EXTRA! EXTRA! News Reporter Miss A. Weighs in on Latest AUTHOR VISIT!

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As part of our homeschool time together, I have looked for opportunities to make writing experiences as authentic as possible for my reluctant writer, so when Miss A. asked if she could join me on a Friday afternoon author visit to her old elementary school, I said yes – IF she agreed to be a journalist for the afternoon – taking notes on the visit, conducting a few interviews, and then putting it all together into a news article, using the format we’ve been examining while reading our local newspaper together.  She fully embraced the assignment!  Take it away, Miss A!

AUTHOR LAURA SASSI VISITS SCHOOL

By Miss A.

CRANFORD – On Friday, May 4th, my mother, picture book author Laura Sassi, came to Bloomingdale Avenue School to share her new book, Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse with kindergarteners through second graders. The purpose of her visit was to get kids excited about reading and writing and to share a little bit about how a picture book goes from inspiration to publication. 

Starting at 1:00 pm, three different groups came to the auditorium for this special event. The students quietly listened to their teachers and all had smiles on their faces. The kids looked very excited and happy to see that a special guest had come to visit them at their school. 

Dressed like a diva herself, and using lots of expression, even singing, Laura Sassi read her newest book. The kids “ooohed” and “aaahed” as if they were watching fireworks. After reading Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse, the author showed the students the very first drafts of her story. She even showed the kids pictures of what Diva Delores looked like before she was a seal. The kids were surprised that she was once a hippo! Untitled

A few days after the visit, I had the chance to interview a student and two teachers to see what they thought of the visit. Everyone was very positive. Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Benoit, said that the favorite part for her students was “the author in costume and the use of her voice demonstrating not just fluency, but voices and even sound effects”.   She added that because of the visit, “The use of voices is starting to show up in speech bubbles in their writing.”  

Second grade teacher, Mrs. Oricchio, praised the visit as making “the art of writing a ‘real world’ experience” for her students.  She added, “I think Mrs. Sassi’s energy and passion for her work really came through and inspired my young writers.”

I was lucky enough to get student feedback as well! Second grader, Taylor, explained that her favorite part of the visit was when the author “dressed up fancy and was reading Diva Delores”.  She added that the visit also inspired her to make a writing notebook for her own stories. 

It was amazing being able to see my author mom in action reading her book. I could tell that the teachers and all the students enjoyed the visit. My mom enjoyed it too, especially when one of the students raised her hand and said, “You look like a movie star!” But my favorite moment was when I was able to reunite with all my teachers from kindergarten through second grade. I was so happy to be able to see my teachers and I was so happy to see so many kids enjoying and listening to the book.

FAN MAIL with MISS A: Thank you, Tami Charles!

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Today Miss A. – my reluctant reader and writer – asked if she could write a guest post to share her excitement over receiving an author-response to a recent fan letter she wrote to an author whose book she LOVED.  Maybe, I need to rephrase this… Today, my daughter, who USED to be a reluctant reader and writer – asked if she could write this guest post.  My response?  Of course!  Take it away, Miss A.! 

Have you ever been inspired to write a letter to an author whose book you loved?  Well, I was inspired to write one to author Tami Charles after reading her book Like Vanessa (Charlesbridge, 2018).

Like Vanessa is about a girl named Vanessa who enters a school pageant as a way of finding her happiness and who discovers that happiness isn’t found exactly where she thought it was.  

After reading Tami’s book, I just knew I had to reach out to her.  In the letter, I told her how much I loved her book and how I found her book such an inspiration for me. I found her book inspiring because I’ve always had trouble having to speak up for myself. Her book shows me that I can be strong and have confidence in myself.

I’ve written fan letters before, but never gotten a response. This time, however, was different because in the mail today I received a special letter from Tami Charles! And here is a little piece of that letter:

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In her wonderful letter, she explained that she wrote the book for girls just like me and she thanked me for writing her an old-fashioned letter!  I may even get to meet her this summer!  

Thank you, Tami, for inspiring me with your book and for taking the time to answer my letter!  I will keep it tucked forever in my copy of Like Vanessa!

