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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: author visits, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 93
1. MRA Poster by Matt Faulkner and me

Michigan Reading Association held its 2014 conference this past weekend, and I got to do some presentations at it. At the huge general session on Sunday they unveiled the poster for next year's conference and -- ta-daaa! -- I helped create it.

Fellow Michigan author-illustrator and dear friend Matt Faulkner drew the MRA lettering scene and that gorgeous, intricate calligraphy of the words Honesty, Diversity, Unity, and Equality.

I did the Michigan readers pen/watercolor art and the layout.

These posters were distributed to teachers and librarians and will hang in schools around the state.
I've already seen a few in schools, actually.
This is a busy season for author visits-- I'll watch for more in my travels to schools around the state.
Pretty heady stuff!

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2. SundayMorningReads

I didn’t know until last night that the Harbaughs were born in Toledo, Ohio. No wonder they’re so good! (Yes, Toledo is my hometown.)

When the Colts lost early in the playoffs, all my attention turned to the 49ers. You could call me a fair weather fan of the Niners, thanks to my oldest son. I think he has been a fan of the Niners ever since he knew what football was and, when I think back to him as a boy I vision him in his cardinal red and metallic gold coat, hat, scarf, sweatshirt and/or one of many t-shirts that were part of his wardrobe. It may be just a game, and he may be just a fan but his loyalty to that team is mighty impressive. And, because of that I’m rooting for them, too.

Well, I’ll be rooting for them after I attend the Taiwanese New Year celebration on campus. I met a student who is from the town in Taiwan where I used to live and she was kind enough to gift me with a ticket. I’ll be surprising her with a red envelope. My fingers are crossed for beef noodles.

I really can’t believe there are only 6 books by authors of color released this month. I’m really looking forward to the emails and comments telling me of the titles I’ve missed.

14 February is International Book Giving Day

A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy usually posts a comprehensive list of African American non-fiction in February. She recently posted the winners of the American Indian Youth Literature Award.

The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days Later is underway. MG/YA authors will include

Feb. 1 – Malaika Rose Stanley (MG)

Feb. 3 – Alaya Dawn Johnson – (YA)

Feb. 5 – Glennette Tilley Turner – (MG)

Feb. 6 – Traci L. Jones – (YA)

Feb. 8 – Brian F. Walker – (YA)

Feb. 9 – Veronica Chambers – (MG)

Feb. 10 – B.A. Binns (YA)

Feb. 12 – Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams – (MG)

Feb. 13 – Octavia Butler – (YA )

Feb. 15 – Lyah Beth LeFlore – (YA)

Feb. 17 – Arna Bontemps – (MG)

Feb. 18 – Jasmine Richards – (MG)

Feb. 21 – Nalo Hopkinson – (YA)

Feb. 24 – Linda Tarrant-Reid – (MG)

Feb. 26 – Chudney Ross – (MG)

Feb. 28 – Jaime Reed – (YA)

Indeed, another impressive list of vanguard, established and new talents!

If you’re looking for a way to get one of these authors to visit your school or library, you might consider the Amber Brown Grant or a Targets Arts Grant.

Have you read Wasafiri? Wasafiri is Wasafiri is a literary magazine at the forefront in mapping new landscapes in contemporary international literature today. The current issue highlights global youth culture.

YALSA is about to make spring committee appointments. If you’re a YALSA member, do think about getting involved! All I did to get begin working with them was to complete an application.

My term with the YALSA’s Best Fiction in Young Adult selection committee officially began today and it begins with the question: How do you define ‘a good book’? I think it would be easier to agree on a definition of a good book than it will be to agree on a good book itself.

Here’s hoping you (and the Niners) have a good week!


Filed under: Sunday Reads Tagged: 28 Days Later, author visits, BFYA, February releases, sunday morning reads, Wasafiri, yalsa

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3. Ingredients for a Great School Visit

I had another I.N.K. post just about finished when Kelly Milner Halls' plea for school librarians and a package pushed me in another direction.

The mailer came from Carol Sweny, the Henniker Community School librarian, in Henniker, NH, where I had recently talked to kids, K-8.  The disc of photos recording my two days there included all the ingredients of a great school visit and reminded me how often a school librarian is at its core.

In the school visit's section of my web site, I have a version of what most authors say on theirs: I find that when kids are prepared for a school visit, they get more out of it. So I ask that students have access to some of my books beforehand, and read (or are read) at least one of them.  I also have downloadable pictures of me and book covers to make a poster for your hallway.  These efforts alone will invoke kids’ interest and enthusiasm, making the visit more memorable for them.

Remember you can click on all these pictures to make them larger.

This statement isn't an ego thing or a plea to buy more of my books beforehand.  When kids know I'm coming, when they have read or heard some of my books, they are psyched to see me.  They have had time to think and wonder about things, they listen more attentively, they ask more questions.  They get more out of the experience.  It's not that I can't grab an uniformed class or auditorium's attention; I can.  But time after time, I notice that prepared kids have a better experience. 

Like Kelly, I know that classroom teachers and principals are overloaded.  Some may not even know an author is coming in time to prepare.  Besides they are trying to get through their curriculum and whatever enrichments they have planned, let alone teaching to whatever state test is coming up next. PTO parents work hard to raise money for author visits, but their role doesn't usually extend to the classroom or library.  The school librarian is the perfect person to rally the troops: to prepare the kids in library class, to suggest and facilitate related classroom exercises, to organize book order forms, to generate excitement.

The Henniker has one author come each year, and Carol Sweny makes the most of it. I'm not suggesting that every school or school librarian wants or needs to put in the time and effort she did.  Perhaps showing how she rallied her school, however, will remind people how important it is to have school librarians and how much their efforts, with school visits and everything else, help kids learn and grow.

