Friday, August 29, 2014

KID LIT HEROES: Are children's books read in space? By Jan Godown Annino

Much of the time I’m in Florida, where ice cream from a walk-up snack window can melt in 60 seconds.
But Florida’s outer space ice cream lasts.  Fans of NASA and the Kennedy Space Center such as me and my family, know the Neapolitan-flavor trick to traveling with ice cream. Pack the freeze-dried kind for the family.

Here’s another NASA trick. And it’s in league with the International (which could easily be International and Outer Space) Reading Association (IRA.)
 If you know youngsters who are moon-gazers

 (NASA image credit/Bill Ingalls)

or science fiction fans or space-addicted, treat them to a story that is read from outer space, part of today’s KIT LIT HEROES.

 Stories from Space sites:

One advocate of this unusual story time is Reader-in-Space, Dad-in-Space, flight surgeon,  Kjell Lindgren. 

And next week, Astronaut Lindgren asks everybody sign up to pledge 60 (ice-cream-melt) seconds, to read or to enjoy writing, speaking or listening for 60 days in a row. 
Can I do this? 
Maybe I should eat ice cream with each read. 
The first day of the reading focus is called International Literacy Day
And this year, 2014, that is Monday, Sept. 8.

Kjell’s mission to have young people and adults reading is paired to a 
social media hashtag #ILD14, a website, and a poster.
The cool cartoon poster is from ASTRONAUT ACADEMY author/illustrator Dave Roman.  

Astronaut Kjell told the IRA magazine, READING TODAY, that he devoured space books even before he was 12 years old, which was also the age he first applied to the U.S. Air Force Academy. “I truly feel like books and reading have been fundamental to my success,” he said. 

Kjell is not only a surgeon to the astronauts, but also a veteran of working with Russian cosmonauts. He is preparing to lift off next year with the 2015 Expedition 44/45 to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan, in May.

He told the IRA that his devouring of books, especially childhood books about weird futuristic science, is one reason why he will be one of the elite few who will be able to say he reads out loud to young readers from outer space.

“Books are fun to read – space history and science fiction captured my imagination and challenged me to pursue my goals,” he told the IRA.

Kjell and other astronaut/readers in space, Alvin Drew and Mike Hopkins, are among the Lift Off reading corps, who with the IRA, want every reader of all ages to  LIFT OFF TO LITERACY.

Book titles, among many that Kjell recommends for young readers, include
 I WANT TO BE AN ASTRONAUT, by Byron Barton and TOUCHDOWN MARS from Peggy Wethered and Ken Edgett and illustrated by Michael Chesworth.

Of course your 60 seconds pledged for 60 days can cover any
story or topic. I have a stack o’ reading to dig into, but if I desired even more, I might mix in THE ASTRONAUT'S COOKBOOK and,  AN ASTRONAUT COOKBOOK, Simple Recipes for Kids.

As a longtime member and fan of the IRA I plan to pledge and page through the 60-day challenge. 
I hope you can enjoy it, too. 
An IRA activity kit at the event site,,
suggests ways to spend those 60 seconds.

You can also share this information to inspire a reading club, class, or library group to Lift Off.  They can even mention one, or some, of their 60-second activities with an email to the IRA at
or a shout out in social media at hashtag #ILD14.
 Who knows? It might get attention from outer space!

 Note: I'm pleased that the LIFT OFF TO LITERACY project is created in part with ideas from educators including some in my state: Karen Jackson, Deobrah Kozdras and Sam Williams.
And, here are added stellar sites:
Dave Roman, LIFT OFF TO LITERACY poster creator & author of
 Astronaut Academy 

Dave Roman's online free Starbunny web comic:

Wednesday, August 27, 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.

Everyone has a story. Taking an old idea inspired by Ernest Hem­ing­way, who was chal­lenged to write a story using only six words, tell us your life story. Hemingway’s story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

TELL your life story in six words. Post it in the comments.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Dog Days ~ by Patricia Toht

Some days, when I sit down to write, I feel like this:
Whether it's due to an impasse in my manuscript, a flurry of rejections, or just an oppressive string of sticky 95-degree days, I can't seem to work up my writing energy. Many days I'll force my butt in the chair to tap away at the computer until I eke out a decent sentence or two. But sometimes (maybe too often) I'll play hooky. 

The other day, to assuage my writer's guilt, I found myself thinking: 

If I watch a movie related to children's writing, 
it isn't really playing hooky, is it?

Now, I'm not encouraging you not to write. But one day, you may find yourself in the languor of dog-day-doldrums, and a wonderful movie related to kids' books might be just the escape that you need.

The first three that I recommend are fictionalized accounts of authors' lives, for those of you that don't mind a bit of whimsy and truth-stretching.

My favorite selection just may be MISS POTTER. The movie tells the story of Beatrix Potter's struggle be taken seriously in a male-dominated publishing world. Snippets of animation and a sweet love story add to its charm. Sweeping vistas of the Lake District don't hurt either.