A BOOK REVIEW By Miss A: THE WAR I FINALLY WON

Miss A. did such a lovely job on this book jacket and review that I’ve decided once again to celebrate this reluctant reader’s blossoming joy of the written word by sharing her latest book review. Our children’s librarian recommended the prequel to this book, “The War that Saved my Life”, and Miss A. loved it so much that we were both ecstatic to learn that a sequel was in the works.  “The War I Finally Won” released this past October, but the copy we read was an advanced copy.  Miss A. loves the thought that she was one of the first kids to read it and hopes that many, many more take her advice and enjoy this wonderful story. Anyway, here’s her review.  Happy Reading!

THE WAR I FINALLY WON

A review

by

Miss A.

The War I Finally Won, written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, is a sequel to The War That Saved My Life. In this story, Ada and Jamie are living with Susan in a cave-feeling house in Kent, England. Susan takes Ada to get surgery to heal her crippled foot. Ada’s surgery goes well, but then Lord Thorton, Maggie’s dad, brings a German girl named Ruth, for Susan to tutor. Ruth stays with Ada, Jamie and Susan in the cave house. Ada doesn’t trust Ruth because she’s German, but Ruth tells Ada that she’s from Germany but despises Hitler because she’s Jewish.

To complicate the situation, Lady Thorton also moves in with them because the soldiers need the Thorton’s house for a place for the soldiers to stay and rest. What’s even worse is that Maggies brother, Jonathan is fighting in the war and everyone is worried that he’s going to die. There’s a lot of drama in this book, and it actually helps Ada to overcome her struggles with loss, acceptance and love.

I love this book because I can relate to Ada on many levels. For example, when Ada didn’t trust Ruth, I thought she was a spy and didn’t trust her at first either. But later, as they grew to be close as sisters, I learned that trust is important to friendship. For most of this book, Ada dislikes Lady Thorton, but soon realizes that she and Lady Thorton have several things in common like lonely childhoods and feelings of loss. She realizes they are both just doing their best to survive in a tough world.  I can relate to feeling that sometimes life is tough, too. Finally, when Susan got sick and Ada felt worried and sad, I was worried about Susan too, since her friend Becky had died from pneumonia.  This is the scene when Ada finally says “I love you” to Susan. This shows that Ada has accepted Susan’s love and accepts her into her life.

I give this book five out of five stars! I thought it was sad, funny and engaging all at the same time. It was sad because there was death and loss because of the war. It was funny because everything is still so new to Ada and she often misunderstands things in funny ways. For example, she thought dragons were real.  It was engaging because the story felt so real that I didn’t want to stop reading it. Again, like the first, I recommend this book with all my heart!

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. I 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!

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!

SUMMER WRITING: 10 Fun Ideas for RELUCTANT WRITERS

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With the lazy days of summer almost upon us, it’s time (at least at our house) to think of ways to keep up those writing skills and maybe even foster a little LOVE for writing!  Here, then, are TEN ideas inspired by the interests of my kids.  Use the ideas as presented, or adapt them to the interests of your kiddos. Either way, enjoy!

