Look What's Coming Down the River ...

Katie, Eliza Jane and I would like to give you, our River Royals readers, an early Christmas present. It's that time of the year, it's more important to give than receive, and we're just so excited about our new manuscript, River Royals Paddle the Potomac, that we want to scream it from the snow-covered rooftops. There's not any snow in Houston, but this book series is all about having fun with our imaginations. We believe.

I shared photos from our "research" trip to Washington, D.C. in our last blog post. It was an incredible week seeing first-hand the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, our nation's capitol, the Smithsonian, and awe-inspiring Arlington National Cemetery housing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and President Kennedy's grave. We left wanting to sing Lee Greenwood's song, "God Bless the U.S.A.," to strangers we met in the airport. The experience made us realize that, despite our different locales, cultures, climates, choice in music, whatever, we're all united as Americans. The same soldiers fought (and are fighting) for the freedom we all enjoy.

That's one of the main reasons we're so excited about our manuscript for River Royals Paddle the Potomac. This is not a regional story. It's a story with national appeal. It's a message that all Americans -- including children -- need to hear and celebrate. It's also a lot of fun.

So, without further ado, we'd like to share with you a snippet of River Royals Paddle the Potomac. To set the stage, after receiving her crown in River Royals Master the Mississippi, Eliza Jane wants to take her newly-acquired royalty status to Washington, D.C. to rule as Queen of America. If she could only find a Vice-King. Henry's too little. He can be a Lord. Completing a homework assignment on the Potomac River gives Eliza Jane the idea to canoe the river to find the perfect Vice-King. Along the way, she meets Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidents of the past, including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. We won't tell you if she establishes residency in the White House as Queen of America, but we'd love to share a part of the adventure where she encounters Civil War General, Stonewall Jackson, from the bow of her canoe . . .

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"Your highness, it appears we are heading into a stone wall!" Henry shouts from the bow.

"Batten down the hatches! There's rough sailing ahead," I call back. Then, I look. "Wait, Henry, lower the canon. We're in Frederick, Maryland. That's not a real stone wall. That's Stonewall Jackson. He was a Confederate general who marched through here during the Civil War."

I stand at attention and salute General Jackson. "Hello, Fine Sir, my name is Eliza Jane. Would you kindly introduce us to your grandmother?" I ask.

"Of course, my dear, but that's not my grandmother. That's Barbara Frietchie, the brave lady who rescued our country's flag."

"That's right," says Barbara Frietchie. "I told General Jackson's rascals, 'Shoot if you must, this old gray head, but spare your country's flag.'" She looks like she's 95, but she seems strong and brave.

"What did you do, General?" I ask.

"I told my soldiers to keep marching," he said.

"Girl Power!" I shout. "Ms. Frietchie, do you care to accompany us to our nation's capitol to serve as my Vice-Queen?" I ask. "We can have tea parties."

"I beg your pardon, Miss Eliza Jane. We don't have royalty in America. We already had a Tea Party and a Revolution so we would be free of kings and queens," says Ms. Frietchie.

"I beg your pardon, Ms. Frietchie, but America needs a queen," I respond. I try to curtsy, but the canoe gets too tippy. "Thank you both for your bravery," I say.

"Paddle on, Lord Henry," I command. "Let's head to Washington, D.C. I'm sure we can find my Vice-King in our nation's capitol."

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Have we piqued your interest? How about a couple more of the amazing Penny Weber's sketches?

Does Abraham Lincoln want to serve as Eliza Jane's Vice-King? How about Ronald Reagan or George Washington? We look forward to you finding out when River Royals Paddle the Potomac hits bookshelves.

Happy Holidays,
Sarah

 

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River Royals' Authors Paddle the Potomac

Stroke, feather. Stroke, feather.

The River Royals left our inner tubes in Mississippi and hopped in a canoe to paddle the Potomac River recently. Not really. Instead, we enjoyed extra leg room on the front row of a Southwest flight as we flew to Washington, D.C. for a joyous celebration and mini book tour. We also did some "serious" research for our new book, River Royals Paddle the Potomac, while in our nation's capitol. 

first order of business

At the top of our list of trip activities was the 10th Anniversary Celebration of Our Military Kids. Target was the presenting sponsor of the celebration, while River Royals was blessed to serve as a secondary sponsor with the Rumsfeld Foundation. Senators, Representatives, families and other honored guests went home with a copy of River Royals Master the Mississippi, OMK bags, rubber bracelets and other patriotic swag.

