Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Check out Birthdayographies. You know you want to.

Today is the birthday of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Yesterday was the birthday of Mother Teresa.

Tomorrow is the birthday of Roger Tory Peterson.

How do I know this? Because I've got a whopper of a cool blog, celebrating picture book biographies, one birthday at a time. By the end of 2014, there will be approximately 500 titles cataloged by subject's name, birthday, and significant contribution (career).

Go ahead, pop over to 

You know you want to.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Kid-Friendly books about the Writing Process

A perennial favorite...

Kid-Friendly books about the Writing Process

There are wonderful books aimed at inspiring children to write and read. Now that school has started, I thought I'd share a bundle of titles that I've come across. Some of these books are useful during school visits. Others are wonderful classroom additions. All of them are visually appealing.

This list of recommended reads is full of color, humor, and story. The whole idea is to make writing fun for kids. Yes, even grammar and punctuation. If we can wrap Language Arts lessons into a positive experience, young writers are bound to blossom. But, these aren't only for elementary school kids. Writers of all ages can benefit.


THE PLOT CHICKENS by Mary Jane Auch, illustrated by Herm Auch (Holiday House, 2010) Henrietta loves to read so much she decides to write a book of her own. With the help of her three old aunties, she hatches a plot, gives her character lots of problems, and writes what she knows. But when Henrietta publishes her story, the critics say she's laid an egg! Is this the end of Henrietta's career as an author?

A BOOK by Mordicai Gerstein Once upon a time there was a family who lived in a book. All but the youngest had stories they belonged to--fighting fires, exploring space, entertaining in the circus--but she didn't have one yet. Walking through all the possibilities of story types Mordicai Gerstein presents her quest in unique and changing perspectives


SHOW; DON'T TELL: SECRETS OF WRITING by Josephine Nobisso's, illustrated by Eva Montanari (Gingerbread House, 2004) Innovative yet accessible writing strategies appropriate for both fiction and nonfiction are presented in this enchanting tale of a writing lion who holds court for a cast of animal friends. Aspiring writers learn the essential nature of nouns and adjectives and how to use them to express their individual visions so that they “show and don’t tell” every time. Writing lessons are cleverly integrated into a tale that incorporates a sound chip, a scratch-and-sniff patch, and a tactile object to engage the aspiring writer’s five senses in fun proofs.

S IS FOR STORY: A WRITER'S ALPHABET by Esther Hershenhorn, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (Sleeping Bear Press, 2009) What is a first draft? What is a writer's notebook? Authur Esther Hershenhorn uses the alphabet to help explain, explore and examines the tools, techniques and strategies for those hoping to live the literary life. Budding writers of all ages will be inspired to put pen to paper (or fingers on keyboards)!


THE PUNCTUATION STATION by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Lerner, 2010) All aboard! Join a family of giraffes on their journey to Punctuation Station. As the train chugs along, you'll learn the ins and outs of using periods, commas, apostrophes question marks, hyphens, quotation marks, and exclamation points!


WORDS ARE CATEGORICAL SERIES. Here's one title: SLIDE AND SLURP, SCRATCH AND BURP: MORE ABOUT VERBS by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by Brian Gable (Lerner, 2009)One book is never enough to explore the wide range of verbs! The crazy cats deliver loads of additional examples to illustrate the power of both action verbs and linking verbs. **Different titles cover specific grammar points with humor. Nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, antonyms, synonyms, metaphors and similes, conjunctions, etc.)

VOICES IN THE PARK by Anthony Browne (DK, 2001) Four different voices tell their own versions of the same walk in the park. The radically different perspectives give a fascinating depth to this simple story which explores many of the author’s key themes, such as alienation, friendship and the bizarre amid the mundane.

WHAT DO AUTHORS DO? by Eileen Christelow (Sandpiper, 1997) A sprightly text and colorful illustrations follow two creative people-and a talkative dog and cat-through the writing process step by step, from the inspiration for a story to the satisfaction of sharing the book with readers. Eileen Christelow based this instructive picture book on questions children asked during her classroom talks around the country. Simple enough for young children to understand.

THE BEST STORY by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf (Penguin, 2008) The best story is one that comes from the heart. The library is having a contest for the best story, and the quirky narrator of this story just has to win that rollercoaster ride with her favorite author! But what makes a story the best?
Her brother Tim says the best stories have lots of action. Her father thinks the best stories are the funniest. And Aunt Jane tells her the best stories have to make people cry. A story that does all these things doesn't seem quite right, though, and the one thing the whole family can agree on is that the best story has to be your own.

