Book Giveaway: SASSAFRAS AND HER TINY TAIL by Candice Marley Conner

Writing and Illustrating

Candice Marley Conner has a new  picture book titled, SASSAFRAS AND HER TINY TAIL, illustrated by Heath Gray and published by Maclaren-Cochrane Publishing. They have agreed to send a book with one lucky winner living in the US. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Candice, and Heath!


Sometimes your differences make you a hero.

Squirrels need their tails for balance and to communicate so with her stubby, bristly tail, Sassafras is the laughingstock of…

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Tuesday Debut – Presenting Candice Marley Conner!

Susanna Leonard Hill

Nothing is better than a good Tuesday Debut except. . .when you get to announce the winner of a PB MS critique offered by the last Tuesday Debut!

The randomly chosen lucky winner of a PB MS critique from Christine Van Zandt is MDK45!

MDK45, come on down! (You’ll have to contact me, I think because I don’t have contact info for you! 😊)

Now! Onto today’s Tuesday Debut where we get to meet the lovely and talented Candice Marley Conner, hear about her journey, even get to see some of the original notes she wrote in her journal which were the first seeds of her debut picture book, SASSAFRAS AND HER TEENY TINY TAIL! (How can you not love a squirrel named Sassafras?!)


Let’s go!

written by Candice Marley Conner
Illustrated by Heath Gray
MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing
June 8, 2021

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10th Annual Holiday Contest!

The holidays are officially here when children’s author and contest extraordinaire, Susanna Hill, announces her latest holiday writing contest! This year’s theme is holiday helpers and it immediately put me in mind of a conversation I had with my daughter earlier this year.

She pulled me aside and very solemnly asked the big question: is Santa real?

Y’all. I felt the pivot in the moment–when my little girl was growing up. So I explained how mamas and daddies and grandparents, and all the good adults in kid’s lives are Helpers. We still have the magic in our home and I think she likes having a special secret from her little brother. (Though when she made the connection and asked about our Elf on the Shelf, Alanagator, it took a bit more for her to digest.)

Here’s my entry, right at 250 words. I hope you enjoy it and that the holiday magic is alive and well in your home.

This adorable furry potato just joined our family for my daughter’s 10th birthday. She likes books and tea parties as much as we do!

Guinea Pig Help Comes Wrapped in Snuggles & Squeaks

By Candice Marley Conner

I snuggled in closer. My girl was worrying over something the same way I worry on my cherry sticks. “Wheek?” I asked. Maybe Addie needed something to chew on.

Addie looked wide-eyed at Mama. “I need to ask you a question,” she whispered.

Mama sat next to her and gave me a pat. I wiggled my rump. “I’m listening.”

“Is Santa real?”

“Does a giant elf come down a chimney we don’t have? No, sweetheart. Does Christmas have a special kind of magic where songs make you happy and hot chocolate is like a hug to your insides, and people surprise you with all the good they’re capable of? Absolutely.”

Addie smushed her face in my fur so I tickled her cheek with my whiskers.

“You’re a Helper now.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know how we saw Santa at the bakery, then at the grocery store ringing the bell? Your little brother noticed the beards were different and I said the Christmas Spirit needs Helpers. Those nice people were helping Santa. Sam doesn’t know. It’s up to you to keep the secret safe and the magic alive for him.”

“I can do that,” Addie said. Mama hugged her.

“Wheek?” I asked. Can guinea pigs be Helpers?

“Always,” Addie whispered.

As Mama turned off the light, Addie said, “Does this mean you’re the tooth fairy too?”


“Whew. Fairies sneaking into my room always made me nervous. Like, what do they DO with all those teeth?”

I squeaked in agreement.

Cover Story

A writing challenge I recently participated in that I highly recommend to other writers & creatives!

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

Sometimes writers feel we have to limit what we share on social media and in our work: I write memoir, why does anyone want to see my garden? My book is a parenting journey—can I write an essay about addiction? But our whole selves make our creative work. Seeing a writer’s favorite topics juxtaposed shows why you’re writing about those things. Parenting informs your writing on trauma. Gardening influences your thoughts on social justice. Readers want to see what inspires us as well as the words we create.

These topics and interests are your “content buckets” full of ideas for books, essays, articles and social media posts. Everything you see and have a strong feeling about. Every problem people have that you could advise on. Every experience you’re willing to share, so readers discover, “I’m not the only one who feels like this.”

