Monday, February 20, 2017

Don't Miss This Manuscript Workshop! ~ by Patricia Toht

Children's writers, DON'T MISS THIS!

A Manuscript Workshop -

in Vermont -

in July -
Photo by Bill Toenjes

with brilliant writing coach Esther Hershenhorn!

Esther Hershenhorn

Esther is an author, a writing teacher, and blogger. She's a writing coach who helps authors achieve their dreams of turning manuscripts into books. I first met Esther when she was regional advisor of SCBWI-IL, and I can attest that she is one of the loveliest, talented, and most encouraging people in the kidlit world.

Recently, I sat down with Esther to ask her about the 2017 Vermont Manuscript Workshop that she will be leading. It will be held at the Landgrove Inn in Vermont on July 9-14.

Q: The Manuscript Workshop was founded by children's author Barbara Seuling. How did she impact your career as a writer, teacher, and coach?

Barbara Seuling
Esther: I am beyond honored to be continuing my mentor Barbara Seuling's venerable Manuscript Workshop, especially now that she is no longer with us. Simply put: Barbara's life as an author, editor, and teacher was pure Show, Don't Tell. She believed - in children's books, in children, and in each children's book writer's capacity to become. She held the bar high; children deserve only the best. "Only the best" was also what her readers and writers received - not only from her Manuscript Workshop but from her
GET IT PUBLISHED, both of which launched the careers of countless children's book creators. I feel so lucky to have known Barbara as a friend, to have learned from her as a writer, to have watched a true teacher at work. Last summer's attendees were lucky, too; her afternoon session was the icing on the cake. I'm already at work planning ways Barbara's affirming, caring spirit will continue to make itself known and breathe life into the Manuscript Workshop.

Q: Who do you feel will benefit most from this workshop - budding writers or more experienced ones?

Esther: The Manuscript Workshop is all about seeding and feeding children's book writers, giving each attendee what he or she needs (1) to grow his or her stories so they resound in readers' hearts and (2) to grow as a writer. There's the story the writer is telling, and there's the writer's story that the writer is living every day.
Attendees at last year's Manuscript Workshop
Writers need only: 
• a working manuscript on which to focus; 
• a want and a need to take that manuscript to the necessary Next Level, whatever that might be; and 
• a willingness to "only connect,' as P.L. Travers advised - with their world, their story, themselves.

All formats and genres for readers of all ages are welcomed!

Like Barbara, I do my best to make sure that any writer seeking the time, space, place, focus, insights, and care to make his or her story the best it can be will benefit from the Manuscript Workshop.

Q: How is leading this workshop different from coaching clients?

Tranquility in Vermont 
Esther: Barbara and I used to tease each other that we do things "the old-fashioned way - i.e. up close and personal," so when it comes to my coaching, the "care" mentioned in my answer above stands front and center. It's my job to not simply teach writers how to write for children, though I want my writers and students leaving with Major Writing Truths and Insights they can bring to each and every manuscript that follows; it's my job to make sure the writer continues to move forward on his/her plot line believing in his/her story and believing in himself/herself as the perfect person to tell that story. Think: teacher, facilitator, resource, cheerleader, travel guide, colleague and Jewish Mother. I'm happy to say that somehow all of those roles instinctively come into play when I teach a class, coach a writer, and/or facilitate a workshop.

Q: What is your favorite part of this workshop?

Esther: Last summer was my first time visiting Vermont's Green Mountains and the outstanding (and historic) Landgrove Inn that offered award-winning cuisine three times a day! 
Vermont's Green Mountains
Photo by Compass Points Media
My writers and I loved how GREEN everything was, the BLUE of the skies, the quiet of the day, except for the spirit-lifting bird songs. They were free to live inside their stories, free from everyday responsibilities, to go deep and true, yet free to share them with their fellow writers. Coming to know each writer - her connection to the story she was telling, her writer's journey, her wants/needs/wishes, and seeing the progress each made during the week, as always gladdened my heart. Seeing them come together throughout the week, however, to help one another - even now, seven months later as an online writers' group named The Vermonters - took my coaching to a Team Level that would have made Barbara Seuling happy. Like Roald Dahl's Matilda, when she discover the book in the library for the very first time, each writer realized she was not alone.