Here is part of the flyer Carol made to pass around to the teachers.

As you saw, grades K through 4 saw a presentation based on my book On This Spot, which takes New York City back in time to when it was home to forests, glaciers, dinosaurs, towering mountains, even a tropical sea.  This presentation included, among other things, kids taking many different objects and sorting themselves into a timeline.

Carol asked the teachers to have their classes use timelines to supplement normal learning.  They did so in different and wonderful ways. The school's corridors were festooned with examples of this interesting way to think about time and history.

The kindergarteners made timelines of their days.   

First graders created a timeline that would record a whole year of learning month by month.

The 2nd graders made illustrated lifelines.
Third graders did their lifelines too.
Here's a new way for a 4th grade class to think about the making of the Statue of Library. 

The 5th grade concentrated on learning new computer skills while doing their personal timelines.

The 6th grades' timeline of our presidents was perfectly timed since my visit occurred shortly after the election in November.

The 7th graders learned research and computer skills creating a timeline of Henniker's history that took up an entire hallway.
The 8th grade's timeline cascading down the stairway brought their study of the Harlem Renaissance to life.

As Kelly so wisely said, school librarians (any librarians) are teachers. They build relationships, spark imagination.  We should fight for them.

I would fight for Carol Sweny.  Besides a great school visit, she gave me a moment of feeling like a rock star.  Check out what greeted me when I pulled into the school parking lot.

5 Comments on Ingredients for a Great School Visit, last added: 12/10/2012
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There have been lots of great developments and goings-on lately.

I've taken over as the director/leader/coordinator (what is the title, anyway?) of the Young Willamette Writers. I'm very excited about this position. The Willamette Writers is the largest writers' organizaton in Oregon, and one of the largest in the United States. Its purpose is to provide support and encouragement for current and aspiring writers. Young writers are not overlooked!

The Young Willamette Writers meets at the same time as the adults (7pm on the first Tuesday of every month) to hear from professional writers about topics related to craft and the industry. Upcoming guests are Tom Hallman, Jr. of the Oregonian, Lisa Nowak (Running Wide Open) on outlining, Amber Keyser (Angel Punk) on transmedia, Anne Osterlund (Exile) with a topic yet to be decided. What a great year we're going to have!

I'm in the middle of teaching a workshop at the Lake Oswego Library for 4th-6th graders. We've had lots of fun with my And then... stories as well as Chris Van Allsburg's book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. I'll be doing a one-time workshop at the Albina Library in December.

SCBWI is hosting the 4th annual authors and illustrators gala, "Flap Flap!" on November 3. At this event, 15 authors and illustrators (including yours truly) will have four minutes to tell about their books. Come hear backstories and good tidbits from the authors themselves. This is a great time to get some Christmas shopping done as well.

Finally, I was honored to have my book discussed on Dan Patterson's blog after he used it subbing in a 5th grade class. Thanks, Dan! Glad you had fun with it!

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5. Author Presentation - All Tied Up

Last month, I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek post titled Lessons Learned - Author Presentations. The comments and suggestions from readers of that post were fantastic and very helpful. Today, I thought that I’d share a little about my recent Author Visit -mixing it up with knowledge I learned and information I shared, all wrapped up with some very touching and creative thank you cards.

 During my Introduction while described my childhood, I explained that I liked to read, make stuffed toys for my brother, and secretly write and illustrate stories in my closet. And, I liked cotton candy. These elements were woven throughout my presentation.

Of course, cotton candy got a huge reaction.

During my Writing portion, I showed them how I feel some days, while I am writing.

I think all the students could relate.
(Also, I shared, "The fact that I'm talking to you instead of writing is yet another way that I'm procrastinating.")

The only problem I had was my throat became dry while talking for all that time. I brought my trusty water bottle with me. But, like I shared to a friend, “When I stopped to take a drink, I had 60 pairs of eyes glued on me.” There’s got to be a secret to being able to speak and not get a dry throat.

Though I’ve done classes and presentations, this was my first go at a Powerpoint presentation. The previous week during a sold out show at a large, local theater, the speaker’s Powerpoint presentation continually got the “spinning ball of death”. I was so scared that was going to happen to me. The teacher and I tried to match our schedules so I could to go in a day or two early and check to see if the presentation ran okay. But, in the end, I had to cross my fingers and arrive at the school 45 minutes early to get everything working. Let’s just say that the presentation finally got on the screen five minutes before the students came in. Lesson learned: buy a projector!

The teacher told me later that the students were talking about my presentation and writing the entire rest of the day. She said, “The students were so excited about your visit and now inspired to write their own stories!”

Here’s a few nuggets from the cards and letters:
“You inspired me to draw and write.”
“I will probably buy your book it sounds really good.”
“I want your book so badly.”
“You rock, Mrs. Lewis.”
“I think your presentation was awesome.”
“You have inspired me to become an author! I’m sure The House that Jill Built will be awesome.”
“I will read the book right when it comes out.”

Would love to share all 60 wonderful comments. But, I’ll stop at those. Gotta love 'em.

The one thing that strikes me while I’m rereading all these cards is they are all extremely creative and unique. Our schools are truly filled with some amazing talented and creative students. The

1 Comments on Author Presentation - All Tied Up, last added: 5/25/2012
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6. Author Outings

I had two wonderful school visits in April.

 First, I met Mrs. Parham's 2nd grade class at Conway Elementary School where I shared DOGGIE DAY CAMP with the students. They enjoyed playing "Bubba Says" with me and discovering some verb and adverb adventures of their own.

