FROSTED WINDOW PANES: The Magic of Picture Books – CHRISTMAS Edition

There’s a scene in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS in which Laura and Mary spend a magical morning etching pictures in the frosted windowpanes of their little cabin using Ma’s thimble.  As a child I wanted to try that, but our windows were too well-insulated to gather frost. Imagine my delight, then, a couple of winters ago, to discover thick frost completely covering the old-fashioned windows of our detached garage. For several days back during that frosty cold spell, I was itching to take my thimble and do a little ice etching of my own.  And that’s exactly what I did one day, using my keys, instead. Doesn’t it look magical?

Like window frost begging to be etched, good picture books invoke in me a nostalgic return to childhood and a reminder of the simple joys in life.  When my children were younger, our days were enriched by reading picture books. What a treat it was to curl up together on the sofa with a stack of books. The joy we found in those books was not flashy or over the top, but simple and deep. We cheered on Mike Mulligan and Maryanne, from Virginia Lee Burton’s MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 1939), to dig a little faster and a little deeper, and afterwards, scurried outside do our own digging in the snow.  And Sam McBratney’s GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU (Candlewick, 2005) evoked such warmth that we held our own matches to show how much we loved each other.

If you’re feeling downtrodden by the heavy-ness of life right now, may I suggest heading straight to your child’s book shelf?  Or, better yet, with the Christmas season soon upon us, perhaps it’s time to take out that box of Christmas-themed picture books you have stored in the attic (if you are like me).  Dust them off, and put them out so all can enjoy.

That’s what our family is doing this holiday season. Each night after dinner, starting on Thanksgiving, one family member will choose a book from the box to read-aloud to the rest of us. It will be our dessert!

As we read, I am certain that it won’t take long to feel that magical nostalgia, for picture books hold within their 32-pages, a much-needed reminder that our deepest joys are found in the simple pleasures of life.

Need help getting started?  Here are a few of my Christmas favorites (old and new and in no particular order):

ANGELA AND THE BABY JESUS, written by Frank McCourt and illustrated by Raul Colon (Simon and Schuster, 2007)

MOUSE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, written by Mindy Baker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (Zonderkidz, 2018)

WHO IS COMING TO OUR HOUSE, written by Joseph Slate and illlustrated by Ashley Wolff (G.P. Putnam’d Sons, 1988)

LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS, writtten by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Sally Garland (Beaming Books, 2020)

THE SWEET SMELL OF CHRISTMAS, written by Patricia Scarry and illustrated by J.P. Miller (Golden Books, 1970)

SOMETHING FOR CHRISTMAS, written and illustrated by Palmer Brown (Harper and Row, 1958)

and of course…

GOODNIGHT, MANGER, written by Laura Sassi and illustrated by the wonderful Jane Chapman (Zonderkidz, 2015)

A REAL FRIEND: An Interview with Debut Picture Book Author Jennifer Wolfthal

Join me in welcoming picture book author, Jennifer Wolfthal, whose debut picture book, A REAL FRIEND (Clavis Publishing), is out this month! Kirkus Reviews hails it as “A feel-good read about a friendship that feels real, indeed” and by School Library Journal calls it “A well-told, relatable story about friendship, fighting, and making up for children everywhere.” And here’s my reaction: Playfully illustrated by Judi Abbott and told with lovely gentle humor with a message that’s universal, this story of friendship and struggle is a winner. It would make a terrific addition to your class or home libraryAnd now for the interview with my questions in bold

Thanks so much for joining us today, Jennifer. I love your sense of imagination and ability to tell a story from an authentic-feeling kid perspective. Please tell us a little bit about your journey into the book world. How did you become a writer?

Thanks for having me, Laura! I’ve always loved writing. When I was a kid, my parents and I often wrote letters to each other when we were apart. To this day, I have bags full of letters. Whether I was writing poems, stories, or in journals, I was always most comfortable communicating through writing.

