Jonathan Auxier at the ALA Annual Conference 2016 #ALAAC16

I had a fantastic time at the ALA Annual Conference held in Orlando June 22-28.

I attended on Friday June 24th and Saturday June 25th. My agenda was packed full of roundtable discussions, informative presentations, and of course, the exhibit hall.

This year I broke from my tradition of going to conferences alone and brought along my two oldest children. Both avid readers, and lovers of the library, I wanted them to be able to experience some of the joy and wonder that I experienced when I was their age and my parents would take my sister and me to the International Pizza Expo. I loved wandering through the large exhibit hall as a young girl, sampling all sorts of wonderful pizza. I imagined the same experience for my daughter’s but with books and tech instead of pizza. I was right. They were both in utter and total awe.

My girls loved ALA. The highlight for both of them was the chance to meet one of their favorite authors, Jonathan Auxier. Jonathan is the author of the 2015-2016 SSYRA book The Night Gardner, but my daughters love him for his debut novel, Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes. Haley admittedly is his biggest fan, and when I noticed she wrote him a note on an exhibit hall table I quickly snapped a photo, tweeted it to him, and received a reply with an invitation to stop by for his meet and greet. #Number1Fan


We may have been the first in line J

Not only did Haley and Ella each receive a brand new hardback copy of his newest release (the sequel to Peter Nimble) Sophie Quire and the Last StoryGuard (and not an ARC, either!) but Jonathan drew a personalized photo for each of them in the front of the book and posed for a photo with them individually, too.

Jonathan told us two things:

1)   He only poses for photos with people who will act like monsters.

2)   His personalized drawings will be gory.

He asked Haley what her favorite animal is, real or mythological. She told him a unicorn. He drew a photo inside her book of her being impaled on a unicorn’s horn. He drew blood drops and everything.


He asked Ella what her favorite animal was in the Peter Nimble book and she told him the sea serpent. He drew Ella hanging out of the mouth of the sea serpent. 


Jonathan spent close to 10 minutes with us and it was an experience that I am sure Haley and Ella will never forget, and I will always remember hearing the girls say “this was the best day EVER.”



Happy Birthday Ella

Happy 11th Birthday Ella!!

Today you turn 11. 

It doesn't seem like 11 years ago you entered the world at dawn, in a flower garden with only your daddy and I there. It was magical and will always be one of the BEST days of my life. This is your first photo with your daddy and your big sister Haley. You two love each other so much. You truly are the best of friends and it warms my heart to see how much you enjoy being with one another. 


At your first birthday party you were so happy. Ronin joined our family only a few days later and your world got turned upside down. 

Now at age 11 you LOVE all things nature. You love to be outside. You love the ocean, swimming, fishing, and you are ALWAYS up for an adventure. 

I can't wait to see what this next decade of your life will bring for you. Your first kiss, your first boyfriend. You'll learn to drive and you'll graduate high school and head off to college. I don't want to think about that just yet. For now, for now I'll focus on you being 11 and all the joy you bring to my life.




Is Busch Gardens HowlOScream Ok For Kids?

Every year around Halloween time Busch Gardens transforms itself into a land of nightmares!! This year there are six haunted houses, two live shows, crash test zombies (so fun, more on that later) and scare zones scattered throughout the park. 

The past few years I have taken the #TampaTrio to Halloween events at our local zoo. They enjoy themselves, but I always hear "mama, this isn't scary" or "mama, this is for babies." And they beg me to take them to see a "real haunted house."

This year Busch Gardens invited me to come out and preview Howl-O-Scream, their annual scary event, and Ella, my 10 year old BEGGED me to take her. BEGGED. But I didn't take her, I took my husband. But while we were there, a horrible rainstorm moved in and James and I were only able to go through 3 haunted houses, neither that I found to be scary, and I am a real chicken. At least when it comes to horror movies I am a real chicken.

So because of the rain ruining our evening Busch Gardens was kind enough to invite me back out to experience all of the thrills of Howl-O-Scream.

My husband had no desire to go back, and Ella jumped at the chance to begin begging me to take her, so I thought about it, and thought about it, and decided we would give it a chance. I let her know that at ANY time all she had to do was tell me she was done, and we would immediately leave the park. 

The following is a guest post by Ella, age 10. 

Every year, Howl-O-Scream has a different event symbol that reigns supreme over all the terror. This year I really wanted to go with my mom and so she took me!!  We had so much fun! We got to the park when it was still light outside and my mom walked me through all the areas that we would see later at night. It was cool to see all the decorations in the daylight. They had scary decorations and just plain old fall decorations. 

