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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 missing in-person events?

In the last year and a half authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, publishers and book sellers are missing in-person events. So I thought I’d share a post I wrote after I was at the ALA conference in Chicago in 2017. This is why in-person events are so special!

 I loved my elementary school librarian and her wonderful quiet space filled with books waiting to be explored. She always knew just what to recommend and, when she saw that my appetite for books exceeded my weekly check-out limit, she suggested that a friend and I pick our books together and trade halfway through the week. For me, librarians know where to find all the answers and all the good books, so it was an honor to be invited to sign copies of my new book, The Day I Ran Away, and my upcoming No More Noisy Nights at the American Library Association Conference in Chicago, where so many lovers of books and knowledge gather in one place.

Although I’d seen the list of exhibitors online, I was awestruck by the number of booths, their size and scope, and the variety of publishers and industry-related products represented. As my husband and I wandered the halls prior to my signing, I pointed out publishers with whom I’d had contact over the years (too many rejection letters to count!) and looked for books I’d seen reviewed. I noticed some LONG lines of excited attendees waiting for an author’s signature, and then other authors with no line at all. I grew a bit apprehensive, as my signing time got closer. Would people want copies of my books?

We found the booth and were met by the wonderful staff of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), who distribute for Flashlight Press and hundreds of other independent publishers. The author who was signing before me did have a line, and in fact, ran overtime into my slot to give away as many books as possible. When the IPG staff member announced that they’d run out of her books, I piped up and suggested that folks wait, because I’d be giving away books in a few minutes too. Librarians love books, especially free ones! They asked what my books were, so we handed out two samples which they looked at and passed down the line to share.

By the time I began signing, I had my own line of excited librarians who were thrilled that they didn’t have to choose between The Day I Ran Away and No More Noisy Nights, but could have one of each. Although I had less than a minute with each librarian, it was exciting to speak with people from all over the US and Canada. With the ALA conference in Chicago this year, many attendees were from the Midwest, but folks also came from California, Texas, Utah, New York, North Carolina, Maine, Florida, Arkansas, and more that I cannot recall. There were public and private school librarians, university librarians, and public librarians. Many were gifting their free books to family or friends, and others were donating to their schools. I loved hearing their enthusiasm not only for my books, but for their work in sharing books with children. 

Before I knew it, my time was up, and IPG cut me off! Several people then asked my husband if I could sign for them, so we moved to the corner of the booth and gave away a few more of the remaining books. In all, we gave away about 160 books!

One last highlight: the IPG booth was located near the Library of Congress booth, and it was heartening to see Carla Hayden, the new director, being treated like a rock star with interviews and people clamoring for a moment of her time! When my first picture book was released in 2004, my son was excited to point out that a copy would be forever kept in the Library of Congress. An amazing thing to think about! 

It was such an uplifting day! Librarians know that reading is essential to understanding ourselves, our world, and our place in it. When we learn how to “find friends” in books, we are never alone. It is my hope that these wonderful librarians will create lifelong readers, and lifelong readers will help make this world a better place.

Word Clouds & Mental Health

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. Whether or not you or a loved one struggles with a mental health problem it is important to understand them. To understand their impact on individuals, families and communities.

Because my son has OCD I had first hand knowledge about OCD and it’s impact on him and our family. That is what lead me to write Mr. Worry: A story about OCD. And that lead to I Can’t Stop: A story about Tourette syndrome.  Through my books I’ve been able to interact with individuals and families with these disorders.

This summer I was honored to be asked to participate in the International OCD Foundation’s virtual summer camp for kids. I was amazed! They create a wonderful virtual camp for kids from all over the world. They were able to listen to speakers and interact with each other and amazing volunteers.

My part was small. I read Mr. Worry and then took questions. I was awed by the questions and insight these elementary age kids had about themselves and OCD. While I didn’t get to see any, my activity was for them to make word clouds about themselves because it is important to realize that you are more than your disorder.

Try making a word cloud. Think about words that tell about you. Or make one about feelings you have, people in your life, things you’d like to do.

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!

Labor Day Memories

It’s Labor Day! I hope you are relaxing from your labors. Growing up a LONG time ago and on the East Coast school began the day after Labor Day. While all the schools where I live now have already put in many days of school I still think of Labor Day as the official start. In my youth Labor Day would find us watching the Jerry Lewis telethon as we frantically finished sewing clothes for school. While my forays into sewing are few and far between these days I still get the itch to sew this time of year.

