My friend and Hollins University colleague, Hillary Homzie, is here today to talk about her latest release from Sky Pony Press, Pumpkins Spice Secrets...

Gratitude, Loss and Joy this Holiday Season
Hillary Homzie

      Last month two things happened to me simultaneously. My new middle grade, Pumpkins Spice Secrets, released and California Wine Country where I live caught on fire. To call it anything less than a horror, would be an understatement. Forty-three lives were claimed, 3 billion dollars worth of property damage. 245,00 acres burned. 90,000 people were displaced. Hundreds and hundreds of houses were burned. Entire neighborhoods went up in smoke.
      My family was lucky. We were mandatorily evacuated for a week and then returned to a yard full of ash but our house still stood and suffered no significant damage other than some mildly smoke-y walls. Other friends weren’t so lucky. They lost not just their houses, but their wedding albums, their artwork, and their family heirlooms.
      It was during this period that I had a lovely new middle grade book to celebrate. A book that had received positive reviews, including one in School Library Journal.
      However, I didn't feel like celebrating.
      I, along with all of the other residents in Napa and Sonoma County, were in a deep sense of shock and grief. In so many neighborhoods, it looked as if a bomb had gone off. How could I celebrate anything when so many had lost so much?
      At first, I considered canceling my October launch party at Copperfield’s Books on October 21. While the fires had mostly been put out, the air was still smoke filled and school wouldn’t start--after a two weeks hiatus--until that Monday.
      Would having a party to celebrate the release of a light-hearted but realistic look at middle grade friendships and crushes be disrespectful? A book where the worst problem is that seventh grader Maddie Campbell is having trouble confessing to her more socially successful best friend Jana Patel that they like the same boy, as well as dealing with her fear of public speaking. Wouldn’t anyone come to my launch?
      I guess I worried that I hadn’t written an important book. A big book about the issues of the day or the tragedies. There were no morally ambiguous politicians, no hurricanes, floods or fires.
      I had written a realistic snapshot of middle school.
      That was all.
      To my surprise and astonishment, folks did come to my launch. Quite a few. Everyone who came had been affected by the fires. They were folks who had been displaced, and they came with their masks in tow. Others had lost their houses. And they came. To my launch.
      I was awestruck. And humbled.
      And I learned something.
      Once people are safe, once they having all the necessary things like clean air to breath, food, a place to sleep, food and clothing, they want to celebrate life. They want to be in a place of joy. They long to laugh.
      And that celebrating fun books that encourage kids to read, especially the less avid readers, is not something to put off. Or feel any shame in.
      At the reading, so many of my friends were all smiles. While they had lost their possessions, they were safe. And most everyone said “it was just stuff.” Furthermore, they felt a deep sense of gratitude to the community for all the support they had received, and wanted to get out and connect with others and bond over books. Some even confessed that the fires had given them a second chance, an opportunity to refresh and start anew.
      Ultimately, although the fires were tragic, with will and determination, there will be a happy ending for most of the people of wine country.
      And in books for young people, while it’s imperative to have narratives that show some of the darker and unwelcome sides, it’s also a service to have books that offer pure pleasure, books that kids read when they’re feeling down and want to be lifted up. Books that are like pure comfort food or in the case of Pumpkin Spice Secrets, a sip of your favorite steaming hot beverage.
      To find out more about the book, go to the Sky Pony Press website.
      Happy holidays everyone!

Coloring Page Tuesday - Cookie Raiders

     The holidays are all about treating yourself and your loved ones. I wish you lots of treats! CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially... THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA! Click the cover to learn about this state-themed picture book! Makes a GREAT teacher gift!
     Don't live in Georgia? Check with your local bookseller - Sterling has a version for each state.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Thanksgiving Edinburgh Salon

This was our 3rd year to host the Edinburgh Salon Thanksgiving Feast. We - hah! It was Stan and Connie and they were flying!
I love hosting the salon because folks pay to have Connie (and Stan) cook for them. So everybody shows up, and on time, and the rule is everybody leaves before the witching hour that would disturb the neighbors. It's a perfect party really. And best of all, there's a regular crowd of us that attend these and we've all become good friends. Many have hosted salons themselves, like Allen and Terri, here with Deborah and Penelope.
Some folks only come every once in a while and it's lovely to catch up. Here are Jane, Chris, and been too long Mel and Antony.
And there are always some new folks in tow. Here are Rob (new), Suzanne, Dan (new), and Alex. Did I get their names right?
The feast was a right and proper Southern-style Thanksgiving dinner with shrimp and salmon mousse appetizers, turkey, ham, nut-loaf, sweet potato casserole with both marshmallows (a must for our UK friends) and pecan crumble, lemon green beans, potatoes in duck fat (okay, that is the UK addition), gravy, home-made cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and pumpkin cheese-cake. WOWSA!
Stan and Connie really outdid themselves. EVERY dish was sublime and everybody dug in with gusto!

