Perfection in Finding Perfect

We had the Opportunity to meet with Elly Swartz, creator and author of the book Finding Perfect, and the not yet released Smart Cookie, coming out January 2018. All three storymamas agree Finding Perfect is a book that will stick with us forever. Elly chatted about her book, her journey as an author and what you might expect to find in her refrigerator.

THE BOOK


Finding Perfect is a story about Molly who has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It is a story about her difficult and emotional journey trying to navigate through middle school with this disease no one knows she has, including herself.

One of the many reasons we fell in love with Finding Perfect was because it’s a book filled with  emotion through Elly’s words and her development of characters. Elly describes her book using three words: heartfelt, authentic and informative. As non-writers we can only imagine how difficult it must be to write a book with such feeling and emotion, but Elly explained that it wasn’t really an easy or hard book to write, just that it was emotional. Many times she would be writing through tears because the emotions her characters were experiencing were her own. While she doesn’t have OCD, she has friends and friend’s children who do have OCD, and she explained in order to create authentic characters it is important to allow the emotions in your own life to guide your writing. While writing this book she would go back to the places in her own life where her heart was hurting. She went to the difficult or dark places in order to create authenticity.

Elly’s hope after writing this book was for it to become universally relatable, and in our opinion, it completely is. As readers, teachers, and mothers, we were able to connect and feel for Molly throughout the book. This is one of those books that makes you gain a better understanding of not only someone struggling with OCD, but also feel empathy for those struggling with any type of anxiety or stress, which is a part of everyone’s life. Children and adults are constantly looking for how to connect with others and when there is a disconnect it can be very scary. Elly explained that there are moments when we all think, ‘What’s going on with me? I’m so scared to find out, scared to actually know and scared to tell anyone there is something going on.’ We all have to overcome hard and difficult things that can feel scary and Elly wants to make sure kids know they aren’t alone in that journey. She wants kids to know nobody’s perfect and no one’s life is untainted by difficult moments.

THE AUTHOR

When Elly writes she usually has a morning routine that goes something like this…

  1. Walk the dog
  2. Workout
  3. Shower
  4. Get dressed
  5. “Put her brain on”

But when she’s really in it, there are times she doesn’t get out of her pajamas, has her coffee, and the next thing she knows she has missed lunch because she’s in the zone.

However, just like other writers, Elly can sometimes get stuck. When she does, her trick is to go somewhere she usually doesn’t associate with her writing, like a coffee shop or to head to the doctor’s office an hour early. This way she says no one sees her and no one sees what she’s doing and there is no pressure.

After talking with Elly for over an hour we learned she is a very dedicated and persistent person, in all the best ways possible. Fifteen years ago her writing journey began, she had read Mick Harte was Here by Barbara Park with her then 4th grade son, and while reading, she felt so many emotions; she was so moved that she decided she wanted to be a storyteller. She started writing, writing, writing. Young writers would be very surprised to know that her journey to getting Finding Perfect published was a long and hard one. Finding Perfect wasn’t her first book, it was actually the 5th book she wrote and it took 8 years to write. Talk about persistence! Even after getting the book sold she spent four years working with a pediatric specialist to make sure her story was authentic and relatable. She wanted to get it right and it was imperative to do so out of respect for the OCD community.

Interestingly though Elly has had many other jobs as well as being a writer. She’s a lawyer and for twenty years she wrote and edited law books with her father-in-law and her husband. Six years ago she started a business to help families navigate the college entrance process. She has a love for helping kids in such a pivotal time in their lives. But she’s been writing all along.

ADVICE

One would think with the very long, and what sounds like a difficult, journey to publish her first book, she would give up, but no. Like we said, she’s extremely persistent. She has a very strong support system and that helped when she wasn’t getting published. Even with the rejection she said, “I love writing more than I hate rejection.” She would give herself 48 hours to be mad or sad but every time she’d end up back in her chair writing. Elly compares writing to the switchback trails in hiking saying, “you see a lot of gems along the way that you wouldn’t have seen if you went straight down”. During the fifteen year journey of writing this book she was fortunate enough to be a part of a writing community where she learned a lot about herself and met some of her closest friends who helped her writing along the way.

When we speak to our students during their own writing, some advice Elly gives is to use your senses in your writing because it helps create authenticity. How does something taste, feel, smell, etc. But they don’t have to be huge moments, they can be “the little slivers in life.” Use what you have; the emotions you’ve experienced to write. Even as simple as the best pizza ever!