As I said earlier, if you are a writer, DON'T MISS THIS!

For more information about this year's Manuscript Workshop, or to discover more about Esther's work with students and writers, visit Esther's website HERE and HERE.

Please note that Tom Checchia is offering a 10% room discount at the Landgrove Inn for writers who register by Feb. 28th! Connect with the Landgrove Inn HERE.

Read Esther's blog about last year's Manuscript Workshop in Esther's blog post "Making Magic in Vermont."

Esther also reflects on the passing of the wonderful Barbara Seuling in "Barbara as Mentor" HERE. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

100 Backyard Activities That are the Dirtiest, Coolest, Creepy-crawliest EVER! by Colleen Kessler

 By Janie Reinart

Nature-loving kids of all ages are you ready to get your hands dirty and become an expert on bugs, beetles, birds, plants, worms and more? Let me introduce you to my amazing friend, Colleen Kessler.  She is a mom of four children, teacher, author, speaker and founder of the website Raising Lifelong Learners.

Colleen taught elementary gifted kids for more than a decade, and has homeschooled her own gifted children. Her website and books focus on igniting a passion for hands-on learning, experimentation, science and creativity in kids. 

In her spare time, Colleen’s a featured speaker at homeschooling conventions, events and online webinars and podcasts. 

Give a warm welcome to this gifted author.
Colleen Kessler

Colleen has graciously answered some interview questions.  

Who is your agent?  
Currently, I don’t have an agent.

How did you get the idea for your story?

My new book -- like most of what I've written -- is nonfiction. I love finding ways to make science and nature awesome and exciting for kids. I try to make what I've written so fun and interesting that kids won't even know they're actually learning while reading and exploring.

How long did it take to write? Get to a publisher?

The book proposal for this title was written, submitted, and rejected here and there over the last 8 years. It languished in drawers for a long, long time. 

In November of 2105, I dusted it off and sent it to an editor I was introduced to at Page Street Publishing in response to a request for a proposal for unique kids' activities books

I had a conference call with the editor and publisher to hash out and fine tune the proposal, and signed a contract that December. Because it's a book most suited for a spring release, and December was too late to get all the details worked out by spring 2016, we decided it was best to wait until Spring 2017. It will be released May 2nd, 2017.

What is your favorite part of the story?

I love everything about this new book. It's a backyard nature science book for kids that is jam-packed with activities, explorations, and experiments that they can do in the yard -- mostly with things around the house

The most fun, though, was that during the summer months when the activities were being photographed, we had about a half a dozen glass terrariums filled with insects, reptiles, and amphibians crammed on every free space in our tiny 790 square foot house. 
 What is your writing routine? 

I sit down and write. I'm only half kidding. When I first started writing for kids, I waited until an inspiration would hit, and then I'd write feverishly. But, as I grew, and also started taking on freelance assignments, I started making myself write when I had the time to do it. 

With four
home-schooled kids, and a thriving blog and speaking career, if I waited until inspiration hit, I'd never write. Instead, I write every single day

I work on social media and blog writing in delineated segments of work time, and write in a journal or on various documents saved on my computer when I am done with the writing work that has to get done first. 

And I write wherever I am. In the car, an appointment waiting room, in bed, at the kitchen table... Any place can be a writing nook.

What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

Picking a favorite book of any genre is like picking a favorite child. Totally impossible. There are so many from which to choose, and new and exciting ones to discover all the time.

What inspires you to write?   

I don't know that anything specific inspires me to write. I know, though, that it's like breathing to me... something I can't live without. It's release, it's creativity, it's me time, and it's play. I just need to write.

What are you working on now?

