Teaching RESPECT with Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse

Sunday afternoon, I participated in a very special Girl Scout story time at The Book House in Millburn, where Fernando, Delores and I got to share our story, DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE!  Our goal was to help the girls earn their “Respect Myself and Others” Petals.

First, after an animated reading of DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE,  I asked the girls several respect-focused questions about the story.  Here they are, if you’d like to do the same with your class or troop:

What did you think of Delores? Of Fernando? 

Were they respectful to each other? How or how not?

 Were they respectful of themselves? How or how not? 

Did they learn from their mistakes and become better seal/mouse because of it? How?

Next, I had the girls think about their own lives.  How can they show respect for the themselves and others?  As they brainstormed examples, I wrote them down on a master list so we could all refer to them during the craft.  Here are their responses:

Finally, for the craft, I had the girls make Respect Fans.  The fan craft was a twist on the Feathered Fan craft below created by picture book author Rebecca Gomez. If you choose to do this activity, you’ll definitely want to follow this link to get the details on creating Rebecca’s charming feathered fan. 

Our added twist was to write examples showing respect for self and others in each blade.  (This is where the master list was helpful, especially since the girls were still beginning writers.)  Each fan needed to include at least two examples that related to self and two that related to others.  

I think all agreed that the lesson and craft were fun and successful in getting the girls thinking about respect and the many varied ways that it can be shown.

Thank you The Book House for having me, and thank you Daisies, for being such thoughtful, engaged participants.  Finally, thank you Delores and Fernando for letting us learn from your experiences! Happy Reading, all!

STORYSTORM: Thoughts on Christmas Ornaments and Story Sparks!

Right now, I’m “undressing” our Christmas tree. It’s not one of my favorite tasks because by the time I do it the sparkle of Christmas is usually long gone. But this year is different. I’m really enjoying the process this year. And I think the difference is that tonight, as I undress the tree, my mind is whirring with “STORYSTORM” ideas.

For those of you unfamiliar with the word, STORYSTORM is the brainchild of picture book author, Tara Lazar, who wanted to create a month for picture book writers, and now writers in all genres, to focus on brainstorming story ideas for future projects. During STORYSTORM month, which takes place during January of each month, writers are inspired to brainstorm new ideas with daily blog posts by prominent and up-and-coming children’s authors. The posts are inspiring and fun to read and the challenge – to come up with one new story idea each day – is exhilerating! I’ve participated almost  every year and a couple of those story prompts have even resulted in picture books that have been published including, most recently, DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE!

And tonight, as I undress the tree, I can hardly keep my imagination in tow because almost every ornament on the tree has some story to tell, and any one of those stories could very well be the spark for my next bestseller! I’m joking, of course, but … not really… I mean it is possible, right?

Take a look at this ornament, for example. I bought it for my son the Christmas after he took his first ride on the Staten Island Ferry, and now my mind is flooded with memories of Staten Island boat rides, and the wonder of seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, and the wonderful bounce and rhythm of the waves as we crossed from Staten Island to the southern tip of Manhattan. Is there a story here? Maybe. That’s why I’ve paused from “undressing” to free write in my journal.

And see this cowboy boot ornament? To you it’s just a boot, but I remember that my mom bought these (there are two) for my children the Christmas after we visited them in Colorado and they each got a pair of cowboy boots. Miss A wore hers every single day, and no matter what her attire – be it flouncy dress or blue jeans -those boots made a statement. They said, I’m here and I’m ready to make the most of whatever this day brings. Is there a story here? Maybe. That’s why I’ve paused from “undressing” to free write in my journal.

To you this ornament might seem odd. After all, who hangs baskets filled with blueberries on their tree? My mom purchased this ornament for us in memory of fun summers picking blueberries in New England, and my mind is once again flooded with images of granite rock flanked by scrubby blueberry bushes. And my taste buds are watering at the memory of fresh baked muffins. Is there a story here? Maybe. That’s why I’ve paused from “undressing” to free write in my journal.

Here’s my parting thought for tonight, and then I really need to finish undressing this tree. Is there an ornament on your tree, or perhaps some little trinket or artifact sitting somewhere on a shelf in your house, that is full of meaning and might just be the key to unlocking your next story or poem? Well, why are you just sitting there staring at the screen? Go find it… and write all about it because, maybe just maybe, there’s something there that will be the spark that leads to an amazing new story. Have fun!

