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20 Fave Female Characters for People Under 20

Let me preface this post by saying coming up with this list was Hard.  Harder, even, than choosing 101 books for Recommended Reading.  I have been reading (constantly) since I was 4, and I have met many interesting and awe-inspiring characters in all that time.  But I was thinking about the kinds of characters young girls can relate to and look up to, and hoping to give you a peek into the world of awesome characters so you can recommend them to your own littles.  Or enjoy them for yourself like I do.  I admitted in the comments of my last post that I am a huge fan of YA books right now and tend to read them for the most part these days.  The YA world has opened up to include so many genres.  When I was a kid YA meant romance stories or stories that taught you about your period or fluff like Sweet Valley High.  Remember that series? Blah.

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There are many more options these days and some of them are even appropriate for chucking the reading level.   Between those options and the plethora of children’s books out there, I’ve picked a list of twenty female characters for your girls (and boys) to fall in love with and admire.

1. Jo from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott LittleWomen4

Jo is one of the most down-to-earth, nose-to-the-grindstone characters ever written.  Especially if your daughter has an interest in writing, this is a character she should read about.  Jo writes because she Has To, she doesn’t have a choice.  She doesn’t let the social norms of her time hold her back.  She knows what she is supposed to do in life and she does it.  The most interesting thing about Jo is how well she knows herself.  Instead of rushing into marriage with Laurie, the cute boy next door, she realizes she is meant for bigger things.  She knows she’s hurting him, but she turns him down.  Why?  Because that’s not where her heart is.  If you want someone to teach your littles how to be true to themselves, Jo’s your girl.

2. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Regardless of what we may feel about how the films turned out (angry and betrayed, anyone?), the book character of Katniss is strong and loyal and never gives up.  She Believes In Family.  When her little sis gets called up to participate in the Hunger Games, Katniss doesn’t hesitate to volunteer to take her place.  It puts her in bad situation that only spirals.  The Hunger Games is one of my favorite trilogies ever written because we watch this girl go from surviving to leading and even though others don’t always understand her motives, we as readers know they all stem from the same place–she loves her family and will do anything to protect them, even go to war.  What other reason could there be to cause so much ruckus?

3. Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Here’s a little girl who has lost everything–not that she really had anything to begin with.  Her neglectful parents have died in India and left her without a home.  The only place she has to go is her uncle’s mysterious manor in England.  Mary starts out a lonely, distant, off-putting brat and ends up opening her heart, finally, for the first time in her life, all because of a garden she finds locked up on the estate.  She makes friends.  She starts to Care.  If you want your children to see how different the world is when you care about people and are kind to them, this is the book.  Mary learns to think beyond herself and turns her tragedy into an epic of hope.  She is also the poster child for determination.  Turning that garden into something useful and appealing takes a lot of work and willpower.  I wish she’d come work on my garden.

4. Winnie Foster from Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit

Winnie has a very small world at the beginning of this book.  Her parents are more overprotective than I am.  She isn’t allowed out of her fenced yard, has never explored the woods just outside the gate, has never disobeyed the rules.  Until she decides to disobey the rules.  The adventure that follows teaches her more about herself than she could ever have learned had she continued to be obedient.  Winnie is brave.  She is fiercely loyal.   She puts herself out there for something she feels is right and saves the day.  If I ever get wrongfully imprisoned, I hope Winnie Foster is around.  Winnie could teach your littles a thing or two about how to handle new situations while keeping their heads.

5. Ramona Quimby from Beezus and Ramona (and other books) by Beverly Cleary

Let’s face it.  Ramona’s indomitable spirit lives in every single one of us. Sure, she’s obnoxious.  But the underlying reasons, laid out so well in Ramona the Pest, are completely understandable.  She’s young.  The youngest.  It’s hard sometimes to get attention and every child wants attention.  She also wants Every. Thing. To be fair.  So even though we know fairness sometimes can’t come into a situation (such as what she is allowed to do compared to what Beezus is allowed to do), we find ourselves cheering her on.  By the time Ramona reaches Age 8, she is starting to come to grips with her feelings about the world.  She realizes that while her family is not perfect, neither is she, and she starts to understand that sometimes things just aren’t going to be nice.  Ramona is awesome for belly laughs, but she also shows kids that they aren’t the only ones in the world with mixed feelings about how things work.

