Last month, I had a lovely school visit with Kalamazoo Christian Elementary School. What a creative audience: the younger students made KCES Salad Pie (recipe posted below) and the older students came up with a story that featured me, eating ice cream in the Arctic. I hope some of them write that story down, and explain exactly why I’m eating something so cold in a place that’s so cold! There was a collective gasp when I revealed that I don’t like ice cream all that much (though I’ll eat it for the sake of the story :)).
Happy March! I just finished reading via video call with a first grade class in Lorena, Texas who were celebrating Dr. Seuss and reading. This past week, they read 205 books! Wow! They read books under tables, with hats on, to a pet, and more. When we talked about the snow in Michigan, they challenged me to read in the snow, and I took them up on that challenge. The proof:
I’ve always lived in a snowy climate, but reading in the snow was a first-time experience. Brrr. I don’t recommend it! But I do recommend reading almost anywhere else.
Friendship is important. There are health benefits to friendship such as living longer, coping better with the tough things, and keeping our minds sharp. Friends help us experience the world differently, and usually friendship is fun. But it can be hard to find friends. Luckily, picture books about friendship abound. Here are a few of my favourites. Click on the covers to read more.
Imaginative play is incredibly important, yet it always surprises me when I come across its many benefits. Children naturally engage in imaginative play. Who hasn’t played ice cream shop with imaginary cones and outrageous flavours? Who hasn’t laid on the couch and let a young child doctor them up?
When I go to preschools for my other job (the one that isn’t writing), one of the observation criteria I look for are materials that encourage imaginative play: dress-up clothes, a child-sized kitchen, blocks and materials that are open-ended and don’t require a predetermined way of playing. These types of toys encourage children to use their imaginations while playing.
While cleaning up my home office, I came across some notes from Anne K. Soderman’s Scaffolding Emergent Literacy listing the benefits of imaginative play:
· uses abstract thought
· strengthens memory
· develops sophisticated language
· develops social skills
These are not the only benefits of imaginative play. Imaginative play decreases frustration and increases flexible thinking. It’s an important component in developing executive function, which is a host of important skills including impulse control and focusing attention. There’s more, but why not go off and exercise that imagination instead?
One of the themes that keeps showing up in my writing is nature. Maybe it’s because I grew up on a fruit farm, or maybe it’s because going outside always refreshes me. Lately, I’ve been enamoured with forests, particularly old growth forests. We have a few in Michigan, and my family and I recently visited one in Indiana: Bendix Nature Preserve. A few photos I took are posted below.
This is one of the many huge trees there. And the one below had an interesting trunk.
I’ve also been reading Yoshifumi Miyazaki’s beautiful book Shinrin Yoku: The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing in which he presents compelling research on the benefits of being among trees and nature. For example, “Children who spend regular time in nature on average experience an increase in self-confidence, problem-solving skills, motor skills and the capacity to learn.” Wow!
Miyazaki is a professor and forest therapy researcher in Japan, but this book is very easy to read, and is filled with beautiful photos. Also, he makes me want to go outside more.
Save the date! On April 26 and 27, 2019, I’ll be signing books at SOKY Book Fest. Click the logo below to see some of the headlining authors, including Angie Thomas, Silas House and Rita Mae Brown. More updates to come.
Here’s a humor piece I wrote, published by Emrys Journal Online via Medium, about over-the-top writer guidelines. If you write and submit to literary journals, this one is for you. Or if you like to laugh about the plight of writers, this one is for you. Or if you just really want to know all about the much-coveted writing life, click below.
After days of 90 degree weather, Sunday’s 60 surprised us all with how cold and windy it felt. We Michiganders are known for our toughness regarding the weather, but the weather always changes, and quickly. Here’s a group of us at the SCBWI-Michigan table, talking books.
Standing by all the picture books—SALAD PIE is in good company.
And, signing amid all those Michigan-authored board books, picture books and novels. Thank you, Bookbound, for selling our books at Kerrytown Bookfest 2018.
Sunday, September 9 is the Kerrytown Bookfest in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I'll be there from 10:30 to 12:30 (event goes until 5), along with twenty-three other Michigan authors and illustrators. Bookbound will be selling our books, and we'll be on hand in shifts to sign.
It's coming! Every year, I book free classroom Skype (or Google Hangout) visits for World Read Aloud Day. This year, I'm opening up time slots for February 1, 2019 now so you can schedule early. Just contact me via my contact form, and let me know what grade your class is, and a few times that would work, as well as what time zone you live in.
