Archive for April 2010

The Next Place

April 30, 2010

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
─ Yogi Berra

My mother is residing in our guest bedroom for the time being. She isn’t there physically. Her ashes are there. I spritz a little of her favorite perfume in there every once in awhile. The smell reminds me of how special she was to me.

I never quite know how to say someone died. Do you say they passed? Passed what? Past their expiration date? Do you say they are departed like departing from a train station? I could say my mom kicked the bucket, but that seems too irreverent. My mother is dead – gone from this world as we knew her.

The truth is my mother has been gone for quite some time now. For the last few years she was a shell of her former self, and she was aware of that. She wanted to die. The quality of life was missing for her. It’s that darn modern medical technology that keeps people alive longer than some wish. When she died it wasn’t unexpected, but it was still sad. It makes you face your own mortality.

My father was her caregiver through her illness. He loved her and had endless patience – most of the time. My sister and her husband, who live nearby, were there every day to help. Now those are amazing people!

While I was growing up, my mother was my best friend. I could tell her anything. As we both got older, it was harder to maintain that closeness, but I always felt that special bond.

I was reminded of how fashionable she was as family members sorted through pictures for her memorial. Other things like her unique sense of humor, her love of dark chocolate, and her intense pride of her Irish heritage came up in family conversations. Little things we found as we went through her belongings made us laugh and made us cry. We had button necklace day, hat day, belt day, and adorned ourselves with her stash of funky jewelry. It was our quirky way of dealing with our loss.  

Button Necklace

With the death of my mother, my family did what she would have wanted us to do. We celebrated her life with a proper Irish funeral.

We did her proud!

Soon my mother’s ashes will depart from my guest bedroom, but I know right now she’s in a better place – the next place.

There is a book called The Next Place by Warren Hanson. It’s a beautiful book that celebrates life. 

My mother’s life is one worth celebrating. To my mother! To life!

Now, what do I do with all her dentures I keep finding around my parent’s house?



Don’t Be Weird

April 27, 2010


Okay, a potbelly pig is a little weird, but authors and illustrators will do almost anything to get attention. You know I’m right!

I spent the weekend in Bettendorf, Iowa with a wonderful group of writers, illustrators, editors, and an agent. Secretly, I wanted to kidnap those editors and bring them home for one-on-one time with me and my manuscripts. That would be really weird, and I’d probably get arrested so I nixed that idea and took to heart some of the information I collected.

Lisa Graff made the comment:  “Don’t be weird!” When approaching editors of a publishing house, be professional. Don’t waste their time with silly stuff. They’re busy people. Lisa also said that if you’re writing a novel, begin with a good hook to grab the readers, and don’t forget to end each chapter with a hook that will keep readers turning the pages.

Ammi-Joan Paquette from the Erin Murphy Literary Agency shared eight ways to make your manuscript stand out ─ find your voice, be unique, start with a bang, get feedback, revise, make sure your manuscript flows well, raise the stakes for your main character, and set your manuscript aside before sending it out.

Allyn Johnston, VP and Publisher of Beach Lane Books and Marla Frazee, author-illustrator and recipient of a Caldecott Honor Award for All the World, talked about picture books. Pacing is extremely important in a picture book, and the ending of a picture book should surprise us and have a strong emotional impact upon us.

Along with Laura Arnold, editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, author Carol Gorman spoke about common mistakes writers make in their writing. So get out those grammar books and keep them close at hand.

Author/illustrator visits are an important part of spreading the word about your publications.

Mike Shoulders not only writes some great books, but he also gives dynamite school presentations! No time for in-school presentations? Dori Butler presented the ins and outs of visits via Skype. Now that’s a great way to put your best face forward.

The weekend was a time for meeting new people, learning new things, and sharing with one another. There was a feeling of camaraderie at this conference that made the weekend a top-notch experience. Well done Iowa SCBWI.

One last reminder:  When it comes time to send out your manuscript, make sure you’ve done everything to make it the best you possibly can, and DON’T BE WEIRD!

