Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Celebrating Multicultural Children's Book Day

MCBD, a celebration of the diversity of kidlit, was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen and is back for its eighth year. 

GROG supports the MCBD mission: to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include children's books celebrating diversity in homes and on school and library bookshelves. 
Read more about MCBD's features and history here and check out the Twitter Party information and other resources listed at the end of this post. 

To celebrate MCBD, bloggers post their reviews of newly published diverse books for kids. This year I'm excited to be reviewing two picture books published last year by Barefoot Books: From My Window, by Otavio Junior, illustrated by Vanina Starkoff, and Amazing Places, by Miralda Colombo, illustrated by Beatrice Cerocchi

In From My Window, author Otavio Junior, using language so lyrical it's a poem, describes a young narrator's view from the window of his home in Rio de Janeiro. The narrator lives in one of the city's favelas, informal ramshackle neighborhoods without government services such as running water and sewer. 

A big part of the delight of this book is that it's an #OwnVoices story, about a kind of neighborhood not often seen in kids' books. The author grew up in a favela. As a boy, he discovered a book in the trash. Junior says that book saved him, and that he's been reading ever since. He grew up to establish a children's library in his favela. In this book, he conveys the joys of life in the self-governed favela community, full of friends, music, and games.
I appreciated that From My Window provides background information, including that "while it is known for having problems with violence, there are many other parts of life in a favela." Junior tells us that a favela "is a whole world inside a city, with its language, culture, and traditions." 

Vanina Starkoff's illustrations are brilliantly colored with fanciful details, sure to engage young readers. They convey the author's joy in his home, along with feelings of sadness and fear at different points in the story. Starkoff is from Argentina and also lives in Brazil; her art shows her familiarity with the tropical beauty of South America. 

In Amazing Places, Miralda Colombo describes 15 wonder-filled spots around the world, from the pyramids of Egypt to Machu Picchu to Easter Island and beyond. As a nonfiction nerd, I particularly appreciate the fact-rich panels, travel tips, the world map showing the locations of all the sites, and an illustrated glossary. 

Beatrice Cerocchi's art conveys the magic of these places. Cartoon-like features depict what you'd need to pack and things you might see and do in the featured attractions. Overall this is a terrific introduction to natural and cultural wonders around the world.

Barefoot Books is a publisher to follow. They produce beautifully illustrated books with heart and soul. Many of them bring a global perspective to introductory nonfiction for kids. I'm particularly excited about this house because they're set to publish my book (which is all about water) this fall. I've been collaborating intensely with the creative team over these last months, and am finding them a joy to work with. 

So, happy Multicultural Children's Book Day! Why not read on for a selection of amazing diverse-books resources. Check out the Twitter Party on Friday, and celebrate MCBD by reading!

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Labor of Love: Writing a Compilation of Nonfiction Biographies~a guest post from Vivian Kirkfield

We start 2021 with a fabulous guest post from author Vivian Kirkfield, with a look at writing picture book biographies, using her newest, stellar compilation of picture book biographies, FROM HERE TO THERE: INVENTIONS THAT CHANGED THE WAY THE WORLD MOVES as a mentor text. Being one of Vivian's critique partners, I had the privilege of seeing these 9 stories all come together in one book. Vibrant illustrations accompany Vivian's rhythmic texts. I will say, my favorites are the stories of Bertha Benz and Raye Montague. Take it away, Vivian!

Thank you so much for inviting me to Grog Blog, Tina! I’m so excited to be celebrating the launch of my newest book baby, a nine-story compilation of nonfiction picture book biographies, illustrated by the brilliant Gilbert Ford and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Book Baby. When I first heard that term many years ago, I wondered what it meant. A writer friend explained that it was what authors call their new books. Having experienced childbirth three times, I wasn’t sure about equating having a baby with creating a book. The planning. The pleasure. The pain.

Hmmm…then again, maybe creating a book is a lot like having a baby. Especially this one about visionaries whose innovations altered the landscape of the planet. But how, you may be asking, did such a compilation book come about?

