It’s been a long wait, but as my friend Kim says, babies often go past their due dates…and who among us really knows the gestation period of a dragon?
But alas, we are proud to announce the birth of our newest little Dragon, a board book for the tiniest Dragon enthusiasts. Arriving 12:00 AM August 31, and measuring 7 x 0.6 x 7 inches, I Love My Dragon is 10.6 ounces of color-splashed adventure for the chubbiest of teeny fingers.
Of course, Larry had to build a sandcastle to commemorate the birth and our other two Dragons were on hand to celebrate!
Recently I was asked, if I had to choose one character in a book with whom to trade places, who would it be?
If you’d asked me as a child, I probably would have said I’d love to be one of the Banks children from Mary Poppins. I mean seriously – to have a nanny who flies? A chimney sweep pal who invites you to dance on rooftops and ride a carousel in an animated dreamworld? A giggle-fest that quite literally lifts you up?
If you’d asked me as a preteen girl, I most likely would have named every single book in which the character owned a horse. Or rode a horse. Or probably, who was a horse.
As a teen, I devoured the All Creatures Great and Small series. I wanted to be James Herriot (or at least honor his passion.) I volunteered in a veterinary office in high school. I actually started college as a pre-vet major in Animal Science.
Somewhere along the line, I realized that while I love animals, this career wasn’t meant for me.
Instead, I wanted to teach. To guide. To inspire. I wanted to spark imagination. To encourage laughter and empathy. To empower. Just like Mary Poppins and James Herriot and countless others had done for me.
Because the ultimate thing I learned from books and the characters within is that you don’t have to change places with them. They crawl into your heart and become a part of you.
Like some of you, our family has had to work most holidays. We’ve been a part of the entertainment and hospitality industries since Day One of my husband’s and my relationship (no, really – I helped him DJ a fraternity party on our first date.) Over the years, we built a successful mobile disc-jockey company together. My husband has managed clubs, overseen restaurants and banquet facilities and now is a Master Trainer for alcohol education. One of our sons has been involved in theater since he was four, and now is a brilliant onstage triple-threat/choreographer/director. Our other son has been active in food service since high school (he’s also an amazing video game designer/entrepreneur.) I’m one proud wife/mama. But I digress…
When others need to play, we work.
We’re not complaining. We truly love what we do.
But with extended families living between 3 and 4 hours away – in opposite directions – and each expecting us to travel, our own ‘traditions’ had to take a backseat. Often, there wasn’t even room for them in the car.
We soon realized that it’s not the date that’s important. What matters is that we’re all together. What matters is the love.
A couple of years ago, ‘our’ Christmas was January 4.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have our own traditions, however. And since writers love the rule of three, I thought I’d share a special ‘tree’-o:
1. Letters to Santa
We started this tradition when the boys were little and continue it to this day (yes, our ‘boys’ are now 31 and 33.) We all write out our letters and ask the other members of the family to ‘mail’ them. The important part? All letters must tell Santa the things we’re thankful for before asking for anything. Warning: you may need tissues.
2. Ornaments to Commemorate the Year
I love ornaments so much, we had to get a second tree three years ago. But what I really love to do for our boys (and now their girlfriends too!) is find ornaments that showcase their accomplishments for the year. That way, each year when the kids decorate their trees, I hope they can feel pride in not only what they do, but the amazing talented people they’ve grown to be.
Of course, I do this for ‘us’ too (35 years married, 40 years together, 10 months pandemic 24/7 and we still like each other.)
Oh, did I forget to mention that before we went to dinner on our first date, Larry and I participated in an event at a nursing home where we taught disco-wheelchair? And that we actually met at a disco competition (he was a judge, I was a contestant) and that we still love to dance?
And that our first movie date was Lady and the Tramp?
I may be a little biased. Nah, it’s the absolute truth.💖
Credit here must go to my husband, Larry. You wrap a tiny gift in a box, then place it in another box, which you wrap, and so on and so on and so on. I don’t remember when it started, but it’s produced a treasure trove of memories, giggles and anticipation. It’s also escalated into quite a challenge. Over the years, the ‘unwrapping’ itself has become an undertaking…from an abundance of duct tape on duct tape to using casting material, to freezing one of the boxes in a block of ice! This was last year’s, courtesy of one of our sons and his girlfriend. Yes, they not only wrapped the refrigerator, but everything in it (including individually wrapping the eggs). And yes, in keeping with tradition, there was a gift in there for Larry, and he had to unwrap everything until he found it!
This year, like many of you, our holiday will be different. But our traditions will continue, and we will all be together as soon as it is safe. Because again, the date doesn’t matter. What matters is the love.
Wishing all of you a blessed, safe, happy and healthy holiday season! Love, Jodi xoxo
Ever since I was a child, the beach has been my happy place. As I’ve grown older, it’s become more than that. It’s my place to take a breath. To reset. To reconnect with me.
I could easily sit all day, luxuriating in this sensory world. Listening to the waves. Inhaling the salty air. Sinking my toes into the warm sand.
On lucky occasions, I did, photographing the birds as the sun painted the sky different shades of splendiferous.
You see, while I grew up in south Jersey – only an hour away from the shore – now I live 5 hours away in PA. Again, not usually a huge problem until…
Enter the pandemic.
Like most, we worked to find a new normal, while keeping our loved ones – and ourselves – safe. While we used to travel (mostly for work) on a weekly basis, we’ve become homebodies. My husband and I learned to conduct workshops and school visits via Zoom. We formed a ‘quaranteam’ so we could see our (grown) sons and their girlfriends. We played games and put together a ton of puzzles.
To feed my body, I learned new recipes. To feed my soul, I took illustration classes. But as spring blossomed into summer, the walls began closing in. My heart ached for the beach.
“Can’t we just squeeze in one teensy trip?” my heart begged.
“Sorry,” my brain answered. “We are in a pandemic and can’t travel.”
Then, one day while on a walk, my heart noticed a nature trail and began thrumming.
Immediately, my brain launched into a full dissertation on the issues of tics, snakes, mountain lions…
“Sorry,” my heart quipped in a tone that dripped of sarcasm. “We’re going in.”
And we did.
Even my brain had to admit it was glorious. Listening to the bird calls. Inhaling the fragrant air.
Watching the colors flutter by.
We’ve been back almost every day since, watching the seasons paint the leaves a different shade of splendiferous.
No, it’s not the beach. But it is spectacular. It’s a new place for me to take a breath. To reset. And yes, to connect to me.
This month, I was asked to suggest a book that has perhaps made me laugh, filled my heart, or lifted my spirits. At any other time in my life, this would have been an impossible task. My brain would have been spinning. There are so many amazing reads by brilliant authors out there – both old and new.
But this is now, so my heart led me back to the classic it craved: The Tao of Pooh.
Personality-wise, I’ve always considered myself to be a 50/50 split between Tigger and Eeyore.
Yet recently, one of our sons pointed out to me that I do tend to worry, overthink and hesitate an awful lot like Piglet.
Which got me thinking. While I believe it’s admirable to adopt a lifelong love of learning, I do step up onto my soapbox every once in a while like Owl. I’ll readily admit I’m a fiercely protective mom (like Kanga) and while I try not to be persnickety like Rabbit, I do become rather frustrated by foiled plans.
Finally, there may or may not be a host of stuffed animals on my bed that I tend to talk to like Christopher Robin sometimes (okay, a lot…don’t judge. They’re good listeners.)
So, I thought, I’m pretty much a hybrid of all…
That’s when I decided to reread The Tao of Pooh, where author Benjamin Hoff invites one of our favorite bears – Winnie the Pooh – and all of his loveable friends to help explain the wisdom of the Taoists.
Written using examples from A.A. Milne’s classic tales, Hoff explains a complex philosophy in a simple, yet powerful manner, illustrating how a ‘Bear of Little Brain’ has reached that which eludes so many: the state of true enlightenment.
“While Eeyore frets
and Piglet hesitates
and Rabbit calculates
and Owl pontificates…
Pooh just is.”
– Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh
The book is both comforting and empowering, and it offers just the perfect little ‘smackerel of something’ my heart and soul needed.
Like many writers, I’ve had a hard time creating over the past six months.
It seemed my heart shattered on a daily basis as I watched the news and perused posts on social media sites. My arms ached with emptiness – not only for the hugs I couldn’t share, but for those who had lost loved ones and would never feel their precious embrace again. My brain couldn’t comprehend the hate and the selfishness of those who ignored the cries for help.
(Disclaimer: three of these descriptions still hold true.)
On my best days, fog surrounded me. On my worst, I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t write. My characters’ voices had disappeared, lost to the negative static.
(Yes, I hear voices. I depend on them to write. Many authors do.)
But recently, I remembered back to a time long ago when another voice had disappeared. As a teen, I had silenced my own. No, I hadn’t stopped speaking all together, but I learned to carefully measure my words – swallowing those that might upset the delicate balance in a household that had been through trauma. Too often, I heard the – sometimes well-intended, but often patronizing – advice of ‘get over it’ and ‘let it go’.
On those rare occasions when I did speak up to let them know their words hurt my feelings, they claimed I was ‘too sensitive’.
Those voices eventually took up important real estate, living rent-free in my mind.
Needless to say, that repression wasn’t exactly a healthy decision. Thankfully, in my twenties, I had a wonderful therapist who encouraged me to listen closely to the voices – not just what they were saying, but who the voices belonged to. Would I myself say those things to another person going through distress? And if not, why would I allow them to speak to me that way?
Little by little – and with a lot of help – I learned to express myself once again.
Over the past few months, those negative voices have crept back in. I didn’t recognize them at first. Oh, sure. I noticed the ones who showed up screaming and foaming at the mouth. They were easy to spot. But others arrived with smiles. Their words coated with sugar. Spouting love and concern…then lashing out when I asked questions or took issue with their positions.
They told me I was naïve. Stupid. Wrong. They belittled me. Ridiculed who and what I hold dear. Told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. And when I dared to say they hurt my feelings, they told me I was ‘too sensitive’.
That’s when I acknowledged I’d let them move in. Again. And that’s when I decided to evict them.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this poem:
By Jodi Moore
Move past it, She said.
Then She walked away and left me alone.
Get over it, He said.
Then He took the ladder and left me alone.
Let it go, They said.
Then They slammed the door and locked the windows and left me alone.
At first, I pretended It wasn’t there. But It was. Staring at me through the darkness.
Then, I raged at It, screaming for It to leave. But It stayed. Waiting for me in the midst.
Finally, I turned away, cowering in the corner, sure it would devour me. But It didn’t.
Through the silence, I heard soft crying.
And then I realized that It had been lost, and left, and locked away too.
I took Its hand in mine. Together, we opened the door and left Them.
I can’t say I’ve completely broken from ‘Them’. But I can say that I’m working hard not to let Them break me.
In silencing the negative voices, I’ve empowered my own. In piecing my heart back together, I’ve begun to breathe life back into my art. In leaving them, I’ve begun the journey of reuniting with myself.
And my characters? They’re back, stronger and more insistent than ever. After all, they’ve got stories to tell, and it’s my job to let their voices be heard.
It beckoned to me as it began to rise over the mountains near our house, bright as the sun in the sky.
And though dinner was almost ready, I flew out the door, ran across a few neighbors’ yards, down the street and to the park. The trees had already gathered around to listen, but they welcomed me into their space.
Together, we sat, in the stillness of the night. And we listened.
Someday, I hope to write down the words the moon spoke. But for now, holding them in my heart is enough.
This post is hard for me to write. Heck, everything lately has been hard to write. Which is, well, weird.
From the time I can remember, I’ve always found solace in the written word, whether it be reading a story written by another or creating my own. Stories helped me make sense of the world. They were my safe place. My literal and literary shelter from the storm. And the door was always wide open and welcoming, like a soft, reassuring hug.
Sure, I tried opening the door. I opened files to write, but the words wouldn’t come. It’s okay, I tried to convince myself. You just need to fill up the well. So, I reached for a book. Then another. Then another. I read the words, but nothing resonated. I couldn’t concentrate. Couldn’t connect. Not even with my old favorites. The words fell to the floor like forgotten confetti from a party long abandoned.
Music seemed to help, but only while it actively played. As the sound wound down, so did the effect.
Somewhere, somehow, the door had become locked from the other side.
Maybe my heart was trying to protect itself from the chaos outside. Maybe it had grown weary from reading so much depressing news. Maybe it had broken once too many times and had forgotten how to piece itself back together.
In the midst of a pandemic, when people should be working toward a common goal – toward a common good – the world felt crueler than ever.
Then I remembered something else I’d buried a long time ago. When I was a child, I loved picture books not only for the words, but for the illustrations. I wanted to be an artist…no, as a child, I was an artist – untethered by expectation, rules or critique.
Somewhere along the lines, however, someone told me I wasn’t good enough. They ridiculed my sketches. Laughed at my attempts. And even though I designed the insignia for my elementary school in sixth grade, I soon found myself comparing my work to others’. Doubt seeped in, drowning any small amount of self-confidence I had. That ‘someone’s’ voice became my own, echoing inside my head.
I locked the dream away.
I don’t know if my heart stumbled upon that old dream because they’d bolted themselves into the same room or whether it had been screaming for recognition the whole time. But I’m grateful, because somehow, when I tried to connect to my creativity once again, I found a tiny note that had been slipped through the keyhole.
Art, it said.
My brain snorted. All the festivals, theaters and museums are closed.
No. ART, my heart whispered.
Art. I let the word sit, savoring it for a moment and I felt my heart twitch. Art? Like a verb…?
Yes, it said.
A few memories bubbled up about how much I used to draw. How even after I stopped drawing for others, I still used to draw for myself. How it calmed me. How it helped me make sense of the world.
When had I stopped?
It doesn’t matter. Start, my heart said. Art again…
That’s when I realized my heart hadn’t locked itself away. It was me who’d done so. I was the one who bolted that door. But as my heart demanded, it was time to open up again. Time to reconnect. Time to art.
Now, this may sound dramatic, but it’s true. I believe – no, I know – this class saved me the past nine weeks. It reconnected me to my very soul. There are days I’ve spent 10+ hours drawing – no lie – only realizing the passage of time as the room grew dark. I’ve developed new characters for my stories and fleshed out ones that already existed. I’ve been able to read again. I’ve been able to me again.
It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s happening. Little by little. My own personal reawakening.
It was no surprise to me that creativity needs to be fed. What I didn’t realize is that sometimes there are extra mouths in the nest that have been too long ignored.
I wasn’t always. But when something terrible happens in your life that you never expected – never dreamed could ever happen – ends up happening, it suddenly seems possible that something terrible could happen at any time. And the possibilities feel endless.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons I became a writer. To somehow channel those possibilities. To make sense of them. To calm my fears with fictitious resolution.
Recently, a lot of things have plagued my mind: climate change and environmental protection, Covid 19, racism. One of our sons expressed concern that I might grow paralyzed by fear.
And I realized something. I’m not paralyzed by fear. I’m angry. No, I’m enraged.
Because what’s going on isn’t unexpected. It was predicted. All of it.
Was it inevitable? I don’t think so. It could have been rerouted if the path had changed.
And here’s the thing. It can be rerouted NOW.
But paths can’t change themselves. New paths are created by footsteps. Lots of footsteps…walking together, step-by-step, rejecting the previous road.
Sometimes there are markers to follow.
Sometimes we can team up with friends.
Sometimes we need to start a new path on our own.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’m still afraid, but the anger is grounding. Refreshing. Empowering.
And I’m starting to see some change. People who’d grown silent are starting to speak out. Those who have been yelling into what must have felt like an abyss are finally being heard. Despite the threat of illness, millions are pouring into the streets to protest.
Paths are being carved. With feet. Hands. Hearts.
Some are walking, some are running. Some are screaming, some are singing. Some are talking, some are writing.
Most importantly, some are listening.
With these new paths come bridges that connect us on both physical and philosophical levels. With these bridges come empathy. And with that empathy, a glimmer of hope.
Come with me…we’re making progress, but there’s still so far to go.
Let us share our stories, promote change and help heal the world.
Oh, and if you join a protest? Please wear a mask. Like I said earlier, I’m basically a terrified person.
When our boys were toddlers, we’d read a stack of books every night before bed. And they’d always ask for ‘just one more’.
Sure, part of it was extending bedtime. But I also recognized the enchantment in their eyes with each tale. The excitement of each page turn. The love of story.
