Deck the Halls for 2019

Back when I was in grad school (VCFA), each new class had the assignment of choosing a class name. Usually these names had something to do with books or writing. My class chose the Secret Gardeners based on the book The Secret Garden.

With that being said, this is the second of two holiday season book giveaways (the first described in this post), this time featuring three more awesome Secret Gardener classmates: Laurie Morrison, Laura Sibson, and Nicole Valentine, all of whom stopped by for a brief chat today. Though they appeared on the blog here, here, and here to discuss their novels, and copies were given away before, another copy of each book will be given away this time. ’Tis the season!

 

 

   

Click here for the synopsis for Up for Air.
Click here for the synopsis for The Art of Breaking Things.
Click here for the synopsis for A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity.

El Space: What’s the best Christmas gift you received when you were a kid? Why was it special for you?

Laurie: The best Christmas gift I ever got was kittens! When I was eight or nine, my parents brought home two tiny, adorable kittens. My brothers and I were completely surprised. We had no idea our parents were even considering getting pets even though we had asked. We loved figuring out names for them—we went with Christmas and Mistletoe and called them Chrissy and Missy for short—and holding them. One of them disappeared on Christmas Day, and it turned out she was hiding in a tiny space between a piece of furniture and the wall. So that was an adventure! But it was just such a joy to have such a surprise and to feel grown up and responsible as I helped take care of them.

Laura: I have a photo from my sixth Christmas. In it, I am seated on a brand new bike while wearing a fancy bathrobe fit for a princess. I also have a huge grin on my face. This Christmas photo perfectly captures the two sides of me—the girl excited for her first two-wheel bike and the girl who daydreamed about magic and medieval kingdoms.

Nicole: I couldn’t tell you how old I was, but there was one Christmas where my best friend and I thought it would be excellent fun to sneak around our houses and find the hidden presents before the big day. And it was fun! It was the closest thing to a real live treasure hunt a kid could have in 1980-something. However, it soon became painfully obvious to us both that when Christmas morning came we wouldn’t be surprised. I stayed silent and told my parents nothing, but with each passing day I became more disappointed in myself. And then, on Christmas morning there was one extra present under the tree that I had not seen before. It was a small child’s sewing kit and it wasn’t something that I had even asked for, but right then it seemed like the greatest gift in the whole world. The tag said To Nicole, Love Santa in some very familiar cursive handwriting. I still don’t know if my mother saw the telltale signs of our snooping, but I am forever thankful for that sewing kit.

Thank you, Laurie, Laura, and Nicole for stopping by!

What’s the best gift (holiday or otherwise) you received when you were a kid? Comment below to be entered in the drawing. There will be three winners for this giveaway. Each winner will receive one of the above books. Winners of both giveaways to be announced on December 20, 2019.

Henry is pleased with his tree decorating. But the snowman, who is a stickler for correct spelling, thinks an adjustment needs to be made.

Christmas giveaway image from thefrontporchgourmet. Author photos and covers courtesy of the authors. The Secret Garden cover from Goodreads. Fairy tale castle from clipartpanda. Kittens from the SF SPCA. Sewing kit from dreamstime. Other photo by L. Marie.

I Scream for Ice Cream

When I was a kid, one of the dearest sounds in the world was the song the ice cream truck played. Often, the tune played was “The Entertainer,” written by Scott Joplin. I wondered why, so I turned to your friend and mine—Google. According to this AVClub.com post by Joe Blevins, “Most professional ice cream distribution vehicles come complete with a music box from Nichols Electronics.” This music box has “public domain favorites like ‘Yankee Doodle,’ ‘Brahms’ Lullaby,’ and Scott Joplin’s deathless ‘The Entertainer.’”

Ooookay. Though we often had ice cream in the freezer, as my mother would remind my brothers and me, we still wanted to buy whatever the truck sold. We knew the right moment to bug Mom for money—when she was on the phone. Many times she would give it to us just to get us to leave her alone.

Why am I bringing up ice cream? Because I am resurrecting the ice cream giveaway. If you’re new to the blog you’re probably wondering what on earth I mean. (It’s been awhile since I hosted this giveaway, so even if you’ve followed this blog awhile, you might be confused. Click here for a past giveaway.) I’m giving away one pint of ice cream (or yogurt, sherbet, gelato, or sorbetto, if you prefer), which will be sent by Icecreamsource.com. Again, you might be wondering why. My answer is one that many parents have given over the years: “Because.”

