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Let’s make EVERY child a reader

One week in the Spring and Fall Every Child A Reader celebrates Children’s Book Week. It’s an opportunity to remind people how important reading is, not just for children but for all. Being a proficient reader is important to succeed in life.

In my role as a speech therapist I work with adults who are having cognitive or language issues. A task we might do is make a list of items, say fruits, vegetables etc. To make that task more difficult I might ask, tell me all the things we can read. What came to your mind? Books, magazines, newspaper were probably first. Did you think about bills, road signs, recipes, food labels, medicine labels, directions, instructions, forms, information signage in stores, in hospitals, car dashboards, and more.

Reading is the key that unlocks the door into every child’s future. Let’s make every week Children’s Book Week, so that the future is bright, not just for the children but  also for the rest of us because the children are our future.

Are you an A.U.T.H.O.R?

Author is defined by Merriam-Webster for Kids as: a person who creates a written work. I like to share that definition with students because it is encouraging.  If you put the words on paper, you are an author.  You are a wordsmith, but you must also be brave and thick-skinned. If you want to be a published author, putting words on paper is just the first step. And there are things you can do to increase your chance of success.

Understanding the business of publishing is one key to success.  It is a business that involves many people, all of whom are hoping to make a living. I did not find success as an author until I began to study the business. The knowledge gained helped me target submissions and decreased the sting of rejection! For example, understanding how many submissions a publisher receives vs how many books they publish a year is eye opening, as is a look at resources like Publishers Weekly.  Any given week, a majority of their top 25 picture book best sellers were written decades ago.

Tenacity, according to my invaluable Flip Dictionary, is a synonym for patience and persistence.  Two of the words I wanted to use, but there’s no P in AUTHOR. However, maybe tenacity is really the right word. And writing is about finding the right word. Tenacity involves patience, persistence and determination.  To be a published author you cannot give up or be discouraged.  Despite the overnight success stories, most authors will be rejected MANY times (I have been hundreds of times) and they will have waited months for this lovely rejection news!

Hone your craft. An author is never done learning.  In the age of the internet, resources abound. There are blogs, online workshops, and online critique groups.  Join groups like the Author’s Guild or Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and you’ll find abundant information and links to MORE information. A critique group, or at least readers other than family and friends, is a must.  Like the game of telephone, what you see in your head does not always make it to the paper and into your reader’s mind.

Organize your time. Most authors have other jobs and obligations.  When I have time to devote to my writing, I have to decide how to utilize my time – do I work on a new story, revise an old one, research places to send a story, catch up on industry news, read reviews of books, read books in the genre I write, do a writing workshop, read a book about the craft of writing, market the books I have published, etc.! AND, don’t forget what may be the most important:  quiet thinking time, letting the ideas come and grow in your mind!

Read, read, read! If you want to be a published author you need to read. Reading books in the genre you write will help you understand what goes into a book that makes it from manuscript to library shelf. Reading any genre exposes you to words, language and the art of storytelling. And reading does one more thing-it supports other authors, which is what you are or hope to be!

Wishing for Author Visits

We are all hoping that back-to-school this year means a return to something normal. School may never be the same as the pandemic will leave an indelible mark, both good and bad. As an author I hope that this year means a return to in-person author visits!

I had an opportunity to whet my appetite for this when I presented at the Appleseed Writing Camp. This a local camp for students interested in writing. They meet for 3 hours each morning for 2 weeks. I was lucky to spend a morning with 25 rising 4th, 5th and 6th graders. You think an author visit is all about the author inspiring the students. And certainly, that is the goal, but it’s no secret that authors benefit too.

An author spends a lot of time alone, well their characters are there, but … So visiting with students is a welcome change of pace. Authors get lots of rejections of their work, so when students look at your with those “you’re a rock star” eyes the affirmation is welcome. Students have wonderful ideas. If you share a work in progress, they might just provide the spark you are looking for to raise the story to a new level.

Slipped into my hand by a student

But the MOST important thing students give me is HOPE. To see them collaborating with each other, cheering each other on, pulling ideas out of nowhere, tells me this world will survive. There will be people to lead, people with imaginations big enough to find the answers, and people who will bring joy.

A student’s story start

Authors Study Too

Depending on where you live school may have already begun or it will start soon. Some students love school, others dread it. For the most part I always liked school. I like learning. I had to work, but things were easier for me than for some. There was the pressure of good grades, the drama of friends and the dread of a “bad” teacher. But all in all, from Kindergarten through grad school, I had good experiences.

craftsWhen you’re a kid you think, when school is done I’m done studying, but in time you realize the most successful people are always learning. Want to be good at baking-read (now days watch) about it. In fact just about any skill can be improved from gardening to car maintenance. And most professions involve continued study.