The path to publication started in 2016 when I wrote a story about Eric Wickman, the founder of the Greyhound Bus Company. I had gotten in the groove of writing nonfiction bios a year before and I already had a contract for Sweet Dreams, Sarah. My sister told me about a friend who was a friend of Eric’s granddaughter. A Swedish immigrant, Eric came to America in 1905 with only $60 in his pocket. After several failed business ventures, he opened a car dealership, but when he couldn’t sell even one car from his showroom, he bought it himself and started a shuttle service.

That felt like such a great story to me. I did some research and was able to speak with the granddaughter who was extremely helpful. When the story was ready, my agent sent it out on submission – and in the summer of 2017, the amazing Ann Rider at HMH let us know she loved it. However, she had a concern because Eric Wickman is pretty unknown and she worried that the bus wasn’t a popular enough vehicle to merit a stand-alone picture book. Would I be willing to write a few more narrative nonfiction bios about inventors of other things that go?

Of course, I said YES! Ann originally asked me to give her a list of 5 or 6 ideas. I submitted a short list with a brief description of what I might write. I guess you could call that a proposal, but it was nothing like a true nonfiction proposal…here’s a glimpse of what I sent her:


From the beginning of time, people longed to go. Fast. Slow. High. Low. First, they walked. Next, they used animals. Then they set their sights on faraway lands, peered into the depths of the oceans, and cast their eyes on the stars, and wondered…how can we get there?

With a bucketful of determination, a willingness to work hard, and a spark of imagination, these visionaries changed the way we go.

Note to editor Ann:

I’m attaching the two sample stories: BUS (tightened from 650 words to 420, hopefully keeping all the fun and quirky bits that you loved) and BIKE (which you mentioned you thought would make a very kid-friendly chapter).

And here are some ideas for the other three or four things that go, but I am open to any ideas you have and can research and write on any topic you prefer.

COMPUTER-DESIGNED SUBMARINE: of great interest because it gives the collection some diversity (Raye Montague is an African-American woman, one of the hidden figures, not of NASA as portrayed in the movie, but of the Navy during the 1950’s).

SKATEBOARD: originally created by surfers in California to use when stormy oceans prevented them from riding the waves. They screwed roller skate wheels onto their boards and surfed the city streets. And in 2020, skateboarding will debut as an official sport of the Tokyo Olympics.

HOT AIR BALLOON: has a fabulous aha moment and was invented by two brothers working together as a team –  the creative genius with ADHD, and the practical scientist who kept the project on point. (I wrote this as a stand-alone picture book, but can tighten it for the compilation).

CAR: might never have left the workshop of Karl Benz if not for his wife’s secret plan to promote the car by taking the kids on a road trip to grandma’s house. (there is a stand-alone picture book coming out in October from Charlesbridge)

Ann and I chatted, both via email and on the phone, as we made decisions regarding what stories I should write. Early on, she encouraged me to be careful with my research:

Looking forward to chatting, Vivian!   Just fyi, as you write the stories, its best to keep notes for the back matter close at hand.   Documentation has become more important these days; all direct quotes, for example, need citation.   We can discuss further but, in the meantime, attached please find documentation guidelines from HMH.

 Over the next few months, I researched and wrote. In October, Ann decided that instead of targeting Grades K-2, we were going to gear the stories to Grades 3-6. In addition, she suggested we change the title to THINGS THAT MOVE so that we could include robotics. By December, I had a better idea of what I wanted to do and had already written a few of the stories although I still didn’t know how many stories there would be. I reached out to Ann again with this email:

 Hurray! What a joy to connect with you! Yes, I, too, am excited about this project and thrilled to join with you in shining a light on the lives of these incredible visionaries.

 You mentioned that Eric Gets America Moving is perfect in tone and format...this truly helps me as I craft the other stories for the collection. I thought it would be cool to have inventions that span air, water, and land. Each was a ground-breaking moment in history that changed the way the world moved and left a legacy that touches our lives today. In addition to that BUS story:

·  TRAIN (All Aboard: George Stephenson and the First Steam Passenger Train - which you have seen and which already has the sidebar notes).

·  BIKE (With His Own Two Feet: Karl Drais and the Invention of the First Bicycle - this needs sidebar notes and I hope you love this story as much as I do...I think kids will think it is cool to find out how and why the first bike was built)

· BALLOON (The Boy Who Dreamed of Flying: Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier and the First Manned Balloon Flight which has an awesome AHA moment and is polished, but would need sidebar notes). Or, if you'd rather have a story about an airplane/drone, I could write that.

