READ. DISCUSS. DO! New Social Media Campaign Celebrates READING and BEYOND!

RDDMooseThis week my author friend Rebecca J. Gomez (WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? (Atheneum, 2015) and HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016)) shared with me a  wonderful new reading campaign she and her co-author Corey Rosen Schwartz are working on called Read. Discuss. Do!

Read. Discuss. Do! (hashtag #ReadDiscussDo) celebrates reading beyond the book by creating sharable images that give simple ideas for book related discussions and activities. Rebecca got the the idea after creating an image specifically for their co-authored book WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? (pictured above) in the hopes that it would encourage people to think beyond the story when reading with kids. However, when Corey saw the original image, she and Rebecca decided it would be fun to take the idea further and include other authors and their books!

That’s when Rebecca contacted me to see if I’d like to create a short #ReadDiscussDo activity for GOODNIGHT, ARK.  I replied, yes, of course. And so Rebecca created an image for my book as well. Thank you, Rebecca.  The format is similar to her original except she’s replaced her website address with the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo.

RDD Goodnight ArkRebecca hopes this fun reading initiative and social media campaign will really take off, reaching parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians and more.

How can authors, parents, teachers, or librarians get involved?  By tweeting and retweeting and sharing on Facebook, Pinterest etc. using the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo. We can also post story time tips using that same hashtag.  Rebecca will also be creating more sharable images for other books. If you’d like to learn more, contact Rebecca via the “School Visits” tab of her website.

Finally, I’ll end with a little hashtag hunt.  Head on over to Twitter or Facebook, type in #ReadDiscussDo and see what you find.  Have fun!

HAPPY BLOG ANNIVERSARY: Cupcake and Sugar Pea

Since this blog just celebrated its fifth year anniversary,  I thought I’d celebrate by re-posting one my favorite entries from year one.  That seven year old is now twelve!  And like her, I still like to keep several horses in my writerly stable. How about you? Enjoy!

After school, instead of walking home, my seven-year-old has taken to riding — horseback riding, that is. She alternates between two imaginary horses — Cupcake and Sugar Pea. Her horses trot and canter. They gallop and run like the wind.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Cupcake runs like the wind. Sugar Pea is a little slower. She prefers to stop and smell the clover. Cupcake, by contrast, loves jumping over imaginary fences, the wind whipping at her mane. Their styles are so different, I never have to ask my daughter which horse she’s chosen. I just say, “Wow, Cupcake’s fast!” or “What does Sugar Pea think of the lilacs?”

I’m a lot like my daughter. I write best when I have at least two projects going at once. For example, right now I’m working on two very different picture books, several poems and a handful of blog posts. And, just as my daughter alternates ponies, based on mood, I alternate projects, based on interest, deadlines, or variety. Not only does this keep my writing fresh, it allows the pieces I’m not working on to rest, so that I can return to them with new eyes.

Keeping several horses in the stable, keeps me energized and happy as a writer. It also reduces writer’s block because I always have something in process. If one piece isn’t working, I simply take out another horse for the day. What about you? Are you a one-horse writer or do you prefer to keep several horses in your stable?

REVISION REQUEST! HOORAY! Now What? (One Author’s To-Do List)

I’ve been so busy revising a picture book manuscript this past week, per an editor’s request (yay!), that I didn’t think I’d have time to write a blog post. Then I realized it might be interesting and maybe helpful if I shared my process.  So, here’s a list of what I have done over the last several days.

