Monday, February 29, 2016

Will March be a lucky month for you? ~ by Patricia Toht

Do you write or illustrate books for children?

If so, are you a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators? 

If not, you are missing out on a premiere international organization that offers layer upon layer of support to you. From national conventions to local groups to a website teeming with resources, SCBWI is well worth the membership fee. So JOIN! HERE! NOW!

Let's wait a few moments for those who need to enroll...
We can have a little bite and a cup of tea while we wait...

Good! Now that we're all on the same page, let me direct you to another page here, because tomorrow is March 1st. And the first day of March is the day that YOU can apply for an SCBWI grant!

Let's be honest, folks. It's difficult to get your work in front of publishers. It's hard to feel validated in what you do. And it's not often you can receive an endorsement from a respected powerhouse like SCBWI.

Well, should you win an SCBWI grant, you will be achieving a hat trick -- exposure to publishers, validation, and endorsement!

SCBWI's Work-in-Process grants (WIPs) "assist children's book writers and illustrators in the publication of a specific project currently not under contract." SCBWI awards one grant in each of the following categories:

• Picture Book text
• Chapter Books/Early Readers
• Middle Grade
• Young Adult Fiction
• Nonfiction
• Multicultural Fiction or Nonfiction

Submissions guidelines can be found here. (You MUST follow these guidelines -- absolutely no tweaking or fudging allowed!)

Leo the Late Bloomer
by Robert Kraus
and Jose Aruego
If you're a "Late Bloomer" -- those of you over the age of 50 who have not been traditionally published before -- you have an additional opportunity. The Karen Cushman Late Bloomer Award provides the recipient $500 plus free tuition to any SCBWI conference world-wide. Author Karen Cushman published her first children's book, THE MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE, at the age of 53. That book won the Newbery Medal in 1996! 
More details about the award here.

Patient illustrators who have read this far are probably wondering, "What about me? Isn't the group called SCBWI? I as in "illustrator"? I am an illustrator!

No worries! SCBWI has a grant with your name on it, too. Or perhaps I should say, "two." The Don Freeman WIP grant of $1000 (each) is presented to two illustrators annually -- one published illustrator, and one yet-to-be-published. Don Freeman is perhaps best known as the illustrator of the CORDUROY books. Details about the Don Freeman Grant can be found here. Again, follow those directions, folks!

You may only submit ONE piece, so make it your best! Submissions must be made between March 1 and March 31, 2016.  

Don't let time run out! 
Good luck!

Friday, February 26, 2016

World Read Aloud Day by Tina Cho

Read aloud. Change the World.

That is this year’s theme for World Read Aloud Day. According to LitWorld, 793 million people are illiterate. “Imagine a world where everyone can read.”

World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) began with one woman, Pam Allyn, who visited Kenya and saw the extreme poverty and the need children had there to read. She started a nonprofit organization called LitWorld in 2007. Their mission is toimplement on-the-ground innovative solutions to the hard-to-tackle challenge of illiteracy worldwide.” They “work in close and trusting partnerships with locally based, grassroots organizations to build sustainable outcomes for young people around the world.”

“Every year World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) calls global attention to the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories.”

WRAD is one of the events hosted by LitWorld. It began in 2010, and now 82 countries and millions of people online and live in-person take part in this wonderful day that shows the importance of reading.

This year’s WRAD was Feb. 24th, 2016.

Laura Sassi, author

I was privileged to take part in WRAD at my school. We invited two authors for February, and they aren’t strangers to the GROG blog—Laura Sassi and Nancy I.Sanders. They both graciously agreed to Skype with our elementary in South Korea.

Skype with Laura Sassi

First, we Skyped with Laura Sassi, author of Goodnight Ark and Goodnight Manger. This was the first time my school had done an author Skype. In the words of one of the students—it was awesome! Laura read Goodnight Ark to us and commented about writing and illustrating things along the way. She also brought out her skunk puppets! My own students came back to my classroom pumped and eager to write a book. Thank you, Laura!

Nancy I. Sanders, author

Second, we Skyped with Nancy I. Sanders, author of A Pirate’s Mother Goose, Get to Know Bible Biographies, and a host of other books. Our lower elementary made pirate hats and brushed up on our pirate lingo to prepare for Nancy’s Skype session. She read a couple of nursery rhymes from her new pirate book and One Sentence Storybooks. The kids enjoyed asking her questions in both our k-2 and 3-5 sessions. Thank you, Nancy!