On the Road to Iowa

April 23, 2010

Today I am on the road with the members of my critique group. We piled into my blue van, and we’re on our way to one of those states spelled with four letters—Iowa. I don’t go there very often, but I hear that SCBWI-Iowa offers an excellent writing conference, and that’s our destination.

I’ve got, Ethel, my GPS plugged in, which should keep us from getting lost. There’ll be lots of laughs and shop talk flying around the car on our way there and back. Make sure to check back on Tuesday and see what we learned.

Look out Bettendorf, Iowa. Here we come!

Celebrate Earth Day on Thursday

April 20, 2010

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” ─ John Muir

Get your fingernails dirty. Dig into Mother Earth and celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on Thursday, April 22nd. Plant a tree. Plant a flower. Say hello to a wiggly worm. Recycle. Pick up litter. Take a nature walk. Smile at the sun. Catch a raindrop. Enjoy a good read about the earth. 

Below are two of my favorite books that I like to share with my students on Earth Day.


Dear Children of the Earth by Schim Schimmel is a beautiful book about protecting our environment. The earth appears in the background of each original acrylic painting done by the author. The text accompanying the illustrations is in the form of a letter written to children from Mother Earth, advising them to protect our natural world. It’s a perfect message for all of us as we celebrate Earth Day.  

Another book with an important environmental message is Someday a Tree by Eve Bunting. A beloved oak tree, growing near a highway on a family farm begins to die. When they discover the tree was poisoned by something that was dumped near it, the community rallies to save it. When all fails and the tree dies, sadness turns to hope when little Alice plants an acorn she saved from the tree. The soft watercolor paintings done by Ronald Himler add to the emotional mood of the story.

More books to celebrate Earth Day: The Earth Book  by Todd Parr (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, March 2010), Farewell to Shady Glade by Bill Peet (Sandpiper, 1991), The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge by Joanna Cole (Scholastic Press, March 2010)

Coming soon:  Who Will Plant a Tree? by Jerry Pallotta (Sleeping Bear Press, May 1, 2010)

Librarians Rock

April 15, 2010

“Libraries allow children to ask questions about the world and find the answers. And the wonderful thing is that once a child learns to use a library, the doors to learning are always open.” — Laura Bush

It’s National Library Week, and it’s time to sing the praises of our librarians. Meet Emily Harkins, library assistant at Waunakee Public Library. Sing it out, Emily!

When I say library, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind?

Books!  It’s not original, but it is honest, and I love me some books!

What’s the story behind your choice to become a librarian?

After 12 years in book retail, I was ready for a change, but wanted to stick with books if I could.  I saw the job opening at Waunakee Public Library and went for it.  It’s been a great transition, and I’m still surprised by how my years at Borders help me with my current job.

Librarians are very busy people; can you tell us some of the jobs a librarian does that people don’t know about?

Grant writing is something that may not automatically come to mind for people; all the steps we take to make the holds process run smoothly would probably surprise people too.

Do you have one job that is your favorite?

I love making book recommendations to patrons of all ages–I haven’t gotten into the habit of calling it “reader’s advisory” yet, but I guess that’s what I’m doing.

Connecting with young children must be easier than middle grade or older kids.  What are some of the programs you offer to get kids—especially older ones—to continue to come back to the library?

We have book clubs for middle grades and for the young adults.  The younger one is more activity oriented, and so far, we’ve had a great time with the kids–our Percy Jackson party was very popular.  The older kids get to have a snack, discuss books and usually have a chance to win free books in a drawing during their meetings.  There’s a Teen Advisory Board called PKF (Putting Kids First) that gets together to plan activities for teens in the library.  We have lots of guest speakers, game days, and contests to attract these ages.

There is such a wide variety of wonderful books available.  How do you choose which ones to put in the library?

