Filed under: Favorite Picture Books, Gifting Books, Growing Up Reading, Parenting • September 21, 2017

I got a great response from my original post about “Gifting Books To Kids (the cool way)!” So, it gives me an excuse to put together and share more book/gift ideas – which makes me happy :) I hope it inspires you.

I love Halloween like a little kid. Nothing too scary, but everything else about it is SO MUCH FUN! So when I saw a couple Vampirina Ballerina books ($18 each) (illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators, Luyen Pham) in the bookstore, I grabbed them up! I found a headband ($2) that looked similar to Vampirina’s and a black tutu ($5) to go with it, a fun little make-up set ($3) and a plastic set of vampire teeth ($1). A $27 gift if you include one book or a $45 gift if you include two books :)

The next idea is very simple, inexpensive, and still lots of fun! “Boo!” by Leslie Patricelli ($8) is visual Halloween candy! I paired it with a couple of giant googly eyes ($2), a headband ($2), and 2 Cuties ($1) that I drew Jack-O-lantern faces on with a Sharpie. A $13 gift for a young Halloween lover!

I’d love to see or hear about what you come up with!

Happy Fall book gifting!

-Shanda

Filed under: Parenting • August 29, 2017

Checklists beside my kiddo’s bed. (Beware of toddlers drawing on the wall with the marker.)

My daughter started second grade about a month a ago. She’s a good girl who enjoys school for the most part, but she has her fair share of issues that will probably challenge her for life. For one, she’s the youngest in her class, yet the tallest. And she was delivered 3 weeks early when she was born. I think that may play into her actual “age” a lot. So she’s young. It can be difficult for her to focus. Reading hasn’t come as easily to her as it has to most of her peers, but she’s constantly getting stronger and stronger. That’s ALL that matters to me. But I see her little confidence wavering sometimes, and that can be tough to watch as a parent. So when I see her light up with empowerment over something in her life – it’s GOLD! Which is the case with 2 simple checklists we started using at the beginning of this school year.

They are nothing more than a basic “getting ready for bed checklist” and a “getting ready for school checklist”, but they have truly given her the success in independence she craves! When her alarm goes off in the morning, she gets up and starts checking things off the list. So simple. She’s usually ready for the day with a smile on her face before I even stumble down the stairs. I no longer have to yell or repeat “did you brush you teeth?” a thousand times. I used to be the angriest morning mom, and now I’m much cooler (and so is my daughter :) It’s night and day from last year’s school mornings!

So, I’d love to share these with you if you think they may help your family too. They are FREE! Just print them out and laminate at a UPS Store or somewhere like that (I used a friend’s small home laminator that he got for $30), then hang a dry-erase marker next to the list tacked on the wall for your kiddo to start checking things off :)

I’d love to know how it goes if you give it a try.

So simple. So powerful.

Cheers to a great school year!

-Shanda

 

Filed under: Favorite Picture Books, Gifting Books • August 14, 2017

I have 2 little people running around here, so I feel like I know a little about how they react to the gift of a book and how their friends at birthday parties do too. 

I’ve given my kids, my family’s kids, and kid friends gifts over the years. And as a general observation in my small slice of life here in north Georgia, books don’t often get given at birthday parties. It sort of surprises me, because you’ll never hear – “My kids just have too many books.” Or “That book will just end up in a yard sale in a few months.” This is the stuff you will hear about toys though. And I love toys, don’t get me wrong- I’m worse than a kid at Christmas in a store’s toy section! But I think there’s a cool medium if you combine a book AND a toy into a little themed gift! Seems simple enough, but not many do it. Maybe because it takes a little extra thinking, and new books aren’t cheap, or maybe you think the kid will be disappointed when he/she unwraps a book, and maybe book choices are a personal thing? I get it. 

All I know is that my girls really enjoy picture books – even my seven year old. 

Author/illustrator, Kelly Light said, “Picture books are like an IMAX movie to a little kid.” And I agree!

