Gift Ideas from Texan Authors and Illustrators

It’s December and the holiday season is upon us whether we like it or not. Here’s an easy way to knock some of those items off your “To-Do” list. Celebrate the wealth of artistic talent in Texas by buying books created by Texan authors and illustrators. You’ll find something perfect for both the kids and grown-ups on your list. Here is a small sampling of books that are available in your local bookstores or favorite online bookseller.


Books for Children 4-8 years

Merry Christmas, Merry Crow by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jon Goodell
Celebrate the holidays with an industrious crow as it flies through a small town gathering bits and pieces to decorate its own outdoor Christmas tree.


Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman
Every younger brother or sister will enjoy this original tale of a nasty older brother who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus and is proven wrong in the end. Sibling revenge fantasies aside, parents will also be relieved to discover a few “scientific” facts to support the existence of Santa Claus.


Three Bears’ Christmas by Kathy Duval, illustrated by Paul Meisel
In this twist on the Goldilocks tale, Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear go on a walk at Christmastime through the snowy woods in order to pass the time until their gingerbread has cooled off enough to eat. When the Bear family returns, they are surprised to find the gingerbread eaten, chairs broken and bed covers rumbled. Kids will love discovering the clues the Bears’ mysterious guest leaves behind.

 Gingerbread Man Superhero! by Dotti Enderle, illustrated by Joe Kulka
Another traditional tale with a holiday twist! As the oven door opens, Gingerbread Man leaps out, shouting "Flour Power"! Then the cookie crusader takes off to save the world and sweet adventures commence!

Moose and Magpie by Bettina Restrepo, illustrated by Sherry Rodgers

It isn’t easy growing-up – even for a moose. Luckily Moose has his good friend Magpie to help. Kids will love the jokes while learning interesting animal facts.

Books for Tweens and Teens

Front Page Face-Off by Jo Whittemore
Twelve-year-old Delilah James is a top reporter at Brighton Junior Academy. Her biggest ambition is to become a Junior Global Journalist. But when a new girl moves in, steals her crush and takes over in the newsroom, Delilah must turn to an unlikely ally for help.


Trudy by Jessica Lee Anderson
Trudy hates math, doesn’t understand her best friend anymore and then suddenly her dad starts acting strange. In this heart-wrenching drama, Trudy discovers her own strength by working through the seemingly insurmountable troubles in her life.

The Emerald Tablet by P.J. Hoover
In this first book of the trilogy, Benjamin and his best friend Andy adore their unique psychic gifts. But when Benjamin’s mirror starts talking, they realize their abilities are more than just tricks and games.

My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson
When scholarship student Rhonda is forced to tutor beautiful and popular Sarah in trigonometry, she discovers Sarah has a secret that for Rhonda is all too familiar


Shadow by Jenny Moss
If you are tired of vampires, don’t miss this fairy tale/ fantasy /romance that will leave you wanting more!

Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble
Anne’s life is turned upside down when she discovers her dreams of Baba Yaga and the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov are true.

Books for All Ages


A Christmas Carol Pop Up, illustrated by Chuck Fischer, paper engineering by Bruce Foster
Charles Dickens’s timeless fable, A Christmas Carol: A Pop-Up Book features artist Chuck Fischer’s richly painted depictions of the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, brought to life in intricate pop-up scenes by paper engineer Bruce Foster.

 Our Shadow Garden by Cherie Foster Colburn
A heart warming story illustrated by children who are battling cancer. When ordered through www.childrensart.org, 100% of the profit goes to M. D. Anderson Hospital.

Voices of the Alamo by Sherry Garland, illustrated by Ronald Himler
Through prose and paintings, this book captures the many cultures–Spanish, Tejano, Texan, Mexican, and American–of the people who lived on the land that became Texas.

Art From Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Shane Evans
The story of Clementine Hunter, who overcame prejudice, poverty, and hard times to create art that is celebrated around the world.


 Happy Holiday’s everyone! Wishing you and your family the most peaceful of new years!


Interview with Varsha Bajaj

January is for new beginnings. After spending a few years overseas, I have an immense respect for people who pack a bag, get on a plane, and begin again in a new country and culture. One award winning Texan writer did just that. Varsha Bajaj left India in 1986 to attend graduate school in the United States. Now more than twenty years later, Varsha is an American citizen, wife, mother and successful author. I caught up with Varsha recently and visited with her about families, perfume and the craft of writing.

Where did you grow up?
My story begins in Mumbai, India. My slice of Mumbai in the early 1960s was a
rambling house built in the 1930s surrounded by coconut, guava and beetle nut
trees. I was raised in a joint family; my father’s parents and his
sister lived with us.