If you haven't heard of this wonderful organization helping the children of our service men and women through grants for fine arts, tutoring and sports leagues, listen up! In its ten years, Our Military Kids has awarded nearly 50,000 grants totaling $20 million. The program no longer receives any federal funding and is solely financed by corporations, foundations, and private donors - like you and me!

Before River Royals partnered with this charity, I had not thought much about a child's burden of dealing with a parent's military service, both during a parent's deployment and after arriving home (often a very changed person). These little war heroes' stories will bring tears to your eyes, including the ones in the attached press release.  OMK's grants help alleviate the (often huge) stress on military children by giving them an enjoyable outlet in which to focus their attention. Sometimes the grants even result in U.S. Olympic gold medals! Remember Gabby Douglas of the 2012 U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team? Yep, she's an OMK grant recipient!

second order of business

We can't make a trip to our nation's capitol without sharing our love for America with the smallest River Royals fans! Next up on the agenda were school visits to Beauvoir National Cathedral Elementary School, Horace Mann Elementary School and Janney Elementary School. We are always fired up to celebrate patriotism, but it's especially exciting when we can see national monuments from classroom windows! In short, we enjoyed wonderful school visits with enthusiastic children in our amazing capitol! 

third order of business

We spent the few remaining hours of our adventure in our tennis shoes walking to as many museums, monuments and other main attractions as possible. In the name of research for our next book, we had a blast! Visits to the Smithsonian American History Museum, the Holocaust Museum, the National Mall, the Capitol, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and Rosa Mexicano on 7th Street (TWICE for the homemade guacamole) were some of the highlights.

As a result of all that research and feet to the pavement, we completed our manuscript for River Royals Paddle the Potomac! We're so excited about it that we want to share a sneak peek with you ... next time on the blog! Until then, get a little teaser here

Sarah

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Fan Mail Favorite

The River Royals are blessed to have received lots of wonderful, kind, thoughtful and creative pieces of fan mail over the last year. We share many of them on our website here. When I am having a hard day, it immediately cheers me up to reread these adorable letters. One letter, however, is sure to make me laugh out loud, regardless of what's going on in my day. We have Maya from Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas to thank for this gem.

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The imagination of a child is an amazing and wonderful thing. If only we could tap into that creativity, we would all laugh more and come up with some dynamite ideas for making our world a better place.

If you haven't read River Royals Master the Mississippi yet, you really need to check it out. Because Maya, and the other Benjamin, and the other Benjamin's brother, Andrew, and Maya's sister, Sara, who thinks any animal with a long, thin face is a dog, all really like it. I'm sure her best friend, Benjamin, would have liked it too (had he been at school that day).

May you celebrate today with your own "feathery glow in the dark dance!"

You're the best, Maya,
Sarah

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My Writing Process (A Blog Tour)

Meet our wildly-talented friend, Chris Cander. In addition to rocking a pilot's license, a MENSA card and a 2nd-degree black belt in taekwondo, she is a much lauded author. Chris's novel, 11 Stories, was named by Kirkus Reviews as "one of the best Indie General Fiction Books of 2013." While focusing primarily on fiction, Chris also writes children's books and continues to write articles for health and fitness, lifestyle, and parenting magazines, and is collaborating on two screenplays. 

Chris invited us to answer four questions as part of a blog tour on our "Writing Process," which we gladly accepted. We love reading what inspires and motivates other authors, as well as the steps they take to go from idea to finished product. [See Chris's answers in blog tour here.] Below you'll find our answers to these questions and then we'll invite two more authors to join the fun!

what am i working on?

While we await the trade release of River Royals Paddle the Potomac, Katie and I are working on the next books in the River Royals children's book series.

River Royals Crash the Colorado focuses on the Colorado River as the duo search for GOLD! If they find a quick way to add gold to their piggy banks, they could live like royalty. During a wild trip back to the Gold Rush of the 1860’s, the siblings raft through the Grand Canyon and visit the Hoover Dam. Eliza Jane and Henry strike "fool's gold" and conclude all that glitters isn't gold. "This land was made for you and me," but prosperity and success only come through hard work. 

River Royals Airboat the Amazon features the Amazon River in South America as Eliza Jane and Henry become Inca Sapa (King) and Coya (Queen) of the Ancient Incan Empire. With their royal titles, they embark on a journey to save the world’s largest rainforest. Exploring this majestic region, they begin their journey in the Andes Mountains, traverse jungles in the luscious rainforest and samba their way through the heart of the Amazon at Carnival Manaus. On this colorful adventure, they learn that we all have an obligation to “make the world a better place.”