Once the sun went down, the haunted houses and scary creatures came out!!

The first haunted house we did was Deadfall. Deadfall is about killer plants (and people) with a major thirst for blood. Actually, the people might have been plant hybrids.  I thought it was the scariest haunted house in the park! I had a glow necklace that I wore and the people could see me from a mile away! When they were done scaring people they came right up to me and scared me even more! I know that my glow necklace (that a Busch Gardens employee gave to me) was like a "scare me" beacon.

I saw a demon with a chainsaw near Sherika. He pointed that chainsaw right at me.  It was so creepy! Right past the log flume we went into a scare zone. The zombies there had weird baby talking voices and are carrying around creepy dolls! One of them said "do you want to play with Annebelle? She is quiet but you'll she'll love to play with you!"

When we went to Crash Test Zombies the zombies would ride in the bumper cars and slap your car! One of them was coming mainly for me! When we crashed into them it was like we were kicking zombie butt! Bumper cars and zombies were a great combination!!

There was a scare zone right outside Crash Test Zombies, and of course it was a zombie scare zone. But I wasn't scared!

We walked over to Kumba and during the ride my mom's hair got so blown out and it was so funny! After Kumba we came across another haunted house: Zombie Mortuary. You'll never guess what happened here! There were people in oven's screaming like it was future Howl-O-Scream! It was so creepy! I was attached to my mom like a flea!

When that was over I went on the Sand Serpent! I love the part when it twist's you really fast! When you get hungry you always have a place to eat your local, Dragon Fire Grill! We saw a show with a werewolf that looked like Chewie from Star Wars!

Leaving Pantopia we came across another scare zone. It was a creepy clown scare zone and there were creepy clown dude's asking me to play with them! One of them was in a cage and it was just creepy. Remember I had that necklace on so they could see me more. Then we went on Cheetah Hunt. We had a fast pass so no wait. It was so fast. It was faster then if your on a car chase! The rides are always faster at night!!

Then we went in another haunted house called Zombie Containment Unit 15. We were given a Z.E.D gun to shoot zombies with. It was awesome they were everywhere! They called me soldier like I was a big deal! This was a super fun interactive experience!

Then we walked our way to Montu and did about five SIX loops upside down. Everyone should be able to experience this! Guess what we did next? Then we did Scarlet's Revenge here's a clip what it is about. I thought she was Maleficent.

Don't you think she looks like Maleficent?

Its just Scarlet has huge horns. When we went in it was like a tour of the house in a HAUNTED house. When we came out Scarlet was screaming her head off GET OUT OF HERE! And I just said "you look like Malefincent."


After Unearthed, we had 3 haunted houses left to see! The Basement (which my mom said was totally disgusting, and boy was she right!), the Circus of Superstition, and Death Water Bayou. First up....Circus of Superstition.

It really wasn't that scary. Just loud and the flashing strobe lights messed with my eyes. I didn't like that feeling. Then we went through the Basement. Mom warned me it was gross, and it was DISGUSTING!! It was a family of very unhygienic cannibals. It smelled so real and it was nasty.

I was glad to be out of that stinky haunted house. And then we only had one left! Death Water Bayou.

Death Water Bayou had a voodoo theme. I had never heard of voodoo before, so Howl-O-Scream taught me something!!

And just like that our night was over!

With our fast pass, we were able to go through EVERY haunted house (6 houses, plus Zombie Containment Unit) and ALL the rollercoasters, plus we got to see one show!

We came home and I went right to bed, no nightmares, no big deal. I can't wait to go back next year!


So to answer the question posed by the title of this blog Howl-O-Scream okay for kids? Maybe. First and foremost....KNOW YOUR KID. If your child spooks easily, is afraid of the dark, etc., then Howl-O-Scream is probably NOT for them. More likely than not it will be your kids who ask to go. It will be up to you as their parent to determine if they are ready. And maybe you only can figure that out by taking them to the event. You will know pretty quickly if it's too scary for them, and with a plethora of security around, you will be quickly escorted to safety.  Ella and I had a "safe word" that she was to use if she ever felt overwhelmed, too scared, or just wanted to go. She didn't need to use the safe word. Be warned is gross, with lots of blood and gore. I know my oldest child would not enjoy this event. And I think Ronin would like it for a short time and I think he'd end up sleeping in my bed, so I am holding off on taking him for a few more years. We saw kids of all ages at Howl-O-Scream. We saw babies and toddlers in strollers, and lots of teenagers.

Ella and I had a great time, and I look forward to carrying on this yearly tradition with her.