As an adult, I was thankful for the opportunity to teach fourth grade for eight years. Writing is huge in fourth grade, and it was a chance for me to share this passion with my students. It’s also when I developed a love for picture books. I started this author journey by reading lots of picture books to my own children and analyzing their structure. I also read books on the craft of writing for children, joined SCBWI, wrote many manuscripts, and revised a lot! I got critiques, endured the rejections, and ultimately got my first acceptance through Clavis about a year ago. Having your first book published in the middle of a pandemic and major election definitely has it’s difficulties, but you could also see it as a little rainbow in the storm.

Yes, a lovely rainbow! And your response is a wonderful reminder that patience and endurance are important parts of the author’s journey.

What inspired you to write A Real Friend?

There were times during my classroom years where I felt more like a referee than a teacher! 🙂 Best friend drama was always at the top of the list. It seemed like every other day kids were declaring, “you’re not my best friend anymore”. Only to be playing together the next day. Lol. When brainstorming ideas for a story, I knew this was a topic kids could relate to that I wanted to write about in a fun and imaginative way. 

Ah, yes! The best stories come from kid-tested, heart-felt moments like these. I’m glad you made note of the idea and found a fun way to turn it into a story.

What would you like readers to take away from this story?

Even though friends have their ups and downs, friendship is a gift to be treasured. And real friends – always stick together. 

Perfect!

A Real Friend is your debut picture book.  How does it feel to be “post-publication”? What do you like best about this exciting new stage? 

It feels great! There’s definitely a relief in being familiar with the process. Before this year, I didn’t know much about book publishing, creating launch teams, visiting blogs, etc. Now that I have a better understanding of the ins and outs of the publishing world, I can focus more on what I love – writing stories!

Finally, what’s the one question that you wished I’d asked but didn’t.

Fun question, Laura! Here’s one: What’s something about you not many people know? Now I feel like I should answer it. Lol. Before I married my husband, I wed – Micky Mouse! My aunt dressed me up as a bride, and we had a ceremony and all. Ha! Ha! (Don’t tell Minnie.) 

Thank you so much for joining us today and best wishes with this lovely new book.

Biography: Jennifer Wolfthal graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education. She has been a certified teacher for the past fourteen years. She is also an internationally published author. Her debut picture book, A Real Friend was published in the USA in November 2020 (Clavis Publishing). Corabelle’s Butterfly is due to be released in 2021 (Doodle and Peck). She is a member of SCBWI and enjoys developing her craft through online courses and critique partners.  

You can find her on the web at:

www.jenniferwolfthalbooks.com

www.instagram.com/jenniferwolfthal

[Note: Thank you to Clavis Publishing for an advance copy of this book that I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

LITTLE EWE: THE STORY OF ONE LOST SHEEP – Six LOVELY Endorsements!

I was looking at the LITTLE EWE page on Amazon and was delighted to spot a new addition: six endorsements for this upcoming title. I’ve never had endorsements before and I’m very grateful. They are one tool a publisher uses to introduce a new book into the world.

And now, with the permission of Beaming Books, I’m delighted to share those endorsements here. I hope they inspire you to pre-order your copy of the book. And a big thank you to the endorsers for their thoughtful descriptions and recommendations.

“This adorable counting book incorporates the parable of the Lost Sheep and teaches little ones about the Shepherd’s love. With sweet rhyming text and colorful illustrations, parents will smile when their child says, “Read it again!” –– Crystal Bowman, bestselling author of more than 100 books for children including Our Daily Bread for Preschoolers and My Mama and Me.

“Meet Little Ewe and Shepherd in this perfectly penned rhyming, counting tale. A charming new take on an old story.”   — Glenys Nellist, author of author of over 20 children’s books including Little Mole Finds Hope and Little Mole’s Christmas Gift.

