Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How to Coach Girls (Review by Christy Mihaly)

Heads up! 
Many parents and educators struggle with helping our girls maintain a healthy self-esteem through the difficult adolescent years. Studies find that participation in organized sports is one way to encourage girls to find their own strength. But many girls quit sports.

If you've parented, coached, or watched female athletes, you may have noticed that males and females approach athletics differently. But coaches don't always know how to adjust their approaches to account for these differences.

Mia Wenjen

Now, Mia Wenjen (who blogs about education and multicultural books at "") and Alison Foley (Boston College Women's Soccer Head Coach) have co-written a book, How to Coach Girls. Published this month by Audrey Press, it's a much-needed practical manual for coaches and parents. 
Alison Foley

What inspired the authors to write this book? A statistic: Girls quit organized sports at six times the rate of boys. Given the well-established benefits of participating in organized athletics (such as improved health, social skills, motor coordination, and strong friendships), Wenjen and Foley wanted to educate coaches about how to retain girls on their teams. 

How to Coach Girls is informed by the personal experiences of both authors as well as Foley's coaching background. The two women are friends, brought together by their own soccer-playing daughters. Their book is based on research including interviews with coaches. My own informal survey of coaching parents confirmed -- coaches need this book. According to Vermont author and girls' coach Mark Freeman, many girls have limited options when seeking to play on athletic teams. If they end up on boys' teams, they--and their parents--are often unhappy with the lack of coaching attention the girls receive.

Marekpramuka [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]Wikimedia Commons

What's the best way to keep girls on teams? Mia Wenjen says, "What we learned is that research shows the number one reason why kids play sports is to have fun. But for girls, 'fun' means being valued and respected." Winning, she explains, is less important than just having fun as part of the team.

The book starts by identifying differences in the ways girls and boys approach sports. For example, the authors report that girls are more likely than boys to doubt their abilities and to seek approval, and that girls have a greater need to know where they stand with the coach. Boys tend to be more confident, and more willing to perform for a coach they don't feel connected to, and they are more likely to inflate their own abilities. Coach Mark Freeman observes that when a coach criticizes the team as a whole, "boys externalize criticism and feedback while girls internalize it." By this he means "if you tell the boys that we as a team are getting beat on defense, the boys take the criticism as other players not doing their job or as a failure as a team, whereas many girls take that criticism on themselves." Based on such insights, How to Coach Girls gives readers a series of practical pointers for working effectively with girls.
Jarek TuszyƄski[CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Part One of the book, "The Big Picture," explains background concepts such as promoting a growth mindset in players, and developing players who are also good people. The second part offers approaches to specific issues such as building players' self-confidence, handling losing streaks, and avoiding cliques among teammates. The final section gives coaches concrete tools including model codes of conduct for players and parents, checklists for pre-season preparation, and constructive forms for player evaluations.
Brisbane City Council [CC BY 2.0(]Wikimedia Commons
How to Coach Girls focuses on fostering a love of sport. If girls have fun and make friends on the team, they're more likely to stay. This doesn't mean girls can't be competitive. But the key is making the competition fun. 
Here are some of the book's practical examples: 
  • Make it clear that the main goal is fun.
  • Recognize girls for their improvement (not only talent) and praise those who show the courage to try and fail.
  • Rotate team captain duties to give all team members a chance.
  • Be clear about expectations so girls aren't in the dark.
  • Avoid letting teams break into cliques by forming new groups at each practice.
  • Keep practice drills engaging by creating lively variations, such as those that mix sports: Soccer Baseball!
  • Avoid exacerbating girls' body image issues -- don't refer to players by their physical size.
  • Develop a good understanding of each player as an individual, and know what level of feedback and encouragement she needs.
  • Participate in team projects that involve service to the community.
  • Set clear expectations for positive parent participation -- no Crazy Sports Parents screaming at refs and players -- and enforce that parent code of conduct.
  • Let them eat cake!
Erica's Edibles,
Eat cake? The authors emphasize that it's not healthy to focus excessively on "healthy eating." When a girl celebrates her birthday, let the team eat cake! As Alison Foley says, it's not so much about the cake, as about "the fuel of happiness." Being celebrated with sweet treats tells team members that they're appreciated. "Celebrating individual milestones (a great test grade, first communion, bat mitzvahs, first goal) are all great reasons to bring in a little sugar. It does volumes for your team spirit!" Foley explains.

How to Coach Girls is a welcome practical guide for adults who wish to help girls succeed in sports -- and in their lives. Some of the recommendations would no doubt go a long way to improving the experiences of many boys in athletics, as well. Thanks go to Wenjen and Foley, two moms who saw the need and wrote the book!

More resources and book information are available at this website.

