dinosaur Lady for readers of all ages! Go out and buy it. As a matter of fact buy one for your self and several to give to the young girls in your life.

And if you want to know more about the Amazing Miss Mary, follow along on my adventure. I’ll be posting pictures of Mary’s fossils and the place where she lived. Lyme Regis here I come!! And next summer – Chicago Review Press will be publishing my middle grade book Mary Anning and Paleontology for Kids. Complete with photos by my own personal photographer, otherwise know as my talented husband, Darrell. (See honey, your’e in the story!)

Forest Friends

I love creating dolls and stuffies so I’m always on the look out for great patterns. How to sew Little Felt Animals by Sue Quinn is one of my all time favorite pattern books. The instructions are clear and conscise and the patterns are easy to use. You can chose to machine sew or hand sew and both turn out great.

Take a look at these cute little squirrels I made using her pattern and a few of my own modifications. Don’t you want to grab some felt and get busy making your own little critters? I’m finishing up the clothes for a rabbit family next. Stay tuned for a photo shoot!

Imagination + Outdoors = Pure Joy

Last weekend, druing our family reunion, I visited a delightful restaurant. It was managed by my industrious and imaginative eight-year-old nephew and staffed by his creative cousins. On the menu were Crunchy Leaf Kabobs, Delicious Dirt Smoothies, Smashed Acorn Soup, and Green Grass Gravy.

Nature’s Naturals opened up Saturday morning faster than you can say, “No internet connection.” With both a drive thru and sit down menu, the staff were busy stomping acorns, and smashing leaves all day.

This was old school, low tech, and no equipment needed kind of play. No adult organization nevessary, just the great outdoors and a child’s imagination. It was a wonderful reminder of why children NEED undirected play time. They need the opportunity and space to experiment and explore.

Next weekend I hope you and your kids go outside and plan – absolutley NOTHING! Let them invent their own play world and see how their imagination explodes.

Meet Author Nancy Churnin!

Nancy Churnin writes the most wonderful biographies. They are stories that show the heart and soul of the individual, stories that inspire readers to be their best self and stretch for their dreams. Books like Manjhi Moves a Mountain – about a man who literally moved a mountain one bucket at a time, to help the people of his village. Or the lovely story of William Hoy and how a deaf baseball player changed America’s favorite game.

With six biographies on the shelves and more to come, Nancy Churnin is the perfect subject for a classroom Author Study. And with Nancy’s help I have put together a complete Author Study Unit that is free for you to use with your classroom. Please enjoy the interview with Nancy and download my five lesson Author Study Unit and Free Worksheets



How do you choose the subjects for your books?

The William Hoy Story, my first book, came about because I wanted to make the dream of my friend, Steve Sandy come true. Steve is deaf and his dream is that William Hoy, a great 19th century deaf baseball player, will be well-known and one day be honored in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I promised to write the book before I knew how to write a children’s book! I thought I’d knock it out in an afternoon, only to very slowly comprehend that I needed to take classes, join critique groups, write, write, write and revise, revise, revise. It took me 12 years to sell that first book, but I not only learned about how to write a picture book, but how much I loved writing picture books. I was determined to find more people who inspired me and would inspire kids, people who deserved a spotlight, but didn’t have one yet. After spending so many years making Hoy happen, I found myself particularly drawn to people who aren’t the biggest or strongest, but who have the heart to persevere against the odds. I found my next subject Manjhi in a newspaper article. The minute I learned about this man who spent 22 years chiseling a path through a 300-foot mountain so that the kids in his poor village could get to school and the sick could get to a doctor on the other side, I knew I had to write his story.

Why do you like to write biographies?


We all have moments of struggle and self-doubt when the path before us seems dark, forbidding — more than we can handle. But biographies of people who have forged past doubt to focus on and ultimately achieve a dream can be a light to us on our journey. Everyone’s journey is unique. But other people’s journeys can provide an example of what can be accomplished if you have a dream and you persevere. I’m not going to be a champion ballplayer like William Hoy or chisel a path through a 300-foot mountain like Manjhi, but if I believe in a story, I’m going to keep working on it until it gets where it needs to go. And, after all, you never fail until you give up. I think of the 12 years I spent on my first book with pride, because I didn’t give up even when there were some people in my life wondering and, no doubt, having fun at my expense, thinking is she really still working on that? Kids get that all the time, too — they’re told they’re too young, too little, too this, too that, too unrealistic to accomplish something that’s never been done. I hope these people I write about remind them that they can accomplish anything if they don’t give up, that they have the power to set goals that will make the world a better place. And I hope my 12-year journey to my first book reminds them that anything worth doing is worth doing until you get where you want to go.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Bronx in New York City.

