WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES: Eight Extension Activities for LITTLE ONES

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This week I’m delighted to be a part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s multi-picture book blog tour with eight extension activities to celebrate this month’s release of Susanna’s ADORABLE new board book WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman and published by Little Simon. My kids would have loved this story at bedtime – simple, sweet… and FUNNY! And I love the board book format – just the right size for little hands! Now, without further ado, treat yourself the book trailer created by Susanna!  (She is so multi-talented!). Then help yourself to a rich serving of book themed extension activities perfect for 2 – 4 year olds.

EIGHT Extension Activites for WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES

IMG_50631. Pretend YOUR stuffie has the sniffles.  Little ones love extending a story through play.  So, have them grab their favorite stuffy, or stuffies, and pretend they have the sniffles. What antics will they go through to keep their sniffly stuffies from sneezing!

 2. Create your own shadow puppets.  One of the fun ways the child in the story entertains her elephant is by showing him how to make shadow puppets.  After reading the story, you, too, can create shadow puppets.  All you need is a flashlight, your arms and hands, and a blank wall. Don’t forget to dim the light so you get good shadows. 

3. Cover your sneeze, please!  Use this fun, playful story as an opportunity to teach your little one about how sneezes spread germs. Then, together, pretend you are elephants.  Using one arm as your trunk, pretend to have a great big sneeze, but instead of spreading that sneeze around, catch it in the crook of your trunk (arm).

4. Make a SNIFFLE list. After giggling over all the ways the little girl cares for her elephant when he has the sniffles, have your child list – using words or pictures – all the things he/she likes to do on quiet, stay-at-home sniffly days.

Version 35. Decorate elephant cookies.  I found an elephant cookie cutter at my local kitchen shop, but making your own template out of tagboard would be easy enough. Then mix up your favorite sugar cookie and icing recipes and decorate some elephants. The question is, do your cookie creatures have the sniffles?

6. Make and send a “Get Well” Sniffle Card. Does your child know anyone who has the sniffles or who is sick?  Extend the story experience and foster kindness by taking out the markers and creating a get-well card for that special someone. 

7. Make elephant crafts.  The internet is full of elephant-themed craft ideas. Here’s a great post from the lifestyle and parenting blog Living Off Love and Coffee to get you started: 25 Cute and Easy Elephant Crafts for Kids.

8. Let your child “reread” the story using picture clues. Reading the pictures is a great pre-reading skill because it encourages interacting with the page. With that in mind, let your child “read” the story to you, using the pictures to tell the story.

To learn more about Susanna Leonard Hill, visit her website.  

Finally, a little reminder from Susanna: Don’t forget to share this post using #whenyourbooks!  Every time you post with #whenyourbooks you get an entry in her end-of-tour raffle for a Special Prize!

HAPPY READING ALL!

 

 

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES with Linda Joy Singleton in Celebration of the release of A CAT IS BETTER

Linda Joy Singleton, author of over 45 books ranging from picture books to young adult, has a new picture book out with little bee books.  It’s called A CAT IS BETTER and today, in celebration of its recent release,  I am honored to have her as my guest. I know you will be inspired by her reflections on waiting for inspiration. Take it away, Linda!

WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES

by

Linda Joy Singleton

Writers are often asked if they wait for inspiration to write a book. My answer used to be, “No way! I sit in my chair and write almost every day, until the book is finished.”

But writing my picture book, A CAT IS BETTER, has changed my answer.  I can’t just say, “I’m going to sit down today and write a picture book.” The picture book process doesn’t work that way. I still believe it’s important to write regularly for novels; getting that first draft can be a huge, time-consuming challenge. If you don’t add a few pages regularly, the book may never get finished.

Writing picture books has been a different experience for me. The short format is closer to creating poetry or music, and just can’t be forced.  It may sound cliche, but I have to wait to be inspired before I write a picture book.

Usually when an idea does strike, it’s in the middle of the night or when I’m driving. And if I don’t write it down immediately, the idea could vanish like a forgotten dream. Sometimes it feels like the words are a gift to me from the universe, and I’m always grateful (even for the many books I wrote that never sold).

My first picture book, SNOW DOG, SAND DOG, was inspired by a black and white photo. The next, CASH KAT, was triggered by a money game I played with my grandson.

But writing A CAT IS BETTER was a completely different experience. It was the first time that I was able to successfully ask the “universe” for an idea.

I was a speaker at a writing conference, and sitting in on another session. While others were making picture book dummies, a pre-arranged exercise, I had nothing to do. So I told myself that I would write a picture book. “What topic?” I asked myself. “Cats,” came the answer. Because I LOVE cats. And just like that—an opening line jumped into my head. “Congratulations, I’m your new cat. I’m the perfect pet for you. You may take me home now.”