Skype with Nancy I. Sanders

In my opinion, you don't need to wait for World Read Aloud Day to read with a class of students. Teachers will be glad to have you come to their class in person or virtually. And it's a great way to get encouraged in your writing, by influencing youngsters to read and write. Have you read to a child lately?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Poetry, promptly!

Poetry, promptly!
by J.G. Annino

Poetry prompts are a way to turn people who don’t
think of themselves as poem makers, into
people who, voila! do write poems.

All it takes is the privacy of your own world
& imagination.
You don’t have to share what you come up with.
But, some day, you may.  Even if you don’t share
it, you will have become a poem maker.

In the meantime, if you are not poem making,
you can enjoy the delicious world of poem reading.

Sylvia Vardell
The queen of organized poetry news online is
poetry editor and anthologist Sylvia
Vardell. She writes & curates an important
blog, Poetry for Children.

In the first months of each year,
Poetry for Children supplies readers
of picture books & writers of them

One is a list of forthcoming children’s poetry
books for the year.

At that link, Sylvia Vardell
asks if anyone is compiling online
a list of new rhyming picture books for this year.
Have at it!

Lee Bennett Hopkins

If you have read a U.S. children’s picture book poetry
anthology or a poetry picture book
about words, language, or libraries, or babies
or a billion other sweet topics in recent years,
it may have had the magic touch of
Lee Bennett Hopkins.

LBH + Renee LaTulippe

If you enjoy reading about the famed poets of
our day and in times past, the conversations
about icons in children’s poetry that LBH &
Renee La Tulippe hold are deep &
uplifting at No Water River.

My first time at No Water River’s interviews
about children’s poets, I felt as if I had attended
an Ivy League seminar, conducted at a Georgia
mountain retreat. Erudite + friendly.

This site is beauty full.
Spend some time hunting about.

Today's Little Ditty

You are in good company with the creative
Michelle Barnes. I know because SCBWI
brought us together at a poetry workshop
last year. And I was already a fan of her
blog of interviews with children's poets.
She hosts a monthly party poetry prompt. 
Join in to read & you will likely stay
to write & submit your lines.

David L. Harrison

David L. Harrison is a prolific picture book author
with many fun poetry picture books to his credit. He is a
Who is going in August, from this group of
 Grogger readers & writers?

And closer to home – actually – in YOUR
home - this light-hearted poet also
conducts two monthly Word of the Month
poetry prompts. One is for your students.

Irene Latham

A wealth of details on poem making is
yours for the reading at
Live Your Poem, created by poet & author
for adults and children, Irene Latham.
Her two poetry picture books that are brand
new in 2016 are WHEN THE SUN SHINES ON

A big chunk of my writing & thinking time
since last summer’s poetry SCBWI
poetry workshop has flowed around
creating a first picture book
poetry collection. On a theme.
It is near done. (No songs & sangria, yet
 - it will soon be looking for a home…)
This manuscript wouldn’t be nearly ready
to submit today if not for many boosts from
around the poetry & publishing map.

Laura Shovan
To find a bibbety-bobbity-boo poem making
moment, one best place to nest is with
editor, poet & debut MG author Laura Shovan’s

And you may want to look for her
2016 novel in verse,
The Last Sixth Grade of

There are an abundance of other
children’s poetry sites to visit.
This is but a quick, incomplete, skim.

Poem readers and writers who are involved
with students of all ages check in online
at a weekly a round-robin of articles
posted at their blogs, collected

A poem is like a warm cloak.

A poem is a bubble of delight.

A poem is a shorter way of expressing deep truths.

I know you can write poems that fit each of the above ideas.

Try it. And keep trying some more…

And then, reward yourself with reading some more.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Kids' Nonfiction and Work-for-Hire ~ by Patricia Toht

On February 9, the world welcomed this book:
The Junior Ranger Activity Book
is available here and here.
It's a book of facts, games, puzzles and fun about the U.S. National Parks -- terrific for traveling families. And a GROGger is one of its authors!

Congratulations to...

Who better to co-write a book about the great outdoors than an author who is so at home there?

I had a chance to speak with Christy about her experiences writing the book:

Congratulations on the JUNIOR RANGER ACTIVITY BOOK, Christy!

Thanks, Patty. I was so pleased to see this book in print after months of working on various electronic and pdf versions of the manuscript. It's available online at the National Geographic website, as well as local booksellers and online sellers.

How did you come to write it? Do you have an agent who arranged it? Did you write a proposal to National Geographic Kids?

I wrote the book under contract with a book packager. There's no author credit given, but I felt fortunate to be part of the team.

