Friday, October 31, 2014

Book Lover's Day ~Suzy Leopold

Do you know that tomorrow, the first Saturday in November, is National Book Lover's Day?

Many of you may know that National Book Lover’s Day is also celebrated on August 9th. This special day, celebrated twice a year, encourages you to select a good book and find a favorite reading spot, while reading away as much of the day as possible.
If you are a bookworm, like me, you don’t need a designated day to celebrate the love of reading.
Grab a tall stack of books!
There are many ways to experience the love of the written word. Here are some creative ways to celebrate reading together with the book lovers in your life.
Happy Fall!
Visit the library
Pull out your library card and become reacquainted with some new and old books. Check out a tall stack of books that includes a variety of genres. The best thing is all of the books are free. Read the calendar for the month of November and note the upcoming events for you and the kids. Having fun isn’t hard if you have a library card.

Visit a local indie book store
Support your community and small businesses and head on over to a local book store. Perhaps you will find a comfy chair to sit in and read for a spell. Many even offer beverages and snacks. Enjoy sipping a cup of hot coffee or tea while reading a novel.

Give the gift of reading
Share the love of words with others by passing along a recommended book or two, to family members and friends. Volunteer to read books to students at a school library and/or the public library. Give books as gifts for birthdays, weddings, Valentine’s Day, baby showers, anniversaries, Hanukkah, Christmas and other holidays and celebrations. Remember to include Book Lover’s Day, as a day to give the gift of reading.

Host a book club
Gather together with friends and join in on stimulating conversations about favorite reads. All members can take turns hosting the gathering and serving refreshments. Vote on book recommendations that the group may want to consider reading.

Reread an old favorite
Drop in on some “old friends” and your favorite characters. Pull a dusty book off of the bookshelf and get lost in the plot of a once favorite book read many years ago. Spend some time rereading your favorite books.

Host a book lover’s party
Invite guests over as you celebrate the love of reading. Dress as a favorite literary character or author. Everyone can enjoy the party by sharing and recommending a book title. Vote on the best costume and the winner receives a prize. Be creative. Consider a subscription for a magazine or a book giveaway; even a gift card for a local indie book store is always appreciated.

Donate a book
Pass on well-loved books to those who are in need. Many libraries accept donations of books. Consider donating books to individuals who live in an independent living/assisted care facility.

Contact a favorite author
Many authors can be contacted through Facebook, Twitter or a website. Take some time to inform an author about the kind of impact they’ve had on your life.

Books are easy to get lost in. Books take the reader to new places. Books share new information. 

Did you know that there are researched based benefits of being a reader?
Readers are more intelligent.
Reading can change your life.
Book interventions benefit 
depression & disabled children.
Reading makes you healthier.
A Day at the Pumpkin Patch
By Megan Faulkner & Adam Krawesky
What book[s] will you devour on Book Lover’s Day? How will you while the way, for hours, lost in a book? Where will you kick back and relax with a great book? Share how you plan to celebrate the love of literacy.
Mr. Scarecrow enjoys reading
Pumpkin Circle The Story of a Garden By George Levenson

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Writing Conference Critiques ~ by Patricia Toht

I'm a writing conference junkie, and I try to attend a few each year. Conferences offer a chance to see old writing friends, meet new ones, and learn from brilliant faculty. Often they also include an option for a manuscript critique. 
Photo by Jeffrey James Pacres, Creative Commons license

I've signed up for a critique at the Illinois-SCBWI conference next month, so now I'm faced with a decision -- which manuscript do I send? Well, I can tell you one thing.  I'm not sending my best work.

Photo by Tim Simpson, Creative Commons license

"WHAT?!" you may think. "Are you crazy?" 

Hold on. 
Let me explain.

The choice of which manuscript to send was easy for the first conference I attended. I only had one story in the stable. 