Of course, the best thing about the salons is cathing up with friends.

Towards the end we asked what everybody was thankful for. "Connie" was the number one answer as we have all so enjoyed this marvelous gathering of friends and good food that she makes possible for us every month. Thank you, Connie!

Glasgow's Night at the Museum: Fantasy Scotland

The Hunterian Museum's Night at the Museum: Fantasy Scotland took place Friday evening at 7:00pm. The Hunterian is located in the main University of Glasgow campus building and is one of the most beautiful museums I've ever seen.
I showed you Nessie already. Here's the other skeleton that greets you when you walk into the museum - lit up purple and blue for the evening.
The event was part of the Being Human Festival and Scotland's Winter Festivals, and the idea of my 3rd PhD supervisor, Rob Maslen, head of the English Literature: Fantasy MLitt program at the UoG.
The event was sold out, and it was easy to see why. A fun tour of the museum was available with additional fact-finding, such as the Mummy...
and this fun info about Scottish Mummies in particular...
People dressed up.
I loved this woman's ear-decorations, which she found on Etsy.
As for us - our Children's Scottish Fantasy Literature table was next to the Harry Potter table (and the sorting chair, which I talked about HERE).
Here we were getting ready - Debbie, Suzanne, Ming-Leng (is that spelled right?), and me at the top of the stairs hanging balloons.

and geeking-out over the books to share with Dr. Maureen Farrell.

Forget the people, I just wanted to read all night!

Maureen was the hit of the evening as she was very good at reading the new Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - in SCOTS!!! HILARIOUS!! Truly, the evening was a huge hit. And so was my journey home, through the arches...
and down Ashton Lane, all decorated for the holidays. What a lovely evening!

VIDEO: Leslie Jacoby: "The Urban Falconer: Bird-Human Connection"

I've made a new friend at the University of Glasgow - Leslie Jacoby. She is a Falconer and for her PhD topic is translating a medieval French text on Falconry into English. A recent talk she gave in California is a fascinating peek into her world and passions. Click the image to watch on YouTube.

Getting Ready for a Night at the Museum

Friday was the Night at the Museum at the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow. Our Children's Literature Department hosted a table of Children's Scottish Fantasy Literature. We wanted to make sure to draw lots of attention to the wealth of Scottish writers, so we needed decorations! Happily, there are some really fun art rooms in the Education building where we were able to work thanks to my new favorite person Mona Rahman, the Art and Design Technician. Suzanne, Jennifer and I blew up balloons, made a sign, cut out stars, etc... Our supervisor, Dr. Maureen Farrell called us her happy elves.
We had a great time playing like kindergartners with paint and string. Even better, it snowed! This was the incredible view out those windows. It was hard to capture, but those are big, fat snowflakes streaming by.

One of my other supervisors, Dr. Bob Davis is a Wagner fan, so I played his music while we created. Nothing like painting in the snow to Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries!

Making cornbread in the UK

One of the few items we had shipped over from the states when coming to the UK was our well-seasoned iron skillet - to make cornbread, of course. That said, the cornbread itself has proven to be a challenge as UK ingredients are not quite the same as those in the US. Add my dietary restrictions and it was a downright problem, until this year. In preparing the cornbread for our Thanksgiving cornbread stuffing, this year I have finally nailed how to make cornbread in the UK with items easily found in most UK grocery stores. Here is the recipe!
Gluten and Dairy Free American-style
Cornbread in the UK

By Elizabeth Dulemba

• 6 tablespoons Pure Sunflower Spread, plus spread for greasing dish
• 1 ½ cup cornmeal (Natco brand works well) – NOTE: this is not corn flour!
• 3/4 cup gluten-free flour
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 ½ cups buttermilk substitute: unsweetened soymilk plus
• the juice of ½ lemon
• 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed (optional, but it adds a nuttiness and the look of stone-ground cornmeal)

Heavily grease an 8-inch iron skillet. Place in oven. Preheat the oven to 425°f or 220°c.

In a glass bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture and beat with a fork until there are no dry spots (the batter should be able to thickly pour). Remove skillet from oven and pour the batter in – it should sizzle as it goes in.

Bake until the top is golden and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Remove the cornbread from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a serving dish. Serve with more butter spread and honey, or veggies with lots of pot liquor for soaking.


I've been having a great time getting to know the authors and illustrators in the UK, and especially in Scotland. So, I'm thrilled to have one of the most beloved creators of children's literature here today to talk about her latest, THE DRAGON'S HOARD. Say hello to Lari Don!

