NOTE: My week-long Kindness Contest has ended. But I hope to provide more opportunities for bookish freebies, so I hope you’ll check in here regularly!

Hello, friends. I’m still a bit high from all of yesterday’s book-birthday goodwill — thank you so much to everyone who voiced (and continues to voice) their congratulations and support for THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. Like Louie and Ralphie, you are all so nice and thoughtful and generous and helpful — I look forward to returning the favor someday.

And perhaps that “someday” is now. I know you’re all curious to know who won my Kindness Contest, so here’s who won…EVERYONE! That’s right. If you commented on my blog over the past week, whether it was to recount an example of your kindness, to praise my entries about my creative inspirations, or to congratulate me on the INFAMOUS RATSOS release, YOU WILL GET A SIGNED BOOK. Here are the names of the winners:

Lovie Howell

Patrice Jackson

Anna Craig

Rob McDonald

Michelle Perron

Cathy Ballou Mealey

Robin Arehart

Clara Gillow Clark

Rebecca Reynolds

Stanley and Connie Gorzelany

Claire Bobrow

Carolyn Davis

Tracy Abell

If you haven’t already, please be sure to email me at with your mailing address, so I can get the book (and the Ratsos swag) out to you ASAP. I feel a bit like Oprah — “You get a signed book, and you get a signed book, and YOOOUUU GET A SIIIGNED BOOOOOK!” That can only be a good thing, right?

Thanks again — for being kind, for being supportive, and for being YOU.



Hello, friends, and welcome to the fourth day of the INFAMOUS RATSOS Kindness Contest!

The winners of Friday’s Kindness Contest are (drumroll, please)…Robin Arehart and Michelle Perron! Email me ( your mailing addresses as soon as you can, ladies, so I can send each of you a signed copy of THE INFAMOUS RATSOS, along with some fun swag!

The Kindness Contest will continue to run today and tomorrow, so you still have two more chances to win! As previously mentioned, feel free to share how you’ve been nice or thoughtful or generous or helpful (or all of the above!) in the comments section here. I’ll choose a name at random at the end of the day; the winner will get a signed book, a bookmark, and some INFAMOUS RATSOS “Hang Tough” tattoos (aka “rattoos”). Of course, you’re all winners just for playing (and being awesome), but even if you don’t snag a signed book, you’ll be eligible for some nifty Ratsos swag (more on this later). I’ll announce today’s winners tomorrow. NB: One post per entrant per day, please!

So, I’ve been telling you about some of the experiences and people that inspired me to write THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. Over the past few days, I ‘ve told you all about the people who inspired Mrs. Porcupini, Mr. O’Hare, Miss Beavers, Tiny, Chad, and Fluffy. Today, I thought I’d talk about my inspiration for Louie and Ralphie’s dad, Big Lou.

As you’ll learn tomorrow in greater detail, my grandfather was named Ralph and his older brother was named Louie. Their father was named Carmen. Sadly, Carmen was the OPPOSITE of the character I created for Big Lou — to put it mildly, he was not a nice man. Carmen died when my grandfather was pretty young, so my great-grandmother, Frances (whom I called “Nonnie”) raised my grandfather and my Uncle Louie and their two younger sisters by herself. It was the Depression, and they were very, very poor; honestly, I don’t know how Nonnie did it, but she did. I suppose I borrowed some of Big Lou’s surface toughness from my great-grandfather (who, it turned out, was tough on every level), and then combined it with what I know of my great-grandmother, who did what she could to hold her family together through some very tough circumstances.


My great-grandfather Carmen (center), with my grandfather (Ralph) on the right and his older brother, Louie, on the left. My great-grandfather’s expression tells you all you need to know about his personality.

I’m so thrilled with Matt Myers’ depiction of Big Lou. I love his buzz cut and his rolled shirtsleeves (complete with embroidered “LOU”), and his trucker hat and his gruff expression — well, gruff to a certain point! The image of Big Lou and the boys crying next to the photo of Mama Ratso gets me teary every time.