How did it happen? I attended a Highlights Foundation nonfiction writing workshop in 2013, and there I learned about the option of working with a book packager. Basically, publishers contract with packagers to produce books they want -- mostly specific nonfiction titles. The packagers find the writers. Lionel Bender, founder of Bender Richardson White (a book packager), presented at the workshop. I was really impressed with his description of the work he does, and it sounded like an excellent option for getting my work published. I sent my resume to him (in England!), and nearly two years after the workshop, he asked if I would be interested in this project.

National Geographic Kids originated the concept for the book, and they asked Bender Richardson White to hire the writers.

So, NGK + BRW = a sweet writing job for CM!

Can you give our readers an insight into work-for-hire?

With work-for-hire, a writer is hired to perform a specific task for a set fee. With a book, the publisher sets the subject, length, word count, etc. Writers can work directly for the publisher or a packager, and contracts vary. My contract specified my hourly rate, deadlines, and deliverables for writing outlines, reports and text. In most arrangements, a writer is paid a fee upfront, rather than receiving royalties.

How did you go about researching the book?

Well, sad to say, I didn't get a travel budget! My research was through books and online sources. National Geographic also has a vast amount of information about national parks, and I utilized that.

What was your favorite part of working on the book?

I loved learning about the history of the parks, and so many odd animal facts! It was a great deal of fun seeing the book come to life as the photographs were collected and the text was incorporated into the books design. I also really enjoyed coming up with quiz questions, and the wrong answers for the multiple choice questions.

Christy's dog, Cheddar, is very supportive!
What draws you to writing about nonfiction?

I like all kinds of writing, but I particularly enjoy turning factual material into fun, interesting stories that appeal to kids. If even one child reads something I wrote and learns from it, how cool is that??

What advice do you have for aspiring authors of kids' nonfiction?

•  If you're interested in doing work-for-hire, check out the educational market. Laura Purdie Salas offers a very helpful book about this market, along with other resources. You can find all of her books for writers here.

• Regardless of what you want to write, I'll share the same advice I've heard more than once:

Know your market -- read, read, READ!

Hone your craft -- write, write, WRITE!

Find a critique group, preferably one with 
other writers in your genre -- revise, revise, REVISE!

Go to conferences -- network, network, NETWORK!

• Enhance your credentials as a subject matter expert through further education in your field, volunteer work, and publishing short pieces in your specialized area.

• Attend conferences that focus on nonfiction, like the 21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference. For insights into the conference, see this GROG post.

• Check out other GROG posts about nonfiction and educational markets by Tina Cho, Sherri Jones River's interview of Miranda Paul, and an interview with Nancy I. Sanders.

Christy with Marc and Abby

Thank you for all of the terrific information, Christy. I can't wait for your Spring, 2017 rhyming picture book! And good luck with your middle grade nonfiction proposal that is making the rounds. 

For more about Christy Mihaly, check out her website here, 
*especially the section for Educational Publishers, where Christy presents her credentials for writing nonfiction.*

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Look at Finding Winnie

by Leslie Colin Tribble

I was an avid reader as a child. My mother was a great reader and I remember spending many happy hours listening to her read to me, or later the two of us companionably together on the couch, each reading our separate books. Books were my life and my very favorite book was my Winnie the Pooh storybook.

I never played with dolls, instead I had a veritable menagerie of stuffed animals which were my constant companions. My parents gave me a copy of A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh and I was enchanted. These characters were more real to me than any person in a book could ever be. I was still enthralled when Disney came out with the first Winnie the Pooh movie when I was nine. I collected the stuffed animals (I still have Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger to this day) and lived and breathed Pooh. I could recite most of the book by heart.

Today, our library finally got Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear, by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall. This is Lindsay Mattick's first book and her gentle, lyrical text was absolutely perfect. Sophie Blackall is an accomplished illustrator and won the 2016 Caldecott Medal for her heart-tugging drawings. I got to it before it even went on the shelves for checkout.  


Here's a review for our Grog Readers.

Finding Winnie starts with a mother and little boy (holding his stuffed bear of course!) in bed with jammies on, getting ready for sleep.

The boy asks for a story, a true story. About a Bear.

I was hooked and the text for the first page wasn't even finished. A story about a Bear, a capitalized Bear? This was my kind of book.

The story goes on to tell the tale of Harry Colebourn, a World War I Army veterinarian from Winnipeg, Canada. On a train station in White River, Canada, Harry saw a man with a bear cub on a rope. The rest, you could say, is history. 

