AUTHOR VISITS… Puppet Style!

IMG_1044My decision to use puppets at author visits began quite by chance. Since a pair of skunks play an important role in my first book, and figuring that some of my very youngest readers might not be familiar with the species, I thought having a pair of skunk puppets would be an engaging way to introduce the story. Quite honestly, the former teacher (and crowd control freak) in me, also thought skunk puppets might be a friendly way to help young audiences settle down before and during the reading since, as you know, skunks are notorious for making a big stink if they get startled.

Well, the skunks were such a great hit, that when my second book came out, I knew I wanted to pair that story with a book-specific puppet as well. Without too much trouble, thanks to the wonderful puppet designers at Folkmanis, I found the perfect companion — Rooster!

Rooster’s very loud which, quite frankly, is a big problem because Goodnight, Manger is a bedtime story and bedtime is supposed to be quiet. So together, the kids and I decide that we’ll show Rooster what “quiet” looks and sounds like. After we’ve read the story, we see if we can teach him do a quiet cock-a-doodle-doo.  If he learns well, we invite him to join as we sing a lullaby to Baby Jesus. And once again, like those stinky skunks, Rooster, too, has been a big hit.

In fact, these darling puppets have been so popular at author events, I’ve decided that each and every picture book that I write must be paired with at least one puppet. So far I’ve been lucky and have found perfect matches.  Now, with more books in the publication pipeline, I am again in the market for puppets.  Without revealing too much…. I need an adorable mouse, an owl, and if possible, a seal!  Any leads?  =)

Happy author visits, all! And perhaps you, too, will decide to bring a puppet along to your next author visit.

HOLIDAY GIFT IDEA: Signed (and personalized) Copies of GOODNIGHT, MANGER or GOODNIGHT, ARK!

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Can’t make it to a book signing? No problem!

I am excited to announce that this year once again, in response to requests from readers for signed copies, my local indie book store, The Town Book Store in Westfield, New Jersey, will now offer signed, personalized copies of my books for sale!

If this interests you, please call them to order the book or books you want. Be sure to explain that you would like to have them signed by the author and pass along the names you’d like included. They will take the order and do the transaction. I will then come in and sign the book or books. Readers can either pick them up in-store at no extra charge, or have them mailed. There will be a shipping fee to cover the cost of mailing, but they can give you those details.

I thought this was a nice way to make signed copies available and support a wonderful independent book store.  Their number is: The Town Book Store (908) 233-3535.

Happy Reading, all!

UPDATED: ‘Tis the Season for MORE Book Events!

img_3521In celebration of reading and living joyfully, I’ve added a few more events for the holiday season. Please join me, if you can.  I’d love to see you! 

Saturday November 26, 2016 10 – noon.  I’ll be reading my books and chatting with customers as part of Small Business Saturday at The Town Book Store in Westfield, NJ.

Sunday December 4th, 2016 1:30 – 4:00.  I’ll be reading GOODNIGHT, MANGER and signing books as part of Gingerbread Sunday at the Miller Cory House in Westfield, NJ.

Thursday December 8, 2016 12 – 2pm. I’ll be at the Barnes and Noble in Princeton, NJ reading and signing both books as part of a book fair. All are welcome.

Saturday December 10 2016 11- 1:30 pm.  Join me for festive readings of GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER with puppets, then shop at the Cranford United Methodist Church’s Christmas Shoppe and Soup Festival. Note: The festival is open from 10 – 3pm.

Sunday, December 11, 2016 1pm. I’ll be at the Barnes & Noble in Springfield, NJ reading and signing both books as part of a book fair. All are welcome.

Tuesday December 20, 2016 10am.  Join me for an interactive story time featuring GOODNIGHT, MANGER at the New Providence Library. Meet my storytelling companion–Rooster and enjoy some fun book-themed coloring pages.

Wednesday December 21, 2016 10:30am.  Join me for an interactive story time featuring GOODNIGHT, MANGER at the Garwood Public Library. Meet my storytelling companion–Rooster and enjoy a holiday craft.

‘Tis the Season for BOOK EVENTS!