  1. Printed out a fresh, clean copy of the story I’d submitted.
  2. Read and re-read it several times, over a period of a day or two.
  3. Pulled up every earlier version of the story in question and read and re-read each as well looking for nuggets to possibly re-work into my revision.
  4. Brainstormed revision ideas in my notebook and recorded snippets of inspiration – possible new rhyme pairings and plot escalations – using the notes feature on my iPhone.
  5. In several sessions, separated by self-imposed time filters (i.e. walks, dishes, school work etc.) I wrote and rewrote until I had something I felt good about.
  6. Sent my revision-in-progress to a couple of trusted critique partners.
  7. Repeated step five and six as needed (and it was definitely much needed).
  8. Celebrated with a happy dance when, at last, I had a revision that I was really happy with.
  9. Resisted urge to send it right away to my agent – knowing that one extra time-filter can never hurt.
  10. Spent afternoon diverting myself by volunteering at our local history museum’s Sheep to Shawl Festival.  That littlest one is only two days old, by the way.
  11. Finally, after one more read through, I wrote a note to my agent and got my revised story ready to email first thing Monday  morning.

What would you add to the list?  Happy revising!

ARBOR DAY: A Poem by James, age 7 and Art by Miss A.

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Earlier this week my adorable seven year old neighbor, James, reminded me that Arbor Day was just around the corner and that to celebrate, he planned to write a poem. It think he told me this because he knows I like to write too.  I told him I’d love to read the poem once he’d written it and Thursday after school I finally got the chance. “I’m going to read it over the loudspeaker at school tomorrow” he explained.

And that gave me an idea! With his mom’s permission, I asked James if he’d like to share it on my blog as well. He thought that sounded neat! And, to illustrate, Miss A. offered to let us use her newest art work – a stained- glass illustration of a cherry tree in bloom.  Now, without further ado, please enjoy this delightful collaboration between two young artists in celebration of trees!

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And now a bonus… an illustration by James as well!

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I think both the artist and the poet did a great job!  Happy Arbor Day to all!

THE TEL OF THE JRAGIN AND THE GOL: Five PICTURE BOOK Writing Tips from a Four-Year Old!

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“The Tale of the Dragon and the Girl” by W, age four

Look what I found today while rummaging through the third drawer in my desk. It’s the first book my son ever wrote – as a four year-old.  He’s written other things since, but this was the first. (Yeah, I know. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.)

I remember the day well.  My son announced one morning that, like me, he wanted to be a writer and that he was going to write a book. Next thing I knew, he had planted himself at the dining room table with paper and pencil. Then he wrote and wrote. He didn’t stop until he was finished. Once he did, he didn’t let me peek. Instead he ran to our craft drawer and grabbed construction paper for the book cover.  With my help, we stapled the book together. Then, and only then, did he let me read it.  I needed his help the first time through, but his imagined spelling makes total sense to me now and I love how he didn’t let his lack of spelling knowledge keep him from expressing himself.

Here’s the story.  I’ve translated it in the captions, but just for fun, see if you can figure it out for yourself first.  Then, take a moment to think about my writerly takeaways from this authentic 4-year-old writing sample.  Enjoy!

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“You might not think that nothing might happen to Annie, but something happened to her.”

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“It happened by a dragon.”

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“We don’t know why the dragon took her.”

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“The dragon took her because it was hungry.”

I find this writing sample especially fascinating because it reveals one four-year-old’s perspective on what makes a winning picture book. Now, inspired this find, here are five characteristics of effective picture books – as seen through the writings of a four-year-old.

TIP #1: Have an attention grabbing title. I just love W.’s title.  I mean who wouldn’t want to read a tale of a dragon and a girl?  For me, at least, it immediately evokes fairy tales and magic. So, here’s my takeaway. What’s the first glimpse you get of a book sitting on the shelf at the library?  The spine of course. And on that spine you’ll find the title. So, using my son’s catchy title as an example, I think it’s worth considering that if want your book to stand out, a catchy title is a must.

TIP #2: Employ suspenseful page turns.  Even at age four, W. understood the power of a page turn.  He even included page numbers within his text. And if you carefully examine story, you’ll see that each page ends with a little tease – almost a cliff hanger.  This, I believe, is a reflection of something he enjoyed most as young partaker of picture books – the power of a suspenseful page turn. As you analyse your own work-in-progress, be inspired by W. and take a moment to consider how well-placed page turns can enhance your story.