Sure, you may not get the same huge reaction when your kid opens a book gift versus say … a drone or a Barbie pool, but I’d bet they will actually enjoy it longer and it will mean more to them in the short AND long term. Heck, it may even be the book that they remember after they grow up and share it with their own kids one day. It might be the book that makes them fall in love with stories, art, and words for a lifetime of adventure, learning, and thinking. Or it might just be a sweet story that they enjoy nestled in bed next to their mom or dad. Or they might just get lost looking at the pictures in wonder. Any of these is awesome, and that’s why I adore finding the perfect book for a kid and pairing a small toy along with it. It’s so fun!

More reasons why it’s cool to gift kid books:

  1. It puts a new book in the hands of a kid to keep forever.
  2. It supports authors, illustrators, agents, and publishers to make more books!
  3. If you buy at a brick and mortar store, it supports those bookstores or book sections in bigger stores. 
  4. You’ll find yourself knowing more about what’s out there in books currently. 
  5. You will be deemed “a great gift giver” by your circle :)

Typically, I prefer modern kid books over dated ones or classics. Current kid books are better tailored to the modern kid and the world they live in. But this is just from my personal opinion and experience. It really depends on the kid you are buying for. Always think of the kid first!

Here are a couple book gift ideas (Under $25) that my girls helped me come up with. These ideas are on the girly side for sure but I’ll mix it up as I post more :)

  1. The first is hot off the press! Tea with Oliver by Mika Song and a tea set. My husband found this tea set at Walmart for $5. Can’t beat that!
    $18 book + $5 tea set = $23 sweet as pie gift!

         2. This one is from author-illustrator, Samantha Cotterill. No More Bows is a winner in our house! And paired with a toy puppy covered in hair bows that she can use on her hair too is so much fun!
$18 book + $5 toy + $2 bow set = $25 cute gift!

So when you have a kid gift to buy, I challenge you to try giving a book gift (the cool way :) I’d love to see or hear about what YOU come up with!

Filed under: Art Lessons, Lessons of an Artist, On My Mind, Shanda's Journey • June 15, 2017

So Much has happened … good AND bad and the reason for my posting gap …

 

I got an agent! – Very good.

November of 2015, I participated in a twitter pitch event called #PBPitch. Participants write up a VERY short pitch of their picture book work-in-progress and if an agent wants you to submit it to them, they “favorite” your post. I got 10 favorites that day! But one agent in particular took the time to email me separately and state that she really looked forward to seeing my work closer. That effort made me feel like she really liked it. She was the only agent I sent it to that week. And that’s how I found Erica Rand Silverman! Turns out, she’s the perfect agent for me! (She’s cool even if you cry which is MUST-have to be my agent :)

 

I got LASIK – Very very bad.

My life changed on February 19, 2016. Because I had LASIK. Yep. That “easy” surgery that’s a “miracle” called LASIK. Well, for most it is a miracle, but it was a tragedy for me. I haven’t even been able to write about it until now – over a year later – and I’m still not out of the woods. My eyes reacted unpredictably to the surgery, probably because of unknown underlying auto immunity in my body. My eyes were so dry for months, I could barely open them and when I did, the vision was a blurry mess. I can’t think of much worse for an artist aside of losing your drawing hand. Then as I was just starting to see some improvement in my sight, I suddenly was afflicted with HUNDREDS of floaters in my eyes that swirled around (and still do) at every eye movement.  I had developed uveitis which in my case is a chronic auto-immune inflammation of the uvea in the eyes. Without steroids, I would eventually go blind. But steroids have their own issues. As months passed, my clarity improved but it’ll never be as sharp as it once was before the surgery. I’ve seen so many eye doctors. And now I have developed cataracts from the steroids. And that’s where I stand now. My vision is starting to cloud up. Hopefully I can remove the cataracts safely with another surgery soon. And I’m hopeful that after that, I can be well enough to undergo a last surgery to remove the many many floaters. From this, I sprouted some scary anxiety that on one occasion landed me at the hospital. Anti-anxiety medicine was a life line, literally. And I’m still very reliant on it as I continue this health journey. The bad news is that I gained 30 pounds since starting this medication, but it’s life (and be bigger for now) or death. Sounds extreme, but it’s true unfortunately.

