Thursday, June 30, 2016

Just. One. Book. A Ticket to Ride.

Greenville Junior/Senior High School and Indian Valley Academy share this library space.
 By Janie Reinart

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” 
~ Anna Quindlen

The ancient Greeks inscribed "this is a healing place for the soul" above the entrance to a library in Thebes. I can't imagine not having a library or books.

I remember my first library card. The excitement of signing my name. The joy of searching shelves and selecting books to take home! My library card was my ticket to ride! To this day, I don't leave home without it! 

When I saw the above picture and a post from Margaret Elysia Garcia about Just.One.Book, I contacted Margaret for an interview.

Janie: Margaret, how are you connected/involved with the schools that need books?
My voracious reader, Paloma, starts 7th grade in the fall. I was thinking about how she only really goes to libraries when we go see my father in law in Santa Monica or my family in Whittier, CA. 

It occurred to me that going to school where she does, she might never have a library experience on campus. Also my son, who begins 9th grade in the fall, often used the library space for study hall last year (I tutored him in English ---I’m 17 year ex-English adjunct faculty). 

Every time I walked in there I was depressed. There weren’t any books on the shelves we could ever refer to for anything and even if there was, the public unified school district treated the antiquated books like they were gold and would not let students touch them! 

Janie: What made you jump into action?

I asked last year and the year before that. The two schools that occupy the building have a new MOU (Memo of Understanding---basically spells out what the two small schools can do) and partnership going into Fall 2016. 

I figured since so many changes were being implemented, that something was needed to bring them (the schools) together---getting kids to read and become readers who ENJOY books—would be something they’d have to be crazy not to get behind.

Janie: How did the idea for #justonebook evolve?
I’m a writer as are many of my friends. Many of us have books. Some write YA. I originally thought to just augment the ancient books with a few 100 books from writers I know or am aware of. I didn’t expect to get retweeted by Neil Gaiman! That was awesome! (Also I’m a huge Sandman fan so part of me is just fangirl elated).

Janie: Will this be an annual event?
Some publishers wrote us and I sent them emails about future donations of their upcoming titles. I think this will evolve. I plan on adding a page to my blog just about just one book and finding other libraries in need to be highlighted on it.

Janie: Do you have a team set up to catalogue books?

The old library we found out this week was never digitized. Wow. We have a non-profit in mind who offered to help us set up a system in August so we are going to follow up on that this week. 

The school district has a system in the other libraries but never implemented one at the closed library. So we can try to get on board with that one too, but because one of the schools is not a district school and because the district tends towards censorship we thought an independent system might be the best way to go.

Janie: Do you have enough bookshelves? 

No! We are looking for donations of three book cases. We want to create an “L” shape in the room to make a space just for the junior high school books with bean bag chairs and a rug to look inviting. 

Our middle school junior high boys tend to be non-readers. We’re hoping between comics, graphic novels and an inviting space, we might be able to change that around.

Janie: Do you plan to have a community celebration when the school library is ready with the new books? 

Yes we do! We plan to have a party when it’s done. Sort of like an open house and invite the postal worker ladies who have been so super cool about this and all the extra work they’ve been doing.

 Janie: What else would you like to share with our readers about your project/ community/ schools/ students?
We live in a county with the highest opiate death rate, a high suicide rate of young people, high teen pregnancy rate, a high number of kids who leave traditional school for charter because of being “different” in whatever way you want to define different—gay kids, introverted kids, too intellectual kids, not into football enough kids—I think of books and ideas as a way to preserve and save ourselves. 

I was so happy to get donations of LGBTQ youth oriented books in particular because we have some gay kids who don’t even know that their experience of feeling isolated and alienated in school is happening all over the world.  

My daughter—one of the only Chicanas in school and my son have been told by Trump supporters to ‘go back to where you came from” (which in both my kids cases would be here because they were born here—my husband and I being from Los Angeles). 

In the neighboring town of Quincy where Feather River College (community college) is –locals sometimes have gone full throttle racist when African American students go downtown. I hear sweet kids say stupid things about Asian Americans too. I just figured a little diverse information could go along way in helping stem rural American racism, sexism, and homophobia.

I think so many of our kids are sweet loving kids. I’m hoping that books help support that. And DVDs And music. Because it‘s the same. There’s only one theater up here and it’s one town over and shows maybe 1/3 of the movies that other places get. 