What was special about your childhood?

I grew up in a world of books. When my parents married, they were very poor. The first thing they bought was a book called Tomorrow Will Be Better. They kept adding to that library so that by the time I was born we had a whole room of floor to ceiling books that we called the library. My mother read to me every night, Mondays through Saturdays — my first favorite book was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. She read me an extra chapter on Saturdays so she could take off Sundays. I also loved going to the Kingsbridge Heights Library where the librarians would recommend amazing books. I still remember one title I asked the librarian to repeat a couple of times because it sounded so bizarre. I am glad I trusted that librarian because that book was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and it became one of my favorites! Another thing special about my childhood was that my grandparents, Sam and Mary Farber, had a bungalow colony in the Catskills called Mountain View Cottages. For a city girl growing up in a concrete Bronx grayer than Frank L. Baum described Dorothy’s Kansas, spending summers walking through woods, staring up at stars, running and rolling down hills, swimming, roasting marshmallows at campfires, riding horses — it was heaven. When I need to go to my happy place in my head, that’s where I often go.

What are some of the jobs you have had?

I have spent most of my life as a journalist, working as a theater critic for the Los Angeles Times San Diego Edition and most recently for The Dallas Morning News. Reviewing and writing about theater has been my favorite thing to do outside of writing books. I left The Dallas Morning News in January 2019 and am now a full-time children’s book author.

What are your hobbies?

My hobby when I was writing for newspapers was writing children’s books. And now that I do that full-time, I am happy to do that all the time! I still enjoy theater and singing. I love to walk my dog named Dog and hang out with my family.

What advice would you give to student writers?

Don’t waste time thinking about what other people would like you to write. Reach deep and think about what stories you want to tell. Read and re-read stories that you like to see how they’re put together. But remember, each new story is its own challenge and journey. There are some structural things you can learn that will help you on your way. But ultimately everything you write will be as unique as you are. Don’t try to be like anyone else. Be the best version of yourself. And don’t get discouraged if your first draft doesn’t resemble the vision you have in your head. There is an expression called the crummy first draft. No matter how many books authors write, no matter how experienced they seem, we all have to write that crummy first draft that we revise and revise and revise until it starts to move and breathe and feel like the original idea we had when we started. Find a support group of fellow writers that truly want you to succeed and that you truly want to help succeed. Don’t beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself. Be patient. Things take as long as they take and the length of time they take is different for each of us. The people who succeed are the ones who don’t give up.

What would you like students to know about you?

I am happy that I have been given the opportunity and support to write these books, to share them with you, to bring you a little light in the form of these stories and in the time we spend together here on this wonderful blog. I believe, with all my heart, that we are here to do what we can to heal the world, to do our best to make it better and to pass on whatever tools we can to the next generation to move our progress even further along the field. What I want you to know about me is how much I believe in you. You are why I do what I do. I am thankful for the opportunity to try to be helpful to you in your journeys.


Looking for a fun spring read-aloud? Look no further! Hippy Hoppy Toad by Peggy Archer is just the story you’ve been hopping to read!

This book of rolicking rhyme will have your little ones  begging to go outside on their own toad hunt. And what better way could there be to celebrate spring than with toads and rhymes? How about with a free lesson plan and worksheets to go with that great book?

I’ve put together a cute HippyHoppyToad LessonRhymeCards, and a RhymeWorksheet just for you teachers and parents-who-are-now-teachers!

So go ahead – have a toad-ally awesome day!

Celebrating Lincoln with Free Activities and lesson Plans!

