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I write books and I have children. These things seem to go together, and yet at the same time, they do not.

True, the children are inspiring, they say funny things, they’re occasionally cute, they help me remember my own childhood, but here is the not part—they take up a lot of time.

Because of the above graph I do two things.

1.) Furiously write notes on anything handy so I won’t forget them.

2.) Operate in a constant state of repressed creativity.

This I think is my secret to being productive, because when I finally get to sit down to work—I work. I don’t open emails, I don’t answer the phone, and I don’t shop on Etsy—though I’m very tempted by all those things. My work time is precious and scarce, so I can’t afford to be distracted. On most days I get up at 4:30 a.m. to write. I love my mornings, the house is quiet, dark, and when I start the chore of getting the kids to school, I already have some work done. It feels sneaky and clever, like I’ve cheated the day. It’s not a perfect schedule, but for now it works. And strangely, I’m more productive now, than before I had kids.

I read somewhere that it’s important to take breaks while you’re being creative. I guess I’m lucky—my days are filled with breaks, and each one is a surprise. It could happen mid sentence or mid thought. Suddenly I’m out of my chair and off to deliver a snack, a drink, change the channel on the TV, replace batteries in an electronic game, or play referee. If I can get forty minutes of uninterrupted work done while the kids are home and awake, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

But I’m pretty versatile; I can work in short bursts of twenty minutes, or long luxurious stints of three hours. But I wasn’t always this way, it’s taken years of training, but they did, the kids trained me.

There’s no one secret work pattern that is going to work for everyone, but if you are creative and consistent you can certainly find what’s best for you. If you want to reorganize the way you work, ask yourself some questions, it might help you get started. Here are some questions, and I plugged in my answers.

When am I most creative?
I like my early mornings, and I save these for writing, but I can also work in short bursts when the kids are around. I have illustrated more than one book while listening to SpongeBob and Pokemon cartoons.

Where am I most creative?
Sometimes I like a change of scenery. I’ll go to a coffee shop for a few hours, and then one day a week I really get away—I go into NYC and work at the Bryant Park Library.

Am I motivated by a deadline?
You bet! Nothing motivates me more than a looming deadline, and if I don’t have one, I give myself one.

Am I motivated by rewards?
Yes, who isn’t? In fact there’s a delicious piece of chocolate waiting for me when I finish writing this post. But if I’m not I the mood for sweets, I’ll cuddle with the cat, play with the dog, or go outside for a quick stroll around the yard.

And then at the end of the day, take stock. What worked? What didn’t? And if you had a success, repeat, and if not, try something new.

RECIPE FOR CREATIVITY

  • Think
  • Make notes
  • Think some more
  • Think while doing something completely different
  • Think some more
  • Think some more
  • Write

My kids make fun of me, and they are right.

I am always looking for the next book idea. Eyes open and ears listening—you never know where it is going to come from. About six months ago I was listening to my son and his friend complain about getting their ball stuck in some bushes. They were arguing back and forth about whose fault it was, and who was responsible for getting the ball out. It was cute, and listening to them made me smile. It was just a little moment on a sunny afternoon, but it stuck with me, and later became the basis for a story about two friends. The book is called Bean Dog & Nugget and it comes out this spring.

I want to close with two things. The first is this running tally.

This is how many times my kids interrupted me while I was writing this post.

And this last image is where I end each day, my shower. It’s nothing special, but for some reason I get more ideas in the shower than anywhere else. Maybe it’s because it’s meditative, a calming release from the stress of the day—or it might just be that with the door shut, no one can bug me.

Charise Harper has been making comics and children’s books for many years. She is the creator of FASHION KITTY, the JUST GRACE series, and WEDGIEMAN. Her picture books include CUPCAKE, IMAGINATIVE INVENTIONS, and many others.  If you were to ask her which was her favorite; making the book, or holding the finished book in her hands, she would always have the same answer—making the book. She blogs (with pictures!) at Drawing Mom. Find out more about her books at ChariseHarper.com.

Charise is generously giving away THREE signed books from her JUST GRACE series!

    

JUST GRACE AND THE DOUBLE SURPRISE, JUST GRACE AND THE FLOWER GIRL POWER and JUST GRACE STAR ON STAGE.