  1. Keep a summer scrapbook/ journal of all the fun things you have done.  Entries can be as short or as long as your child is able/willing.  Include drawings, photos and clippings from brochures, postcards etc. No matter how reluctant they are, if they are at all like my daughter, they will enjoy seeing the “book” that emerges over the summer – little bitty writing steps that over time turn into a treasured keepsake!
  2. Bake a batch of tasty words! Kids love cooking with mom or dad, so why not sweeten the writing process by writing some original recipes!  Make this a weekly project and you could have a lovely recipe booklet by the end of summer. (Now wouldn’t that make a precious holiday gift for the special people in your life?)
  3. Write a letter of appreciation to your favorite author, athlete, or artist. My daughter recently wrote one to a ballerina at the London Royal Ballet.  Not only did she have fun writing the letter, it also was a great lesson in addressing an envelope.
  4. Pretend to be a sportscaster. Head to the little league field or watch a baseball game on tv.  Keep a running narrative of what’s happening in the game.  Use sporty verbs and phrases like “up to bat” “he rounds second”  “and it’s out of the ball park” etc. This was a big hit with my son when he was younger.  (He filled page after page covering, not just baseball, but hockey and football too!)
  5. Have a party! Have your child make and send their own invitations for a summer sprinkler party (or the fun event of your child’s choosing). Writing invitations is a great way to practice organizing and sharing important information – who, what, where, when, etc.  Don’t forget to include a catchy description of the party theme!
  6. Read, read, write!  Reading good books provides provides great modeling for good writing. Why not challenge your child to a weekly writing prompt based on the book they are reading.  One week they could retell a scene from a different point of view. The next week, the could design their own book jacket for a book.  They could also write a mini-sequel, or a skit based on the book.
  7. Be poets! Poems are short, fun and perfect for summer.  Check out this recent post for specific suggestions on how to infuse a little poetry reading and writing into your summer.
  8. Knock, knock, who’s there?  Over the course of the summer, create a lift-the flap joke book.  For each spread, write the joke on left hand page.  Write the answer on the write hand page.  Then cover the answer with a square paper flap.  Illustrate the flap to match the joke.
  9. You’ve got mail!  Enlist an eager long-distance relative to be a summer pen pal.  Choose snail mail, email or text messages. Then write, write,write!
  10. Blog it! We haven’t tried this yet, but my daughter is begging me to set up a private blog for her to share fun things on such as crafts, funny stories, travel posts and more.  For my comfort level, this will be a private blog with access via password to long-distance family members and friends.  What a great way to combine writing with technology!

How will you spread writerly love with your kiddos this summer?  I’d LOVE to hear!

SUBMITTING STORIES and POEMS to MAGAZINES: Six Tips for Young Writers

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My eleven-year-old decided to write her own retelling of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.  First, she went to the library to find as many versions as she could of the famous tale. She read each one, noting what characteristics they shared and what details made each unique.

She titled her version “Sea White and the Seven Starfish”.  After several weeks of writing and revising, her story sparkled like sunshine on a salty sea. “Will you publish it on your blog?” she asked. “I could,” I answered, “but it might be more fun to see if you could get it published in a magazine.”  She loved the idea. But where to start?

With my daughter in mind, here now are SIX tips for young writers (and their parents) on how to submit original kid-written work to magazines.

Select a publication destination.  Only certain magazines accept work from children. For a comprehensive list, visit the NewPages Young Author’s Guide. Maintained by editor Denise Hill, a teacher who loves to encourage young writers, this great resource also includes a list of legitimate contests for kids. Each listing has a link to the publication’s website where you can find more information.

Read several issues before submitting anything. Once you have a short list of potential publications, be sure to take time to read several back issues. Not only is this a great chance for your kids to experience reading magazines, it will also give you and them a sense of the style and content of each.  Does one magazine favor poetry while another favors prose?  Are the illustrations also done by kids?  How many pieces by kids are included in each issue? These are just a few of the questions you and your child will want to think about.

Follow the publisher’s guidelines carefully.  Once you and your child have decided which magazine to submit to, revisit the publisher’s website and print out their submission guidelines.  Make sure your child follows their protocol exactly so that she/he makes a good impression and so that the piece is eligible for review. Pay special attention to word length and format. For example, does the piece need to be typed, or is neat handwriting okay?

Send ONLY your BEST work.  This should be obvious, but it warrants special mention because, as I’ve learned from visiting young writers in schools,  kids often mistakenly think that once they’ve written something, it’s finished.  But good writing requires revision, preferably multiple times, with a nice final round of polishing.  And it’s always a good idea to proofread every sentence with care one extra time before sending.

Be patient. This is hard for kids, but waiting is the name of the game in the publishing world. Most magazines give a time frame for when to expect a reply.  A nice way to help kids wait is to colorfully mark the possible response date on the family calendar. While they wait, encourage them to work new stories and projects!

Stay positive and remember rejection is part of the process. This is also hard for kids, but the reality is only a few of the multitude of manuscripts submitted will make it into print. Still, kids can remain positive because just taking the time to hone and craft a story and send it off – no matter the ultimate response – makes them a winner in my book!  And if nothing pans out, there’s always the possibility of publishing it as an email to family members, or as a special blog post on a family member’s blog. Sounds like a win/win to me!

Happy subbing, young writers!