“Count along with Little Ewe as she explores the countryside in this beautiful picture book for young readers. Ignoring her shepherd, Little Ewe encounters spooky eyes and other captivating creatures. Caregivers and children alike will enjoy the reminder that when we feel lost and alone, our Shepherd’s love is always near and comforting.”  — Tina Cho, author of Rice from Heaven, My Breakfast with Jesus, and The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story

“From the engaging rhythm to the emotive illustrations, Little Ewe provides parents, teachers, and leaders with a powerful tool for sharing this seemingly simple retelling of the story of the Shepherd—and that one lost sheep. Kiddos will no doubt bounce and count along to the beat, while internalizing the unconditional love of a Shepherd who is always looking for that one mischievous little ewe.” —Amy Parker, Bestselling Author & Podcast Host

“Wrapped in lilting rhyme and inviting illustrations, Little Ewe is a delightful and poignant tale of God’s love for each one. Surrounded by a clever cast of characters and engaging numeric climb, we find our sweet Ewe in need of rescue that only the Shepherd can bring. Kids and grown-ups alike will enjoy the adventure again and again.” –– Becky Kopitzke, author of The Cranky Mom Fix and The SuperMom Myth

“Little Ewe skips away from her herd on her own counting adventure under the watchful eye of the Good Shepherd. Though her distractions lead her to a dark place where she is hungry and alone, the Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep to bring her back in a ‘Shepherd’s hug.’  This parable for young readers not only teaches numbers but the healing power of reconciliation.” — Rev. Elizabeth Wilder, Lead Pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church & School, Maplewood, Minnesota

It won’t be long now, until “ewe” too can read LITTLE EWE because it releases in just over three months –– February 23, 2021!

Please consider PRE-ORDERING your copy today from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbook.com, Indiebound.com or the vendor of your choice because pre-orders really do make a difference. If you do, let me know, and I’ll add you to my list of folks to send the pre-release link for the activity kit when it’s ready.

And the Winner of LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT is…

I’m delighted to announce that the winner of last week’s special giveaway,  a brand new copy of LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT is…

Melissa D!!

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

Thank everyone who took the time to comment. And thank you to Glenys for writing the book and to Beaming Books for publishing it and providing today’s winning copy. Happy reading and writing, and remember that signs of hope are everywhere. Blessings all!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Celebrating HAPPY BIRTHDAY TREES and A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE with Children’s Author KAREN ROSTOKER-GRUBER

Today I am thrilled to interview talented children’s book author Karen Roster-Gruber in celebration of not one, but TWO 2020 releases. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TREES, illustrated by Holly Sterling and published by Kar-Ben Publishing is a cheery board book celebrating Tu B’Shevat—Jewish Arbor Day. Told in song-like verse, it captures the joy of planting a tree with three diverse children working together to get the job done. A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE, illustrated by Kristina Swarner and published by Albert Whitman, is Karen’s delightful retelling of an old Yiddish folktale. Told in a combination of prose and spot-on cumulative verse, it had me smiling with each page turn. Kristina Swarner’s illustrations, rendered in ink and watercolor with lots of texture and humor, work well with Karen’s charming text to capture the feel of a traditional folktale, but with modern humor.

Both are delightful and would make wonderful additions to your home or school library. I will be recommending them for purchase at my local town library. Now, the moment, you’ve all been waiting for — the interview with my questions in bold.

Congratulations on the release of both of these fabulous books.  Let’s start with A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE.  I’m smitten with this cumulative tale based on a Yiddish folktale. What inspired you to retell it? Is there anything special about the names Earl and Marge?

My parents are named Earl and Marge and I finally got to use them in a book!  I tried getting my grandmother’s name in there as well, but the publisher took it out.  Her name was Zelda.

I wanted to reimagine a Yiddish folktale and make it a story that everyone could enjoy, so I took out the Rabbi and the Yiddish words, and added in a wise woman because times have changed.

I also wanted to make the tale a bit more lyrical.  I added a touch of rhyme–a repeated refrain, which kids love.  Kids also like when they can predict something. 

Right now this tale is perfect, as everyone is feeling like Farmer Earl, stuck in a too-small space with their cats, dogs, and kids during COVID; It’s too crowded!

HA! Yes, we can all relate to that cooped up feeling. That’s for sure!

The illustrations by Kristina Swarner mirror perfectly the folksy, whimsical feel of your text.  Can you offer any tips for caregivers for how to make the most of this pairing?  (Ex:  stop and count, play “find the…” etc?)