Tomorrow, look forward to my final story about the people and things that inspired me as I wrote THE INFAMOUS RATSOS. In the meantime, hope you’ll enter my Kindness Contest — and spread the word about it to others!

The Weekly Peek

Hello, friends, and Happy Monday. How was your weekend? I had a great one. On Saturday, we attended the WGBH FunFest in Boston, where our little one ate his weight in ice cream and cotton candy, listened to music, met (and zealously embraced) Curious George, and got his face painted. After lunch, we went to one of my favorite local indies, Newtonville Books, where I bought myself a couple of juicy reads for my upcoming travels. Later that day, we went to my friend (and fellow Cottager) Anika Denise‘s launch party for her new picture book, MONSTER TRUCKS, where we sipped prosecco and consumed all manner of car- and monster-themed goodies, and watched the author perform her book for a Facebook live feed. Afterwards, my husband and I went to a nearby restaurant called Bywater and experienced one of the best meals we’ve had in a long time (oysters! bluefish paté! duck tacos! burnt sugar ice cream!).

And then, yesterday, we went to IKEA. Why did no one ever tell me about Småland, the playspace in the store where you can drop off your kids for 45 MINUTES of monitored play, while you get your grownup shopping done? You guys, it was like a little Swedish miracle. (While we were there, I bought these insanely good cookies. They are impossibly light and crisp and sweet and salty, and I MAY have eaten a few too many of them last night.) For dinner, we christened our new grill and had a cookout. I made some rosé spritzers (wine +seltzer + homemade strawberry simple syrup), which were divine. And then I binged on a new British crime series on Netflix called Marcella (kinda messy, kinda meh).

So, what’s up for me this week? I’m still slogging through my revision of the second Bland Sisters story. I wish I had a more interesting agenda for you, but I only have one item to address, and believe me, that’s plenty. Once it’s off my plate, I hope (for all our sakes!) my life will be more exciting.

How’s your week shaping up? Hopefully it’s a bit more fun-filled than mine.

P.S. If you’re in the area next Thursday, I’ll be reading in Burnside Park in Providence from  10:30 to 11:30 with fellow local kidlit friends Anika Denise, Gaia Cornwall, and Christina Rodriguez. Hope to see you (and your little ones, if you have ’em) there!


the lowdown.

Last week, I was planning on writing about some sort of craft-related topic. And then I was side-swiped by a terrible mood. I’ve made it my goal to blog three times a week, so I felt obligated to write something, which is why I left a short explanation for my flakeout. And then I wondered if people actually might find it helpful to hear about one of my low moments — how it starts, how I (usually) manage to get through it, and how it eventually abates. So here goes.

It started with a Tupperware container of frozen spaghetti sauce.

Okay, wait. I take that back. Before the Tupperware, I overslept.

No, that’s not right. Let’s back up a bit more. And let me take this moment to mention two things about myself, which I’ve been reluctant to reveal. The first is that I’ve suffered from depression for a while now, a symptom of PMDD (pre menstrual dysphoric disorder). Basically, for about one or two days a month, I get really, really low…and then, it passes, and I’m fine. The other thing is that I have been going through peri-menopause for the past few years; it came a bit early for me, probably a side-effect of the chemo, according to my doctors. In any case, one of the symptoms of peri-menopause (along with fatigue and  hot flashes and migraines and monster cramps and junk food cravings and this weird thing where part of my hair gets really dry and part of it gets really greasy) is that it turns your regular hormonally-driven mood shifts up to eleven — not great for someone like me, who’s already having a rough time at that time of the month.

So…I woke up that morning at 5:45am when I’d set my alarm, and I turned my alarm off. I’ve been setting it for that time for a while now, because that’s when I have time to exercise. I want and need to work out, because it helps my overall physical and mental well-being (and is one of the recommended treatments for my PMDD). But I also want and need to sleep as much as possible, so I have the energy to do battle with my hormones and my currently-contentious toddler. Every morning, therefore, is a battle, and on this particular morning, sleep won. This meant that when I finally did get out of bed, I was feeling crappy because I felt tired and out of shape, and crappy because I felt guilty for not exercising. I also felt crappy because I slept so late, I had no time to take a shower, and my hair was doing that dry/greasy thing. So I was feeling crappy and grubby.

