Pope Francis in the United States [Free Coloring Page]

Some of my good friends are heading to the World Meeting of Families: 2015.  The WMoF takes place every three years. Sponsored by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family, the WMoF is the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families.

Though I can’t make the trek, I’m grateful for the friends who offered to take my rosary to have it blessed by Pope Francis. My friends’ eagerness, enthusiasm, and excitement is touching—and had me reaching for my sketchpad and pencils to capture the moment.

To accompany my friends and other Catholic families attending, I drew up a one-page Pope Francis in the US coloring page that has little doodles of Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia with bubbles to jot down a memory or quote from this trip.

If you’d like to download the PDF, you can do so for free.

On Pablo Picasso’s Birthday: A Memory of Guernica and the Power of Art


We had made the two-hour road trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York for the specific purpose of seeing Pablo Picasso’s Guernica before it was sent to Spain. The painter had requested for Guernica to be displayed there once the country was a republic. So, finally, in 1981, the art-world-shaking painting was heading to Picasso’s homeland.

The politics of Spain, however, were beyond nine-year-old me. As I finally stood in the gallery where Guernica was displayed, I only knew that the painting before me was unlike anything else I’d seen. The canvas seemed gigantic, sprawling its chaotic scene of sorrow and agony to every corner of the museum.

At first, I felt breathless and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the drawing. I had considered angles nothing more than dull lines, but the slashes and angles of Guernica felt bold, passionate, outraged. The black, white, and grey colors cried out their hurt.

And as the curator explained all the gritty details of the painting, I felt the lamenting, angry hands raised upward, heard the mourning of the gaping people, sensed the chaos and devastation all around me. Picasso’s masterpiece was inescapable.

Guernica gripped my shoulders and shook me.

The painting didn’t look like the flat, soul-less flowers in still-life paintings of school art books. Nor did it have the drenching colors, whimsical intelligence, and soul-deep warmth of my beloved Marc Chagall‘s works. Chagall’s paintings and sketches had always left me with the desire to jump into the paintings…. Picasso, however, made me protectively hug my arms around my waist.

This mad work felt too much.

The curator and the adults around me spoke of lights and shadows, the different periods of Picasso’s life, his turbulent life, the sheer vanity of the man, and the audacity of his work. I listened the best I could, trying desperately to remember all the facts, for this felt like a pivotal moment in my life… The Afternoon I Saw Guernica.

Of all Picasso’s work, that painting remains most in my memory, even now, nearly three decades later. Amid all Picasso’s monsters and nudes and angular faces, Guernica always stands out for me… the painting that was so much more than what it was.

The painting that rattled a nine-year-old with its power. The one that has burned into her memory.

Good art stays with you, but masterpieces burn into one’s brain, making its creativity, its power, its awesomeness part of the person who gazes upon it.

And you are never the same after you are touched by a masterpiece.

On Picasso’s birthday, I thank him for his work, his genius, his celebration of creativity.

Remembering Editorial Great Richard Thien (and What Makes an Inspirational Mentor)

Photo used with permission from Newseum Institute/Chips Quinn Scholars program.
Photo used with permission from Newseum Institute/Chips Quinn Scholars program.

When I first heard that Richard “Dick” Thien, the newspaper great and Chips Quinn scholar mentor, died, I immediately said a prayer for him and his family then wondered, “Did he know how influential he was? Did he know how many people he inspired to be better journalists, better writers, better participants in life?”

Judging from the various tributes, such as those by the Newseum Institute and the Associated Press, he must have known. Who could influence that many people without knowing it?

Dick reminded me of Thomas Mitchell.

I first met Dick Thien when I became a Chips Quinn scholar in 1994. After enduring an intense orientation in Arlington, Virginia, then arriving in Nashville for my grueling and wonderful newspaper internship, I found myself under Thien’s protective wing. I immediately liked him, for he reminded me physically of Thomas Mitchell, the ol’ timey actor. He was a portrait in circles, a round body, a round face, a round nose—but his look was intense, direct, and, best of all, mischievous.

