Posted tagged ‘Authors’

Salute to Teachers and Books

May 7, 2015

The love of books was instilled in me by my parents. They were avid readers, and they made the public library a regular part of my life. Books have always put a smile on my face – especially my collection of children’s books.

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As a former teacher/librarian, it was important for me to introduce my students not only to new ideas, but also to a variety of book genres. One of my favorite times of the day was when we gathered together for a read aloud. Finding just the right book to keep students asking for more was an exciting challenge. Thought provoking books resulted in some incredible teaching moments and discussions.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and Children’s Book Week. I am reminded of all the hard-working teachers and talented authors and illustrators who have made a difference in my life and continue to make a difference in the lives of our children.

Reading opens up a world of new ideas and understanding. Children need ready access to books so they can discover the magic of words and pictures. Let them take wing and fly to places they’ve never been before.

Kudos to teachers and to those who create wonderful books for all to enjoy.

Looking for some good picture books? Check these out.

SLJ’s Top 100 Picture Books

“The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.” ~ Alexandra K. Trenfor

SOPHIE’S SQUASH Comes to Visit

February 27, 2014

Yesterday was a great day! Pat Zietlow Miller, author extraordinaire, visited St. Francis Xavier School.

Pat’s debut picture book, Sophie’s Squash, has done exceedingly well. Not only did her book receive FOUR starred reviews, but it is also a Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book and an Ezra Jack Keats Honor Book. Wow! That’s says a lot about Pat and her talent as a writer!

The students at St. Francis were thrilled with Pat Zietlow Miller’s spot-on presentations and reading of her book. She spoke about how to look for ideas, about revisions and editing, and how a picture book goes from a manuscript to a finished product. With a PowerPoint presentation, samples of edits, folds and gathers (F&Gs), and fun tattoos for the younger set, Pat captured the students’ attention. She and Sophie’s Squash left everyone with lots of food — or is that squash—for thought.

Here are some highlights of the day.


Pat Zietlow Miller arrives!


Pat signing copies of Sophie’s Squash.


Pat reading Sophie’s Squash to kindergarten, first, and second graders.


Pat showing 4K  a “Sophie.”


Pat giving a PowerPoint presentation to the third, fourth, and fifth graders.


Pat mesmerizing sixth, seven, and eighth graders.

Some reactions and questions from students.

From a 5K student:  “I’m going to write a book when I get home.”

Pat asked 4K students, “What do you need to write?” One student quickly answered, “Glasses!(Did you notice Pat wears glasses?)

 Heard when students found out Pat dedicated Sophie’s Squash to her daughter, Sonia. “Sonia’s famous.”

Asked what was going to happen to Bernice, the squash, as she got older — the answer:  “She’ll melt.”

Also heard:  “I don’t like squash.”

Asked by a third grader:  “Do you ever get frustrated?” (Oh, yes!)

Heard from one of the first graders after receiving a squash tattoo, “I got a tomato!”

At the end of a successful day, the St. Francis students couldn’t let Pat leave without taking home a bag of squash that included student suggestions on what to do with them.



Dinner in a bag!

St. Francis Xavier thanks Pat Zietlow Miller for coming to their school.

Watch for more of Pat’s books coming in the future.

Harvesting a Great Book with Pat Zietlow Miller

August 8, 2013


It’s August. The garden is overflowing with ripe tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, and squash. It’s time to harvest the crop. In among those tasty treats, there might be a seed of a great story. Pat Zietlow Miller discovered a creative seed in a butternut squash and let it grow into a story beyond compare.


Sophie’s Squash is Pat Zietlow Miller’s debut picture book. When Sophie’s mom purchases a butternut squash at the farmer’s market, it doesn’t become dinner as she expected. Sophie draws a face on the squash, names it Bernice, and the two become inseparable friends. No matter how hard her parents try, they can’t convince Sophie to give up Bernice. When the squash begins to rot, Sophie realizes Bernice will not last forever. Sophie does what she needs to do with Bernice and is rewarded with a delightful surprise come spring. Anne Wilsdorf’s charming ink and watercolor illustrations and playful end pages combine with Miller’s appealing story to produce a book worth adding to your collection.

Pat Zietlow Miller is a very talented writer and has worked diligently to achieve her goals. She was gracious enough to “Humor Me” and answer some burning questions I had for her.

Pat, Sophie’s Squash is your debut picture book. You’ve received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist. Can you share some of your emotions after seeing these fabulous reviews?

