This time of year, we are all busy shopping. Admittedly, I spend hours trying to find the perfect gift that would make each person I shop for feel special! Isn’t that part of the beauty in giving and gifting? While I sometimes click the “place order” button in my Amazon Cart, my preference is to support small business and people in our local community.

I’d love to put a spotlight on my neighbor and friend, Marie Hinkle, a schoolteacher and educator of 21 years and now children’s author. I’ve known Marie for almost 5 years, but only recently did I learn of her lifelong dream of publishing a book.

Marie is the mother of 3 amazing children. Her husband was active-duty navy during early motherhood, where he was deployed for months at a time. She has always been passionate about writing and found herself doing so in her free time. Her husband encouraged her to explore publishing and Marie was courageous enough to pursue her dream. She sought out a course on self-publishing, found her own illustrators and editors, and with all great things, endured bumps along the way. But after a year of hard work, her first book was published!

Unique and Me became reality in March. This sweet story celebrates the unique qualities that make each of us special. How timely for our world right now! In my opinion, every child could benefit from this read! (Honestly, adults could too.)

Her second book was published just a few weeks ago. When Daddy Goes Away seeks to help children process the emotional journey of a parent’s deployment. She uses her own experiences to help others in a beautiful way. Look for the huge jar of Hershey kisses! This is how she helped her children countdown the days for Daddy’s arrival home: one kiss every day!

Marie has written 3 other books that will surely be as inspirational, warm, and uplifting. There is one special detail that I needed to share: As you read her books, look for the lady bugs. Marie had a special bond with her late aunt who loved lady bugs. Marie’s included lady bugs throughout each book as a way to honor her memory. Although most readers will never know the meaning, I found this personal touch to be what makes Marie so special herself.

Marie’s story is a wonderful example of the joy of following your dreams! Though her life as a teacher, mother, and wife keep her calendar full, she found the time to follow her passion to our benefit. I’m looking forward to sharing both her story and her books as gifts this holiday season. As you do your own shopping, I encourage you to look a little closer to home. Some of the most creative and one-of-a-kind presents come from small businesses and it’s particularly important to support them this year.