Teachers and Parents:  This is the first in a series I will be posting especially for you.

Going on a PATTERN Hunt

An Extension Activity for Pre-Readers (and Emergent-Readers too!)

Seeing and recognizing patterns are important skills for pre-readers. They lay the ground work for understanding words and stories. With that in mind, here are some fun pattern-related activities you and your child might enjoy after reading “Goodnight, Ark”.

Picture Patterns: Each page of “Goodnight, Ark” is full colors and patterns. Colors alternate.  Shapes are repeated (ex: round apples, crescent-shaped bananas, rectangular netting). Stripes and dots abound.  Look carefully, and you’ll even find swirls. As you explore Jane’s wonderful illustrations, see how many visual patterns you and your child can find. Afterwards, grab crayons and paper and make your own patterns.  Or go on a pattern hunt around your house looking for fun visual patterns in curtains, plants, tiles etc.

Text Patterns: The text, too, is patterned visually. Pre-readers might enjoy examining the lay out of words. With your child, notice how the text is clumped into verses. Count how many lines are in each verse (four) and note that this is a repeating pattern throughout the story.

Sound Patterns: When you read the story aloud you’ll note that the sounds of the words form their own patterns as well. With your child, listen for sound patterns. Each verse contains rhyming words at the end of the 2nd and 4th lines (ex: dash/crash, slide/glide). There are also words that repeat one right after the other (ex: rain/rain, pop/pop ping/ping).  Another pattern young listeners might notice are the repeating beginning sounds in within some lines (ex: zip/zing, squee/squee/squawk!). After exploring these various sound patterns, you and your child might enjoy making a game of creating your own sound patterns using rhyme, repetition, and alliteration.

NOTE: This activity was first featured on the terrific preschool blog, Our Out-of-Sync Life.  If you head over there before 6:00 am July 31st, 2014 you can enter a giveaway to win a copy of “Goodnight, Ark”.

BOOK TRAILER: Goodnight, Ark

GOODNIGHT, ARK is available for pre-order now at your favorite on-line or brick-and-mortar bookstore.  The official release date is August 5th, 2014… that’s in 11 days and counting!  There was a “book trailer reveal” this week over at the delightful preschool mommy blog: Our Out-of-Sync Life.  Head on over there, if you’d like, for a book giveaway (no entries after 6:00 am CST July 31st).

15, 14, 13…. The Countdown for GOODNIGHT, ARK is on!

IMG_0727With 15 days to go until GOODNIGHT, ARK officially releases, I’ve been busy getting ready. Who knew there would be so much to do! Well, I guess veteran authors would know, but this is my first release day. Here are just a few of the things I’ve had on my to-do list:

1. Finalize my blog tour. Answer Q&A’s, write guest blog posts, confirm dates etc.

2. Order craft supplies for my launch event on August 5th. I found an AWESOME Noah’s ark sticker activity that the kids are going to LOVE while their parents stand in line to get their books signed.

3. Strategize how best to use the stunning bookmarks the Zonderkidz  marketing team created to help promote the book. (Pictured above!)

4. Name the adorable skunk puppet I got to accompany me on book signings and school visits.  My kid’s think “Stinky” suits him best. Thoughts?IMG_0728

5. Brainstorm and then write extension activities and crafts for teachers/parents to use after reading GOODNIGHT, ARK.

6. Set up a Skype account and then practicing using it so I’m ready to go on a virtual blog tour to classrooms everywhere this fall!

7. Bake cookies with my daughter so we can have pairs of animal cookies, wrapped in cellophane, to hand out to family and friends as part of  the “book birthday” celebration. This task is 100% my daughter’s idea. Isn’t she sweet and artistic?photo 2

8. Promote my upcoming events with flyers and posters. (Thank you, Zonderkidz team, for making these a reality!)

9. Remember to BREATHE and ENJOY the process…  




GUEST POST: “Henny Penny and Penny Lenny” by Penny Parker Klostermann


Please join me in welcoming guest blogger and picture book author Penny Parker Klostermann.  Penny and I met at the Poets’ Garage, an online critique group dedicated to critiquing poetry.  I quickly grew to love her excellent metrical ear and her wonderful sense of humor.  Her debut book, THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON (Random House), will hit shelves everywhere in Fall 2o15.  In the meantime, I know she’s busy writing up a storm and I’m tickled that she has agreed to write a post.  Take it away, Henny, I mean Penny!