River Royals Travel the Thames meanders the Thames River in London with Eliza Jane, Henry, the nasty King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and other members of Britain's Royal Family. Through fun experiences watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, chasing the ravens at The Tower of London and getting a bird's eye view of Big Ben from The London Eye, King Henry VIII's personality reveals itself to be most disagreeable. Eliza Jane and Henry proclaim themselves Queen Elizabeth the Great and King Henry IX with golden crowns to teach the nasty King Henry VIII the worldly "Golden Rule," namely to do unto others as you would have them do unto you!

River Royals Navigate the Nile explores the Nile River in Africa as the brother-sister duo partner with child royals, Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, and King Tutankhamen. The foursome set out with grand plans to restore the Great Sphinx of Giza and the Egyptian Pyramids. This 4,000 mile adventure up the world’s largest river takes them through various landscapes of extremes including desert, jungle and savannah. Learning from Cleopatra and King Tut’s youthful reigns, they discover “little hands can make a big difference” in our world today.

Why do I write?

First, we write because we enjoy it! We often tell each other that we have the best job in the world! Katie has a journalism degree and I have a law degree that we've put to use in very different writing capacities over the past ten years. We also share a love of children's books and enjoy creating and returning to our elementary school selves as kid-lit authors.

Second, we write because it provides a creative outlet outside of our daily (and wonderful) duties while wearing our wife and mother hats. After a writing session, marketing meeting or school visit, we return to our jobs at home with more energy and gusto.

Third, we love to see the reaction of our children when we dive into a world in which they are the experts. They are our best critics and fans at the same time. It's also given our children the confidence that, "If Mommy can do this, I can too!" It makes me so happy when my daughter writes me another staple-bound story with the comment, "It's a series, Mom."

How does my writing differ from others of its genre?

We found precious few patriotic books in the world of children's literature. That is very sad and it's the reason we decided to create the River Royals book series! We're authors, mothers and friends who share a love for our country borne from our families' military backgrounds. Our fathers served as Army and Navy officers during The Vietnam War and our grandfathers served as officers in World War II with the Air Force, Army and Navy. We grew up realizing the value of freedom and appreciating the sacrifices soldiers make that enable us to live in "the land of the free and the home of the brave." Children must be educated, in an age-appropriate way, about our military, our soldiers' amazing service and the reason we continue to live in a free country. It's a fun and joyous lesson to teach through the River Royals series! 

How does my writing process work?

We began our "writing process" with Thursday night "book nights" at Cafe Express in Houston, Texas. They played great music, provided plugs under our tables to keep our laptops alive and served delicious black bean soup, with the occasional glass of wine. (We've found wine helps when creating dialogue for animals.) We generally start with an idea of the adventure that we want the River Royals to take. Then, we pull out our laptops and start researching. That leads us to discover Carnival Manaus at the heart of the Amazon River and child-rulers, King Tut and Cleopatra, along the Nile River. What follows is a wonderful collaboration of two best friends in their "happy place" writing together.

Our Blog Tour Invitation to Two Wonderful Authors You Need to Meet

Sarah Frances Hardy

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With a juris doctorate cum laude from the University of Mississippi School of Law, a Bachelor of Arts in fine art from Davidson College, and subsequent studies at Parsons School of Design in New York and Paris, Sarah Frances Hardy took an early retirement from practicing law to paint and write full time. Most recently, Sarah Frances has redirected her creative juices towards writing and illustrating books for children--picture books as well as middle grade and young adult novels.

Her first book, Puzzled by Pink, which she both wrote and illustrated was published in April of 2012 by Viking Children’s Books. Her next book, Paint Me!, about a girl who begins the day painting a portrait of her dog and ends up painting everything she comes across was published by Sky Pony in May of 2014. Visit Sarah Frances's website, www.sfhardy.com, to learn more about her artistic and literary talents!

Brandi Sikes

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Brandi McDonald Sikes is a an executive managing director of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank in Houston, Texas. Over the course of 18 years, Brandi has completed over ten million square feet of brokerage transactions, representing a total value exceeding $2 billion. (Eliza Jane would throw out a "Girl Power!" right here.)

What's more, she's a strong advocate for educational endeavors within her community. She is a volunteer for the STEM program through GHWCC and has served as a mentor for the University of Houston Bauer College NAWMBA program and Pershing Middle School.

She has recently engaged her love of inspirational writing through blogging for Sacred Stories Ministries (http://sacredstoryministries.org/blog/) and publishing her first children's book, "My Santa."  It is the first in a series of books that illuminate the mind of a child, transitioning them from traditions of this world to the truth of Jesus. www.mysantabook.com.