IMG_1044Please join me at one of these upcoming book events. I’d love to see you!  

Saturday November 5, 2016 1 – 4 pm.  Stop in at Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope, PA where I’ll be chatting with customers and signing books.

Tuesday, November 15,  2016 4:30 pm.  Join me for an interactive story time featuring GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER at the Fanwood Library. Meet my storytelling companions – Rooster, Stinkie and Pinkie – and enjoy some fun book-themed coloring pages.

Saturday November 26, 2015 10 – noon.  I’ll be reading my books and chatting with customers as part of Small Business Saturday at The Town Book Store in Westfield, NJ.

Saturday December 10 2016 11- 1:30 pm.  Join me for festive readings of GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER with puppets, then shop at the Cranford United Methodist Church’s Christmas Shoppe and Soup Festival. Note: The festival is open from 10 – 3pm.

SKUNKS and SKETCHES: Thoughts on the Creative Process

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Since today is National Skunk Day, I simply can’t resist re-sharing these writerly thoughts on skunks, elephants, and creativity. So, please bear with me and enjoy! 

Can you guess what these are?

They’re preliminary sketches for the sleepy little pair skunks and the large pair of frightened elephants that appear in GOODNIGHT, ARK. When Jane Chapman first posted them on Facebook last year, I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I was amazed at all the detail and artistic brainstorming that went into developing these delightful animals. They clearly show that she spent at least as much time “playing with pictures”  as I spent “playing with words” in the creation of my story.

Jane’s sketches are a wonderful reminder that there is joy in the process of creating and that creating takes time.  Don’t rush the process by just sketching one skunk or elephant.  Sketch a a full page of them!  Likewise, don’t rush to finalize your word choice or your plot twists. Keep on playing with those words and let the creative process work its magic. Fill an entire notebook if you need to. That’s what I did!

As a fun aside, and in conclusion of today’s skunk-themed thoughts, if you have a copy of GOODNIGHT, ARK, you might enjoy examining these sketches and then perusing the pages of the story to see which sketches made the final cut.  The students I share the sketches with LOVE doing this and I have to agree, it’s fun!

Enjoy!

P.S. You might also enjoy this skunk quiz!

FIVE Things That FLOAT My Family’s Boat

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RUMBLE! BOOM! If your family is anything like mine, life can be stormy, what with the winds of busy-ness blowing us this way and that. And even if we’re not in the midst of truly stormy times, I find, as a mom, that it’s necessary to be intentional about finding creative, loving ways to stay afloat above the sea of activities and responsibilities of family living. Indeed one of the themes I hope readers (and their parents) will take away from my first book, GOODNIGHT, ARK  (Zonderkidz, 2014), is that sometimes a little extra TLC is just what’s needed to make things okay, even in the midst of a storm!

Now in celebration of TLC (tender lovin’ care) and GOODNIGHT, ARK (which is #15 on the Christian Juvenile Bestsellers’ List for May 2016!), here are five things that keep my family afloat (and happy).

  1. Morning Hugs – From the moment they came home as babies, we’ve started our mornings with what we now call the “morning hug”.  Indeed the first sentence out of my daughter’s mouth each morning is,  “Time for my morning hug.”  And mine:  “Me, too.”  My son, age 15, now gives more of a morning shrug, but we still all know that the morning wouldn’t be quite the same without it.
  2. Special Breakfasts –  These are pretty self-explanatory. I mean isn’t any day extra special if it begins with pancakes and bacon, or warm-out-of-the oven blueberry muffins? The extra, extra special twist is that these breakfasts are often a group effort.  Who wants to stir?
  3. Family Dinners – Eat together.  Talk together. Be together.  Need I say more?
  4. After Dinner Sillies – This is our family’s favorite time to let loose and be silly. We’ve done foot puppet shows, dance numbers, stand-up comedy, you name it. Anything goes, really, in this delightful post-dinner moment of relaxation before dishes are cleared and the evening routine of finishing up homework, cleaning up after dinner, taking showers etc. resumes.
  5. Pillow Ponderings (and Prayers) There’s something about the cozy comfort of bedtime that brings out a reflective spirit in each of my children. And I love nothing better than talking with my kids about what’s on their mind and then wrapping it all up in prayer, before giving each that last goodnight kiss and turning out the light. Even when I’m tired to the core, like the Noah in my story must have been when he finally settled those animals down, I wouldn’t miss these special bedtime moments.

