Wednesday, September 18, 2019

FINDING TREASURE Author Interview w/ Michelle Schaub + Book Giveaway by Eileen Meyer

Michelle Schaub's latest picture book!

Michelle, thanks for joining us today at the GROG Blog. Where did you get the idea for this book and the poems within?

I first thought about writing a poetry book about things people collect when I was participating in Tara Lazar’s STORY STORM a few years ago. In this challenge, writers come up with a new picture book idea each day for a month. 

One day, when I was short on ideas, I was perusing the items on my bookshelf, and my eyes landed on my grandmother’s seashell collection. I started brainstorming different items that other family and friends collected. My mom collected buttons. (I loved rummaging through her button box when I was little.) My father-in-law collected trains. My husband collected baseball cards as a child. The neighbor around the corner had a birdhouse collection that filled his entire front porch. Each of these topics ended up becoming a poem in the book. But I still needed something to hold the poems together. So, I came up with the idea of adding a protagonist who needs to bring in a collection for a class assignment. This gave the book an arc: a hunt for the perfect collection!

Poem featured in Michelle's new book
Which poem from the collection is your favorite and why?

I had so much fun playing with different forms in this collection, and each presented its own challenges and triumphs. I think my favorite of the lot is “Auntie Kate’s Vanity PL8S” because I thought “outside the box” or more accurately “inside the license plate rectangle” for this poem. Each line of this poem is a vanity plate puzzle that must be decoded.  The challenge with this format was maintaining a rhyme and meter within the constraint of each line being no more than 6 or 7 characters long (including spaces), which is the standard for vanity plates.

Are you a collector yourself, and if so, what do you collect?

My grandmother was a collector. She had an amazing giraffe figurine collection and a butterfly-themed collection.   She also collected teapots and cups. I used to spend hours studying all her different pieces.  As a result, I’ve always loved the idea of collecting. 
Michelle and one of her collectibles: tea cups

Over the years, I’ve started several collections:  a blue teacup collection, a blue Santa collection (I really like the color blue), but then my attention and interests change.  The only collection I’ve managed to sustain is my collection of children’s poetry books. I just had to buy a bigger bookshelf recently to hold all of the wonderful poetry collections written by my fellow children’s poets. I’m also really drawn to the idea of collecting non-tangible things like smiles or words or poems. 

Something folks might not know about you…

I also “collect” visits to farmers’ markets. Farmers’ markets are my happy place.  This statement, written on a tea towel my neighbor gave me, is absolutely true. 
Farmers' Markets & Michelle

The first thing I do when I travel to a new place is find the farmers’ market and see what local fruit and veggies treasures I can spy. I’ve even been known to plan vacations around farmers’ markets that are rumored to be spectacular. Walking down a row of tents at a market, taking in the bright rainbow of fresh produce and listening to chatting neighbors and lively musicians, fills me with joy.  

I channeled that joy into the poems I wrote for my last collection, FRESH-PICKED POETRY: A DAY AT THE FARMERS’ MARKET.

Michelle's debut picture book

Michelle, I know that you have some other exciting news to share ...

I just launched a blog called POETRY BOOST.  I’ll be sharing lesson plans, mentor text, and ideas for using poetry to boost literacy across the curriculum.

GIVEAWAY: For those who leave a comment on the blog post, we'll pick a lucky winner of Michelle's new book on Sept. 23rd! Stay tuned!

Find Michelle here on social media:

Twitter and Instagram: @schaubwrites

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Just in time for fall: Pick a Pumpkin--Patricia Toht, Author, interviewed by Julie Phend

Pick a Pumpkin
With autumn here and Halloween just around the corner, what could be more delightful than Patricia Toht’s invitation to Pick a Pumpkin in her latest picture book? The book, written in rhymed verse for readers aged 3-7 and charmingly illustrated by Jarvis, evokes the magic of choosing just the right pumpkin and transforming it into a jack-o-lantern for Halloween night.

I love the rich, sensory details in Toht’s text: from “vivid orange, ghostly white” and “lumpy chunks, sticky strings, clumpy seeds, guts and things” to “small slits sleeping, cross-eyed crazy” and “red-hot eyes and fiery grin.” Jarvis’s beautiful illustrations in autumn tones of orange and blues give the book an old-fashioned feel that perfectly suits this timeless tradition.



Patricia Toht Interview

GROG: Pick a Pumpkin is a companion book to Pick a Pine Tree. Whose idea was it to write a companion book? How closely did you follow the same structure? Did this make the writing easier or harder?