Until next time,
Sarah
www.riverroyals.com

 

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Executive Orders from Kid President and Queen Eliza Jane

I want to give a "Medal of Awesome" back to Kid President. If you are one of the "boring" ones who has not heard of Kid President, despite his meetings with everyone from President Obama to Beyonce, "life needs you to stop being boring ... You're gooder than that." 

Kid President, a.k.a Robby Novak, age 10, is the author of all the awesome quotes in this post and the forthcoming "Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome," published through Harper Collins. He is also the television star of "Kid President: Declaration of Awesome" on the HubNetwork. Why do the River Royals love Kid President? The answers are way too many to list in one blog post, but at the top of that list is Kid President's similarity to River Royals' leading lady, Eliza Jane. You've got to love kids born/created on paper with that spunk and charisma. "Kids [like that] can change the world!" The first Kid President video that rapidly went viral was born out of "the simple belief that kids have voices worth listening to." We agree and have compiled a list of our favorite Kid President awesome executive orders.

First Awesome Order
"If you want to change the world, you gotta know about it."

Can kids change the world? YES, but knowledge is power! Remember singing about that thirty years ago on Saturday mornings with School House Rock? In addition to reigning as Queen of Mardi Gras, Eliza Jane wants to make kids powerful through learning about our world! Did you know that a raindrop falling in Minnesota's Lake Itasca will arrive at the Gulf of Mexico in 90 days? How is your knowledge of the California Gold Rush of the 1850's, King Henry VIII's temper and King Tut's childhood? If you want to change the world, you gotta know about it. That's where Eliza Jane comes in.

Second Awesome Order
"If life's a game, aren't we all on the same team?"

As Eliza Jane says, "Quaint little towns and big cities all work together to make America shine!" What a great job we have as parents and educators to teach our children about our awesome country. Fun ways we can do that include (1) Flying the American flag at our homes and teaching about Francis Scott Key's observations of the flag the morning after the last battle of the War of 1812; (2) Share patriotic media with your children such as Lynne Cheney's book, "America: A Patriotic Primer" and Disney's movie, "Johnny Tremain;" (3) Take family vacations to patriotic destinations including Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Boston, Arlington National Cemetery, Gettysberg and Mount Vernon, to name a few; and (4) Write letters to elected officials and notes of thanks to our soldiers

If all else fails to unite us as American citizens, bake cupcakes. "Cupcakes can bring us together."

Third Awesome Order
Become an army man.
"Because you get to make the world better when you're an army man."

Isn't that the truth? At the risk of providing spoilers, Eliza Jane might be eyeing a run at Admiral of the US Navy. More on that to come in River Royals Paddle the Potomac. Army man, Navy woman, Air Force man, Marine woman, you all deserve a "Medal of Awesome." Do your children understand the sacrifices that soldiers make to enable us to live in the Land of the Free and the Home of the BraveThe River Royals authors' desire to share our love of country with the the youngest patriots, borne from our families' military backgrounds, is how the River Royals series began. We have wonderful pictures on our website of our fathers and grandfathers serving in Vietnam and World War II. Have you taught your children to walk up to service men and women in uniform at the airport to shake their hands and thank them? It's an awesome way to help children understand that our freedom isn't free.

The River Royals are traveling to our nation's capitol in a couple of weeks to celebrate these brave soldiers and their families. We have proudly partnered with Our Military Kids, Inc. to help provide grants for fine arts, sports and tutoring programs to children of Americans serving in the military. We are honored to donate books to all guests at Our Military Kids' Tenth Anniversary Celebration in Washington, D.C., including keynote speaker, ABC's Elizabeth Vargas, and members of Congress. Not bad company, Eliza Jane.

Fourth Awesome Order
"Don't stop believing, unless your dream is stupid ... Then get a better dream and keep going, keep going, keep going."

There are very few stupid dreams out there. The River Royals series started with a phone call from a friend that turned into years of "book nights" at Cafe Express in Houston, Texas, that turned into author visits at approximately one hundred schools last year, that turned into an agent on 5th Avenue in NYC. Who knows what's next, because "you [and I] were made to be awesome." 

Fifth Awesome Order
"Read a book, any book."

Eliza Jane would tweak that slightly to say "any book in the River Royals series." Remember, knowledge is power.

Sixth Awesome Order
"Mail Somebody a Corn Dog."

Mailing somebody a corn dog just sounds like something Eliza Jane would be all over. 

Go be awesome.