The only radio stations (other than the cool one I work for) play religious music or bad country western or both. (I like the good kind).

The thing is—there are no jobs up here. When these kids graduate from high school, they leave town to find work or go to college. I want them equipped. I don’t want them to just look like bumpkins. I want them to thrive. And it goes beyond the small mindedness of racism, sexism, etc. I also want them prepared for science and technology. We have kids we’ve graduated that don’t know how to use an email account.

But we also have kids who can run ranches. Indian Valley Academy had an alumni this May graduate Harvard. All things are possible with support and great reading material.

Janie: Will you accept gently used books? 

Yes, we’ve been taking them.

Janie: Any quotes from kids about the project?
One quote I hear over and over again as the kids themselves are helping to open the boxes:

“I want to read this!”and 

“This looks so cool! This looks so interesting!” 
 and best yet,

“People sent these? For us? They want us to have books?” 

They cannot even fathom the generosity of complete strangers. I love that they now have a hope that in a world where the news tells them every night how violent and horrible our world has become that they know for a fact that complete strangers can also be kind—and to never judge.

Margaret is spreading the wealth and said, "We are collecting all over flow books for two more high schools in the area, one 30 minutes away and one an hour away. The teachers from those schools will come to us next week."

If sending donations during the month of July (when school is closed) please send to:

Library Project/Margaret Garcia
PO Box 585
Greenville, CA 95947

You can reach Margaret at her email: 

Thank you, Margaret. Thank you readers. You have set in motion a beautiful plan to connect kids and books. You are giving them a ticket to ride and a healing place for their soul.

Monday, June 27, 2016

What's in a Picture Book Title? ~By Suzy Leopold

What do you consider to be the most important elements of a children’s picture book?
  • A fantastic first line that hooks the reader.
  • An outstanding plot with a problem that needs solving.
  • Main characters that are likable or touch a reader with emotion.
  • A story ending that is unexpected or satisfying.
Yes, these and more are important to a well crafted manuscript. 

What about the element of a title? 
Writers don’t always give much thought to a title. Titles are sometimes overlooked. An outstanding title adds and enhances a well written manuscript.

Editor Richard Jackson said, “Next to finding a jacket artist, I think titling is the hardest thing to do in children’s books.”

We all know the cliché, “Never judge a book by its cover”. Yet many books are chosen by a reader based on the title.
The title is the first thing a reader, an editor, a librarian and a buyer see. A title is like an advertisement for a book and it better be good. It needs to capture the reader’s attention. A title is a selling point.

Catchy titles determine if the book comes off the library shelf for checkout or purchased from a bookstore.

Since titles are usually short . . . They should be easy to write.

The title of a book is an important element. At what point the title is selected is not important.

Perhaps you wrote the title first as it was your inspiration for your story. Does a title come together as your story idea evolves?  Maybe you chose a title once your manuscript is in the final stages. 

A title of a book should:
  • be catchy
  • express mood
  • be engaging
  • be fun
  • give hints 
  • introduce a character
  • be clear
  • be easily remembered
  • be snappy
  • tease
  • be concise
  • be unique
  • create suspense
 Titles that give a hint of what’s to come without giving away the ending offer intrigue.

Some titles are one word titles. Some titles are longer. There are even subtitles for books.

Since titles are not copyrighted, you can choose a title for your story that someone else may have selected. Before you choose a title for your book make sure there aren’t hundreds of others like yours. Think about a reader who is searching through numerous titles that are exactly like or similar to yours . . . A reader may give up on the search before coming to your title and your book is overlooked.

Take time to consider a title for your story. After all, you took time, weeks and even years, to write your manuscript, revise, and polish. 

Good writers study picture books as mentor texts. Study recently published picture books and focus on the titles. Write down several titles. Study them some more. What do you notice? Are the titles kid appealing? 
Now it’s time for you to write down several titles. Play with the language. Use alliteration. How about rhythm and rhyme? Does the title give a sense of intrigue? The shorter the better.

When giving and receiving critiques, do not overlook the title of a manuscript. Give it some thought. Is the current title working and enhancing the story?