LINCOLN CLEARS A PATH is a fresh look at some of Abraham Lincoln’s amazing accomplishments. Written by Peggy Thomas and illustrated by Stacy Innerst, this picture book examines how Lincoln’s life growing up in a farming community affected his presidency and his creation of the Department of Agriculture, the Homestead Act, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Thomas usues lyrical language to pull the reader into Lincoln’s early life and Innerst’s illustrations are evocative of sepia toned pictres from the time. This is a book that will capture the attention of students and the hearts of historians. It’s a book every library needs on its shelves. And every teacher is going to want to use the FREE activities and lessons created to accompany this great book. Click belwo for wfree worksheets and activities to accompany this book.

Author Interview

Author Peggy Thomas graciously agreed to answer a few questions about LINCOLN CLEARS A PATH.

What inspired this book?

I was poking around for a third president to go with Farmer George Plants a Nation and Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation.  Editors like trilogies:-) I researched James Madison, but his farming did not have a huge impact on America. Same with John Adams who would have been interesting because he was a farmer from the North. His approach to farming was very different from the southern plantations. Then I was surprised to discover that Abraham Lincoln had a huge impact on farming. I had never heard that, and was pretty sure kids hadn’t either.              

What do you want children to know about Lincoln?

I want kids to realize that Lincoln did more than write the Emancipation Proclamation. He drastically changed our culture and the landscape of the United States. He opened the west to homesteaders and approved the trans-continental railroad (good for agriculture, bad for Native Americans). He initiated the land grant colleges and established the USDA.

He did all of this during the Civil War, our darkest period in history. In a short 4 months in the summer of 1862, Lincoln managed to “clear the path” for the United States to become the bread basket of the world.

Do you have any favorite Lincoln quotes?

Yes. Here is a good one for writers: “When I read aloud, two senses catch the idea; first, I see what I read; second, I hear it, and therefore I can remember it better.”

You can also hear your mistakes clearer. That’s why I read my manuscripts, or have someone else read them out loud.

What project will you be working on next?

I have one more agriculturally related book coming out next year. It is a mid-grade biography of Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug. He was an agricultural scientist who literally fed the world.

Borlaug was the kind of guy who ignored the status quo, knew what was right and would yell at the King of Pakistan in order to prevent a famine. He was a rebel. I think kids will like him.

Absolutely Truly – I love this book!

Have you ever fallen in love with a book? My latest middlegrade book crush is ABSOLUTELY TRULY by Heather Vogel Frederick. I highly reccommend this for a heartwarming winter read.

The adventure begins when Truly Lovejoy’s family moves from Texas to the tiny town of Pumkin Falls, New Hampshire. Her solider father, is recovering from an IED explosion in Afghanistan and goes to work managing the family bookstore. Truly has to endure moving in the middle of the school year, leaving behind her best friend and cousin, and being the tallest kid in seventh grade.

Soon after she arrives, Truly finds a mysterious letter hidden in an old copy of CHARLOTTE’S WEB. Enlisitng the help of her new friends, Truly embarks on a treasure hunt from the past. The town is full of crazy characters, and snowy charm. Truly’s family fights, forgives, and works together like a real family. This is one book that the whole family can enjoy. I highly recommend it as a read-a-loud.

And best of all – there are two more Truly books! You can follow Truly and the whole gang as they solve mysteries in YOURS TRULY and REALLY TRULY.

Really truly – I guarentee you’re going to love these books!

Winter Bird Fun! And FREE Lesson Plans!

Winter is a wonderful time to introduce little ones to the fun of birding. And it’s a great activity for classrooms, homeschoolers or fun family time. If you want to teach your little ones about birding – I have just the book for you. PLUS I wrote some fun FREE lesson pans.

FINDING A DOVE FOR GRAMPS is the creation of author Lisa J. Amstutz. ( fellow Nonfiction Ninja) This book tells the charming story of a boy participating in the Christmas bird count and his quest to spy Gramps’ favorite bird.

Lisa is an avid birder and she believes that getting kids interested in birding is a wonderful way to encourage a life-long relationship with nature. Birds live in backyards, and city trees. The can be found on every continent and in every climate. You don’t need any special equipment to watch birds, so they make the perfect subject for introductory animal observations.

If you want to add birds to your classroom, or family time, I highly recommend FINDING A DOVE FOR GRAMPS and be sure to check out my free lesson plans that go along with the book! To Download the free lessons just click on the link below.

Happy birding!!!

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