WORD AFTER WORD AFTER WORD by Patricia MacLachlan, (Katherine Tegen Books, 2010) Every school day feels the same for fourth graders Lucy and Henry and Evie and Russell and May. Then Ms. Mirabel comes to their class- bringing magical words and a whole new way of seeing and understanding. An honest story about what is real and what is unreal, and about the ways writing can change our lives and connect us to our own stories- word after word after word.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My First Books for the Education Market

This was a fun package to open last week. Two books in Capstone Press' new series about horses. It was pure coincidence that the first books they asked me to write were about horses. They didn't know that I've been a lifelong horse lover/owner and that I spent my youth in horse show rings.

Capstone Press is an institutional or education publisher. They market primarily to the school and public library market, though their books are available through Amazon and other retailers online. They produce fabulous books and I think girls will be especially drawn to these.

Back in 2010, I interviewed Laura Purdie Salas about working with education publishers. If you'd like to know more about how they differ from trade publishers, I'll let Laura's words explain. click here.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Be Brave

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? --Vincent Van Gogh

Writing is a scary endeavor, don’t you think? There’s that frightful blank page staring at us, taunting us, daring us; then the first sentence; the first paragraph; the first page; the ending; and all those paramount decisions we make to fill the space between. Our nerves quake against the inner critic with a dialog stuck on repeat: What if I can’t do this? What if the world finds out I’m a fraud? What if I’m too scared? What if the reviews are hurtful-or true? Every time we face the page, we are taking risks. Big, potentially-career-changing risks. Damn right, we’re scared. Or… maybe it’s just me?

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I dip my pen in the blackest ink, because I am not afraid of falling into my inkpot.”

Well, good for ole Ralph! But I’m currently knee-deep in research for two books I’m writing for an education publisher, and I am a tiny bit afraid. Partly because of the reeeally short deadlines, and partly because I’ve agreed to write about subjects that deserve the utmost sensitivity and respect. And I know very little about them. Yikes!

photo 3
My declaration of independence/badge of courage
I instinctively reached for my version of the Cowardly Lion’s badge of courage. Ain’t it purdy? See, a million years ago, in 1994, I suffered a slobbery, whimpery, crushing heartbreak. You know the kind. I was a weak-kneed wreck until I ran out of tears. One day, the cosmic switch flipped and I found my sea-legs again. I dressed up in my favorite white suit with a red belt and red pumps (you can tell this was pre-writing career.) I trekked to the nearest jewelry store and zeroed in on this pendant. The cute panda on the front wasn’t the draw. The back, however, was engraved 1994. Sold! Originally, I called it my declaration of independence. I know, I know… corny, right? This piece of gold and credit card balance had a purpose: to remind me to never be a human door mat again; to stop hiding behind insecurity; to take risks; to be brave!
This symbolic shot of courage has been with me through tough times and triumphant times, in my writing life, and my personal life. I tend to reach for it when I’m feeling anxious, or vulnerable, or just plain scared. Like when I hiked the glacial ice fields miles above Juneau, Alaska; scuba-dived in various oceans; white-water-rafted; blew both knees in skiing trips; submitted to agents; collected rejections; gave my heart away again. I do think we need to step outside our comfort zones sometimes, to remind us we are alive.

Andre Gide, recipient of the 1947 Nobel Prize in Literature wrote, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
I love that, don’t you?

I’ve struggled to push myself out of my comfort zone (aka the shore) at the page. I’m not alone, right? The best stories come from weaving our souls into the stories we tell. It would be easier not to dig that deep. I am in awe of all you mega-talented authors who stare down the inner critic to test boundaries.  Art takes courage.

DSC03097Last month, I survived a sweltering weeklong Boy Scout camp in Arkansauna with 150 sweaty Y-chromosome-beings, a bazillion ticks and spiders, and nights full of creepy crawlies that wandered in and out of my tent and my bedding. It was uncomfortable, but doable. But, when I faced the multi-stage high-wire COPE (Challenge Outdoor Personal Experience) course, I got scared. The voice of doubt rang in my ears, “You’re crazy! You’re too old, You’re not fit enough, strong enough, tough enough! And, oh-my-gawd, that’s high!”

I learned something from the effort, from teetering and wobbling on the edge: 1) always look ahead; 2) tell yourself YOU CAN; 3) Remember that someone is watching your back, and 4) Breathe! Sounds a bit like a writing career, doesn't it?

An unfamiliar scout dad left his son behind and followed my progress through the various stages of the course. He hollered up to me at one point, “I don’t know many women who would try that.”
“It’s my year to be brave,” I said.

And it still is.
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Let’s all be brave, my friends.

Madeleine L’Engle once quipped, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-ups we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…To be alive is to be vulnerable.

Smart woman, that Madeleine!