When I went to the kitchen, I opened the freezer to take out and defrost the blueberry muffin my son eats for breakfast, and a Tupperware container of frozen spaghetti sauce slid out, hit me in the face, and then shattered on the hardwood floor. Normally I would find a moment like this hilarious, but I was already in a sour state of mind. The added chore of cleaning up frozen sauce and shards of Tupperware from my kitchen floor did not help things, at all. Other things that did not help:

  1. My son refusing to eat the aforementioned muffin, despite repeated pleas from me and my husband
  2. My son refusing to “go potty” in a timely manner before we left to drop him off at school
  3. My inability to find something to wear

That last one was a huge red flag for me that a bad mood was rising. When I feel as if I have nothing to wear, as if I look terrible in every article of clothing I own, I know I’m going down the rabbit hole. I can’t remember what I did end up wearing, but I am sure it was some form of athleisurewear, a baggy t-shirt, and a hat.

And then it was off to preschool, hooray! As my son chattered in the back seat (“Who’s singing on the radio, Mommy?” “The clouds look like mashed potatoes!” “Can I watch videos on your phone when we get to school?”), I half-listened to the 80s radio station as I maneuvered my way around the terrible Rhode Island drivers and reminded myself about needing to write a blog entry. What was I going to write about? What would seem interesting, and useful?

When I got to my son’s preschool, I was so distracted by him and my blog-centric thoughts that I turned into the parking lot a little too sharply, and hit the curb. The however-light impact somehow made my car horn go off, and that singular HONK made two of my son’s teachers, who were crossing the parking lot at the time, turn their heads and look at me. It was probably just a glance, but it sent me over the edge. They must think I’m crazy, I thought. And right now, I feel crazy. Lazy and slovenly and crazy, to be exact. When I dropped off my son, I made sure not to make eye contact with any of the teaching staff, and left the parking lot before any of the other parents.

On the way home, I distracted myself from my embarrassment by thinking about my blog again. I started thinking about how futile it is to blog, anyway, since I have so few readers. Then I started thinking about the storytime I started doing at my local toy store a few weeks before, and how poorly attended it had been. Then I started thinking about some bad experiences I’ve had with poorly-attended bookstore events. Then I started thinking about the two new series I have coming out over the next few months, and worrying that no one will like them, or (even worse) no one will care, and that I won’t promote them enough or well, that I will miss out on this chance, what I perceive as my final chance at making this my career, and will sink back into my hovel of obscurity and humiliation.

I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and got myself a coffee. By the time I got home, it was pretty clear that the blog wasn’t going to happen. And that made me feel worse; just like the exercising I’d eschewed that morning, I felt I’d broken another promise to myself by not posting. But then, I drank some coffee and stared at my computer screen, and thought, maybe I will post, just to say that I won’t be posting. That way I’ll still meet my goal. To my addled brain, that made some sense.

So, that’s what I did. Afterwards, I felt a little bit better (probably due to the coffee), so I had enough presence of mind to try to pull myself out of the funk I was in. Here are some things I did, which proved successful:

  1. Finished the coffee (always a good idea).
  2. Listened to my one of my favorite Wilco songs, their (and Billy Bragg’s) cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Airline to Heaven.” Do you have a song that immediately perks you up? This one is mine.
  3. Ate a strawberry – because sometimes, just leaning over the kitchen sink and eating a ripe, sweet strawberry helps.
  4. Read through the draft of my new middle-grade novel – it needs a lot of work, but reading through it reminded me of its potential, and of how much I love it, and how much I love writing, and how I’m pretty good at it, whether other people read my work or not.

