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Our second graders loved today's read-aloud: Spark, by Kallie George. And I adored their comments, connections and questions. If you're looking for a book to bring smiles and patience to a young reader, definitely look for this charming story.
Spark wants to be able to breath fire like a big dragon, but he can't control his flame. His mama asks him to practice roasting marshmallows and he's just sure he can do it. Just look how cute he is:
"I can do it!" said Spark.
But every time he tries, "WHOOOOSH" out comes a huge flame. He can’t control his fiery breath. Even practicing doesn’t help. I just love how his parents kept their cool (get it?!) and told him that he was still young. When he was older, he'd be able to control his flame.
"Whoosh! Out came a big flame."
We connected this to our reading. Sometimes I tell kids they aren't ready for a book yet. Maybe when they're in fourth grade, it will be just right for them. They know how hard it is to wait. And they knew how much it meant to Spark that he was patient and tried again.
Spark's birthday party
The culminating moment several months later, after Spark, when Spark lights his birthday candles is so full of joy that it brings a smile to everyone's face. Here are some of our students' comments:
“It’s a really good book because it’s funny. I like the way Spark blows FIRE.”
“At the last part, how is he going to blow out the candle?”
“I like the way the ending lets us imagine what’s going to happen next.”
“I like how Spark kept trying. He was patient, and was able to blow them out in the end.”
We are excited to Skype with Kallie George soon. Our students want to know how she gets inspired, whether she keeps a writer's notebook, how she deals with getting frustrated when she's writing.
The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Candlewick Books, but I've already purchased three more copies to share with teachers and families. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
I woke up to the sound of soft rain this morning and savored the small moment. It made me think of a lovely book that all our Berkeley school libraries have: Rain, by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson. I absolutely adore this book, especially for the way both author and illustrator notice small moments.
Rain tells the story of two very different people’s reaction to a rainy day. The illustrations are full of details that kids notice and can talk about. A happy little boy and a grumpy old man wake up to a rainy morning, and each immediately react to the prospect of putting on their rain gear. The old man says, “Nasty galoshes. Blasted overcoat.” The little guy, on the other hand, tells his mom, “It’s raining frogs and pollywogs!”
interior from Rain, by Linda Ashman & Christian Robinson
They each go their own way until they meet in a cafe. Kids will love noticing what happens when the little boy offers his cookie to the old man. Will the grumpy old man refuse, or will the young boy’s enthusiasm win the day?
I loved talking with students about how the author noticed small moment details in the dialog and how the artist noticed small moment details in his illustrations. Students are talking about "small moments" as they craft their own stories, as a way to flesh out details in creative writing. Our 2nd graders noticed so many details, from the emotions of other customers in the cafe, to the interactions between the boy and the shop keeper.
Christian Robinson at Emerson, May 2014
The illustrator Christian Robinson visited all Berkeley elementary schools last year, thanks to a grant from the Berkeley Public Schools Fund, and so many students will be able to remember the story and meeting the artist. He is absolutely delightful.
For a bit of fun, check out his website: theartoffun.com and notice how small moments can be captured in words as well as pictures. This image (from Robinson’s Fall 2014 Publisher’s Weekly cover) is not from the book, but it is a small moment that has me smiling this morning.
Christian Robinson at Emerson School, May 2014
The review copy comes from our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
One of my great joys is connecting students with authors who inspire them. The moment I first read Andrea Davis Pinkney's Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America, her voice filled me with hope and song. I knew I wanted to share that same voice with students in Berkeley. And so I'm thrilled that she will be visiting this week, speaking at an elementary school, a middle school, and with families at a fireside chat.
A lot of work goes into arranging an author visit like this, but most important is getting the students excited about meeting her. I want to give students a sense of the author's work and what she's like as a person before they meet her. We're sharing this presentation throughout Berkeley schools:
I especially like sharing resources from TeachingBooks.net with my students -- listening to how authors pronounce their name, hearing their voice, and watching videos. My students really liked the variety of images I was able to share -- from pictures of Andrea with her family to illustrations from her books.
It's a busy week here in Berkeley, as we get ready to host several author visits -- Andrea Davis Pinkney, Rita Williams Garcia and Jacqueline Briggs Martin. They're all in town for the ALSC Institute. We feel incredibly lucky to be able to connect these inspiring authors with our students.