Everytime I look at my book, I find things that I didn’t see before.  Illustration-wise, the only thing I can take credit for is the  duck on the front cover taking a bite out of the letter “A” in the word “FOLKTALE.”  The duck was already on the roof in the sketches and sooooo very close to the letter “A,” that I thought it would be hysterical.  I called my editor and she agreed. 

She told the illustrator and it was done.  

There’s also a toilet paper scene that quacks me up!

Many people I know are telling me that they have their kids counting the ducks, the horses, and the goats on each page. And, asking them to find certain things–like the duck in the toilet or the mouse underneath the bed. 

 I tell people to take notice of the fabric on the wise woman’s dresses, the drapes, and the wise woman’s chair.  Look at the patterns on the wallpaper.  And, to pay close attention to what appears in the wise woman’s windows. It will give the children an idea of what the wise woman will say to Farmer Earl next.  Her plants grow in each instance as well.

In addition, the cats in the book are not amused with all of the ducks, horses, and goats coming into the house, so their facial expressions are a killer.

Here’s the toilet paper scene: 

I agree. There are SO many ways young readers can delight in the joy of discovering the many details in both illustration and text.

Oh my goodness, life is good. Two books out in the same month – each as darling as the other!  Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TREES.

In the past, I’ve had two books come out in the same year, but I’ve never had two come out in the same month!  HAPPY BIRTHDAY TREES came about because I was invited to a luncheon sponsored by the PJ Library.  When they told us what they were looking for, they said that they needed good board books.  So, I went home and looked in my file for the many board books that I had written.  I found one called, “Happy Birthday to the Trees.” I sent it to the PJ Library and won a 2000 author incentive award.  Then my agent found a publisher for it.  

(For my first 14 books I didn’t have an agent though.  For these two I did.) 

You certainly have a gift for rhythm and rhyme. Both stories shared today have very distinct rhythmic voices and rhyme patterns. As an author, how do you decide the verse style you will use for a given story?  

It literally happens to me at 3am.  With A CROWDED FARMHOUSE FOLKTALE, after reading countless folktales from all over the world and settling in on two, the next morning I wrote this on a sticky note.  That note became the repeated refrain for the book.

I can relate to that! Good thing you keep sticky notes and a pen by your bedside. This has been such a lovely chat, Karen. In closing, where can interested readers find your books? 

You can order both of these books from any bookstore near your house. 
If you want signed copies, though,  I signed extra copies at my local bookstore: The Bookworm.  To get a signed copy here’s their number.  They can ship anywhere. 908-766-4599.  

BIO: Karen Rostoker-Gruber is a multi-award-winning author of over 16 books with hundreds of thousands of copies sold. Farmer Kobi’s Hanukkah Match, was named a National Jewish Book Award Finalist and was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Children’s Literature Award from the Church and Synagogue Library Association. Her books Bandit (Marshall Cavendish 2008), Bandit’s Surprise (Marshall Cavendish 2010), and Ferret Fun (Marshall Cavendish 2011) all received starred reviews in School Library Journal; Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo (Dial 2004) and Bandit were both International Reading Association Children’s Book Council Children’s Choices Award recipients;  three of her books, Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo(in 2005), Bandit (in 2009), and Ferret Fun (in 2012) were all chosen for the 100 Best Children’s Books in the Bureau of Education and Research’s Best of the Year Handbook.  Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-DooandFerret Fun were nominated for the Missouri Show Me Award; Bandit was nominated for the South Carolina Book Award; and Rooster Can’t Cock-a-Doodle-Doo was a Dollywood Foundation selection two years in a row (in 2007 the Dollywood Foundation bought 73,579 copies and in 2008 it bought 88,996 copies). Karen’s book, Maddie the Mitzvah Clown, published by Apples and Honey Press, a division of Behrman House, was named a PJ Library book selection in July of 2017 and went out to 21,000 4-year-olds in the US and Canada. Karen’s latest books, Happy Birthday, Trees (KarBen) and A Crowded Farmhouse Folktale (Whitman), will both be out in 2020.  Karen is an active member of SCBWI, has twice co-chaired the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature’s One-on-One Conference, and is one of the co-founders of The Book Meshuggenahs.  http://www.karenrostoker-gruber.com

[Note: Thank you to Kar-Ben Publishing and Albert Whitman for the sharing ARCs which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

CHRISTMAS SEASON Offer: GOODNIGHT MANGER Story Time with the AUTHOR!