Screenshot 2021-08-16 103634I also get the itch to read new things, learn new things and cover some books with brown grocery bags🙂! I’ve never been a crossword puzzle person, but I recently tried the Washington Post’s Daily Mini (+weekly Meta) and I’m hooked. They are small and you can check each word as you do it. I know crossword fanatics would never do that, but that little bit of help has kept me playing and I find I am solving them more quickly. I’m also learning how crossword puzzle makers think!

I was thinking how picture books, while glorious in their own right, are also a mini step for readers into the world of reading and how story works; for that matter how life works. The pictures give clues to help with the words. The new reader builds confidence as they read book after book. Eventually the reader moves on to bigger things, hopefully returning on occasion to the rich worlds offered by picture books. I don’t know if I’ll ever “move on” to bigger crossword puzzles, but my daily mini is perking my interest and giving me confidence.

Now for some book reviews

If Kids Ran the World, Leo and Diane Dillon,  The Blue Sky Press 2014

Inviting, bright illustrations show the world as it should be where kindness reigns and food, shelter, medicine, education and love are there for everyone. This world exists if Kids ruled the world. Until the world shows them otherwise kids assume all things are possible. May this book inspire us to find the child inside, see the world as it should be and strive to improve it each in our own way. An afterward suggest ways to make the world a better place.

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And kids now that the most important thing in the world isn’t money, or being king or queen, or pushing other people around. It’s love: giving it, sharing it, showing it.”

A Perfectly Messed-up Story, Patrick McDonnell,  Little Brown and Company 2014

A quirky, humorous mixture of real images and drawings that break the 4th wall. Louie is a character in HIS story. He’s happily going along when he find that someone has dropped jelly on the page, thus ruining the story. He is talking to the reader about it when plop some peanut butter drops on him. Then Louie finds fingerprints and orange juice. He gives a lecture on the importance of books and begins again only to find someone  has colored in the book. He tries to start again but decides it’s just a messy old book no one will want and he gives up. The story starts without him and he finds out that everything is just fine. And Louie decides it is just fine, messes and all!

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“Everything is fine. I’m still here. You’re still reading. And it is a pretty good story. Messes and all.”

I am a Thief!, Abigail Rayner, Illus Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books, 2019

20210420_160813Eliza Jane Murphy, who sees herself as a model student, becomes a thief when she takes a sparkly stone from a display of green things in her classroom. But then her “heart stopped singing”, her letters “went wonky” and she was “too heavy to swing.” She begins to explore her feelings by asking the adults in her life if they’ve ever stolen something. It turns all of them, except her dad, admitted to some minor thievery in their lives. But that doesn’t make Eliza Jane feel any better. So she tells her parents and knows what to do. When she returns it and confesses her teacher said she was brave. She realizes that “nobody is just a thief. Everyone is a lot of things”. Just as she is about to close her investigation on the family thieves she discovers her dad stealing the last piece of cake! Nice lessons showing we are all more than our mistakes, that adults make mistakes too,  and that admitting to and learning from mistakes is what counts.

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

 

Reviews are important

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From The Day I Ran Away

You write a story that you love, you find an editor that loves it too, but the true test is the readers. Will readers love your story? Will they tell others about it? As the viable paths to publication grow, there are more books vying for the readers attention. So reviews are essential for book sales and book sales increase an author’s chance of future publications. There are usually reviews for a few months leading to a book release and a few months after. So it was a happy moment when I saw Melinda Johnson’s  review of The Day I Ran Away 18 months after publication. 

At her blog, More to the Story, Melinda, an author with a master’s in English literature, teases out the layers that make a story one to remember. Her reviews would be helpful to parents, but also great for teachers to use as the talk with students about writing.

When I write I story I’m thinking about some layers but Melinda found layers I didn’t even know I’d slipped into my story.  Here’s a excerpt:

The Day I Ran Away from Flashlight Press is like a well-choreographed dance. Three characters, two voices, three points of view, two timelines, two picture sequences, and a dog spin around each other with no missed beats. The threads fall together easily, and despite action and humor in Isabella Ongaro’s illustrations, the tone of the book is peaceful. The little girl’s growing drowsiness in the bedtime pictures makes sense. She’s been on a big adventure that never took her beyond the reach of love and safety. You’ll want to read The Day I Ran Away over again, even if you aren’t a preschooler, because there’s more to ponder each time you page through the story.

Please visit Melinda’s blog and read some of her thoughtful reviews. And, when you read book you like, write a review! An author will appreciate it!

Picture books & Conversations (part 2)

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My big sister reading to me

Last week I talked about using picture books to talk with children about issues or other topics. Sometimes we can introduce a topic that a child hasn’t experienced.  I still remember my children’s reaction when we read the book Fly Away Home, by Eve Bunting. It allowed us to talk about people who did not have all the things they had in their lives.