My father and grandfather were perfumers and sampling strips of sandalwood
and jasmine were always being sniffed and perfected. Making perfumes became a
part of my imaginative play. Didn’t everyone make perfumes of dirt, crushed
flowers and pebbles?

What made you want to become a writer?
I have always loved books and reading. As a teenager I considered becoming a journalist, and dabbled in poetry to express my teenage angst. (Isn’t that mandatory?) I didn’t consider becoming a writer until much later in life. I guess the possibility of making a living as a writer didn’t seem real. I trained and worked as a therapist for several years. I began writing after I had children and started reading to them. The amazing picture books I read to them inspired my own creativity.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
I try to “write” for at least two hours several days a week. This does not include time spent in doing research, brain storming, reading writing related blogs etc. There are times when I write for much longer, it happens when I am in the thick of a project and the ideas and words are flowing especially freely. I wish I was more disciplined about writing schedules, but life can get in the way.

Where do you get your inspiration?
I get inspired by my kids, by the headlines, by my memories, and by issues that are important to me.

Who are your favorite writers and why?
Among picture book writers I admire Mary Ann Hoberman, Doreen Cronin, Jane O’Connor, Kevin Henkes and Kathi Appelt among others. They make picture book writing seem easy and effortless while it truly is one of the most difficult things to do. I equate writing picture books to writing poetry.
I love the magic of Kate DiCamillo’s stories, the simplicity of Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwick books and Beverly Cleary’s adventures. I would have loved Sarah Dressen as a teen. Her characters are so real. I enjoy Houston writer, Dotti Enderle’s Fortune Tellers Club series. Austin’s Cynthia Leitich Smith introduced me to the world of vampires with her paranormal books set in Texas.
There are so many writers and books that I love, I could go on and on. So many books. So little time….

What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Read, Read, Read. Read and study as many books as you can. The road to publication is paved with rejection, so be strong and be patient. And become a member of SCBWI (www.scbwi.org) if you write for children.

If you want to learn more about Varsha, please visit her web site: http://www.varshabajaj.com. She is the author of the award-winning book, How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight. Sleeping Bear Press will will publish her latest book T is for Taj Mahal: An India Alphabet Book, in September 2010.

This interview first appeared in the HOUSTON BANNER newspaper.


Interview with Author Dotti Enderle

To call Dotti Enderle a multi-faceted and talented writer would be an understatement. Novels, picture books and mysteries are just a few of the genres that the Houston -based author and storyteller has listed on her writing resume. Recently I caught up with Dotti and spoke with her about writing, inspiration and advice for young writers.



Describe your path to writing.


In 1993, I became a professional storyteller. Schools and libraries hired me as a children’s storyteller for special events. I created my own version of folktales, but also wrote original stories too. In 1995, I had such a large collection of original stories I decided to try getting them published. I went on to have over 100 stories, articles and poems published in various children’s magazines. I also submitted to book publishers. I landed my agent in 1999 and my first book was published in 2002.


Where do you find inspiration?


Everywhere. Ideas come from newspaper articles, a sentence in a book, something I overhear at the mall. But mostly I can just sit down and start typing, and the story develops as I go along.


Describe a normal “writing” workday.


I don’t have a normal writing day. I discipline myself to write at least one hour each day, and some days that hour extends to two or three. Other days I struggle to get 500 words written. I’ve learned not to reward or punish myself for how much or how little I write. I’m not one of those authors who can sit down and pound out twenty pages a day. I accept that. Everyone should write in a way that works for them, and never strive to meet someone else’s style or standards.


Who are your favorite writers and why?


As for as children’s and YA literature, I love Laurie Halse Anderson, M.T. Anderson, and Kimberly Willis Holt. For adult fiction, I’m hooked on Harlan Coben, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, and most anything by Christopher Moore.


What advice would you give aspiring writers and why?


Read! Read! Read! Both how-to books and the genre in which you wish to write. I once heard that you have to read 1000 books before you can write just one. That’s so true. My biggest lesson came when I took one of my favorite books, When Zachary Beaver Came To Town by Kimberly Willis Holt, and dissected it. I made note of when she used description within dialogue. What strong verbs she used. How she painted a scene so we could visualize it. This was when I began to see my own writing weaknesses. I don’t think a million how-to books could have taught me that.



Dotti’s numerous books can be found at any local bookstore or online. Her latest book, Gingerbread Man Superhero! is due out September 2009 from Pelican Publishing.

This interview first appeared in the Houston Banner, June 2009