The Best of the West

Recently, I was delighted to connect with writer and musician, Mifflin Lowe. His latest children’s book, The True West (Bushel & Peck, 2020), is a journey to the American West and focuses on the individuals often left out of the popular narratives. Here we meet African American, Latino, Asian, and American Indian soldiers, inventors, workers, pioneers, cowboys…AND cowgirls! Filled with historic photos, amazing facts, helpful definitions, and illustrations by Wiliam Luong, it’s a fantastic, fascinating, and dynamic resource. I lassoed Mifflin for a few questions about his work…

How did this project come to be?

I wrote a picture book and an animated film called The Awesome, Amazing, Occasionally Incredible Adventures of Cowboy Howie, about a mixed race boy from New York City who dreamed of being a cowboy. In his imagination the city’s canyons turned into the Grand Canyon, dogs became wolves, pigeons became eagles etc.

What was the research like for the book? Did you, for example, get a hankering to visit some Western locations? Saddle up Old Paint?

Research was fascinating. I did it mostly online and I learned a ton about the people and the life in the West. The people were all tough and I mean that in the best possible way — the were incredibly resilient from Calamity Jane to Stagecoach Mary Fields to Fox Hastings to Bass Reeves.

Mary Fields

Who was your favorite person to research?

Well maybe Annie Oakley – she was under 5 foot tall and could shoot a dime thrown in the air at 20 paces, and shoot while standing on the back of a galloping horse. Also, Bass Reeves who was a Black lawman who arrested over 3,000 criminals — more than Wild Bill Hickok and Wyatt Earp put together. Bass is supposedly the person the Lone Ranger was based on. Bass always left silver dollar at the scene of a crime he’d solved — like the Lone Ranger did with his silver bullets. Also, Jackson Sundown, the Native American rodeo rider who was probably the best ever and Mamie Hafely who used to jump off a five story tower on the back of her horse into a pool of water

Jackson Sundown

What’s one thing that surprised you when working on this book?

How strong, determined and hard working all these people were. They never gave up and never gave in.

Chinese Railroad Workers

In the Calamity Jane chapter, you mention the “flat-out cool’ nicknames from the Wild West. What would your nickname be?

Mr. Smartypants, maybe? Naw, I don’t know… maybe Muffin… like Mifflin…people sometimes make the mistake.

Muffin Lowe


Images courtesy of Mifflin Lowe and Bushel & Peck Books. Illustrations by Wiliwam Luong.

The 12 Month, 46 Hour Library

When Katie saw this DIY miniature library online, she  was entranced. It’s perfectly adorable with its tiny little books and knick knacks on the bookshelves and darling framed pictures and actual working chandelier with four lights. But she did NOT love the lengthy process of constructing it. It took 46 hours. 46 HOURS. Katie, share with us your epic journey…


I built the Rolifé DIY Miniature House: Sam’s Study (DG102), which can be purchased on the Rolifé website for $47.99. There is another company, Hands Craft, that makes a similar, if not identical kit. You can purchase their version of Sam’s Study on Amazon for $35.85. There is an age suggestion of 14+.

The kit arrives with a multitude of wood, fabric, and paper parts and pieces to construct the library, as well as small bottles of white latex and liquid glue, tweezers, white paint and a small paint brush. You will need to have a few additional tools to help with the construction: a ruler with millimeters, scissors, needle nose pliers, screwdriver, pencil and a binder clip.

I also highly suggest having a glue stick, another option of super glue (I used Krazy glue with an applicator brush), and a pair of small sharp scissors (I bought a pair of 4.5 inch nano detail scissors). Even though the kit claims batteries are included, you may need to purchase a pair of CR2032 Lithium 3V batteries for the chandelier.

There is an instruction manual packed with photographs and detailed steps to create the miniature library. I followed the manual very closely, making sure I had the correct pieces for each of the cabinets by using the included part number illustration paper.

So many pieces! So much glue! Oftentimes I had to be creative with figuring out ways to assist the various parts to hold together as the glue dried. Elastic hair bands for the win!
When I reached the section to build the sofa – it’s actually a wingback armchair – I was riding a wave of confidence. I had put together six dressers, cabinets, and bookshelves and a ladder without much difficulty.

The petite handles for the doors and drawers were a challenge, but I was able to create them. Surely I could make an armchair.

Surely not.