‘Tis the season for… CHRISTMAS STORY TIME WITH THE AUTHOR!!!! One of my favorite parts of Christmas is making GOODNIGHT, MANGER author visits at local preschools and churches, but with this pandemic and all, I’m missing my usual busy line-up! That has given me a wonderful idea.

From now through Christmas, I am offering free 15-minute GOODNIGHT, MANGER author visits to TEN special groups – ideal for preschools, church ministries, homeschool coops and more. These can be in–person or VIRTUAL which means I can visit near or far!

If you are interested, reach out to me via the contact tab in the About section.

IMPORTANT DETAILS:

For each FREE 15-minute GOODNIGHT, MANGER visit I will:

  • I introduce the story with the help of Rooster, my puppet. 
  • I engage the children in an interactive reading.
  • Ponder together who the real give of Christmas is — Jesus! 
  • Close by singing a lullaby to Baby Jesus.  

BONUS: Here’s a coloring page plus a whole host of follow-up activities to extend the fun after reading the book together.

REQUEST:  The visit is free, but I respectfully request that you purchase a copy the book for your class library and let families know that they can purchase copies as well. I do not sell my own books, but they are available through the major online vendors as well as your favorite local indie book stores. To help spread word to families, I can provide an order form for schools/groups to collect and order as a group from the vendor of your choosing. Or you can simply let families know that they can purchase books on their own by providing a link to the local or online vendor of your choice. Either way, be sure keep a list of first names for book inscriptions and, as a thank you, I will provide a signed and personalized book plate for each book purchased!

I look forward to spreading Christmas joy in this special way. 

This offer is good through January 1, 2021.

Joy to you!

THE POWER OF LISTS: Early Chapter Book Style

I am a list maker and have been all my life. As a child I wrote lists of what I wanted for Christmas and birthdays. I also kept lists of the books I read. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so I even had a list of last names that I thought would be good for the main characters in my future books. Whipple was at the top of the list!

My mother was a list maker too. And so was her mother. I know this because my mother insisted that I make packing lists before traveling and showed me how to do it. And my grandmother kept lists on index cards documenting every single dinner party she ever hosted, who came, what time they arrived, and what she served. My daughter is now a list-maker too. This summer she kept a list of healthy snack and meal ideas which we still refer to regularly. 

Now that I’m mid-century age-wise and somewhat forgetful at times, I keep daily lists to help me remember the things I need to do. I also keeps lists of things such as blog posts I’d like to write about. For awhile, I kept a list of every new word I learned. And I still keep lists of the books I have read and the books I want to read. This post actually is becoming a list of all the kinds of lists I like to make.

The point is – I couldn’t survive without lists. Neither could my writing. Flip through any journal of mine and you will see lists. Lists of potential story ideas. Lists of potential character names. Lists of favorite memories. Lists of craft ideas and poem ideas. You name it, I’ve listed it. Indeed, lists have become one of  my go-to strategies for combatting writer’s block. But even after I have an idea and the creative juices are flowing, lists play a crucial role in developing that idea.

As I wrote each of my rhyming picture books, for example, I paused many times to make lists. I wrote lists of fun rhyming pairs and vivid sound words and more. And, as I point out to students at school visits, those lists helped immensely! Indeed, many of the words and ideas generated in those lists appear in the final versions of each book.

This month I’m applying this list strategy to chapter books. That’s right, as part of my challenge to myself to write a chapter book series, I have set a goal for myself to make a list plot ideas throughout the month of November. Actually, in this case, the list is a little more complex. I’m collecting vignettes or scenes for possible future use in this potential series, so my “list” includes not only one-word or short phrase “titles” for each possible vignette, but also a page or two of free-writing that potential story scene from the POV of my chapter book protagonist. 

