Top Posts of 2014

Disaster struck yesterday just before I started writing this post. I was sitting in my favorite comfy chair in the living room. I reached over to hand my dog her bone. My computer slid off my lap. SNAP.

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It’s amazing what a tiny crack at the base of your computer screen can do. My son said, “Pretty. It looks like a hot air balloon with splatter paint.” I wasn’t a happy camper.

I had a meltdown. A meltdown like my two-year old. The my husband, Ian, came home . . .

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Ian is the best problem solver ever. Now, I have a very large screen connected to my computer. I can still sign up for 12×12, work on manuscripts, and blog! Hooray for handy husbands!

Blogging has been a wonderful experience for me. It has helped me develop a writing routine. I love reading informative, uplifting, funny posts by amazing writers from all over the globe every morning with my coffee. And I was nominated for my first blog award :). This fabulous community of writers keeps me motivated. Thank you.

I was inspired by other bloggers to create a compilation of my most popular posts from 2014. It was fun to go back and read old posts to see how much I have learned and improved. I am excited to see where my writing journey takes me in 2015! 

Happy New Year!

Top Ten Ridiculous Things People Say to Children’s Writers

Yesterday I attended a children’s writing conference at Boise State University. Jennifer Nielsen, New York Times best-selling author of the Ascendance trilogy, blew me away. Jennifer’s sessions, “Say This, Not That” and “What Publishers Don’t Tell You,” really hit home. She was incredibly honest and motivating. My writing flame is burning bright once again and I now have fresh ammunition for the next time someone says one of the following statements to me…

What NOT to say to children’s writers:

1. I wish I had time to write a book.

Really?! Who HAS time to write a book? You make time. You wake up early. You go to bed late. You write while your kiddos are napping. Whatever it takes…you keep writing.

2. Writing is a nice hobby.

Writing is a career choice. It takes ambition and persistence. This is what I want to do. This is what I have to do. I am a writer.

3. Maybe one day you can write a real book.

Children’s books are REAL books and they are REALLY significant in the industry. Just look at sales figures and top ten lists. Ever heard of Divergent?

4. How do you dumb it down for children?

Children require smarter writing. Children analyze, memorize, and re-read books. As a picture book author, I know it is incredibly difficult to write a book (with so few words) that will captivate kiddos. Every word has to count. Kids get bored easily.

5. Do you know famous writers?

Well, now I do. I met Jennifer Nielsen 🙂

6. You should write like these other famous authors.

Um…no. I’m not going to try to imitate famous authors. Yes, I get inspiration from them, but I have my own VOICE.

7. You’ll be rich.

I write because I love it. I want this to be my career, but I know it will take a lot of hard work. Money is not my motivation. I know I won’t earn six figures or get a movie deal for one of my PB manuscripts.

8. You’ll get used to the rejection letters.

Rejection stings. Rejection is part of the journey to success, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

9. You might get bad reviews.

Yes. So what? Famous and popular books receive bad reviews all the time.

10. You’ll never make it.

This is my passion. I won’t give up. I can do it!

Thank you for this confidence booster, Jennifer! I look forward to hearing you speak again 🙂

Jennifer Nielsen
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New York Times Bestselling author, Jennifer Nielsen, was born and raised in northern Utah, where she still lives today with her husband, three children, and a dog that won’t play fetch. She is the author of The Ascendance trilogy, beginning with THE FALSE PRINCE; Book 6 of the Infinity Ring series, BEHIND ENEMY LINES, The Underworld Chronicles, beginning with ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR; and the forthcoming PRAETOR WAR series. She loves chocolate, old books, and lazy days in the mountains.

Visit Jennifer’s website to learn more about her work: http://www.jennielsen.com/

Welcome to Children’s Book Week ~ Kid Lit Giveaway Hop! May 12-18

Children's Book Week 2014 poster

I am very excited to participate in the Children’s Book Week Kid Lit Giveaway Hop. Children’s Book Week is a great opportunity to celebrate children’s literature and to encourage children to develop a lifelong love for books. So join in the fun and enter to win some really great books! AJ’s Children’s Books is giving away one middle grade novel AND one picture book of your choice.

Middle grade choices:

Gooney Bird and All Her Charms
Gooney Bird and All Her Charms

“It’s March!” Mrs. Pidgeon said as she wrote the day’s date on the chalkboard. “In like a lion, out like a lamb!”