If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
Hello all! It's another dreary day here in the Sunshine State. I like to tell people we have only two seasons: hot, and hot and rainy. Do not visit THE MOUSE in summer! You'll likely be drenched to the bone, then frozen by the AC. (That's when they swap you out for an aminatron, ala Stepford Wives). And when it's not raining, the heat and the humidity will press you right down to a smear on the concrete, which The Mouse's minions will wipe up and dispose of before anyone notices you're missing.
Now to the subject at hand: My website is down. This is a problem for me because I wanted to update my school visit schedule. Because I don't know how soon the site will be back up, I wanted to let you know I have begun to book visits for next school year. Twenty-minute Skype visits are free to groups who've read my work. If you'd like me to visit in person, I have a variety of presentations and I also provide writing workshops for students who want to polish or publish their work.
If you're interested in having me visit, send me a message! My email address is dhaworthbooks at yahoo dot com.
Emerson kids have been raving about Andy Griffiths' 13-Story Treehouse series, passing it from kid to kid. It especially appeals to kids who want a funny story. So I was thrilled when our local bookstore A Great Good Place for Books asked if we'd like to have him visit our school. YES! YES! YES!
Andy had kids laughing up a storm. Really, this was the noisiest author visit we've ever had. Kids were so excited to respond to Andy's questions, laughing and talking to their neighbors the whole time. Andy told jokes, shared about his storytelling technique (it's all about surprises), and even showed us a mutant baby dinosaur.
Andy Griffiths & his Catanary visit Emerson
My favorite part? I love how Andy gives total permission to laugh at anything -- whether it's stinky underwear or stuffing your face with marshmallows. He tells plenty of poop jokes, because he knows his audience (hello, have you listened to 8 year old boys?), but he also gets us laughing at our greatest fears.
More than that, Andy encourages kids to go crazy following their own imaginations wherever it takes them. Surprise the reader and -- better yet -- surprise yourself with how much fun you can have along the way.
The 13-Story Treehouse combines silly humor with plenty of adventure to keep kids reading. Our 5th graders thought it was terrific, but it's also grabbing hold of our 2nd and 3rd graders. I really think Andy and Terry struck the right balance between humor, story and illustrations. Kids give a big thumbs up to the 26-Story Treehouse as well. Just check out this trailer as Andy reads aloud the first chapter:
Thanks so much to Andy for his time and laughter, and to Macmillan Kids for sponsoring such a great visit! The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, but many more were purchased for our school library and classrooms! If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
Yesterday was Read Across America Day and the day schools celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday… and I had such a fabulous day! I had the opportunity to visit Mineral Springs Elementary School and share Being Frank with Pre-K through 2nd grade students! Big thanks to Jerry Ethridge for the pics below! Filed under: writing for children […]
Before I did my first Skype Author Visit today, with a school in Arlington, VA, I went through several fine-tunings of my setup. These are all small tweaks, but I felt like they were important to let me relax and enjoy the presentation.
Turn Your Office into a Video Studio
Lighting. My office is a dark attic, perfect for writing, but not good at all for a video studio. Looking around for tutorials on lighting for video shoots, I saw that it was important to have three types of lights.
Main light at about 2 o’clock to light one side of the face. It needs to be strong enough to light up your face without glare. Because I have an attic office, I just use a shop light and bounce it off the nearby ceiling.
The main light is about 2 o'clock from my face, bouncing off the ceiling.
Second, you need a bounce lighting or a smaller light that adds shadows and depth to the opposite cheek. I just used a piece of foam core.
The secondary light just bounced light onto the opposite cheek.
My normal overhead lighting is pretty high because of the attic space, so it worked as a great back-light on the top of my head; this light is important because it will separate you from the background better. Some tutorials recommended 3x or 4 x the normal lighting.
Camera. With the lights in place check the camera settings.
Tilt. Is it capturing your full face? I also position the screen showing small shot of myself as near the camera as possible, so I am mostly looking at the camera.
Reverse Image. I also found it better to reverse or flip the image that I’m seeing of myself. That way, if I reach up to touch my hair, it looks right to me.
Zoom. Zoom in or out until you get a shoulder shot. I like it zoomed out enough so you can easily see my gestures, because I talk a lot with my hands. It also gives a small window into my office and sometimes, I got questions about my unabridged dictionary which is on a book shelf behind me.
Set the white balance first.
Click on Auto-focus on the white balance. Hold your foam core or other white object about where you’ll be seated. Let the auto-settings work. Then, click OFF the auto-focus, forcing it to stay at that setting. My office has windows, so I do this check each time I do a video, to allow for differences in light coming from the windows.
