Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Solstice musings


Winter in Upstate NY seems dreary and gray sometimes. So it's good to get outside and walk around the block and look for the beauty in nature.

Sometimes it's a dried seed head.

Sometimes it's a patch of flowers that just kept on blooming until the last minute. Even then, their frozen, dried petals hold a certain beauty.


The GROGgers are going on a holiday break. Some of us will head outdoors with our cameras, some of us will snuggle up with a book, and some of us will be sharpening our pencils and searching for that notebook we left somewhere on/under/behind the couch...

Enjoy the holidays ~

See you in 2022!

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Writers Create

 by Suzy Leopold

Writers create the just-right words and sentences on a page to tell a story.

Illustrators and artists create just-right pictures and art to enhance and support a story. 

Creating is powerful and allows writers to see themselves and reflect on their writing.

Time to create.

Gather together the following suggested supplies:

  • scrapbook paper, and/or card stock (various sizes)
  • paints--watercolor 
  • crayons or felt-tip markers
  • paper cutter or a scissors
  • glue stick; hot glue gun (optional)
  • folding tool (optional) or ruler
Additional supply ideas:
  • stickers
  • photographs 
  • magazine photos
  • discarded books
  • colored pencils
  • acrylic paints 
  • wrapping paper or construction paper
  • rubber bands
  • stapler
Accordion Book

For step-by-step folding and cutting instructions, read this post on This Little Project to make an accordion-style mini-book. All you need is one sheet of paper of any size. I created mine with an 8 1/2 X 11 piece of card stock. 

Another creative idea with one sheet of paper is shown here:

For additional ideas check this video on Red Ted Art

Mini Journal

To make a mini-journal use one sheet of scrapbook paper, 8 1/2 X 11, for the cover.  Cut the paper in half length-wise. Then cut five sheets of white paper also in half length-wise. This is for the inside pages of the journal. This equals a total of ten pages. Next fold the cover page and journal pages in half. I bound the journal together with small rubber bands. A long-arm stapler could be used. Decorate the cover. Begin writing a story and illustrating.
A StoryTelling Box

Fill a small box with various items. A small paper or cloth bag can be used instead of a box. Create and write an imaginative story as you refer to each item. Write the story in your mini-book. 

A Book Recommendation
For many more creative ideas to write, create, and tell a story, read:

Show Me a Story
40 Craft Projects and Activities to Spark Children’s Storytelling
Written by Emily K. Neuburger
Storely Publishing, 2012

I read. I write. I create.

Consider creating and writing a mini book, mini journal, and a storytelling box with kids. Share and read your story with students during classroom visits, (or via Zoom) readers, writers, and creators. Encourage children to share and read their creations.

These creations make great handcrafted gifts for family, friends, and writerly friends.

Hopefully, this creative approach gives you motivation and confidence to use with your writing projects.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Two Upcoming Writing Events

by Sue Heavenrich
After you've tossed the wrappings and boxes in the bin, rolled up the ribbons, and put away the red-and-green felt stockings, treat yourself to a post-holiday gift of writing. All you need is a pencil, maybe a few markers, and some paper.

12 Days of Christmas for Writers, hosted by Julie Hedlund, begins on December 26. It’s a post-Solstice event that invites writers to welcome back the light, and bring light into the areas of our writing that are dark.

“Trust the process,” Julie says as participants explore the successes, challenges, and disappointments in their writing. Each day focuses on one thing. Pull out a fresh sheet of paper and focus on Surprises, Julie says. Another day it’s Things you’ve Learned, or Things you are Grateful for. These pages create the foundation of a blueprint for our writing. My favorite day is “create a cover for your blueprint” day. One year that became a map. Another year it resembled a field guide to gardening.

What I like about the 12 Days is that it feels like a bridge between one year and the next. And rather than make a list of writing goals for the new year – my lists are always way too long – Julie encourages us to reflect without the pressure of accomplishing specific things. 

How to Connect with 12 Days of Christmas for Writers 
She announces it on the 12 x 12 picture book challenge site
Sign-up for email

Tara Lazar hosts Storystorm, which begins January 1. This event is focused on a single goal: to generate 30 picture book ideas in a month – ideas that can, over the following months, be turned into complete manuscripts. Tara started this event years ago (2009 to be exact) as Picture Book Idea Month, or PiBoIdMo. It was an alternative to NaNoWriMo for the picture book crowd. Over the years it evolved and broadened, and now novelists, short story writers, non-fiction authors and even teachers and their students join in the challenge. Storystorm is open to any writer – or anyone – who wants to brainstorm for a month.

I have used all manner of ways to collect my brainstorms, from index cards to slips of paper collected in a cookie tin to sort-of-official "idea notebooks." At the end of the month I go through my ideas and choose the ones that spark something in me, and get to work.

How to Connect with Storystorm

I know what you're thinking: these things don't happen until late this month - next year even! So why write a post about them now? Well ... some of us need advance warning so we can scribble notes on our calendars. Not to mention toss a notebook and some markers in a box and put it next to our favorite writing spot! 

Have Fun!

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Craft Chat and Review of Cynthia Argentine's debut Night Becomes Day: Changes in Nature by Kathy Halsey

Recently, I attended a joint launch event via The Writing Barn and even won Cindy Argentine's debut NIGHT BECOMES DAY, a STEM nonfiction book.

Book launches are so instructive for writers and illustrators. Not only do we get to see authors in action, we also learn more about craft, how to create an interactive online experience, and what kind of questions audience members ask. 

I'm excited to share my review, mentor text musings, and our chat and how Cindy made the book launch special. Read on.         


Over the years, I have become a big fan of Millbrook Press' nonfiction picture books that feature STEM concepts with paired with photography and striking design. Cindy's concept picture book about changes in nature through the seasons blends science and observation in a way that will inspire readers to find wonder in their own natural environment.

The photos work with the text and typography to show and highlight how nature transforms over time: fruit becomes flower, small changes versus big changes with wind and water, how some change is fast while others take centuries.

Author Argentine uses lyrical language ("The little oak tree grows, adding leaves and limbs.") and kid-friendly examples (" will offer shade, shelter, and a perfect pace to climb or rest.") to make science of change instructive yet everyday- accessible. The ending harkens back to the beginning in a satisfying, poetic manner.

Back matter includes an Author's Note on the connectedness of living and nonliving things that invites readers to ponder ecology and our place in it. Educators will appreciate further back matter that weaves geology, botany, biology, chemistry, and physics together. Night Becomes Day will hook many audiences for a variety of reading purposes.

Craft Chat with Cindy Argentine

KH: You and debut author S. K. Wenger created such an interactive book launch through The Writing Barn. Can you explain the audience participation element for those who didn’t attend? What advice do you have for authors new to online formats: setup, venue, length of program, setting up ways to purchase books?

CA: I’m so glad you enjoyed our virtual book launch. Shaunda (S.K.) and I made it interactive to add fun and weave in fascinating facts. We each gave a 20-minute presentation using PowerPoint, coordinating in advance on our content and approach. To engage our audience, we interspersed “quiz” questions every 5-10 minutes and awarded prizes to the winners. The “quiz” questions related to topics in our books. Night Becomes Day is all about transformations that happen in nature. So, for one of my questions, I showed a photo of a blossom and asked whether it would transform into an (a) orange, (b) apple, (c) strawberry, or (d) magnolia. The answer was (b) apple—it was a photo from a tree in my backyard. The first person to type “b” in the Zoom chat won a bookstore credit or copy of my book. Other questions involved surprising facts about snowflakes and deserts (which relate to two other transformations in Night Becomes Day). Many attendees played along, which made it exciting.


For new authors looking into online events, I have these suggestions:

·  Do a “practice run” for your critique partners in advance. That will make you feel more comfortable with the technology and help you tweak any spots in the presentation that seem slow or confusing.

·  Our venue for the book launch was The Writing Barn in Texas. They were great to work with! I’ve also given webinars through Indiana SCBWI and the Montessori Family Alliance. At each venue, having a coordinator to host and provide tech support was wonderful.

·  As for length of program, I have done three 45-minute presentations with 15-minute Q&A’s afterwards. That has worked well.

·  Setting up ways to purchase books may take some work. I recommend partnering with an independent bookstore and supporting local bookshops when possible. That said, be aware that stores have different sorts of websites and online capabilities. Talk with your store manager in advance about the best way for people to shop with them or receive signed copies.