Right now I'm working on a book for parents of quirky kids... nonfiction for moms (in particular) and dads (also) who find themselves parenting kiddos who are outliers -- those who aren't easily quantifiable: gifted, twice-exceptional, sensory strugglers, and otherwise different kids.

Words of advice for writers:  

If you want to write, then write. There will never be a perfect time, a perfect place, or perfect story. You just have to do it. And, once you've written, find seasoned writers with whom to  connect. Join critique groups -- and listen to critiquers, go to conferences, and read up on while honing the craft. But first -- write.

Thank you, Colleen for an intriguing interview. Best wishes on your book launch. Pre-order 100 Backyard Activities here. I know some grandchildren that are going to love this book.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Wyoming Kids 💘💘 Their Books

By Leslie Colin Tribble  💕

On this Valentine's Day, I want to give a shout out to a program which engages Wyoming's K-3 grade students with reading. A collaboration of the Wyoming State Reading Council and the Wyoming Library Association, the Buckaroo Awards are sure-fired fun and a great way to get kids reading.

Saddle Up, Let's Learn About the Buckaroos

The Buckaroo Award is designed to help primary students
*learn about contemporary authors,
*become aware of the qualities of a good book
*teach students about choices and voting procedures
*provide children with a chance to honor the author of the winning book.

During the school year, students read or have read to them books from the list of current nominees both fiction and non-fiction. Then around March 1, the children vote for their absolute favoritest book, and the ballots are tallied by teachers and school librarians. Those results are sent to the state committee and the winners are announced. Depending upon the desires of the state committee, the winner is honored with a donation made in their name to a literary organization. The book is also highlighted in online sites such as NoveList, which can significantly improve a book's visibility and sales.

Last year's winner was B.J. Novak's A Book With No Pictures. First Runner Up was President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett with Second Runner Up Chris Tougas' Dojo Daycare.

A Round Up of the 2016-2017 Buckaroo Nominees

This year's list features four nonfiction books and six fiction. I wanted to read the books but wouldn't you know it, every single title was already checked out! Although that's my loss, I'm thrilled children are immersing themselves in such great reading material.

1. Annie and Helen - Deborah Hopkinson/Raul Colon
   The story of Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan.

2. Elizabeth Started All the Trouble - Doreen Rappaport/Matt Faulkner
    This nonfiction book deals with the early suffragette movement.

3. Frog on a Log - Kes Gray/Jim Field
   A rhyming picture book about animals and their designated seats.

4. McToad Mows Tiny Island - Tom Angleberger/John Hendrix
    Here's another book featuring an amphibian, but this fellow spends a lot of time with various     modes of transportation in order to mow Tiny Island.

5. Mother Bruce - Ryan Higgins  
    Bruce is a grumpy bear who loves eating eggs until he hatches some goslings.

6. Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook - Anne Vittur Kennedy  
    Ragweed wants to help other farm dogs succeed so he's written this handy dandy guidebook.

7. There's a Lion in My Cornflakes - Michelle Robinson/Jim Field
    The misadventures of two brothers who get some crazy prizes in their cereal boxes.

8. Too Tall Houses - Gianna Marino  
    Rabbit and Owl are best friends until they start building taller and taller houses.

9. A Tower of Giraffes - Anna Wright   
    This nonfiction book introduces children to the collective nouns for various animal groups.

10. Winter Bees - Joyce Sidman/Rick Allen - This nonfiction poem teaches readers about how animals survive in winter.

This year's winner will be announced in April. According to our local children's librarian, the kids love each of the nominees. Ragweed might just come out on top because he throws up in the book - a surefire way to make kids LOVE a book.

Why not find your favorite Valentine and read some of these heart-warming treats today?


Monday, February 13, 2017

Valentine Day Surprise with Leslie Colin Tribble - tomorrow

Tomorrow's post will be sweet enough to eat. In the meantime, catch up on reading some of the wonderful entries in Susanna Hill's Valentiny contest here

I also have been reading the fab SCBWI conference blog since I didn't get to New York for the annual conference. Check these posts out, too. 

