Archive for April 2012

Fancy Nancy and Fashion

April 27, 2012

I was gathering books to read to my classes when I pulled Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy by Jane O’Connor from the library shelf. The girls love Fancy Nancy and her extravagant outfits. The boys roll their eyes, but they eagerly laugh at her antics.

Fancy Nancy is a favorite of mine because she reminds me of my youth. Playing dress-up with my friends was a passion of mine. I’d put on my mom’s discarded dresses and heels and high-stepped it around the neighborhood with my friends for all to admire. We felt so grown up and beautiful. Fancy Nancy would have been envious.

That’s me on the right.

I recall one dress my mother bought for a trip she was taking to New York City with my dad. It was the most gorgeous dress I’d ever seen, and my mother looked fantastic in it. The dress was black velvet with a satin ribbon and had just the right amount of twirl. It was a dress that would have made me fairest of the fair when we played dress-up. No such luck. My mom kept that dress.

Last spring when my daughter was helping me clear out my parents’ house, we found the black velvet dress tucked away in a closet. Oh the memories it brought back! My daughter, who is a fashionista, immediately tried it on. It was a perfect fit. My time has passed for playing dress-up, so why not give it to someone who can wear it the way it was meant to be worn. Now she and Fancy Nancy can step out in style!

Check out Jane O’Connor’s other Fancy Nancy Books.


Tidbits from the SCBWI-Iowa Conference

April 24, 2012

This past weekend I attended the SCBWI-Iowa Conference. As always, Iowa did an amazing job preparing and organizing a conference that sent attendees home with a wealth of information.

Below are a few tidbits I’d like to share.

Brett Wright, assistant editor at Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA, mentioned that paranormal and dystopian manuscripts have pretty much saturated the market, and the market for picture books is still tricky. Manuscripts need to be unique and have a good hook, and that hook should come near the beginning of the book.

Brett is on the lookout for middle-grade boy books, but the book needs to stand out from other boy books. He noted the ideal middle-grade word count is between 30-40,000 words.

Marilyn Brighman, editor at Marshall Cavendish/Amazon Children’s Publishing, said writers should take risks and write what they want to write. Don’t follow trends. Marilyn likes edgy contemporary fiction. She is looking for solid middle-grade books and would like to find a new chapter book manuscript with series potential. Manuscripts should have a unique voice and a fresh writing style.

Kari Pearson, editorial assistant at Abrams books for Young Readers, addressed the aspects of publishing. Quality of work is paramount. Editors get excited about innovative ideas. Some things a writer should think about before submitting to a publishing house are marketability, books that are similar to yours and how well they sold, and to make sure your book fits the publisher’s list. Kari is interested in picture books from ages 0-5 years, and wants to read something interesting about you in your cover letter.

Kristy “Ty” King, a literary agent from Writers House, gave an excellent talk on how an agent can help you navigate publishing. An agent wears many different hats. He/she should involve you in all steps of publication. An agent acts as your business manager, legal counsel, editor, and is your support. In a nutshell, your agent is your career counselor.

Ty represents children’s books, young adult authors, and illustrators across all age ranges. When querying, a one-page professional letter is best. It should pique interest in your project, and when describing your manuscript, it should read like flap copy. You should also include information about yourself and your background and note that your manuscript is available upon request.

Ty also spoke on “Becoming Literate in the Children’s Book World.” Books she recommended are:  Minders of Make-Believe by Leonard S. Marcus, Dear Genius:  The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Ursula Nordstrom, and Writing with Pictures by Uri Schulevitz.

There were two breakout sessions from which to choose:  “Plotting the Novel” presented by Jan Blazanin and “From Research to a Fiction Picture Book” by Wendy Henrichs. I chose to go to Jan Blazanin’s presentation. She is the author of A & L Do Summer and Fairest of Them All. Jan’s presentation was overflowing with excellent information — way too much to include here.

SCBWI-Iowa is a great group. You immediately feel at home when you’re with them. Thank you Iowa for a wonderful weekend!

Poetry Friday

April 20, 2012

“A poem begins with a lump in the throat.” ~Robert Frost

During the month of April, I’ve been introducing various types of poetry to my library students. We’ve discussed how imagination, word choice, rhythm, and emotion are important elements in poetry. Here’s a sampling from some students who took the challenge to write a poem.

With a bit of help from me, first graders worked together to create these simple, but fun poems.




Flower power, spring shower.




Trees grow, very slow.




Apple seeds, water needs.

Other students tried Haiku and a Cinquain.

Where sea turtles swim

Where sharks rule the seven seas

Is a place for me   ~Samuel Grade 3

Freedom is not free

You have to fight for its price

I thank the veterans   ~Erin Grade 5

Swishing back and forth

This field – silent and peaceful

Never to be left   ~Matteo Grade 4


Juicy, wrinkled

Rolls, crunches, shrinks

Juicy or dried fruit

Raisin   ~Sawm Grade 5

Writing is never easy, but you have to begin somewhere. I applaud these students for taking the challenge.

Unleashing a Monster

April 17, 2012

Without thinking, I unleashed a monster. The living, breathing creature I unexpectedly let loose is my husband, Tom. Usually, he’s a calm, good-humored, loving man. The only thing that can make him lose complete control is the knowledge there’s a chipmunk in our yard.

Just as we were about to sit down to eat breakfast, I mentioned there was a chipmunk outside our kitchen window, and it looked like the critter was making a nest in our rock wall. Wrong thing to say. Before Tom even had a sip of coffee, he bolted out the door. I watched him come around the garage and quietly sneak up on the chipmunk. He was watching – oh so carefully – exactly where that rodent was building his nest.

The chipmunk disappeared. Tom returned to the kitchen, but not for long. When the critter showed itself again, gathering bits of grass to add to the nest, Tom vanished like a puff of smoke. I sat down to eat breakfast by myself while he and the chipmunk played hide-and-seek.

When my husband finally came into the house, he was ranting. “That thing is ruining our grass! It’s going to have babies and they’ll be running around causing …”

“Mass destruction?” was my comment.

“You bet, and I’m going to do something about it.”

I knew for the rest of the day Tom would be stalking, poking, prodding, and searching for the chipmunk. Traps, cages, and gross smelling stuff would be used to deter the critter.

I hung my head in remorse. With a few simple words, I had unleashed the monster inside my husband.

The Chipmunk Hunter is back at it!

Simple books for the overzealous chipmunk hunter and the child within:

Baby Chipmunks by Bobbie Kalman (Crabtree Publishing Company, 2010)

Chipmunks (Animals Underground) by Emily Sebastian (Powerkids Pr, 2011)

Chipmunk’s Hole by Dee Phillips (Bearport Publishing, 2012)

Teaching the Wild Things

April 13, 2012

Wednesday afternoon was worthless. A group of sixth graders was outside the library door, practicing a skit for their class. It was like a scene from Where the Wild Things Are. The wild rumpus began as soon as their teacher left to help another group. I stepped into the hall and said, “Be still!” I reminded them there were others around them working and to use their inside voices. The quiet lasted a total of 45 seconds before the rumpus gained steam again. To say the least, they were annoying me.

I was ready to roar my terrible roar, but instead, I used my teacher self-control and let it go. That’s when I picked up a book another teacher had given me to read. I know I should have been processing new library books, but at the time, 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny:  Life Lessons from Teaching written by Phillip Done looked like a much better choice. The very first line mentioned two of my favorite children’s books. With that, I was hooked.

The book pushed my calm down, enjoy, and laugh buttons. My foul mood dissipated as I read one funny passage after another. The book is about what students and teachers do and say. It’s a compilation of all the wacky and unexpected things that happen in the daily life of a school teacher.

So if you’ve ever heard these phrases from your students, “What did I do?” and “It’s not fair,” or if you’ve ever found yourself repeating, “Keep your hands to yourself” and “Eyes and ears open,” this book is for you. It will tickle your funny bone and warm your heart. It will make you realize how worthwhile your teaching career is – even on those occasional bad days.

“Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools. The miracle is that at times they accomplish this impossible task.” ~Haim G. Ginott

Hug a teacher today!

The Pat-down

April 10, 2012

When I was young, my father once referred to my chest as two golf balls on an ironing board. After childbirth, my look changed. The two golf balls morphed into something much larger. For many women, the opposite happens, but I’m never one to follow the crowd. There are some woman who would love my look (and some men who would love to look), but I consider my chest annoying. Why, you ask? It’s called the security pat-down at airports.

Long ago I learned to wear simple travel clothing and leave off the belts and jewelry until after going through security. No problem. Security was a breeze. Then came the installation of the body scanner at airports. Suddenly my minimizer bra was screaming for attention. My last two trips to the airport provided some early morning excitement – the pat-down. I was given a choice of a private pat-down or one in full view of the public. I’m all for safety in numbers so I took the full view of the public choice. (Everyone is too busy trying to get themselves through security to care about anyone else.) In Chicago, the TSA’s hands immediately went to my chest. A quick feel and that was it. When I left Boston, my bra really wanted to show off. I was not only given a full upper body pat-down which included underarms, chest, back and waist, but my hands were swabbed to check for explosive residue. Whoo-wee! What do they see in that body scan that makes them think I’m hiding something? Hey, nothing more can fit into that minimizer!

I’ve determined it’s the wire in the bra that prompts the pat-downs. I have two choices. On my next trip I wear no bra at all (God forbid!), or I find one that has no suspicious wiring in it. Embrace me, sports bra!

Hoppy Days!

April 6, 2012

“All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt!” ~Lucy Van Pelt
In Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz.

I hope your basket is filled with love and chocolates. Hoppy Easter!

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