Three random winners will be selected in one week. Just leave a comment to enter! Good luck!

UPDATE: 2/5/2013 #Bedtimepicks hasn’t caught on, so I’m changing the hashtag to #BedtimeReads, which is more appropriate and easily understandable. Please join in! Just Tweet the hashtag with the titles of the books you’re reading to your children each night.

For two years I’ve been Tweeting the hashtag #bedtimepicks to share the picture books I’m reading to my kids that night. For two years some folks have joined in, yet all have dropped out.

Then I realized: YOU HAVEN’T BLOGGED ABOUT THIS FOR TWO YEARS?

What is wrong with me? (Don’t answer that!)

So I now triumphantly propose we get moving with this hashtag! It’s a simple way to share and discover great picture books for parent-child bonding. (And if you read chapter books or middle grade novels to your kids, of course, those count, too!)

In the evening, tweet something like this:

Then click on the hashtag to see what other parents and caregivers are reading.

VOILA!

TWO YEARS IN THE MAKING!

If you’re in, let me know in the comments. And please blog about it to spread the word.

Now quick, let’s all play catch-up!

Parents of the previous generation who wanted to bestow all their mushy, gushy love on their kids–in book form–had Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever and Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You for bedtime reading. Cuddled under the covers, snug and cozy while turning pages, is there any better way to share a deep parent-child bond?

But it’s time for those books to move over and make way for new Valentine’s classics!

I can’t think of a better gift for the holiday than a book. Candy rots their teeth, plus you end up eating most if it yourself, don’t you? (Well, I do.) And where will you store yet another Build-A-Bear that gets forgotten by March?

Valentine’s Day belongs to books. And these three are perfect picks to declare all your mushy, gushy love. And grandparents, take note. These books are just right for you and your grandkids, too.

I Love You More Than Rainbows
by Susan Crites
Illustrated by Mark & Rosemary Jarman
Published by Thomas Nelson

With whimsical illustrations as bright as rainbows, Susan Crites’s book uses analogies children can easily understand to explain the concept of love. Kids are crazy about ice cream cones with sprinkles on top, puppies, birthday parties, sleigh riding and hot cocoa. But as great as those childhood favorites are, parental love still trumps them all.

Try inserting your child’s favorites while you read this book. With my kids, “I love you more than albino rock pythons, Sun Chips and Daphne from Scooby-Doo” might work well. Don’t ask about the snake, but I could use help finding something to rhyme with Scooby-Doo. Yabba-Dabba Doo? Anyone have a Hanna-Barbera rhyming dictionary?

But I digress…

With a jaunty rhyme that never gets too sing-songy, this book is a joy to read aloud, and the bold colors will delight a young audience.

Published by Thomas Nelson, I Love You More Than Rainbows won a Mom’s Choice Award and is available in hardcover and in board book form—at a great price, too. There’s even a Kindle version.

Me with You
by Kristy Dempsey
Illustrated by Christopher Denise
Published by Philomel Books

When Kristy Dempsey wrote this story, she couldn’t imagine that her editor and illustrator Christopher Denise would interpret her characters as granddaughter and grandfather. But after reading this book, you’ll agree, there’s no more perfect a pair.

Me with You celebrates the joys of being yourself around someone you love, the comfort a great relationship brings. Grandpa is always there to support his favorite young cub, even when she’s feeling selfish and gruff. The two allow each other to express themselves, always knowing their love will not waver.

Me With You also highlights the importance of spending time apart from those you love, “to be the kind of you that you can be when you’re alone.” This book is a good choice for children who are apprehensive about separation from a loved one.

This rhyming book offers a smooth, gentle beat, and the light, airy illustrations breathe of spring. Denise has mastered body language and facial expressions to demonstrate the deep bond shared by this “pair beyond compare.” A favorite page features Grandpa in a Babe Ruth pose, pointing to the outfield as his granddaughter cheers him on. (I have to mention the blades of grass, which you may think are insignificant, but I’ve never seen such luscious fields, I want to take off my shoes and run across this book.)

You don’t have to be a grandparent to fall in love with it this Valentine’s Day.

You’re Lovable to Me
by Kat Yeh
Illustrated by Sue Anderson
Published by Random House

The theme of You’re Lovable to Me is unconditional love: parents love their children no matter what they do.