 Next, I spent the whole day with the incredible students at Christ Community Lutheran School. I was amazed at all the creative projects the students and their teachers had made for me in preparation for my visit. They highlighted each of my books with poems and stories and inventive dioramas--Kitty Kerplunking Visits Doggie Day Camp! Why didn't I think of that? There was a video as well!

 First Grade teacher, Ann Schmidt who helped organize my visit, had this to say: Just to let you know about your influence on my classroom. There are 4 of them that have started creating their own books. They've shared their stories and now the rest of the class is all fired up about writing their own too. This is something that first graders should be doing, but this class has just realized how fun it can be, thanks to you. 

For me, it's great to write for children, but even better to help inspire them to do their own writing. Like I always say, Ready, Set, WRITE!!!

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7. Lessons Learned - Author Presentations

This week, I was schooled by a third grader.

I’m in the middle of an art lesson. Bryson says loudly, “No, dude. The planet.” I stop and look over at him. Then, I get the joke. They got me. All the boys are on the floor laughing. I’ve lost them, again.

Thanks to my magazine articles and an upcoming nonfiction book, I’ve been getting requests to talk to local classrooms. What am I going to say? How can I keep them interested in all the knowledge that I want to share? Is there any thing I can do to prevent losing them?

I’ve created and presented Art Appreciation lessons for over 12 years. I’ve created and taught several After School Enrichment classes for the past 6 years. Most cases, the teacher or a mom helper has been in the room. I’ve taught for an after-school Art program for almost two years - teaching at several schools each week and subbing all around the western Chicago suburbs. In those classes, it’s just me. I’ve had my share of challenges. After one class, a teacher walked by as I was putting up the artwork and said, “That must be Michael’s.” I said, “Yes, it is. Are you his teacher?” She responded, “Yup, and good luck with that.” The class was full of Michaels. 

This week, I discovered several websites and blogs filled with information on how to give classroom presentations. Children’s book authors and illustrators are so giving of their time and expertise. The town I live in has hosted several Author festivals. I was fortunate to be able to sit in on many classroom presentations; even made a few author friends through the years, too. When possible, I watched presentations in my own child’s class - my own personal focus group. (One very popular author totally “bombed” according to my son, an eight grade student at the time. The author’s talk was geared for elementary school students not middle schoolers... or, at least, we thought third graders might have laughed at the jokes.) I’ve been a guest at several career days, talking to several eight-grade classes at a time - always an attentive and engaging audience.

Other lessons I have learned:

  • When the power goes out in the building, the whole class screams. (I thought turning the lights out quieted them.) 
  • When one student has to sharpen a pencil, the whole class does, too. (Yes, my pencil box has all sharpened pencils.)
  • When one student has to go to the bathroom, the whole class does, too. 
  • When one student asks to hand out papers, the whole class does, too. 
  • When Gracie jumps up and down and shouts “Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Lewis”, she’s going to say, “I like pumpkin pie... and lemon pie... and strawberry pie...” 
  • If there is any way they can glimpse at your lesson, they will see it - and tell the class what you are going to teach before you start. 
  • If one child asks to erase the board, they’re all going to drop everything and race up to help. 
  • And, finally, there’s always one child who you think is going to be handful who winds up totally surprising you - and that makes you smile all the way home. 
Would love to hear from other seasoned veterans of author presentations. Any interesting stories or humorous antidotes that you would like to share? I need help. I need to be prepared for the Brysons, Michaels, and Gracies.

While telling a friend about my trying day, I said, “The entire class was driving me nuts.” Argh. Another word to delete out of my brain. Wish me luck.

10 Comments on Lessons Learned - Author Presentations, last added: 4/27/2012
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8. My John and Tom (Part Almost 3)

I was all set to post the third installment of my FoundingFathersPalooza—an exploration into how I conceived, researched, and wrote Those Rebels, John and Tom, my book about Adams and Jefferson. And I’ll post the final installment next month.

But something wonderful happened a few days ago that fits in so nicely, I couldn’t resist talking about it. You see, in a couple of weeks, I get to meet John and Tom.

In person.

I’ll be participating in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum’s “Presidents’ Day Family Festival” at the JFK Library in Boston, on February 21st.

And John and Tom are going to be there!

OK, technically, John Adams will be played by Thomas Macy and Thomas Jefferson will be played by Bill Barker – but take a look at the links. Don’t they look fabulous?! Both men are real history buffs and I know will do Adams and Jefferson proud.

We’ve been doing a bit of emailing, setting things up. Under the signature line for Thomas Macy’s emails are the quotes:

"Querulous, bald, blind, crippled, toothless Adams."
- Benjamin Franklin Bache
"I'm not crippled." - John Adams

And Bill Barker signs his emails:

Yr' hm'bl sr'vt,
Thos. Jefferson

I think this is going to be fun…

I am geeky excited. For someone who spent over a year working on the book, this is the next best thing to a time machine.

If you will be in Boston on Feb 21st, please join us, won’t you?

7 Comments on My John and Tom (Part Almost 3), last added: 2/9/2012
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I set up a lot of school visits in the course of the year, but few warm my heart as much as the annual Adopt-a-School visit. The Adopt-a-School Initiative is a collaboration between the American Association of Publishers, the Children’s Book Council, the NYC Department of Education, school librarians, and publishing houses. The program sends well-known children’s and young adult authors into New York area schools. We at HarperCollins Children’s Books take great pleasure in connecting our authors with these deserving schools. Authors generously donate their time and energy, and we support the visit by sending classroom sets of books to the participating schools. This past December the wonderful Audrey Vernick enthusiastically agreed to follow in the footsteps of past participants such as Walter Dean Myers, Robert Lipsyte, and Maryrose Wood. Audrey’s picture books include SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY, IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN?, and TEACH YOUR BUFFALO TO PLAY DRUMS. We asked Audrey for a first-hand account of this very special school visit… and homecoming.
-Tony Hirt (Our Author Visit Coordinator Extraordinaire- tony.hirt(at)gmail(dot)com)

When I was asked by HarperCollins if I’d be interested in participating in the CBC/AAP’s adopt-a-school week, during which authors visit public schools throughout New York City, I asked, almost as an afterthought, if it might be possible to visit the elementary school I attended—P.S. 184 Queens. I was pretty sure this wasn’t the kind of thing one could ask, but something pushed me to try anyway.