· ROBOT (George's Robot...taking your suggestion, I wrote a story about the man who invented the first industrial robot which should appeal to kids who love science fiction. It also has a great AHA moment.

· CAR (Genius Camp: How Three Men and a President Paved the Way for Better Roads. It's about how Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone took President Warren G. Harding on a camping trip to convince him to sign a bill to allocate $162 million for better roads...this story is polished, but needs sidebars - or if you don't feel that topic relates closely enough to 'inventing', I also had started writing a story about Bertha and Carl Benz and the first gasoline powered automobile.

· SUBMARINE: I thought injecting some diversity into the collection might be a good idea (Raye Montague is an African American woman) and it gives the book something that moves in the water. The story has a great AHA moment, but I need to flesh the story out and I wasn't sure if creating a program that designs submarines with a computer was too abstract an invention for the book. If you'd prefer another water vehicle, I am happy to research and write that one.

This makes if you only want five or six, we can eliminate whichever you wish. Or Ann, I am totally open to any suggestions regarding these stories or any others you would prefer for THINGS THAT MOVE. I embrace feedback, revision is my friend, and I look forward to working with you. 


At this point, Ann let me know that she really wanted 7-10 stories…and she definitely wanted one about the rocket. She also preferred the story about Bertha Benz over the Genius Camp one. I felt we needed more diversity as well – and I suggested doing a story about the folding wheelchair, which opened doors for mobility-challenged individuals. She loved that idea!


In one of her previous emails, Ann had let me know that she loved the structure of the BUS story. And that information was very helpful as I wrote each subsequent manuscript because ‘all’ I had to do was use BUS as a template and recreate the magic. 😊


1.     Engaging opening lines.

2.     Child main character who has a dream/goal.

3.     AH-HA moment.

4.     Fun language/great rhythm/excellent pacing.

5.     Legacy paragraph that shows how the invention impacts us today.

6.     Satisfying ending that echoes the opening lines.


Once I had my list of visionaries, I researched them, online at first, and then I dug deeper, using books, newspapers, and when I was lucky, interviews with family members. I would write a rough draft and revise and give it to one of my critique groups. And would move on to the next story. When I received feedback on a previous manuscript, I’d revise that one. Somehow, with the help of my amazing critique partners who were always ready to look at a new draft or a revised one, I did it!


The contract called for all of the manuscripts to be delivered to Ann’s inbox by May 1, 2018. Counting back nine months brings us to the end of August which is when I started to seriously write these manuscripts. Nine months. Yup…creating this compilation was definitely like having a baby – and, like having a baby, it was definitely a labor of love!



Vivian Kirkfield~

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, banana-boat riding, and visiting critique buddies all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the picturesque town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. She is the author many picture books including Sweet Dreams,( Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and the upcoming Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, First Woman to Bike Around The World (Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills & Kane, Spring 2023). You can connect with her on her websiteFacebookTwitterPinterestInstagramLinkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.




Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Move Forward With SMART Goals for 2021

By Suzy Leopold

    With a new beginning many review and reflect on the 2020 year and then move forward into 2021 by making personal and/or career resolutions.

    Did you make resolutions or did you set goals as a new year was ushered in?

    Resolutions can be defined as a promise or a wish to do better. Most often resolutions are made with good intentions, purpose, and determination. However, by February many resolutions are left behind. They become abandoned resolutions.

    Most often goals include tangible objectives and plans for what one intends to accomplish all through determination. Goal setting provides direction to achieve desired outcomes. 

    To be more precise—set SMART goals.

    What are SMART Goals?

    Setting SMART Goals is a concept to achieve results.

    To achieve a successful end result with creativity on your side, consider establishing SMART Goals. 

    They are tangible, specific goals that are measured, possible, and achievable. They are relevant goals to match your needs in a timely fashion.

