Wednesday, July 30, 2014


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.

Remember how nice it felt to squeeze Play Dough between
your fingers and to make what ever came to mind?. . . 

We should  treat language like Play Dough when we write. . .  When we use our imaginations and play with words, it’s exciting to see the shape. . .  that emerges. ~Margriet  Ruurs

SQUEEZE Play Dough and let your mind wander. WRITE a poem, a paragraph or a page. Your topic: Childhood is . . .
Post your "squeeze" in the comments.

Sailor’s Delight by Janie Reinart

Childhood is

Perched on a

Pink sky summer night

In a red maple tree


Feeling safe

As my Father

Walking by

Looks up

With a grin

Once more

So Strong

So Wise

Ready to protect me

Monday, July 28, 2014

Two Dudes in a Teardrop: Reflections From the Road by Todd and Son

Jack looking back on southwest Colorado

First things first: the map below is not quite right.  In point of fact, we traveled closer to 3,500 miles on our two week trip.  What the map doesn't show is the crisscrossing of the desert in the lower southwest corner of Colorado.  We spent nearly a day looking for our final destination, Mission Wolf.  It was worth it!  The map below was created using a fun new app and website called Road Trippers.  It was a lot of fun planning the trip because I put in my start and end point and then started exploring all the really interesting places to stop in between.  You can explore the map and see some of the fun places we stopped along the way.  

Colorado Trip with Jack | My new trip on!

Being almost thirteen can be tough.  The prospect of spending two weeks within mere feet of your father might not be the first choice of most almost 'teenagers.'  My son was no different.  He might not have said it, but I am pretty sure he was excited about the trip.  It did, however, put a significant crimp in his style.  After a bit of reticence while preparing, getting him out onto the road changed everything.  Every once in a while I would remind him of the importance of a good attitude.

"The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude."
-Bob Bitchin

By the end of the trip, this had become our mantra.  Some days I needed it; other days he needed it.  Thankfully there were no days when we both needed it!

  As the miles piled up, I finally saw him relax.  He became my expert navigator.  He was soon giving me distances between rest stops, cities and gas stations.  Our new road atlas became his best friend!

Both Jack and I kept a daily journal that we filled with our reflections and captured tiny moments that we otherwise would have lost.  Now that we are home, we've added bits and pieces of park maps, stickers, photos, and more.  Taken together, these truly help us remember.  I hope someday he'll look back on them and remember what a terrific time we had.

The trip truly was epic and to truly cover all the activities and experiences would take far more than a few posts here.  So, I thought we would each pick a favorite memory and share them with you here.  I hope you don't mind that we've gone a little over our typical 500 words per post.  Let's start with Jack:

So, you wanted to hear about my dad and I's experience of traveling to Colorado. It was a wonderful experience that I will forever remember. Sure not all of the parts were fun such as the driving and the times where we both had bad headaches, but I think that the good outweighed the bad. Today I'll share some of my side of the story. I want to tell you about our trip up a mountain to see the wonderful Mission: Wolf. 

Jack catching a Rainbow Trout near Frasier, Colorado

It all started the day after we had just climbed The Great Sand Dunes (An entirely different story)...

(Midnight at The Great Sand Dunes National Park)

We started our journey to see the wolf preserve at Mission Wolf and they had told us not to use Google Maps or any other kind of GPS system. So, my dad had printed out some directions that "supposedly" took us to the preserve. (Fast forward one hour...) After this time we had found a tiny town called Gardner and we thought this was just about as deserted you could ever see. But still the directions told us to to forge ahead so of course we followed the directions. (Another hour later.) We found ourselves on a dirt road that was unnamed and we hadn't seen a car for a while. By this time we were very frustrated at the directions. We decided to just try to follow the road and maybe it would take us somewhere... (ANOTHER hour later!) We were so frustrated and mad that we decided we would finally just ask Siri to take us there and guess what happened? Siri took us exactly to the preserve and we were just straight up dumbfounded.  But, we were happy to be there!