My theory is that my creative brain whirls in the background of my life, but it’s not easy to access the information. But in this amazing moment, my conscious and creative mind connected. I wrote the first draft in one hour. I rewrote it for a few weeks, showed my agent, and after five rewrites for an editor, I had a contract. And A CAT IS BETTER was a June 2017 release from Little Bee Books.

Since that experience, I’ve had more of these conversations with myself. I saw a photo online that made me think, “Someone should write about this.” I kept thinking about the photo, and a title popped into my head. But I couldn’t think of a plot. I mulled this over, frustrated that no ideas happened. But at 4AM one morning, words popped into my head! I got up, typed quickly, writing a rough draft.

I don’t know if this new book will sell, but it was fun to write. Thank heavens for amazing, almost magical moments of inspiration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linda Joy Singleton is the author of over 45 MG, YA and picture books. She’s currently working on the 6th mystery in the MG series, CURIOUS CAT SPY CLUB. In 2017, she has two new picture books, A CAT IS BETTER and LUCY LOVES GOOSEY. She lives in the country with a menagerie of animals, including dogs, cats, pigs, horses and peacocks. She offers tips to writers and resources for teachers at www.LindaJoySingleton.com.

 

 

GOOD NEWS: Picture Book Deal!

DIVA announcement pic

I’ve been keeping this to myself for some time now, but the announcement ran in Publishers Weekly today, so I think I can finally let loose my vibrato!

Per their announcement, DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE is “an ode to artistic collaboration, starring an opera-loving mouse who wants to help and the diva who thinks she deserves bigger help than a mouse.” It’s scheduled for publication by Sterling Children’s Books in Spring 2018 and is illustrated by British illustrator Rebecca Gerlings. I’ve already seen sketches and several spreads and I am over the moon with delight!  I can’t wait for this book to release!

For the official announcement, press here.

Those of you who have enjoyed participating in Tara Lazar’s STORYSTORM, formerly known as PICTURE BOOK IDEA MONTH, might be encouraged know that this was the very first idea on my 2011 PiBoIdMo list! It took several years and many, many revisions until it was finally ready to submit, but persistence (and patience) paid off!

Happy Thursday all!

AUTHOR and ILLUSTRATOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Pepper Springfield and Kristy Caldwell in Celebration of their newest release: BOBS and TWEETS PERFECTO PET SHOW

Today I am delighted to be doing a joint interview with early reader author Pepper Springfield and illustrator Kristy Caldwell. Last spring this dynamic team made their debut with Meet the Bobs and the Tweets, their first book in the new BOBS AND TWEETS series for emerging readers published by Scholastic. Today they’re here to chat about the recent release of the second book in the series, BOB AND TWEETS: Perfecto Pet Show. Thanks so much for joining us, Pepper and Kristy. Let’s get started.

Question #1: First of all, welcome. Since this is our first time meeting, please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/illustrating. 

Pepper: Thank you Laura, we really appreciate having the opportunity to talk with you about the Bobs and Tweets!

I deftly avoided going to law school after college, instead attending the Radcliffe Publishing Program, and started working at Dell Publishing as a publicity assistant. I worked with really talented adult book authors such as Richard (Revolutionary Road) Yates, Danielle Steel, Belva Plain, Gay Talese, and Gordon Liddy.  I loved my job but I also liked being in school so I went to NYU at night to get an MBA.  Shortly after I graduated, I was approached by someone at Dell who wanted the company to start a classroom book club to compete with Scholastic.  I took the job, started a classroom book club called the Trumpet Club and have worked in children’s book publishing ever since.

I think now is a good time to come clean that my real name is Judy Newman and after running the Trumpet Club for 7 years, I came to Scholastic in 1993 and am now the President of Scholastic Book Clubs.

And while for all those years, I wanted to write a book I never had the courage to actually sit down and get my stories out of my head and onto a piece of paper (yes, paper in those days!).  I am supposed to be an expert on children’s book publishing and I think I was terrified that if a book I wrote wasn’t perfect that I would be exposed as a fraud.  But eventually—decades later—I finally got up enough nerve to start writing, find Kristy, and work with an editor.  But I still felt the need—until very recently—to hide behind my pseudonym…Pepper Springfield. Although I’m still getting used to being an author and having people know that I am Pepper, it’s been wonderful to finally be able to talk openly to wonderful and supportive people like you about my passion for the Bobs and Tweets books and my journey as an author.

Well, henceforth, you will always be both Pepper and Judy to me. I’m so glad you overcame your hesitation to write!  

Kristy:  To me, it always looked like children’s book illustrators had the most fun, but initially I didn’t know how to become one of those people. I always hacked my jobs to incorporate some illustration duties. Everyone needs illustration at some point. Eventually, I moved from Monroe, Louisiana, to New York to attend the ‘Illustration as Visual Essay’ graduate program at the School of Visual Arts. Rachael Cole, the art director of Schwartz & Wade, generously agreed to be my thesis adviser, and she guided me to an understanding of what the process of creating a picture book can be, at its best. I also worked as an intern at Schwartz & Wade during that time. I think I was their first intern! After graduation I participated in Pat Cummings’ Children’s Books Boot Camp. I didn’t have a lot of confidence at that point, and Pat taught me a lot about standing behind my work.

