Jul 26

How I Cooked the Alphabet

by Hannah Holt »


In May, the idea for Spicy Alphabet popped into my head. From the beginning, I knew I wouldn’t try to sell it. Alphabet books are a saturated market, and several picture books about spices already exist. But I have my own website, so YIPPEE! I can indulge pet projects as much as my limited free time allows.

You can read Spicy Alphabet here. (You’ll need Flash.) Here’s the inside scoop on my most delicious project ever.

I knew I wanted to make an alphabet book about spices; however, I had to nail down the exact concept: one spice per letter, each letter would be made out of the spice (fresh herbs if possible), each page needed a food item made from the spice, the text would describe the flavor.

Then I created the thumbnails. Now this was a bit backwards. Text usually comes before thumbnails. However, since I was working with fresh herbs, I wanted to write after tasting. You can see my thumbnails are minimalistic at best. Really, I just needed to decide which spices would get a double spread.

Next I collected the spices. Best treasure hunt ever. If you can imagine my toddlers playing with cans of squid while I poked my nose around the vegetable section of a tiny Vietnamese market, you’ll get a taste for the experience.

Take photos: Once I had the herbs, I arranged them into alphabetic letters. I took 190 photos as part of this project. The white background was mostly copy paper. For wet items, I used a plastic plate.

Cook: Each herb needed a food item. I prepared 14 of the dishes featured in this book. The rest are photos of candies, herb variations, or preprepared items. My children elected themselves heads of taste-testing.

(My oldest tasting the lime zest muffin batter… The muffins didn’t make the final cut.)

Take more pictures: Once the dish finished cooking I needed photos of the final product.

Edit the photos and add them to the template: Each spread is a collage of four or more photos. I used a white background as my standard for combining the pictures into one image.

Here’s my basic double-spread template. Pink is one page, blue the other. The black areas are guidelines for formatting uniformity:

Here’s a sample of two unedited photos copied and pasted together:

I used Gimp to edit my photos. It’s open source (free) software and fairly user friendly. Even writers who feel a little clumsy with visual effects can benefit from it. Here are a few of the main Gimp tools I used for this project.

First –> Under the Color menu pick “Curves.” Pull the curve upwards to brighten the photo.

Second –> Under the Color menu pick “Brightness-Contrast.” Increase the contrast to sharpen the image.

Lastly–> Increasing contrast can oversaturate the photo (especially in the oranges and yellows). So under the Color menu pick “Hue-Saturation.” Decrease the saturation by a few numbers, and you’ll have a clear and bright photo.

Am I forgetting something? Oh yes, then I wrote the book. I’d sit at my computer, an herb in hand. I’d smell it, bite it, and look it over. I’d let the flavor tickle the roof of my mouth and drift into the back of my throat. Then I’d try to capture the unique flavor in three kid-friendly adjectives or less. I wasn’t always successful.

After I put all the pages together, I had a few of my nearest and dearests review the book and check for typos. I usually have a critique group for this kind of thing, but at the moment I’m in between groups. Darn cross-country move. A huge thank you to all my first readers! Of course I needed to make revisions, and we went back and forth until everything felt right.

Lastly my husband imported all the jpeg images into the flash program he designed (from scratch!), and I uploaded the final file to my digital library. If you like the flash book, there are a few similar products out there. I haven’t tried any of them. However, if you would like your own digital library, you don’t need a degree in computer programming to accomplish it.

Each book in my library took me a couple hundred hours to compile (not including writing time). I don’t sleep well when I’m enthralled with a project.

I could go on about things like: why I’m not selling Spicy Alphabet on a digital platform, or how this fits into my long range plan. However, this post is already waxing long. If you have other questions, I’d be happy to answer them in the comment section.

Thank you readers! You make my day. Please take a moment to visit my Facebook page. I post exclusive crafts, additional videos, and secret recipes. If you aren’t following my Facebook page, you’re missing more than half the Lightbulb fun.

See you around!

Nov 28

Bejeweled Stars and Moons Snack

by Hannah Holt »


Instead of the traditional orange in your stocking, ask Santa to bring you these tropical treats this year.

What you’ll need:

  • Star Fruit (also called Carambola)
  • Persimmon
  • Pomegranate

(These fruits are usually found next to the Pineapples and other fresh tropical fruits in the produce section.)

Step 1) Gently wash all the fruits.

Step 2) To prepare the star fruit remove ends, thinly slice off the star’s points, and cut crosswise.

Step 3) To prepare the persimmon slice crosswise and remove the skin. (The skin is edible, but it’s a little chewy.)

Step 4) To prepare the pomegranate remove the ends (note: pomegranates will stain wooden cutting boards, so place a paper towel down first).

Score the pomegranate four times along the outer edges.

Place the pomegranate in a bowl of water and break into four pieces, using the score marks as guides.

Separate the pomegranate pulp from the juicy seeds under the water. (This helps eliminate staining from juice squirts and aids separation. The seeds will sink and the pulp will float.)

Drain the seeds and discard pulp.

Step 5) Decorate a plate with stars (star fruit), moons (persimmons), and jewels (pomegranate seeds).

I hope you enjoy this celestial snack!

Aug 17

Two Books for Beginning Readers

by Hannah Holt »


School is just around the corner. With that in mind, I have two new books for the free reading library.

The simple and playful texts of these books will help new readers gain confidence. Younger children might read with a parent, while older children can read by themselves.

I hope your school year gets off to a great start, and I hope these books give young readers a boost.

Book #1: I Can!

Summary: Come join Sam as he plays, jumps and learns to read.

Teaching Concept: Verbs. This book centers around seven common verbs: sit, stand, run, look, jump, play, and read. Each verb is used twice and is illustrated.

Possible Discussion Topics: What is a verb? What activities can you do by yourself? What do you need help with?

Sight words: Click here for a flashcard sheet with all the words from I Can!  (pdf)

Classroom Copies: Click here for a condensed printable version of the book (pdf).

Art Project: Have children make an I Can! collage with magazine pictures of activities they like to do.

Suggested Games/Activities: Follow the leader, Have children act out each verb as you read the book.

Book #2: What is it?

Summary: Jacob has hidden a toy. Can you guess what it is?

Teaching Concepts: Nouns and making guesses.

Possible Discussion Topics: What is a noun? How can you come up with a good guess? Is each hidden object a person, place, or thing?

Sight words: Click here for printable flashcards with all the words from What is it!  (pdf)

Classroom Copies: Click here for a printable booklet of What is it! (pdf)

Art Project: Children can make their own What is it? book. Draw a classroom object on each page of the book. Then cover the drawing by gluing a tissue paper flap over the top. Consider having children write clues about each object (its color or shape).

Suggested Games/Activities: 1) I Spy. 2) 20 Questions 3) Bring a blanket to class. Have one child close her eyes while another child picks a small object in the classroom to hide. Cover the object in the blanket. Have the first child try to guess the object by feeling it through the blanket.

If a child is comfortable reading both these books, they might also enjoy reading The Sun Came Out (also in the bookshelf).