0414181745_HDRIt’s no different for authors. Yes it’s a creative process that involves ideas in our brains, but we read books, attend conferences and workshops. Successful authors are always learning not just about writing but also about the publishing business.

So as students and teachers head back to school think of your favorite authors and know that they may be opening a book, completing a lesson or listening to a lecture too!

Punctuation & Grammar-Ugh!

I’ve been thinking about school this month. All students have favorite subjects and subjects they dread. I was no different. While I loved the reading/writing/analyzing part of English I did not like the spelling or grammar. Diagraming sentences and rules of punctuation could be mastered for a test, but then were quickly forgotten. When I was in college studying to be a speech therapist those old parts of speech rules came back to haunt me because they are important when we look at language development. Fortunately for me, as I gravitated toward the adult medical population there was less need for this knowledge.

20210706_105246Then I began writing and punctuation, word use, sentence structure were important. Still as quickly as I looked up something, say punctuating dialogue it was gone. Overtime some rules stuck but I still second guess myself. Certainly, authors take creative license with some rules but not without a good reason.

English is a very difficult language to learn as a second language. Our rules are full of exceptions. Many words sound the same with different spellings and meaning. The same letter or letter combinations can have a different sound. Because we learn so much of this from birth, we muddle through without realizing just how difficult it is. As a speech therapist, when I began to work with people who speak English as a second language, I saw the difficulty first hand.

20210706_105338Now most of us can Google a rule if we are in doubt. If you prefer a book. Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Connor and Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss are both informative and more fun than a textbook!

 

The Writer’s Notebook

notebooksAn educator friend of mine shared the idea of a Writer’s Notebook with me and I love it! I talk with students about collecting words, but I hadn’t considered all the possibilities a Writer’s Notebook could hold.

As an author I have used notebooks or word documents to keep track of ideas, names, titles that pop into my head and the evolving versions of a story.


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I am a list maker in my personal and writing life, and for that I love steno pads. The middle division allows me to have more than one type of list on a page.

 

 

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I have a notebook where I did exercises from books on writing. Sometimes I flip through to see if an idea for a story might emerge.

 

 


For the teachers reading this I’m probably preaching to the choir, but parents or other caregivers think about introducing the Writer’s Notebook over the summer. It will keep writing interest and skills alive!

A child (or adult) with a notebook dedicated to writing will start to see themselves as a writer. A nice writing utensil helps too! And writers will tell you they don’t just write on certain days and times. So that notebook should always be handy.

So how might a child use the notebook?

  • To write thoughts or feelings
  • React to things they see or hear or that happen to them
  • T0 play with writing and with language
  • To keep a list of words
  • To invent new words
  • To list names they like
  • To write down things that inspire them
    • song lyrics, poems,  quotes from a book, movie or TV show
  • To sketch
  • To describe things using all 5 senses

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Remember this notebook is the writers. It is not for some else to correct or question. It is a place to experiment, where mistakes can be made. Think of it as a safe. It holds beautiful things that the owner can keep for themselves or choose to share with others.

A Little Love for Teachers

My elementary school. New Windsor, NY

Do you have a favorite teacher? There are teachers I remember even though decades have passed since I was in their classroom. I think the best teachers help us see the joy in learning and the benefits of knowledge. They see our potential and help us see it too. No easy task.

Teachers aren’t drawn to the profession for the money! Because we certainly don’t pay them what they are worth. I think most want to make a difference. To see a face light up when they’ve reached a student. It’s always been a difficult profession. Teaching a group of individuals, while figuring out how to reach each one takes skill.

In the decades since I was in school the world has changed and those changes have increased the challenges our teachers face. And on top of that the impact of the pandemic students, their families, their communities has added challenges and stress we will be measuring for years.

thank you

And so I want to say THANK YOU to teachers past and present. The future of the world truly is in your hands as you teach each generation. (No pressure!) I hope, as a nation, we soon recognize that investing in education is integral to our country truly having “liberty and justice for all” and being a country where ANYONE can achieve their dreams.

And to celebrate…
a couple of books!

20210420_160553Dear Dragon
By Josh Funk
Illustrated by Rodolfo Motalvo
2016 Viking

Two teachers announce, in their respective schools, a pen pal poetry project. Students will right to their pen pals all year but it must rhyme. In June there will be a picnic where they will meet. George is a human and Blaise is a dragon, but they don’t know that. When each receives their letter, they picture what their pen pal is talking about from their own perspective. So, when the dragon mentions skydiving the human pictures himself with a parachute. Of course, the dragon is flying! George and Blaise enjoy writing to each other so much that they decide they will continue after the project is over. They can’t wit to meet at the picnic. When they meet, they are hesitant at first since they are different, but all the pen pals soon become friends which is what the teachers planned all along. (Teachers are smart!)

This is a sweet story about looking past physical differences.  I love the idea of letter writing and pen pals. It’s a wonderful way to get to know someone. As Blaise writes, “Who’d have thought this pen pal thing would make me a new friend?”

20210420_160732Because I Had a Teacher
Kobi Yamada
Illustrated by Natalie Russell
Compendium, 2016

A quiet tribute to all the teachers in our lives. The simple text and quiet illustrations show what kinds of things we learn from teachers. Things like that mistakes are part of getting something right, that there are different ways to be smart, challenges can be fun. Most important, it concludes that “because I had you, I learned to believe in me.”

How do you feel about self-promotion?

When I started writing for children I naively thought if I write it the readers will come. But in today’s world there are so many things competing for our time and our children’s time that self-promotion is necessary for survival as an author.

Self-promotion makes me uncomfortable. For me it feels like selling. To sell something you are saying my thing deserves your attention and money over someone else’s thing. But what if the other thing is better? I wouldn’t want to steer you wrong😉. That’s why I couldn’t sell Amway eons ago, but instead watched as friends made a fortune! And I wasn’t very good at encouraging my kids to sell stuff for school fundraisers.

When I started writing for children I naively thought if I write it the readers will come. But in today’s world there are so many things competing for our time and our children’s time that self-promotion is necessary for survival as an author. And so authors seek followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites. We are pushing our books and our expertise, hoping to connect with readers, writers, publishers, teachers, bloggers… We both support and compete with each other. I find it much easier to say something wonderful about a fellow author’s book than my own. I’d rather review someone else’s book than ask for someone to review mine.

BUT my books are worth promoting. They do offer something to readers, parents, teachers.

So here it goes! (although I am going to let the reviews speak for me!)

“I have a son 9 years old diagnosed with OCD 6 months ago. We have had a terrible time to get him to even go to therapy much less open up and participate. He has had much embarrassment and shame. I got him this book and at first he would not let me read it to him. Finally after much thought he decided to go for it. After reading this book he totally opened up to me and we talked for over a hour about his OCD. He said for the first time he didn’t feel alone. He read this book 6 times the first day and even slept with it. He couldn’t quit talking about how it is the best book he ever read. We were able to use this little boys struggles and compare them to my sons. It was like the first time that someone actually understood what he was going through. I was hesitant to buy it because it seemed to be for younger kids, but I sure am glad now!!”

“Reading this book for the first time with my son, was like reading his own story. We are fresh on this path of understanding, and for us, it is important he knows he is not alone. This book made me realize just how much he does that is not under his control. He also recognized himself in the story. Very good first step.”

“AND It changed my life. I might have my husband read this to me before bed. If I had this as a kid I probably would have turned out normal.”

“My son has PANDAS, which is an autoimmune response to strep throat. When he acquires strep he present OCD symptoms. Our lives were hell for 3 months until we bought this book. Mr. Worry helped my son overcome his compulsions and obsessions. I HIGHLY recommend this to anyone who has a child with OCD or anxiety issues.”

This book is a must for anyone who has or knows of a child with Tourette’s Syndrome. My 8 yr old son, who has Tourette’s, brought in the book to his 2nd grade class. His teacher read it aloud and then the class asked my son questions. The book went a long way in helping overcome the social obstacles that a child with Tourette’s will surely face, and clearly explains that some behaviors are truely out of the child’s control and why. I would recommend this book highly for children, parents and teachers alike!

“We love this book. It has helped my son to relate to a character in a book and realize that he isn’t the only one who has tics. It’s also helped his brothers to stop teasing him and get so aggravated when his tics become annoying.”

“I am a social worker as well as a mother of a child just diagnosed with Tourette’s. This book was wonderful! My son has been trying to understand what is going on with him and this book was very useful. It explains Tourette’s to the child as well as the adult. One thing I loved about the book is it shows the boy in the story having new tics. This allows for readers to understand that tics change as well as showing many types of tics. One example was the boy in the story began to spit, a tic my son has and gets made fun of for. My son’s face lit up and he felt less “weird”. My son and I are going to do a presentation at his summer camp so others understand why he does what he does, I will be including this book.”

“Youngsters will enjoy this tale because Grace’s kid-sized sass does not erode their family’s underlying strengths. Actually, caregiver trainers or parenting instructors can use this title to launch discussion on how active listening and flexible parameters underscore accountability in a kid-friendly way.”

“We enjoyed this book for many reasons! We read it to our grandchildren and they had a lot of questions which was exactly why you read great books. We had great discussions about why children may want to run away, getting mad, and communication being the key to not always getting your way! Also, the art work was spectacular!”

