Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Open a new picture book:
DON'T ASK A DINOSAUR,  created by Matt Forrest Esenwine, Deborah Bruss & Louie Chin

post from J.G. Annino

What if...
You opened a book
About dinosaurs
And one stumbled out
And another and another....
C.  Isabel Joshlin Glaser
from "What if" by Isabel Joshlin Glaser in GOOD BOOKS, GOOD TIMES!
selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins,
with pictures from Harvey Stevenson

Dinosaurs, one after another, are
thumpingly what I experienced when I opened the gift package 
from a children's book imprint new to me, POW! in Brooklyn. 
Inside I met the characters of DON'T ASK A DINOSAUR 
by authors Deborah Bruss & Matt Forrest Esenwine (pal through Poetry Friday,)
with color-pow comics-style illustrations by Louie Chin.

Two children tackle a list:

"If you're going to plan
                           a birthday party,
stop and think it through.
                           Be careful
                           what you dare
         to ask a dinosaur to do."

This jolly story
romps around in rhyme, with the ways
significant dinosaurs that once partied on Earth,
might add mayhem to a child's
living room hee-haw.

I love how this book is clever in bringing to
the youngest read-aloud set, the famous but also
dinos, along with a specific
characteristic for each. It's fun, it's a party,
but at the same time, now I know about the one who would be a
balloon-buster, Therezinosaurus. Due to its pointy, sometimes,
three-FOOT claws, I know that (ther-uh-ZEEN-oh-sawr-us) is a non-starter,
party planning wise,
(Not that they all wouldn't be miserable helpers, but
 specifically don't task Therezinosaurus to help with stretchy air containers.)

In our own family zoo, we have a super wonderful, dino-crazy Kindergarten guy
so this book stomps, crashes, tears, off to Will in Rhode Island.

I don't know about you, but when I open a p.b. new to me,
after enjoying it, I delve deeper to see what it will teach me
about creating children's books.
With this one, I think what would result if
an editor asked me to put together a birthday theme
p.b. on dinosaurs?
I do have an imagination, but my guess, since Florida never
had dinosaurs (under water then, later the peninsula was a groundsloth sauna,
etc.) I would have gone old school dull. A party decorated with a cute
dino piƱata & perhaps I would have had up on a wall, a pin- (Velcro) the-tail
on the dino station. And maybe I would have had that dino jump
off the wall, dance with the kids to music. So where is the
value added in that? Where is the inventiveness? 
Another plan - I might have had a birthday party of dinosaurs, by dinosaurs, for dinosaurs, 
with no kids in it.  Where is the fun in that.

Go show some love for DON'T ASK A DINOSAUR.
Your family, classroom, school library will enjoy a roaring
good time with it. And learn something new, too.

POW! is here, publishing books in boisterous Brooklyn.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Coding With Josh Funk

by Sue Heavenrich

How to Code a Sandcastle (a Girls Who Code book)
by Josh Funk; illus. by Sara Palacios
44 pages; ages 4-8
Viking, 2018

If you know how to code, you can do anything: solve big problems, design a car, print a prosthetic hand - even build a sandcastle! Which is good news for Pearl, when she heads to the beach with her robot buddy, Pascal.

All Pearl needs to do is learn how to tell Pascal what to do, and how to do it. As she learns, when telling a robot (or computer) to do something, you need to give it specific instructions. In a sequence. And if you want it to continue doing something over and over and over again, you might want to know how to create a loop of instructions.

So how did the Josh Funk, author of Dear Dragon and Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, end up writing about coding?

GROG: Hey, Josh! How did you come up with this fun and sandy idea? 

JOSH: Thanks so much for having me on the GROG! I’ve been following since the very beginning!

A  few years back, I started trying to write a fictional story that also relayed some elements of coding that was appropriate for the picture book-aged audience. And let me tell you … it was NOT easy. I went through three and a half completely different stories before landing on How to Code a Sandcastle.

Photo by Carter Hasegawa
When we submitted the story to my editor at Viking/Penguin (she previously edited Dear Dragon), she told us that Penguin and Girls Who Code had recently entered into a partnership to create a bunch of children’s books about coding. My editor had showed the story to Reshma and Girls Who Code and it all came together at that point.

GROG:  How did you determine what coding terms / instructions to focus on?

JOSH: At first, I thought back to my first computer science course in college. Second, I have kids who have been taught certain aspects of coding since kindergarten, so I’ve seen what they do. And third, I did research. (Shocking! I know!)