Then set brightness, contrast and color balance to your liking. I like to balance the color closer to the b/w side, so it’s not glaring.
Turn Yourself into a Movie Star
Make-up. With 3-4x the light, you’ll need makeup. I’m a m
Just finished the most amazing Skype classroom with Mr. Brian Kelley's eighth grade class! I spoke for about half an hour and the kids asked questions for the next 15 minutes. Mr. Kelley had to cut off their questions to get them to the next class. They were thoughtful, listened so well and had tons of great questions.
Thank you, Patton Middle School in Kennett Square, PA, for hosting me! I hope to visit you again one day!
If you'd like to set up a visit via Skype visit www.jessicaburkhart.com and check out my contact page. You'll find all the info you need to get started.
Slowpoke has gotten a couple more positive reviews, from Booklist :
“Pearce’s succinct text will amuse emerging readers with her only slightly exaggerated references to the hectic pace of modern life. Ritchie’s fluid, cartoon-style illustrations are equally adept at conveying the story’s speedy absurdities…and its more relaxing moments”
Also, I just found out that Slowpoke now has an Accelerated Reader test (you have to enter the title into the search feature to see it).
Last week, I did a Skype author chat with Carver Elementary School in Florence, SC. It was really fun. The students are third-graders and had all read Slowpoke ahead of time. Their teachers helped them compile questions about the writing process. I missed being able to interact in person with the kids, but it was a good experience. The learning goes both ways with these kinds of things, and it’s always great to hear from readers. I’d like to do more of them in the future. For tips on hosting a Skype author chat, check out this article. If your school wants to host me, please contact bettyasmith (at) bellsouth (dot) net and put “author visit” in the subject line.
The picture above is me on the big screen in Carver’s library. Special thanks to librarian Debra Heimbrook for working with me on this inaugural Skype chat.
Our students were so jazzed to meet Amy Ignatow, author of The Popularity Papers. She started by telling 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students about both of her books. We had over 25 requests for her books the follow day, so she did a great job!
Kids love her drawings, the friendship story and how she writes like Julie & Lydia are keeping a journal.
Next, she told us about the steps she goes through when drawing - first planning out her drawing, then doing it in pencil. After tracing over her pencil lines in ink, she fills them in with different colors.
Kids loved her funny story about the Staring Squirrel. You see, there was this squirrel who used to stare intently at Amy though her studio window. It was down right creepy! But, as she told the kids, when you stare at something day after day, you realize that it's the perfect time to draw it. Kids had fun looking at the picture Amy took of the Staring Squirrel and the comic she drew for her local newspaper.
From all the students at Emerson, thank you very much for coming visit our school! From a happy librarian, thank you for helping our students get excited about reading! And a special thank you to A Great Good Place for Books for helping us buy books for the event, and to Abrams Books for sending Amy our way!
Today is our school's author visit. Local poet, and the 16th winner of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, J. Patrick Lewis will be our guest. Our students have written amazing poetry in preparation for his visit. The halls of our school are alive with rhythm, rhyme, acrostics, haiku, free verse, and more.
What a great way to begin NaPoMo -- by spending the day with a poet! I am going to attempt to I am GOING TO write a poem a day again this year.
Yesterday, I also launched a NaPoMo game I'm calling PoetQRy QResponse. Details are here, and you can find some helpful information about QR codes here.
Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at The Poem Farm, hosted by the AMAZING Amy LV, who started out writing a poem a day last NaPoMo, and wound up writing a poem a day ALL YEAR LONG!
Carol Gordon Ekster is a former teacher, author and writing tutor, and if you live in the Andover, MA area, she will visit your classroom for free!
Sponsored by this blog as part of the KidLit4Japan auctions, the giveaway runs now to May 15, with a visit to be arranged before the end of the school year.
Carol Gordon Ekster will visit for an hour, read her book Where Am I Sleeping Tonight? and lead the class in a writing lesson, focusing on the features of good writing. Sending home a note to parents for possible purchase of her book would be appreciated. And of course she will sign them!
The winning class should be within 25-30 miles of Andover, MA and the visit is most appropriate for 2nd through 5th grade.
To enter, leave a comment telling us why your class would love to win this author visit. The winning class will be chosen on May 15. Good luck!
Jasmine, a 5th grade teacher and a blogger at The Bookish Mama is the lucky winner of the Skype visit with Anne Ursu, the wonderful author of Breadcrumbs. Congratulations Jasmine, and thank you to all who entered!