    Begin by identifying three or four goals. Make sure they meet the elements of a SMART goal. Are they concrete and specific? Can you quantify and measure them? Can you achieve them realistically? Are the goals relevant to your ultimate goal? Adjust as need be to make the dreams and desires come true. Set the bar higher if you discover the SMART goals you set are not challenging you. Fine tune and recalibrate goals if they are not practical. Consider long-term and short-term goals.

    Examine these SMART Goal examples and non examples.

Can you identify which ones will achieve the best results for success? 

An estimated 188.9 million American adults are determine to better themselves in 2021 by:

  • Learning something new 
  • Making lifestyle changes
  • Setting goals

Another interesting fact: 

  • 71 % of Americans are feeling hopeful in 2021.

For additional information:

Ready or Not. It’s Time to Show Up

What Good Writers Do

Writing Goals: 2021

    If you made resolutions or goals for the new year, you may want reconsider. It’s not too late to consider SMART Goals to achieve successful results. SMART Goals can be written as personal or professional goals anytime. Take these ideas and make them your own. SMART Goals are unique to each individual. 

    Celebrate your success along the way as you continue to move forward through the year.

    May you find insight and inspiration for your writing and/or illustrating journey by setting SMART Goals. May your promises to achieve with purpose equal success in 2021.

    Every new year is a time for renewal and a new beginning. Start 2021 off right by reading, writing, and creating with established SMART Goals.

 “You are the key to achieving your goals.

No one else is going to do it for you.

Go find your star and make it shine.”

~Mike Ciccotello, author and illustrator

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

PRODUCTIVITY WITHOUT RESOLUTIONS OR RIGIDITY: You Are Not a Jedi (Apologies to Yoda) by Carol Coven Grannick

Yoda famously told Luke Skywalker, "Try not! Do or do not. There is no try." Expectation of action, rather than thinking about action—not a bad thing. But over the years, I've come to believe in something more flexible for those of us who do not respond well to rigid and global resolutions. And virtually every article on "resolutions" cites 80% failure rate. That tells us a couple of things:

it's not the desires, longings, or plans that are at fault, but the language, and therefore quality, of the resolutions. It also tells us that if we are not Jedi—and even more, not fictional characters in a movie—it is quite possible that 'trying' is a pretty decent thing to do. Because we are human. And rigid and other-worldly expectations often fail us (that's right—I blame the type of expectation, not the human).

But...There's a Lot We Can Do 
This does not mean we cannot dream and do. We can. 

But there may be more effective ways to handle our own expectations, hopes and dreams, and plans for ourselves. These suggestions are based on my own life experience, beliefs, and knowledge, and apply to every day of the year, not only the first of January. They have increased my persistence and productivity as a writer, and perhaps they may be helpful to you. 

It's common for me to check in with myself about my needs, longings, passions, plans, and more. I expect to work each day in some way. I enjoy challenges and use new experiences to open and surprise my brain, discovering new creative journeys that often lead back to a better place with a work-in-progress. In these difficult and challenging times, I've called on a strength much more frequently that feeds emotional resilience, and flows from it, as well—flexibility. 

How We Tend to Respond to Restriction 
I learned forty years ago that one major external non-creative 'resolution'-related activity, dieting, has an up to 95% failure rate, causing survivors to regain all of the weight they'd lost, and more. As I gently and slowly learned to discover my physiological hunger and feed myself in what is now commonly called an 'intuitive' way (in response to physiological hunger), I discovered that other unsuccessful attitudes toward life struggles with similar language and inflexibility.

Resolutions that fail tend to fall into this framework: 

1. Vows and promises  
2. Huge and global goals                                                                     
3. Externally-related expectations 

Research indicates that changing the language we use to describe our life experiences changes our emotions and therefore our actions. I'd like to suggest a substantial, heartfelt effort to change the substance, not just the sound, of the resolution.

The Science of Positive Psychology 

Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology, an international, research-based theory and practice, wrote LEARNED OPTIMISM in the early nineties, in which he drew from cognitive psychotherapy to encourage the practice of creating new pathways in our brains by changing the content of the language we each use to explain our life experiences. At the same time, neuroscience research began to share research that demonstrated the plasticity of the human brain. 

