Life with Kids

The Little Dude Book is here!

The Little Dude Book is here!

I’ve never had a book more people have asked for than this one!

A couple years ago, before we adopted Little Dude, I typed up the very first conversation between him and Elizabeth. We were out walking, hoping to find a good spot to view the super moon. It went like this:

Eliza: Look at the super moon! It’s so big!
LD: No it’s not! I could hold it in my hand!
Eliza: It’s only small because it’s far away. It’s a super moon because it’s closer than usual.
LD: I don’t see a cape. It’s not a super anything.
Eliza: Sigh.
LD: Can it be a Batman moon instead?

The response was tremendous. Friends and family wanted to know more about this Little Dude who had entered our lives. We were unable to share details or pictures, so our extended circle came to know him from the conversations I posted every so often.

The conversations covered the period when Little Dude was five and six, crossing the point when he went from a foster child to our adopted son.

I’m still quite protective of him online, but I believe the conversations we’ve had paint a very solid picture of our funny, mysterious, unique little guy.

Here’s the book you all wanted so much:

Welcome to the Dude’s Eye View.

Little Dude arrived in his sixth (and final!) foster home at age 4.

He brought with him a wicked sense of humor and a take on the world his foster parents had never heard before.

From his unique perspective, you’ll learn

• the logic of lint traps
• the necessity of bribing reindeer
• why Girl Scout cookies are suitable for breakfast, and most of all
• the importance of wearing a cape

Along the way, you’ll see a lost little boy (and his mom!) navigate the emotional and complicated world of adoption from foster care.

Apple Books:
Google Play:

Paperback or Hardcover:
Powell’s Books:
Books A Million:
Barnes & Noble:
Indie Bound:

Days that make the journey worth it

I take very little for granted these days.

I have two new boys now. They arrived last September. The first three months were really tough. Of course they would be. They’ve had a hard journey making their way to us. We only just turned the corner as a family a few weeks ago, in mid January, into something manageable.

So my own life was set aside for a while. That didn’t mean big things didn’t happen. This for one:


Fight for Her hit the USA Today bestseller list in January at #116. This was my sixth time on the list — second time for my JJ Knight pen name.

I’m so grateful.

I didn’t get a chance to talk about it much, as we were in crisis at home. As so often happens when family comes first, even the big personal accomplishments get pushed aside.

But we’re getting there.

I’m not sure when I’ll introduce our new family to the world. Their safety will come first, even after they are adopted and I am legally free to let everyone see their adorable faces. But know they are here, and my life is far more multi-faceted than it ever was before. I’m not quite as available online or at book signing events as I once was.

If you do want me, the best place is my private Facebook group for book fans. I try to stop by every couple of days to say hello. Click to hop over to it.


The terrible parent or the good one? On publishing your children’s books

The terrible parent or the good one? On publishing your children’s books

Quite a lot of buzz in the author blogosphere has centered around the New York Times article about books that parents have paid to have published for their children so that they can become authors. In that story, authors weighed in on how inappropriate this action was, as kids are still learning, and false expectations of both success and what it means to be an author were damaging.

Maureen Johnson also weighed in on this, separating the act of writing from publishing. Writing was good. Going public was not.

On the forums I participate in, both public and private, the overwhelming sense has been that these parents were dead wrong, that publishing is a business meant for experienced and seasoned writers, and kids should stay within the printed-and-stapled variety of book production.


I tended to stay out of the threads, because goodness knows I had done this very thing myself. And the backlash among authors was pretty hard to bear.

Yes, I published my daughters’ book. I had started a little publishing company and done all the paperwork, the filing fees, the accounts. And couldn’t do the book I planned to because it was full color and the overseas run was just too expensive for me right after my divorce. I had a company and no books. I was going to chuck the whole idea.

And that summer, the girls got a book idea. It was something we could do together, a picture book where we’d use my photography rather than drawings. When I checked for similiar titles on the subject on Amazon I was shocked to see there were NONE aimed at children. (A couple have come out since.)

My friend had just gotten her masters in publishing and was willing to design the book for us to have a sample (the world was smiling on us.) We all spent about eight weeks producing the title. I had no expertise whatsoever in the subject matter, so I really had to rely on the girls. They dictated; I typed. I ran changes by them. I did help make sure the sentences were consistent, especially for the part my seven-year-old did.