Titles are important and readers do judge a book by its cover. Think about enticing the reader with a winning title. Is it the best it can be? Spend some time with your title and get it just right.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Picture Book as "Object?" Yes, THE STEAM of PBs by Kathy Halsey

We picture book writers have probably analyzed our genre in a gazillion ways. But, have you thought of the picture book as an "object?" If we examine a picture book in its totality via the STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art Math) lens, we notice that the "book as object" is

  • engineered
  • produced
  • designed
  • and is a multimodal format.
My own educational process in mining the picture book as object began with Megan Dowd Lambert's groundbreaking professional title READING PICTURE BOOKS WITH CHILDREN, 2015, Charlesbridge. Megan, a mom of five, is a multitalented authors/educator with an MA in Children's Literature from Simmons and almost a decade at the Eric Carle Museum. She knows the picture book and created a new approach for storytime that educators, librarian, AND writers can adapt for their own purposes. In librarian parlance, this book is "E," for "everybody" connected to children's literature.

By studying the format via the "engineer-design" process, students of all ages will better see why we librarians have designated the picture book for "everybody," also. The book or "paratext" may become a more significant subject to older students and educators across the curriculum via this point of view. STEM and STEAM are currently educational buzz words that rightly belong to books, especially picture books with their specific format of 32 pages, illustrations, end papers, back/front matter, and typography. 
For Educators/Librarians (Visiting Authors, too)
  • Megan created/field-tested "The Whole Book Approach,"   during her Carle Museum tenure. (Peruse the SLJ article here.)  
  • Instead of using storytime for "artificial" themes such as zoo animals or holidays, invite children to look at picture books as museum pieces that tell a story. 
  • Ask questions such as: "What's going on in this picture?" and "What makes you say that?" Then wait for the response. (based on the Visual Thinking Strategies of Housen and Yenawine)
  • Take time to explore/examine a book's paratexts, the material beyond art & main text, before you read aloud. Children will be fascinated by what covers, jackets, endpapers, and front matter lend to the totality of story.
  • Expect these strategies may take time. However, interruption of the story proper can be a form of engagement by your audience as well as a great way to approach questions!
For Picture Book Writers
  • Dive into this book and use it for the craft of writing especially if you are a writer only, not an illustrator. After studying this for my craft, I realized I need to trust the design layout as well as the illustrator to say what my words may not.
  • Use the "Glossary of Book and Storytime Terminology" for design terms that may be unfamiliar. (Do you know the terms "knockout type," "recto," and "intraiconic?")  
  • Much of "show don't tell" for which we writers strive can happen with the physical elements of typography, use of the gutter and other physical book constructs.
  •  Here are two examples:
      • Notice the font size changes in BULLY by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. As a writer, she doesn't need to say the bull yelled or when the character changes his approach to the other animals. Typography does it for her.
      • Or examine Chris Raschka's YO YES for character change and development. Placement of characters on opposite sides of the gutter and then on the same side of the gutter show us visually the progression of friendship. No words are needed. 
Megan Dowd Lambert @ NESCBWI

I can honestly say that READING PICTURE BOOKS WITH CHILDREN has freed me as a writer to approach my manuscripts differently. I can let my words breathe better on the page knowing the "codex" (look in the glossary...) will also project my plot to readers. And, as an educator and speaker, I can draw readers and audiences into the picture book world in an engaging new way!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Introverts Attending Conferences: Words of Advice ~ Christy Mihaly

As the summer conference season gets underway, this post offers some conference tips and techniques for introverts—ways to optimize your experience in what may be a challenging forum.
Charles Dickens, by Herbert Watkins

At first you may think, isn't a writer's conference something of an oxymoron? I mean, isn't writing a solitary activity? 

Yes and no. Most writing requires time alone. But improving your writing, and getting a book published, require interacting with others who love writing: illustrators, editors, agents, and authors willing to share what they've learned. That's what conferences and workshops are for. So what's an introvert to do?

Recommended reading for all
Okay, yes, I realize some writers are extraverts. These folks thrive in crowds, get pleasure from promoting themselves, and are otherwise somewhat incomprehensible to those of us who revel in retreating to our quiet writing corners. 
[Note to Extraverts: This post isn't for you, and you need read no further – unless of course you’re interested in better understanding your introverted friends and colleagues.] 

