OLDIE BUT GOODIE: Lunch at the Beach (with Seagulls!) and a Blog-cation

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With just a few weeks of summer left and a “Goodnight, Manger” book launch to get ready for, I have decided to take a little holiday from blogging so I can focus on family and fun book matters. I will be back  in September with brand new posts. In the meantime, here’s my favorite summer post from 2013.

A friend and I took our kids for a day at the shore this past Friday. It was a beautiful day with clear skies, mild surf and salty breezes. The kids spent the morning jumping waves and building sand forts. By lunch time they’d worked up hearty appetites and couldn’t wait to dig in to the delicious picnic we’d packed.

Sitting on boogie boards and towels, they unwrapped their sandwiches and took their first bites.  I, too, was about to dig in when, suddenly, I felt a nasty pinch and flapping of feathers. I screamed, just in time to look a seagull right in the eye.  He was trying to get my sandwich, but had gotten my finger instead.  Moments later, another seagull swooped in, this time successfully nabbing a chunk of my son’s sandwich right out of his hand. Looking up, we saw several seagulls circling overhead. “They’re dive-bombing us, Mom!” my son shouted. Then he and his friend stood and started stomping and waving to scare them off.   It didn’t work.  The seagulls kept circling and swooping.

By now the girls were screaming too. Thankfully, my friend kept her wits about her. “Sit down, everyone,” she said.  “I know what to do.”  Then grabbing our boys’ towels, she covered their heads as they sat on their boogie boards, making two makeshift picnic tents.  “If you keep your sandwiches hidden, they won’t dive in,” she explained.  She made similar tent for the girls and one for herself.  And sure enough, they worked!

Just look at the boys…

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and the girls….

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and my friend…

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Alas, I’d forgotten a towel for myself.  My solution?  My son’s orange t-shirt strategically flopped over my wide-brimmed hat provided just enough cover to thwart those nasty seagulls.

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Writing sometimes feels a lot like trying to eat lunch at the beach.  I begin the day with great intentions, but as soon as I sit down to write, those seagulls start swooping in. They might not look like birds, but if I’m not careful, things like email, Twitter, Facebook, laundry and dustbunnies, can easily snatch up all my writing time.  What I need is a tent!  For me that means turning off the internet, not answering the phone, and finding a distraction-free place to write.  And if those pecking dustbunnies and flying laundry baskets still distract, I just promise them that I’ll feed them in an hour, after I finish my feeding my muse.

How about you?  Is your writing time ever besieged by seagulls?  If so, what’s your solution?

And the winner is…

DRAGON coverI’m delighted to announce that the winner of this week’s special giveaway, a fresh off the press edition of Penny Klostermann’s debut picture book, THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT, published by Random House (2015), and illustrated by Ben Mantle., is…

TOD!!!!

Congratulations!  I will be in touch with you today so we can get the book to you.

Thanks again, Penny, for sharing your book and your fun extension activities with us! I’d also like to thank everyone who took the time to comment on this week’s post and to my daughter , once again, for lending me her snazzy hat for the drawing. IMG_2887

Happy reading and writing, all!

GUEST POST: Debut Author Penny Klostermann with THREE Extension Activities for THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT (And a GIVEAWAY!)

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Today I am delighted to have Penny Klostermann here to share three extension activities for her delightful debut picture book THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT, published by Random House (2015), and illustrated by Ben Mantle. Though out less than a week, this rollicking rhyming tale about a very hungry dragon is already receiving rave reviews. “No matter how many swallowed-fly titles you own, this one belongs on your shelf too,” writes Kirkus Reviews.  “This will be a great addition to the kindergarten/first grade curriculum on comparing and contrasting similar stories,” raves School Library Journal.  To these, I would add  that from my perspective as writer, teacher, and mother, Penny’s twist on the beloved “Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly” has everything eager (and even reluctant) young readers desire – great plot, hilarious illustrations, and (my own daughter’s favorite)  – gassy humor!  Without giving too much away, let’s just say that this bit of gassiness was a big hit at our house. 