We had a little problem turning off the incredibly steep driveway.  Let's just say the teardrop was temporarily parked on a mud know there's a whole other story there!

When we arrived at the wolf preserve we were taken on a tour by a nice lady named Astrid from the Netherlands.  She was there volunteering for a couple of months. (Almost all the people that work here are volunteer) And we saw some pretty cool wolves.  (Personally wolves are my favorite animal so this was pretty cool.) 

 Many of the staff live in tipis

But another strange/amazing thing is that all of the buildings in the preserve were made from recyclable material. The neatest thing to see was the wolves howling because I had never been that close to actually see a wolf howl. 

 The night we stayed at the preserve it rained all night...more mud!

We camped just down the hill from Mission Wolf.  We heard the wolves howl many times in the night. The next day was even more interesting....

 This is an awesome video about Mission Wolf:

The next day we "were" going to leave at like 9:00am but then they told us we could meet the wolves at like 11:30am so we couldn't pass up that chance so of course we stayed the extra time. Then finally at 11:30 we went into the wolves cage and we got to meet them. 

 Jack ended up adopting Zephir.  His sponsorship helps provide food and medical care for this beautiful wolf for one year...something he hopes to be able to renew each year!

The interesting thing about wolves is that they will smell you (they actually smell your teeth!) and then they walk away. Its like shaking hands a human wouldnt shake hands wit a person more than once without getting some strange looks. But, a wolf came back near me and the founder of the preserve said I could give him a belly rub. That was really awesome when I did, I will never forget that!

Yeah, so thats MY favorite memory but you should also check out my dad's favorite memory as well.

Jack Burleson

The memory I most want to share with you is of a nearly perfect afternoon.  We had been on the road about a week when we entered Rocky Mountain National Park.  After spending our first night on the west side of the park, we were heading up and over the Trail Ridge Road.  For some reason I didn't sleep the night before; that coupled with the altitude caused me to suffer from a severe headache.  That didn't stop us though.

  This amazing road travels the 48 miles from Grand Lake on the west to Estes Park on the east.  You can see from the section of the map above that it is quite curvy, especially at the beginning!  My favorite memory takes place just past Milner Pass at a tiny lake called Poudre Lake.  The pull out identified the Continental Divide where all the precipitation that falls to the right makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean all that falls to the left goes to the Pacific Ocean. 

The sun was incredibly intense.  Even with sunscreen on, we could feel the sun's rays heating our skin.

To call it a lake is not quite fair.  Actually, the tiny pond was being fed by the run off from the snow on the mountains.  
(Jack on Pouder Lake)


The snow actually felt pretty good.  So much so that Jack decided to make some snow angels!

 It didn't phase me however.  I had been reading about these high alpine lakes and the beautiful Brook Trout that live in them for years.  The trout, due to the altitude, are tiny, but nonetheless beautiful and fun to catch; or so I had read. 

Jack and I studied the water.  It was a pretty calm afternoon.  There was some evidence of fish in the water.  We could see the occasional rise.  Soon we made our way down to the crystal clear waters.  That's when we saw the trout.  They were plentiful and easily spooked.  We retreated to the snow and set up our gear.  As we continued to study the water, we noticed that a hatch had begun.  

Here is our best attempt at matching the 'hatch.' 

The teeny tiny insects were making the journey from the bottom of the tiny lake to the surface of the water.  There, they dry their wings and fly off to mate and die.  This happens several times a day in every pond, lake, river on the planet during the spring, summer and fall.  

 Jack and I on the Pike River in WI earlier this spring

Fly fishing is part detective, part dance.  You have to try to 'match the hatch' in order to get the incredibly smart little fish to strike your 'fly' and not one of the 'real' ones.  It's not just a matter of slinging it out there either.  You have to try to 'match' the movements of the flies that are rising as well.  This is where the 'dance' comes in.  Unlike spin casting, where you use the weight of the lure or bait to 'sling' your line out into the water, fly fishing uses the weight of the line to slingshot out your incredibly tiny fly.