I was very lucky to receive the initial email about Bobs and Tweets based on the strength of my portfolio on the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators website (SCBWI for short).  Judy saw something in my work that made her think I could be trusted with these characters, and I’m so grateful for that.

What a wonderful story of how you got your start! I hope this inspires other illustrators to keep building their portfolios.  

Question #2: I’m so delighted you found each other! Now, Pepper (aka Judy), please us a little bit about the inspiration behind the BOBS AND TWEETS books. And Kristy, what was your creative process for bringing Pepper’s characters to life pictorially?  

Pepper (Judy): I visit many classrooms all over the country as part of my day job and I was always inspired to find books for kids who aren’t great readers—particularly 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade emerging readers—those kids who struggle with vocabulary but don’t want to read “baby books.”  I know those kids need books that have interesting stories and well developed characters that are funny and relatable but easy enough to read if you’re not a confident reader.

We know that rhyme—and engaging color illustration—work really well in helping kids read successfully so I wanted to try an unorthodox format: an 80 page rhyming, fully-illustrated chapter book.

One night the phrase “Bob the Slob” popped into my head.  Bit by bit, I developed that one phrase into a cast of characters who all live on Bonefish Street. There are the Bobs, a family of real slobs, but the youngest member of the family, Dean Bob, is quite fastidious.  He and his dog, Chopper, navigate life with a family who is not above driving their jet ski into the Bonefish Street community pool and building a half pipe ramp for skateboarding in the middle of the street. Fortunately, Dean meets Lou Tweet—the youngest member of the Tweet family of neatniks who have unwittingly moved directly across the street from the Bobs. Lou is NOT like the rest of her family. She loves rock ‘n’ roll and isn’t too neat.  Quickly, Dean and Lou become best friends.

There’s also Mo, the self-proclaimed Mayor of Bonefish Street.  Lifeguard Mark, in charge at the Bonefish Street Community Pool, Ms. Pat, the kids’ incredible teacher, and a whole cast of kid and adult characters.

Kids have a lot of pressure on them—including dealing with complicated family lives—and I wanted to create empathic characters that readers would cheer for and feel connected to.
Meet the Bobs and TweetsI think one of the most gratifying things so far is that Meet the Bobs and Tweets was voted by kids as one of 32 “Young Readers” titles chosen from 12,5000 for the ILA/CBC Children’s Choices 2017 Reading List.  That says to me that kids are finding the books and liking them organically.

I LOVE your phrase “and finding them organically”! That is a great tribute to your books and what we, as writers, parents, teachers etc. want kids to be doing – finding and falling in love with books “organically”!

Kristy:  The characters are so wild and woolly—even the Tweets, who are wound so tightly that they are always a hair’s breadth away from total breakdown—that there’s a lot of fun to be had in the details. The stories really embrace the messiness of family and friendship.

Since it’s a series, the biggest challenge was to design characters kids would want to spend a lot of time with. The Bobs play a lot of pranks, and I wanted to make sure they don’t feel mean. The Tweets can be very rigid, and I wanted to make sure they feel capable of having a good time, too. Pepper (aka Judy) had already done a great job of digging into the characters’ backstories. I think I did three or four rounds of character design before it started to feel right. I have some secret inspirations. I thought about some of the more eccentric members of my family and pulled details directly from them. That helps me think about the characters more three-dimensionally, too.

Note from Pepper: Me too! Some of the characters are definitely inspired by real people in my life.

Yep, I have to agree.  The real-life people we know can certainly be inspirational.  

Question #3: You are only the second author/illustrator team I’ve had the chance to interview.  I’m curious to know how much and in what ways you collaborated in the process of bringing your first book and now this second illustrated reader to final publication stage?  

Pepper (Judy):  This is actually the first interview Kristy and I have done together as a team and it’s so much fun. And you are asking a key question about our collaboration.  I know many picture book authors and illustrators never meet (and I just read about how you met Jane Chapman—your illustrator—for the first time. ).  I do understand how the writer and the illustrator working on a project from different perspectives (and different countries even!)  bring their individual visions to the book to create something special and amazing.

But for Bobs and Tweets I knew I needed to find an illustrator who could collaborate with me along the way at every step.  I was so excited to find Kristy Caldwell through the SCBWI website.  Her portfolio wasn’t that extensive at the time but there was something about the whimsical way she drew that just resonated with me.

Kristy artwork 2011

An example of Kristy’s artwork from 2011 (5 years before Meet the Bobs and Tweets was published!)