Well, we consider our community, listen to our patrons and keep tabs on what titles have high holds for our branch.  Patrons are pretty comfortable mentioning things we ought to carry, and we pay attention to that.

What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you or someone has said to you?

I have lots of funny stories, but the one that springs to mind is the exclamation from a little girl when I showed her that we had a Fancy Nancy story box.  As I took it down from the shelf, she said, with high-pitched enthusiasm, “Oh. My. Garsh!”

What is the most touching thing that has happened to you or someone has said to you?

A patron wrote the library after I had recommended several books for her daughter and said what a difference I had made in her daughter’s enthusiasm for reading.  I didn’t realize I was doing anything so important at the time, but it warmed my heart to know how much it meant to her.

What’s your favorite picture book?  YA Novel?

Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen and One, by Kathryn Otoshi are current favorites of mine for picture books.  For YA, I loved the Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare, Vampire Academy Series by Richelle Mead, and Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.  (I can never name one book when people ask me a favorite.)

Can you give some good advice for raising life-long readers?

Don’t limit your kids on what they can read, based on your own preferences or preconceptions.  Not letting your kids read something because you find it frivolous, or because you don’t think it matches their gender, for example, seems like a surefire way to discourage them from making their own choices, with the possible result that they’ll lose interest completely.  I’m not saying parents shouldn’t watch out for their kids’ welfare, but it’s possible for parents to be too involved in what their kids pick out to read.

If you had three wishes, what would you wish for in your library?

1-More space for materials

2-More work space for the librarians

3-More space for our book sale

If you wrote an advertisement for libraries, what would it say?

Come on in–we’ve got free stuff in here!

Is there anything you would like to add?

Just like in my years with Borders, I’ve met the most wonderful people through my library job, both coworkers and library patrons.  It just goes to show you–book people are the best people!

Thank you, Emily Harkins!

Waunakee Public Library

Library Appreciation Day!

April 12, 2010

“Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark…. In any library in the world, I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed.”  — Germaine Greer

When you open the door to a library, you enter into a world of treasures unsurpassed by any other. Today is a day to celebrate libraries and give a shout out to all those fantastic librarians who are busily working to provide patrons with a wonderful library experience.

Meet Catherine Baer, Youth Services Librarian at the Rosemary Garfoot Public Library, Wisconsin’s first green library. She’s a dedicated professional with many talents, including a wonderful sense of humor.   

Tell me, Catherine, when I say library, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?

Books, public service, children, information

What’s the story behind your choice to become a librarian?

As a young mother my two daughters helped me fall in love with children’s literature. They both were and still are voracious readers. Whenever one of them got upset, we would go immediately to the bookshelf, find a good picture book and share a story. Once my daughters were old enough to read on their own, when emotions started to run hot and they needed a break, they would go get a book on their own to read. Or when they would get hurt, they would come to me and ask for a story. I absolutely couldn’t have made it through parenthood without those books. Once my daughters started to grow up and read on their own, I realized I couldn’t stand to lose that connection with children’s literature. So I started working at a library and loved it. Then I decided to go to library school and get my MLIS. This is a second career for me. My undergraduate degree is in Graphic Design and Illustration.

Librarians are very busy people; can you tell us some of the jobs a librarian does that people don’t know about?

Cleaning, weeding (both gardens and books!), staying in touch with local organizations for library public relations and support, working with local schools on various projects, (of course some people do know about these last two), web design and maintenance, creating promotional materials, writing newsletters and press releases, shopping for craft materials and summer program prizes, fixing broken materials; including, sewing, glueing, taping, and woodworking, sorting recyclable materials, photography, singing and playing musical instruments (again, some would know this, especially those who come to storytimes) and oh so much more.

Do you have one job that is your favorite?

The most satisfying of my jobs is finding just the right book for a child – especially when I get good feedback about it from the child or his or her parent. I also enjoy creating storytime programs.

Making a connection with children and teens is important to keep them interested in the library. What are some of the programs you offer to kids – especially older ones – to keep them coming back for more?