Under Thien’s guidance that summer, I grew as a writer and journalist and also learned how to observe the world better. He saw my flowery first drafts of articles and sliced through them with his red pen of doom. The girl who always got sparkling grades in journalism now had to work intensely for a flicker of approval from one of the toughest editors I’ve ever known. By the end of summer, however, I knew my writing was sharper. He taught me to see everything around me and glean what was needed to make an article shine. I didn’t have to write everything; I just had to write what mattered most.

That sweltering summer is gone, but Thien’s influence on me colors much of what I do daily. As an editor for the Daily Fix, I work with writers and even mentor a few. From Thien, I learned to be tough but not cruel, caring but not indulgent, and constructive rather than destructive.

He was what great mentors are…

  • Passionate about his craft
  • Determined to help others
  • Unable to tolerate crap
  • Honest and open
  • Able to laugh at himself
  • Encouraging
  • Inspiring folks to drive themselves harder
  • A lover of chocolate chip cookies
  • Champion of writers

I wrote more about Thien for the Newseum Institute site. Read more about why Dick Thien was a great mentor and how he touched the lives of other journalists and Chips Quinn scholars.

Freeing the Little Artists Pent Up Inside Us [Video]

“If you continue to act like an artist as you get older, you’ll increasingly feel pressure. People will question your actions and ask you to act properly.” (Young-ha Kim, writer)

When people find out that I’m a writer and an illustrator, they often have something to say about it. Of the myriad oddball reactions I receive, the one that often saddens me is when they tell me that they once wrote, once drew, once made cartoons, once did this, once did that. In my mentioning something creative, they reflect, often with great fondness, on their creativity as children. My heart hurts for them because, in listening to their joy in being artists as children, I realize that the little artist has been dormant for far too long within them.

Recently, I heard a TED talk by Korean author Young-ha Kim that explored what happens to little artists when most of them face adversity (in the form of adults and adulthood). His delightful, inspiring, and humorous TED talk focuses on the spirit of play and creativity in children and what kills that joy in adults. He ponders aloud the battle that adults face to be creative.

Among memorable quotes from his talk…

  • “Unfortunately, the little artists within us are choked to death before we get to fight against the oppressors of art. They get locked in. That’s our tragedy. So what happens when little artists get locked in, banished, or even killed? Our artistic desire doesn’t go away. We want to express, to reveal ourselves, but with the artist dead, the artistic desire reveals itself in dark form.”
  • “It’s not the hundreds of reasons why one can’t be an artist, but rather the one reason one must be that makes us artists. Why we cannot be something is not important. Most artists become artists because of the one reason.”
  • “When we put the devil in our heart to sleep and start our own art, enemies appear on the outside.”

James Riley’s ‘Once Upon the End’ Is Now in Bookstores (and on Kindles)

If you live on the West Coast and heard a delighted bookwormy shriek, you heard my daughter as her pre-ordered copy of Once Upon the End appeared on our Kindle.

(The above photo is a little blurry because she was trying to get the Kindle while I was Instagramming the book cover.)

The final installment of James Riley’s Half Upon a Time series, Once Upon the End, hits the bookstores today. The story of punk princess May’s search for her true identity while accompanied by the helpful yet awkward yet brave Jack and the almost-perfect-in-every-way Philip left us with a massive (and heart-wrenching) cliffhanger at the end of Twice Upon a Time (How COULD you, James?!) but now, questions will finally be… uhm… answered.

My daughter’s reading the novel as I write this and then I’ll get the Kindle, so no reviews are planned for today. However, Half Upon a Time fans may enjoy this interview with James Riley that he graciously gave us when Twice Upon a Time was released. (My daughter and niece’s love for Riley’s work grew exponentially when they found that he’s awfully kind to his readers… when he’s not torturing them with cliffhangers.)

Happy reading!

Artistic Advice From the Marketoonist, Tom Fishburne

In the BBC program “Dr. Who,” the time-traveling hero often discusses “fixed points” in time, moments or events that deeply affect people’s lives.