Being introverted is not the same as being shy, or anti-social; introverts can be just as friendly and fun-loving as anyone else. The difference is that for an introvert, socializing comes at a cost – it’s tiring. 
(For an excellent further explanation of introversion versus extraversion, I recommend Susan Cain’s 2012 book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.)  So, here are a few introvert-friendly tips for getting conference-ready, and enjoying yourself to the fullest once the conference gets going.

1. Before committing: Research and select with care. Conferences come in many flavors. Where you go should depend on what you're looking for. You'll focus on different types of conferences if your goal is meeting an agent, working on craft, or meeting more people writing nonfiction, for example.  (There's a list of GROG reviews of various conferences at the end of this post.) But overall, I’d break all these writerly events into three main categories: national conferences; medium-sized or specialized conferences; and smaller writing retreats. 
Large (SCBWI)!   

National conferences: Think large, crowded halls, loud voices filling packed dining rooms, anxious people thronging around the big editors and agents  . . .  you get the picture. The advantages of large gatherings include the opportunity to meet lots of people in the industry and hear top-notch speakers and panels. If you’re an introvert, though, there are obvious disadvantages. This is not your natural scene. Crowds make you tired and sap your energy. It might be well worth it, but you’ll need to psych yourself up for the event, and plan for some recovery time afterwards.

Medium (Falling Leaves)
Regional/specialized conferences: Regional conferences and meetings organized around a particular subject or genre tend to be smaller (though sizes will vary). I've attended conferences focusing on nonfiction and on picture books, for example. Like the big national gatherings, these usually offer keynote speeches, specialized panels and instructional workshops. They often include the opportunity for one-on-one critiques, round tables or open-microphone events or pitch competitions. Remember that SCBWI regional conferences are open to people from outside the region, so don't feel limited to your own geographical niche.
Medium (WOW)
Writing retreats or workshops: Smaller in size, these retreats (sometimes called "master classes") are often held in rustic locations and may offer quiet time for contemplation or writing. In this more casual atmosphere, attendees have the opportunity for relaxed socializing with other writers, editors and agents, walks in the woods, and often writing time too. The one-on-one critiques often run longer: 30 or 45 minutes. And did I mention there's less noise and more time for leisurely conversations? 
Small (Picture Book Boot Camp)
Evaluate your options. Try to talk with others who have attended an event you're considering, or see if you can convince a writing or illustrating friend to attend a conference or workshop with you. But wherever you go, never fear—lots of other conference-goers will be in the Introvert Boat with you.

2.  When registering: Some ideas to consider.
      Sign up for individual critiques. If they're available, they're almost always worth the price. You'll have a designated time period with an expert to discuss your manuscript. This is much more conducive to a productive conversation than one of those on-the-fly interrupted hallway exchanges with your Dream Agent, trying to shout above the crowd.

     Volunteer to help. Many conferences, especially at SCBWI, rely upon volunteers to keep things running smoothly. Volunteering is a great way to meet people, including workshop presenters, and get involved with the organization. 

·      Think about requesting a single room. Some retreats have limited space and will assign roommates. If you really think you’d rather have a single room, ask whether it’s available and how much extra it would cost – and consider springing for the extra. How much is your sleep—and sanity—worth, anyway?

3. Getting ready to go: be prepared.

Print up something to hand to people you meet. Maybe it's your business card. Or you might prepare bookmarks or postcards (especially if you illustrate). When you're momentarily stuck for the next witty thing to say, it's handy to be able to hand over a card with your contact information printed up.

·      Practice your pitch. Don’t be trying to invent a summary of your latest work in progress on the spot. Take the time before the conference to write down a quick synopsis of your manuscript. Turn that into a witty pitch. And use it when people ask you (as they will) what you’re working on.

4. Enjoying the conference: Techniques and Tips.
·      Take photos. This is an old introvert’s trick. Assign yourself the job of taking photos of your group, or of people you meet (famous or not!). Offer to take photos of speakers during the panels, and offer to email photos that you take to the people you’ve photographed. Most folks will appreciate this. And it makes meeting people a snap.

  Review the program, and plan for breaks. With some conferences, you'll sign up for small group sessions ahead of time. With others, you'll choose when you arrive. Either way, you'll want to be flexible. But study the schedule, and determine how you'll get the down time you need. An early-morning walk, a work-out in the gym, or a quick reading break in your room can rejuvenate you for the next big group gathering.