Why now? I love the notion of giving away ice cream outside of the usual ice cream season—summer. I’m just weird that way.

Click here to see the varieties offered. In the comments below, please name the pint of ice cream, yogurt, sherbet, gelato, or sorbetto you’d like to receive. This company only delivers to the U.S., so my apologies to any readers outside of the States. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

After a hard day, Tia Tigerlily needs a little pick-me-up. And yes, she can quit eating ice cream anytime she wants. She just doesn’t want to.

Ice cream truck from clipartion.com. Ice cream images from Serious Eats and Tasting Table. Other photo by L. Marie. Tia Tigerlily Shoppie doll is a product of Moose Toys.

Check This Out: Brother, Sister, Me and You and Other National Geographic Kids Books

It’s not every day that I get to welcome to the blog one of my awesome grad school advisors. But here today is the one and only Mary Quattlebaum! She’s here to talk about the National Geographic Kids books she wrote, which were published by Penguin Random House, and include Brother, Sister, Me and You.

      

  Author photo by Michelle Rivet

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Mary: 1. I am the oldest of seven kids.
2. My favorite food is popcorn.
3. One of my favorite jobs was as an 18th century tavern wench for Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.
4. All the dogs I’ve lived with as an adult have been rescue dogs, in one way or the other. One dog, Charlie, even conveyed with the house we bought, because the owner was going to put him in a shelter.

Mary with her elderly border collie Shine. Photo by Christopher David.

El Space: You’ve written a ton of books for kids, including your rhyming Jo MacDonald series and other picture books like Mighty Mole and Super Soil, The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans, and Pirate vs. Pirate, as well as your Jackson Jones novel series. Today, let’s talk about the National Geographic Kids books you wrote in the last few years: Brother, Sister, Me and You; National Geographic Kids Chapters: Hero Dogs; and National Geographic Kids Chapters Together Forever: True Stories of Amazing Animal Friendships! Many of your stories feature animals and the environment. Please tell us why that was important to you.

 

Mary: I’ve always been curious about the natural world, probably because I grew up in the country. And now there’s the added concern about the effect of climate change and pollution on the environment. Humans are deeply connected to other species, historically and in the present moment; we’re all part of an ecosystem. With my books—whether fiction or nonfiction—I guess I try to bring that connection to the fore and celebrate it. Plus, animals and plants are pretty amazing! Did you know that beaver kits help to care for younger siblings? And that a female guppy gives birth to live fry—sometimes 200 within a few hours?

El Space: Wow! I did not know that! How did you come to write nonfiction? What is the research process like for each project?
Mary: First of all, congratulations on your forthcoming nonfiction books! I’m looking forward to reading them!

El Space: Thank you. 😊
Mary: Now to your question: I’ve always enjoyed research, and for years I’ve written freelance articles for The Washington Post and other publications. But I had a palm-to-the-forehead moment when I wrote my Jo MacDonald books and realized the pleasures and challenges of writing narrative nonfiction for kids. Now, I’m doing both narrative nonfiction and straight nonfiction books. The narrative nonfiction chapter books often involve interviews—similar to what I do as a freelance journalist—as well the usual deep research into primary and secondary sources for traditional nonfiction.

   

El Space: I always roll my eyes when someone comments that writing a book for young children “must be easy.” What were the challenges of writing these books?
Mary: Well, when writing nonfiction, one big challenge is to ensure the accuracy of each fact, while presenting it in a way that’s going to engage kids. So, writers are always thinking carefully about sound, rhythm, sentence structure, etc. For Brother, Sister, Me and You, for example, I wanted a range of animals—not just cute mammals—and I wanted strong verbs so that children could act out the movements of the featured animals. So, I watched a lot of animal videos to make sure those verbs were accurate as well as fun. I also went to a pet store and looked at a tank of guppies to make sure that those little fish did, indeed, “flash with finny flicks.”

