Encouragement: Actually, I Can

Today’s book is one I’ve been looking forward to for some time – it’s the much anticipated Actually, I Can from Nicky Johnston (Rough Draft).

actually i canNicky’s first two books Go Away Mr Worrythoughts and Happythoughts are Everywhere are amongst my favourite books for kids, and Nicky’s work with kids working through anxiety is priceless. We were really lucky to have Nicky join us for one of the TBYL Events earlier in the year (you can read about it here) and I’ve been eager to find out what she had next up her sleeve to help with the little worriers in our lives.

Actually, I Can is the story of Connor and Amelia. Connor, a little worrier, is afraid to try many of the things that Amelia takes in her stride. She encourages him to be brave and give things ago, and although it takes him a little while to let go of his fear, he does with her encouragement eventually put his anxiety aside and realise that actually, he can.

It’s a positive message, easy relatable and of course accompanied by Nicky’s gorgeous illustrations. The books is both easily comprehended by children, and enjoyable for adults to read.

Personally, there are two things that I love about this books. The first is that it is refreshingly realistic. It acknowledges that not all kids are frightened all of the time, and likewise, not all kids are brave in ever circumstance. Connor and Amelia, adorable characters, take it in turns to support and encourage each other, resulting in them both being able to have a wonderful day out together!

The second thing that I love about this book is that the lesson is an important one for kids and adults alike. I’m sure I’m not alone in being held back by anxiety and fear at times, and as I read this book to Oscar, it is a reminder that I should resist ‘paralysis through fear’, if for no other reason than to teach my own kids to do the same.

I was intrigued to find out a little more about Actually, I Can and asked Nicky a few questions last week…


This is a similar but new story to your previous books… could you tell us about the inspiration behind this story?
I am often asked by parents of ‘little worriers’ how to handle their child’s constant ‘what if’ questions. I encourage parents to challenge these thoughts, prompting their child to answer their own questions – of course the answers can have either a negative or positive outcome, depending on what their thoughts are at the time.

 ‘Change your thoughts to change your feelings’ was my inspirational statement for Actually, I Can, demonstrating that Connor actually can have some fun, once he began answering his what if questions in a positive way.

Are you planning to work this book into your school talks and productions at all?
I love all school visit opportunities and the theme of my books work perfectly throughout my presentations. We all have ‘what if’ questions, and worry thoughts, and by sharing my own journey of writing and illustrating, I am able to help children learn ways they too can build their resilience to things as well as maintaining a positive outlook on their world, all while inspiring them to consider their own writing and illustrating skills.

With the theatrical production of Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts being so well received in primary schools, I would love to see Actually, I Can also become transformed into an additional theatrical production. Discussions and ideas have already begun with the many creative people I have worked with Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts production. There is so much possibility and potential for this to develop in the future, I am reaching for the stars and aiming high!

Your illustrations in this new book are beautiful, how much time did you take putting this new set of works together?
I really wanted my illustrations of Actually, I Can to be a different style from those of my first two books. The recent illustrations took much longer in their design and creation than my previous books, taking me almost 8 months to complete. I enjoyed creating them all and I even have a few favourites too, which is quite unusual for me. There were many illustrations that didn’t make it into the book and I love sharing this insight with children during my school visits.

What’s the take home message of ‘Actually, I Can’?
When you change your thoughts from fear to belief, the way you feel and the outcome will always seem better. It is amazing what you can achieve when you actually let go of your fears, believe in yourself and just have a go. The skill of learning to ‘let go’ is a great concept for children, and with practice this can become an easy way to live, it gets harder as we grow into adults as our thought patterns are far more set in concrete – but even then it is always still possible to learn.


What’s the feedback been like so far?
I have been quite overwhelmed with the feedback since the release of Actually, I Can beginning of August. Parents, teachers, children and reviewers have all been extremely glowing in their comments and feedback.

Here are just a few messages I have received…

‘Beautifully written and illustrated’

‘Gorgeous, heartfelt, life changing are three words that aptly describe Nicky’s books’

‘Thank you for giving us another bedtime favourite book’.

The two young characters are lovely, do you have any future plans for them?
Both Amelia and Connor have become characters that children have already become quite taken with.