TIP# 3: Keep your text sparse but active. You have to admit W.’s text is pretty lean.  There’s no fluff to be found. Every word he uses pushes his four-year-old story forward.  In fact, his story is almost blunt in its intensity. Likewise, as we write our stories, we need to to shed every word that doesn’t push the story forward – relying on meaty verbs and vivid nouns to bring our tales to life.

TIP #4 Create conversation sparking content. You can almost sense that one of W.’s favorite parts of reading picture books as a preschooler was the conversation that each page sparked.  We never just read a story through. Instead, we asked each other questions, pondered the pictures, and wondered what might happen next.  W.’s text almost reads as an answer to those questions.  As such, his wording is a great reminder to the picture book writer in me that I, too, want to make sure my stories open themselves to lots of interactive reading.

TIP #5 Don’t forget the conflict! Even as a four-year-old, W.’s writing reveals that he had a strong sense of one of the fundamentals to a good story.  Conflict!  A good story needs to have a problem that the character faces, learns from, and hopefully overcomes.  Poor Annie was eaten, but we as the readers, figured out why.  It’s because the dragon was hungry and hopefully, from now on, you’ll steer clear of hungry dragons.  But seriously,  W.’s story is a good reminder that, like dragons, children do indeed hunger for good stories with plenty of action, conflict, and excitement.

Happy writing, all!

AWKWARD! Capturing Ideas at Inconvenient Times

IMG_4133I don’t know about you, but over the years, I’ve discovered that inspiration often hits at the most inconvenient times – like when I’m in the shower or in the middle of the night or when I’m out walking the dog.

I’ve developed a few strategies to capture those awkwardly timed bits of inspiration. For starters, I keep a pen and notebook by my bedside for those middle of the night moments. We also have an antique slate chalkboard in our kitchen where I often capture bits of inspiration. (My children know never to erase funny looking word snippets without first checking with me.)  And I always have a pen in my purse. I try to have little notebook as well, but if I don’t I’ve become quite skilled at writing on napkins, old ticket stubs, receipts etc. I’ve also been known, if out and about without the necessary idea capturing tools,  to talk aloud to myself, repeating that perfectly phrased new rhyming snippet, until I get home or find emergency access to pen and paper.

These strategies, however, are far from perfect.

There was the night, for example, when I came up with the perfect third verse for a poem I was working on.  Not wanting to wake my husband, I quickly grabbed my bedside note book and pen and wrote the verse down in the dark.  The next morning I was dismayed to discover the page was completely blank. I’d written with the cap on!

And my children have made it perfectly clear through eye rolls, etc. that they find it embarrassing when we’re walking together and I start to repeat verses out loud while on walks so that I don’t forget them.  Mortified, I think would be the right word their reaction.

That’s why I’m delighted to have hit upon a new idea capturing device – the “notes” feature on my iPhone. Since I’m a terrible at texting – all thumbs as they say-  I use the handy dictation mode to record sparks of inspiration or that perfect phrase for my current work-in-progress.  This system works well, though I have be careful to speak slowly and clearly or the words get jumbled.

What about you?  How do you handle it when creativity strikes when you are busy with something else? I’d love to hear your stories of funny, awkward inspiration moments and/or what you find to be the most effective way to capture ideas.

Happy idea gathering, all!

 

 

GUEST POST: ZOOMA-ZOOMA-ZOOM! Onomatopoeia with Picture Book Author and Poet Elizabeth Upton

This week, coinciding with National Poetry Month, I am delighted to have picture book author and poet Elizabeth Upton as my guest.  I met Elizabeth at KidLitTV’s Live Stream Read Aloud event last month and had the pleasure of listening as she read aloud her delightful debut, MAXI THE LITTLE TAXI, illustrated by Henry Cole and published in 2016 by Scholastic.  It’s a fun and bouncy story with spot-on rhythm and rhyme.  It’s also full of wonderful poetic elements and I’m delighted that Elizabeth has agreed to pen this post on one of my favorites – onomatopoeia! Take it away, Elizabeth!

