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!