Sarah

 

 

 

 

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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Children's Publishing (But Were Afraid to Ask)

I love London. I lived there during law school. It's filled with fantastic museums. Soho is awesome. Hyde Park is beautiful. I learned I loved curry and Indian food. Who doesn't love Downton Abbey? Now I have another reason to like London because I found a blog post from the UK that summarizes most all of what I would say about breaking into the children's book publishing world. When we set out to publish our first book in the River Royals series, I would have loved to find the above post that begins by asking questions all aspiring children's book authors have asked themselves:

"What do you have to do in order to be a successful children's book author these days? Write a great story, naturally, but what about getting an agent, and marketing your book, and tweeting, and branding, and finding the right editor to work with, and entertaining school children while dressed up as a giant bunny [or in my case, a yellow southern belle] and wielding a glitter gun?"    

Yes! Finding those answers would be like finding the Holy Grail of KidLit! Turns out, as you are probably well aware, getting published and becoming a successful children's book author is not that easy. You can do all the right things, check all the boxes and still not get published and have a successful career. On the other hand, chances are good that won't see your book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble unless you follow some basic guidelines.

So, enjoy some English Breakfast Tea, with a little milk, and read the super English blog post above. Then, in case you'd like my two cents on the subject after years of what seemed like running in place to then visiting five states and almost 100 schools in one year, keep reading.

1. Rejection will happen and it's not necessarily a bad thing.  River Royals was rejected approximately 30 times (from agents and publishing houses) before we heard YES!  Most came in the form of fill-in-the-blank standard rejections. In fact, we only received one really nice rejection. That sounds like an oxymoron, but you come to appreciate nice rejections. Keep trying. It only takes one publisher. Word on the street is that Gone With the Wind was rejected 80 times. Now, next to the Bible, it's been printed more than any book in history. John Grisham self-published A Time to Kill after failing to land a publisher and before The Firm launched his career. 

The River Royals continued to take some hard knocks even after getting published. Some came in the form of bookings that resulted in no interest and awkward conversation among book fair hosts (despite the fact that I was dressed in the aforementioned yellow southern belle costume). Some came in the form of presenting to hundreds of children, then selling five books. Last year was a learning curve, and we learned a LOT! You learn what works and what doesn't. The main thing is to keep working. 

2. Consider working for free. You may be thinking, "Why in the world would I do that?! I'm in this to make money!"

First, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is not a lucrative business. In fact, you'll be required to invest time and money to get off the ground. A small percentage of authors hit it big with Disney movies and figurines at Target, but I can count that number on one hand.

Second, you'll be overpaid with precious comments from little readers. My favorite one last year came from Ainsley at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas. With great enthusiasm, she told us, "I usually do not like reading, but after you came to my school, I LOVE reading." See? Overpaid.

Third, you don't have to work for free forever. Consider visiting schools without charging an honorarium initially, but ask that your order forms are sent to interested parents prior to your arrival. Hopefully you will sell some books that way, and most importantly, you will begin building your "platform."

3. What is a platform and why do people keep stressing that I build a larger one? A platform is a comprehensive plan detailing your target audience, why your audience will be interested in following you and how you intend to reach your followers (through social media and public events). Even if you are fortunate enough to land a killer contract with one of the big five publishing houses, branding and marketing yourself as an author is going to largely fall on your shoulders. There are too many books published a year and marketing is too expensive for houses to help get your name out there.

PRIOR to approaching houses, have an attractive website, blog interesting topics consistently on your site and grow your Twitter followers (3-4 posts a day) and Facebook friends (2-3 posts a week). A good rule of thumb for gathering followers is to make 80% of your posts about topics relevant to the publishing world and only 20% shameless plugs for your book. The larger platform you have, the more attractive you are going to be to agents and editors. Show them you are willing to work hard.

4. Think outside the box. This does not mean sending your query letter on hot pink paper. Really, don't do that. Send in a query letter that you have rewritten many times over many days that has a great hook and concisely sells your book and you, in that order (another post for another day). I know the hard and fast rule, "thou shalt not use the telephone to contact agents and editors!" This is true 99% of the time. However, we've had some luck picking up the telephone. What??! It's true. Main rule on that note, be very nice to the receptionist. She is the gatekeeper. Rely much more heavily on an amazing query letter - on white paper.

You can also think outside of the box in terms of agents and editors that you choose to pitch. Research lots of both. What about you or your book matches perfectly with a particular agent or editor? Finally, keep your mind open to lots of possibilities. Our agent does not typically handle children's books, but he's had great success on 5th Avenue in Manhattan and works daily with children's book agents, our personalities meshed wonderfully and we are thrilled he chose to represent us.