I love their opposite personality characteristics, yet understanding and admiration for each other.

There is definitely another adventure of Connor and Amelia that will be told in the future, so, be sure to keep an eye out for another children’s book with an even greater insight into how well these children know each other and grow together.


You can find out more about Nicky and her books at the Happy Hero website.

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Raiding the Kids’ Bookshelves

For the next little few months, I’m going to make Saturday on the blog, Kids Day. As I try hard to share my love of books and writing with my kids, I thought it might be nice to share a few of these endeavours with my bookish friends.

This weekend I want to tell you about the fantastic Book-A-Day Instagram Game that Oscar and I are playing throughout the month of May.

book a dayUsing daily prompts from My Little Bookcase, Oscar and I are rediscovering our book collection. The first day had us revisiting a classic title, day two was our favourite, funniest book, and the third day was all about the best read-out-loud book on our bookshelf.

Today we got to choose our very favourite cover… we chose The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle.

Of course, when picking them up off the shelf to photograph, we have to sit and read them too…

Photos are shared on Instagram (you can find TBYL on Instagram here) as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

You can find out full details here… at the My Little Bookcase site.

Will you play along?

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Chatting and learning: TBYL Event No. 1

Yesterday I was pretty nervous. I prepped and preened, anxiously awaiting the very first TBYL Event, Making Tough Times Easier.

Late in the afternoon I took my lists, my notes and myself into the Wheeler Centre. Setting up, I waited with baited breath to see what others would make of TBYL’s grand plan to bring bookish people together, in real life.

I’m pleased to report that it was an amazing evening, complete with revealing insights, great conversations and new connections.

Making Tough Times Easier 1

Making Tough Times Easier was an opportunity to explore how picture books can be used to help parents, carers and educators coach kids through challenges, helping them to become resilent and happier kids.

Sometimes little people have to deal with big challenges.

I was thrilled to be joined by four talented and passionate storytellers; Nicky Johnston (Go Away Mr Worrythoughts), Leon James Wisewould and Paul Nash (Mitchell the Pixel) and Bambi Gordon (Oodlies Kids) all of whom shared a little bit about how their books came about, how they hoped to see them help kids and the positive impacts they’ve seen their work have on the readers around them.

Screen shot 2013-03-28 at 11.54.45 AM

A common theme across the panel was that of their books being ‘conversation starters’ and this really seemed to resonate with the audience. These important picture books don’t just offer a small lesson in and of themselves, but further encourage children and adults to talk about worries and troubles. They help kids work out ways in which they can overcome challenges, with help and encouragement.

Making Tough Times Easier 4I absolutely loved the questions from the audience, as they teased out more about the process of writing and illustrating, as well as giving rise to a little more information on the issues that kids might face in this day and age. We had some great conversations about recognising anxiety in kids and assisting kids to recognise their troubles and ‘find their own magic.’

Making Tough Times Easier 5I’d hoped to keep the session pretty informal, and at times I really felt that we were just having a good chat about picture books. After the sit-down session there was a chance for everyone to catch up, share their own experiences and ask questions of the authors themselves.

In short, today I’m on cloud nine, and I can’t wait to hold the next TBYL Event. I’ve got some big ideas, and I can’t wait to tell you all about them!

I’ve got to say  a great big thank-you to Nicky, Leon, Paul and Bambi. I would also like to thank Joan and Linda for their help on the night, it’s greatly appreciated, I couldn’t have done it without you.

Making Tough Times Easier 2

If you’d like to purchase any of these author’s books, they’re all available now in the TBYL Store, click below for individual titles…

Go Away Mr Worrythoughts, Nicky Johnston $16.95
Happythoughts are Everywhere, Nicky Johnston $16.95
Mitchell the Pixel, Leon James Wisewould and Paul Nash $16.95
If a Smile Should Lose Its Mouth, Bambi Gordon and Joi Murugavell $15.00
What You Do Is Not Your Who, Bambi Gordon and Joi Murugavell $15.00
I Think I’ve Lost The Magic, Bambi Gordon and Joi Murugavell $15.00

And for a short time only, you can get all 6 books for just $85.85 (saving of $10.00)

Thanks again to everyone who got involved in our first event, you made it a resounding success! Stay tuned for more TBYL Events: book it in… coming soon!