6. Laura Ingalls from the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Ah, Laura.  My childhood hero and best-est book friend.  Not only did I enjoy the books, I never missed an episode of the television program based on them.  Laura was a feisty little scamp.  She taught me how to be a farmer.   I was a city girl back then with a longing for the country life I never wanted to admit to Anybody.  (Fortunately I grew out of that, or I wouldn’t have this incredible farm.)  She taught me how to get even with the evil Nellies of the world.  She taught me about honesty, appreciating what I have, and how awesome it is to be a teacher.  Her relationship with her father was so many light years away from my own that it gave me hope and showed me the kind of man I would look for when I grew up.  Sure, these books are great for teaching your littles about pioneer days.  But they’re also great for little girls starting to find their way in the world and needing someone to emulate.

7. Alice from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I don’t know if it’s Alice so much as Carroll’s amazing skill with words that makes me include her in this list.  Alice is curious and impulsive and even though Carroll shows us through her changing size that she is too old for such childish adventures, she refuses to let go of them just yet.  How many of us have struggled to hold onto childhood in some way?  (One of the reasons I love having Littles is that they keep my imagination fresh and feeling young.)  Like Winnie Foster, Alice begins as a polite rule follower.  She is concerned for the approval of adults and works hard not to appear ignorant in front of them.  However, she is also pretty self-absorbed and tends to frighten or offend others without meaning to.  At least she always apologizes for it.  The cool thing about Alice is watching her find out who she really is through all her misadventures.  And Johnny Depp plays a dope Mad Hatter, so watch the film.

8. Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Now here’s a character I love to hate.  Veruca is the antithesis of what I want to be.  And yet, I love to read about her.  She makes me laugh; she’s so absurd.  Veruca is one in the list of characters who get punished by Willie Wonka because of their bad behavior.  In Veruca’s case, it is being spoiled and demanding and thinking she can get whatever she wants from whomever is around her that gets her tossed down a garbage chute.  She’s great for teaching your littles how Not To Behave.  And then there’s the overall theme about good behavior being rewarded while bad behavior is punished.  Win-win.

9. Nancy Drew from the Nancy Drew Mysteries by Carolyn Keene

I discovered Nancy Drew when I was 8 or 9, and even though I loved the mysteries, my favorite part was the glimpse I got into the teenage world.  Nancy and George and Bess had Boyfriends, something I couldn’t imagine having while at the same time couldn’t wait to experience.  Nice, polite, respectful boyfriends, too, who totally understood when the girls had to traipse off to unknown parts for a little crime-solving.  Also, Nancy Drew Used Her Brain without caring that it was the early 1980s when I was reading her and the women’s lib movement was still fresh enough that our mothers still encouraged us not to let boys know we were smarter than them, because boys didn’t like that.  I’ve mentioned in an earlier post that I went through a period when I wanted to be a detective, and I think Nancy Drew contributed to that.  Strong, smart, brave, and sassy, Nancy Drew is an awesome character for little girls.

10. Princess Irene from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonaldprincess goblin

My mama brought me back a copy of this book from one of her trips to Canada for the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford.  It transported me.  It was perhaps my first full-length fairy tale/fantasy and Irene was one of the first true feminine heroes I read about.  She lived in a castle, and that was cool, but she was a regular girl and that was cooler.  And what girl wouldn’t like to have a melted star in each of her blue eyes?  (Or blue eyes, because ya know, mine are brown, and I think I would have rocked blue eyes with my dark hair. haha)  Polite, considerate, and truthful, Irene insists on keeping her promises (and we all know we shouldn’t make promises unless we intend to keep them).  Not only does Irene teach these attributes, her spiritual journey is full of allegory, making hers an even more pleasing adventure.  Thanks, Mama, for bringing her to me. 🙂