Also Erica held on, encouraged me, and waited for me to get better.

 

I got a book deal! – Very very good.

But in the middle of all this tragedy (early this year), something AMAZING happened. Erica submitted my book to a handful of publishers and 4 BIG publishers wanted it! It went to auction and sold to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in a 2 book deal! A. Dream. Come. True. I can’t even.

 

I did the job! – very very very good.

I was very nervous about illustrating my book through vision issues, but God stayed near me. There’s no other explanation. This very week I’m working through a final tweaks list and then it’ll be a done deal! I have been so honored to work with Andrea Spooner, Hallie Tibbetts, Jen Keenan, and Saho Fujii at Little, Brown!  I couldn’t have imagined a more wonderful first experience! (I think my medicine helped me deal with this good stress better too.)

 

I’m still standing! – very good!

I’ve never thought of myself as very strong, but I still can’t believe what I’ve gotten through this past year. Good and bad. I’ll continue to trust the Lord. I’m sure I’ll still mourn my loss of perfect vision for a long time, but I know God will deliver me to the other side of sorrow soon. He has already thrown me many lines of hope that I hold onto with all my strength.

 

I have the sweetest husband ever! – so good.

Through this, I’ve seen the love my husband has for me. I knew he loved me before, but I REALLY know now. He carried us when I couldn’t rise from the bed or take care of our girls from depression. He never got angry at me or asked me to “get it together” or “man up” or anything like that. He got it together and manned up in my place. He just loved me. He never lets go of our hope for normalcy again one day. He has tirelessly talked with me over and over reminding me of the hope I have in healing, good doctors, and a career ahead of me. He’s such a good man and daddy. He saved me.

 

Moving onward!

So now I’ve finally written this down. Whew. I hope to be posting happy updates soon. Until then, I’ll keep on truckin’.

 

They say the best story is when a character is faced with the most awful thing that could happen to them, and then we see them grow and overcome it. That’s my hope.

Life is NUTS!

-Shanda

 

P.S. My debut picture book Doll-E 1.0 publishes Spring 2018 by Little, Brown!

P.S.S. I don’t recommend LASIK :)

 

Filed under: Art Lessons, Events, Growing Up Artsy, Growing Up Reading • June 14, 2017


This summer, the Sequoyah Regional Library System’s theme is “Build A Better World”. So, yesterday I spent a couple hours at Pickens County Library leading 20 very cool kids through a LEGO self portrait! Each one created a totally unique piece. It always lifts me up to spend time with kids! We used a grid technique to draw a large LEGO guy base. It was tough to do, but they mastered it. Then they added adhesive foam hair and details to showcase their personalities. Last, they colored them with oil pastels. I hope the kids had as much fun as I did! I’m thankful for the extra hands I had there too – Barb McCloskey, Ethan Walker, Harvey Jane McCloskey, and Gracie Helton!

Filed under: Book Reviews • September 20, 2016

 

wildrobot

When I first saw this book – I wanted to read it. The art lured me. The subject matter lured me. But when I started reading it, I was disappointed. It wasn’t grabbing me like I expected it to. And I LOVE robots! To be honest, I had to force myself through the first 20 or so chapters. I couldn’t help but think, good try Peter, but you ‘re a picture book guy.

Then finally, like a switch got turned on, I cared about Roz (the robot and main character of this story). And I cared a lot. And I couldn’t put the book down. I had to see what happened to her. My heart would be unsettled until I did. So … I will end this review by saying that The Wild Robot by Peter Brown goes down as one of my favorite books of all time. Thanks Peter for taking my heart and head on an unforgettable journey. I am better for it.