Anyway, we carefully made our way back up to the edge of the water; it's soggy banks engulfed our boots in quicksand.  Gently, we began casting.  We could see the beautiful trout.  They watched our flies with distrust.  I moved on down and around the edge of the lake and continued casting.  Each movement allowing me to send my fly further out into the lake.  Eventually it was so far that I could no longer see the trout.  On the retrieve from about thirty feet out I felt a 'bump.'  Fishermen know the 'bump.'  Something had ever so slightly attempted to nibble on my fly.  I quickly set up and fired the fly back out onto the exact same spot and waited.  I let the fly settle and then slowly twitched it back toward me.  After less than a second, I felt another bump and this time I was ready.  I grasped the line in my left hand and gently set the hook.  Immediately I saw a mesmerizing flash of irridesence that could only be the belly of a trout.  The trout spun away from the sting of the hook and I slowly reeled the tiny jewel into me.  I shouted for Jack to grab my net and soon, we had in our hands one of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen: an Alpine Brook Trout.

After a few moments and several pictures, we put him back into his crystalline waters.

For about ten minutes I forgot all about my headache and how tired I was.  I had just done something I had been dreaming of for years.  To add to that, it was with my son.  I had just had one of the best days of my life.

What a terrific two weeks!  It makes me SO happy to read my own son's words and to mix them with the photos from the trip.  I hope this is only the first of many father/son trips we take!


Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review: Katie Davis' How to Promote Your Children’s Book

How to Promote Your Children’s Book: Tips, Tricks, and Secrets to Create a Bestseller 
by Katie Davis

A Book Review by Tina Cho

I’ve been a follower of author Katie Davis for a while, well-known for her “Brain Burps about Books” podcasts for the kidlit world. Katie is also knowledgeable and dynamic when it comes to marketing your children’s books. This summer I read her e-book, How to Promote Your Children’s Book: Tips, Tricks, and Secrets to Create a Bestseller. 

This book is a must-read for every pre-published and published author. Katie doesn’t leave one stone unturned. She covers it all, very up-to-date on marketing your book and getting yourself out there in a non-selfish way. I feel like I just took a children’s book marketing 101 class and can’t wait to implement it all. 

According to Katie, as soon as your manuscript leaves your hands into an editor’s hands, you should begin planning how you’ll promote your book. Katie discusses all sorts of creative options from a live book launch party to a virtual one of blogs.

She also explains how to use social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other sites to get your book’s presence out there. I learned so much about SEO (search engine optimization) and how to use key words to drive people to my site. She discusses web site design and how to work with a designer, why you should send out e-newsletters, make videos, book trailers, and teacher guides. She discusses school visits, Skype visits, and book festivals. 

Each chapter is full of instruction, recent examples of successful authors, and Internet links to help understand all the ways to promote your book. I like how the end of each chapter has a “take action” page with a list of things to try.

So if you’ll excuse me, I need to go plan on how to market my upcoming book!

Children's author/illustrator Katie Davis has published nine books and appears monthly on Good Morning, Connecticut, recommending great books for kids. She produces Brain Burps About Books, a podcast about kidlit, a blog and regular newsletter. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


                   BY: SHERRI JONES RIVERS

     Maybe you're light years away from having children involved in a summer reading program, but they are still alive and kicking. Let me tell you about the Richland County Library's program in Columbia, SC. It's been growing by leaps and bounds because of all the varied activities it offers at its main library, as well as all 11 branches. In addition to providing for children, it also provides programs and activities for adults and families.
     "If you change family culture," said Children's Room Librarian Heather McCue," you can change culture."

     Story time, young illustrators' workshops, and even bi-lingual story times are offered. Recently, a session was held on African drums, and in another session, children learned about fairy tales. Each child got to make his own pair of fairy or dragon wings to take home with him.