And now back to undressing that tree. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night. =) Happy STORYSTORMING!

COUNT DOWN TO THE NEW YEAR: Top Five Posts of 2018


I thought it would be fun to kick off the new year with a countdown-style look back at my TOP FIVE BLOG posts from 2018. It’s rather fascinating because only one was actually published in 2018. The rest are from past years and folks just keep coming back to them! Over the past few days, I revealed all but #1 on Facebook. Now here’s the complete roundup all in one spot:

#5 PICTURE BOOKS WITH P.U.N.C.H: Cumulative Stories. This a post from 2013 which also, incidentally, places #2 for all-time popularity in the 6 years since I started the blog. It’s part of a series I did a few years ago about picture book structures. Is this an indication that maybe I should re-open the series this year with some fresh posts?

#4 PICTURE BOOKS WITH P.U.N.C.H: Parallel Stories. This is another post from my 2013 Picture Books with P.U.N.C.H Series, which writers keep returning to.

#3 IN MEMORY OF MY EIGHTH GRADE TEACHER:  Thank you, Shirley Vaux! I wrote this heartfelt post at the beginning of the year right after learning that a dear teacher who influenced my journey to becoming a writer had just passed away – days before I had hoped to reach out to her to share my thanks. My prayer with this post was that her family would somehow see it… and they did!

#2 (and #1 OVERALL since the blog began with 4,663 hits!): FIVE CHARACTERISTICS THAT GIVE PICTURE BOOKS P.U.N.C.H. This is the post that kick-started the Picture Books With P.U.N.C.H Story Structure Series. Thank you for returning to this post again and again! And again, it makes me wonder if you would like more posts like this in 2019?

#1 Examining LYRICAL PICTURE BOOKS with Diana Murray This guest post by the talented Diana Murray, written in 2016 when her lovely lyrical picture book CITY SHAPES released, also continues to be a perennial favorite – so much so that it was my top-hitting post for 2018!  

So there you have it! Thank you all, for reading my blog. Now I have a favor to ask. What kinds of posts would you like to see in 2019? I’m all ears (and I have my pen ready.) Happy New Year!

Rejection, Ladybugs, and Setting New Goals

2018 has been a mixed writing year for me.  I have had the joy of two new picture books releasing and all the celebration that entails including author visits – my favorite!  At the same, however, in the new picture book department,  I’ve received nothing but rejections. 

Discouraging, yes? Well, sort of, but I’ve never been one to wallow in self-pity, so as a form of “chin up” therapy for myself and because I LOVE writing short, snappy pieces, in early November, I set myself a new goal. 

Now, in addition to working on new picture book manuscripts and revising others that are still in progress, each week I have decided to write one new poem or story suitable for magazine publication – to be sent when ready. Not only does this new goal keep my creative juices flowing in fun and diverse ways, it also helps hone my picture book rhyming skills. In other words, good writing leads to good writing and that’s a good thing!

And today, guess what I received in the mail? My first acceptance in what seems like a long little while! It’s for a rhyming rebus, starring one of my favorite beetles – the ladybug. It has been accepted by Clubhouse Magazines to appear in their July 2019 issue of Clubhouse Jr! What fun it will be to see that in print!

And, now, a special thanks to Miss A. for letting me celebrate by sharing her hand-made ladybug sun catcher which hangs cheerily in my kitchen window, a sweet reminder that if rejection is starting to get you down – spread those invisible wings – and set yourself some “chin up” goals!

Happy Holidays 2018 – Encore! (Diva Style!)

OK. One more holiday greeting because, frankly, Delores was a little put out that I didn’t include her previously. (Plus, I couldn’t resist!) My children says there’s a fine line between funny and embarrassing, but I think this falls squarely in the latter, I mean former! And thank you Sterling Publishing, for taking a chance on DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE! Happy Holidays, everyone!

HAPPY HOLIDAYS 2018!

Wishing you all good things as we celebrate the joys of the season. I’m taking a break for Christmas to be with my family but look forward to seeing you all with new posts in 2019. Blessings all, Laura

GOODNIGHT, MANGER: SIX Nativity Themed Activities for Older Kids (Ages 6 – 8)


My Christmas bedtime story, about trying to put a weepy baby Jesus to sleep in a very noisy stable, was inspired by watching my then preschooler play with the sturdy little nativity we take out each Christmas. Her sweet play led to some wonderful kid-friendly conversations about the true meaning of Christmas. Inspired by that, I recently shared 8 Nativity Activities to Teach Little Ones about Christmas. Today I’m delighted to share six more ideas — this time for slightly older children. Enjoy!

