Thursday, August 28, 2008

Physical beauty and self-esteem

In my latest novel, Kyleah's Tree, although she doesn't understand it in these terms, Kyleah is looking for herself—a better self than the one she perceives when she looks in the mirror.

"I wished to be pretty so Dad could love me," she told Aunt Jude upon return to her foster home after running away. She was less than 4-years-old when her mother said to her, "Pretty is as pretty does. Don't go thinking you're beautiful. It's what's inside that counts." As is typical of a child that age, she took the comment to heart. As a result, the false belief that she is too ugly to love was instilled. At age eleven, she still avoids getting close to people, sure that they are repulsed by her appearance. Physical beauty has become synonymous, in her mind, with self-worth, and takes on far more importance than it merits. She feels unlovable.

Self-esteem in a child is fragile. It can be shattered with a careless phrase, spoken in anger, in jest, or in a passing comment that is merely misinterpreted by the youngster. The latter is the case of my mother, Dorothy, who spent most of her life thinking she was unnaturally and conspicuously tall. An acquaintance stopped her and her grandmother when they were walking down the street one day. "My how she has grown. Isn't she tall for her age?" the woman asked. From that day on, Dorothy slumped in an effort to look "normal," until she grew old, hump-backed, and too short, even by her own estimation.

Perhaps Kyleah's inaccurate self-image is not the only reason she ran away from home, but it led to the circumstances that sealed the decision. It is too often the case that children who lack self-confidence and feel "ugly' end up as victims if they decide to run away. Such children are in danger of sexual assault or exploitation when they run away from home. Kyleah is no exception, but, thanks to Benjamin's intervention, she was able to escape what could have been much worse than they were.

My hope is that children reading this book will be forewarned; that they will develop a strong enough sense of their own self-worth to make them less vulnerable to inappropriate advances.

I wish for all children of this difficult pre-adolescent age, a strong sense of who they are, love for themselves, and an understanding that "home" begins with knowing and accepting one's self.

(Drawing above is by Pat Lehmkuhl from Miranda and Starlight.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kyleah's Tree is HERE.

I was extremely pleased with the book when it arrived from the printer last week. Herb Leonhard's beautiful cover illustration depicts the story so well. A girl in a tree at sunrise. 

Kyleah, whose tree connects her with all she has lost and hopes to find, reminds me a lot of myself, whose childhood refuge was the tip-top of a tall cottonwood in our backyard. Kyleah, who suffers from a lack of self-esteem, runs away from her dissatisfaction, encounters some narrow escapes and traumatic experiences on the way, only to find—and accept—herself, before returning to her tree. 

Available now at, and many other online and local stores.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

True Fiction for child victims

No matter how one feels about the war in Iraq, all must surely agree that the children who are left behind are the innocent victims. As I watched news clips after the invasion of Iraq, I felt deep empathy and sorrow for the children pulled from the arms of a mom or dad, and in some cases, both, after a prolonged and tearful goodbye. I listened to a mother left behind with three preschool age children who at first missed their father. When he did not return right away, they refused to talk about him, for it was easier to forget him, than to suffer the pain of his "abandonment." When a new boy started school with my grandchildren, I learned that he had come to live with his grandparents when both his parents were deployed to fight in Iraq. 
How does that feel? I asked myself. But I knew, just from agony of homesickness I suffered from a two week separation from my parents when I was nine. And they were not that far away. Just multiply that experience a hundredfold or a thousandfold, and I'd have an idea. What if they never came back? was my next question. How could I know what that was like? I had recently lost my mother and five years before that, my dad. I know the ache of missing them. But I'm an adult. My parents were in their eighties and their deaths were not unexpected. I could only imagine how painful it would be for a nine year old to lose a parent. 
But imagine I did, getting into the heart and mind of Danny, a fictional nine-year-old boy, as best I could. He is a rancher's son, and very close to his father. They worked and played together, and when Danny asked for a horse of his own, his dad could not refuse him. The horse, Dragon, becomes Danny's pride and joy and constant companion until the day his father dies. Then he can't look at him anymore, sure that it was the expense of the horse that forced his dad to join the Air National Guard, go to Iraq, and die in a fiery plane crash. Blaming his horse and himself, he withdraws from everything. 
The story continues as the loss is compounded on his family, (himself, his mother, and older sister) each dealing with his or her grief privately. Financially unable to hold on to the mortgaged cattle ranch, they move to Denver to live with Danny's grandparents. 
Can Danny adapt? Will he survive this additional loss of everything he has ever known. Will he get his "Dragon" back? Will his family, torn apart by deep personal sorrow, ever regain the happy unity they once shared? When Danny confronts the "enemy," an Iraqi classmate in the Denver school, will blame and hatred overwhelm him?   
The answers may be found in "Danny's Dragon" by Janet Muirhead Hill in book stores or online at

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Guidelines for Writing "True Fiction"

Have you ever wondered, "Just what is 'True Fiction?'" When authors ask for guidelines from our publishing company, Raven Publishing, Inc. they receive a pretty fair description. Almost all of the titles we've published constitute what we call "True Fiction."  Here are the guidelines as given by Raven.

"Raven Publishing, Inc. specializes in "True Fiction" for children ages 8-14. Here are the criteria the editors look for in reviewing queries: 

1. a story so interesting that children will prefer reading to watching TV
2. a hook on the first page of the novel that will compel the reader to continue
3. a story that confronts important issues that today's children face
4. a moral, esteem-building, and encouraging lesson or lessons couched in the story—without the slightest hint of didacticism or religiosity.
5. an authentic portrayal of natural human emotion and reactions.
6. no downgrading implications to any culture, lifestyle, or group of people.
7. a story with fully developed characters that today's children will care about
8. a satisfying ending that makes the reader feel good about the book, the characters, and themselves. 
9. concise writing in an active voice with one point of view."

For more instruction on submitting queries see the Raven Publishing website.