I'm hoping that Jasmine will come back here to Great Kid Books after your class Skype visit to talk about her experience. I'm very interested in the possibilities of connecting kids with authors through a Skype visit.
Our 3rd graders at Emerson are in the middle of reading Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary, and are fascinated by the idea of connecting to an author who means a lot to them. It can be a very powerful experience for a child to meet an author who inspires them. I've helped arrange some amazing author visits with students - Jennifer Holm rocked our socks off last year at Emerson, starting an all-out Babymouse craze at our school, but also hooking some advanced readers on her wonderful historical fiction.
In this time of constrained budgets, a Skype visit could be a win-win all around. Children will be able to connect with authors they admire and learn about what goes into writing a novel. Authors will be able to connect with broader audiences, without having to invest large amounts of time and energy in travel.
Have you had a chance to connect with an author through Skype? Were children really able to get a sense that this was a real person on the computer monitor directly speaking with them? I'd love to hear more direct experiences from classroom teachers and school librarians.
Congratulations, Jasmine! Stop by to let us know how you're planning on using the Skype visit.
Last week, we had an amazing, fantastic, captivating visit at Emerson School from Jonathan Auxier, the author of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes. He brought such energy and enthusiasm to our students as he shared about his book - the whole room was captivated, each and every student. That energy is still buzzing through the school and community. Our local bookstore has already had parents requesting Peter Nimble, saying their child couldn't stop talking about it. Here's a silly picture of me with Jonathan - you can get a sense of the excitement his visit generated!
Jonathan has written all kinds of stories - movie scripts, comics, plays - but Peter Nimble is his first book. He told the kids that he needs their encouragement, and that really helped them get involved in the presentation. He has put together an amazing presentation, complete with yo-yo tricks, costumes and student volunteers that had the kids alternating between laughter and rapt attention. He's developed a yo-yo routine that will knock your socks off, timing tricks with his summary of the story. When Peter is at sea in his baby basket, Jonathan performs a "cradle" with his yo-yo. The kids were amazed and totally captivated. Here's a picture of Jonathan with our student reporter, August, and our 4th/5th grade teacher Ms. Gray, showing that great books can bit a bit scary - watch out for thieves in the night!
Peter Nimble has been circulating all fall, but now kids are asking for it like crazy (yay!). I'm hoping they read it, thinking about some of the books that influence Jonathan - books about orphans, thieves and things that don't seem exactly the way you suspect. We've already had kids check out two of the
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Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Suzy Kline author visit at the elementary school where I teach K-5 art. She is the bestselling author of the Herbie Jones and Horrible Harry chapter books.
Suzy opened with a greeting and then a disclaimer (paraphrased): If there's only one thing you remember from my presentation today, it is that I keep a notebook in my pocket wherever I go, and you should too!
She shared how she jots down a sentence, phrase, or a few words in her notebook. Even one word can lead to a “seed” or idea for a new story. She shared stories from over 25 years as an elementary teacher and, with the help of a few props, showed how these “seeds” grew into whole characters in her books.
Suzy described her path as a writer and her long journey to being published. She displayed artifacts from laminated copies of childhood stories to her very first rejection letter from a publisher. With an impressive display of published books, Suzy illustrated how her persistence paid off. Suzy inspired the students to write, write, write and never give up!
With a little help from the faculty, including the principal, Suzy brought a scene from a Horrible Harry book alive with an impromptu dramatic performance. The students loved it!
Suzy did a phenomenal job of spreading her contagious enthusiasm for writing with the next generation of writers. At the end of the presentation, each student was given a small pocket notebook.
The least I could do was whip out my journal during my lunch break and jot a few things down. Thanks for the inspiration, Suzy!
Have any of you attended an author visit or illustrator presentation? What did you gain from it?
All of Emerson was abuzz last week with excitement for books and reading. Todd Parr, a wonderful author and illustrator, came to visit our students and share about his books. As so many of the kids said, "We love you, Todd." You see, he ends each book with a note that speaks directly to kids, and he signs these notes, "Love, Todd".I truly believe this helps kids connect with Todd as a person, and they return his love adoringly.
Todd Parr is the author of over 30 books. Every one of Parr’s books helps children feel good about themselves and helps families talk about all kinds of things that kids really do care about. Parr illustrates his stories, creating bright, colorful artwork that will bring a smile to your face. Through every book he shares the message that it’s OK to be different and important to believe in yourself.
Todd Parr with my daughter Emily
During his visit, he read several of his stories aloud to the kids, asked for their help drawing silly pictures, and played a great improvisation game with the kids. The students laughed, giggled and begged to participate.
I especially love talking with the kids about how Todd's grandmother read with him when he was a child. He loved reading his favorite books over and over again. Todd talks about how his grandma would ask him what would happen next, and he would create crazy imaginative predictions. She encouraged his creativity and helped him connect to the books they were reading.
In talking with the kids afterward, they especially loved seeing Todd draw right there in front of him. They love noticing things in his artwork. Kids have described his style as simple, but full of details. They like the way it looks like a kid could draw it, but they clearly notice that he takes care and effort.
Todd's books are perfect for preschoolers and young elementary students, but older students read them with joy and smiles on their faces. At Emerson, we had all of our kindergartners, 1st and 2nd graders come to the library to listen to Todd. But, a group of older kids also came along - these 10- and 11-year-olds loved listening to hi
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In celebration of the publication of Minette's Feast, I asked the author Susanna Reich to share some of her memories growing up reading with her parents. Reading this brought back so many memories for me, and reminded me of all we give our children sharing that time together, reading together and talking about what books mean to us.
Most authors were avid readers as children, and I’m no exception. My reading habit began early, when my parents would tuck me in to bed with a pile of picture books. Nowadays I tuck myself in, but I still like to “settle my brains” with a good book. Here’s a baker’s dozen of favorites from childhood:
I love historical fiction. I can absorb the feel of a particular point in history, and truly gain an understanding of the events. I'm thrilled that a sequel to one of my favorites, Hattie Big Sky, is about to be released. So I'd like to share excerpts from my original post in 2009.
We're thrilled that Kirby Larson is visiting the Bay Area for the release of Hattie Ever After. You can see her at Book Passage, in San Francisco, or Rakestraw Books in Danville.
In 2009, my 10 year old and I really enjoyed reading/listening to Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Lawson - a story that shows what it would have been like to try to "prove" a homesteading claim in Montana. We can't wait to find out what happens next in the sequel Hattie Ever After, being published next week.
Sixteen-year old Hattie Brooks has been an orphan from a young age, bouncing from relative to relative. One day, out of the blue, she receives a letter from her long-forgotten uncle giving her his homestead claim in eastern Montana. He writes,
"You will think I have never thought of the niece in Iowa. But this letter will show you I have. If you come out here to Vida, you will find my claim. I trust you've enough of your mother's backbone to meet the remaining requirements. If you do - an you have one year to do it - 320 Montana acres are yours."
The pull is strong - Hattie has never had a place to call her own, and this is her chance. She dives right in, not realizing what's at stake. When she arrives, she finds out that she must plant 40 acres, and build 480 rods of fence in order to "prove" her claim.
This book will appeal to girls who like historical fiction like the Little House books, Julie of the Wolves, or Island of the Blue Dolphins. Kirby Lawson, the author, has developed characters that I really cared about and could feel for. Hattie could not survive without the help and support of her neighbors, Perilee and Karl Mueller. But the year is 1916, and the United States is consumed with supporting the troops fighting in World War I. In this small Montana community, many are suspicious of Karl because of his German accent. Hattie is torn - she knows that Karl is a good man, but should she risk her own safety to stand up to him?
We're **thrilled** for the release of Hattie Ever After. Larson follows Hattie's journey, seeing where this young girl's dreams will take her. If you're excited for the sequel, take a look at Kirkus Review's starred review. I completely agree: Larson writes "historical fiction with heart."
This review was originally written in 2009 for this blog - one of my early reviews! And yet, Hattie Big Sky is a book that's stayed with me year after year. The review copy came from my public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
Last week, our students were thrilled to spend time with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, learning about her writing process and hearing her passion for her work. As we read books by different authors, we try to think about an author's purpose in writing a story or a piece of nonfiction. We dig into the ideas authors layer in their work. Our students really appreciated hearing directly from Ms. Nelson about her many books.
"Bass Reeves was a true American hero. I felt that everyone should know about him." Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Our students had all read Bad News for Outlaws before meeting Ms. Nelson. She really talked with them, asking them questions and making them an active part of the discussion. This really extended their thinking beyond just listening to the book or hearing her presentation. They could feel just what she meant when she said,
"Bass was honorable; he had integrity; he was strong, smart and clever."
Ms. Nelson told our older students about her newest book, No Crystal Stair, which tells the story of her uncle's bookshop in Harlem. She talked about how he wanted to establish a bookshop that helped African Americans learn about their history, their stories, their literature. We are all looking forward to the picture book which Ms. Nelson is writing about her uncle's bookstore.
Our 2nd and 3rd graders talked with Ms. Nelson about her picture book Almost to Freedom, a story about a young girl's escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad. She started off by talking about why she writes.
"I know it's because my parents read to me every night. My siblings would argue about going to bed, but secretly I was dying to get into bed because my mom would read the next chapter of our book. My dad loved poetry and would recite poetry from memory to me."
Her parents taught her not only to love stories, but to love words and to understand their power. Our students love Almost to Freedom because it's told from the perspective of a doll. Ms. Nelson really creates the voice of this doll, and students can connect to that voice.
Ms. Nelson talked about how when she looked at the dolls in the museum, she started wondering,
"If those dolls could talk, what would they tell me?"
I loved a 3rd grader's question: "When you write, do you start feeling how your characters are feeling?" Yes, she does very much -- because she needs to feel what it might be like to run away through the forest at night hiding from the slave catchers, to be able to share those feelings in her words and create them for her readers. She brought her collection of African American dolls to share with our children.
Enjoy this Animoto slideshow of our visit with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.
I want to thank the Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California for sponsoring Vaunda Nelson's trip to the Bay Area. For a wonderful resource of materials about sharing history with children, check out ACL's resources from their recent Institute. I would also like to thank the Emerson PTA for sponsoring Ms. Nelson's visit to our school. Our children appreciate your support and enrichment. But most of all, I want to thank Ms. Nelson herself for her time, energy and enthusiasm sharing her passion for stories with our children.
If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.
A while ago public television of Sacramento contacted me because they had heard author Erin Dealey said during a presentation something about me: that I learned English watching Sesame Street.
KVIE, the public station from Sacramento eventually came to my house and filmed a testimony where I explained how that happened. I know that my testimony was aired in Sacramento because once I went to do a school visit there, and some parents were telling me how they had seen me in their TV, although it took me some time to figure out what they were talking about!
I have just found out that CPB received earlier this year a PRWeek award for their My Source initiative in which KVIE had participated with one of their spots, and there, featured in the news, is the spot they made with me.
You can take a closer look at article here, and can find more filmed testimonies here.
So, yesterday was pretty much a fantastic day. I know there's nothing more irritating than hearing someone else is having a good time, especially if it coincides with you (or those you love) NOT having a good day, but so it goes.
Yesterday, I got to go out to Red Wing, Minnesota to take part in the10th Anniversary Celebration of Minnesota Children's Book Authors & Illustrators. It's a really cool festival of sorts that takes place out at what I can only describe as an artist's compound/haven. It's got a whole bunch of old buildings and apparently writers/artists/musicians, etc. can rent these cool old houses for the day to get away from everything and just work on their art.
But, one day a year, it's like they open the floodgates and let a bunch of kids, teachers, librarians and everyone else who's interested in children's literature and illustration in. They had people walking on stilts, face painting, music, magic, books, books and more books.
I'd been asked by the people I work with at Picture Window Books months ago if I'd like to come out and read from my new book IF I WERE THE PRESIDENT. I'm no veteran to readings or school visits (having only done one each so far) but I was more than honored. The idea was, I'd come out, talk a little bit about writing, read the book and then sign some if people wanted me to.
Red Wing is about an hour away from my house and while I would have loved to bring Laura and the boys out there, we decided it was best if this was a solo trip. Jake's been a little crabby the last week, so we thought we'd spare the rest of the people at the festival his crazy antics. I was scheduled to read at 2pm and then again at 3pm.
I got there at 1pm and got to meet one of the people I'd only known through e-mail and Facebook face-to-face. I helped set up the Capstone Publishers stand (Picture Window Books is one of their imprints) and was floored by how much stuff they produce. Gotta say I was pretty giddy about seeing my four books front and center.
The interesting thing about the stand was that we had all these books there, but we weren't allowed to sell any of them. The Red Balloon Bookshop, which is probably our most famous kid's book store in the cities, had a place set up inside where they were selling all sorts of books, most of which were from the authors that were there to read and do signings. So, a bunch of people would come by to look at the cool books and want to buy them but we had to tell 'em. "Sorry. Only Red Balloon can sell book here, today." Never one to disappoint, we ended up giving some of the books away.
Good PR, I tell you. Very few people went away disappointed.
Anyway, pretty soon it was time to get to the room where I was going to read.
Now, I should say this. I was definitely the little fish in a bigger pond. Most of the other authors were bigger names for sure and got sort of 'top-billing' and big ol' autograph tables and all that fun stuff. They had me in a really cool classroom of sorts in the basement which looked like something I would decorate. Cool pictures of musicians, artists, etc...were all over the walls. There was inspirational messages, etc. Etc. The room was down in the basement, so my editor (Shelly) went around and roped people into coming and hearing me read.
I gotta admit, I was worried it was going to be a little like the scene in This Is Spinal Tap where they have a record signing event at a music store and no one shows up. Thankfully, Shelly was able to find a bunch of people and we were underway.
Before I started, a little guy walked up to me, eyes as big as saucers and nervous as all get-out. He said something I couldn't hear. I said: "I'm sorry. What did you say, buddy?" He was maybe two years old or just shy of it. He tried again and I think he was scared to death. His mom said: "He's trying to tell you his middle name is Kingsley, too."
I was floored. How awesome is that?
So, we talked about our names and where they originated from, etc. (for the record, 'Kingsley' is my great, great grandfathers last name. He had all girls, so the name died with him) Apparently, this little guy doesn't even go by his first name, just Kingsley. Very cool.
One of the things we did for each reading was have a drawing for a couple of my books. I ended up reading both IF I WERE PRESIDENT and PATRICK'S SUPER SOCKS and then giving 'em away right after. Sadly, little Kingsley didn't win one.
After the reading, I went upstairs to check out the place where The Red Balloon was selling books. I wanted to meet Lise Lunge-Larsen, who is an expert on Trolls and when writing THE TRUTH ABOUT TROLLS, I e-mailed her to clear up some questions I had. As I was looking through the books, Kingsley and his mom came by and told me they couldn't find my PRESIDENT book to buy. We were told they'd have it to sell to people and, conversely, let me sign them for anyone interested in that sort of thing.
"They said they left them back in the cities," Kingsley's mom said.
I was bummed by that, but it just so happened I had an extra copy in my laptop bag. I gave them my copy and she wanted to pay for it, yadda yadda. I told her I wouldn't hear of it. She then asked if I'd sign it and I said:
I cracked open the book and wrote: "From one Kingsley to another!" and then signed my goofy signature.
Later on, I got to meet a really cool guy. He was an older dude named Ted who came by the Picture Window Books booth and was looking at all of the books laid out. Ted asked:
"You write any of these?"
I was almost a smart alec and said: "Any? Dude. I've written ALL of these." But I didn't. I smiled and pointed toward the ones at the front of the set up.
"I've written 4 of them, up there."
Ted asked if I did the illustrations and I told him what I tell a lot of people who ask me that. "Nope. I couldn't draw a picture to save my life."
Anyway, we got to talking about stuff. Turns out Ted's an illustrator and we talked about how despite the obstacles we have this need to keep doing what we love instead of saying: Eh...I'll never make it. Guess I'll watch Seinfeld re-runs.
He then asked how long I'd been at it. I told him since I was in 2nd grade, which is pretty much accurate. I wrote a story called Stick Man's First Voyage Into the Black Hole and I've never looked back.
Somehow we got on the topic of other books and I told Ted that even though I was asked to write a ballerina book (ahem) I was also given a chance to write a firefighter book. I told him I was a firefighter/EMT celebrating my 6 year anniversary on 9/11. He sort of laughed and said:
"That's a heckuva date for anniversaries." Ted then pointed down to his left leg, which I hadn't noticed until then was fake. He went on to explain that on the day the World Trade Center fell, he was in a life-altering crash. He was driving a bus with a bunch of special needs kids and another driver going in the opposite direction jumped over the center line and took them out. A bunch of the kids didn't make it, but four did. Ted's left leg was another casualty.
We talked for a long time and Shelly ended up giving Ted a copy of PATRICK'S SUPER SOCKS and I signed it for his grandson. I asked him if he had a card because it would be cool to keep in touch with him. He said he didn't, but asked me to wait there for a moment. Since his booth was right next to ours, it wasn't a problem. I do have to admit feeling bad that he was headed back to his car, just to get a business card.
When he came back, he handed me a giant, hardboard print of some of his work. It was this really cool picture of a bunch of tropical fish that's going to look insanely cool on the wall somewhere in our house (I'm thinking Jake's room). He said he wanted me to have it and we shook hands and said it was truly great to talk to each other. And you know what? It was.
I went home a little later, listening to the newest Eels album (Hombre Lobo), hurrying home to go see Patton Oswalt (stand-up comedian) on a date with my wife and some friends.