But soon I had several. For the next conference, I sent my very best. The story my critique group felt was "ready to go". The one I had polished to a fine shine. I imagined an editor seeking me out in the crowd, throwing arms around me, declaring "I WANT YOUR BOOK!"
Photo by Matt Herzberger, Creative Commons license

Yep. Delusional.

The written critique I received was kind, yet not very helpful. I loved my story and I hoped the editor would love it, too. It was well written, but I already knew in my heart that the manuscript was too quiet for the market, and that's exactly the feedback I received. 

Nothing was gained. I had wasted an opportunity because I had mistakenly viewed my critique as a sales vehicle rather than the chance to get feedback from a professional. 

Now, I'm not recommending that you send a first draft. But perhaps you have something that your stuck on? A piece that your critique group can't seem to connect with? A story that could use a fresh set of eyes? Send that! Use this opportunity to learn. Unlike a submission, you are guaranteed to get feedback.

You'll still have your sales opportunity. You can submit to this same editor, as well as the others on faculty, after the conference. But you'll be submitting the new and improved version of your work.

Here are a few more tips on conference critiques from two Illinois-SCBWI reps, Lisa Bierman and Sara Shacter:

• Bring a copy of your manuscript with you to a face-to-face critique. And come with questions.

• When talking with the editor/agent, communicate that you are wide open to advice (even if it's hard to hear!). It's all about having an open dialogue.

• A written critique is often inserted into your conference folder. Resist the temptation to look at it immediately! Instead, focus on learning as much as you can from the day's sessions.

• Tuck a written critique away for a few days and come back to it. Looking at it later, it won't sting as much and it will be easier to observe it objectively.

• Keep a copy of your pre-conference manuscript. After you've made suggested changes, look at both versions to see what works.

• If you receive a helpful critique, let the person know! Thank you cards are good.

Do you have any other conference critique advice to share, GROG readers?

Monday, October 27, 2014


By Janie Reinart
With a hoot, a holler,and a howdy do, a lovely dinner started the festivities at the Nonfiction for New Folks Conference (NF4NF) in Fredericksburg,Texas.  

Pat Miller

At this four day event, our own GROGer, Pat Miller lassoed us up tight in southern hospitality. 

Now here comes the excitin' part. Pat created, hosted, and presented at the conference with her stellar faculty.

Peggy Thomas

NF4NF had it all covered, from the esteemed author of the Anatomy of Nonfiction, Peggy Thomas to the entertaining singing Zoologist, Lucas Miller!

Lucas Miller, Steve Swinburne, Damon Dean

Now you can just start to get a kinda pretty picture up inside your head about the sixteen main power sessions we had. 

We commenced to havin' a whole heap of fun with critique groups, an ice cream social (peach pecan),Texas BBQ, line dancing, prize drawings,and an assignment while exploring Fredericksburg.

Here are some golden nuggets from the faculty

Pat Miller: "Use layered text such as charts, tables, graphs, timelines, diagrams, and text boxes in your nonfiction writing."  

Peggy Thomas:
"Infuse an image system into your story." Peggy subtly wove in agricultural words in her book, Farmer George.

Kristen Fulton: Recommends having three primary sources, two secondary sources and one other source like the internet.

Steve Swinburne

Steve Swinburne: "Devise a photo want list for your story. Think ahead. Scout locations. So shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. Digital has made life easy." 

Kelly Loughman: "If you've got the hook, you've got the book." Know thy publisher. Make sure your story is a good fit.

Kristi Holl

Kristi Holl: Assess where you are in your writing career. Keep track of how you are using your time. "Time is like a walk-in closet. If you keep pushing things in and not taking things out, it will explode."

Lucas Miller: Your story/song should "be compelling and entertaining with an emotional impact to make an enjoyable experience with science."

The Hill Country University Center, built in 2010, is home base.
This is what Arlene C. Graziano, a conference attendee had to say about the conference, 

"Informational, entertaining, inspiring, and approachable presenters spoke, sang, counseled and chatted. (A few danced, but that's another story.) Pat welcomed us with great food, facts, and fun."