The book now pays much of the overhead of my small press two years later. It’s sold thousands of copies. The girls had an event at Barnes and Noble, by invitation. We look at each invitation to do an event, or talk to a classroom, and decide if they want to do it or not. We turn down most things, as they want to go on with their normal kid lives. The book has gotten some criticism, which I talked to them about and they realized–hey, good points! But they had their reasons and still stood by their ideas. These were all teachable moments, to learn about the personalities of people online. As long as I was there to introduce it, to remind them—whew, people can be mean! It became an excellent conversation on how people act online (before either of them got exposed to it WITHOUT me being there to give them perspective.)

It’s been an incredible experience, and I think even if this hadn’t happened, if we had sold ten copies to grandparents and gone on, that wouldn’t have mattered either. It was something we did together, and a project we’re proud of. We didn’t expect fame or fortune—it started out as just something to put through my press because I had nothing else. The fact that the girls have money in accounts to go toward college and that I had seed money to put out the book I dreamed of is just—well, life smiling on us.

I think anything any parent does can go well or go badly. Maybe it’s publishing a book, maybe it’s forcing them to try out for commercials, maybe it’s never encouraging them or taking their artistic sensibilities seriously. There are a thousand ways we can err, but only the parents and child within any given situation can really know if a path they’ve chosen was a good one, or something that can do harm.

The mixed blessing of the holidays

I don’t think anyone who has lost someone close to them ever feels purely happy during the holidays.

I remember as a child, having a very clean joy. I was full of anticipation of presents and cookies and days off from school. In Texas, we never knew if it would be cold, or if we’d be wearing short sleeves, and I only recall one white Christmas in all those years living at home. In fact, I was lucky. Because my parents were young, my grandparents young, I didn’t lose anyone close to me until I was an adult, the biggest loss of all.

But the Christmas prior to the bad year was not too happy either. We’d been trying to get pregnant since March. Babies were popping up all around us. My parents finally knew not to ask anymore, realizing something was awry.

There is a picture of my husband and me that year, by the tree. I’m wearing a shiny gray outfit, my hair up in a bun, and I look perfectly miserable, annoyed that someone is taking my picture. I’m devastated to be around family, but grateful that babies are not appearing yet. Tucked just a room away, within the drawers of my nightstand, were sheafs of basal body temperatures. I was trained to recognize ovulation and pregnancy, but only years later, when I became much better at reading the charts, would I see what was happening. Early miscarriage after early miscarriage. Cycles that I thought were wildly erratic, going from 25 days to 45 days, were not normal cycles at all, but low progesterone cycles, failed implantations, and early losses that were not even picked up on the tests of those days, where 100 was the minimum hormone threshold for a positive (today it is 20.)

What I didn’t know as I took that frowning picture was that I was indeed pregnant. And that by some miracle, it would stick for twenty long weeks. But only twenty weeks. And by the next Christmas a new ornament would appear on my tree. Casey’s.

This year, Elizabeth found Casey’s ornament first. She tugged it out, puzzled over the name for a second, then realized whose it was with an elongated, “Ohhhhhh.”

She brought the little plastic soldier bear to me. “I think you should put this one on,” she said.

I could not have pictured this moment that Christmas, that one day one of my children would hand me the ornament bearing the other’s name. I just knew then that I couldn’t carry babies, and that yet another one in my belly that year, the second or sixth, however you might count them, was in danger. My high-risk doctor was hopeful that I would make it to 25 weeks and give the new baby a chance of surviving. But that Christmas was strained and frightening, and the holiday never returned to that purity of joy I had before my twenties.

Now, with two lovely daughters and so much to celebrate, I make sure their Christmases are as lively and pure as my own (although this year it looks like we might be wearing SHORTS!) Elizabeth hands me an ornament, but the pain doesn’t stick to her. And once I put it on the tree, and admire it for a moment, I also return to our task, decorating and cooking and wrapping, for a holiday that can be as merry and bright as I am able.

Dewey Decimal Posters for Librarians and Teachers — Get ’em here

Free Dewey Decimal posters download! Spruce up your classroom or library for the new year!

Last year the librarians at my daughter’s elementary school discovered I knew Photoshop.

This led to many projects, and this last one was so involved that we decided we would share the results with the entire library and teaching community.

What they needed: Modern, fresh-looking, easy-to-read posters on the Dewey Decimal system geared toward elementary school students.

So I designed 10 posters using legal, royalty-free photography and the terms that the librarians decided best fit the needs of the kinder-5th grade readers who would use them as reference.