One of the really great things about SCBWI Conferences is getting to know other authors. Katie and I met Hester Bass at our very first SCBWI Conference three years ago. At that conference, Hester relayed (make that, shouted and sang) her Cinderella story of selling her book The Secret World of Walter Anderson to Candlewick Press.
Her book tells the story of the Mississippi artist Walter Anderson, and it is illustrated by the amazing watercolorist E.B. Lewis. The book is billed as describing "the most famous artist you've never heard of"--but for someone like me who has grown up in Mississippi, he's the first famous artist who's work I loved. I mean, really loved, deeply and passionately.
Walter Anderson painted many of his paintings alone on the islands off of the Mississippi gulf coast. He became one with nature and the animals, even acting like the animals at times to understand their movement and perspective. His artistic voice is unique in it's use of vibrating color and line, and he expresses Gulf Coast nature in a way that no one ever has or ever will again. I grew up going to these islands in my dad's boats, so Walter Anderson's work has personal meaning for me--especially after hurricane Katrina completely altered the landscape of the Mississippi Gulf Coast forever.
I love seeing Walter Anderson receiving national acclaim, and especially children being able to see his work on a national level (his work has been shown at the Smithsonian and there are books about his life written for adults--but this is the first time that his
story has been told for an audience of children).
He is the Van Gogh of the southern United States, and I'm thankful for Hester's persistence and belief in her dream to tell his story.
Here are a few picture's of Walter Anderson's work:
The gorgeous book cover painted by E.B.
And, Hester at my daughter's school where she did a fabulous presentation. The picture next to her is the name of the school (Bramlett) spelled out in Walter Anderson's alphabet that he designed.
When I first started doing school visits, I was uncertain, trying to figure out what to do and why. That’s when I had a near encounter with a yo-yo.
I went to a rural elementary school a week after a yo-yo company had performed at the school. The yo-yo people had charged the school $1000 to perform, and then got to sell yo-yos, too. The school paid me nothing as an author to visit the school and present my children’s picture book. Author v. yo-yos and the Yo-yos won. Heck, I even had to pay for my lunch that day.
I thought about that many times since then.
Yo-yos educational value: entertainment.
The educational value of my presentation: literature, literacy, writing, reading.
Yesterday, I did a school visit and I’ll be doing another next week. When I go to schools, I’m aware that I must be entertaining, but I’ve also refined some of my goals
Goals for School Visits
Foster reading and writing by making it fun, easy, accessible. I often do small group writing sessions with students. My favorite is when the students are some of the most discouraged about writing.
This month, I got to teach a class of mostly discouraged writers. We drew a map, wrote specific name places, and imagined the setting. Then, students put a finger on the map and moved around the map while telling a partner a story. Then they put their finger on a different place on the map and told the story a different way (revision in the oral stage!). Finally, they wrote their story. At the last, I asked for a volunteer to read and one girl immediately responded and read a great story. Yes, there were misspellings and a few grammar mistakes she needed to correct later; but the story was great. Teachers later told me they were astounded that this particular girl volunteered to read, because she was so shy. Confidence and joy in her writing, that’s what the girl gained that day.
Yes, it’s easy for me to come in and do a one-shot boost for a kid like that. It’s harder to do the day-to-day grind of preparing her for testing. But maybe, that one day of confidence and joy will carry her through the testing.
Help teachers enjoy reading and writing with kids even more. Teachers enjoy the enthusiasm that students have for books in the preparation for my visit, during my visit and in the aftermath. It’s a time to break the mold and have fun.
Help school community celebrate literature, something too seldom done! Several years ago, I was asked to speak at a fall reading kick-off at an elementary school. The theme for the school’s fall reading was travel and my book, The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman was perfect way to start the excitement. The librarian was amazing! When I walked into the school auditorium, every kid was waving a tiny American flag. They sang patriotic songs and were already studying large US map displayed in the library.
Now, I’ve been to sports pep rallies and they are fun. But a pep rally for reading? This was fantastic. The entire school – led by a librarian, par excellence, supported by enthusiastic staff and administration – was building a culture around a celebration of literature, reading, writing, literacy. Amazing. And still too seldom seen.
I’m no longer bashful about charging for school visits. Yo-yos are fun for a day and quite entertaining, no doubt. But as a writing teacher and author, I remind myself that I also have something of value to bring to a school. I take it seriously and work harder during a school visit than I do any other time. Why? Because one shy girl volunteered