Filed under: Favorite Picture Books, Growing Up Reading • September 29, 2015

Anyone in the know about modern picture books and the market would tell you that the majority of picture books are increasingly geared to a younger and younger audience as chapter books are expected to be a part of a child’s life sooner than ever before. But I’m here to tell you (as the mother of a bright kindergartener) that this may be a mistake.

My 5 year-old daughter can appreciate reading a chapter or two per night of “James and the Giant Peach,” but it just breaks her heart if we don’t also read one or two picture books. She still lights up as those page turns unfold and the pictures tell a different story that’s not always mentioned in the text.

Picture books are a sweet part of her childhood. I don’t want to take that away too soon. Or ever for that matter. They grow up quickly enough. I want the fun to stay. Sure, we’ll finish “James and the Giant Peach” and I’m sure we’ll remember it fondly, but I’m not going to rush into another chapter book just yet.

Me and my girl have had 5 years of wonderful adventures together through picture books! Here are some of our recent favorites that are especially great for (bigger) kids:

chloe

 

 

 

 

 

“Chloe and the Lion” by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex

 

hair

 

 

 

 

 

“Super Hair-O and the Barber of Doom” by John Rocco

 

ladybug purple

 

 

 

 

 

Any in the Lady Bug Girl adventures or Pinkalicious series

 

unicorn-thinks-hes-pretty-great

 

 

 

 

 

“Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great” by Bob Shea

 

carrots monster

 

 

 

 

 

“Creepy Carrots” and “My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)” by Peter Brown

 

dig

 

 

 

 

 

“Sam and Dave Dig a Hole” by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

 

sleeping_cinderella

 

 

 

 

“Sleeping Cinderella and other Princess Mix-ups” by Stephanie Clarkson, illustrated by Bridgette Barrager

 

rosie iggy

 

 

 

 

 

“Iggy Peck Architect” and “Rosie Revere Engineer” by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

 

So, Publishers, please keep making picture books for my (big) kid, and we’ll keep reading them!

-Shanda

 

Filed under: Events, Growing Up Artsy, Lessons of an Artist • September 21, 2015


IMG_4804

Before I answer this question I want to say that I experienced one of the the most magical conferences of my career this past weekend with SCBWIMidSouth and my critique group! It was my first time attending this particular conference, but I was blown away by the surrounding talent, the speakers, and the kindness I encountered. And I’ve been to lots of conferences, believe me- this one was stellar!

I also had some encouraging feedback (the kind that will carry me through another week … another month … another year)! John Rocco even high-fived me! He’s awesome. Him being on the faculty list sold me on this conference in the first place. Not only did I get to hear him speak and have him sign my favorite book, “Super Hair-O and the Barber of Doom,” but he said I had “mad skills.” I’ll never forget THAT. 

So…. “how did you come to be here sitting in front of me?” Kristen Nobles from Candlewick asked as I sat down for my portfolio critique. She wanted to know a little about me and my background up to this point. I answered her back, but what I said wasn’t strung together very well spur of the moment. And of course I was a little nervous. But when I left the conference, that question circled and circled in my head. It’s a really good question, and I’d like to have a really good answer should anyone ask me again.

So here’s my answer… my long, thought out answer…

I was the art kid. I was good at it in elementary school, middle school, and high school. It was a strong sense of my identity and still is. It’s what made me (feel) special. 

I was not a particularly gifted reader, I was so very average. I loved the book fair! It made me want to want to read – are you following? In 3rd grade I was given a little money each book fair to get some books. I usually bought picture books (even though I was “too old” for them). But I could see that words and pictures played beautifully together. Then, I picked up “The Witches” by Roald Dahl… it was a thick book with a pretty witch on the cover. So I started it…and finished it- a thick book! (Revolutionary for me :) Again, it was words and pictures. I fell in love with reading then. I still wasn’t a bookworm or anything, but I experienced a secret, sweet, magical something when I found that perfect book. It usually had pictures and was funny. 