  1. Play “What’s Different at the Manger?” Begin by arranging your family’s indoor nativity with your children, taking time to name and explain the significance of each figure in the nativity. Reflect together at the wonder of the Christmas story. Then, take turns having one family member be the “finder.” The “finder” leaves the room, while the “changer” changes one small thing in the nativity. The “finder” returns. Will he/she be able to figure out what’s different? Take turns until everyone has a chance at both roles. 
  2. Ask 20 Questions “Nativity” Style. First, gather around the nativity with a stack of index cards. Then, brainstorm together single-word components of the nativity. Examples include a manger, Bethlehem, angels, shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and a star. Have the children write a word on each card. Then shuffle the cards. One person selects a card. Without seeing that card, the others must guess what the word is by asking YES/NO questions. After twenty questions, the round is over and the person with the card can share what their word was.
  3. Compare Stories. Pick a nativity-themed picture book to read together. Then compare it to the actual account of the Christmas story from the Bible. See if your children can find three ways the picture book is similar/different from the Bible story. The picture book, for example, may reconsider the story from a different point of view — such as the POV of the animals in the beloved nativity-themed picture book Who Is Coming to Our House? Or it might imagine “what would happen if…” such as in my Goodnight, Manger where I imagine what might have happened if baby Jesus cried. Be sure to wrap up the discussion with the reminder that the deeper truth behind each picture book is that Jesus, our savior, is the amazing gift of Christmas.  
  4. Build Your Own Nativity. This is a big, fun project that can be done individually or as a group and will occupy a nice bit of an afternoon (perhaps while you put your feet up and sip some tea). First, have your children list all the parts needed for a nativity. Next, have the kids decide what their building materials will be — Legos, clay, felt, cardboard? The possibilities are plentiful. Third, decide who will build what (if you are working together). Finally, build! Afterwards, have the children take turns retelling the story using their own handmade nativity.
  5. Go on a Nativity Hunt. Here’s an engaging STEM activity that will get you and your children outside on a crisp day. Walk around your neighborhood (or drive around town) looking for nativity lawn scenes. Younger children can name the figures you see and older children can keep a tally of each distinct finding. Their tallies, for example, could include the number of stables, stars, angels, sheep, and baby Jesus figurines they find. Afterwards, they can create a colorful pictograph to show their results. Be sure to wrap up the conversation with praise and thanksgiving that Jesus loves us and came to save us, and that’s why we celebrate Christmas.
  6. Create a Nativity Book of Poems! A Family Book of Nativity Poems is a great way to celebrate Christmas and create a family heirloom at the same time. Using sturdy drawing paper, have one child design the front cover. Another can design the back cover. Each page of the book will contain an illustrated poem. Using the index cards you created for activity #2, have each child select a nativity-themed word. That word will become the subject of their poem.  Have them write the title of the poem — the word — across the top of the page. Then let each child decide on their poetic form. The poem could be as simple as a deeply felt phrase:  
    Example: (for angels) “The angels sang for joy! La, la, la, LA!!!”
    Or, they might choose an acrostic:
    Example: (for Mary)
    Mother of Jesus Amazing grace Resting by the manger You smiled at Jesus’ face
    Finish off each poem with a beautiful illustration and bind everything together with ribbon through punched holes. 

A version of this post previously appeared on Noelle Kirchner’s amazing blog .  Thank you, Noelle, for having me and for letting me share here!

READ. DISCUSS. DO!: Learn about Opera with DIVA DELORES!

TRA- LA-LA! Today I’m delighted to share a DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE Read. Discuss Do! graphic created by children’s author Rebecca Gomez.  The Read. Discuss Do! (hashtag #ReadDiscussDo) campaign celebrates reading beyond the book by creating sharable images that give simple ideas for book related discussions and activities.  I hope this inspires a little opera investigating (and maybe even some singing) at your house today.   Happy reading, discussing and doing! 