Meeting Tom Fishburne recently felt like a fixed point in time to me. The moment was quiet and soft, less obvious than some momentous occasions. A subtle watercolor amid the blurred bold strokes of the event, the memory of the meeting has remained with me.

Getting to Meet Tom Fishburne

EPSON scanner imageTom Fishburne, the cartoonist and marketer (aka the Marketoonist) was the speaker for a session at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston. Before Tom was a full-time cartoonist, he worked as a product marketer. Now, his cartoons brilliantly combine humor, marketing smarts, and artistic appeal.

I’ve been following his work for a while now. I’ve also listened to his interview at MarketingProfs and other places, and read his blog.

As Tom gave his talk, I sat in the back of the room, sketching visual notes in my art pad. While making sure the event rolled smoothly, Kathy Bushman whispered to me, “You have to meet Tom. You have to show him your drawings.”

The idea of doing so scared me. A lot. Because it’s one thing to really like someone’s work and something else to meet them. Because maybe he’d end up being a big fat jerk. Maybe he’d fall over laughing at my work. And also, it feels safer to hide behind a notebook than to trot up to the person whose work you admire.

But the little kid in me—the bashful girl who hid her desire to draw for so very long—wanted to talk to Tom. Not as a fan girl (even though I could have easily been one of those other people asking for his autograph). Not even as a marketer (even though his marketing-related advice in the presentation was spot on).

I just wanted to talk to him about drawing, for he wonderfully infuses smarts and play in his pieces.

After the crowd left, I approached him. “Hello, I’m Veronica Maria Jarski. I work for MarketingProfs. I’m a writer and, ah, I draw, too…”

And he interrupted me, saying, “Did you draw that work outside? The big poster outside by the door? That’s awesome. I took a picture of it.”

“Yes, that’s my work.”


Then, I showed him the drawing I made of his talk, and he said, “Let me get my camera! I want to take a picture of it. Can I? Do you mind?” And he did.

my visual sketch notes (in progress) of Tom’s talk

Tom Fishburne taking a picture of my quick sketch was surreal.

Just like that, I suddenly felt like we had hit it off in our school yard, finding something in common to chat about while hanging upside down from the monkey bars.

Why Meeting Tom Fishburne Mattered So Much to Me

In meeting with my writing group regularly, I’ve grown to deeply value the friendship, insight, and support of other friends on the writing journey. However, until I met Tom, I didn’t realize how I needed to meet another artist.

For the 15-minute meeting, I completely forgot my self-consciousness; Tom didn’t treat me like the barely known artist that I am. Instead, he warmly spoke to me like another artist on the same art-supplies-strewn road. We talked about the unfurling of one’s artistic side, about the self-doubt and insecurities that come at first until one find’s one style, about how people treat cartoons or drawings as opposed to what it considered “real art.”

He shared his own artistic journey and what he has learned along the way. The lessons are applicable to writers, artists, illustrators, anyone creative…

  • Set personal goals. Tom mentioned making goals for himself. “Set goals for yourself, not for work, not for a client, but for YOU.” Plan to draw something outside of work once a week. Or commit yourself to finishing a certain drawing project by a certain date.
  • Stick to that goal. Make it happen.
  • Share your work. Tom put his work on Flickr, on a blog, etc. Art is meant to be seen, to be shared.
  • Practice regularly. Drawing is a craft, and that means continually working to improve in it, to grow.
  • Be confident in your style. Don’t compare your work to other people or hope to draw like someone else. Be the artist that you are.

Finding One’s Artistic Voice

The advice that lingered most in my mind was the one about being the artist that you are. (Perhaps because we talked about this point the most.)

When I first began drawing, I longed to be an artist along the lines of someone like Holly Hobbie. Later, I was obsessed with the fantastic Arthur Rackham. Then, I wanted to be like Marc Chagall, with his brilliant colors, floating people, and deep imagery. Then I hoped to create work like Lane Smith.