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Protection: The Treasure Box

I recently received a copy of The Treasure Box, the latest picture book from Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood (Penguin).

As soon as I unwrapped the book, I was spellbound. Drawn in by Freya’s gorgeous illustrations, by the boy sitting quietly, an untold treasure sitting on his knees, I sighed and promised myself I’d saviour every page of this beautiful book.

The Treasure Box 1

The Treasure Box has been described as ‘haunting and beautiful’, and while it is sad (it’s probably most suitable for 7+ years and you might like to coach the kids through it a bit), it is a incredibly moving lesson about the strength of the human spirit and the importance of a person’s story, it’s importance to who they were, who they are now and who they will be…

When the enemy bombed the library, everything burned.

As war rages, Peter and his father flee their home, taking with them a treasure box that holds something more precious than jewels. They journey through mud and rain and long cold nights, and soon their survival becomes more important than any possession they carry.

But as years go by, Peter never forgets the treasure box, and one day he returns to find it.

The story, and more particularly, the ‘book as treasure’ theme, will sit well with book lovers. The solace and consolation that Peter’s precious treasure brings is touching, to say the least…

Charred paper, frail as butterflies, flutter in the wind. People caught the words and cupped them in their hands.

Only one book survived. A book that Peter’s father had taken home to study. A book he loved more than any other.

When the enemy ordered everyone out of their houses, Peter’s father brought out a small iron box. ‘This will keep our treasure safe,’ he said.

Freya’s skilful illustration is essential to the story being told. The subtle three-dimensional nature of the collaged pictures ‘includes’ the reader, drawing them into the page and bringing to life the scene in a very special way.

The Treasure Box 2

The story begins in muted tones, greys and browns and dusty blues, and brightens as the story progresses. By the close, as Peter’s treasure is rediscovered and shared, the illustrations become brighter, reds and blues and yellows communicate a new hope, brought to be in part by the protection of Peter’s book.

In short, this is a moving, inspiring book. Read it with your kids, they might need help understanding some of the sadder themes, and do so understanding that this is an important story of what it is to triumph and protect.

The Treasure Box is available in the TBYL Store now for $24.99 (plus p&h)

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Keep smiling: Oodlies Kids

Sometimes life can get pretty serious. Tough times can hit at anyone, and sadly, kids are not immune to the challenges that these times can present. Sometimes little ones need a bit of guidance, a bit of a pep talk, to get them smiling again.

Cue whimsy, cue delight, cue Oodlies Kids. Perfect little picture books designed to reassure, empower and entertain kids of all ages.

The Oodlies Kids books, written by Bambi Gordon and illustrated by Joi Murugavell include three great titles…

Smile should lose its mouthIf A Smile Should Lose Its Mouth, A love story for children of all ages. This beautifully rhyme-y and colourful story will help kids remember just how much you love them!

Even if a smile should lose its mouth, if a petal lost its flower or a bowl the spoon misplaced, everything will be “…right and fine as long as you are always mine.”

What You Do Is Not Your Who, A career guide for children of all ages. Perfect for that point in time when kids start to question who does what, and what that means. If you ask me, we could all probably do to have a little flick through this book from time to time, when the day-job starts to grind, and our perspective starts to shift… “even after all we do I’ll still be me and you’ll still be you…”

I think i've lost the magic

I Think I’ve Lost The Magic, A self-help book for children of all ages. I’m sure we all know this feeling, and in my experience, kids feel it too… those days when you wake up in a funk, when the day seems bleak and dreary and your magic is no where to be found. This poetic game of hide and seek, in a house populated with bright, crazy, seussical-like characters will do wonders to helps kids clamber their way back to the sunny side of the street.

All three books include fun rhymes and positive messages and their sing-song pace makes them a joy to read. The illustrations are good enough to frame (like this…) and bring the quirky stories to life and off the page.

Both Bambi and Joi do amazing work, and you might like to to check out their websites here, and here.

In the meantime, you can pick up copies of their books at the TBYL Store now for just $15 each.


