Friday, April 13, 2012

Happy Birthday Susanna Leonard Hill - April 14

Happy Birthday Susanna Leonard Hill - April 14

As parents, we make plenty of sacrifices for our children -- losing sleep to care for a sick child, spending hours in the car to shuffle children to countless activities, setting aside money for their education or other ventures...the list goes on and on.  It is fair to say that these sacrifices can cause stress and frustration in daily life.  I believe that all of the sacrifices and the feelings of frustration and stress are erased from our memory when we receive a spontaneous hug, see a smile after an accomplishment, or hear our children say "thank you". These are a few examples of how our children repay us for our hard work. Recently, I have been thinking that one of the greatest gifts a child can give to a parent is by inspiring us to be our best.

Susanna Leonard Hill received a "gift" from her children. They have inspired her to write her "best" stories. Her two-year-old son's love of heavy machinery lead her to write her first book, The House that Mack Built.  Her book Not Yet Rose was written after her experience of helping her own children understand the anticipation of a new baby.  Her son's troubles falling asleep at night may have been frustrating at times, but it was partially responsible for her book Can't Sleep without Sheep (Iza Trapani).  In many interviews including one with Miss Marple's Musings Susanna talks about being a mom and a writer, "My routine for writing is as follows: Write whenever I have time!  Even though writing is my career, my first duty is to my family." Despite this commitment to her family, she has managed to publish ten books for children including the very popular April Fool, Phyllis! that just went on a World Tour.  In addition to the books she has a very successful website and blog that helps teachers with lesson ideas, parents with book recommendations, and aspiring writer's with advice.

I was so excited to celebrate Susanna's birthday with my family after getting to know her through the 12 x 12 in 2012 Picture Book Writing Challenge.  With so many great books to choose from I wasn't surprised that a birthday celebration activity came easily. My two boys loved her book No Sword Fighting in the House. It is a story about two brothers, their gardening-award-seeking-mother, a couple of cows, and ruined daffodils. From an interview with Just Children's Books, "When my son was 3, he was very interested in knights. My husband thought it would be a great idea to make the kids little wooden swords (they were 5, 3, and 1 mind you!) Then, as an after-thought, he made them cardboard helmets (something backwards there.) Predictably, the kids loved them.  They ran around the house and jumped all over the furniture swinging their swords and yelling, and I did have to say, "No sword fighting in the house!"

My thoughts were in sync with Susanna's husband. However, instead of wooden swords and cardboard helmets I had the idea to make swords (or light sabers) out of a common swimming pool accessory.
We measured our swimming "noodle" and marked it at the middle. 
We cut the noodle in half using a kitchen knife.
We covered one end with duct tape to make the grip handle. My son chose to use the shiny tape.
We used regular duct tape for my younger son's sword. I wrapped enough tape around to cover the "noodle" completely to make a nice grip. 
We used Sharpie markers to add buttons and controls to our sword! My son said that one of this buttons made his sword go "super fast"!
The little man was really serious about his sword decorating.
The seriousness didn't last long when it came time to fight!  And yes, we were sword fighting in the house!
For on this afternoon my children inspired me to be the best dad I could be.  I was able to walk away from the computer and chores to spend time playing swords with my dudes!
I emailed Susanna Leonard Hill to ask if she would be willing to share a few birthday thoughts.  This was her response:

The most obvious birthday memory is that my dad always made birthday hunts for us.  I have two brothers and a sister, and from the time we were 3 (when my dad would read the clues to us) until we were about 13 (except for my older brother who got a hunt until he was 16), every year we would wake up the morning of our birthday to find a piece of paper taped to the headboard of the bed. "Good Morning! Happy Birthday!" followed by a clue!  The clues were riddles, codes, mirror writing, crosswords, symbols, anagrams -- you name it, my dad did it. The older we got, the harder the clues got.  Each clue would lead us to a present, with the next clue taped on it.  We would collect all the presents one at a time as we solved the clues and found them, depositing them on my parents' bed.  Only when we'd found them all would we start opening.  It was totally fun.  And we all helped each other :)  The clues were challenging enough anyway, but on a school morning there was also a time limit :)  It was these hunts that gave me the treasure hunt idea for April Fool, Phyllis! (And one of the reasons the book is dedicated to my sibs!)  It was such a part of my childhood that I continued the tradition with my own children.

I also remember my 6th birthday party.  We lived in New York City, across the street from Central Park.  For my 6th birthday, we took my friends, a picnic, and birthday cake to the meadow where we climbed on the rocks and flew a kite (not at the same time:))  It was very breezy that day -- perfect for the kite, but a challenge for my mom to light the candles on the cake.

My 8th birthday was my first slumber party.  I had desperately wanted one, and agonized over who to invite, because my mom said no more than 6 friends.  We borrowed a book of scary stories from the school library and read it in the dark by flashlight -- very spooky!  I still remember one about a vampire who had to be stopped by pressing a silver cross into his forehead! But what my mom remembers is that I was sound asleep by 10pm, while the rest of my friends were up well into the wee hours to my parents' considerable lack of amusement!

Happy Birthday Susanna! My family had so much fun reading the Phyllis books, Can't Sleep Without Sheep, and No Sword Fighting in the House! We hope you have a wonderful birthday and we want to thank you for sharing so many of your birthday memories!

1. Susanna Leonard Hill's Website + Blog + ACTIVITY IDEAS!
2. Susanna Leonard Hill - Facebook, YouTube,
3. Interviews - The Reading Tub, Just Children's Books, Clarbojahn's Blog + part 2, Iza Trapani's In and Out of My Studio, Miss Marple's Musings
4. Perfect Picture Book Friday Catalog
5. Phyllis's World Tour

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