A SURPRISE AUTHOR VISIT on the Last Day of First Grade!

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Two weeks ago I received a surprise phone call from one of the first grade teachers at Hillside Avenue School with a special request. Her students had brainstormed special activities to make the end of the school year extra fun.  Their top vote?  Invite a MYSTERY READER to visit on the last day of school.  Would I be willing, this teacher asked, to come and be, not just a MYSTERY READER, but a MYSTERY AUTHOR as well?  Since I LOVE visiting with school kids, I said yes, of course!

Today was the day.  Since the visit was a surprise, I tried to arrive as inconspicuously as possible. Here I am (above) giving the “top secret” signal just outside the main office.

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Then it was time to quietly roll my author-visit cart down to Room 8.  I snapped this picture just before entering the room.  Then… SURPRISE!  (I loved seeing all those wiggly-toothed smiles and could feel the EXCITEMENT in the room.)

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While the children gathered on the rug, I set up my display. Soon it was time for introductions and an enthusiastic discussion about where we – as writers and artists – get our ideas.  They all had such good thoughts!

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Next we all enjoyed an interactive reading of GOODNIGHT, ARK with the help of my skunk puppets!  We paused occasionally to notice things like word choice and page turns and how the illustrations added extra (and often funny) details to the story.  What attentive readers they were!

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Finally, I challenged the first graders to be writers and illustrators over the summer. And here’s the special part. If they write a snazzy story or poem that includes an illustration that includes extra details and, if their parents agree, they may send snap shots of their pieces to me via their teachers and I will post them on my blog!  I can’t wait to see their work.  =)

In the meantime…

HAPPY SUMMER ALL! And don’t forget to weave some reading,  writing… and drawing time into every week!

FUN MAIL: First Grader Reviews GOODNIGHT, ARK (and the author!)

Last week, I received a note from a first grade teacher at Bloomingdale Avenue School.  In her note she explained that since March, when I visited her class, her students have been busy writing reviews of all sorts, including book reviews. And one darling first grader chose to write his book review about Goodnight, Ark!. “This was his choice to review your book,” she explained. “He did a great job.”  Well, I completely agree! He did do a great job and I especially enjoyed how he gave a bit of a review of the author as well. What fun! Thank you!

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SCHOOL VISIT: Thank you, Bloomingdale Avenue School!

IMG_0313Last week I spent two delightful mornings visiting  K – 2nd graders at Bloomingdale Avenue School.  I visited each class for thirty fun-packed minutes. With the help of my two skunk assistants, we read the story and talked about its various characteristics including rhyme and rhythm, humor, and building suspense. Every class impressed me with their great prediction skills and their impressive word knowledge. I didn’t expect words like onomatopoeia and alliteration to roll of their tongues with such ease!

And afterwards, to my utter delight, I received a special delivery from the kindergartners – thank you notes depicting in picture and words their favorite characters.  Each and every one is a treasure and I now present to you a sampling. Enjoy!

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Thank you teachers and students for a great visit! And happy reading and writing to all!

Thank you, Jardine Academy, for an extra special visit!

photoRecently I had the privilege of being guest author at a very special school.  The Jardine Academy is a private school run by the Cerebral Palsy League of New Jersey. It provides elementary and secondary education for children with developmental disabilities.  And it does this with warmth and love and dedication (not to mention skill and expertise).  Can you tell I was impressed?

My visit was part of a school-wide reading celebration. The day I visited, students from every class were voting on their favorite book-themed decorated doors. All day, kids buzzed around (in wheel chairs, on foot, or with the help of other scooting/walking devises) voting on each others’s doors. Here are some sample doors:

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Then, in thirty-minute increments, students of all ages joined me in the cheerful library for a reading of GOODNIGHT, ARK.  I knew that the students attending this school each faced special challenges, and I didn’t know what to expect during the readings.  Well, my friends at Jardine, you overwhelmed and blessed me with your presence! I have never felt such joy reading my story and interacting with kids.  You were amazing!  Here are just a few snapshots that capture the joy of the day!

I read GOODNIGHT ARK to every group.

Reading GOODNIGHT, ARK.

I introduced those stinky skunks to each group. They' were such a hit that...

My stinky tag-along skunks…

Those stinky skunks were such a hit that...

… were such a big hit that…

... almost everyone wanted to pet them and I enjoyed taking the time to let the skunks meet and greet the kids individually.

… almost everyone wanted to pet them and I enjoyed taking the time to let the skunks meet and greet the kids individually.

This young darling was so excited about the visit that he sat in my lap!

This young darling was so excited about the visit that he sat in my lap!

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It was wonderful to chat with students and sign a few books too.

 

SCHOOL VISIT: Children’s Author Christine Pakkala Visits Third Grade!

IMG_2915Last week the third graders at my daughter’s school were treated to a delightful assembly and writing workshop with Christine Pakkala, author of Last-But-Not-Least Lola (Boyds Mills Press, 2013). Christine opened the assembly by asking her eager young listeners where they get their ideas, then described how she got the idea for her book and what the process from idea to publication was like. It took seven years and lots of revision until she finally got to see Last-But-Not-Least Lola in print. Her kid-friendly take-away? You, too, can your turn your ideas into stories.  Just keep writing and revising and reading all kinds of literature!