One way to name your content buckets…

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Miss Bookshelf USA 2020

According to the calendar, it’s May and the books on my shelves are NOT socially distancing themselves so I think that means it’s time for…

…the 5th Annual Miss Bookshelf USA. Miss Bookshelf USA

Yes, the prestigious (hehe) event when I pull all the books I read and reviewed the previous year off my bookshelves, dust ’em off, dress ’em up,  fall back under their papery story spells, and crown a tiara on top.

According to what I reviewed in Goodreads,  I read 39 books in total: 2 nonfiction, 2 anthologies, 8 adult, only 2 YA (wow! I’m surprised at this too!), 11 middle grade, 11 picture books, and 3 chapter books. It seems like while 2018 was the year of YA, 2019 was the year of middle grade.

And of those 39 contestants, my Top Ten Delegates are…

… drumroll please.

Michael McDowell’s BLACKWATER saga

Eoin Colfer’s HIGHFIRE

Erin Morgenstern’s THE STARLESS SEA







Natalie Lloyd’s OVER THE MOON

Whew, this is tough. I enjoyed reading all these books. Have you read any of these?

Without further ado, Miss Amity is…

… a tie! (Already? Yes, remember from last year I can do this)

CASTLE HANGNAIL and CATERPILLAR SUMMER! Both Molly and Cat hold the heart of their books by their kindness to the Castle Hangnail denizens and her shark-loving little brother, Chicken, respectively.


Miss Photogenic is LALANI OF THE DISTANT SEA! I adored reading this lyrical Filipino folktale-inspired story, and the map and illustrations by Lian Cho really made it come alive. It was a perfect compliment to Kelly’s tale of inner strength and belief.

thStyle goes to the BLACKWATER saga! While much of this was a reread for me, it’s been since high school (so twenty-ish years ago) and the swamp monster matriarch Elinor Caskey hasn’t lost her style one bit.

thSecond Runner-Up is THE GIRL AND THE TIGER! Isha and Kala’s story had me in the feels most of the read. It’s such a beautiful book with so much growing pains between appreciating nature and economical progress, hopeful and helpless all at the same time.

9780385541213_fdaf6First Runner-Up is THE STARLESS SEA! I loved how the deeper you sank into the honeyed pages, the more connection you found. Stories wove into stories, keys opened painted doors, it was a dream of a book, much like THE NIGHT CIRCUS.

And Miss Bookshelf 2020 is… WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING! I mean, there’s a reason it’s sold 6 million copies and is on the NYT Bestseller list for over 21 months. Kya’s lyrical story of loneliness and appreciation of nature resounds with people more that ever in this time of social distancing. 9780735219090_e11a6

Thanks for playing along! Do you have a favorite book you read last year?

Earth Day Kid’s Book Recommendations

For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day this year, I wanted to come up with my top 5 Kid’s Book Recommendations. But I couldn’t whittle it down from 7 even though who comes up with a Top 7 list? Me. Someone who loves Earth Day and likes to celebrate Earth Day Every Day. Of course, due to COVID-19 our Earth Day celebrations have changed slightly. Instead of commemorating with the community at the Fairhope Pier, the kids and I participated in a 3 week, stay-at-home Pollinator Project Earth Day Challenge with the Girl Scouts of NE Kansas & NW Missouri council. It’s been fun–we’ve all learned LOTS about how important pollinators are and were lucky enough to have monarch caterpillars on milkweed in our garden. Bagel, Tickle Lemon Stripe Stripe, and Stretchy McNibbles became our backyard quarantine buddies.


Great J-shape, Bagel! Check out my Instagram page for all stages of their metamorphosis.

Now, to the Top 7 list!

Picture Books

BROTHER EAGLE, SISTER SKY, illustrated by Susan Jeffers (Penguin RandomHouse, 1991) The text is Chief Seattle’s heart-tingling speech to the government when they wanted to buy his people’s (the Northwest Native American Nations) land. He believed that all life, especially the earth itself, is sacred. Absolutely gorgeous book on how all life is connected to each other.

THE FATE OF FAUSTO, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins, 2019) My first impression of this modern-day fable was that it was an odd one, but when has Jeffers ever steered us wrong? By the time I read through to the end page, I was in the feels. My boss must’ve seen the expression on my face because she asked if I was okay. It’s about a guy, Fausto, who claims everything, “You are mine” and for a bit, the flowers, the sheep, the mountains bow down to his will. But then he goes too far. This book oddly really resonates with kids–I think it’s the idea of an adult claiming ownership of everything and then a mutiny that’s appealing. I have it on this list because it cautions humanity on claiming things as ours when we really have no right to.