THE FRIDGE

Inside of Elly’s fridge you can find:

  • Vanilla Coffee-mate because she always starts her day with a humongous cup of coffee
  • In the summer a bottle of white wine because that is how she ends her day
  • Lots of green vegetables, salads
  • Something yummy that she will cook that night because she likes to cook
  • Twizzlers (not in the fridge but around the house all over) because she love them and so does Molly, and she can eat them because of her allergies.

Storymamas highly recommends Finding Perfect and we hope you will pick up a copy because it is truly amazing. It will make you feel so many emotions while reading. It will make you want to hug Molly, the main character. It will make you want to read her next book too Smart Cookie.

Check out Elly’s website http://ellyswartz.com/ to learn even more about her.

Week in Review


This week we shared books about art, history, science and had our first book giveaway! See below for a review of the books we are loving this week! Also, follow us on Instagram and/or Twitter @storymamas to find out why we loved these books! You can also click on the link for each book to find more about the authors and illustrators!

Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light

Greenglass House by Kate Milford and Jaime Zollars 

This Book Thinks Your a Scientist by London Science Museum and Harriet Russell 

The Legend of Old Abe A Civil War Eagle by Kathy-jo Wargin and Laurie Caple

Today by Julie Morstad

What Will I Be by Nicola Davies and Marc Boutavant

Rump by Liesl Shurtliff

Frazzled by Booki Vivat

Ordinary People Change the World series by Brad Meltzer and Christopher Eliopoulos

 

Two Weeks in Review…

We’ve shared the following books to start up our newest hashtag #storymamasbookaday


I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

Curious George Goes to the Bookstore by Margret & H.A. Rey’s

El Perro con Sombrerro by Derek Taylor Kent and Jed Henry

Adopt a Glurb by Elise Gravel

Dragons Love Tacos 2 The Sequel by Adam Rubinstein and Dan Salmieri

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham

Good News, Bad News; Look; Ah Ha; Frog and Fly by Jeff Mack

The Airport Book by Lisa Brown

Mouse Makes Words by Kathryn Heling, Deborah Hembrook and Patrick Joseph

Red Riding Hood, Superhero by Otis Frampton; Ninja-rella by Joey Comeau and Omar Lozano; Snow White and the Seven Robots by Louise Simonson and Jimena Sanchez; Super Billy Goats Gruff by Sean Tulien and Fern Cano

Mine by Jeff Mack

Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar and Troy Cummings

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev and Taeeun Yoo

Mother Bruce, Hotel Bruce and Be Quiet by Ryan T. Higgins

#storymamasbookaday

It’s been two weeks Stories About Stories has been sharing a book a day on Instagram and Twitter @storymamas. If you aren’t already following make sure you do! We hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about some of the books we are reading and loving right now.

What is one book you didn’t know about before that you’re excited to read with your children or your students?

Books That are Better Than TV…

Where’s Waldo…remember this awesome book as a kid?

A few months ago my nieces, nephews and my kids were altogether. This doesn’t happen often so it was a treat to spend time together. My favorite parts of the day where when we would wind down and read together. Since my kids are the youngest, many of my nieces and nephews took turns reading to my boys. We brought out our old copies of the Where’s Waldo series, the ones my sister and I would sit around for hours trying to find Waldo, the Wizard and all the missing items. These types of interactive books are awesome! Pop-up books have always been a favorite in my house since my three year old was small enough to interact with books. He still loves the pop-up books but now there are so many books that go beyond those classics; they give you something to explore, problem solve and think about it in a new way. Here are a few of my favorite interactive books:

Let’s Play by Herve Tullet (or any of his books)

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The Odd One Out, Where’s the Pair and Where Did they Go? by Britta Teckentrup

Move by Lolly Hopwood and Yoyo Kusters

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Spot It! by Delphine Chedru

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Who Done It? and Who What Where? by  Olivier Tallec

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Where’s Walrus and Where’s Walrus & Penguin by Stephen Savage

Before After by Matthias Arégui and Anne-Margot Ramstein
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This is Not a Book by Jean Jullien

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One Thousand Things: learn your first words with Little Mouse by Anna Kovecses