11. Ani from The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale is one of my all-time favorite YA authors.  She is brilliant at imagery and pace.  The Goose Girl is, of course, based on the fairy tale, but there are such great additions that Hale was able to turn the setting into a trilogy that is pretty spectacular.  Ani can communicate with animals, a magical gift she is taught to control by her aunt.  When she grows up, Ani finds that people distrust her magic and her mother forces her to journey far from home in order to marry a foreign king.  As she travels, her lady-in-waiting, Selia, turns on her, using her escort’s distrust of Ani’s magic to supplant Ani with Selia.  So Ani has to end her journey like a peasant, ending up getting a job as the king’s goose girl while Selia pretends to be the princess come to marry the king.  Ani is kind, though, and generous, and strong, and eventually the king discovers her quite by accident and all comes right in the end.  If you’re looking for a way to give your daughter a fairy tale with a realistic heroine, you can’t go wrong with The Goose Girl.

12. Cassia from Matched by Ally Condie

My favorite thing about Cassia is her love and devotion to the written word.  She lives in a dystopian society where every single choice about her life is made by The Society.  Her job is chosen.  Even her spouse is chosen in a fancy ceremony.  But a mistake is made, and Cassia ends up having to choose between her best friend, Xander, and Ky, the boy who teaches her about words.  She is confused because The Society never makes mistakes, yet her feelings for Ky are insurmountable.  The beauty of that love is that it makes her question everything about The Society and how bad it really is to have all our choices taken from us.  Cassia’s willingness to follow her heart and trust her instincts is another way to show your littles how to be brave and stand up for what is right.  And it’s a rollicking adventure.

13. Leslie Burke from Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Who couldn’t love a girl who is artistic, creative, and imaginative and who loves both to read books And play outdoors?  Leslie Burke is one of my all-time faves because she believes in the magic of her imagination and because she knows what it means to be a true friend.  And she doesn’t watch television.  What’s not to love?!  Her death is heartrending, but it is also a good illustration of how friendship is a legacy that stays with us and gives our lives beauty.  Paterson wrote the story to help her own son deal with the death of a friend, so it is both poignant and sensitive.  And Leslie is unforgettable, even for us lowly readers.

14. Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White 

I know, there’s a bit of a theme here about girls who like words.  But Charlotte is one of the reasons I love spiders.  When we moved to the farm I told Martin I wanted Charlotte’s web with all the animals and he happily obliged me.  We’ve had pigs, geese, goats, cows, ducks, and even more (but thankfully no rats).  I even made a sign out of an old wreath and that fake spiderweb you can get around Halloween that said, “Some Pig.”  Because Charlotte rocks.  She’s intelligent.  She’s good with words.  She’s compassionate.  She’s strong.  She’s generous.  She becomes a mother.  Um… if your littles haven’t read this yet, read it to them now!

15. Abilene Tucker from Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Abilene is so awesome.  Her rough-and-tumble approach to life reminds me of myself in childhood.  So curious, so vibrant, so unwilling to let mysteries remain mysteries.  I didn’t read this book until a year or so ago, but Abilene quickly captured my heart.  She’s a good character for teaching your littles how to handle new situations and how to follow through with determination and heart.  Plus, this book is great when you’re studying either the Depression or WWI, as the story flips back and forth between the time periods.  And the writing is superb.

16. Grandma Dowdel from A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

Oh, Grandma Dowdel.  You crazy old bat.  You made us laugh.  You made us cringe.  You were… one smart cookie with a lot to offer.  Since the story is told from the point of view of young Mary Alice (a supreme character in her own right), Grandma Dowdel is at first an awkward, embarrassing mystery.  The Littles and I were fortunate to have picked this book up before its prequel, A Long Way from Chicago, so we appreciated Grandma’s nuances without having already been introduced to her.  By the end of the book, Mary Alice has recognized the deep and abiding love that is inherent in Grandma Dowdel, and the reader has walked the zany, hilarious path to that conclusion with her.   I could read about Grandma Dowdel all day long.  What a cool old lady.  May I be that cool when it comes time for grandkids.

17. Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane is another tough bird.  After being sent off to a dreadful orphanage by her dreadful aunt, she survives to become a governess for the incomprehensible Mr. Rochester, perhaps the most romantic figure in literature, ever.  Of course, all the truly Gothic freakiness and mystery is part of the charm, but Jane’s spirit and her way of dealing with all the oddness thrown her way are the real stars.  Maybe save it for tween-teen girls, depends on your own feelings about the book, but Jane is definitely someone every girl should meet at some point while they’re still young enough to be influenced.

18. Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Scout… Proud spirit, defender of right, lover of Atticus and Jem.  Hands down the greatest female character ever written.  To read about the Worst Human Flaw Ever (prejudice) through the eyes of Scout is to truly see how preposterous prejudice is.  We all know that children aren’t born with prejudices.  Rather, they are taught that revolting emotion.  Beyond that, Scout is sassy, fun, and full of spirit.  There’s a reason Harper Lee only ever had to publish one book until this year.  And a reason I am counting the days till July 14th, when I can get hold of the new one…

19. Tally from Uglies by Scott Westerfield

The amazing thing about Tally is that she’s written by a dude.  That said, if you haven’t read The Uglies series, go do so.  It’s such a cool way to say that we shouldn’t be so focused on appearance, that sometimes our flaws are what make us beautiful, and what we look like is not nearly as important as who we are.  Tally is a thoughtful person who has her views on the world turned upside down by her new friend, Shay.  Tally has been waiting her whole life to turn 16 and get the operation that will make her a Pretty, but Shay doesn’t want to be made Pretty.  She wants more from life.  What follows is brilliant dystopian ruination in which, once more, we are made to realize that we really are better off having choices–both in what we do and how we look.  And Tally is one kick-butt heroine throughout the series.

20. Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Hmm.  If you’ve read this book, you know how just thinking about it can overwhelm you.  Hazel is dying.  Of cancer.  And she is the wisest, funniest, snarkiest, most amazing creature.  She knows all about hope and the lack of it.  She falls in love anyway.  She says herself that she is a ticking time-bomb, set to crush everyone she lets in.  She lets Gus in anyway.  She Lives While She Can and that in itself is a lesson for all of us.  She is brave and strong and true.  Even my beautiful husband says Hazel’s story is the best love story he’s ever seen.  Sorry.  I can’t find enough words.  Read it.  Let your littles read it.  Especially if they know someone surviving cancer.

As I said, I had to leave characters off this list to narrow it down to 20.  Please feel free to add your own favorite female characters in the comments.  And tomorrow?  Well, tomorrow we’ll celebrate the boys.  In the meantime, any of the books on this list would make great summer reading.  So have fun.

Love wins,

KT

Littles’ Lit for 20th Century History

Yesterday I posted about some of the novels we’ve read to supplement our history lessons.  In response, my fellow awesome blogger, Anna Marie, asked what I would recommend for studies from WWI on.  So since I have been dreaming about tackling the 20th century for 2 years, I have plenty to recommend.

Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope FarmerCharlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer

This absolutely amazing book tells the story of Charlotte, who goes to a new boarding school one night and wakes up the next day in the time of the first world war.  I read it a few years ago just for fun and immediately added it to my list of things for the Littles to read when we study WWI.  It’s wonderful for those everyday details about how life really happened during that time period.  I also recommend Searching for Silverheels by Jeannie Mobley, which provides a window into how the war affected immigrants in America, what patriotism meant, and even teaches about women’s suffrage.