She was brave enough to take a cold call and come and meet me for breakfast in Soho and then we just got started. I realized I had to be clear—in the text as well as in my verbal conversations—about who these characters are.  Over many breakfasts at The Cupping Room in Soho in New York City, we worked through the personalities and signature behaviors of Lou and Dean and the whole cast of characters.  Bit by bit we developed these characters over breakfasts—and that is saying a lot since really neither I not Kristy are morning people—but those breakfast meetings were the best for our schedules and creative flow.

I would write about the characters and Kristy would draw them and it felt like magic, watching the two points of view come together. There are so many characters in these books and each of them requires lots of discussion and back and forth. We also want to make sure the world of Bonefish Street includes diverse characters and feels real and relatable.

Kristy: I don’t remember much about our first meeting except that I almost immediately knocked my water over, but I guess it went well from there!

We met the most frequently in the beginning, during the concept stage for the first book. But we have continued to meet in person at critical stages like the early writing and thumbnailing—for Perfecto Pet Show and now for Book Three too. I think it sets us down a good path. In person it’s easy to see which ideas Pepper is particularly excited about, and that’s really helpful. We try to support each other. By talking together in the early stages we also have a rare opportunity to discuss new characters and dig deeper into the community we’re slowly building with each book.

Question #4: Teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy? 

Pepper: Because Meet the Bobs and Tweets was a non-traditional format we created a handmade dummy of the text with black and white illustrations.  We sent out about 50 copies of that dummy—along with a survey—to teachers to share with their students and get some feedback.  From those survey responses we knew that teachers would use Bobs and Tweets to do a variety of lessons:  comparing and contrasting, rhymes and rhythm, conventions and usage of standard English grammar, recall and retelling, and more. We actually had a really wonderful teacher send us a lesson plan on these topics that is free to download on pepperspringfield.com!

The original dummy cover and our first student survey.

We are working on a program where kids can say whether they are a Bob or a Tweet, holding up a Tweet or Bob specific paddle, and then explain why they say that.  We’ve been trying this out informally with kids we know and the responses are fascinating.  I think teachers will get really rich lessons when kids use their critical thinking skills and stretch their vocabulary to describe their opinions about themselves within the Bobs and Tweets framework.

We don’t want to make these books too heavy handed or curricular but I do think they really lend themselves to be class conversation starters and generate very insightful and meaningful feedback. Also, to help teachers get some insight into students’ family lives.

Kristy:  A third-grade class did put on a play based on the first Bobs and Tweets book. I was totally blown away. The school emailed me a few photos, and it was inspiring to see how big the actors’ smiles were. I recognized specific illustrations from the book in the painted backdrop, and I think they improved everything!

Like Pepper said, I think the strong contrasts throughout the books are an opportunity for kids to appreciate each other’s unique strengths. The relationship between the Bobs and the Tweets evolves. It was important to Pepper and to me that the “slobby Bobs” get to be the good guys sometimes.

These sound like wonderful extension ideas and I LOVE that a class decided to put on a play based on your first book. That’s a sure sign the loved it!

Question #5: Finally, what’s next for each of you?  Any more collaborative, or independent, works in the pipeline?

Pepper (Judy): It took us three years to get Meet the Bobs and Tweets from that first coffee shop meeting to a published book. Since then we have spent so much time and creative energy developing the characters and the world of Bonefish Street that there is so much rich material to mine for future books.

We love Ms. Pat, Lou and Dean’s marvelous, pet loving teacher who has a real penchant for children’s literature (hint: check out the names of her pets!); the kids in the class, the colorful adults in the Bonefish Street community, and the always surprising Bobs and Tweets themselves.

Right now we are working on a Halloween book for Fall 18 and have lots of ideas for future books and interstitial material.  My dream would be for this world to be turned into an animated series as a companion for the books!  What I have learned in this process, is that if you believe in your characters and your stories strongly enough and have the courage to NOT hide (like behind a pseudonym!) anything is possible if kids love your books.

Kristy: As Pepper said, we are actually at work on Book 3 as we speak! The world of the Bobs and Tweets is growing richer. We get to explore new emotions and new connections between characters, and—not to give anything away—I’m having a lot of fun mapping out all of Bonefish Street, which we hadn’t done before.

I also have a picture book coming up that will tell the life story of Isabella Bird, a trailblazing adventurer who lived in the 1800s. Away with Words is written by Lori Mortensen and will be published by Peachtree Publishers in Spring 2019.

 Congratulations to both of you!  I shall look forward to the Halloween book with many more to follow, I hope.  And AWAY WITH WORDS sounds marvelous, Kristy!  Can’t wait to read that as well. Thanks for stopping by and best wishes for continued success. Enjoy the journey!


About the Author:

Pepper Springfield (aka Judy Newman to close friend and family) was born and raised in Massachusetts. She loves rock’n’roll and chocolate, just like Lou Tweet. And, like Dean Bob, she loves to read and do crossword puzzles. Judy hates the spotlight, but Pepper is getting used to it! If Pepper had to choose, she would be a Tweet by day and a Bob at night.