        Get offsite: If there are one or two people you’d like to get to know better, see if they’re interested in going to dinner or lunch or drinks off site. This may not always be possible, but can be a nice option if the group scene is a little overstimulating, especially during a longer conference. 

FOCUS on your GOAL: Set yourself a manageable goal for the conference. (And no, “sign a three-book contract” is not a manageable goal.) Maybe it’s “meet Edith Editor,” or “make two new contacts who might want to start a critique group,” or maybe it’s “figure out how to get that manuscript unstuck.” Focus on your main goal, and don’t worry if you aren’t the loudest, most rowdy writer in the room. 

That said, be open to the possibilities that arise. The best part of conferences is meeting new (or old) writing friends. Because, really, no matter how much you may love your solitary writing, nobody can write alone all the time! 


In compiling the list below, I've confirmed that GROG writers really do believe in conferences. Here are a few prior posts providing conference reviews and other conference-related information:
21st Century Children's Nonfiction Conference (T. Burleson & C. Mihaly)
Asian Festival of Children's Content (T. Cho)
Highlights Foundation workshop (J. Annino)
Library Conventions (K. Halsey)
Making a memorable author card (J. Reinart)
NF4NF (Nonfiction for New Folks) (J. Reinart)
Jane Yolen's Picture Book Boot Camp (C. Mihaly)
Rhyming Picture Book Revolution (S. Leopold)
SCBWI Florida (J. Annino)
SCBWI Illinois (P. Toht)
SCBWI National (Los Angeles) (K. Halsey & P. Toht)
SCBWI New England 2016 (K. Halsey)
SCBWI New England 2014 (C. Mihaly & P. Vaughan) 
SCBWI Northern Ohio (K. Halsey) 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

What Makes a Book Award Worthy? By Tina Cho

I had the privilege of attending one day at the Asian Festival of Children's Content in Singapore. One exceptional session was "What Makes a Book Award Worthy?" The moderators were Dr. Murti Bunanta from Indonesia, Leonard Marcus from the U.S., and Deborah Ahenkorah from Ghana.

Maybe back in each writer's mind is a tiny thought--could this story win an award someday? How do judges choose? I'd like to share my notes from this session. One of the main questions was "Why have awards?" And then "What makes a book award worthy?"

Leonard Marcus, Dr. Murti Bunanta, Deborah Ahenkorah

Dr. Murti Bunanta is a children's literature specialist and President of the Society of the Advancement of Children's Literature, a researcher, folklorist, and an international award-winning author of 50 books. She has judged many international illustrations competitions. 

She said that awards make writers happy and make them want to continue their work. If your book is even published in another country, that in itself is an award-- that it is being recognized by another country! She said make a book worthy for the readers, not just for a competition. A fun fact about Murti: She has 30,000 books in her house!

Leonard Marcus is a historian, writer, book critic, exhibition curator, and author/editor of more than 25 award-winning books. He teaches at NY University and the School of Visual Arts. 

Leonard said that a hundred years ago there were no awards. Then in 1922 the first Newbery Medal in the U.S. was created by librarians. Children back then were an important group, but they weren't allowed in the library with their sticky fingers. Most immigrant children weren't getting a good life. So three reasons for having an award:

  1. To get 1st rate writing for kids and to rethink the value of kids' books.
  2. To give parents an indication of the best books for their children.
  3. To build a nation culturally--Previously America looked to England and Europe for children's books.
Today books are given awards to correct misconceptions and fill in gaps. For example, nonfiction children's books have been sparse in previous years. So the Sibert Medal was created in 2001 for informational children's books. There was a gap in African American literature. The Coretta Scott King Award was created in 1969 at the ALA Conference. And so on. 

Leonard also said awards try to correct misconceptions. For example, there's a misconception that elaborate pictures are better than simple pictures. However, Eric Carle, one of the best-known illustrators, has never won a prize. Another misconception is that photography isn't an art form. Or that short stories are less significant than novels.