El Space: You teach at Vermont College of Fine Arts and you review books for The Washington Post, Washington Parent, and probably others I’m forgetting. How do you fit everything in?
Mary: Writers with families seem to juggle so much—deadlines, family responsibilities, teaching! Now, that my daughter is in college, time pressures have eased a bit, which makes for more time to walk the dog and garden—or at least think about gardening 😊—and to watch Schitt’s Creek. And I have to say, it’s a pleasure to work with motivated writing students who want to learn and grow, whether in Washington, DC, where I live, or at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I had a great time working with you, L. Marie, and I’m thrilled for you with your forthcoming books.

El Space: You are making me blush, Mary! When I was a student, you told me to experiment with poetry based on the prompts in The Aspiring Poet’s Journal by Bernard Friot. I copied this quote from a handout you gave me: “The book gets one thinking not just about words on the page but about ‘seeing’ and experiencing the world in a creative, ever-present way.” Why is the exercise of writing poetry helpful for novelists or nonfiction writers?


Mary: So glad you’re still exploring poetry and wordplays! For me, anyway, there is nothing like the reading and writing of poetry to encourage a deep awareness of and appreciation for the possibilities of language. Every word and every mark of punctuation is important, sound and rhythm are paramount. And the writing of poetry seems to call for an attentiveness to the world, an alertness to the extraordinary in even ordinary moments. Dogs seem to be wonderful models for living in the present moment. I love seeing how our dog takes in his surroundings, with curiosity and gusto.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Mary: I’m now beavering away on an animal-related early-reader project.

Thank you, Mary, for being my guest!

Looking for Mary? Look no farther than her website! If you subscribe to The Washington Post or Washington Parent, look for her book reviews.

Looking for Brother, Sister, Me and You or any of Mary’s other books? Check your local bookstore, Amazon, Dawn Publications, Indiebound, or Barnes and Noble or your own doorstep, since one of you will be given a copy of this book or any of Mary’s books of your choosing simply because you commented below.

Since this week I will feature another wonderful author, I will announce the winners of both giveaways sometime next week!

The Squeezamals and Henry’s bear wonder when Mary will write a book about their friendship. They’re animals . . . sort of.

Book covers courtesy of Mary Quattlebaum, her website, or were found at Dawn Publications. Book spread courtesy of Mary Quattlebaum. See above for more photo attributions. Other photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.

Check This Out: Up for Air

Hi ya! (See what I did there? Yes, I laugh at my own bad puns. If you’re still wondering what on earth I mean, think higher. Get it? Air? Higher? Okay, I’ll stop.) My guest is nudging me to focus, so, with me on the blog today is none other than the amazing Laurie Morrison. She’s been here before to discuss her debut MG novel, Every Shiny Thing, written with the awesome Cordelia Jensen. Click here for that post. Today, Laurie’s here to talk about her solo flight, Up for Air, published by Abrams on May 7.

   

Laurie is represented by Sara Crowe.

Stick around to the end to learn of a giveaway for Up for Air and to find out who won the $25 Amazon card I announced in this post. Now, let’s talk to Laurie!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laurie: I’m very sensitive to loud noises and scared of fire, so I was terrified of fireworks as a kid. I love sweets and love coffee but hate sweet coffee. I used to wish I had straight hair and a name that ended in an “a,” but now I like my hair and my name a lot. I always loved to read but didn’t begin to think of myself as a writer until my mid-twenties.

El Space: Congratulations on your starred reviews for Up for Air, Laurie! [Click here and scroll down for those.] Please tell us how this book came to be.
Laurie: Thank you! Up for Air spun off from a YA novel I was working on when you and I got to know each other at VCFA, Linda. Annabelle from Up for Air was the younger stepsister of the main character in that book, a sixteen-year-old girl named Lissy. I still love that book, which was called Rebound, but unfortunately it never sold. However, right around the time when I was realizing that book might not sell, my then-seventh-grade student read it and told me she loved Annabelle and wanted me to write Annabelle’s story next. I loved Annabelle, too, and I had taught some other students who were excellent athletes and ended up playing on sports teams with older teens. I thought that dynamic, of a tween on a team with older teens, would be interesting to explore, and I loved the idea that I could use the setting and some of the characters from Rebound. It took me a little while to commit to writing Up for Air because I was afraid it would be seen as too mature for middle grade but too young for young adult and therefore wouldn’t be marketable, but I couldn’t let go of the idea.

Laurie talks with her Every Shiny Things co-author, Cordelia Jensen. Photo taken at the Up for Air book launch at Children’s Book World in Haverford

El Space: Annabelle’s story is such a rich conglomeration of angst, joy, family, friendships, crushes, and summer fun.  Who, if anyone, was the inspiration for Annabelle?
Laurie: I’m so glad you thought so! Originally, I created Annabelle as a character who would really push my old main character Lissy’s buttons,  so I guess Lissy was the main inspiration. Annabelle’s stepdad, Mitch, is Lissy’s father, and while Annabelle and Mitch have a great relationship, Lissy and Mitch had a pretty tense one. I tried to build Annabelle up as a kid who would seem to Lissy like the daughter her dad had always wanted.

El Space: Honestly, your book was painful to read at times because it is so true to life. What were the challenges for you in the writing of this book?
Laurie: I struggle with perfectionism, and I tend to feel a whole lot of shame when I think I have done things wrong. As I wrote this book, I really wanted to explore those feelings of shame and vulnerability because of “messing up,” so I channeled some painful and embarrassing experiences I’d had as a kid and as an adult. Annabelle’s experiences are very different from mine, but her feelings are the same. Interestingly, though, I didn’t find the book emotionally difficult to write. It was actually very cathartic.

Cookies served at the Up for Air book launch were made by Frosted Fox Bakery.

El Space: You taught middle school. What do you think your students would say about Annabelle’s journey? What do you want your readers to take away concerning girl power?
Laurie: I think 6th-8th graders like the ones I taught would say they are happy that Annabelle’s story delves into some things they don’t often get to read about in middle grade books—things like the social pressures that can come along with being friends with older teens, and the way it feels to get a certain kind of attention as your body develops. I want readers to see that girls can be competitive, yes, and Annabelle has a very competitive friendship, but girls also lift each other up and share their experiences in a very open and deep way, making each other feel less alone.

El Space: The swim team aspects were so realistic. Were you on the swim team at school? How did you bring them to life so vividly?
Laurie: Thank you! I was an athlete, but my big sport was soccer. I do know how to swim and love to do laps for exercise, though I haven’t done that for a while, and I also love to watch swimming during the Olympics! I drew upon my minimal knowledge of swimming and my more substantial understanding of what it’s like to be serious about a sport, and then I did a bit of research and relied on three readers who are swimming experts: my friend and critique partner, Laura Sibson, and two of my former students. All three of them helped me make the swimming elements more vivid and authentic.

El Space: Your book is considered upper middle grade. I remember reading Shug by Jenny Han years ago and thinking it was upper middle grade. What are the differences between middle grade and upper middle grade?
Laurie: Oh, I loved Shug! And that’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a clear consensus on what the criteria are or which books are middle grade and which are upper middle grade. I could say that upper middle grade books are designated by the publisher as age 10-14 versus age 8-12, and that is sometimes the case; Up for Air and Every Shiny Thing are both marketed as 10-14, and so are Melanie Sumrow’s unputdownable novels, The Prophet Calls and The Inside Battle. But then one of my favorite upper middle grade books is Paula Chase’s So Done, and that one says age 8-12 on the jacket.

  

   

I guess for me, the age of the protagonist is important. When the main character is 13 (an age that I think publishers used to shy away from), that’s one indication that you’re looking at an upper middle grade novel. It’s also about the topics the author is covering and the book’s tone. So I guess it’s an I-know-it-when-I-see-it kind of thing. If I feel like a book is geared more toward a 6th-8th grade reader than to a 3rd-5th grade reader, then I personally would call it upper MG. I’m happy to say that I think we’re starting to see more and more upper MG, and I hope that’s a trend that continues!

El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I’m working on my next book, Saint Ivy, which is due out from Abrams in spring 2021. Like my first two books, it’s a story about friendship, family, and complicated emotions, but this one also features an anonymous email and a bit of a mystery. It’s proving to be a fun challenge so far, and I’m nervous but excited to see how it comes together!

Thank you, Laurie, for being my guest!

Looking for Laurie? Click on these icons:

            .