And then, thanks to the persistence of AAP’s Becca Worthington, and the cooperation of school principal Dora Pantelis and media specialist Adriana Tibbetts at P.S. 184, it all came together. On December 13, 2011, I returned to my elementary school.

I graduated from P.S. 184 in 1976, a time when all the fire hydrants in our town were painted red, white and blue in celebration of the bicentennial. In the decades since, my elementary school memories have not dulled. (Don’t ask me about junior high school, high school or college. But you can ask me to name the kids in size order in my first-grade class and I’ll get nearly every one.)

I walked in that building and knew its geography. The smell in the cafeteria was unnamable but profoundly familiar. The faces on the kids were different, the computers in the classrooms looked ridiculously out of place—especially with a lot of the same old furniture—but more than anything, it felt like something very close to home.

I met with kids in kindergarten, first and second grade. I read to the kindergarteners and talked with the first- and second-graders about where I find my story ideas and where they might find their own. I encouraged them to listen to the stories around them and to be curious. They listened, they laughed, they agreed that I looked like I was “from history” when I showed them my own first-grade picture. (I didn’t tell them that I borrowed that term from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but in the interest of giving credit, that is the whole truth.)

The kids asked smart questions, as kids always do. As I drove home later, I finally accepted the fact that I can no longer be someone wh

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10. Digital Painting Lecture and Demonstration

Come say hi on November 1st at the Lunenburg Public Library, Lunenburg, MA. I'll be giving a talk on digital painting techniques. Oh and best of all, it's free. I'll even bring some left over Halloween candy. :)

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11. Dark Days Author Tour Kickoff!

Today is the kickoff of the Dark Days author tour!  There is a Livestream event TODAY from 4:00 – 5:35 pm EST, featuring Claudia Gray, Kiersten White, Amy Garvey, Anna Carey, and Jocelyn Davies!  Check it out here: http://www.livestream.com/epicreads.

The tour officially begins on October 12th at the Barnes and Noble store in Lynnwood, Washington.  Check the tour dates to find out if the Dark Days tour will be stopping by your city:

Wednesday, October 12th
7:00 PM
Barnes & Noble
Lynnwood, WA
with Claudia Gray (FATEFUL), Kiersten White (SUPERNATURALLY), Amy Garvey (COLD KISS) and Anna Carey (EVE)

Thursday, October 13th
7:00 PM
Barnes & Noble
Huntington Beach, CA
with Claudia Gray (FATEFUL), Kiersten White (SUPERNATURALLY), Amy Garvey (COLD KISS) and Anna Carey (EVE)

Friday, October 14th
Time TK
Tattered Cover
Highland Ranch, CO
with Claudia Gray (FATEFUL), Kiersten White (SUPERNATURALLY), Amy Garvey (COLD KISS) and Jocelyn Davies (A BEAUTIFUL DARK)

Saturday, October 15th
1:00 PM
Barnes & Noble
Boulder, CO
with Claudia Gray (FATEFUL), Kiersten White (SUPERNATURALLY), Amy Garvey (COLD KISS) and Jocelyn Davies (A BEAUTIFUL DARK)

Sunday, October 16th
2:00 PM
Naperville, IL
with Claudia Gray (FATEFUL), Kiersten White (SUPERNATURALLY), Amy Garvey (COLD KISS) and Jocelyn Davies (A BEAUTIFUL DARK)
*This event will be Livestreamed.

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12. A Leap of Faith

Years ago, when publishing was in its heyday, established authors could sell from concept. Here’s how it worked. An author and an editor did lunch. (The publisher picked up the tab.) They discussed possibilities for future projects. When the editor liked an idea s/he said, “Write me a proposal.” That was it. There was trust that the author would deliver a book that they would be happy to publish. The author walked out of the lunch confident of an assignment with money to follow. That was then. Now even established writers have to do proposals complete with a marketing analysis, detailed outlines, maybe a few well-written chapters, and loads of background material. Then they wait for the proposal to be reviewed before a full committee, which seems to be more dedicated to why they shouldn’t do a book than why they should. In these hard times, the beleaguered publishers must constantly consider their bottom line when investing in a project.

The best editors, however, still know how to imagine along with authors. We all know that every book starts with a vision—a fleshed-out idea of how to create a work. Other parts of society are not quite so visionary. As much as we would like to think otherwise, most people don’t “get” innovative ideas. The popular show, Mad Men, about the advertising industry back in the sixties understood this. Fully articulated and illustrated presentations were required to in order to leave nothing up to the imagination of their clients. They knew that even when a concept has merit and is worth a try, every innovative venture, every work of creativity, requires a leap of faith in order to turn a concept into a reality.