When Laura asked me to guest post, I decided I wanted to do something with Henny Penny. It seemed packed with good advice:

Don’t panic.
Don’t follow the crowd.
Don’t believe everything you hear.
Don’t get lured into a fox’s den.
Well maybe not the last one, but the first three were perfect for a blog post.

Another direction I could’ve gone would be to compare this story to what sells in today’s market. I don’t think a fox snapping off the heads of Henny Penny’s friends would fly ☺

But then I started thinking about why I even remembered this story from childhood. The most obvious was because my name is Penny. To be exact, my name is Penny Len. Often I was called Penny Lenny which is so close to Henny Penny ☺ But I loved the other characters names, too. They were so silly and fun to say—Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, Turkey Lurkey and Foxy Loxy.  So, I decided to let the characters lead the way and use their silly names to talk about a few things I have learned related to writing picture books.

Henny Penny with names

Cocky Locky-I shouldn’t be cocky about my writing. I shouldn’t think my first draft is perfection. My first draft isn’t anything more than a first draft. I may feel like it’s a genius story when I write the last word, but really the manuscript is just starting its journey to possible geniusness ☺  On the journey I must be willing to sift through structure and plot. I must be willing to examine each sentence and each word and then revise. I must be willing to listen to my critique partners, which is an essential step in my writing process. They keep me from being cocky. They point out what is working and what is not. I must not get defensive as I read their comments. I must learn from them in order to improve my manuscript. Cockiness will get me nowhere.

Ducky Lucky-Some say that luck is involved in publishing. Maybe it is to a small degree. But I, for one, don’t want to rely on luck. I’d rather take advantage of the resources provided by SCBWI. I’d rather take writing classes and attend conferences. I’d rather follow blogs that talk about all things writing. I’d rather read in my genre and study mentor texts to benefit my writing.  I’d rather be writing, writing, writing. Yep! I’d rather rely on hard work than luck.

Goosey Loosey-I need to make sure my text doesn’t run loose. I write picture books, after all. I need to make every word the best word choice. I need to cut text that will be evident in the illustrations. I need to keep a tight rein on my text. As a writer I tend to read picture books with a critical eye. Not in a criticizing way, but in a learning way. I notice when the marriage between text and illustrations works well or seems off kilter. I know I can’t tell my illustrator what to draw, but I think my best bet of ending up with a perfect marriage that will celebrate many anniversaries on shelves is to think through every word as I write my manuscripts. I want to do my best to pave the way for the illustrator to tell their part of the story by keeping my text tight and not loose.

Turkey Lurkey-Writer’s who want to get published can’t just lurk. With the Internet and the abundance of social media, it is very easy to feel a part of the writing world without doing a lick of writing. I can read about writing 24/7 if I choose to. There are plenty of free resources so it’s easy to sit back and lurk instead of spending time with my keyboard. I’m not suggesting that I isolate myself but rather find a healthy balance. I guess it can be likened to eating healthy and counting calories. They say if you really want to know what you’re eating you should keep track of it and make better decisions based on your habits. I know some days I get in WAY too many Internet calories. So I must be aware of this and load my plate with plenty of keyboard time, making sure my portion of lurking isn’t throwing my writing diet askew.

Foxy Loxy- Foxy was hungry. Foxy was foxy. And Foxy was pretty smart, too! He took in the landscape around him and considered it as he made his move to get what he wanted. I want to be somewhat like Foxy. Not that I want to eat a rooster, a duck, a goose, and a turkey . . . but I want to take note of my landscape and consider it as I make my moves and write my manuscripts. I can’t ignore what appeals to editors and publishing houses. I need to watch what is going on in the picture book world.  At the same time, I can’t listen to the negative things in my head. If I hear the sky is falling due to rejections or the slowness of the industry, I must focus on my hunger and work smart. I must be foxy!