Stay tuned for a Valentine surprise. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Eeek! Last Minute Valentine by Janie Reinart

 A contest! And prizes! Thank you Susanna Hill 💗 There's still time to enter.  I am delighted to share my story. (177 words)

  Eeek! Last Minute Valentine by Janie Reinart

Hurray! Today’s the day.

And I’m ready.


in your mouth?


That valentine candy was for Mom!

Now what am I going to do?


I know…


Mom loves flowers.


are you?



Those flowers were for Mom!

Now what am I going to do?


I know…

a valentine.

Mom loves cards.


are you doing in my room?


That valentine was for Mom!

Now what am I going to do?


Maybe I should make something for Bubba and Mom.

I know…

heart-shaped cookies.

Bubba and Mom love cookies.


are you?


How did you reach that plate?

Crumbs. Only crumbs.

Now what am I going to do?

Mom will be home any minute.

Out the window, Bubba makes tracks in the snow.


I know…

Bubba follows after me outside.

We make a big heart in the snow and fill the heart with seeds.

Birds fly into our yard from all over the neighborhood.

I give Mom a…

birdy valentine.


Happy Valentines Day!

Bubba… Bubba…



Thursday, February 9, 2017

Put a Little Love In Your Heart

By Kathy Halsey and Janie Reinart

Kathy and I are going to share the love and put a little love in your heart.  Kathy you go first.

Thanks, Janie. In this season of hearts and flowers, we’re going to share and lift up two deserving authors - Brenda Reeve Sturgis and Susanna Hill

Brenda’s book, STILL A FAMILY, Part I was featured last Thursday. Today we’ll conclude with Part II of Brenda's interview and also share Susanna Hill’s Valentiny contest. 

In STILL A FAMILY, Brenda takes us into the life of a homeless family through the point of view of a young girl. The book’s theme illuminates Brenda’s heartfelt words that, “It's not all about me, and it's not all about you, it's about US. We can make this world a better place, one loving heart at a time.” And Brenda did just that at her book launch this past weekend that featured a drive for homeless shelters. Big hearts abound, so gather ‘round for more from Brenda.

K: What do you want GROG readers to know about the heart of STILL A FAMILY?  

B: Homeless are people just like you, and just like me, that probably had a home and a family at one time and something happened that changed the trajectory of their lives and I'm hoping STILL A FAMILY will help to change that trajectory back by raising awareness.

K: Please share more about your writing path..

B: Nobody ever told me how difficult it would be. If I had known all of the obstacles that I would have to overcome, I might have quit. But, I wanted THIS. I attended my very first conference in January, 2005 in New York. I joined critique groups, wrote, went to conferences, and I learned. In 2007, I won a contest. TOUCHDOWN won grand prize, and 10 TURKEYS IN A ROAD received an honorable mention. THIS win in Roxyanne Young's Smart Writer's contest opened doors and got me the attention of my first agent. We parted ways amicably after 2.5 years.

After many months of querying, I signed with another agent, but that only lasted 6 weeks before we realized we weren't a good fit, either. I wanted to quit, but I pressed on. FINALLY, I heard about Emma Dryden, and her consulting company, and we arranged a phone meeting. When you have turned over every stone and you are getting nowhere you have to keep searching, keep looking for inroads. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Emma Dryden was my teacher, and Emma has become my friend. She read over my work, told me what needed to be revised and said that agent Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary would be a great fit for me.

I queried Karen (with Emma's name in the subject line) and heard back within a few days. She wanted to work with me. YAY! Karen is my perfect fit. We compliment each other nicely. Our styles of communication are similar. We get each other. 

K: How else did you get Karen’s attention in your query?

B: I am weak in writing a query because it's in prose. But your query is as important as your story. It shows your voice and draws an agent or an editor in. I sought help in this area as well. My writing friend, Christine Tricarico, (Cock-a-Doodle Dance, MacMillan) is a wizard at writing a query. For a nominal fee, she helps writers  craft the most amazing queries ever.