Deborah Ahenkorah of Ghana is the founder of the Golden Baobab Prize and CEO of African Bureau for Children's Stories, a publishing house. The Baobab Prize is now going on its seventh year. She created this award because of the gap in African American books for her country. She wants stories to represent the people who read them. She says the reasons for a book award is to have recognition, money, and to get people to create. If you are a citizen of Africa and have a children's story in English, do check out the Golden Baobab Prize!

Lastly, now that you might be wondering if your manuscript might fill in a gap for an award, I want to leave you with Leonard Marcus's criteria questions for an award-winning book.

1. What is the author trying to do?

2. How well has the author accomplished the goal?

3. Is this book appropriate to the audience?

4. Has the author brought something to the book that is a fresh, new experience?

Leonard Marcus was Chief Judge of the Scholastic Asian Book Award

Go forth and create people! Find those gaps and write and illustrate.

Monday, June 13, 2016

What Do You Need as a Writer? Three Things Highlights Gave Me by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

In May I attended a Highlights workshop on Novels in Verse with fellow Grogger, Jan Godown Annino. I set my eyes on a Highlights workshop many years ago, and even put it on my vision board so I would keep that goal in the forefront. But it couldn’t just be any workshop. In my mind, it had to be just the right workshop for me. 

I wrote a book in 2010 that needed some work. It was written in prose, but it also had some poetry sprinkled throughout. My critique group, and eventually an interested agent, said they thought it would work as a novel in verse. 

I worked on it several times and after several rejections, I finally put it back in the drawer knowing that I just wasn’t ready to write this book yet. 

But this book wouldn’t leave me alone. It kept begging me to work on it. I worked on other books, but this one was determined not to stay in the drawer. 

When the Highlights Foundation advertised the Novel in Verse workshop led by Kathy Erskine and Alma Fullerton, two writers who have written novels in verse, then I knew, this was the “just right” workshop I’d been looking for. 

Highlights provided 3 things for me:

1) Quiet. 

I work as a librarian in an elementary school with 700+ kids. Then I go home to a 7 and 11 year old. Quiet is something I don’t get much of. It’s part of the reason I get most of my writing done at 5:00am, when no one else is awake. The quiet at Highlights is amazing. There’s no TV, internet in the cabins is slower than usual, and cell phone service is spotty. I’m not complaining about this. I needed to be away from all of that noise anyway. There’s something about a quiet cabin that allows you to focus on the writing at hand. In fact, I’m craving that quiet so badly that I hope to go to an unworkshop very, very soon. 

2) Camaraderie. 

While I loved the quiet time and space to write, I also loved my time with other writers. Our group really connected. The writers attending this conference were passionate about their writing and serious about craft. I learned so much from being with them. I get energy from being around other creative people who are also diligently working to create their best stories. The encouragement from Kathy and Alma and others really helped buoy me through revisions. 

3) Craft. 

While I love going to bigger conferences, I have found that I’ve grown the most as a writer when I attend smaller, craft-focused writing events. I’ve made it a priority to attend more craft-focused events, instead of just publishing related events. Keeping up with publishing is essential, but in order to get my writing ready for that world, I know I need to push myself to get better and better at the craft. Each day we focused on a different aspect of writing the novel in verse. Then I had opportunity to go back to my cabin and apply what I learned. This was HUGE. So many workshops I’ve been to  provide a lot of information in a short amount of time, then I have to sift through the information after returning home. Having the time to sift and sort while still there was just what I needed. 

What About You?

What is that one thing you’ve been wanting to do for awhile? An area of writing you want to pursue, a workshop you want to attend, or a gift you want to give to yourself? 

Write it down, and hang it up. 

It took me several years to make this workshop happen, but because I had my radar out for such a workshop, and I had a specific manuscript that needed extra work, I knew that this opportunity was THE ONE I wanted to pursue when it came across my email. 

Make today the day you acknowledge that goal. If you want to make that goal public, leave a comment and share it with your fellow writers. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Highlights from a Highlights Foundation Workshop

Highlights from a Highlights Foundation Workshop
by Jan Annino

I hope you are curious about the famed workshops
for children's writers held by the people who bring the
world HIGHLIGHTS - Fun with a Purpose, the
I was curious. But I'm not. anymore.
That's because I recently returned from a May
workshop with these creative & wonderful folks.

The first part of the article is about The Tour
of the Highlights Office.
The second part is about The Workshop.