I was a mixture of thrilled and stunned. Thrilled, because I’d always hoped other people would like Sophie and think she was worthy of attention. And, stunned, because it’s a way more positive response than I ever anticipated.

I’ve wanted to be an author for so long that just having the book out and looking as lovely as it does would have been enough. That was always my goal. I never really thought about what would happen after that. So getting the stars and nice comments and seeing which parts the reviewers especially liked was something happy I hadn’t expected.

It’s also been a little humbling because there are many books I adore that haven’t gotten starred reviews, so I know how subjective the process is. I feel disproportionately fortunate.

How did you come up with the idea for your book?

When my youngest daughter was small, I took her grocery shopping and put a butternut squash in the cart. By the time we got to the checkout, she was rocking it in her arms, like a baby. When we got home, she drew a face on it and carried it everywhere.

I took that idea, expanded it greatly, and there was the beginning the book.

Have you always wanted to write for children?

Yes. I wrote my first draft of a children’s story when I was in college. But I had no idea what to do with it and hung on to it for years, thinking, “Someday, I’ll pursue this.” But jobs and life got in the way, and I didn’t seriously think about writing for children again until I was 39. That’s when I realized two things:

  1. If I didn’t at least try to become a published author, I was going to regret it when I was 80.
  2. That no editor from New York was ever going to call me and ask me to write a children’s book. If I wanted to be an author, I was going to have to sit down and actually … you know … write a manuscript.

Once I realized those two things, my next steps became pretty obvious. (And, yes, I still have that manuscript draft from college.)

Who are some of your favorite children’s authors and illustrators?

There are so many that making a list could get me into trouble, but I adore picture book writers Kari Best, Dori Chaconas, Kelly DiPucchio, Jill Esbaum, Candace Fleming, Mem Fox, Kevin Henkes, Mary Lyn Ray, Jacqui Robbins, Liz Garton Scanlon and Judith Viorst. Outside the picture book realm, I also love anything by Sharon Creech, Kate DiCamillo, John Green, David Levithan, Ellen Raskin and Gary Schmidt. Oh, and I should mention J.K. Rowling, because I am a total Harry Potter geek. And Ann Brashares, because I love The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

And, I admire all illustrators because I can’t draw at all. Anne Wilsdorf did a spectacular job bringing Sophie and Bernice to life and Jill McElmurry and Eliza Wheeler, who are working on future books of mine, are amazingly talented, as well.

Has any particular book influenced you and your writing career?

No one book has influenced me, but authors who have are Erma Bombeck, Nora Ephron and Judith Viorst. That probably sounds like an odd mix, but I read them all when I was a middle schooler, and I remember just being floored by how well they used words. Sometimes I’d honestly be so overwhelmed by how well they shared a thought or turned a phrase that I’d have to put the book down for a moment and just regroup.

They showed me what was possible, and I spent lots of time trying to write like they did. And, ultimately, that helped me figure out how to sound like myself.

You have three more picture books coming out, Sharing the Bread with Schwartz & Wade in Fall of 2015, The Quickest Kid in Clarksville with Chronicle in 2015, and Wherever You Go with Little, Brown in 2015. Besides writing, you also have a full-time job, a husband, and two children. How do you balance everything?

I run after whatever fire is most out of control at the moment. Once I stomp out those flames, I move on to the next.

But really, I’m fairly good at concentrating on whatever task I’m handling at the moment. When I’m at work, I’m working. When I’m writing, I’m writing. And some things I’ve just given up on. My house is not clean, my garden is overgrown, I watch very little TV and I don’t have much of a social life. But that’s OK, because usually I’d rather be writing.

What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

  1. Dedicate time to achieving your goal. You can spend that time reading, or analyzing why books you like worked, or writing your next book. As I learned, merely wishing won’t get you anywhere.
  2. Expect your book to need a ridiculous amount of editing and revising before it’s ready to submit. Expect it to need even more once it sells. Realize that even when you think your book is absolutely, positively done, in all likelihood, it isn’t I’ve been amazed at how much better my books have gotten long after I thought they were complete.
  3. Don’t over-react to rejection. It’s just part of the process, and it’s not personal. Even my books that sold were rejected many, many times. Just hang in there, always be open to making your book better, and move forward.

What’s next for you, Pat?