HAPPY FLOATING, ALL!

(An earlier version of this post appeared on Becky Kopitzke’s lovely blog.)

BARNES & NOBLE BOOK FAIR: Thank you, Let’s Play in Italian Preschool and Kindergarten!

IMG_0658I spent a lovely Saturday morning sharing GOODNIGHT, ARK with the cute kids from Let’s Play in Italian, a preschool and kindergarten in Scotch Plains. The story time took place at the Barnes and Noble in Springfield and was part of their book fair.

When I first arrived the children were enjoying a wonderfully animated sing-a-long with Italian-American artist and singer  Michela Musolino.  Using various instruments and props including a shell and an expresso cup, she brought Italian folk lore and music to life.  I enjoyed listening to her sing in Italian with her deep, rich voice while the children echoed back phrases in Italian. IMG_2072

Then it was time for GOODNIGHT, ARK. First, I introduced the book and those stinky skunks!

Then I read the story. “Watch out or this bed will BREAK!”IMG_2106

 

Afterwards there was time to pet the skunks and sign a few books.

When story time was over, the children reconvened for some interactive folk dancing with Michela.

Thank you Barnes and Noble and Let’s Play in Italian for having me. I think we all had a great time!

THANK YOU, DAD!: Goodnight, Ark ALMOST Spotted “Down Under”

Image 2My dad is a terrific man on so many levels. He was a loving husband to my mom. (Here they are pictured above – just one month before she passed away – sharing in the joy of seeing an advance copy of “Goodnight, Ark” in October 2013.) And he continues to be a loving father and grandfather. As it turns out, he’s also become my most enthusiastic book promoter. I should have guessed that he might be. He always has a bookmark in his breast pocket, ready to take out at a cocktail party or luncheon. And he did a great job of setting up events for me when I visited him in Virginia last fall.

And now, I’d like to add this to my list of terrific Dad moments.  For the last month my dad has been traveling in Australia and New Zealand.  And while visiting Wellington, New Zealand, he popped into the central branch of the Wellington City Library so he could take a picture of  “Goodnight, Ark” so that we could post it on Facebook or Twitter. (Yes, that’s how geeky we are.)

It turned out to be quite the adventure. Though the book was listed as on the shelf, it was very difficult to find. Still, my dad tried. On his knees, even. Yep, that’s my dad.  Thorough and enthusiastic to the core.IMG_1904

Here’s his summary note to me:

This nice librarian helped us look for “Ark”, which should have been on the shelf but could not be found.  So we took this snap of her (Karen) with the online listing. She said to tell you for sure that she would use it at a future morning reading hour.

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It’s fun to imagine “Goodnight, Ark” being read to children in New Zealand.  Thank you Dad and Dianne for taking time out of your trip to go on a little hunt for Noah and the gang!

Happy Sailing!

SKYPE VISIT: Thank you, International Christian School Uijongbu!

IMG_2390Monday evening, I spent a delightful 20 minutes Skyping with the K– 5th graders at International Christian School Uijongbu in South Korea.  It was actually Tuesday morning for them and they were bright-eyed and ready to go!  After introducing myself and sharing the inspiration for Goodnight, Ark, I read them the story, pausing occasionally to reflect on how the text and the illustrations work together to tell the story. Afterwards they impressed me with their thoughtful questions. Even though we were separated by a continent and an ocean, it almost felt as if we were in the same room. What a wonderful use of technology!

This event was in celebration of World Read Aloud Day, though we had to schedule it a little early. The official date for World Read Aloud Day is February 24th, 2016. I will be Skyping with two schools that day – one in Georgia and one in Canada. I can’t wait!

To learn more about World Read Aloud Day, press here. If you would like to set up  an author visit with me for your class, please reach out to me using the contact tab above.

Thank you again, teachers and students for a great visit! And a special thanks to my writing friend, Tina Cho, who teaches at the school, for arranging the visit.