     Last Friday, 26 members of the Gamecocks Football team visited the library to read to the children. Called Pigskin Poets, it was a great motivator for reluctant readers.
    Heather says that nonfiction is gaining in popularity, primarily because of the internet. She's encouraged at the explosion of picture book biographies where children learn of people who are changing people's lives for the better.
     What else is trending this summer? Of course, Fancy Nancy is popular, as well as anything about trains, trucks, and dinosaurs. The Pinkalicious series is a favorite, too. Mo Willems' books are a big hit, and Creepy Carrots and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild fly off the shelves. A library staff person said girls don't want to read girlie books as much as they used to, but are seeking action and adventure stories.
     Heather suggested these classics for a good ole family read-aloud: Half-Magic Edgar, Cricket in Times Square, Dragon of Blueland, Lady Lollipop,and The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. The audio book of The True Blue Scouts is read by Lyle Lovett. How cool is that.

     For all you nonfiction writers out there, here is her list of what parents and children are asking for, but not finding. Maybe you can fill the niche:
    * History:  World War I and Reconstruction up to the early 1900's.
     * Math: Math concepts are fairly new to the picture book/nonfiction world, but there are so few titles to choose from, and they circulate like crazy because of the scarcity of books.
     *Biographies: Lesser known African American inventors, and biographies for young readers on contemporary people (people in pop culture, etc.)
     So, I'm wondering........what kind of summer reading program do you have?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Guest Post by Sue Heavenrich: MY WRITING PROCESS

A month ago or so, Janie tagged me for the writing process blog hop. Thank you, Janie and the Groggers, for inviting me to share the Grog blog!

Depending on the day, if you ask me what I’m working on you could get the following answers: a picture book, fracking, an article about a town meeting, haiku, mud pies, a book review. Or maybe I’m researching the best way to do in the Bad Woodchuck who keeps eating my kale. And broccoli. And beans and lettuce and chard….

I am an accidental journalist who would love to ditch my press pass and write more for kids. I have picture book ideas scribbled in composition notebooks, on index cards and cash-register receipts tacked to the wall above my (very) messy desk. But every time I’ve tried to quit reporting the community news, a “must-write” story comes my way.

My passion is science. I’ve written a smattering of articles for Ranger Rick, Boys’ Quest, Highlights, and just turned in something to Odyssey. I write about science for a parenting newspaper called Ithaca Child, where my focus is on sharing hands-on stuff kids can do to learn about physics, chemistry, math, architecture, engineering, biology and insects. I write a lot about insects.

A couple years ago I started a blog for kids and parents called Archimedes Notebook (yes, I know there should be an apostrophe there, but it fell off when I was cutting and pasting….). 
Because science is about doing and exploring, I try to make that central to what I write. Even when I post book reviews I’ll often include an activity to encourage kids – and their parents – to get up off the chair and go try something.
I write because I love to learn new stuff. Like, if you tape washers on a Frisbee, how will it change its flight? And will pulverized garlic scapes mixed with tabasco sauce and steeped for a few days really keep the woodchuck out of the garden? Writing is my path to discovery; it’s how I map my world.

So how do I do this writing? Process-wise? I generally pull on my pink rain boots and head out into the field with a net. I sweep it back and forth, collecting ideas like butterflies. Then I entice them into a crystal goblet filled with chardonnay and chocolate. When they’re pleasantly inebriated, I gently turn them belly down on a piece of Styrofoam, spread their wings, take a  pin and aim straight for the heart.

What that looks like in practice is this: scribble idea in a notebook. Decide it’s a cool idea. Create two files: one the manila kind that goes on my “working” shelf and one a digital file. Begin research. Read. Interview scientists, kids involved in cool science. Do experiments. Make messes. Eat chocolate. Drink chardonnay. Write an outline – usually bare bones. If it’s a picture book I sometimes start writing and then storyboard it as an outline. Crumple up pages & toss them into the recycling bin. Then find a thousand ways to NOT write: shovel the walk, clean the toilet, count bees….. eventually I sit down and resume writing. Sometimes the words come. If not I go back to step 3: eat chocolate… and repeat. I should probably patent this process before someone else does.

