Cookin’ with Amelia Bedelia

Posted November 25, 2011 by cathyso3
Categories: Avatar Friday

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My good friend Amelia Bedelia taught me how to dress a turkey!

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish (Greenwillow Books, 2003)

World Building

Posted November 22, 2011 by cathyso3
Categories: Writing

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At the last two writing conferences I attended, world building was addressed. Each speaker noted that in order to create a world for a paranormal, dystopian, or fantasy novel, every detail is important. Michele Burke, editor at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, said people, history, and objects play an important part in world building.

I don’t write the type of books the speakers talked about so I never thought of simple objects being an integral part of world building unless the objects were the main focus of the story. Thinking more on the subject of world building, a picture of a cowboy hat ashtray flashed into my mind. It was a focal point for imaginary play when I was young.

This ceramic ashtray sat on an end table in my grandmother’s house for as long as I can remember. It was still there when she passed away. I took it. It’s ugly, and I would never use it for anything except for the wonderful memories it evokes. I don’t recall ever seeing ashes in it, but I do recall playing with it. It was a time when westerns were popular on television. Like horses and cowboys, that ashtray was a part of my life. It represented the pony I wished for and never got. I was magically drawn to the cowboy hat ashtray. I transformed my grandma’s living room into an imaginary western town. I spent hours creating western adventures that always included the cowboy hat ashtray.

If I did write fantasy, dystopian, etc., I’d make the cowboy hat ashtray play a vital role in a world of futuristic cowboys. Anyone in possession of the ashtray would have the ability to wield his power within certain limits. If those limits were surpassed, the ashtray would become volatile. The holder of the cowboy hat ashtray would have to know how to maintain a perfect balance of good and evil. If he didn’t, the ashtray would explode and destroy everyone and everything in the futuristic world. Who knew my grandma’s ashtray could be so powerful. It’s smokin’ hot!

Thanksgiving: What I Learned from My Preschoolers

Posted November 18, 2011 by cathyso3
Categories: Special Days

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On Tuesday I was all set to talk turkey with my five little preschoolers. I had a book filled with pictures depicting the story of the First Thanksgiving to share with them. Before I began, I mentioned that next Thursday was a special day. I asked if anyone knew what it was.

They stared at me with wide eyes. No one answered. I tried again. I told them it was a day to give thanks for all that we have.   

“Valentine’s Day!” shouted a little boy.

Okay. I knew my work was cut out for me. I said, “Next Thursday is Thanksgiving. It’s a time when moms, dads, kids, grandmas, grandpas, and other family members get together and celebrate. There’s a lot of food, and we eat a great big bird that says gobble, gobble.”

“Chicken,” shouted a little girl.  

“I-I-I don’t like chicken,” said another little boy.

“It’s turkey,” I said.

“I-I-I don’t like turkey,” said the little boy.

“I like pizza,” said a little girl.

It was time to reign in the madding crowd. I opened the book, Three Young Pilgrims. I gave them a very simple explanation of the First Thanksgiving. I showed them a picture of a ship.

“Can you say Mayflower?” I asked. Then I turned to a spread of Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing food. “Can you say Pilgrim?” I asked. “Can you say Native American?” I asked. “Can you say gobble, gobble?” I was beginning to feel like Mr. Rogers.

When their teacher came to the library to get them, I asked them to tell her the name of the ship on which the Pilgrims sailed. They stared at me with their wide eyes. Not a word came from their mouths. “Mayflower,” I said. “Mayflower. Everybody say Mayflower.”

The next day I popped into the preschool classroom and asked who remembered the name of the Pilgrim’s ship. No one answered. Finally one little boy said. “Flower.” And a little girl said, “Tulip.” I looked at their teacher, who had an all-knowing look on her face. “Mayflower,” I said and quickly left the room.

Sometimes we expect too much of our children. It’s up to all of us to talk to them and teach them. They are our future. If we’re not careful, chicken, valentines, and tulips could become the new way to celebrate Thanksgiving. Gobble. Gobble.

Hooked on a Writing Conference

Posted November 15, 2011 by cathyso3
Categories: Conferences

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The SCBWI-Illinois’ 7th Annual Prairie Writer’s Day had me hooked from the moment I walked through the doors of the Wojcik Conference Center at Harper College in Palatine, IL.  SCBWI members greeted attendees with fishing nets filled with chocolate candy. Hey, I don’t care what time of day it is – chocolate is always welcome.

This year’s theme was Get Hooked, and they had me – hook, line, and sinker. I was lured into a fabulous conference. From aspiring writers to established writers, there was something for everyone to catch. Swimming in the Prairie Day waters, were editors from well-known publishing houses, an Edgar-nominated author, an agent, a senior art director, a literary lawyer, and much more. By the end of the day, my brain was reeling from an overload of information.  

