Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santa Came Early

In the form of a poem acceptance from the SCBWI Bulletin!

Thank you, Santa, I mean Steve.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gimme a HIGH FIVE!

A Highlights High Five, that is.

Today they accepted one of my poems!

Woo hoo for Kathleen and the High Five team. Such a nice way to end 2010!


Friday, December 10, 2010

Highlights for Children!

I opened my mailbox
And what did I see?
A little 'ol contract
Just waiting for me!

Yippee! Highlights will publish another of my poems.

Thanks, Joelle and Christine!


Friday, November 5, 2010


I learned today that my poem, "Red Mittens," accepted for publication nearly four years ago, has been published in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue!

You can check it out at your library! Woo hoo!!

Thanks, Jennifer!


Monday, November 1, 2010

The SCBWI Bulletin

My latest poem is in the November/December issue! Thanks, Steve and Lin.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Humpty Dumpty

I was thrilled today to receive a contract from Humpty Dumpty for a poem that will appear in their January/February 2011 issue! Thanks again, Terry!

Highlights for Children Magazine

Just a quick note. I received my first contract yesterday for a poem for Highlights! Very exciting. Thanks, Joelle!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Write What You Know (Unless Your Mom Knows Better)

You've probably heard the adage, "Write what you know."

It's good advice for those wondering if they have anything worth writing about. The point is that the people, information, places, and conversations you're involved with are fair game for writing. Any topic can be made interesting, compelling, even fun or funny, if your treatment of that topic works.

But you might also want to write what you don't know. Say you'd like to put something together about aliens invading earth, or weasels doing war dances, or tadpoles. But you don't know the basics of how those things work. (Even in fiction, the reader expects some semblance of reality, whether or not that information makes it into the book.) What do you do? Ask an expert. Like my mom.

Let me explain. I didn't grow up on a farm, but farm animals and farm scenes creep into my writing. Who can resist a wet-nosed calf or a litter of pink piglets? How do I get information about how farms work? I ask my mom. She's my go-to farm girl, with loads of information on chickens and eggs, animal husbandry--that's about animals having babies, to you and me--milking cows and other farmy things.

So today when a critique member (Hi Laura!) wisely asked how all the farm animals in my book were miraculously born in the spring, I called Mom.

"Hi, Mom. Are farm animals usually born in the spring?"

What followed was a story about the hows and whys of animal life on a farm, with a sidebar about the size of chicken eggs.

[In case you're wondering, the answer is yes, farmers plan for their animals to be born in the spring. Who wants to tromp through the snow in the middle of winter to check on a newborn goat when you can simply separate potential moms and dads until it's warmer?]

So, I'd modify the standard adage, "Write what you know" to "Write what you know (Unless Your Mom Knows Better)," or unless you have other experts who can fill you in.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Writing As Process or Product?

When I taught Freshman Composition for two undergraduate institutions, our instructional mantra to our students was, "View your writing as process, not product."

This meant that students should see their writing as works which could be revised, rethought, reimagined many, many times (not just copy-edited), but never really finished. For some, this was a new idea, a new, laborious idea. They preferred to write the paper, turn it in, and be done with it, come what may. Others felt writing as process attached a name to what they'd been doing all along. They were comfortable with the give and take and were relieved to know their institutions valued it as well.

In practical terms, writing as process meant that we used classroom time to brainstorm appropriate topics together and to group-critique or peer-edit one another's papers. For instructors, it meant that once a student finally turned in his paper, he could use the instructor's further feedback to improve the paper, and potentially get a better grade, many times over. But it wasn't a gimme; students had to use the feedback to rethink their works. The dedicated writers in my classes often turned in three or more versions of each essay assigned.

What did all this reimagining entail? Students had to learn not only the value of brainstorming but ways to brainstorm. They had to learn how to provide feedback concretely but tactfully. They had to learn how to receive feedback, how to evaluate it, what to do with it, and ultimately, whether or not altering their works accordingly would meet their writing goals and preferences and the assignment's requirements.

I've been on both sides of the classroom: as an English undergraduate and graduate student and as a writing instructor teaching others how to write. Care to guess which view of writing I was and am most comfortable with--process or product?

Right. Process. It has always come naturally to me. The brainstorming (also known as prewriting)--the time before you pick up a pen, when you let your mind wonder "What if?" The drafting--and drafting, and rethinking, and drafting, and printing out, and reprinting out, and reading aloud, and drafting, and revising, and rethinking, and rereading. The critiquing--asking others whose feedback or skills you trust to read your work and tell you where you fell short and where you hit the bullseye, followed by more drafting and revising and printing out and reading aloud. The editing--perfecting word-level choices, sentence constructions, punctuation, and grammar.

I haven't been in college or taught Freshman Composition for awhile now, but every time I approach a writing task, I use the same things I learned and taught and was drawn to earlier in life: brainstorming, drafting, revising and rethinking, getting feedback from professionals I trust, further revising and reimagining, followed by editing.