Now, finish your English tea and scones and go get a publishing contract!

Sarah

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"Children's" Books for Adults

How many times have you, as a parent, read Goodnight Moon before bedtime? Can you recite it in your sleep (including the high-pitched voice when talking to the mouse)? How about The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Pat the Bunny and Go, Dog. Go!? They are surely classics that every parent should read a million times. I, obviously, love children's books and love reading them to my own children, but especially appreciate those books with humor bringing the parents back for more. The humor that makes me pick a certain book off a crowded bookshelf takes the form of witty writing, clever and unexpected twists, some over-the-heads-of-children puns, anecdotal comments, and pop culture references.

I am not the only one to seek this humor, and books are not the only medium to reflect the trend directing content toward children, yet containing current-culture jokes and references for parents. In fact, blockbuster movies adding adult laughs helped launch the literary movement. Disney picked up on parents' appreciation of humor-for-all-ages in the late 80's and early 90's when they heralded in a new age for modern animated movies. My favorite, Aladdin, was introduced in 1992 and showcased the genius, Robin Williams, as the hilarious voice of the genie. There were other funny supporting characters, including the round sultan, bitter parrot, and chatty monkey, but the genie took center stage and kept children of all ages laughing. "It's the genie who stops the show," described Roger Ebert, "improvising from one character to another: from Ed Sullivan to Elvis to Arsenio Hall to a tailor to a Scottish Terrier." Whether improvised or not, parents were as entertained as children.

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hilarious "children's" books for all ages

What does this humor look like in book form? (This is a blog about books after all). Arriving very late to the game, I just discovered The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka. It received a Caldecott Honor and is the second funniest children's book I've ever read. Other than the fact that I was in high school when it was released in 1992 (long, long time ago), how did this book escape me as a parent? It needs to be on every child's bookshelf. 

I have to believe Mother Goose is somewhere rolling over in her grave. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales introduces children to rhyming, alliteration and the beauty of imagination. Jack the Narrator retells stories we all think we know and love with unexpected, ironic, hilarious endings. "With its unconventional page arrangement and eclectic, frenetic mix of text and pictures," The Horn Book describes it as "a spoof on the art of book design and the art of the fairy tale." For instance, in the story of the Really Ugly Duckling, "well, as it turned out, he was just a really ugly duckling. And he grew up to just be a really ugly duck. The End." In another tale, Chicken Licken, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, Cocky Locky and Jack the Narrator are all squashed by, not the sky falling, but the table of contents. Then, there's the Little Red Hen who constantly interrupts the narrator to complain about the lazy author and illustrator -- until she is eaten by the Big Hungry Giant. I won't spoil the ending of "Cinderumpelstiltskin or The Girl Who Really Blew It" for you. 

If The Stinky Cheese Man is the second funniest children's book I've ever read, what is the first, you might wonder. It's Eloise. Surely you've met her, but if not: She is Eloise. She is six. She is a city child. And she lives at the Plaza. She has a dog, Weenie, who looks like a cat and a turtle who eats raisins, wears sneakers and requires his ears braided or else "he gets cross and develops a rash." Eloise does nothing but terrorize the poor employees and guests of the Plaza Hotel in NYC until she pauses "to think of a way to get a present." Remind me never to come back as her "rawther" British nanny, "for Lord's sake." I have heard Eloise criticized for it's length. Blasphemy. I wish it went on forever. While we do not wish to create little Eloises living in our houses, parents have loved this book since it was first released in 1955. In fact, it rose to No. 5 on the Adult Fiction Bestseller list the same year. Long live Eloise.

While your family's giggle-box is turned upside-down, I have one other favorite on my list your whole family will enjoy:

Guess Again! by Mac Barnett is described by Publishers Weekly as "a funny, absurdist take on guessing game books." In this short and silly picture book, children are invited to guess the answer of an object described in a four-line stanza and revealed on the following page. However, the obvious, sensical, rhyming answer is never the answer! For example, 

Who's got white teeth and fiery breath
And scares Sir Frank the Brave to death?
This frightened knight must stop his braggin'
Who's spooked our knight? That's right! A [turn page]
dentist, Dr. Larry Roberts.

Children turn the page to find a scary-looking dentist in a white coat casting a giant dragon-mouthed shadow from his toothbrush. The colorful, engaging illustrations, as shown below and often hidden behind flaps and fold-out pages, add to the fun. You think you know the answer? Guess Again!