Now here’s Penny with three engaging extension activities for THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT.  And, if you can’t already guessed, Penny’s first career was in the classroom! 

Extension Activities For There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight

 by

Penny Klostermann

Feed The Knight To The Dragon: Classroom or party play activity. This will be a Pin the Tail on the Donkey type activity. Using the images from the book as a guide draw a dragon on a large piece of poster board. Either draw small knights for students to color or have students draw and color their own knights. If you plan to play the game multiple times, laminate the dragon and the knights. Students will take turns being blindfolded as they tape their knight to the dragon. The student whose knight is closest to the dragon’s mouth wins the game.

sign from bookThere Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Rhyme: Rhyme recognition activity. Since my book is written in rhyme, it is perfect for a rhyming game. Using the images from the book as a guide draw a dragon on a large piece of poster board. Draw 9 wooden stakes similar to the one holding the “turn around now” sign in the picture below. Make stakes long enough to hold 2-4 signs (rhyming words). Place stakes in front of dragon as if he is eyeing them for a tasty rhyming meal. Make signs from rhyming words to attach to wooden stakes. Start with these words-knight, polite, steed, speed, squire, fire, cook, book, lady, shady, castle, tassel, moat, throat, enough, stuff. Have students take turns taping the signs with matching rhyming words on the stakes. Challenge students to come up with other rhymes that would match those on the stakes.

There Was an Old Dragon on the Loose: Large group tag game-Perfect for playground time or physical education class. Using images from the book as a guide, create small cards (approx. the size of playing cards) with these images: 1 dragon card (student with dragon card will be the dragon)

10 of each-knights, steeds, squires, cooks, ladies, castles, moats. Choose one student to be the dragon. The dragon will wear a red scrimmage vest or a red wristband. Distribute other cards among the remainder of students. Remind them to keep their card a secret. The instructor should be left with a pile of extra cards. (If you have more cards than students, make sure at least 2 knight cards are distributed) Have all students scatter except for the dragon. When instructor calls, “There was an old dragon,” the dragon will begin chasing the other students. If a student is tagged, they must hand their card to the dragon. If they have a knight card, they must take the dragon’s card and the red vest/wristband to become the new dragon. After the previous dragon hands over the dragon card and the wristband, they exchange their knight card with a new card from the instructor’s pile of cards. On the other hand, if a tagged student has any card other than the dragon card, they are free to take another card from the instructor after turning their card over to the dragon. They may continue the game with their new card. Periodically, the instructor should collect the cards the dragon has collected so they will have cards to distribute to other students. The game is ongoing since the dragon card changes hands time after time.

PPK_0615_RGB_HR_02 BIO: Penny Parker Klostermann is the author of THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT. She loves all kinds of books, but especially loves very silly picture books that make her laugh. She has been known to hug her favorite picture books and seriously hopes that someday her books will gain huggable status too. Penny lives in Abilene, TX. Find out more about Penny on her website. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT, published by Random House (2015), and illustrated by Ben Mantle, please post a comment below. If you’d like to increase your chances of winning, please also tweet about this post on Twitter, share it on Facebook, and reblog it. For each additional “shout out,” an extra piece of paper will be added to the magic sorting hat with your name on it, so be sure to let me know if you send any “shout outs”. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident to enter.) The contest ends Thursday, 8/13/2015 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced on Friday!

And the winners are…

IMG_0562I’m delighted to announce that the five winners of the GOODNIGHT, ARK Board Book Edition Giveaway are:

Amanda K.

Gail H.

John T.

Belle Vernon Library

Christine H.

The Goodreads support team has already notified the winners and the books will soon be on their way!

Thank you to all who entered and to Zonderkidz for providing the books. We had a total of 671 entries!  Wow!

Happy Reading!