Bambi Gordon and Joi Murugavell will be speaking at the upcoming TBYL Event, “Making Tough Times Easier” exploring how picture books can be used to help parents, carers and educators coach kids through challenges, helping them to become resilient and happier kids.

You can find out more about “Making Tough Times Easier” here…


The session will be held at the Wheeler Centre, CBD on Wednesday 27 March 2013 (7pm – 8pm) and you can book tickets now!




Oscar’s a little bit famous…

Today’s blog post has gone wandering and found a home over at Mums Lounge…


Oscar's journalAlthough it is tempting to just sit and play for the month of January, I also try and use the holidays to regroup, to spend a little time on the things we might neglect when we’re busy during the year. I sort clothes, clean cupboards and try and spend a little time getting the kids ready for the year to come.

My youngest is starting school next year, and I’m keen to get him in the right head-space for the classroom. I suspect that this will be important, as he’s a pretty typical boy and likes to spend most of his time moving… running, jumping, fighting invisible foes. Sitting down and writing, drawing and reading comes a poor second to these more active endeavours. I fear he’s going to get quite a shock when it’s insisted upon that he sit for more than five minutes at a time.

As such, I’ve come up with five ‘projects’ that I’m going to undertake with Oscar, to engage him a little more with reading and writing. He loves books, and so that’s where I’ll start, with lots of reading. Then I’ll extend this interest with five activities that will hopefully be fun, colourful and playful. Here’s the plan…

You can read the full article here!

Do your kids love to read and write? Did you have to encourage them? Do you have any suggestions of ways to help kids get ready for school?


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Christmas countdown can start now…

For a few years now I’ve struggled with the whole advent calendar thing. I can’t stand the ones that you find in the stores, but at the same time I just couldn’t seem to get organised enough to do something hand-made and really special (like this, for example).

This year though, I’ve managed to put a little something together. It’s not overly complicated in the making, and I think the fun will be in the execution. It combines four of my favourite things; twine, books, treasure hunts and chocolates.

First I got hold of some Christmas gift tags…

…then I wrote some numbers on them, ready for the countdown. I love Pigment Ink pens on black card!

On the reverse side I wrote some bookish clues, ready for a chocolate hunt, one each day leading up to Christmas…

I twisted up about half-a-dozed strands of twine to make a clothes-line, and then pegged each tag to it with a mini-peg. I had a couple of 3M hooks and some blue-tac lying around so I used that to string the advent calendar up on the wall.

Finally, I’ll buy some yummy chocolates and one final special gift for the night before Christmas, ready for the kids to go searching. They’ll have to work out Mummy’s favourite reading spot, Evan’s favourite books and where they’d find Dad’s stinky socks, all in order to find each day’s Christmas treat!

I hope it’ll be lots of fun for everyone!

What do you do for the Christmas Countdown?

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First stop on the Penguin-napper Tour…

I was thrilled when Sally Harris invited me to be part of her current blog tour celebrating the launch of her new book Diary of a Penguin-Napper (Frankly Books), and I was honoured to be first cab off the rank, the first stop on the Penguin-napper touring schedule. Here’s what I thought of Sally’s fun book and a few words from the author herself…


The combination of kids and books can create a lot of joy for a bookish parent – there’s nothing quite like watching a kid with their head buried in a book, gasping or giggling, depending on their preferred genre. Nonetheless, it can also present a number of challenges.

There’s the challenge of getting them to read in the first place, and secondly, should you be successful with challenge number one, there’s the further challenge of keeping up an adequate supply of new books for a veracious reader. It’s no mean feat keeping my 12-year-old’s shelves filled with new and exciting books – he reads so fast!

Sally Harris’ Diary of a Penguin-Napper is a fantastic help in meeting both these challenges…

When 11 (and a half) year old Marty is partnered up with Jessica on the overnight science trip, he thinks all of this dreams are about to come true.  It’s his big chance to impress the most beautiful girl in Year 7 (and probably the world) and he wouldn’t miss it for anything.

Only problem is: Marty can’t afford to go on the overnight trip. Yet.