And you know what, coding is just like any other subject. You need to know the alphabet before you can read. You need to know how to count and some basic arithmetic symbols before you can do math. And to code, you need to know about sequences, loops, and conditionals (I call them ‘If-Then-Else’s in the book). You might call a ‘loop’ a ‘repeat’, but every coding language has something like that.

It turns out that sequences, loops, and conditionals are the first things the Girls Who Code movement introduces in their coding program as well.

GROG: Can you talk about the process of developing a story around showing young readers what these instructions mean and how they are used?   

JOSH: This was the trickiest part. But I think things started to click when I realized two things:

First, the setting had to be something familiar to children. Starting out in a made-up fantasy world is complex enough without introducing complicated coding concepts (trust me, I tried). So when I simplified it to the task of building a sandcastle at the beach, this was key. (thank you to my critique partners who continually pushed me in this direction)

Second, I needed to not try teaching everything in a single story. There’s a LOT more coding than just sequences, loops, and conditionals. But when I also tried talking about variables, for loops vs. while loops, and pointers - that was just WAY too much (but YAY for sequels - HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER is where we learn about variables - in the fall of 2019).

GROG: Pearl tells Pascal "that's enough" - is there a way to code when to stop?  

JOSH: Depending on the computer language, there are certainly ways to break out of loops. In fact, in C/C++, you would use the word break - which is why Pearl tells Pascal, ‘time for a break’ to get out of that first loop halfway through the book.

Normally, the best way to get out of a loop is to set the start and end conditions appropriately (for example, you’ll repeat something a certain number of times or while a certain condition is still true) - but that might have gotten a little too complicated for a book like this.

GROG: Aren't you worried Pascal will get sand in his bearings? 

JOSH: And this is why I don’t write strict nonfiction. HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE is ‘informational’ fiction. Some might even say ‘speculative’ - as we don’t yet live in a world where we can instruct robots to build our sandcastles for us … at least that I know of ….

To find out more about Josh Funk and his wonderful books visit him at and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks. Turns out, Josh knows how to code - he studied computer science. He's pretty good at writing instructions for computers, but not so good at writing bios, so please help him out:
Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

FLYING DEEP & Making the Most out of Her Debut: A Chat with Michelle Cusolito by Kathy Halsey

I have been a writer long enough now to enjoy seeing friends' books  and dreams become real. Today I talk with writer friend Michelle Cusolito about her first book, FLYING DEEP: CLIMB INSIDE DEEP-SEA SUBMERSIBLE ALVIN, an engaging science picture book. We also chatted about lessons learned as an author prepares for her first book launch! Michelle has some great ideas to share on this topic, too.
Book Review 
As a former K-12 librarian, I delight in finding nonfiction picture books than bring science alive to a myriad of age groups. Even though the book is aimed at ages 5-9, older elementary students will also be fascinated by the exploration of the deep, dark sea, its environment, and amazing creatures. School Library Journal's review (April, 2018) states, "A captivating story that introduces and encourages scientific study, specifically the field of oceanography. A great addition to STEM collections." Kirkus Reviews concurs, and gives FLYING DEEP a starred review. (See all editorial reviews here). 

Children's writers can use Michelle's book to inform their own craft. In analyzing this book as a mentor text, I found many techniques that make FLYING DEEP unique.

  •  Titles and point of view matter. Michelle uses second person POV to invite the reader into the submersible. She even uses a command to the reader in her title - (You) "climb inside deep-sea submersible Alvin." Who could say no to that?
  • Michelle makes setting and the Alvin crucial to the plot. It's barely big enough for three, you can only stay down in the water so long, and you have a mission. The deep is spooky and strange sea creatures lurk.
  • The author uses questions to entice the reader: "What will you discover?" What type of music will you choose - classical, hip-hop? The reader has choices to make as he/she reads.
  • The use of time adds tension to the story. At 8:00 AM we're sinking, at 9:00 AM we descend and the temperature drops, and finally by 5:00 PM we stretch our stiff legs as our eyes adjust to sunlight. 
  • Lyrical language and carefully chosen onomatopoeia help the  reader explore the unusual world below with his/her senses heightened. 
  • Respect your readers and use appropriate vocabulary. Michelle doesn't shy away from terms such as "bioluminescence." Instead she employs a succinct glossary in back matter. 
  • Make back matter really matter. Michelle's author note really highlights her research, curiosity, and excitement. Illustrator Nicole Wong also emphasizes the research necessary for her to capture how light functions underwater. Savvy educators will dive into the back matter to share with students how meticulous, yet intriguing research can be. 
Q & A - Book Launches & More

K: When did you begin to plan for your debut book's launch? What elements did you feel were most important?
M:I struggled with this. On the one hand, of course, I wanted an event with kids, since this is a book for kids. But I also wanted a party to celebrate my personal accomplishment of getting a book published (I got my first “good rejections” a decade ago. It’s been a long road). I was talking to Sara Hines from Eight Cousins Bookshop about this back in February and she said, “You want a book lunch party AND an author launch party.” She was totally right. 