Pat, we all are a fixin' to say,"Thank you, Ma'am, for a boot scootin', rip roarin' great time."

Friday, October 24, 2014

Come on Over to the Wild Side! Some Books about Nature for Children by Leslie Colin Tribble

There are lots of books about nature and nature education on the market.  It's hard to choose just a few to write about.  Instead, what I thought I'd do is list some authors who have written books about teaching children about nature.  Most of these I found at my local library, so you should be able to find them too.

Jim Arnosky:  I love just about everything Jim Arnosky has written.  He writes and illustrates his own books and is a self-taught naturalist and artist.  He's published 132 of his own books and illustrated many others.  I love his "Crinkelroot" series - an gnome-like person guides readers in learning about plants, animals, insects, tracks and general observation skills.  All Jim Arnosky's books should have a place on your nature bookshelf.  Some other great titles are Rabbits and Raindrops, Hook, Line and Seeker and Wild Tracks. His latest book is Tooth and Claw:  The Wild World of Big Predators.

Diana Hutts Aston:  Some of my favorite one topic nature books are An Egg is Quiet, A Rock if Lively, A Butterfly is Patient and A Seed is Sleepy. These books, incredibly illustrated by Sylvia Long, inspire readers with the amazing beauty of the natural world.  Children will embrace the sense of joy and wonder created by the author and illustrator.

Henry Cole:  I really like Jack's Garden and I Took A Walk.  Jack's Garden is a fun and beautiful read to interest children in the whole garden process.  It would be a great book to read before starting your own family or classroom garden.  I Took A Walk has detailed illustrations on gatefold pages of various habitats. The job of the reader is to locate within the illustrations the animals which might live in that habitat.  A good parent and child read together.

Nicola Davies:  This author has a couple of beginning nature study books including A First Book Of Nature and Outside Your Window:  A First Book of Nature.  These are easy to read books that open a child's eyes to the wonders of nature.  Nicola has also written books about owls, sharks, and even microbes.

I like nature books which help me show my own interest in the outdoors to children.  I love books with gorgeous full color illustrations and extra tidbits about whatever animal or plant we're investigating.  I gravitate to books about my own area, but also love to introduce children to the wild creatures from other lands and habitats.  

Any books about the "unmentionables" of the wild world will be a hit with children, especially boys.  Nicola Davies' book, Poop:  A Natural History of the Unmentionable is a great read, as are books about the "weird" of nature.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to books about nature.  I'm always expanding my personal library of nature books.  Which titles or authors are your favorites?  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

PiBoIdMo - Picture Book Idea Month- WARNING: Pie Might Be Involved by Kathy Halsey

No matter how you say it phonetically, "Pie. Bow. Id. Mow." it's time to sharpen those pencils and minds (wait, that would hurt) for a super challenge, Picture Book Idea Month! Find all the info you need at Tara Lazar's blog/website.

This is my second year for the challenge and this year Tara is even including instructions on how a classroom of kids could signup. What fun for all! 
"November?"you say. Yes, we are all busy come November, but one of last year's suggestions fueled a story that snagged me an agent...just saying...

Here's the 411...

1. It's' a daily challenge to come up with a new idea for 30 straight days.
2. There are great prizes, fabulous camaraderie, and it's free.
3. On Tara's blog, writing luminaries host and share their process to stay energized and find new ideas. You can hang out with Molly Idle, Aaron Reynolds & others!
4. Sign up is October 25-Nov. 4 here

Here's are tips to keep you organized...

1. AM is the best time for me to do this before the day takes shape. I always feel accomplished once I've written.
2. Blog posts come via my email and I create a folder for them in mail so I can always refer to them later.
3. I use a graphic organizer for each day to cover these areas: Doodle, Date, Idea, Title, Concept/Storyline (no more than a graph unless I'm on a roll), Themes that fit story.