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Moon over ManifestLove. This. Book.  A brilliantly written novel that shows littles how the Great Depression broke families up with a tie-in to WWI.  You can’t really ask for a better novel to put your littles smack dab in the middle of the early 20th century.  I would also recommend Children of the Dust Bowl by Jerry Stanley.  It’s not fiction, but it is an interesting account of the school at Weedpatch Camp, a place in California to which Oklahomans migrated during this difficult period.  It is Filled with photographs of the time period and largely told in the words of the migrants.  Finally, of course, the Lit Mama recommends John Steinbeck’s awesome, incomparable The Grapes of Wrath.  A must-read when studying the Depression.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Oh.  This book.  I know it is also set during the depression, but it broaches a subject near and dear to my heart, the Worst Human Flaw Ever, prejudice.  And Scout has been my hero since I was a little girl, and Dill was my boyfriend, and my real-life brother was so like Jem it almost hurt.  Needless to say, it is on my list of top 5 favorite books Ever.  There is, of course, the delicate matter of the rape, but if you are uncomfortable, skip the descriptive sections.  I read this to the Littles 4 years ago for summer reading, and had many people look at me aghast.  Well, there are ways to get around the sketchy parts and still make the story enjoyable for kids.  All in all, the experience made me glad my parents never censored my reading choices!

Do Not Skip This One. 🙂

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck A Year Down Yonder

Get out of the Depression, KT! I can’t.  Too many excellent books set in the time period.  This one the Littles and I have read together three times.  Three.  All of us.  Because this is just a peak into life in the 1930s and how normal people kept on living through the tragedy of separated families and hard, hard times.  But it is an adventurous peek full of lovable characters and a million little things that make us laugh and cringe and wish we knew Grandma Dowdel because she is Awesome.

Number the Stars by Lowis Lowry

I became a Lowry fan with The Giver and she didn’t disappoint with this haunting tale of WWII Nazi occupation in Denmark.  It’s a great way for kids to see the emotions and dangers children faced during this horrific time.  Of course, The Diary of Anne Frank is a must-read about WWII, but I also highly recommend The Shadow Children by Steven Schnur, a story about the ghosts of the children involved in the tragedy at Mont Brulant haunting a young boy.  It’s a short book and a little dark by definition, but provides good insight into the horrors of the war.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963  by Christopher Paul Curtis

This is a seriously cool book about the racial tensions in the south in the 1960s.  It’s really funny and at the same time it’s an insightful look into how the civil rights movement affected families, especially African-Americans.  A super important read for all kids.  Also look at Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood (is that her real name?  What a cool name!).  It is a lyrical coming-of-age novel that focuses on the segregation of public swimming pools and the racial tensions of 1964.

I think I could go on with books about the 1960s like I did with books about the 1930s, but seriously, I am running out of time.  I hope this list inspires you to share wonderful fiction with your children as they learn history and that the reading instigates a million discussions about a million different things.   That is, after all, the best part.

Love wins,

KT

Books about China

As we head toward the weekend, I am pretty satisfied with the work I’ve gotten done on our China unit Study.  But being Lit Mama, I couldn’t leave my readers with just a post about researching for a unit study.  I have to tell you about the books I’ve chosen to go along with our Asia study.

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I am fortunate enough to have a room walled in bookshelves (thanks to my beautiful husband) and I have filled them over the years with a plethora of both fiction and nonfiction.  So the first place I go when I’m looking for literature to add to our curriculum is my own bookshelf.  Good thing I’m always picking up new books to add.  There’s usually something I’m looking for right there, already in my house. (I should catalog these books, but who has time for that?!)

The Star FisherOne of the books I’m going to utilize from my own shelf is The Star Fisher by Laurence Yep.  This is a beautiful novel about a Chinese-American family who comes to West Virginia in 1927 and faces prejudice and persecution.  We’re going to read it so that the Littles can be reminded why prejudice is perhaps the Worst Human Flaw Ever, as well as to gain insight into Chinese culture.

The other book I’ll be using off my own shelf is The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Product DetailsSince we’ll be studying Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism as part of Asian history, and the Littles read the complete A.A. Milne line of Pooh books this year, I think it will be a fun and insightful addition to those lessons.  If you’re unfamiliar with this wondrous book, it uses quotes from Pooh and Pooh stories to teach the basic tenets of Taoism.  If you love Pooh at all, you will find yourself not only laughing out loud at his antics, but reflecting on how just how powerful a story Winnie-the-Pooh is.  Good stuff.