Inspired by the urban myth that it is possible to steal a penguin from the zoo on a school visit, Diary of a Penguin-napper is a hilarious tale of growing up, bending the rules and how one big fuss can be caused by stealing just one little penguin.

It’s light, funny, illustrated and cheeky enough to engage any kid from start to finish. It’s light-heartenedness and mischievous characters and storyline makes it a great pick for a reluctant reader, as does the diary-style interludes which break up the text nicely, making it less daunting for newer readers. Our hero, Marty is in high school, in love and in trouble. He’d try just about anything to be able to afford to pay for the overnight excursion coming up at school, especially as it’ll give him a chance for some quality time with his major crush, girlfriend-to-be (he hopes!) Jessica…

“… To be honest, I’m feeling a bit dubious about the whole thing. Rather than make me look older, I think the outfit makes me look like a kid wearing a slightly-too-large horrible seventies suit. I wish I had some facial hair to make me look more grown up. I have even tried to cover up some of my larger pimples with some of Jen’s make-up and now my face looks about as orange as my shirt.”

One think leads to another and hilarity ensues, complete with a delightful combination of police (and parental) interrogation, tinned tuna and penguin poo.

Diary of a Penguin-Napper would suit well a wide range of readers, both boys and girls and children between about 8 and 11-years-old. It’s similar in style to favourites such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid and books by Andy Griffith and you’ll have no trouble keeping the kids engaged in this fast-paced and fun-filled story. What a great way to help get kids reading!

I was very fortunate to have a chance to have a chat with the author Sally Harris…

You’ve been writing since you were a little kid – what first drew you to story-telling?
I think the thing that first attracted me to story-telling was that you could make things up and you wouldn’t get in trouble for it.  In fact, creativity was encouraged!  Mum always gave my sister and I lots of opportunities for imaginative play as children and I think this carried over into my writing and into many other facets of life.  Now, as an adult, I find that when faced with a problem, sometimes I come up with the most elaborate and creative solution, when really there is actually a much more straightforward option available!

Also, I think that it helps that I’ve I never really stopped writing, since I first learned how.  Some people finished high school and were so pleased that they would never have to pick up a pen to be creative again.  I kept journaling and, more recently, blogging, as well as creative writing, and I think that has meant that I’ve never lost the skill or the imagination for it.

What are your favourite authors – kids and adults novels?
Have you got all day?  One of the difficulties I have as a writer is that I tend to write in the style of whatever book I am reading at the time.  I’m like a chameleon! So, I’ve worked out that when I’m working on a new story, it works best if I’m reading books by authors like Roald Dahl, David Walliams and Andy Griffiths.  I also enjoy Cathy Cassidy, Jacqueline Wilson and Enid Blyton (although the list could go on forever!)  When I take time out to read adult novels, I love reading Maeve Binchy and Lisa Jewell, who are really wonderful storytellers and craft such real characters, and I try to get through a couple of classics a year too.  There are just so many great books out there and just not nearly enough time!

What do you hope kids will like most about ‘Diary of a Penguin-Napper’?
I really hope that the story will make kids laugh.  As a teacher and in my current role as a library teacher, I know that kids (and adults) love humorous stories and they love to be entertained.  When I wrote ‘Diary of a Penguin-napper’, I really had reluctant readers in mind.  Those kids who are just not into reading, but who might get interested in books if they knew just how funny they could be.  I really wanted my book to be a title that teachers could give those children and say “Try this.  If you don’t enjoy it I’ll be surprised!”

If you had the chance, would you abscond with a penguin?
Well, if my extensive research for this book has taught me anything, it is that Little Penguins look pretty cute, small and adorable, but that they have sharp beaks.  The keepers that work with them need to be careful or wear gloves, otherwise they can get pretty good nicks on their hands because of that.  I think if I was going to steal an animal from the zoo, I’d go with something bigger and more impressive if you pulled it off.  Like an elephant or giraffe, perhaps?

What’s next on the cards? Will we hear more from Marty?
There is a second story about Marty currently on the cards and, of course, the characters of Fat, Skinny and Turds will also make an appearance.  I’m also working on some short stories and other bits and pieces, so at this stage, I don’t know which project will be finished first!  The school holidays are coming up, so I find that to be a good chance to knuckle down and get writing.