Henny Penny-It’s her story! She’s the star. So what did she do right? Well, let’s face it . . . she knew how to draw a crowd. When she got hit over the head with a fantastic idea, she went with it. She developed it. Her words were few, but compelling. Repetition and rhythm reigned. The sky is falling! The sky is falling! (I know I’ve felt that way when I’ve been working on a story!) And even though she panicked for a bit, she came out ahead in the end . . .  well she came out with a head

And there you have it—the things I halve learned from Henny Penny and her fellow characters as they relate to my writing!
Don’t be cocky!
Don’t count on luck!
Don’t let your text run loose.
Don’t over-lurk!
Be foxy!
And learn from Henny Penny—keep your head in the writing game and you’ll come out ahead in the end ☺

Penny Parker Klostermann-photoPenny Parker Klostermann writes picture books and poetry for children. Her debut book, THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON, is coming from Random House Children’s, Fall 2015. Penny has been known to hug her favorite picture books and seriously hopes that someday her books will gain huggable status too.


PLAYING THE ACCORDION: Thoughts on Trying New Things

photoMy husband and I recently returned from a lovely week in Paris. One afternoon, after spending the day walking and sightseeing, we stopped at a little pub near the Place de L’Odéon. The beer was refreshing, but what really captured my interest was the entertainment. Just outside, two men (pictured above) were performing reggae with voice and accordion.  That’s right – accordion!

I, too, could have joined in, had only I been willing to try something new way back in 7th grade. I was a shy child and my mother worried that I would struggle to make friends. I was about to start school at an enormous junior high in the U.S after four years attending a much smaller school in Paris, France.

You can imagine my mother’s delight when her wonderful, full-of-life friend, Leona, offered to help me break in by teaching me to play the accordion. Just think, my mother reasoned, after a few lessons, I could soon be the “it girl”, pulling out my accordion at all those junior high get-togethers.

I shuddered at the idea and flatly refused the offer. So, alas, I will never know how my life might have differed had I taken up the accordion. It would certainly have taken the role of “class mom” or “visiting school author” to a whole new level.

I’m better at trying new things now – especially when it comes to writing. After all, it’s when we stretch ourselves by writing a scene from a new angle, or trying a new genre, or experimenting with point of view, that our writing grows.  And that growth is what makes the writing process so exciting, at least for me. I may not play the accordion (yet), but this week I plan to stretch myself by working on a new story that unfolds backwards. I’ve never done that before, but, oom-pah-pah, it sure sounds fun… almost as fun as playing the accordion!

Happy writing, all!

ALA Las Vegas 2014: GOODNIGHT, ARK Book Signing

photo 2I returned home from Las Vegas last night energized after a whirlwind trip to the ALA Annual Convention to do my first book signing at the Zonderkidz booth in Exhibit Hall at the convention center.

photo 1The Zonderkidz sales team did a terrific job getting the booth ready for the signing with 216 books neatly stacked on either side of the signing table.

photo 5They also did a smash up job spreading the word. Indeed, the line to get books signed began forming early – at 9:15 – and quickly stretched around the corner like a long snake!

photo 2I signed books nonstop until I ran out at just past 10:30.  I loved interacting with each and every book enthusiast who stopped by to get a signed copy.  My hand was tired by the time I signed copy no. 216, but it was worth it!

photo 3Thank you, Zonderkidz for flying me out and thank you, librarians, for your enthusiastic response to GOODNIGHT, ARK!


GUEST BLOG: Sincerely Yours – What I Learned from an 18 Foot Naked Guy by Jane Sutcliffe

StoneGiant_jkt_300Today I am delighted to have children’s author and biographer Jane Sutcliffe as my guest.  She’s here to celebrate the April release of  STONE GIANT: MICHELANGELO’S DAVID AND HOW HE CAME TO BE (Charlesbridge).  She and I also share a book birthday!  Her next book, THE WHITE HOUSE IS BURNING: AUGUST 24, 1814 (Charlesbridge), and my GOODNIGHT, ARK both hit shelves on August 5th!  We’ll have to blow out some virtual book birthday candles together!  In the meantime, in honor of STONE GIANT, I’ve asked her to ponder the arts of sculpting and writing.  Take it away, Jane!