This review is based on an advance reader copy which I received in exchange for an honest review.  ~CM

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What's New at the Library

by Leslie Colin Tribble

We recently got a big order for two of our children's libraries so I'm going to share a few titles with you. There were so many to choose from I had a hard time narrowing the selections. I still haven't had time to read all the new picture books yet  - oh, what a problem to have!


The Rabbit Listened - Cori Doerrfeld
This tender title will be just the right book to reach for when a little person in your life has something unpleasant happen to them. Taylor, our main character, worked hard to build something amazing but it got knocked down. Various animals come along trying to help Taylor deal with his feelings - the chicken wants to talk and cluck about it, the bear wants Taylor to growl and get angry, the elephant wants to remember and the kangaroo just wants to clean it all up, but Taylor just wants to be left alone. Finally the rabbit gently and quietly hops to Taylor's side to sit and wait. Taylor finally begins to open up and talk, and then he growls, and remembers and instead of cleaning up he decides to build something even more amazing.

The sparse text and sharp illustrations really help keep the book moving right along. The back cover states, "Sometimes hugs say more than words."

I'm a Duck - Eve Bunting and Will Hillenbrand
If you've been around the kid lit world awhile, you've likely read one of Eve Bunting's books. This prolific author (250 titles) has come out with a brand new book about a little duck and it's a keeper. As an egg, Baby Duck rolled into the pond and nearly didn't make it to the pages of his story. After hatching, Baby Duck was completely afraid to swim because something terrible might happen. Baby Duck's pond friends are encouraging so Baby Duck practices swimming in a puddle. Finally he confesses to Frog that he's really, really, really, really scared to swim. But with help and love, he overcomes his fear.

This is a great book for helping children work on conquering their own fears - like swimming. The rhyming text is smooth and the illustrations by Will Hillenbrand have us rooting for Baby Duck from the first page.

Vincent Comes Home - Jessixa Bagley and Aaron Bagley
Vincent, a fluffy orange cat, lives on a cargo ship. His paws have never touched land. He overhears the crew talking about a magical place called "home," so when the ship docks in its home port, Vincent sets off to find it. After seeking and searching, Vincent finally realizes home isn't a place, "It's where the people who love you are." Vincent suddenly feels he doesn't have one of these magical places. But soon he realizes he's mistaken and he definitely does have a home.

There's just enough text to keep the reader engaged, and the illustrations are lovely with lots of nice details. This book could spark a discussion that home means different things to different people and not all homes look the same. A useful book for building empathy and beginning to understand diversity.

Bird Builds a Nest - Martin Jenkins and Richard Jones
This title is part of Candlewick's A First Science Storybook series. There is a little blurb in the front about how you can use the science concepts in this book, as well as some science related questions in the back.

The book follows Mother Bird as she builds her nest. The size and weight of the sticks is important because some sticks are so big and heavy Mother Bird can't carry them. But smaller sticks are just right and she can even carry more than one very small stick. Mother Bird carefully pushes and pulls the sticks to form the nest itself and then she gathers very light and fluffy items to line it.

The illustrations are colorful, but in subdued earthy tones to match the theme of the book. They are done in a collage-like manner so it would be easy to talk about the distinct parts of the illustrations such as the tree leaves or the bird's feathers. The science concepts include light/heavy, push/pull and even gravity.

Warbler Wave - April Pulley Sayre and Jeff Sayre
I always save my favorite book for last and this is it. Being a 'bird nerd' I fell in love with this book. Warbler Wave is written in verse and teaches readers about bird migration. The text is lyrical and the photographs luscious. I love how the text draws the readers in makes them feel like a bird, using words like flit, preen, flap and drop. "They call in the night. Keep in touch while in flight. Surfing rivers of wind way up high . . . Calling zeep, zeep, zeep in the sky."

Even if your child doesn't particularly love birds, they will love this book. The photographs bring these tiny flying flowers up close and little ones will be drawn to their beauty. Warbler Wave would make a great introduction to the living world for all ages.

The other distinction Warbler Wave has is four full pages (two spreads) of very detailed backmatter. The backmatter is much, much longer than the text itself which adds so much to this book. The text pulls us in to the lives of these tiny migrants, but the backmatter answers many questions about the birds themselves and migration as a concept. This book would make a wonderful gift for a science teacher or anyone interested in birds.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Interview of Diana Murray on Writing Beginning Readers and Her New Book, Pizza Pig! by Tina Cho

Welcome, author Diana Murray, to the Grog Blog. Congratulations on your latest book, Pizza Pig, a beginning reader from Random House.

1. How did you go about writing a beginning reader book? Did you research the style first and then try one? Did you contact the publisher first?

