Archive for March 2010

Grow a Reader

March 30, 2010

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”—Emilie Buchwald

Rodent holes! Hidden beneath the snow cover, those sneaking little thieves were on a crunch, munch, and destroy mission, filling themselves with savory bulbs I had hastily planted. I guess if I had taken the time to send those critters packing, to fertilize the bulbs, and to plant them at the right depth, I would have a bloomin’ good garden. I’m not known for my green thumb. That’s why I have a stash of artificial flowers that I can shove into the ground just in case the real ones don’t come up!

Growing a garden is a lot like growing a reader. You need to take the time to nurture and cultivate both of them. As a teacher and author, I believe in growing readers. Start fertilizing your reader’s garden with a few of these tips.

In the beginning, cuddle that bundle of joy in your arms and share a fun board book.

Make the library your second home.

As children grow older, continue to read to them. Secretly, they love it!

Read outside the book. Encourage reading newspapers, magazines, and other nonfiction materials.

Read the same book your child is reading and talk about it.

Instead of an iPod on a road trip, check out an audio book from the library for everyone to enjoy.

Dish up a dinner discussion about an interesting newspaper article.

Stop the back talk and start a book talk.

Have a variety of books around the house so there’s something to please everyone.

Read every day.

You’re a role model. Let your kids see you read, and you’ll be planting the seeds for some bloomin’ good readers!


A garden of books My First Garden  by Wendy Lewison (Little Simon, 2009), My Garden by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books, 2010),  The Curious Garden by Peter Brown (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009),  Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden by Edith Pattou (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2007), The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Candlewick, 2008)           

Coming Soon! Rose’s Garden by Peter H. Reynolds (Walker Books Ltd., May 2010)     


Hey, Librarian!

March 26, 2010

“Seventy million books in America’s libraries, but the one you want to read is always out.”— Tom Masson 

You flash it before their eyes. You broadcast the title and author. You introduce an attention-grabbing character. You give a snappy summary. You read a chapter, stopping at a pivotal point. You do cartwheels, sing, and make faces. You exhaust yourself – even make a fool of yourself – just to create a buzz about a good book. That’s what librarians do.

As a school librarian, it’s my job to teach students how to use the library and expose them to a variety of authors and genres. It’s my job to create a stimulating learning space for students. Sometimes doing this can get frustrating, but I’ve found it’s the little things that make being a librarian rewarding. It’s when a preschooler looks at you and says, “Hey, Librarian, I like these pop-up books.”

Or it’s when a third grader stops in the library before school to return his overdue book and asks if he can check out the book you read last week. Your mind goes blank. “Describe it,” you say. “It’s about a girl and she does funny things,” he answers. Nothing comes to mind. “Is there anything else you can remember about it?” you ask. “Oh, yeah,” he says. “Her name is Orange.” “Aha!” you say and walk over to the P section of the library and pull out a book by Sara Pennypacker. “Is Clementine the book you want?” you ask.  He smiles and nods and you both have a good laugh. It’s those little things that are rewarding.  

So forget about the sword fights with the shelf-markers. Forget about the brand new book that was left in the snow. Forget about the students who make you want to pop your cork when they tell you they can’t find a good book among the thousands available. Do all those crazy things librarians do to create a buzz about a book.

Next week I’m standing on my head and reading a book. If only one person gets excited about that book, it’s worth it!

 Note to self:  Don’t wear a skirt that day!

Some Favorite Books:  Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009), Paris Pan Takes the Dare by Cynthea Liu (Putnam Juvenile, 2009), Moxie Maxwell Series by Peggy Gifford (Schwartz & Wade), The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Boy by William Boniface (HarperCollins, 2006)

How I See It

March 23, 2010

“People see only what they are prepared to see.” ─ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have glasses all over the house. My kitchen glasses are to make sure the right ingredients go into a recipe. My computer glasses help me see what hysterically funny things I’ve written. My television glasses help me figure out which one of the bazillion channels to choose. And my bathroom glasses are so I don’t mistake hemorrhoid ointment for toothpaste!

Why don’t I just put on one pair of glasses and wear them? It’s much more fun to wear a variety of glasses. Sometimes I wear two pairs of glasses at the same time. Depending on which glasses I’m wearing, I not only see things differently, but I look different, too. I can go from goofy to fashionable to seriously intelligent. Imagine that!

My all-time favorite glasses are my book glasses. They are magical. They add a whole new dimension to what I see. I can suddenly read between the lines, envision the world I’m immersed in, feel the emotions of the characters, and predict future events.

When it comes to seeing, there’s nothing like a good pair of glasses to clear up your vision. When it comes to reading, there’s nothing like a good book to make your day. That’s how I see it.

Books about eyes:  I Wish I Had Glasses Like Rosa by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook (Raven Tree Press, 2009), My Travelin’ Eye by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (Henry Holt & Co., 2008), The Patch by Justina Chen Headley (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2007), Princess Peepers by Pam Calvert (Marshall Cavendish, 2008)

Jogging Creativity

March 19, 2010

Empty! Zero! Zilch! Has this ever happened to you? You feel like your brain is totally devoid of any intelligent matter?  Things come out of your mouth that make absolutely no sense. Or maybe you get that feeling of being weighed down with so much brain clutter that you wish you had a defragmenting option to get your brain back in working order.