About the Illustrator: 

Kristy Caldwell  received an MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts. She is a full-time illustrator and part-time Tweet. While working in her art studio in Brooklyn, NY, Kristy gets her creativity on like Lou Tweet, drinks tea like Dean Bob, and hangs out with her energetic dog, Dutch.

PONDERING SNAILS with EMALINE: Four Tips to Help the WRITER in You SLOW DOWN (and See the World Anew)

FullSizeRender (1)A special part of my recent trip to England was spending time with a friend who recently moved to London with her husband and three adorable daughters. My day with Charise began with a reading of “Goodnight Ark” to her girls’ classes at their lovely school in Hampstead, a village of London.  That was a wonderful treat in and of itself and I especially enjoyed answering the children’s questions after each reading, asked in charming British accents.

 

 

The readings ended at 10:30 and I think Charise’s youngest, who is just three, was a little sad not to get to spend the rest of the day at school with her sisters. It all turned out okay, though, because in the end, since Emaline was with us, it was she who got to show me the snails.

This is how it happened. First, Emaline and her mom gave us a walking tour of Hampstead. As we walked Charise pointed several spots that will be featured in the upcoming film Hampstead starring Diane Keaton, which I now can’t wait to see.  After our walk, it was still too early for lunch so we stopped in at their home for a few minutes.

Once home, Emaline took great pleasure in showing us her garden – and that’s where I met the snails. This particular morning there were only two. “Do you think this one’s the other one’s mum?” Emaline asked as we watched them move slowly across a patio stone. “Perhaps,” I answered. “Or maybe they’re friends. Maybe they play together. What do you think?”

Then, in quiet whispers, Emaline and I watched them for the loveliest long time. And, as we crouched there, I thought how good it felt to pause from the busyness of the day to ponder snails – how they might be related, where they might be going and what they might be doing etc.

This adorable interaction got me thinking about life as a writer. I’ve discovered over time that my most satisfying days are those in which, like Emaline, I pause from the hectic pace of it all to ponder snails (or whatever) – in other words, to allow myself to slow down enough to see the world anew.

Heaven knows, the publishing world moves at a snail’s pace, so what’s the rush, really? Especially, when there’s so much pleasure and inspiration to be gained from crouching down and seeing the world – snails and all – from the perspective of a child!

Now, in celebration of three-year-olds, snails and slowing down, I offer you:

 FOUR Tips to Help the WRITER in You SLOW DOWN (and See the World Anew)

  1. SPEND TIME with a CHILD.  There’s nothing quite as perspective changing as spending time with a little one.  Play a game together. Ask questions. Talk. See the world through their eyes.
  2. CLEAR the CALENDAR for a morning. Then find a spot, preferably outside, and be still. Listen to the sound of the wind rustling the leaves or the peals of children’s laughter. Quietly follow the trail of a chipmunk. What is he doing? Where is he going? You will be amazed at how alive and fresh everything (and you) will feel!  And, if you are anything like me, you will come away with at least a dozen new writing ideas.
  3. DEDICATE an AFTERNOON to READING PICTURE BOOKS.  Settle yourself down in the children’s department of your local library or at your favorite bookstore and READ!  Pick old favorites as well as newer titles.  Before long, those stories will transport you to the magical world of child-like wonder. Have a notebook handy because you never know what long-forgotten memory your reading will stir.
  4. Investigate AUTHENTIC CHILDHOOD WRITINGS.  These can be your own childhood writings or, if you’re like me, you’ve also saved your children’s writings.  I always ask my kids permission to read through their old school journals and story folders, and they always grant it.  I’m so happy they do, because those journals, as well as my own childhood scribblings, are precious sources of authentic kid-talk and they always inspire me.

Happy Monday all! And may we each find time to stop and ponder the snails this week.

OUR NEW TREE: A Symbol of HOPE and BLESSING

IMG_4940

A few years ago we sold our first house so we could move a few blocks away to a slightly larger home to fit our growing family. We loved that first house and I know my son still misses it sometimes, but what I, at least, miss most is the lovely Korean dogwood that graced the front lawn.

May 2004 004To me, that lovely tree symbolized hope and blessings. I gazed on it from the window when I was on bedrest with our first child. And once he was born (extremely prematurely at 24 weeks), that tree provided precious shade as I sat with him outside and later as he toddled about. He eventually even climbed that tree, for its trunk was nice and low and its branches the perfect size for him.

Later, as we wrestled with the understanding that the risks were too high to try for another biological child, that Korean tree became a reminder that blessings come in many ways. I’d always dreamed of adopting, perhaps because I had such fond memories of my sister’s childhood friend who was a Korean adoptee. Having that tree in the front yard seemed like divine confirmation that this was to be our next step as well. Indeed, I’m so grateful and happy to say that in due time that lovely Korean dogwood also provided shade for our beautiful adopted daughter – though she preferred playing fairies beneath the branches to actually climbing the tree.P1010024

Sometimes as I sat under that tree watching my children, I would free write what would later become stories and poems. I even have a post about that if you want to read. It’s all about not being in a rush to bloom as a writer, but to savor the experience along the way.