4. No worries if you can't fill all the requisite days or spots on your graphic organizer! Some days will flow better than others. Just keep up momentum!
#173132360 /
1. New writing buds.
2. New discipline. 
3. Oh, and maybe pie...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Howlingly Good Halloween Picture Books ~ by Patricia Toht

The costumes! The candy! The crazy tricks and treats! What's not to love about Halloween?
Okay, perhaps it's kids wound tighter than tops. Tummy aches. Temper tantrums from the sugar surge.

Well, you could try to soothe those sweet souls with a book break. Here are five of my favorite Halloween read-alouds, beginning with a story that will wiggle out some of that energy and ending with one to settle them down for bed. (I know. Wishful thinking.)

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams and Megan Lloyd. A fearless little old lady sets off down the road, but is soon pursued by shoes, pants, a shirt, gloves, a hat and a pumpkin head that shouts BOO! Let your kids wiggle, shake, and stomp as the action builds, culminating with a surprise visitor at the door.

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler. 
Poor, klutzy witch. She just can’t seem to hang on to her things. And every time she stops to retrieve an item she's dropped, someone else climbs onto her broom. A rhyming treat!

Boris and Bella by Carolyn Crimi and Gris Grimly. Sloppy Bella and tidy Boris are feuding neighbors. Can ruined party plans bring them together? The story is peppered with puns and ghoulish humor, and the fiendish illustrations will make you chuckle. 

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown. 
Is something following Jasper Rabbit? Could it be creepy carrots? Or is his imagination getting the best of him? Oh, those carrots can be so clever…

Hush, Baby Ghostling by Andrea Beaty and Pascal Lemaitre. 
It’s time for baby ghostling to go to sleep. But he’s afraid of the light and little boys who might be lurking in the closet. Mama ghost calms his worries in this twist on bedtime rituals.

Had I not vowed to stop at a handful of picture books, I might have included a couple more like Where's My Mummy?, another Carolyn Crimi gem with John Manders, or the new release Not Very Scary by Carol Brendler and Greg Pizzoli. (See what I did there? Snuck two more in!)

What are your favorite Halloween picture books, GROG readers?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lessons from SCBWI's Letters and Lines

By Leslie Colin Tribble

Have you attended a big state or regional SCBWI conference?  If you haven't, you should.  It's a great boost to your writing career and your emotional stability as a writer.  Sitting in a room with hundreds of other people of similar goals, interests, frustrations and desires can be a real game changer for anyone who hasn't crossed that threshold of actually referring to themselves as a writer.

I've been a member of SCBWI for three years and finally went to my first conference last month.  I did attend the Rocky Mountain chapter's Big Sur in the Rockies last year, but I was such a newbie and so completely overwhelmed by the experience I pretty much came home and crawled under a boulder and didn't write much of anything for another year.

Rocky Mountain  (Colorado/Wyoming)Finally I dug myself out of my self-inflicted non-writing hole and decided that, yes indeed, I did want to pursue my writing.  I realized it was "OK" for me to refer to myself as a writer (in answer to that dreaded question, "What do you do?"  which is invariably followed by, "What do you write?")

If I was going to call myself a writer, then I also decided I'd better start doing something to improve that writing.  So I made the leap and registered for the Letters and Lines conference held in September in Denver.  After my dismal beginning at Big Sur in the Rockies, I knew I would have to engage and actually be an active participant in the whole weekend.  So I spent the extra money and registered for a manuscript critique by an agent/editor as well as the picture book intensive.  In for a penny, in for a pound!

2014 Calendar Image by Bobbi Collier-Morales

I dithered over which manuscript to submit for the critique.  I had plenty to chose from - all in desperate need of a professional thrashing to get to where they needed to be.  Finally I decided upon my favorite piece.  I'd submitted it to several agents but had gotten only one helpful reply - "I like this quiet story, but just picked up one very similar."  Other than it being a quiet story, I couldn't for the life of me see what was wrong with it.  So that's the one I chose for the critique.  And of course I waited so long in choosing I nearly missed the submission deadline  - I had to pay extra for two-day mailing.

