Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrates the life and civil rights work of Dr. King. In 1994, the holiday was officially recognized as a National Day of Service where volunteers across the country work together to make a difference in their communities. The titles include children’s books about Dr. King, fiction and nonfiction books about ordinary people who stand up for what’s right, and stories about helping others and giving back.
You’re sure to find some great books here to share with your children, grandchildren, or students! Stay safe and be well! ~Becky
Growing up in Michigan, the opportunity to play in winter snow was always a given. Many years would pass, before living in the much different climates of North Carolina and now Texas, to understand how scores of children (and even adults!) maintain such strong desires and dreams for that white stuff.
In 2019, I wrote a blog post with the happy news about the anticipated publication of my story, “Welcome to Texas, Heikki Lunta,” which revolves around two children waiting for snow. To check out the history of Heikki Lunta in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, you can read that post here.
Today, I’m excited to share my full story with you, which was first published in U.P. Reader Issue #3.
Welcome to Texas, Heikki Lunta!
Another winter holiday passed with no snow in sight. Not one flake. That glorious white stuff hadn’t fallen on Ella and Rae-Ann’s part of Texas in years. The sisters searched the sky when cold winds blew. They peered out the windows to see what was new. Nothing.
“We had such fun playing in the snow that year,” said Ella, pointing at a framed photo.
“I only remember making snow angels when I look at that picture,” said her younger sister, Rae-Ann.
New Year’s Day came and went. The children said ‘good-bye’ to winter break and returned to their classrooms.
Mom shooed two dogs away as she sliced apples and spooned peanut butter onto plates for an after-school snack. Grandma sat in the kitchen finishing her coffee.
“Y’all come to the table, girls. And don’t let the dogs get your food,” warned Mom. With a shiver, she turned the furnace up a notch before joining the others.
“It’s sure getting cold out there,” said Grandma. “I hear that Heikki Lunta might make a visit.”
“Hay-Kee who?” asked Ella, licking peanut butter from her fingers.
Rae-Ann’s eyes stole a quick look at the back door.
“His story’s rather long,” their grandmother said.
“Tell us,” the sisters begged in one voice.
“Well, you know I used to live w-a-a-a-y at the tip-top of Upper Michigan,” Grandma began.
“I sort of remember visiting you there,” said Ella.
“That was summer. You have no idea what it’s like in the winter.”
“Lots of snow?” asked Rae-Ann.
“Tons,” nodded Grandma. “The snowbanks grow taller than people. Schools sometimes close for a week at a time because of the blizzards.”
“Wow!” Ella exclaimed. The dogs cocked their heads to the side, listening.
“What does that have to do with this Heikki Lunta?” Mom asked.
“Quite a few families in Northern Michigan came from a far-away, snowy country called Finland,” said Grandma. “Many years ago, those who lived in Finland shared stories called ‘myths,’ just like most ancient people around the world.”
“I learned about myths in school,” Ella said. “Those are made-up stories that explain how things work or got started. We read about how the elephant got its trunk.”
“Exactly,” said Mom. “And you’ve both seen a movie about Hercules, which is also a myth.”
“That’s right,” Grandma said. “Many of those stories include gods and goddesses. ’Heikki Lunta’ is like a snow god from Finland. People who live in Upper Michigan often talk about him in the winter when they’re hoping for snow. Hotels and restaurants looking for visitors to the area even put up signs saying, ‘Heikki Lunta, do your thing.’”
“Did you ever see him?” whispered Rae-Ann.
“He’s just pretend,” Ella reminded her younger sister. “Grandma, why did you tease us and say he’s coming here?”
Mom and Grandma exchanged knowing looks.
“The weather report says we might get a bit of snow tonight or tomorrow,” Mom answered.
Her daughters’ smiles reached from ear to ear.
“Make it snow, Heikki Lunta, make it snow,” sang Grandma, when it was time for her to leave.
When Dad returned from work, the sisters rushed out to his red pick-up truck and told him about the forecast. After dinner, they drew pictures of their neighborhood covered in snow. At the bottom of hers, Ella wrote, “Please send snow Haykee Loonta.”
The girls welcomed bedtime that night. Ella left her blinds open in hopes of seeing some flurries. In another room down the hall, Rae-Ann was excited and just a little nervous. She peeked through long lashes at her bedroom door before falling asleep.
While she slept, Rae-Ann imagined someone like Hercules. He wore a heavy white coat with its collar turned up against the cold. Ella dreamed of a man with long gray hair and beard, who was dressed in a flowing blue robe. Wind and snow swirled around him. Heikki Lunta? As the whole town slept, dark clouds gathered and delivered a bit of magic.
At the sound of Dad’s pick-up leaving in the morning, four eyes popped open wide. Rae-Ann and Ella ran to their windows and cheered at the sight of powdery snow on the ground and glistening flakes in the air. The time said 9:00. Why had their parents let them sleep so late?
“You’re taking a snow day,” Mom explained in the kitchen.
“School’s closed?” asked Rae-Ann.
“The roads are quite safe, according to the radio. We don’t get snow very often, so Dad and I decided to let you stay home and enjoy it.”
“Yay!” both girls cheered, as they ran to get dressed.
“A warm breakfast comes first,” Mom yelled up the stairs. “Then we’ll hunt up our wooly hats and mittens. You’ll need to wear your snow boots and not just those ropers.”