K: Any more advice for pre-pub writers?

B: Preparation, time, meeting people, making connections, continuing on will guide you and lead you to where you need to be at just the right time, like it did for me and STILL A FAMILY. Everything in publishing and everything in life is cumulative. We are all on individual journeys to become the best writers we can be, to leave our stamp on the world, and to make a difference.

Susanna Hill is all about sharing the love with her 2nd
Annual Valentiny Contest. She has a lovely blog that you can subscribe to by email. Susanna teaches writing, does school
visits and has over ten books published. Way to go Susanna.  💗
And guess what? I have an idea for the contest. Woohoo! First time to have an idea for a story that matches the criteria and first time to enter. On Friday, February 10, 2017 my story will be posted here for the contest. The rules are in this link. And there are prizes! 💗

Join me and enter your own 💗 story.

"Post your story on your (personal) blog between 12:00 AM EDT Friday February 10th and Tuesday February 14th by 11:59 PM EDT and add your post-specific link to the list that will accompany my (Susana's) February 10th post."

So how do we share the love? Let me count the ways:

💘 Write stories.

💘 Sponsor contests to give voice to new writers.

💘 Nurture critique partners.

💘 Support kid lit community.

💘 Read books.

💘 Lend a helping hand.

 The world is a better place when we put a little love in our hearts.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Lola Schaefer Discovers a Book in an Acorn

by Sue Heavenrich

Lola Schaefer at Amicalola Falls, GA
Lola Schaefer has written more than 270 books, from picture books to easy readers and informational texts – and she’s still got more to come. One that particularly caught my attention is Because of an Acorn which she wrote with her son Adam, also a children’s author. I love the simplicity of the language in Because of an Acorn, and the ecological layers that are revealed page by page.

Ideas for books come from many places, says Lola. This one grew out of a conversation with her editor at Chronicle. It turns out that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) partnered with Chronicle Books in an effort to inspire young people to safeguard the earth’s natural resources. The editor asked whether Lola might be interested in writing a book that highlighted some aspect of their conservation work.

After checking out projects NRDC was involved with, Lola decided she wanted to visit and write about the Cumberland Plateau – a diverse hardwood forest ecosystem stretching across a broad swath of the southeast United States. She made a few calls and found a ranger at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee who would share his knowledge of the forest.
Fall Creek Falls State Park, TN

For three days, Lola headed out with state naturalist Randy Hedgepath into the woods. As they walked, Randy stopped every now and then to elaborate on individual plants and their relationship to each other and the forest.  That’s when Lola found her story. “Everything comes down to the acorn,” she said.

In writing a book, as with teaching, you have to know so much more about your topic than you’ll ever put in the book. “You have to immerse yourself in the topic,” Lola said, noting that only a small part of that information actually makes it to the book. During her forest walks she took lots of notes and drew sketches. Once home she added these to her inch-and-a-half-thick file of research notes. Now all she needed was a structure for the story.

Because of an acorn, a tree.
Because of a tree, a bird.

Not one who readily gives advice, Lola shared a couple things she’s learned on her writing journey.

  • Know the craft, she said. Read at least 100 books that would appeal to your audience so you get familiar with pacing and sentence structure.
  • Even though your idea may have been done before, pick your own approach.
  • Do your research. Lola gets her information from the people actively doing research or otherwise engaged in the topic she’s interested in. “Scientists are always learning new things, she said, “and people are so ready to share what they know.”
As for agents, they may be more important now than a decade ago. For the first 10 years of her writing career, Lola didn’t have an agent. Now she does, and believes that they do play an important role in the submission process. “A single editor can receive 8,000 manuscripts a year, and of those only 80 might be well written,” she said. When a manuscript comes from an agent, it lets an editor know that someone other than the author has had eyes on it.

Lola has a new book coming out in July called Hidden Dangers. Learn more at her website.