The students were brimming with thoughtful questions. As a writer I was particularly interested in this one. Is it easier to write a single book or a series?  Christine paused for a moment, before concluding that, for her, writing a series is easier because you have a list of characters you get to know, almost as if they are real friends, and you build your stories based on different things they do together. This answer pleased the the kids, especially when she revealed that Lola is the star of… a series! The second book, Last-But-Not-Least Lola and the Wild Chicken will be published in Fall 2014 and a third book is in the works.

IMG_2923After snack-time, it was time for writing workshop. The assignment was to write a story beginning with this sentence: “I only had 10 seconds before the alarm went off.”  With imaginations in high gear, the kids got busy, filling the cafeteria with the sounds of pencils scratching on paper.  At the end, students from each table shared their stories-in-progress.  Each was unique and wonderful, which just proves that even with the same prompt, no two stories are exactly alike! That’s the wonder and joy of using our imaginations.

IMG_2920Something that made this particular school visit extra special was that Christine’s editor, Rebecca Davis, was in the room as well!  It turns out that in addition to being a terrific editor, she’s also a mom with two kids at my daughter’s school. Here’s a lovely snapshot of Christine Pakkala and Rebecca Davis, Senior Editor for Boyds Mills Press.

IMG_2914Before leaving, students who had pre-ordered them, received their signed copies of Last-But-Not-Least Lola. My daughter proudly brought hers home and we’ve been enjoying reading it together every night.

For more information about Christine Pakkala visit her website.  She’s also active on Facebook and Twitter.  You can purchase her books online or at your favorite bookstore.

PICTURE BOOK WRITERS: Activate your SUPER POWERS!

IMG_0625A week ago Friday, I spent a delightful morning talking about writing picture books with 3rd through 8th graders at a “Meet the Experts” symposium organized for our town’s gifted program. Since students in the program will be writing their own picture books, I focused my session on what makes picture books engaging.

During our time together we focused on four qualities and had a wonderful time looking for them in the sample picture books we read together.  I then challenged them to incorporate these qualities into their own writing.

I like to think of these qualities as  SUPER POWERS. That’s right, as picture book writers, we have super powers we can activate to create engaging stories.  Now, with a wave of my wand, here FOUR SUPER POWERS you might like to activate in your own writing:

The POWER of the KID-FRIENDLY PROBLEM:  Losing a favorite toy, wanting a cookie, being afraid of a storm, not wanting to take a bath. These are just a few examples of kid-friendly problems in the books we read.  A kid-friendly problems connects the reader to your story.

The POWER of PICTURES that ADD: The hallmark of picture books, of course, is that they are illustrated. But there’s more. Good picture book writers let the pictures tell part of the story. Sometimes the pictures even include important details that are not in the text. (See Mo Willem’s KNUFFLEBUNNY for a great example of this.) As you write and revise your stories, put stars next to parts of the story that could be told (or enhanced) by the illustrations.  Then consider omitting the words from the text, instead substituting a simple illustration note, but only if absolutely necessary.

The POWER of the PAGE TURN:  With only a few sentences per spread, picture books include almost constant page turns.  These built-in pauses provide authors a great opportunity to build suspense. Consider pausing an exciting moment mid-sentence as you write.  What happens next?  To find out kids will have to TURN THE PAGE! (Note: creating a book dummy during revisions is a great way to figure out how you can take advantage of page turns.)

The POWER of HUMOR:  Kids love to laugh, or at least chuckle, and so do parents. So anytime you can infuse humor into your story, via text or illustration, go for it!

Happy Writing, all!

FUN STUFF: Tara Lazar Visits Second Grade Class on Virtual Book Tour

IMG_2212Last week my daughter’s second grade class had the great pleasure of a free and fabulous 30-minute Skype visit with the talented and funny Tara Lazar. Tara’s debut picture book, THE MONSTORE  (Simon and Schuster, 2013), hit shelves June 4th and she’s been celebrating with blog posts, book signings, and virtual visits to classrooms all over the country. Tara’s visit to Room 8 was the perfect culminating activity for these fun-loving, hard-working, inquisitive second graders. All year, my daughter and her classmates have been honing their reading and writing skills. They’ve discussed what it means to be an author, never imagining they’d actually get to meet one!

Excitement buzzed in the days leading up to Tara’s visit. Ahead of time, the students read and thought about the story, then brainstormed questions to ask Tara.  My daughter was especially excited because they also got to vote on what type of pajamas Tara would wear for the visit. They chose ice-skate pajamas.

IMG_2193Here’s a shot of my daughter’s teacher standing by the class questions just moments before the visit began. Just out of view the children sat on the floor facing the smartboard, oozing silent excitement as they waited for Tara to appear.

Then, with the squeak of a rubber ducky (which Tara held), there she was!  And what a treat! In the fastest thirty minutes I’ve ever experienced, Tara first introduced herself, using those cute pajamas as an ice breaker.  Turns out she used to be a professional ice skater!

IMG_2202Next she read THE MONSTORE with tremendous and delightful expression. Then, she opened the floor for questions, answering each one in a wonderfully kid-friendly way. For example,  “How long did it take to publish THE MONSTORE?” they wanted to know. “More than half your life!” she replied, making the kids do the math.

IMG_2209Finally, she had a parting assignment for the kids to create the monster they’d pick if they could could go to THE MONSTORE.  What would its name be?  What would it look like? What would its talents be?  She even offered to post their monsters on her website!  How cool is that?!  (From the expressions on the kids faces, I’d say very cool.)

Thank you, Tara, for offering these wonderful virtual class visits. What a great way to get kids excited about reading and writing!

For more information on Tara visit her blog.  You can purchase her book online or at your favorite independent bookstore.