SPECIAL VISIT: Goodnight, Ark Sails to Lakeside Chautauqua

IMG_0583This week Noah and the gang traveled to Lakeside Chautauqua in Lakeside, Ohio for a special GOODNIGHT, ARK event. Founded in the 1870’s and nestled along scenic Lake Erie, Lakeside Chautauqua is an historic community dedicated to nurturing the mind, body, and spirit.

Hosted by Bev and Joan, the lovely booksellers at the Fine Print Book Store, our special story time took place at the historic Green Gables. I hope the pictures below capture the fun we had. Thanks to all for a great time!

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Standing outside the Fine Print Book Store.

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Bev and Joan did a terrific job creating an adorable window at the Fine Print Book Store featuring “Goodnight, Ark” along with some wonderful Folkmanis puppets.

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The story time took place at Green Gables, the charming Victorian home of the Lakeside Women’s Club.

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After Bev and Joan’s delightful singalong introduction, I read “Goodnight, Ark” to an adorable and attentive crowd.

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Afterwards, everyone enjoyed a simple sticker craft.

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It was my first time signing the board book edition of “Goodnight, Ark”. Look carefully and you can also get a sneak peek of “Goodnight, Manger” on display at the signing table.

GRUNT and SLITHER: Sound and Action Activities for GOODNIGHT, ARK

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GRUNT and SLITHER

Sound and Action Activities for GOODNIGHT, ARK

Even littlest ones who aren’t yet fully speaking enjoy pointing to the animals in GOODNIGHT, ARK and making the accompanying animals sounds. Seizing upon that intrinsic love, here are some sound (and action) activities to fully engage littlest readers and build early language skills.

Hiss and Roar:  As you read with your child, go on an animal hunt. Ask simple questions: “Where is the tiger?” or “What’s that?” (as you point to each animal). Let your child touch each animal. Then ask “What sound does the tiger (or sheep etc.) make?” Make the sounds together and have fun.

Stomp and Slither: Enhance the animal exploration by adding simple motions to the animal sounds. For example, a swooping arm for the elephant’s trunk, stomping feet and clawing hands for the tiger, two hands held close to the head for sheep ears, and pinching of the nose for a skunk.  Be creative and enjoy the fun of bringing the animals to life.

Play a game: “Noah Says…”  In this variation of the traditional “Simon says” all the actions are based on animal sounds and motions from the many, many animals featured in GOODNIGHT, ARK.  Example:  “Noah says:  Grunt like a wild boar!” or “Noah says:  Slither like a snake!”  For extra fun, add sounds and motions related to the storm or the creaking boat.  Example:  “Noah says: Boom like thunder” or “Noah says: Tip like the ark!”

Extra, Extra Fun: Add interactive sound and motion elements to each new picture book you read. Have fun!

There’s still time to enter the GOODREADS GIVEAWAY for a chance to WIN ONE OF FIVE COPIES of the board book edition of GOODNIGHT, ARK.  Press HERE to enter.  GIVEAWAY ENDS August 4th.

STAYING AFLOAT: 4 Writerly Things I Learned From Noah and his Ark (And a GIVEAWAY!)

IMG_0257With the release of the board book edition of GOODNIGHT, ARK just a week away, I thought it would be fun to share four things Noah and his ark have taught me about getting boats, er stories, to float.
Don’t expect your boat to float overnight. When I first got the idea for GOODNIGHT, ARK my mind whirred with possibilities. Which animals would be scared of what?  How would they get to Noah’s bed? And how would Noah ever comfort them and return them to their bunks?  I knew early on that I wanted to write the story in rhyme but finding the perfect meter and line length did not come easily. So I played around with plot and form again, and again, and again. Each time I finished a draft, I’d put it away and work on other things for several weeks so I could see it with fresh eyes. I repeated this cycle for two years and each time the story improved so much that it ended up with two offers! That experience has taught me not to worry about how long a story is taking me to write. Instead, I relax and let creativity work at its own pace until my stories are buoyant and ready to set sail.
Every ARK needs an ARC. Even with all that revising, my agent thought the initial version of GOODNIGHT ARK I sent her was too quiet. In that early version, the storm escalated and animals kept piling in, but there was no sense of rising action or urgency in resolving the night-time pile up. Except for the fact that the animals changed, the scenes were essentially static. In other words what the ark needed was an arc! The story still needed to be soothing for littlest readers, so I knew any tension/ rising action I infused had to be playful and fun. It took many hours of writing and re-writing, but I hope readers will agree that the final version with its ark tipping, bed crashing buildup and stinky, yet ultimately soothing, resolution is anything but static. I now analyse all my stories for effective rising action, climax, and resolution early on in the writing process. One way I do this is by making a 32-page dummy. That way it’s easy to see if your scenes are static as they build across 14 – 15 spreads or if there’s a sense of rising action etc. Plus, it’s a lot of fun, especially if you have little ones at home who like illustrating your dummies!
Don’t overload the decks. Noah’s ark was sturdy and well-planned with three decks, but though Noah may have been tempted to bring aboard extra animals, thank goodness, he showed restraint and took only two of each. Overcrowding would have put a strain on provisions. Worse yet, the ark might have capsized! Likewise, as a writer, I’m sometimes tempted to overcrowd my story with cute phrases and details that only weigh down the plot. During early stages of a project, I don’t worry about overwriting. My goal at that point is simply to build my story. Before I let it out of the port, however, I make sure to streamline the plot so every word and event pushes the story forward.
Everything’s better with a buddy. Noah didn’t try to build the ark all alone. His family cheered him on and pitched in with the building, providing much needed moral support amid the taunts and jeers of the onlookers. Likewise, I’ve found that the long, hard journey to publication just wouldn’t be the same without a nice support system. For me this includes my family, my lovely agent, and the wonderful network of like-minded children’s writers I’ve connected with over the years, many of whom have become dear friends and trusted critique partners. So, my last bit of ark-themed advice for staying afloat and giving your stories a floating chance, is to find a writing buddy or two to join you on the journey!
Don’t forget to enter the GOODREADS GIVEAWAY for a chance to WIN ONE OF FIVE COPIES of the board book edition of GOODNIGHT, ARK.  Press HERE to enter.  GIVEAWAY ENDS August 4th.
(NOTE: This post first appeared on the GROG blog as part of my first ever blog tour.)

GOODREADS GIVEAWAY: GOODNIGHT, ARK the BOARD BOOK EDITION!

Image 1To celebrate the release of GOODNIGHT, ARK, the board book edition, Zonderkidz has generously offered to give away FIVE copies of the new edition in my first ever Goodreads Giveaway!

With sturdy pages and a padded cover, GOODNIGHT, ARK, board book edition, is perfect 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 Chapman’s illustrations.

Here’s what the reviewers have to say:

“This humorous offering serves as a delightful and amusing bedtime story.”  – Booklist 

“Sassi’s debut offers a fun twist to the oft-told story of Noah’s ark.” – Publishers Weekly 

“Sassi’s bouncy verse incorporates lots of onomatopoeia for the sounds of weather and animals… Minimal text per page allows Chapman plenty of space to showcase the animals’ movements.”  – School Library Journal

Don’t forget to add GOODNIGHT, ARK to your Want to Read shelf!

Giveaway ends Tuesday, August 4th.  Click here to get to the GOODREADS GIVEAWAY page.

Tell all your friends. Good luck!

PICTURE BOOK CRAFT: Bendy Knitted Snake Inspired by GOODNIGHT, ARK!

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Here’s a fun craft for the parent or grandparent (or aunt or uncle, or teacher or friend) of a little GOODNIGHT, ARK fan.

I love Jane Chapman’s depictions of the snakes in GOODNIGHT, ARK.  Her amicable yellow and green striped snakes appear on many of the spreads and are about the coziest looking snakes I’ve ever witnessed.  So when, in the process of sorting through my yarn drawer, I discovered some leftover yellow and green yarn balls, imagine my excitement!