My fellow writers recently had an online conversation about how to get motivated when you’re stuck. A variety of solutions were suggested, ranging from devouring chocolates, taking a walk in the woods, going for a run, or playing with your kids. If I hadn’t been so quick with my trigger finger to delete the e-mails, I would have had a treasure trove of suggestions for everyone. Ahh…, another reason why my brain is often empty!

We can gather ideas from others, but since we are all unique individuals, we must ultimately find our own motivational tools. When I’m writing and my brain stalls, red lights whirl and the writing police announce loudly, “Step away from the computer!”

Enter the treadmill. I HATE the treadmill, but that’s my way of getting my brain back on track and the creative juices flowing again. I pump up the music and step up my pace. (I’m still trying to figure out when the endorphins kick in to make exercising a euphoric experience because it’s not happening!) To make my workout pass as quickly as possible, I think – mostly stupid stuff – and from the inane glop that oozes out of my grey matter, I sometimes come up with great ideas. Because my brain tends to quickly jump from one thing to the next, I write down those bits of inspiration. That creates another PROBLEM.

Notice the writing. Ideas are great only if you can read what you’ve written. My writing life is like the song “Michael Finnegan” who always had to begin again. I think it. I write it. I can’t read it. I begin again.

The positive side to this whole crazy ordeal is… is… is…

Gosh, I just can’t remember.  

Suggested books: None. My brain is temporarily out of service!

There’s Power in Editing

March 16, 2010

To edit means to prepare for publication by correcting, cutting, eliminating, and revising.

Mark Twain said, “Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” That’s an interesting morsel of advice for writers, but a writer has to do a “damn” good job of writing and editing before the manuscript even gets to the editor’s desk.

There are some writers who can sit down and write until their fingers smoke. I’m the opposite. My fingers hover and freeze over the keyboard. Getting my story down on paper is as painful as childbirth, but editing my work is like devouring the finest dark chocolate caramel treat I’ve ever managed to stuff into my mouth! It just gets better and better.

There’s power in editing. It gives me the opportunity to breathe life into the words that gawk at me. Editing is the time to change stilted phrases and clichés into something that is uniquely mine. It’s a way to cut, tighten, and revise and then do it over again and again. When the words no longer stare silently at me, but begin to dance and sing for me, I know I’ve taken the first steps to perfecting my masterpiece!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could edit things out of our lives the way we edit things out of our writing? Imagine being able to change an embarrassing moment, a bad financial decision, or an obnoxious comment that tumbled out of your mouth before you had time to shut it. I’m sure all of us have things we’d like to edit from our lives. I’m all for twenty years and twenty pounds. What about you?

There’s power in editing!

Books on Writing:  Writing for Children and Teens: A Crash Course (How to Write, Revise, and Publish a Kid’s or Teen Book with Children’s Book Publishers) by Cynthea Liu (Pivotal Publishing,  2008), The Giblin Guide to Writing Children’s Books, Fourth Edition by James Cross Giblin (Writer’s Institute Publications, 2006), How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published by Barbara Seuling (Wiley, 2004), The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, 3rd Editionby Harold D. Underdown (Alpha, 2008)

An Interview with Amy Recob

March 12, 2010

Meet Amy Recob. She’s a marketing communications professional, a mom, a food safety advocate, and the author of The BugaBees: friends with food allergies. Amy has written a charming book with a very important message. Using lyrical rhymes and eye-catching illustrations, Amy introduces us to the BugaBees, eight friends who have eight different food allergies. The BugaBees show children who are allergic to certain foods how to stay safe and healthy and still have fun with their friends. At the end of the story, there are activities that encourage children to talk about food allergies and learn more about safety and prevention.

It’s heartwarming to know that a portion of the proceeds from Amy’s book will help fund programs dedicated to food allergy research, treatment, and prevention.     

Here’s Amy to share more about The Bugabees.

Why did you decide to write this book?

I wrote the book for my daughter, Mollie, who was diagnosed with severe peanut and tree nut allergies at 18 months of age. As she got older and began to participate in more social activities, it became clear that there were real emotional consequences in addition to the physical ones. More times than not, she was unable to enjoy the special treats all of her friends could and it made her feel sad and excluded. So I wanted to write the book as a way to help her cope with those feelings, and to remember that missing out on certain types of food doesn’t mean missing out on all the fun.

I love the title. How did you come up with it?

When I was developing the characters for the story, I wanted to choose something loosely representative of Mollie, so I began to look for ideas about what that might be. At the time, one of Mollie’s favorite toys was a little plush bug that wiggled when you pulled its string. And one of her grandmas used to call her a little “Bugaboo” when she was a baby, so I just thought to modify that to rhyme with “allergies” and came up with the BugaBees!

What type of research did you do to get ready for writing your book?

Most of the research was based on my own personal experiences living with a child with food allergies, but I did have some medical consultants review my writing and provide feedback as well. 

Can you share some interesting tidbits you learned while doing research?