They are PDFs designed on an 8 1/2 x 11 page so they are easy to print small and evaulate. We ran ours at 18×24. We got coupons online for Office Depot and ran the whole set of 10 huge color posters on glossy heavy stock for about $100 then laminated them on the school machine.

The easiest way to download the whole set of 10 is to click the link below:

That zip file includes all 10 high-res PDFs.

But here is a chart of what the 10 posters look like.

The posters are free to use, but naturally illegal to sell! 🙂

Have fun and enjoy!


Deanna (author of a middle grade series including Jinnie Wishmaker and Marcus Mender)

My poppies in two lines of dialog, Part 3

Once again, my two daughters differentiate themselves in dialog. (You may remember this one and this one.)

This time, we were at Target shopping for school supplies.

Elizabeth, the 9-year-old, wanted anything pink and got a new backpack and matching lunch box.

Emily, the 12-year-old, decided her old lunch box and backpack were perfectly fine and opted not to buy anything.

As we left, Elizabeth spotted some totally blinged-out scissors covered in colored rhinestones.

And thus, our sentences.

Emily: “School supplies aren’t supposed to be sparkly. You have to use them!”

Elizabeth: “Ooooh! They match my bag!”

Silly Bans on Silly Bandz

Once again, the girls show me how different two siblings can be.

Just like with the Coach Bag Incident, in two sentences, they displayed their unique worldviews.

This time, it involved Silly Bandz.

Silly Bandz are little rubber-band bracelets that have a shape when not being worn. Elizabeth had been asking for some, as trading them at school was the newest biggest fad, and she’s all over new big fads.

I picked up a package of 25 or so bands while out shopping and presented them to the girls when they got home from school. Emily picked out one of each color, and Elizabeth took the rest of the bag for trading.

Later that evening, I got an email from the school district saying that Silly Bandz were banned due to “overwhelming distractions” with kids trading them.

The next morning, as we got ready for school, I let the girls know they couldn’t wear the bands anymore. Emily left her pile of Silly Bandz on the dining room table.

Elizabeth slid dozens of the colored bracelets onto her wrist.

And thus, our two sentences.

Emily said, “Elizabeth, you’ll get in trouble!”

Elizabeth hid her hand behind her back. “Only if I get caught!”

(Which is the girl most like her mother?)

A Conversation about Heaven

About an hour ago, Elizabeth and I said our nightly prayer, which includes asking for God’s blessing on our friends and family members by name.

This time she said, “Don’t forget Irma.” Our good friends lost their two-day-old newborn yesterday.

“And God bless Irma,” I said.

“And her baby,” she added.

“And her baby.”

She pulled her pink kitty pillow closer. “Is Irma’s baby in heaven yet?”

I nodded. “He died last night, about the time you went to bed.”

“I know that,” she said. “But is he in heaven yet?”

“He is,” I answered. “How long do you think it takes?”

“About a week.”

I tucked her two favorite blankets around her. “So, where do you go for that week?”

She thought for a moment. “The waiting room. Like at the doctor.”

“I see.”

“Do I have to go back to the doctor?”

“Yes.” While I was at the hospital yesterday, Elizabeth had another seizure at school, this one much worse, adding four minutes of unresponsiveness to the old pattern of dizziness and inability to walk. She’d always been lucid through them before.

“Oh brother.” She sighed and closed her eyes.

She’s tired now, earlier than usual. We had to increase her medicines yet again and now must monitor her sleeping patterns in case the bigger doses make her too sluggish. But still, we have to increase the meds once more next week. Her body may no longer be responding to it.

I have known helplessness as long as I’ve known motherhood, my own first baby dying when I was 20 weeks pregnant. Then losing Elizabeth’s twin, a trauma that may have caused her brain damage.

How can we feel so desperate to protect our babies and yet be able to do so little?

She opened her eyes one more time. “It really doesn’t take a week?”

“Nope. Happens right away.”

“So Irma’s baby is already there?”


“Can he see us?”


“Can I tell him to take care of Finn?” Elizabeth’s fish has been sick for several weeks. “Fish do go to heaven, right?”

“I think so.”

“Do they have to wait a week?”

“Nope. Not fish either.”

She yawned and settled back into her pillow. “Good. I wouldn’t want to wait that long.”

Neither would I. And yet, we wait our lifetimes. Hopefully long ones. And hopefully ones where joy comes more often than loss, and fear is pushed away by faith

Coaching the poppies

You could learn a lot about my daughters with two lines of dialogue.