The morning bell has rung at Watertower Elementary School, and it’s time for Mrs. Pidgeon’s class to turn to page 52 in their science books to learn about one of the most spectacular scientific subjects of all—the human body! As usual, Gooney Bird has a special plan to make learning more fun. But what on earth is in that scary-looking box that her uncle, Dr. Oglethorpe, has brought to the second grade? And what does it have to do with the charms on Gooney’s jingling silver bracelet? It looks as if another special story is in the works!

Poached by Stuart Gibbs
Poached
Teddy Fitzroy’s back for another zoo mystery—this time it’s a koala caper—in this action-packed follow-up to Belly Up, which Kirkus Reviews called “great fun.”

School troublemaker Vance Jessup thinks Teddy Fitzroy’s home at FunJungle, a state-of-the-art zoo and theme park, is the perfect place for a cruel prank. Vance bullies Teddy into his scheme, but the plan goes terribly awry.

Teddy sneaks into the koala exhibit to hide out until the chaos dies down. But when the koala goes missing, Teddy is the only person caught on camera entering and exiting the exhibit.

Teddy didn’t commit the crime—but if he can’t find the real culprit, he’ll be sent to juvie as a convicted koala-napper.

The Dragon in the Library by Kate Klimo
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Dragon keepers Jesse and Daisy need help!

Emmy, their rapidly growing dragon, has become a real grouch, saying she’s missing “something,” and the cousins don’t have a clue what that something is. Jesse and Daisy go online to ask Professor Andersson, their favorite dragon expert, for help and end up seeing him being kidnapped!

The kidnapper is none other than Sadie Huffington, the girlfriend of their enemy, St. George the Dragon Slayer. She has hatched a wicked scheme to use the professor to both find St. George and capture Emmy. Now the dragon keepers and their dragon must storm Sadie’s castle and rescue the professor from the witch and her pack of vicious dog-men!

In this third fantasy book in the Dragon Keepers series, Kate Klimo introduces readers to a magical library filled with shelf elves and reveals the secrets of the gigantic red book that Jesse and Daisy discovered in The Dragon in the Sock Drawer. She keeps the action and adventure flying while bringing both heart and imagination to this tale of two kids and a dragon, growing up together.

The Dragon Keepers series is perfect for kids who crave books about dragons and magic but are caught betwixt and between—too old for Magic Tree House and not yet ready for Eragon and the Inheritance cycle.

Picture book choices:

Then the Twins Came by Sharon Rose Anderson
Then the Twins Came
THEN THE TWINS CAME is based on the heartwarming true story of a dog’s unwillingness to share her human Mom with the new twins born to the family. Ruby shares her canine perspective on the interruption in her family dynamics. Will Ruby learn to share? To find out, read this book by Sharon Rose Anderson and illustrated by Natalie Beus.

The Christmas Tin by Sheila Eismann and Ali F. Putz
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The Christmas Tin is a most delightful read for the young at heart anytime during the year! This endearing book is based upon a true story featuring the older of the two authors when she was a young girl and conveys the timeless message that “love truly is the best gift of all.” Children will especially enjoy all of the colorful illustrations contained within this treasure!

Mama’s Purse by AJ Irving
Mama's Purse cover on Hyde Park online store
WHAT’S IN MY MAMA’S PURSE? Much more than bandages and bananas! You won’t believe your eyes because so much fun hides in my mama’s purse. From a yellow moose and a caboose made of juice to a trout and numbers to count, Mama’s purse is full of super silly surprises. You’ll never guess what zooms out next!

Mama’s Purse has been named among the best in family-friendly media, products and services by the Mom’s Choice Awards® Other awards include: Top 10 Idaho Author, Top 5 Idaho book, and 1st Place Best Children’s Book at the Top Idaho Author and Book Awards, Best Picture Book 5 & Younger and Best Cover Design awarded by the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards.

Enter the giveaway!

Make a comment on this blog post for the middle grade novel AND picture book you would like to win. Then, click on the Rafflecopter link to enter the giveaway: a Rafflecopter giveaway.

More prizes . . .

Don’t forget to check out the other blogs participating in this giveaway hop!
Click here to view the complete list of participating bloggers and authors…

Painted trees. Scarves. Hot tea.