Chapter Book

IVY + BEAN: WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?, written by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Chronicle Books, 2011) I love this book in the popular series because its takes something HUGE–global warming, and breaks it down into a project that gives children agency. One of the issues with things like plastic pollution, global warming, etc, is that they’re such BIG PROBLEMS, its overwhelming. For adults as well as kids. I love how Barrows breaks it down and her author’s note in the back is not to be missed.

Middle Grade

BAYOU MAGIC, written by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown Books, 2015) Y’all may recall this one on my blog when it won Miss Amity in last year’s Miss Bookshelf USA. It has so many things to love about it–folk magic, fireflies, Mami Wata mermaids, and a Cajun setting with an environmental twist–the BP Oil Spill. Which incidentally, just had its 10 year mark.

CHOMP, written by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf, 2012) Really, most all of Hiaasen’s novels fit the environmental theme with its conservation and respect for Florida wildlife, but this is one specifically is what Mermaid Girl picked as this year’s Earth Week read. We’re both enjoying the Florida flora and fauna fun facts and absurdity Hiaasen does so well.

Young Adult

THE GIRL AND THE TIGER, written by Paul Rosolie (Owl Hollow Press, 2019) The girl is Isha. She is sent away to live with her grandparents in the Indian countryside. The tiger is Kala, an orphaned Bengal tiger cub Isha finds in an ancient banyan grove. Together they take a journey to find a safe place for Kala to live. It gives insight on the growing pains India is struggling with by asking, do we protect the environment and animals within (because the natural world is all connected) or do we embrace a world made convenient at other’s expense? Gah, I cried at the end. Its hopeful and helpless all at the same time. Knowing that it’s based on real people, knowing that there are voices for the voiceless, really made it hit hard.

DRY, written by Neal & Jarrod Shusterman (S&S, 2019) So I haven’t finished reading this one yet but wanted to add it to the list as it realistically portrays a future we’re heading into, dealing with climate change and California droughts. Especially as we enter into a megadrought in real life. I want to include this quote about DRY from Publishers Weekly because I think it perfectly summarizes the COVID-crisis as well:

“…effective study of how extreme circumstances can bring out people’s capacity for both panic and predation, ingenuity and altruism.”

So there are my Top 7 picks for Earth Day reads. What are some of your favorites?EarthDayTop7

Something I want everyone reading this to keep in mind is while these are overwhelming issues that can get you right down in the dumps, there are always small steps YOU can take to make the world better. And these books help you find your path.

Unfortunately libraries are closed now, but if a book resonates with you that you’d like to share with your kids, consider checking in with your local indie bookshop. Most are offering curbside pick-up and our local, The Haunted Book Shop, even offers porch-side drop-off in select neighborhoods and free, local shipping (all links connect to the Haunted Bookshop or its partner,

Stay safe and 6 feet away from your neighbors but feel free to hug a tree 🙂

Bringing the Writing Workshop to You: Creativity Exercises for the Stuck-At-Home Writer

Activities to get creativity flowing…brainstorms and origin stories.

The Haunted Book Shop in Mobile, Alabama

Last summer, two other authors and I held a Lil’ Haints Creative Writing Workshop at the bookstore tailored to young authors from nine to fourteen. It was absolutely amazing to see the kids’ eyes light up as they told us about the stories they were working on. The students inspired us just as much as we inspired them, I think.

As I was casting around for ideas on how I could use my talents in this uncertain, coronavirus time to help others, I wondered, could putting my Lil’ Haints workshopping lessons online help encourage and entertain young authors at home?

What follows is the workshop I gave on “Brainstorms & Origin Stories” redesigned for this format:

Today’s workshop is about how to be a creative person—whether you write, draw, or underwater basket weave as my middle school teacher used to say. Being creative is about keeping yourself open to possibilities…

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Laughter is the Best Vaccine: Funny Books to Get You Through These Coronavirus Times

Need to boost your immune system with a good laugh and the books that’ll make that happen? Here’s a post I wrote for the indie bookstore I work at as a kidlit specialist.

The Haunted Book Shop in Mobile, Alabama

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A ghost walks into a bookshop. The owner asks, “How can I help you?” Ghost says, “I’m here for the BOOOOks.”

Yeah, that was more groan-worthy than a haunted staircase. But in these weird times of uncertainty and distancing ourselves from friends and family, having a sense of humor, and feeding it, is one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves.

A good guffaw can help soothe tension and physical symptoms of stress by stimulating circulation and relaxing muscles. Positive thoughts (which go hand in hand with laughing) releases neuropeptides that help battle stress and potentially more serious illnesses. Thus boosting your immune system.

A shared joke can help you deal with difficult situations and bond you with a person more fully, even if you can’t be within six feet of them.

Laughter can also be as helpful as a workout…

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