The answers to other oft-asked questions are Yes1, Yes2, and No3.

1.  Do you write with a pencil?
2.  Do you type out your stories on a computer?
3.  Are you rich?

It’s my turn to tag, so let me introduce you to one of the fantastic writers in my critique group, the Narrative Ark: 

Johanna van der Sterre is a children’s picture book and magazine illustrator.  Even as a young person, she loved to draw, paint, and look at art.   As she grew older, she met a number of professional artists (painters, potters, costumers, designers, and illustrators) who inspired and encouraged her.   Johanna took visual art classes in college. Telling stories with pictures became her focus, so she went on to get her M.F.A in illustration.   Johanna finds ample challenge and joy illustrating the writing of others, but she feels she has some stories of her own to tell.   She has recently been crafting and submitting picture book manuscripts.  Click here for Johanna's website.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dogs, Cats, Birds, and More: A Sampling of Animal-themed KidLit @ Changing Hands by Kathy Halsey

My newest summer gig is book talking at Changing Hands, our fabulous, vibrant, indie bookstore in Tempe & now downtown Phoenix. Word is getting out. We were even featured in the "Things to Do" section this week in The Arizona Republic newspaper. 

 I book talked at both locations and my partner, a gifted teacher of 30+ years, Vicki Miles led the kids in a craft related to our feature story, BAD KITTY by Nick Bruel.

I'm sharing a few of our fav animal books with you today that informed my writing of picture books and may illuminate writing ideas for you, also. Enjoy. 

Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth is an art lover's delight, not to mention its science implications. This debut picture book riffs on the old catalog of Sears & Roebeck days. The opening line gives us the news,"Birds today face many dangers. Some species are disappearing. Others are already gone. Not to worry!" In this fiction book with nonfiction sensibilities, the reader can create his/her own bird. My nonfiction WOW friends will adore this book. There are science, design, art & environmental connections here, too, for teachers.  Geared toward grades 4-7, younger children will just enjoy looking at the bird parts. Writer's take-away: mix fiction and bits of nonfiction if it enhances the topic. Think waaay outside the box on structure (catalog idea.)

Dog vs. Cat by Chris Gall is a fun tale with plenty of layering for both kids and adults. Adults will identify with the Odd Couple characters and the hilarious text Chris hides in illustrations. Children will laugh out loud as Dog & Cat annoy each other in silly spreads. Dog rubs party balloons on the rug and attaches them to cat. Cat pops the balloons with her paws and gives Dog a near heart attack. The frenemies finally unite over the newest pet...GASP...a baby! Writer's take-away: write for the adult, too. Remember to go overboard on the hijinks. Use universal themes: sibling rivalry/new baby. (I actually had to read this one 6 times with grandson Tobin last week.)

Froodle by Antoinette Portis celebrates word play and nonsense words. This "circle" book begins with a cat & dog making normal cat & dog sounds and ends with them sayings, respectively, " Shmoodle!" and "Skerpoodle!"Little Brown Bird upsets the normal order, refusing to chirp. He'd rather say, "Froodle sproodle!" And so would I as a reader and so would the reader who has a ball repeating this nonsense. Crow "is not amused," but is finally persuaded to join in the fun. Writer's take-away: reading teachers/interventionists use made-up words to help struggling readers understand word families and sounds. Make up words and have fun. If the writer has fun, so will the reader. 

Check out your indie bookstore for these gems. Give them as gifts, buy them as mentor texts for teachers and writers and..."OOBLY SNOOBLY!" (Sorry, just couldn't help myself.)

Share your favorite kidlit books that inform your writing in the comment section. What did these books teach you as a writer?