What, then, is innovation? I have defined it as: Creating something new from disparate existing elements used in novel ways to solve a contemporary problem while forecasting its own future growth and development. In my
outside-the-box proposal published last month in this blog I proposed using nonfiction literature in the classroom (nothing new here), combined with professional development from the authors themselves (nothing new here) to help teachers use their books effectively, and ending up with an author visit with the students after they’ve studied the books (this doesn’t happen often but there’s nothing new here, either.) What makes this program innovative? Its scale (school-wide, many authors and many books) and the timing of the professional development—just before the books are to be used by the teachers, so they can immediately apply what they’ve learned and the timing of the author-visits with kids (just when they’ve completed studying a book). The technologies that makes such an ambitious program possible and even more importantly, affordable, are interactive videoconferencing—face-to-face conversations between the authors and the school participants and a wiki, a collective online document that chronicles contributions from all the participants and serves as a written record of the project. The authors don’t need to travel and schools don’t need to pick up the travel expenses and the in-person personal appearance fees. All of us authors know the excitement of a school visit. It is often the highpoint of a school year. I’ve always wondered how the teachers took advantage, back in their classrooms, of the energy and enthusiasm generated by these visits. I believe that my program for Authors on Call does just that. What we’re really offering, beyond expertise and excellent writing is inspiration and excitement. My problem: I needed to find a school willing to test this idea.


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13. Thoughts on School Visits

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14. Tim Green…

is on Facebook!  Go over there and “like” him!

Interested in having Tim visit your school or library?  You can also stop by Tim’s website for information about Skype visits and in-person visits.  And check out our website for Tim where you can get discussion guides to use in your classroom.

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15. Guest Blog about Bullying by Chelsea Rodgers

Today's blog is from our intern Chelsea Rodgers. Chelsea is a student at University of Michigan Dearborn. She is pursuing a degree in the marketing field. I hope you enjoy her post on bullying.
-Read Something great!
Going back to school can be fun and exciting for some kids, for others, it can be scary. Most children look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones, but just as so many are ready to go back to school the same amount or more are afraid of being bullied all year long. School bullying is becoming a daily event at schools. How can parents prepare their children?
In the U.S. 30% of teens are involved in bullying by being the bully or being bullied. It is something that has gotten out of hand and under the radar for too long. A lot of officials do not see bullying or do anything about it. People think being bullied is like a right-of-passage, that it makes kids stronger, it’s not. Being bullied causes kids to be scared, anxious, and insecure.
I know as a kid I was bullied, moving around a lot I had to make a lot of new friends and sometimes bullying was a ritual for the new kid to go through. I was teased about my hair or my braces or being small. Looking back on it being bullied is probably the reason I was shy as a kid. For me the bullying stopped by the time I reached middle school. The only reason the bullying started to subside was because of me.
It’s scary to be bullied and the rule parents tell their kids is to ignore it and it will eventually go away. That does not always work. Parents should give their kids more than just one way to face being bullied. Parents should help their kids practice confidence. Help them to feel good about themselves. Every time they say something negative make them tell you three positive characteristics about themselves.
Let them talk about bullying. There is a new book out, Summer Camp Survival that deals with bullying and self-esteem. Summer Camp Survival is a fun, quick read for teens to learn about gaining self-esteem because in the end everyone is in control of their life.

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16. Speaking to the Test

I think I did pretty well, but I'm not sure. Several teachers told me that the presentations I had just given were the best they had ever seen. One said it was inspiring to her students and herself. Another said she didn't want me to stop because the kids were learning so much. A third said I was explaining difficult concepts in ways she had never thought of, and the kids were getting it -- and having fun to boot!

But the only evaluation that "counts" will be the one that comes in after the tests are graded. Yes, the Big Brother of testing is now watching over authors who speak at schools. I spent three days giving author presentations in central California, funded by a special state program for the children of migrant agricultural workers. It was explained to me that the state requires the children to be tested before and after the presentation so their learning (i.e., my teaching) can be assessed. It was a new experience for me. I had to write a test for each grade level, to be administered both before and after my presentations. Improved scores would be the ticket.

Sounds logical, doesn't it? Sounds simple, right? Wrong! What an awakening it was for me to see firsthand what testing does to teaching. Teachers have to cope with this every day so, if nothing else, at least I could get a feel for their daily reality. And they don't have the opportunity to write to the test.

I'm glad the kids had fun and they learned something but that's only because I got to do what teachers never have the luxury of doing: I ignored the tests. After writing them, I thought about how I could boost scores. I came up with many ways, but I realized a something that teachers have known for years: testing trumps teaching. (For another blog post on the subject of testing, see Vicki Cobb's superb, thought-provoking I.N.K. piece on September 10th.) Here's what I would have done if my main object had been to raise test scores:

speak to the test -- The test is what counts so ignore all else! If a wonderfully teachable moment comes along and it's not on the test, forget it. I use popcorn as a prop to explain big numbers and to show, visually, what happens every time you put a zero after a number. If, as often happens, a child asks, "Did you count all that popcorn?" I should ignore the question and go on. Never mind that it's the perfect opportunity to talk about estimation -- an important concept often misunderstood by both teachers and children. Estimation is not on the test. Forget it.

pretend all children learn in the same way -- There's no time to approach the same subject from different angles in order to reach different kinds of learners. Just get the info out there so they will learn it. Pound it into them. I talk about proportions using the example of a three inch frog hopping 20 feet. "How good of a hopper is that frog for its size?" I ask. In other words, how many of its own size does it hop? There are many ways to approach such a question but there is only time for one approach. To make sure that one gets through...

repeat, repeat, repeat -- If I know I'm making a point that is on th

7 Comments on Speaking to the Test, last added: 9/30/2010
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17. Kate Klise: The Protagonist’s Journey

Recently, my school hosted Kate Klise for an author visit. We have one every year, and the kids are always excited to hear the stories behind the books they check out from our library.

Have you read Kate and Sarah Klise’s book DYING TO MEET YOU? It’s an award-winning gem of a story about a scrappy kid, a persistent ghost, and a grumpy old scribbler all sharing the same rambling house on 43 Old Cemetary Road.