It’s an honor to be asked by Laura Sassi to be a guest blogger during Poetry Month. I love poetry. Happily, my poetry has been in three collections by the amazing Lee Bennett Hopkins. My picture book, MAXI THE LITTLE TAXI, features poetic elements including rhythm, rhyme, repetition and word play. I was thrilled when the School Library Journal review that said MAXI THE LITTLE TAXI “is filled with onomatopoeia and amusing details sure to delight young readers.” Onomatopoeia [on-uh-mat-uh-pee-uh], according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, is “the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (as buzz, hiss)”. Children love to imitate, so this aspect of poetry is very easy for them to access.

In my book, it’s Maxi’s first day of work and off he goes!

Max ZIPPED here.

He ZIPPED there.

He ZIPPED everywhere—

From the park, to the river,

And back to the square.

He ZOOMED up.

He ZOOMED down.

He ZOOMED all around town—

Splashing in every big puddle he found!

All over town Maxi gets filthy and he finally arrives at a carwash full of playful sounds. Onomatopoeia is one of the driving forces that keeps the story moving in a fun and engaging way.  For example, the spray at the car wash goes “pish-pish”, the scrubbers to “flip-flop”, and the suds go “blip-blop”.

I hope that adults enjoy the lyricism and onomatopoetic playfulness of this story as much as children do. When you’re done reading, you may want to engage in word play with the child in your life.

IMG_3152Car and Truck Onomatopoeia: Anyone who has seen children play with cars and trucks, has witnessed their innate ability to use onomatopoeia (honk, honk, beep, beep). When children naturally use onomatopoeia, adults can say, ”Oh my! That’s a fun sound! That’s sounds like a little poem.” Make sounds with the child.

Bath Time Onomatopoeia: Maxi the Little Taxi is a bath poem. When children play in the tub ask them to think of what sounds they hear. Ask: “What sound does the water make when you fill the tub? What sound do your feet make when you get in the water? What sound does is make when you use the soap? What sound does the drain make when the water goes down?” (Examples: Whoosh, plip plop, drip drop drip, rub a dub dub, gurgle gurgle.) Then say: “Let’s make a lot of bath noises all in a row to make a little poem!”

img_3853Rainy Day Onomatopoeia: A rainy day is the perfect time to play with onomatopoeia!  Ask: “What does the rain say when hits the roof? What does it sound like on the window, etc.  Let’s say those fun little sounds all in row and make a little poem.” ( Example: Drip drop..plippity plip,plicka plicka plick!)

Read more picture Books with Onomatopoeia. Type “Picture Books with Onomatopoeia” in your search bar and you will find many resources.

Thank you for reading my guest blog! I hope you enjoy reading Maxi the Little Taxi with the children in your lives and that you have fun nurturing their natural poetic sensibilities!

IMG_4008 (1)Elizabeth Upton is the author of Maxi the Little Taxi which was published by Scholastic Press in spring of 2016. Her poetry appears in the following collections by Lee Bennett Hopkins. 

Seasons, Margaret K. MacElderry Books (“Spring Sun” and “Summer Sun”)
Incredible Inventions, Greenwillow Books (“Ferris Wheel”)

Hamsters, Shells and Spelling Bees, Harper Collins [I Can Read! ] (“Show and Tell”)

For more information, please visit Elizabeth at Elizabethuptonauthor.com.

 

KINDERGARTEN POETRY MOMENT: How High Can a Cow Jump?

P1010023.JPGJust in time for National Poetry Month, I rediscovered this little treasure while paging through one of my old notebooks. It’s a perfect example, not only of seizing the moment, but of the power of poetry to spark not only conversation, but creativity!  ENJOY!

“How high can a cow jump?” my newly-minted five year old asks from the back of the car – all serious and deep in thought.

“Come again?” I ask.

“How high can a cow jump?” she repeats. “You know, COWS?” And she drags out the word C-O-W-S to make sure I really understand.

“They can’t,” I reply. “Cows can’t jump. They can moo and chew grass, and they sort of plunk along slowly, but they can’t jump.”

There’s a momentary quiet in the back and I can tell by my daughter’s squiggly brows that she’s perplexed. Finally, she says, in exasperation, “Then how did the cow jump over the moon?”

As we wait for the light to change, I consider the various ways I might answer this. “It’s just pretend,” I want to say, but this, I know, will be too abstract or her. She understands real versus make believe, in theory, but in practice she still gets scared during movies with cartoon characters. She also believes in fairies and Santa and so the distinction is still very fuzzy.

So instead, I say, “Come now, can a dish run? Can a spoon dance?”

My daughter giggles. “No!”

So I continue, “Can cats fiddle?”

“No!” she snorts between giggles.

“Do dogs laugh?” I ask.

By now, my daughter is hysterical. “Say more funny stuff!” she squeals.

So I do. “Do hamsters play flutes?” I ask. “Now your turn!”

My daughter explodes with laughter. Then she says, “No! Do fish dance ballet? Now your turn, Mommy.”

And so we continue, getting sillier and sillier with each passing car. As we head for home, it dawns on me that, as a poet and picture book author, this is exactly the kind of conversation I hope my writing will spark.  And I am reminded, once again, of the power of stories and poems, to spark – not only conversation – but creativity as well!

Happy National Poetry Month all!

TEACHING RESOURCE: Cricket Media Teacher Guides (plus a POEM inspired by Jennifer Cole Judd’s “March”!)

IMG_4122For her birthday, my daughter received a subscription to CRICKET® Magazine, an engagingly written and beautifully illustrated literary magazine for ages 9 – 14 that’s part of a larger family of magazines published by Cricket Media. Other magazines in the group include LADYBUG® Magazine, for ages 3 – 6, and SPIDER® Magazine, for ages 6 – 9. I’m a long-time fan of these magazines. Several of my poems have appeared within their pages, gorgeously illustrated.  With this subscription, however, I’ve had chance to appreciate these magazines from a new angle – that of educator and mom.

As a homeschool mom who seeks to engage my daughter with interesting lessons, as well as ones that align with the common core, I was delighted to discover that Cricket Media has created in-depth teacher guides for each of their magazines. Curious to see what they were like, I downloaded the Teacher’s Guide for the March 2017 issue of CRICKET® Magazine.

The March 2017 CRICKET® Magazine Teacher’s Guide is 26 pages long and includes directions for how to use the guide, a skills and standards overview, plus detailed lesson plans for each story/poem with lots of thoughtful questions relating to key ideas, text structure, various literary elements, vocabulary and more. Each lesson also includes ideas for writing extensions. This month, I’ve been incorporating one story/poem from the issue, along with the accompanying discussion and writing activities, into our weekly literature/language arts lessons.

Early last week, my daughter wrote her own personal narrative as an extension for the first story in the magazine, “Wishin’ Impossible”, and we ended the week with a lovely in-depth analysis and discussion of the poem, “March”, which is found on page 10 of the March issue.

IMG_4124The extra special thing about this particular poem is that I know the author!  Jennifer Cole Judd is not only a talented poet whose work appears regularly in children’s magazines, she is also the author of the delightful rhyming picture book, Circus Train, which was published in 2015 by Two Lions. After a thoughtful discussion of Jennifer’s metaphorical poem which compares March winds to a lion, Miss A. was inspired by to write her own poem.

Thank you, Cricket Media, for creating beautiful literary publications that inspire my reluctant reader to both read and write!  And thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your beautifuly written pieces with the world!

Now, in celebration of reading and writing, here’s Miss A.’s poem:

Enjoy!

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AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Mary Morgan in Celebration of PIP SITS

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Author-Illustrator Mary Morgan’s newest book, PIP SITS  (I Like to Read®), released last month. Published by Holiday House as part of their I Like to Read Series, it’s the sweet story of Pip, a porcupine, and the little ducklings who think he’s their mama. PIP SITS has received some lovely reviews.  Kirkus Reviews calls it “A good read for hatching new readers” and SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL compliments Mary’s illustrations as “endearing”.  I’m thrilled today to have Mary as my guest. Thank you for joining us, Mary!  I believe this is the first time I’ve had an author-illustrator here to chat about a book!  Well, let’s get started.

What is the inspiration behind PIP SITS?

 I was inspired by an antique photograph of a young girl sitting in the grass with many ducklings on her lap. The look on her face was pure joy. I tried to find an original idea that would also capture the bliss children have when relating to animals. I thought about birds imprinting on whoever they first see when they hatch. I have raised baby birds and it is very interesting to have a tiny bird imprint on you. So this was how the idea of the story was hatched.

How wonderful for your readers, Mary, that you had the creative instinct to write a story based on these bits of inspiration. 

PIP SITS is not your first book. Tell us a little bit about your journey as an author/illustrator.

I was born in Chicago and grew up in Kansas City. My summers were spent in Tulsa with my grandmother where I first took art classes at the Philbrook Art Gallery and later was an assistant art teacher. I could do what I loved there, draw! My grandmother always encouraged my art with trips to the ballet and art museums. She let me keep all kinds of animals to draw from: mice, guinea pigs, chicks and even a small bat. My father’s nightly readings of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and the Wind in the Willows also inspired me. I was enthralled by these books and knew I wanted to create books too.

What a wonderful way to grow up!  And I’m so glad you listened to that inner voice that said “I want to create books too!”

Since you are my first author-illustrator, I know my readers will be extra interested in hearing what your process was like as both author and illustrator in creating this story.

I wrote the story in a rough form first. Then I made many character sketches of Pip, the porcupine. After this, I imagined the scenes in the book. I drew very rough ideas of what the images would look like on each page.

Then I rewrote the story many times working out all the details. When at last I was content with the story I did the finished drawings.

I find it interesting that you wrote the story first.  I, for some reason, imagined that you would begin with sketches. But, I can see that both are integral in your creative process.  Fascinating!

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

 My web site is www.marymorganbooks.com. On my web page there is a section called, fun page. There I show you how to make dragon pizzas, draw a dragon and help Little Mouse find another place to sleep. Here is an example…

In the book, Sleep Tight Little Mouse, Little Mouse found many places to sleep. He slept upside down with bats in a cave, inside kangaroo pouches and even in a bird’s nest. Can you think of other ways animals sleep that Little Mouse might like to try?
Make a drawing of him sleeping like these different animals.

That “Fun Page” is a treasure, Mary. I also did a little poking around, Mary, and discovered a terrific  educator’s guide for PIP SITS available at Holiday House.

Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books and projects in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books and other work for sale?

I have many projects I am working on. One is a fantasy about a young girl that migrates with the Monarchs. I hope this story will bring interest to the difficulties the Monarch Butterfly is having with its environment. I am also working on a book about a bilingual bird and another about magical tutus. My books can be bought on Amazon.com.

Thank you so much for joining us, Mary! 

About the Author

Mary walkingAfter studying art at the Kansas City Art Institute and the Instituto de San Miguel de Allende in Mexico; Mary worked as an illustrator at Hallmark cards for ten years.

Mary illustrated her first book in 1987. In the past twenty years she has illustrated over forty books, many of which she also wrote: from Jake Baked a Cake, Sleep Tight Little Mouse to her most recent book, Pip Sits.

Mary and her husband divide their time between France, their home is in a small medieval village, Semur en Auxois, their sailboat, which is now in The Canary Islands and their families, especially their grandchildren!

 Web site: www.marymorganbooks.com