Like a lot of nonfiction writers, I have a serious research habit. I never seem to be able to avoid getting pulled into my subject until I’m up to my virtual elbows in quotes and anecdotes. It’s not that I’m procrastinating. (Well, OK, maybe a little.) It’s my way of getting a handle on my subject before I start to write. There is a certain comfort in knowing that, if I’ve done my research well, my story is already there. It’s right there in all those details, just waiting to be revealed in the writing.

Michelangelo would have understood perfectly. When I researched and wrote my picture book Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be, I was struck by how similar sculpting is to creating a nonfiction story. The first time the artist saw the stone that would become his masterpiece, he saw more than a huge block of weatherworn marble. He saw David—his David, the David we have come to know so well. Michelangelo saw his task as simply carving away what was not David.

Well, maybe not simply. The David is about as perfect a sculpture as perfect gets, after all. Not all sculptors had Michelangelo’s vision or genius. Sometimes mistakes were made. Sometimes a bit too much of the stone was chipped off. When that happened some sculptors disguised their blunders by mixing a bit of stone dust with wax and then working the mixture into the void. Needless to say, this made for an inferior sculpture. A sculpture without any such imperfections was much more highly prized and could be advertised as being sine cere, literally “without wax.” It’s where we get the word “sincere.”

What a perfect word to describe the responsibility of a nonfiction writer. I am sort of a sculptor of words. My job is to recognize the story that’s waiting in the research and to carve away whatever doesn’t belong. And never, EVER, to add anything extra. I will never write anything as perfect as the David, but I will always write sincerely.

Sincerely yours,

Jane Sutcliffe

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJane Sutcliffe is the author of over two dozen nonfiction books for young readers. Her most recent picture book is Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be (Charlesbridge). Look for The White House is Burning: August 24, 1814, to be released by Charlesbridge this summer. Jane lives on a farm in Tolland, Connecticut, with her husband, two sons, three goats, and one very spoiled dog named Willy.

To learn more, be sure to visit Jane’s website.  She’s also active on Twitter and Facebook.

*Please note:  I will be taking a blog vacation for the remainder of June, but will be back on July 7th with a brand new post!  Happy writing, all!

Look What Arrived in the Mail! (And GOODNIGHT, ARK “Save the Dates”)

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What a delightful surprise last week to receive a mysterious package from Zonderkidz with a real-life, fully-bound copy of GOODNIGHT, ARK! They did such a nice job bringing this project together. Jane Chapman’s illustrations are fabulous, the text is fun, and – squee! – the title letters are bumpy! I can’t wait until GOODNIGHT, ARK is released on August 5th so you can join me as we ride on the ark with Noah and his furry, feathered, and swishy-tailed guests.

Now in anticipation of GOODNIGHT, ARK’s release, it’s time to start saving some dates! (More to come…stayed tuned.)

Sunday, June 29th, 9:30 – 10:30 am. Join me for a pre-launch book signing at the ALA’s Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada (Exhibit Hall, Booth 0508).

Tuesday, August 5th 6:00-8:00 pm. Celebrate LAUNCH DAY at a special GOODNIGHT, ARK story time/book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Springfield, New Jersey.


OLD FAVORITE: Thoughts on Being a Late Bloomer

Since I was having such a lovely time with family this beautiful weekend (and since everything is in such splendid bloom), I decided to post an old favorite.  Enjoy!

I still miss the Korean Dogwood that graced our old front yard. Every year it was the very last to bloom in our neighborhood. Long after the forsythia had turned from yellow to green and the cherry and apple trees had not only bloomed, but lost their blossoms, it still stood green, but flower-less. Then, just when folks began to wonder if it would ever bloom, out popped the creamiest four-petaled blossoms I’ve ever seen. Set against the dogwood’s thick foliage, the blossoms were so stunning, passersby often stopped to admire them.