So, I’m having my book launch party at Eight Cousins and a private author launch party at a local bar and eatery. Having the book launch at Eight Cousins makes sense for several reasons: Its located in Falmouth, MA, just a few miles from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, which is Alvin’s home base. I also frequent the shop and I’ve developed a personal relationship with them over my years of being a customer. The bar and eatery I chose makes sense because it’s near my home and it’s also the place where my critique group meets every month. One waitress there watched Flying Deep progress from manuscript to sale. 
K: Do you belong to a debut group that promotes everyone's books, similar to Emu's Debuts? 
M: I’m part of a group called Epic Eighteens which is made up of debut picture book creators. We have a private Facebook group where we share ideas, cheer each other on and celebrate our successes. We also share our frustrations and challenges and offer each other advice. We celebrate each other’s book birthdays and other good news by sharing them on various social media platforms. We also share F and G’s so we can review each other books. (Hard copies are mailed from person to person and we have a secure place where digital ones can be viewed). One important point: we do not automatically give each other good reviews. Before we started, we agreed we would only post honest positive reviews. So, if we say we love a book, we really do love it. I am so thankful for this group.
K: How did you develop buzz for the book? Do agents or publisher help with this?  
M: I’m not sure how much buzz there even really is. It’s hard to know what’s happening outside of my social networks. I’ve taken some specific steps to help get the word out about my book, but I believe the genuine relationships I’ve built with people over time, both on-line and in-person, are responsible for much of the feedback I’ve gotten. 
I want to have genuine interactions with people both in “real life” and on-line. I post about things that I care about or that interest me and I think might also interest others.  When I was living in Ireland, I posted regularly using the hashtags #DublinLife, #DublinDoors and #DublinStreetArt.  I connected with lots of new people during that time.  Once I returned to the U.S., I started posting #RochesterLife so my friends overseas and in other parts of the country could learn about life here. I also facilitate a book discussion group for Picture Book 12x12 and moderate a Facebook Group called Create Engaging School Visits.

More recently, I worked with Jeanette Bradley to conduct a survey about school visits compensation. We’ve been sharing our results on my blog over the last couple of weeks. These are ways I try to give back to the community and learn new things myself.
Now that launch day is so close, I’m posting about the book more often, but I’m also careful to share only when I’m particularly excited about a development or have news to share such as the starred review from Kirkus
When it comes to specifics about my book launch, collaboration is key. I have been working closely with Eight Cousins BooksWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Charlesbridgeto plan my launch and other related events. I literally could not do this without all of them. 
Michelle and  Bruce Strickrott, Alvin Pilot and Manager of the Alvin Group. Cups are part of a great pre-order campaign. (See how to win these later in the post!) Photo credit Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 

I have personal relationships with everyone involved. I didn’t develop a relationship with Eight Cousins Books in order to sell my book. I was their customer long before I sold Flying Deep to Charlesbridge. I love books and book stores, so I make sure to give local stores my business. By doing that, I develop relationships.  
My relationship with WHOI started in a more formal way-  I was seeking information and they helped me with my research. But I am genuinely excited about the work they do and want to tell people about their work. I’d like to think they sense that about me, which makes them excited to work with me. 

My agent, Jill Corcoran has been great about signal boosting all of my posts that relate to the book, such as positive reviews, launch party news, and book store appearances. 

Finally, Charlesbridge has been terrific. I email with Mel Schuit regularly to plan book store events, newspaper interviews, podcast appearances, etc. Some days we’ve had 5 different email threads flying back and forth. I think we work well as a team. I try to clearly communicate with Charlesbridge about my plans- both book related plans and personal ones that might help with book plans. For example, my family will be in the Washington DC area in July, so I told Mel and we were able to plan a book store event for July 7thin DC.
Cups and book that went down with Alvin last Saturday Photo credit Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Prize Alert!
Talk about building buzz for a book launch - these finished cups painted by illustrator Nicole Wong and signed by both author and illustrator dove deep on the Alvin. Five lucky folks who pre-order FLYING DEEP from Eight Cousins Books will be randomly selected to get a shrunken cup with their book. 


Wednesday, May 9, 2018


Amy talks about her late mother, haiku and the gift of sharing her mom's poetry with young readers . . .