Read it and you’ll understand why it’s on so many awards lists.

It should be no surprise that Kate’s visit was fantastic. She was funny. Engaging. Honest. Real.

The kids loved her. They laughed at her stories and listened to what to she had to say about writing a good book.

And me? Well, when she started talking about the protagonist’s journey, my ears perked up.

Kate drew a circle and explained that every story needs at least one character with one problem. The character takes a circular journey and grapples with the conflict. At the end of the journey the protagonist returns home (figuratively and/or literally) a changed person. 

An interesting character + A compelling problem + A tranformative journey. 

See? That’s all you need to entrance a reader. Kate’s thoughts really stuck with me. The circle she drew keeps spinning around in my mind.

How about you? What do you think are the crucial elements of a great story?

Hungry for More? Then try this recipe for HALLOWEEN PUMPKIN SPICE CAKE. It’s perfect for curling up with a spook-tacular read this week.


Filed under: Book Reviews, Writing Tagged: Author Visits, Dying to Meet You, Kate Klise, Protagonist's Journey, Writing, writing advice 2 Comments on Kate Klise: The Protagonist’s Journey, last added: 10/28/2010
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18. The Night Before TG

A bit of a retro look back; I wrote this poem last year and thought it was appropriate to share it again. Happy TG!(Read something great!)

Twas The Night before Thanksgiving
Readers! I am thankful for you! Tomorrow is the big day and my gift to you is a poem that I thought would make you smile (disclaimer) I am not a poet!

Read something great!

The Night Before Thanksgiving
By Tara Michener

Twas the night before Thanksgiving and look at my house
this place is so messy hope there is no mouse

The dishes are piled all the way in the air
and I still have so much food to prepare

The guests will help themselves to pies and breads
While thoughts of more gym time will be in their heads

I need my hair done but I threw on a cap
maybe while I'm under the dryer I'll take a short nap

I started banging pots and pans and made such a clatter
I lamented that after Thursday I would surely be fatter

The day will come and go like a flash
Then on Saturday I'll be signing books in a dash

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
Lots of little kids who want their books signed so dear

I'll sign at the mall and try to be quick
I'll be sure to have my sharpie never a BIC

But until Saturday I'll focus on dinner and try to stay lucid
Now potatoes, now rolls now tofukey and all
I hope I have enough to feed them all

My crock pot was boiling over like a brew
A house full of food and so much to do

And then, in a twinkling, I thought of my roof
and happily felt blessed to serve in spirit and truth

As I drew in my hand, and was turning around, I noticed all of the blessings around.
I had great things and they would get done I needed to stay put
I said a small prayer and stopped tapping my foot

A bundle of food lay still in it's pack
And I smiled as I lined up the to-do's in a stack

My eyes -- how they twinkled! I no longer felt scary
I began to prepare the pies apple and cherry

I made things fancy adding a bow
and wondered if tomorrow would bring our first snow

I dug out our decorations and found our wreath
Now I was grinning and showing my teeth

I ignored my diet and embraced my little round belly
That shook, as I laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

The turkey looked pretty and plump, like art on the shelf
And I laughed when I saw it in spite of myself;

A tasted the gravy and tried out the bread
Yep I realized I had nothing to dread;

I stopped feeling bad and finished my work
And wrote cards so fast I felt like a clerk

Laying the bread in the dish that I chose
I gave a nod, when I saw how it rose

My hubby came in and looked impressed and gave a whistle
I gave him a kiss as I held up the toe of mistle

But I heard him exclaim, as he ran out of sight
I can't wait to watch the game tomorrow night

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19. Planning an author visit, Part II

Last time I discussed author visits, I focused on planning tips for teachers and librarians. This time around, let’s turn the tables and look at visits from an author’s perspective.  Newbery Award-winner Gail Carson Levine has visited schools, libraries, and conferences all over the world.  She’s an expert at connecting with students and educators, so I asked her for some pro tips for authors who want to make the most of their appearances:

  1. Think of a few ideas you’d like the kids to remember. Everybody approaches school visits differently. I don’t have a set presentation, but there are points I like to make. For example, I often read from a particular one of my books, a few paragraphs in which there’s a mistake. I challenge the kids to catch the mistake, and then, after it’s identified, I segue into the publishing process and the number of times I revise before and after my editor sees a manuscript. Since many children despise revision and I love it, teachers are usually delighted with this part. Sometimes I read from something I’m working on, and I rely on the children’s questions to take me to the lessons I want to share. I don’t have a PowerPoint presentation, but I do have images on my laptop that I can show when the right moment comes along.
  2. School visits are best when the children are familiar with your books. The kids get the most out of their session with you and the schools are the most satisfied. I ask ahead of time that the students have read at least one of my books before I come, but still this doesn’t often happen. Recognize that schools have their own priorities, one of which may be to encourage the children to read your books in the future by having you come now. Also, the person who arranges your visit may not have the authority to make sure your books get read.
  3. It’s okay to tell kids to be quiet. When you do, do so quickly and move on. And don’t take it personally.
  4. Don’t stand behind a podium or up on a stage if you can avoid it. The separation creates distance and will make it harder to hold the children’s attention. Also, involve them, even when you’re speaking to an assembly of hundreds of kids. Especially then. If you use a hard word, for example, ask someone to define it. Respect guesses. If you come down hard on a wrong answer, the kids will clam up. Check with them by asking questions to make sure they’re with you. This will also keep them more alert, because they won’t know when the next question will erupt.
  5. You don’t have to put up with misery. If the kids are out of control and the teachers aren’t dealing with it, you are not being paid enough to struggle on. I’ve never abandoned a group, but on a few occasions I wish I had, and in the future I will, even if I have to sacrifice my fee. If you continue on lamely as I have, no one learns a lesson.
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20. Saving Lives -- and Math Education -- With Statistics

Once again, a child at a school assembly asked me where I get my ideas. As usual, I said ideas are everywhere. This month I’ve been getting ideas from the newspaper, particularly coverage of the Tucson tragedy. It’s given me the idea that it’s high time to write a book that will go some small way to make our country a better place for people’s lives, not just a better place for people’s math. In fact, I’m thinking of a book that can do both because they just might be related.