·  One more bit of advice: it’s fun to partner with another writer! I really enjoyed partnering with SK Wenger. Our nonfiction books have different subjects and styles, but Shaunda and I discovered we as authors have a lot in common. Hearing from two authors broadened the program’s content and appeal. 


KH: Like many authors, you’ve had other careers. How did you transition from being an environmental consultant to children’s author? What skill sets transferred from one career to another?

CA: Interesting question! My career transition happened in stages as my family grew. After the birth of my second child, I decided to leave corporate consulting and pursue more flexible work. I wanted something fulfilling that I could do from home and that didn’t require much travel. I have always been interested in both writing and science, and writing nonfiction for kids turned out to be a fun way to combine these interests.


Many skills transferred! Even as an environmental consultant, I was writing every day. I wrote letters, technical reports, and regulatory newsletters for clients. One firm even asked me to lead an in-house seminar on writing for their employees! So, writing itself was a primary skill that transferred. Both careers also require inquisitiveness, research, continuous learning, and problem-solving.


KH: The book layout and comparison/contrast structure works perfectly for this topic. How did editor Carol Hinz and you work together on design, edits?

CA: Thank you! The compare/contrast structure was an early feature of my manuscript and was in place when Carol Hinz acquired it. The primary change Carol suggested did not alter the structure but improved the wording of the contrasting pairs. She suggested I make some of the comparisons more “science-y.” I gave that a lot of thought and adjusted three of the six pairs of adjectives to make them more objective and measurable. For example, “small” versus “big” stayed the same, but “familiar” and “mysterious” became “above” and “below” in a section about clouds and caves. These word choices were clearer for young readers and science teachers.


They book layout and design was handled by Mary Ross and the Lerner art department. I love the way they put opposites on facing pages with a diagonal line separating them. Visually, that reflects the meaning of the words. Carol shared several drafts of the layout with me as it developed. I appreciated the opportunity to comment on the design and photo selection.

KH: Being a back matter aficionado, I applaud the 3 pages of back matter. Did you ask for that or make that suggestion suggest when you submitted the book to Millbrook?

CA: I’m a “back matter aficionado,” too! I wrote and submitted the back matter with the original manuscript. I had even more, but we weren’t able to fit it all in the finished book. If readers would like a glossary, teacher’s guide, or additional resources, please check out my website at The glossary and standards-aligned classroom activities are available as free downloads!


KH: I am taking classes now at the Writing Barn with Bethany Hegedus. Did you take course there? What courses/webinars do you recommend for writers interested in writing nonfiction, particularly science?

CA: I have taken a couple courses with Bethany Hegedus, and I recommend her and The Writing Barn! Interestingly, I first met Bethany at the Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania, where she and Cynthia Levinson taught an excellent course on picture-book biographies. A year or so after that, I attended a weekend workshop at The Writing Barn. I also participated in The Writing Barn’s Courage to Create (CtC) program for six months. That program connects writers with other writers, editors, and agents through online monthly meetings. One of Bethany’s goals with the CtC program is to support authors and encourage them to continue creating and submitting, believing “your yes is next,” as she likes to say. All these programs were valuable and helped me revise or market my work.


I would recommend a few other courses as well, particularly for nonfiction writers:

·  Beachside Nonfiction Retreat with Jennifer Swanson and Candace Fleming

·  Nonfiction Fest, an online event sponsored by the Nonfiction Chicks

·  Nonfiction programming offered by various SCBWI chapters throughout the year (look for break-out sessions on nonfiction and webinars by regional chapters)

                ·  The Highlights Foundation has annual science-writing workshops. I have not attended these, but I know that past leaders, including Heather Montgomery and Miranda Paul, have provided excellent instruction.


KH: What are you working on now?

CA: I have many projects in the works! One is a picture-book biography of a woman entrepreneur who was a forerunner in the “maker” field. Another is a short, rhyming story based on a winter adventure. I’ve also got a tongue-in-cheek manuscript about surprising animal adaptations and a collection of seasonal poems. I’ve got ideas for a STEAM poetry collection, a middle-grade science title, and a concept story with SEL and STEAM ties. I’m in the process of submitting to agents and hoping to find one in the coming year. Thank you for asking! It’s a pleasure to appear on your blog.

KH: Cindy, it was a pleasure chatting with you and nonfiction. Congrats on this debut.

You can find Cindy here on social media:


Twitter: @CindyArgentine