Yes, I read as many early readers as I could get my hands on. I found that “Level 2” books were my favorite, so that’s what I set out to write. I initially wrote a three-book series about an odd couple. My agent sent that to Heidi Kilgras, an editor at Random House. She said she loved the voice but felt the stories were too quiet for the Step-Into-Reading line. Each publisher’s line of early readers has it’s own feel. The SIR line is extremely commercial. Heidi wanted me to write something that would “leap of the racks”. Something that could compete with licensed stories based on popular TV shows. So I wrote a new manuscript with that in mind. Happily, my editor thought it was a good fit! Since then, I have sold her a second early reader which is tentatively scheduled to come out next year.

2. Where did you get the idea for Pizza Pig?

Many years ago, I started working on a picture book manuscript about an animal chef (a cow) who knew exactly what all her customers wanted. Her name was “Chef Moodette”. It was kind of like a PB version of the movie “Chocolat”. I never worked out the ending, though, so I just set it aside. That idea ultimately morphed into “Pizza Pig” and I finally figured out an ending that I was happy with.

3. How did you get in with Random House's beginning readers?

It was just a matter of my agent submitting my manuscript there. No real secret to it. I also received the publisher’s guidelines document which described specific rules for each level of reader (number of words per page, etc.) That was helpful to have.

4. What tips would you tell Grog writers on writing beginning readers?

Pick a level to focus on within a specific line. Pay special attention to word length and sentence complexity, repetition, and providing clues through illustrations.

5. How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing seriously for about 10 years. I joined SCBWI in 2007 and that’s when I first considered writing as my job (even though it was quite some time before I made any money doing it). But I have enjoyed creative writing and drawing since I was a child.

6. Can you tell us what you're working on?

I have a bunch of forthcoming books that I’m really excited about. As I mentioned, I have another early reader coming out with Random House. It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but I think I can reveal that it has to do with dinosaurs and math. This May I have a picture book coming out called “SUMMER COLOR!”, and in November, a book called “ONE SNOWY DAY”. Other forthcoming projects include, “UNICORN DAY!”, “GOODNIGHT, VEGGIES”, and many more.

7. For fun: What's your favorite pizza?

In my experience, Brooklyn pizza is the best, but I’ll eat pretty much any kind of pizza I can get! Especially if it has mushrooms on it.

Book Review: Pizza Pig by Diana Murray is a rollicking, rhyming beginning reader that begs to be read again and again. Little pizza lovers will enjoy all the fun and unique toppings. Pizza Pig pleases all his customers with his creative pizzas except Turtle. She doesn’t seem to like any of his pizzas. But when Pizza Pig comes up with a brilliant solution, readers will leave satisfied and encouraged to try themselves.


Diana Murray writes poetry and books for children. She is the author of CITY SHAPES (Little, Brown), GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins), NED THE KNITTING PIRATE (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan), DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS (Imprint/Macmillan), GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE (Sky Pony Press), and many other picture books. Her poems have appeared in magazines such as Spider, Ladybug, Highlights, and High Five. Diana recently moved from the Bronx to a nearby suburb, where she lives with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. For more information, please visit:

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The First Fifty Words--Make Them Count

     You've probably heard from different sources how important the first fifty words are, especially of a picture book. In a recent webinar, THE Jane Yolen mentioned that openings are critical. She mentioned having been a Golden Kite judge, and how much she enjoyed doing that. Jane gave special notice to the stories' beginnings. A successful opening, she says, comes within the first fifty words of the book. She enjoys playing around with her own openings until she feels she's got it just right. She suggests we do the same---type up the first fifty words of a number of picture books. Then, type up the first fifty of your own manuscripts. How do yours stack up? What's lacking that you could add to spice things up? How are you hooking the reader with your opening words?
     I decided to type up the first fifty words of four different books. What did it tell me? Did I want to read on? How did it hook me? So, here are my four, starting with Owl Moon by Jane Yolen:

     "It was late one winter night,
       long past my bedtime,
       when Pa and I went owling.
       There was no wind.
       The trees stood still
       as giant statues.
       And the moon was so bright
       the sky seemed to shine.
       Somewhere behind us
       a train whistle blows,
       long and low,
       like a sad, sad song." (53 words)

     The scene draws us in...late at night, wintertime, with a child and her father on a special adventure. Children will love the out-of-the-ordinary nighttime experience, feeling secure with a loved parent. The language is lovely and lyrical, drawing you in to the story. "Stood still as giant statues" brings the poetic use of alliteration as well as "long and low," which evokes melancholy. The use of alliteration of the words "somewhere," "sad," and "song" is lyrical language at its finest. The long vowel sounds throughout slow us down as we read. We are hooked by the sights and sounds as we join these two on their fascinating journey to see what they will find on this cold winter's night.

