Little Hands and Big Hands in the News

Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together was featured in a recent edition of the Cape Gazette:

“In “Little Hands and Big Hands,” parents, grandparents, educators, and caregivers will learn about the benefits of signing with young children of all hearing abilities, including reduced frustration, expansion of spoken vocabulary, and stimulation of multiple senses. The book features songs, rhymes, crafts, and other signing activities that can be used throughout the day, whether at mealtimes, during diaper changes, or in a waiting room. Each activity is accompanied by clear photographs and descriptions of relevant signs. These activities were born out of MacMillan’s Little Hands Signing classes, which she has been teaching since 2005.

“There are many great books out there about the basics of signing with babies,” says MacMillan. “In ‘Little Hands and Big Hands,’ I wanted to go beyond just the signs and give parents specific, age-appropriate activities they could use to make everyday life with their kids more harmonious while also enhancing early literacy. Many people assume that signing is something you do only until your child is speaking, but in fact there are tremendous benefits to signing with preschoolers as well – signing gives them more tools in their language and communication toolbox. That’s why the book includes activities for kids ages birth to 6.”

Click here to read the entire article.


As noted in the article, I have several upcoming Little Hands and Big Hands programs and book signings in Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore:



Whose Book Is It, Anyway?

Whenever I hear an author say something like, “I wrote the book for myself – I really didn’t think about readers”, I  want to gag.

Warning: This post may have been inspired by reading just such a comment from a well-known author after finally reading the brutally disappointing final book in said author’s series.  I am not naming names, but if you have read the book, you can probably guess who I mean.

But this author is not the only one, by any means – you see those kinds of comments all the time:

“I was really writing it for myself.”

“I never really thought about how other people would see it.”

“I just had this relationship with my characters – I had to write the story, for me.”

Goat piffle, I say.  Having been on this long, arduous journey toward publication for almost ten years now, I can tell you that, if you really want to get published, there’s no way you can NOT think about your readers.  At first, it’s specific readers: your betareader, your critique group.  Then it widens: the poor put-upon editorial assistant who has to wade through the slush pile.  The agents you query.  The editors.  And of course, always, the people you hope will one day read your book.

So when you first write that story down, and it’s just you and the first draft – okay, maybe THEN you can write just for yourself.  But if you get a book deal and you have editors and agents and all manner of people tearing your manuscript apart to make it better – there is no way you can forget to think about your readers, because all those people will remind you constantly that you have to think of them.

Maybe part of the reason I feel so strongly about this is that, in every aspect of my life, I am a communicator.  As a librarian, I have to think about what my patrons need and how best to communicate that information to them.  As an interpreter, I darn well better consider how best to convey the source message and who the target audience is, or I can’t do my job.  And as a writer, I am communicating a message too – only it’s through a story and theme and characters and setting.  But I am always thinking about how readers will see it, and what they need to navigate the story and feel the emotions of the characters.  If I am not thinking about the people receiving the message, then what the heck is the point of trying to communicate it in the first place?

There are many authors I admire, but there are a handful whose books make me sigh and say, “That’s how I want my readers to feel after reading one of my books.”  Megan Whalen TurnerRachel HartmanKristin Cashore.  That feeling right there – that’s what made me brave enough to start writing in the first place.

If you’re not thinking about your readers, then you’re just shouting into the universe and not even listening for a reply.

The Messy Way

Back in May, I read this excellent post by Larissa Graham  on the SCBWI MD/DE/VA blog.  She sang the praises of writing software, Scrivener in particular.  I was intrigued.  Maybe I would find grand new vistas of productivity if I just found the right software!

So I downloaded the demos for Scrivener and a few other programs, eager to give them a try…but as soon as I opened them up, I knew that specialized writing software is not for me.  They do have neat features.  For example,  in Scrivener, you can organize plot and character information on “corkboards” and easily assemble a synopsis.  I can see how these programs would be valuable in organizing your manuscript and save time.

But here’s the thing: I am the kind of person who procrastinates by organizing my to-do list.  (I have a very long to-do list, which, believe it or not, includes things like “Breathe”.  That’s to remind me to stop and take a few deep breaths every now and then.)  I could get swallowed up by all the bells and whistles and never actually write a thing.

I need the freedom and tyranny of the blank page, or I will never get anything done.

And, I admit, I need to have at least some of my notes on actual paper.  I like my notebooks full of world building and maps and drawings.  I like using index cards and post it notes in different ways at different times.

I like that writing isn’t something I’m trying to do as expeditiously as possible, like so many other things in my life.  It’s messy and it requires time to do it right.

And I am okay with that.

Constructive Woolgathering

a window looks out onto a blue sky full of cloudsI spent a lot of time today staring out the window.  But it was solid, productive staring out the window.

I am elbow-deep in a revision of my as-yet-untitled novel that is coming out in 2016, and I won’t lie – it’s been rough.  I’ve already done at least four major, all-out revisions of this story, and it’s hard to believe that the process will ever be finished.  As this revision requires rewriting my opening chapters and rethinking the climax of the story itself, it is proving to be the most challenging so far.

But all my staring out the window today, along with some spot-on, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that advice from my betareader, has me feeling more optimistic.  Now I just have to propose these ideas to my characters and see if they will accept them.

