Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Introducing the GROG’s Greatest HIts: Happy 10th Year Anniversary! by Kathy Halsey

2014 to 2024!  Happy 10th year anniversary to the Grog. Woohoo! Let the celebration begin.  

Throughout this year the GROG team will be featuring a “blast to the past" with our most popular posts through the years. 

Look for these gems and other surprises to be revealed as we celebrate 2024.

  • How about a book giveaway?
  • An AMA (Ask Me Anything) chat?
  • A critique?
Stay tuned every Wednesday for our weekly posts! Let's dance through 2024 in writer style!

Not Gangnam style or Tiktok style, but writer style!

A GROG Greatest Hit: Nonfiction vs. Informational Fiction: A Former School Librarian's View with NF Maven Melissa Stewart

Waaaay back in 2020 before we all added N-95 face masks to our fashion ensembles, there were burning questions about nonfiction: 

  • What is nonfiction? 
  • What is creative nonfiction? 
  • What is informational fiction? 
  • Are these terms interchangeable? 

Melissa Stewart and I got together and had a confab about it. Can you believe we are still discussing the intricacies of nonfiction in 2024? And like Back to the Future, we mentioned NF Fest in that post and it's coming back in February 2024, too! 

NFFEST begins February 1. NFFEST.COM

In our 2020, post Melissa and I gave pointers on how to tell if a book is fiction or nonfiction by reviewing how librarians catalog books as well as sharing examples and an exercise useful for writers, teachers, and students on classifying a book as informational fiction or nonfiction. Check that post out here.

Fast forward to 2024, and Melissa Stewart and Marlene Correia’s 2021 book 5 KInds of Nonfiction we mentioned then is becoming the preferred way for nonfiction writers and school librarians to categorize nonfiction.

Drum roll, please. . .and the 5 categories are Active, Browseable, Traditional, Expository Literature and Narrative nonfiction. Informational fiction still has “made-up parts" and creative nonfiction is synonymous with unique ways of crafting all types of nonfiction.

I'm using this book now to decide what type of NF my WIP should be.

A Look Back and a Look Forward 

        Then: NESCBWI               Now: NCTE Columbus OH

To win a prize of an Ask Me Anything 20 minute Zoom chat or Ask Infowoman: A Library Consult from Kathy, share your look back to 2020 or 2014 and look forward to 2024 with us in the comments. They don't have to be fancy, either. (I did mine in Canva.) If you haven't done so yet, please subscribe to our blog in the blue box at the top right side of this site! Thank you!

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Grammar Goblins by Fran Hodgkins

Besides writing, I do a lot of manuscript editing. Recently, I've run across many instances of one particular group of goblins: misused homophones. These words sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meaning. They can be sneaky.And that’s what makes them goblins.


You’re probably familiar with two sets of familiar goblins: to/too/two and their/there/they’re. They’ve been addressed in other places and I won’t be reviewing them here. Instead, I’m shining a light on some homophone goblins are more elusive.


Pour and pore. Pour is what you do to orange juice, and a pore is a tiny hole in your skin. And this is where the goblin strikes: there’s actually another pore — a verb that means to study closely. When you’re reviewing stacks of papers, you’re poring over them. And yes – pore as in study closely always travels with the word over.


Flare and flair. This pair also makes trouble. When you dress with style, you have flair. When something bursts into flame, it flares up. Horses’ nostrils flare when they run. Bell-bottom jeans flare at the ends of the legs. If you’re in trouble on a boat, you set off a flare (which, in turn, flares brightly). And a brand of felt-tip pen is a Flair.


Flaunt and flout. When someone shows off their fat wallet, they are flaunting their wealth.  They’re showing off. Although they’re being annoying, there’s no law against it. However, if there was a law against showing off and they defied it, they’d be flouting that law—flouting the anti-flaunting law. Hm, I may be getting a bit carried away.


Assure, ensure, and insure.  This tricky trio confuses many people – mostly because they may have heard of two out of the three. Let’s start with insure: that means to take out an insurance policy to protect something against loss. Ensure means that you’re making sure of something; for example, you fill your gas tank before a trip to ensure that you don’t run out of gas. And assure? That’s when you tell someone that something is true or is definitely happening.