Long story short, we’ve been in our new house several years now, and every June I’ve missed that tree. Then, during a wild storm a couple of years ago, our neighbor’s pear tree, that had provided such lovely shade for both our front porches, collapsed and so we found ourselves with a bright, sunny, treeless front yard.  We lived for a couple of summers in that treeless condition before decided that we should plant a replacement tree in our front yard.

And what kind of tree do you think my husband and I both agreed we should get – a Korean dogwood!  So, here it is brand-new and darling as can be.  We’re watering it well so that it will grow healthy and strong – a living reminder of hope and blessing for years to come.

A SPECIAL TREAT: Meeting JANE CHAPMAN!

IMG_5983 I’ve been on holiday in England (as the British say) this past week and have enjoyed every moment, from touring several London museums, to exploring the narrow streets of Salisbury and listening to a choral festival in the glorious Salisbury cathedral. Today and tomorrow we will explore Bath with its stunning Roman ruins.

But the jewel of the visit was getting to meet Jane Chapman yesterday.  Jane has illustrated over 100 picture books including all of Karma Wilson’s BEAR SNORES ON books, and, to my delight, both GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER.

It was a great honor and pleasure to meet her and her husband Tim Warnes, also a talented illustrator. Thank you for having us! And now a few pictures to celebrate the day.

First, it was quite the adventure getting to her lovely house in the heart of Dorset on roads, some of which were barely one lane wide with gorgeously thick brambles, grasses, high hedges and sometimes stone walls on either side.

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by Jane and Tim and quickly settled in with some lovely conversation on their patio. They fixed a delicious homemade lunch including a chocolate pear cake that Miss A insists I ask Jane the recipe for.

After lunch, Jane showed me their studios and then we spent a lovely long while in her studio.  She pulled out her files of sketches and finals for both books. I found it very interesting to listen as she shared her process with me. It got me thinking about process too, so you can look forward to another post on when I return.

Finally, my dad snapped that nice picture of Jane, Tim and me at the top of the post. Then it was time to go. It was a wonderful way to spend the day and I hope that our paths cross again. I’d also love to do more books with Jane!

Happy Wednesday, all!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan in Celebration of the Release of her Debut Picture Book MRS. MCBEE LEAVES ROOM 3!

Today I am honored to have debut picture book author Gretchen Brandenburg McClellan as my guest in celebration of the recent release of Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, illustrated by Grace Zong and published by Peachtree Publishers.  It’s the story of a class saying goodbye to their beloved teacher – a perfect book for this time of year!  Thank you so much for joining us, Gretchen. Let’s get started – with my questions in blue to match your delightful cover.

Question #1: What inspired you to write Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3? 

For many students, school is their ground. Their sense of security is rooted in the geography of the school–knowing that Ms. A’s room is there and Mr. B’s room is across the hall. (Many very young students believe teachers live at school!) I’ve had students who were heading off to middle-school ask me through tears if I would still be in my room the next year. They needed to know that this part of their lives was stable as the tectonic plates of their lives shifted.

This connection to the geography of the school inspired me to write Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3. Originally, Mrs. McBee was leaving to move to a new school, but my editor and I decided to expand the possible reasons why Mrs. McBee might be leaving by not being specific. Teachers leave for so many reasons: to have babies, to return to the university, to move to a new school or away from the area, to change careers, to care for themselves or family members who are ill, or finally to retire. All of these moves are bittersweet.

Around the time I was writing this book, a dear friend and former co-worker was dying of breast cancer. She had to say good-bye to her own elementary classroom and her students to her. I was able to share the sale of Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 with her and my decision to dedicate my book to her. It brought us both a bittersweet joy, knowing she wouldn’t live to see the art or the book in print. A memorial library has been established in her honor at Hathaway Elementary in Washougal, Washington where we taught together. I look forward to adding Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 to her shelves. I am sure she would love it!

I always love hearing the stories behind a book’s dedication. How very special that you decided the book to your dear teacher friend. I’m sure that means a lot to her family.

Question #2: Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey?

My journey writing for children started with motherhood. I was passionate about reading and passionate about the kinds of toys I provided my kids. I was just as passionate about the toys I didn’t want them to have. At that time, I was involved in an advocacy group in my area that promoted creative play called SNAP—Support Non-Aggressive Play. I read a picture book by Charlotte Zolotow called William’s Dollabout a boy who wanted a doll, much to the disapproval of his father. I couldn’t find a picture book that addressed the concerns that so many of us in SNAP had about violent toys. So I decided to write one. My manuscript, Joseph and His Toys,f eatured a boy who was not allowed to have violent toys and the creative ways he found to feel a sense of power and control over “bad guys” and find a sense of justice. At a local book fair, I met children’s author Erik Kimmel and asked him how to submit my book for publication. He told me to join SCBWI, get the manuscript in the mail, and focus on writing my next story. At that time I didn’t intend for there to be a next story. But I was a goner. I fell in love with picture books and writing picture books and both have been my passion ever since.