By Eileen Meyer

Mother’s Day is just around the corner -- that special day where we celebrate and honor mothers, grandmothers, aunts, mentors and other special women who have meant so much to us.

I have a special story to share with you:

One about a daughter honoring her mother’s life and her beautiful poetry.

It’s a LOVE story.
A mother-daughter story.
A children’s publishing story.

(Photo: Sydell Rosenberg
 with daughter, Amy)

Welcome to one of my TAKE FIVE interviews. I hope that you’ll take five minutes to get to know Amy Losak and learn about the new children’s picture book, H IS FOR HAIKU, by her late mother, Sydell (“Syd”) Rosenberg.

Syd was a public school teacher in New York City and also a charter member of the Haiku Society of America when it was formed fifty years ago. The story of this book and Amy’s efforts to share it with readers is a powerful story of love and family -- and so appropriate as we prepare to honor the women in our lives on this special holiday.

Eileen:  Since Mother’s Day is this weekend, May 13th, I wanted to interview you for our blog readers. You have a beautiful story about your role in bringing your mother’s work to publishers for the newly released picture book, H IS FOR HAIKU. Will you share that with our readers?

Amy: Thanks, Eileen. It’s such a pleasure to be here! As you kindly noted, my mother Sydell Rosenberg was a teacher in New York City schools. She also taught adult ESL. Mom also was a writer her entire life: poetry, short stories, literary and word puzzles, and more. The “more” includes, among other things, a racy novel she published as a young woman – I think almost straight out of Brooklyn College in the early 1950s. She worked as a copy editor for a small publishing company. This potboiler was published under a male pseudonym, Gale Sydney (a reversal of her maiden name initials, Sydell Gasnick.) It was titled “Strange Circle.” Interestingly, copies are still available online!

Syd was a product of New York but she had a love for nature and an intense curiosity about big and small things around her. At some point in the 1960s, Syd became captivated by the poetic form, haiku. She spent years learning about haiku and related forms. She even studied Japanese, I vaguely remember, perhaps to try and read the original masters. She was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America (HSA) in 1968 and attended the founding meeting. She also served as HSA secretary in 1975 and on their Merit Book Awards committees. Some of her poetry won awards and honorable mentions.

Decades ago, Syd wanted to publish a children’s poetry book –a haiku alphabet book. She submitted her manuscript to publishers back in the 1970s and 1980s. (Going through her papers, I unearthed some of the rejection letters she had saved.)

Mom was successful in publishing an assortment of poetry and other works over the course of her decades-long writing career. But when she died suddenly in1996 from an undiagnosed heart condition, she had not fulfilled her dream of publishing a book for children. Her family members resolved to fulfill that dream of hers!

However, it took many years before I was ready to take on this task. The project itself was daunting -- and the more I procrastinated, the more insurmountable this project became for me. But the need to share her poems with young readers was a great incentive. Around 2011, I began slowly to sort through, collect and curate a good selection of her work, especially her haiku and senryu. Among her papers, I found at least one of her old manuscripts.

I endeavored to share some of her short poems with arts, nature and literacy groups that serve children. I contacted a lot of organizations! I’m proud of a rewarding partnership that has been underway for several years with NY’s Arts For All ( AFA is an excellent nonprofit arts education organization that provides programming to city schools. I fund the teaching artists’ residencies. In several grades and classes, AFA’s teaching artists have used mom’s visually appealing poems to convey the basics of painting, drawing and collage; music; and theater.

Finally, in April, 2011, I began to submit H IS FOR HAIKU directly to publishers that welcomed non-agented submissions. I received either rejections or silence – not surprising. 

Time passed and I thought about self-publishing this book. Then in 2016, thanks to a poet and teacher, Aubrie Cox Warner, I connected with Penny Candy Books. To my great joy, they LOVED mom’s poetry and acquired the manuscript! It has been a wonderful experience to collaborate with Penny Candy. Finally – many years later, mom’s dream has come true. I have many people to thank in the KidLit and poetry communities (not to mention family, friends, coworkers …) – they kept me going when I felt like giving up.

Eileen:  Your mother’s poetry was inspired by her life in New York City. The haiku selections encourage readers “to slow down, linger, and pay attention to the moments we often overlook.” Can you share a favorite experience about city life and your mom/family?

Amy:  Mom and dad (Sam Rosenberg) did so much. We went to the theater, concerts, museums, botanical gardens, beaches, zoos, city parks – and more. Mom had this hunger to immerse herself in various enriching events and experiences both in New York and beyond, and she tried to impart her sense of adventure to my brother Nathan and me.