As to the feedback portion, I am a long-term member of two online critique groups--shout out to Critcasters and Rhyme & Reason--and to one in-person crit group--PB Thursday. These groups are filled with published and pre-published, agented and pre-agented professionals in the area of writing for children, and I couldn't be more grateful to them for their advice, support, wacky ideas and brilliant suggestions. They are my first and best readers.

I also periodically consult intelligent and witty people I've met along the way whose advice I respect, people like Ellen Jackson and Laurie Accardi. And my mom isn't a slouch at writing and giving honest feedback either. Hi, Mom!

Where do you fall in the process/product debate?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Bounty of My Garden

Pretty, huh? That's all there is so far. But it's still early. There's lots of time for little yellow flowers to turn into little green tomatoes to turn into red, juicy tomatoes. And I'm happy to wait.

What's growing in your garden?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

SCBWI Bulletin

Woo hoo! The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is going to publish another poem of mine! This one's called "The School Visit Dream." I'll let you know in which issue it'll appear when I find out.

Thanks, Steve and SCBWI!

Monday, May 24, 2010

And the silver goes to...


From the AAM MUSE Awards held last night, this notice just posted:

SILVER: COLUMBIAKidsWashington State History Museum
Judges said:COLUMBIAKids is a very attractive website which functions like an on-line magazine. The site should be commended for involving children's authors and illustrators to work on the content which makes the site more appealling to the young readers. It is a useful resource for teachers. The site has many interesting sections to engage the readers - the jurors especially like CollectionConnundrum which teaches children how to look at objects and podPuzzle. Read the whole article here:

CKids came in second only to the Smithsonian Museum of American History!

Read the whole article here:

Congrats to Stephanie Lile and the whole CKids team! Keep up the good work!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Limerick Day Rocks!

Though not as well known as say, the Fourth of July, Limerick Day deserves all the fanfare it can muster. Say it with me: "Woo hoo for Edward Lear! Woo hoo for limericks!" (Edward Lear popularized limericks in his 1846 "Book of Nonsense." He is the author of the famous poem, "The Owl and the Pussycat.")

There. Now didn't that feel good?

You'll feel even better if you create and post in the comments section below your own limerick for all the world to see. Family-friendly, please. I'll go first.

Way back when was an Englishman, Lear

Who had such a terrific career

Making rhyme after rhyme

Some absurd, some sublime

That we celebrate him over here

Now you, please. And happy Children's Book Week!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


One of my favorite days of the year is right around the corner. Earth Day, April 22nd, is designed to heighten awareness of and appreciation for the Earth. What better way to do that than with a picture book about an oak tree? Critique partner and friend Alison Formento is the author of THIS TREE COUNTS! (Albert Whitman & Company, March 1, 2010), a part-counting, part-environmental awareness book with lovely language and illustrations.

Alison has agreed to stop by and answer some questions for us, on this the first stop of a blog tour.

JJS: Hi, Alison! How did THIS TREE COUNTS! go from idea to published book? Tell us about the path it took.

AF: Inspired by a large, old Oak tree, I wrote a simple ten line poem about ten animals in a giant tree telling its story, which sat unfinished in my computer files. A few months later, I saw an editor from Albert Whitman & Company speak on a panel at an SCBWI conference. After the conference, I submitted a story to her, which she rejected, but invited me to send something else, which I did. That story too, got a personal rejection and a note to send something for the very young, perhaps with a counting theme. I remembered my tree poem and worked on shaping it into story form, adding the children and teacher to hear the tree's story, and how it encourages them to plant more trees. After I ran that early version through my critique group, I submitted it to the editor and four months later, received an offer. In my case, third time was the charm. The revision process was smooth, as my editor really saw the story the same way I did, as did the illustrator, Sarah Snow. We actually expanded the story, to add a few more kids and more about how trees count to our world. A year later, THIS TREE COUNTS! is out and I couldn't be happier with the final product.

JJS: How long have you been writing for children?

AF: If you count my diary entries and the poems and stories I wrote as a child, then I've been writing for children a long time. As a freelance writer with credits in The New York Times, The Writer, Parenting and several other publications, I was first intrigued with writing non-fiction for children, and there are several factual elements to THIS TREE COUNTS! As common with many children's book authors, when I read books to my kids, it inspired me to write my own stories. I joined the SCBWI about six years ago, attended several conferences, found compatible critique partners and have fully embraced the rewarding, and often arduous, journey as writer for children.

JJS: What's the most rewarding part of being a published children's author so far? What's the most surprising part?

AF: I've just began sharing my book at libraries, schools and bookstores, but it's exactly what I'd heard from other published children's authors—Kids reactions to you and your story are the biggest rewards of all. Kids today are "greener" than ever, thanks to schools becoming more environmentally conscious, and they really enjoy telling me their favorite trees and how we use trees in our lives.