Loose and lose. Two o’s or one? That makes a difference. Lose is a verb (“I might lose my polar bear in the snow”). Loose is an adjective – such as in “a loose end” or “My polar bear is on the loose.”


So, why worry about the goblins? Will they stop an editor from buying your work? Every editor is different; some are more forgiving than others. But remember: you’re worked hard on your words. You deserve to give your work the best chance possible.


Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Have We Done Enough? Diversity in Children's Lit by Tina Cho

Note: I’m writing this from a mom, teacher, and author’s perspective.

            December 19, 2023, my 18-year-old son, a freshman in college, faced racial discrimination by two high schoolers at our local YMCA, where he has been a member over the past few years. He reported it to the person at the front desk, who alerted the owner/boss. Aside from her filing a report with her supervisor and just talking to the boys, I don’t think anything was done.

            My sister said my niece, an 8th grader, who is half Korean, but doesn’t look Asian, receives racial discrimination daily at her school, such as a book being thrown in her face. I asked why she doesn’t report it. “It will make matters worse,” I was told.

            As a mom (and aunt), I’m outraged. How can racial discrimination still be going on, especially among youth? Just turn on the news, and we’ll all see it sadly is.

            Putting on my teacher hat, (I’m a kindergarten teacher at a public school), I’ve seen over the past years, literature slowly changing. More books showing people of color have been published. Yay! Librarians have been challenged to check the number of books on their shelves featuring white characters versus people of color. However, many diverse books seem to focus more on a cultural holiday or how to say someone’s name, rather than just a regular story that happens to have a diverse cast of children. In my classroom, I read lots of books that feature children of color, especially those represented in my class, so kids can not only see themselves, but to make diversity the norm. I saw evidence of this when a couple of my Caucasian students drew their parents with Crayola’s skin-colored crayons, but colored dark skin. Ha!

            The same day my son faced discrimination, in my inbox was the listing of acquired books in Publisher’s Weekly’s Children’s Bookshelf. I read through the picture book section, and noticed that most picture books listed had animal characters. How can we teach diversity if most children’s books feature animal characters? Don’t get me wrong—my kindergartners and I love reading books with animals. But, if we want students to accept each other, they need to see children of color in books, not just animals. (And I know, reporting in PW isn't a total representation of books, and some reportings were acquired long ago.) 

Data: There were 9 picture books listed in the weekly list.

4/9 or 44% featured animals.

2/9 or 22% featured white characters as far as I could tell.

1/9 or 11% featured a black character.

2/9 or 22% featured Asian characters (but like I said, they seem to be holiday or folklore themed, not about current life).

Now, putting on my author hat, I say, we’re not done in this area. Sure, a lot more diverse books books have published over the years. You can see stats for 2022 from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center here. I don’t think the 2023 data is available yet. And Scientific American has a recent article titled, “Are Children’s Books Improving Representation?” My advice to illustrators is—please don’t change an author’s characters to animals. Instead, illustrate with a diverse cast of races. My advice to authors, especially those of color, not only write stories about your culture’s traditions, holidays, and folklore, but also current everyday life stories that feature a family/character of color. Teachers need books showcasing diversity for all different topics, not just when it comes to holidays, etc… A good read is “Teachers Push for Books with More Diversity, Fewer Stereotypes” in Education Week. I appreciate Instagrammer & video creator Maya LĂȘ of Maistorybooklibrary who showcases children’s books with people of color in themed topics as well as other Instagram reviewers who highlight these books. Thank you so much for what you do for educators and parents.

From Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream speech”:  I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 

I'm thankful my forthcoming picture book, God's Little Astronomer, features characters of color in a nonfiction book. More about that later, in another post. 

Thank you, Grog Readers, for sticking with us. Please support people of color creators by checking out their books (or buying them) and sharing them on social media, reading them to your kids and grandkids and students.

And if you haven't yet, please subscribe to our blog in the blue box at the top right side of this site! Thank you!

Tina Cho is first a teacher of 20 years with a master's degree. She is the author of Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (Little Bee Books 2018), Korean Celebrations (Tuttle 2019), My Breakfast with Jesus: Worshipping God around the World (Harvest House 2020), The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story (Kokila/Penguin Random House 2020), God’s Little Astronomer (Waterbrook 2/20/2024) & God’s Little Oceanographer 2025. Her lyrical middle grade graphic novel, The Other Side of Tomorrow, debuts from Harper Alley (11/12/2024). After living in South Korea for ten years, Tina, her husband, and two kids reside in Iowa where Tina also teaches kindergarten. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Who, Me? Present at a Conference? ~Christy Mihaly

A conversation with Kathy Halsey

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Kathy Halsey

Kathy Halsey has blogged with GROG for almost ten years now (have we mentioned? GROG is celebrating our 10th anniversary this year!). Kathy is an author who also has volumes of wisdom from her decades as an educator, librarian, and presenter. She recently moderated a panel of children's authors at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) convention – which is a Big Deal. 

When I learned that Kathy offers consulting services to assist authors and others in creating winning conference proposals, I had to know more. If you're a teacher, librarian, or author, you probably have questions about this. Kathy has answers! Here's what I learned when Kathy and I sat down to talk about how authors can break into the conference scene. Kathy got my brain spinning with ideas – see if the same thing happens to you! 

✔ Start Small

Kathy's advice for newbie presenters is to seek opportunities to present at local or state level events and smaller venues to gain experience, confidence, and a resume of presentations. For example:

Smaller groups that might be looking for speakers include: 

  • your local SCBWI chapter 

  • your local parent-teacher organization

  •  your local library 

Medium-size or state level opportunities include: 

  • nErDcamps, which are more informal gatherings of teachers and writers and sometimes have organized panels as well as less structured conversations. 

  • State or county library associations

  • State or local literacy organizations

  • State level teachers conventions

Kathy presenting locally

The Big Deals include: 

  • NCTE (English teachers)

  • NCSS (National Council for the Social Studies)

  • NSTA (National Science Teachers Association)

  • ALA (American Library Association)

  • Other major STEAM conferences

✔ Attend conferences

If there's a conference you might be interested in presenting at, consider attending it first. It costs money, but you'll have the chance to watch, learn, network, and observe the presenters. Pay attention to how the event is organized, and what makes a presentation stand out. 

Plus, connections! I recently attended the Vermont Association for the Social Studies because I wanted to meet teachers who share my passion for  teaching civics. I made some great connections (the "cool teachers") and learned about what's happening in civics education in my area.

✔ Plan ahead

For national conventions, themes are announced and proposals are due well in advance of the event. The 2024 NCTE theme has been announced and proposals are due this month – for the conference in November. If you're an author with a book in the pipeline, start thinking about an appropriate conference where you might like to make a presentation related to your forthcoming book. Kathy recommends starting to plan two years before publication.

Ellen Leventhal,Kathy, Nancy Churnin, Vivian Kirkfield, Pam Courtney, NCTE

✔ Identify what the organizers need 

In preparing a proposal, you want to give your host or the event organizers what they need. Kathy has the inside scoop on what conference organizers are seeking because she has organized conferences herself. As the vice president of OELMA, the Ohio Educational Library Media Association, Kathy created the schedule and handled the logistics for a 3-day statewide conference. 

So – research your hosts. What is the theme for the event? Do you have a topic that dovetails with that? Who is the audience? What are their expectations? If it's a major event, you can probably find prior years' presentations online.

In particular, Kathy points out that in most cases organizers want to see a clear take-away from your proposal. That is, after your presentation, attendees will have a new skill, or they'll be able to present a new classroom program, etc.

The money question

I've been paid for an SCBWI presentation and received a stipend for a keynote speech at a state Department of Libraries event, as well as payments for smaller library events. But many speaking and conference opportunities are unpaid. Kathy points out that the sponsoring organizations are nonprofits that rely on revenues from their annual conference to balance their books. 

In fact, if you're presenting at NCTE, for example, you must actually pay as an attendee at the conference, along with hotels and other expenses. Sometimes there is a reduced rate for presenters. Sometimes, your publisher might agree to pay your expenses. But generally, it's unpaid work. Which leads to the next question . . . 

. . . Why do it?

Presenting your work and your ideas publicly offers many advantages. You're getting your name out there, of course. Speaking at events establishes you as a serious professional with an area of expertise (perhaps it's the subject of your book, or poetry writing, or motivating reluctant readers, for instance). Doing presentations helps you meet people who share your interests, and expand your network. And often you'll have a chance to sell books. Some may disagree, but to me, these aspects of presenting feel like important parts of being an author -- sharing books and ideas.

Kathy Provides a Peek at Two Accepted Presentation Proposals

Kathy, here. I’m blushing at all the kind comments Christy shared, thank you, Christy! (BTW, her interviews are so thorough. Must be that lawyer background.) 

[We’re not done chatting yet. Look for us to chat about school visits here on GROG on March 28.] 

If you're interested in proposing a presentation, then reading accepted presentations, whether small or “big deals,” is like learning from mentor texts. Read, observe active verbs and what the takeaway for attendees is. 

I’ll share two examples here.

Example 1:

Ohio Educational Library Association Presentation (State presentation, 2019) 

The STEAM of Picture Books: Inquiry into Picture Book Creation

by Kathy Halsey

Picture books go beyond typical literacy constructs. They are the heart of many STEAM elements: design process, art as object, visuals, and economics. An inquiry-based model of examining picture books will be demonstrated by a professional children's writer to empower learners as effective users and creators of picture books in many formats and genres.

Methods to engage students with mentor texts that showcase STEAM across disciplines, and a model for examining picture books as professional writers do will be presented. Attendees will leave with resources to collaborate with kid lit writers in partnerships to extend the power of the medium.

Example 2: 

NCTE 2023 Presentation by Pam Courtney, Nancy Churnin, Kathy Halsey, Vivian Kirkfield, and Ellen Leventhal

Growing a Mighty Forest of Writers: Nurturing Young Writers in Collaborative Networks of Teachers, Children, and Authors

Teachers and authors share a root system, like Pando, the massive grove of quaking aspens. Networking together, we can nourish, protect, and provide a strong foundation to help students find their unique voices within a collaborative writing community. Panel members provide writing processes based on NCTE research that employs authentic purpose, topics, and revision in a safe environment.

Audience Level: Elementary           Session Type: Panel Presentation

Strand: Early Childhood Education Presenters: Tradebook Author/Illustrator

I’m including last year’s NCTE link here so our readers can compare the conference theme to how we crafted and worded our submission.


We hope this has been helpful, whether you're contemplating attending a conference or thinking there might be a conference presentation in your future!

Please add your tips on conferences or your questions in the comments so we can help each other. Thanks for visiting GROG.

Kathy Halsey serves on the State Library of Ohio's "Choose to Read Ohio" program and as Ohio SCBWI Central/South region’s co-ARA. Her move-the-shapes board book, BE A RAINBOW, releases fall 2024 with KiwiCo Press. Kathy enjoys gardening and writing haiku. Her haiku has been featured on the Poetry Pea podcast and in poetry journals. In November 2023, she moderated and presented an NCTE panel encouraging teachers to Grow a Mighty Forest of Writers. She is a former K-12 school librarian and seventh grade English teacher who lives in Columbus, OH with her husband and silly Corgi Scrappy Doo.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Two New Little Golden Book Biographies ~Christy Mihaly


Diana Murray

Happy New Year, friends! We're celebrating GROG's 10th year in 2024! (More to come.)

If you're not receiving email notices of our posts, you're invited to subscribe with the button to the right:  =======➤ 

Christy Mihaly

Today I (Christy Mihaly) am excited to be interviewing the prolific and talented picture book author Diana Murray. Diana and I are friends who met in an online poetry critique group, Poets' Garage. We're both clients of the amazing Erzsi Deak of Hen&ink Literary Studio. And yesterday (1/2/24) we both celebrated book birthdays of books in the Little Golden Book Biography series. Diana wrote about Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I wrote about Mel Brooks, and we thought we'd chat about them a bit today.

You may have noticed LGB has begun a series of bios of a range of artists, celebrities, political figures, and famous folks -- most notably the million-copy-selling Taylor Swift: A Little Golden Book Biography. 

For Diana and me, writing these LGB biographies was a fun change from our usual work.

We each asked one another three questions ... here goes:

Christy: So, Diana, you are known for writing wonderful poetry and rhyming books about knitting pirates, unicorns and witches ... not exactly nonfiction works. Why did you want to write a Little Golden Book biography?

Diana: This was a huge departure for me. Not only is it my first nonfiction book, but it's the first book I've written in prose! I was thrilled to be asked to write it because I love a challenge and I love writing to a prompt. The chance to explore another genre was very exciting and fun for me. Plus, I'm a huge fan of Arnold's movies. "Conan the Barbarian" was one of my favorites during high school -- I must have watched it 50 times. I'm also a first-generation immigrant so I related to him in that way. I understand what it's like to feel grateful for the opportunity to be here. 

CM: You certainly rose to the challenge, Diana. I'd say on your first prose nonfiction work, you nailed it! I also liked learning a new fact about you. What is a favorite fact that you learned about Arnold in the process of writing this book?

DM: I thought it was funny that they dubbed over all his lines in his first movie, "Hercules in New York," because of his accent. And, without his permission, they even changed his name on the movie posters to make it sound less "foreign!" That was in 1970. If only those producers knew what a huge star he would become!

CM: Oh, that is so wonderfully ironic. Talk about overcoming challenges! I know you previously wrote a very adorable fiction/colors LGB, Firehouse Rainbow. I'm sure writing about Arnold was quite different -- were there similarities in writing the two books?

DM: There were two main similarities. One was keeping in mind the audience and making the text appealing for that age group. The other was thinking about page turns and illustrations. You want to create a little tension between page turns. Something that will make readers want to flip the page to learn what happens next. And you need to vary the scenes and locations to create variety -- you can't have the action happening within a single location so it's the same illustration across several spreads.

Now it's my turn! Here are my questions for you, Christy:

DM: You have written several other fabulous nonfiction picture books, such as Hey, Hey, Hay! A Tale of Bales and the Machines That Make Them and Free for You and Me: What Our First Amendment Means. Did that experience make this project easier? How is writing a biography different? 

CM: It's true I think of myself as primarily a nonfiction writer (and I've written many purely nonfiction, educational books), but in picture books I tend to write informational fiction, inventing a story line to convey information in a kid-friendly way. So the challenge in writing the LGB biography was to tell a compelling story for young kids in a few words without making anything up and without leaving out anything important. Honestly, that's always going to be a challenge!

DM: It's such a good question that I have to ask you, too: What's a favorite fact that you learned about Mel Brooks?

CM: I learned a great deal, but found Mel's childhood particularly fascinating. He grew up as Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn, without a father and with very little money. He says that he and his three older brothers didn't just share a bedroom -- they all slept in one bed.

DM: I was impressed by how kid-friendly and fun your biography text is.  What are some strategies you use to keep nonfiction from sounding too dry?

CM: Oh, thanks, Diana. One of the first things I did was read a bunch of other LGB biographies to get a feel for how other authors were approaching these short, 24-page biographies. The whole ethos of Little Golden books is to make these stories accessible. 

As I wrote, I paid careful attention both to word choices and to which areas of Mel's life would interest kids. For each spread, I asked: What would a kid want to know? What would a kid think was funny, interesting, intriguing? What would make a young person care about Mel's story? I wrote quite a bit about his childhood, showing how his upbringing affected his life. In describing Mel's later life, I let kids know how important his best friend Carl Reiner was in his life, and also how he overcame many setbacks along the way. And as I chose words and cut excess, I tried to keep the tone light and humorous -- because, Mel Brooks.

Thanks for the great questions, Diana, and your great answers! 

GROG readers, we'd love to see your comments ... Who do you think should be the subject of the next Little Golden Books biography?