I have editing to do on one my picture books that sold, and I have two others out on submission. Plus, I’m working on a very rough first draft to see if it has the potential to turn into something more. And, I have a list of new books that I can’t wait to read.

Congratulations, Pat, on your charming book and thank you for sharing your time and providing some great writing advice for all of us.

You can find Pat at her blog, READ, WRITE, REPEAT   and on Twitter:  @PatZMiller

If you’re in the Madison, WI area on Saturday, August 17 at 1:00 p.m., don’t miss the book launch party for Sophie’s Squash at:

Barnes and Noble

7433 Mineral Point Road

Madison, WI

(Near West Towne Mall)

There will be crafts, a prize drawing, snacks, and Pat will be reading and signing her book!

Below are some excerpts from the starred reviews Sophie’s Squash has received.

Kirkus: “From her bouncy braids to her red shoes, Sophie’s vibrant, determined nature shines forth charmingly.”

Publishers Weekly:  “Debut author Miller takes the idea of playing with one’s food to another level in this sensitive but funny story about a girl’s affection for a squash.”

School Library Journal:  “With lessons on life, love, and vegetable gardening, this tale will be cherished by children, and their parents will be happy to read it to them often.”

Booklist:  “In a perfect blend of story and art, the humorous watercolor-and-ink illustrations are bursting with color and energy on every page …”

Black History Month Authors and Illustrators

February 17, 2012

Black History Month is ticking away, and my library students are busy celebrating the African American experience with books. They have discovered a wide variety of genres written and illustrated by some awesome African American writers and artists.

Picture books, poetry, folktales, historical fiction, biographies, and nonfiction have been discussed, passed around, checked out, and enjoyed. It’s heartwarming to see students get excited about books they wouldn’t ordinarily choose. They’re learning to step outside of the box for a new literary experience.

What we’ve come to know during our author/illustrator study is that being exposed to different cultures and ethnic backgrounds enhances our knowledge of the world around us.

We grooved to the rhythmic words in Jazz written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Christopher Myers. We tapped our toes to Leo & Diane Dillon’s Rap A Tap Tap Here’s Bojangles – Think Of That! We learned what it’s like if you have a passion to succeed in For the Love of the Game written by Eloise Greenfield and illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. Lessons of love and acceptance came our way in The Other Side written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis and Show Way also by Woodson and illustrated by Hudson Talbott. Richard Wright and the Library Card written by William Miller and illustrated by Gregory Christie and SitIn How Four Friend Stood Up by Sitting Down written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney demonstrated the hardships black Americans were up against in their struggle for equal rights.

We’ve looked at works by Jerry Pinkney, Virginia Hamilton, Nikki Giovanni, Bryan Collier, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, Floyd Cooper, and Rita Williams-Garcia. We’ve been wowed by their talent and impressed by their numerous literary awards.

Celebrate Black History Month. Read. Learn. Enjoy.

“We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice.” ~Carter Woodson, 1926

Tips and Tidbits from the SCBWI-Iowa Conference

April 5, 2011

Iowa knows how to do it. I’m talking about the SCBWI-Iowa Conference, which I attended this past weekend – “The Career of Dreams!” From Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon, the conference schedule was jam-packed. Attendees were awed and inspired by a group of talented presenters. Here are some tips and tidbits from the fabulous weekend.

Molly O’Neill, Associate Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, spoke about book beginnings and characters.

Every story should “evoke something in us as readers and as people.” It should “stir up a reaction and make us feel something that connects us to the story.”

If you want to catch the eye of an editor, make sure you have a great story, great story telling, and memorable characters and voices.

For a memorable character, know your character through and through. “Stalk your character. Study your character from all angles.”

Candace Fleming, an award-winning picture book, middle grade, and nonfiction author and Eric Rohmann, an award-winning author and illustrator, gave a funny and informative presentation on the fundamentals of picture books.

From Candace Fleming:  A picture book has a “unique structure” – a basic framework with visual aspects and written aspects. The problem in the story should be in the first few sentences, and the most important page in a picture book is the last page. It should have a final twist or surprise – an “aha ending.”

From Eric Rohmann:  When writing a picture book, think visually. Everything written has to have a purpose. Be concise. When it comes to the ending of a picture book, “you have to earn the ending.” The “best endings solve the problem, but don’t end the story.”

Alli Brydon, an editor at Sterling Children’s Books, spoke on how to strengthen a manuscript and get it out of the slush pile.