Up for Up for Air? You can find it at your local bookstore and here:
    ,    .

But one of you will find it in your mailbox just because you commented below. Yes, this is a giveaway, like the $25 Amazon gift card will be given away to Jill Weatherholt. See what I did there? Oh never mind. Jill, please comment below to confirm.

Everyone else, please comment below to be entered in the drawing. I’ll announce the winner next week sometime!

After reading Up for Air, Henry was inspired to hug his friends regularly, including new friend, the lamb’s head.

Author photo by Laura Billingham. Cookie photo by Elizabeth Morrison. Book launch photo by Mike Fabius. Cup of coffee from clker.com. Various icons from the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.

Mentors

Do you have a mentor? Many people talk about the need for one in fiction and in real life. Before I ever had one, I remember having an idealistic view of what having a mentor would involve—someone who offered sage advice and remained in your life for years. But my experiences with mentors have been mostly brief.

In fiction, the mentor is one of the archetypes in Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey breakdown, which was popularized by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey. The mentor has one job:

The function of the mentor is to prepare the hero to face the unknown, to accept the adventure.

(The above quote came from this site. I have Vogler’s book, but can’t find it right now. This photo of the book is one I took awhile ago and had in my WordPress library of photos.)

In real life, the mentor has a similar task. As an undergraduate, I had a professor whom I thought of as a mentor: Leon Forrest, who also was a literary novelist, which gave him serious street cred in my book. I wanted to be just like him. But as is the case with many mentors in a hero’s journey story, he died at the start of my writer’s journey. 😢

After that, I had some growing up to do as a writer. As you know, part of the growing up process involves figuring out who you are and who you’re not. After my days as an English lit/writing major, I quickly learned that the literary track—the one paved with GANs (Great American Novels) for adults—was not for me. Instead, I gravitated toward writing for children and young adults. Ironic, huh, that by growing up I would discover a commitment to writing for kids.

In my grad program, which was chosen after I came to the realization of where I belong, I was given four advisors—four mentors if you will. (They’re all still alive by the way. I’m sure they’re relieved on that score. Thankfully, many mentors live.) But each was given only a six-month stretch to help me on the journey to graduation (though I tried to cling to them all after graduation). While in the program, I also had a student mentor—someone who had been in the program for a while and could help me navigate the journey. But she graduated soon after I arrived at the school.

Today I am seemingly mentorless. Seemingly, because I realize I have a Mentor, one whom I meet every day in prayer. He’d been there all along, even in the days when I yearned for significance as a GAN (Great American Novelist).

The fact that I have been mentored gave me the desire to be a mentor to some young writers. Though some preferred only a brief stint as my mentee, I’m glad I had the opportunity to be a mentor, however briefly. And I never once called anyone Padawan.

If you’re not currently a mentor or are without one, do you think you’d like to be one or at least have one? While you think about that, I will move on to the winner of War of Nytefall: Rivalry by Charles Yallowitz, which this post discusses.

 

That winner, according to the random.org generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lyn Miller-Lachmann!

Congratulations, Lyn! Comment below to confirm.

Henry is torn between two possible mentors: the ever exciting Malik or the always chill Olive. My advice? When in doubt, have ice cream.

Frog-shaped mint ice cream is the best!

Divine Days book cover from Amazon. War of Nytefall: Rivalry book cover and author photo courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Mentor memes from somewhere on the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.

Guest Post: Dating by Malik Dating Yourself

Today I’m forced privileged to provide a guest post by the one, the only Malik, who is here to talk about dating your—

I got this, L. Marie. Who better than me to talk about dating? I mean, just look at me. Yeah, get a good look. If you’re wondering about the type of woman I prefer, get out your tablet, ’cause I have a long list. First—

Sorry, Malik, but this post isn’t working out. I didn’t want you to talk about that sort of dating. I wanted you to talk about dating yourself—showing you’re behind the times—by what you say or write. See, if you had just returned my texts, I could have explained it all to you. But thanks though. I’ll call you some other time if I need that guest post from you.

Well, now that Malik has left in a huff, I guess I’ll have to write this post myself. First, let me give you some background. This article features a tweet by a teen that caused dismay among millennials months ago. ( I just read the article last week.) For those of you who don’t feel like clicking on the article, basically the teen asked the Twitterverse how to burn a CD, a question that made many millennials feel old. (Welcome to my world.)