High Fives from The Office,  THE TOUR


Highlights logo emblazoned on scattered carpets

A giant skull in the editor-in-chief’s office (which will be explained
when you take the tour.)

Magazine editors work in an old, downtown former mayor’s home, an impressive
building accented with high ceilings, big, built-in bookcases, and tall windows.

Editor name plates are old Scrabble tile holders, to display the letter tiles
that spell their first names. (Hello Joelle, Channing & everyone!)

All on staff answer mail from children; every piece of child mail is answered.

My heart also melted when I saw that books created by friends
(Lee Bennett Hopkins, Lisa Desimini, Irene Latham) were so handy for reference.

Okay, so I can’t count, that’s six.
The Highlights folks like to over deliver and
I feel all on tour caught that attitude.

If you get in touch with the magazine folks, be sure to say Happy Birthday! 
They are celebrating their sweet 70th. Here's to at least 70 more.

I'm happy to share a fun freebie.
Highlights would love to have young readers take their
(You may want to tell them you heard about it, here!)

So now it's onto the workshop.


A lot of it.
In the ardent
doodle, doodle, idea, idea, scribble, scribble

Breakthrough moments bubbled up,
which meant chucking swaths of lines
and retooling. Terrific progress.
Insights that peeled away the dreck.

Twelve of us.
In the nourishing
meet and greet, exchange resources, helpful critique

Mornings I awakened to birdsong. 
First light filtered in from a wood, across
a red clover field where a red tractor sat.
A breeze tickled delicate white curtains
against honey blond, paneled cabin walls.

(This image is lent me by Joanne R. Fritz.
copyright Joanne R. Fritz, all rights reserved.)

Each of the perfect-weather mornings, I grabbed my
journal-type notebook with the embossed mantra,
 “A moment of gratitude makes a difference in attitude.”  
It arrived home juicy with first pages impressions,
characters, thoughts, titles, snatches of dialogue & questions.

I broke away from the cabin’s spell & went outside early.
Plump robins were at work building a nest in a beam
of my front porch. Writers also saw Baltimore orioles.
I stopped in my path as a blue-purple banner flashed joy -
an indigo bunting!
Bluebirds visited me uncountable times. Plus, such a delight –
chipmunks wove in an out of the slate walls near the 5,200 square
foot airy conference center, known as The Barn. 

More Work
Each morning top-drawer children's authors who became everyone's
dear friends - Kathryn Erskine and Alma Fullerton - 
guided us with pithy & lively lectures & writing prompts. This moved
us forward in our novels-in-verse projects (& one biography-in-
verse project that we know will be a winner.)

The authors were so physical in their presentations, at times it
felt as if we were watching theater.
They surprised us by reading to the group, lines from our
works that they felt were flowing in the right direction.
We also listened to a potent talk & enjoyed many encouraging
conversations, with visiting author Padma Venkatraman,
(A Time to Dance, Island’s End, Climbing the Stairs.) Her works
were knew to me before Kathryn & Alma introduced us to her;
now I have an invitation to have coffee with her in Rhode
Island, when I'm next visiting our family there.

Afternoons offered well-subscribed time for
one-on-one meetings with the mentors.
And for individual writing marathons, inside.
Or out. With assistance from previously noted chipmunks and avians.
Writers who went to the creek at the bottom of the hill
drank in a view of flowing clearness, reflecting the clarity of our
thoughts & work.

(This creek at Highlights image is lent to me by Kathryn Erskine. 
It is Calkins Creek.  Yes, same as the famed Highlights imprint...
copyright Kathryn Erskine, all rights reserved.)

By 4 we collected in the living room of The Barn at
a daily group critique for the brave.
Everyone felt brave, drawn out by the nurturing faculty.
We appreciated the Floyd Cooper art on the walls & the
big sofas holding red pillows emblazoned with the
distinctive H for Highlights logo. Around the corner
a bright Eric Carle poster and a library of great picture
books to browse,  added to the creative atmosphere. 

The evenings were usually free for reading,
writing, or discussion with mentors & new pals who
were now, new mentors.  
I am fortunate that an insightful librarian, also working on
historical fiction like me, asked me to share evening work
time in The Barn, our lecture, lounging, dreaming &
eating space, beyond our cabins.
Another night we were gifted with visits from City
Folk, an accomplished agent & an esteemed editor.
Such insights, we gleaned. Such access, we appreciated.