I created one side of the armchair and my fingers were so completely covered in glue, I was forced to give up. I couldn’t pick up the red fabric or the bottle of glue without it being nearly impossible to put back down. Defeated, I set aside the armchair.

My next challenge was cutting, folding and pasting the roughly 130 paper books, boxes and paintings that fill the shelves and walls of the bookstore. I started snipping with my 9 inch pair of scissors, and it didn’t take me long to realize I needed a much smaller pair in order to save time and my sanity. I was able to cut through the paper much faster with the 4.5 inch scissors, but it took a while to fold the little books and boxes and glue them all together. I used the glue stick and a q-tip to apply glue to the narrow paper edges, which greatly helped speed up the process.

The pièce de résistance was constructing the walls and floor of the bookstore, as well as creating the realistic chandelier that provided the gentle glowing light. The bookstore was relatively easy. The chandelier was complicated. And frustrating. And it nearly didn’t happen because I almost ran out of wire necessary to provide electricity to the bulbs.

Despite trying to be very careful while cutting and stringing the fragile wires, I cut some and broke others. It took many long hours (and the utterance of many bad words) to bring the light to life. I can fully understand why some who left online reviews of the kit simply gave up on the chandelier. Trust me, I almost did.

finished walls and light 2I was just about ready to furbish the bookstore, but I still had to finish the wing back armchair. The various bits and pieces of the chair were ready to go, but I was not looking forward to the actual construction. Begrudgingly, I used every last bit of my dogged patience to put the chair together. It’s not pretty, in fact it’s far from perfect. One side of the chair is slightly taller than the other and there are many areas of the wood frame showing through the red cloth, but I finished it.

Now came the fun part – decorating! The instruction manual had generic photos showing where the furniture needed to go, but you can decide where the books and decorations go. There were many times I needed to use the provided tweezers to glue a tiny framed picture on the wall next to a bookshelf, place a minuscule pamphlet in a specific area, or put the bitty silver coffee mug on top of a book. After all of the irritation I had while building the kit, decorating the bookstore was quite cathartic.

The miniature library is amazing. There are so many charming little touches and details that you could stare at it for hours. Even the red wing back armchair, in all its misshapen glory, looks fantastic nestled in the corner with a pile of books resting on the seat.

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Dr. Dana and I had a bet as to how long it was going to take me to finish the library. She said 25 hours, I guessed it would take much longer. I was right – it took nearly 46 hours.
Now that I am done putting the kit together, I think it is safe to say that I completely overestimated my technical crafting abilities when manipulating small parts and pieces. It is also safe for me to say that I will try to avoid doing another one of these types of projects in the future. I would recommend it for adults who have tremendous patience and dedication to lengthy projects.

May the teeny-tiny crafting kit odds be ever in your favor.

Studio Snapshots: Jessica Love

Today we’re visiting author and illustrator, Jessica Love! Her debut picture book, Julián is a Mermaid (Candlewick, 2018), is the story of a young boy who loves mermaids and dresses up like one. And, under the loving acceptance of his Abuela, joins others in a costumed parade. Gorgeously illustrated, the book was a 2019 recipient of the Stonewall Book Awards, sponsored by the Rainbow Round Table of the American Library Association.

Her newest book is the radiant Julián at the Wedding (Candlewick, 2020). You can visit Jessica’s Instagram and webpage  (and make sure to check out the custom murals she did)!


My fiancé and I moved to this piece of property just as the lockdown was kicking into gear. We are both artists (Daniel is a furniture maker) and had been looking for some land with buildings we could both work on for years.

When we found this place it had an old barn for his woodshop, and a one room schoolhouse which we would convert into my studio. The schoolhouse was not insulated, had no running water or electricity and was the place of residence of three, 6 foot long black snakes.

Schoolhouse Snake_2Over the course of several months, Daniel transformed the place–he put in windows, did the electrical wiring, and even some ad-hoc plumbing so I could have a functioning sink. He built custom cabinetry, insulated the whole building, hung drywall on the ceiling and made beautiful maple plywood wall finishes, with custom paneling.

Schoolhouse 8_1The result is that every surface in my work studio was lovingly hand-made. I get to work inside a present.

Schoolhouse 10_1The snakes still live around the building, but we respect each other, and keep our distance. I consider them my co-workers.


Images courtesy of Jessica Love