Monday, June 30, 2014

Reading Is Not on Summer Vacation ~By Suzy Leopold

The Summer Slide!

As the school year comes to an end, some students will experience a summer learning loss or the “summer reading slide.”  Did you know that children can lose two to three months of reading progress if reading comes to an end on the final day of school?  The loss of three months, every summer, accumulates and becomes a cumulative achievement gap of 18 months, by the end of sixth grade.  

“Research shows the most damage to reading skills occurs outside school, during the summer months,” states Jim Trelease, author of The New York Times bestseller, The Read-Aloud Handbook. Even though the school doors are closed, it is important that learning and reading continue during the summer season.  Children who continue to read over the summer actually gain academic skills.
Reading books should not be on a summer slide.

Sustained summer learning that includes reading and new experiences provides many benefits for students when school is not in session.  Summertime reading provides positive effects on a child’s self-esteem, increased self-confidence and closes the achievement gap.  Learning opportunities, during the summer months, equal academic success, for the student once school resumes.  Reading during June, July and August, can make a difference in the likelihood of whether a student is on the path of preparing for college or a decision to drop out of high school.  Kids who read outside of school read the best.
How tall is your stack of books for summer reading?
How can you prevent kids from losing academic ground during the summer months?  How can you encourage family literacy activities while kids are at home for the summer? 

1.  As a parent, make sure you are seen reading by your children.  Model the importance of reading every day.  Reading to your child and reading by your child is great.  Reading at the same time is even better. 

2.  Provide a print-rich home that includes books, newspapers, magazines, and even comic books.  Label items in your home, for an emergent reader to read.  Beginning readers will delight in reading the word “door,” written on an index card that is taped onto the back door. If your family is planning a summer vacation, take books along with you. Keep books in the car.  Pack books in a backpack or a satchel for easy reading while traveling.  Perhaps the plan is for a day trip to the zoo, a museum, or to get out for a favorite summertime ice cream treat.  If so, a book should be tucked in a pocket or a purse, as you get out and about. 

3.  Visit your local library.  Your child should have his own library card to check out a variety of books to read.  Select books together based on topics of interest, or within a particular genre or written by a favorite author that are developmentally appropriate for your child. Select a stack of picture books for toddlers and preschoolers that an adult or older sibling can read aloud to the emergent reader.  Younger children also enjoy reading by themselves, while looking at the pictures.  Allow independent readers to choose their own books.  Encourage your child to select books from both fiction and non-fiction genres.  A simple rule of thumb for helping your child select books at his reading level is to have them choose a page, in the middle of the book, and read it. If they do not know five or more of the words, then the book is too hard for independent, pleasure reading.  Consider keeping a reading log and recording the books that your child read. Reading should be fun and memorable.

4.  Participate in literacy activities at your public library.  Most libraries have summer reading programs and special events that are fun and engaging.  Enjoy story time, guest authors, movies, make and take crafts and many hands on activities. Many libraries offer prizes for meeting a reading goal.

Summer literacy experiences will increase a student’s vocabulary, build background knowledge, and ensure summer learning gain. To help kids sustain reading skills, they must practice reading and read for enjoyment. 
Yes, students are on summer break.  However, reading and learning are not. Provide opportunities for your kids to read and have fun in the summer sun. Reading during the summer makes a difference. Summertime learning and reading will equal student success and create a lifetime reader.
Read more books!
As writers of children's literature, it is so important for us to promote the value of reading throughout the four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter.  Reading, writing, learning and growing is not just for the classroom.  Reading together with your child or grandchild is a win-win for the child and for the reader. Smart summer fun that includes books, keeps kids learning and growing all summer long.  What picture books and/or chapter books are you and the kids reading this summer?

Friday, June 27, 2014

So Many Books, So Little Time. . . . Summer Reading Recommendations from Christy Mihaly, and Cheddar the dog

                                      Cheddar is ready for reading!  (Photo by Cameron Field)

What's one of the first rules for writers?  Read, read, read -- right?  And what's summer for, if it's not for catching up on our reading!

Are you looking for some summer reading inspiration? Here are four Cheddar-approved suggestions from my reading pile. I've picked out a little of everything:  novels, nonfiction, history, for adults and kids . . . they're all good reads.
Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline.
Fiction, 2013.  304 pages.

Mollie, a contemporary "goth" teen in an unhappy foster care situation, and Vivian, an elderly neighbor who lives alone, strike up an unlikely friendship. As a community service project, Mollie is assigned to help Vivian clean out her attic. The wary teen gradually warms to the private old woman, as the story of Vivian's dramatic, unhappy past unfolds. Vivian narrates her experiences immigrating from Ireland to New York, riding the "orphan train" to Minnesota, being thrust from one home to the next through a tumultuous childhood. Mollie learns she can help Vivian solve some of the mysteries of her past. This books is a well-researched window onto the experiences of the young riders of the Orphan Trains, which plied the midwest bringing orphans for adoption by whoever showed up. (Be sure to check out the back matter.)

Why read it?  First, for the beauty of the story; second, for fascinating insight into the Orphan Trains; and third, to appreciate the book's structure: a modern story in third person, and a historical fiction account, in first person, woven into a powerful novel.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell 
Fiction, 2006.  304 pages.  YA/adult.

Thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor narrates in this book by David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas. Jason faces the traumas, trials, and tribulations of middle school in a small English village.  Thirteen chapters, which read like short stories, each cover a month, and detail Jason's struggles with a speech impediment (he tries to hide a debilitating stammer) and the slow, painful dissolution of his parents' marriage. Political and social details (Margaret Thatcher, the Falklands War, no e-mail) bring the time period -- the early 1980's -- fully alive. The book can be hard to take because of the bullying Jason faces, but Jason is genuinely funny, and it's ultimately a hopeful book.  

Why read it?  Mitchell does a brilliant job portraying his bullied but smart and likable young character.  As an added bonus, you'll learn lots of teen slang from the UK (from the 1980's).  You might want to know that the book has been banned by some U.S. school districts as too raunchy for young teens. For mature readers and writers, it's a shining example of nailing that 13-year-old voice.

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio
Fiction, 2012.  320 pages, grade level 3-7.

I picked this book up because it was the 2014 selection for "Vermont Reads," a program in which community members of all ages read and discuss a chosen book.  (It also won this year's Dorothy Canfield Fisher award, based on voting by Vermont's fourth through eighth graders.) From the opening paragraph, I couldn't put it down. The ten-year-old main character, Augie, is "an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face."  Born with severe facial disfigurements, even after numerous reconstructive surgeries, he says his face still causes kids to "run away screaming in playgrounds." Augie tells us, "I won't describe what I look like.  Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse."  Augie has brains and a great sense of humor, and as he faces predictable bullying, hostility, and heartbreak, we see him, and those around him, growing in understanding and courage. The story is told in short (generally one or two-page) chapters. There are eight parts, each with a distinct narrator:  Augie (he gets three parts), two of his friends, his sister Via, Via's boyfriend Justin, and her friend Miranda.  Although this multiplicity of narrators can disrupt the flow, the kids' different points of view add to our depth of understanding.  

Why read it?  Palacio has created a memorable and believable young character, whose story will stay with you. The book may also, as the author intends, help us -- and help us to help our kids --to choose kindness.
The Lost City of Z:  A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon 
by David Grann

Nonfiction, 2009.  448 pages (including lots of juicy back matter).
As a nonfiction writer, I'm always on the lookout for models of lively nonfiction, and one of my favorite sources is the articles in The New Yorker.  Grann, a New Yorker staff writer, wrote this riveting account of his own travels and research following the trail of the lost Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett, one of the last great Victorian explorers, who vanished in the Amazon jungle in 1927.  Weaving together Fawcett's biography, tales of the many would-be rescuers who perished seeking him after his disappearance, and the modern archeologists who have carried on Fawcett's visionary work, Grann spins a riveting story.  He spent years researching, including finding long-lost family documents, and months struggling through the Amazonian jungle. 