We live in an era and a society where dogma trumps evidence and the drama of one trumps the experiences of many. The tendency to generalize from single examples seems to take over in the minds of too many who are unwilling or unable to recognize the relative insignificance of the examples they flourish. Show a gun-rights supporter statistics showing that families with guns in their homes are far more likely to suffer an injury or death from gunshot … and they’ll come back with an anecdote about one exceedingly rare instance where someone defended his family with a gun. Talk about Columbine or Virginia Tech or Tucson and they’ll tell you an apocryphal story about the arms-bearing citizen who stopped a potential shooting.

Statistics let us distinguish data from anecdote. Maybe some day (how’s this for wishful thinking?) a society that is statistically literate will create laws that actually help protect people from madmen instead of absurdly lax laws that protect the madmen until it’s too late to stop them.

And we need to understand probability. If you tell a gun supporter that we need better background checks on gun purchasers, she might point out that the checks are no better than 50% effective. But if prospective purchasers have to go through three successive screens, nearly 90% of the mad shooters would be stopped. One more screen and you’re up to almost 95%. It’s in the math.

Would quality children’s books on statistics and probability make any difference in our laws or attitudes? I don't know but can we afford to wait any longer to find out? Let’s see… if 10% of the people had a better mathematical basis for interpreting the information and misinformation that bombards us daily, and if each of them told 10 people who told 10 people...

One of my math heroes is Dr. Arthur Benjamin, a math professor at Harvey Mudd College, and a world-renowned “math magician” who astonishes audiences with amazing mental math calculations that he can do faster than any of the eight volunteers who come to the stage with their calculators. Prof. Benjamin did a short Ted talk about his formula for changing math education in America. You can find it here: http://www.ted.com/talks/arthur_benjamin_s_formula_for_changing_math_education.html. It’s only three minutes long and it might change your view of math education which, Benjamin believes, is on the wrong trajectory.

In every school system in America, math starts with counting and arithmetic, goes through algebra, aiming squarely for calculus. The genius of calculus and its importance to physicists and engineers

5 Comments on Saving Lives -- and Math Education -- With Statistics, last added: 1/24/2011
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21. Melissa Marr’s Book Event, Wednesday, February 23rd

Tomorrow night, Wednesday, 2/23, 5:00 PST/8:00 EST, Melissa Marr will be at Mysterious Galaxy Books in San Diego to celebrate the release of the fifth and final book in the Wicked Lovely series, DARKEST MERCY.

Even if you don’t live nearby (or you live nearby and didn’t score a ticket), you can watch the event by livestream here.  You can watch the event live and even send in your questions for Melissa.  Pretty cool, right?

It’s the wave of the future, don’t you think?  I can attend a book event in Seattle from my office in New York, send in my questions to the author, share the link with friends so they can attend…and it certainly is more cost effective for all.

What do you think this technology will mean for school and library visits in the future?  Have any of you out there tried livestreaming an author or illustrator visit?

Follow Melissa Marr on Twitter
“Like” the Wicked Lovely Facebook fan page

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22. Guest Blogger: Suzanne Slade

As mentioned on Friday, Albert Whitman author Suzanne Slade took Read Across America Day quite literally. Here are her experiences with 13 Skype visits in one day:

The Day I Read Across America (tales from the virtual author visit front)

On Read-Across-America Day, March 2nd, I woke at 3:35 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I was too excited! I was going to read to students across the country—in CA, IL, GA, IN, PA, NH, OH, FL, AL, NC, OR, NY and NJ—all in one day! It was a reading event I’d been working on for over a year. With the help of Skype, I would visit thirteen different schools from the comfort of my home office (aka. dining room) in Libertyville, Illinois. If all went according to plan, I would connect with a different school every half hour, beginning at 8 am and running straight through until 2:30 pm, spending twenty minutes with each group of children. As I put on my striped Cat-in-the-Hat hat that morning, I wondered what fun surprises, or technical glitches, awaited me. And here’s how it went down.

The day kicked off with 118 enthusiastic fifth graders from Eaton Elementary in NC. As with all the schools I would visit, they had prepared a message for me to share with the next school. Eaton’s message was, “Get off the couch and read!” How awesome is that? Before our visit ended, I asked the class how many people they thought I would talk to during the day, as the school with the closest guess would win a free box of autographed books from me. The fifth graders had used their estimation skills and come up with a guess of 1400. I have to admit, I was a little surprised their number was so high. I’d guessed only 375.

My next stop was King’s Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida where I met children in kindergarten through second grade. I explained how a book is made using some cool show-and-tells from my newest picture book, Climbing Lincoln’s Steps (illustrated by Colin Bootman). I showed them my original 5-page manuscript, the 32-page book dummy my editor had put together, Colin’s early pencil sketches, copies of his amazing full-color paintings, the F & G (folds and gathers), and the beautiful finished book complete with dust jacket. The students had lots of interesting questions. My favorite was, “Do you have to change the words in your stories a lot?” We ended our time by reading one of my picture books together. The morning was rolling along without a hitch, although I must admit only one hour into my marathon reading event I realized I couldn’t stay sitting all day, so I put my computer on a small chair on top of my table and did the next few visits standing up. 