Want to make your own cute Bendy Knitted Snake? Here’s how:

Gather:

green and yellow yarn (to match the snakes in GOODNIGHT, ARK)

knitting needles (I used size 6)

a yarn needle

two yellow pipe cleaners, twisted together to make one long piece (so that snake is bendable)

Create:

1. Cast on six stitches with yellow yarn. Knit a row, pearl a row, etc. until you have 12 rows. This will be the head.

2. Switch to green for two rows, then alternate four rows of yellow, with two rows of green until you reach your desired length.

3.For the tail, switch to green, reducing every other row until two stitches remain.  Cast off.

4. Using the yarn needle and green yarn, add on two green snake eyes.

5.  Before stitching the snake closed, gently poke the tip of your pipe cleaner strand through the pearl side of the head (and then back again). Fold the tip in firmly so that the pipe cleaner will stay in place and not be pokey.  Stretch the pipe cleaner out so that it fits nicely in the snakes insides.  Every so often as you stitch the underbelly closed with yellow yarn, loop a stitch around the pipe cleaner so that it stays in place. Continue until snake is completely stitched together.

6.  Now you have a cute reading buddy to share with your little reader. For extra fun, make a pair!  It might even be fun to let your snakes slither across the pages of GOODNIGHT, ARK as this friendly fellow is. Enjoy!

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GUEST POST: WRITING, BAKING, RUMINATING with Annie Silvestro

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Today I’m delighted to have children’s author, Annie Silvestro, as my guest.  Annie and I met at the wonderful June NJSCBWI conference several years ago. She recently announced that her debut picture book BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss, will be published by Doubleday in Spring of 2017! Way to go, Annie! She’s joining us today with her thoughts on how to work through writing when the going gets tough. You are in for a tasty treat! Take it away, Annie!

Writers can spend hours in front of a screen or notebook, staring.

And after all those hours, we’ve finally got it! The right word. A strong sentence. A cohesive paragraph.

Those little successes can make us feel like a million bucks. But the time it takes? That can feel daunting.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always that way. Sometimes writing is magical in how smoothly it flows and how quickly ideas take shape. But when it’s not, and particularly when you’re stuck on an idea, it can be very frustrating.

I’ve found that as part of my writing process, when my words get muddled, I make like Amelia Bedelia and bake. I think that’s because with baking, in a relatively short period of time I can accomplish a sure thing – something tangible, pleasant, and delicious that I can share (or not).

Plus, with baking, I follow a straightforward recipe. There’s no guesswork, no hair-pulling, no screaming at the screen. I grab butter, flour, and sugar without even thinking. I measure and mix precisely, then pour the sweet concoction into a pan or onto a cookie sheet. When the timer goes off, voila! Muffins! Banana bread! Snickerdoodles!

The best part is, while I’m baking, my subconscious is freed up to ruminate over the ingredients I’ll use in whatever story I’m working on. Ingredients like good characters, strong plot, tension, page turns, and the ever-important layers of emotion, humor, and heart.

We writers pull those ingredients from our imaginations, measure and mix as we see fit (revise, revise, revise), then pour them into a well-structured arc. Finally, and maybe most importantly, we let our stories bake.

Ideas need time to come together so we can see that their particular flavors and textures are just right. Just like too much flour can make your cake dry out, too much or too little of any story ingredient, and your manuscript can fall flat.

Time gives you the opportunity to read your story with fresh eyes so you can see more clearly what works or doesn’t work. Perspective helps you tweak your recipe so it’s absolutely delicious. And when the story is done, and the fork comes out with only a few crumbs clinging to it, you can bet you won’t mind sharing.

What do you do when you’re feeling unproductive in your writing? Share your ideas in the comments.

Annie Silvestro 5-2015Annie Silvestro writes, bakes, ruminates, and reads, reads, reads on the Jersey Shore where she lives with her husband, two boys, and a cat named Blinky. Her debut picture book BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss, will be published by Doubleday in Spring of 2017. Twitter: @anniesilvestro