Why read it?  It's a great -- and true -- story! The research is outstanding. If you want to make your nonfiction writing a compelling read, study this book.  

So -- let us know what you think of these books, or if you have other suggestions -- and HAPPY READING!

- Christy Mihaly, and Cheddar

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


By Janie Reinart

We all need to warm up before we sing, exercise or write! We will be sharing ideas here to help you “work out” your writing muscles. Take a deep cleansing breath and stretch! For more writing inspiration share your stretches with us. We will be happy to post them.

Haiku and Tanka are poetry forms that use a certain number of syllables per line.  Try your hand at writing a poem using your phone number.

Write your phone number vertically in a column. Each number suggests the number of syllables per line. Zeroes equal 10 syllables. Title your poem. Here is an example. 


2      Heat wave
1      melts
6     candy coated ice cream  
4      lickity-split
1      quick
5      sticky faced baby
3      wants a hug
4     kisses so sweet
3     everything
7   is better with chocolate

Share your phone number poems in the comment section. (Please do not post your phone number, just the poem. Thank you.)

Monday, June 23, 2014

The 2014 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference (by Todd Burleson and Christy Mihaly)

As I write these words, close to one hundred people are making their way back to Wisconsin, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey the U.K. and many more locations.  My mind is still spinning with the new connections, opportunities and possibilities that I was introduced to at the second annual 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference in New Paltz, NY. 

The Glass Atrium at SUNY New Paltz by Todd Burleson

The conference is the brain child of Lionel Bender and Sally Isaacs. Their mission statement perfectly framed this conference.

 I learned about the conference through the the WOW Nonfiction Writing Group on Facebook.  I had no concept of what to expect, but came with an open mind and an eager heart.  I was curious about the many new ways that nonfiction material is being published: apps, games, e-books, enhanced e-books, etc.  I was also eager to have the chance to meet fellow GROGger Christy Mihaly in the flesh.  We teamed up to reflect a bit on the conference.

By Christy Mihaly
From the beginning, the workshops were different from any I had experienced at other conferences.  I first attended a three hour intensive workshop from three phenomenal authors, Julie Hedlund, Steve Swinburne and  Carolyn Yoder. Listening to each of these individuals speak about their work was a terrific way to begin the conference.  Julie shared her journey through the myriad of publishing paths.  Steve showed how the NF Picture Book market has continued to evolve and Carolyn helped us see that NF is alive and well.  

By Christy Mihaly

The second annual 21st Century Children's Non Fiction Conference truly did bring all parties together.  There were individuals at this conference from Pearson and Capstone (large educational publishing companies) to small start-up app developers like The Green Door Labs.  What made this conference unique to me was that every one of these people was accessible.  I had dozens of opportunities to speak with any one of them.  The relaxed 'down time,' spread throughout the day over iced tea breaks or delicious lunch or dinners, allowed a new author like myself to talk with these industry leaders.   

By Christy Mihaly

I spoke with Lionel and Sally about the conference.  They shared a bit more insight about their philosophy and goals of bringing all those in the industry together in one place.  "None of us has all the answers," Lionel said.  This was even seen in the structure of the sessions.  Almost all of the session were led by pairs of presenters.  This allowed participants to see a variety of perspectives and fostered an opportunity for the presenters to play off one another too.

By Christy Mihaly

While always hoping to expand the conference, Lionel and Sally spoke passionately about the need for it to remain intimate and relaxed.  

The Atrium at Night by Todd Burleson

What struck me most about the conference was the range of attendees.  I met people who did all manner of jobs associated with nonfiction writing.  There were people here who wrote for the educational testing markets.  I had dinner with someone who is a photo researcher.  There were archivists, fact checkers, photographers, illustrators, marketers, indexers (someone who actually creates indexes for NF work) and so many more.   SCBWI conferences are fantastic, but, the majority of those conferences are focused on fiction.  This conference truly responds to the needs of nonfiction creators.