Each Skype visit is about 15-20 minutes long. I introduce myself, read aloud SALAD PIE (with a bit of audience participation), and then answer a few of the students' questions (please have them prepared in advance). I also show and talk about a few books that I love that I didn't write, so students can get all revved up about reading!
Did you know that there's a whole host of research out there about why reading aloud to children is so good for them? Reading aloud allows kids to develop phonological awareness and other literacy skills, increases attention, increases vocabulary and enhances social-emotional development. So in addition to having fun, all kinds of growth is happening at the same time.
This Saturday, I'll be at Sterlingfest's Local Author Book Sale, a first for me. A whole host of authors and illustrators will be there, including:
Also, there will be many activities for kids. Check out this photo and website via Sterlingfest's Twitter account.
Looks like too much fun to pass up! See you there?
On July 28, 2018, I'll be at the Sterlingfest Art & Music Fair in Sterling Heights, Michigan at the SCBWI booth along with several other Michigan-based authors and illustrators. Check out the whole list of local authors here. We'll have our signed books for sale, local restaurants will have food, there's a midway with rides and a soundstage with live music. I can't wait! Festivities begin at 10 AM.
Many, many people I meet tell me about their dreams to write a book, and if it's a book for children, I always refer them to SCBWI (Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), an organization I've been a part of for several years. SCBWI is a global nonprofit organization, with local chapters, that encourages both professional and aspiring writers and illustrators to be informed, focus on craft, and find a critique group. Besides offering conferences and networking with people in the children's book industry, SCBWI also celebrates the books written and/or illustrated by its members.
SCBWI-Michigan, my local chapter, has many upcoming books to celebrate. Take a look at these books coming out this summer and fall. Thanks to Jodi McKay for the image.
Because I write books for children, that means I also read many, many books for children. Many people ask me for recommendations, and so, about eight years ago, I started a blog featuring my favourite books--young adult/teen, middle grade and picture books. Lately, I've been reviewing more picture books than anything else, but I'm still reading everything. I love to discover great books, and I only post about books that I highly recommend.
Also, I'm always sure to point out via tags if an author or illustrator is Canadian (because I'm Canadian!) or if they are from Michigan (I live in Michigan!). So, please, stop by An Education in Books Blog--Must-read books for kids, and leave a comment. See you there!
Because my background is in education and special education, and I do some contract work for an educational foundation, I'm always interested in the latest research. Lately, at work, we've been talking about something called executive function, which is extremely important in early childhood. It's an umbrella term that refers to the brain's ability to plan, organize, strategize, pay attention and remember details. And, it turns out that imaginative play, especially in early childhood, may help develop executive function!
Whatever you want to call it--pretend play, make-believe, fantasy play, imaginative play--it's important for the kids in your life. So pull out the dress-up clothes, put on that stethoscope, or grab those pots and pans and mix up a huge batch of imaginative play.
One of my favourite bookstores, Books & Mortar, is supporting their local Grand Rapids Public School with this nifty promotion.
The sign reads "Please support the Congress Elementary Book Drive. Receive 10% off your entire purchase when you buy one or more books to donate to the classroom libraries at Congress Elementary--right in our backyard!
"Every book has been hand-picked and requested by the teaching staff and will be infinitely treasured as resources that help inspire and empower our next generation of leaders! THANK YOU!"
One of my favourite parts of this book drive is that it involves the teachers at Congress Elementary. Not only have the teachers chosen the books that fit their classroom library needs, but they've been hosting story times at the bookstore. Having been a teacher at GRPS myself, I know that when you are asked what you need to make your classroom better, it makes all the difference. Thank you, Books & Mortar, for being the community bookstore that inspires teachers and students.
Today, in celebrating World Read Aloud Day, I read SALAD PIE with some classrooms in Wisconsin and Texas. One of the classes had questions about the book binding process. I tried to answer as well as I could. Some of the questions were tough: Do they sew the pages together by hand? I thought there was a machine that did it. Why don't the pages fall out? Well, they use glue, too, I think. So, I found this video from Chirp Books that shows books being made in a factory. I hope it answers many more of those questions!
Also, a really fun picture book about the book making process is Mac Barnett and Adam Rex's How This Book Was Made.
Happy World Read Aloud Day! And thank you to all of those children, teachers and librarians that hosted me via Skype or Google Hangouts. It was a pleasure meeting you.
World Read Aloud Day is February 1, 2018. Every year, LitWorld promotes this event to read aloud and change the world.
Kate Messner provides a list of authors that are willing to Skype with classrooms for free in honour of World Read Aloud Day, and I'm one of those authors. If you'd like a free Skype visit, contact me via my contact form. And visit Kate Messner's blog to find out more information about the event and more authors who are doing Skype visits.