I began my writing career in that house and that tree became an annual reminder that it’s okay to take your time learning and improving the craft. In fact, it’s better not to rush into subbing manuscripts until you’ve really honed your writing skills. When I look back at my earliest pieces, I’m amazed at how stilted, clumsy and rough they are. It has taken years of writing daily, reading, studying the craft, attending conferences, and participating in peer critique to develop into the writer I am today.

Writing is not a race to get published. Rather it’s a beautiful journey to be savored and enjoyed. So, enjoy the process and remember, it’s okay to bloom in your own time.

INTERVIEW: A Chat with Picture Book Author Lori Degman in Celebration of the Release of COCK-A-DOODLE OOPS!

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Join me in welcoming fellow rhymer and picture book author, Lori Degman, whose brand new picture book, COCK- A-DOODLE OOPS! (Creston Books) hits shelves tomorrow! She is also the author of ONE ZANY ZOO (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010) which won the 2008 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories New Author Contest. Well, let’s get started.

LAURA: Thanks so much for joining us. I always love chatting with authors – especially authors who love playing with meter and rhyme as much as I do.

LORI: Thanks so much for having me, Laura! I feel the same way – there’s nothing like talking to another rhyme geek!

LAURA: The premise of COCK-A-DOODLE OOPS! – in which Rooster takes a vacation, leaving the responsibility of waking the farmer to the other animals – is adorable. What inspired you to create this story? Did you perhaps grow up with a rooster at home?

LORI: No, I didn’t grow up with a rooster or live anywhere near a farm (though my brother used to make strange animal-like noises sometimes). I’m not sure where I got the idea for the story. Originally, I wanted to write a “boy who cried wolf” type of story and I thought it would be funny if a rooster crowed at all times of the day, out of boredom – or maybe he had insomnia – something like that. Anyway, that story somehow morphed into rooster leaving the other animals to do his job. At first he went on strike but that was a negative concept so I had him go on a vacation instead.

LAURA: Writing a picture book is hard enough, let alone adding the extra elements of rhythm and rhyme.  But as the reviews attest, you have a gift for it. The Kirkus Review, for example, describes COCK-A-DOODLE OOPS! as full of “puns and foolery pitched just right for newly independent readers” and they praise you as having a “gift for rhymes and language that is clever rather than forced”. What’s your secret for great story-telling?

LORI: I’m very flattered by the comments in the Kirkus Review! I really think the secret to writing good rhyme is persistence (good writing of any kind, for that matter). I’ll admit, I have a good ear for rhythm and that helps a lot! But, I work painstakingly to make every beat work so it flows smoothly. Also, my love for puns comes in really handy when writing in rhyme and especially about animals. There’s so much material to choose from.

LAURA: I can tell from your website that you have a barn-full of great book launch events and opportunities for your readers. Tell us a little bit about what you have planned.

LORI: My first book launch will be on Saturday, May 10th at 11:00 at Anderson’s Bookshops in Naperville, IL. My second launch (along with Deborah Zemke) will be on Saturday, May 17th at 11:00 at The Magic Tree Bookstore in Oak Park, IL. On Friday night, May 16th at 6:30 pm, Deborah and I will be at The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL for a storytime. All three events will include an interactive reading of the book, animal masks for the kids to color and of course, snacks!

LAURA: Finally, teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

LORI: A writer friend of mine, Marcie Colleen, created a teacher’s guide for me and it’s great! She ties the activities to different areas of the curriculum. Teachers and parents can find it on my website or they can download it for free from Teachers Pay Teachers. There are also coloring pages kids can download – they’re masks of each of the animals (created by illustrator, Deborah Zemke) to color and cut out.

LAURA: Thanks so much for joining us today, Lori.  To learn more about Lori and her books visit her website and blog.  She’s also active on Twitter and Facebook.  Her books are available at bookstores everywhere or online.

LORI: Thanks so much again, Laura! This was a lot of fun!