 

one hilariously honest "children's" book 

Is there an appropriate limit to inappropriate "children's" books with subtle, or not so subtle, adult humor? Turns out there is. While admittedly really funny, Go The F**k to Sleep, is probably not the first book you'll choose to enjoy with your children. Besides being laced with profanity, the same humor that will entertain tired, end-of-the-day parents will be lost on children. What parent hasn't been here? 

The cats nestle close to their kittens now.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear
Please go the f**k to sleep.

Surviving parenthood requires some humor, right? Surviving childhood requires humor too. Life, for me, requires a little bit of sarcasm. Chances are, your children share your sense of humor. Treat your whole family to the addition of the books in this blog post. It makes bedtime SO much more fun!

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Sarah

P.S. Go the F**k to Sleep can be for your eyes only. When the kids finally do go to sleep and you're too tired to read, you can laugh watching Samuel L. Jackson narrate the "children's book for adults" that reached No. 1 on Amazon.com's bestseller list months before it's release. I was going to post the book trailer here, but my husband asked, "Is that really the image you want for your children's book blog?" He has a point. We provide wholesome blogging about children's literature here. So, google it yourself.

P.P.S. River Royals will never publish a book laced with profanity. Promise.

P.P.P.S. I can't wait to read School! Adventures at the Harvey N. Trouble Elementary School (described by Publishers Weekly as "30Rock set in elementary school.") Next on my list is Nicholas by Goscinny & Sempe. Originally published in France in 1959, it's the story of an energetic school boy who "will make children laugh out loud." The Wall Street Journal

 

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Summer Readin' ... Had Me a Blast

I am not above bribery as a parent. I can especially justify it when it is for a good cause. My bribery has taken the form of summer reading charts, with prizes earned for each set of twenty books read. At first, getting my children to read while on summer vacation was quite a challenge. As a children's book author, the irony of this is not lost on me. Children learn when learning is made fun, so how can I make reading compete with the swimming pool?

I decided to make an adventure with the children of going to Office Max, picking out graph poster board, the best markers we could find and smiley face/sports balls stickers to document our reading successes. We/I then copied (in not a short amount of time) the Houston Area Independent Schools Library Network's (HAISLN) list of suggested summer reading. It's a fantastic list of recommended reading for children in grades Pre-K through 12th grade. I highly suggest you check it out! 

Our next adventure involved visiting the public libraries around our house to find books on our lists. It was an educational scavenger hunt, and the kids loved it! Now, both of my children (who I'll remind you did not want to spend summer vacation reading), have had a blast reading, marking off their progress with their favorite stickers, and reaping their just rewards with a trip to the toy store. My daughter even chose to forego toys for more books in her favorite chapter book series. 

My lesson in all of this? Bribery works.

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Unique, Independent Bookstores we Love

Remember Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan's classic movie from the late 90's, You've Got Mail? Two lovable characters in Manhattan who fall in love with each other over email, but hate each other in person? Tom's character, Joe Fox, and Meg's character, Kathleen Kelly, are as charming as the actors who play them and make, even men, enjoy romantic comedies (whether they admit it or not). Know what was more endearing to me than the characters? The bookstore.

Meg/Kathleen ran the little bookstore called The Shop Around the Corner. She read all the books, knew all the customers and greeted them as friends as they walked in the door. You won't see me write anything negative about Barnes and Noble. I feel very blessed to be on the shelves there and am especially fond of my friend and manager, Kate, at the Houston Westheimer location. I do, however, love the small, local bookstore with the personal service from someone who loves books as much as I do. Small, independent bookstores seem to be a dying breed, sadly, and this post is an effort to celebrate what amazing gems they are to book lovers.

My co-author, Katie, had the honor of reading at Square Books, Jr. in Oxford, Mississippi this week. Square Books is one of the most wonderful, charming, well-known independent bookstores in the country. Plus, Katie's degree from Ole' Miss, the Oxford Eagle's cover praise for River Royals, and the overall charm of this literary town makes the River Royals' reading there a surreal milestone. Thus, I'm going to start my list of amazing and unique independent bookstores with Square Books.

Katie reading River Royals Master the Mississippi at Square Books, Jr.

Katie reading River Royals Master the Mississippi at Square Books, Jr.

1. Square Books, 160 Courthouse Square, Oxford, Mississippi - www.squarebooks.com

Earning the title of "Bookstore of the Year" from Publishers Weekly in 2013, it's no wonder that Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi is local John Grisham's venue choice when launching new books. It has a 30-year track record of providing wonderful service to customers on the town square in the middle of Oxford. Square Books also uniquely runs the Thacker Mountain Radio Show, inviting authors to call in and read from their work. They also boast over 150 author events per year. 

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2. Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe and Grill, 1517 Connecticut Avenue, Washington, D.C. - www.kramers.com

A bookstore, coffee shop and restaurant, oh my! This cool bookstore in our nation's capitol is open 24 hours on Friday and Saturday and has earned the reputation for being book-lovers pick-up venue. What a great idea - a literary-minded dating hot spot!

3. The Booksmith, 1644 Haight Street, San Francisco, California - www.booksmith.com

Located in the colorful Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, The Booksmith hosts an impressive list of author visits and events, including "book swaps" in which customers come together to trade used books. We love how friends and strangers can share the book love at no expense.

4. Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts - www.harvard.com

In addition to rubbing elbows with Ivy League smarties and browsing everything from text books to children's books, Harvard Book Store offers bicycle book delivery if you're staying in the area. Should you decide to visit the store in person, you'll have the opportunity to print and bind any of millions of titles in minutes from the store's "book-making robot." Leave it to Harvard to create a "book-making robot!"

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5. Taylor Books, 226 Capitol Street, Charleston, West Virginia - www.taylorbooks.com

Charming Taylor Books offers live music on Saturday and Sunday nights, fresh pastries each morning, delicious quiches on Sunday mornings, a collection of artwork from local artists, a drawing studio, a collection of hard-to-find magazines and a cafe! As Liz Lemon would say, "I want to go to there."

6. Beauty and The Book, 608 North Polk Street, Jefferson, Texas - www.beautyandthebook.com

As a southern girl, I love this concept! Beauty and The Book is the only full-service hair salon and book store in the United States! It is also the headquarters of the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs with 500 chapters across the nation and in 10 foreign countries. Curl up with a good book with curlers in your hair!

7. Lemuria Books, 202 Banner Hall, Jackson, Mississippi - www.lemuriabooks.com

In addition to the River Royals reading scheduled for July 19th (shameless plug), we love Lemuria Books for lots of reasons! It's open early and closes late, has a great children's book collection, hosts an amazing blog that is updated daily, runs a super first-editions club and maintains a rare book room. This bookstore is a must-visit if you find yourself in Jackson. Did I mention you can catch the River Royals there on July 19th?

Enjoy these wonderful bookstores this summer!

Sarah

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New River Royals Adventures

While Eliza Jane and Henry love exploring America from "rivers to shining seas," the duo plan to dust off their passports and take international adventures with three new titles! They will be "uniting the world one river at a time" in the following escapades:

River Royals Aquaplane the Amazon features the Amazon River in Brazil as Eliza Jane and Henry become Inca Sapa (King) and Coya (Queen) of the Ancient Incan Empire. With their royal titles, they embark on a journey to save the world’s largest rainforest. Exploring this majestic region, they begin their journey in the Andes Mountains, traverse jungles in the luscious rainforest and samba their way through the heart of the Amazon at Carnival Manaus. On this colorful adventure, they learn that we all have an obligation to “make the world a better place.”

River Royals Navigate the Nile explores the Nile River in Africa as the brother-sister duo partner with child royals, Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, and King Tutankhamen. The foursome set out with grand plans to restore the Great Sphinx of Giza and the Egyptian Pyramids. This 4,000 mile adventure up the world’s largest river takes them through various landscapes of extremes including desert, jungle and savannah. Learning from Cleopatra and King Tut’s youthful reigns, they discover “little hands can make a big difference” in our world today.

River Royals Travel the Thames meanders the Thames River in London with Eliza Jane, Henry, the nasty King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and other members of Britain's Royal Family. Through fun experiences watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, chasing the ravens at The Tower of London and getting a bird's eye view of Big Ben from The London Eye, King Henry VIII's personality reveals itself to be most disagreeable. Eliza Jane and Henry proclaim themselves Queen Elizabeth the Great and King Henry IX with golden crowns to teach the nasty King Henry VIII the worldly "Golden Rule," namely to do unto others as you would have them do unto you!

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Blogging with the River Royals!

Hello River Royals Friends! Please stay tuned! We will be blogging soon on happenings in the children's literature world, patriotic games/activities for kids and other fun things you need to know! Any topics you'd like to see us blog about? Send us an email!

Here's a fun pic from the Writers' League of Texas conference to get our blog rolling down the river ... Katie and I had a super time in Austin this weekend with our incredible agent, David Hale Smith of Inkwell Management!

Katie and Sarah

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