Although all of these things helped, I wasn’t really out of the woods until I took a nap that afternoon, while my son took his nap. By the time my husband got home from work, I was able to tell him all about my day, and as I detailed every moment, it all just seemed ridiculous, like dreams do when you try to explain them too long after you’ve woken up. Even laying it all out for you now, all the trivial little moments and dumb thoughts I have,  just shows how incapacitating depression (and the hormones fueling that depression) can be.

Okay, that’s it. I have to admit, this was helpful for me; I know I will have many more of these low moments, but at least I have some insights into how and why they happen. I can only hope this was helpful for you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and eat a strawberry over the kitchen sink.



Five for Friday

Hello all, and Happy Friday. And many thanks to those of you who responded with such kindness and support re: my last post. I’m starting to think it would be weirder to be a creative person who didn’t experience dark episodes — which is comforting, in a way. In any case, I am feeling a little better, and next week I am hoping to talk a bit more about my struggles, and how I (usually) manage in spite of them. In the meantime, check out these five:

  1. If you haven’t been following author Kate Messner’s harrowing experience this week, you’ll want to read this, and consider donating a copy of The Seventh Wish to the cause. (An update from Kate here, in which the censorship plot thickens. Sigh.)
  2. He dodges 21 punches in 10 seconds. But it’s that gleeful jiggle at the end that knocks me out.
  3. Cats that look like pin-up girls.
  4. If 70s moms had blogs.
  5. Cheers, dears.

Have a great weekend, everyone! xo


The Weekly Peek

Hello, all! I’m back from vacation and feeling particularly rejuvenated. What an amazing week we had on Nantucket, hanging out with good friends, eating amazing food, frolicking on the beach, and drinking a LOT of bubbly (that last one was all me). And we got back on Friday, so we had the whole weekend to reacclimate ourselves to mainland life.

While I was away, I avoided my work email, and I only took one work-related phone call. I also managed to finish The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, and I’m about a third of the way through the book I’m reading as research for the picture book biography I hope to write. And I jotted down a few notes and book ideas in my writing journal. So I was just productive enough to quell my work-related separation anxiety. I also took more than a few naps. Naps, you guys. Naps are everything.

A few things going on here this week:

Pretty soon, I’ll have THREE picture books out on submission! Two of the manuscripts are rhyming texts, which is new for me. And one of them might be potty-themed. Hey, they say “write what you know,” right? Fingers crossed that at least one of these babies lands somewhere.

I just finished reviewing the final interior and cover for The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina, and it’s truly seeworthy. (See what I did there?) I can’t wait for you all to give it a read — though you’ll have to wait until JANUARY for a finished copy. Perhaps a galley giveaway is in order? I’ll keep you posted as I work out the details…

Starting today, I’m revising a new novel. Well, it’s not exactly new. I drafted it a couple of summers ago, and then set it aside to work on something else. Printing it out yesterday was like catching up with an old friend — an old friend who needs a lot of help. Still, it feels good to roll up my sleeves and dig in.

What are you up to this week?






Five for Friday

  1. I just stumbled upon this little gem and was shocked to learn that it’s been around since 2013. If, like me, you find humor in the banal (and, dare I say, “bland”), Catherine will be your jam — or, more appropriately, your bread and butter sandwich.
  2. Quick dinner tip: Trader Joe’s Organic Lentil Vegetable Soup topped with a drizzle of Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, and a pinch of pepper. Trust. (Also, a nice glass of wine on the side wouldn’t hurt.)
  3. If this really happened, I wouldn’t be able to see it, because I would immediately die. Of happiness.
  4. Introducing…The Undies, a new award dedicated to the art of the case cover! I love everything about this. These days, I take off the dust jackets off of our picture books right away (before they’re destroyed by certain toddler hands), so the case cover is front and center in our house — glad to know it’s getting much-deserved attention. Our current “undie” faves are Snappsy and Good Night Owl.
  5. Soon, I’ll be off to one of my favorite places in the world, Nantucket, so I’ll be taking a break from blogging this coming week. Hope you have some fun plans for the long weekend — and that we get a good stretch of summery weather!

So, what are you loving these days?