I'm a bit obsessed with Peter Pan. I've seen the play, I own several movie adaptations and have even more copies of the book. Illustrator Michael Hague generously inscribed his version to mark the opening of my children's bookstore, Never Never Land. (You see? Obsessed!) FINDING NEVERLAND tells the tale of how J.M. Barrie came to write his famous book.  

SAVING MR. BANKS explores the challenging relationship between Walt Disney and P.L. Travers, the author of MARY POPPINS. Criticism has been waged that the portrayal isn't accurate, but I appreciate the exploration of how the author's childhood might have influenced her writing. And, growing up with "The Wonderful World of Disney" on TV every Sunday, I found that Tom Hanks morphed into the Walt Disney of my memories.  

The final two recommendations are documentaries about famous illustrators. (** Warning! These two men are a bit prickly and out-spoken - I don't recommend these for young children! **)

TELL THEM ANYTHING YOU WANT is a portrait of Maurice Sendak. The witty curmudgeon talks about his books, censorship, film-making, story ideas, and his belief that children shouldn't be coddled. "You tell them anything you want," he says. "Just tell them if it's true."
(Find more Maurice Sendak quotes here.)

FAR OUT ISN'T FAR ENOUGH is a documentary about illustrator Tomi Ungerer. He grew up in the Alsace region of France, where his childhood was marked by World War II.  He moved to New York in the 1950s and did illustration work for magazines and advertisements. He also met famed editor, Ursula Nordstrom, and began to write children's books, which were widely acclaimed. But his interests in politico and erotica led to controversy and banning of his books. FAR OUT ISN'T FAR ENOUGH is a fascinating look at a very complex man.

So, keep these movie titles in your reference file for those days you need a break. Hmm... writing this blog post has been a successful bit of work... What's next on my viewing list? I think I hear STRANGER THAN FICTION calling my name!                               

Friday, August 22, 2014

Are You An Author Yet? by Pat Miller

Can you claim to be an author if your work hasn’t left your computer file or spiral notebook? If you belong to no writing organization and have attended no writing training, are you an author? If you haven’t received a contract, are you truly an author?

In a word, yes! To be an author, all you have to do is write. US Copyright Law recognizes that the instant your words hit page or screen, they form a copyrighted “work of authorship”. It follows that you are then a legally recognized author. Even more important is the recognition you give to yourself as an author. Granted, training in your craft, membership in writing groups, and submission of your work are important for authors. Most important is that you believe you are a writer.

Here are some ways to confirm your author status, and to express your faith in yourself and your work.

1. Have a dedicated space for your writing. If all you have is a corner of the dining room table, then dedicate a basket or drawer for your writing materials. Claim a writing space and visit it often.

2. Express your writer identity without hesitation. When people ask what you do, tell them you write for children. No qualifiers about how you aren’t published yet, or that you “only” wrote a children’s poem for the local newspaper. You write—therefore you are!

3. Have business cards. One way to be confident in your identity is to have and distribute your business cards. Create them on one of the free online sites, and share them with pride.

4. Tell the world. If you’re feeling bold, invest in personalized license plates, maybe “KDZ WRTR”. Be present on social media. Contribute to online writer’s groups. At a minimun, have a well-maintained web site and/or blog. For excellent web design advice, read Maria Ribas’s post.

5. Respect your work. Consider using bound books for your notes and stories. Bound books, whether a simple spiral or covered with foil-embossed Italian leather, make a statement to your ego. They are more expensive than tablets, more permanent than notes scribbled on conference hand-outs, and convey a sense of quality and longevity to the weakest of first drafts. Even my brainstorm sessions go into a bound book of their own. I have a book for my ideas, and one for each manuscript I research. Doing so gets your work into a hardcover edition—and that is a positive message to the future!

6. Act like a professional writer.
7. And of course, write! To quote author Susanna Leonard Hill, “Write with heart, from somewhere deep inside you. Write something that truly affects and enchants the reader—something that matters.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

KID LIT HEROES: What can we learn about young readers with low vision? By Jan Godown Annino

 KID LIT HEROS at GROG is honored to visit with a group whose mission is to boost literacy skills in young readers with a range of vision situations such as low vision to blindness.

My interest was piqued when nonfiction travel/nature editor and pal, Susan Cerulean, gifted our family with HAILSTONES & HALIBUT BONES, a modern classic from 1961 by Mary O'Neill. Although also admired for illustrations by famed artist Leonard Weisgard & later an all-palete edition from the pen of John Wallner, H&HB is a book of free verse that shares colors in words; it is widely read by low-vision families.
Reading it & loving all of O'Neill's work, as I do, it is my bridge into thinking about low-vision young readers' lifetime access to literacy.

Thank  you, Charlotte Cushman, who answers today's Qs for Kid Lit Heroes.