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My grandmother recently passed away. I wrote this farewell letter a few days before she passed. I read it at her service.

Dear Grandma Jeanne,

I’m walking on a path beneath a tree tunnel of yellow, orange, and red. It’s your favorite season and your story is nearing the end. Tears slide under my sunglasses and skip off my chin. You loved fall the most. Painted trees. Scarves. Hot tea.

I don’t get much time by myself these days, but this is my third walk today. I had to stop and sit on this bench by this golden tree under this blue sky and write . . .

Thank you for teaching me it’s okay to be silly. Thank you for showing me the beauty of books. Thank you for inspiring me to write. Thank you for your life-long example of compassion and joy for life.

I will always remember our trip to Victoria, BC. I will always treasure our bedtime stories. I will always cherish the memories we made each summer in Montana.

This fall I will drink hot tea. This fall I will write and write and write. This fall I will dance under falling leaves. This fall I will act as silly as can be with your two great-grandchildren.

This fall, and every fall for the rest of my days, I will celebrate you—your light, your love, your life.

Love always,

Amanda Jean

Being silly with Grandma Jeanne and Aunt Georgie.

One of my favorite books that Grandma Jeanne and I read together.

The service truly was a celebration of her life. When it was over, we went outside and released balloons into the big blue Montana sky. I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

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One of my grandma’s life-long goals was to be a published writer. She accomplished this goal. Grandma Jeanne wrote two books, and was working on her third when she passed. I developed my love for writing because of her passion for the written word. I will keep my promise to drink hot tea and write, write, write.

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November is the perfect month for me to start blogging and journaling again. November is Picture Book Month and Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). This will be my first year participating in PiBoIdMo. I look forward to challenging myself to come up with 30 picture book ideas in 30 days.

I am going to let go and have fun with my writing. I will think of Grandma Jeanne—her silliness, her compassion, her joy. I already have many ideas inspired by her brewing inside of me. Sometimes I think we create the most beautiful word strings when we experience intense emotions such as grief. I will transform my grief into something special. I will celebrate her and honor her each and every time I write.

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We have a ninja, a kangaroo, and a Weimaraner puppy

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Thinking of a picture book idea every day during November for PiBoIdMo has been a piece of cake so far, but it’s only November 4th and I know the challenge will become more difficult.

My six-year old son is a purple belt in taekwondo and my two-year old daughter loves to hop around pretending she’s a kangaroo. After watching Mason show off his moves and Sophie hop around the house, my friend Robin told me, “Your kids are great. One’s a ninja and the other is a kangaroo. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

I laughed and said, “That’s a great idea for a picture book!”

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There’s never a dull moment at our house. We have a ninja, a kangaroo, and a Weimaraner puppy. I think many of my ideas during PiBoIdMo will come from the crazy stuff Charlie Blue does on a daily basis.

She howls when my son plays the harmonica. She brings back stuff to recycle almost every time we walk. She pulls the kiddos on their sled in the winter. She rolls in smelly stuff. She jumps in the back of the bike trailer when she gets tired. She swims in the river, but she’s afraid of sprinklers. She’s a furniture hog. And the queen of stealing hats . . .

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One of my favorite Charlie moments happened when my daughter was crying hysterically on my lap. Charlie (the biggest food thief in the world) gently carried a graham cracker in her mouth over to Sophie and pushed the cracker up to Sophie’s hand with her nose. My husband, Ian, and I sat dumbfounded for several seconds. Did that really just happen? Wow!

Charlie is my quiet companion on our daily walks. I often come up with my best writing ideas when I take her to the river near our house.

Charlie retrieving the Ninkasi frisbee.

We find cool stuff together like Idaho rock art.

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And for being a big spazzy puppy, she sure is sweet and gentle with Sophie.

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I can’t wait to see what kind of mischief Charlie gets into this month. She might come home smelly with a dirty diaper or a dead squirrel in her mouth (yes, this has happened), but who knows  . . . she might do something that leads to another PiBoIdMo idea in my notebook!

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Reading Teaches Children About the World

Mama's Purse Bookmark

Reading teaches children about the world. Reading encourages children to use their imaginations. Reading leads to meaningful conversations with children.

Reading is awesome.

November is Picture Book Month so I’ve been reading a ton of picture books with my children. November is also Picture Book Idea Month so I’ve been working hard to come up with some spectacular picture book ideas. I also discovered the We Need Diverse Books campaign, which I feel is extremely important.