I run a teen book group and also a teen advisory board. The kids in these groups got involved about 4 years ago as middle schoolers and are now mostly sophomores in high school. It is so gratifying to see that they keep coming back for more. The teens enjoy helping out at the library, especially as summer program volunteers.

There is such a wide variety of wonderful books available. How do you choose which ones to put into the library?

I use several sources: book review journals, the New York Times bestseller lists and reviews and especially the recommendations by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (UW-Madison).

What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you or someone has said to you?

One of my favorites is a knock-knock joke told to me by one of my most adorable preschoolers (she was about 3 and a half or 4 at the time): Knock, knock . . . who’s there? . . . Cosmo . . . Cosmo who? . . . You Cosmo twouble than you’re worth.

What is the most touching thing that has happened to you or someone has said to you?

One of the most touching was a comment from the mother of a little boy (about 2 and a half to 3 years old) who is very shy at storytimes. Although he always buries his face in his mom’s side and never says a word to me, she told me that he talks about storytime all day long at home.

What’s your favorite picture book? YA novel?

I have about 792 favorite picture books, but I’ll give you a new one: All the World, by Liz Scanlon, and an old one: Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, by Charlotte Zolotow. My favorite YA novel to recommend is The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex. I’ve recommended it to 9 year olds to 90 year olds. It’s the most universally enjoyed novel I can think of.

Can you give some good advice for raising life-long readers?

I would have to go by my own parenting experience here. Start reading to your children as babies, on a regular basis, and use books as a reward and a comforting tool. Most importantly, read with your children whenever you can, and listen to what they have to say about the books. When they start reading on their own, allow them to choose what they want to read.

If you had three wishes, what would you wish for in your library?

More money, more staff, and more time!

If you wrote an advertisement for libraries, what would it say?

Something on the order of – Nourish your mind and your spirit with free information AND free entertainment at your public library.

Is there anything you would like to add?

One of the most gratifying aspects of working at a library is the common commitment to public service among library workers. This struck me the very first week I worked in a library and has given me the drive to continue with this career. There is a lot to be said for loving what you do and having people around you who care about what they are doing, on a daily basis. I feel very fortunate to have found this path.

 Thank you, Catherine Baer and librarians everywhere!

 Rosemary Garfoot Public Library

Lip Smacking Poems

April 9, 2010

Some school lunches are scrumptious, and some are just plain gross! From all the yummy words below, it appears the cooks in our school get two spatulas up for their school lunches.

Celebrate Poetry Friday by taking a bite out of these lip smacking poems by fourth and fifth grade students.

Jello                                                                              Pancakes

Squishy, jiggly                                                          Soft, soggy

Scooping, slurping, swallowing                         Dribbling, chewing, eating

Delicious, tasty, good time                                  I love my pancakes

Jello                                                                               Soggy                                                                        

                       ─ Gabby Coulthard                                             ─ Hannah Mrochek

Eggs and bacon, yum                                            Nachos, yummy good               

fried or scrambled, delicious                             the brown beef is spicy hot

breakfast, brunch, and lunch                             I am lost in it!

                        ─ Logan Collien                                                      ─ Thomas Robson

                                                  Steamy potatoes

                                                  Yes! They are a yummy lunch

                                                  Can I eat right now?

                                                                        — Cain Streight

Working hard before lunch. 


Alas, not all lunches pass the kid taste test. Those get dumped.

                                                  Chicken in gravy

                                                  Soggy, gross

                                                  Sniff, lick, spit

                                                  Worst lunch, disgusting, blah


          — Kylie Peters

Some favorite poetry books from our library:  Oh, No! Where Are My Pants? And Other Disasters: Poems by Lee Bennett Hopkins (HarperCollins, 2005), Please Bury Me in the Library by J. Patrick Lewis (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2005). Holiday Stew: A Kid’s Portion of Holiday and Seasonal Poems by Jenny Whitehead (Henry Holt & Co., 2007)

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