New Christmas Piano Fake Book!

Follow Fake Book cover thumbnailAnnouncing the newest addition to the Follow the Star: Christmas Songs for Piano series, an entry-level Christmas fake book! Have you even seen music with only a melody and chord symbols and wondered what to do with it?  That format is called a leadsheet and fake books are filled with them.  Follow the Star: Christmas Songs for Piano (Fake Book) takes you step by step through a tutorial on how to play for carol singing or just creating your own arrangement.  The leadsheets are in easy to read print with simple chords and no more than two sharps or flats in the key signatures.

Songs include: * Angels We Have Heard on High * Auld Lang Syne * Away in a Manger * Good King Wenceslas * Hark! The Herald Angels Sing * How Great Our Joy * It Came Upon a Midnight Clear * Jingle Bells * Jolly Old Saint Nicholas * Joy to the World! * O Come, All Ye Faithful * O Come, Little Children * O Come, O Come Emmanuel * O Holy Night * O Little Town of Bethlehem * Silent Night * The Twelve Days of Christmas * The First Noel * Up on the Housetop * We Three Kings * What Child is This? * We Wish You a Merry Christmas *

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“The Martian” and other out-of-this-world fiction

My childhood ambition was to be an astronaut and travel to Mars.  Plans changed and I became a teacher instead, but it’s been fun to see Mars so much in the news recently and also in some very creative fiction. I want to share about three favorites, in chronological order.

First, “The Martian.” What fun! The story occurs sometime in the not too distant future. NASA has sent previous missions to Mars and this team is supposed to spend lengthy time on the red planet. However, a violent storm threatens to tip over their spaceship and they have to get out in a hurry, leaving behind a crewmate, Mark Watney, who they believe to be dead. After they leave, Mark wakes up alone on Mars with no way to phone home. The rest of the movie is reminiscent of “Apollo 13” as Mark tries to survive and NASA discovers his existence and works out what to do next. Naturally, things go wrong, and it is very exciting.

The MartianBefore watching the movie I read the book by Andy Weir, which was very technical in regards to the science. Weir was meticulous in his research and everything is quite believable. The book is pretty geeky. The writers of the screenplay were forced to leave out a lot of the technical stuff and as a result there appear to be some holes and shaky premises, but in the book the premises are solid. The movie also left out entire crisis’s that are detailed in the book. I think the movie is better – they left out the right stuff and they left in the right stuff, including the humor. The book reads like the highly detailed geeky research that went into making the movie, not that I didn’t enjoy it immensely.

“The Martian” is rated PG-13, which I think is appropriate, but in case someone is sensitive to that I wanted to explain. There is a scene at the beginning where Mark Watney has to perform surgery on himself and it is very bloody. I don’t like blood, so I didn’t watch for a couple minutes. Problem solved. There is a fair amount of swearing, although not nearly so much as there is in the book. I don’t like it, but honestly, if there was any time where swearing was appropriate it might be when you discover you’ve been left behind in outer space! It does occur throughout the movie. If swearing bothers you skip the book, but take a chance on the movie – it’s worth it. The final item for the PG-13 rating is brief nudity. It’s mild and it lasts about a second. I think they put it in just to get the rating.

Saving MarsNow move forward in time. Cidney Swanson has written the 6-book series Saving Mars which is an exciting fast-paced sci-fi adventure for the YA market. Mars has now been colonized, but there was a war with earth and no contact is now allowed between the planets. At regular intervals the Marsians, as they prefer to be called, send raiders to earth to get supplies. It’s a very dangerous trip, not least because earth of the future is ruled by a tyrant who mandates a convoluted system of body-swapping. The heroine, Jessamyn, pilots the ship for the raiding party which includes her brilliant brother Ethan who appears to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. The story has danger and intrigue and plot twists with action so fast it can make your head spin. There is even some light romance. Highly recommended. I loved it and my very bright 10-year-old loved it.

Medieval Mars paperback coverNow go even farther into the future. A thousand years after Mars is colonized comes Travis Perry’s story world of Medieval Mars. Technology finally gets the better of the human race and civilization has collapsed. The inhabitants of Mars have been thrown back into a life that is remeniscient of the medieval days of knights and lords and where technology is so misunderstood that it is considered to be magic. There are even dragons, curtesy of early settlers who bioengineered wings on komodos. Apparently they couldn’t figure out how to make their dragons breathe fire, so they created them to spit acid instead.