The third school in the Bronx, New York was a del

3 Comments on Guest Blogger: Suzanne Slade, last added: 3/7/2011
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23. Seymour Simon at the NSTA Conference

Okay, so I know you’re going to say I’m biased, but I’m a huge fan of Seymour Simon.  As a librarian, I was always comfortable recommending his books  - he was one of my reliables, an absolute go-to.  Recently, I’ve had opportunities to work with him and, I have to confess, he’d have a lot of us beat in the pop culture and technology departments: Seymour knows more about Idol than I ever would and has all the latest gadgets that I’m still slightly scared of.

With that in mind, you have to check out Seymour Simon’s website and blog.  Here is just a glimpse of the coolness you’ll find there:

Want to meet Seymour in person?  The correct answer, of course, is yes.  He’ll be at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conference in San Francisco this coming weekend!  On Friday, March 11th, from 3:30 pm – 5:30 pm, he’ll be accepting his award for the NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 – listen to him speak about GLOBAL WARMING.  On Saturday, March 12th, he’ll be on a panel, “Science with Seymour Simon and Wendy Saul: Developing the Language of Science”, from 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm at the Moscone Center, Room 262 on Saturday.  Stop by and say hi to Seymour!

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24. Travelblog: A School Visit, Moroccan Style

We all know that an author should never say yes to a school visit without first knowing the terms. But last summer Cynthia Ruptic, the lower school librarian at the Rabat American School [RAS] emailed me. “Come to Rabat for two weeks. We’ll have a great time.”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Usually these international trips last a week, at least that’s what I’ve been told as I had never done one before. But Cynthia and the upper school librarian, Lora Wagner, thought that since I write for children and young adults, and since I’m a writer and photographer, two weeks would be a better fit. Two weeks in Morocco? How could I resist.

Lora and Cynthia

That was last summer. As the time for my visit neared, North Africa exploded in a sea of Facebook revolution. My good friend, Liz Levy, was trapped in Egypt along with Bruce Coville and his wife. Trouble in country after country inched closer to the border of Morocco, and the conflicts grew more violent. Was this the right time to talk about nonfiction and photography. Would the students concentrate on anything other than what was happening on their continent? Was it safe? The school principal, Kathy Morabet, emailed, “Come! Morocco is peaceful.”

And so ….
My two weeks in Rabat were intense and wonderful. Before I left, though, Cynthia emailed a program that freaked me out by its Cecil B. DeMille, Technicolor-coded complexity. There was a two-page spreadsheet, chock-a-block filled with classes, photography workshops, after-school club meetings, auditorium presentations, and a teacher presentation. Class visits were from Pre K to 10th Grade. I immediately came down with a sore throat that lasted until I arrived.

In addition, Cynthia and Lora set up a series of half hour meetings with each teacher before I was to meet their class. Yikes! When would there be time to do all that? Those meetings turned out to be a godsend. They gave me the sense of what the teachers were doing and how my prepared programs could be adapted to reinforce their teaching. Class projects ranged from growing silk worms in a shoebox to scribes in Ancient Egypt. Science, math, and ancient history are not exactly a clear fit with my work as a contemporary nonfiction author. And yet, when we put our heads together we found ways to bridge the gap.

So when Alice Mendoza’s kindergarten class went to work on the RAS Storypath Park, the students photographed the tops of the school’s palm trees and attached prints to clay models that represented the trunks.

Photo by Alice Mendoza.

4 Comments on Travelblog: A School Visit, Moroccan Style, last added: 4/11/2011
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25. Author-in-Residence: A Dream Assignment

I have had a great gig this year: author-in-residence at the Michael J. Perkins School in South Boston, a small elementary school set right in the middle of Old Colony Housing Project. Old Colony is being renovated and I was hired to work with the Perkins kids on a blog about being in the middle of a construction zone. I described more about the situation in last October's post.

As the end of the school year approaches, it's natural to look back and access the experience. Having done school visits for many years, I have always been in awe of classroom teachers. Now, I bow down to them. To see what they do every day, day after day, is amazing. To see the pressure to fulfill a state's curriculum--teach X from October 12 to November 3rd and then segue to unit Y on the 4th. To understand more fully how my coming to the classroom with extras means extra resources and richness but extra work squeezing to fit everything in, however worthy it all is.

But some great things happened this year, from K to 5. Some of the highlights:

When the kindergarteners read Mike Mulligan and his Steam Engine, they wondered what the workers on the site had named their machines. They were amazed--maybe a little horrified--when they realized those excavators and dump trucks were just called "it" or "they." That's when the Name That Crane campaign was born--the two kindergarten classes each nominated names, ran campaigns and voted for the name to call the huge crane that lifted the steel (they also learned the democratic process in the bargain, which made the See How They Run author very happy). Voting Day was very exciting, take a look.

Here are the kindergarteners at the naming ceremony--with the Big Giraffe, the newly dubbed 400-ton crane in the background. (A fine name, but I was personally rooting for Mr. Lifty! That's democracy for ya--besides I didn't get a vote.)

For National Poetry Month, one first grade class experimented with acrostic poems, which use the letters in a topic word to begin each line. Then all the lines of the poem relate to this topic. Given what was going on outside their class window, they used the word, CONSTRUCT. This poem above was one of my favorites.
One second grade class is collaborating on a book about the day in the life of a construction worker and what these men and women must do to stay safe. For one week, they spent an hour a day observing the construction site and writing down what they saw.

3 Comments on Author-in-Residence: A Dream Assignment, last added: 6/13/2011
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