But as much as I studied and enjoyed and fell in love with those artists’ work, when I draw, my people come out like this (if I have time):


Or like this (if I’m sketching a live talk):


I’ve learned that, yes, you can learn from your favorite artists (just like you can learn from your favorite writers), but you should not spend your artistic life longing to be like another artist…  My own artistic journey means becoming truer to the artistic spirit within me, cultivating a spirit of peace and truth, mindfully sharing the gifts God gave me…

And unfurling one’s style and talents means continually learning and practicing. It’s the only way to let your style emerge.

Being true to yourself means being true to who you are in the creative world.


Have you been shy about calling yourself an artist or a writer? How have you changed since you first began drawing or writing?

An Interview with James Riley, Author of ‘Half Upon a Time’ and ‘Twice Upon a Time’

We’ve been having a marathon of children’s author James Riley posts here at Sometimes Bailey. From our much-anticipated read of the newly released Twice Upon a Time (sequel to Half Upon a Time) to book reviews, we’ve been enjoying this sweet time of reading something fun and freshly published and refreshing.

Happily, we’ve also had an opportunity to ask James Riley several questions about writing and his books, Half Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time.

On Writing

What’s your writing background?

James Riley: I like to use a green screen, so I can write in space or prehistoric times. It adds something to the deadline urgency when a dinosaur might show up at any time.

You say on your author’s page that you were voted most likely never to finish a book. Did you really not see yourself an author or… did you just have difficulties finishing one? Or are you being funny and I missed the whole tone there… ?

James Riley: Ha, this was me just trying to be funny, so clearly, it worked! I did write in high school (and junior high, elementary school, and … well, that’s it. Kindergarten, I just wanted to be Han Solo.) but never showed anyone anything, and certainly never thought I’d be a writer. If you asked me before college what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say either a) rich or b) president. Check and check.

What does your writing process look like?

James Riley: It changes daily in terms of actual writing, but in general, each book follows a similar format:

1.) Write a first draft, and just let whatever happens, happen. Very little editing happens here … though I do make a LOT of notes.
2.) NOOOOOO! Who WROTE this stuff? It’s so bad! What am I DOING?! Putting this book in the same store as Hemingway and Fitzgerald is a crime against humanity!
3.) Heh, that one line made me laugh. I guess I’ll edit it and see what happens.
4.) Edit.
5.) *Secretly still believe #2, but fake positivity when sending it to my editor*

What’s your biggest difficulty in writing?

James Riley: Forcing creativity. Sometimes writing is like going to the gym … you have to make yourself do it, but afterwards, you feel GREAT. Or, you pull something.

Do you have any writing rituals, habits, etc.? What are they? (If you have any. If not, obviously, there’s not much to say here.)

James Riley: Nope, I tend not to have the same time free every day, so sometimes it’s just about getting to a computer whenever I can. It’d probably help if I did!

Who (or what) are your greatest influences in writing and why?

James Riley: I’d love to list certain authors here because they were such influences on me, but honestly, they probably affected me as a person more than they affected my writing. If I’m being truthful, television and movies have affected my writing style more than books. And I say that as someone who reads constantly … visual pop culture just can’t help infecting everything, the way our society is now.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of good there too.

In another interview, you mention having a day job. What is it? How do juggle a full-time job and being a celebrated children’s author? (Children do celebrate. Really. And so do some fairy-tale lovin’ adults. Just saying.)

James Riley: I blame the day job for my lack of ritual, and lack of time to write. Writing is what I want to do, but my day job is what enables me to keep feeding myself. So without juggling, I’d lose a lot of weight fast.

Do you have a writing group or support system or what-not to help you stay focused? Who do you turn to for feedback, guidance, reality checks, etc.?

James Riley: I’m actually one of those people who works best on their own, blazing a forest two feet from the path that leads exactly where they’re going without even knowing it’s there. I’ve been writing for myself for so long, it’d probably feel odd to show other people. But I say that knowing it’s not the best choice for most people, much like most people don’t think it’s funny to wear a cape and chase their cat around the apartment.

On His Books

You mentioned in another interview that you went through myriad rejections. How do you sustain a belief in your work in the face of so much rejection?