The Atrium by Todd Burleson

As a newer writer, I admit, I 'saw' publishing a picture book as my 'end game.'  Even though I had outstanding advice and guidance from Christy on this here blog, it wasn't until I sat down with Lou Warnycia to review one of my manuscripts, that I even thought about possibly writing for a magazine.  Lou enjoyed my manuscript (which was structured for a NF picture book) and suggested that I think about crafting it into a magazine piece.  I honestly didn't know you could do that.  In my mind, I thought once a story was published in a magazine, it could not be 'used' in another form.  Shows how 'new' I am right?  In fact, the 'story' I would write for Cobblestone or Cricket would be totally different from what I might submit to a publisher to be made into a picture book.  In fact, Lou shared a fantastic story with me about an author who had done exactly that.  To say I left my manuscript consultation with Lou on cloud nine is an understatement.  I was thrilled!

And so, as my colleagues slowly trickle back into their homes, I remain here at New Paltz for one more night.  I'm still trying to put all the pieces into the appropriate places in my mind.  One thing is for sure, I hope to come back next year! 

Hi, it's Christy here, back at home sitting on my front porch with hubby, dog, and laptop, catching up and trying to update my contacts files!  

I second Todd's remarks about the great content and connections at 21CCNC.  In a very full weekend, I learned about opportunities I hadn't realized were out there -- writing for tests, writing for hire, the educational market, magazines I hadn't known about, new online publications -- and they all need writers. I particularly loved having a chance to look over the many books, in many new formats, from the educational publishers. 

I caught up with NF writer buddies (Hi Sue Heavenrich!), made new friends from the NF-for-kids world -- and what a treat to actually meet FaceBook writer colleague and fellow GROGger, Todd Burleson. The campus setting was nostalgic and appropriate -- it felt like a great place to learn!  As with all conferences, it was both exhausting and inspiring.  And now, it's time for me to go incorporate a few pointers and critique suggestions into my pending manuscripts.  Hope to see some of you next year in New Paltz!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tag You're It! Writing Process Blog Hop

Yeah! It’s summer time! I remember playing tag on the lawn as a child. Now we’re playing again! This time my writerly friend, Beth Stilborn, a.k.a. Elizabeth Starborn tagged me on the Writing Process Blog Hop. What fun, Beth! Thank you.

While I catch my breath, let me tell you about my tagger. I first met Beth last year through JulieHedlund’s 12 x 12 group, The Children’s Book Hub Facebook page that Beth co-hosts with Emma Walton Hamilton, and at Katie Davis’ Video Idiot Boot Camp.

Beth and I just might break out into a duet. We share a passion for theater, music, and the Arts in children’s education. Beth is also the associate editor of the Children’s Book Hub monthly newsletter. If that isn’t enough to keep Beth running, check out her excellent copy editing and proofreading service.

Arghhh! Matey! This is me storytelling at South Primary School in Chillicothe, Il.  The students became the "crew" as we sang, danced, and read cue cards during my original story of The Tale of the Scurvy Ol' Sea Dog!  

While we are safe at home base, let me tell you about my writing process.

Right now, I’m in the middle of the fabulous class co-taught by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and  Mira Reisberg : From Storyteller to Exquisite Writer: The Pleasures and Craft of Poetic Techniques  over at the Children’s BookAcademy.  There is so much wonderful information; it will make you jump up and down with excitement. Sudipta and Mira are masters at explaining things with examples, weekly webinars, and critiques.  My rhyming picture book about bugs is coming along nicely.

I am also researching and getting ready for the WOW Writing Retreat July 7-13th with the amazing Kristen McGill Fulton. Nonfiction is the name of the game at this retreat for me.  I have two manuscripts that will be critiqued. One story is about a saint. The other story is about a man that invented something that we use everyday.

Everyone has a story. It is my mission to help emergent writers of all ages articulate their own stories,write about them, and share their words. I love when authors find their voice and experience the sheer joy of writing. Love You More Than You Know, an anthology about moms sending their sons and daughters to war, helped us lighten our burdens and helped us to heal.

I write because I must. I write for the sheer joy of writing! I write because I love to read. I write so I can share these two passions. I write so that I can listen to others tell their story. When we share stories, we find out we are more alike than different.