The surprising part about being a published author is how I'm able to promote my book much more than I thought I could handle. I feel fairly shy, but I'm so proud of the way my book has turned out, that it's exciting to share it any way possible. And meeting so many wonderful kids, librarians and teachers so far has already sparked a lot of great ideas for new stories.

JJS: Thanks, Alison! I wish you much success with your book.

Readers, Alison is having a contest on her blog. Win her book and help her plant 40 trees to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Just enter your favorite tree for a chance to win.

Or visit Alison's website: A portion of all proceeds of her book will go to to help plant more trees.

Learn more about Alison and THIS TREE COUNTS! Tuesday as this blog tour continues at and Wednesday at

Congrats, Alison! All the best!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Update: Children's Literature Festival

We didn't have time to see everyone, but here's who we did see and loved:

Cheryl Harness, author/illustrator and all-around comedian. She's a hoot! And such a talented person. I can't imagine ever getting tired of hearing her stories or seeing her draw. Secret: for awhile in her early career, she created designs on tissue boxes. She called herself the "snot rag queen."

Eileen Christelow, author/illustrator of the FIVE LITTLE MONKEYS books and others. Quiet, unassuming, fun.

Sneed Collard III, author. I've heard him speak before and didn't miss a chance to hear him again. In addition to being a great creative nonfiction writer (A PLATYPUS, PROBABLY), he's ventured into midgrade novels, where I'm sure he'll find an audience as well.

Barbara Robinson, author (THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER). Down to earth and funny, Barbara is the antithesis of the author prima donna. She uses a typewriter to produce her works. Her favorite book as a child? TREASURE ISLAND.

Roland Smith, author and crazy man (CRYPTID HUNTER, JACK'S RUN, ZACK'S LIE, TENTACLES). He was a tornado in blue jeans. Funny, poignant, captivating, interesting, serious scientist, goofy author. They put him in the auditorium because so many people wanted to see him--and that was just for the presentation I attended. This guy is a rock star.

What a great festival!

Friday, March 12, 2010

42nd Annual Children's Literature Festival, March 14-16, 2010

Each year for the last 42, the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg has held a huge children's literature festival during the college's spring break week. It's an opportunity for elementary and middle school-aged kids and their teachers from all over the midwest to swarm the campus, lunch bags and cameras in hand, to meet, to listen to, and to learn from some of the greatest authors and illustrators in kidlit. And each year for the last 4 or 5, I've joined them, as a chaperon for my children's fourth and fifth grade classes, or by myself. This year's festival is right around the corner, and I can't wait.

With so many great authors and illustrators to see, it'll be hard to choose. Here's the lineup:

C.S. Adler
William Anderson
Sandy Asher
Darleen Bailey Beard
Gary Blackwood
Joan Carris
J.B. Cheaney
Eileen Christelow
Sneed Collard
Shane Evans
Alane Ferguson
Micheal Graf
Jan Greenberg
Vicki Grove
Mary Downing Hahn
Cheryl Harness
David Harrison
Patricia Hermes
Jeanette Ingold
Richard Jennings
Veda Boyd Jones
Peg Kehret
Alexandria LaFaye
Dandi Daley Mackall
Claudia Mills
Anna Myers
Dorinda Nicholson
Marc Tyler Nobleman
P.J. Petersen
Barbara Robinson
Brenda Seabrooke
Gloria Skurzynski
Marie Smith
Roland Smith
Brad Sneed
Michael Spradlin
Roderick Townley
Terry Trueman
Vivian Vande Velde
Suzanne Williams
June Rae Wood


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quickie Updates: Look What I Found!

My poem in Humpty Dumpty! Woo hoo! And I love the illustration. In their print magazine, my poem's on the back cover!

And...when Shepherd's Check calls itself a microzine, they mean it, by golly!
Can you see it? Squint real hard. Good things come in small packages!


Friday, February 5, 2010

Another New Calligraphy--the Shepherd's Check

Quick update. Just heard from ANC that my submission will be in their February issue. I'm psyched! Thanks, Robyn!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Recent and Future Goings On

Did you know there's an earthworm in Australia called the Giant Gippsland Earthworm that grows to six feet long? How do I know, you ask? Because friend and fellow writer, Ann Ingalls, and I have been researching interesting Australian critters. More on that later.

(By the way, don't mean to brag, but I have received my very own copy of Ann and her sister, Maryann Macdonald's Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend, and it is now signed by one of the authors. Just sayin'.)

Humpty Dumpty will publish my poem "Found!" in its March/April 2010 issue! Thanks, TH.

COLUMBIAKids published my poem "My Lists" in its Winter 2010 issue, out now. Have a look if you like.

Can't wait to attend the Children's Literature Festival again this year at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg! This year the festival runs from March 14-16. What a great opportunity for school kids, authors, illustrators and bibliophiles in general to listen to and learn from some of the greats in kid lit.

All the best!