Then I decide to apply for a travel grant.  But of course, I procrastinated so long I again, had to pay extra for expedieted mailing.  This was becoming a rather spendy proposition, this attending a writing conference!

Since I was spending a good bit of money to attend the conference, I wanted to go well-prepared.  I asked the other GROGGERS what I should do before I go and got some great advice.  I also re-read Pat Miller's article, Ten Ways to Prepare for Your Upcoming Conference.  I took copies of other manuscripts, just in case I heard those magic words, "So let me see what else you're working on." In the evenings I jotted some notes of who I'd spoken to that day plus I wrote a few thank you's to various folks.  You'll get more out of a conference if you do a little prep work before you go.

SCBWINow it's no small effort for me to attend an event like this.  I live in northwestern Wyoming where the roads are few and we measure drive time in hours, not miles.  My closest SCBWI state event would actually have been a three hour drive north to Bozeman, Montana, which was on the same weekend as Letters and Lines.  But I knew I needed the push (kick in the pants?) that a bigger event would provide so I drove eight hours in the opposite direction.  I did have an added bonus - my father lives just 15 minutes from where the conference site so at least I didn't have the extra expense of a motel stay, and I got to visit my 87 year old dad.  Win!

The first morning of the event, I gave myself a pep talk as I entered the parking lot.  "You must talk to people."  "You must engage."  "No hugging the back wall."  "Sit up front."  "Just because you haven't been published you're still a writer."  The trepidation was immense as I walked up to the registration desk.

But the wonderful Kim Tomsic was behind the desk and when I said my name, she raised her head and said, "Oh, you came to Big Sur!"  It was the salve my introvert's heart needed, those kind words, that recognition.  It made me 'one of them' as opposed to being an outsider.  It would be okay, I belonged here.

I learned a lot from Letters and Lines.  I learned from key note speaker, Avi, that even though he's published over 70 children's books, he still thinks his beginning writing is awful and why would anyone want to read such drivel?  I learned great tips about writing for children's magazines and how to properly pace a story.  I also learned the magic of creating place and some great ways to do that. Each session was helpful and deepened my understanding of the writing process.  And they were energizing - I was excited about writing and trying some of these new techniques.

My manuscript critique was inspiring.  I met with agent Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary and she was very positive with all her remarks.  I told her this was my very first professional critique so she carefully went over her process with me.  I told her about chosing this piece because I had no idea what was wrong with it, and she replied that she didn't think there really was anything wrong with it, that SHE LIKED IT.  That blew the top right off my writing world.  It was an affirmation that I am a decent writer, that I can produce quality work.  I totally understood that her liking it didn't necessarily mean it was marketable, but it was the confidence booster I needed to back up my self-proclaimed writer status.

The picture book intensive was with Carter Hasegawa, Candlewick Press.  Now this was an experience requiring nerves of steel, immeasurable amounts of self-esteem and heroic amounts of yoga self-calming techniques.  We sat in a circle, read our manuscripts outloud and opened our fragile, creative writing egos to critirque.  I read a very raw, hurriedly written piece that had been rattling around my brain all summer.  The intensive was magic.  It was amazing to see how other's reacted to my story, how they saw things I hadn't noticed.  I was told to develop an aspect of the story I really didn't even know was in it.  The intensive was worth every penny.

So my very first SCBWI regional event was a very positive experience.  In fact, I'm now thinking about going to other events, which is actually terrifyingly exciting.  I guess I am a writer, after all!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


It's time to  “work out” your writing muscles. Take a deep cleansing breath and stretch

This form is called a "copy change." 
CHOOSE a favorite song refrain, poem, or paragraph. Borrow another writer's structure to use as the skeleton/scaffolding for your own work. 

CHANGE the words in the poem that are in bold print. REPLACE with your own words using the scaffolding that is already in place. Try the poem,The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams.
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

 For more writing inspiration share your stretches with us. We will be happy to post them.