James Riley: Delusion. Sometimes, you have to just believe in the face of overwhelming evidence because YOU like it. If I’d written something to be expressly commercial, I might have given up faster. But writing something that I’d want to read gave me faith that maybe someone else would, too.

Do you ever go through the whole angst-ridden, self-doubting stage as a writer?

James Riley: Never. Ignore everything I said above.

How did you end up writing Half Upon a Time?

James Riley: I’d finished another novel that was objectively awful, and decided that maybe I should examine the influences in my life that made me really feel something. Disney movies were one. Fantasy stories about kids finding out they were destined for something more were another. Also I just wanted to write about a guy who gets eaten by a giant.

When you set out to write the books, did you already see it as a sequel? Or was it something that the publisher or editor came up with? (I know. That ended with a preposition.)

James Riley: I’m from Iowa, where everyone says “Can I come with?” so I’m used to it. I plotted the books as a series from the beginning, and my agent pitched them that way to my editor. If I hadn’t, the cliffhangers would have been very, very mean.

What surprised you during writing the book? Was it a character changing? A plot going in a different direction?

James Riley: Writing the second book, it surprised me how much I liked writing May’s narration. That probably influenced me as to a series I’m working on that will hopefully follow the HALF series. There are also quite a few deleted scenes now from the series that I thought initially would be integral. Shows what *I* know!

Half Upon a Time (the first book in the series) started in the middle of an intense (and hilarious) scene. Did you know the book would begin like that or did you struggle to find the best opening?

James Riley: I struggled a bit. Initially the book started with Jack and his grandfather rescuing some fairies from the town bully, after failing his test. The beginnings have always been trouble for me … there’s a lot of pressure to get things exactly right. The endings, in contrast, have always been easy. Maybe it’s because I’m just a mean person, and like to leave people hanging?

Your books remind me of Charlie Chaplin’s movies (I’m a classic-film geek) with the humor and melancholy interwoven in a perfect balance. When you write, how do you strike that balance? Do you find yourself trimming back humor or darkness when editing?

James Riley: I guess my natural response to melancholy is humor. But I’m also not a fan of “silly” works, where everything is humorous and there’s nothing to ground that emotionally. Humor works much better for me when you care about what’s happening to a character. So to me, this is sort of the natural balance. To compare it to Charlie Chaplin is a huge compliment, so thank you!

Do you ever write funny scenes that don’t quite work? Or is your sense of humor easy to put into writing?

James Riley: There’s a whole section involving the three bears, the three pigs, and an angry porcupine that got cut out of TWICE UPON A TIME because while funny (at least to me), it didn’t really have enough to do with the ongoing story. In my mind it still happened, though, if just because I enjoyed writing a porridge fight with the bears so much.

Twice Upon a Time feels more action-packed than Half Upon a Time. It’s like “Empire Strikes Back”… so much is going on! And characters inspired (ahem) by Peter Pan and the Little Mermaid contribute greatly to the plot. How did you decide who to bring into this second novel?

James Riley: Thank you for using inspired instead of stolen. The Little Mermaid is one of my all-time favorite stories, so I knew I wanted to make her story a big part of my series. And to juxtapose the mermaid, who gives everything up for love, with Jack, who’s learning that if you have to become someone else so a girl will like you, maybe she’s not the girl for you … it just fit in naturally. Oh, whoops, did I just spoil something?

Also, thank you for the Empire comparison. That’s exactly the same tone I was going for!

Who did you cut out (if any character) or would you have liked to include in the book?

James Riley: Long, long ago, Penelope played a bigger role in TWICE, along with the talking animals I mentioned. Penelope will still get her moments in the last book, ONCE UPON THE END, fortunately, but as of right now, the talking animals just won’t have time to show up, I’m sorry to say. Especially for how they played into the Wolf King’s origin.

In reading the books, I really felt so much for May. She is looking to understand who she is, where she comes from… and she is going through so much emotionally. In Twice Upon a Time, she seems more in touch with her feelings and struggles. How was writing her in Twice a different experience than in Half?