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It’s Finally Here…

It’s our first year of #holidaybookaday! The theme: open a new December holiday book every night until the end of the year. This could include books about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve. Over this past year my fellow blogger, Kim and I have been adding to a “Countdown to the new year” booklist we created together. I have been so excited about starting this tradition with my boys that I actually prepared and wrapped all the books prior to even Thanksgiving! J opened up his first book last night because I couldn’t wait to get started. I’m not sure if he will share in my excitement but I’ve been talking it up and I’m hoping he will enjoy this book journey as much as I know I will. What I’m most excited about is having a variety of holidays represented in our book list. I think experiencing these various holidays through stories will bring about many teachable moments. Feel free to join us on this #holidaybookaday journey over the next month by following the hashtag on Instagram!

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Our books all wrapped and ready!
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Opening the first book!
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Christmas Is… by Gail Gibbons
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The second book!
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The Christmas ABCs by Jill Howarth

Authors as Celebrities…

In my last post I wrote about the love my 3-year old son has for the book Truck Stuck by Sallie Wolf. I decided as I was writing my last blog post to email Sallie and tell her just how much we love her book and I sent her the link to this blog so she could read our accolades. Here is the email I sent:

Hi Sallie,

I have now read your book, Truck Stuck at least 40 times since we rented it from the library. My three year old son even took it to preschool because he listed it as one of two of his favorite books of all time thus far. I told him we had to return it to the library so others could enjoy it and he started crying! Of course as a book lover I immediately said, “Don’t worry, we can order our own copy so we can have one to keep.” He was so excited and tears stopped. Before returning your book to the library though I read him the author’s information. When I read the part about you living in Chicago (where we live as well) he was so surprised and excited. He put his hands to his mouth and gasped. He said, “that’s so cool!” Anyway I just wanted to say thank you so much for bringing such joy to my sons reading life. I have started a blog with two friends of mine who are also teachers and moms and wanted to share this post I recently wrote because it’s about your book. 🙂

All the best,

Ashley

I wasn’t expecting much. However, the next day I opened my email and instantly smiled. I was so excited to not only see a comment on the blog from Sallie but to find an email from her as well! I read it halfway through and then I had to share the excitement with someone so I started reading it over again to my husband. I was ecstatic! I couldn’t wait to share with my little guy that a real live author wrote back but I wanted to wait until we got her books in the mail to share with him. Here is the email she wrote to us:

Hi, Ashley,

There’s nothing an author likes to hear more than that someone enjoys her book. Please tell your son that this book is really a Chicago book—and I had trouble finding a publisher until I submitted to an editor outside of New York City. In Chicago we hear about trucks being stuck under viaducts pretty frequently. In NYC they call them “underpasses” and  editors there questioned if a young child would understand the word Viaduct. Of course they do! It’s such a fun word!

I live in Oak Park where the el tracks run right through town and there are quite a few viaducts which trucks must negotiate. I’ve seen stuck trucks numerous times and that’s how I first got the idea for this story. Truck Stuck will be coming out as a board book in Jan. and I hope to have a book release party at The Magic Tree Bookstore, in Oak Park, on Lake St. Perhaps you and your son can come to the Magic Tree and we might meet and I can sign his book.

Happy Reading!

Sallie–

Sallie Wolf

http://www.salliewolf.com

The day we got Sallie’s books in the mail of course J requested that night to read Truck Stuck and Peter’s Trucks. As we were reading Truck Stuck I told J the author wrote us back. You should’ve seen his smile, he was grinning from ear to ear and said, “WHAT?! She wrote us a letter!” I read him the letter and when we got the part about writing about the underpass he said, “wait underpants?! WHAT?!” (and yes he actually does use that much expression when he speaks). Through our laughter I explained to him what an underpass was and we looked at the picture together. For what it’s worth he did like the word ‘Viaduct’ much better than ‘underpass’. 🙂 When I read to him the part about the book release party he said, “We can go right now?” I said, “no not until January.” Then J started singing the month song (since it starts with January). Oh the mind of a three-year-old is just so amazing!

The next book we read that night was Sallie’s other book Peter’s Trucks. J said that he didn’t think it could be as good as Truck Stuck but as we read it he enjoyed it just as much and even made a connection to the concrete mixer that was in both books.

I think it’s safe to say that both J and I have a new celebrity author crush! Neither of us can wait until the book release party to meet Sallie in person! Thanks for the invite!