When submitting a manuscript, know the publishing house. Be professional. Be unique. The elements editors are looking for are plot, theme, tone, setting, character, voice, and style. Your manuscript should have a solid story arc. Show that you’re committed to your craft.

Diane Muldrow, an Editorial Director at Golden Books/Random House and the editor of Little Golden Books, evoked memories of Golden Books from years past in her presentation about the history of Golden Books. As the editor for Little Golden Books, she still looks for the feel of those originals.

The fabulous Lin Oliver was also in Iowa this past weekend. She is the Executive Director of the SCBWI and one of its founders. She is also a children’s book author, writer-producer of family films, television series, and movies for children. How does she do it all? 

She talked about writing a book series and the elements involved in a book series and had some words of wisdom and “Morals of Success” to share with us.

Spread literacy.

Persist with belief in yourself.

Seek mentors.

Stay in touch with professionals who believe in you.

Stay actively engaged. All work breeds work.

Step into fear.

Do the work.

Gary D. Schmidt, an author of two Newbery Honor books and the Michael L. Printz honor award, gave a powerful speech.

He said, “Writers must engage with the world.” They must pay attention to the world and love both the beauty and tragedy of the world in order to come up with the right questions for their readers. Those questions will energize writers and be the ignition for their stories.

Stephen Fraser, a literary agent for The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, gave an inspiring talk and sent out positive vibes on how to win the publishing game.

“Dare to be quiet each day. Listen and let ideas fill you up.” Stephen reminded us that “a creative person can accomplish anything and a good book has a home.” *  

The organizers of the conference planned a full schedule. I wasn’t able to attend all of the sessions, but word had it that every session provided attendees with something valuable to take away with them. The weekend stirred our thoughts, encouraged us to keep at our writing, and motivated us to be the best that we can be!

* For more on Stephen Fraser and what he’s looking for as an agent, DON’T MISS an in-depth interview, Friday, on this blog!

News & Views from a Writing Retreat

October 19, 2010

The SCBWI-Wisconsin Fall Retreat was fantastic. Who cares that we stayed in a retirement home for nuns with austere rooms and bathrooms reminiscent of old college dorms. It was all about the people who were there – the speakers and the attendees. It was a Shake, Rattle and Revise weekend ─ a time to learn how to strengthen our writing craft and a time to mix and mingle with some very knowledgeable and talented people. And if that wasn’t enough, the “Sweets Table” was to die for and take a look at these views of Lake Michigan!

Bruce Hale, author of the Chet Gecko series and other books, kept us in suspense as to which hat he might wear next. Editors, Lisa Yoskowitz (Dutton) and Greg Ferguson (Egmont USA), gave us insights into the submissions process, marketing ourselves, and the editorial process. Mary Kole, an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, talked about what we need to do to get an agent. Loraine Joyner, art director at Peachtree Publishers, walked us through the steps an illustrator takes to reach the finished product. Finally, author Deborah Wiles made us laugh and made us cry with tales from her personal life and from her life as a writer.

Each presenter left us with food for thought. They were equally as appealing as the “Sweets Table.” Could any writer ask for more? Well, we got more!

Our own talented members offered breakout sessions on point of view, writing to foster emotional growth, uncovering the secrets of finding the right agent, writing a one-page synopsis, and revising with fierceness. There were also peer group critiques and individual critiques from visiting faculty and our own published authors. This was a weekend not to be missed.

When an opportunity to go to a writing conference presents itself, don’t think twice – GO! You never know what pearls of wisdom you can add to your hope chest of writing!


June 18, 2010

Neighborhood garage sales! Bring ‘em on and bring out the junk. It’s time to purge the basement, attic, and house of items you no longer need. Gather them up, slap a price tag on them, and say adiós. It’s been said one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Go for it, treasure hunters!

My husband really gets into garage sales. He was born to sell junk. I, on the other hand, don’t like garage sales. I’ll help collect stuff from the house and that’s where my job ends. I’m totally uncomfortable coercing people into buying things – especially when they’re bargain hunters, trying to beat the price down to mere pennies. It’s a no win situation for both of us. So I let my husband charm the crowds as I take refuge inside the house. When it’s over, I have one rule. Once an item leaves the inside of the house, it’s banned from ever returning. No more junk!

What is junk? According to a dictionary definition, it’s worthless things. I believe junk is really in the eye of the beholder.