James Riley: May’s been through so much, and is looking for any lifeboat in a storm, or some phrase that’s actually a phrase. These two boys have been the only two people she can trust, after what she sees as a huge betrayal by her grandmother, so the possibility that they would leave her, or worse, betray her, is one of her worst nightmares at this point. It’s much easier to deal with chaos when you have a solid rock to stand on … unfortunately, neither of those rocks will be there forever.

Despite everything, though, May is probably the strongest character in the book, certainly the one who’s had to deal with the most change. And for that reason, I’m pretty hopeful that she’ll make it through OK … uh oh, I forgot about how the third book ends. I take that all back. Let’s just say I’m pretty hopeful that May will make it through the halfway point of ONCE UPON THE END.

Do you realize how cruel it is to give your readers so many cliffhangers?

James Riley: I know, I really am not a nice person.

The ending of Twice Upon a Time was so emotional. Just brilliant. You hardly give your readers time to laugh and rejoice with the characters when you just BAMMO punch them in the gut with a surprise twist. (Excuse the mixed imagery there.) What has reaction been to that ending?

James Riley: Generally exactly what I’d hoped, which is sadness, but a desire to see how things end. You can’t really ask for more. And honestly, this was coming from the moment May fell out of the sky. She’s ALWAYS been (spoiler deleted), and therefore always had (spoiler deleted) as the one she was meant to be with. And Jack had to find it out sooner or later, poor guy. That scene with Merriweather that ends the second book was written before anything else was in TWICE. And right after that, I wrote the end of book three, which is a conversation between two of the three main characters. And a glass slipper. Though the slipper doesn’t say much.

I’ve already asked you a hundred (figuratively) questions… Is there anything else you’d like to add?

James Riley: Just that I really appreciate all the support, THANK YOU for enjoying the books!

Read More

You’ve read the books—but want to read more about James Riley? Check out the following.

If You Give Children’s Author James Riley a Book Review…

You happily end up with James Riley sending you an email about the post.

Which makes you think it can’t possibly be James Riley.

Which leads to you writing a succinct letter along the lines of “Oh, yeah? Right-o. Prove it, mister.”

Which he does.

Which means that the alleged James Riley emailing you is indeed James Riley.

Which makes you think maybe you should have been nicer in the first email.

Which he doesn’t hold against you because he’s amiable.

Which is fortunate because your daughter would never forgive you for ticking off James Riley.

Which encourages another email.

Which results in your daughter and her best friend receiving the best surprise in the mailbox ever (at least, if we’re judging by the sound barrrier being broken by screams)…

Which contains autographed copies of James Riley’s Half Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time.

(And she totally peeked at the dedication on her bestie’s book, too. I know. Total squealer mom. Team Phillip indeed, Mr. James Riley.)

Which ends up in her increased screaming of joy.

Which led her to calling her best friend… and more shouts of happiness and some hyperventilation on the part of the best friend.

Which had the girls just even more eager to talk all things Half Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time-ish.

Which made the best friends spend most of their girl-talk time drawing Team Jack tee-shirts and discussing the “clues” that James Riley wrote in their books.

Which ends up in an increasingly rambunctious (yes, that’s the right word to describe it) conversation.

Which makes the other mothers in the playgroup look at you quizzically.

Which ends up in a long explanation from you about the books, James Riley, and the wonders of social media.

Which surprises them. (The affability of James Riley, I mean. That surprised them. They don’t care about social media. Sigh.)

Which inspires some mothers to write down the name of the books, so they can go to Amazon later and buy them. (Word-of-mouth marketing at its finest, I tell ya.)

Which makes you send James Riley another email.

Which will be another post in a few days…


James Riley’s Children’s Books, Fangirls and How Loved Books Inspire Conversation

James Riley, author of “Twice Upon a Time”

My eleven-year-old daughter is a voracious reader and writer, always carrying a book in her backpack or a writing notebook in her purse.

And because she reads so many books, she is not deeply passionate about all of them. The girl is a discerning reader. Pride and Prejudice? Definitely a favorite! The Chronicles of Narnia? Two thumbs up! Black Beauty? Snoozeville…

So, when my daughter loves a story, she loves it with her whole heart—just like all bookworms do. The characters become part of her world, her extended family.