Diary of a Penguin-napper is currently available as a paperback from the TBYL Store.  You can also find it on Amazon as a paperback and for Kindle.  It is also flying off the shelves (or should that be waddling?) in a range of e-book formats from Smashwords.


Win a copy!

We hear at TBYL are pleased to be able to offer a copy of Diary of a Penguin-napper to one lucky reader!

All you need to do is email info@thatbookyoulike.com.au with the subject line PENGUIN-NAPPER and tell us which animal you would steal from the zoo if you could. Don’t forget to include your postal address in your email.

I’ll draw a winner at random on Monday 26 November 2012. I can’t wait to hear your ideas!

Finally, as part of her blog tour, Sally will be chatting with Alison Wells over at Head Above Water tomorrow.  You can find out more about Sally and her book at http://www.frankly-books.com or by following her on Twitter @frankybooks.

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Helping Kids: Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts!

The final review in our Helping Kids series is one for all those parents of little worries, of which I am one.

Interestingly, I’ve got one kid who seem to worry about nothing much at all, but another who finds himself worrying about pretty much everything (he’s a bit like his mum I’m afraid). I’ve asked him to have a read…

Today’s picture book is Nicky Johnston’s Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts! which has been written and illustrated to help and encourage children to manage and overcome their anxiety:

Bayden is an intelligent, confident and courageous boy. Yet he is often overwhelmed by his worry thoughts. His anxiety makes his life quite unbearable at times.

See how Bayden discovers his superpowers, takes control and is able to live free and happy!

I love how this story has been put together! It doesn’t try and unpick worries, and doesn’t offer complicated explanations as to the what and why of anxiety in kids. It simply suggests – to the kids themselves – that they have the power to choose not to worry.

It is empowering, sensible and gentle, offering the reader encouragement to start using their ‘superpowers’ to enjoy life and to make Mr Worrythought shrink away:

Pow! Instantly Bayden’s superpowers reduced Mr Worrythoughts to half his size.

“I am not going to listen to you anymore!” Bayden yelled.

Zap! Mr Worrythoughts shrank again.

I particularly like the fact that there are some very practical suggestions at the end of the book that kids could use to actively fight their anxiety – stress balls, letters, paper planes! It’s great advice!

The book has been beautifully illustrated by Nicky, making the story bright, attractive and accessible to kids of all ages.

You can find out more about the book and about Nicky Johnston her website. There’s also a Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts! production that provides a great avenue to support discussions around managing anxiety and worries. If you think this would be helpful to yourself or your school, why not check out more information here?

I’m definitely going to keep this book on hand for future reference, and might even try and take a lesson out of it for myself!

You can buy a copy of Go Away, Mr Worrythoughts! in the TBYL Store now, as well as copies of Nicky’s follow-up book Happythoughts are Everywhere… Shop Now!

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Helping Kids: My Mum Has Breast Cancer

Today’s instalment in our school holiday Helping Kids series is on a topic very close to my heart. The book in question was written by a good friend of mine, and has been put together to help kids work their way through a loved one being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer.

My Mum Has Breast Cancer was written by Lisa Sewards after her diagnosis with breast cancer, and has been beautifully illustrated by her son and his grandmother.

It has helped countless families (including my own) deal with the shock of a mother, aunty, grandmother, being diagnosed with breast cancer. It helps in a very real and practical way, and is incredibly touching as a story in itself.

By happy coincidence, My Mum Has Breast Cancer was reviewed this week by Babyology. Not being one to reinvent the wheel, I thought I’d share their review with you today rather than write a brand new one. You can read it here.

As well as being an author and very talented artist, Lisa is the founder of the Pink Lady Art Exhibition. This art show will be running in Brighton, Victoria on 27th and 28th October 2012. I’m involved with this show, it’s inspirational and lots of fun and raises heaps of money for some really important breast cancer organisations. You can check out their website here.

If you’d like to buy a copy of My Mum Has Breast Cancer, they’re available through the TBYL Store. For September and October, 100% of proceeds from the sale of the book will go directly to BCNA (normally, 50%) Shop here for your copy…

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