My wishlist on Amazon is overflowing with books I want to buy, but I assume we’ll only have time for maybe three before we move on to Africa, depending on their length.  My top pick for a second fiction book is The Road from Home by David Kherdian.  I haven’t read it yet, but it’s a YA book about the Armenian Holocaust at the hands of the Turks.  I think it will add a rich history lesson to our curriculum as well as preparing the Littles to learn about the World War II Holocaust in years to come (hopefully the 2016-2017 school year, but my plans Do tend to change over time).

The Caravan to Tibet by Deepak Agarwal is also on my wishlist, because it is set in India and Tibet (which is a province of China) and looks like a good action story.  The caravan journey is one which was actually undertaken by Indian peoples in times past, and I get the impression there will be lots of descriptions of India and Tibet and the mountains that separate them.  You can’t really ask for more from a book young boys will be reading.

A Royal Diaries book, Lady of Ch’iao Kuo, Warrior of the South, Southern China A.D. 531 by Laurence Yep, rounds out my list of hopefuls.  It tells the story of a young girl who proves herself to be a great leader and military strategist when her world is threatened by war.  I love that it is set in such a long-ago time and the protagonist is female.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions as to which book you would include in a China unit study.  If you have any other suggestions that are near and dear to your heart, please let me know about them, too.  I’m so excited about getting all of this together, and it feels like choosing the lit is one step closer to done!

Love wins,

KT

Make an Awesome Novel Study Guide

Speaking of letting them lead, we were supposed to round out our literature year with Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.  We were all set to read it, having finished The Story of Dr. Dolittle.  Then my Littles surprised and humbled me once more by asking, “Mama, can we read The Hobbit instead?”

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I was raised on The Hobbit.  Tolkien was a household hero.  So for my Littles to actually request the book made me nothing short of ecstatic.  I wanted them to really get the full effect of the novel–light (good) versus dark (evil), and secret maps, lost treasures, fantastic characters and courage beyond imagining.  So this called for no ordinary study guide.

IMG_20150421_092911738It called for this.  Not just a folder or binder with some notebooking pages and worksheets thrown in, but a study guide that made them feel like part of the adventure.  So the first thing I did was Google a map of Middle Earth and Thorin’s map showing the way to the Lonely Mountain.  I printed them out and we tea-stained them to make them look old.  We also tea-stained a bunch of lined paper and some worksheets we would be using.  I got out my handy-dandy woodburner and burned the edges of the maps and of the folders (in this case, I three-hole punched manilla folders because they were already the right color), and the Littles glued their maps of Middle Earth to the front.

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We glued Thorin’s map into the inside cover.  That way as the company travels to the Lonely Mountain, we can follow their path on both maps.  We used binder rings to add the notebooking paper and worksheets to the folder because I’ve found they are easier to use than brads when you’re dealing with these types of folders.

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We didn’t have a lot of worksheets for this guide, but I love to have them keep a character list, especially for books with this many characters.  (I mean, the awesome thing about The Hobbit is that there are pretty much 15 main characters.  15.  Sure, some of the dwarves and even Gandalf get relegated to minor characters throughout the book, but you still have to keep them straight in your head.)  I made this simple worksheet, we tea-stained it and burned the edges… Voila–a worksheet that fits our theme.

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As usual, we mostly use this folder for answering daily questions about our reading and doing fun writing exercises like making up dialogues between two characters who don’t ever really speak in the book.  The Littles enjoy it more when they know they helped create such a cool place to keep their work.  And Littlest Cannot Wait till we’re done reading so he can use his maps for play.  With only 2 weeks of school left, he doesn’t have long.

Making this kind of study guide is easy and fun and adaptable to almost any adventure story.  In fact, we did one for Robinson Crusoe two years ago that was made to look like a journal.  If I can dig one out, I’ll take a pic and post it for you later in the week.  In the meantime, keep making literature fun!

Love wins,

KT