Light snow continued to fall throughout the morning. The three stomped trails in their backyard and built a small snowman. Ella and Rae-Ann lay down and flapped their arms to make snow angels. Their happy dogs rolled near them on the frosty ground. While watching their fun, Mom picked a torn section of blue fabric from a nearby bush.
“Maybe Heikki Lunta really did help us out,” Ella said with a secret grin, at the sight of the blue material. “Does Grandma know about the snow?”
“I’m sure she does,” said Mom. “Let’s pick her up for a snow ride.”
“What’s that?” asked Rae-Ann. “A car drive on the snowy streets?”
“It’s mostly melted from the roads. I’ll phone her to say that we’re coming, and then I’ll show you my idea.”
Ten minutes later, the laughing trio arrived at Grandma’s apartment building. When she slid into the front seat, she saw what was causing their excitement. Sparkling snowflakes floated into the car from the open moon roof.
Mom pulled back onto the street. People up and down the sidewalks turned in surprise. Echoes of four voices drifted through the winter air, “THANK YOU, HEIKKI LUNTA!”
Elections offer parents the opportunity to educate their kids about the U.S. democratic process, and this one is no exception. If you’re struggling with how to dive into the topic with your children, let books be your guide.
We’ve rounded up a selection of children’s books that teach kids about elections and voting. Find stories that explain the political process, celebrate inspiring political figures, shed light on the struggle for voting rights and more.
I hope you’ll find something here to share with your children, grandkids, or students. And don’t forget, voters CAN make a difference toward saving our planet!!!~Becky
While living in Upper Michigan, I had the opportunity to observe some rather unusual wildlife, including foxes and black bears. At times, the experiences felt a little too close for comfort!
An early spring walk near a Lake Superior beach offered one such encounter. A face-to-face meeting with an indeterminate species brought about a rather humorous situation, which I recently chronicled in my short story, “Much Different Animal.” I’m happy to say that my tale now appears in the U.P. Reader Volume 4!
The book has stories and poetry by authors who live in the Upper Peninsula or who, like me, have ties to that beautiful area. I asked those interested in winning a copy of this book to let me know in the comments. Out of a shoebox, I drew Maria Donovan at Facts and Fictionas the slip for the lucky winner! Thanks to all who entered, and I’ll be sure to post the story as soon as the rights revert to me.
Finally, with the title of this post, I just couldn’t resist the following video:)
Inspirational and free, with a possibility of prizes! Join me by taking part in Storystorm. All you have to do is register (through the first week of January) in comments at taralazar.com Then come up with one new story idea for 30 of the days in January. Visit the blog each day, if you wish, for inspiration from authors and illustrators and also to earn chances at winning prizes. That’s it! You don’t even have to share your list of ideas. Those are for you to keep and get started on an awesome new year of writing! ~Becky
Another year, another critique group? I’m pleased to say that I’ve joined a third, forming a wonderful triad. How is this one different? In this case, writers gather twice a month, which doubles the motivation to produce. Situated in a smaller room, our number is capped at six. That means we all share something for feedback most times. Attendees don’t read their works aloud but do send pieces in advance through email. Instead of evenings, this half-dozen meets in the cool of the library while the Texas sun is still high in the sky.
Although several other members also belong to multiple groups, each combination develops its own personality. One gathering is specifically aimed at writers and illustrators of children’s literature, and the other two attract those who write for various levels. We critique novel chapters, stories, poetry, songs, memoir, and other types of non-fiction. Want to know more about queries, summaries, or elevator pitches? These are also presented and analyzed. Most importantly, not only do we assess possible improvements, but point out the positives of what’s working in each piece.
Beyond the share/feedback cycle, all three configurations circulate information about upcoming events of interest, in addition to facts about submissions for agents and publishers. We celebrate, praise, and console, since this calling involves both highs and lows. I find the camaraderie among people with different backgrounds who all share a love of writing to be so exhilarating, interesting AND comforting. When I first started my journey, I had no idea how important this activity would become. If you’re a writer or illustrator and haven’t yet found just the right spot, I hope that you’ll continue your quest!
Feel free to share in comments what you like best about your critique group or what you would look for in your search! ~Becky
Click on the Smorgasbord link to hear all the great music:)
Last week I featured some of my most played romantic songs through the decades for a Valentine Special and I asked you for your favourite tracks to dance to. Here they are now, so grab the one that you love… or a friend and have a twirl around the room. The first requests is for […]
Visit Children’s Books Heal to enter the book giveaway through February 1st! ~Becky
Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Jan. 25, 2019 Official hashtag: #ReadYourWorld A Gift from Abuela by Cecilia Ruiz, Author and Illustrator; Candlewick Press, Fiction, 2018 Suitable for Ages: 4-8 Themes: Intergenerational relationships, Love, Kindness, Change, Multicultural Book Giveaway: All you have to do is leave a comment and let me know that you would like to receive […]
Make sure to check out the book giveaway at Celebrate Picture Books through January 29! ~Becky
About the Holiday: Celebrated in schools across the country, National Reading Day was established to encourage students in PreK through 3rd grade to develop a love of reading, which is the basis for becoming a lifelong learner. Schools, libraries, organizations, bookstores, and parents provide activities to connect young readers with books they’ll love. Sterling Children’s […]