Travis Perry invented this world and then invited other authors to write stories for it. The result was Medieval Mars: The Anthology which contains stories about Medieval Mars by nine authors. Stories include Perry’s “The War Between the Mons,” “The Search for Eden” by Mark Venturini and my “Sam and the Dragon.”

Final Cover 1Sam and the Dragon is the story of a boy and his cousin who travel through the wilderness of Mars in search of a dragon who has been eating the family’s goats. The anthology is suitable for YA and up, but Sam and the Dragon is also published separately as a middle-grade (4th-6th grade) chapter book. The stand-alone version includes illustrations by concept artist Phil Wade.

So there’s my favorite Martian fiction. What’s yours?

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‘Tis the Season for New Releases!

Follow 4_5I’m excited to announce the release of new piano books from Spencer Meadow Press: Follow the Star: Christmas Songs for Piano Levels 4 & 5!

Follow the Star: Christmas Songs for Piano (Level 4) for the early intermediate student contains arrangements of Deck the Halls, Away in a Manger, Good King Wenceslas, Silent Night, March of the Toy Soldiers (from the Nutcracker Suite) and more!  Arrangements are by Donna McFarland, Cherry Wilson and Tami Wilson.  Cute black and white illustrations by artist Sandy Silverthorne.

Follow the Star: Christmas Songs for Piano (Level 5) is a collection for the intermediate piano student. Selections include the beautiful Mary, Did You Know?, a Pachelbel’s Canon with a Christmas twist, Russian Dance (from the Nutcracker Suite), O Holy Night, a sing-a-long carol medley, an original carol by composer Gene Skinner and a lively First Five Days of Christmas, which is based on the traditional 12 Days of Christmas. This fresh new version ends with a boogie woogie on Day 5 as the gift recipient pleads for no more birds. Arrangements by Donna McFarland and Cherry Wilson, illustrated by Sandy Silverthorne.

Both books are available in print in the new Spencer Meadow Press store. Level 4 is also available on Amazon in print and kindle formats.  To celebrate these new releases, the kindle version of Level 4 is available for free download on Amazon today through 10/21/15.  Click here to get your free copy!

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First Time Ever — Free Promo for Sam and the Dragon

Sam cover thumbnailHi book fans! In honor of the release of the Medieval Mars Anthology, on this Wednesday and Thursday (8/5-8/6) I am running my first ever free kindle promo on Sam and the Dragon, which is included in the anthology. Sam and his cousin Ahni set off across the wilderness of Mars in search of a dragon who has been eating their family’s goats, but their quest turns into more than they possibly could have imagined. This heartwarming story includes illustrations by concept artist Phil Wade and a map by author Bill Sullivan.

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A Most Unusual Piano Duet

As you can tell from the books I’ve written, I like elephants and I like piano.  So what could be more perfect than an elephant playing a piano?!!

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New Release: Medieval Mars: The Anthology

Medieval Mars AnthologyI am excited to announce the release of Medieval Mars: The Anthology!  This anthology is a collection of stories that take place in Travis Perry’s world of Medieval Mars.

It’s been about a thousand years since Mars was terraformed and settled by people from earth, but then the civilization collapsed and people returned to a way of life reminiscent of medieval times.  Knights called Riders patrol the roads and contend with dragons, bioengineered by the early settlers who added wings to Komodos.  Apparently they couldn’t figure out how to make the dragons breathe fire, so they made them spit acid.  Yipes!

Read about the war between the mons, a wild west style snake-oil salesman, a young man who would brave anything to save his bride from a mysterious illness, a woman who finds herself too old to continue her passion as a racing bird jockey, and more!  My novel Sam and the Dragon is included, along with stories from eight other authors.

Available in kindle and print versions.  Check it out!

Categories: Mars, New Book Release | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes

ATimetoDieCovA Time to Die (Out of Time Book 1) is a powerful dystopian novel by author Nadine Brandes.  It’s all the more incredible that this is the author’s first novel.  Brandes writes a story every bit as compelling as Divergent, Hunger Games or my favorite, Saving Mars, but A Time to Die comes with a Christian twist which transforms the story into a dystopian novel with hope.

Parvin Blackwater comes from a Christian family in a futuristic society which bans parents from teaching children about religion.  In this world a Wall separates the USE from whatever is west of the Wall.  Everyone in the USE receives a clock at birth.  The clock tells exactly how much time the person has before he or she will die.  The clocks have the interesting effect that no one is afraid of unexpected death (it’s impossible to die before your clock runs out), and yet it is easy to become a slave to the clock. If you destroy your clock, or if you don’t have a clock, you are labeled a radical and are cast out through the Wall to die.