The newest members of this family are Jack, May, and Phillip, from James Riley’s Half Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time books. They have stepped off the pages and into my daughter’s life. She loves Jack’s sense of humor and quotes him often. She finds May to be someone that she’d love to befriend. And my daughter even has a soft spot for Phillip, who is perfect and princely—and a good person, one who merits respect.

The Books: Half Upon a Time and Twice Upon a Time

To call the books part of a fairy-tale series is limiting. The series is more like the perfect merging of fairy tales and boys’ adventure books: playful, hilarious, melancholic, action-packed, and mysterious.

At the heart of the novel are May, Jack, and Phillip—all on an adventure to find out the truth about May’s family and help May discover who she really is. Feisty and sarcastic, May pursues the truth bravely because she needs to know her story. Jack is reluctant for an adventure, but his feelings for May push him beyond his comfort zone. And practically perfect Phillip is uber-fairy-tale prince, so he naturally desires adventure.

(If you want James’s own description, then here you have it. Who better to describe James Riley’s books than James Riley himself?)

The Fangirls

My daughter read the first book, Half Upon a Time in October. The story of a boy training to be a knight who suddenly has a girl (wearing a “Punk Princess” shirt no less) fall out of the sky (literally, like really literally, not fake literally as people literally say) grabbed my daughter’s attention from the get-go. The girl, May, wasn’t a dreamy-eyed wimpy girl. Even after needing to be rescued, May determined her own course and plan to rescue someone else and find out more about her family.

With its captivating blend of humor, action, adventure, and homages to fairy tales, the book caught my daughter’s heart… (and mine, too).

The wait for the sequel felt interminable. My daughter had a countdown on her bedroom door. She would double-, triple- and quadruple-check Amazon to make sure James Riley wasn’t going to sneak in a copy early for true fans.

When Twice Upon a Time came out on April 24, we downloaded it to my Kindle Fire as soon as it was available (meaning: dawn).

The second book picks up on May’s journey to discover where she comes from, who she really is… and begins to explore more deeply the new questions regarding Jack. A page-turner, Twice Upon a Time is packed with action, hilarity, and moments of melancholy.

The last scene is sweet, sad… brutal. It lingers in the memory. And you just want to get your hands on the third novel now.

Just Tweeting (and Commenting) to Say We Dig You

After reading the book, I decided to reach out to James Riley via Twitter and let him know how much we enjoyed the book.

I tweeted…

And to my surprise, he wrote back.

After I told my daughter about this exchange, she let out a squeal at the realization that she could actually talk directly to the author. “I’m leaving a comment on his blog! I’m going to tell him exactly how we feel about his book.”

“All right,” I said, watching her fire up the computer and massage her fingers. (Apparently, it was to be a long comment.)

“Do you think he’ll answer us? Do you think he’ll comment right back?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe. If you’re reaching out to an author, it should be to let them know that you’re thankful for their work. It’s to show how much you love the book, how much it means to you,” I reminded her. “That’s the heart of it. If they answer you back, that’s lovely. If not, that’s all right, too. OK?”

And so, my daughter and her friend wrote this comment to James Riley.

And you know what? James Riley wrote back.

You never heard such squeals from girls. Not weird “I just saw Jason Bateman at the mall!” squealing that I did as a kid, but a delighted, happy-to-be-talking-to-someone-they-deeply-admire sort of squealing.

The Hours of Conversation

If I thought the conversations about the books were burning up the phone lines, I had no idea how much fodder this short comment by James Riley would be. “What do you think he meant by ‘as far as Jack knows’?”

Still, I love listening to the girls talk about books, heroes, heroines, how to handle difficulties, how to decipher meaning, etc. How refreshing and delightful to see two girls love a book series this much.

The books were even on their mind as we spent a lovely day at the park…

Thanks, James Riley, for writing such riveting, energetic, and entertaining books for children. And thanks, too, for making the time to answer their comment!