Here are some highlights from my fishing day at the conference.

Daniel Nayeri, editor at Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, likes quirky but not wacky submissions. Of high interest at Clarion are Picture Books, Graphic Novels, and Fantasy/Sci-fi.

Molly O’Neill, editor at Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Children’s Books, likes to see a manuscript with a compelling story to tell and then asks, “Who is this book for?” High interest is YA, Fantasy/Sci-fi, Mystery, and Middle Grade Fiction. Revision is important. It’s re-seeing your story and making it better.

Mary Rodgers, Editor-in-Chief of Lerner Publishing Group, says as an editor she really has to believe in a book in order to convince others to feel the same way. High interest for this group is nonfiction.

Michele Burke, editor at Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House, has high interest in Picture Books, YA, Mystery, and Middle Grade. She talked about world building and said there should be a balance between action and the world in which the characters live. Acquiring a manuscript is more relaxed at Knopf. It’s primarily between Michele and her publishing director.

Stacey Barney, editor Penguin/Putnam Books for Young Readers, has high interest in YA, Multi-cultural, and Middle Grade. If you want to make an editor fall in love with your book, you must make your book stand out with something innovative or unique. Voice, characterization, and pace should be right on target. Your main character should have flaws and obstacles to overcome. The pace and plot of your books should have a steady forward movement.

Kathy Landwehr, Vice President & Associate Publisher of Peachtree Publishers, has high interest in YA, Multi-cultural, Middle Grade, and humor for all ages. When she pitches a book, sales and marketing are there, and they have to be on board with it, too.

Josh Adams, co-founder and literary agent for Adams Literary, represents authors in all genres. His advice to writers is to wait until you’re ready to look for an agent. Do your research and make sure the agent you choose is a good match.

Bruce Hale visited via Skype. Humor was his topic. He suggested that when revising you should play with word choice and details to heighten humor and listen to rhythms of speech.

Editorial comments:

Picture books should have spare sensibility, rhythm and cadence, and vivid verbs. If you’re writing a rhyming book, make sure your rhymes work perfectly. The best rhyming books focus on concepts and word play.

In chapter books, characters should have a good relationship with other characters and the dialogue between them should be believable.

Make sure your ideas are fresh and original.

Choose your words well.     

If you’re a serious writer, fish for conferences in your area. Take advantage of them. It’s a time to learn, to network, and to have the opportunity to send your manuscripts to closed houses. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. It could end up being a whale of a tale to share with others.

In Memory of One Special Veteran and a Tribute to Others

Posted November 11, 2011 by cathyso3
Categories: Special Days

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Today is 11-11-11 ─ Veterans Day. This is a time to honor all those men and women who have served in the military and those who continue to do so. We also remember those who fought and sacrificed their lives to keep our country safe.  

My dad was a World War II veteran. He served in the Army Air Corps as First Lieutenant, navigating B-29 bombers and was a member of the 505th Bombardment Group based on Tinian Island. My dad was there during the time Tinian Island served as the base for the Enola Gay, the B-29 aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

When we were growing up, he rarely talked about his service. I had the feeling he wanted to distance himself from those years. After my mother died, he began telling the family about the time he served in the Army Air Corps. He especially wanted the grandkids to know the history of that period. Here are some of his experiences and memories.    

My dad flew bombing missions and searched for survivors after B-29 bombers were shot down. He mined Tokyo Bay and Shimonoseki Strait. As for the atomic bomb, this is what my dad remembers hearing from a crew member of the Enola Gay:  “We dropped something. There was a big cloud. We got out of there!”

My dad’s last mission of the war was to blow up railroad yards. The first people to go home from the Islands were the mechanics. Those who were left behind had to maintain their own planes. On his way home, my dad’s plane landed in Hawaii to refuel. Good thing because it ran out of fuel on the runway!

After my dad passed away, we cleared out his house. We found a treasure trove of items from his military days inside his army trunk. Like my mother, he kept EVERYTHING! Those remaining members of the 484th Squadron might recognize some of the pictures I’ve included below.

Navigation School Graduation Booklet

Bracelet and Physical Record Card

Love Letters Written to my Mother

484th Squadron


Radar Plotting Chart

Realities of War

War is nasty. We are fortunate to have men and women who are willing to protect our country from those who would destroy the freedom we enjoy. Remember to honor and thank all of our veterans today and every day!

Here’s a great picture book to help young readers learn about America’s Armed Forces:  H is for Honor:  A Military Family Alphabet written by Devin Scillian and illustrated by Victor Juhasz (Sleeping Bear Press, 2011)

The Woman Behind the Book

Posted November 8, 2011 by cathyso3
Categories: Classic Books

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When I was nine, my mother handed me a book and said, “This was mine when I was young. I think you’ll like it.” The book was old and tattered. I looked at the title – Little Women. The book had 630 pages and the print was tiny. I knew it would take me forever to read.  