     The second manuscript is Banjo Granny by Sarah Martin Busse:

     "When Owen's Granny heard he was a baby who went wiggly, jiggly, all-around giggly, and tip over tumble for bluegrass music, she packed her banjo in its trusty old case with the taped-up handle. She put on her thousand-mile shoes. And she started out to cross one river, one mountain, and a desert." (52)

     This story has a totally different feel to it from Owl Moon. You can tell it's going to be a fun romp. Will she make it safely to baby Owen's? What obstacles might she face as she crosses one river, one mountain, and a desert? The language is fun, and who doesn't like a Granny with moxie and determination? Her thousand-mile shoes tell you she's been around a while and is rich in experience, which helps her navigate the three obstacles. The refrain of "wiggly, jiggly, and all-around giggly and tip over tumble for bluegrass music" is used successfully to help move the story along. Not to mention it's so much fun to say!

     The third story beginning is from Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! by Andrea J. Loney:

     "Deep in the heart of Lenox, Massachusetts, in a white frame house nestled between his aunts' home and his grandparents' house, lived a boy named James VanDerZee. James was the oldest boy of three sons and two daughters. At the Van Der Zee's, the children learned about music and art, and kindness, too." (51)

    What do we learn from the first words of this biography? We learn that family is important, kindness is emphasized, and that the Van Der Zee  children were introduced to a variety of artistic pursuits. How will those facts feed into the story? Of the five "W's", we learn the WHO--James VanDerZee. We learn the WHAT-what he wants is to capture each person's uniqueness through art,(even though his art turns out to be photography). The WHEN is hinted at in that cameras were cutting edge at that time. The WHERE is Lenox, Massachusetts. Kindness is fleshed out in the story as he takes extra pains to portray each person at his or her best when he photographs them. Even when the photography business dries up, there is a bright spot for James when his many photos taken over the years are used for a Metropolitan Museum of Art Harlem exhibit. He has succeeded in his quest.

     The last manuscript is Fearless, by Barb Rosenstock:

     "In those days it was pretty tough to be a girl. You had to follow the rules. You couldn't speak your mind. You had to ask permission. There were games you couldn't play. You weren't allowed at the best schools. You were supposed to stay clean, quiet, and obedient." (49)

     This takes place in a time when a woman was not expected to act like anything other than a refined lady. From this, we get the idea that someone is not going to fit the description of "clean, quiet, and obedient." Who is it, and how does she push the boundaries? In the next sentence we learn her name---Louise.  First, she was not CLEAN when the car she borrowed hit a chicken coop, wood splinters covered the seats, and chicken feathers filled the air. She was not QUIET when she crunched into a troublesome driver, scraped a car into the wall, and va-roomed past all to the finish line. She was not OBEDIENT when she tells her husband (who has told her to never race again) she is going on a vacation, but goes instead to Daytona to race. Louise spent her life fast, faster, flying, free, and FEARLESS!

     I hope you will find this exercise helpful in your own writing. Those first fifty words---make them fabulous and make them count!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to Find Picture Book Mentor Texts ~ by Patricia Toht

I recently reached out to my GROG buddies to help me brainstorm about picture book topics for upcoming posts. I had already covered: 

The GROG hive mind came up with many suggestions, but one buzzed to the top --

How do you find picture book mentor texts?

• The most important thing you can do is to build your own reference guide. Read! Read! Read! When you find elements that are done particularly well in certain books, WRITE THOSE TITLES DOWN! I have a notebook just for this purpose, and it lists a different topic every few pages (e.g. humor, quirky characters, fractured fairy tales, minimal words, lyrical language, etc.) Soon you will have your own amazing reference guide at hand.

A recent stack of rhyming books
that I checked out of my library.

• Enlist the help of your librarian and/or bookseller. These folks are walking, talking versions of the above-mentioned reference guide.
Love your local bookseller!

• Use Google to sleuth for mentor texts. Narrow down the topic you are interested in and type key words into the search box, connecting them with the plus sign (e.g. picture book + cats + humor). You may soon discover that there are several wonderful websites with collected lists of picture books by topic. 

(mine the collective minds kids' book nerds)

Pragmatic Mom 
(great lists from Mia Wenjen)

(check the Classroom Ideas Archives)

(select Children's Books and Authors/Themed Booklists)

(Marcie blogs about mentor texts and how to use them.)

• Poke around Pinterest. Many Pinterest pages have collections of picture books by theme.

• Don't forget Twitter! The recent hashtag #nf10for10 on February 10 focused on nonfiction titles. Here is an example from an elementary school librarian outside of Boston.

• Sign yourself up for a month of mentor texts. ReFoReMo, Reading for Research Month happens every March. Throughout the month, guest posters focus on a particular aspect or theme of picture books and provide a handful of recent titles for further research on these aspects/themes. 
I will be joining the fun on March 7th when I look at "How To" picture books. You can find out more about ReFoReMo here.

I hope this helps you get started on the path to finding picture book mentor texts. 

Do you have questions? Tips you'd like to share? Please include them in the comments below.