Question #3: Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 is your debut picture book.  How does it feel to be “post-publication”? What do you like best about this exciting new stage?  

The joys and challenges of being a debut writer are still unfolding, and I expect more surprises along the way as I go through my debut year. The best part of this new stage is sharing my book with children in schools and bookstores. In schools I ask teachers to select a student who needs a little sparkle in his/her life to pass on a little magic wand to, and when I start my presentations I say, “Somebody must have a magic wand out there, because my dream is coming true right now.” The child is delighted to hold up the wand and I am just as delighted to explain how the dream of being an author isn’t complete without having kids to share books with.

I am also having a blast writing and improving my presentations and activities that go along with the book. At first I felt like I was working on a Masters in Anticipatory Anxiety and was really apprehensive about the public/performing life of being an author. But I’ve switched programs and now am heading straight to my PhD in excitement and joy. I love being an author and presenter!

Ha! Love that Masters in Anticipatory Anxiety and I think your magic wand set up is absolutely brilliant. And I’m so happy to hear that you’ve almost earned that delightful Phd!  =)

Question #4: As a former reading specialist, what three tips would you give parents for keeping the love of reading alive over summer? 

 Three tips for keeping the love of reading alive over the summer are 1) join the summer reading program at the public library, 2) have books available everywhere for kids to read, including the car, bathroom and tent and 3) share books together regularly. I firmly believe that children should be read aloud to through grade school for a multitude of reasons, including their development as readers, because reading comprehension doesn’t catch up with listening comprehension until about sixth grade. Reading aloud has so many positive effects on family relationships too. And it is so much fun! The health of the audio book industry attests to the pleasure of hearing a story read aloud. Who hasn’t wanted to keep on driving to finish a chapter or remain sitting in the driveway to listen to just one more?

These are wonderful suggestions. My daughter’s in sixth grade and we still love reading aloud to each other!  

Question #5: What’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline?  

I am very excited about three picture books releasing in 2018. I’m Done!, illustrated by Catherine Odell, is about an impulsive and playful little beaver who finally learns what it means to be done (Holiday House, Spring 2018).  When Your Daddy’s a Soldier, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, is the story of a brother and sister whose father goes off to war (Beach Lane, Fall 2018).  Button and Bundle, illustrated by Gillian Flint, tells the story of first friends whose world is disrupted when one moves away, but who find a way to preserve their special world of play even though they are miles apart (Knopf, Fall 2018).

Thank you so much for joining us, Gretchen.  It’s always fun to share in the joy of a debut book release!

IMG_8515e edit-1 (2)BIO: Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan is a former elementary reading specialist who now devotes herself to writing for children and visiting schools as an author. She just celebrated the release of Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, illustrated by Grace Zong (Peachtree) and looks forward to the release of three more picture books 2018. She is an active tribe-member of SCBWI and writes chapter books and middle-grade fiction as well.  

Gretchen grew up as a global nomad, daughter of a career Army officer, and lived on three continents.  She has settled in Camas, WA where she lives with her husband, cat and dog, stunt squirrels, nomadic neighborhood chickens, and celebrates when her children and grandchildren come home. Children will find a home in her heartfelt books about community, courage and compassion.

When she isn’t writing or teaching, Gretchen can be found playing word games, hiking in the woods, x-country skiing and attending plays.  Please visit Gretchen at gretchenmclellan.com for more information about her books, events and author visits. 

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Laurie Wallmark in Celebration of her Latest Release – GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE

Grace cover 100dpi 3x4

Today I’m delighted to have children’s author, Laurie Wallmark, as my guest. Laurie and I met several years ago at the NJSCBWI annual conference, and I’ve been impressed by her passion for highlighting the careers and lives of notable women in the science field.  Her first book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), celebrated the life of a 19th-century female mathematician who is considered to be the world’s first computer programmer.  Her newest book, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling, 2017) celebrates the life of Grace Hopper, a 20th century female trailblazer in the field of computer programming.  Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code is engaging, informative, and fun and has already earned strong reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and more. Welcome, Laurie and let’s get started.

Q: What inspired you to write Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code?

A: Since I teach computer science and am a former programmer, the early years of computing fascinate me. Grace was among the first computer scientists. I’m amazed at how her insight and creativity shaped the world of computers today

Q: There are so many fun – and fascinating – moments in this delightful picture book biography, including one particularly amusing moment involving a bug. What was your research process like? Were there any amazing moments where you discovered something completely new to you? 

A: It’s interesting that you ask about that computer bug. I had always heard that Grace discovered a moth in a computer relay, which caused her to coin the word “bug.” Well in doing the research, it turns out neither part of this sentence is quite true. Grace was not the person who discovered the bug, but rather someone on her team did. And as far back as Thomas Edison, the word “bug” was used to describe a glitch in a mechanical device. Grace was the first person to use the term “computer bug,” though. This is why research is so important when writing nonfiction for children.