I had seen the movie on TV. I longed to be Jo March. She was adventuresome and a writer. I felt as if we were kindred spirits! I opened the book my mother had handed to me and began to read. It did take me a long time to finish because I savored the words Louisa May Alcott used to describe the March family’s adventures. I laughed and I cried throughout the book. By the end, I desperately wanted to be a member of the March family. I was ecstatic to learn Louisa May Alcott had written other books. As an author, she knew how to touch the hearts of her readers. Instead of being Jo March, I wanted to be Louisa May Alcott.

I’ve seen all of the movie versions of Little Women, but Louisa’s written words are by far the best. While living in Massachusetts, I took my mother to see Orchard House, home of the Alcott family. As soon as we entered the house, we stepped back in time. Little Women came alive for both of us. I longed to touch Louisa’s desk, hoping that magical spark she had for writing would somehow transfer into my writing.

Everyone should read Little Women or have it read to them. It’s a classic story with themes of family, friendship, humor, heartaches, and love. To get to know the woman behind Little Women, here are two biographies I’d like to recommend. One is for younger readers. The other is for older readers.

Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott written by Yona Zeldis McDonough and illustrated by Bethanne Andersen is a wonderful picture book biography for younger readers. It tells of Louisa’s life in a simple, straightforward manner with colorful illustrations. The end of the book includes personal quotes, poems, thoughts, a favorite recipe, and a timeline of important dates in Louisa’s life.

Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs is a Newbery Medal winner. It provides a detailed version of Louisa’s life with photographs and a history of the times. This book was first published in 1933. For some readers the pace of this book may be rather slow, but if you are interested in knowing all about Louisa, this is the book for you.

“Hearts don’t grow old.” — Louisa May Alcott

Book Picking: Fast and Furious

Posted November 4, 2011 by cathyso3
Categories: Uncategorized

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Books! We want books! Library budgets are tight. Every penny counts. Choosing the right book is extremely important. Enter the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC). It’s a marvelous study and research library of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Each year, the CCBC receives about 3,000 newly published children’s books from publishers and authors, who are hoping to garner an honored place for their book in the annual CCBC Choices.

Twice a year the library has a book sale — open to all.  It’s a librarian’s dream come true. Hardcover fiction and nonfiction books that are not kept in the CCBC permanent collection and gently used books donated by CCBC members are available to purchase. Some books are free! This is a not to be missed event. Many of these books have library bindings, and they’re cheap! But you have to be quick on the draw.

Be aware. You’re competing against seasoned librarians – librarians who know exactly what they’re looking for and how to get it. They come with boxes, bags, crates, and suitcases, aiming to fill them. The pace is fast and furious. Books are grabbed off tables like they were precious gold. Now you see it. Now you don’t.

The book sale was two weeks ago. It’s a wise choice to be there early. My husband and I were fourth in line. (He keeps my stash of books safe.) While we waited outside the room, I stared through the windows, checking out the tables of boxes. There weren’t many picture books, but lots of middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, and nonfiction.

I had weeded many old and tired nonfiction books from the shelves of my school library and was in desperate need of current nonfiction books to please my readers. Books on natural disasters, sports, cars, motorbikes, jet planes, mummies, animals, and wars were hot topics for me. The nonfiction sale section looked promising.

At eight o’clock the doors opened and the race was on. My trigger fingers went into action, flipping through nonfiction books and politely grabbing those I wanted. I found age appropriate books on poetry, baseball, dinosaurs, pandas, pumas, seals, the skeletal system, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanoes, mummies, robots, hot air balloons, shipwrecks, sports teams, snowboarding, and biographies. Next up – picture books. A quick glance told me the picture books were slim to none and had been picked over. I passed on them and went to the middle grade and young adult books.

These books are always more difficult for me to choose. I don’t want to buy books students won’t read. I want them to be just as excited about a new book as I am. I knew I needed books that boys would readily pick up and read – sports books, books with eye-catching covers, and books with unique titles. I also knew I needed more multi-cultural books to add to the school collection. Books with horses in them were on my list, too. At the fiction table I looked at author names, book titles, and covers. If the author or the book spoke to me, I quickly read the inside flap or back cover of the book to make my decision. Of course, this isn’t the way I like to choose books for the library, but when it’s a choice of have or have not, I just do it.       

How did I fare? I ended up with 56 hardcover books. I love them. This Tuesday I’ll begin book talking them. I can’t wait.

Was my book picking fast and furious? According to my husband, who was watching everyone else, the answer was no. Darn! I guess I’ll have to work on my quick draw for the spring sale and keep my trigger fingers in shape.

If you’ve never been to the CCBC, you must check it out in person or online. And if you happen to be in the area for the spring book sale, be there or be square!


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