While some people with peanut allergies can have a reaction simply through smell or touch, I learned that people with shellfish allergies have to actually ingest the food to have an allergic reaction. My initial draft of Butterfly at the beach had her just “touching” a shellfish, but after medical review, we changed it to just “tasting” one.

I also learned through personal experience that food allergens can be hidden anywhere! We went to one restaurant that apparently made their pancakes with peanut oil. Those kinds of encounters are what inspired me to create the activity pages in the back and teach kids to always “ask and tell” about their food allergy. You can never assume a food is safe, so I wanted to give examples of that as well. 

What was your favorite part about writing this book?

I loved every part, but if I had to pick one, I would say it was Mollie’s enthusiasm for the story. I initially had never intended to have it published, but when she would ask to hear it over and over again, I realized there were a lot of other kids out there just like her that could benefit from its message.

The illustrations are bright and fun. Tell us about them.

The illustrations were one of the toughest parts of the book creation – simply because I was very particular about what the characters looked like. We went through three other designers before we found Laura and Eric Ovresat (who make up 64 Colors). I really love their visual interpretation of the BugaBees and am so happy with what they developed for the book. 

Is there any advice you’d like to give parents and teachers about food allergies?

That’s a complicated question because some teachers and parents are extremely thoughtful and supportive of kids with food allergies, and others quite frankly are not. I guess the best overall advice I can give is to remember you’re dealing with innocent children — young souls who didn’t ask for this, but are trying their best to manage it at a very young age. As parents and teachers, it’s our job to make them feel safe and cared for, and with a little extra effort on our part, that’s a fairly easy thing to do. 

Are you working on anything new? What can we look forward to in the future?

I have a follow-up book to The BugaBees currently in the works, as well as some possible merchandising ideas for Cricket and the gang …lots of fun stuff to look forward to if I can manage to keep up with it all! 

Are there other books about food allergies that you’d like to recommend?

I just discovered a series of books called the “No Biggie Bunch” which I really like. The overall message is similar to that of the BugaBees — if you remain optimistic and informed, you can overcome any challenges brought about by food allergies. 

I know food allergies are serious, but is there a humorous anecdote that you’d like to share?

The most humorous things probably come from all the school visits I do. After we read the book, there are always the kids who love to loudly exclaim “BARF” and “PUKE” when I ask if they remember any potential symptoms of an allergic reaction. I also get a lot of long, elaborate stories about their friend’s mother’s cousin who is allergic to something … I’ve heard a wide variety of random things like chicken, Pop Rocks (the candy) and even paper! Now THAT would be a difficult allergy to have. 

What is your contact information for those who are interested in having you do a presentation?

The best way to contact me is via email at!

Thank you, Amy Recob!


Why We Have Artificial Plants

March 9, 2010

“I have no plants in my house. They won’t live for me. Some of them don’t even wait to die, they commit suicide.” ─ Jerry Seinfeld

Artificial plants were invented because of people like me. My plants look like they’ve been abused, and if they could, they would run screaming at the sight of me. I know this because I hear them whisper behind my back and see their leaves shake in fear as I approach. I admit I’m not a Martha Stewart when it comes to plant presentation and preservation, but there are two plants in my house that absolutely must survive! One was given to me by my grandma. The other is an ivy plant that was originally in my wedding bouquet.

My grandma was a woman who could grow a garden out of a pile of cement. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit any of her green thumb techniques. What I did inherit was one of her prize plants that she kept in her living room. She gave it to me as a housewarming gift. I thought things were going well until my grandma stopped by for a surprise visit. The prize plant’s leaves weren’t reaching upward in jubilation. They were dragging on the floor in despair. So I did what any caring granddaughter would do. I hid the plant in the dryer – away from my grandma’s eyes. After the dryer incident, that plant went through months of therapy before it was ready to show any signs of life. Since that time, I’ve been very diligent in taking care of it. It blooms once a year, and then makes a mess. It’s a way of getting back at me!

Grandma’s plant

I thought the trailing ivy in my wedding bouquet was a marvelous idea. When someone suggested that I root it and plant it as a tribute to our marriage, I thought that was a marvelous idea, too. My ivy plant was growing healthy and strong just like our marriage. Then one of my friends casually said, “Don’t ever let it die. You know what that means!” I knew what it meant. It meant I was going to jump on my friend and pummel her for even mentioning such a thing. That evening, I snipped a piece off the ivy plant and rooted it. Since then I have snipped, rooted, and planted ivy until we have an ivy-covered house interior. Never say die!   

One of the many wedding ivy plants


The tales from above are the reasons why I LOVE artificial plants. It’s sad, but true. I may have a brown thumb, but two those plants are going to be stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive even if it kills me trying.

Picture books about plants:  The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle (Little Simon, 2009),  A Tree Is Nice by Janice May Udry (HarperCollins, 1987) Who Will Plant a Tree This Year? by Jerry Pallotta (Sleeping Bear Press, May 2010)

Nonfiction books about plants:  How Do Plants Grow? by Melissa Stewart (Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books, 2008), The Magic School Bus Plants Seeds by Joanna Cole (Scholastic Paperbacks, 1995)

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