At age 17, Parvin knows that she has only a year to live.  Feeling she has wasted her short life, she is inspired to create something that will make a difference.  She finally decides what she wants to do with her last year, but unexpected events turn her somewhat boring plans into something more real and intense than she possibly could have imagined.

The appeal of dystopian fiction is a mystery to me, however I simply could not put this book down.  A Time to Die is very original and also unique because of the Christian elements which flow through the novel but are not at all heavy handed.  The book actually made me think about time and how I use it. My only criticism is that the story seemed to move very slowly for a while before it catapulted into high gear.  There is nothing slow in the rest of the book!  So if you enjoy dystopian fiction, I highly recommend this book, and I highly recommend that if you find it slow at first, hang in there.  I could tell you the exact moment when the pace picks up, but then I’d be giving you a “clock” just like the characters have.  Keep reading.  You won’t be disappointed.

Five stars.

 

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Roots: Sam and the Dragon

Family on MarsWhen I was in elementary school I wrote tons of stories.  Unfortunately, I only know where two of them are.  From fifth grade I have one story which is laminated and another, my first “chapter book,” which was typed by an aide or volunteer who must have deciphered my handwriting.  Bless them.  We made fabric book covers, but apparently no one knew how to assemble the books, so I have ditto printed pages stacked inside the cover with an old rubber band to keep it all together.  No matter.  I’m so glad I still have the first chapter book I ever wrote!

I pulled my old book off the shelf recently and was amused to see the similarities between what I wrote in fifth grade and my latest book, Sam and the Dragon: A Medieval Mars Story.  Both books are intended for middle grade readers.  My original book, “Family on Mars,” is a story about a family who moves from earth to Mars.  The main character, Greg (age 13) lives with his parents and his sister (age 10).  Sam and the Dragon takes place on Mars.  Sam (age 14 in earth years) lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin Ahni (age 12).  But what really tickled me was how the story begins.  Compare my fifth grade story opening to the opening of Sam and the Dragon.

From “Family on Mars”

On April 1, 2010, the never-forgotten day, Greg rushed in with the newspaper. “Hey, Dad,” shouted Greg, “there’s an ad in the paper that says we can go to Mars!”

From “Sam and the Dragon”

Sam burst through the doorway of the red brick hut. “Uncle Al! Uncle Al!”

Pretty funny.

Categories: Children's Books, Mars | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Lunch with an Author!

Come see me at “Lunch with an Author” this Thursday, 5/7 at 12:00 at Indulge! Antiques in Springfield, OR.  I’ll be there talking about my books with host Amanda Bird.  Should be great fun!

Here is a link for directions: http://www.indulge1461.com/directions.html

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Educator: A Clear Explanation of Why State Testing Hurts Public Education

I just want to add my two cents to this discussion. In my state we use the Smarter Balanced version of these tests. I have examined the sample questions and they are WAAAY over the heads of the kids who have to answer them. The worse part to me was the fact that children have to answer every question in order to complete the test.  Where there is multiple choice, it’s easy to just guess and move on.  However, many questions require the students to compose an answer (each answer in the math section also requires different use of the technology — even I had trouble figuring out how to put in answers for some questions).  So if a child does not know how to answer the question (likely!), they have to just make up something and type it into the test.  I don’t know about you, but making up senseless answers is not something I want my child to be taught how to do!  There are so many things wrong with this test that to list them all would fill a book. If you haven’t already, and if it’s not too late, please look into opting your kids out of these tests.

Diane Ravitch's blog

One of the biggest challenges to those of us who oppose privatization, school closings, high-stakes testing, and the rest of the failed ideas mistakenly called “reform” have a big job to do. We must educate the public. The public hears the word “reform,” and they think it means progress and improvement. They don’t know it means chaos and disruption of their local public schools. They hear about testing, and they think, “I took tests, what’s so bad about that?”

Here is a fine example of educating the public. It appeared in my local newspaper, the Suffolk Times-Review (recently recognized as the best weekly in New York state). It was written by Gregory Wallace, a former “educator of the year.”

Wallace explains in plain language for non-educators why the Common Core testing will harm public education.

He writes:

As a seasoned educator, I strongly believe that well-designed tests are a valuable…

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