When was the last time you burned a CD? I can’t recall the last time I did. Well over a decade ago, certainly.

Days after I saw that, I watched this Buzzfeed video of some Gen Zers trying to identity celebrities from back in the 90s. I was shocked that no one knew Justin Timberlake. (Maybe they might recognize his voice from the 2016 movie Trolls.)

Why am I bringing that up? I was reminded of the need to keep in mind what the audience I’m writing for may or may not know. If you write for adults, maybe this is not a big deal to you. But I write stories for kids and teens who will let you know in a heartbeat when something is dated (at least in their eyes). The video and the article were wake-up calls. I’m reminded of idioms or activities I might have mentioned that someone born in this century might view as anachronistic.

Case in point. Years ago, a 1981 song, “Call Me,” sung by a group called Skyy, sparked a discussion after my niece and nephew heard it on Pandora (yes, Pandora) .

One of the lyrics goes like this: “Here’s my number and a dime, call me anytime.” My niece and nephew had no idea why a dime was needed for a call. Neither had ever used a pay phone, let alone seen one.

Nor had they seen one of these outside of an old television show.

Photo by Martha Moore.

Technology changes so rapidly these days. Even Pandora has felt the pinch. (Can you say Spotify?) This is one reason why I use technology names sparingly in stories, or I make up my own names. You never know when something is going to be outdated.

How about you? Is this issue of dated text something you care about? What do you do to avoid dating yourself?

P.S. Henry is very hurt that I asked Malik to write a guest post, however brief that experience was. He quickly reminded me of his good qualities. Like . . . the fact that he loves animals and has a cheerful outlook on life. So, I might have to have a guest post by Henry at some point.

  

Tiny phone photo by Martha Moore. Pay phone from photos-public-domain.com. Skyy album from essence.com. CDs from publicdomainpictures.net. OJustin Timberlake and his character, Branch, from DreamWorks Animation. Other photos by L. Marie. Malik is part of the Fresh Squad of dolls designed by Dr. Lisa Williams, founder of the World of EPI.

Writing Outside the Box

Having made the decision to write a middle grade novel starring a preteen boy, someone of the opposite sex and generation, I found myself falling into dangerous territory. You know—the territory marked with generalities. “Boys like to do such and such (play sports and videogames, speak one sentence for every eight a girl might utter). Therefore, I can make him do such and such.” This was simply because many of the boys I know (or knew awhile back) did those things.

Horror of horrors, I had written myself into a box. The result was a character as fake as snow in a can.

This

is not this.

How dumb, right? Generalities are not true of all; therefore, you can’t build a good character that way. Only by spending time with boys this age (and those older and younger) did the revelation hit: I needed to stop seeing this character as a stock character—as by-the-numbers as box cake mix—and see him as an individual whose heart and mind I could reveal. (And before you get ready to scream at me, I like many box cake mixes, particularly when someone else does the baking, and adds his or her own touches to make it special. But I digress.)

Case in point, I had to a pick a kid up from school a few times. Both parents were busy, so they asked me if I could pick him up and stay with him until one of them returned home. Now, many people who know this kid are of the belief that he barely talks. Not so. He talked for almost an hour about a Legend of Zelda game. I was the one who barely said a word other than, “Really? . . . Huh. . . . And then what?” He then segued to how much he loved creating music mixes using the software on his computer.

Link from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Other things I discovered: Yes, watching a Barbie video was torture for him, no matter how much his younger sister begged him. And no, he would rather not play baseball or football. Dodge ball? He was the king. Badminton and volleyball? Yup. You could sign him up.

I love this kid! Thanks to him, I felt encouraged to think outside of the box—to avoid relying on generalities—to make my character someone a reader might care about. Someone who seems real.

   

What do you do to go outside of the box as you develop a character? I would appreciate any tips you might have, especially if you’re writing about a character who is very different from you.

Link is from the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild wiki. Duncan Hines cake mix found somewhere on the internet, thanks to bing.com. Other photos by L. Marie. The mini figures are My Mini MixieQs by Mattel. Carrying case also by Mattel.