Patricia Polacco has written a new book called The Junkyard Wonders. Its release date is July 8th. She is one of my favorite picture book authors and speakers. She is also a talented storyteller, and, like her books, she has the uncanny ability to evoke emotions and inspire an audience. Her newest book is about a class of nontraditional students, known as the junkyard, who are taught by a teacher who challenges their creativity and abilities. It’s based on events from her life. I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival. If it’s anything like Thank You, Mr. Falker, it’s sure to be an inspirational hit.

Thank goodness for talented authors who recognize the power of words and know how to use them to entertain and inspire. Thank goodness for teachers who recognize diamonds in the rough and know how to work with them until they shine.

It’s true. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

More favorites by Patricia Polacco:   Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair, The Bee Tree, Mr. Lincoln’s Way, Welcome Comfort

Expert Tips on School Visits

May 21, 2010

When you do school visits, you’re an entertainer, a storyteller, and a magician! It’s a time to promote yourself and your books. From the moment you’re on, you want to capture the attention of your audience and keep them spellbound from beginning to end. This is easily said, but not always easily done.

Toni Buzzeo and Cynthia Lord are experts in school visits. Their workshop session at the New England SCBWI Conference was excellent. They covered everything from PowerPoint, to props, to audience management, to equipment, and delivery of presentations.

Here a few of the many tips they shared about school visits.

Younger children have a limited attention span. Make sure the length of your program is age-appropriate. Include audience interaction to keep them engaged. Props enhance your presentation – especially with younger children. If you choose to do a PowerPoint, keep it simple. Use text sparingly and put important information at the top of the screen. Children love to know about you. Pictures of you from your childhood and pictures of your pets are always a bit hit. Take time to set up before your presentation and make sure all of the equipment is working properly before you begin. If something goes wrong, have a back-up plan during the time the equipment is being fixed. When it’s time to start your presentation, make eye contact with your audience. Begin by stating your expectations of the audience. A well-paced presentation will help to keep everyone engaged.

A few more tips from Toni and Cindy. Have a contract for your school visit and put everything you want and need into your contract. Have the principal sign it. Make sure you have time between presentations — at least fifteen minutes. If all goes well, ask for a recommendation. No matter what happens, always keep a sense of humor.

Times Are Changing

May 18, 2010

Times are changing. Authors, hop aboard the technology train before you get left behind!

This past weekend I attended the New England SCBWI Conference. The theme was “Moments of Change.” Online presence and author branding were hot topics. Author websites, blogs, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter are ways of getting your name known. You don’t have to do it all, but you must do something. Keynote speakers were Cynthia Leitich Smith, Marla Frazee, and Allyn Johnston. It was a fantastic weekend!

First up on Saturday morning was Cynthia Leitich Smith. She has it all. She does it all. She’s the author of picture books, a chapter book, a ‘tween novel, and YA Gothic fantasy books. She has a website. She blogs. She’s on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Best of all, her YA novel, Eternal, debuted at #5 on the New York Times Bestseller List. Wow!

Cynthia Leitich Smith is a funny, down-to-earth person. She is also extremely talented. Her presentation was entertaining and filled with words of inspiration. We learned more about Cynthia during an interview conducted by Melissa Stewart on Sunday morning.

From an early age, Cynthia was a reader. She used to bring home stacks of books from the library. She recognized the “poetry and grace” of children’s literature and learned to love it. When Cynthia made the decision to become author, she did all the write things. She took the time to hone her craft. She’s a person that sets goals and achieves goals through work and determination. Her advice to authors is “write fierce and be brave.”

On Saturday afternoon, Marla Frazee, author-illustrator and Caldecott Honor Award honoree, and Allyn Johnston, VP & Publisher of Beach Lane Books. did a wonderful presentation about picture book endings. It was the same presentation they gave at the Iowa SCBWI Conference I attended, but it was well-worth hearing again. These two talented people make one great team!

In their presentation, Marla and Allyn used text and illustrations to demonstrate how to create a perfect ending to a picture book. Allyn said endings should have a strong emotional impact – even if it’s a funny book. Marla said, “Endings should disarm us.”

Both agree pacing of text and illustrations is a vital part of making a book memorable. Allyn added that an author should focus on choosing the right words because a picture book is a read aloud art form. To keep readers coming back, it’s essential to have a deep, emotional chord at the end of a book.

Stay tuned for part two on Friday:  School Visits Starring Cynthia Lord and Toni Buzzeo

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!

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