As they grew older, we’d giggle over the antics of Captain Underpants and Junie B. Jones,
weep as we read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,
and tremble with our own goosebumps after volume upon volume of R.L. Stine.
Then, one day…we didn’t.
Of course, it didn’t happen overnight. But it happened. And it wasn’t just that somehow we’d stopped sharing books together. It seemed as if they’d stopped reading for pleasure.
I tried to convince myself I hadn’t failed as a parent. (And failed.)
But then I realized they hadn’t stopped reading. Steve – who was devouring every magic book the library had to offer at age 8 – told me that David Copperfield said, “It’s not the trick, but the performance” and informed me he needed acting lessons. Alex, at 10, was already writing code for our computer.
It’s said that the body will crave what its lacking in nourishment. Our sons were reading what they wanted to. What they needed to. What their minds and hearts craved.
And it was important, as a parent, to let them do so. Whatever category. Whatever genre. Whatever format.
Now, we giggle over the hilarious video games Alex develops. And just recently, we wept over a stunning production of Spring Awakening that Steve directed and choreographed.
They never stopped loving story. They simply knew what they needed to read to create their own.
This month on YA Outside the Lines, most of the blog entries focus on teen interviews. After all, it’s important to reach out to your audience. To be able to fill the void in their world. To know their wants. Their needs. Their hearts.
And after all, the name of the blog is YA Outside the Lines.
I thought about this assignment for weeks. You see, my audience is different. I write picture books. And although most book selling sites will categorize the target age as 4-8 years old, it’s important to realize you not only have to engage the children, but their adult readers as well.
So, rather than do one interview, I’ve decided to share some of the questions, comments and thoughts that have offered insight into my target audience over the years.
Kids are empathetic.
1st Grader: “Can you write a book about the boy’s sister next? All the bad stuff in When A Dragon Moves In seems to happen to her.”
It’s not the kids who have the short attention span:
Kindergartener: “I wish the book could’ve been longer, but I guess you’re pretty busy.”
(Note: This comment squeezed my heart. We’re constantly told that kids don’t have the patience to sit through longer stories. Methinks it might be the adults…?)
Kids listen to our words and look to us for inspiration.
I received this note from a fourth grader. Children are bursting with potential. Be the wind beneath their wings, not the one clipping the feathers. (This squeezed my heart too, but in a good way.)
Kids are smart. They want to read, but we have to let them choose their own stories.
I’ve participated in too many festivals where children ages 8 on up pause in front of my booth to pore over my books. You can see their eyes light up as they absorb each page, each word, each illustration.
And then, the tug from the adult. “You’re too old for that book. Look at these over here.”
What these parents don’t often realize is that picture books are mini art museums, where each turn of the page offers a new delight and an avenue for the imagination to embark on a fresh journey. Plus, some readers are more comfortable connecting to stories in a visual sense.
Thankfully, I’ve managed to sway some parents to acknowledge and embrace the power of graphic novels. And look what happens when my own Dragon is interpreted by a brilliant, young artist:
Kids need to see themselves in books, physically, psychologically and emotionally.
I’m a great supporter and advocate for the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Please read more about it here.
I’d also like to share a personal experience.
During a signing event for When A Dragon Moves In and When A Dragon Moves In Again, a woman approached me and asked what the books were about. I wasn’t even sure she was listening as she paged through a copy, lost in Howard McWilliam’s brilliant illustrations. But when I explained how “Dragon” acts a little naughty when no one believes he’s real, she looked up. “It’s about a child’s frustration?” she asked. And that’s when she shared a bit of her story with me. I felt my heart splinter. Without divulging personal details, suffice it to say that her granddaughter was dealing with challenges no child should ever have to.
With tears in her eyes, she said she thought her grandchild would identify with the boy and his dragon in my story. Would see herself. And that it would help her. We both cried then. And hugged. (Ya know, long ago when we were able to.)
Finally, kids inspire US.
During one school visit, I mentioned that I’m working on a middle grade novel as well as a YA. “How long does it take for a book to be published?” one second grader asked.
“It can take years,” I told her, and described a bit of the process for them.
“Perfect,” she said with a grin. “That means I’ll be old enough to read it when it does.”
And with that beautiful smile in mind, I must go write. Because if there’s one thing I know for sure, I don’t ever want to let any of these kids down.