Throughout the book, the narrative is interrupted by conversation between the mother and son, just as any night time reading is. Cole, the boy, asks many questions, as boys are wont to do. 

I love author Lindsay Mattick's quiet text and the way some of her phrases nod to the A. A. Milne classic. She calls the bear Special and Remarkable. 

There are some sweet words pictures in the text. The way she describes Harry and his relationship with Winnie is lovely. She gives us word pictures that are like frosting to the cake of the illustrations.

About halfway through, the story seems to be over and the bed snugglers have a poignant little conversation about the story ending. But the story doesn't end there.

The book goes on to make the connection to Winnie, Christopher Robin, and A. A. Milne. It's a beautiful story with a bit of a twist that I won't give away here.

You'll have to get your own copy and find out for yourself. You'll be glad you did. I'll be shelving this new Winnie next to my vintage copy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Figurative Langauge, The "Author's Tool Belt" & 5th Grade Writers by Kathy Halsey

I have been co-teaching/volunteering as a "Writer-in Residence" with Lydia Tokarz, 5th grade gifted E/LA teacher and her class for 3 months now. Lydia and I hope to turn this experience into a professional book for educators and writers alike. We work together in a language arts block Mondays and Fridays. Today is a sneak peek into the fun 5th graders have writing picture book biographies. Yes, they study mentor texts like us in our project #Write4Real, crafting their own PB bios. 

We have dumped our info into rough drafts and are letting our writing "rise" by revising. Two weeks ago we focused on Figurative Language, a CC standard. ( We ARE fitting Common Core into this project. Our advice: teach from your passion and work the standards around it.) Lydia is so creative, and she made up this chant for her kiddos about Figurative Language. They've recited it for me, acted it out, can identify it in others' work. NOW they are making it real in their OWN writing.

Figurative Langauge Chant

by Lydia Tokarz
An author wears a tool belt of figurative language. 
Figurative language helps a reader visualize.
I say simile, you say..."like or as" 
(right hand, left hand)
I say metaphor, you say..."is" 
(hands on hips)
I say personification, you say..."person"
(motion head to toes-Vanna White style)
I say hyperbole, you say "exaggeration" 
(spirit fingers)
I say idiom, you say "funny expression"
(thumb on nose waving fingers)
I say onomatopoeia, you say "pow, pow!!" 
(Comic character double punch) 

Together in our Readers' Circle we read Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle (Pura Belpre Award, Illustrator) twice and discussed its evocative use of language. 

We always read aloud, and strive to use diverse, recent mentor texts. Next, students paired up, we divvied out books, and dove into language, recording our results on a class poster which delineated poetic devices. Each pair shared their findings, and finally we gathered into critique groups to discover/add these elements to  our manuscripts.

Here are a few of our texts and findings:

Firebird  is filled with great text: exaggeration - "The space  between you and me is longer than forever;" simile - "like the dying sun over the horizon;" metaphor - "You are the sky and clouds and air."

In Shooting for the Moon: The Amazing Life and Times of Annie Oakley they discovered onomatopoeia - "BANG!" and consonance - "the fierce wind whipped."


And suddenly, after another group noted that Balloons Over Broadway's title was itself figurative language, kids began pointing to titles that flanked the room shooting out, "Mrs. Halsey, Mrs. Tokarz, look, Star Stuff, Earmuffs for Everyone! Figurative language is everywhere." What a great "aha" moment for us all. 

Two fun craft books for student writers we'd also like to recommend that our kids enjoy were If You Were Alliteration by Trisha Speed Shakan and her companion book, If You Were Onomatopoeia. 

#Write4Real continues until spring break. We'll keep you informed of our progress. Other amazing moments on our journey thus far include:
  •  a Skype visit with author friend Miranda Paul, One Plastic Bag
  •  student writers receiving email from Walter O'Brien, founder of Scorpion Computer Services and executive producer of the TV series Scorpion. Two fifth grade boys emailed questions to fill in their research holes. 
  • sharing our impressions of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast with author Josh Funk. We may Skype with him this coming Friday. 
My "aha" moment so far: Make writing real, share your passion and your work with students. You teach them and they teach you. It's a win-win for all even if you are still not published.You have so much to share about the TRUE process of writing.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Plot Holes? Resources for Repair by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Plotting is my nemesis. I love to write lyrically. I love to write description. I love writing myself into a hole. I half-hoped that somewhere, I’d find a plot, waiting for me, one that I could just open up and it would fit my story perfectly. It turns out, it’s a bit more work than that. 