During our family jaunts, or as a result of them, she crafted a good number of poetry and stories. Some no doubt stayed in her head; others made it to the page. All these years later, I now appreciate her keen “eye.” Syd had a penchant for engaging with so-called “small moments” and making them matter. I think – hope -- mom would be pleased, but it’s even more important that readers be happy with this selection of her wonderful poems.

Eileen: Which poem in the collection is your favorite and why?

Amy: One of my favorites is “So pale”

This one was published a few times in journals, including a 1968 issue of Haiku West (where it won a “best-of-issue” award.) I love its simplicity and sense of stillness and peace. “It” can be anything readers wish to imagine. In H IS FOR HAIKU, Sawsan Chalabi’s illustration of an affable moon perfectly captures the understated enchantment of this poem.

Eileen:  Speaking of the great illustrations -- Sawsan Chalabi’s work is lovely and playful. What can you share with us?

Amy:  Sawsan’s wonderful artistic style is such a vivid complement to the poems! I asked Sawsan to tell us more about her process. . .

Sawsan Chalabi is a designer and illustrator with an MFA in Illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design. Her work is mostly digital and conceptual in nature. With H IS FOR HAIKU, she let each poem speak to her as she interpreted each random thought into a visual. Because the individual poems were not connected to one another (other than via the overall alphabet “framework”), this allowed her ample room and freedom for playfulness with the imagery and hand-lettering. To maintain a smooth transition from one page to the next, Sawsan used the same color palette throughout the book. She made sure each spread worked as one harmonious piece, with the visuals of one poem flowing freely into the next, thus allowing the reader to glide through the poet's thoughts with ease.

Eileen: Where can readers and fans find more information about you and your mother’s book on social media?

Amy: H IS FOR HAIKU and Penny Candy’s other titles can be found here:

The book is available on Amazon and via other retailers, including independent bookstores.

Sawsan’s vibrant artistry is showcased here:

Thank you, Eileen, for this lovely opportunity to chat and to share the story of H IS FOR HAIKU

Happy Mother’s Day to you and all of the GROG BLOG readers!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Paying for a Professional Critique - Some Thoughts

By Leslie Colin Tribble

It’s been a slow year of writing for me. I wasn’t able to attend any conferences in 2017 and didn’t get a chance to have an agent or editor critique any manuscripts. I have several manuscripts that need some final work, but I’m just not sure how to get them to that polished state and my critique group has helped about as much as they can. What to do? 

I’ve decided to pay for a few professional critiques.

Before jumping in, I asked writer friends and folks within Facebook groups what they thought. I've taken their responses and come up with some tips for deciding why to pay for a critique and how to find the best person to do one. 

Hunting for a critique service doesn't have to be hard.

 Why Pay for a Critique
1.       You’ve written a story. And rewritten. Your critique group has been through several rounds of revisions with you. The story is Just. About. There. But you know in your heart something’s Just. Not. Right. This is the perfect time to pay for a professional critique. This person will read your story with a completely fresh set of eyes and will see it in a way neither you, nor your critique group did. That clarity can be the focus needed to make your story sing.

Who needs a professional critique? Maybe you do.

2.       Maybe you’ve already had too many people look at a manuscript too many times and are receiving too much conflicting advice. Again, that fresh set of eyes might show you the right path forward.

Critiques help you get back on track.

3.       Author (and critiquer) Jill Esbaum feels that a professional critique can shorten a writer’s learning curve. She feels one of the differences between published and unpublished writers is published writers are willing to listen to criticism and do the revision work necessary to perfect a manuscript.

Can you bearly stand to hear criticism?

How to Chose A Critique Service
4.       When paying someone to critique your story, choose wisely. Jill Esbaum says book editors, as gate keepers of the kid-lit world, might be a good place to start. But published authors can talk to you on a writer-to-writer basis and possibly explain problems in a way that’s easier to understand. Everyone I asked said to definitely find someone who writes, or edits the type of book you’re writing. Is your book a non-fiction picture book biography? Then don’t pay for a critique from someone who writes YA fiction.

Critiques keep you afloat.

5.       Price isn’t everything when it comes to paying for a critique. You need to make sure you understand what you will receive from the professional. Will they do line edits? Are they simply critiquing the scope and tone of the story? Will they provide a detailed write up of the critique or simply a summary? Do they offer a phone consultation or possibly a second consultation? Do your research and compare services, not just cost.
I can’t wait have my manuscripts critiqued. I think it will be just the boost I need to get my stories off my computer and out into the land of submissions!

Have you paid for a critique outside of a conference? What are your thoughts?

Critiques help you see the big picture.