·      I need quiet time. When my five kids were little, I would stay up way too late because that was the only time it was quiet in the house. 
·      I keep a sketchbook journal. Bring on the crayons, glitter, and pictures. When I let myself play with words and pictures, I get creative. I also free write (write with abandon) and go back and highlight the parts I like, leaving the rest behind.
·      I move. Walking can get you into the zone and solve things when you are stuck in a manuscript. Acting out stories can shed some light on your manuscript too! Try a hat or costumes. Walk and talk like your main character.

·      I work with my writing partner or critique group. Sometimes just talking it out will help a story. Getting feedback is also key in reworking my manuscripts. Remember writers are really rewriters!
·      Deadlines and chocolate help keep me focused.

Happy writing! So on with the chase! These are the lovely writers I tagged. 

 Kristen McGill Fulton writes nonfiction picture books and some historical fiction. She is represented by Kendra Marcus at BookStop Literary. Kristen is a wonderful writer and teacher!  This is what Kristen had to say:

 One of my favorite places is my office stacked with shelves full of nonfiction picture books in alphabetical order of course. I believe that a writer must write everyday. Whether it is for a story, blog, or personal journal- practice makes perfect.  I currently am occupied with preparing for WOW Nonficpic and our summer Retreat 2014. I teach an online nonfiction class called Nonfiction Archaeology and believe that it is awesome :-) But, I am a little biased.

My husband Rusty and I have three children, all grown and enjoy much of our time traveling around the US in our RV that we lovingly call Chalet Fulton. I absolutely love daffodils and it makes me smile just saying the word.  I love my pajamas and comfy slippers. Iced Tea and Diet Caffeine Free Coke are staples in my home. I play a silly game called Clash of Clans on my iPad and can whop some butt with my army of minions.That’s it, that’s me in a nutshell. Not complicated or fancy, just me. 

The fabulous Sue Heavenrich is a freelance environmental journalist, but behind those Clark Kent glasses is a gal who is passionate about writing for kids. In her past life she’s taught science, been a camp counselor, taught skiing, home schooled her kids, and now works part time in a small-town library. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her counting bees, following ants, or chasing that Bad Woodchuck out of the garden.

Her children’s articles have been published in Highlights, Ranger Rick, Boy’s Quest, Cobblestone, and Wild Outdoor World. Sue reviews STEM literature and writes about science at Archimedes Notebook  and reviews kid’s books at Sally’s Bookshelf.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How to Write for the Christian Market by Tina Cho

How to Write for the Christian Market

illustrated by Anna Cho via iPad

Writing for the Christian market is one of the most rewarding kinds of writing out there because you can change lives! And the best-selling Book of the ages is our mentor text from God himself. There are all sorts of ways to write for this market from children to adult.

Devotions or meditations are small articles of encouragement that focus on a verse of Scripture, and the author shares an anecdote or something personal that emphasizes the point of the verse. You can practice writing devotions by starting a devotional blog. That's what I did. My friend Gloria Stockstill wrote such wonderful devotions, that an editor took notice and signed her up for a book deal! How's that! Study different devotion formats, and when you find a venue you like, submit. I've had a devotion published with The Upper Room, and I have a kids' devotion and craft book forthcoming from Legacy Press Kids. Another friend, Laura Brooke Keith has a great devotional book coming out from Warner Press. Online devotions for kids are also popular, such as Keys for Kids. And Proverbs31 Ministries has awesome devotions for women. 

Vacation Bible School
If your church puts on a VBS, check the publisher of the curriculum. Go to their web site and see how to write for them. They might want freelance writers. Perhaps your own church needs a writer for a VBS script for dramas or lesson materials. Volunteer to write. I just critiqued one of my friend's fabulous VBS scripts for her church.

Sunday School
Just like with VBS curriculum, check the publisher of your church's Sunday school materials. Go to their web site and see if they need writers. Someone writes the flyers, stories, take-home materials, crafts, and lessons that your children do each week. I wrote a coloring book for Warner Press that is used in Sunday schools and children's church.