Of course, it’s only November 5th. I still have a long ways to go, but I’m already excited about how this new chapter book-themed list is taking shape.  (And I’m blessed to have a chapter book critique group taking a similar challenge to keep me accountable – and I recommend that too.)

Are you a list maker? If not, why not give list-making a try this week as a way to get those creative juices flowing! Have fun!

LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT: Six Extension Activities for 4 – 8 Year Olds (Plus a GIVEAWAY)

Today I am delighted to feature  LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, Glenys Nellist’s charming companion to LITTLE MOLE FINDS HOPE which I featured earlier this year. Published by Beaming Books and illustrated by Sally Garland LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT is a hearfelt tale of kindness and generosity set in motion by a mushroom! It would make a lovely edition to your family’s Christmas book collection.

Enjoy the book trailer. Then, in celebration of the book’s release, and in the hope of sparking kindness this holiday season and beyond, here are SIX extension activities for LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT.

Make a book-themed decoration. Add a festive reminder to your Christmas tree that kindness is the best gift of all by challenging your child to make a mushroom ornament designed by them! I chose felt, yarn, and buttons for my ornament, but there’s no limit to the creative options. Think egg carton, construction paper, clay, paper mâché! The possibilities are endless! Have fun!

Have a kindness celebration. After reading LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT, celebrate kindness by encouraging your child to do something kind for someone in their family or class. Make cards, deliver food to a shelter, or bake cookies and deliver them to a neighbor who could use a little extra love and care.

Do a Read. Discuss. Do! Author Rebecca Gomez has created a delightful reading extension initiative called Read.Discuss.Do! Here’s one she created for LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT. To find others for a wide variety of favorite titles, search the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo on social media.

Have your child read to you! After several cozy readings of the story, let your littlest ones re-read the book to you using the pictures as clues. Reading the pictures is a great pre-reading skill because it encourages interacting with the page. So, snuggle up and enjoy being “read” to. (Older kids who can read on their own, can also enjoy investigating the illustrations ways the pictures also tell part of the story.)

Tromp through rain, or snow, or sleet. Wintry weather plays an integral role in this story and your children will delight in experiencing it first hand with some fun, exploratory walks through different weather conditions. Maybe they’ll even spot Little Mole or Little Chipmunk!

Make a tasty mushroom treat. At the end of the story Little Mole and his mama enjoy a tasty mushroom treat. Mushroom dishes are not high on a child’s want-to-eat list, but this could be an opportunity to grow their palettes with a mushroom (of the store-purchased variety only) dish. At our house, stuffed mushrooms baked with yummy cheese and breadcrumbs or crumbled sausage, for example, are a hit for ALL ages. A quick google search and you’ll find a whole host of recipes. Enjoy!

BONUS:  Check out the publisher’s website for an activity pack to accompany the story, chock full of book-themed activities.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS (Beaming Books, October 2020) simply post a comment below letting me know that you’d like to enter. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway is sponsored by Beaming Books and ends Monday, 11/9/20 at 11:59 pm EST. THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. The WINNER is announced here.

[Note: Thank you to Beaming Books for this complimentary book that I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

OCTOBER CRAFT FOR KIDS: Spooky Halloween Rings

When I’m between projects or want to vary my writing, I sometimes make and write crafts for kids. Over the years, I had more than 50 crafts published, or accepted for publication at various magazines including Highlights for ChildrenPack-O-FunFamilyFun and Clubhouse Jr.

To be successful, crafts must be simple with clear, step-by step instructions. They also need a hook- something fresh and different to make them stand out from the rest. Most of the crafts I’ve sold have had some purpose beyond their cuteness. Many have doubled as games or holiday decorations. Most take some seemingly ordinary items like bottle caps or old margarine lids and repurpose them in a fresh, fun way.