Sometimes we can use a book to explore things we all experience.  In The Day I Ran Away, Grace is having a bad day (who hasn’t had one of those!). Her favorite shirt is dirty, her favorite cereal is all gone, she gets sent to her room after a tantrum and, when she colors her white shirt purple, Mom takes her markers away. That’s when Grace decides to run away, but how can you run away if you aren’t allowed to cross the street? We can use this book to talk with children about:

Bad days

  • Have you had a bad day? Why?
  • Share a bad day you’ve had
  • How can we make a bad day better?

Favorite things

  • What is your favorite: color, food, item of clothing, book, etc.
  • What would you do if a favorite thing was missing?

Rules

  • Grace wasn’t allowed to cross the street? Is that a good rule? Why?
  • What rules do you have in your house?
  • What happens if you don’t follow the rules?
  • Why do we have rules?
  • Was it right for Grace to lose her markers for a week?

Saying you’re sorry

  • Grace makes a picture for her mom as a peace offering.
  • What is a peace offering?
  • Why is it good to say you are sorry?
  • How do you feel when someone apologizes to you?
  • What are ways you can tell someone you are sorry?

Yoga

  • Grace is doing bedtime yoga. What is yoga?
  • Have you ever done yoga?
  • Why does she do it at bedtime?
  • What other things can you do to calm down at bedtime?
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From The Day I Ran Away

Picture books can start conversations

42747118_1927805887309834_6118873833110765568_nReading to a child gives us a perfect opportunity to start conversations. You may choose a book such as Mr. Worry: A story about OCD or I Can’t Stop: A story about Tourette Syndrome that deal with a specific topic, but most picture books can be used to start conversations.

In No More Noisy Nights, Jackson has moved into a new home. After a day of unpacking he’s ready to sleep, but it turns out he’s sharing his home with some creatures that are noisy at night. Jackson has to use his best problem solving skills to quiet the creatures so he can get a good nights sleep. We can use this picture book to talk with children about:

Fears

  • Talk about Jackson. Was he afraid? Why or why not?
  • Ask questions such as: Have you ever heard scary sounds? What did you do? Are there are things that scare you?
  • Share fears you had as a child or now.

Problem solving

  • Talk about the way Jackson solved his problems. What else could he have done?
  • Talk about solutions for the fears they shared

Moving

  • Moving can be hard, but we bring things with us that help our new house feel like home. What things did Jackson bring? What things would you bring?
  • Make a list of the good and bad things about moving.

Making friends

  • The creatures in Jackson’s house were noisy. How did he treat them?
  • How do you like to be treated?
  • How did Jackson make new friends?

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From No More Noisy Nights

Reading “sucks”

0915180751_HDR (2)I spent Saturday at the Indiana State Literacy Association’s fall conference. I was there hoping, I’ll shamelessly admit, to sell some of my books and to make teacher contacts. I don’t know what the attendance count was but, on a perfect fall day in Indiana, there were MANY teachers and teachers-to-be giving up their Saturday in the hopes of learning new things to engage their students in reading and writing.

I was able to listen to Pernille Ripp’s keynote address and some of her presentation on using picture books in the classroom. I didn’t have pen and paper ( and I call myself a writer!) to write down all the wonderful points she made, but these stuck with me.

  • Sometimes reading “sucks” to quote one of her students
  • Read aloud to kids even when they can read on their own
  • Let kids choose their own books
  • reading for pleasure should not involve book reports, etc
  • We tell kids reading for pleasure is important, so we need to make time for it every day in the classroom

I’d add that parents help develop readers when they continue to read aloud at home, model reading for pleasure and provide access to books.

Here’s a excerpt from the Kids & Family Reading Report from Scholastic (5th edition)

There are several predictors that children ages 6–17 will be frequent readers. Three dynamics among the most powerful predictors are:
• being more likely to rate themselves as “really enjoying reading”
• a strong belief that reading for fun is important and
• having parents who are frequent readers. 

Additional factors that predict children ages 6–11 will be frequent readers include reading aloud early and often, specific characteristics kids want in books and spending less time online using a computer. 

Additional factors that predict children ages 12–17 will be frequent readers include reading a book of choice independently in school, ereading experiences, a large home library, having been told their reading level and having parents involved in their reading habits.

We are busy! The calendar fills up with activities and chores.  So instead of say “someday”, put a family trip to the library or bookstore, where everyone chooses a book (no shaming the book choice 😉), on the calendar! Then, as they did in my kids’ classroom, have D.E.A.R. time! (Drop Everything And Read)

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