Today we were shopping for back-to-school clothes and backpacks. In one department store, we spotted an eye-catching line of Coach purses from their Poppy line. (Note: it’s their DISCOUNT line, in honor of the recession.)

We paused to look. The girls (Emily is 11 and practical; Elizabeth is 8 and a bling-addict) puzzled over the white security ties keeping the bags firmly tethered to the display.

“Those are pretty,” I said, pondering the fiscal responsibility of such a bag, but secretly wanting one.

We flipped over the price tag. $398.

“That’s way too much for a purse!” Emily exclaimed.

Elizabeth’s eyes lit up. “Let’s get it!”

My poppies, in a nutshell.

Elizabeth’s Not-So Merry Go Round

And the health care system goes round and round. My 8-year-old daughter Elizabeth and I feel like we’re getting tossed like so much Caesar.

When I was in second grade, our school yard had one of those old-fashioned merry-go-rounds, a metal circle with handle bars. You ran alongside it, and when you hit the perfect speed, you’d jump up and hang on.

Most playgrounds don’t have these anymore. That year, I was idly sitting on it during recess, reading a book. The football team came out to practice on the field adjacent to the playground. They decided I looked like I needed a little fun, so they began spinning the merry-go-round. Naturally, with six athletic teenage boys putting their muscle into it, I spun very fast. My book went flying off the bumpy metal wheel as I hung on to the handle, bracing my feet against the opposite bars in hopes of being able to ride it out.

But I couldn’t. Even though the boys stopped running and backed away, I couldn’t hold tight enough and flew off, landing in the gravel.

It could have been worse. Nothing was broken. I skinned one side of my leg and arm, a mass of blood, dirt, and gravel. The boys were terribly sorry and tried to hand me my book. I got tons of attention I neither needed or wanted. Shortly after, this merry-go-round was removed. I was blamed, and this ushered in a rather unhappy period of that year.

The way our world has spun since Elizabeth had to go on full-time anti-seizure mediation has been just as sickening, and I definitely feel the fear of a terrible crunch at the end. In this week’s whirl, we got our three-month supply of medicine only to open the box and discover the generic instead of the brand name.

Our neurologist had absolutely insisted we not do this particular medicine in generic, as we had done for the first month. The FDA only requires a generic dosage be within 80-125% of the correct amount of the brand. For a tiny girl like Elizabeth, getting 80% of the lowest dosage that she’s already on, since she is so small, means she may get seizures. Which means we’ll think it’s not working even if it might be. And of course, that she might have something happen to her, the always-fear when seizures are present for anyone.

To add to the fun, the suspension that the generic drug sits in as a liquid (she’s too small for any pill dosage) is seriously inferior to the brand name, making it appear like sour milk. We are quite certain that the cloudy liquid and the thick white chunks are not the same dosage, so we had to be super-vigilant about shaking it very very well. And even then, it seems like the bottom of the bottle is not the same color as the top.

We confirmed all this with our pediatrician yesterday. I ran to our local Randall’s, which had filled our interim prescription correctly with the brand name, and they delivered the bad news: since we had three months of generic from the mail order, the insurance wouldn’t cover it. We’d have to pay $186 a month for three months to get the brand name.

Upon calling the neurologist, we learned she had forgotten to uncheck the generic equivalency box. Her mistake, they were sorry. $600 sorry?

In more urgent news, all this delay meant we were OUT of medicine. Tick tock. This is an uncommon drug as a liquid and not stocked in most pharmacies.

Let me tell you, if you are ever in any sort of medical bind, I hope you get a pharmacist assistant like Cecilla at our local Randall’s, who, despite the fact the error was the doctor’s, and despite the fact that a mail order place got us the wrong medicine and it wasn’t anything to do with her, spent hours on the phone, negotiating with the insurance, putting in a medical emergency override, and getting us the rare brand name drug for $25, all within 16 hours.

I know most of us are at the mercy of doctors, insurance companies, and drug policies. But sometimes, people in the system do stand up for you. And sometimes, it’s not even the people you think it will be.

Elizabeth has gone 8 weeks without a seizure. We hope that means the drug, our second one to try, is working. She’s been to Magic Camp, finished her Pokemon game, and kept her nose in Gail Carson Levine books all summer. She just finished second grade. Our merry-go-round has been about as traumatic as that ride I took at her age, and the consequences have been, like mine, minor compared to what they could be. We see parents of children with heartbreaking problems and count our blessings. Certainly right up there on that list is Cecilla, who helped make sure that as the world started spinning out of our control, that we got the care we needed.