I like making and writing crafts for many reasons. As a former teacher, I find they’re a valuable and fun way to teach kids how to follow step-by step directions. The written directions can also be used as models to teach kids how to write their own instructions. Now I also do them for each book I write – just for fun and give my readers different ideas for activities to do after reading my books.

Today, in celebration of Halloween and writing and creativity, I’d like to share an easy craft you can make with your kids using plastic ring tabs.

Spooky Halloween Rings

What you Need:

  • plastic ring tabs (from juice or milk cartons)
  • felt scraps: orange, black, white, green
  • black embroidery thread
  • white tacky glue
  • scissors

How to Make It: 

  1. Trace and cut out simple Halloween shapes such as a cat, pumpkin, or ghost from black, orange, or white felt. Glue these on to the round part of the plastic ring tab.
  2. For the pumpkin, cut eyes and toothy grin from black felt and a stem from green felt. Glue on.
  3. For the ghost, glue on two eyes and an oval mouth cut from black felt scraps.
  4. For the cat, cut and glue two green felt eyes. Snip four two-inch strands of embroidery thread , tying them together with a central knot. Snip the ends till the are perfect whisker length and glue in place.
  5. Once dry, slip the rings on your fingers and say “Boo!” or “Trick-or-Treat!” or “Meow!”.

NOTE: I first shared this craft in October of 2012 – when my blog was still brand new! For other crafts, check the tag “crafts”.

FIVE Tips for Using FEEDBACK PRODUCTIVELY

One of the best decisions I ever made as a writer was to be open to critique.  By this I mean showing my work to others with the express purpose of receiving feedback. Over the years, these critiques have come from a variety of sources including teachers, editors, agents and fellow writers.  

It takes courage and thick skin at times, I but opening oneself to critique is an essential part of growth. With that in mind, here are five tips for using feedback productively. These are geared to writers, but I think they apply to other situations as well. 

FIVE TIPS FOR USING FEEDBACK PRODUCTIVELY

TIP #1:  BREATHE AND BE GRATEFUL

  • Recognize that each person offering critique is doing so in spirit of being helpful.
  • Try to set aside feelings of defensiveness or sensitivity to criticism.
  • Feedback is a gift! 

TIP #2: BEFORE YOU DIG IN, RECOGNIZE THAT THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FEEDBACK

  • GLOBAL: Overarching feedback which pertains to piece in entirety, addressing issues such voice, setting, pacing, marketability, heart and more
  • STRUCTURE/STORY LEVEL: Pertains to structure of piece: rule of three, cumulative, parallel, story arc etc.
  • SENTENCE LEVEL: Focuses on details of story at sentence level. May pertain to voice, character and any elements of story. More than just grammar, but can also include grammar, word choice, meter/rhyme.
  • PRESCRIPTIVE: Gives specific suggestions for what to fix. 
  • DIAGNOSTIC: Makes observations and asks questions without prescribing specific solutions.

For more thoughts on these, visit:

https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/story-level-versus-sentence-level-thoughts-on-revising/

https://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/heres-what-i-tinkle-thoughts-on-critiquing-stories/

TIP #3: GIVE EACH CRITIQUE A FIRST READ THROUGH

  • This is your chance to get an overall sense of feedback. Don’t try to react or respond. Just read.

TIP #4: DIG IN MORE CLOSELY

  • Look for types of feedback. 
  • Interact with feedback: Take notes, use a highlighter etc.
  • Look for patterns in feedback. (Are several people saying similar things?)
  • Look for the deeper message behind the comment. (Maybe, for example, what they are commenting on about an unconvincing plot development, is really grounded in an issue of theme or character.)

TIP #5:  APPLY WHAT RESONATES

After you have thoughtfully considered all the feedback, it’s time to revise!  Remember, though, that this is YOUR story.  Feedback is a gift to help you bring it to the next level.  That doesn’t mean, however, that you must apply every suggestion to your story.  Choose what resonates, always remembering, that you, ultimately, are the crafter of your own writing and that you know best the heart of your story.

Most of all, enjoy the process, because this is what we writers do. repeating the process until our stories sing!  HAPPY WRITING ALL!