Mama Bunny is having a rough day keeping track of her Bunny Babies and all their hare-y mischief. But no matter what they do, Mama Bunny reminds them that through their joy and sadness, their frolic and frustration, “You are my bunnies. And you’re lovable to me.”

Once her bunny babies are tucked in, Mama bunny crashes on the couch. Oh, how we parents can relate! Mama Bunny’s father arrives and upon seeing his exhausted daughter, he reminds her, “You’re lovable to me.”

If this review had a soundtrack, it would be Elton John’s “Circle of Life!” This book reminds our children that we were once children, too–and that everyone needs to be reminded that they are loved.

Sue Anderson illustrates in a simple, pastel style that takes advantage of white space, complementing the sweet story with a gentle, relaxed mood. The nostalgic feel of this book makes it my top pick for being a New Valentine’s Classic!

What are your New Valentine’s Classics?

preschool1

  1. “What did you do in school today?” elicits complete silence or the popular refrains, “I don’t know” and “I don’t remember.”
  2. You are the “only mommy” who did not pack a lunch dessert for your child.  Apparently, strawberries don’t qualify as dessert, especially not if your child cannot open the Ziplock baggie in which they were stored.
  3. Your child must have a backpack even though they don’t have books or papers to carry back and forth on a daily basis.  Carrying an empty backpack is completely normal and necessary.
  4. The details you do learn of your child’s day are superfluous: “My teacher wears high heels!”
  5. Smiling while looking at the camera is an endeavor more difficult than the decathalon.
  6. Stopping to chat with other mothers for only a minute or two turns into over an hour and you wonder if you will soon be referred to as a yenta.
  7. Even though your child concedes that the Dora the Explorer pillow you provided for naptime is not actually alive, Dora still managed to grab and pull your child’s hair with malicious intent.
  8. Your child whines of hunger the second you pick them up.  Refer to #2 above.
  9. Once greeted by six hours of free time (even though that free time is spent with a 10 month-old baby) you should not start promising owners of Gymboree franchises that you will teach infant classes three days a week.
  10. Do not provide your child with the coolest new underwear from the most popular new Disney movie if you do not want her lifting her dress every five minutes to show her classmates.
  11. You can get up at 6:30am without being a zombie—just go to bed at 6:30pm.
  12. If you send your child to school in sandals, they will return home with black feet.
  13. Never before have six hours gone by so slowly…and yet so quickly.

No, that’s not the title of my latest book. It’s a bonafide neighborhood mystery.

Although we live in the Garden State, our community is not known for its plots of open land. We’re right on top of one another. We therefore get creative when it comes to gardening. I have an herb garden in three containers on my deck–sweet basil, chives, parsley, dill, oregano, mint, and sad, sad cilantro which browned over within two weeks of planting. I never claimed to have a green thumb.

My Asian neighbor, on the other hand, has a thick, prodigious vine with enormous leaves and bright yellow-orange blooms. At first, I thought it might be pumpkin, not only for its appearance, but for its location, growing along the side of the house amongst a hedge. Some kid might have dumped a rotting jack-o-lantern there last fall.

The vine has consumed the hedge and jumped onto a neighboring cherry tree, wrapping around the branches and soaring ever higher. And there, hanging down for all to admire, a lonely, giant green squash.

It’s shape reminds me of a bowling pin, thinner at the top, heavy at the bottom. It has a dark green color and no discernible pattern.

Just what is it?

And when will they pick it?

The “squash stroll” is our evening entertainment. We hurry along the sidewalk to the tree, to see if the giant vegetable still remains. And each day, it hangs there, fueling our curiousity. The Asian neighbors are not to be found.

Today my toddler and I found a second squash lying across the thickest branches of the hedge, as if it were taking a nap. It has grown quietly while its sibling hangs proudly for all the neighborhood to see.

So, please tell me, what is it? What kind of vegetable? How do you prepare it? What does it taste like?

Perhaps I should ring the doorbell and ask. But sometimes figuring out a mystery is so much more fun.

(Update! Today I met the young Chinese girl who lives at the house. She did call the vegetable a squash, but she could not recall the English word for it. She says it tastes like pumpkin. I would still like to find out the name! And I neglected to ask her when it would be harvested!)

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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