Charlotte is with PATHS TO LITERACY a joint project with an array of online
resources for blind and low vision youngsters. Congratulations to PATHS TO LITERACY for being KID LIT HEROES.

What specific techniques can help a child with low-vision or no vision, 
learn to love literature, beyond methods that inspire other young readers?

Books or stories that are well-written with interesting characters, compelling plots, lively narrative, and carefully described settings will be as much of interest to them as to other children. That being said, there are a few things that can help make literature more appealing to children with visual impairments. 

1 Books should be accessible in various formats just as they are to their sighted peers. Some children will prefer braille, some large print, and others will prefer audiobooks. 

2 Some children with visual impairments (especially if they are young or
have additional disabilities) will find it much easier to relate to books that 
depict familiar experiences. 

In this way, stories about going to school or birthday parties or pets may be more meaningful than stories about rocket ships or dinosaurs or
Ancient Egypt. 

As children get older and learn more about the world around them,
they will most likely develop an appreciation of more complex stories.

Finally, it is helpful to have positive role models,

such as characters who have visual impairments or even who just wear glasses.

Ideally the disability would be incidental and not necessarily the focus of the story,

so that child characters who happen to be blind, find exciting adventures or a character with low vision, creates wonderful inventions.

(Jan's note: for more on detective ABBY DIAMOND, who happens to be blind,  keep reading)

 What are the thoughts about the use of modalities such as braille readers, Talking Books and new technologies? 

Parents and teachers who are “in the know” find that children should be exposed

to a wide range of technologies and formats. 

Just because something is available in one format, doesn’t mean that children shouldn’t also learn to use other formats.

For example, many sighted children enjoy listening to audiobooks, but that doesn’t

mean that they are not being taught to read too. 

Similarly, we don’t ask children with sight to choose between reading hard copy books or electronic books.

Many people like to have the option of a range of formats, depending on the materials, and people who are blind are no different in this preference.

Children with visual impairments should have a Learning Media Assessment 

to determine which medium is most effective. For most children with visual impairments (as with most sighted children), they will use a variety of media. 

Are there children's authors through the years, or currently, whose
stories seems to work best in translation for children low-vision or who are blind?

It is generally best to select books where the focus is on the story, rather than
relying heavily on the illustrations. Authors such as Eric Carle use a lot of
repetition, which is good for younger listeners, not relying as heavily on the
Characters with visual impairments are often good choices. 
Some favorites include a couple of the ARTHUR books, such as GLASSES FOR DW or ARTHUR's EYES, by author/illustrator Marc Brown.

Also, consider ALL THE BETTER TO SEE YOU WITH by Margaret Wild with illustrations from Pat Reynolds and, the various books about Helen Keller and Laura Bridgman.

For older readers, consider ADVENTURES OF ABBY DIAMOND: OUT OF SIGHT (& several other episodes) by
Kristie Smith-Armand. This features a sharp girl detective, who just happens to be blind. 

Are the increasing number of wordless picture books ideal for the younger
ones in this group?

Wordless picture books will depend heavily on tactile illustrations and tactile

For young children, they must have repeated experience exploring tactile surfaces and learning to interpret what raised lines and textures mean. 
Books that have interesting materials and surfaces to
explore or manipulate will be more engaging to children who are blind. 

Wordless books can be adapted by adding some text to describe the text, such as
"The sun rose over the ocean."  That would be very hard to convey
to a child who cannot see in a tactile drawing without words, while it
would be readily understandable to sighted children who are shown a photograph.

Specific guidelines exist for creating tactile illustrations and these should be followed when creating 
illustrations for children who are blind: 

Guide to Designing Tactile Illustrations for

For children with low vision, the type of visual impairment they have and the
amount of functional vision they have will determine what types of illustrations will
be most meaningful. 
For example, some children may be able to see well enough
to interpret pictures if they are enlarged or if the lines are made bolder. Other
children, such as those with Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI) will be able to see the
pictures more easily if the visual clutter is minimized or if their preferred colors are

(see preferred scene on right, below from Charlotte Cushman's CVI article at

Providing clear images with good contrast and minimal extraneous details
will be helpful to many children with visual impairments. 

What motivates a publisher to make an author's book for children accessible
to the low-vision or no vision young reader? How can this accessibility to
books be increased?

It is often not the publisher who makes these decisions, but rather certain special
braille publishers (such as Seedlings or National Braille Press) who work with the
original publisher to create braille or large print versions of books. Some books
have braille overlays along with the print, so that all types of readers can enjoy

Other organizations that provide braille and/or audiobooks include:

(Jan's note: braille when not specifically referring to a proper name, is lower case,
one of many new things I learned when researching this article. This link explains 
the current preference of the majority of the active blindness community.
Q or rather 

for Praise to Charlotte. 
I appreciate that I found my way to PATHS TO LITERACY, which works with all low vision and blind readers. This is hugely helpful to me personally & professionally. 
Thank you.

Charlotte Cushman PATHS TO LITERACY