Here at home, I've since written an entirely new opening to my
story. Which  my weekly critique partner, talented MG/YA
novelist Adrian Fogelin, read just last night.
I've changed a character's name, for the better.
(The workshop helped me understand why I was
stumbling over her name...)  I've written new story lines,
begun more research & feel fortunate to be back on track to
putting more words on the pages.
Thank you Highlights Foundation Workshop.

Favorite Words of Wisdom
Katherine Erskine, whose books include, Mockingbird 
(National Book Award winner), Quaking, The Badger Knight,
plus the forthcoming, Mama Africa:

All of your stories will make wonderful books.

Imagine an elaborate line-up of dominoes that you will be setting off, in touching
the first one. Each domino must connect. Each scene must connect with the next.

Keep in mind who is the antagonist. Who is the battle against.

Alma Fullerton, whose books include, In The Garage, Libertad, Burn &
the forthcoming, 50 Lashes:

Don’t sacrifice story for poetic form.

My first draft is basically barfing on the paper.

The evil person can be even nastier if we don’t see
him/him from his point of view, but when we view that antagonist from the outside.

Bonus Staff
The talented, kind & funny chef staff  (hello there, Marcia,
Amanda, Megan, Derrick & a spot-on walk-on, Kent!) matched
the quality of the story-crafting faculty. And their treats are
missed (hello there, toasted kale appetizer, mushroom loaf,
stuffed peppers, cream of squash soup, rhubarb crunch,
grilled asparagus, local cheeses, et. al!)

Bonus Friends
It was a thrill to discover that Group Blogger Marcie was in the
cabin next door! We often sat side by side at the group critiques
or for dining. I was delighted to learn so much about her
Thailand-set novel. which is sure to be a winner.
I am eager to read her impressions about
this transformative Highlights experience & know they
will be along when this funny & super-bizee pal can
catch her breath. We are so fortunate to have her here
at Group Blog! I know I will have her book in my hands one day,
for her autograph. I can say I knew her... way back when.
I don't have my picture of us together, as my 125 images &
camera didn't make it home with me. But, that's another Story.

More. I read every page of the journal that dwells in my cabin
& discovered that a mentor of mine, esteemed children's editor Paula Morrow,
was previously the cabin's dweller. I left many appreciations
in the journal along with a doodle of the cabin.

Bonus Work
Although I only anticipated that my novel-in-verse would move
other book projects are boosted from my time at Highlights.
I gleaned insights for two completed but not contracted books.
One is a p.b. bio,  which I have added to my To Do
list for revision.
For my chapter book series that has two written books
& the outline for several others, where animal
characters provide the antics, discussion helped me realize
that my stakes aren't high enough. So these two are
returned to the Must Do To Do List.

If you travel from afar, a feature is that you can ask
the accommodating staff to arrange to arrive a bit early or
stay later, for ease of your traveling. This of course depends
upon availability.
So a few of us were there the evening after the midday end of the
workshop, for extra fellowship. And then in the morning,
I was floored at how considerate Founder Kent Brown, Jr. was
with my balky station wagon. He even corralled a pal
to come & add coolant. Upon arrival back in Florida,
I scooted a small thank you box from our family,
a gift package of choice, fresh pecans (our house is just
about 30 minutes from the best sw Georgia
pecan groves) - sent priority mail to The Barn,
for use in the gleaming & airy kitchen.

Another tip is that since many Group Bloggers are focused
on picture books, Kathryn Erskine will be co-leading a picture
book workshop this year, in October.
Tell her I sent you to her!

If you ever see Kathryn or Alma or Padma listed for a workshop & can
arrange to attend their event, I feel you will be
so appreciative of their mentoring.

To Be Continued
And finally, it was sweet to learn that one of my new friends
from the workshop, mentioned above as our
spiffy techie librarian who set up our workshop fb group,
is pals with a poem maker & writer friend of mine,
here in Florida.

I have email & fb messages from a buncha new writer-mentors pals.
We are pledged to encourage each other on our research & writing &
publishing paths, in the way everyone is so good to all here,
at sweet Group Blog.

Appreciations to everyone who made the stay so transformative.
Appreciations to Group Blog for providing this platform to share goodness.