Q: Most of your text is written in creative nonfiction, but on many spreads you also have special text that is set apart in large and colorful fonts. Can you share with us why you chose this distinction? 

A: Grace was known for her witty sayings, and the set-apart text contains some of the most interesting ones. Because not all of her quotations would easily fit as part of the story, we chose to separate them out like this.

Q: Katy Wu’s illustrations really enhance your text. I love the mid-century funky feel she creates in each spread.  What was it like to work with Katy?

A: In general, and that was true in this case, the author doesn’t work directly with the illustrator. Instead, my notes and suggestions went through my editor and the art director. I provided Katy with lots of pictures of Grace, computer equipment, and even a math problem to show on the blackboard. I was fortunate that Sterling solicited my opinions on the illustrations. That’s not common.

Q: Finally, teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum, and I think that’s especially true for a STEM rich book like this. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy? 

A: On the teacher page of my website (http://www.lauriewallmark.com/teachers.php), I have a discussion guide for use with this book. Among other things, it includes the following activity:

Is there some gadget or gizmo you wish existed? Write the name of your invention and what it does on a blank sheet a paper. Draw a picture of what your invention might look like. Share you invention with your classmates and describe how it works. Listen as they explain about their own inventions.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Laurie.  I wish you the best with this remarkable new book.

Laurie-Wallmark-100dpi-4x6BIO:

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and several national awards, including Outstanding Science Trade Book and the Eureka Award. It is a Cook Prize Honor Book. Her recently released picture book biography, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017), earned a Kirkus star and was well-reviewed in several trade journals. Laurie has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. When not writing, she teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.

Click here to join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her picture book biography, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code.

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SOUR WASH CLOTHS: Wringing Out Our Stories to Perfection!

IMG_4272Nothing made my mother’s nose crinkle more than the smell of a sour washcloth. Her sense of smell was so strong that she claimed she could detect the scent of a sour wash cloth on a man’s face in an elevator. I’m a nose crinkler too, though I confess I’m not quite that discriminating.

Still, she trained me well and I so do my very best to remedy any and all sour wash cloth situations in our family.

The steps are simple and straightforward. First, to prevent a sour situation from the get-go, be sure to thoroughly wring out each wash cloth immediately after using.  Second, never put a damp wash cloth in the hamper. Instead, hang it to air day in a spot with plenty of ventilation.  Third, if you do discover a sour wash cloth, hope is not lost. You can do one of two things:  boil it, or get it wet, wring it out, and immediately zap it on high in the microwave for two minutes. (This works for sour sponges, as well.)

I’m thankful my mother left me so equipped with strategies for handling these nose-crinkling moments. I must also admit, however, that the very idea of sniffing out those sour smells, has gotten me thinking about writing.  After all nothing, and I mean nothing, pulls the reader out of the story more than a sour story moment.  Here, then, are four sour story moments that I am working diligently to wring out of my pieces before stepping into any elevators.  Get your noses ready!

Off Kilter Rhythm and Rhyme:  Nothing crinkles this reader’s nose faster than poorly executed rhyming text.  The hard truth is that telling a story well in rhyme is hard. Not only must the rhyming be perfect, so must the meter.  To shine, the rhymes must be unexpected and not forced and the sentence structure should never be inverted to make the rhyme work.  Also, to be effective, the content of the poem or story must always come first.

Story Stoppers: This is a sour source I’ve been working hard to eliminate a lot lately.  So, what’s a story stopper?  A story stopper is anything that takes the reader out of the moment, that removes them from the world you have created in your story.  It could be inconsistency of voice, or a plot moment so unbelievable that it makes the reader stop mid sentence. Perhaps it’s simply a word or phrase that feels out of character for a particular story’s world.  It could also be a grammatical gaffe or an erroneous assumption or fact that makes the reader question the whole world you’ve created.

Too Much Description: In early elementary school my kids were taught to make their sentences pop by adding vivid adjectives and adverbs. This strategy works well for that age group. However, as adults, with full-grown vocabularies, our sentence popping strategy needs to shift from descriptive to active. Instead of “ big heavy rock”  try “boulder” or “chunk”. Instead of “walk slowly” how about “amble” or “traipse”  or “poke”. With well-chosen nouns and verbs, pieces for youngest readers will pop without being overly wordy.

Heavy-handed Message: In my opinion, a heavy-handed message zaps a story of all fun and naturalness. (I’m embarrassed, in fact, in hindsight, at how heavy-handed the earliest stories I submitted to magazines were.)  All good stories, of course, by their very nature, have some sort of take-away but, when done well, the message is subtle and the story comes first.

Now it’s your turn.  What sour wash cloth story moments would you add to this nose-crinkling list? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy Writing Monday, all!