Oh, and just for fun, here are some of the random topics I have gotten to research today:

  • ancient flood defenses
  • the origins of the flamethrower (ancient Greece, in case you were wondering)
  • tightrope walking

Here’s hoping that the actual writing and rewriting is half as productive as the staring out the window has been…

Hufflepuff and Proud

Once upon a time in my Harry Potter fandom days, my friends and I were planning an event that required four of us to play the heads of the various Hogwarts houses. The others agreed, as if it were a foregone conclusion, that I would be the head of Hufflepuff.
I was a bit taken aback at their matter-of-factness. But then I considered the choices:

“You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;

You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;

Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
if you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;

Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folks use any means
To achieve their ends.”
(from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. New York: Scholastic, 1997)

I could see their point about Slytherin – I was too naïve to be called “cunning”. No, naïve has a negative connotation. Let’s say “earnest”.

Brave Gryffindor? No, definitely not me. In fact, the one and only time I played Dungeons and Dragons, my character was the sole survivor – but only because when the Dungeon Master would ask me how my character would respond to say, a dragon attack, my answer was usually, “Scream like a little girl and go hide behind that boulder.” I am relatively certain that I could turn into a Mama Bear and do amazing, brave things if my child were threatened. But the rest of you are probably on your own.

Ravenclaw? Surely, “those of wit and learning” fits little old me, who loves books and libraries and would be a perpetual student if I could.

“No,” my friends told me. “You’re one of the hardest working people we know. You keep your head down and keep going no matter what. That’s Hufflepuff.”

Despite the fact that some people see Hufflepuffs as a “lot o’duffers” according to Hagrid, I embraced the label.  So it was amusing to me when my book deal with HarperTeen was announced on Tuesday, and my agent, Steven Malk, tweeted the following about it:

There it is again. Not lyrical writing, not stupendous talent – what he emphasized is what a hard worker I am. (I should mention that, having done through three detailed rounds of revisions with me, Steve’s no slouch in the hard work department either.) But I guess it says something about me that I took this as a giant compliment. Because one thing I have learned the hard way in the 10+ years I have been trying to break into YA publishing is that all the talent in the world won’t do you any good if you are not willing to put in the work – hours of butt-in-chair, kill-your-darlings work.

As wonderful as it has been to bask in the glow of the announcement, I am trying to keep the above in mind. Because I have months of revision ahead, so the hard work is not over. And even after the book is published, there will be more work to do, promoting this one and writing and revising the next, and the next, and the next.

Good thing I’m a Hufflepuff.

PAH!, or My Big News, At Last!

For readers unfamiliar with American Sign Language, I should explain that “PAH!” is often used by signers as a written shorthand for the ASL sign that translates best into English as “At last!” or “Finally!”  (so-called because of the distinctive mouthing of “pah!” that goes with the sign).

Today this sign is very relevant, because I CAN FINALLY SHARE THE NEWS I HAVE BEEN SITTING ON FOR MONTHS!  And it’s this: my debut Young Adult novel will be published by HarperCollins in 2016!  You can read the full announcement here.

My wonderful agent, Steven Malk of Writers House, has worked long and hard to get us to this point, and without him this quite literally would not be happening.  (Another writer recently called him “The King of All Agents”, and, having worked with him, I can tell you that this is no exaggeration.)  Steven sold the book in a two-book deal to Alexandra Cooper at HarperTeen, and I am so excited to be working with her to get the book ready for publication.

“What’s the title?” you’re asking.  Well…I’ll let you know when I do.  :)  As is pretty common in today’s publishing world, the title is in flux.

“So what’s it about?”, you say.  That I can answer: It’s about a land where writing is the sacred privilege of a few, and a slave girl, Raisa, who gets the extraordinary chance to learn the language of the gods when she becomes a royal tutor. But her dreams are threatened by her forbidden love for the prince, and her loyalty is tested by the Resistance, who urges her to join in the fight for her people’s freedom.  It’s about the consequences of following your heart, and learning to trust yourself and other people.

This has been a long, long time in coming.  (The first draft of this book was written when I was childless, and I am now the mother of a nine-year-old.)  So many people have been a part of this journey, whether they read drafts, tolerated my whining on Facebook, or just asked “Hey, what are you working on?” and didn’t glaze over at my answer.    I will tell some of those stories here in the coming months, now that I can FINALLY TALK ABOUT THIS BOOK!  Seriously, I didn’t keep it a secret for more than 24 hours when I found out I was pregnant with my son – this has been torture!

But for now, I will say thank you, and go jump up and down a lot. PAH, indeed.

Kathy MacMillan signs "At last!"

PAH!: “Finally!” or “At last!” in American Sign Language (Photo by Ari Rosenberg)




Libraries and Camps and Bookcart Drill Teams: The Long Twisty Journey from There to Here

Dawn Babb Prochovnic, author of the “Story Time with Signs and Rhymes” series, was kind enough to interview me on her blog about Little Hands and Big Hands and signing with children:

An Interview with Kathy MacMillan

I initially entitled this post “An Interview with Author, Kathy MacMillan,” but in addition to being an author of several books, Kathy is also an ASL interpreter, sign language workshop presenter, a trained librarian (and probably a host of other things I haven’t learned about quite yet!).

I was first “introduced” to Kathy when I read her book, “Little Hands and Big Hands: Children and Adults Signing Together.” Kathy and I share a love for signing with hearing children of all ages, and I really connected with her simple, accessible approach to signing with kids. I did a little research and found out that she is the author of several other books (some of which are pictured later), and she blogs and presents regularly at libraries and other community venues.

I wanted to get to know Kathy a bit better, and she was kind enough to participate in an interview:

Dawn: How did you first become interested in sign language (and in particular, signing with hearing children)?

Find out the answer – and lots more – in the full interview here.