Fast forward. I go to art school. I figure out that I gravitate to art that reaches many people vs. art that hangs in galleries. It was the art that almost every person could relate to, feel something from, and get a hold of that I wanted to make. I finally figured out that what I really wanted to do with my life’s work was make pictures for the words in books. 

 I didn’t quite know how to make that happen. It’s not a straight path. So, I became an art teacher in a high school to pay the bills, but I knew this was only a stepping stone and not my calling. But I don’t regret it one bit. I learned how much I loved kids, even the big ones. I shared my love of books and illustration with them! I’m not sure if I affected any of them, but they affected me. I wanted to practice what I preached to them about following dreams, so I quit. And my husband and I moved to Brooklyn, NY!

It was only for a year, but I had my New York experience in a little apartment living in the same city as so many artists have, are, and will. I worked at Fishs Eddy near Union Square, and attended night classes at the School of Visual Arts. I will never forget THAT. 

I joined SCBWI in the middle of teaching, but I didn’t get very active until I came back to Georgia and longed to be near artists and writers again. SCBWI filled that void well and continues to feed my soul. I met my writers group through SCBWI, and this single thing has shaped my work more than anything. I am surrounded by talent that abounds me once a month. In their midst, I started writing and really began pushing my art. I’ve also met and/or become friends with several inspirational people: Lori Nichols, E.B. Lewis, Kelly Light, and now John Rocco are all mentors of mine whether they know it or not.

Then I had a child. There isn’t anything more bonding than experiencing stories together. I fell in love with books again, as a mommy. Now, the draw was/is bigger than ever. I WANT to be a part of that world. I want to be among the creators of children’s books!

So, that’s my answer. That, in a nutshell, is how I came to be … here!

-Shanda

FullSizeRender

Filed under: Illustration, Lessons of an Artist • August 28, 2015

"Let It Fly" sketch by Shanda McCloskey

I took a cycle class today. It was pretty tough. Going again and again is making me tougher.

This “book game” is a tough. silent. killer. I’ve heard next to nothing since I started submitting my book. I did get one “no,” but it was from a friend’s agent. I can’t help but wonder if it was as quick and gentle as it was as a curtesy to my friend more than anything. The fact is … it’s so quiet. So still. You don’t know how to adjust your technique. Is it the letter? the subject? the person? or has anyone even looked at it yet? Is it sitting in “the slush pile” getting moldy? Members in my critique group have been going through this for a while, but it’s real for me now. I wouldn’t even mind some rejections just to know someone looked at it.

This is a time to listen to my own heart I guess. I love the book I wrote. I believe it’s valuable and beautiful and funny. I believe a child and a parent would have a sweet experience reading it together at bedtime. I believe a room of preschoolers and kindergarteners would get a kick out of it at story time. I believe it would inspire a kid.

The book dummy I sent out is probably not perfect, but I think it has a fantastic chance to be a great book. I hope someone else will believe it too … in the traditional publishing world so my book could be in bookstores and libraries all over the place. I’m working and brainstorming on a new story now. It has a similar large theme of thinking bigger and believing. I need my own stories right now, because that’s what this time is requiring of me. To dream, do my best, be tough, and have some faith.

One day the silence will break. Probably :)

-Shanda

Filed under: Events, Growing Up Artsy • June 12, 2015

super_portraits

I had a blast hanging out with 10 boys (yep, all boys) last Saturday at Pickens County Library in Ellijay, GA! I was able to share my drawing powers with them successfully (as you can see from the rad portraits they created above)! Thanks for bringing your kids to my program – they were kind and AWESOME! Special thanks to Brooke and the Sequoyah Regional Library System, who invited me, and to Ethan (my nephew) who was a HUGE help to me and the little artists.

green_hero

brooke_me
brothers

 

Can’t wait to see what programs these libraries will do in the future! It was a pleasure being a part of the “Every Hero Has A Story” Summer Reading Program! Now, go make the world a better place … with ART!

-Shanda

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Shanda McCloskey, Children's Illustrator