The Viking challenge!
by Lari Don

      I love a writing challenge. And taking on a horde of Vikings is probably one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced…
      I also love retelling traditional tales: finding new words to tell old stories for today’s young audiences.
      After retelling our favourite Scottish tales in Breaking the Spell, illustrator Cate James and I were looking for another themed collection to work on together. So over a late night cup of peppermint tea I mentioned my interest in Viking stories. Not god-filled Viking myths (though I love those too!) but Viking sagas, the stories the Vikings told about themselves and their ancestors.
      I’d been fascinated by Vikings ever since I read Roger Lancelyn Green’s Myths of the Norsemen as a child. But when I was in Orkney researching one of my novels, I discovered the Orkneyinga Saga, written in Iceland more than 500 years ago about the Viking earls of Orkney. And soon I was retelling one particular Orkneyinga episode - the story of Earl Sigurd’s duel with Maelbrigte - to audiences of school children. But I didn’t tell the story the way the ancient Orcadians had told it out loud or medieval Icelanders had written it down.
      Because this story was about a Viking invasion of Scotland being stopped by a brave chieftain of Moray, in a rather brutal way. And I was brought up in Moray, so when I considered a story about warriors invading the north of Scotland and battling against the men of Moray, I had fairly strong opinions about who were the real heroes. So I told it from the point of view of the invaded, not the invaders.
      But the story itself, whatever I thought about the rights and wrongs of it, was vivid, exciting, original and wonderful.
      And I told Cate, over that cup of cooling peppermint tea, that there were more Viking sagas, and that I suspected they contained lots more exciting and vivid stories, possibly even stories in which I could side with the Vikings.
      So, encouraged by Cate’s enthusiasm for drawing warriors, ships and monsters, I went searching for more Norse sagas. I found sagas about merchants, farmers, explorers, sagas about battles, ghosts and magic… And they were, as I’d expected, gloriously exciting stories.
      But they weren’t kind or gentle or fluffy stories. Not at all.
      I started reading as many Viking sagas as I could, marking any that I thought could be suitable for children. But I didn’t mark very many. Most of the stories were bathed in blood and driven by revenge.
      Because although I went into the project hoping to find stories where I could side with the Vikings rather than against them, it was soon clear that those who told and wrote down the sagas were proud of their ancestors’ violence and vendettas. That the Vikings’ reputation for brutality was entirely deserved and probably even deliberately enhanced by the stories they told.
      However, the stories were fantastic! (And I love a challenge…) So I kept looking. And I found: a polar bear, a zombie, a magical bird, a riddling god, a dragon…
      And I did, eventually, find a few stories which showed a gentler and more generous side of the Vikings, who were not just invaders and warriors, but also wordsmiths, farmers, parents.
      I also found more stories of invasion, including the amazing record of voyages across the Atlantic to land on the coast of North America. But, as a quine from Moray, I realised I had more in common with, and greater sympathy for, the original inhabitants and their bloody fate at the hands of the invaders, than I did with the Viking sailors.
      I loved researching these stories. I love the originality and vivid nature of the sagas. And I did meet a handful of Vikings that I admired : a pacifist earl, a berserker babysitter, a brave swan girl… But I haven’t substantially changed my view of Vikings as bloody invaders, who revelled in their violent reputation.
      So I hope that in choosing and reworking these stories for a young readership, I’ve shown the wonder of the Norse sagas, but I’ve also shown that Vikings aren’t just shiny muscly good-natured thunder gods in films. I hope I’ve reflected the glory of their oral culture and the achievements of their seafaring, but also reflected the darker side of their society and travels.
      I hope that children who are fascinated by Vikings will find lots to love in The Dragon’s Hoard, lots to discover and think about. But I also hope that they might find a little bit of compassion for those who met the Vikings for real, not just in stories…

      Lari Don is a children’s writer and storyteller. She was brought up in the North East of Scotland, and now lives in Edinburgh. Lari has written many collections of myths and legends, including Breaking The Spell (Frances Lincoln) and Girls Goddesses & Giants (Bloomsbury). She also writes adventure novels, including the Spellchasers trilogy (Floris Books) and picture books, including The Secret of the Kelpie (Floris Books). You can often find Lari on Twitter @LariDonWriter and there’s more info about her books and events on www.laridon.co.uk

Coloring Page Tuesday - Thanks and giving

     Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and being grateful. So, take a moment to give thanks for the good things in your life. CLICK HERE for more coloring pages!
     CLICK HERE to sign up to receive alerts when a new coloring page is posted each week and... Please check out my books! Especially... THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIA! Click the cover to learn about this state-themed picture book! Makes a GREAT teacher gift!
     Don't live in Georgia? Check with your local bookseller - Sterling has a version for each state.
     I create my coloring pages for teachers, librarians, booksellers, and parents to enjoy for free with their children, but you can also purchase rights to an image for commercial use, please contact me. If you have questions about usage, please visit my Angel Policy page.

Edinburgh Christmas Village

Workers in Edinburgh have been busy lately...
putting together the annual Christmas Village.
It's fun watching it go up.

But it's even better when it opens.
And the tourists come pouring in.
I look forward to friends coming to visit. Maybe this year, we'll actually go ice-skating!
And ride the ferris wheel! Merry Christmas in Edinburgh!