Our family always reads a lot of books, but this month I have made an extra effort to discuss the books with my children. I have also tried to include a nice mix of fiction and nonfiction books because we definitely read more fiction than nonfiction. We have had some pretty inspiring and fascinating conversations after story time.

These are some of the children’s books my family has read this month:

A Gift for Abuelita: Celebrating the Day of the Dead by Nancy Luenn * illustrated by Robert Chapman

a gift for abuelita

Big Jabe by Jerdine Nolen * illustrated by Kadir Nelson   

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Bridget’s Beret by Tom Lichtenheld

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Busing Brewster by Richard Michelson * illustrated by R.G. Roth

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Courage by Bernard Waber

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Dinosaur Farm by Frann Preston-Gannon

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Food Trucks! by Mark Todd

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Frederick by Leo Lionni

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Frida by Jonah Winter * illustrated by Ana Juan

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Goyangi Means Cat by Christine McDonnell * illustrated by Steve Johnson

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Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine * illustrated by Kadir Nelson

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Hugs from Pearl by Paul Schmid

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I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont * illustrated by David Catrow

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Just the Two of Us by Will Smith * illustrated by Kadir Nelson

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King & King   by Linda De Haan * illustrated by Stern Nijland

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Little Cloud by Eric Carle

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My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann

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My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits * illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska

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Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson

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Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

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The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

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The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

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The Boy Without a Name by Idries Shah * illustrated by Mona Caron

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The Heart and the Bottle  by Oliver Jeffers

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The Hula Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin * illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

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The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

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The Lion and the Mouse by Jenny Broom * illustrated by Nahta Noj

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The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson * illustrated by E. B. Lewis

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The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy * illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

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The Recess Queen by Alexis O’neill * illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

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Thomas and the Shooting Star by W. Awdry * illustrated by Tommy Stubbs

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Thumb Love by Elise Primavera

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Yoko Finds Her Way by Rosemary Wells

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Use your mighty imagination!

Mama's Purse Poster

  • What children’s books have you read this month?
  • Do you read fiction and nonfiction children’s books?
  • Which diverse titles do you recommend?
  • What techniques do you use to encourage children to discuss books?

Picture Book Pass it On

picturebookpassiton

Picture Book Pass it On is a literacy initiative that encourages folks to donate new or gently used picture books to children. Picture Book Pass it On was founded by Michelle Eastman in November 2014. Michelle is a teacher and a mom who is passionate about children’s literacy and the power of picture books.

Picture Book Pass it On 3 calls to action:

#1 Post a “shout-out” to celebrate your favorite picture book. It can be anything from posting a selfie of you and your fave picture book kickin’ it, to tweeting a line from one of your favorite characters or scenes, or post a picture or video of you reading a favorite picture book with a child, pet, or loved one. Or blog about a favorite picture book memory from your childhood.

#2 Pledge to donate a copy of your favorite picture book to a local children’s charity or cause (domestic violence women’s shelter, prison waiting room where children wait to visit an incarcerated parent, a struggling school, etc.)

#3 Pass it on. Help spread the word about Picture Book Pass it On (#PBPiO). Encourage others to accept the 3 calls to action, and pass it on.

Visit Michelle’s blog for the full story behind Picture Book Pass it On. There is also a Picture Book Pass it On Facebook page.

I interned at Womenspace to complete my second major in women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon. Working at a women’s and children’s shelter was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I spent a lot of time playing basketball with the children, helping them with homework, and reading to them. I also organized the donations we received so I know first hand how important they are! When I learned about Picture Book Pass it On, I immediately thought about children at shelters and decided my first donation would be to the Women’s and Children’s Alliance in my hometown Boise, Idaho.

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One of my favorite things about being a children’s author is participating in readings and book signings. I always bring coloring sheets to color with the children and give away balloons and bookmarks. I love to see their eyes light up with joy for reading. Kiddos love books and this is the perfect time of year to give to those in need. It felt absolutely wonderful to donate signed copies of my first picture book, Mama’s Purse, to help make the holiday season a little brighter for children in my community.

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I encourage you to get involved with Picture Book Pass it On. Give the gift of reading and help make a difference in the lives of children in your community. Michelle Eastman says it best, “Never, ever, underestimate the power of a picture book!”