Reframing Your ‘Explanatory Style’ 

Underlying the research on positive emotions is a framework that identifies characteristics of 'pessimistic' and 'optimistic' language we use when "explaining" to ourselves our life experiences. Typical (or perhaps old-fashioned?) resolutions tend to use pessimistic 'explanatory style': 

1. Rigid/Stable (as in, unchanging): I will, I should, I promise...
2. Global: every day, always, forever, never...
3. External: planning for events out of your control 

These characteristics define pessimistic thinking. And pessimistic thinking creates gratuitous negative emotions, which tend to deplete energy, focus, mood, and more. When we fail at these unrealistic goals and resolutions, our language can include more of the same pessimistic thinking: 1. "I can't" (rigid/unchanging) 2. "I'll never be able to..." (never/always) 3. "I'm a failure" (personal vs. out of your control).

The Power of Changing Your Language 

Consider changing the way you describe your 'resolutions' or even 'goals'. Instead of using rigid, global, and external-related language, try this: 

1. 'Unstable'/Flexible language and expectations: I'm interested in, I'll try to____, I hope to, (but I give myself permission to adjust and/or change my plans.)  
2. 'Local'/Specific to a smaller, not global, framework: I'll schedule time for____and accept that I may not be always able to adhere to the schedule 
3. 'Internal'/originating from your interests, passions, longings, abilities—i.e., what you can control: I'd like to spend more time researching more precise matches for exactly what I write, and make sure my mss. are the absolute best they can be before submitting.

Most Do Better With Flexibility

Since it is our inability to meet unrealistic expectations that often sets negative thinking into motion, I found that building in a gentle, compassionate, and flexible attitude can lead to greater productivity than a harsher and rigid one.  

For the last several decades, this has made a huge difference by: 

1. finding quicker ways to climb over obstacles and turns in the road 
2. being more productive (which I view as persistent-to-completion of projects in which I'm interested) 
3. focusing on what is in my control and acceptance of those things beyond my control. 

Enabling the Events of a Creative Life 

Practicing, and ultimately integrating, a different way of thinking about my own explanatory style enabled me to have the life of a writer, one that began seriously in 1999, when I wrote my first children's story. Submitting became an exercise in hope, rather than a chore that could lead to more despair. Working hard in response to serious critique became a meaningful challenge to move my writing in each manuscript, each verse of a novel, to a clearer, more lyrical, more truly poetic level. (Notably, this ability also evolved into the capacity to distinguish between helpful critique and that which did not mesh with my own vision—previously, a terrifying choice, since in the early years I did not trust my own perceptions of my work). 

Is This Just Letting Ourselves ‘Off the Hook’? 

The brain's response to a change in language can be life-changing. But is it scary to give up the more rigid framework? Does it feel like you'll never accomplish anything if you're flexible with yourself, depend on checking in with your specific needs, hopes, longings, instead of what you believe you "should" be doing? If "making resolutions" is expected, will you really be less successful if you don't do that?

I enjoy having projects to work on, making lists of what I'd like to accomplish in any given day or week, and frequently have items that move to the next week, without any judgment. 

Work, not resolutions, challenges and energizes, encouraging repetition of focused, productive, and creative activity. Sometimes that doesn't work, particularly in our more challenging times. When I have an "off" day, I try to relax through it and return to work later, or the next day.

It is not the desire to accomplish and to plan that is problematic. Rather, rigid expectations set us up for failure and then stress, even anguish, caused by the too-global and too-huge framework. 

Flexibility is not equivalent to slacking off. Gentleness is not lack of discipline and hard work. Compassion is not failure.
 How to Begin, Differently

Any day of the year, we can relax the 'shoulds', and instead, wonder: 
  • What are my interests now?      
  • What am I capable of absolutely achieving today? (don't ever think there's something too tiny, because not the amount, but the something that encourages you) 
  • If I'm stuck on what I'd like to do, can I experiment with something different or new, and trust that it could be a bridge back to my original project?
I challenge myself on a regular basis to be a persistent, productive, joyful writer. 

I try my best each day—and that can look different depending on the day, my internal state, and the external state of my life. 

The result can be hard work, practicing and discovering, learning and experimenting. It won't make us Jedi, but it will help us become and live as the writers we want to be. 

Sorry, Yoda!

Do you have some thoughts or questions about this? Please feel free to email me through my website: