Summer writing pic

With the lazy days of summer almost upon us, it’s time (at least at our house) to think of ways to keep up those writing skills and maybe even foster a little LOVE for writing!  Here, then, are TEN ideas inspired by the interests of my kids.  Use the ideas as presented, or adapt them to the interests of your kiddos. Either way, enjoy!

  1. Keep a summer scrapbook/ journal of all the fun things you have done.  Entries can be as short or as long as your child is able/willing.  Include drawings, photos and clippings from brochures, postcards etc. No matter how reluctant they are, if they are at all like my daughter, they will enjoy seeing the “book” that emerges over the summer – little bitty writing steps that over time turn into a treasured keepsake!
  2. Bake a batch of tasty words! Kids love cooking with mom or dad, so why not sweeten the writing process by writing some original recipes!  Make this a weekly project and you could have a lovely recipe booklet by the end of summer. (Now wouldn’t that make a precious holiday gift for the special people in your life?)
  3. Write a letter of appreciation to your favorite author, athlete, or artist. My daughter recently wrote one to a ballerina at the London Royal Ballet.  Not only did she have fun writing the letter, it also was a great lesson in addressing an envelope.
  4. Pretend to be a sportscaster. Head to the little league field or watch a baseball game on tv.  Keep a running narrative of what’s happening in the game.  Use sporty verbs and phrases like “up to bat” “he rounds second”  “and it’s out of the ball park” etc. This was a big hit with my son when he was younger.  (He filled page after page covering, not just baseball, but hockey and football too!)
  5. Have a party! Have your child make and send their own invitations for a summer sprinkler party (or the fun event of your child’s choosing). Writing invitations is a great way to practice organizing and sharing important information – who, what, where, when, etc.  Don’t forget to include a catchy description of the party theme!
  6. Read, read, write!  Reading good books provides provides great modeling for good writing. Why not challenge your child to a weekly writing prompt based on the book they are reading.  One week they could retell a scene from a different point of view. The next week, the could design their own book jacket for a book.  They could also write a mini-sequel, or a skit based on the book.
  7. Be poets! Poems are short, fun and perfect for summer.  Check out this recent post for specific suggestions on how to infuse a little poetry reading and writing into your summer.
  8. Knock, knock, who’s there?  Over the course of the summer, create a lift-the flap joke book.  For each spread, write the joke on left hand page.  Write the answer on the write hand page.  Then cover the answer with a square paper flap.  Illustrate the flap to match the joke.
  9. You’ve got mail!  Enlist an eager long-distance relative to be a summer pen pal.  Choose snail mail, email or text messages. Then write, write,write!
  10. Blog it! We haven’t tried this yet, but my daughter is begging me to set up a private blog for her to share fun things on such as crafts, funny stories, travel posts and more.  For my comfort level, this will be a private blog with access via password to long-distance family members and friends.  What a great way to combine writing with technology!

How will you spread writerly love with your kiddos this summer?  I’d LOVE to hear!

SCBWI Summer 2016 Reading List is NOW AVAILABLE!



The Society of Children’s Book Writer and Illustrators (SCBWI) has put together a SUMMER READING LIST for 2016 which includes books of all genres from SCBWI  authors and illustrators, including front list and backlist titles. Per their description “This is an opportunity to find that book that a kid or teen will enjoy and can engage with the fun and adventure of reading. Authors and illustrators from close to your hometown to those around the world are featured on the List. The Lists will be published bi-annually this year in the Summer and Winter.”

Here’s the link.  ENJOY!


FIVE Things That FLOAT My Family’s Boat

Five things float boat

RUMBLE! BOOM! If your family is anything like mine, life can be stormy, what with the winds of busy-ness blowing us this way and that. And even if we’re not in the midst of truly stormy times, I find, as a mom, that it’s necessary to be intentional about finding creative, loving ways to stay afloat above the sea of activities and responsibilities of family living. Indeed one of the themes I hope readers (and their parents) will take away from my first book, GOODNIGHT, ARK  (Zonderkidz, 2014), is that sometimes a little extra TLC is just what’s needed to make things okay, even in the midst of a storm!

Now in celebration of TLC (tender lovin’ care) and GOODNIGHT, ARK (which is #15 on the Christian Juvenile Bestsellers’ List for May 2016!), here are five things that keep my family afloat (and happy).

  1. Morning Hugs – From the moment they came home as babies, we’ve started our mornings with what we now call the “morning hug”.  Indeed the first sentence out of my daughter’s mouth each morning is,  “Time for my morning hug.”  And mine:  “Me, too.”  My son, age 15, now gives more of a morning shrug, but we still all know that the morning wouldn’t be quite the same without it.
  2. Special Breakfasts –  These are pretty self-explanatory. I mean isn’t any day extra special if it begins with pancakes and bacon, or warm-out-of-the oven blueberry muffins? The extra, extra special twist is that these breakfasts are often a group effort.  Who wants to stir?
  3. Family Dinners – Eat together.  Talk together. Be together.  Need I say more?
  4. After Dinner Sillies – This is our family’s favorite time to let loose and be silly. We’ve done foot puppet shows, dance numbers, stand-up comedy, you name it. Anything goes, really, in this delightful post-dinner moment of relaxation before dishes are cleared and the evening routine of finishing up homework, cleaning up after dinner, taking showers etc. resumes.
  5. Pillow Ponderings (and Prayers) There’s something about the cozy comfort of bedtime that brings out a reflective spirit in each of my children. And I love nothing better than talking with my kids about what’s on their mind and then wrapping it all up in prayer, before giving each that last goodnight kiss and turning out the light. Even when I’m tired to the core, like the Noah in my story must have been when he finally settled those animals down, I wouldn’t miss these special bedtime moments.


(An earlier version of this post appeared on Becky Kopitzke’s lovely blog.)



Want to survive, even thrive, as a writer?  Then take the TURTLE approach.  Enjoy!

Develop a thick shell. The business of writing is not all butterflies and daisies. It’s hard work with a steep learning curve and lots and lots of guaranteed opportunity for rejection. But if, like a turtle, you can develop a few callouses, or preferably a nice thick shell, you can let those rejections, doubting comments etc. bounce right off.

Be at peace with the slow pace of it all. The publishing world is notoriously slow.  Accept that, then use the time to bask in the sun, soaking up new story ideas and savoring the process.

Take time each day to retreat into your shell.  As writers it’s important to set aside quiet time to write each day. But if long “retreats into your shell” are hard to muster, take heart – good writing can’t be done in total isolation. It’s also important to mosey along in the outside world for that’s where you will find your inspiration!

Bury your eggs for awhile before letting them go. I’ve learned over time, that my best stories and poems are the ones I let sit for a while, so I can re-examine and improve them before sending them out for consideration to editors. My ideas, at least, improve with age.

Don’t expect every egg to be viable.  Not every idea is a winner and that’s okay. The important thing is to keep producing eggs, er stories, for in every batch there will surely be a few good eggs, or maybe more than a few.

Happy writing, all!

Family M.E.S.S. – Children’s Librarian Lauren Antolino Chats about an Award-Winning STEM Program for Little Ones


Each year the New Jersey State Library bestows the Best Practices in Early Education Award to four outstanding New Jersey public libraries that provide exemplary literacy programs for children from birth to six years, their families and caregivers. The award comes with a $1,000 honorarium, a certificate, and promotion of the winning library as a model program for other libraries. 


This year the Cranford Public Library (my local library!) was selected to receive one of four of these statewide awards for its Family M.E.S.S. (Math, Engineering, and Science Saturday) program. Children’s Librarian Lauren Antolino is the creative organizer behind Family M.E.S.S.,  a popular bi-monthly educational program where kids ages 2 – 10 and their caregivers participate in a variety of hands-on experiments and problem-solving challenges related to math, engineering and science.  

I’m delighted that Lauren has agreed to an interview today. Thanks so much for joining us, Lauren!  Let’s get started.

The Family M.E.S.S program is not only popular with your young patrons, it’s now *award* winning!  What do you think is the secret to its success?

The community! Cranford is a great town, full of parents who are interested in opportunities to learn and play with their children. We’ve found that a large number of our patrons, particularly younger children, love science, engineering, and/or math, so the interest is definitely there. Many parents are actively seeking fun, educational activities for their children, especially on weekends. One of our goals in creating the program was to engage families in “learning by doing” at the library, and it turns out they were looking for the same! 

Another huge factor, of course, is that the children who attend the program love making a mess, and parents love not having to clean it up!

Describe for us what a typical Family M.E.S.S. session looks like. 

As the name suggests, Family M.E.S.S. often involves making a mess! We provide families with stations of simple, open-ended activities: one based around math, one around science, and one around engineering. Families spend about 10 minutes at each station before rotating to the next activity. There’s typically a lot of excitement for the science station, which is always our messiest! We’ve made “elephant toothpaste,” “rainbow milk,” and DIY slime.

My favorite part of the program is listening to the conversations between the parents and children. Families are engaging in high-level conversations that I am always so impressed by. Mrs. Queenan, a lovely staff member who has been an indispensable part of the program since it started, said it best: “during the program, parents talk up to their children. They don’t talk baby talk, they enjoy being a co-teacher and learning together.”

With so many wonderful hands-on activities, it seems like preparing for Family M.E.S.S. sessions and then presenting could be quite involved.  Do you have any prep/management tips to offer other librarians and/or teachers who might be interested in engaging their young library patrons or students in something similar?

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel! I first heard of the idea of Family M.E.S.S. at a “STEM made Simple” class, and used it as a springboard for an ongoing program. There are so many great programs out there, it’s just a matter of finding the right one for your community. Everyone has limitations, for us, it was important to take those into account and present a version of the program that would work here. We have limited staff, which led us to add a journal that would help us easily communicate instructions. It ended up being a great addition, because families leave with everything they need to reproduce the activities at home. It also added this wonderful reading/writing component to the program, which we love!

Family M.E.S.S. is just one of many engaging programs you’ve organized for our library.  Other programs include weekly story times for all ages, including  the popular “Story Time Yoga” for ages 2 – 5.  You even have a book club for older kids called “Page Turners”. How do you decide what types of programs to put together?  Which have been the most popular?

I inherited some fantastic programs when I started here in 2014: Therapy Dogs, an amazing Summer Reading Carnival, and Story Time Yoga. Many of the other librarians and library staff have been working here for a very long time, so we spend a lot of time talking about programs that sound interesting and brainstorming ways to make them work at our library. I cannot stress enough what a valuable resource they are! We all keep an eye on the books that go out, listen to feedback from program participants, and consider programs that have been successful in the past. 

We recently had a “Minecraft Circuits in Real Life” program, created by a group called Soldering Sunday, that was a huge hit! It was an introduction to circuitry that might otherwise be a hard sell, but the Minecraft aspect caused it to quickly fill up.

Is there a final question you wish I had asked? If so, please share.  =)

“Where do you see this program going?” I’d really like to find a way to integrate technology while maintaining the parent/child dynamic that we’ve established. The library’s Friends group generously donated five iPads last year, and we’re working on finding the best way to incorporate those into the program. We’re in a good position to act as “media mentors” and guide parents in their use of media with their children, so a tech component would be a great addition! 

Thanks so much for joining us, Lauren. Three cheers for wonderful librarians and vibrant programs for kids at our local libraries!


Happy Mother's Day pic

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I thought it would be fun once again to celebrate with a poem of mine that originally appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul New Moms : 101 Inspirational Stories of Joy, Love, and Wonder (2011). Inspired by my first little alarm clock (I now have two and they aren’t so little anymore), I hope my poem fills you with a sense of the wonder (and exhaustion) of being a new mom. Happy Mother’s Day!

Little Alarm Clock

BARNES & NOBLE BOOK FAIR: Thank you, Let’s Play in Italian Preschool and Kindergarten!

IMG_0658I spent a lovely Saturday morning sharing GOODNIGHT, ARK with the cute kids from Let’s Play in Italian, a preschool and kindergarten in Scotch Plains. The story time took place at the Barnes and Noble in Springfield and was part of their book fair.

When I first arrived the children were enjoying a wonderfully animated sing-a-long with Italian-American artist and singer  Michela Musolino.  Using various instruments and props including a shell and an expresso cup, she brought Italian folk lore and music to life.  I enjoyed listening to her sing in Italian with her deep, rich voice while the children echoed back phrases in Italian. IMG_2072

Then it was time for GOODNIGHT, ARK. First, I introduced the book and those stinky skunks!

Then I read the story. “Watch out or this bed will BREAK!”IMG_2106


Afterwards there was time to pet the skunks and sign a few books.

When story time was over, the children reconvened for some interactive folk dancing with Michela.

Thank you Barnes and Noble and Let’s Play in Italian for having me. I think we all had a great time!

THE POWER OF SMELL: An Olfactory Reminder for Writers

Pee ew stinkyRecently, prompted by a very whiffy truck ahead of us, my daughter and I passed a most enjoyable half-hour brainstorming all the smells we love and hate. Some we agreed upon. Others we did not.  Still, we both agreed that smells add richness to life.

The lists we compiled serve as fragrant and stinky  reminders that kids LOVE the idea of SMELLINESS and that, as a picture book author, I need to remember my readers noses. Take a whiff (rather than a peek) at our lists below. What would you add?

Our List of FAVORITE SMELLS… coffee percolating,  puppy ears, strawberries, asphalt after a summer rain, salty sea air, damp earth, pizza in the oven, a clean baby, skunk (faint), lilacs in bloom, a crackling fire, candle smoke, newly mown grass, bubble gum, spring, balsam needles,  hamburgers on the grill, freshly laundered sheets, pumpkin pie, impending snow, herbs snipped from the garden, freshly sharpened pencils, old books, freshly polished wood, crayons, bacon sizzling, rubber boots, spent matches, peppermints, perfume, vanilla, honeysuckle, clover, brownies baking, mountain air, waxed hallways, leather, curry, onions sautéing, cedar chests, roses, hay, apple pie in the oven, soup simmering, new sneakers.

Our List of STINKY SMELLS… hot tar, mucky marshes, skunk (strong), cigar smoke, bus fumes, sour wash clothes, new mulch, dirty diapers, rotten eggs, doggy doo, butt snorts (as we call them in our family), clammy feet, stinky socks, wet wool, moldy cheese, manure, chicken coops, summer garbage cans, nail polish, sweaty armpits, old melon rind, gym lockers, dank cellars

A hint of odor, skillfully incorporated, can be a powerful addition a story. Indeed, I repeatedly hear from parents everywhere that their kids favorite spread of all in GOODNIGHT, ARK is the one in which two creatures, who shall remain nameless, make a BIG stink! 

What whiffy addition will you add to your WIP this week?

Happy writing!



Examining LYRICAL PICTURE BOOKS with Diana Murray

lyrical picture books.jpg

Today I’m thrilled to have the delightful and talented picture book author and poet, Diana Murray, as my guest. Diana is the author of several forthcoming picture books including, CITY SHAPES illustrated by Bryan Collier (Little, Brown), GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH illustrated by Heather Ross (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), and NED THE KNITTING PIRATE illustrated by Leslie Lammle (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan). She’s here today to ponder what makes a picture book lyrical. Take it away, Diana!

What does it mean when a picture book is described as being “lyrical”? There’s a lot of grey area, but here is what it means to me:

  • The book is probably more serious than humorous or wacky.

  • Possibly more literary than commercial.

  • Has a fluid, velvety, rhythmic pace.

  • Resembles a song.

  • Has an emotional quality.

  • Can be prose or poetry. But if it’s metrical poetry, then it tends to be anapestic as opposed to iambic or trochaic.

  • Features vivid descriptions, often of natural beauty.

  • Uses very deliberate line breaks.

  • Tends to have a warm, fuzzy feeling about it.

Most of my picture books are on the humorous/wacky side. But some, like CITY SHAPES, are a bit more on the lyrical side. For example, take this excerpt from NED THE KNITTING PIRATE: “The crew was all in stitches but the captain’s nerves were frayed./’Yarrrh!’ said Ned, ‘I likes to knit. This hat be custom-made.’” As opposed to these lines from CITY SHAPES: “But her heart starts to long for the shape she loves best./The shape that is home. Her warm, circle nest…”CityShapesCover2

Here are a few other picture books I would describe as lyrical:

OWL MOON by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr

“There was no wind./The trees stood still/as giant statues./And the moon was so bright/the sky seemed to shine.” (Note: I would classify this one as free verse.)

AND THEN IT’S SPRING by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Steid

“First you have brown,/all around you have brown.”

DARIO AND THE WHALE by Cheryl Lawton Malone, illustrated by Bistra Masseva

“Every spring,/when the sun/warms up the sea,/a whale and her new calf/swim north to a cool bay.”

So, how does one attempt to write a story with a lyrical quality? There’s no formula, of course, but personally, I find it helps to set the mood. When I wrote CITY SHAPES, I listened to jazz music by Wynton Marsalis (one of my favorites!). And then I have another forthcoming picture book, SUMMER COLORS, that I wrote while listening to the rain on my patio (another one of my favorite sounds).

I’d love to hear which lyrical picture books you’ve enjoyed. And what do you think makes them “lyrical”?
MurrayBioSmDiana Murray grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. Diana’s forthcoming picture books include, CITY SHAPES illustrated by Bryan Collier (Little, Brown), GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH illustrated by Heather Ross (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), and NED THE KNITTING PIRATE illustrated by Leslie Lammle (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan). Diana’s award-winning children’s poems have appeared in many magazines, such as Highlights, High Five, Spider, and Ladybug. For more information, please visit:

COMING THIS FALL: Goodnight, Manger BOARD BOOK Edition!

9780310755715.jpg_3Look what’s making its first appearance at various online bookstores including Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Christian Books and more! It’s the BOARD BOOK edition of GOODNIGHT, MANGER!  The release date for this new edition is October 11, 2016. It’s available for pre-order at some on-line stores already.

With sturdy pages and a padded cover, it’s terrific for littlest readers who want to turn the pages themselves. It’s a good size too – perfect for showing off all the wonderful details in Jane’s illustrations. And like GOODNIGHT, ARK, it still has the full text.  In fact, other than the fact that it’s a board book, there’s only one difference between this edition and the original. (Hint: It has to do with the cover.) Can you figure out what it is without peeking?

Happy reading!