Idaho: Rodeo Ropers, Inventors, Astronauts, Authors and So Much More

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As a native Idahoan there are two things I get tired of hearing about from outsiders:

  1. Potatoes.
  2. Smurf turf.

Yes, Idaho produces a lot of potatoes. Yes, the Boise State football field is blue. But there are so many things that make Idaho a wonderful place to live besides potatoes and BSU football. We have amazing hot springs, bike trails, camping, fishing, hiking, skiing, hunting, whitewater rafting and kayaking.

Kayakers from all over the world compete in the North Fork Championship.

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  Fun facts about Idaho:

  • Idaho is the 13th largest state in the U.S.
  • 63% of Idaho is public land
  • Idaho produces 72 types of precious and semi-precious stones
  • Idaho has 3,100 miles of rivers (more than any other state)
  • Idaho has the longest gondola in North America (Silver Mountain in Kellogg, Idaho).
  • The first alpine chairlift was used in Sun Valley, Idaho
  • At 212 feet, Shoshone Falls are higher than Niagara Falls
  • The deepest river gorge in North America is Hells Canyon (7,900 feet deep)
  • The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness area is the largest in the lower 48 states (2.3 million acres of backcountry)

*To learn more fun facts about Idaho visit: inidaho.com

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Famous folks who have called the Gem State home:

  • Barbara Morgan: NASA Astronaut
  • Joe Albertson: founder of Albertsons grocery store chain
  • J.R. Simplot: founder of Simplot (one of the largest privately-owned companies in the world)
  • Sacajawea: Shoshone Indian guide and interpreter for explorers Lewis and Clark
  • Gutzom Borglum: sculptor of Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  • Philo T. Farnsworth: invented the cathode-ray tube that would later lead to television
  • Gene Harris: jazz pianist
  • Paul Revere & the Raiders: band
  • Built to Spill: band
  • Lana Turner: film and television actress who starred in over 50 films
  • Aaron Paul: actor best known for role in Breaking Bad
  • William Petersen: actor best known for role in CSI Las Vegas
  • Dan O’Brien: Olympic gold medalist and world champion decathlete
  • Kristin Armstrong: Olympic gold medalist bicycle racer
  • Picabo Street: Olympic gold medalist alpine ski racer
  • Jerry Kramer: NFL player
  • Shea McClellin: NFL player
  • Harmon Killebrew: MLB player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame
  • Larry Jackson: MLB pitcher
  • Dee Pickett: Pro Rodeo Champion
  • Ezra Pound: poet and critic in the early modernist movement
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs: author of Tarzan of the Apes
  • Vardis Fisher: author of Children of God, Tale of Valor, and Mountain Man
  • Ernest Hemingway: author of numerous short stories and novels, including Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and For Whom the Bell Tolls

*To learn about more famous Idahoans check out visitidaho.org.

One of my favorite things about writing this post was learning about Idaho authors. I had never heard of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Vardis Fisher. So let’s talk more about authors and books! This is a book blog after all. I am pleased to introduce a variety of books written by Idaho authors.

*Click here to read the full post and discover over 200 books by Idaho authors!


I appreciate your readership! Best wishes in 2015!

AJ

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10 thoughts on “Top Posts of 2014

  1. Loved your posts. Thank you for following my blog. Maybe next year you can check out my books – Jemsbooks – written in rhyme, adorable animal stories that teach children life lessons and encourage good behavior. If you would like a pdf or other format to check them out please let me know. i would be happy to send one to you to share with your children. Happy New Year to you and your lovely family! Best wishes for continued success with your books. Here is my email: jjspina@myfairpoint.net

    • It’s always a pleasure to connect with a fellow children’s author :). I would love to read your books with my kiddos! Thank you for including your email. I will be in touch! Happy New Year and best wishes in 2015!

  2. Great that you could manage the screen-problem. I like this top ten, specially #1 , I so agree who can plan the time to write a book? maybe J.K. Rowling can do that now :o) Have a wonderful New Year and a big hug to the Ninja-kangaroo-Weim-Puppy :o)

  3. So glad your husband was able to help you with the computer. That would be terrifying! Thanks for sharing your favorite posts of the year as well. Thanks for being a part of Booknificent Thursday this week!
    Tina

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