Happy reading and writing to all!

 M-O-T-O-R-C-Y-C-L-E: Thoughts on SOUND Effects in Picture Books

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A few years ago, my husband and I were eating a lovely supper with our son, age three, when one of us, who shall remain nameless, passed some extremely audible gas. Before anyone had a chance to be mortified, my son squealed with delight: “M-O-T-O-R-C-Y-C-L-E!” I share this because it’s a perfect example of the magical effect sounds have on young readers. They’re so mesmerized by sounds that, even when sounds aren’t emitted naturally (as above), they create their own. Eavesdrop on any small child playing and quite often you’ll hear the putt-putt of imaginary cars, the whoosh of imaginary jets, or the tippa-tap of invisible fairy wands.
As writers for youngest readers, we can enhance our stories by tapping into this intrinsic love and infusing our texts with sound words. Technically called “onomatopoeia”, sound words can add richness to any writing, but especially to picture books. Indeed, one of my intentions in writing my debut picture book, GOODNIGHT, ARK was to infuse it with as many ear-pleasing sound words as possible. Thus the hail in my story goes pop pop and ping ping and the lightning flashes with a zip and a zing. The wind goes whoosh and the sheep baah as they dash into Noah’s bed. The book trailer the publisher produced gives a fun sense of how sound words infuse the story.

I’m so keen for sound words that when no perfect translation exists, I come up with my own. Here are some examples of ear-pleasing phrases I’ve concocted to capture special moments.  See if you can guess what they are. (Answers at end of post.) NO PEEKING!

A. Vroom! Pt! Ptta! Clack!

B. Flump-flump! Flurp-flurp!

C. Sloggle, sloggle…
IMG_3152 Are you a collector? You know, the sort who collects shells, or bottle caps, or little toy cars (as my son used to)? Yes? Then perhaps you’d like to join me in a challenge. This week, with ear-pleasing wordplay in mind, I plan to collect sounds as I go about my day and then translate them into creative sound words for possible use in a future picture book or poem. I’ll be collecting my words in my writing journal, but any repository will do.

Need a little inspiration to get you started? Here are two great examples of picture books in which the author splendidly incorporates sound words, often made up, to add hilarity to the text.

IMG_0006.JPG In PLEASE SAY PLEASE! PENGUINS GUIDE TO MANNERS (Scholastic, 2004), author Margery Cuyler does a splendid job of infusing fun sound words into her story about a little penguin who invites his friends to dinner. Each spread depicts a humorously horrendous manner, with the more polite, preferred alternative depicted on the page turn. This book was one of my daughter’s favorites when she was little and includes sound words such as hee-hee, splat, and wheee. My daughter’s absolute favorite bit, however, involves a hearty bur-r-r-r-r-r-r-p! 

IMG_0007Candace Fleming’s MUNCHA! MUNCHA! MUNCHA! (Atheneum/Schwartz, 2002) about three persistent rabbits trying to get into Mr. McGreeley’s garden is also rich in onomatopoeia. As the story builds, Mr. McGreeley takes ever more drastic measures to keep the rabbits out. Each time the rabbits outwit him, Fleming humorously celebrates their triumph with a repeating, sound-pleasing, growing refrain that begins “Tippy-tippy -tippy, Pat!” and ends with “Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!” In between, she adds sound words that reflects their success in overcoming the latest rabbit-thwarting barrier created by Mr. McGreeley. For example, after Mr. McGreeley installs a wire fence around his garden to keep out the rabbits, Candace adds a “Spring-hurdle, Dash! Dash! Dash!” to the interior of the refrain.  Later, when Mr. McGreeley builds a moat, Fleming adds a “Dive-paddle, Splash! Splash! Splash!”

 

Happy sound hunting and word building all!

Answers to Onomotopoeia Challenge:
A.            The sound of our vacuum cleaner picking little toy bits.
B.             The sound of a little wingless chick trying to fly.
C.             The slurpy sound little paws make when trying to trudge through a muddy puddle.
(NOTE: This post first appeared on the lovely British blog, Picture Book Den in August 2014).