“What a charming book! I absolutely love the chat between the girl and her dad. He listens attentively to her, validates her feelings, and encourages her. Adding the yoga poses throughout the book is a major bonus. Thanks to the authors for incorporating yoga in an accessible and fun way. A gem of a book for young children!”

“I can see a variety of purposes for using The Day I Ran Away in the classroom, beyond just enjoying the book. Helping kids handle angry feelings is a good first logical choice. Everyone has moments when they’d just like to run away from the person or situation that is making them mad. Teaching how to write dialogue is another possible teaching point.  The Day I Ran Away is a great example of crafting a backstory, two sides of a physical space, and passage of time.”

“This book was a game changer for my foster son who had night terrors. Going to sleep was daunting and scary every night. We struggled for months before we found this book. After reading this book he was able to make a plan for when he woke up scared. He memorized the words and was able to help himself calm down before bedtime. Holly Niner writes such great books with the emotional health of kids in mind. I am so thankful that we found this book!”

“Super cute book and I love that a fellow speech language pathologist wrote it! Beautiful illustrations with an engaging story! Great for language lessons!”

“Lovely story that teaches how to approach the unknown with a spirit of problem solving & thoughtfulness instead of fear.”

 “LOVE this book and so do my grandkids. The story has so many things that kids love in literature. A very cute and smart mole, silly haunting monsters, repetition and a lot of humor. In addition, it has great problem solving and predicting components that teachers will love. Great addition to any teachers or children’s library.”

“This book is a great one to get students thinking about problem solving when things aren’t going well among classmates. How can you keep everyone happy when you are all so different and you all like different things? And if you are a parent who wants a new bedtime read, No More Noisy Nights certainly lends itself to that… put qualms about noises that go bump in the night to bed with the friends in this book.”

Now ONE more thing that makes me uncomfortable!

If you’ve read any of my books I’d be grateful if you found the time to write a review. Reviews do help new readers find their way to my books!

National Words Matter Week-March 7-13, 20201

Words do matter, so how many words does the average speaker use in a day?

A quick Google search did not give me a definitive answer with some studies saying around 7000 and others closer to 16,000. I think I probably fall on the higher end if there is a listening ear in my vicinity! Apparently, I’ve always liked to talk.  My mother tells stories about me standing (pre car seats and seatbelts) behind her in the car and talking nonstop!

I am also a reader of words. I always have a book (mostly fiction) in progress. I read the newspaper and I love the daily comics.

I work with words too. By education I am a speech therapist. Our business is communication. It’s all about words. You truly understand how much words matter when you have a client or patient that can’t speak, can’t communicate basic wants and needs, can’t use words to have meaningful relationships.

And I am a writer. The ideas that grow in my head want to be read by the picture book crowd.  And the words matter.  There are so few in a picture book, you need to make each one count. I love seeing the illustrations my words inspire and how they work with the words to tell the story.

With the written word we take the time to choose the right word. But when we talk words fly out of our mouths before our brain vets them.  Many words are loaded with emotions. However, the same word can be loaded with different emotions for each of us. Just like we all have a refrigerator, but if you opened the door different things would be inside. So, as writers and as people, we have to think about this as we choose our words in conversation, writing and on social media. We have to know our audience. Even a word that seems benign might not be. For me the word HOME brings warm feelings of family, love, acceptance, but someone who lives in a house without love and acceptance will react to the word HOME differently than I do.

Words don’t exist in a pure state, but in context. Not just the context of the words around them but in the context of the speaker and the listener. That’s why a book, a tweet, a news article can be liked by one person and rejected by another. Yet words are how we communicate, so we have to remember that  the words and what is behind them matter when we share them and when we listen to others.

Words matter; words are powerful. Use them wisely.

Picture book month

0716181154_HDRNovember is a month when we think of family, friends and giving thanks. It is also picture book month.  So I thought it was a good opportunity to highlight some authors that are part of my Flashlight Press family.  Writers mostly work alone, but we cherish the relationships, even if they are only in cyberspace, we have with other authors.

When I became a Flashlight Press author my wonderful editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, suggested I contact some the other authors to gain insight into marketing etc. They welcomed me into the family with great advice.

When I see their books at a story or library I smile. Check out their books and you’ll smile too! Click on the links to learn more about each book and find free activity pages too!

Jodi Moore

When a Dragon moves in          When a Dragon moves in Again

Jason Lefebvre

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Too Much Glue

Donna Earnhardt

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Being Frank

Lois Brandt

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Maddi’s Fridge

Richard McFarland

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Grandfather’s Wrinkles

 

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