I write middle grade novels, I have a rogue YA novel-in-verse lingering on my computer, and I write picture books. In every single case, I have struggled with plot. I knew that plotting was the very thing that could elevate my writing, and so I began to study that which was so difficult for me. The ever-elusive plot. 

I wish I could be a plotter from the beginning, but I usually have to do some brainstorming, then I begin to write. I know where I want to end up, but I don’t always have a complete road map for how I’m going to get there. I’m a pantser, which is why I end up having to go back and do so many revisions—there are always plot missteps or holes along the way. 

This post is not about answers. I don’t have the perfect solution for your plot problems. I'm not peddling "Plot Your Bestseller Novel in 30 Minutes." I'm in the trenches with you. What I do have is a list of resources that I’ve used and some examples. All of these examples are for novels. I have studied plots in picture books as well, but that would be a whole other post.  

Books I Recommend

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

Don’t shy away from this book because it’s for screenwriters. This book is a gem for novel writers because it helps you understand the essentials of good story telling. Snyder goes into explanations about beat sheets and how to break up your story. Check out the website with lots of plotting resources as well. 

Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell

This is a new one I’ve recently read and I love his simplified version of dealing with plot and the essential elements you have to have. It addresses the needs of both the pantser and the plotter. 

The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson 

This book is full of details about plotting. She is the plotting guru. I’ve had friends tell me this book overwhelmed them because it’s definitely nitty gritty details on how to plot. For those of us who would consider ourselves more literary writers, it’s sometimes hard to wade through so much plotting detail. However, this is an excellent book about plotting and one that I definitely recommend. 

Here is a WIP of mine that I took apart while reading The Plot Whisperer

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

This is one I refer to quite a bit. He breaks down plotting techniques and makes them accessible and he understands the great importance of studying mentor texts to gain an understanding of how plotting works. 


Cheryl Klein’s Writer’s Digest Master Plotting Class

I took this course several years ago, and I can't find any upcoming dates for this class. However, her book Second Sight talks about some of the revision techniques she talks about in her online class. 
Be forewarned, you must love spreadsheets (and I do!). It’s a great way to see into an editor’s mind and really be able to delve into your own book. You need to have a book already written and ready to revise to really make this class worth your while. If you didn't have it written, it would be hard to employ the revision techniques. 

Techniques I’ve Used

1) Study books as mentor texts

After reading James Scott Bell’s book Plot and Structure, I realized I needed to study novels in the same way that I study picture book texts. I picked several of my favorite middle grade novels and mapped out their plots, chapter by chapter. Because none of the above resources (with the exception of Cheryl Klein’s class) are really for children’s writers, I wanted to see how the plotting was handled in the kind of books I wanted to write. 

Bell’s technique used index cards for recording the plot of each chapter in the mentor texts.  I recorded a summary of the chapter, characters, setting, ending (did I want to keep reading), and type of chapter it was (action, reaction, setup, deepening). James Scott Bell describes in detail how to do this type of study in his book. 

By walking through this process with books I loved, it helped me see the big picture and how those smaller plot pieces were woven together to make the big picture. 

2) Spreadsheets

Cheryl Klein’s class uses a lot of different spreadsheets. I use spreadsheets because it is another way that you can see the different plot elements of your book in a big picture way, while also keeping track of those little items. There are some elements I’ll always want to track, but some will change depending on the book. For example, for one of my novels, my spreadsheet headers tracked these elements for each scene: 

* Action
* Emotion
* Setting
* Characters in this chapter
* What does the character want?
* Climax
* Ending/Hook for next scene
* Clue revealed (specific to that book)
* Magic element (specific to that book)

The advantage of spreadsheets is that they are easily color-codable and it’s easy to see your whole book on a few pages. 

3) Scrivener

I’ve written a previous blog post about Scrivener, but I always draft my novels in Scrivener. It helps me see things as a whole and I can also easily move parts around, much more so than in Word. 
The index card feature is helpful when trying to have summaries of your story at a glance on your computer. You can also print them off, cut them apart, and physically arrange them just like you would with real index cards. 

4) Plot chart

Remember 5th grade when you plotted stories on a chart that looked like a steep mountain? Another way to map out your story and see where it falls apart is to actually make one of these large charts of your book. After reading The Plot Whisperer, I actually got brave and did this with one of my books. 

5) Shrunken Manuscript

Darcy Pattison teaches how to do this technique here. Basically, it’s another way to see your novel as a whole. It helps identify your weak spots and strong spots. 

Plot On!

I still have a lot to learn about plotting. I’d love to know your favorite books about plot and your favorite techniques for revising for plot. Tell me about it in the comments.