For more DIVA DELORES extension activities, check the Books tab above!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts about HOW COULD A BEAR SLEEP HERE? with Julie Gonzalez (plus a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I am delighted to be hosting debut picture book author Julie Gonzalez as we celebrate the release of her darling first book HOW COULD A BEAR SLEEP HERE? (Holiday House, 2018). I met Julie at an NJSCBWI Conference a few years ago and I’m so excited to see her first book come out.  Congratulations, Julie!  Now, without further fuss, here are FIVE FUN FACTS about the book from the author herself.  Take it away, Julie! 

 Five Fun Facts about HOW COULD A BEAR SLEEP HERE?

by Julie Gonzalez

Fun Fact #1:  My mom named the bear.

In early drafts I called the bear PJ because I pictured him wearing pajamas. Then a friend suggested I give him a more naturalistic bear name. I couldn’t think of one, so I turned to my mom. She’s terrific at brainstorming names. “Shelby” was her idea, and I loved it!

Fun Fact #2: Lack of sleep and a real live bear inspired the story.

At the time I wrote BEAR, I was a very tired mama in need of some quality, unbroken sleep. The refrain in the story expresses the exhaustion I felt, and other worn-out parents will relate. But the story was also inspired by this enormous bear that used to wander through my yard:

Isn’t he GORGEOUS? I call him Shelby, of course!

Fun Fact #3: The title was originally HIBERCATION, a combination of hibernation + vacation.

In fact, that’s the title on the contract!

My editor suggested the change to its present title, HOW COULD A BEAR SLEEP HERE?, which is the refrain in the story. By the time she acquired it, the plot had changed so much that the original title wasn’t as appropriate. 

Fun Fact #4: I really, really, really, really, really didn’t want to write a bear hibernation story. 

Too many of them exist. It won’t sell, I reasoned. Then every time I sat down to write, I closed my eyes and saw Shelby. He wouldn’t take no for an answer! Thank you, Shelby, for being so persistent! 

Fun Fact #5: Conferences helped shape and sell the manuscript.

I started writing the manuscript in a 2013 picture book workshop led by Brett Duquette during the Hudson Valley Children’s Writers first summer conference. I was brave enough to read my work aloud, and the positive feedback I received gave me the push I needed to pursue the idea.

Then, once I had a full draft, I attended an SCBWI Eastern PA event called Critique Fest, where I received valuable criticism and suggestions from editors, agents, and peers. 

Finally, after much revision, I was accepted to the Rutgers One-on-One. I sent my manuscript to 11 editors on the list of Rutgers mentors and heard back from my editor at Holiday House, Kelly Loughman, eight months later. The whole process from concept to publication took about five years. Publication is rarely quick or easy!

Thank you for inviting me to share, Laura. Your website is fun and full of so much valuable information. It’s my pleasure to be a small part of it!

Thank you, Julie for stopping by.  And kind readers, don’t forget to check out the giveaway (after bio)!  

Bio (from the Kidlit Authors Club website)

JULIE GONZALEZ is a former teacher and the author of the picture book How Could a BEAR Sleep Here? (Holiday House, 2018). She enjoys working with younger students, using humor and heart to encourage curiosity, imagination, and empathy. Born in Maine, raised in New Jersey, and currently living in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, she runs, hikes, and interacts with the wildlife in her wooded backyard, an area which provides constant inspiration for her stories. 

*And just to give you a bit more: I’ve taught third-grade, kindergarten, and preschool. During my preschool years, I held three story times a day, and this experience influenced my first picture book, which is a very lively read-aloud loaded with onomatopoeia.  

Be sure to check out Julie’s website  www.juliegonzalez.com

She also has an educational guide for parents and teachers: https://juliegonzalez.com/for-teachers-and-parents

NOW for the GIVEAWAY!!! (Thank you, Julie!) 

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE  copy of HOW COULD A BEAR SLEEP HERE written by Julie Gonzalez and illustrated by Stephanie Laberis, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must have U.S. address and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Friday 12/14/18 at 12:01 am EST. The winner will be announced that day!  

The GIVEAWAY is now over and the winner is…. Heather!  I will be in touch today so we can get the book to you.  Thank you to ALL who entered and THANK YOU, Julie, for providing the winning copy!

12 Days of Christmas Books Giveaway: GOODNIGHT, MANGER

I’m excited to be teaming up with Christian Children’s Authors in a special 12 Days of Christmas Books Giveaway. The giveaway is their way of saying Merry Christmas and it’s your only chance to win a copy of GOODNIGHT, MANGER this holiday season, so I hope you’ll head on over for a peek at my post and all the others!  I’ll make it easy for you. Here is the link