 

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Seeing It Through His Eyes…

Picture books have been one of my longtime love affairs since I was little. Ever since my mom, dad, brothers and sister would read to me as a child. I love everything about them: the colorful illustrations, the connections you have to the story, the humor, the patterns the words make, the interactive aspect and the fact that you can reread a picture book a million times and still enjoy it. As an adult I have found a new reason why I love picture books: seeing the book through my three year old’s eyes. To him the story is so much more than just the words; it’s the interactions he has with the book from the first time he reads it and then again and again as we read the book over and over. Seeing the story and pictures evolve through his eyes and watching his imagination grow as we read a book together is amazing.

One of J’s new favorites is Truck Stuck by Sallie Wolf. This book is wonderfully written with a catchy tune we’ve made up to read it. It also has beautiful illustrations that catch your eye. Since we’ve read this book about 40 times now you would think we have seen it all on each of the pages. Well after reading it about 10 times J noticed that the driver of the truck was on a few other pages and got excited when we went back throughout the book to look for him. The next time we read the book he noticed the onomatopoeias “Beep!”, “Honk!” and he wanted to repeat them after me. After that he noticed the letters on the balloons in the picture and spelled out the word lemonade. Each time we read the book J noticed something new in the pictures and the words. Watching him experience the book and notice things that as an adult I didn’t notice puts a whole new perspective on reading a book. Maybe we all need to read a book through the eyes of a child. Maybe we will experience a book in a different way. Maybe all you need is to really sit with a child and let them read to you as much as you read to them. How has your child or students helped you to experience a book in a new way?

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He couldn’t wait to take Truck Stuck to share with his friends in preschool!
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Reading Truck Stuck for the 100th time on his own.

The Journey…

My love of kid lit began as an undergraduate elementary education student during my very first introduction to children’s literature. My professor was amazing and ‘book talked’ at the beginning of each class to inspire us and develop a never ending love of books. Well it worked. I loved being a listener while she sang praises about the fantastically written and beautifully illustrated books she was sharing with us. After graduating my love for kid lit grew even more as I was getting ready to start my career as a second grade teacher. I was the newbie teacher spending copious amounts of money on new books. My husband couldn’t believe how much I was actually spending in my new career and sometimes there were words shared that weren’t as inspiring as my college professors.

Throughout my years of teaching my love for books continued to grow. With Courtney I went to the International Reading Association Conference and we came away with new ideas to change our teaching and of course bags full of books. Kim and I started our journey together as “tech nerds” (a name we enthusiastically gave ourselves). We shared a love for technology and we began discussing how we could integrate technology in meaningful ways with our students. We added “book lovers” to our self-named title once we started sharing about books we were reading with our students. Throughout the years we shared our love of technology and books through constant conversations, presenting at various conferences, becoming life-long friends and eventually Kim and I had our baby boys almost exactly one year apart. Soon after her son was born she began taking a picture a day of reading with her son and excitedly told me about her new hashtag #dsbookaday. I shared in her excitement and told her I was sad I didn’t start taking pictures beginning a year earlier of my son, but nonetheless I started taking pictures the next day with my own hashtag #jsbookaday.

I now have two young boys, a three year old and a seven month old, who I share a love of children’s literature with and take pictures daily of our reading experiences. My husband, someone who didn’t read himself as a young child, has grown to love children’s books, maybe as much as me. He has so much fun reading books to our little guys and he now says to me, “we need more of ______ books!” and he has jumped on board taking pictures of me reading with our boys when I can’t or when the picture just looks better without the selfie view.

I’d like to say that I am now much more frugal about spending money on books but actually nowadays I’m spending more money, more frequently. I can’t look at Twitter or Instagram without adding at least 5 books to my Amazon cart to later buy (while hopefully supporting a local bookstore). But it’s not about the money, it’s about the experiences, conversations and connections we have while reading. It is our book experiences that inspire discussions about friendship, love, math concepts, word knowledge, rhyming, diversity, creativity, art, inspiration, etc. with our three year old and seven month old. And what better way to teach a child about life than through amazing literature? I am proud that my obsession with kid lit has had a huge impact on how my husband and my sons view reading and I hope this will only continue. My reason behind wanting to write this blog with two wonderful friends is to maybe bring you a bit of inspiration like my college professor did for me, send some new titles your way and share or make connections to your book experiences.