PATRICIA: Pick a Pumpkin started out as a poem about carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns. The poem eventually grew to book length. I thought that transforming a pine tree into a Christmas tree had promise, too, so I wrote Pick a Pine Tree. They follow the same structure, which definitely made it easier to write, since the basic arc was established. They were submitted to the publisher as companion books, with Pick a Pine Tree released first (2107), followed by Pick a Pumpkin this year.

GROG: Tell us about the illustrator, Jarvis, who illustrated both of these books.

PATRICIA: I’m so fond of Jarvis’s illustrations! For me, they evoke comfort and nostalgia. The color palette of Pick a Pumpkin is so rich – not only oranges, but purples, pinks, and blues – and conveys the feeling of autumn. Jarvis also has whimsical books that he’s both written and illustrated. My favorite is Mrs. Mole, I’m Home!, about a near-sighted mole.
Patricia's son Will picks a pumpkin of his own
He lives in England, so we haven’t met yet, but I’m hoping we will some day!
You can explore Jarvis's website here -

Daughter Ruth with Decorated Pumpkin
GROG: You’ve chosen to use rhymed verse in an era where writers are often told not to attempt it. What do you like about rhymed verse? Why did you choose it?
PATRICIA: I’m a poet at heart. I love lyrical language and how images can be conjured from few words. But I don’t always write in verse. It’s sounds odd, but I write in rhyme if a piece comes to me that way – it begins rhyming itself as I’m working on it! One danger of writing in verse is that sometimes the rhyme tries to drive the story – it’s tempting to add extra lines or to word things unnaturally, in order to make an end rhyme work. I once heard an editor say it’s not that editors don't like rhyme, they don’t like bad rhyme. If you want to be a rhymer, you have to really work at it by studying rhythm and meter, forms of poetry, poetic devices, etc.

GROG: How much do you edit and tinker with the wording and the rhyme?

PATRICIA: I obsessively edit and tinker! In poetry, every single word counts. I use a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary to help me make just the right choices. And I’m so lucky to have critique partners who are amazing poets, too, and they help me whip my manuscripts into shape.

GROG: What training do you have—as a writer and a poet?
Critique group: Eileen Meyer, Heidi Roemer, Michelle Schaub

PATRICIA: I didn’t study creative writing at school, so I’ve learned along the way. Early on, I took a writing-for-children class with Esther Hershenhorn and a poetry class with Heidi Roemer, which were both very helpful. I’ve also attended SCBWI workshops, and I have a shelf of craft books I refer to often.

GROG: You’ve written a number of holiday books for children. What do you see as the advantages/disadvantages of holiday books?

PATRICIA: A definite advantage is that holiday books have a ready market. But that also comes with a disadvantage – sales are usually limited to the holiday season. I also think it can be challenging to come up with a unique concept to compete with existing holiday books.

Glass Pumpkin Festival
GROG: Do you have marketing ideas for Pick a Pumpkin that you’re willing to share? 
PATRICIA: Last year, I worked with a classroom of second graders and I gave them an early reading of Pick a Pumpkin. Their teacher is from a farming family, and she picked tiny pumpkins for each student. I would love to do something like this at book signings and school visits! I’ve also reached out to our local arboretum, which hosts a glass pumpkin festival, hoping I can share the book at their festival.
Patricia with Second-Graders

GROG: While we’re talking about holidays, what’s your favorite holiday? Why?

PATRICIA: My favorite holiday is Christmas – I love everything about it! I start playing Christmas music and baking cookies the day after Thanksgiving. Our family has its own traditions, which include the trek for a tree, annual ornaments for the kids, and stuffed stockings that may not be opened until after Christmas dinner.

GROG: Finally, GROG readers already know a lot about Patricia Toht. Tell us something we don’t already know.

PATRICIA: Many people will find this weird, but I love graveyards! When I was a young mom, I lived across the street from one, and I often took my son for walks there. It was peaceful and filled with beautiful statuary. Reading the gravestones made me wonder about people buried there. Now, when I travel, I often find a graveyard to explore in each location.

Sounds like another Halloween book might be in your future, Patricia!

Thanks for sharing with GROG readers.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Read, Write, and Create with Tracey English

by Suzy Leopold

It's back to school time!. It's a new school year with a new beginning.
Colored pencil creation
by Suzy 
It’s time for creatives to begin the school year with fresh ideas.

Lives are busy and days are filled with demands. Doodling, drawing, painting, crafting can calm a racing mind and revitalize a weary body. Spending time creating offers healing benefits, new perspectives, and a sense of pride in your writing accomplishments. 

In April, I participated in a 100 Day Creative Project. During the challenge, I met many creative individuals on-line as we shared daily creations on Instagram.
I am pleased to introduce a creative friend, a British artist and author:
Tracey English.
Tracey English 😊
Q1: I understand your parents were both artists. As a child, perhaps you were surrounded by creativity. Did your parents encourage you to be curious and create?
My brother and I were constantly surrounded by creativity, my dad had a home studio, even when my parents divorced we always spent weekends with my dad who could normally be found working away on projects. Not sure they encouraged us as such, I think it was just something that was in our blood. My brother is a film director and producer now a day. My mum taught watercolor painting to adults but was also always producing her own work as well. I can't imagine not being creative.

Q2: How would you describe your lovely, whimsical creations? What inspires you? Where do you find ideas? Please expand on your quote, “I’m an illustrator who loves to create images by snipping designs from hand coloured tissue paper.” 
ABC Creation
by Tracey English

I would describe my work as fun, playful and filled with color. I’m inspired by nature, the environment and pattern, I love the way things grow and interlock together. I originally just worked with color tissue paper but over time found it too restrictive, so I now use all sorts of hand colored and found papers to create my images.
Tracey's journal
with painted paper

Q3: During the month of October 2018, you celebrated not one, not two, but three book birthdays! 

Both are published by Bloomsburg Activity Books. 

The third title published by Quarry Books, is a landscape painting and mixed media art. It guides the reader step-by-step.


Please tell us more. Share the experience and the process of writing and illustrating two children’s early learning books. Tell us about your journey to publication for the collage how-to guide.
It was a lovely surprise to be asked to illustrate Panda Claus and Painted Botanical collage both projects came from being seen on social media. For Panda Claus I was commissioned to only illustrate it, the publishers put together the text and gave me guidelines to what they required. 

Painted Botanical Collage was really just left down to me, the art director had seen some of my floral studies from the 2017 100 day project and that triggered off the idea for the book. It was lovely to create a step my step guide and I hope it has encouraged a few people to try out botanical collages.
Greeting Cards
by Tracey
Painted paper
by Tracey
Q4: In addition to your published books, share additional creations you design and sell.
I have an Etsy shop where I sell tea towels, posters and greeting cards that I produce myself, it is great to be able to sell direct to the general public. I also work through an agent where I license designs for various clients and commissioned pieces with art directors.

Q5: As a creative myself, I enjoy reading, writing, and creating. For the first time, I participated in The 100 Day Creative Project in April. Tell us about your experience with the 100 Day Project. Who can participate? What is the challenge all about?
This is the third time taking part in the 100 Day Project, this year I created 100 collaged postcards. It is a fun project, which helps to motivate you, and to enable you to discover new avenues. It’s definitely not easy and takes a fair bit of discipline. For me this year it helped me develop some new ideas and a new body of work.

Anyone can take part, you just need to think of a goal and a reason, it helps to share things on line and become part of the community that surrounds it, they in turn help you stick to your goals and remain focused.
Danish Houses
by Tracey
Q6: Share your advice and words of encouragement for aspiring writers, artists, and illustrators. Do you have suggestions or tips for writers and illustrators 
“under construction”? 
To stay motivated and inspired I think they are the two most important things, and also not to be afraid of hard work, it is a tough competitive industry that often isn’t very well rewarded. But if you are passionate about being creative, then hopefully good opportunities come along. It is always a bit of a roller coaster ride, lots of highs and lows. I took a long break while my family grew up but I am extremely happy to have returned to such a bright, vibrant community.

Finally, How can we connect with you on social media? Where can followers of the GROG Blog find more of your work?
Check out more of Tracey's creations and follow her on:
To purchase Tracey's whimsical art work, go to her Etsy Shop and Jehane Ltd sites.
Tracey's Studio
Thank you for your inspiration, Tracey. Thank you for creating beautiful, whimsical art and books filled fun, creative activities. 

For additional information to participate in future challenges, search online. You'll find various opportunities: Creative 100 Day Project

Here's what I created during the #100 Day Creative Challenge that began in April 2019. 

I don't read write, write, create, discover, and explore because I have to. I do it because I want to. 
Created with watercolor
by Suzy Leopold
#100 Day Creative Challenge
by Suzy Leopold
More #100 Day Creative Challenge
4 X 6 Postcards
by Suzy Leopold
Mediums used:
acrylic paints, colored pencils, watercolor,
painted paper, scrapbook paper
by Suzy Leopold

As a writer, you too, can incorporate creative concepts of art discovery in your stories. The benefits of creating may bring new energy and inspiration to your stories.
Consider adding art forms to your writing journey because you want to.
Read. Write. Create.
by Suzy