Every denomination seems to have materials for children. Check yours. Some popular Christian children magazines are Clubhouse, Clubhouse Jr., Pockets, Guardian Angel Kids e-zine, Little Lutheran, and The Kid's Ark. Study 3-5 issues of each magazine and the submission guidelines. These magazines like to have Bible stories, fiction and nonfiction stories, crafts, puzzles, and articles about kids doing great things for God. Last year I came across a little-known piece of Scripture that I knew would make a great story, (1 Chronicles 25:1-8), and it's in the June issue of Clubhouse Jr., for Father's Day!

If you want to publish a children's book or adult book in this market, study Christian publishers. See the kinds of books they publish. Query them with ideas. That's how I landed two of my books. Granted, some publishers only accept agented submissions. Then write your best and get yourself an agent. (I know, easier said than done.) My writing mentor, Nancy Sanders, and my friend Laura Sassi, both have agents and write for big Christian publishers like Zondervan and Tyndale.

Inside: God says to stay in the place we are
until He shows us the next step. May God
give you peace as your wait on Him.
Some Christian publishers sell greeting cards. Study their cards, guidelines, and submit your poetry and encouraging thoughts. One of our grog writers, Sherri Rivers, has written greeting cards for Warner Press.

Writing for the Christian market is a fun and rewarding job. We have the greatest story of the gospel to share. I love being one of God's scribes. If I can do it, so can you!

Inside: We all know where babies come from...God! Congratulations.

Thanks, Sherri, for sharing your cards. Thanks, Anna, for your illustration.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Indie + Inspiration = Summer Adventure by Kathy Halsey

My favorite indie bookstore, Changing Hands, Tempe AZ, embarked on a new adventure last year that I have a small "hand" in. Changing Hands is so successful it decided to open a new store in downtown Phoenix after 40 years! Owner Gayle Shanks sent a blast to customers asking for suggestions for the downtown location. I took a chance and wrote back, suggesting a monthly event of book talks for parents/grandparents/other caregivers. To my surprise, she wrote back and connected me to her sister Vicki, another former educator. 
(Grandma Kathy & grandson Tobin)
Grandma's Club Perks
Together we created the Grandma's Club which had its inaugural debut last month with 20 adults and 5 little ones. Our goal - to share the newest/best in kid lit via themes. Vicki read stories with the children while I book talked with the adults. Finally, we joined groups for a craft tie-in. Families then explored the Grandma's Club book display and chatted with us. That day club members received 10% off anything in the store and throughout the month, all books on the Grandma's Club list are 10% off in store and online. 
My Perks as a Writer
Changing Hands is a phenomenal, vibrant literary community that hosts national and local writers, critique groups for writers, sign language classes, and more. By reaching out as a volunteer to share my kidlit/library/educator expertise, I found my way into the heart of an important Phoenix venue, and I'm adding value to my tribe. Changing Hands is generously "loaning" me the newest picture books through middle grade novels for my talks.  I am putting myself "out there" as a speaker and honing my ability to connect to audiences. AND, once I am published (positive thinking), I will be much better connected to those who promote writers where I live. I know it's a cliche, but this opportunity is a "win" for all.

Family-themed Book List
Since we began the club right before Father's Day, we decided to feature family-themed books, preK-middle grade. For July, animals rule the book list. I am also sharing online resources with the adults from ALA lists to the Grand Canyon Readers' awards. Vicki and I made sure the list was diverse and I promoted the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Some of the books from our list include:
1. How to Cheer Up Dad - Fred Koehler (featured read aloud and craft tie-in)
2. Isabella: Girl on the Go - Jennifer Fosberry
3. Sophie's Squash - Pat Zietlow Miller
4. Knock, Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me - Daniel Beaty
5. Better Nate Than Ever - Tim Federal
6. Kizzy Ann Stamps - Jeri Watts
7. Our entire list is here

I'M INTERESTED IN YOUR SUMMER ADVENTURES THAT INCLUDE WRITING.COMMENT & LET ME KNOW.   Get out there and go for the adventure this summer! You'll win big.